Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Iran

Now that our arbitrary one-year negotiating deadline with the Iranians has ended, apparently we're not talking to them anymore, so it's back to blowing massive amounts of political capital trying to get China and Russia to sign on to comparatively inconsequential increases in the UN sanctions regime on Iran.

The above-linked article, which pretty accurately describes why the negotiations didn't achieve anything, makes me MAD. And here's why.

1. The sanctions are guaranteed to fail (seriously, anyone want to put $100 on this? I'll be happy to take your money), but they will, kinda like the Cuba embargo, give the regime more nationalist cred and help keep it in power. They would give us better leverage with Iran... if we were bothering to continue talking to them. Without that, they're useless at best.

2. Iran's economy is overwhelmingly oil-based, so all non-oil-related sanctions will have limited effect. The last time we tried an oil embargo on a prominent Middle Eastern country, it was called Oil-For-Food, and that didn't work out so well.

3. Since the sanctions won't work, the next step will be calling for the US or Israel to bomb Iran... which is stupid because Iran has mastered the fuel cycle and can enrich uranium everywhere. It's way too late for aistrikes. Four years ago, maybe. Today? All that would happen is, at most, a delay of a year or so in their program, and that Iran would leave the NPT, which in turn would mean that we would lose virtually all our knowledge and verification capacity about their program. Bombing Iran is the surest way to ensure they develop nuclear weapons.

Note also: If we bomb Iran, the green movement will not greet us as liberators.

4. It wasn't a year we negotiated with Iran. it was less than 4 months, because we (wisely) waited until their election chaos was over and didn't start actual meetings with them until, like, September.

5. The Iranians also deserve heaps of blame for this for missing a golden opportunity. Now, they're stuck on a nuclear track that will probably lead to a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and a handful of other regional countries within the next 20 years. Good job, guys. But that still doesn't excuse the Western powers for demanding too much too quickly of a regime that distrusts the heck out of us.

So basically we gave ourselves four months to try a policy that has the best chance to work and costs nothing before reverting back to a policy that has failed and will continue to fail.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Week 15 picks

Yeah, I totally forgot to do Week 14. Still at it, don't worry.

THURS
JACKSONVILLE over indy

SAT
NEW ORLEANS over dallas

SUN
NY JETS over atlanta
PHILADELPHIA over san francisco
houston over ST LOUIS
new england over BUFFALO
BALTIMORE over chicago
TENNESSEE over miami
KANSAS CITY over cleveland
arizona over DETROIT
DENVER over oakland
SAN DIEGO over cincinnati
PITTSBURGH over green bay
SEATTLE over tampa bay
minnesota over CAROLINA

MON
ny giants over WASHINGTON

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Week 13 results

correct in bold

SATURDAY
jets over BILLS

SUNDAY
eagles over FALCONS
PANTHERS over buccaneers
BEARS over rams
BENGALS over lions
COLTS over titans
texans over JAGUARS
broncos over CHIEFS
STEELERS over raiders
saints over REDSKINS
chargers over BROWNS
49ers over SEAHAWKS
patriots over DOLPHINS
GIANTS over cowboys
vikings over CARDINALS

MONDAY
ravens over PACKERS*

This week: 10-5
Season: 128-63
vs. ESPN experts

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Week 13 picks

SATURDAY
jets over BILLS

SUNDAY
eagles over FALCONS
PANTHERS over buccaneers
BEARS over rams
BENGALS over lions
COLTS over titans
texans over JAGUARS
broncos over CHIEFS
STEELERS over raiders
saints over REDSKINS
chargers over BROWNS
vikings over CARDINALS
GIANTS over cowboys
49ers over SEAHAWKS
patriots over DOLPHINS

MONDAY
ravens over PACKERS


Last week: 11-5
Season: 118-58

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Week 12 results

Correct in bold.

THURSDAY
packers over LIONS
COWBOYS over raiders
giants over BRONCOS

SUNDAY
FALCONS over buccaneers
dolphins over BILLS
EAGLES over redskins
RAMS over seahawks
JETS over panthers
BENGALS over browns
TEXANS over colts
CHARGERS over chiefs
49ERS over jaguars
VIKINGS over bears
TITANS over cardinals
RAVENS over steelers

MONDAY
patriots over SAINTS

This week: 11-5
Last week: 12-4
Season: 118-58
vs. ESPN experts

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Week 12 NFL picks

THURSDAY
packers over LIONS
COWBOYS over raiders

SUNDAY
giants over BRONCOS
FALCONS over buccaneers
dolphins over BILLS
EAGLES over redskins
RAMS over seahawks
JETS over panthers
BENGALS over browns
TEXANS over colts
CHARGERS over chiefs
49ERS over jaguars
VIKINGS over bears
TITANS over cardinals
RAVENS over steelers

MONDAY
patriots over SAINTS

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In other news, we will be in Afghanistan forever, Part 2

Hang on, I'm not finished trashing this purported new White House plan to throw another 34,000 troops at Afghanistan yet. And let me say here and now that my heart goes out to our soldiers who will have to fight in a war that has become ethnically entrenched and thus will be basically impossible to end. I really mean that. It's going to be a long haul in a faraway place for these brave young men and women. There. Now, anyone who says I don't "support the troops" can go fuck themselves.

Now, here's a good article from the Christian Science Monitor on what the plan will most likely entail. It'll have several points, which I'll take in turn.

Plan: More troops, to engage in combat missions and train the Afghan forces.
Possible problems: It costs tens of billions of dollars a year. Troop deaths will spike. The Taliban only have about 10,000 fighters anyway, so what makes them tick is that they've united the Pashtuns who feel largely left out of the new government. Throwing more forces at an occupation already 8 years old and counting is probably not going to win a lot of hearts and minds.

Plan: More civilians.
Possible Problems: According to CSM, there won't be enough of them because we're short on civilian experts for this sort of thing. Second, how do you go about building infrastructure in the second-most-corrupt country on Earth?

Plan: More Afghan National Security Forces.
Possible Problems: 400,000 security forces? How do we stop them from being clan-aligned? (We can't.) If we're training Hazara security forces to patrol Taliban regions, as we've done in the past, this is pretty much guaranteed to backfire. Since Afghanistan is so corrupt, who's to say that these guys won't exploit their position, as security forces nearly always do in lawless regions? And really, 400,000? That's 1.5% of Afghanistan's population. As far as standing armies go, this is getting into North Korea territory. I pity the day when the international community gets tired of paying these guys.

Plan: Deals with the Taliban.
Possible Problems: Probably the best part of this plan, though unlikely to work on ethnonationalistic grounds. For example, when the Sunnis aligned themselves with the United States in Iraq, they did so because they were being slaughtered by foreigners (AQI) in their own regions and by ruthless Shiite militias everywhere else. They fought a civil war and lost, and were facing political annihilation. (Sidenote: They still face this, which is why I don't think the surge did very much but delay the inevitable by a couple years at a huge expenditure.) The footsoldiers of the Taliban who are aligned for tribal reasons are pinched by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and the Punjab-controlled government in Pakistan. They would be much more likely to throw in the towel if they were facing a crushing defeat at the hands of someone who didn't give a damn about human rights or international law, like the Iraqi Shiite militias or the Sri Lankan military. To put it mildly, I'm skeptical they'll swing, but I'm glad Obama's plan at least calls for trying.

Plan: More NATO contributions.
Possible Problems: Yeah, Britain's announced it's sending 500 more troops, but they're doing so against the will of their own people.

So far the British military has lost 235 lives in Afghanistan, 98 coming this year alone. The British public is clamoring for an early withdrawal. British officials are beginning to look at exit strategies that could begin as early as next year. With the loss of support of a major ally in the War on Terror may come the necessity to send even more U.S combat forces into Afghanistan.


And mind you, this war is not exactly popular in, say, Germany either.


