Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On to the Quarter Finals

The Round of 16 in the World Cup is over and now it's South America against the World!

Each game in the Quarter Finals features a South American team. They will play three European opponents and an African opponent.

It's going to be WILD!

I did pretty good in the Round of 16 going 7-1. If I had reversed my U.S. picks, I'd be looking pretty savvy. That, of course, would be utterly misleading.

Ok, on to the Quarter Finals. I'm going to quit while I'm ahead and not make any picks. But, if I were foolish enough to pick the games I'd take:

Uruguay over Ghana
Brazil over the Netherlands
Germany over Argentina
Spain over Paraguay

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Christian Legal Society and the University of California

As reported in my Center for Inquiry (CFI) newsletter, the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the University of California Hastings Law School sued the university because the school refused to fund the CLS due to a claimed violation of the school’s non-discrimination policy.

Basically the CLS wanted to be able to exclude students from joining based upon religion and sexual orientation. Under school policy this means they cannot get funding. The CLS claimed this violated their rights of association, free speech and free exercise of religion.

Note that under the non-discrimination policy, the school claimed that Republicans can’t be barred from joining Democratic clubs and Democrats can’t be barred from joining Republican clubs if those organizations desire university funding. This was described as an “accept all comers” policy.

However, Christians think they’re entitled to special privileges.

In 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled unanimously against the CLS because the school supposedly, under its “accept all comers” policy, prohibited every student group, whether religious or secular, from excluding students that disagreed with the group's mission. Therefore a conservative Christian group cannot demand funds while excluding gay, non-Christian, or non-conservative Christian students. The CLS appealed, claiming that it had a constitutional right to receive state funding while discriminating against students on the basis of religion and sexual orientation. A right not enjoyed by any secular organization.

The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Appellate Court. This is a good thing obviously. The bad thing is that it was only a 5-4 decision.

Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Thomas dissented.

I found the basis of the dissent rather interesting. Basically it questioned whether the “accept all comers” policy really existed prior to the CLS lawsuit or whether it was an interpretation added after the fact.

This struck me as sort of a nit. The non-discrimination policy clearly states that registered student organizations cannot discriminate based upon “race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation.”

The CLS wanted to discriminate based upon both religion and sexual orientation so it’s not clear to me why whether the “accept all comers” policy was really always in place or whether it was a relatively new interpretation mattered one iota.

The dissent also pooh-poohed the emphasis on funding when much of what the CLS was denied as a non-registered organization didn’t involve money as much as access. I find this a nit also. “Funding” doesn’t mean just money; it means support in general and this includes access and ready clearance for group activities.

The fact of the matter is that the dissenting four suspect that the university just didn’t like the CLS and what the CLS stood for. I don’t blame them for not liking the CLS but does that mean the group should be silenced?

Granted, Freedom of Speech means defending the speech of people you may not like but it doesn’t mean paying them, either through actual funds or in facilitation, to make it easier for them to make that speech.

The court was right and the four dissenters are just looking for excuses to extend more special privileges to Christians. At least this time Justice Kennedy didn’t get suckered in.

The World Cup on TV

I actually got to watch a few games over the weekend and Monday afternoon.

My first chance was Uruguay vs. South Korea while on the treadmill at the gym. As soon as I turned it on the vuvuzelas became obvious and extremely annoying. They remained annoying but somewhere along the line I managed to almost ignore them.

If they were that annoying on the TV, what must it be like at the games? Those things should all be rounded up and burned. Anyone that shows up with one at Giant’s Stadium is going to get it shoved somewhere. I also think they are interfering with communications among the players and that means they are affecting the game.

I then watched the USA vs. Ghana and saw finesse win over brute force. The U.S. has a ways to go if you ask me. I missed Germany beating England but watched Argentina do its thing over Mexico.

I was suitably impressed with Argentina until I saw Brazil. Brazil is a whole different ball game. The size, strength, maneuverability, speed and ability to control the ball were awe inspiring. Chile was obviously a damn good team and Brazil made it look like professionals against a recreation league team.

I won’t get to see any of the Spain vs. Portugal game today and that’s sort of disappointing. As a matter of fact, my next opportunity probably won’t be until Saturday afternoon unless I sneak in a look see at Argentina vs. Germany Saturday morning.

Now let’s talk about the goal controversies. Yes, bad calls are a part of the sport. But a goal is so critical in soccer I don’t see why FIFA won’t use the available technology to at least correct the more obvious mistakes. Their attitude seems to be don’t tell anyone the refs blew a call and the problem will go away. With games being televised, that’s just not going to happen. FIFA should drag itself into the 21st century.

One other thing, by far the best thing about the World Cup is no freaking commercials. With no time-outs, there's no way to cut away. Another reason why the sport will never be big in the U.S.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Soccer Universe is back in Order

Spain defeated a game, tough Chile team 2-1 while Switzerland could only manage a 0-0 tie with Honduras.

That means Spain and Chile advance. Spain will meet Portugal and Chile will play Brazil. And no I'm not going to make myself look any more ridiculous by trying to choose the Round of 16 winners. After a lack luster 11-5 record in the Group Finals, I'm retiring before I make a complete fool of myself.

But if I was going to pick I'd take:

Uruguay over South Korea
USA over Ghana
Germany over England
Argentina over Mexico
Netherlands over Slovakia
Paraguay over Japan
Brazil over Chile
Spain over Portugal

Oh I'm SO dumb but I just can't resist getting egg all over my face.

Pakistan to censor “Blasphemy”

According to the AP, Pakistan is going to begin monitoring seven major Internet Sites for links that lead to offensive content. The plan is to then block the links without disturbing the rest of the site.

The seven sites to be monitored are Yahoo, Google, MSN, Hotmail, YouTube, Amazon and Bing.

Allow me to suggest that the Pakistani’s might find themselves blocking a lot of links.

Pakistan will also continue to block some 17 sites they deem offensive to Muslims.

And who pray tell decides what is offensive, sacrilegious or blasphemous?

