Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Past and the Future of Cycling

An interesting, depressing, and exhilarating crossroads of time and space occurred in France today.

Before today's 12th stage began, cycling's past reared its ugly head in the form of another doping scandal. Ricardo Ricco, the erstwhile leader of the King of the Mountains and Young Rider classifications, as well as the winner of two mountain stages so far this year, was revealed to have been doping during the individual time trial. He was expelled from the tour and taken way by police. His Saunier-Duval team withdrew, saying that they could not in good conscience go on with their leader expelled for cheating.

After all the depressing excitement of the morning, the past gave way to the future in the form of an up-and-coming present star. Mark Cavendish, riding for the Columbia High Road team, won his third stage of this year's tour. Columbia is, as previously noted, one of the guaranteed clean teams (along with Garmin-Chipotle), who constantly test and retest their riders to make sure they are not cheating. So, in spite of the morning's events, eerily reminiscent of last year's doping-plagued Tour, there is still hope for the future of cycling, in the form of string team controls through organizations like the Agency for Cycling Ethics (ACE), which oversees both Columbia and Garmin-Chipotle.

David Millar, who served a two year ban for doping, has since become the leading anti-doping crusader in the peloton, and now rides for Garmin-Chipotle, is rarely at a loss for words. Last year, when the situation was at its worst, he broke down and cried. Today, he had this to say (from the AP via

"It's just amazing. It's irresponsible," British cyclist David Millar said. "This guy does not have any love or care for the sport.

"The unfortunate is that we are learning that things that look too good to be true are too good to be true," Millar added.

And standing above everyone in the Tour right now is Cadel Evans, the Australian who rides for Silence-Lotto. Silence-Lotto is not one of the ultra-clean teams (I am not leveling accusations at the team; I am just saying that, as far as I know, they are not associated with ACE), but I have never heard any accusations against Evans, and as far as I know, he is as squeaky clean as anyone.

So we have more bad news on the doping front, as a big name and a major contender is exposed and expelled. But we have good news as well, as a clean team's rider wins his third stage, and an ostensibly clean rider leads the GC race. Fingers crossed that we have seen the end of the big-name expulsions, but I'm not holding my breath. I just hope that some day soon we can have a Tour without the specter of doping hanging over it.

Maybe next year.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Taking the High Road and Starting Fresh

We are five days into the 2008 Tour de France, and it seems like every other commercial shows disgraced cyclists Michael Rasmussen and Jan Ulrich riding, and Floyd Landis being awarded a yellow jersey. What makes this commercial noteworthy is that all of the scenes are run in reverse, so it shows the riders moving away from the finish line and Landis removing the maillot jeune. The end of the commercial has a single rider, I believe from the disgraced (and this year banned) Astana team filling the screen and locking into the starting gate and saying "A New Stage Begins."

Today, the new stage took off. A member of the new Team Columbia High Road, Mark Cavendish, won the 232 KM stage from Cholet to Chateauroux. And after today's stage, Garmin Chipotle and Columbia High Road hold the top two places in the team time competition. On top of that, it was Garmin Chipotle rider William Frischkorn who started a breakaway in stage three that led the race for over 200 of the 208 KM. Frischkorn finished second in the stage, as the breakaway group maintained over a two minute lead on the main field of riders. Columbia High Road and Garmin Chipotle, the team formerly known as Slipstream before securing corporate sponsorship, are committed to racing clean. The teams pay for testing by the Agency for Cycling Ethics, and their riders are tested far above and beyond the requirements for the UCI or the ASO, the international governing body for cycling and the organization that puts on the Tour de France.

The early success of Columbia High Road and Garmin Chipotle give hope for both the present and future of cycling. Riders can be unquestionably clean and still have great success. For another example, Garmin Chipotle rider David Millar, who in the past served a two year ban for doping violations and has since then become the leading critic of doping in the peloton, is only 12 seconds behind the leader in the overall general classification.

Maybe this year the Tour will not be tainted by the dark cloud of doping, and can instead be a celebration of cycling, competition, and the toughest test in sports. As for me, I'm rooting for Millar and Cavendish and Frischkorn, because they do it right, honestly, and in line with the spirit of the event.

Monday, July 7, 2008

License to Pray

South Carolina is on the verge of issuing Christian license plates. The plates would have a big yellow cross and the words "I Believe" on it. The state legislature passed the authorizing legislation unanimously, and the governor allowed it to become law without his signature.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a multi-religious group currently led by a mainline Protestant reverend, opposes the plates as unconstitutionally promoting Christianity over other religious and over non-religion. License plates with other religious symbols can be requested, for a $4,000 fee, but cannot have any text and face other restrictions that the "I Believe" plates would not.

Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, one of the leading supporters of issuing the plates, has said that issuing them is a free speech issue for Christians. Bauer went on to say that opposing the plates is equivalent to being prejudiced against Christians.

To stop the program, a Federal court will have to step in. I hope for the love of all that is holy (or unholy, I do not want to discriminate on religious grounds), that the court smacks the South Carolina legislature and Lt. Governor Bauer across the back of their collective head and screams (with more appropriate legal jargon) "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?!?!?!"

As for me, I just have one question for the ardent Christians of South Carolina. When did religious bumper stickers go out of style?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Let them Lead Lives of Quiet Contemplation

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling authored by Justice Kennedy, struck down the law under which Patrick Kennedy (who is not related to the Supreme Court Justice) was sentenced to death. Kennedy was convicted of raping his 8 year old stepdaughter, and Louisiana is one of six states that, until yesterday, allowed the imposition of the death sentence for child rape.

Now, officials in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and other states across the South, where all six of these states sit, are looking for ways to get around the ruling. The opinion essentially said that it is unconstitutional to execute someone for a crime where the victim did not die. "We cannot sanction this result [execution] when the harm to the victim, though grave, cannot be quantified in the same way as death of the victim." Harm to a victim can never be calculated in any comprehensive or convincing way. The closest we can ever come to accurately calculating the damage done is the binary "is the victim alive or dead" calculation. Otherwise, we risk imposing the death penalty in an arbitrary manner, which the Supreme Court has over and over again declared unconstitutional and in violation of the 8th Amendment.

For officials to try to find a way around the court's ruling is repugnant to the theory of justice that we operate under as a society. Yes, laws can change, but the Court did not just strike down the individual laws of six different states. The Court struck down the idea that a death sentence could be imposed for anything other than a crime where the victim died.

Besides, spending the rest of his life in a Louisiana prison is not going to be a walk in the park for Patrick Kennedy. The lowest person on the totem pole of prison life is not the former law enforcement official, nor is it the snitch. The lowest person on the totem pole is the child molester, child abuser, and the child rapist. Life in prison is never easy, but if your crime included harming a child, it is even harder.