The problem here is that nobody really knows what to do, and the only real counter-argument to the McChrystal plan in policy circles right now is Joe Biden's airstrike-based counterterrorism argument. Targeted airstrikes do sometimes kill bad guys, but they also nearly always hit innocent civilians and pretty much never increase security. I think Biden's plan might actually be worse than McChrystal's plan.

As I've said, I don't think there is a good option in Afghanistan — that's probably why this policy review has taken so long — and with that in mind I'm for the option that doesn't cost hundreds of billions of dollars and get a lot of Americans killed before ultimately leaving us pretty much where we are now, except slightly more hated.

In other news, we will be in Afghanistan forever

Obama is set to announce an increase of up to 34,000 troops in Afghanistan. There are really no good options in Afghanistan but at least we could have chosen one that won't get as many people killed and cost as much as this will. Some questions to ponder:

1. How will pouring in more foreign troops end the civil war between Pashtuns and the northern tribes? Um, it won't.

2. How will this stabilize Pakistan? Um, it'll probably make Pakistan less stable.

3. How will this strengthen the central government in a country that basically has no central government and hasn't basically forever? Um, it won't.

4. How will it improve Pashtun representation in a government the Pashtuns think has no legitimacy? Um, it won't.

5. How will this solve the problem that we're allied with the country that backs our Pashtun Taliban enemies (Pakistan) and about to buckle down with more sanctions against the country that backs our Northern Alliance friends (Iran)? Um, it won't.

6. How will this improve transparency, infrastructure and livability in a country that's #2 on the world corruption index and #1 on the "sucks to be born there" index? Um, I don't see how it will do that either.

The only decent thing about the plan is that it contains "off-ramps," according to the articles I've read, for when -- ahem, if -- it doesn't work. I suppose that's better than nothing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sullivan is right on Iran

Andrew Sullivan argues that China and Russia have no real reason to care what happens with the Iranian nuclear programme, since they won't be blamed if Israel strikes Iran with US support and since they have much to gain from economic ties with Iran, especially if the West puts more sanctions on Iranian imports/exports. A good read.

The worst 10-0 team ever


As a huge Colts fan, let me say that I've never felt less confident about a 10-0 start ever. Last week, we needed Bill Belichick's 4th-down gamble to win a game, at home, where we were badly outplayed. (I'm actually am one of the few people who thought it wasn't a terrible decision, mostly because I was totally terrified when they lined up to go for it, which to me says Belichick was on to something.) This week, we needed Joe Flacco to throw a bone-headed pick when Baltimore was well within range for the winning field goal.

Against the Ravens, Peyton Manning threw two picks. Bob Sanders is out (notice how the Indy defense suddenly can't stop the run or the pass when he's hurt), the secondary is ravaged, the running game is nonexistent, the receiving corps is basically Reggie Wayne and a bunch of rookies with a knack for dropping passes in critical games, and we've won our last 4 games by a combined 10 points. Even our kicker is hurt. I have no idea how we beat Baltimore, no idea at all. Also, we've won our last 18 regular season games now... and lost our only playoff game in that stretch, to an 8-8 San Diego team. We've had a Super Bowl-caliber team 4 years running. In 2006, we won it all. The other 3 years, we didn't win a single playoff game, twice losing unconscionably at home. We seem incapable of beating New England, Pittsburgh, or San Diego in the postseason (1-7 against them since 1995, and the one was the '06 AFC Title Game, which required an 18-point comeback against a New England team with an exhausted defense and no wide receivers). In almost any realistic postseason scenario, we'd have to face at least one and probably two of those teams en route to a Super Bowl trip.

So 10-0 or no 10-0, I am not confident about these playoffs. Not at all...

podcast!

For the past three weeks I've taken over management of the Don't Worry About The Government podcast, a fun political podcast in which I and some fellow ne'er-do-wells discuss national and international news, with an eye towards the unusual stories like Hugo Chavez trying to control the weather and L. Paul Bremer taking up landscaping painting the Vermont. A fun time, and I recommend it. Our newest episode is up today.

And you can read all the fun/interesting/depressing stories we cover here.

Somalia and the Death of Responsibility To Protect

So Spain is now offering to lead an EU defense mission to Somalia to protect lives and restore order, prop up the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and fight piracy. The Spanish will also propose an EU conference to "support the Somali peace process and stabilization in that country."

Just a couple of red flags here...

1. What peace process? The TFG is basically one group of tribes, warlords and businessmen allied against another group of tribes, warlords and businessmen that is vastly more powerful. It's an Ethiopia/Uganda-backed proxy government that controls a few blocks of the capital, while the rest of the country is either in chaos or controlled by Eritrea-backed al Shabab and various insurgent groups. (To wit, Uganda, which is on the Security Council, just circulated a draft resolution trying to severely sanction Eritrea for daring to prop up its own allies in the proxy war. Convenient, that.)

2. Every previous Somalia intervention in the past 2 decades has not only failed but backfired and made things worse. The UN is increasingly targeted militarily precisely because it takes part in things like this. And now Spain wants the EU to get involved? Check out this terrific article in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs on how Washington's Somalia strategy is completely wrong-headed and has been for years.

The real problem in Somalia is not a lack of Western intervention, but too much intervention from all concerned. Anyone who wants to throw down a $10 bet on an EU mission accomplishing jacksquat in the Horn of Africa in the next 5 years, please send your money to me. There's a recession on and I could use it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Week 11 results

Correct in bold

PANTHERS over dolphins
LIONS over browns
COWBOYS over redskins
PACKERS over 49ers

steelers over CHIEFS
NY GIANTS over falcons
saints over BUCCANEERS
JAGUARS over bills
colts over RAVENS
VIKINGS over seahawks

cardinals over RAMS
PATRIOTS over jets

bengals over RAIDERS
chargers over BRONCOS
BEARS over eagles
titans over TEXANS

This week: 12-4
Last week: 9-6
Season: 107-53

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wow! US believes in right to food!

The US is finally joining consensus on the annual General Assembly draft resolution entitled "The Right To Food." Previously, we'd opposed it on some various grounds, such as the fact that Cuba had drafted it, or the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food had said things that bothered us. Perhaps there was a bit of Objectivist thumb-nosing involved as well, if thumb-nosing is even a word. As in, "By golly, those people should have to work for their food! No work, no food! Nyeah."

This position by the US was so abhorrent that even the Marshall Islands, Palau and Israel couldn't vote with us. It was just us by our lonesome.

But no longer! This year, in the UN's Third Committee, the US is joining consensus. That's changed we can believe in!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Week 11 picks

Really, I'm gonna go back to blogging about world politics any day now...

PANTHERS over dolphins
LIONS over browns
COWBOYS over redskins
PACKERS over 49ers
steelers over CHIEFS
NY GIANTS over falcons
saints over BUCCANEERS
JAGUARS over bills
colts over RAVENS
VIKINGS over seahawks
cardinals over RAMS
PATRIOTS over jets
bengals over RAIDERS
chargers over BRONCOS
BEARS over eagles
titans over TEXANS

Last week: 9-6
Season: 95-49

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Week 10 results

falcons over PANTHERS
DOLPHINS over bucs
VIKINGS over lions
JETS over jaguars
STEELERS over bengals
saints over RAMS
TITANS over bills
broncos over REDSKINS
chiefs over RAIDERS
CARDINALS over seahawks
cowboys over PACKERS
CHARGERS over eagles
patriots over COLTS
ravens over BROWNS

This week: 9-6
Season: 95-49

Week 10 picks

So I forgot to pick the 49ers-Bears game before it happened. So I'm going to be one short the rest of the season. Here we go:

falcons over PANTHERS
DOLPHINS over bucs
VIKINGS over lions
JETS over jaguars
STEELERS over bengals
saints over RAMS
TITANS over bills
broncos over REDSKINS
chiefs over RAIDERS
CARDINALS over seahawks
cowboys over PACKERS
CHARGERS over eagles
patriots over COLTS
ravens over BROWNS

Last week: 7-6
Season: 86-43

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maliki: I order you not to call me authoritarian!

