Monday, October 31, 2005

Sloppy Seconds On Samhain

Let the games begin! President Bush has selected Samuel Alito as his latest Supreme Court nominee, replacing Harriet Miers, and I'm really confused. I'm not confused about Alito himself - he's precisely the type of selection that most would have expected in the first place. But all of the reasons Bush gave for his selection of Miers seemed to fly out the window when he picked "Scalito". Coming on the heels of the Miers nomination, you have to wonder what forces were at play. It seems quite appropriate that Alito was born on April Fools Day and nominated on Hallowe'en.

I'm not a lawyer, and I get a chuckle out of similarly lay pundits and bloggers who put forward definitive opinions about legal issues. I would have to read up more on Alito to get a better sense of what kind of judge he has been. Although the initial reports indicate that he has written some opinions that I might have problems with (see "Controversial views" here), for the moment I will reserve judgment on the quality of this nominee. But what troubles me most is the fact that this seems to be all about political, rather than legal, considerations. It's hard to fathom Bush picking Miers ahead of Alito. There are only two explanations that I see, neither of which is flattering to the president. And since it's Hallowe'en, the options are Trick or Treat:

Trick: The Miers nomination was some kind of ploy that was intended to fail, to be followed up with a Battle Royal over a hardline conservative jurist with the full backing of the president's Right Wing base - and perhaps even timed around the expected indictments in the CIA leak investigation. This is a Rovian conspiracy theory being floated around the liberal blogosphere - and even in the Right Wing blogosphere, where it is seen as a brilliant tactic. If true, it was only partially successful in that the Democrats didn't take the bait over Miers. Their opposition was relatively muted, so they can still oppose the Alito nomination without fear of the "obstructionist" label. In any event, it's pretty sleazy for the president to be playing these kinds of political games and hiding behind the human shield of his old friend.

Treat: Bush really did think (foolishly) that Miers was the best person for the job, but bowed to the pressure of his Right Wing base and replaced her with a "Strict Constructionist". (Read my post from last Friday to see what I think about that label.) This is a meaty one. If true, it shows that Bush isn't the rock solid leader that he is reputed to be by his apologists. After all, if he truly thought that Miers was the right choice, he would have put up more of a fight for her. It shows that he is swayed by polls just like any other politician would be in his shoes, and he has lost control of the bully pulpit. When the Far Right put up a fight, he turned into Jell-O. If you don't believe these things about Bush, then your only alternative is Trick.

It should be an interesting confirmation process, and maybe a bloody one at that. It's only a matter of time before we start hearing the phrase "up or down vote" once again. It's funny that we never heard any clamoring for that when Miers was in line for the job. Sloppy seconds, anyone?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

All In!

Tonight we were blessed with an extra hour because of the adjustment back to Standard Time. And I spent that hour driving home after having my first live experience playing Texas Hold'Em poker. This is a very popular game, and seems to be on TV somewhere all the time if you look hard enough. The first few times that I saw it played, I recall thinking, "What's the big deal about this?" I can tell you that once you actually get into the game, you can understand why some people would find it addictive. The luck/skill ratio is skewed more toward the skill side in Texas Hold'Em than in any other type of poker. There are so many head games going on, and much of that you bring upon yourself. It was a really enjoyable experience.

Since I had never played the game before, I logged onto one of those online poker sites to try practicing. I had intended to play for about a half hour or so to get my feet wet, but ended up playing for nearly two hours. Crack cocaine has nothing on this. The ironic part of this experience was that I didn't really learn a whole lot. The problem was that there was one person playing who went in on every hand. This was bet-limited game, and she had somehow accumulated a whole lot of chips over time, so she would use them to call or raise at every opportunity. She ended up losing a ton of chips during the time I was playing. But because of the way she played, bluffing was impossible, so the betting was almost always based on who had the better cards. But I got comfortable with the mechanics of the game, and I felt ready to play in a live setting.

There were five of us in total for this game, and it was a friendly setting. We played with a $20 buy-in, in which everybody received 60 chips. There was unlimited betting with those chips, and we played until somebody ended up with them all and won the $100 pot. We played five games, and I won one of them, so I broke even on the night. I made it to the final pair in another game, but was done in by a serious chip count disadvantage and a bad break on a river card. In another game, I was out on the third hand. Overall, for a novice going against experienced players, I was satisfied with the result.

I'm not a big-time gambler, but I got a bit of a rush from this experience. I'm certainly not going to play every day or every week, but I can see why some people do. I think I'll stick to my day job - and blogging, of course. It's only a matter of time before you'll start seeing an organization called Bloggers Anonymous.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Back To The Drawing Board

A quick, linkless entry this morning. I was having internet trouble at home last night.

Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination for the Supreme Court. I have to say, first of all, I feel for her on a human level for the the ringer she has been put through. I can't imagine what it must be like to be so close to the brass ring, and have it yanked away from you. (Maybe Al Gore does.) I hope she realizes it isn't personal, but it doesn't help when people like Trent Lott spout out lines like, "In a month, nobody will remember the name Harriet Miers." Because of the type of person she appears to be, Miers elicits far more sympathy than Robert Bork, for instance. But this is why I thought all along she should never have accepted this nomination and have had to go through all of this. She should have known in her own mind that she did not have the right qualifications for the job. That isn't a slight on her. I have no doubt that she's a brilliant and accomplished attorney and a fine citizen, but the Constitution is not her area of expertise. I had thought that there was enough of a ruckus about her qualifications for the job coming from the Right (Ingraham, Krauthammer, etc.) for her confirmation to be rocky. But I would never have imagined that her nomination would be torpedoed, ultimately, by those who questioned her conservative credentials. Apart from a few token objections, the Dems stayed out of the fray for the most part, which will make it easier for them to raise objections to a more overtly conservative selection, which will undoubtedly come next.

