Anything from current events, campaign finance reform, sports (especially baseball), corporate/political/legal ethics, pop culture, confessions of a recovering comic book addict, and probably some overly indulgent discourses about my 3-year old daughter. E-Mail: sardonicviews -at-
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Friday, February 14, 2003
Great column by a writer in Prague about his support for invading Iraq despite severe dislike of Bush on social issues, and his disagreement with most of those who are anti-war (Via InstaProf).

My problem with the peace movement is that it fails to articulate a counterpolicy in the wake of serious threats to the global order. It is a collection of disparate and incoherent voices that seems to mostly serve as a pretext for criticizing America. The bankruptcy of left-wing foreign policy has to do with its ambivalence toward the threats of Muslim extremism and toward the unsavory options in dealing with those threats.

On the one hand the left espouses equal rights for women, minorities and homosexuals; it lauds free speech and a vibrant independent press as essentials of civil society. The left is a guardian of the separation of church and state and a watchdog of the judicial process. So it finds itself in diametrical opposition to the nature of most Arab societies. But in the wake of this opposition, the left simply sticks its head in the sand rather than confront the reality that as globalization integrates the world order ever closer, we are hurtling toward a clash of civilizations unless the world comes to some sort of agreement on universal values. The left has failed to say that it will not stand for the oppression of women, the vicious repression of human rights and suppression of democratic principles. The only thing it can articulate is a naive and dangerous blame-America-first rhetoric as the root of all problems in the world today.

This hypocrisy is at its zenith in the case of Iraq. For years the left criticized the UN sanctions against Iraq. These sanctions left the Iraqi population debased and demoralized, with dismal health care and a falling standard of living. Though this decay of Iraqi society was due explicitly to Saddam Hussein's exploitation of the sanctions to enrich himself on the lucrative oil black market while he ignored the suffering of his own people, the left called the UN's attempts to contain Hussein genocide. Now, as America moves toward confronting Iraq over its failure to disarm, those same voices from the left praise those sanctions, speaking about them with a degree of reverence as the most intrusive and effective sanctions in history.
But those who claim that the question of invading is solely one of oil interest are mistaken. If the only thing America is interested in is oil in the Middle East, it would have sold out Israel many years ago. Instead, America's policy on Israel is one of principle in supporting the only democratic nation in the Middle East, particularly as it suffers from a wave of homicidal fanatics blowing themselves up and taking with them as many innocent civilians as possible.

My feeling these days on the anti-war crowd is not that they are so much anti-American, as they are anti-Bush. They have a reflexive reaction that is the opposite of whatever he wants. Part of this is based on those I know who oppose the war. They are not anti-American, but they practically spit at the mere mention of Bush.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

College Football Recruiting

Matt Hayes at the Sporting News runs down the winners and losers of the recruiting wars.


How it failed: The Lions had just 12 available scholarships and filled 11. How bad did it get? Two players Penn State coveted (defensive linemen Matt Malele and Elijah Robinson) signed with -- ahem -- Cal and Tulane.

How it will play out: If Pitt coach Walt Harris keeps winning recruiting battles, JoePa's potential retirement in 2006 won't arrive soon enough.

How it failed: Saint Bobby is losing his grip, and now it's showing on the recruiting front. The 'Noles no longer are battling just Florida and Miami; they're battling Bowden's ticking clock.

How it will play out: Local stars linebacker Ernie Sims and cornerback Antonio Cromartie saved the class with signing day announcements and likely will play immediately. The 'Noles are thin at quarterback, and losing Leak to Florida and Russell to LSU leaves a huge hole.

My dad (a Penn State grad) believes JoePA is slipping, period. He is still in shock at the way Paterno complained about officiating this year. He still remembers when Paterno would say things about how if you blame the officials for losing games, your just making excuses.

Me, I'm just enjoying seeing the mystique slowly wither away on Paterno and Bowden.

"Belgium, man. Belgium."

This hilariously pathetic story (WSJ, Subscription req'd) ostensibly on how, with the exception of Britain (40%) and the Netherlands (46.7%), the European NATO members spend over half their military budget on personnel expenditures (US spends 36%) is really just an extended mocking of the Belgian military. Excerpts:

Chief Cpl. Rudy Christians, an impeccably coiffed military hairdresser, has been cutting soldiers' hair for 24 years, and he loves his work.

It's a full-time job, guaranteed until retirement, and until then, the 47-year-old has enough free time to pursue an amateur singing career featuring Elvis and Tom Jones numbers. When the military does send him on an occasional field exercise, he is amazed by the fellow soldiers lumbering around him. "All the people are so old," he says.
Belgium, for example, employs hundreds of military barbers, musicians and other personnel who aren't likely to be called into battle. Yet Belgium doesn't have the money to replace aging helicopters or conduct regular combat-training exercises. Germany drafts 120,000 people every year but can't afford to buy all the vital transport planes it wants; last year, budget crunches forced it to slash an order of planes to 60 from 73. German soldiers who went to Afghanistan as peacekeepers crowded into an aging, leased Ukrainian carrier that had to stop to refuel.
One reason Europe has so many soldiers is its strong military labor unions. Unheard of in the U.S. and Britain, these unions trace their history to the end of the 19th century, when disgruntled Dutch soldiers, unhappy about living conditions, banded together into a group called Ons Belang (Our Interests). Similar groups soon sprang up around Western Europe. In the 1970s, European military unions gained sweeping collective-bargaining rights, though they stay out of war-planning and deployment issues.