That’s always the problem with censorship. Someone has to decide what to censor. Who is the authority on what is offensive? And where does it stop? If you allow blocking “sacrilegious” content today, what’s to prevent blocking political content tomorrow and advertising content the day after that and ultimately anything someone in power decides he doesn’t like?

It’s a slippery slope and yes I’m aware of the logical fallacy associated with slippery slope arguments. I’m not saying it will happen, I’m simply asking what’s to prevent it from happening.

So are Muslims little children that aren’t capable of deciding for themselves which websites to frequent and which to avoid? Or is it that Islam is so easy to expose as a fraudulent philosophy?

I say the same thing to Muslims that I say to Christians; if you have the “truth,” then bring it to the open forum of knowledgeable adult discussion. Let’s compare it against other “truths” and see which “truths” prosper and which fail.

The Final Group

We’re down to the final group in the World Cup. The Netherlands breezed by and Japan upset Denmark in Group E and Brazil and Portugal moseyed on it with a 0-0 tie in Group F.

That’s leaves me at 9-5, which is pretty pathetic, with only Group H to play. I picked Spain and Chile to advance here. The fly in the ointment is Switzerland.

If Switzerland beats Honduras they will have 6 points and Spain MUST beat Chile to advance. That would leave all three teams with 6 points and the question becomes the margins of the victories.

If Spain wins by more than one goal, or if Switzerland wins by more than one goal, Switzerland would advance with Spain based upon goal differential. If both games are determined by exactly one goal, then it will depend upon how many goals were scored.

Switzerland would have to score at least 2 goals more than Chile in order to advance based upon goals scored. If they score the same number, or Chile scores more, then Chile would advance based upon goals scored. If Switzerland scores precisely one more goal than Chile then Chile would advance based upon beating Switzerland head to head.

If Switzerland draws with Honduras, then Chile advances regardless of what happens in its game and Spain advances with a win or a draw. If Spain loses as well, then it depends upon the margins of loss.

Spain currently has a 1 goal differential lead over Switzerland and a 1 goal goals scored lead over Switzerland. Switzerland would have to at least even up those tie breakers because it has the head to head advantage because it beat Spain. Honduras, trailing by 3 and 4 goal differentials respectively is highly unlikely to get into the mix.

France, the #9 team, and Italy, the #5 team, are already gone. Could Spain, the #2 team be next?

Assuming Spain manages to advance, they will play either Brazil or Portugal in the first knockout round so either #1 Brazil, #2 Spain, or #3 Portugal will be gone after the round of 16.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

So how am I doing?

I’m proving I’m as lousy at picking World Cup games as NFL Football games.

With five of the groups resolved, I’ve got 6 right and 4 wrong. When you consider some of those picks were locks, it ain’t very impressive at all is it?

The pressure is on. Maybe I’ll go 6-0 in the last three groups, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Italy is Done

I said I wasn’t going to bet against Italy. Well, I should have.

After falling behind to Slovakia 2-0 in the 72nd minute, Italy cut the lead to one at 80 minutes. Then Slovakia looked like it put the game away in the 88th minute 3-1. But it wasn’t quite done yet, Italy managed another score one minute into injury time to close it to 3-2 but that’s the way it ended.

Paraguay and New Zealand tied so Slovakia will advance with Paraguay. If New Zealand had beaten Paraguay, the Slovakian win would have turned bitter sweet as they still would have been eliminated.

But justice prevailed and the Slovaks get to move on to the next round as well as sending defending champion Italy home.

Italy, ranked #5 in the world, is the highest ranked team to fail to move on to the knockout round SO FAR.

Of the four teams ranked ahead of Italy, #1 Brazil, #2 Spain, #3 Portugal and #4 Netherlands, the Dutch and Brazil are already in and Portugal, with a 9 goal differential lead over the Ivory Coast, is all but in. Only Spain is still hanging out a bit.

If Switzerland beats Honduras, Spain would need a win over Chile to advance. If Spain ever got eliminated in the group round, that would send shock waves through the whole soccer universe.

Italy is in Big Trouble

In the 56th minute Italy is losing to Slovakia 1-0. A loss would eliminate Italy from the tournament as at least both Paraguay and Slovakia would have more points.

In the second game, Paraguay and New Zealand are scoreless. Even a draw wouldn’t help Italy if New Zealand beats Paraguay.

Is the Happy Meal Predatory?

Yeah, I guess it is, But then again isn’t ALL advertising predatory?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a non-profit group based in Washington D.C., has served McDonald’s with a letter of intent. If they don’t remove the toys from their Happy Meals, they’ll be facing a class action law suit.

The CSPI claims that including toys with "unhealthy junk food" is illegal under consumer protection statutes in California, Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.

McDonald’s, of course, disagrees.

The CSPI is taking the position that by including the toys and bombarding kids with slick advertising, McDonald’s is making it almost impossible for parents not to be overwhelmed by the demands of their offspring.

I’m having a hard time buying this one. Granted, making fast food less unhealthy would be a good thing but how can you ask a company not to advertise in the most effective way possible?

Are kids REALLY clamoring to be taken to McDonald’s based upon the Happy Meal advertising? I suspect that more often than not the “Happy Meal” clamoring only begins once the family is already at McDonald’s.

How about we outlaw Sunday School while we’re at it? That’s probably doing more harm than an occasional Happy Meal.

Happy Meals, like anything else, taken in moderation aren’t going to kill anyone. I’m wondering if this is going a bit too far. On the other hand, aiming advertising at children, who don’t have the education or maturity to weed out the nonsense, isn’t exactly what I would call ethical behavior so why shouldn’t it be restricted?

There is a limit. We can protect children from the world only so much. The world has a way of getting in no matter what we do. This smacks of CSPI trying to do the parent’s job for them and I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.

Why not just outlaw McDonald’s, and Burger King, and Wendy’s and Domino’s and KFC? That would certainly solve the “kids are eating unhealthy food problem.”

Or would it? Would you also have to outlaw potato chips and cookies and pretzels?