I need to take a moment to question what conservatives really want in a Supreme Court justice. I'd say that most of them want someone who will have a conservative interpretation of the Constitution. But others have argued that they don't care if the justice is conservative or liberal, just as long as they interpret the Constitution as written - which will usually result in an opinion favorable to conservatives. Some have even opined that you don't even need a lawyer, just somebody with good reading comprehension skills. Really, I don't know how these folks define the term "Originalist" or "Strict Constructionist". I have seen very little in life that isn't open to some degree of interpretation. If every law were followed to the letter, there would be very few of us left who weren't either in jail or destitute from fines - and almost no cars left on the road. If that's all it took to be on the Supreme Court, computers could be employed as justices. If Jewish scholars can argue over the Talmud for two thousand years, people of good faith can have different interpretations of the more nuanced portions of the Constitution.

Everyone have a Merry Fitz-mas.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Go Go Sox!

Congratulations to the Chicago White Sox on winning their first World Series championship since 1917. This must be a great day for all of the Sox fans who have spent years in the long shadow of the attention paid to their neighbours to the north. In actuality, I think the White Sox constituency is more representative of the city of Chicago than their Cubs counterparts - blue collar, ethnically diverse, and tough as nails. I'm sure the party will last for some time on the South Side.

As a lifelong fan of the dearly departed Expos, I have a bit of an affinity for this White Sox team. For one thing, there are a number of former Expos on the team. Their general manager, Kenny Williams, played briefly with the 'Spos at the end of his playing career. Their 1st base coach, Tim Raines, is a legend in Montreal. Carl Everett played part of last year in Montreal. Orlando Hernandez was an Expo in 2003 (although he never threw a pitch the whole season due to injury.) Dustin Hermanson and Chris Widger were both Expos for four years. And World Series hero Geoff Blum played three years in Montreal. But other than the personnel connections to the team, the White Sox remind me of the Expos in terms of the obscurity in which they have played for years. There hasn't been the same kind of notoriety surrounding the White Sox drought as has been attached to the Red Sox and Cubs, and I have an idea about the reason for that. The Red Sox, over the years, have usually fielded a contending team, but they often found spectacular ways to fall short that are the stuff of legend. The Cubs, apart from a few notable collapses, have usually been a brutal team, and that contributed to the affinity of their fans. But the White Sox have generally been not great and not awful - just somewhere in the mushy middle, out of the spotlight - the definition of mediocrity. That is what I can relate to as an Expos fan. So I consider White Sox fans kindreds, and I celebrate along with them.

And despite the brave face put on by many Cubs fans about how the White Sox success is great for Chicago, it all must be eating them alive. Now that the Red Sox and White Sox have won the World Series the last two years, the Cubs stand alone in baseball futility. 97 years and counting. Next in line are the Cleveland Indians, but it has only been a paltry 57 years for them. And unlike the Cubs, they have a very promising team that will make some noise over the next several years. The long Chicago winter be just a bit colder on the North Side.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Sublime And The Ridiculous

First the sublime: A brilliant Flash animation by the gubernatorial campaign of California State Treasurer Phil Angelides. I got this from, of all places, Free Republic! To the credit of the poster and most of the commenters there, they found it to be quite funny. It's very similar to those Jib Jab animations from last year's presidential election, but decidedly one-sided. Check it out if you want a good chuckle.

Now the ridiculous. During a break in the World Series game, I flipped past the Fox News Channel and saw Bill O'Reilly doing a tease for his upcoming segment about "left wing smear sites." I knew that he was referring to one of my favorite sites, Media Matters for America. O'Reilly has had a hate on for Media Matters for a while, but especially since MM named O'Reilly Misinformer of the Year for 2004. MM is a valuable resource for exposing misinformation in the media, and they usually have their facts well in order. Once in a while they miss the mark, but their record is pretty good. Now, I'll admit that MM is sometimes over the top when it comes to their reporting on O'Reilly - perhaps due to his reaction to them - but the vast majority of the time they are reporting on real misinformation on his part. (Sometimes on the right hand side of their page they include some of his more outrageous remarks that don't fall into the category of misinformation.) He just doesn't like being exposed for the fact that he sometimes spews out "information" that is either misleading or totally made up. Calling MM a "smear site" is right in line with that. I couldn't help but be sucked into seeing what he was going to say, so I tuned back into that segment, even though a crucial at-bat was going on in the ball game. What I am about to relay is based solely on my recollections of what I watched. I have no transcript available yet (I'm sure it'll be on MM tomorrow), but I'll give you the gist of it.

First, O'Reilly talked about how Media Matters and are funded by "far left" billionaires, like George Soros and Peter Lewis. I really don't see that as relevant information unless you also consider that many Right Wing web sites, think tanks and publishing houses are funded by Richard Mellon Scaife and other wealthy contributors. Recall that Scaife was the benefactor of The Arkansas Project, whose sole purpose was to dig up dirt on President Clinton. Talk about smear merchants. So we can see the beginning of "independent" O'Reilly's Fair and Balanced reporting.

Then, he had two guests on, both conservative journalists. (More balance.) He proceeded to lob them leading questions for them to essentially repeat everything he had to say about the source of MM's funding, and how its objective is to smear their political opponents. He asked if there are similar "smear sites" on the conservative side, and his guests said no. They obviously have too high a regard for sites like NewsMax and hundreds of others to call them smear sites. And yes, there are lots of left wing smear sites as well, but Media Matters isn't one of them. To compare apples to apples, Media Research Center and Accuracy In Media are far closer to that description than MM. (As I've explained in earlier posts, what sets Media Matters apart from them is that MM reports on misinformation, where the other ones report "bias", which is subjective and always according to the perspective of the viewer.) O'Reilly agreed that there are no conservative smear sites, but for pseudo-fairness he added that there was some of that going on during the Clinton years. Thanks for the balance, Bill.

