Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Truman Show

The closest President Bush will ever be to actual combat
First of all, I am going to post an update on my Pro Life post I put up last week. Lots and lots of good emails on that one, and I want to let those trickle in a little more before I put more up. Be patient, there are some great emails that I am going to post on the subject, not all of which are in accordance with my viewpoint.
While many of you were enjoying a long weekend, I was enjoying a particularly long weekend that started last Thursday when I left for New York to see my cousin graduate from West Point. My cousin is an amazing guy. He started out at a private college out of high school, wanting to be a dentist. He was in Army ROTC, because he wanted to be in the military and for the obvious benefit that it payed for his schooling. After 9/11, he made a decision that if he was going to be in the military, why not go all in. He applied to West Point and was accepted in the Class of 2006, which started the year following 9/11.
I, for one, never had and still don't have the smarts or the cajones to cut it in that sort of environment. Being around these people this weekend made me appreciate that there is hope for our future military policy. If you talk to the West Point graduates, you will find that many have reservations about President Bush and particularly his military policies. Like all good soldiers they will fight for their country regardless of who is calling the shots, but I was encouraged that they weren't just blindly in agreement with whatever policy agenda the President sets forth.
President Bush ended up being the commencement speaker for the graduation, which initially made me want to grit my teeth. The irony of a man who has never actually served in the military, let alone in combat, making decisions about if my cousin is going to war is frustrating. Nevermind that his campaign funded private organizations to trash John McCain in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 for their military service. President Bush speaking at West Point on Memorial Day weekend really can't get much more ironic. Seriously.
Some of you may have heard about the President's speech, but here is the brief version. President Bush realizes that his approval right now is historically low. While some diehard Republicans are saying that this is some vast conspiracy, it's just proof that the American people are not idiots. President Bush has done virtually nothing for the average American. If you disagree, PLEASE send me an email or post something under comments. I have spent a long time trying to think of at least one good thing that has come from this presidency, and I can't put my finger on a single thing. If you can, it would at least be an interesting discussion.
Historically, there was another US President with similar poor job approval: Harry Truman. President Bush seized the opportunity at West Point to compare himself and the current geopolitical landscape to what Truman faced after World War II.
There are some definite similarities between Truman and Bush. Both are male, for example. Aside from that, however, the correlaries that Bush attempted to create between his administration and Truman's were pretty weak. Bush admitted during his speech that the enemy in the Cold War and the enemy today are completely different. Truman was up against governments with borders and governments, while today we fight a war without borders or other identifiable characteristics. Bush compared the work we're doing in Iraq to the Marshall Plan, which provided US aid to European countries after World War II to help rebuild those countries and keep the spread of communism at bay.
When scholars discuss the Marshall Plan, the effectiveness of the Marshall Plan as a tool to prevent the spread of communism is highly questionable, but we'll leave that to people who are much better informed. Check this link out if you're interested in that debate. The whole analogy of the war against radical islamists being like the war against communism is interesting because in both cases it deals with ideology. President Bush, as President Truman did, that you can change ideology through military action or aid. What the Cold War demonstrated empirically is that you cannot fight ideology, be it fundamentalist islamic belief or communism, by simply attacking those who support it and funding those who don't.
Essentially, President Bush, by using the example of the Marshall Plan and comparing himself to Harry Truman, destroyed any support he had for his policy. The Cold War went on for over 30 years after the Truman Doctrine. While Bush obviously feels that those first 8 years in the 1940s and 1950s were crucial in destroying communism in the 1980s, I would argue that perhaps a better foreign policy, one that wasn't based on military build-up, could have prevented a lot of death.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why you really can't be all that Pro Life

My Daddy forgot to pull out

The problem with moral absolutes, like being Pro Life for example, is that they make lousy foundations for moral and ethical beliefs, because it's so damned hard to be a human being and actually be 100% Pro Life. You'll see what I mean here in just a second.

First of all, the assumption if you're Pro Life is that every single human life has value. Some might say animal lives can be included here, but the double burger I ate for dinner says otherwise. Let's keep this simple, however, and just stick to the widely held belief that if you are Pro Life that you believe in the sanctity of human life.

Problem 1 is that anyone who voted for President Bush can't be Pro Life. He single handedly oversaw the execution of over 100 death row inmates while Governor of Texas, not to mention all innocent people who have died during the continued occupation of Iraq. You can support President Bush all you want and I am Ok with that, but please stop saying you're Pro Life, because if you believed in the sanctity of life, you wouldn't have voted for the original governator. That's like Rush Limbaugh saying he's Pro Hillary Clinton.

