30 December 2007

Pity Pakistan

In grad school (political science) I had some colleagues who openly doubted whether democracy was the best political system. Of course if you don't have democracy, then you have the right to assassinate your political opponents.

And there's Pakistan...a country where the people long for democracy, but the tyrants aren't accountable to the people.

The U.S.'s relationship with Pakistan is a mixed bag. On the one hand, having them on our side (however tentatively) as we fight al Qaeda is a good thing, as is keeping good relationships with both of the subcontinent's mutually antagonistic nuclear powers. On the other hand, our coziness with them as we try to bring democracy to Muslim countries is so self-evidently hypocritical that it undermines our efforts to be a "shining beacon on a hill."

This isn't to say that Musharraf's government killed Bhutto. It very well may not have been them. But it is someone who, like Musharraf, doesn't like democracy because it means they don't get to control.

And that's the reason my grad-school colleagues didn't like democracy--to them it meant that sometimes the public made the wrong decisions and didn't give control to the right people. But until you're willing to accept being in the losing minority sometimes, you're not ready for democracy. Most people in the United States, despite stupid claims like "George Bush (or Bill Clinton) is not my president, are willing to accept that. It's a tragedy that a handful of Pakistani's aren't.

Pakistan, the hearts of democrats the world 'round are with you.

Fire Millen!

Today the Detroit Lions completed their 7th losing season in a row, a number of years that coincides precisely with Matt Millen's time as General Manager. He's hired and fired two head coaches during that time, and is currently on his third head coach. With the Lions having one of the all-time worst records for such a length of time, the question is why the coaches keep taking the fall, and not Millen.

As a Colts fan, I don't really mind seeing the Lions lose--it makes my neighbors here in Michigan miserable, which is always good sport--but I do despise people who can't take responsibility for their own screwups. Lions owner William Clay Ford rewarded Millen's poor performance in 2005, and Millen has consistently refused to step down or even publicly admit his management of the team has been dismal.

Come on Millen, if you had any integrity you'd resign right now.

29 December 2007

Bush's "Still Relevant" Moment

In 1995, after the Republicans had taken control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years, there was so much attention on the architect of the Republican's victory, and the new Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich that President Clinton was reduced to pleading that "The President is still relevant." As it turned out, he was right. The eager freshman Republicans were slow to learn that passing bills in the House didn't equal making law (see Fenno's Learning to Govern, and during the epic budget battle that shut down the government, Clinton outmaneuvered Gingrich and his supporters.

Now Bush is, I think, trying to prove he is still relevant, as his approval ratings fall, the end of his term nears, and the public (or at least media) focus on the race to replace him. And he's right--the president is still relevant, and always will be.

Bush vetoed a defense spending bill that gives him almost everything he wants, because he objects to a provision that would allow Americans to sue the Iraqi government for crimes committed under Saddam Hussein. The Democrats are miffed that Bush didn't give them a veto threat ahead of time so they could have negotiated on that measure.

But, although this is just speculation, I don't think that would have served Bush's interests as much as a veto. It's become clear to everyone that the Democratic majority is powerless to get anything done that Bush objects to. Smart observers noted shortly after last year's elections that they wouldn't have enough numbers to override a veto, but what was unclear was whether they had the cojones to push Bush to the wall on these issues by refusing to give him anything he did want and repeatedly re-approving bills nearly identical to those he vetoed to see if he had the guts to stand up to them, or whether the Republicans would consistently support him, given the voters apparent dissatisfaction with the war and with Bush.

It became clear last summer when Bush cast his first veto--on stem cell funding--and it not only stood, but the Democrats dropped the issue. The Democrats have also failed to force Bush to accept any restrictions or timelines on Iraq spending, and have at each opportunity chosen not to go toe-to-toe with Bush.

I think Bush is now kicking the Democrats in the face, letting them know just how much control he has. The Democrats have repeatedly chickened out--reaffirming the wimpy image many Americans have of them (even many who consistently vote Democratic). If they really believed their talk they'd stage a battle royale on one chosen issue where they believed the public would support them enough to make Bush back down.

