Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Who Is Devon McTavish?

I'm keeping track of the DC United / Kansas City game tonight (the one game out of five that's not on Direct Kick!) and noted a 7th minute goal for DCU from Devon McTavish. Now, I'm pretty up to speed on the roster of my favorite team, but I've never heard of this guy. So I looked at his bio on the MLS web site. Turns out he's a rookie who just started his first game and scored his first MLS goal. Where did he play his college ball? West Virginia University! A fellow alum snapping the nets for my favorite MLS team. Sweet!

UDPATE: MLSNet is now scoring the first DC goal as an own goal by KC's Jimmy Conrad. Oh well. Still looks like Devon had a good game - the goals will come!

Album of the Day

Jazz from Hell, by Frank Zappa (1986): Talk about misleading titles. The music on this disc isn't jazz and I'm pretty sure it didn't come forth from hell (since, as Zappa himself said, "there is no hell - there is only France"). What it is is nearly an album's worth of music performed by the Synclavier, a programmable synthesizer that Zappa used for some of his most hair-raising compositions. These were, supposedly, things he could not get real humans to play (although Ensemble Modern's take on "G-Spot Tornado" puts lie to that idea). If you can get past the obviously mid-80s synth sounds involved, the music is pretty good. So good, in fact, that the one real live musician piece, the guitar solo vehicle "St. Etienne," is superfluous.

Why Americans Don't Like Soccer

Given the increased profile of this year's World Cup, discussion of it is cropping up in places you wouldn't normally expect, like The Volokh Conspiracy. But, as this chain of threads shows, it's brought out the usual soccer haters who pop up every few months. I've learned that, not only am I probably a communist for being a soccer fan,* but I'm also a girly man because I actually play the game. That's led me to think about why exactly Americans don't, as a whole, like the game. I'm not really thinking of the real haters (the Jim Romes of the world), but people who just don't see what the fuss is all about. Here are one fan's theories:

  • Lack of scoring: I don't think, at the core, that this is about the small number of goals scored. Aside from basketball, most American sports don't have a lot of scoring, either (football scores are inflated by the points assigned to TDs). But I think people are turned off by how few legitimate chances a team can have during a game, even if they're playing really well. The offside rule comes up for ridicule a lot, and I do think that the implementation of it should be liberalized (no offside unless the offensive player is completely behind the last man - anything else is play on), but that's not really the problem, either. The fact is, striking a round ball with your foot with enough pace and accuracy to dodge several other players and find the back of the net is hard. Headers even more so. That's what makes it so great when a goal is scored. Too many of them and that joy is lost.
  • Game turns on luck/officiating too much: This is a semi-valid complaint. I've seen lots of games (and played in a few) where one team clearly outplayed the other but couldn't get a result. Sometimes the ref makes bad calls, but other times it's just that the "better" team can't score a goal and seal the deal. It's much more likely in American sports for the better playing team to win, even in upset situations. The idea that a team can play badly and get a lucky call to setup a PK or free kick irks a lot of people.
  • Draws: Deep down, I think this is the biggest problem the average American sports fan has with soccer. No major American sport (except pro football during non-playoff games) lets games end in draws. Furthermore, the epic overtimes that the sports sometimes generate are part of the allure. A baseball game that goes 20 innings is rare, but it is undeniably dramatic. Same with a triple-OT hockey game or a sudden-death NFL game. The fact that soccer seems to not only tolerate but lend itself to draws turns some people off. On a related note, I think a lot of times managers play for the draw rather than the win, leading to uninspired soccer.
  • It's a game of endurance: American sports share two common traits - short bursts of action and very liberal substitution rules. Not only does soccer have a constant flow of activity over two 45-minute periods, it limits substitutions to 3, without any concession to injury. As a result, some games turn into tests of attrition, as the Italy-Australia game did the other day. Americans are used to seeing players give 100% when the ball is in play, whereas sometimes soccer games slow down to a pace where it appears that nothing is happening. Notably, the only American sport with a sub rule similar to soccer (once you're subbed, you're done for the game) is baseball, where subs are almost always motivated by tactical concerns, not fitness. For what it's worth, I think Americans are cool to endurance sports car racing for the same reason. The end of a 24-hour race with everyone just trying to make the finish is not exactly the razor-thin battle to the finish that an IRL race is.
  • Lack of statistics: If anything else explains American apathy towards soccer, this is it. There is, at bottom, one meaningful stat in soccer - goals scored (and, on a team level, goals allowed). American sports have stats for every player in every position doing every conceivable thing. You can look at a baseball box score and almost recreate the game out by out. Soccer, by contrast, requires attention to the game itself to figure out what happened. That Totti scored a PK goal in the 93rd minute against Australia does not tell you much about the game, except who won.
There you have it, humble readers. I'd be interested in hearing from anybody who's tried to "get" the game and just didn't on their experience.