While I understand the objective here, and it’s certainly a laudable one, I’m not sure that legal action is the way to go. What is this idea that people seem to have these days that their opinions should be codified in law?

I think this is a bit much.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fremont’s Immigration Law

The town of Fremont Nebraska, population 25,000, has passed a law making it illegal to hire or rent to illegal immigrants.

The ACLU of Nebraska has declared its intention to challenge the law because it fosters discrimination against Hispanics.

I have to break with the ACLU on this one; if you are not in the country legally then you are breaking the law; if you are breaking the law you should not be able to find employment or housing to help you continue to break the law.

I would have voted with the 57% of voters that approved the law.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Around the World Cup

With one game left in the first round things look like this.

Group A
Uruguay and Mexico lead with 4 points each and the play each other. If they draw, they both advance. If one or the other wins, France or South Africa, each with one point, with a win has a slim chance of overtaking the loser but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Most likely Uruguay and Mexico advance.

Group B
Argentina, with 6 points, has clinched an advance. South Korea and Greece both have three points and Nigeria trails with 0 points.

Nigeria is far from out of it though. They play South Korea in the last game and if they win will probably advance as Greece has to play Argentina. I’m betting that won’t happen though.

Argentina definitely advances along with most likely South Korea.

Group C
Slovenia has the advantage with 4 points followed by the U.S. and England with 2 each and then Algeria with 1. FIFA has sidelined the referee that disallowed the U.S. goal against Slovenia so I suppose it should be the U.S. with 4 points and Slovenia with 3 but that’s not how it works.

I honestly don’t know here but I have this feeling that Slovenia and England tie while Algeria, a team whose short passing meticulous style of play is the sort that gives the U.S. team fits, manages to beat the U.S. That would have Slovenia and Algeria advancing.

Group D
This is a very interesting group. Ghana leads with 4 points followed by Germany and Serbia with 3 each and then Australia with 1. But the last game has Ghana playing Germany and Serbia playing Australia so there are all kinds of possibilities.

It’s hard to believe but Germany could actually be eliminated if they draw with Ghana and Serbia beats Australia. I think they’ll beat Ghana though and Serbia will beat Australia so Germany and Serbia advance.

Group E
The Dutch are in and will be joined by the winner of the Japan v. Denmark match. Cameroon will have to wait until the next tournament. Japan has the advantage because they will advance in the case of a draw, but I’m going with Denmark.

Group F
Paraguay has 4 points followed by Italy and New Zealand in a dead heat with 2 each and then Slovakia with 1 point.

I’m not betting against Italy. Expect them to beat Slovakia and advance along with Paraguay who ties New Zealand.

Group G
Brazil is in, North Korea is out and Portugal has a 9 goal differential lead over the Ivory Coast.

Portugal would have to get pounded by Brazil and the Ivory Coast put as big, or a bigger, whooping on North Korea as the Portuguese did in order for Portugal not to advance along with Brazil. That isn’t going to happen, Portugal advances with Brazil.

Group H
What a group to have for the finale. Chile leads with 6 points but favorite Spain has 3 points after beating Honduras and has a 1 goal advantage in both goal differential and goals scored over Switzerland who also has 3 points.

Spain finishes against group leader Chile while the Swiss play Honduras.

Well, well, this one should be interesting. If Switzerland loses or ties Honduras, which I suspect is unlikely, then Spain only needs a draw with Chile. However if Switzerland beats Honduras then Spain needs a win against Chile in order to avoid elimination.

Even a victory doesn’t guarantee Spain will advance. If Switzerland wins by one more goal than Spain and scores one more goal than Spain, then you end up with a three way deadlock and the two teams to advance will be chosen by lot.

I’m betting Spain beats Chile and Switzerland beats Honduras but not by a big enough margin. That allows Spain to advance and Chile beats out Switzerland in the third tie breaker which is head to head competition.

So, to summarize:

Group A – Uruguay and Mexico
Group B – Argentina and South Korea
Group C – Slovenia and Algeria
Group D – Germany and Serbia
Group E – Netherlands and Denmark
Group F – Paraguay and Italy
Group G – Brazil and Portugal
Group H – Spain and Chile

Let’s see how badly I do here. It can’t be too bad because there are at least four locks.


Portugal unmercifully pounded North Korea in the World Cup 7-0.

You hate to see that kind of thing especially since the game was aired live back in North Korea. Talk about embarrassing.

The loss eliminated the Koreans and left Portugal, with a +7 goal differential, in a dominant position to advance along with Brazil.

I guess it’s still possible for the Ivory Coast, with a -2 goal differential, to advance if Brazil beats Portugal and the Ivory Coast puts as big a whooping on North Korea as the Portuguese did but I wouldn't bet on it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Protect the Rich and Screw the Elderly

Here we go again.

Republican governor Chris Christie of New Jersey would rather repeal a $1,100 tax rebate on senior citizens than restore a 10.7% surcharge on incomes over $1 million.

The surcharge was restored by the Democratic legislature in order to protect seniors living on fixed incomes but Christie immediately vetoed the bill.

Let’s make sure we understand this. Retired senior citizens, living on fixed incomes of approximately $40,000, will experience a $1,100 tax increase while folks making $1.2 million will benefit from an $11,000 tax reduction.

WTF is wrong with this picture? What’s wrong with this picture is why the hell our moron electorate continues to be suckered in by Republican rhetoric rather than watch what they do. Don’t listen to what they say, WATCH WHAT THEY DO!

While they pontificate against taking a few drippings from the rich and providing needed services to lower income families, calling it “wealth redistribution” and “Socialism,” they’re constantly engaged in redistributing wealth from the poor and working classes to the corporations and wealthy.

Don’t listen to what they say. Talk is cheap. Watch what they do.

When they say “fiscal responsibility,” what they mean is eliminating services for those that need them and protecting the Bush tax reductions for the rich.

Don’t listen to what they say. Watch what they do.

