Saturday, June 30, 2007

I Was Right

As I predicted Thursday, Michelle Wie did not finish her second round in the Women's U.S. Open, withdrawing after making six bogies in her first nine holes. Karrie Webb, on the other hand, who I predicted would bear down and recover, is even after 17 holes -- one of the best rounds of the day. I'm not doing quite as well on some other predictions I made earlier in the year. (Though a few are turning out as expected.)

A Small Bit of Cultural Progress

Though laws can't change culture, I still find it heartening that Egypt is getting serious about ending female genital mutilation.

Christopher Hitchens also made an intereting point about FGM (and MGM, or circumcision) in his recent book, "god is not great: how religion poisons everything": "As to immoral practice, it is hard to imagine anything more grotesque than the mutilation of infant genitalia. Nor is it easy to imagine anything more incompatible with the argument from design. We must assume that a designer god would pay especial attention to the reproductive organs of his creatures, which are so essential for the continuation of the species. But religious ritual since the dawn of time has insisted on snatching children from the cradle and taking stones or knives to their pudenda."

One of my favorite stories about FGM (if there is such a thing), came from Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues." Ms. Ensler, who had interviewed hundreds of women about the intimate matters surrounding their genitalia, spoke to a woman in an Islamic African country who was responsible for performing the clitoridectomy required by their custom. What she told Ensler was the most heartening, uplifting thing I heard that night in the theater: instead of performing the procedure, she simply pinched each girl's clitoris really hard, so the men outside the tent would hear her scream in agony and be satisfied. Think of the dozens of girls who were not mutilated because of this one woman's bravery and willingness to fight mindless tradition.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Pixar's Newest is their Best Ever

"Ratatouille," Pixar's latest, that opened today, is their best film ever. It's smart, funny, touching, big-hearted, filled with brilliant visual imagery, great comic moments, and is perhaps the best-written film of the past few years. The final voice-over from Peter O'Toole's restaurant critic character Anton Ego alone is worth the price of admission. As is the scene when Remy (the rat chef) first communicates with Linguini (the restaurant domestique who becomes Remy's way of achieveing his culinary vision).

Go. Have fun. Trust me.

Equality Above All

In this New York Times editorial, Juan Williams makes a good case for why yesterday's SCOTUS decision to limit affirmative action in education is not the blow to the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education some think it is. America has changed, Williams argues, and the landscape of public education is far different than it was in 1954. Schools are failing not because they are segregated; they are failing because they are poorly funded or poorly managed.

Although I disagree with several of the Court's decisions of the past two days, this one is, I think, in line with American values. As Chief Justice Roberts said yesterday, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." We must do all we can to make sure we live up to the 14th Amendment principle of equal treatment under the law. And race-based preferential treatment does the opposite of that.

An Approach to Acquisitiveness

On the release day for iPhone (something I was coveting but have now decided I can do without -- I have a phone, I have an iPod, all I'm missing is the mobile Net access, and with my vision being what it is these days, the chances I could actually use the iPhone for that purpose without the assistance of a scanning electron microscope are far slimmer than Apple's sleek new toy), Salon has a piece on how people deal with coveting.

Money quote: "What do I do when I want something that I know I don't need? I'll often go to the store and put it in my cart and push it around for 10 minutes. At the end of that time, I realize that I've "owned" it and I ask myself if I still want it and if my life has changed because of it. Often, the answer to both questions is "No." The item finds its home on the store shelf and I go home with one less thing."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Spam -- but to what purpose?