Finally, it is worth noting that despite his constant smearing of Media Matters (which is well documented on MM itself), he steadfastly refuses to have David Brock or another MM representative on his show to answer the charges he makes against them - presumably because he's afraid to be confronted by the truth and embarrassed in front of his audience. And yet, he finished this segment by saying that he will have someone from a conservative site on tomorrow night! Just like the motto of Faux News in Arnold's Neighborhood: We Decide. Then Report.

What a jerk. But the night isn't totally lost. I've finished venting about O'Reilly, and the ball game is still going on. I'll finally get to witness intelligent life on TV.

Monday, October 24, 2005

RP, R.I.P.

Rosa Parks passed away this evening in Detroit at the age of 92. Mrs. Parks played a large part in causing a re-birth of the Civil Rights movement in the southern U.S., launching the career of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and starting the ball rolling toward the end of legal segregation in America.

There is a lot of mythology surrounding Mrs. Parks and what exactly happened on that bus in Montgomery, AL. The popular account is that Rosa courageously sat in the white section of the segregated bus, but that was not the case. In actual fact, she was sitting in the "colored" section in the back. However, she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, which she was obligated to do when the "white" section was full. She defiantly refused, faced the legal consequences, and a new movement arose. But Mrs. Parks was not even the first African American to refuse to give up a seat on a Montgomery bus. For some time, the NAACP wanted to try a test case, but couldn't find a suitable candidate who could hold up under the spotlight of a high profile trial - much like Branch Rickey's attempt to break the colour barrier in baseball. Mrs. Parks, herself employed years earlier as a secretary with the NAACP and still an active member, was chosen for the test case, and the rest is history. As the face of the struggle, she was the personification of grace and class, and nobody could have handled that kind of pressure any better. But Rosa paid a personal price for her notoriety, losing her job and being compelled to move out of Alabama and north to Detroit. Happily, she ended up working for another true American hero, John Conyers.

1955 was just twelve years before I was born. It blows my mind that as recently as that, there was still segregation in America based on the colour of people's skin. (In fact, such segregation didn't really end until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.) It goes to show you that it's impossible to simply dismiss matters of race out of hand and state, triumphantly, that those days have long passed. If only it could be that simple. I have no great wisdom on the topic, just admiration for the woman who took a stand by remaining seated. In an age of chickenhawks and do-nothing naysayers, we should all remember somebody who made a real contribution to her country's betterment.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Nellie Watch Your Back

I found out recently that I share a birthday with singer/songwriter extraordinaire Nellie McKay. I'm not one to develop any kind of attachment to or affection for the entertainers of the world, but if I were ever to fall in love with a showbiz type, it would be Nellie. I really dig this chick. I first became aware of Nellie when I was listening online one night to Air America and she was guesting. A couple of her recorded songs were played, and I was immediately taken in. It's rare for me to really get into a song or singer that I have never heard before, so I knew that she was something special. I downloaded the songs that had been played (shame on me), and eventually found and purchased her CD. It's titled Get Away From Me, an obvious jab at Norah Jones who had previously released Come Away With Me. Both McKay and Jones explore the more classic styles of American popular music, but the similarities end there. In my humble opinion, Norah couldn't hold Nellie's jockstrap - well, you know what I mean.

I'm not a music critic, and you can do a Google search and find plenty of reviews of Nellie and her CD. But I want to give you a sense of what her music is about. Critics have called her singing a combination of Doris Day/Billie Holiday/Eminem. They have called her songwriting part Cole Porter, part Randy Newman. And I would personally submit that one particular song, "Won't U Please B Nice" (incidentally, the first song she ever wrote) , is something that Tom Lehrer would be proud of. The fact is that Nellie has absorbed many influences, but she is a very unique artist. Her album has songs of many different styles - smooth jazz, bossa nova, easy listening, rap, dance, big band, etc. She plays a mean piano, as well as several other instruments on the album. The command with which she incoporates her lyrics into these styles is more than impressive. And what lyrics they are. They range from provocative, to funny, to downright dark. Some of her songs are politically charged, so she might not appeal to those of a different political persuasion, but there's no denying her talent. Oh yeah - did I mention that she was just 19 when this CD came out?

There are so many great songs on this CD, that it's hard to pick a favorite. I have a soft spot for songwriters who can marry light melodies with dark lyrics, and Nellie is right up there with the best of them on songs like "Ding Dong" and "Suitcase Song". Some critics don't like "It's a Pose", and the lyrics might be a little harsh on men, but you have to love the musical stylin'. I think Alanis Morissette should have a listen to that song to learn a thing or two about how to do angry chick music. My favorite track on the album is called "Work Song", which invokes images of commuting chattel. But I also think the album cover is really cool: There's Nellie looking angelic, wearing a red hooded jacket with her hands in the air, standing in front of a graffiti-laden wall, with a Parental Advisory logo in the corner. It's priceless. (There's a "clean" version of the CD available, but I wouldn't recommend it.) If ever there were a cross-generational album, this is it. I think I'm going to buy a copy for my mom.

McKay (pronounced Mak-eye) doesn't have a huge following yet, but she has talent to burn and could be a giant in a few years, and not just in music. She will have her Broadway debut in the spring as Polly Peachum in Wallace Shawn's new adaptation of The Threepenny Opera. She also has a couple of movies in the works. As she gets more stage and screen work, she will probably not tour very often in the future, so I am a bit disappointed that I didn't really become aware of her until after she last came to Toronto. (I've heard recordings of her live show, and it's great. Just Nellie and her piano, no backing band. Her album is actually a dual-disc, so you can see her in concert on the DVD side.) It wouldn't surprise me if she were to one day match Rita Moreno's accomplishment of winning an Oscar, Tony, Grammy and Emmy in her career. If that does come to pass, remember that you heard it here first. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to her second album that's coming out around Christmas.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Lights Out

Even when you're accustomed to living in a world of constant change and technological advancement, once in a while you see or read something that makes you take pause. That happened to me when I came across this story today. The electric incandescent lightbulb, the mother of all modern inventions, is about to become obsolete. Because of an accidental discovery by a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, LEDs can now be used to emit white light in a similar hue to the standard light bulb. This is a revolutionary breakthrough on many levels.