The death penalty is not an incentive to not commit crimes. Justice Kennedy even wrote in the opinion that restricting the imposition of the death sentence to crimes where the victim died could help preserve the life of a rape victim, as otherwise there may be no reason for the rapist to not kill.

Death is different. The Supreme Court has this for decades, in case after case. We treat it differently when it is caused, and we consider it differently when there is the possibility of it being imposed.

So, here is my message to officials in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas, South Carolina, and Georgia: Let Patrick Kennedy and his ilk sit in prison for the rest of their lives. Throw away the key and let them live out their days away from society. There is no need, little purpose, and rarely, if ever, closure when a perpetrator no longer breaths. Lock them up and forget about them. Better to let them spend the rest of their natural time considering their own horror, locked away from public consciousness, rather than putting them front and center, like a supernova, burning bright at the height of public awareness before blinking out and leaving the victim to deal with the crime on their own all over again. And above all else, better to respect the rule of law and the principles of justice, rather then to cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of temporary local satisfaction over national consensus and conscience.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pulling our Heads out of the Sand

Still think abstinence-only education programs work?

Seventeen girls at a high school in Glaucester, Massachusetts got pregnant during this recently concluded school year. And apparently there was some kind of pact. It has been reported that girls were more disappointed when they found out they were NOT pregnant than when they found out they were expecting.

I spent a quarter working at a juvenile court in Massachusetts. I saw more young girls walking through the courtroom with multiple children in their care then I like to think about. Girls without a high school diploma, many of whom will never get one, trying to raise children. And now I hear about this group of teens who were TRYING to get pregnant.

The local school board is set to discuss the possibility of giving easier access to contraception. One parent interviewed questioned the wisdom of the decision, saying that there was not going to be someone following the girls around to make sure they take the pill. First of all, Let this be considered a big smack on the back of the head of every member of the school board. Of COURSE you need to provide easier access to birth control. But more important than access to items, schools need to be a place where there is easy access to information. Information about how to prevent pregnancy. Information about how to effectively use birth control. Information about how to grow up smart and healthy.

What students need, more than anything in this area, is an effective program of sex education. Abstinence should be part of the program, of course, but abstinence-only programs are a classic example of sticking your head in the sand. High school students are going to have sex, whether the schools teach them how to be safe and smart about it or not. So can someone please explain to me why it is better to not teach them?

An effective sex education program would not have kept all 17 of the girls at Glaucester High School from getting pregnant this year. But it could properly arm them and their classmates with the information that they need to make their way in the world.

Mark Twain said "I never let my schooling interfere with my education." Effective sex education programs are an instance where a class can bridge the gap and be both schooling and education. It is long past time to pull our heads out of the sand and accept the world as it is. Seventeen new children will hopefully be able to learn from such a program as they go through school.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert (1950-2008)

Tim Russert, the long time host of NBC's Meet the Press, died today at the age of 58 of a heart attack.

A sad day in the world of journalistic politics, Russert has been a consistent and calming voice in an ever-changing world. He will never be forgotten by those he grilled, and by those he spoke to.

Our hearts go out to his family, his colleagues, and his subjects.

He will be sorely missed.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Gaining Respect by Giving Up Gold

I never liked Michael Johnson.

It is not that I ever thought he was cheating. I just did not like the way he conducted himself. I always felt that he was obnoxiously overconfident, wearing gold shoes as he ran his races. I enjoy watching great athletes, and especially like to hear humility in their voices. The all time greats that let others judge their greatness earn my everlasting respect and admiration.

Today, however, I must profess my respect and admiration for the man. In the wake of Antonio Pettigrew's admission that he was doping when he helped the 1600 meter relay team win the gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Johnson has said that he will return his gold medal from that event to the International Olympic Committee. Saying that he does not want the medal, as he feels "cheated, betrayed and let down," Johnson has stated that he does not want the tainted medal on display with the four golds that he rightfully earned.

Johnson's revelation of humility is a refreshing breath of fresh air in the acrid atmosphere surrounding track and field. Other athletes have turned over their medals, but only when disgraced by their own conduct, exemplified by the Marion Jones situation. Johnson, on the other hand, is not waiting for the IOC, the IAAF, or the Court of Arbitration for Sport to order the relay results changed and the medals turned over. Instead, he is standing on his own principles, and acknowledging that, through no fault or failure of his own, he does not deserve one of the accolades that he has received.

Voicing support for the current crop of young (and hopefully 100% clean) runners who are making headlines around the world, such as new 100 meter world record holder Usain Bolt of Jamaica, Johnson is doing his part to propel the sports world forward, and out from under the cloud of performance enhancing drugs that have tainted every record, medal, and result for at least the better part of two decades. Hopefully, Johnson's success through discipline, and his personal standards, will stand as a shining example to this and future generations of athletes and stars.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Joker Scheduling

It is that time of year again. The 2008 World Series of Poker is about to begin. The month-plus long string of tournaments will include 55 events this year, including the third annual $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament, the second annual heads-up NLHE event, and my personal favorite (non-main event), the second annual $2,500 Omaha H/L-Stud H/L combination event.

And looming at the end of the series, starting on July 3, is the 39th annual $10,000 World Championship of No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em. This event IS the WSOP. This is the one that everyone has been trying to win. The big money, the picture on the wall, the prestige, the respect. Johnny Moss, Stu Unger, Doyle Brunsun, and Johnny Chan all won the event multiple times. Win the main event, and you instantly become a legend. As the field has expanded, the number of days has extended. From a single table to a week-long festival, the main event has the largest prize pool, largest top prize, and largest field every year. Last year, Jerry Yang had to survive seven days of play over an 11 day span to capture $8.25 million and the title.

This year, however, the main event schedule has taken a turn for the ridiculous. After playing for seven days over an 11 day period, the final table will be set. But instead of getting the nine surviving contenders for the throne together on the twelfth day and playing down to a champion, this year, the nine survivors will be handed ninth place money and sent back to their regular lives for the next four months. Then in November, they will all gather in Las Vegas again to play down to the heads-up match, which will gather the next day to decide the winner.

Why take a four month vacation in the middle of an event? Why, for the benefit of the television audience, of course. The assumption is that ESPN will be following the nine finalists around, filming their regular lives, or as regular as they can be still having a chance to become the face of poker. As if the first 50-plus events, in addition to the first 7 days of whittling the main event field down, were not building enough hype for the main event championship, now we will have to wait an extra 108 days to reconvene the final table.

No momentum going into the final day, no one steaming, no one on tilt. Everyone will be able to start fresh. While this may seem like a decent enough idea on the surface, it in fact takes away one of the best human elements that the main event has represented. Fatigue and stamina have played a role in the outcome of the main event since the field started expanding to the point that multiple days were required to decide it.

