Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Out of the Park

Bonds to A-Rod: 'Do your damn thing' - Barry Bonds -

I'm glad Barry Bonds has taken this approach. Not that it will humanize him in the public mind, but it's nice to see him rooting for a fellow superstar to do something that would be good for the game, even if it would remove his name from one page of the record book. (In fairness to Bonds, his name is currently at or near the top of quite a few pages of the record book--career total bases, career home runs, career walks, season OBP, season walks, season home runs, etc.--so perhaps losing this one doesn't loom as large for him.)

As for Alex Rodriguez, much as I dislike the Yankees it's hard not to be happy for him. He's on a tear, and because his team is doing poorly he's got the potential to be the big story out of New York all on his own this summer. I'm sure he'd rather be in first place, but if Yankee pitching won't support that goal, breaking the home-run record and cementing his status as the best in the game right now would probably be fun for A-Rod after a few years of being not-quite-loved in the Big Apple.

And besides, wouldn't another home-run record chase be fun?

Summer Sooner


The link above leads to a page that will allow you to watch the two-minute trailer for the next Harry Potter movie, which opens July 13. After watching it three times (once alone, twice to share with others) I have been successfully whipped into a frenzy and am ready to buy my ticket. Those who know me well know how infrequently I see a movie in the theater these days--the last one was Little Miss Sunshine, and that was only because I was on vacation--so this is a big deal.

But if you've got a theater craving, this seems like a good summer. I know the sequel trend is ruining Hollywood and all that, but honestly, what movies beyond Shrek the Third and Spider-Man 3 and Order of the Phoenix and The Bourne Ultimatum seem worth the trouble of paying all that money and spending all that time packed in with the great unwashed masses just to see them on a bigger screen? Summer blockbusters like this are the only remaining reason, at least for us, that movie theaters exist.

Did I mention the new Transformers movie? If Hollywood has ever had a chance of restoring my former moviegoing ways, this is it. Are you excited about the coming summer blockbusters?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Idol Predictions, Round of Six

A surprisingly good week, wasn't it? But there were definitely different levels of good--and at least one pretty bad performance from a fellow who may finally take his whine home.

This week I predict a bottom three of LaKisha, whose "I Believe" was passable but didn't touch the original; Blake, whose "Imagine," for all of Simon's protests of sincerity, didn't seem believable, and
your loser, Chris, whose vocals will not change the world today, tomorrow, or anytime soon.

What did you think?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bush is a Boob

White House renews Gonzales backing - Yahoo! News

Forgive the headline, but what other conclusion can be drawn? Yesterday's testimony was, like much of the Gonzales tenure in public office, a disgrace. It, and Bush's response--full steam ahead!--reinforce every bad narrative about this White House that he desperately needs to refute if he's going to accomplish anything in his last 21 months in office. (But who's counting?)

Stubborn and intractable in the face of evidence? Check. Incompetent but loyal to a fault? Check. Eager to speak pretty words that bear no relationship to the truth and not only expect others to swallow them, but appear to believe them yourself? Check!

There is only one politically savvy explanation for all of this, and it would be a doozy--but it might appeal to Bush's Jesus complex. Could he be sacrificing himself to save his party?

Allow me to explain. Yesterday Tom Coburn, the senator from Oklahoma who thinks most of the girls in the state are lesbians, sounded sane for the first time when he suggested that Gonzales step down. Other Republicans have earned similar common-sense cred for making the same suggestion and for speaking out against other Bush bullshit. With most of the public against him, how better for Bush to serve his party than by looking completely batshit crazy and letting members of his own party fire away at him? By isolating the White House from Congress, Bush may not be able to save the GOP presidential candidate who will be stuck trying to explain a way out of his foolish war, but he can at least help Republicans staunch the bleeding in the House and prevent a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate. By this logic, every day Gonzales stays is another good day for House and Senate Republicans who can point out vociferously how very much they disagree with the deeply unpopular president they once treated like the king of America.