LEDs produce twice as much light as a regular 60 watt bulb and burn for over 50,000 hours. The Department of Energy estimates LED lighting could reduce U.S. energy consumption for lighting by 29 percent by 2025. LEDs don't emit heat, so they're also more energy efficient. And they're much harder to break.

That's certainly good news for anybody who's ever burned their finger on a bulb - when trying to change it after a paltry 1000 hours of use. In any measurable sense, this is nothing but a positive development. But a world without traditional lightbulbs will seem very strange. This got me thinking about all the things that I grew up with but have either vanished or are hopelessly obsolete.

- Every medium for recorded music. Vinyl records, 8-track tapes and cassette tapes have all faded into the sunset. And MP3 devices have started compact discs on the road to extinction. (We can throw the VCR in that category, to be followed by the DVD.)

- Camera flash cubes/flash bars. Remember those? My retinae sure do. Talk about leaving an imprint.

- The rotary telephone. This was actually obsolete in the mid-60's, but it is what I had in my house growing up. In fact, my father still had one up to a couple of years ago. The telephone itself isn't going to disappear, but with the advent of cell phones and especially VoIP technology, the traditional phone service providers need to radically alter their business models.

- Typewriters. I have to tell, you, the typewriter is one thing that I don't miss at all. I can't imagine now writing with something that doesn't have a spell checker or easy editing features. And with ink stains from the ribbon.

- Answering machines. This is another thing I won't miss when they are extinct. So much trouble, and so unreliable. I practically had to nag one friend to get rid of hers. Three bucks a month for voice mail won't kill you, but missing an important message might.

- Telegrams. Actually, you can still send one in the U.S. for $14.99 with Western Union.

- Fax machines. With PDF files and e-mail, you no longer need a fax machine. It's ironic that the device creating so much obsolescence has, itself, become obsolete. And it's another reason for the phone companies to be afraid.

- Leaded Gasoline. Believe it or not, the scientist who developed the lead additive to gasoline is the same guy who invented chlorofluorocarbons. Ouch.

There are probably tons of others I'm forgetting about. And we adapt to each change, usually welcoming it. But there's something sacred about old Edison's lightbulb. Oh well. At least we still have Pong.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

God Bless Slavery

Here's another example of why religion and politics are not a good mix. Mychal Massie, a right wing pundit and African American, went on a radio talk show and started out with a frank discussion about the problems in the black community and, indeed, he made some salient points that are worthy of discussion. But then he jumped the shark with this gem:

The black people today who curse America are cursing God because if God had not permitted the Ashanti and Dahomey tribes of ancient Africa to trap other Africans and sell them to the Muslims, who sold them to the Europeans, we would not have what we have today.

I'm sorry, but that is the point at which I file someone under W - for Wingnut. To invoke God into a discussion of worldly matters is a futile proposition, because matters of faith aren't compatible with logic. I've talked about this issue before. What exactly is God's will? Which bad things that happen are part of His master plan ("God permitted"), and which are just the acts of evil people against His will ("they have succumbed")? Massie said, "Had Joseph not been kidnapped and sold into slavery, he would not have been in a position to help his family in their time of need." If I recall my bible study right, he wasn't kidnapped but sold out by his siblings. It just goes to show no evil deed shall go unrewarded, and where the logic in these types of arguments breaks down. It's like saying we should hail Osama bin Laden as a hero for making America stronger and forging a plan for democracy in the Middle East. Um, no.

If we push God aside, Massie's assertion that had there not been slavery then "we would not have what we have today" is actually quite accurate, if "we" means all of us who live in the Western society. If not for a slave labour force, Europe and America could not have generated vast wealth and become the economic powers that now exist. (Do the ends justify the means?) But it is likely that African nations would have prospered better under different market conditions, and blacks in Africa would have prospered more in the long run than the descendents of slaves in the West. So it is no certainty that African Americans are better off because of slavery - at least the point is arguable, and doesn't warrant a condemnation on religious grounds.

Like I said, some of Massie's other points merit discussion. He talked about the decline of both two-parent households and business ownership in the black community, which would be a good chicken-and-egg issue to examine. (In some ways, de-segregation hurt black enterprise because African Americans exercised their newly found freedoms to go where they couldn't before, but no whites were rushing into black businesses. So does that mean God didn't want de-segregation to happen?) Mind you, he also made an inane remark about today's gangster's not being as well dressed as the ones of yore. (How does he know that God doesn't like tank tops and bling?) It's unfortunate that Massie chose to incite rather than inspire.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

One Small Step

It's time to post a positive story. It appears that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is starting to reap dividends in the Arab and Muslim world. It will be a long and bumpy road to establish formal ties with important Muslim nations, but every long journey begins with a single step. Pakistan's decision to accept earthquake relief aid from Israel might be a giant leap.

The fact that the foreign ministers from Pakistan and Indonesia are talking with their Israeli counterpart, even informally at this point, is an encouraging sign. The Gaza pullout seems to have given the Muslim countries an excuse to inch away from their hard line toward Israel.

In Kuwait, a leading newspaper carried an opinion piece that encouraged Arab nations to follow Pakistan's lead.

"Israel is not a bogey, and the notion of a greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates is no more than a scarecrow that the Arabs have used to justify their despotism, domestic injustice, and political, financial, and administrative corruption," wrote Yusuf Nasir Al Suwaydan, a Saudi.

However, there is still a long way to go when it comes to public opinion in the Arab world. The many years of vilifying Israel in the education system and media has apparently accomplished its purpose and will be hard to undo, even if it is to the benefit of those nations who perpetrated it.

The vehement opposition from the general public could make it difficult for leaders across the Middle East to go much farther in building ties with Israel until more progress is made with the Palestinians, said Mouin Rabbani, a Jordan-based senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

"At the end of the day, these states and governments in principle don't have any objection to going farther than they have already gone, but are being held back by their public opinion which is opposed to such relations," Rabbani said.

