Thursday, March 31, 2005

Gambling on Basketball

     This year, like every year, I threw money away joining pools for the NCAA basketball tournament. I never win. I always bet on the ACC and they always let me down. (except last year, when my Yellow Jackets kicked ass up until the championship game. Last year I came in third.)
     This year I decided that the poor NIT tournament was getting left out of all the gambling action. I have no chance winning the NCAA pool - I mean the odds are staggeringly against anyone coming away with a perfect bracket. How could an NIT bracket be any harder? I called a bunch of friends to see who was interested and only Dave responded. We decided to play for pride only.
     We both lost. Out of 1440 possible points, he scored 270 and I scored 410. Still, I did better, so I keep the pride cup for a year. And I really didn't do that much worse than I did in my NCAA brackets. However...
     Why was nobody interested? The odds of winning were no worse. It's the same gambling - betting on someone else's skill and luck. Sure, some of the teams were foreign to us, like Drexel, Fullerton, and Miami U (not really MU - I just can't stand that because of them, UM is always called, "Miami of Florida"). But some NCAA teams were no-names too, although in the NCAA they had no shot of winning. I guess in the end what people tell themselves - that they only bet to make the games interesting to watch - is a lie. They bet to win. They think they can win. If betting made the games all that much more interesting, you'd have bookies wandering the aisles of women's basketball games and certainly the NIT.
     Of course, as my performance indicates, you have a good chance of winning my NIT pool next year. See you for the 2006 pride cup!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A Blog Circle-Jerk

     Too crude? Sorry. I swore I'd never do this - the one thing I hated about the "big" blogs was how they would incessantly quote and refer to each other and never really say anything. As much as I would love people to read and participate in my blog, I promised I'd never stoop to the virtual masturbatory Blogroll and blog references.
     However, being obsessive as I am and being very excited about meeting new people in the "Blogosphere" who aren't posting (strictly) about teenage angst or advertising mortgage refinancing, I was checking Sitemeter for the umpteenth time today. (Did you notice I installed a counter? Of course not. A) Nobody reads my blog and B) nobody really cares that I've had 61 unique visitors since March 14.) Anyway, tonight I noticed a referral from One of Sylvana's blogs. Sylvana has 3 blogs that I discovered today, and although I prefer the chattier Syllogism, I wanted to pat myself on the back with her pat on my back with this:
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
The Truth by Scott

"This is what I get paid for. Not really - it's just what I do instead of what I'm supposed to be doing to get paid." Scott (author)

When I visited this very well-written site I found that I wanted to post comments on everything! He posts on great current issue topics and has great knowledge and insight on the events/issues he writes about. Very humorous with an easy wit, he draws you into every well-sourced story. And every once in awhile a little devilish humor creeps in, which makes this blog all the more endearing to me.

posted by Sylvana at 7:07 PM | 0 What Do You Think?

I know - I was thinking the same as you - there must be another Scott. Either way, I'm going to bed happy tonight!

This is What I Get Paid For

Not really - it's just what I do instead of what I'm supposed to be doing to get paid. More shocking headlines - this time they're Jewish:

Jews Invade European Soccer Fields
     Thousands of fans in Amsterdam sport Israeli flags, tattoos of the magen david (Star of David), and cellphones that ring "Hava Nagila". They're not Israeli. They're not even Jewish. They're fans of the soccer team Ajax and for 40 years, they have been known as "The Jews". (sorry about the NY Times link - it's going to go into archives in a few days for pay members only but I haven't found it anywhere else on the web yet.) Why are we hearing about it now? Apparently in the rabid world of European soccer, opposing fans have begun chanting things like "Death to the Jews" or "Jews to the gas" or "Hamas Hamas". It has gotten so bad lately that many Jewish fans feel it's too dangerous to go to games anymore.
     I find this fascinating. This whole thing started in the 1960's when in Jewish-friendly (and everything-tolerant) Amsterdam, there were 2 Jewish players on the team, which caused opposing fans to scream nasty epithets at them (you know, "Dirty Jew" and all that). In defiance, the team and its fans took on the identity of "The Jews" and have been so ever since. That's a great story. You know, to all those fans out there (and in their defense, they just hate Ajax, not Jews) who scream anti-semitic things... erasing the Jewish part of Ajax isn't going to sooth their anti-semitism. It will just hide it. I like the fact that there are defenders of the underdog out there.