So, surprisingly, it turns out that Nouri al Maliki is kinda sorta maybe turning into Saddam Hussein. Or so reports The Guardian. And Maliki's response? Well, he's gotten a court to order The Guardian to pay a 100 million dinar fine (that's about 52,000 pounds) for the offending article.

So basically, Maliki's response to a media report about him being authoritarian is to crack down on the media. Well done.

Hilariously, the article is almost sympathetic to Maliki's coming into his own as the new Iraqi dictator. It's like watching a baby grow up. "Oh, look, he's got his own intelligence service!" Oh yeah, here's the offending article on that:

Any self-respecting Iraqi politician who wants to build his own power base must first establish or acquire his own intelligence service. After a couple of weeks in Baghdad talking to politicians, members of parliament and intelligence officials I came to the conclusion that Iraq has seven separate intelligence units. Or maybe eight. No one could agree on the precise number.


I get tired of saying this, but... we went to war for this?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Week 9 results

FALCONS over redskins
BEARS over cardinals
ravens over BENGALS
COLTS over texans
PATRIOTS over dolphins
PACKERS over bucs
JAGUARS over chiefs
SEAHAWKS over lions
SAINTS over panthers
chargers over GIANTS
NINERS over titans
EAGLES over cowboys
BRONCOS over steelers

This week: 7-6
Last week: 7-6
Season: 86-43
vs. ESPN experts

Friday, November 6, 2009

another case of extreme Security Council overreach

Today the UN Security Council passed a press statement on the elections in Afghanistan. This statement went far beyond the Council's usual habit of just offering its opinion ("welcomes," "takes note of," "condemns in the strongest possible terms") and instead issued a blanket statement about how the world actually is which is demonstrably false.

The members of the Council ... reasserted that no terrorist act can reverse the path towards peace, democracy, and reconstruction in Afghanistan.


See, that's just not true. Of course a terrorist act can do this. In fact, it has. Quite recently.

The correct word, instead of "can," ought to be "should." "No terrorist act should reverse the path towards peace..." Or perhaps, "may." The terrorists "can" reverse peace but they "may" not, because the Council forbids it and condemns it in the strongest possible terms.

"Can," by contrast, is awfully optimistic.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Week 9 picks

FALCONS over redskins
BEARS over cardinals
ravens over BENGALS
COLTS over texans
PATRIOTS over dolphins
PACKERS over bucs
JAGUARS over chiefs
SEAHAWKS over lions
SAINTS over panthers
chargers over GIANTS
NINERS over titans
EAGLES over cowboys
BRONCOS over steelers

Last week: 7-6
Season: 79-37
vs. ESPN experts

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How a bill becomes a lw, UN human rights style

1. The Human Rights Council asks Justice Richard Goldstone, a respected South African jurist, to write a report on human rights abuses by Operation Cast Lead.

2. Goldstone writes the report and submits it to the Human Rights Council. It says both Israel and Hamas violated international law. It calls on the Secretariat to give the report to the Security Council, and for the Security Council to force Israel and Hamas to investigate their conduct and to refer them to the ICC if they don't.

3. The Human Rights Council, after deliberations, passes a resolution calling on "all relevant bodies" including the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Secretariat to undertake their duties.

4. The Security Council talks about the report for 6 hours and does nothing. The Secretariat pretends nothing has happened.

5. Tomorrow, the General Assembly will vote on a resolution telling the Secretariat to give the report to the Security Council. You know, the report everybody already has.

6. Once told by the GA, which it is somewhat subservient to, the Secretariat will actually give the report to the Security Council.

7. The Security Council will probably talk about the report for another 6 hours and do nothing.

8. The heinous, inhuman crimes of the extremist Hamas terrorist organization/Zionist Apartheid Aggressor Regime will go unpunished.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Week 8 results

houston over BUFFALO
CHICAGO over cleveland
DALLAS over seattle
DETROIT over st. louis
BALTIMORE over denver
INDIANAPOLIS over san francisco
NY JETS over miami
ny giants over PHILADELPHIA
jacksonville over TENNESSEE
SAN DIEGO over oakland
ARIZONA over carolina
GREEN BAY over minnesota
NEW ORLEANS over atlanta

This week: 7-6
Season: 79-37
vs. ESPN experts

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Week 8 picks

houston over BUFFALO
CHICAGO over cleveland
DALLAS over seattle
DETROIT over st. louis
BALTIMORE over denver
INDIANAPOLIS over san francisco
NY JETS over miami
ny giants over PHILADELPHIA
jacksonville over TENNESSEE
SAN DIEGO over oakland
ARIZONA over carolina
GREEN BAY over minnesota
NEW ORLEANS over atlanta

Last week: 9-4
Season: 72-31
vs. ESPN experts

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Movie That Killed! Part 2

Continuing with my Most Traumatic Movies Ever list. As I was explaining, I've seen 7 films in my life that were so bad that they changed my view of movies and the world at large for-ever. Part 1 can be read here.

#3. "Wedding Crashers." I saw this flick in the theaters while working at a summer camp. The previous year, under similar circumstances, I'd seen "Dodgeball" and thought it was hilarious, so I had high hopes. (Note: the crushing of expectations is critical to having a movie make the it-scarred-me-for-life list. Most of the things on this list, with the exception of #1, I was actually sort of looking forward too, and was cruelly blindsided.)

The previews had made it seem like a romp and for the first 20 minutes it was. Then, like Dr. Jekyll becoming Mr. Hyde, it morphed into the most cliche-ridden, humiliating romantic comedy I've ever seen. (I probably would be less horrified by this movie if I was the sort that took in films like "Failure To Launch" and "Must Love Dogs" with regularity, but I don't. See #2 on this list if you're wondering why.)

By the time Owen Wilson's formerly smooth-talking wedding crasher had been magically changed into a suicidal adorable sweetie, my skin was attempting to crawl away and escape. I decided I had diarrhea and hid in the bathroom for 20 minutes. (In fact, I almost convinced myself, and my bowel movements weren't the same for days afterward. "Wedding Crashers:" the only movie that can deleteriously affect your digestive system just by existing!)

I didn't see the last 10 minutes. I just heard them from the back of the theater, refusing to look, stomach churning in disbelief. I actually dry-heaved. HOW CAN CHRISTOPHER WALKEN NOT BE FUNNY? A pox on everyone responsible for this film.

Lasting impact: The American comedy died on this day. I don't watch them anymore. Recommended ones I've seen since, like "Bad Santa" and "Caddyshack," have been like biting into a brownie and finding it's made of shit instead of chocolate. Even well-reviewed comedies that I would probably like, such as "Tropic Thunder," languish in the middle of my Netflix queue. I'm afraid. Very afraid. I've been burned. I will never trust again. For chuckles, I'm going back to the '80s slapstick of my childhood ("Airplane!" "Hot Shots" etc.) and staying there.


#2. "The Wedding Singer." Without a question, "Wedding Singer" the worst movie I've ever seen where the lead actors were adults. (Although in Adam Sandler's case I use that term very loosely.) This movie only has 5 good seconds and all of them involve Billy Idol. And you have to watch the whole rest of the movie to get there.

Lasting Impact: Not only did it retroactively ruin the only good Sandler movie ("Happy Gilmore") for me, this movie effectively destroyed the entire genre of romantic comedies forever. Perhaps this is for the best, as it's allowed me to sniff out movies like "Elizabethtown" and "Notting Hill" (but not, due to its misleading previews, "Wedding Crashers") from a mile away and avoid them.