Of course, all of this presumes a level of humility and smarts that many consider unlikely coming from Bush. More than likely this is simply another case of his stubbornness and loyalty and the White House echo chamber combining to prevent Bush from seeing reality. Stupid like a fox? It's possible, but my money's on just plain stupid.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Gonzales plays down role in firings - Politics -

Well, Sanjaya has let me down--or, more accurately, Alberto Gonzales has proven more resilient than a cockroach after a nuclear winter. I predicted more than a month ago that Sanjaya would last longer on Idol than Alberto would at the DOJ, but he's lying to Congress this morning while Sanjaya makes the morning TV rounds after his ouster.

The Gonzales hearing probably won't yield much truth, but it has served one purpose: has finally stopped running a full-width banner of Cho Seung-Hui pointing a gun at me across its main page. Don't get me wrong: I'm not diminishing the importance of this story. But just because NBC "got lucky" and received a package of audiovisual material from a killer doesn't mean the network has an ethical imperative to plaster footage and pictures everywhere they can.

And where are all the folks who scream about copycat crimes based on violent movies? Here's a deranged guy who shot up his campus and guess what? His message of anger and rage is finally being heard by someone other than his video camera. His picture is everywhere; pull up any major news site this morning and there was Cho, glock in hand, looking for all the world like an action hero about to seek justice at gunpoint. Comparing himself to Jesus Christ, railing against America's consumer culture, blaming the victims of his crime--all of this Cho has been able to do posthumously because no one in NBC's news room had the sense to say, "Stop. Wait. This may be interesting, but should we really reward the brutal murder of 32 people by publishing the last manifesto of their killer?"

Copy a violent movie? Why bother? Now misanthropes the world over have a good example of how to go out in a blaze of glory. I bet every person who reads this can think of someone they knew in college who had the potential for an act like this, even if he or she wasn't as disturbed as Cho clearly was. The knowledge that all their demented notions could be put out into the world for public consumption is the kind of thing that might put people like this over the edge.

So again, thank you, Alberto, for finally forcing MSNBC to acknowledge that there are more interesting things in the world than the ramblings of a killer. Like the ramblings of a torture-abetting, law-breaking, rule-bending, unqualified nightmare of a "public servant" desperate to cling to his job.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Idol Predictions, Round of Seven

Boy, Ryan Adams must be pissed this morning. A popular contestant on America's most popular television show performs one of his best songs, and the show calls it a Tim McGraw song!? Oh well; Adams probably collected the money the show pays to clear a song. Unless even the producers didn't know it was his!

Anyhow, I'm thinking Blake will be safe, along with Melinda, who was really the only contestant to take the country theme and nail it. Shocking, I know. Maybe she'll be the one who gets to pick which group of three is the top and which is the bottom, Idol's favorite week-of-seven trick.

Despite DialIdol putting him first, I have to put Phil in my predicted bottom three this week--force of habit. I see the nasally Chris ending up in the middle as well, and boy, wouldn't it be nice if this was his week? But I fear that this may be the week when America finally stops dialing for LaKisha, who hasn't put it all together into a showstopper in many, many weeks. Seeing a talented black female singer go in this round would be far from unprecedented; the round of seven was the end of the road for Jennifer Hudson, too.

And yes, DialIdol also has Sanjaya in last place, but I won't believe it until he's actually on the plane back to Seattle!

If I'm right, that would give us a top six with four boys and two girls. Who'd have thought?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut, Writer of Classics of the American Counterculture, Dies at 84 - New York Times

This news, while hardly unexpected, breaks a little piece of my heart. Starting in the spring of my freshman year of college, I read every book Kurt Vonnegut had written up to that time in about a year, and I've since read the subsequent books as well. They meant a lot to me at a time when nothing was quite making sense, and as I shed organized religion, it was Vonnegut who gave me the first tenet of my moral philosophy, direct from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: "God damn it, you've got to be kind."

If you've never read Vonnegut, this sad event would be a good reason to do it.

