Saturday, December 08, 2007

Let's Do The Time Warp Again

It's Pretend to be a Time Traveler day! Only you can't actually tell people you're a time traveler -- that'd make you crazy. Instead, try these helpful suggestions:
- If you go the "prisoner who's escaped the future" try shaving your head and putting a barcode on the back of your neck. Then stagger around and stare at the sky, as if you've never seen it before.

- Walk up to random people and say "WHAT YEAR IS THIS?" and when they tell you, get quiet and then say "Then there's still time!" and run off.

- Stand in front of a statue (any statue, really), fall to your knees, and yell "NOOOOOOOOO"

- Stare at newspaper headlines and look astonished.

- Take some trinket with you (it can be anything really), hand it to some stranger, along with a phone number and say "In thirty years dial this number. You'll know what to do after that." Then slip away.

Funny, if slightly mean-spirited. Via my ex-roommate's girlfriend's father (Luuuuke....).

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Martha Nussbaum Interview

She talks to The Guardian, and solidifies her well-established reputation as a total baller (that's a good thing).

Freedom to Not Believe

Trying to derail a certain segment of the population who doesn't want to vote for a candidate of his religion, Mitt Romney decides to slander those who hold no religion instead.
"What he is trying to say is 'I am a person of faith. Forget the fact what my faith is, that I am a Mormon. You might be Christian. You might be Jewish. I'm a person of faith. I believe in God,' " Martin said.

Romney said religion is essential to freedom, without pointing to any specific faith.

"Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone," the GOP contender said.

I hate this. I hate that Romney feels comfortable telling a significant portion of the population -- including many of my friends -- is incapable of grasping or maintaining freedom. I hate that he'll probably get wonderful coverage of his speech anyway. I hate that Romney was compelled to give this speech because certain people don't think his religious creed is suitable to lead America, and I hate that he decided to pander to that group rather than repudiate them. I hate that, insofar as it plays into things at all, excluding atheists from the American creed will probably give him a bump in the polls. I hate how it forces my religiosity into a state of conflict with my irreligious peers.

It's sickening to me.

I have friends who are Jewish, and I have friends who are Christian. I have friends who are Hindu and Muslim and Buddhist and Animist and atheist, and friends who are still deciding. All of them understand the blessing of liberty. All of them know the meaning of respect, and dignity, and morality, and freedom. They are righteous individuals to a person, regardless of creed. And I speak as someone who does believe that we all carry a spark of the divine in them -- you do not insult my peers, my colleagues, my friends, and do it under the banner of religious freedom. That slanders the name of religion and poisons my faith.

Boxing Blogging: Mayweather/Hatton Preview

The first boxing card I've ever bought on PPV (Chanukah present from my parents) will be this Saturday -- headlined by the highly anticipated bout between pound-for-pound number one Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Ricky "Hitman" Hatton.

I may be the only person who is actively rooting for Mayweather to win. I don't like his arrogant, bad-boy act anymore than the next guy (though it is without a doubt an act). But, as a wise man said, it's not ego if you can back it up, and Mayweather really is that good. He wins his bouts because he is simply better than anybody else in the sport. It's why he can beat an elite fighter like Oscar De La Hoya 24 pounds and four weight divisions heavier than when he turned pro. It's not because he's a naturally big guy. It's because he has amazing skills. Put simply, I respect anyone who is that good. It's the same reason I like Roger Federer.