But there are a few good ones out there, and my girlfriend has had to drag me kicking and screaming to see them all. Here's the list of good RomComs my girlfriend has gotten me to watch:
- Annie Hall
- When Harry Met Sally
- High Fidelity
- Moonstruck

And that's all. There may be more, but because of "The Wedding Singer" I'm prepared to live life without them. Each of those four movies above I waited an extra five years to see because of the shittiness of "Wedding Singer." "Wedding Singer" also taught me that there's a whole bunch of self-pitying crap films built around the "adorable sweetie guy has to rescue the good girl who's about to marry the asshole" plotline (see: "Wedding Crashers").* In the long run, this discovery actually changed the course of my life. As soon as I realized that the real world doesn't work that way, I stopped trying to be the good guy in a romantic comedy and actually got a real girlfriend.


#1. "Blank Check." Without a doubt the most catastrophic movie-watching experience of my life. It's like "Home Alone 3," except infinity times worse. I was subjected to this movie on a bus, where there was no escaping it. I kept trying desperately to fall asleep and failed. Two years after this, I was subjected to "Stuart Little" on a bus, and I was so thrilled that "Stuart Little" was not as bad as "Blank Check" that I actually remember warmly the 90 minutes of my life that I was subjected to "Stuart Little."** "Blank Check"... the only movie so bad that it gave me the power to watch other bad movies and enjoy them, knowing they could be worse.

Lasting Impact: This movie is such a bankrupt depiction of the desires of childhood that it nearly ruined my memories of my own childhood. Seriously, a 10 year old gets a blank check, writes in a million dollars, buys a mansion with somebody else's (conveniently ill-gotten) money and lives it up until the money runs out? (Never mind that the plot is the least stupid thing about the movie.) In its own way, "Blank Check" is an indictment of the entire 1990s boom era. If the movie is to be believed, the whole decade was lost to sloth, decadence, waste, bad pop music, and stupidity. Upon completion of the film, I understood at last why the terrorists hate us. And 9/11 hadn't even happened yet.



* For the record, this scenario can only be plausible if it's a pop song by Sting.

** The film flame-critic Mr. Cranky actually came up with a fake Oscar category for this: "Best Film that Didn't Suck as Bad as it Could Have." Here's Cranky, discussing how he survived "Snow Dogs" in the theater:
"Snow Dogs" was like the doctor telling me he was going to cut off my entire leg and when I woke up, only the foot was missing. You know what? I thank the Lord Jesus that the leg, stump and all, is still there. Forget that bastard foot -- I've still got my beautiful leg. Dear God, I can walk! I can walk!

The Movie That Killed! Part 1

Have you ever had a movie-watching experience in your life that was so awful that it left permanent scars on your psyche and your understanding of pop culture and the human experience? I know you have. I want to hear them. I have had seven. They are listed below, in orders of magnitude:

#7. "National Lampoon's Van Wilder." My friends rented it sophomore year of college. I lasted 10 minutes before walking out, after about the fifth Indian joke. A friend of mine in Chicago observed that he knew it was trouble when there was a boob shot on the DVD menu. Sadly, I missed this red flag because we'd rented it from a video store in snowy Grinnell, Iowa, called "Loops," which in 2002 had more VHS than DVD. They probably still do. Ah, Loops.

My swift recognition of how bad the movie was going to be, and subsequent exit, probably saved me from stabbing my own eyes out. To understand how much I hated the first 10 minutes of "Van Wilder," just know that I was once strapped into a chair by a mad scientist and forced to watch "Charlie's Angels" in the theater, and on another occasion had to see the entirety of "Can't Hardly Wait" which in addition to its general mediocrity also had serious negative ramifications for my high school lack-of-a-love life... and that I cut BOTH of these from this list, just to make room for the first 10 minutes of "Van Wilder." I'm also scratching the fifth viewing of "Star Wars Episode I," where I finally realized the movie was terrible AND that this meant I'd just seen a terrible movie five times in six weeks in the theaters and paid for every trip. The first ten minutes of "Van Wilder" were worse. Trust me.

Lasting impact: "Van Wilder" was my first exposure to a whole world of comedies that think that just mentioning the fact that sex happens is funny. A world I have avoided ever since. In a related development, the college frat comedy is dead to me now. I have never seen "Animal House." I have never seen "Old School." I probably never will. "Van Wilder" is why.


#6. Eddie Murphy's "Metro." Saw it at summer camp in 8th grade.

Lasting impact: First realization that a funny guy + a lot of violence doesn't equal a good movie. Later reinforced by "Bulletproof." I've never fully recovered from this realization.


#5. The poetry scenes in "Superman" and "Spider-Man 2." I'm not sure which one of these is worse, Lois Lane's "can you read my mind?" telepathy to Superman or Toby Maguire's recitation of the agonizingly sappy "when you cut me I bleed!" to Kirsten Dunst. I'm going with the former. I think "Superman" might be the most overrated movie ever. Watch it again sometime. Basically, the last half of the film is dreadful camp. Compare the original "Superman" to "The Dark Knight" and you'll realize why Batman has supplanted Superman as the most iconic American superhero.

Lasting impact: First, these scenes ruined poetry forever for me. All poetry. Second, the "Spiderman 2" poetry was the comedown from the high of good superhero movies at the start of the decade. It made us realize that just because the comic book industry was getting more involved in the Hollywood productions didn't guarantee a great outcome like had happened with the the first two X-Men films. If "X2" was Woodstock, "Spiderman 2" was Altamont. We all thought we were going to get superhero valhalla and instead we got deranged Hell's Angels stabbing people. By which I mean, Toby Maguire reading horrendous poetry to Kirsten Dunst.


#4. ABC's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." The only made-for-TV movie on this list, ABC's veeeery-loosely-based-on-the-original adaptation of Jules Verne so betrayed the original story that I actually went up to my room afterwards and cried. I was 8.

Lasting impact: It was my first experience with movie adaptations butchering classic stories I love. Before that, I just didn't understand that it could happen. The story was the story. You couldn't just go in and fuck it up for no reason. You just couldn't. It was probably good this realization occurred when it did, because otherwise when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World" got made into a TV show a few years later, I would have had to kill myself.

Continued in Part 2! After all, we all know how sequels are worse than the originals.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Week 7 results

correct in bold

Bears over BENGALS
packers over BROWNS
falcons over COWBOYS
chargers over CHIEFS
jets over RAIDERS
colts over RAMS
saints over DOLPHINS
STEELERS over vikings
patriots over BUCCANEERS

PANTHERS over bills
TEXANS over 49ers
GIANTS over cardinals
eagles over REDSKINS

Week 7: 9-4
Season: 72-31

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Week 7 NFL picks

I have been humbled by my crappy prognostication performance (15-13 in the past two weeks). Here's my, you know, educated hypothetical guesses for what might happen this week in the world of professional American football.

Bears over BENGALS
packers over BROWNS
falcons over COWBOYS
chargers over CHIEFS
jets over RAIDERS
colts over RAMS
saints over DOLPHINS
GIANTS over cardinals
STEELERS over vikings
patriots over BUCCANEERS
PANTHERS over bills
TEXANS over 49ers
eagles over REDSKINS

I don't think I've ever picked this many road teams in my entire life.

North Korea knows human rights

Check out this hilarious statement by North Korea's Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Pak Tok Hun, in response to the UN Special Rapporteur's report on North Korea's abysmal human rights record. Take it away, Amb. Pak!

The delegation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea reminds the committee that it has never recognized the illegal resolution as well as the special rapporteur of that resolution. My delegation categorically rejects the report of the special rapporteur on the situation of the human rights it in my country. It is a politically conspired document full of distortion, lies, falsity , devised by Western forces and (unclear.) The consideration of such a report is totally useless and will rather intensify, deprive in our human rights protection system and reality of my country[sic]. Mr. Chairman, up to 2003 when the group of western countries presented resolution on the DPRK in the commission of human rights in Geneva, my country had a wide range of cooperation exchange in the field of human rights. We invited the United Nations special rapporteur, we invited amnesty international in several occasions, the European parliamentarians visited a prison in my country and met with prisoners. We had regular contacts and exchange of views with the EU ambassadors in our capital and informed them of human rights activities and measures taken and to be taken.