There may never be "normal" relations between Israel and the Arab world, but maybe they have turned the corner toward beginning to demonstrate the futility of past hostilities, and the benefits peaceful co-operation. If this is what Ariel Sharon had in mind when he pushed for the Gaza withdrawal, then I apologize for doubting his motives.

Banged Up

I try to blog every day if possible, but last night I couldn't. I was icing a painful charley horse sustained in my weekly basketball game. (I noticed that "charley horse" is usually preceded by "painful", and I now know why.) I'll be back tonight with a vengeance.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Dereliction Of Judy

The whole Judith Miller/Valerie Plame/Karl Rove/Scooter Libby affair keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. I have written before on this subject, and stated that while outing a covert agent for political purposes is a reprehensible thing to do, this scandal is of little interest to me except in the way it ties into the whole deception of the case for war in Iraq. That's where the Judith Miller portion of this story comes in.

Arianna Huffington blogged about how Miller's colleagues have been suspicious of her journalistic style for at least five years. Craig Pyes, himself a Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote a December 2000 memo in which he stated that he no longer wished to collaborate with Miller. Among other things, Pyes wrote, "She has turned in a draft of a story of a collective enterprise that is little more than dictation from government sources over several days, filled with unproven assertions and factual inaccuracies." Apparently old habits die hard. We now know that the bulk of what Miller wrote about WMD in the run-up to the war was bogus. But the New York Times executives seemed to care little about that, since they could wear their paper's hawkish position as a badge of honour. "[Executive Editor] Howell Raines was thrilled with Judy's WMD coverage, however credulous, because it allowed the Times to slough off the liberal label and present themselves as born again tough hawks -- perfect for the post-9/11 zeitgeist."

The Plame leak investigation has exposed that Miller was quite cozy with several administration officials. But an ambiguity has arisen over the source of Plame's identity. Within Miller's notes of a meeting with Libby, the name "Valerie Flame" (sic) is written down. And yet, Miller claims that she did not get that name from Libby and, further, she does not remember who she got it from. Yeah, right. She's only a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, so why should we be so picky about those small details? Don't we all go to jail over things we can't remember? But all of this falls into the pattern of the apparent symbiotic relationship between Miller and the Bush administration. She can report anything she feels will push the cause, and the administration can cite information published in the Paper of Record to legitimize their case. When the reporting turns out to be false, there is plausible deniability on the part of both the administration and Miller as to who was the original source of the flawed information. (Eric Alterman has an interesting take on all of this too. ) And this is what apparently happened with the Plame leak as well.

My hunch is that some deal will be struck, or some poor low level schlemazel will take the fall (a la Lynndie England) and everyone will wash their hands clean of this situation, without the big picture being exposed. Judy Miller will publish a book about her whole experience, and it will somehow find its way into the non-fiction section. And we will all live happily ever after, except for democracy and the integrity of the fourth estate.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Is That All There Is?

Over the weekend I saw a fantastic old animated film by the NFB called "Cosmic Zoom". It starts out with a peaceful scene of a boy and his dog in a rowboat on a river. The "camera" then pulls back right to the outer reaches of the universe, and along the way you can see perspectives of the earth, the solar system, the galaxy and the sheer vastness of all existence. But then, the "camera" zooms back in toward the earth and the boat. It zooms in toward a mosquito bite, and continues to zoom right down to the tiniest sub-atomic particles. The film ends the way it began, back with the boy and his dog in a boat on the river. In about five minutes, the film explores both the infinite and infinitesimal.

Seeing something like that makes you wonder why you are here. We are completely out of touch with everything vast, and completely oblivious to everything tiny. And how does anything we do in our lives have any affect on the vast universe? All we are in touch with is our own planet, and even that isn't permanent. Our sun won't exist forever, and when the day comes that it doesn't, will any of our recorded history matter? The truth is that everything we know in life is just an illusion, like a house of mirrors. To say "perception is reality" isn't just a cliche, it's bang on.

I'm not trying to wax philosophical here, because I'm certainly not a great mind in that field. But it's just a bit depressing sometimes to realize that we are less than quarks in the universe, and all of our ambitions, hopes and accomplishments really don't amount to a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. In that sense, we are truly equal. And it makes all of our petty squabbles even more petty. But since we're here, we have to try to do our best not to suffer to much and not allow others to suffer too much. That's the best I can come up with right now.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Everybody Into the Pool

It's a rite of autumn, back after last year's hiatus. Last night we held the draft for our annual NHL pool at work. And amid all the trash talking and preening and mocking of the way people mangled the pronunciations of some Eastern European names, all sixteen participants were in the same boat: We were totally winging it. I mean, after a year layoff and all the rule changes, who really knows what players will be the top performers this year? And just for added pressure, I drew the number 1 pick, which means that I had to essentially pick the year's scoring champion. Because our draft order reverses every other round, I wouldn't get my second pick until the 32nd overall, so drafting first isn't the best position to be in. I went for a safe pick, a proven performer who doesn't have a history of being prone to injury. Vancouver's Markus Naslund should be good for well over 100 points this year.

Everybody needed to draft nine forwards, three defencemen and two goalies (who get points for wins, OT/shootout losses and shutouts, as well as goals and assists). I'm California Dreamin' with my two goalies, Evgeni Nabokov in the Shark Tank and J-S Giguere on the Duck Pond.

I made an effort to avoid older players. Some of them might rack up a lot of points, but the risk of injury is too big. Plus, with the rule changes and tighter enforcement of hooking and holding, speed will be allowed to shine in the league once again. So I picked several rookies: Chicago's Pavel Vorobiev, Colorado's Marek Svatos, and New Jersey's Zach Parise, as well as Boston's sophomore star Patrice Bergeron. My oldest players are Naslund and the Islanders' Alexei Yahin and Jason Blake at 32, Nabokov and Nashville defenseman Kimmo Timonen at 30. I bet the guy who picked Brett Hull feels like a fool now. (He announced his retirement tonight.)