Ricky Hatton is an excellent fighter, but he does not strike me as being at that level. Part of it is bad luck: the opportunities he's had to impress have all turned out to have asterisks attached (through no fault of Hatton's). His last fight against Jose Luis Castillo, which was supposed to erase all doubts about whether Hatton was for real, turned out to demonstrate merely that Castillo was totally shot as a fighter. Yes, Hatton's body shot KO was sweet. But I saw that fight, and it's not like Castillo was competitive prior to that. Even Hatton's biggest victory, against Kostya Tszyu, came with the same problem: Tszyu retired after that bout, and folks wondered if Hatton could have beaten him in his prime. Meanwhile, Hatton has shown far more vulnerability than Mayweather has. While I think the weight issue is overblown (Hatton has been a lifelong junior welterweight, while Mayweather turned pro as a junior lightweight), it is true that Hatton struggled mightily in his only fight at 147 lbs., against Luis Collazo (a fight he arguably lost). Mayweather, by contrast, hasn't even been threatened in a fight since 2002 against a prime Jose Luis Castillo. I have to admit, I'm kind of enjoying Mayweather's current run, where he sits at the top of boxing and just fights elite boxers -- titles be damned. Indeed, I kind of hope after this fight that Mayweather moves back down in weight -- if he could make it back 135 lbs., there are all sorts of fantastic match-ups available (and Floyd actually has power in that weight class). Mayweather versus Juan Diaz? Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao!?! I'd love it. And even if stays in the welterweight division, him facing Miguel Cotto would be every bit as amazing.

And the final reason I'm rooting for Mayweather is that Hatton's style bugs me. In recent bouts, he's gone back to "hook and hold", which is unbelievably dull. It could be effective against Floyd -- the wrestling will wear him down, and the grabbing will prevent him from moving -- but it would be a cheap way to a victory. I hope the referee doesn't let him do it. If Floyd wins, he'll do it by being pretty, while if Hatton wins, he'll make it look ugly. The aesthete in me prefers the former, greatly.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I forgot the undercard to this match-up. Honestly, it's not the best one I've seen. Assuming his injury is totally healed, I think Jeff Lacy should tear through Peter Manfredo, who just isn't at the level Lacy is. Sure, Lacy got schooled by Joe Calzaghe (as did, lest we forget, Manfredo), but as the Welshman's fight against Miguel Kessler showed, that's because Calzaghe is a bona fide top five pound-for-pound fighter. There is no shame in losing to him like that. Manfredo is over-hyped due to The Contender. Lacy at least has the potential to be the real thing.

I don't know anything about Eduardo Escobedo. I do know his opponent, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and what I've seen is scary. Ponce de Leon is a blistering puncher, with unbelievable one-punch power. It's arguable that Rey Bautista should have gotten a bit more seasoning before going in with Ponce de Leon, but he was undefeated and not nobody. He got taken apart viciously inside of one round. Maybe Escobedo has the skills to stand up and take Ponce de Leon's shots. But I'd be surprised.

Finally, there is a rematch between Edner Cherry and Wes Ferguson. I saw fight number one, and while it was an entertaining scrap (won by Cherry), I didn't see anything in it that demanded a rematch, nor much reason to expect Ferguson could turn it around this time. Neither one has much power, but Cherry has more than Ferguson does, and Cherry likes to fight rough. The upshot is that he can get inside at will, and Ferguson doesn't possess the lead to keep him off. When Ferguson switched from trying to box to trading, he ended up worse as well. Still, Ferguson is a Mayweather protege, which makes him somewhat of a house fighter, and he clearly wants revenge, so we could see a fight.

One more thing. While I think Mayweather will win the fight, boxing is a fickle sport, and for some reason I think that the powers-that-be are tired of Mayweather ruling his perch. If it goes to a decision (as seems likely) and it's in any way close, I wouldn't be surprised if Hatton takes it "controversially". That would be a huge black eye for the sport.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Alright With Me

I'm a bit behind the ball on this one, but I wanted to point to Fred Thompson's response to grumblings from the religious right that he is insufficiently religious:
Thompson dismissed those comments, saying "I'm OK with the Lord, and the Lord is OK with me as far as I can tell."

I note this because I think it's a good answer, particularly given the political forces must be pushing Thompson in a much more aggressive direction. After all, Thompson was originally recruited into the race as the Christian conservative candidate -- a niche he hasn't done a good job filling. Yet, Thompson resisted the temptation to engage in the classic warrior-for-Christ type language that seems so common in the GOP, in favor of a much more relaxed, low-key answer. I appreciate that.

Of course, it's probably politically foolish. But I've noticed that about the Republican field -- any time they do something I like, it invariably is the sort of thing that will hurt them in the primary.