They're supposed to be the loyal opposition, but they're so afraid of being called disloyal that they won't even be an opposition.

UCLA's Big Gamble

UCLA has just hired national disgrace Rick Neuheisel as its football coach. Neuheisel played quarterback at UCLA in the early '80s (only starting the second half of his senior year), and given that he's proven himself a good coach, so it's natural the Bruins would be interested in him.

But it's a big gamble, because Neuheisel has a history of breaking the rules. Colorado was put on probation for over 50 recruiting violations, dozens of them occurring during Neuheisel's tenure. Upon being hired by Washington, he immediately violated recruiting rules by making illegal phone calls. His supporters will point out that he was cleared of the gambling charges that led Washington to fire him, and that he won his lawsuit against UW (and the NCAA) for wrongful termination. That was more about technical mistakes made by UW and the NCAA--it was not a vindication Neuheisel's gambling, which was against NCAA rules (although it would be unfair not to point out that he gambled on the NCAA tournament, not football), and which he lied to the NCAA about twice. And the probation that the Huskies were already on (for basketball recruiting violations) were extended for two more years.

Add in the $4 million plus UW had to pay him, and the fact that the scandal cost both the Athletic Director and the University President their jobs, and the conclusion can only be that Neuheisel is a toxin for the schools he works at. He's been a head coach twice, and he's left both programs on probation. The truly hilarious part of this is that Neuheisel likes to boast of having a law degree--although he's never practiced law--yet he repeatedly claims that he wasn't aware of the rules. If you learn anything in law school, it's how to figure out what the rules are.

UCLA must be betting that Neuheisel has learned his lesson, but guys like him don't learn. And UCLA is in a position to know. After all, they've had experience with Jim Harrick. He won the NCAA tournament, but falsified receipts and lied to the University about it. He later coached at Rhode Island and Georgia, and was accused of multiple violations at both schools, with Georgia having to forfeit 30 wins from '01-02 and 02'03 seasons.

If UCLA is smart, they'll have some contract language that requires Neuheisel to indemnify them if they get put on probation for any violations he commits. But if they were smart, they probably would have steered clear of him.

Personally I hope UCLA ends up on probation. One, I think they deserve it for rewarding a guy who's the poster-boy for what's wrong in college sports. Two, I'm an Oregon alum and in the 1996 Cotton Bowl, in which Colorado smashed the Ducks, he faked a punt late in the game when Colorado already had a 32-6 lead. The Ducks got their revenge in the '98 Aloha Bowl, but you never really forget a low-class cheap shit play like that. It's just emblematic of the man. And apparently, emblematic of UCLA's lust to add to their 100 national championships at any cost.

Michael Moore Hates America

I've just watched the documentary Michael Moore Hates America. I've long despised Michael Moore. Having seen parts of Bowling for Columbine and, unfortunately, Fahrenheit 9/11, it seems clear to me that Moore is deeply dishonest. Because his enemies are evil, any twisting of their words, any mis-representation of them, is justified. He's a pathetic fuck who probably doesn't actually hate America, but who hates being held to the standard of integrity he demands of others.

Michael Moore Hates America isn't a great documentary, but it's a good one. The film is made by Michael Wilson, who is able to poke fun at himself, and on film admits when he makes a mistake and begins to act like Moore, misrepresenting himself to get an interview (he then writes the interviewee to apologize). The film benefits from the participation of Penn Jillette, talking, of course, about bullshit. in this case Moore's bullshit. (If the "of course" puzzles you, check out Penn and Teller's "Bullshit.")

Wilson does an excellent job of dissecting Moore's lies, interviewing tellers at the bank were he, on film, falsely pretended to walk out of the bank the same day as opening an account, and showing how Moore dishonestly cut and pasted Heston's speech at the NRA convention in Denver to make it appear Heston was gloating about guns just to hurt people in Columbine.

The weirdest, and least convincing, part of the film is an interview with a psychologist who psychoanalyzes Michael Moore as a pathological self-hater. Psychoanalysis is a dubious thing at best, and psychoanalysis from afar is simply silly.