I do not know who suggested this psychotic scheduling change, but I hope that this becomes one of the WSOP's one-year experiments, much like playing the final table outside the casino on Fremont Street was in 1997. This is a mistake, and I for one am not looking forward to the four month hiatus. The whole idea of the main event is to outlast an ever-growing field over the course of a week or 10(ish) days. Now putting the entire tournament on layaway until just before Thanksgiving takes away one huge aspect of the event, and increases the amount of luck involved, reducing the skill aspect that makes poker the most human of gambling endeavors.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

There is Something Seriously Wrong...

On Washington Street in the West Roxbury area of Boston, there is a small brick building. A sign on the building identifies it as a Disabled American Veterans chapter building. And leading up to the front door of the building is a flight of steps.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Justice is Done

The California Supreme Court today ruled that it is unconstitutional to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples in the state.

The 4-3 opinion takes effect in 30 days, and will only face one serious challenge: a constitutional amendment on the ballot this November. And Governor Schwarzenegger, who vetoed a bill to legalize same sex marriage, has said that he will oppose the ballot initiative.

From the majority opinion, authored by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court:

...we cannot find that retention of the traditional definition of marriage constitutes a compelling state interest. Accordingly, we conclude that to the extent the current California statutory provisions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, these statutes are unconstitutional.
I cannot say it any better than that.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

9:02 + 13 Years

Christopher Nguyen is graduating from high school.

A simple statement, a seemingly random sentence, plucked out of nowhere and presented on this page. Christopher Nguyen is graduating from high school. So are millions of other students across the country. So what makes this one noteworthy?

13 years ago, Christopher Nguyen was a four year old child in a day care center while his parents were at work. One day in April, he was one of 21 children at the America's Kids Day Care Center. By the end of that day, 15 of his playmates died in what was at that time the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history. Christopher Nguyen is a survivor of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Since that fateful day in the spring of 1995, Timothy McVeigh, who drove the truck, has been executed for the death of eight federal officials. Terry Nichols, McVeigh's co-conspirator, was sentenced to life in prison for those eight officials, plus on 161 counts of murder by Oklahoma state courts. The Murrah building was razed to the ground and replaced by a national memorial, and a new federal building has been built in Oklahoma City. Life has gone on, for Oklahoma, for the United States, and for the survivors.

And now, the first of the six child survivors is about to graduate from high school. Christopher Nguyen carries forward. He does not remember the bombing, which is hardly surprising, but seeing him standing, staring at the last remaining pieces of the Murrah building that today stand at one side of the memorial, you can see in his eyes the questions that will likely dominate his life. Why did he survive, when so many others did not?

On the outside of one of the gates to the memorial are the following words:

We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.
Now Christopher Nguyen will take his first steps out into the world. He is both a survivor and a symbol. I wish him nothing but the best, and a long, happy, and healthy life. And I hope that the survivor of this ultimate act of violence and hate will see in his lifetime even a glimmer of peace for us all.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Electability and Analyzing the Votes

Hillary Clinton won the Indiana primary last night.

Barack Obama won the North Carolina primary last night.

Clinton's margin of victory in Indiana: 23,000 votes, 2% of the electorate in that state.

Obama's margin of victory in North Carolina: 235,000 votes, 14% of the electorate in that state.

But here is the key point: No Democrat will win Indiana's 11 electoral votes in November. It just is not going to happen. John McCain can put those votes into his pocket without a worry or a second thought. While it is unlikely that a Democrat will win North Carolina's 15 electoral votes, it is still possible that a Democrat can compete with McCain there. And even if the eventual Democratic nominee does not win North Carolina, they can still benefit extensively by forcing McCain to commit resources to the state.

I said it before, and I will say it again: Clinton wins Democratic votes where Democratic votes do not matter (like rural Virginia and now Indiana). Obama wins Democratic votes where they can make a difference (like possibly breaking the solid south, including Virginia as a whole and North Carolina).

Who do YOU think is more "electable"?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Debriefing the Derby

On the heels my last post, I was listening to Ronn Owens on KGO today. He was discussing the death of Eight Belles and horse racing in general, and I decided to chime in.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

When Agony Follows Ecstasy

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) statements are often viewed as a joke (at least by me). Among other things, PETA has started an X Prize-type competition for a commercially viable good tasting replacement for meat. And today, they have called for the suspension of jockey Gabriel Saez, who rode the ill-fated filly Eight Belles in yesterday's Kentucky Derby.

PETA is claiming that Saez should have known something was wrong with Eight Belles. Looking at the most recent headline horse racing tragedy would give credence to their argument. When Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro suffered the injury that would eventually lead to his being euthanized, jockey Edgar Prado immediately got him slowed down, saving the the horse's life for the moment and giving him a fighting chance to live a long and successful life at stud. Saez, on the other hand, was not able to do anything to preserve Eight Belles' chances, and therefore he must have been at fault.

A closer look at the two injuries, however, show how ridiculous PETA's claims are. Barbaro broke ONE HIND leg. Eight Belles broke BOTH FRONT legs. Barbaro could support himself on 3 legs. In the words of the Churchill Downs veterinarian, Eight Belles "didn't have a front leg to stand on." With such a painful injury, and no hope of a successful course of treatment, the only humane thing to do was to euthanize her.

Understandably, PETA has probably never watched a horse race, and has no concept of the connections that are forged in the business. If Saez could have done anything, anything, to help Eight Belles, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have done it. If there was any foul play at all, and I do not believe that there was, the only thing I can conceive of right now is that the owner or trainer gave the horse drugs when she should not have been racing. Again, however, I DO NOT BELIEVE this to be the case. What happened, as I see it, Eight Belles finished second in the race, and on the cool down, had a freak accident in which one front leg hit a weird patch of dirt, breaking the ankle, and causing the horse to go down. This put such a strain on the other front ankle that it, too, broke, leading to the tragedy of a horse being euthanized on the track at Churchill Downs.

I was in Louisville, Kentucky in the summer of 2006, for a conference. I was not going to go to Louisville and not see Churchill, so I skipped a morning's events and took a taxi down tot eh track. I took a few tours around the grounds, and have a horseshoe from the stables behind the track. It is a powerful place, rich in history and tradition. The Kentucky Derby truly is the Great American Race, with all due respect to NASCAR and the Daytona 500. For a tragedy such as this to strike at the heart of such a great tradition is heartbreaking. For PETA to make such outrageous claims in the hope of blatant self promotion is sickening. Let those connected to Fox Hill Farms (Eight Belles' owner), horse racing, and sports fans in general mourn such a tragic and all too early loss.