They clamor about “supporting the troops” but then send them into combat with inadequate equipment and raid the military equipment budget, which purchases body armor, communications gear and other basic ordinance for the troops, while protecting the multi-billion dollar defense contracts.

Don’t listen to what they say. Watch what they do.

I don’t understand how anyone with half a brain and an ounce of decency can vote Republican. Aren’t you tired of being lied to and getting your pocket picked?

Friday, June 18, 2010

You’ve got to be kidding

England tied Algeria 0-0. Ok, so the U.S. advances either if they beat Algeria or they tie Algeria and England loses to Slovenia or ties Slovenia and scores less than 2 goals more than the U.S. scores against Algeria.

You got that?

They play at the same time next Wednesday so nobody finds out ahead what the story is.

England is teetering on the edge here as well. Slovenia advances with a win against England or a tie against England. If they lose, they can still advance if they only lose by 1 goal, Algeria beats the U.S. by less than 2 goals while scoring less than three goals more than Slovenia.

Or, at least I think I got that right.

Algeria isn’t out of it either. They advance if they beat the U.S. and Slovenia beats or ties England. They can also advance if Slovenia loses and they beat the U.S. by at least 2 goals or they score more than 3 goals more than Slovenia.

I have a headache now so I'm not going to work out Groups A and B.

Then again...

It ain't over until the fat lady sings.

The U.S. came back to tie Slovenia 2-2. That gives them 2 points and Slovenia 4. England still has its 2nd game to play against Algeria.

The U.S. has to beat Algeria in its final game in order to have much chance of advancing.

Assuming England beats Algeria, they would also have 4 points and Algeria 0. The U.S. would then have to beat Algeria and the England v. Slovenia game would have to have a winner and loser. In that case the U.S. and the winner of the England v. Slovenia game would advance. If the U.S. defeats Algeria, and England and Slovenia tie, then all three teams would have 5 points and it would go to the tie breakers.

In the three way tie scenario, it’s quite possible the two teams to advance would end up being chosen by lot. We'll know a lot more based upon the score of the England v. Algeria game.

If England loses to Algeria or ties Algeria, then the U.S. has to beat Algeria and it doesn’t matter what happens in the England v. Slovenia game. The U.S,, with 5 points, would advance with, most likely, whomever wins the England v. Slovenia game.

It is possible that Slovenia would still advance after a loss to England if England loses to Algeria by more goals than it beats Slovenia or if England loses to Algeria 1-0 and defeats Slovenia 1-0. In the first case Slovenia would advance based upon goal differential and in the second based upon total goals.

How could Slovenia lose to England yet still advance over England? Simple, the FIFA tie breaker rules don’t give much weight to head to head competition. If two teams tie in points the first tie breaker is goal differential and then goals scored. Only if those were also even would the head to head result matter.

There is a slight possibility the U.S. could advance with a tie with Algeria. That would require England to tie Algeria and lose to Slovenia. The game between England and Algeria this afternoon will determine if this scenario stays in the cards.

Meanwhile, at the World Cup...

Slovenia leads the U.S. at half time 2-0. So much for advancing to the round of 16.

Congressman Apologizes to BP

Well, if we had ANY doubt, ANY doubt whatsoever, about who owns Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton, we know now.

The Congressman apologized to the BP CEO for what he called President Obama’s “shakedown” in getting BP to pledge a $20 billion fund to help victims of the Gulf oil spill.

The apology was hardly out of Barton’s mouth before the Republican congressional leadership made him retract it.

Look guys, anyone with half a brain knows that the Republican Party has been bought and paid for ten times over by the moneyed interests in the U.S. including the oil companies. Come to think of it, ESPECIALLY the oil companies. Here’s hoping the moron portion of the electorate, which is by far the majority, gets a hint from this latest fiasco as well.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Gay Marriage Trial

The suit by two gay couples in Federal Court that California’s Proposition 8 violated their constitutional rights is nearing its end.

Neither the governor nor the attorney general of California chose to defend Prop 8 so the defense is being paid for by a coalition of anti-gay marriage private groups including a number of religious organizations.

The primary attorney for the plaintiffs is Ted Olsen, a former Solicitor General of the U.S. and Conservative Republican stalwart who apparently has not forgotten the financially conservative but socially progressive roots of the GOP. You remember Olsen, he argued for Bush in Bush v. Gore. His partner in this case is David Boies who argued Bush v. Gore for Gore.

To quote Olsen, “All throughout the U.S., people are being denied the right every single day to be treated as decent and honorable citizens of the United States, at some point that has to stop."

The Republican appointed judge, Vaughn Walker, appears determined to issue a ruling that is as reversal-proof as possible and is probing deeply in the details and potential impacts of same sex marriage.

I suspect what is concerning Walker is the point that one man’s rights end where the next man’s begin. To be honest with you, I see no reason to believe that granting gays the right to marry would violate anyone else’s rights. In other words, the arguments from the Religious Right that it would impinge the right of free speech or of religion are pure nonsense.

But that’s just my opinion and there could be another rights conflict that I’m unaware of. Here's hoping Vaughn won't pass up this opportunity to make history and is working hard at making sure he can't be reversed by our current Right Wing Supreme Court. I guess we shall see what we shall see.

Please check your facts

Let’s face it, there are lots of issues facing the country that deserve to be discussed and analyzed. I don’t have a monopoly on knowing what’s right and neither does anyone else. I think an open reasonable dialogue might help to alleviate some of the tension and resolve some of the issues.

The problem is we appear to have lost the understanding of the difference between a fact and an opinion. We’re also too goddamned lazy to gather facts BEFORE forming an opinion.

This is ignorance breeding pure stupidity. You can’t carry on a reasonable conversation with someone that leaps to conclusions before getting his facts straight. Worse, and this is the real scary part, a number of studies suggest that someone that reaches an opinion based upon faulty facts, even after it is pointed out he had things wrong, will still cling to and defend that opinion, ignoring, twisting or rationalizing the facts as necessary.