On one level, I can understand the spam touting Viagara and penile enlargement (though I never seem to get those -- wonder why?), but I'm completely at a loss as to what this mail is trying to accomplish:

"That square—Oh, 56 x 56
Clear-voiced despite its years, strong, eloquent—
IX. After the Great Northern Expedition
He never even dreams, being sheer snow;trainer flips young alligators over on their backs,
The surge of swirling wind definesI've drifted somewhat from the distant heart
In dense bare branches, or the ubiquitousWith my foot the supple ball, for perhaps
and the Splendid Splinter. For a few dreamy dollars,Among us, only Alberti, then Sangallo,
My keyhole blows a galeIn the sound of the snow. What the countless
Swaying in unison beneath the snow,His sightless eyes horribly watch the air;
V. The Dutch in the Arcticat balls hit again and again toward her offspring"

The subject line was "Autodesk AutoCad 2008 download"

What does it all mean?

Tomorrow Will Be Interesting

At the first round of the U.S. Women's Open, easily the most prestigious of any women's golf tournament, teen phenom Michelle Wie, who hasn't had an under par round in any tournament this year, shot an opening 11 over 82. However, one of the other top players, Karrie Webb, a woman with several major wins under her belt, shot an 83.

What will be interesting is to see how both of these players rebound tomorrow. My prediction? Michelle will fade and maybe even withdraw, Karrie will buckle down, shoot a decent round, but still miss the cut. Michelle Wie is now deeply in Anna Kournikova territory.

Romney the Heartless

Can Americans elect a man who does this to a dog?

"The Decider's Decider"

I haven't yet read the Washington Post series on Cheney, but I did read this piece in Slate. Both describe a man committed to expanding the power of the executive beyond what the founders intended, a man so committed to secrecy that he kept much of his paperwork in a "man-size" safe and even marked talking points for the press as "top secret," a man who enabled and encouraged the President to order the torture of detainees...see, now I've got to stop because my blood pressure is getting up. What the hell has happened to this country?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How Important is "Marriage"?

The California Supreme Court is currently considering a case that will decide whether denying same-sex couples the right to marry is a violation of the state's constitution. Last week, the Court sent both sides in the case a set of questions it wanted answered.

From the questions, it seems the Court is trying to determine whether or not the state's domestic partnership law provides all the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage, thereby making the extension of equal "marriage" rights a moot point. The reasoning seems to be that if gay couples in a domestic partnership get the same legal rights (on a state level) as straight married couples, is there a need to allow same-sex couples to marry?

It all seems to hinge on the word "marriage": just how important is that word? The Court asked the two sides four questions. Number three reads, in part: "Do the terms "marriage" or "marry" themselves have constitutional significance under the California Constitution?" If the state decided to change the name of the legal relationship we now call "marriage" to something else, what would that mean for couples within the state?

What seems more important to me is what that would that mean for couples in the state in terms of their legal standing on a federal level? Obviously marriage delivers important federal benefits, the most vital being Social Security survivor benefits and the ability to grant a partner permanent resident status through marriage. I've advocated in the past for a requirement that all couples who want the legal benefits of marriage, no matter their gender mix, would need to enter into a new legal arrangement that could be called "civil union" or some other term. Those who want to "marry" could then go to whatever church would have them to enter into that spiritual union.

The challenge is, can you get recognition of civil unions on a federal level without the term "marriage" being applied to them? That's a question for which I don't yet have an answer. But it's one that could have tremendous consequences should California decide to create a legal couples relationship that is not called "marriage." Would same-sex couples who entered into a fully-equivalent legal relationship be denied federal benefits of marriage? Would opposite-sex couples be denied these same rights if California's new legal "marriage" was not in fact called "marriage"? More questions for which I lack answers!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Queue Management

You've had this experience -- you go into a grocery store or a pharmacy or Costco (or any retail outlet with multiple cash registers) and try to choose the shortest line. Then one of the customers in front of you turns out to have an expired credit card, or they forgot to get Metamucil, or they decide to wait until everything is rung up and bagged before even beginning to search for their checkbook. Doesn't it seem like forming one line to wait for the next available cashier would be the smartest way to manage the queue? I always have. And, it turns out, we're right.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Harry Potter and the Angry Christianist

The Christianists (as opposed to Christians) never cease to amaze me. There are quite a few of them who are upset over the success of the Harry Potter books because they "support" witchcraft. Of course, they've missed the point entirely: the books are about loyalty, courage, friendship, hard work -- all good Christian values, I would think. Now a hacker, trying to attack the books for their "neo-paganism" has apparently hacked a secure site, read the book and posted its secret ending -- all to try and limit sales.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Time to Try Rumsfeld for War Crimes?