Finally, I'm not trying to covert anyone ("have you accepted David Beckham as your personal sports saviour?"). Sport, like art, is subjective. Some people just like some things and don't like other things. And that's cool.

* I've never understood the "soccer is a commie sport" barbs. Pro sports in the US are highly socialized/collectivized. Teams are required to share revenue, the worst teams get the first choice of new talent, and the owners maintain a monopoly on their sport being played at the highest level in their particular backyard. European soccer, by contrast, is Ayn Rand's wet dream. The best teams stay the best, money talks (ask Chelsea!), and the underperforming teams are sent to the lower division at the end of every season (and the top teams from that division promoted). London has the number of clubs it does in England's top flight because they've all played their way there, not because the FA decided how many London teams should be in the league.

Album of Yesterday

You Are What You Is, by Frank Zappa (1981): Although I'm a music fan, I'm not a huge audiophile. I didn't rush out and buy remastered versions of my favorite albums in order to enjoy the slight improvement in sound quality (I'm a reader, so I got 'em for the expanded liner notes). But even I can't overlook quite how bad the Ryko version of this album sounds. The levels aren't consistent, fading in and out all over the disc. It's not quite enough to make me not listen (this is one of my favorite Zappa discs), but it is enough to be really annoying.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Album of the Day

Tales from Yesterday, a View from the South Side of the Sky, by Various Artists (1995): In the mid 1990s, start-up prog label Magna Carta released a series of tribute albums to the 70s giants featuring their stable of new prog bands. This is the Yes variant and, like the others, it got slagged by a lot of prog fans. I think the detractors missed the point - this was a promotional gimmick, to get the names of these new bands in front of people who might like their stuff. True, most of the takes on this disc are fairly straight forward covers (tho' if I never hear Magellan's version of "Don't Kill the Whale" again, it won't be too soon). But there are some interesting tracks. One is the version of "Siberian Khatru" by Stanley Snail, comprised of Mike Keneally, Bryan Beller, Nick D'Virgilio, and the late Kevin Gilbert. Others are instrumental versions of "Soon" and "Astral Traveler" by ex Yes-men Pat Moraz and Peter Banks. The rest is pleasant enough, although this is hardly essential listening for anybody.

Your World Champions . . . Uruguay?

A post over on the New York Times World Cup blog today mentions a sort of alternate World Championship that I read about a few months ago in Four Four Two. The Unofficial Football World Championships does away with the confusion tournament idea and imports the (to my mind) worst competitive element of boxing - if you beat the champ, you become the champ, regardless of anything else.

As the web site shows, the UFWC evolved from the first international match between Scotland and England played in 1872. It then changed hands anytime the the holders were beaten (friendlies included). As a result, such powers as Zimbabwe, Ireland, Romania, and Israel since 2000. It now rests with Uruguay, the initial winners of the World Cup (Uruguay failed to qualify for this World Cup, losing a two-leg playoff to Australia).

Man of Steel, Indeed

You know those Cialis ads that warn of the possibility of four-hour erections? Well, that's nothing compared to this guy, who suffered from a 10-year erection! It was caused by a faulty penile implant, which was always ready for business. Lest this sound like a bad joke, consider:

The Dura-II is designed to allow impotent men to position the penis upward for sex, then lower it.

But Lennon could not position his penis downward. He said he could no longer hug people, ride a bike, swim or wear bathing trunks because of the pain and embarrassment. He has become a recluse and is uncomfortable being around his grandchildren, his lawyer said.

The result of all this was a lawsuit that garnered a $400,000 award.

This is Not HIs Blog (But it Really Is)

My old friend and college room mate jedi jawa (a.k.a jedi jaywalker and whatever other nome de blog he's used!), who sometimes comments here, has finally jumped in with his own blog, confusingly titled This is not my blog. Head on over and congratulate him on his recent triathlon success!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bruce, Could You Step Into My Office for a Minute?

Thanks, Bruce. Have a seat.

First of all, I want to thank you for all you've done on behalf of US Soccer. You've given the program a stability over the past several years that many federations. And, in conjunction with Major League Soccer, you've deepened the player pool for the men's national team in a way that we only dreamed of 20 years ago. Plus, how can I forget that the United States has supplanted Mexico as the big dog in CONCACAF? We all thank you for that.