And one final side note/post script to the Derby. According to Sports Illustrated, the jockey who rode Big Brown to victory, Kent Desormeaux, got back to the winner's circle after a two year slump that included less than 200 wins in 2005 and 2006 combined. Horse racing really is a different animal altogether, when nearly 200 wins over two years is a slump. Driver Richard Petty, the King, had a total of 200 wins over his legendary NASCAR career, giving him the most wins in history, with a margin of 95. The sport of kings has a standard of excellence all its own. That is one of the things that make it special, and keeps it relevant even today.

Two weeks until the Preakness, then three more until the Belmont. And on May 2, 2009, the world will focus on Louisville and Churchill Downs once again, as for the 135th time, the three year olds will run for the roses. Hopefully next time only with triumph, and without any tragedy.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Laughter of the (Green) Gods

You have got to love the split-personality San Francisco. The liberal bastion of the west is not only forcing people to be environmentally conscious, but forcing them to be humble about it as well.

In order to promote environmental protection, San Francisco is starting to enforce regulations that require landlords to recycle. Not a terrible idea, considering the state of our environment. Toss those empty cans into the blue bin instead of the black one, and they can be made into new cans, or into anything else that aluminum is part of, instead of just wasting away in a dump somewhere. Not a terrible idea, in my humble opinion, to "encourage" this kind of environmental consciousness. Call it paternalism, call it liberal overreaching, call it whatever you want. I call it a good idea.

I should note at this point that my family has had and used a recycle bin for as long as I can remember.

But now, not only are residents forced to recycle, but to hide the bins as well? It now has come out that San Francisco is handing out $100 fines to residents who do not put empty recycling bins out of sight. On the side of the house is no longer good enough. Now these giant bins have to be put completely away in a garage or otherwise out of sight.

Again, I should note that the bins are always placed in my family's garage so that we have easy access to them.

Is San Francisco that hard up for cash that it has to fine both the recyclers and the non-recyclers? I do not care how deep the treasury's debt is. This is ridiculous. The government can take a loss for a good purpose, and supporting recycling certainly meets this requirement. I can understand requiring a resident to pull the bins off the curb, but the side of the house seems like a perfectly reasonable place to store them.

As for eyesores, the giant contractor's truck that is always parked on my street, or the white, windowless van that always blocks the fire hydrant, seem more like sight pollution than a few recycling bins will ever be.

Friday, April 25, 2008

This is the Primary that Never Ends..........

And the Democratic party continues to implode and cannibalize all of the goodwill it might have had, as the last remaining pretenders to the throne continue to bash each other in the hopes of being able to take on John McCain come November. With the Pennsylvania primary falling right into line with the rest of the country, the party headed (at least nominally) by Howard Dean still cannot define which sort of history it wants to set.

But at the same time, nearly every analyst and pundit is saying that there is no realistic way for Clinton to get the nomination, and that in the end it will be Obama getting the nod and the nom. As long as Hillary believes she still has a chance, however, this psychotic game will continue, and just go on and on ad inifinitum.

Clinton runs well where NO DEMOCRAT WILL WIN in November, and the Democratic voters there will vote for whatever Democrat gets nominated (see: rural Virginia). Obama has a chance to win the middle, and actually compete with the perceived-moderate McCain. That's the great thing about spin, though. If you look at his voting record, McCain is a lot more conservative that people think, but he still gets the "moderate" tag.

When this primary finally spits out a nominee in this political race to the bottom, they will be either battle-tested or mortally wounded. Either way, it is not the truth that matters, but how the truth is perceived. And in this election year, here is how I view the perception of the truth: A Republican who can compete for the center has months to shore up his right flank, while the Democrats engage in a protracted duel to the death that will just wind up killing them both.

Oh, happy day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Population Bust?

What the hell is going on in the Bay Area? Today I was listening to KGO online to keep up with some local issues even while I still live in Boston, and every other commercial is for Pacific Fertility Center. Is there a rash of impotence going around the Bay? I am horribly confused. Why the sudden need to inundate the airwaves with commercial after commercial for fertility treatments? Maybe they are just trying to make it seem like there is, so anyone with the slightest difficulty conceiving will come charging into their office. Maybe it is the variances of internet radio, where not every commercial gets broadcast online. All I know is that I half expect to see no newborns when I am home next week.

Chalk one up to the advertisers.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Living the Dream

Another anniversary to mark, another life to celebrate, another loss to mourn.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no better tribute to the man than to present his own words.

"I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." - June 23, 1963, Detroit.

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. ... Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." - 1967, Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community?.

"Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus." - March 31, 1968, Washington, D.C.

"I am not interested in power for power's sake, but I'm interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good." - as quoted by Jeffrey Alexander in 2006.

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." - 1963, Strength to Love.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." - 1963, Strength to Love.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." - 1963, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

"I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends." - 1963, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'" - August 28, 1963, "I have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C.

"I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant." - December 10, 1964, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway.

"I had received [letters] from the President and the Vice-President. I've forgotten what those telegrams said. I'd received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I've forgotten what the letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I'll never forget it. It said simply, 'Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the Whites Plains High School.' She said, 'While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I'm simply writing you to say that I'm so happy that you didn't sneeze.' And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I am happy that I didn't sneeze." - April 3, 1968, Memphis.

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." - April 3, 1968, Memphis.

"If your opponent has a conscience, then follow Gandhi and nonviolence. But if your enemy has no conscience like Hitler, then follow Bonhoeffer."

"Let no one drive you so low as to hate him."

"Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him."

"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

"Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal."

"The greatest sin of our time is not the few who have destroyed but the vast majority who sat idly by."

"The time is always right to do what is right."

"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."

"When evil men plot, good men must plan; when evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind; when evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love; where evil men will seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice."

It will be a happy day indeed when the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial is completed and takes its place on the National Mall between Washington and Lincoln, finally giving a fitting honor to the man who gave the last full measure of devotion for the freedom of everyone everywhere.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Send them to Bed without Supper

Howard Dean has said that he is committed to having Florida's delegates seated, one way or another, at the Democratic National Convention. The only way I could possibly see this being done in a fair and justifiable manner is to have the delegates seated, but have no vote whatsoever. Florida and Michigan were both stripped of their delegates for moving their primaries ahead of the start date authorized by the Democratic National Committee, and both states knew in advance what the party's reaction would be. Now they come in and say that they are being disenfranchised, when they knew all along what would happen.

My parents once gave my grandmother a magnet that said "If mom says no, ask grandma!" I guess that makes Dean the grandmother in this little comparison. Either way, Florida and Michigan have to be told to sit this one out, and the total delegate count should be reduced by the voting strength of what Michigan and Florida would have been. Florida and Michigan delegates should not be seated in Denver, and their desperate cries for recognition should fall on deaf ears.