Rounding out my forwards are Daniel Briere (Buffalo) and Brian Gionta (New Jersey). My remaining defencemen are Zdeno Chara (Ottawa) and Ric Jackman (Pittsburgh). Heading into tonight's action I am in second place. Obviously there's a really long way to go (and my players aren't doing so well tonight from what I see), but it's nice to be off to a good start. Last time I was almost 100 points behind at Christmas, made a steady charge in the second half to briefly take the lead, and ended up in third place - which means I won my $40 back. It'll be $400 for the winner, and $180 for second place - with $20 going to for administration.

This is probably an extremely dull blog entry for most people, but I'm pretty excited about this NHL season. From what I've seen, the game looks great. They needed to do something about the clutching and hooking and open up the game, and that has certainly happened. If you haven't checked out a game in a few years, have another look. And Go Sharks! Go Ducks!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Down, Down, Down...

President Bush's approval rating is at an all time low of 40%, and his disapproval rating is at 51%. But who conducted this poll? CNN? CBS News? No. Fox News. "This is a new low for the president's approval rating — though down only 1 point from last month's low of 41 percent approval." Well, I guess that makes it all better. Like when Ogilvie in The Bad News Bears said, "Well, we committed 24 errors, and their pitcher threw a no-hitter against us, but there is some good news! Two of our runners almost managed to get to first base, and we did hit 17 foul balls!" Other media outlets have reported similar presidential approval ratings, as low as 38%, and some conservative commentators have questioned their methodology and how they might have been skewed. The Fox poll makes it quite clear where the U.S. population stands.

I also heard from Fox News that Bush's teleconference with soldiers serving in Iraq was staged and that a number of people at the Pentagon were not happy about the troops once again being used as political props for the president. Carl Cameron, the Fox White House correspondent who's objectivity about Bush is highly questionable, looked almost crestfallen as he reported that some White House staffers are shaking their heads over this. (Check out the video on the Fox News site .)

Does this mean that even conservatives are starting to abandon the Good Ship Dubya? It's no secret that conservatives have been upset with Bush over spending and deficits, border/immigration issues and the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination. But while Bush's approval from Republicans has slipped, it remains at 75% with only a 15% disapproval (vs. 11%/83% for Democrats). What should sound more of an alarm bell is the 34%/57% approval/disapproval rating from independents. A lot of those people held their noses to vote for Bush last November because of what they perceived to be a weak opponent, and they are suffering from buyer's remorse.

Despite what you may think, I get no perverse pleasure out of these developments. I'm no fan of Bush, but when a president (ANY president) is a miserable failure, the U.S. as a whole suffers. I'd rather have Bush govern in an acceptable way and get credit for it than what is happening now. I have argued since last year that people voted for Bush for a number of different reasons (security, war on terror, tax cuts, gay marriage, abortion, social security reform, etc.) but nobody voted for ALL of those reasons. There are people who support the global war on terror, but don't like the way Bush has exploited it to push an unacceptable domestic agenda. Or, they don't believe that the war in Iraq fits into the larger war on terror. Or, perhaps they do, but think Bush et al. have royally messed up the execution of that war. Or they don't want their social security or bankrupcy protection messed with. So Bush erroneously assumed he had a mandate for everything he ran on, and he's now paying the price for that assumption.

From what I've seen online, there's little chance for a true consensus on what's best for the country. But Bush is losing his grip on his ability to lead, and the American voters look like they will welcome a change in direction in upcoming elections. The Republicans in Congress might suffer a lot of casualties, but I'm not big on the Democrats either. It behooves people of all stripes to hold their elected representatives to a higher standard, and for the press to hold their feet to the fire. At least we know Fox News will do that if Democrats are in charge.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

You Say Atonement, I Say Repentance

This being Wednesday night, it is now Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is the day when Jews reflect upon the previous year, and contemplate how they will be judged in the eyes of God. More importantly, it offers an opportunity for each individual to perform a self-evaluation. But what exactly does "atonement" mean? According to Merriam-Webster Online, the definitions are:


2 : the reconciliation of God and man through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ

3 : reparation for an offense or injury : SATISFACTION

Several other dictionaries included both a Christian definition, and one related to reparations or compensation for a wrong. Obviously, in terms of Yom Kippur, we'll leave the Christian definition aside. But I find definition 3 above highly inadequate when it comes to Yom Kippur. When we think about the wrongs we commit, most cannot be compensated for in a tangible way. If you said something to a loved one you later regretted, or fell short on a promise, or committed any number of other such transgressions, the toothpaste is already out of the tube. You can't make reparations for what has happened, except the pledge to not allow it to happen in the future. In my mind, a more apt description of this day would be the Day of Repentance. The dictionary definition of teh verb "repent" is:

1 : to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life

2 a : to feel regret or contrition b : to change one's mind

That makes a huge difference. Simply providing reparations or compensation, even where it is possible, does not cleanse one's soul. It's like a large corporation harming someone through irresponsibility, writing a cheque to the victim, and going about its business as usual. But taking the time to feel contrite for one's actions and their consequences (definition 2a) is what Yom Kippur is all about. And hopefully that will lead to making the effort to examine the condition that led to those symptoms, and working to improve it (definition 1).

Coming on the heels of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, this is the true origin of the New Year's Resolution, except that is largely a spiritual resolution. Sadly, many people go through the customs, go to synagogue services and fast for Yom Kippur, but they either fail to grasp their personal responsibility on this day and for the coming year, or they lose interest in it faster than they do in their new gym membership after January 1st. I will try to do better this year. Thank you for bearing with me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Giving Thanks

Monday was Thanksgiving in Canada, and I paused to realize that I have a lot to be thankful for. Good health, (relative) prosperity, family and friends, living in a safe and secure country, and not having experienced natural disasters that have befallen much of humankind, especially over the last year. There but for the grace of God go I. Never forget that.