Accorsing to a very credible source, Rummy knew long ago about the Abu Ghraib abuses, limited investigation of the case and lied about its findings and his knowledge of the case.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Prediction

Despite being the leader going in to the final round, Aaron Baddeley will NOT be able to hold on to his two-stroke lead and win the U.S. Open today. I just saw an interview with Baddeley and he looked very nervous and anxious. He just doesn't have the solid look you need to face the pressure of the final round of golf's biggest major.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fanning the Flames

After watching "The Daily Show" (Thursday night, which featured this cryptic video from Mike Gravel), I went to Mike Gravel's website to see if I could learn more. Once on the site, I was surprised to see Gravel come out in full support of equal marriage rights. I thought it was pretty brave of him to speak out so openly on an issue that has been so divisive and seems to strike people at such a deep level. So I decided to see if any other Democratic candidates were willing to address the issue directly, and how much play Republican candidates would give the issue on their websites. (Virtually every candidate has an "issues" button where they list their stands on a variety of key issues of their choosing. Dennis Kucinich's site lists dozens of issues, where

Unfortunately, the results were just about what I expected. Only two of the eight Democratic candidates would even touch the issue, though both (Gravel and Kucinich) were in favor of civil marriage equality. Of the ten Republican candidates, all but Ron Paul mention the issue, and all of them are against marriage equality. Giuliani, while reiterating that marriage is between a man and a woman, "supports domestic partnerships that provide stability for committed partners in important legal and personal matters." That's more than any other Republican candidate will do, but note it's not "ALL legal and personal matters," but only "IMPORTANT legal and personal matters." So I think we have to mark Giuliani as still standing for inequality.

Some Republicans went even farther. Three called for the U.S. Constitution to be amended to define marriage as one man and one woman. Four mentioned (though not necessarily in conjunction with same-sex marriage) that judges should not legislate from the bench. Personally, I think the Constitution does a pretty good job of defining who gets to make the law and who gets to interpret the law, and all the talk of "activist judges" is nothing more than inflaming the passion of their base.

Again, if only we could get our politicians (on all sides) to focus on reason and the common good, instead of fanning the flames of partisanship, we'd all be a lot better off.

It's Not All Good News

Another civil war. Great.

Friday, June 15, 2007

More Good News!

This story led to this story -- Massachusetts has defeated a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In a related bit, Columbia becomes the first Latin American country to extend something like equal rights to same-sex couples.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Minds Change

A positive sign. Money quote: "For me, what all this comes down to is this: Same gendered couples are taxpaying, law-abiding citizens, who are important community contributors, well-loved and well-respected by their families, friends, neighbors and employers. They deserve and are entitled to the same legal protections enjoyed by all others citizens of our state. Despite dire predictions, there has been no adverse societal impact from this decision and most people now express little concern about same gender marriage." Gale Candaras, a Massachusetts state representative, in explaining why she no longer supports a constitutional amendment defining marriage as limited only to opposite-gender couples.

I'm NOT rooting for...

Vijay Singh (never liked what he said about Annika), currently even
Phil Mickelson (can't say why, but I just don't like him), currently +4
Zach Johnson (he thinks God is on his side), currently +6

I'm rooting for...

Fred Funk (he's 51!), currently even
Camilo Villegas (love that putting preview), currently +2
Tiger Woods (admire his work ethic and his amazing determination), currently +1
Richard Lee (he's 16!), currently +2
Ian Poulter (golf wouldn't be the same without his sartorial splendor), currently even
Jose Maria Olazabal, currently even

Living Up to the Hype

Oakmont is doing what all expected -- giving the world's best golfers a very tough time. Tiger closed with a one over 71, but former leader David Toms bogeyed five out of the last six holes. Sergio Garcia shot a nine over 79. Put me on the tips and expect a score somewhere above 120.