Democrats not Allowed to Participate in Culture of Death
     Apparently an Alameda County, CA judge has conspired to keep Jews and Black women off of Death penalty juries. It seems that these groups, which lean heavily Democratic, are much less likely to "vote to send a defendant to the gas chamber", according the a co-conspirator. It's illegal to exclude jurors based on religion, race, or ethnicity, though, so now the California Supreme Court has to check to see if those death penalty convictions are still valid. I'm not sure about how I feel about the Jewish connection. On one hand, it's really shitty for anyone to exclude Jews from anything just because they're Jewish (and just as shitty to exclude Black women just because of their color). On the other hand, what a nice thing to be excluded from. And to quote Tevye, on the other hand, by excluding Jews and Blacks, they can kill more people who may or may not deserve it.
     It was an interesting article when my brother-in-law first sent it to me. In light of the whole Terri Schiavo fiasco, though - it's really rich. I know - to get around the law, prosecutors can just ask what party affiliation potential jurors have. Then they can legally just exclude Democrats. What?? We're not allowed to participate in the right-wing Culture of Death too? (<- sarcasm, for those of you who don't get it).

Typing with One Hand in the Grave
     Speaking of Terri Schiavo, who apparently has become the next Jesus Christ, or at least would have been if she had died on Good Friday, I have it on good authority that she is alive and well and has been writing a blog for months now. Take that, Michael you evil, evil adulterer!

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Jewish Right goes Wacko

     A magazine I've long enjoyed is Newsweek. It publishes a variety of different voices and viewpoints, all of them well-educated and thoughtful. I haven't agreed with everything they publish, but I've been able to understand where their writers are coming from. Recently they added a new columnist: Rabbi Marc Gellman.
     This is interesting, I thought. I would love to read the Jewish viewpoint on political issues of the day. Alas, Gellman has chosen not to share his wisdom in a well-though out essay debating the pros and cons of balanced budgets and term limits. He has become the biggest proponent of theocracy and Christianity and continually rails against secular government and rule of constitutional law.
     Gellman's latest rant is about the Easter Bunny no longer welcome in a Palm Beach mall. Well - actually the bunny is still there. The mall (The Gardens Mall) now calls it their "Garden Bunny". It will still have eggs and still pose for photos with children dressed up in the most ridiculous outfits and sporting no less than 4 bows apiece (6 for the girls). Gellman claims that for the mall, this is a case "which will rally 100 percent of Americans against them." 100 percent? No kidding? He also informs us that renaming the bunny is akin to hunting it down and killing it "like a mangy dog." Wow. Obviously this is of the utmost national importance, requiring more attention than even Terri Schiavo (who mercifully is soon to depart from this world). He trashes the people who say, "Season's Greetings" instead of "Merry Christmas", even in a place like Palm Beach in which 129,000 Jews comprised over 11% of the total population of 1.1 million in 2000. More, if you include the 230,000 part-time Jewish residents (snowbirds). Gellman isn't one of them. He hails from Melville, NY, a suburb of New York City, where not only does the Jewish population make up 1 out of every 8 residents, other ethnicities and religions make up large parts of the general population.
     So there is no excuse for his Christianic zeal. No excuse not to know that not 100% of the population celebrates Easter or Christmas. That the odds of saying "Merry Christmas" to a Christian may be significatly lower than 100%. I have yet to read (although there may be one out there) a column by him complaining that malls don't wish everyone a "Hag Sameach" on Purim or "Shanah Tovah" on Rosh Hashana.
     So here's the wacko part - in one breath he says, What's the big deal? The Easter Bunny is 99% pagan anyway - it's not any more religious than a Chanuka Bush. In the next breath he equates that pagan symbol with Pesach matzah (which is in the Torah) and Ramadan fasting. Which is it? If it's religious, it clearly alienates a significant portion of the population in Palm Beach. If it's not - why make such a big fuss over a name change when the substance stays the same?
     What I can't decide are his motives. At best, he is pandering to the Red-State readers who have gotten frenzied up over religion. At worst, he is using those religious Christians to further his own cause in promoting ultra-religious Judaism over Conservatives and Reforms. Either way, like the vitriol-spewing Shmuley Boteach, he represents the worst of religion and of someone who represents me, a Jew, in the media.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Hypocritical Oath