Having said that, this game, at the national team level, is all about the World Cup. Let's be honest - we got lucky in 2002. Nobody took us seriously, nobody knew Donovan or Beasley or O'Brien, and we shocked the hell out of Portugal. Add a tough draw with South Korea and some favorable mathematics after the Poland abomination and we made it out of the group. In another stoke of luck, we drew Mexico in the round of 16 - an opponent we outplay anytime we meet up outside of the Azteca. Being bounced out by Germany on a bad no-call by the ref stung, sure, but it would have been unseemly to complain at the time.

But this year, Bruce, the results are just not meeting expectations. I've been looking over the paperwork - 1 goal scored (by us, I mean - don't count the own goal against Italy) in three games. Hell, the number of shots we had on target I can count on my fingers. And when we needed offense most, you didn't make any changes to get us any. A 4-5-1 against Ghana? When we needed to win and, hopefully, score a bunch? Where was Eddie Johnson? Remember him - the guy who blew through qualifying?

In short, Bruce, I'm just not sure you have what it takes to hack it at this level. Our tactics, preparation, and results were poor, to say the least.

Let me tell you a story. My alma mater, West Virginia University, had a football coach there for a long time named Don Nehlen. Nehlen took a nearly dead program and built it up into a big time football school. He managed two undefeated regular seasons and some stunning upsets. But, in the end, he could never really push the team to the next level. His record in bowl games was awful. The undefeated seasons? Both ended in lopsided bowl game losses. In the end, Nehlen stepped aside to let someone new take over the program and push it to the next level. And it's worked.

That's what we need now, Bruce. You've built a strong foundation, but it's time to hand over the reigns to the next guy and let him build upon that. I hope you understand.

In other words - don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Album of the Day

90125, by Yes (1983): I write this not so much to talk about the album, but to pimp the DVD release of the companion concert film 9012Live. The film was the first project out of film school for Steven Soderbergh and captured the band at the height of their 80s popularity. The great bonus of the new DVD release, in addition to remastered sound and such, is the ability to watch just the concert footage, without the spiffy graphics laid on in post production. I was never as bothered by that stuff as some people (didn't seem like much point in complaining), but the unadulterated concert footage is pretty cool.

There's No Privacy on the Net

jedi jaywalker sent me this link to a list of blogging do's and don'ts that makes a lot of good points. There's one point with which I have to disagree:

5. dont tell your mom, your work, your friends, the people you want to date, or the people you want to work for about your blog. if they find out and you'd rather they didnt read it, ask them nicely to grant you your privacy.
First, from a practical standpoint, if I didn't tell friends and family about my blog nobody would ever read it! And my girlfriend's reaction to my blog when she first explored it convinced me that I was onto a good thing (with her, not necessarily the blog!).

Second, however, is the big one - it's nonsensical to ask people to "grant you your privacy" when you blog for the whole world. There's just no way you can keep people from reading it, unless you put up some kind of password protection, which kind of defeats the point of blogging. If you're saying things that you don't think those you know in the "real" world would approve of, than be completely anonymous. But don't expect that someday, somehow, somebody won't stumble onto your secret identity, Clark.

Another Episode of "Don't Write Books About Your Crimes"

Remember earlier this month when I wrote about a scam artist who was convicted of multiple fraud counts based partly on a book he'd written in which he described how the scam worked? Earlier this week, the Second Circuit handed down what you might call a companion case, US v. Kane. Kane pleaded guilty to "equity skimming," which involved various shenanigans involving federal housing loans. At sentencing, Kane argued for probation (rather than the 30-37 month sentence suggested by the Sentencing Guidelines). In support, he presented the court with more than 35 letters attesting that he was a "fair and honest man, true to his word." Sounds promising.

Unfortunately for Kane (and my colleague who represented him), the Government uncovered several books he'd written that tended to undermine those letters. Some of the excerpts presented by the Government included instructions on how to commit real estate scams similar to those for which he was convicted. But the juiciest was a book entitled Mastering the Art of Male Supremacy: Training Techniques for the Home Front, in which Kane set forth his theory on how to "train" a wife. No serious violence was espoused, tho' Kane did suggest that "a rolled up newspaper on the rump once in a while . . ." might be appropriate.

Not surprisingly, the court didn't completely buy the "fair and honest man" argument, and gave Kane a 24-month sentence. The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that the sentencing court didn't violate Kane's First Amendment rights by holding his words against him.

Giving New Meaning to "Do the Robot"

This weekend's edition of the Sunday Times had an article in which various scientists, futurists, and ethicists discussed the coming need for ethical codes involving robots and their interactions with humans.