Well, at least the studies suggest that many Conservatives will do that. Liberals apparently tend to accept the facts and alter their opinion.

So how do you ever convince those Conservatives they’re wrong? It appears as if you can’t and I have lots of quotes and anecdotal evidence that backs this up.

So, whether that’s the case or not, PLEASE try to reserve judgment until you’re fairly certain you have the facts right. If something sounds so outrageous as to make your blood boil, so ridiculous that it sounds like it can’t be real, IT PROBABLY ISN’T.

Understand what is known as “Confirmation Bias.” We all tend to believe and interpret information that supports our preconceived notions. We also tend to remember that information better. Your current opinions can even bias how you interpret new information or evidence.

If we don’t like Vanilla Ice Cream, we will dismiss or ignore detailed scientific studies which claim taste or health benefits for Vanilla Ice Cream but leap at and repeat an anecdotal story about someone who got sick after eating it.

Not everything is black and white.

Also, just because someone passes on information that is inaccurate doesn’t mean he’s lying. If he honestly believes what he is saying then he is simply mistaken. However, and this a HUGE however, after it is pointed out to him that he is mistaken, if he continues to pass on that information as if it were true, then he is lying and that’s a whole new ball game.

You cannot rationally reason with someone who has no qualms about being dishonest. This is why I no longer bother to have conversations with Creationists or Evangelical Christians. I have found both of them, on numerous occasions, to be flat out dishonest. They will lie to your face in the hope that you don’t realize they’re lying.

Both appear to believe that the end justifies the means. Not only do I generally reject that philosophy, I don’t find the “end” they are working toward terribly appealing.

I stand by the 14th Amendment

Russell Pearce, the Republican Arizona politician that authored that state’s controversial illegal immigration law now wants to deny the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States automatic citizenship.

Such a law would run directly counter to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

The problem of course is that we all know that this amendment was specifically designed to protect blacks as they emerged from slavery. Those that passed the amendment probably never considered the question of children born to illegal immigrants.

This is a perfect example of why a "strict" interpretation of the Constitution, which would take into account only the original intent of the authors, makes absolutely no sense. The American Democratic Principle has always been if you’re born in the United States then you are an American Citizen, no ifs ands or buts about it. You must understand the principles behind the Constitution and apply them to new conditions and situations even if the authors never imagined such a condition or situation would arise.

It never ceases to amaze me that those that proclaim their patriotism the loudest and shout down any criticism of the country the quickest, even if that criticism may be justified, are the most likely to favor betraying the fundamental principles of the country.

The principles of the Separation of Church and State, Equal Protection Under the Law and an Independent Judiciary all suffer attacks from Right Wing so-called “patriots” who don’t like some of the implications of those principles. Now we’re going to propose scrapping another fundamental principle of our democracy because we don’t like the people that happen to be benefiting from it?

Screw that.

If the principles are worthwhile, then you have to stand by them even if sometimes they have unpleasant unforeseen consequences. Only a complete idiot undoes long term proven principles for short term benefit or convenience.

I sympathize with Arizona’s plight, and I think getting control of our borders needs to be a national priority. But let’s not start tearing apart everything that makes protecting our borders from illegal entry necessary. Sure, we could make this such a lousy place to live that no one wants to come here. That would solve the problem,

Swiss Speed Bump Slows Down Spanish Juggernaut

A wise man once said, “That’s why you have to play the game.”

For everyone who has already awarded the 2010 World Cup title to Spain, the Swiss would like to have a word with you. In the very first game of the tournament, the Spanish march to victory has been sent on a bit of a detour. Switzerland defeated Spain 1-0.

Now there’s still plenty of time to recover, and this early loss might actually help the Spanish by causing them to refocus, but hey, you never know.

Why Soccer won’t make it in the U.S.

I’m a retired “C” License Soccer Coach but I suspect that Soccer will never make it as a big spectator sport in the U.S.

It’s an excellent aerobic exercise sport and every youngster should play the game. There are recreational youth leagues just about everywhere and certainly younger kids, both boys and girls, should play the sport. I strongly recommend it over football for younger children.

But that’s not the same thing as an adult spectator sport. It has no freaking hope here. There just isn’t enough scoring and explosiveness.

Consider the first round of the World Cup. There were 16 games played and a grand total of 23 goals scored. That’s 1.4 goals PER GAME. Not per team, but per game. That’s one scoring event every 64 minutes of play, and that doesn’t include extra time where at least one goal by New Zealand was scored to squeak out a draw with Slovakia.

Of the 32 teams that played, 13 were shut-out and 15 scored one goal. The four games in which one team scored more than one goal were South Korea over Greece 2-0, Germany over Australia 4-0, The Netherlands over Denmark 2-0 and Brazil over North Korea 2-1.

The Brazil-North Korea game was an old fashioned “offensive shoot-out” with goals scored at the blazing rate of one every 30 minutes. *YAWN*.

I’ve often wondered what soccer would be like without the offside rule. That would sure open things up but it might get a goalie or two pinioned on the net.

I went to a World Cup game at Giants Stadium between Ireland and Norway in 1994, and it was a lot of fun, but it ended 0-0, the only 0-0 tie in the whole tournament. Not having any goals scored took a lot out of the game.

So I don’t see soccer ever being a big adult spectator sport here. It doesn’t have the tradition of baseball, the explosiveness of football or the acrobatics and high scoring of basketball.

The fact that the U.S. teams generally have no hope of winning probably doesn’t help any either. I’ll probably watch some of the semi-final and final games but I’ll also probably nap while doing so.

Obama and the Oil Leak

A new AP poll indicates that 52% of Americans disapprove of the President’s handling of the Gulf oil spill. A whopping 87% disapprove of BP’s handling of the spill.

Now granted, this is clearly a severe technical problem and nobody, I mean NOBODY, is claiming to have a guaranteed solution. So therefore it’s sort of unfair to blame Obama isn’t it?

Well, yeah, I guess, but then nobody ever promised fair. If you want to be the man at the top of the totem pole, you need to be prepared to address the tough problems. It may not be fair, but that’s the way things work.