In Belgium, military unions are as powerful as anywhere on the Continent. On King Albert's birthday last June, a holiday for the Belgian military, unions deployed thousands of soldiers to Brussels to demand a raise in vacation pay. Soldiers chanted, drank beer and banged their aluminum mess bowls. "Show me the money," one officer shouted to a passing police van. The protest grew so rowdy that police cooled demonstrators off with a water cannon. But it was a success: An emergency session of the Belgian cabinet agreed to give soldiers -- already eligible for six weeks' annual vacation -- a raise in holiday benefits valued at about $500 each.

For Emmanuel Jacob, an artillery officer and a union leader who was on the front lines of the protest, it was a bittersweet victory. "We must be honest with ourselves," says Warrant Officer Jacob, secretary-general of Centrale Generale du Personnel Militaire, which represents 6,000 active-duty and 2,500 retired personnel. "Either we have a smaller number of people who are well-trained and equipped or we continue to defend a bigger army and it won't work in the future."

The average age of a Belgian soldier is 40 -- compared with 28 in the U.S. and 29 in the U.K. Most Belgian military personnel can retire at 56 with full pension benefits. The Defense Ministry acknowledges too many of its soldiers are too old, and says it is trying to recruit younger people. But Gerard Harveng, a spokesman for Defense Minister Andre Flahaut, says, "I'm not sure that the mission of the Belgian military is to fight." Instead, Belgium sees its military role mostly focused on peacekeeping operations.
The Belgian Defense Ministry's goal is to trim its military work force by 10% or so over the next decade, but the reductions can come only through attrition. Early efforts to cut the payroll have already run into opposition from military employees and labor unions. They rebelled in the early '90s, for example, against a proposal to merge Belgium's six military bands into one. "Each band has its own character and repertoire," says Alain Crepin, director of the Air Force orchestra, as his musicians pack up their instruments after daily practice on a deserted base. The Air Force band's repertoire includes jazz and other modern music, he notes, while the Army is heavy on the classics. Lumping them together to save money would be "stupid," he says. The government compromised, downsizing to three bands, with 260 members.


Pitchers and Catchers Report Today


Wednesday, February 12, 2003

French Unilateralism Wins Out

Robert Mugabe will be allowed to visit Paris next week for an African leaders' summit.

The EU has given the go-ahead despite its travel ban on the Zimbabwe president, his wife and more than 70 members of his political circle.

Apparently even petty dictators are worth appeasing for the French.

Arab Press Round-Up

Courtesy of the BBC.

My favorite:

Egypt's Al-Jumhuriyah has an Eid wish to make: "These blessed days [of Eid al-Adha] require political and diplomatic moves, full of strength and vigilance so that the happiness of Eid will be rewarded with victory over those plotting against Arabism and Islam."

But Jordan's Al-Dustur does not believe such a "victory" lies ahead.

"There will be no Eid after this one," the paper says. "What is coming is scary since we are at the threshold of a new stage of hegemony, domination and arrogance."

Referring to purported US plans to "democratise" the Middle East, starting with Iraq, the paper warns that "the tyrants are preparing to change our features and give us new identities".

Actually, most of us are hoping for more than mere cosmetic surgery.

Cats and Dogs Time

You may have heard about Rabbi Michael Lerner, the "editor of Tikkun, the largest-circulation liberal Jewish magazine in the world," and a critic of the coming war with Iraq. You also may have heard that he was banned from speaking at a planned peace rally in San Francisco, by one of the organizers -- A.N.S.W.E.R. -- for being "pro-Israel." Well, he fires off his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal (subscription req'd).

My sin was publicly criticizing the way that A.N.S.W.E.R., one of the four groups sponsoring the San Francisco demonstration, has used the anti-war demonstrations to put forward anti-Israel propaganda. An A.N.S.W.E.R. spokesperson, speaking on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC, said that they didn't want a "pro-Israel" speaker at their rally.

The other groups have said that while they disagree with A.N.S.W.E.R., they will honor an agreement giving each group an effective veto on speakers. Yet it is inconceivable that these anti-war coalitions would let A.N.S.W.E.R. ban a speaker if he accused that group of racism, sexism or homophobia. Why should anti-Semitism be treated differently, as the acceptable -ism?

It is outrageous that those of us who wish to protest against what we see as a fundamentally unjust war must be subjected to a barrage of slogans and speeches that are one-sidedly hostile to Israel. That is just as outrageous as some in the Jewish community claiming that our opposition to war makes us champions of Palestinian groups which use terror and violence against Israeli civilians.
The most painful thing has been watching other anti-war groups make unprincipled compromises with A.N.S.W.E.R. As a result, there is support on the left for self-determination for every group in the world except the Jewish people. Fellow progressive Jews, some anxious to speak at these rallies, have urged me to keep quiet about anti-Semitism on the left. After all, they say, stopping the war against Iraq is so much more important.