'Security, safety and sex are the big concerns,' said Henrik Christensen, a member of the Euron ethics group.
Whoa, say what now?
Other dilemmas may arrive sooner than we think, says Christensen. 'People are going to be having sex with robots within five years,' he said. So should limits be set on the appearance, for example, of such robotic sex toys?
I know that sci-fi has taught us that robots/androids will end up looking like Jude Law or Jeri Ryan, but am the only one who thinks they'll end up more like Sy Borg or Bender?

Album of Yesterday (in so many ways)

Close to the Edge, by Yes (1972): Hard to say anything about this prog classic that isn't said in the linked Ground and Sky reviews. I'm not certain it's my favorite Yes album, and I think the live version of the title track on Yessongs is better. But there's no denying that this was a band at the top of its power and marked the end of the band's first era (drummer Bill Bruford left for King Crimson afterwards and the band plateaued, at the very least, for the next several years).

Monday, June 19, 2006

Album of the Day

Laugh, by Keller Williams (2002): I first heard this guy on XM's dearly departed MusicLab. He's an undeniably talented (mostly) acoustic guitar player. Working within the whole jam band scene, he puts together some nice grooves, ferocious chops, and a sense of humor that permeates almost everything he does. Which, sadly, is part of the problem. So much of this album comes off as "light" and it leaves little impression. Sure, the Price is Right homage "Bob Rules" is great (complete with a kickass mandolin solo), but the only time he generates any lyrical depth is on the Michael Hedges cover "Spring Buds." Which is not to say the rest is bad, but that once it's past you're not left with any lingering aftertaste.

Is the Fourth Amendment a Great Twit?

There's a Monty Python sketch that shows the "Upper Class Twit of the Year" competition, in which five inbred upper crust Brits struggle to complete menial tasks before blowing their brains out in the finale. One of the twits, Oliver St John-Mollusc, trails at the back of the pack and appears to be confounded by an obstacle consisting of two rows of matchbooks stacked on top of one another, to which the commentator beams:

here's Oliver now, he's at the back. I think he's having a little trouble with his old brain injury, he's going to have a go, no, no, bad luck, he's up, he doesn't know when he's beaten, this boy, he doesn't know when he's winning either. He doesn't have any sort of sensory apparatus known to man.
Oliver is eventually eliminated from competition by running himself over ("what a great twit!").

We Americans tend to like that kind of never say die attitude, so I hope that there's a little bit of Oliver in the Fourth Amendment, 'cause if it has any sensory apparatus whatsoever it knows that there is very little left to keep on fighting. The Supreme Court's given it two body blows in the past week, as the Court closes out its term for the year.

First, the Court handed down a decision last week in which it held that evidence seized following an illegal entry of a home, because the police failed to obey the Fourth Amendment's requirement to knock and announce their presence, could not be suppressed in a criminal prosecution. The Court decided that certain non-criminal procedures (civil lawsuits and "more professional" police forces) would adequately deter police from violating the rule. That, of course, flies in the face of traditional Fourth Amendment law and, troublingly, may signal a willingness of the Court to retreat further from the exclusionary rule in other illegal search cases. I tend to agree with the dissenters, who argue that the knock and announce rule is now a dead letter in American law without the threat of suppression to back it up.

Then today the Court handed down a decision in a California case in which it held that police may search a person on parole without any suspicion of wrongdoing whatsoever. In the case, a police officer saw a man walking down the street he knew was on parole and suspected was the target of an outstanding arrest warrant. He stopped the man, who denied he had a warrant out for him and volunteered that he was on good terms with his parole officer. The cop confirmed that information, but nevertheless searched the man, solely because he was on parole. The search uncovered a small amount of methamphetamine, which led to the prosecution. The Court basically concluded that parolees have no reasonable expectation of privacy anywhere while on parole and therefore the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to them. It leaves an entire population at the tender mercies of the police, who may search them for no reason at all anytime they like. Again, I'm with the dissenters on this one.

The Fourth Amendment has been repeatedly hit and hit hard during the "war on drugs." It may still take similar blows in the name of the "war on terra." Let's hope, like poor hapless Oliver, it's too stupid to realize it's been beaten.

World Cup Thoughts

As we spin towards the final match days of the group stage in Germany . . .