Do I have a solution? No, but I don’t think I’m qualified to be the President of the U.S. either.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

College Football Realignment?

Last September I wrote a post questioning the wisdom of putting a College Bowl game in New York City. The game was to ostensibly be between a team from the Big East and a team from the Big 12. At the time I said I could sort of understand the rationale of the Big East as they consider New York home turf but I was baffled at what the hell the Big 12 was thinking.

Now perhaps it becomes clearer as a possible gambit to breathe some life into a faltering organization.

The Big 12 appears to be on the verge of dissolving. The conference is being gnawed at by very aggressive PAC-10 and Big 10 conferences bent upon expansion. Colorado announced today that it would leave the Big 12 for the PAC-10 and Nebraska is expected to announce on Friday that they are joining the Big 10. Missouri is rumored to be planning on following Nebraska and the PAC-10 is supposed to have also extended invitations to Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The remaining four schools, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State appear to be out in the cold.

The University of Texas is clearly the big Kahuna here. If it decides to stay, the conference will most likely survive; if it decides to leave, the conference will most likely dissolve.

The Big East may not be in such good shape either. Rutgers is rumored to be being courted by the Big 10 as well and the ACC always seems ready to raid the Big East cupboard.

Obviously if either the Big East or Big 12 dissolves, so much for the bowl game in New York City unless another sucker, I mean participant, can be located.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The American Decency Association

I got to the American Decency Association site from “Fundies say the Darndest Things.” It’s a fairly standard self righteous conservative Christian site run by people convinced that they have a monopoly on morality and respectability.

I’m trying to stop sending e-mails to these places but I just couldn’t resist this one and sent off the following missive.

I was directed to your website from "Fundies say the Darndest Things" and I have to say I am appalled at what you consider "decency."

Your see no problem with denying sick children health care but get upset when McDonalds keeps its promise to be neutral with regard to homosexuality. Oh yes, neutrality means serving everyone and not judging which is exactly what they're doing. The fact of the matter is that you don't have the resources to care for "the ill and those in need;" the government does.

I am also appalled at the amount of ignorance dripping from your site. Allow me to point out that no one I've ever met is "pro-abortion." Pro-choice does not mean "pro-abortion." It means realizing that no one has the right to make decisions regarding significant life choices other than the people involved.

Neither is there such a thing as a "global warming agenda." That the earth's climate is changing is a simple observable fact. Why it's changing has been, until recently, somewhat unsettled. However, now the evidence appears fairly conclusive that carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gas emissions, from cars and other human activities are a significant contributing factor. This is not an "agenda;" it is a technical conclusion reached by knowledgeable experts. If you have contrary evidence, feel free to present it in a professional technical forum.

The Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 has absolutely nothing to do with "greater punishment for criminals based on their thoughts." A hate crime is defined as a violent act directed against an individual or group purely because of some characteristic of that individual or group. Race, color, religion, ethnicity and country of origin were already covered by previous legislation; the 2009 bill simply extends the definition to sexual orientation and sexual identity. It makes no change in the existing definition of a hate crime.

I also wouldn't worry about any law "making it illegal for pastors to preach what God’s Word says about homosexuality." The United States has a long tradition of allowing religion to discriminate. The Hates Crimes Prevention Act itself, in Section 8 of the bill, specifically exempts “expressive conduct” and “activities protected by the constitution” and, the last time I looked, freedom of speech, including sermons, were still protected. Something, based upon your site, I'm sure you'd like to change so that freedom of speech would only cover things you agree with.

You are entitled to believe what you want to believe and you are entitled to express those beliefs. What you are not entitled to do is decide that your beliefs are exclusively right and therefore should be imposed on everyone else.

I don't know if there is a God, but if there is, I suspect he would as appalled as I am that you're more concerned about whether gays can get a hamburger at a fast food joint than whether poor children get adequate health care. Did you ever stop to think how many abortions are because poor women without health care can't afford to take a child to term?

American Decency indeed. Perhaps you should focus a bit more upon truth and accuracy and stop worrying about how much cleavage there is in a Victoria's Secret display.

With total disdain,

P.S. The National Day of Prayer IS unconstitutional. You can pray all you want but the government cannot impose, encourage or support it.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A Civil War in the Chamber of Commerce

Not all businesses sacrifice everything for the bottom line.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents 3 million businesses in the United States. Its members list reads like a who’s who of American Industry and some 96% of the members are small businesses with less than 100 employees.

The Chamber is the single largest lobbying force in the country. Recently however the organization has displayed an ominous tilt to the right which is causing more than a little internal upheaval.

The primary issue at hand is the Chamber’s general position on Climate Change and, in particular, its position on the EPA’s recent scientific conclusion that Global Warming is driven by Greenhouse gases and therefore those gases represent a danger to human health. Given that conclusion, the EPA is obligated BY LAW to take steps to regulate and reduce that danger. The Supreme Court, in Massachusetts vs. The EPA, has already determined that Greenhouse emissions are within the charter of the agency.

The Chamber, along with assorted politicians, is taking the position that the EPA conclusion is premature because the science is still unsettled and has even filed suit against the EPA in federal court.

The Chamber has about zero chance of winning that suit for a variety of reasons and is most likely more interested in muddying public opinion as a delaying tactic or as a means of putting together political support for possible legislative action. Senator Lisa Murkowski, another Republican moron from Alaska, has already put on the Senate floor a “Resolution of Disapproval” related to the EPA decision. That resolution has as much chance of passing and getting signed by Obama as hell freezing over but again it serves to confuse the public.

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit. The “the science is still unsettled” crowd appears to know that it can’t win a factual technical argument with knowledgeable experts so it’s going for a political win with the non-knowledgeable electorate.

Sort of sounds like the Creationist's strategy doesn’t it?