Problem 2 comes along with Catholics, and anyone else who has used pulling out or natural family planning as a method of birth control. Turns out, that the rhythm method, which I had previously assumed meant having sex with a black person, probably results in more dead embryos than abortion, because people have sex at the fringes of fertility, when pregnancies are most likely to fail. More details on that here.

Problem 3 arises for any of the remaining Pro Life crowed that didn't vote for Bush and aren't Catholic. Do you believe in immunizations as a health policy? Who doesn't? You see, the problem with immunizations is that we know that by immunizing everybody when they're children, there is a very small risk that a few kids will die every year from their immunizations. But Ryan, immunizations save thousands of lives every year? Welcome to Utilitarian Decision-Making 101. If you think a few dead kids every year is worth preventing the return of small pox and polio, you can't be Pro Life. You're putting your own well-being above the risk that some innocent children may die, so that we all don't have to work about things that used to wipe people out like crazy.

And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't go around telling people how Pro Life you are. The bottom line is that unless you didn't vote for President Bush, never have sex, and don't get your shots, you can't really be Pro Life. And even then, I would argue that you're not Pro Life because you're putting your own life ahead of society's well-being by not getting your God damned shots.

See how tricky ethics can be in real life? Better head down to church and start praying.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

War for territory!

So when's the last time you saw a good baseball fight? I remember a minor league player who did a side snap kick and hit a catcher square in the chest, but that was like six or seven years ago, at least. Most of the time, one punch is thrown, maybe it lands, maybe it doesn't, and then both benches clear, and a lot of pushing and posturing occurs. Saturday on the south side of Chicago was no different. A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox collided with Michael Barrett of the Cubs on a play at the plate. It was a clean play, and those things happen in baseball. But then, Pierzynski made a show of slapping home plate, then stood up, looked Barrett in the eye, and walked right into him, bumping him. Now, regardless of the sport, you should never show another player up, especially after you just knocked him off his feet. However, that's just what Pierzynski did. So Barrett grabbed him, and:

Should he have hit him? No, of course not. But if you're gonna punch another grown man, make sure you connect squarely. Barrett's was more of a glancing blow, and was just enough to get Pierzynski's attention. Why half-ass it like that? You're gonna get suspended and fined by the MLB front office, so why not take a full wind-up, and cold-cock a motherfucker?

Kermit Washington.

Mr. Washington leads me to my point. What is it about human nature? We like to see fights, but we don't want to see anyone get hurt. NASCAR is more popular than ever, and car crashes are a big part of the initial draw, but Dale Earndhart Sr. dies in a wreck, and some people still talk about how sad it is that he's gone. He died doing what he loved. What's sad about that? Our media shows people shooting guns at other people on an hourly basis, but they almost never show the ones who actually get hit with those bullets. And don't get me started on the censorship of the flag-draped coffin photographs.

If anything good can come out of that fight last Saturday, it'll be that maybe some kid somewhere will realize that there are consequences for your actions. If you show up another person, especially in public, there's a chance that that person will take offense, and react with violence. It may not be the right thing for them to do, but it still happens. So if you're gonna be a dick to someone, be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Da Vinci Chode

Ron Howard sold out due to pressure from albinos

I went to see The Da Vinci Code last night, and I was disappointed on a number of levels. I really shouldn't be, since I didn't think the book was all that fantastic to begin with. I'll never understand why people read mediocre books like The Da Vinci Code by the millions, but I can't find anyone who has read Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. The Da Vinci code's wide appeal is likely related to the fact that it's written at a 2nd grade reading level, but I'm not here to tell you about the book.

One of the redeeming things about the book is that it presents ideas, unoriginal as they might be, that challenge conventional religious beliefs. The book pissed a lot of stupid religious folks off, mostly because they don't understand the distinction between fiction and non-fiction. You can spot these people on the street because they're completely paranoid that Darth Vader and the Orcs from Lord of the Rings are real. And they have Bush/Cheney stickers on their car bumpers.

The bottom line is that while the Da Vinci Code was formulaic and filled with cliches, the book is still fun to read because it's written like a screenplay. For one thing, you can read the entire thing in about 2 hours (the movie clocks in just under 2 1/2 hours). As the reader, you find yourself thinking about the characters and who would play them in a movie, what they would look like, and how they would act. One thing I never expected was this shit:

Don't get me wrong. Tom Hanks is a fine actor, but just between you and me I felt like he had based his character on Al Gore. He was so boring and uninspired. I realize that Hollywood isn't going to cast Gary Coleman as Robert Langdon simply because that's who I pictured when I read the book, but seriously? Why didn't you just have Ashton Kutcher or that guy who played Stiffler in the American Pie movies play him. Tom Hanks was completely vapid.