  • I never thought I'd be disappointed with a draw against Italy in a World Cup held on European soil, must less one where we finished the game with 9 men. Still, there's a feeling that but for the red cards and with a late addition of Eddie Johnson to the game, we could have snagged a win and all three points. The Italians, diving all the way, certainly didn't look as good as they did against Ghana on opening day.
  • Speaking of cards, I've come to the conclusion that the two red cards handed out to Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope on Saturday were not the travesties of justice they were made out to be by some of us. Pablo's challenge was reckless and could have broken a leg. Yes, similar challenges have not merited straight reds at the tournament, but the ref's decision to issue the red doesn't seem to be (to inject some legaleeze) clearly erroneous. As for Pope and his second yellow - a bad move from a guy who got beat bad for the Italian goal (keep your friggin' hands down and play to the whistle, OK!!). This theory that Marcelo Balboa is floating that the ref didn't do his job because he didn't warn a player with one yellow already that he might be ejected it just nuts. Eddie's a long-time professional and should have known better. And 'Celo - time wasting is not "smart" play - it's a blight on the game and should be punished harshly.
  • At least the US v. Italy match didn't have a large throng of pantless fans in attendance. Apparently, a thousand or so Dutch fans showed up for their match with the Ivory Coast on Friday in traditional orange garb, but with a Dutch beer company's logo prominently displayed on the pants. In order to protect the "official beer of the World Cup" status of Busweiser, FIFA officials forced the fans to leave their pants at the door!
  • Yesterday's New York Times had a column by Michael Agovino about how some countries are permanently scarred and defined by World Cup failures. As a soccer fan, there are lots of times I wish the game was more popular in the US, but I hope we never get so into it that a loss in a soccer match is ranked alongside wars, natural disasters, and the Bush administration as blights on our history.
Oh, somebody please find us some goals before we hit the pitch against Ghana this Thursday!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

In Praise of PDs

Over at Concurring Opinions, Dan Filler has a post extolling the virtue of public defenders. He takes the state of Alabama to task for running a system in which less than 10% of the state is covered by a public defender service. While I agree with all of Filler's points in praise of PD offices, I wanted to highlight one in particular:

Finally, public defenders create - and support - a community where criminal defense is seen as virtuous and worthy of effort. Outside of the office, criminal defense lawyers are always subject to informal community sanctions. Ask any public defender, and she'll tell you how frequently she's asked "how do you defend those scum?" (Quite literally, a criminal defender cannot expect to attend a party and NOT hear this question. It follows, like night from day, the question: what do you do for a living?) In public, and even in court, DA's wear the white hats. Not only is the work unpopular, but it's also very difficult on a personal level. An indigent defense attorney must find ways to communicate, and build trust, with socially unattractive folks. Criminal defendants have often done very bad things. (Yes, even public defenders recognize this.) They're often very poor. They're sometimes homeless. They also aren't necessarily respectful of their attorneys. How do you do a good job for such a different, and perhaps unfriendly, person? It's hard, but the public defender community helps. Everyone supports each other, helping reinforce a commitment to the broad agenda (providing good service to a marginal population) and the narrow one (fulfilling the lawyer's duty to provide zealous representation to her individual client.) There's a lot of dark humor in the halls of the PD, but you'll never find more espirit de corps.
This is very true. In a world where lots of people think lowly of lawyers in general, criminal defense lawyers are the worst of the lot. I think, sometimes, that the high-paid big-name defense attorneys are more reviled, but I'm not sure. It's one thing to sell you're soul to make piles of money, but we PDs must be demented if we do it no the cheap, right?

Thankfully, I have friends and family who support what I do and see the value in it (or at least don't give me too much grief for it). Nonetheless, I'm glad I get to go to work every day in an office committed to indigent defense and work with colleagues (attorneys and support staff) who are making this kind of law their life's work.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Album of the Day - Special Edition

The traditional A-to-Z AotD feature takes a break this weak while I work through some new stuff. My lovely girlfriend indulged me in a trip to Paul's CDs while we were in downtown Pittsburgh for the Three Rivers Arts Festival (which was also worth the trip) this past weekend. I made quite a haul:

  • Spectral Mornings (1979) and Defector (1980), by Steve Hackett complete my collection of his first four newly remastered albums. Although Spectral Mornings is generally rated higher, I think I like Defector better, if only because most of the choice Spectral cuts show up in better live versions, so the Defector stuff is "newer" to my ears.
  • Recollection Harvest (2005), by Djam Karet (which, I found out, it Balinese for "elastic time") is actually two albums on one disc. Recollection Harvest is more melodic and heavier, while Indian Summer shows the bands more atmospheric side. I'm thinking that the tracks may work as well or better interspersed with one another, rather than segregated into their separate camps.
  • The Sentinel (1984), by Pallas is one of the classic early neo-prog releases. It's a concept album having something to do with Atlantis, but I haven't really jumped into the lyrics, yet. The music is pretty good, tho' - a little heavier than similar era Marillion or IQ.
  • XII (1986), by Twelfth Night is also known as "The Virgin Album," as it was the band's one major-label release. This was another of the early neo-prog bands, but I hear very little proggy stuff going on here, after a first listen, anyway.
  • Live (2006), by Univers Zero was purely an impulse purchase (hell, they all were!) of the first (I think) live recording by the Belgian chamber prog outfit. Only barely made it to this one today, so not a whole lot to say at this point.
All that and Gentle Giant's Giant on the Box DVD. If you're a fan of prog, or any sort of non-standard music, be sure to stop by Paul's!