We did so because we have nothing to hide or be afraid of. We did so because we are part of (inaudible) system of promotion and protection of human rights in our country including the free health care and free education system. However, all these cooperation exchanges have been stopped with the presentation of the so-called resolution against my country by a group of western countries. All those cooperation exchanges have been stopped because we cannot accept the discriminatory treatment of the DPRK and because we cannot allow any country or group of countries to single out the DPRK for their sinister political purposes. There are no such grave human rights abuses whatever for which a resolution should be presented. Our demand is simple, we want the DPRK to be treated equally with other countries, this is a matter of principle we can never give up. It is from this principle’s position that the DPRK participated in the 50th session in the committee for the rights of the child in January this year which considered the DPRK’s report on the implementation on the convention of the rights of the child and we also submitted a national report for the universal period review to be held at the United Nations hr council this coming December, we will continue to participate in activities of the UN’s humans rights bodies treating all countries on a equal basis but we will continue to reject any attempt to single out the DPRK for their sinister political purposes. It is a big mistake if certain countries expect any change from the DPRK through that pressure. The more agitation and pressure on the DPRK, the stronger out people’s unity will be to consolidate and develop the ideal system for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

UN: Afghanistan elections were fraudulent. The system works!

So the United Nations was in a bit of a bind because of the Afghanistan elections. The world body had fired its #2 representative Peter Galbraith for observing that the Afghan elections were wildly fraudulent.

And then yesterday, the UN-backed Election Complaints Commission announced that, yes, the elections were wildly fraudulent. Because of the massive delays, however, the runoff election won't be held until Nov. 7, which is winter in Afghanistan. This makes the runoff election an even greater logistical nightmare than the first round was.

How does the UN spin this? Let's hear it from the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself:

The important thing is, even though unfortunately fraudulence, widespread fraud has taken place, the measures we put in place had worked. We detected the fraud and we reported this fraud to the Security Council. ... Now, all these measures will be put in place again so that the mechanisms and measures will continue to work and function properly, so that we will prevent any further fraudulent practices and irregularities.


So the basic argument is this: we caught the fraud, so it's all good! A very clever job of spinning a complete system failure into a system success.

The SG went on to explain that the UN's role this time will be similar to the first round, and that the organization won't take Galbraith's advice and close polling stations in Taliban-run areas where basically all the votes from Aug. 23 were faked because security conditions rendered it impossible for real people to vote.

On the plus side, if there's fraud this time, the UN will be around to observe that it happened.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Week 6 results

Ouch, the magic is gone.

BENGALS over texans
PACKERS over lions
VIKINGS over ravens
SAINTS over giants
STEELERS over browns
panthers over BUCCANEERS
REDSKINS over chiefs
JAGUARS over rams
SEAHAWKS over cardinals
eagles over RAIDERS
PATRIOTS over titans
JETS over bills
bears over FALCONS
CHARGERS over broncos

This week: 7-7
Season: 63-27
vs. ESPN experts

Friday, October 16, 2009

Week 6 NFL picks

Okay, last week sucked. Let's see if I can do better this time around. As always, home team in CAPS.

BENGALS over texans
PACKERS over lions
VIKINGS over ravens
SAINTS over giants
STEELERS over browns
panthers over BUCCANEERS
REDSKINS over chiefs
JAGUARS over rams
SEAHAWKS over cardinals
eagles over RAIDERS
PATRIOTS over titans
JETS over bills
bears over FALCONS
CHARGERS over broncos

Last week: 8-6
Season: 56-20
vs. ESPN experts

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kosovars break into UN

Breaking news! Or should I say, break-in news.

Members of the Kosovar delegation managed to sneak into the UN today with another delegation's UN passes, according to Security Council diplomats.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin called emergency Security Council consultations ahead of this afternoon's regular Council debate on Kosovo to discuss the issue. According to a statement Churkin read later in the chamber, the Kosovars went to the General Assembly hall and other places in the building and had bilateral contacts, all in violation of Resolution 1244.

Needless to say, the Kosovar Foreign Minister did not mention the incident in his statement to the Council today.

Autotune the News does the UN

Hilarious.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

ah, high school football announcers

I was one once. Check out the call for this unbelievable conclusion to a high school football game in Michigan.

Live blogging the Security Council's debate on the Goldstone report

Another endless Security Council debate has broken out about Israel/Palestine, specifically about this Goldstone report about Israeli actions in Gaza last January and human rights violations there.

10:03am: Aaaand here we go! By the way, I should mention off the top that all the diplomats on the way in told us flat out that nothing would come out of this meeting and half of them see no point in having it at all. Nonetheless, over a quarter of the General Assembly's membership has shown up to speak their minds.

10:45am: The Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki just yakked away for about 20 minutes. The Arab delegations, not to stereotype, loooove dramatic speeches. "The Izzzgggrraeli war machine rampaged through Gaza, destroying the innocent lives of helpless women, children, and babies..." etc.

10:58am: Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev, with her VERY strong accent and possible lisp (her r's sound like w's), makes "Iranian" and "Uranium" sound like the same word. She says the real threat is not Israel but "the Khkhkhkhamas" and "the Khkhkhkhkhkhkhkhkhezbollah." (Note: This is a sound that most Americans only make when gargling.) She makes the point that this urgent meeting was called by Libya, "that champion of human rights, who recently gave a hero's welcome to an arch-terrorist" and whose leader called the Security Council the "Terror Council." Added the Ambassador, invoking Macbeth, "Debating the Goldstone Report in the Security Council is but a tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing." (Those of us who have read Macbeth and know the whole quote immediately wondered, is she calling the Security Council an idiot?)

At this moment, I feel great solidarity with my Jewish ancestry. Only the Jews are sarcastic even in Security Council speeches. Some days, I love my job.

11:16am: Remember what I said about the Arab delegations loving dramatic speeches? Here's the Libyan Ambassador holding forth: "They cannot sail on seas of blood. They cannot mask the destruction that has been perpetrated. They cannot hide behind the illegal, racist Apartheid Wall of Separation."

11:27 a.m. Four speeches in, out of 44, the open meeting has already lasted nearly an hour and a half. And we haven't even gotten to noted filibusterers Iran, Syria, and the Arab League Foreign Minister. The Ambassador of Mexico is speaking now.

Coworker: "His translator sounds exactly like George Clooney."
Me: "Maybe George Clooney is prepping to star in The Interpreter 2."

12:03pm: The 15 members of the Security Council are now laboriously plowing through their speeches. After them, some two dozen concerned countries will have all afternoon to give speeches. With all due respect, does it really matter what Costa Rica or Uganda thinks?

12:07pm: My coworker calls this the "pox on both your houses" part of the proceedings, where member states call on both sides to do all sorts of things that everyone knows they won't do, like treating the other side with decency.

1:17pm: Halftime. Lunch break. Did I mention we're still got nearly 30 speakers to go? Including Iran, Syria, Sudan, Jordan, the UN's committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and the Arab League representative? Man, I might not even make it to the 9pm start of Quiz Night at the Baker Street Pub at this rate.

1:58pm: Lunch eaten, I'm struck by the idea that the interpreters should be replaced by the voiceover guys for movie previews. Just picture the Disney guy. "The Middle East! Featuring all your favorite characters... Syria! Lebanon! Israel! Hamas!" Or, perhaps, the action movie guy: "In a world of constant violence... one man will learn the truth. And that man is... Goldstone."

I, for one, think this would be hilarious. And isn't that the point of open Security Council debates on the Middle East?