You'd also think if the book was essentially written for the specific purpose of screen adaptation, that whomever had to write the screenplay for this dog of a movie wouldn't have had much work to do. Instead of taking something that would have been perfectly fine the way it was, the screenwriter may as well have been David Mamet, because they took what could have been quite action-packed, and created a dialogue-driven film. Except David Mamet is generally a good writer. I don't know who the screenwriter is for the Da Vinci code because I was asleep by the time the credits rolled, but whoever it was had the easiest job in the world and fucked it up.

As if this weren't bad enough, they inserted a chunk of dialogue delivered by Al Gore, I mean Tom Hanks that is not in the book in order the defuse the religious controversy surrounding the film. Essentially, Tom Hanks says that the whole premise of the movie that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had a baby with her may or may not be true. Perhaps because I am a cynical bastard when it comes to religion, I have a hard time figuring out how whether or not Jesus was married and fucked someone affects a person's religious beliefs. Have you ever fucked someone? Does that make you a naughty boy/girl? Then don't get your anus all clenched up because someone thinks Jesus might have.

Looking back on the whole experience, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that Ron Howard ruined something that wasn't all that great to begin with. I did see the preview for Miami Vice, however, and that shit looks cool.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mister Bling's E3 wrap-up

I have returned from E3. I'm still trying to find the brain cells I lost, so please try to bear with the meandering nature of this post. If you're a gamer, it'll be worth it, I promise!

This was my first E3, and hopefully not my last. I learned quite a few things for next year:

1) Don't book almost 30 vendor meetings if you only have two and a half days to conduct them. I had two hours to walk the floor (Wednesday, from 9 to 11 a.m.), and the rest of the time, I was in either in a meeting, or running to one.

2) Morgan Webb was just as hot in person as she is on TV. She looked much more pale than I was expecting, but that only proves she is indeed a gamer. I took a few pics, but none of them turned out very well. 2a) Buy a better digital camera before next year's show.

3) The resolve of some fanboys is beyond belief. Here are a few of them, camped out, waiting for the next showing of the Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer:

I would've taken a picture of the line to play the Nintendo Wii, but I was busy picking my jaw up off of the show floor. The average wait in that line was four hours. Just to get five minutes with the system. Since the company I work for deals directly with Nintendo, I was able to get into their VIP room for some hands-on time. And it's pretty cool. But it ain't THAT cool.

4) The money that video game companies spend on their booths is insane. We met with Vivendi about two months ago, and they showed us an artist's rendering of what their Scarface booth would look like, and I thought they were kidding.

They weren't. I was expecting Tony himself to burst out of the doors at the top.

5) Don't buy new dress shoes less than a week before the show. Either that, or rent a midget to carry you around. Ryan, I'm sure I could get you into next year's show, if you're interested.

6) Thanks to Sony, I now know that only one thing is cooler than an open bar, and that is an open bar with a DJ spinning records on top of it.

7) First-person shooters on the Nintendo Wii sound like a great idea, but they're not. After spending five minutes with Red Steel, my right arm started to hurt from holding the controller towards the screen. And I'm probably in better shape than the average Nintendo fanboy.

8) Not only should you not drink the water, apparently now you're not supposed to even LIVE in downtown L.A.:

That was posted by the cab stand outside my hotel. Is a three-night stay long enough to kill a 185-pound human?

9) French people may make great video games, but most of them are still really rude.

10) Get less sleep. Of the 72 hours I spent there, I slept for almost ten of them. Waste not, want not.

And the games. Oh, the wonderful games. I played a few, and saw even more. The best games I saw or played, in order:

1) Gears of War. Cliff Bleszinski demoed it live at the Microsoft post-press conference party, and it was stunning. Microsoft hinted at a September or October release, which would be great news.

2) Assassin's Creed. This one should be out in Q1 of next year, so it won't be a PS3 launch title, but from what we saw demoed for us (in that hot little white plastic square room), this will be a must-own.