     I'm almost too exhausted by the Terri Schiavo coverage to talk about this case. There are too many things wrong, not the least of which is overcoverage. I guess instead of getting pissed off I've been worn down so much that I find the whole issue amusing instead of outrageous. Is it irony or hypocrisy? I have trouble telling the difference in politics sometimes.
     First, I find it (ironic/hypocritical) that the same GOP lawmakers and talking heads who decry "Activist Judges" (eg. Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay) now decry the courts for not intervening in Terry Schiavo's case. Most striking are his words. Regarding gay marriage, "these activist judges — who feel a greater responsibility to their own political ideology than the Constitution — seem not to care." Regarding Terry Schiavo, "When this tragic episode is resolved, the Supreme Court will have some serious questions to answer about its silence ..." I guess Activist Judges are the devil when we're talking about constitutionally protected right to association (gay marriage), religion in public schools, and beer on Sunday, but they are the best thing since Wonderbread when it comes to populist faddish issues like Terry Schiavo or the 2000 Presidential election. Who knows what he would have said during the Civil Rights era of Activist Judges?
     Here's the other thing I'm finding amusing, despite its tragedy. The White House misled the country into war with Iraq. Over 1500 Americans and countless thousands of Iraqis have died because of that. If we take issue with that, or even if we want to photograph the return of the soldiers' bodies, we're being "unpatriotic" and somehow "hate America". But the White House and the GOP is now obsessed with the life of one vegetable who used to be called Terry Schiavo. The life of one woman who will never achieve anything in the future, never have children, never do anything but suck up resources from our medical system that people who are truly alive really need.
     Oh wait - the amusements keep coming. I just remembered that in the Right's crusade against "trial lawyers" and medical malpractice suits, the GOP seems to have forgotten that Terry Schiavo exists partly because of a malpractice settlement and partly because of Medicaid. Oh, this irony/hypocrisy is so juicy I can just taste it dripping down my chin.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Saving Our Overprotected Kids

     We're living in a renaissance of the 1950's. Like all retro fads, I expect it to fade away soon. But in the meantime, it's subjecting the rest of us to Baby Boomer FantasyLand. They think they remember the 50's as an idyllic time when everyone was happy and got along and there was no terror and no strife. They're right, of course. The oldest Baby Boomers were born in 1946 - after WWII. The youngest were born in the 60's. So none of them had a job in the 50's. None of them had a mortgage in the 50's. None of them were in politics in the 50's. They were children if they were even born yet. Of course the time is remembered fondly.
     Unfortunately for the rest of us, we get hit with all of the lousy things that came along with that decade - uber-patriotism (including McCarthyism and pro-Christianity), civil rights tensions (Blacks then, gays today), and a desire to return to bland, uninteresting entertainment. (Please - I've seen Bob Hope. He wasn't funny.) Censorship was big in the 50's and it's making a resurgence. Of course, overt censorship has been with us all along.
     I was thinking about when I was a kid and I saw Revenge of the Nerds on network TV. (sidenote: thru my research for this blog, I discovered that a remake is coming out next year. How disturbing!) It was gross and funny and I was 12 so most of the jokes went over my head anyway. I begged my parents to rent the video. Sure, it was rated R, I told them, but I saw it on TV. It didn't deserve that rating - there were no bad parts. So the family gets together and rents and watches the movie together. Much to my dismay (and delight), there was a full-frontal nudity scene that I had definately not noticed the first time. Great to rewind and rewatch when I was alone - NOT cool to watch with my parents. After the movie, my dad pulled me aside and I braced for the worst. To my astonishment, he told me that he wanted to make sure I knew that you didn't need drugs to have a good time. Drugs?? There were drugs in the movie?? Now I know that there were - the "wonder joint" during the LLL party. But I had totally missed that in my pre-teen innocence.
     The reason I was taking this particular trip down memory lane today was because I heard a song on the radio where the word "shit" was fuzzed out to make it palatable for kids. Obviously we don't want our children exposed to gangsta rap and angry rock when they're really young. But is the answer to sanitize these songs for the radio? Like Revenge of the Nerds, all it will do is cause kids to like the song without even realizing that it's inappropriate in its full version. And when they do buy the CD (or download it off the internet) - there it is in all its glory. Sanitizing songs is like using Joe Camel to sell cigarettes to kids. It's like using Neverland to sell Michael Jackson to kids. It's just misleading. Maybe we should stop being hypocritical and look at ways to immunize our children from the bad influences that are out there, like my dad pulling me aside after the movie to tell me to stay off drugs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Ripped from the Headlines