The Civil War comes in because a number of companies reject the Chamber’s position on Climate Change and have resigned from the organization. Exelon, the country’s largest utility, California Utility PG&E, New Mexico Utility PNM and Apple Computer have all resigned outright. Nike has resigned from the Board of Directors but remains a member and GE has issued warning statements opposing the Chamber’s stand.

With the EPA conclusion, the clear scientific consensus is now that carbon emissions and other Greenhouse Gases are a major player in Global Warming, represent a significant danger, and need to be regulated and curtailed. Therefore I have to get off the fence and accept the scientific consensus.

Incredibly the Chamber of Commerce, when not claiming "the science is still unsettled,” is actually speculating that Global Warming might be “beneficial.” Exactly how they came to that conclusion is something of a mystery.

This is another example of people allowing short term benefit to potentially lead to long term disaster. They really need to acquaint themselves better with reality before making a decision. If you're sick you go to a doctor; if you're in legal trouble you go to a lawyer; why do people feel they can ignore or debate the expert consensus on climate change simply because they don't like that consensus. I'd be a complete idiot if I ignored the diagnoses of multiple doctors because I didn't like it or its implications.

The National Debt represents a potential economic problem for future generations but while it may cause hardship it’s unlikely to be fatal. Continuing to ignore Global Warming however not only has the potential to be an even greater economic problem it could turn out to be deadly.

Continuing to ignore or reject the science of Climate Change based upon unsupported opinion, political expediency or religious dogma strikes me as the epitome of stupidity. If you have contradictory evidence or interpretations, write the papers and present your arguments to knowledgeable technical experts. Don't try a political end run.

Because only the rich should run for office

The Supreme Court struck another blow for Oligarchy and Special Interests by, at least temporarily, blocking the State of Arizona from providing “matching funds” in political contests. The use of state funds is blocked until the court decides to hear the case or not. Of course that may not matter for current candidates that are running based upon having public funds that they’re not going to have.

In Arizona, Connecticut and Maine, an attempt is made to level the playing field between candidates that have access to significant private funds and those that don’t.

This makes a tremendous amount of sense to me. It makes it easier for not so rich candidates to throw their hats into the arena and makes “buying candidates” through campaign contributions a little harder.

According to the AP “Critics contend matching funds chill free-speech rights of privately financed candidates and their contributors by inhibiting fundraising and spending.”

Huh? So now fundraising is free speech? And just because the other guy can spend as much to get his message across doesn’t in any way inhibit you from saying what you need to say so I think that argument is a load of crap. If anything uneven funding inhibits the underfunded candidate’s rights of free speech.

You will excuse me but this is the third disastrous recent Supreme Court decision. It seems that to the current court only the rich and Christians have rights worth defending and the rest of us can go pound salt.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Here's a Story for You

When I got home yesterday I found an envelope of small change, mostly nickels and a few dimes, lying on the ground outside my front door. On it was a note, printed in a child's scrawl, expressing the hope that my wife was feeling better. When I picked it up I discovered the seam had split and I had nickels cascading down all along my front walk.

Not sure what to make of it I picked up the fallen nickels and took the envelope inside. Since my wife was at physical therapy I put it on her laptop as a few more nickels fell out. When she got home she identified the signer of the note as a boy in her second grade class. Of course despite my warning her about the split seam she also had nickels bouncing around and I got the opportunity to crawl around the floor picking them up. Wanting to know the full story behind the envelope my wife contacted the mother of the boy today and the story goes something like this:

When he heard that my wife had to have surgery on her hip he decided that he wanted to help pay for it. He used a pair of pliers to shape paper clips into hearts and sold them to family and friends for a nickel each. The contents of the envelope was the earnings from his endeavor.

Just thought you might enjoy the story. Maybe there's hope for us after all.

Five Years Later

Five years ago, when Natalee Holloway disappeared during a class trip on the island of Aruba, a teenager named Joran van der Sloot was the prime suspect but, for whatever reason, the authorities could never amass enough evidence to hold him.

Now van der Sloot has been arrested in Chile in connection to the death of a 21 year old Peruvian girl in Lima. In addition to the murder charges, police in Chile say he stole $5,000 in gambling winnings from the murdered girl and, just for good measure, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama has charged van der Sloot with extortion and wire fraud. The charges claim that the Dutchman promised information on Natalee Holloway's whereabouts in exchange for $250,000.

This is the kind of thing that makes you want to howl at the moon in frustration. It sure looks like this character is a really bad guy and should be locked up for everyone’s protection. Life confined to a Peruvian prison cell sounds about right. The frustration part comes in when you just know the Aruban police and FBI investigating Holloway’s disappearance knew this guy did it but they just couldn’t nail him.

I’ll bet there were a couple of really drunk police officers in Aruba last night. I don’t blame them for tying one on but it’s not their fault. We live and die by the rule of law. Unfortunately, sometimes that means a bad guy gets away and an innocent girl dies needlessly.

I have to be honest though, that really sucks. Tell me again that there’s an Omni benevolent and just God ruling the universe? Was a little evidence five years ago too much to provide? Better yet, was a smack on the head of van der Sloot while Holloway was still ok too much to ask for?

Men are fallible and imperfect so their laws are fallible and imperfect. Sometimes bad guys get away and sometimes good guys get punished unjustly. What's God's excuse?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Christians United for Israel

John Hagee, a fundamentalist pastor from San Antonio that I was first introduced to in Matt Taibbi’s book “The Great Derangement,” organized Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in 2006.

The organization claims its support for Israel has nothing to do with Christian eschatology in which the state of Israel is believed to play a central role in the final conflict between good and evil.

During a speech at the CUFI summit in 2007, Hagee declared that he is in favor of a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Iran.

From that statement alone it is clear that Hagee is a nut.

A number of YouTube videos also clearly demonstrate that despite what the organization’s official stance is in regard to eschatology, the rank and file clearly think they're working toward bringing about the so-called End Times. I think Hagee and the organization’s claim that it has nothing to do with eschatology is total crap. I’m going with the rank and file here. I suspect that it has EVERYTHING to do with trying to accelerate the so-called End Times.