Please Please Me

Cato Unbound: Why Societies Should Pursue Happiness

Those who have been reading for a while may remember my fondness for Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less and The Costs of Living. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered, after reading--and disagreeing with much of--Darrin McMahon's essay, "The Pursuit of Happiness in Perspective," that Schwartz had written a response (linked above). McMahon argues that our relentless pursuit of happiness is actually making well-off Westerners less happy, and he has a point; on The Sopranos, Melfi discusses this very topic with Tony and explains that he is part of the first group of people with the means to worry about what makes them happy rather than how to ensure that they have food and shelter.

Schwartz sees the flaw in McMahon's argument, though. McMahon, he says, conflates the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of pleasure. He isn't alone, of course, and Schwartz considers this at length:
Why is it true that most people equate happiness with pleasure? Here’s my hypothesis: What we have nowadays in the developed western world is unbridled individualism coupled with extraordinary materialism. Life is about what you have, not what you do, and it’s about what you have, not what we have. What else can the pursuit of happiness mean to citizens like this except the pursuit of pleasure?

Then the question becomes: Why are we a collection of individualistic materialists? My answer is that it’s a by-product of the success of free-market capitalism. It is the pursuit of wealth, individually and collectively, that has induced us to equate happiness with pleasure. Benjamin Barber makes this point with great force in his new book, Consumed. The problem for modern capitalism, Barber notes, is that these days, “the needy are without income, and the well-heeled are without needs.” The task of modern economic players is to create needs in people who can afford to satisfy them, and doing that turns us into infantilized pleasure-seekers. No one is going to get rich in a society full of seekers of human excellence.
He's right, isn't he? What the leading Democrats--Clinton, Obama, and Edwards--need to figure out is how to offer this critique of the current state of American capitalism without making voters feel insulted. The excesses of capitalism are the reason why American health care is a mess, for instance; the idea that everyone is meant to fend for him or herself entirely, that the Bible and not Ben Franklin said that God would help those that help themselves, is the reason we accept such travesties as a person who works full-time but can't afford to see a doctor or raise a family in the richest nation in the history of the world. It's high time candidates for president said so.

Idol Predictions, Round of Eight

Well that was ghastly, wasn't it? Latin night went over as well on American Idol as it would on Lou Dobbs Tonight. Few of the singers seemed to get into their songs, and the judges mostly seemed to notice.

Anyhow, I'm going to stick to my guns and predict that Haley's stick-to-her-gams strategy will finally fail. She should be glad, too: she's pretty much out of leg to show. She'll be joined in the bottom three by Phil, whose personality continues to induce yawns even as his singing wobbles between OK and last night's not-so-good. The third member of the unholy trinity is harder to predict, but while I have "Conga" in my head this morning, LaKisha's rendition last night wasn't particularly special and she went early. But it shouldn't matter. Haley has to go home sometime, right?

Oh, one more thing: This is the first time Sanjaya will avoid the bottom three and almost have earned it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Sowing the Seeds of Traffic

Worshipping from upper deck
Thousands pack Sears Centre for Easter service in Hoffman Estates

For three Easters, we've struggled mightily to make it to my parents' house on time, only to be foiled by the traffic jam created by Willow Creek's 35,000 Easter Sunday churchgoers. Yesterday, though, a new approach dawned on us--avoid Willow Creek completely by jetting out to Route 59 instead of taking Barrington Road.

Our nifty plan pretty much worked, too; 59 moves pretty quick on a normal day and with none of the new shopping centers that have popped up in Streamwood and Bartlett open for business, the lights were almost all green. Except for one...

As we approached I-90, the light just before the highway caught us. Thirty seconds passed, and we expected to be on our way. Then another thirty. Then several more. Yet cars continued to stream out of the side road, which I eventually realized was the exit from the new Sears Centre.

Turns out that there was no escape. We got away from Willow Creek, but Harvest Bible Chapel, which rented out the Sears Centre for a service attended by nearly 11,000, snared us in its traffic instead. At least we were near the front of the pack that got caught in the post-service jam. I can only imagine that the words of the folks trapped in cars caught more than a mile back on the one-lane, no-way-out-but-through portion of Route 59 were something other than prayerful.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fair Question

Dodd asks: What if your child were gay? - Yahoo! News

Senator Dodd's run for the presidency is a quixotic quest, but today he's injected a much-needed voice into the debate over equal rights for gays and lesbians:
"We ought to be able to have these loving relationships," the Connecticut senator said.