Chanukah Happenings

As any good Jew could tell you, today is the first night of Chanukah. Driving to pick up my Nana, the local rock station was playing a "Jewish rock marathon", which amused me. But it turns out we represent pretty well. Slash of Guns and Roses? Saul Hudson (only half Jewish, but still). Joey Ramone? Jeff Hyman. And of course, the lead singer for Disturbed is David Draimen, who was raised Orthodox Jewish.

I'm generally a difficult guy to shop for, as there is rarely anything I really want. This year though, I actually had some desires, and I kind of implicitly cashed on being such an easy mark the prior years to convince the parents to spring for an X-Box 360. Excellent.

Tomorrow, I'm going to visit the brother at UVA (and catch the 'Hoos playing Syracuse). So that should be treat as well.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Alabama Black Community Splits on Obama, Clinton

From the Huntsville Times, two prominent elements of Alabama's Black political community have split on whether to endorse Illinois Senator Barack Obama, or New York Senator Hillary Clinton. The Alabama Democratic Conference had already endorsed Clinton back in October, but the Alabama New South Coalition responded Saturday by giving Obama the nod.

By itself, this is fine. The Black community consists of mature voters, and they, along with everyone else, are free to decide that any candidate is the most qualified, would best protect their interests, and would overall be the best President. Obama does not have a lock on these votes, nor should he. He has to earn them.

Rather, I am distressed by the stated reasons some members of Alabama's Black community have for withholding their support from Obama:
Before the endorsement vote, Perry County Commissioner Albert Turner praised Obama's qualifications, but urged the group to support Clinton.

"The question you have to put forth to yourself is that whether or not in this racist country a black man named Obama — when we are shooting at Osama — can win the presidency of the United States?" Turner said.

I can't say I blame Mr. Turner. Certainly, Black Americans in Alabama have every right to be skeptical of their White compatriots.

But nonetheless, that hurts me. It hurts me that Black Americans think my peers and I would not even consider Senator Obama on his merits. Again, I can't blame Commissioner Turner: he's the one who has to deal with the fallout when White people vote on racist grounds, and I can't blame him for adopting whatever strategy he thinks is most likely to help his people and bring them forward. But I read passages like that, and all I want to do is prove him wrong. I really think that Obama is the type of candidate that can change things with regard to race in America, if only given the chance.

Just give us the chance....

If You Want It, You Can't Have It

Dwight D. Eisenhower related a story that happened to him when he was a kid. He was sitting with his best friend by the creek, and his friend asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Ike replied that he wanted to be a baseball player -- a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. His friend responded that he wanted to be President of the United States. "Neither of us," Eisenhower reflected ruefully, "got our wish."

Hillary Clinton is literally using an essay Obama wrote in kindergarten, saying that he wanted to be president, against him in the primaries. I understand where she's coming from -- Obama has been jabbing at her for being too overt in her desire for the presidency. But this strike back smacks of absurdism.I know Hillary's great asset as a campaigner is that she lets no attack go unanswered. But she needs to at least train her fire more accurately -- the other anecdotes she has about Obama's early Presidential ambitions (say, the one's that date after college) are fair game. His elementary school education? Less so.

Meanwhile, I'm beginning to think my greatest qualification to become United States President is that I never wanted to be it as a kid. Not that I want it now. But if my country needs me, I guess I could be convinced to serve.



Sunday, December 02, 2007

Democracy Wins Vote By a Thread

Well I'll be. Venezuelan voters have rejected a proposal promoted by President Hugo Chavez that would have drastically increased his presidential powers, as well as moving the state towards full-blown socialism. This, in case anybody had a doubt, would have been a bad thing.

I'm surprised, primarily because I didn't think Chavez was interested in a fair vote. But I stand corrected -- his package of amendments lost 51-49%, and he has pledged to abide by the results.

Fog of Faux-Warriors

I just finished reading Franklin Foer's "Fog of War" piece, his final explanation of the entire Scott Beauchamp saga. After painstakingly documenting how the magazine checked and rechecked the story, Foer concluded that "we cannot be confident that the events in his pieces occurred in exactly the manner that he described them. Without that essential confidence, we cannot stand by these stories."