To say that these people are goddamned dangerous might well be the greatest understatement I have ever made. Allow me to declare now, clearly and succinctly, that they are on my enemies list.

This brings me to a bit of a crossroads. I have tended to stay neutral on the whole Palestinian-Israeli fiasco. I don’t really have a horse in that race and I think both sides have done reprehensible things and both sides deserve some sympathy.

But you know the old saying about the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I’m just not quite ready to go there yet.

Israel, and its supporters like Joe Lieberman who attended at least one CUFI Summit, are playing with fire here. I’m sure they’re both thinking they can play the CUFI for support and money while ignoring the more fruitcake aspects of the organization.

That’s what the Industrialists and Junkers thought about the Nazis too.

That Christian eschatology is total crap is a given. The synod must have been drunk or hung over when it included Revelations in the canon. But you’re just as dead from a nuclear missile launched because of a fable as from one launched based upon reality.

The more I read about the whackos running around this country and amassing political power, the more comfortable I’d feel if this country had no nuclear arsenal. Unilateral nuclear disarmament is sounding better and better.

Whose fault is student debt?

The NY Times had an article the other day speculating about who gets the blame when college students end up buried in debt that they can’t pay off. The article related the story of one NYU student that graduated in 2005 with $100,000 in debt.

She and her family pulled out all the stops to get her into the best school they could. They started with her mother co-signing two Sallie Mae loans totaling $20,000. When they went for a third loan, Sallie Mae rejected the application because by then the mother had returned to college and was also borrowing money.

NYU suggested a federal Plus loan but that would have meant immediate payments which the mother couldn’t afford. NYU then suggested a private student loan from Citibank.

Citibank approved loans totally about $40,000. She was digging a chasm of debt that it would be very hard to get out of. At the moment she has about $97,000 in debt. She’s attending night school so payment can still be deferred but the interest charges are accumulating.

The article speculates on where the blame should be placed. It clears Sallie Mae because the first two loans were for a modest amount, were co-signed for by a responsible adult and the company refused any future loans.

The article rightly questions what Citibank was thinking when it approved an additional $40,000 in loans to someone who had at best only a potential way to pay the money back. The author then questions whether the NYU financial services office should have suggested, once the debt began to pile up, that perhaps she should consider transferring to a less expensive school.

At the moment our NYU graduate, with a degree in Religious and Women’s Studies, is living in San Francisco and making about $22 an hour. After taxes she apparently takes home about $2,300 a month and is paying $750 in rent. Repaying the student loans would run around $700 per month. The Times reports that our erstwhile student “badly wants to call a do-over on the last decade” and says “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life slaving away to pay for an education I got for four years and would happily give back. It feels wrong to me.”

Ok, where to go with this. I agree that Sallie Mae acted correctly and should get no blame and I don’t think it’s the place of the university’s financial aid office to provide advice to students about the level of debt they can handle or suggest they transfer to a less expensive school. The ones I dealt with at TCNJ, Hofstra and Seton Hall constantly provided warnings that students, and their families, needed to consider very carefully how they were going to handle having to repay loans. I can only assume that the financial aid office at NYU did so as well.

As for Citibank, what can I say? It seems as if the entire banking industry went through financial dementia in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st Century. I have no other way to explain the idiocy of some of the decisions including this one.

Even so, the ultimate responsibility falls upon the student and her family. Ahh, the poor dear just HAD to go to NYU, one of the most expensive universities in the country while living in NYC, one of the most expensive cities in the country. This is not to mention getting a degree in Religious and Woman’s Studies. What the hell is that anyway and what kind of job do you get with it?

You can’t get a “do-over” in real life just like you can’t get a “respawn.” If you screw up, you have to deal with it. I have no sympathy for our NYU grad. Start paying off the loan darling and if that leaves you a little short, get a flexible hours kind of job flipping burgers or waiting on tables.

You’re young; putting in a few extra hours of work won’t kill you. Besides, the more you work the less extra money you’ll need because you won’t have any time to spend it.

It’s your debt; you earned it; you held the dance so now its time to pay the band.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Ok, lets’ talk about the Oil Spill

I’ve sort of avoided this topic because I know very little about the technology of offshore drilling and capping wells.

I don’t know much about it, but you would think the folks involved would for crying out loud.

Let’s start with how the hell did the original accident happened in the first place and then move on to why the hell they can’t stop the bleeding? Don’t they have contingencies for this sort of stuff?

Where are all the “Drill Baby Drill” assholes now?

Just to add to the idiocy, the same people who just the other day were screaming about government being too big and deregulating private industry now are screaming for the government to do something and complaining it should never have let BP handle the problem to begin with.

Who else should have addressed it? Aren’t they the so-called experts? Now they’re saying they might not be able to stop the leak until August. Some experts they are. Sure, we're in safe hands if we just let private industry handle everything unregulated.

But Americans have short memories so don’t expect this to make any lasting impression. Promise them 25 cents off a gallon of gas and they’ll be yelling for more off-shore drilling and the hell with the risk of another spill.

Israeli Assault on Aid Convoy

I’m not quite sure what to make of this one. What are these people thinking? I can only assume there was a suspicion that the ships were carrying more than humanitarian aid. The botched nighttime raid left nine Palestinian supporters dead and several dozen others, including seven Israeli soldiers wounded. That’s screwing the pooch big time.

I’m not sure I like the whole idea of blockading the Gaza Strip in the hopes of forcing Hamas out. Seems to me it’s more likely to drive more Palestinians into its arms.

Then there is the question of the legitimacy of Hamas to begin with. The west calls them terrorists but I’m sure most Palestinians look upon them as freedom fighters. I’m not taking a position here because I don’t have enough information, but Israel seems to be trying real hard to get everyone pissed off at them.

In the meantime Egypt has opened its border to Gaza, at least temporarily, and hundreds appear to be taking the opportunity to flee the impoverished strip. I suspect that the only thing the blockade is accomplishing is making a lot of poor people poorer.