3) John Woo Presents Stranglehold. The name 'John Woo' doesn't mean what it did 10 years ago, but by returning to the story line of one of his most famous pre-American films, he might be doing us all a favor. This game is meant to be a direct sequel to Hard Boiled, and while it plays a lot like Max Payne, let's not forget where Max Payne (and The Matrix) borrowed a lot of its influence. I got to play Stranglehold for about five minutes (in the tea house level), and I didn't want to put it down. Right trigger fires, and the left trigger interacts with the environment. I was sliding down hand rails and diving over tables in no time. November can't come soon enough.

4) Bioshock. It may look like another first-person shooter, but it's nowhere near that simple. The story looks like it's going to be classy, and yet creepy at the same time. If you were a fan of System Shock 2, you'll know what the developers of this one are capable of.

5) Tekken: Dark Resurrection. I was worried that the PSP wasn't the best format for this series, but I was wrong. It plays like buttah. The load times were even bearable, which is saying something. Ever since I got bored with Soul Caliber 2, I've fallen out of 'fighting game fanboy' status, but this one might bring me back.

I was also impressed with how the following games are coming along:

WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2007
NCAA Football 2007
Call of Duty 3
The Darkness
Army of Two (Buggy, but they have a ton of time to clean up the issues, and it's looking really pretty, even this early)
Guitar Hero 2 (If it ain't broke, don't fix it. They also added practice mode and co-op play, with separate rhythm, lead, and bass lines. And it will have Primus's 'John the Fisherman' on it)

And I regret not getting to spend any time with the following games:

God of War 2 (it was horrifyingly under-represented on the floor)
Golden Axe
Alan Wake

Well, that should do it. There were hundreds of other games on the floor, but not enough time or space to write about them. IGN, Gamespot, and 2old2play all have fantastic coverage, so if there's a specific game you want to read about, one of them will most definitely have it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to put my feet up...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

In Omaha this weekend? Hide your farm animals.

Did any of you ever see that movie The Perfect Storm, where Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch go on a three hour tour and get lost at sea? I wish the New Kids on the Block had been along for the ride with every copy of their album on board. Anyway, this weekend, Omaha is going to experience something akin to The Perfect Storm, except that it has little if anything to do with the weather.

It all started when my good friend, we'll call him Sancho to protect his identity, decided to move to Seattle to be with his number one ladyfriend. Right now, he lives in the Midwest, which is convenient for his friends, but not when you want to get funky with your ladyfriend down by the fire. In celebration of his decision to move to Seattle, Sancho is coming to Omaha this weekend to party and relive old times, when neither of us had permanent ladyfriends and people described us as drunks.

As if that weren't enough, another friend from Canada, we'll call him Anderson Cooper to protect his identity, caught wind of this reunion and decided to join in the fandango.

So we have a Canadian bringing us Canadian beer from the north combining with warmer air from the South, which is going to run into moist air coming down from Madison, WI. It really is a perfect storm. If you have daughters or pets, I would suggest sending them to Florida for the weekend, because I cannot be held responsible for what might happen this weekend.

If there are mug shots or emergency room photos, I will post them here on Tuesday, when the system is expected to move on over cold water and lose strength.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Global Warming? I Thought the President Said that was Just a Left Wing Hoax to Ruin the US Economy?

"All that blue doesn't look warm to me...." President Bush

From the New York Times comes a story that I thought I would never see, a consortium of scientists commissioned by the Bush Administration to study the varying tropospheric climate data produced by different groups of scientists has reached a conclusion that:

"the lower atmosphere was indeed growing warmer and that there was "clear evidence of human influences on the climate system."

The Bush Administration has yet to officially comment on what this will mean in terms of an actual environmental policy, but if their approach to rising gas prices is any indication, I think Bush and his buddies will probably just write all this scientifically supported global climate change off as "the usual increase in temperature we experience at the beginning of every summer."

Just as I have serious doubts that Bush will do anything to endanger the record-high profits of his bedfellows in the oil and gas industry by doing anything about gas prices, I also have serious doubts that the Bush Administration will take the data provided by the Climate Change Science Program and make changes in US domestic or foreign policy to address what the data shows and what Nelly has been telling us for quite some time about the troposphere of our planet: "It's getting hot in here."

I suppose he could FINALLY agree to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, seeing as how every single other industrialized country, except those Foster's-swilling-shrimp-on-the-barbie douchebags from downunder, has already done so. Just as a foreign policy note, if your country is ever alone in a category with either France or Australia, it might be time to consider a significant policy change.