Tiger is Bleeding

After being -1 early in his round, Tiger has bogeyed three of the last four (9-12) and fallen back to +2. He's putting well, his problemis he keeps driving it into the rough, even with his stinger 2-iron. And the rough at Oakmont is almost always going to cost you at least one stroke.

Good Thing the Sound is Back...

...because now you can hear the "slurp" as the rough swallows any ball that doesn't find the fairway.

Speak Up!

ESPN has lost sound on its broadcast, but I can still see why David Toms is leading at -2: he just made a brilliant chip from one level of a green to another. The touch these guys have is just amazing.

Eating 'Em Up

Oakmont is already taking its bites. Jose-Maria Olazabal hits his drive into the rough and is able to advance his second shot only about 15 yards. Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy couldn't get out of a bunker on 8 (a 261-yard par three!) and Tiger two-putted from four feet for a bogey four.

It's Open Time

It's finally here -- the biggest tournament of the golf season. The U.S. Open. Sure, the Open Championship has more history in terms of sheer years behind it, and The Masters has the benefit of being played at the same course every year, which adds to its mystique, but the Open Championship belongs to another country, and The Masters is just too stuffy and exclusive to be as great as it could be. At the U.S. Open, virtually any golfer can play in qualifying tournaments and earn his way into the field.

The venue this year is the Oakmont Country Club, a diabolical test of golf. In addition to many deep fairway bunkers (including the famed "church pews" (photo above), the greens are VERY fast, with some slopes so severe that with certain pin positions golfers will have to hit the ball within a six-foot circle or else the ball will roll right off the green.

There will be something like nine hours of coverage today, and though I may not be able to watch ALL day, I'll try to keep you up to date on what's going on.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Web of Addiction

This is pretty funny.

"To Get the Tchotchke!"

The quality is terrible, but here is a link to Julie White's acceptance speech at the Tonys. One of the best.

Thoughts on Hitch

I've finished Christopher Hitchens's new book and, as I expected, it made me angry. To be honest, I think he could have made the same basic point (religion poisons everything) in a long article in The Atlantic. But to read page after page discussing the atrocities committed in the name of god does have a way of reinforcing the ridiculousness of the whole enterprise. If wars and bloodshed weren't always started because of religious issues, churches almost always had a role to play in supporting one side or another. (Including the Vatican's support of Nazi outrages, for which they have only recently apologized.)

Look around and you will see the hand of god (or at least, as perceived by believers) at work in more stupidity and idiocy than one could ever imagine happening. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 24% OF people who attend church regularly believe in evolution, as opposed to 71% of people who seldom or never attend church. Despite all the scientific evidence, and even assuming that many church goers who believe in evolution believe in it only because they think that's how god chose to create the world, only a minority of people trust what empirical, verifiable, repeatable scientific effort indicates. And these people are allowed to vote!

What is to become of us if we can't see the truth that is right in front of our eyes? If we decide instead to play the make-believe game that an omnipotent being watches over us and prepares mansions for us in a kingdom in the sky and knows the number of hairs on the head of every one of the Earth's billions of inhabitants, we seem doomed to dwell in darkness and ignorance. It's time for a new Enlightenment!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Quote for the Day

From the last chapter of Christopher Hitchens's new book, "God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything":

"Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important. Where once it used to be able, by its total command of a worldview, to prevent the emergence of rivals, it can now only impede and retard--or try to turn back--the measurable advances we have made. Sometimes, true, it will artfully concede them. But this is to offer itself the choice between irrelevance and obstruction, impotence or outright reaction, and, given the choice, it is programmed to select the worse of the two. Meanwhile, confronted with undreamed-of vistas inside our own evolving cortex, in the farthest reaches of the known universe, and in the proteins and acids which constitute our nature, religion offers either annihilation in the name of god, or else the false promise that if we take a knife to our foreskins, or pray in the right direction, or ingest pieces of wafer, we shall be "saved." It is as if someone, offered a delicious and fragrant out-of-season fruit, matured in a painstakingly and lovingly designed hothouse, should throw away the flesh and pulp and know moodily on the pit."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tony Night