Dashed Hopes in Germany

Well, all the excitement, anticipation, and expectations about the US in the World Cup came crashing to Earth in less than two hours in Germany yesterday, as the Czechs beat us bloody, 3-0. I was prepared to lose this match, but not that way. We didn't even put up a fight, for reasons that are still unclear. One of my co-workers said that, while watching the replay last night, he felt like the sportswriters in the 1920s who figured out that the White Sox were throwing the World Series. Hopefully, we pull our collective heads out of our collective assess in the next few days before we face Italy, who looked very good in dispatching Togo yesterday.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Low Phat Beats, Served Hot and Fresh

When I was young, I was a musician. I mean, I actually played musical instruments, I didn't just pontificate about tunes. I've not done a lot of playing since high school, but my recent computer upgrade led to the purchase of a Sony's ACID Music Studio 6.0, which basically allows you to turn your PC into a loop-powered recording studio. Throw in a USB-connected MIDI controller, and I had all I needed to actually make some music.

So, that's what I've done. Extending the Infinity Ranch name to the musical realm, I've setup a page over at ACIDPlanet to pimp my tunes. So head on over there for the first three tunes I've put together since my musical renaissance.

For what it's worth, here's a picture of my current "studio:"

There's my Gateway laptop connected to an E-Mu X-Board 49 MIDI controller. And, yes, that's the bar area of my kitchen (the dishes are clean, Mom). This is lo-fi, people, I'm telling you. :)

World Cup Thoughts

Well, Blogger was being a bit bitchy Thursday and Friday, hence the lack of new material. Since it seems to have worked out its issues, here are a few thoughts on the first few days of the World Cup:

  • There's good news and bad news for the US from the virtual World Cup that transpired on my Xbox. The good news - we beat the Czech Republic (2-0), Italy (2-0), and Ghana (4-0) to win the group. The bad news - we got knocked out in the round of 16 by . . . Australia! A late Harry Kewell header was the difference - we couldn't find the back of the net with a map. To be fair, the Aussies did end up second to Italy overall. This was all done on EA Sport's 2006 FIFA World Cup, which, to be polite, absolutely sucks ass compared to Winning Eleven.
  • Although my fellow autocrosser Davis wouldn't agree, the 0-0 draw between Sweden and Trinidad & Tobago was a great game. The underdog Soca Warriors, playing a man down and with the backup goalkeeper, consistently fought off the more talented Swedes. This was proof that a scoreless draw can be exciting!
  • England looked awful. I know that an ugly win is better than a pretty loss or draw, but it was not a convincing performance from a team that is supposedly one of the favorites. One thing is for sure - if they persist on grabbing one goal and sitting on that for the rest of the game it will bite them on the ass.
  • Oh, why did Dave O'Brien have to go on and on about Iranian politics during their match with Iran? For all his blather he missed the great irony of the match: we had Iran, whose president could potentially be prosecuted in Germany for Holocaust denial, playing Mexico, whose team is rife with dissention because two of its players aren't "pure" Mexicans (their Argentinian natives), playing in Nuremburg, cite of so many Nazi rallies/prosecutions.
  • Thank you, Tommy Smyth! Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks that Cristiano Ronaldo's fancy footwork frequently doesn't yield any tangible results.
And, as always - go USA! :)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Album of Yesterday

The Uncertainty Principle, by Volare (1997): I don't have a lot to say about this disc that I didn't say in my original review over at Ground and Sky (and I concur with Bob's thoughts as well), so I'll just leave you to that.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Album of the Day

Pawn Hearts, by Van der Graff Generator (1971): Given today's date, I hit quite a vein of dark/menacing music today: Univers Zero, the first Van Halen album ("Runnin' With the Devil" anyone?), and, of course, VdGG. Given the whole Mark of the Beast mythology, it's appropriate that this album, with "Man-Erg," is the Album of the Day, given that Hammill gets it right about beasts and such:

The killer lives inside me; yes, I can feel him move.
Sometimes he's lightly sleeping in the quiet of his room;
but then his eyes will rise and stare through mine,
he'll speak my words and slice my mind inside.
Yes, the killer lives.