I doubt very seriously Bush will ratify Kyoto, particularly since the forecast economic collapse that is supposed to accompany limiting emissions of green house gases has completely devastated the other industrialized countries that signed on in 1998. Except if you take into account that those other countries have shown stronger economic growth than the US during that time period. Then again, they didn't have Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies running their country, did they?

If only Granny Clampet were still alive. She'd be so proud.

Sadly, the new data that came out of an initiative by the Bush Administration will be cited by supporters as another example of his excellent environmental record. The problem is, he shouldn't get credit for hiring a bunch of scientists to do a fucking literature review on a topic and then doing nothing about it. Needless to say, I won't be holding my breath to wait for his policy response on this one.

Kung-Fu Mid-Life Crisis -- UPDATE

BREAKING NEWS! I'm not too old for Northern Shaolin kung-fu!

I tried a class at the J.K. Wong Academy last Monday, and while I was the oldest person there at the time, a couple of the teachers are around my age, and age itself never was an issue. Plus, both the teachers and the students were very nice, and willing to help this noob out. So I went back last night (Wednesday) and signed up for three months. I'll see where the journey takes me, but so far, I'm liking it. Northern Shaolin has a lot of kicking, and starting out, a lot of time spent in the Horse stance. My legs aren't used to this, and they're sore in places I didn't even know had muscles. And I love it.

The style I'm studying is specifically called 'Chin Woo.'

There's a lot of good information on the style here, if you're interested. They started showing me the first section of 'Tan Tui', which means 'Springing Legs.' That name would explain why my legs feel like two Slinkys this morning. Here is a diagram of a few of the movements in the first section of Tan Tui, so you can kind of see what it looks like. Of course, this isn't exactly how I'm learning it, as all schools are a little different, but the diagram gives you an idea of what it looks like.

Anyway, enough with the shop-talk. I'm not trying to sell any of you on it. I'm just excited about beginning a new martial arts journey, and while it helps to start when you're young, you're never too old.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

America and the Fantastic Immigration Double Standard

Unless you're a member of the Detroit Red Wings and you're too busy getting drunk and beating up your wife because you lost to the 8 seed in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the NHL playoffs, you probably saw the news coverage of the giant demonstrations, protests and other such gatherings associated with "A Day Without Immigrants". Let me say that I have no doubt that President Bush's immigration policy ranks second on the Long List of Complete Shit that President Bush calls "Policy" behind only his foreign policy. Let's be frank, foreing or domestic, Bush's solutions to problems tend to leave a lot to be desired to say the least. It's a sad situation when I have colleagues who are physicians who can't get visas to stay here and work, and yet a member of Al Quida can run a hotdog stand in downtown New York City. That's what I call great policy.

With all this attention on immigrants, the neocons have come out swinging. Complete annoyance Lou Dobbs of CNN has made his opinions known about illegal immigrants. People are even arguing over what term to use to describe them. Some prefer undocumented immigrants, while others prefer illegal aliens. Frankly, both sides of this debate are completely missing the point.

The key issues, which Lou Dobbs actually does highlight between racist remarks in his commentary, have to do with the economy and security. National security is obviously in terrible shape if 8-20 million (depending on who you ask) illegal aliens currently reside in our country. Doesn't this scare anyone besides me and Lou Dobbs? Doesn't it make you wonder what the living fuck the Department of Homeland Security has been up to?

With the economy, we can talk all the trash we want about people being here illegally, but they wouldn't be here if people didn't pay them money to work illegally. By calling them illegal immigrants, we're not recognizing all the illegal, under-the-table employment, that companies are benefiting from. And it's not just the evil corporations who are to blame. If you like the fact that your Avacadoes only cost $1 at the grocery store, thank an illegal immigrant. Because if your white trash cousin Dale Jr. was picking Avacadoes it would probably be twice that, and you wouldn't be happy about it.

Americans are quick to call them illegals and berate these people who really only want to make money, just the same as you and me, but never seem to realize that we all directly benefit from their labor. And it's not just in your local produce department. Service jobs at hotels, groundskeepers for parks, meat packing plants, you name it, illegal immigrants take these jobs to keep profits high for their bosses and prices lower for consumers.

So say whatever the hell you want about illegals or undocumenteds or whatever the fuck you want to call them, but spare me the grief if you're just going to have your car detailed by illegal aliens while munching down on a burrito supreme made by illegal aliens with tomatoes grown and picked by illegal aliens all for the tidy sum of $5. It's time to stop demonizing these people and recognize that we're all willing accomplices in this underground economy.

We can't have it both ways.