I am not saying that the presidential primary system should not be changed, nor am I saying that it is perfect as it stands today. All I am saying is that, given the procedures in place, that every state and candidate was aware of at the beginning, Florida and Michigan knew what the consequences of their actions would be. And they should suffer those consequences. The world may not be a very fair place, but this one should be a no brainer. Even for the Democrats, as they all hold hands and jump off the nearest cliff together.

I love the smell of democracy in the morning. Who's ready for the 2012 campaign to start?

Musings on NFL Rules Redux

How have the owners voted?

The college option on the coin toss, allowing teams to defer taking the ball until the second half.

I said the owners should approve the rule. Result? 30-2 in favor of the change.

Eliminating the five-yard "incidental facemask" penalty. Grabbing the facemask and turning it would lead to an automatic 15-yard penalty.

I opposed this rule change. Missed this one. Owners adopted it.

Instant replay on field-goal attempts.

Sports Illustrated called the vote a "slam dunk for the owners," but did not list the count. Either way, I agree with the move.

Ending the forceout rule on receptions and interceptions.

I said do it, otherwise what is the point in defending? Owners agree, unanimously, and I will be screaming at my television less this fall.

Changing the rule on seeding in the playoffs.

Proposal tabled after an informal vote showed strong resistance to the proposal. Good move by the owners. There has to be a value to winning the division. Suck it up if you can't pull it off.

(I did not include this one last week but) Putting a communication device in the helmet of the defensive captain.

Owners allow the change. Good move. Signals are fun and all, but if the offense can move into the 21st century, it is only fair that the defense can do the same.

Still no word on what the owners think about restricting how much hair players can have below the helmet, but the NFLPA has said that they oppose this change. Good thing, too. One analyst said that the union would probably use this as a line in the sand. Good for them, standing up for individuality, especially when the hair is a religious/cultural expression for some of the players. The NFL will be better off leaving well enough alone.

Ignoring the hair proposal and the communication devices,
My record for the owner's meetings: 4-1.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Musings on NFL Rules

Starting Monday, NFL owners are meeting to discuss possible rule changes for the coming year. Here is what I think of some of the proposed rules.

The college option on the coin toss, allowing teams to defer taking the ball until the second half.

Sure, why not? The more options available the better, as far as I'm concerned.

Eliminating the five-yard "incidental facemask" penalty. Grabbing the facemask and turning it would lead to an automatic 15-yard penalty.

Really? So much for protecting the players. This is an important rule. It does not need to be eliminated. Refs need to better ENFORCE this rule, and perhaps there needs to be a clarification in what constitutes a 5-yard "incidental" versus a 15-yard personal foul, but the incidental should remain in place.

Banning players from having hair below the name tag on their backs.

Hello to the "No Fun League." The NFL has characters, and some of them are famous for their childish behavior (hello, T.O.), some for their just-plain-good-time antics (hello, Ocho Cinco), and some are just because of their presence (hello, Polamalu). Troy Polamalu is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, and has long hair that extends far below is helmet. He has been tackled by his hair on occasion, and there is a penalty already in place to protect players from pulling excessively on their hair, similar to their jersey. To institute this rule, however, is a ton of prevention for an ounce of cure. The NFL is not suffering from an image problem, and the players should be allowed to be themselves, and to let their personality shine through. Let this one go, Roger.

Instant replay on field-goal attempts.

No brainer. Do it. Instant replay is about getting the calls right. While they are at it, the challenge system should be changed. Instead of only X number of challenges per half or per game, coaches should be allowed X number of WRONG challenges. As long as the officials got it wrong, the coach should be allowed to challenge an unlimited number of times. Get the calls on the field right so the NFL doesn't have to say "whoops" come Monday.

Ending the forceout rule on receptions and interceptions.

Again, do it. If you cannot get your feet down in bounds, the pass is incomplete. That is the point of defense. With such strict rules in place about pass interference, it is getting close to impossible to actually defend against the pass. Should make the call easier, too. No more "woulda coulda shoulda." Get your feet down or you are out.

Changing the rule on seeding in the playoffs.

This would mean that there is the potential for wild card teams with a better record than other division winners would host the wild card game. I'm sorry, I understand the unfairness of having to travel to a team with a worse record, and the divisions may not be stacked evenly in any given year, but this is the reality of sports. And sports are cyclical. There was a long time when the NFC dominated the Super Bowl. Today the AFC has been dominant (the Giants are only the 3rd NFC winner in the last 10 years). If you cannot win your division, you should not host a wild card game. Better luck next year.

Hopefully the owners get it right this time around. They also have a potential labor dispute with the players union to diffuse, and the regular business of the league to transact. Going to be a busy time in Palm Beach. Hopefully a productive one, too.

160 days until kickoff. Can't wait.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Citius, Altius, Fortius, and God Save the Queen

At least one country is taking a dramatic step to ensure that every one of their athletes competing in Beijing this summer is clean. Britain has announced that since January 1, and going until the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) takes over supervision with the opening of the Olympic Village on July 27, every single British athlete competing in the games will be tested for doping violations, many more than once. The British have acknowledged that sports are a public trust, and are making sure that their athletes are worthy of that trust.

Well it is about time. As Jose Canseco comes out with a new book painting (true or not) more baseball stars as cheaters, and the Tour de France confirms once and for all that Alberto Contador will not be racing this year, at least someone is doing something about the pandemic of cheating that has gripped the sports world for longer than any of us would like to admit. Yes, there may be privacy issues at stake, but sports are a public trust. There will be plenty to worry about this summer at the Olympics, from China's human rights abuses to which country will win the most medals to the air quality in Beijing. At least we do not have to worry about one country's athletes doping before the games.

I hope every athlete at the U.S. Olympic trials are tested as well. I do not care if there is no evidence that they have or may have cheated in the past. You want to try out for the Olympics? Here's a needle and here's a cup. You qualify for the Olympics? Let's do it again. The UCI is in the process of implementing a biological passport for all riders this year. Why not have the same thing for every professional or Olympic athlete? Yes, it may be expensive, but sports are a public trust. Let's get it done and clean it up. Archers, windsurfers, soccer players, sprinters, swimmers, divers, and cyclists. I do not care which sport you play. I say test them all.

Citius, altius, fortius. Swifter, higher, stronger. Go for the gold, and let us cheer with a clear conscience.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Busting Bracketology

Today is the first day of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Today and tomorrow, 64 teams will play and be cut down to 32. Across the country, billions of dollars are changing hands as people enter pools, attempting to predict the outcome. On ESPN, Mike and Mike have their annual bracket wager under way. This year, if one loses, he will have to dye his hair a different color every day for a week. If the other loses, he will have to enter a competitive eating contest. It is all in fun and games. For pride, for a little bit of money, and for the spirit of competition (and a distraction from work).