The angels live inside me, I can feel them smile;
their presence strokes and soothes the tempest in my mind
and their love can heal the wounds that I have wrought.
They watch me as I go to fall;
well, I know I shall be caught
while the angels live.

* * *

And I, too, live inside me and very often don't know who I am;
I know I'm not a hero;well, I hope that I'm not damned.
I'm just a man, and killers, angels, all are these,
dictators, saviours, refugees in war and peace
as long as Man lives...

I'm just a man, and killers, angels, all are these:
dictators, saviours, refugees.
To paraphrase Walt Kelly - we have seen the Beast and the Beast is us.

There's Always Money Behind the Bullshit

One of my favorite TV shows is Penn & Teller: Bullshit! on Showtime - if only because I really enjoy the way Pen lustfully belts out the word "bullshit." The show, with a distinctly libertarian bent, skewers various phenomena pointing out the, well, bullshit surrounding them. Last night's show took aim at the national abstinence education movement, in all its loony glory. Somewhat coincidentally, this diary over on Kos examines all the goodies on sale at the website of one of the leading abstinence group - that's right, apparently you need over $1000 worth of stuff to keep yourself "pure." My personal favorite:

The Abstinence Sucker.
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They make an abstinence sucker.

Not a lollipop. A sucker.

Alas, the sucker is cherry-flavored.

I thought for a long time about a suitable response to this. A long, long time.

So many ideas filled my head that my brain shut down and I fainted from overload.

Indeed, one wonders if those on the right have any sense of irony at all (maybe 9/11 really did kill it for them). Also, if it's so important to keep folks from any form of sex outside of marriage, shouldn't they give these things away?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Album of the Day

Under a Blood Red Sky, by U2 (1983): I'm not a huge U2 fan. I don't run screaming from the room when I hear them, but I get enough of their stuff out in the world without buying a lot of albums. I like Bono's new World Cup ads, too. But, I have to say that this brief live set from the days just before they became the Biggest Band in the World (tm) is pretty damn good (not quite like Cheap Trick's At Budokkan, but in the same vein). I bought it, I think, for the ripping "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," but the rest of the set is cool, as well.

Paging Iron Maiden . . .

Tomorrow is June 6, 2006 - 06/06/06. Spurred on by the release of the remake of The Omen, there's a lot of talk about "666," a.k.a. "The Mark of the Beast." As this article points out, it's not universally accepted that The Mark of the Beast is, in fact, 666. As I was taught in college, the mark is actually "616," a numerical representation of the Roman emperor Nero. Of course, it lacks the pzizazz of "666," and wouldn't sound as good being belted out by Bruce Dickinson or, for that matter, Peter Gabriel.

For more fun with The Mark of the Beast, visit this site.

He Writes the Songs That Make the Young Punks Run

I'm a firm believe that music can be a motivational tool, even a negative one (i.e., "There was abuse in my family, but it was mostly musical in nature." - Terry Bohner). But I think Australian authorities may really be onto something, using Barry Manilow to drive away troublesome youth:

Officials in one Sydney district have decided to pipe the American crooner's music over loudspeakers in an attempt to rid streets and car parks of hooligans whose anti-social cars and loud music annoy residents and drive customers from businesses.

Following a successful experiment where Bing Crosby music was used to drive teenage loiterers out of an Australian shopping center several years ago, Rockdale councilors believe Manilow is so uncool it might just work.
Of course, the use of Manilow's "music" makes me wonder if Australia has a corollary to the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Album of the Day

Live in America, by Transatlantic (2002): I was late coming to the Transatlantic party, only picking up their second album, Bridge Across Forever, when I found it in a local store and had a gift certificate to burn. I enjoyed it more than I thought it would, and based on the Live in Europe DVD from the ensuing tour figured that I'd like the stuff on the first album, too. Rather than pick that one up, however, I went for this 2-disc live set from the band's first tour. Aside from one cover tune, it's got all of the first album, plus some interesting covers and such. Unfortunately, it's fairly evident that the band was not well rehearsed by the time of this tour, and the material suffers for it in spots - particularly the vocal harmonies. Still, the Transatlantic tunes are good enough, and the four-tune medley at the end that incorporates tunes from each of the band members' "day jobs" is a bit different (note to Marillion - don't dump H anytime soon!).

Is It Stealing When We Hire a Biased Referee?