I want to make a point of talking briefly about the terrible earthquake that happened in South Asia over the weekend. Upon my return to town, I did the rounds of the usual blogs that I check out regularly, and I was extremely disappointed to see that nary a one brought up the earthquake. These are the kinds of moments that make me want to make this an anti-blog blog. Apparently politics has trumped humanity right now, and I am compelled to question the motivation behind a lot of the hurricane blogging. A disaster like the earthquake should put all others into perspective. As of this writing, there are 41,000 estimated deaths, and that number might rise. And the number of homeless people is in the millions. As a humanitarian disaster and crisis, this dwarfs Katrina, Rita, Stan and 9/11. It deserves at least as much attention as last year's tsunami. Mother Nature can sometimes be the worst terrorist of all, and we are helpless to do anything about her. I hope everybody still has a bit of generosity left.

I'll leave things at that while I shake away the cobwebs of a few days away from the writing routine. Tomorrow I'll likely be back to senseless opining while atoning.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Potpourri For $1000, Alex

Because I'm heading off for the long weekend and won't be posting for a few days, I wanted to take my parting shots on a few items in the news.

It turns out that the "mystery disease" in a Toronto nursing home is probably Legionnaires' disease. Now that the mystery is over, I hope that we don't suffer the same overreaction from tourists that we had after the SARS episode. No, we've never walked around with masks here. (Nor do we live in igloos.)

Karl Rove is going to testify before the grand jury in the Plame leak case. I can't imagine him doing that unless he and the administration know that there is some high-profile hide on the line here, maybe his own. Does it say Libby-Libby-Libby on the indictment-dictment-dictment?

The Habs are now 2-0! Has Michael Ryder sewn up that MVP award yet? At this pace, he'll finish the season with 82 game winning goals. All that matters now is that the beat the Leafs into submission on Saturday. Leafs fans are just so annoying.

And President Bush gave a major speech to re-iterate the rationale for the war in Iraq. He did make some excellent points about the importance of keeping up the overall war on terror, but his analogies between terrorism and communism were tired and weak. Indeed, a lot of his speech (I read the transcript) was what would be referred to in a court of law as prejudicial rather than probative. He was very short on details, and long on recycled rhetoric. Maybe it played better verbally than in writing (knowing what a skilled orator the president is), but to me it read like a glorified cut-and-paste job. Most importantly, he has still left me unsatisfied with three aspects of the whole Iraq invasion: 1. He still talks about Iraq from the point of view of a revisionist, rather than in the same terms he used before the war started. Many of the reasons for needing to fight there now were not there in the beginning. 2. Even if you accept every reason for going into that war, he has not talked about the apparent lack of competence in the civilian leadership's execution of it, and 3. While he talks of sacrifice, there is still nobody making sacrifices for this war other than the members of the military and their families, and maybe some poor hurricane victims. The wealthiest people and corporations (with the most assets for the military to protect) have had their taxes cut and contributed nothing to the war effort. Finally, I found some irony in his description of Osama bin Laden as a "man who grew up in wealth and privilege" who says, "his own role is to tell Muslims, quote, 'what is good for them and what is not.'" (And I think some people might also find irony in his statement, "Evil men obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience must be taken very seriously, and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply.")

I'm off to Montreal for Thanksgiving weekend, and likely won't post again until Monday. I wish everyone a happy turkey day in Canada, and a happy Columbus Day south of the 49th.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I'm Not Wild About Harriet

What a night! The NHL is back! If the first night is any indication of what to look forward to for this season, I might have to start watching some hockey again. (And the best part of this night is that the Habs won and the Leafs lost!) But I'm going to take a moment out of the great Canadian re-awakening and say a few words about the nomination of Harriet Miers.

I'm not going to sugarcoat this. I see the Miers selection as a bit of a microcosm of what is wrong with the Bush presidency - it's a combination of cronyism and political manipulation. There isn't anybody I have heard or read who could make a case that Miers is the most qualified candidate for such an important position. There have been many other justices who had not had judicial experience, so that isn't the disqualifying factor in my opinion. But consider the following: She has never argued a case before the Supreme Court. She has not had an extensive history of published papers related to constitutional law. She has not practiced law that particularly pertains to the types of cases that the Supreme Court has to decide. This isn't a personal attack on her, but she doesn't seem to have ANY of the credentials one would normally associate with a Supreme Court Justice. All we know about her is that she's a very hard worker, a conservative and someone that Bush values very highly. In other words, if she had the same credentials but had never crossed paths with Bush, there's no way that she would have been considered for the job. If this isn't cronyism, I don't know what is. If Bush thought she had the goods, he could have nominated her for a federal circuit court a long time ago. Or, he could have nominated her before John Roberts for the O'Connor seat. The bottom line is that she was nominated now because Bush wanted to get another conservative on the Court with as little paper trail as possible, thus avoiding a protracted fight at a time when his party is politically vulnerable. In other words, he's trying to pull a fast one.

This appointment has caused more division in conservative opinion than I've seen in a long time. The people who have praised the Miers nomination have done so because they see it as a brilliant political manoeuvre to get another conservative vote on the Court. They seem to forget that there's more to being a Supreme Court justice than just mailing in a pre-determined vote. And, of course, there are plenty of Freeper types who object to the nomination because they fear that Miers will be another stealth appointee, like the much-maligned David Souter. I think it's safe to assume that this won't happen. (I'd be willing to wager that Miers will be a safer conservative vote than Roberts, who seems like a fair-minded chap to me.) But there are a good number of conservative objectors who have an honest take on it, like George Will, David Frum and even Michelle (Internment Camp) Malkin. They recognize the selection for the cronyism it is.