But in a many states, bracket pools constitute illegal gambling. Depending on the amount of money changing hands, and the way a pool is run, people could even be facing jail time. Not that any of these rules are ever enforced. And I would bet dollars to donuts that the people charged with enforcing these laws are actually breaking them by participating in pools themselves. Former University of Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel was fired from that position for entering a bracket pool. Let me repeat that: the football coach was fired for betting on a totally different sport. Neuheisel was later awarded millions of dollars in damages against the University of Washington and the NCAA.

This is not a joke, folks. This is serious business. And like many of our drug laws, it is utterly ridiculous. Any law that makes criminals out of this many Americans is probably not a good law. And enforced or not, these laws are on the books, available for use by law enforcement agencies. Have a problem with your neighbor? Odds are you could turn him in for betting on Kansas to beat Duke in the championship game. Or for that other favorite betting time of year, the Super Bowl.

Sports and gambling go hand in hand. They cannot be separated easily. And why should they? For the most part, it is all in fun. Let those of us who were never tall enough or good enough to ever play major college basketball have some fun riding not just our favorite teams but our analysis of their matchups (or jersey colors or mascots in some cases) to victory.

As for my bracket this year? North Carolina beats Texas in the championship, with UCLA and Wisconsin joining them in the Final 4. Go Tar Heels!

Monday, March 17, 2008

From the Pulpit to the Prison Cell

A Roman Catholic priest has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The priest was convicted for leading a militia to kill 1500 Tutsi refugees in a church. After failing to kill many of them by having fuel poured through the roof while grenades were thrown inside, the priest ordered the church demolished, killing the remaining refugees.

Peace, love, understanding, sanctity of human life. Obviously, this priest does not represent the views of the Catholic Church, and I am in no way suggesting that he does or ever did. It does bring to mind the Church's silence during the Holocaust, however, and the millennia-long internal contradiction between the Church's stated position and its orders and actions that include holy wars (like the crusades) and persecutions against pagans, Jews, and other Christian groups.

In the words of George Carlin, "Sanctity of life. You believe in it? Personally, I think it's a bunch of shit. Well, I mean, life is sacred? Who said so? God? Hey, if you read history, you realize that god is one of the leading causes of death." Hard to argue with the man.

Now I do not believe that being in a church should exempt a criminal from being apprehended by law enforcement authorities, but I do believe that, whenever possible, places of worship should be exempted from the horrors of war, even when soldiers stay there. If a church becomes a base of operations, or a firing station, it should be attacked. But if a soldier lays down his weapons and hides out in a church, I could see him being protected there. A civilian seeking refuge in a church, however, should never have to justify the sanctuary of a church. And for a priest to destroy a church in order to kill the civilians seeking refuge there? It ranks with some of the worst actions in all of human history.

Let the priest rot away in prison. There is no punishment too severe for this prime example of the scum of the Earth.

Friday, March 14, 2008

(Not so) Damn Yankees

Billy Crystal was cut today by the New York Yankees. The team signed him to a contract and cut him after one at bat, in which he struck out after fouling off a pitch.

Under normal circumstances, this would be a chance to ridicule the Yankees, but not this time. Billy Crystal is not some minor league player who blew his shot at the big leagues in spring training. Billy Crystal is a lifelong Yankee fan and a famous comedian, who was given the opportunity to live out a lifelong dream.

Many people are howling about this, saying that he should not be given this opportunity, that he is only taking advantage of his celebrity. Are these critics out of their mind? Even if they are right, so what? Yes you have to take these games seriously, even the spring training ones, but not so much that you cannot do things like this. Garth Brooks took nearly 50 at bats over three spring trainings. Michael Jordan played for a White Sox minor league team and even hit a home run. Of course, Crystal is 60 years old and not an active athlete, but again, so what? Crystal had one at bat in the DH position. And in the wake of the Mitchell Report, these people want to scream and yell about the purity of the game? This is exactly the kind of thing that baseball needs. Someone playing purely for love of the game. I only wish he had gotten a hit.

The circumstances are few and far between where you will hear me say this next sentence. Kudos to the Steinbrenners and the Yankees.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sex and Silence

Doctor-patient confidentiality.

Think about that phrase for a minute. Think about what it means. Think about everything that it implies. You can say anything to your doctor, and they cannot reveal it to anyone. There is a similar protection for clergy members and attorneys. These are professions that require candor to effectively do their job, and society has recognized this and provided protections for the individuals who serve in these capacities.

Today, this principle seems to conflict more and more with the idea of parental control over their minor children. Today, confidentiality does not apply to teenagers, and issues over parental notification laws for abortions have gone all the way to the Supreme Court. This presents doctors with a huge problem, however. A new study has been released saying that 1 in 4 teenage girls in the United States have a sexually transmitted disease. To put that in raw numbers, more than 3 million girls between 14 and 19 have an STD. Dr. Margaret Blythe of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on adolescence says that there are many doctors who do not want to discuss these issues with their teenage patients, or tell them to get tested, as the results of these tests would have to be released to their parents.

This should present on obvious solution to the problem at hand, or at least to this particular piece of the puzzle. I agree 100% wholeheartedly with the American Academy of Pediatrics on their recommendation that teenagers be allowed confidential screenings. Many teens do not want their parents to know that they are having sex, but they still need medical advice. And teens in this situation should not be forced to go into a new situation, with strangers they have never met, in order to get advice and treatment. The Haight Ashbury Free Clinics serve an important purpose, and should be imitated throughout the country/world (I know, I'm a dreamer). But teens should not have to go to the clinics to get advice. Instead, they have to be able to go to a doctor they know and trust, secure in the knowledge that they can get the treatment and advice they need, without being subject to the wrath of their parents.

Whether we like what teens are doing or not, the fact is that they are going to do these things. Sex and drugs and other things are facts of life. The best way to help is not to cover our eyes and ears and scream "HELL BOUND" like the Christian Right, but instead to deal with reality as it presents itself to us. It is time to be realistic, and we need doctors to be able to give advice to teens. We would not stand for a doctor giving our information to someone else, why would we stand for them being able to give someone else's information to us?

And yes, I do understand the counterargument. Parents are responsible for their children, we would never let a doctor perform an operation without consulting a parent, yada yada yada. And part of a doctor's advice should be to encourage a sexually active teen to talk to his or her parents. As far as I am concerned, however, if I had a teenager, it would be more important to me for my teen to be healthy and safe, and cared for by a doctor I know and trust, even if that doctor would not tell me things I think I need to know.