I don't think I ever blogged on this controversy before. I don't recall doing so, and a search through my archives for "Beauchamp" yielded nothing. I don't have a dog in this hunt. Hence, I feel like I was able to read Foer's article with a relatively open mind. It demonstrates the type of complete, thorough investigation conservative bloggers have been screaming for for months on end. Judging from their reaction, it is clear that a cohesive look into Beauchamp's articles is the last thing they wanted. (here's, e.g., Powerline, Malkin, Astute Blogger)

Let's be clear. TNR took a lot of heat on this story -- far more than was ever justified even if Beauchamp turned out to be a total liar. It would have been very easy for them to just throw him to the wolves entirely and watch the heat dissipate. Instead, they decided to actually try and figure out what happened -- no mean feat when the subject is first person accounts of events that occurred in a war-zone (a war which, it might bear repeating, is still on-going).

The results of their investigation make a few things clear. First, with the exception of keeping Elspeth Reeves as the primary fact-checker after she married Beauchamp (they were friends when he started writing for TNR, and married later), TNR did nothing wrong. They fact-checked the stories as best they could, they did the effort to corroborate them from outside sources. There are limits to what a magazine could reasonably have been expected to do, and The New Republic in no way cut corners on its journalistic responsibility.

Second, Beauchamp's stories are still quite plausible. Even the one clear error -- the jokes about the woman with burns on her face at the forward base in Iraq -- looks to have been a genuine error, not a deliberate lie. The story was traced and corroborated to have occurred, only in Kuwait prior to the war, not Iraq. This is not a meaningless error, as the story was used to illustrate the way that war corrupts the minds of soldiers, and if it occurred prior to entering combat, this makes no sense. But the fact that the story likely did happen makes it more likely this was an innocent error with times mixed up than a deliberate effort at fabrication. Beyond that, none of Beauchamp's accounts have been shown to be wrong. They have in no way been "debunked" or proven false. As Foer said, Beauchamp's accounts were corroborated independently by nearly an entire company of fellow soldiers. By contrast, the supposed recantations were done under considerable duress -- there is simply no way to take seriously the kind of coerced statements the army managed to drag out of Beauchamp's platoon mates. I dare say that after reading Foer's reports, he did not have to retract the stories at all. This isn't to say we know what Beauchamp said is true -- in such a situation, we have no way of knowing, and the people who acted as if we were going to find out clear-as-day were deluding themselves. Foer's standard, "essential confidence" that every event Beauchamp described "occurred in exactly the manner that he described them," is laudably high -- indeed, likely impossible for a first-person war story to meet. Certainly, conceding that Beauchamp's tale did not reach it is hardly the same thing as calling him a liar. Hence, anybody who claims that TNR has "admitted" that Beauchamp is a liar or a fabricator is the only known liar or fabricator in the discussion.

Virtually none of the conservative bloggers I read on this story expressed the remotest interest in Foer's actual investigation. Far from it -- they mocked it incessantly. They accused him of simply trying to save his own skin (from who?), or of double-speak. Undoubtedly, this is because the investigation shows that TNR had more than enough evidence to run these pieces, and when faced with critique, they underwent a rigorous retrace of every pertinent detail to find the truth. Their conservative interlocutors, by contrast, showed no rigor and no interest in truth -- content to take selectively leaked military reports as dogma and amateur blogger investigations as articles of faith. It was embarrassing to read then, and it is even more embarrassing now, in the face of a true effort like Foer's.

From the start, I suspected that the conservative outrage over Beauchamp's articles stemmed from two primary sources, neither of which was particularly conducive to finding out the truth. The first was a desire to pin a liberal skull to their wall, and the second was a child-like belief that American soldiers could do no wrong -- the same mentality that led them to dismiss Abu Gharib, the same mentality that leads them to deny even today the overwhelming evidence of American complicity (if not outright participation) in torture. Their writings throughout these past few months have done nothing to dissuade me of that notion and a lot to strengthen it. It is immature, it is juvenile, and it is far more of a black mark on their integrity than anything The New Republic will come away with.