Stinky Lawsuits
     From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: A Republican state senator is proposing a bill to exempt animal rendering plants from lawsuits. Apparently, in the unending insanity that is Atlanta's sprawl, developers are now building nice houses next to - let just call them what they are, shall we? - factories that turn pieces of chicken guts and horse hooves into dog food. Now those new residents are suing the rendering plants for being too smelly.
     Look, I'm all for regulation of industry when it's a public nuisance. Maybe the rendering plants are polluting the air or groundwater. But it's my belief that you can't move in to an existing condition and then complain about it. People always do this - they buy a house next to the airport and then complain about jet noise. They buy a condo across the street from 20 nightclubs in Buckhead and call the cops because they can hear the music late at night. They marry a man and then complain when he doesn't do the dishes. Well, tough - it's one thing if you had the house before things got bad. But if you knowingly put yourself in the situation? I have no sympathy.
     Still, because I'm contrary, I dislike the bill. Why should rendering plants get blanket immunity from lawsuits. Just grant them immunity from lawsuits from new neighbors. We still need a way to keep them from infringing on the rights of their old neighbors.

Cobb vs Douglas
     There's an interesting (but rambling) article in Slate about how Harvard is "an incubator for an American ruling class". It talks about privilege in education and how middle class parents now give up current consumption to provide for the future of their children. They do this by springing for private schools and by moving to districts with better public schools, even if it means higher taxes. Apparently there's a utility function in mathematics that describes this. It's called the Cobb-Douglas Utility Function. (see page 3 if you're really interested.)
     It's named after some economist and Senator named Douglas and I presume some other guy named Cobb. But my initial assumption was that it was named after Cobb and Douglas counties in Georgia. Cobb has some of the snobbiest public and private schools in the state and they really think they're top notch (even though they're too dumb to teach evolution). I'm sure that a lot of parents of smart kids in neighboring rural Douglas County move across the border so their kids will have a presumed advantage in life.

Playing Pool
     The NCAA Basketball tournament is starting on Thursday (well, technically tonight, but who cares about Oakland or Alabama A&M?). Once again my Yellow Jackets are poised to play spoiler and assuming Will Bynum learns how to hit the '3' again, all will be right with the world.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Hebrew National Shortage

     This is a story that has hit my family very hard. We've suspected there was a problem for some time - since January, the Hebrew National shelves of our Publix have been virtually empty, save for a few lonely hot dogs. We figured the problem was Superbowl demand. I mean, sure the other brands were fully stocked, but who wants those?
     But the problem hasn't gotten better. Last night we went shopping and the situation was the same. We picked up some of those low-fat skinny dogs, but where were our beloved 1/4 pound dinner franks?
     And then the news (albeit slightly delayed): An official Hebrew National Shortage. We've tried the other brands, but Nathans and Sabrett just don't cut it. We are praying for a speedy production recovery.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Ten Commandments, Part One and a Half

     I swear, it seems like certain newspaper and magazine columnists read my blog. Not really, but how awesome would that be? Let's take that idea and run with it, though, for a second. Newsweek's Gersh Kuntzman follows up my Zell Miller post with a much more eloquent way of saying what I did.
     In an unscientific poll, he found that almost every one of the folks on the street supported displaying the Ten Commandments in public areas. "They're just the basic rules that everyone can agree on." (Where have we heard that?) But when quizzed, none could name all 10. And when they were reminded about what I call the 4 Religious Commandments, they all said, well, maybe we should rethink posting these in government places.
     He also makes a few more points, including the fact that there not just 10 commandments. (In the Jewish understanding, these are the "Ten Statements", with 14 or 15 commandments. There are a total of 613 mitzvot, or commandments in the Torah.) Should we post all of these?
     And don't forget the fact that Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Muslims can't agree on the wording of the Ten Commandments, and that other religions don't even have the Ten Cmmandments - they have their own rules.
     My thought for the day: how freaked out would right-wing idealogues get if a Muslim justice put a monument to Allah and the Koran in his or her courthouse? And why don't they ever think of these things when they're fighting for more religion in government?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Should Felons be Allowed to Vote?

     George F. Will, a conservative columnist, writes in Newsweek that Democratic Senators Boxer, Clinton, and Jones are being hypocritical when they advocate allowing convicted felons to remain enfranchised. He says their law is unconstitutional because it tells states who may and may not vote (last time we trusted to states to decide on their own we had a civil war. Go figure). He suggests that their only concern is getting more Democratic votes since a large percentage of Black men are convicted felons. He says "12% of all African-American men in their 20s are incarcerated." Since Blacks tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, this would be a purely selfish ploy.
     I won't argue that point. Unlike conservative commentators, I don't pretend to know what other people are thinking at all times. I do support this legislation and here's why. Our government was formed to protect us against tyranny. It has a number of protections written into the law to prevent it from abusing our freedoms. The problem with disenfranching convicted criminals (although I agree in principle - these people obviously don't represent the cream of our society) is that it gives the government the power to decide which people elect the government. Don't like an organization's stance in your district? Get them convicted of minor crimes and prevent them from voting. For the rest of their lives.
     Maybe this isn't a likely scenario. But don't fall into the trap of thinking that people are criminals because they are convicted of criminal acts. People are convicted of criminal acts because they are criminals. Usually.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Zell Miller is a Mean, Spiteful, Old Man