2:10pm: Here we go, the UN's documents counter (and yes, the UN produces so many documents it requires a counter and a full team of people handling requests to distribute them all) has provided a text of the Israeli and Palestinian speeches. You thought I was exaggerating about Al-Malki's speech. No, here's the actual relevant passages:

We are all too aware of the tragic consequences of the savage Israeli military aggression launched on 27 December 2008 against the defenseless Palestinian civilian population, of whom more than 1,400, including hundreds of innocent children and women, were brutally killed and more than 5,500 were injured, many permanently, as the occupying forced rampaged through Gaza, using all means of heavy and lethal weaponry and exhibiting a callous disregard for human life. ...

The occupying Power's colonization measures and the lawless acts of terror, violence and provocation of its settlers in the City are inflaming tensions and threaten combustion of the already fragile, precarious situation on the ground. ... The occupying Power continues to construct and expand settlements, settlement infrastructre and the Wall. ...


And so forth. The problem with this is, of course, that the typical UN observer then builds up a tolerance to rhetoric. It's the boy who cried wolf parable. Certainly anyone who has ever dealt with the North Koreans has learned to brush away run-of-the-mill threats such as "this is a declaration of war!" or "we will crush our enemies mercilessly!" If the North actually did treat something as a declaration of war, it would be a huge surprise. Likewise, the Palestinians have bemoaned Israeli aggression" so many times that when the Israelis are actually aggressive, everyone pooh-poohs it away.

3:01pm: Aaand we're back!

3:15pm: Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt is now speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. To put it mildly, the NAM does not have a cordial relationship with Israel. Former Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman once asked, "What does the Non-Aligned Movement even mean anymore?" and he had a point. Not surprisingly, the NAM condemns Operation Cast Lead and the ongoing blockade of Gaza. The NAM calls on the Security Council "to pronounce itself and to take a clear position and serious actions regarding Israel's violations in the occupied East Jerusalem." The NAM is also concerned about violations of Security Council resolution 1701 on Lebanon... by Israel. Hezbollah's violations aren't mentioned. Ditto the Syrian Golan. Most improbably, the NAM "urges the Security Council to seriously consider and act upon the recommendations directed to it" by the Goldstone Report.

3:38pm: I just realized that the Permanent Observer of the Arab League's first name is Yahya. I think that sums up how this day has gone.

4:07pm: It's rather galling to hear the Ambassador of Sudan accuse the Israelis of violating international law and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

4:42pm: The Pakistani Ambassador is speaking now, and the delegate who is sitting next to him is chatting surreptitously on his cell phone.

5:35am: Iran has arrived! And they're not pulling any punches.

The Zionist war machine inflicted this tragedy in the Gaza Strip which resulted in the strangulation and slaughter of the innocent people of Gaza, especially the women and children, for 20 consecutive days. The Zionist regime who knows nothing about respect for humanity and human rights, also targeted every and each human being, also targeted every and each human beings, every house and every infrastructure in the Gaza strip, and resorted to unimaginable criminal acts such as bombardment of innocent children and women sheltering the UN-declared-safe buildings.


Unlike most states, Iran doesn't think Goldstone went far enough, calling it "late" and only a "partial" account of what happened. Iran also feels that if the Security Council doesn't follow up on the Goldstone Report, the Council is worthless:

It is expected that the Security Council, in line with its responsibilities to uphold international peace and security take full account of the recommendations of the Goldstone report. We consider this meeting as a true test of the Council's credibility and reliability and sincerely hope to see it moving in the right direction. Otherwise we should not expect the world, especially the victims of such heinous crimes in Gaza ... to keep hoping in the UN and other int'l organizations as the best course of their support.


Disappointing the expectations of many, myself included, who thought they would hold forth for half an hour or more, the Iranian Ambassador concluded his remarks in a mere 8 minutes.

6:11pm: Aaaah! More countries have arrived to speak! Though not on the list of speakers, Norway and the Maldives have both been given the floor. The meeting has been going for six and a half hours now. How much more can the delegates endure?

6:13pm: And now Sri Lanka! Really, Sri Lanka, is this necessary? Talking about having "consistently supported a peaceful settlement" is a little hypocritical, given how the Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka slaughtered a thousand of its own citizens a day for almost a month in crushing the Tamil rebellion earlier this year.

6:26pm: Oh noooooo. The Venezuelans are holding forth! Is there no end to the madness? My life! My sweet sweet life!

6:27pm: Venezuela, which has already cut off relations with Israel, announces that it is going to keep them cut. So there!

6:28pm: At this point, I'll quote the full Macbeth passage, which is becoming increasingly relevant:

Macbeth:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28


6:29pm: DONE!!! AT LAST!!! Goodnight.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Boxer supports Galbraith

Senator Barbara Boxer, visiting the UN today, was asked by a reporter what she thought of Peter Galbraith's dismissal as UNAMA's #2. Boxer: "I feel it's a very sad day when someone is dismissed for telling the truth."

Ouch.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

good throwback, bad throwback

The Good: Rams go old school vs. the Vikings. Doesn't help them win, but it does help them look good.

The Not So Good: Broncos go old school with the striped socks. Yeek.

Week 5 results

correct in bold

BILLS over browns
cowboys over CHIEFS
vikings over RAMS
GIANTS over raiders
EAGLES over buccaneers
steelers over LIONS
PANTHERS over redskins

RAVENS over bengals
49ERS over falcons
jaguars over SEAHAWKS
CARDINALS over texans
patriots over BRONCOS
colts over TITANS
jets over DOLPHINS

This week: 8-6
Last week: 11-3
Season: 56-20
vs. ESPN experts

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Somalia and the death of Responsibility To Protect

From the SG's report on Somalia yesterday:

The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia continued efforts to consolidate its authority. ... On 23 July, the Government created a commission for security and pacification of the country. ... On the same day, it announced the appointment of Abdullahi Mohamed Alim as Minister of National Security, to replace the assassinated Omar Hashi Adan.


So, I'm supposed to be brimming with confidence for the TFG to govern and secure Somalia. And why? Because after their Minister of Security was assassinated, they named a new one. And they formed a commission to discuss security.

My cup runneth over.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Week 5 NFL picks

BILLS over browns
cowboys over CHIEFS
vikings over RAMS
GIANTS over raiders
EAGLES over buccaneers
steelers over LIONS
PANTHERS over redskins
RAVENS over bengals
49ERS over falcons
jaguars over SEAHAWKS
CARDINALS over texans
patriots over BRONCOS
colts over TITANS
jets over DOLPHINS

This week: 11-3
Season: 48-14
vs. ESPN experts

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

COIN Critics Circle

So the Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece about how Obama's civilian leaders and his top military people are reading different Vietnam books. Obama et al are reading Lessons In Disaster, about the terrible and tragic decision-making that led to the escalation of troops in Vietnam in 1965. The military brass are reading "A Better War," which claims the US had finally figured out how to win the war in 1972 and should have stayed.

There are many things that bother me about this article, but the biggest is that it likens the military brass's decision to the rationale behind the surge in Iraq. But in fact, it's the opposite. The reason violence went down in Iraq was because the US bought off the Sunnis, who were the backbone of the insurgency, and turned them against al Qaeda in Iraq in exchange for guns and money. That's pretty much what the Biden camp is proposing for Afghanistan, to separate the Pashtun footsoldiers of the Taliban from the extremist elements of al Qaeda. But the Sunnis had two reasons for coming around to the US side.

1. They didn't like the foreigners in AQI running things and inflicting massive collateral damage on Sunnis.
2. More importantly, the Shiites were slaughtering them. 2006 was a civil war in Iraq, and the Sunnis lost. They faced annihilation and political oblivion if the US hadn't stepped in and agreed to keep the sides at arms' length in exchange for an ending of the insurgency.