This report by the CDC shows that it is long past time for confidential testing for teens. Hopefully this becomes reality, and we can see these numbers drop in years to come.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Doing Right in Light of Loss

I do not usually comment (or care) about dead actors and celebrities, but I figured it might not be a bad idea to praise people when they do the right thing. Heath Ledger died without having updated his will to include his ex or to his two year old daughter. Court papers do not say what his estate is valued at, but his New York City belongings alone are worth $145,000. All of his property was to be given to his parents and sisters.

Here is the happy ending to this particular chapter of the story (since the story itself can't really have one): Kim Ledger, Heath's father, has said that the family will make sure to provide for Ledger's ex and their daughter. It is nice to see Mr. Ledger not just say that he will use his son's money to not only take care of his grandchild, but of her mother as well. It is the right and decent thing to do.

I hope (and would very much like to believe) that Mr. Ledger will stick to his pledge. Hopefully this will remind everyone to update their wills whenever something changes in their life. Not everyone in the world is as reasonable as Mr. Ledger appears to be.

Friday, March 7, 2008

For the Honor of Racing on the Cobblestones

I may have been wrong about the "fast and quiet" death of cycling that I predicted. The UCI has seen to that as they have opened a disciplinary case against the French Cycling Federation (FFC) for supporting the owners of the Paris-Nice race in running the race, making it very public indeed. The owners, the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) own the Tour de France, cycling's marquee event.

This does not bode well for cycling's future. There are riders who have already declined to participate in the Paris-Nice race because they are worried about their Olympic eligibility, which is governed by the UCI. Cycling needs the Tour, and the Tour needs effective, open, and honest doping controls. And these controls need to be run consistently across international boundaries, and this is something that only the UCI can effectively accomplish.

There last time there was not a Tour de France was in 1946, and since 1903 only the two World Wars have prevented the contest from going forward. No one is suggesting the the race will not go forward. UCI is saying that without their support, it should not take place, but the ASO has said all along they will go forward under French authority, even without UCI support and controls.

Already the Tour is going to go forward without marquee names like Levi Leipheimer and defending champion Alberto Contador. There are many other names that cycling needs to have racing, however, if it is going to survive as a major event and not become a sideshow. The UCI wants control, the ASO wants independence, and caught in the middle are the men who just want to ride and compete for the greatest prize in their sport, and one of the greatest athletic accomplishments in the world.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has offered to mediate the dispute, but both the UCI and ASO have rejected their offer. What they have ignored is the fact that not having the Tour de France is like open wheel racing not running the Indianapolis 500 because Tony George wants exclusive control over the rules of the race, wants them drastically different from the rest of the season, and if the sanctioning body does not agree to it, he will run the race without Penske, or Ganassi, or any other major team.

The UCI and ASO need each other. Cycling needs a marquee event, and you cannot just go out and create history, especially not the kind that comes with over a century of racing across the French countryside. The ASO needs the Tour to be consistent with cycling events the world over, at least in terms of the rules, regulations, and controls. And the sports world needs for the cloud of suspicion and embarrassment that has hovered over the Tour de France for over a decade to lift so that we can trust that our champions truly are figures that we can recognize with a clear conscience.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Slipping Further Away

As rockets continue to fall on Israel, and the Israeli military steps up operations in Gaza, gunmen shot up a school in Jerusalem.

There is no peace in the Middle East, and the ramping up of the attacks as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Olmert and Abbas show just how hollow President Bush's call for peace in the region by the end of his term really is. A timetable cannot be put on a conflict of this magnitude, and Israel cannot be realistically asked to negotiate with a gun to its head.

I was reading a TIME article about the possibility of Israel conducting a full assault on Gaza, getting itself into an Iraq-type quagmire, when an email popped up. A friend of mine who I am not in regular touch with is not only in Israel right now, not only in Jerusalem, but studying at a seminary there. He did not mention the attacks directly, but only said not to worry, that he is OK, and goes to a different school, a neighboring school from the one attacked.

And once again, events so far away hit so close to home for me.

Israel cannot negotiate as rockets keep falling on Sderot and Ashkelon. Abbas has to clean his own house before he can negotiate in good faith. Otherwise, we will merely return to (or continue) the hollow promises of the Arafat decades, where he would say in English what the west wanted to hear, and then turn around in Arabic and say "go get 'em."

I do not know what the answers are. All I know is that, unlike the optimism expressed in the Lincoln quote that peace is not so distant as it has been, I feel like hope and peace are slipping further and further away.

Seatbelts and Sake

Yet another minor child has been found drunk at school. I feel like every day there is a report of a kid in single digit years (in this case 4) drunk. I am of the opinion that the legal drinking age is too high. But I'm talking about lowering it to 18 (you can die for your country but you are not allowed to order a beer?). Or maybe even down to 16 if you are with your parents. But 4? Give me a break. Anyone who gives alcohol to a child should be thrown in prison. And no, I am not talking about the occasional sip during a religious observation or to see what it tastes like at a family dinner at home. But no child should be given their own drink. And no one should have to be told that.

I saw this particular case reported in a video on CNN. I also saw something really good in the video, though. The reporter was interviewing a parent who was sitting in his car while picking up his child from the school. While he was talking, you can see over his shoulder the car door open, the kid get in, reach up and put his seatbelt on. Maybe there is hope for us yet. The drunk 4 year old is the exception. I would like to (and in fact do) think that the kid putting on his seatbelt unprompted is the rule.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

1 Down, 1 to Go

"So Clinton lives to run for another seven weeks. But if you believe in the power of numbers, the candidate of inevitability is Barack Obama." - Mark Halperin, "Clinton Wins Big, But Math is Troubling," TIME, March 5, 2008.

The media has gotten everything wrong in this campaign. McCain went from the leader to dead to the leader to faltering to the nominee. Rudy went from the presumptive to the throwaway. Thompson went from the savior to....well he never really became anything. Hillary was the presumptive to the finished to the comeback kid to....the inevitable loser, apparently. Obama was the dark horse to the presumptive to the front runner to....the inevitable winner who just can't quite close the deal.

They have gotten everything wrong, so why should we listen to them now? Welcome to campaign '08. The Daily Show calls it "Indecision '08," and it really is. We were supposed to have this thing wrapped up by Super (Duper) Tuesday. Now we have another SEVEN WEEKS of campaigns and mudslinging for the Democrats, while the Republicans unite around their maverick that they are just not quite ready to trust.

This process is insane. It is too long, too drawn out. In a week, we will count off the 40th anniversary of the 1968 New Hampshire primary, where a sitting President was almost unseated by a candidate within his own party. This year, New Hampshire is two months behind us, and this campaign is 2+ years old. If you want to be President, you are never not running.