Dodd, the father of 2-year-old and 5-year-old girls, said his daughters could grow up to be lesbians and that he hopes they would have the opportunity to enjoy marriage-like rights.

"They may grow up as a different sexual orientation than their parents," he said. "How would I want my child to be treated if they were of a different sexual orientation?"

These statements were made on the same day that the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would create "spousal unions" in the state, a new term for the civil unions/domestic partnerships that have been popping up in other states.

I hope the media ask the other candidates about Dodd's statement today, and about New Hampshire's possibly becoming the eighth state to offer some sort of formal recognition to gay couples (following Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, California, New Jersey, and Hawaii). At the least, we should be able to get Democrats on the record saying that where applicable--in matters like income tax, Social Security, etc.--they would support legislation to recognize, at the federal level, whatever form of legal arrangement states come up with for gay couples.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Idol Predictions, Round of Nine

After last week, when I confidently stepped up to the plate and hit a triple only to be called out stealing home (translation: I picked the bottom three right but sent the wrong one home), I feel less certain about what tonight will bring. The bottom three should be Sanjaya, Haley, and Phil, but I'm predicting only Haley will actually get there. Phil's comments about his wife, I'm guessing, provoked a lot of women to dial his number while wishing their own husbands were half so romantic. And Sanjaya is on track to be a bigger star than any of the others, despite his utter lack of talent. Instead, I see Gina being punished for a weak song; she should have found a way to throw a bit of her style into it to keep her fans voting. And Blake's performance, which seemed great when it opened the show, didn't stand out by the end; I see the curse of first continuing and him making a surprise stop at the center of the stage. It will be short-lived, though, and Haley will finally--finally!--go home. I hope.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Up and Moving

Keeping Up With Tiger Woods by Swinging a Remote - New York Times

Our couch is starting to get jealous. So are Link, John Madden and Al Michaels, and even our Miis.

The reason? After a rough start--literally--Tiger Woods 07 has won most-favored Wii game status, supplanting Wii Bowling and Tennis and making a return to the nine holes of Wii Golf almost unthinkable.

At first, TW07 seemed like a failure. The controls seemed balky, and the resulting ballooning scores were as discouraging as they are in real life, only without the benefit of a day spent outdoors.

But this is a game that rewards the time you invest in it. Over time we've both gained better command of our swings, and the game's system for improving the inherent abilities of your on-screen doppelganger has allowed us to hit the ball farther and more accurately as time has passed. Three weeks into owning the game, and numerous hours of playing time later, I felt immense satisfaction in a final round push Saturday afternoon to qualify for what the game, for licensing reasons, refers to as the "U.S. Major Championship." And when, yesterday, I came back from a six shot deficit after two rounds to cruise to my first major victory on a course, Pebble Beach, that had previously owned me, I think my jubilant victory shout was probably audible to the neighbors.

A few gripes, though. There are still occasional times when I'll be in mid-backswing and the game will pretend I've finished my shot, resulting in a weak dribble rather than the towering approach I had planned. So far this hasn't been my downfall in any tournament, but I fear it will happen in the final round one day and I'll be cursing.

More important to me right now is the game's odd method, at least in my mind, of calculating PGA Tour ranking. After a run of tournaments in my first season in which I've won three regular tournaments and a major and placed second in another tournament--while, admittedly, missing the cut twice and finishing around 20th and 40th in two more events--I've clawed my way to the top of the money list, and I'm far and away the leader in the FedEx Cup standings. I know I've only been at it for a few months of game time, but shouldn't these results translate into a pretty strong PGA Tour rank? Apparently not--I'm 37th, and in significant danger of missing the "U.K. Major Championship," which seems like something that would never happen in real life. If you win a major, you're invited to the rest, right?

Still, this is a great game that's proving quite durable over time. And I have aches from playing it, just like real golf. Hard to beat that!