Never mind that Iraq is a far cry from a stable, functioning democratic government and probably will be for decades. If we even want Afghanistan to be at the point Iraq is today, the only real lesson of Iraq is to let the Northern Alliance tribes begin slaughtering Pashtuns indiscriminately... and then try to buy off the Taliban when they're desperate.

All in favor of that plan, raise your hands. No hands? Thought not.

Twins beat Tigers

6-5 in 12 innings. What a game!

I always root for the Twins because of their ludicrously low payroll. Minnesota's $67 million 2009 payroll is 23rd in the majors, and while that sounds like a lot of money, it's barely half that of the Tigers team they defeated tonight ($119 million), and a third that of the Yankees team they're about to face ($208 million) in the first round. Heck, New York's top three income-getters (A-Rod, Jeter and Teixera) alone make more than the entire Twins' roster.

Still, I felt bad for the Tigers, if only because they're from Detroit, where housing values have tumbled to $11,000 and the football team has lost 20 of its last 21. If any city needed a winner, it was the Motor City.

Majority of Americans would support attacking Iran

A new and alarming poll has 61% of Americans supporting a military strike to stop Iran's nuclear programme.

Nearly two thirds of Americans support negotiations with Iran but a similar number say they won't work. Only 24% of Americans believe military conflict should be avoided even if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon as a result.

I want to know more, however, about how this question was asked. For example, if I was told that a military strike would knock out Iran's nuclear programme, end of story, I would feel very differently than if I was told what would actually happen, which is that a strike would delay Iran by a year or two at most and give it an excuse to withdraw from the IAEA and the NPT and fast-track its nuclear weapons programme in secret. If Americans were told, for example, that the only way to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon militarily was to launch a massive invasion of a country more powerful and populous than Afghanistan and Iraq combined, I think (hope?) support would be rather low for something like that.

Monday, October 5, 2009

define "most livable"

The UN has released its Human Development Index today, ranking countries by liveability according to a complex equation. Naturally, the Scandinavian countries rule, with Norway being #1 and Iceland being #3. Since 1990, the top spot has been occupied by Japan, Canada, Iceland or Norway every year. This year's list is based on 2007 data, so the financial crisis which disproportionately leveled Iceland's economy isn't factored in. Check out the full list here.

Several countries are missing from the UNDP's list, including Iraq and Zimbabwe. I suppose it's difficult to calculate the economic well-being of a country when it has multi-million percent inflation per annum, as Zimbabwe suffered in the past couple of years. (See the absurd banknote pictured above.) Other countries' profiles on this list have been overtaken by events. For example, Georgia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all had sizable improvements in their HDI index, but all took a serious humanitarian turn for the worse in the past year.

All told though, it's hard to gauge how accurately this index fits real life. Conflict, for example, doesn't seem to be factored in as much as it ought to be. Is it really worse to live in Niger, with low-level insurgencies scattered about, than it is to live in Afghanistan, which has been in a state of open war for most of the past 30 years? Or Democratic Republic of Congo, which has hosted the deadliest war in the world since 1996?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Week 4 results

Correct in Bold.
* = yet to be played

BEARS over lions
COLTS over seahawks
REDSKINS over buccaneers
TEXANS over raiders
giants over CHIEFS
PATRIOTS over ravens
bengals over BROWNS
titans over JAGUARS
DOLPHINS over bills
SAINTS over jets
cowboys over BRONCOS
49ERS over rams
STEELERS over chargers
packers over VIKINGS

This week: 11-3
Last week: 13-3
Season: 48-14
vs. ESPN experts

Friday, October 2, 2009

Busted Tees takes on Save Darfur

Next time you go to a Darfur protest where nobody knows what they're talking about, be sure to wear this.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Iran: We have no undeclared nuclear sites

NEW YORK - Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking at a news conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York today, stated that "whatever Iran has at its nuclear sites has been announced to the IAEA, and the only case that is under construction is Qom and we also announced that."

Mottaki had earlier ducked the question, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not answer it either when asked during his own press conference in New York last week.

Mottaki thanked the major powers for showing more flexibility for having negotiations with Iran this year than last. "Fortunately the 5+1 [5 permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany] this year unlike the years before has not reached a hasty judgment about Iran's proposed package, and the response by the members of the 5+1 was relatively different from their response they gave last year." He denied that Iran's right to enrich was a topic of discussion at today's meetings of the major powers with Iran in Geneva.

The Foreign Minister said talks would continue, and expressed Iran's willingness to raise the level of participation "up to the level of a summit meeting."

Mottaki also referred to the disputed June elections in Iran as "dynamic" and "one of the most glorious presidential elections," claiming turnout much higher than European elections. Regarding the subsequent mass protests, Mottaki declared, "they asked the question, what happened to our votes? When we provided very clear answer, they were convinced."

The Iranians also refused to take a question from an Israeli reporter, cutting him off to call on a Dubai reporter instead.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Week 4 NFL Picks

BEARS over lions
COLTS over seahawks
REDSKINS over buccaneers
TEXANS over raiders
giants over CHIEFS
PATRIOTS over ravens
bengals over BROWNS
titans over JAGUARS
DOLPHINS over bills
SAINTS over jets
cowboys over BRONCOS
49ERS over rams
STEELERS over chargers
packers over VIKINGS

Last week: 13-3
Season: 37-11

Walt takes down the neocons

A good read.

EU report: Georgia started war, Russia also guilty

An EU report finds Georgia at fault for starting last fall's Georgia-Russia war.

From the Washington Post:

"None of the explanations given by the Georgian in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack lend it a valid explanation," said Heidi Tagliavini, the Swiss diplomat asked to conduct the probe, in a statement accompanying a report of more than 1,000 pages. "In particular, there was no massive Russian military invasion underway, which had to be stopped by Georgia military forces shelling Tskhinvali," the capital of South Ossetia.

But Tagliavini stopped short of blaming Georgia for causing the August 2008 war, concluding that Russia also violated international law by issuing large numbers of passports to residents of separatist enclaves in Georgia before the fighting began and by sending its troops deep into Georgian territory afterward.

In addition, she said Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, as independent states was illegitimate, and accused the Russian-backed Ossetian militias of conducting ethnic cleansing of Georgian civilians.


This blog has always held that the Russians have a point in recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia, since neither has ever shown any inclination to want to be part of Georgia and ethnonationalistically would probably not be able to function as part of the country. The end result from this report shouldn't be surprising, though: no one in the conflict behaved well, and no one came out of it looking good. Again, from the article:

"There is no way to assign overall responsibility for the conflict to one side alone," she wrote. "They all have failed, and it should be their responsibility to make good for it."

Hillary: I enjoy being President

US Secretary of State and runner-up for the Democratic nomination for President Hillary Clinton today is chairing a meeting in the UN Security Council on women and peace and security today. Because the US is President of the Council for the month of September, Clinton's technical title for the duration of this meeting is "President." Clinton, after reading an impassioned speech about violence against women in armed conflict, got a laugh with this quip:

"I like being President, so this may go on for a bit longer than usual."

Excellent.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

ranking NFL uniforms, 1-32

Due to the popularity of my Ugliest NFL Uniforms Ever post, I figured it was time to take a break from blogging about the UN and the amusing things that happen there and take some time to rank the NFL's 32 teams by their uniforms, best to worst. I care deeply about football jerseys and have since I was a little kid, which is funny because I care very little about fashion and certainly not what I myself am wearing. But at age 6, I was already quite convinced I wanted to root for the 49ers over the Broncos in the first Super Bowl I watched, and the coolness of San Fran's helmets and the crappiness of Denver's was a not insignificant factor.

So here we go. Because there's so many teams, I've divided them into 5 tiered divisions. While I've ranked them according to my order of preference, you can make a strong case for any team within a division topping out another. So if you're a cheesehead and want to explain to me how the Packers uniforms are DEFINITELY better than the Bears, fine, I'll hear you out. Vikings fans, however, shouldn't even try.