The big story in the liberal blogosphere the past couple of days has been this article (thanks to jedi jaywalker for the link) by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in the current Rolling Stone called "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" In it, he lays out a fairly detailed and thoroughly footnoted (think law review style) case that so much chicanery went on in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election that the GOP stole the election from Kerry. All this proceeds from an investigation into why the previously reliable exit polls were so wrong in so many key states in '04.

Whether the election was "stolen" or not, it's clear that the outcome was effected by Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell's decisions before, during, and after the election. Blackwell, in addition to being the chief vote overseer for the Buckeye State was also co-chairman of Dubya's re-election committee in Ohio. The article lays out several decisions Blackwell made, either by interpreting existing laws and regulations or by enacting new ones, that disenfranchised voters in largely Democratic areas. As sleazy as that is, should we be surprised?

The Secretary of State's office in Ohio, as in many states (West Virginia included), is an elected position, complete with partisan elections. It is also not a final destination for any ambitious pol - it's merely a stepping stone to higher office. Remember Katherine Harris, Florida's Secretary of State during the 2000 election, who also led Dubya's campaign in that state? She rode her role in 2000 to a seat in the House. Blackwell, not coincidentally, is now running for Governor in Ohio.

Given all that, why should be be surprised that a partisan elected official would use the power of his office to sway an election in favor of his party? Wouldn't it really be more surprising if he'd done it differently?

Allow me, for a second, a soccer analogy. Let's say I'm the referee in next month's World Cup final between Brazil and Germany and I want Germany to win it all. I would not be so bold as to be blatant enough to kick a ball into Brazil's net and count the goal for Germany. Instead, I'd favor the Germans in situations where a call (or no call) was close. Gerald Asamoah would get more benefit of the doubt in offside decisions than Ronaldo would, for example. And any German who went down in the box would get a PK, whereas the Brazilians would need a police report to get one. At the end of the day, there's a pattern that shows bias, but close examination of each call would make it hard to say it was wrong enough to simply be the product of bias.

That is what, it appears to me, happened with Blackwell in Ohio. Every chance he had to skew things towards Dubya and away from Kerry he took. There certainly is a pattern there. But each individual decision is at least arguably correct, and therefore it's hard to say that they were all the product of bias.

What's my point? That's what we get when partisans oversee our elections. Why on Earth should we let a man who is running a candidate's campaign be the final arbiter of whether that candidate won the election? When, prior to the Champion's League final between English club Arsenal and Spanish champs FC Barcelona, one of the Norwegian linesmen/referee's assistants was photographed wearing a Barcelona jersey there was no debate - he was replaced immediately. Even the hint of bias was enough to require a new official. Shouldn't something as important as our elections be entitled to the same protection?

I suppose a better headline for this post would be "If It's Stealing When We Hire a Biased Referee, Do We Have Anybody to Blame but Ourselves?"

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Album of the Day

What Means Solid, Traveller?, by David Torn (1996): I often wonder what album I would pull out of my collection if someone asked to hear the weirdest bit of music I own. Aside from Crimson's THRaKaTTaK, this one probably takes the cake. Torn is a guitarist, but most of what he cranks out doesn't sound much like guitar stuff. The songs here involve lots of loops and hunks of noise - nothing danceable! That being the case, I don't find a lot to distinguish one tune from another. Makes for an interesting listen now and then, but not a particularly memorable one.

Dumb Crook Tip #512: Don't Write a Book About Your Crime

Asante Kahari was convicted in federal court in Michigan of bank fraud, mail fraud, and several counts of uttering counterfeit securities. His scam was to find a lonely woman online, convince her to cash (counterfeit) checks for him, and then turn over the money when he came to meet her. He might have had some kind of defense at trial, but for one problem - he wrote a book describing the scam!

That's right. As the Sixth Circuit sets out in upholding Kahari's conviction, his book is titled The Birth of a Criminal, and explains the scam in one chapter. The Government wanted to introduce parts of the book at Kahari's trial, but the district court shot down that idea. Then Kahari's counsel laid out their defense theory during opening statements - that Kahari was not the scammer, but the scammed. At that point, the Government sought to introduce the book again, given the defense theory of the case. Sure enough, the district court concluded that the defense has opened the door and let the book into evidence.

I'm not sure which is worse - writing a book about your crime before you're convicted of it, or trotting out a "I was the victim" defense after you know about said book.

Famous Last Words?

Via Crime & Federalism, check out this website where the state of Texas maintains information on all the folks it has executed in the past 25 years. Particularly interesting (or maybe just morbid) are the links to the last statements of the condemned. Based on the few I've read, the about to die seem very resigned to their fates. No anger, no anguished pleas for mercy. Lots of thanks to the prison crew, too. Odd stuff.