But the best part, the continuing thread throughout the film, is Wilson's fruitless effort to get an interview with Moore, so purposefully reminiscent of Moore's failed attempt to get an interview with Roger Smith in Roger and Me. Wilson attended a speech Moore gave and, during the question time, asked him for an interview. When he told Moore the title of the film was Michael Moore hates America, Moore attacks him, saying "it's people like you that hate America, people like you that are destroying America," and then dishonestly accuses Wilson of libel (the law clearly protects parody, particularly directed at public figures, and Michael Moore clearly knows that because that's what makes his films legally protected as well). Afterwards, some of Moore's fans come out and talk to Wilson, supporting his right to speak and, while saying they still support Moore, criticizing him for not answering Wilson's question.

But the most important message in this film is it's attack on Moore's message that the American dream is dead. I've had people sneer at me for claiming the American dream is still alive (although I'm a college professor who is the grandson of a failed tenant farmer). Ironically, Moore himself is an example of the American dream, but Wilson interviews other people who have made their own American dream, starting their own business, not necessarily becoming rich, but making a living for themselves. It reminded me of my 20th high school reunion, where what most surprised me was how many of my classmates owned their own small businesses. They were impressed I'd earned a Ph.D., but the truth is they'd worked harder and taken bigger risks than I had. Yet Moore insists that the corporations he hates so much are responsible for people's livlioods--which, bizarrely, is insulting to the very people Moore pretends to care about.

Moore's own words are used to highlight his foolishness, which is always the best way to show that the emperor has no clothes. If you see this in your video store, pick it up.

14 December 2007

Study Refutes Romney

Mitt Romney recently claimed that "Freedom needs religion," which I previously noted is logically dubious, at best. But a 2005 study in the Journal of Religion & Society makes a better refutation. Author Gregory S. Paul did a cross-national comparison, using measures of religiosity and social measures. To quote from his abstract:
Data correlations show that in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and anti-evolution America performs poorly.
I'm a semi-regular church-goer, neither devoutly religious nor devoutly anti-religious. I am fervently pro-analytical studies, however, and the data are pretty clear.

The full cite is:
Paul, Gregory S. 2005. "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies." Journal of Religion and Society, volume 7.

13 December 2007

More Bad Religion in the Presidential Race

Two bad events in the past week: Romney's pathetic attempt to be Kennedyesque, and Huckabee's claim that God has caused his climb in the Republican presidential candidate race.

Let's take Huckabee first:

Huck claimed that his rise in the polls had "only one explanation," divine intervention. So apparently all of the following are true:

The first one I'm tempted to agree with, and I think time will prove it true.

The second just reveals that he hasn't really thought about his claim. (Note: Huck's a Baptist, not a Lutheran, so free will as a theological issue really does matter.)

The third reveals his astounding arrogance. He's claiming the mantle of God's favor for himself! Therefore, a vote against him must be a vote against God. Don't get too near him, les the lightning strike you, too.

As for Romney, whose whole speech can be read here, he set a whole new standard in hypocritical pandering. While he was attempting to be Kennedyesque (referring, of course, to one of Kennedy's very few good moments), Romney got it all wrong. He tried very hard to argue that the details of his religion didn't matter, but then went out of his way to emphasize the one and only detail he thought conservative protestants would agree with him on, pointedly noting

"There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.

He thereby implicitly admits that the details of his religious beliefs do matter. But not any of the other details!

My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance.

And he also made it clear that he thinks that being religious is in fact a requirement, unless we want to lose our freedom.

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.

Other bloggers have noted the logical idiocy of his statement--clearly freedom does not require religion, or the states in the U.S. with lowest church attendance, like Oregon, would be less free than those with higher church attendance, like those in the South, when in fact you have a broader base of rights in Oregon than in, say, Mississippi (or for that matter, Utah). But more disturbing is the thrust of the claim--if you don't elect a religious person to the presidency, you will lose your freedom. Romney is imposing a religious test.

Kennedy, in contrast, said,

neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test--even by indirection.

To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsent: "Governor, you are no Jack Kennedy."