To me, whatever Harriet Miers does on the bench now is irrelevant. Suppose you were a good student who didn't quite have the marks to get into an Ivy League school, but your mother was an old friend of the Dean of Admissions at Harvard, and she could find a spot for you. Let's then suppose that you went on to garner straight A's at Harvard. Would the end result justify your admission, or was it wrong for you to take the place of someone better qualified? Would you feel at all guilty about taking the place of someone who earned their rightful admission? In this case, Miers herself was one of the deans of admissions, so she should have known that she was not the best candidate for the job. Maybe the fact that Miers even accepted this nomination tells us all we need to know about her character.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Shana Tova

It is Rosh Hashana, and I want to wish all my Jewish family and friends a peaceful and prosperous new year.

Since it's a High Holy Day, I will use that as an excuse to be lazy and just refer you to this. It is a reminder to those who care about what is happening in Iraq to realize that a.) the issue isn't a straight stay-or-go proposition, and b.) the people "supporting the troops" aren't who you think they are.

May this be a year of more celebration and less suffering.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Heading Home

The 2005 baseball regular season is finally over. This was a tough year for me, since it was my first without a real rooting interest. I could just never get myself to pull for the Washington Nationals, even though I like a lot of the players on that team. I took a little bit of comfort in the fact that they had a sufficient amount of turnover and increased payroll for me to consider them a totally different team. I never really rooted against them, but they are now just another team. And I still get an empty feeling reading through the National League scores and not seeing "Montreal" listed. So I'm looking to adopt a team, and I'm soliciting offers. My only real criterion is that it be a National League team, since I abhor the designated hitter rule.

(I posted on an MLB newsgroup shortly before the season started, asking people to make a case for why I should adopt their team. Alas, I turned a lot of people off when I made a joke about the team having to come from a blue state. People took it seriously! Man, you wouldn't believe the abuse I took for that throwaway line. Politically-charged people need to learn a little bit about the virtues of self-deprecation.)

One team that I was considering to adopt is the San Diego Padres, largely because they were the Expos' expansion cousins. And they have made me look good by winning the NL West like I had predicted they would. But they won the division at 82-80?!?!?!? They did, finally, finish above .500, but it's still ridiculous that a team can get into the post-season with that record. Washington was 81-81 and finished dead last in the East. This is what the six division alignment and wild card has wrought. And I hate it. (For the record, the Mets won the East in 1973 at 82-79 when it was four divisions and no wild card.) I also hate the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox finished tied, but they won't have a playoff to determine the division winner. I'm a bit of a purist in baseball, and liked it when ties were broken by playing a game rather than relying on a statistical formula like the other sports do. There is something sacrilegious about the fact that the Yanks and Sox won't settle their tie in a playoff because of what happened to a team in another division. I know that there are pragmatic reasons for this, but a division title is a great accomplishment over 162 games and a point of prestige, and the Red Sox shouldn't be denied the chance to win it just because they qualify as the wild card. It all leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I'm not even a Red Sox fan.

Now that I got that off my chest...Congratulations to the Braves for winning their 14th straight division title. (I won't mention that the Expos were 6 games up on them in 1994 when the strike happened.) I don't think people really appreciate what an amazing thing it is to keep putting out a winning team year after year after year. Because they've only won one World Series, they don't get the credit they really deserve. Really, it's a lot more impressive to consistently win over 162 games than in a short series. That's a nice way of saying that I don't think they'll make it to the Series this year.

I guess I should make a pick, so here it is. The Cardinals have a great team, and should make it out of the National League. But I'm sticking with my pre-season prediction of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (don't get me started on that) to go all the way. If it turns out this way, I look forward to seeing a portion of your winnings. If not, Poison Pero will re-imburse your losses.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A Question For Believers

One subject that I really don't like to touch online is religion. I was raised Jewish, but I'm very secular in my life right now. I'm not a fan of organized religion, for reasons that I won't get into. I guess you could best describe me as an agnostic. Some would say that an agnostic is just an atheist with an insurance policy, but in my case it is an extension of my logical nature. (I'm definitely more a thinker than a feeler.) Truth be told, I hope that there is a supreme deity and that there's some kind of existence to look forward to after this one, but I've not seen evidence yet. It is because of that hope that I maintain a degree of spiritual consciousness. However, I cannot pray. This is a story that I haven't told that many people, so consider this a Jaymeister secret revealed:

I grew up in the 70's and 80's, during the height of the cold war. Anybody my age will remember what a profound impact the TV movie The Day After had on us. What it portrayed was actually nowhere near as bad as what would happen after a real nuclear attack, but it was still horrifying. A few months earlier there had been another TV movie called Special Bulletin about nuclear terrorism (which, BTW, was way ahead of its time in its portrayal of the news media) that also scared the bejeezas out of me. So after watching The Day After, lying in bed sleepless, I had a silent conversation with God. I told Him that if He could prevent a nuclear war from breaking out, I would not ever again ask him for anything. So far, we've both held up our ends. But that's why I can never honestly tell someone that they are in my prayers.

I've seen exchanges between believers and non-believers online, and I don't want to touch them with a ten foot pole. While religion is just another subject of debate for me, for someone else it's the very core of their existence, and I'm sensitive to that fact. Sometimes I'll see something in a religious context that I find to be totally outrageous, and I'll bite my tongue (or my typing fingers.) But I realize that a number of conservatives with whom I have had good exchanges are devout Christians, and I have a pressing question about that regarding political discourse, so I hope one of them will be kind enough to indulge me with an answer.

Many on the Right refer to American protesters of U.S. foreign policy as the "Hate America" crowd, and believe their criticism necessarily equates a hate for the country and all it stands for. So my question is how do you, as a Christian, reconcile your condemnation of your political adversaries for "hating America" with the basic Christian tenet of loving the sinner while hating the sin? In other words, can somebody not hate an action taken by America without hating America? Does their criticism not prove that they, in fact, love America? I ask this not out of disrespect, but because it has been on my mind for a while and my curiosity sometimes gets the better of me. I thank you in advance for setting me straight, and will try to avoid any more such inquiries.