Uniters, dividers, Republicans, Democrats, independents. We just cannot make up our minds as to what we want. I have been wondering lately, what could possibly make someone think that they are the right person to lead the nation? What could make a person think that they should be President? What could possibly make someone think that they are qualified?

I'm reminded of one of my law professor's comments about New Yorkers: "I love New Yorkers because they don’t really care who wins. They just want everyone to shut up."

But looking back to that quote that I used to open this post, Maybe we have made a decision as a country, or at least the Democrats have as a party. Or, and I think this is much more likely, everyone has their head in the sand and it is stupid to predict anything until November 5, and by then, we will know who is running for President in 2012, and we get to start the process all over again.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Old Soldier Fades Away

Brett Favre is retiring.

How much would I have killed to hear those words 10 years ago, when his Packers kept bouncing my Niners from the playoffs? Today, I'm not quite as thrilled to hear it as I would have been in the past. Then, Brett represented the evil successor to the Cowboys of the mid-1990s. Today, he represents everything that is good about football specifically, and sports in general. Playing the game the same way he has his entire life, Favre is a great example for young aspiring football players to look up to.

It was such a great thing to see him doing well and being successful again. Now he can ride off into the sunset. I hope he gives Green Bay a chance to thank him for what he has done. He and they have been waiting a long time for this kind of celebration at Lambeau. And the one that's coming in Canton, five years down the line.

Aaron Rodgers has some ridiculously big shoes to fill. I wish him luck, since he needs all the help he can get.

Enjoy retirement, Brett. You've earned it.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Running Clean (?)

And now, for some thoughts on sports.

I'm torn over the what to think about the Tour de France banning the Astana team from this year's event. On the one hand, this is a totally different team, that just happens to have the same name, as the team that embarrassed the Tour last year. To lump Bruyneel and Leipheimer and Contador in with the likes of Vinokourov is fundamentally unfair to the new edition of the Astana team. It is like the Cleveland Browns today. They are not the Browns of 30 years ago. Those Browns are now the Baltimore Ravens. The new Cleveland Browns are an expansion franchise. Similarly this is an entirely new Astana team.

On the other hand, as a fan, I can see the Tour's perspective with crystal clarity. I was heartbroken when Vino was caught cheating, and the entire team was expelled from the Tour after having embarrassed cycling's biggest event for the second straight year. Bruyneel, Leipheimer, and Contador knew that they were joining a team with such a horrible name recognition when they signed with Astana. It is hard to have sympathy for them when they knew what they were getting into.

Beyond the fate of the Astana team and Contador's inability to defend his Tour title, there is the ongoing conflict between the group that runs the Tour and cycling's governing body. The two-wheeled racers should learn something from their four-wheeled brethren in the United States. The recently ended 10 year war between Champ Car/CART and the IRL seriously hurt open wheel racing and opened the door for NASCAR to jump to the top of American motorsports. An ongoing conflict between cycling's governing body and its marquee event will make the sport die fast and quiet.

If they want to survive, they need to come together. They need to make sure that no team, the "new" Astana or any other, do what the "old" Astana did. Cycling knows it needs to clean up, but it needs to do so fairly. Otherwise, you end up with enduring (and unfair) questions about Lance Armstrong's 7 straight wins, and the horribly embarrassing situation of Floyd Landis, the shamed and disqualified 2006 "winner" who continues to pursue his case before the International Court of Arbitration for Sport.

2 wheels, 4 wheels, on foot, on ice, I just like racing. And cheating in one of the greatest prizes in sports makes me heartsick more than the (fine, for now I'll still call it "alleged") cheating of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. I hope the Tour goes off without a hitch this year. Cycling, sports in general, and the world at large could use it. And so could I.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The 1% Crisis

Don't let the title make you think this is a tiny issue. The Pew Center on the States has come out with a report that has found that more than 1% of the U.S. adult population is in jail or prison. Unbelievable. We have 230 million adults in this country, and over 2.3 million of them are behind bars. And where is the money coming from? We cut taxes, and funding for the arts, and for health care, and for research, and for everything else you can imagine. But we spend money on building more prisons to incarcerate people for longer and longer and longer.

I once had a professor who said that no elected representative was ever voted out of office for being to tough on crime. And what puts people behind bars more than anything? Drugs. Murderers have the lowest recidivism rate of any crime (with the notable exception of serial killers, but they never get out once they are caught anyway). But drug users, who commit an almost victimless crime, will be in and out of prisons for their entire adult life. Why? Because we don't like what they put into their bodies. Heroin was once prescribed to clear the skin. Today, it can get you locked up for years. I wonder how many of that 1% are veterans?

We have the largest prison population in the world. We have the largest per capita prison population. Who joins us in the top 10? Russia and the old Soviet Bloc. Another list that we should feel extremely proud to be on, along with that list that includes China, and Saudi Arabia, and our good friend Iran. I refer, of course, to the list of countries with the death penalty.

What a terrible thought. The politics of imprisonment is a harsh one, indeed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Investigations, Bureaucracy, and Coffins

Now that I've finished reposting everything from the past, I can start writing and posting new thoughts.

Views on the Iraq war run the gamut from the likely misquoted "stay for another 100 years" to the gut reaction "pull the troops out now" and everything in between. Something that we can all agree on (I hope, anyway) is that, whether or not we have troops over there, as long as we do, we need to provide them with the proper equipment so that they come home alive, instead of in coffins. So it is disheartening to me to see today's article that the Marines are looking into what caused a delay in getting Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) to frontline troops in Iraq.

During World War II, countless telegrams were sent by the War Department to families, saying that their sons and brothers and husbands and fathers had died in the service of a greater cause, in the cause of freedom and democracy for all. There were screwups, yes. Planes crashed, intelligence let them down, equipment failed. But the telegrams that came back from Iraq because of an apparent bureaucratic screwup preventing MRAPs from getting to Iraq as quickly as possible are a pill nearly impossible to swallow. If the investigation should determine who is responsible for this tragic failure, they should never be allowed to work in public service again, and if they acted willfully, they should go to jail.

Regardless of whether you believe that the troops should come home immediately or if we need to stay there for a century (neither of these groups include me, by the way), take a peak at history and the last long-term controversial war our country experienced. At the height of both personal and political opposition to the Vietnam War, Robert Kennedy never once voted against an appropriation for the war, even as he campaigned to bring every last soldier home. You never deny anything to the boys on the ground. And as for bringing them home, here is my view. I do not know if we should have ever gone to Iraq. And fortunately, the reality of the world we live in prevents me from having to make such a decision. But they need to be protected, secured, and allowed to do their job, so that they can come home as quickly and safely as possible.