THE BEST
1.Steelers
2.Colts
3.Raiders
4.Bears
5.Giants
6.Packers
7.Browns



You'll notice that I like old school uniforms. Teams that wear exactly what they wore in the 1950s and 60s generally get major bonus props with me. Except for the Steelers changing lettering fonts a few years back (for the better, I think, if you compare old vs. new), these are all as old school as they come.


Most controversial on this list will be the Browns, because of their odd team colors and logoless helmets, but I've always been a big fan of this look. Anytime I watch any of the teams on this list play each other, it takes me back to my childhood, curled up on the couch watching December football and old NFL Films videos with the Chicago blizzards pounding against the windows of my parents' house. It'd do the same for my parents, if they had ever given a damn about football.

THE GOOD
8.Patriots
9.Falcons
10.Titans
11.Buccaneers
12.Jets
13.49ers
14.Ravens
15.Saints
16.Redskins
17.Eagles
18.Cowboys

Of teams with recent (last 10 years or so) uniforms, the Patriots, Falcons, Titans and Buccaneers are clearly the best. The Jets get props for their switch in the late '90s back to the Joe Namath style, which was vastly superior than the shlock they wore in the 80s. But occasionally they wear these Pop Warner League green pants which are unworthy of pro ball. The 49ers also went retro this year, which are far classier than their recent uniforms. The Ravens' uniforms are excellent and I ding them only because it's hard to tell the difference between the purple and black. The Redskins' uniforms, though fine, were better in the 70s. (And of course, there's the whole name controversy thing.) The Cowboys' uniforms, though classic, annoyingly have a completely different color blue on the numbers than they do on the helmets. (This has bothered me since I was about 8 years old watching Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith lay waste to the Buffalo Bills year after year.)

THE ACCEPTABLE
19.Texans
20.Panthers
21.Chargers
22.Chiefs
23.Cardinals

These teams have generally inoffensive but meh uniforms. Whether it's general boringness, weird design weird alternates, or a new look that's worse than the old look, all of them could be better than what they are.




THE CFL
24.Broncos
25.Rams
26.Lions
27.Jaguars
28.Dolphins

Now we're getting into unfortunate territory, teams who look like they belong in NFL Europe or Arena League. Denver's helmets, for example, have the best logo in the team's history (some of their past ones are, um, best forgotten) but the jerseys are a bland betrayal of the team's identity. Denver's primary color is and has always been orange, and there's more than enough teams with navy as their main color. I would rank Denver far higher if it wore these alternates all the time. The Jaguars, meanwhile, need to go back to 1998. The Rams need to go back to LA. The Lions' slightly improved uniforms are still irrelevant, and the Dolphins' wacko colors could only be pulled off by a Miami drug kingpin.

THE XFL
29.Vikings
30.Bengals
31.Bills
32.Seahawks

These are the only teams where I literally do not want to watch the game if they are playing, because the uniforms are so dreadful. Minnesota's bizarre and spacy design makes me miss the Fran Tarkenton era. They look like storm troopers from Star Wars except with purple helmets. The Bengals' uniforms, never the best, have in recent years acquired garish accoutrements, and their alternates are epically awful. The Buffalo Bills took a great thing and turned it into a hideous thing (yet another team trying to use multiple shades of blue and failing). And then there's the worst of the worst. Seattle's regular uniforms are actually pretty good, although the home uniforms make them kinda look like giant condoms. So why the worst ranking? This is why. The Seahawks entered heretofore unknown territory with their ectoplasm-green Power Ranger/GI Joe Eco-Warrior/traffic cop alternates they trotted out on Sunday Sept. 27 against the Bears. (See the Worst NFL Uniforms Ever post from Sept. 28.)

Got a gripe? There's a comment page below. Let's hear it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ugliest NFL uniforms ever

In light of the atrocious, horrifying new development of the Seattle Seahawks ectoplasm-colored green alternate jerseys, Ambassador At Large's blog presents:

The 5 Ugliest Uniforms in NFL History


#5. While I don't hate them as much as other people do, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' pumpkin-colored jerseys of the 1970s, 80s and early 90s were just downright silly. It didn't help that Tampa lost its first 26 games as a franchise and won one playoff game in 30 years while wearing them.



#4.
Cincinnati Bengals "halloween" alternate orange jerseys. The Bengals have never had exemplary uniforms but these are the worst. I mean really, should you wear this to play football on Sundays or to go trick-or-treating? Bill Parcells once said that "All uniforms look good if you put good players in them," but even the able Carson Palmer cannot make this look good.






#3. The Denver Broncos of the 1960s were most famous for wearing striped socks, but let's also give fair mention to the comically bad helmets that the Broncos worn from 1962-1965.






#2. The road unis currently being sported by the Buffalo Bills are an atrocity on the eyes, and unnecessarily so. The Bills' classic blue-and-red color scheme should not have been corrupted this way, but sadly it has. Where do I begin? The block navy shoulder pads and clashing royal blue numbers that make this team look like an also-ran in the CFL? The dueling blue shades on the helmet? The red-and-blue piping up the pants that turn into garish straight red going up the side of the jersey? Hideous. And until last Sunday, the worst uniforms I'd ever seen in the NFL.

Then came...




#1. The Seattle Seahawks green alternate jerseys. There's really no argument here. Even the XFL and the World Football League would not have tolerated this. Maybe the United Football League would, but that doesn't help Seattle's case. It's not just the electric green that makes them look like Power Rangers or Planeteers. It's the dull blue helmets clashing with the navy pants... or the dull blue piping virtually invisible against said pants... or the blue sleeves that make the jerseys look like one of those vests you wear in the woods during hunting season. A nightmare. An abject nightmare. And the matching shoes worn by some Seahawks on Sunday do not help.

Most alarming from this list is that 3 of these 5 aesthetic abominations are still being used by the franchises in question. Is it possible that football uniforms are getting worse? Several teams -- Minnesota, Jacksonville -- are currently sporting uniforms noticeably uglier than any they have had in their franchises' histories. And in college ball, things have just gotten wacky.

What is clear is this: in the NFL, old school is usually better. The best uniforms in the NFL are the ones that have undergone little or no change over many decades.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Week 3 results

Correct in bold

PATRIOTS over falcons
RAVENS over browns
packers over RAMS
TEXANS over jaguars
EAGLES over chiefs
giants over BUCS
steelers over BENGALS
VIKINGS over 49ers
redskins over LIONS
bears over SEAHAWKS
saints over BILLS
broncos over RAIDERS
CHARGERS over dolphins
JETS over titans
colts over CARDINALS

COWBOYS over panthers

This week: 13-3
Last week: 10-6
Season: 37-11
vs. ESPN experts

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ahmadinejad: "Obama is not a nuclear expert"

Iranian President Ahmadinejad, in response to this morning's shocking news of a new secret Iranian nuclear facility.

The controversial Iranian leader denied that the facility was secret or in violation of IAEA rules. He claimed that the IAEA allows 6 months before the use of a facility to register its existence with the IAEA, and that the mountain site revealed last night is 18 months from coming online.

Ahmadinejad also responded to US President Barack Obama's statement that that the "size and configuration" of the facility does not match a peaceful nuclear programme. "I don't think Mr. Obama is a nuclear expert," said Ahmadinejad.

Regarding Hugo Chavez's comments yesterday that the General Assembly podium smells of "hope" and not "sulfur" since Obama has become President, Ahmadinejad said, "The sweetest smell is that of justice." He also dismissed British and French leaders Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy as "not important" and suggested that the US government had misinformed Obama. "They should take care not to mar Obama's image," said the Iranian leader.

Somehow, I don't think this is the tone the West is hoping Iran will strike when negotiations commence Oct. 1.