     Zell Miller, the once respected two-term governer of Georgia and an ex-US Senator, has gone way off the beaten path and so far to the right that he makes Newt Gingrich look like a tree-hugger.
     You had to know he would jump into the Ten Commandments controversy. Here's the problem: Zell Miller really has gone off the deep end, not just the right-end. He seems to have lost the ability to empathize with other people and despite having lived in DC for the past few years, he seems to believe we're all small town Christian folk trying to make it in a cruel world dominated by Yankees.
     The AJC printed an editorial from him. He uses faulty logic mixed with down-home Southern sayings to obscure his ignorance. Especially glaring is this quote: "Yes, following the Ten Commandments makes us better Christians". Keep in mind that he's publishing this in a metropolitan newspaper, not a church bulletin. But the quote that pisses me off the most is, "Who could argue with: don't steal, don't lie and don't kill?". Of course nobody can! Did anybody notice he only listed 3 of the 10 commandments??
     What if he had asked, "Who could argue with I Am the Lord your God, You Shall Have No Other Gods besides Me (presumably Jesus), Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy, and Don't Use God's Name in Vain"? The answer would have been lots of people! These are religious statements and are religious laws! They are not the laws of the United State. Let me repeat that for those of you who still don't get it. THESE ARE NOT THE LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES OR OF GEORGIA. So feel free to post up the US laws: "You Shall Not Murder, You Shall Not Steal, and You Shall Not Bear False Witness." Heck, go ahead and post up the ethical laws: "Honor Your Parents, Don't Sleep Around, and Don't Covet your Neighbor." But keep the religious 4 out of my government where they DO NOT BELONG!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Who's Allowed to Talk about Hitler?

     On Wednesday, Senator Robert Byrd (D) West Virginia made what turned out to be very controversial comments about the rise of Hitler in Germany 70 years ago. He compared a proposed law to eliminate filibusters to the efforts of Hitler (pre-Holocaust and pre-WW2) to solidify power in Germany. Predictably, the Republicans went nuts and demanded that Byrd apologize. Nothing new - political opponents (of both sides) always demand retractions and on rare occasions even get one.
     What drove me nuts, though, was that Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, had to add his two cents, saying that the comparison was "hideous, outrageous and offensive." The ADL had done great work on behalf of Jews worldwide and other oppressed minorities for the past 90 years. Foxman, however, has lately interjected himself into situations that don't call for it and have given (IMNSHO) the ADL a bad name, much like the ACLU has gotten recently. A) You need to choose your battles. If you run around every day waving your sword and running in circles like a chicken with your head cut off, you lose credibility and develop a "crying wolf" syndrome. When it really matters, you won't get the attention you deserve. B) This was not "hideous, outrageous, and offensive". In general, Hitler was. The Nazi party was. Lots of things in the 30s and 40s were. But there is real history there with the rise of power, of leaders and nations that we cannot and should not ignore.
     The Jewish mantra is "Never Forget". The idea is that we must be ever vigilant to prevent another Holocaust. I agree. Understanding how Hitler and the Nazi party were able to do what they did is a crucial element of that. Foxman is turning the ADL into a martyr organization and should not be condemning historical discussion.
     Look, I hope most people can understand why making a comparison like PETA's "Eating meat is a holocaust" ad campaign is inappropriate because it trivializes the real horrors of the Holocaust. But Byrd was not comparing the filibuster law to the holocaust, nor was he comparing Democrats to the suffering Jews of the holocaust. Right or wrong, he was making a historical comparison of the political events that led to the greatest tragedy in the 20th century. Don't we owe it to ourselves to at least examine these ideas? This shouldn't be a partisan argument - we all need to critically examine things happening on both sides to ensure our continued freedom and to be able to make educated decisions about our own future.
     P.S. I happen to believe Democrats are usually better at this introspection than Republicans and are more willing to criticize their own party members, which is one reason why they have far less unity than Republicans do.
     Post Note: In the news recently, a Chicago Judge found her husband and mother murdered. Police suspect white supremicists. The ADL has been monitoring white supremicist websites and has found that they have been celebrating these murders and hoping for more like them. THIS is what the ADL should be doing!