Sorry about not posting much over the past couple of days, but I had a lot to do to get ready for last night's Tony festivities. Not just the awards for the best Broadway has to offer, but also the chance to finally learn the fate of the other big Tony, Tony Soprano. (Spoiler alert: if you taped or TiVo'd the Sopranos finale, things will be revealed later in the post that you won't want to know.)

First, the Theater Wing of America's Antoinette Perry Awards. I thought the broadcast itself was relatively well done, especially considering they get probably 1/50th the number of viewers that the Oscars gets. The audience was mostly dressed very elegantly and with a lot of class. No fashion train wrecks like one gets on Oscar night -- except for the woman (can't remember who) who wore the dress with a collar that looked like the pop-top from a 70s era beer can. Angela Lansbury looked terrific, the speeches were mostly elequent and gracious, and the musical numbers exciting and well-staged.

As usual, it was also the gayest night on TV. I think the first two couples shown during the TV broadcast were gay and lesbian, and it seemed like half the male winners were gay: David Hyde Pierce, Steven Sater, Bill T. Jones, Jack O'Brien, all the design winners, the producer of "Spring Awakening." Even the lone child on stage was already clearly on the road to being a member of the Family.

Best acceptance speeches came from female actors: Mary Louise Wilson (who, after saying she wondered that if she ever won a Tony would she feel as if someone had made a mistake, said: "And I don't.") and Julie White (who was genuinely shocked to have won for her role in "The Little Dog Laughed" yet had something prepared that acknowledged the shock and allowed her to give thanks with both grace and humor.) I'm also glad "The Little Dog Laughed" won something (the link I just gave will take you to the report from the trip when I first saw the show off-Broadway).

Also glad "Spring Awakening" took home eight trophies, including Best Musical. Broadway needs to encourage risk-taking, creativity and the desire to develop a new audience.

Now, on to the other Tony. I'll keep this brief, as the blogosphere is filled with commentary about the show. At the very end of the episode, the very end of the series, Tony is meeting his family at a North Jersey diner (famed, apparently, for its onion rings). Tony, Carmela, Meadow and AJ are all arriving separately. Once Tony is inside, every person in the diner seems to be suspect in some way. Every time the door opens, we wonder if someone will enter who is going to whack Tony. There's a guy sitting at the counter who seems especially suspicious. Creator David Chase does a terrific job of establishing a sense of the kind of tension Tony must be feeling: who's a threat? Who's not? The suspicious guy at the counter walks past their booth...then goes into the bathroom. A foreshadowing of "The Godfather" when Michael Corleone retrieved the gun from toilet tank to off one of his rivals?

Then...darkness. No music. No sound. Just black for a few seconds, then the credit roll.

Here's where I think Chase displayed his greatest genius. Prior to the finale, Vegas oddsmakers were taking bets on whether Tony would be whacked or not. But with the ending Chase chose, a strong case can be made to say both that he survived to say that he was killed. In the episode prior, we get a flashback to when Tony and Bobby Baccalieri talk about what it would be like to be shot in the back of the head: "Everything goes black. You probably don't even hear anything." was the gist of their conclusion. So is that what happened to Tony? Did the guy come out of the bathroom and pop a cap in the back of T's neck? Or with Phil Leotardo dead, did Tony consolidate his power and continue on as boss? A strong case can be made either way, which leaves the Vegas boys with a bit of a conundrum.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Another Thing I Don't Understand

Why leaving Iraq should be considered defeat in the War on Terror. If this indeed a global war -- and every indication says it is -- why is Iraq the prime front? Other than the fact that we've made it one, I mean. Why not pull out, let the Muslims have their internecine conflict, and concentrate our resources on monitoring, intelligence, finding Bin Laden (and other terrorists) and securing travel? Leaving Iraq is not a defeat -- it's redirecting resources.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

What Unites Us is Bigger than what Divides Us

Bill Clinton gave the commencement address at Harvard this week, with the main thrust of his speech centering around the fact that the sequencing of the human genome shows that, for all our differences, all humans are 99.9% the same, genetically speaking. Read it if you have a moment.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Missing the Finer Point

Click here for an interesting example of how a subtle but important point is missed in coverage of a speech by Barack Obama.

Un-Winning the Cold War

It seems that George W. Bush isn't happy with spending a trillion dollars on a misguided war in Iraq. Now he's starting to talk in ways that could reopen a war we already won -- the Cold War. Of course, he'll need Putin's help in heating that conflict back up, but Vladimir -- he calls him Vladimir -- is obliging, and we're now facing down the Russians over missiles once again. The Cuban Missile Crisis may now become the Polish Missile Crisis. But don't worry, if George restarts the Cold War, I'm sure he can find a way to un-win it for us.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Racism is Alive and Flourishing

Read this horrifying story of a small town in Louisiana where three black kids who broke an unwritten rule to sit on the "white side" of the schoolyard were greeted the next morning by three nooses hanging from the tree under which they sat. Note also the disparity of charges and punishments meted out to black children and white children.

Monday, June 04, 2007


for word that sound least like its meaning: "pulchritude." How can that mean "beauty"?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Whither Wie?

I don't suppose many of you are paying attention to Michelle Wie, the teen phenom golfer who was supposed to be to women's golf what Tiger Woods has been to the men's game: a true crossover superstar who expands the reach and popularity of the game. I've written about Michelle before. First here, where I discussed the possibility of her transforming the game. Then again here, when I suggested she give up trying to play in men's tournaments and concentrate on success on the LPGA Tour.

Now it appears as if Michelle may not be able to accomplish any of it -- including competing on the LPGA Tour. On Thursday, Michelle competed at her first LPGA tournament in over four months, the Ginn Tribute. She had been idle due to a wrist injury; an injury of which many in the golf world were skeptical. So, after months of rehabilitation, hours on the range and play in practice rounds, it was assumed Miss Wie was ready to take the stage again.

Hardly. After posting a +14 score after 16 holes, Wie withdrew -- and under a cloud of controversy: had she lost two more strokes to par on the final two holes, she would have shot an 88 and been banned from the tour for a full year. Although her handlers deny they considered that rule when contemplating the withdrawal, it's hard to believe it wasn't in their minds somewhere. With $20 million in endorsement contracts at stake, Wie can't afford to be barred from her sport.

One of the best things about golf has always been that players had to perform in order to be paid. A promising quarterback or shortstop could sign a multi-year contract and still cash checks even if they averaged six interceptions a game or batted .126. A pro golfer had to finish in the money to pay the rent. That's been changing over the years -- John Daly can't find his way to the bottom of the cup even with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, but he still draws fans, so he still gets endorsement dollars and appearance fees. But it seems to have reached an apex with Michelle Wie -- she has won ONE important tournament (The U.S. Women's Publinks), and none since turning pro a little over a year ago. She had finished highly in the tournaments she did enter, but as the pressure on her as grown, the cracks seem to be growing, as well.

Today, Michelle Wie could be the next Anna Kournikova -- a promising talent who can't deliver and is forgotten before her endorsement deals expire. Let's hope Michelle can pull it together and give Lorena and Annika a run for their money.

When 3BR/2BA Just Won't Cut It

India's richest man is building his own personal skyscraper home. Sixty stories, including six just for parking. Oh, and a staff of six hundred for a six-member family. (I wonder if six, or multiples thereof, have some special place in Indian culture.)