I don't agree with much of what Lerner says about Israel and Palestine, and I definitely disagree with him on his stance on Iraq. He does have the right to speak, however, and his being censored by the Left, explicitly by A.N.S.W.E.R. and passively by the rest of the organizers speaks volumes for them. They want moral equivalence, here's their moral equivalence.

Who Has the Real Juice?

The American Bar Association is now calling for Congress to pass asbestos legislation to finally reign in the litigation. This move is being opposed by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and unnamed "unions." The US Supreme Court, practically begged Congress to pass legislation to bring asbestos litigation under control several years ago.

This is intriguing. Democrats have been taking abuse for several years on being in the back pocket of lawyers (more specifically, trial lawyers). Here is an opportunity to make legitimate, needed changes to a particular area of litigation that enjoys broad support from business groups, insurance companies and the ABA. Do they show that the claims of being owned by the ATLA donors are mere rhetoric or based in fact? (Paging, Sen. John Edwards this is your big chance to neuter the issue of being a trial lawyer for your Presidential aspirations.) If they oppose and win is it a pyrrhic victory?

The Republicans risk even more. Republicans have control of the House and the Senate. They have spent so much time demonizing trial lawyers for all the ills in the country's legal system, that this should be no-brainer legislation for them to support and pass. If Republicans fail to pass something then they miss a huge opportunity, show that they really aren't in favor of making the reforms they claim, and are as much in the pocket of trial lawyers. They also piss off a lot of business groups that donate money and support.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Bad is Good

Why bother talking about the good teams in the NBA, when the bad teams are so much more interesting? Bill Simmons does just that in profiling the most likely teams to be in the LeBron James Sweepstakes (the #1 pick in the NBA Draft).

Today's column: a look at the Lottery Teams from both conferences, in order from "Not quite good enough" to "Stinkier than my Uncle Bob's feet." What do these teams have in common? They're all potential landing spots for that LeBob guy. You might have heard of him. The high schooler? Is his name LeBob or LeRon? I can't remember. They should really run some more stories about him, I don't know nearly enough about him.

Anyway ...

Godd for a chuckle, especially if your team is in the list.

Will History Repeat

When I heard the news that Dennis Erickson was to be named the head coach of the 49ers, my first reaction was, "Damn, guess the NCAA will be coming down on Oregon State soon." Erickson once jumped from University of Miami to the Seattle Seahawks in the early 90s. I can't recall whether the NCAA investigation was happening during his tenure or right after he left. Erickson skipped out and Miami was penalized and spent some down time as they lost scholarships.

Maybe I'm just being cynical, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear about some investigations of Oregon State. Erickson is bolting only a week after national signing day. He signed 21 high school recruits to come to Oregon State to play for him. Well, they are coming to Oregon State, but won't be playing for him. He screwed them, and the school.

For another, who in their right minds would suspect Erickson to turn his back on not only his players, but the 21 recruits who signed with Oregon State last Wednesday? Among them are Ryan Gunderson of Central Catholic in Portland, the top quarterback in the state, as well as recruits from Florida, Alabama and Hawaii.

The Beavers have a talented class bound to the university, even though the coach the recruits wanted to play for will be 600 miles south. There's no way to sugarcoat the impact of Erickson's decision on the players whom he just finished wooing.

I'm still stunned that an NFL retread like Erickson will be getting the job.

Monday, February 10, 2003

It's Back, But Does Anyone Care?

Lollapalooza is returning.

I went to it once. Back in August 1992, out at Starlake (outside of Pittsburgh). My buddy Shawn and I. We got into the lot just before it started, each pounded about 9 Molsons in about an hour (ah, youth) and got in just as Pearl Jam played their set. The thing that stood out was that they played "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Baba O'Riley," and did them justice -- raw, stripped down, pure rock. After the set, Shawn took off to hit a cash machine and get us a couple beers. He was gone for the entire next act (Body Count, I think), but then so was I. Shortly after he took off, I sat down on the grass and passed out. When he returned, I left to do the same; and he ended up passing out. The rest of the concert was pretty good.

As for its return. It just doesn't matter to me. Seeing Jane's Addiction, Audioslave, Incubus, Queens of the Stone Age and Jurassic 5 really doesn't excite me.

Drunken Sewer Rats

1800 gallons of Pepe Lopez Tequila was spilled at the Brown-Forman distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. The tequila is 80 proof, and was diluted with water by the fire department and driven into the sewers. The stuff had been shipped in a tanker truck from Mexico (always wonderful imagery). Brown-Forman, is the parent company of Jack Daniels.

Rope-a-Dope Goes Mainstream

Matt Welch piece on the skills of Bush and Co. with Iraq.

This pattern has become predictable, even if supporters and critics alike have been slow in recognizing it.

First, a top official (usually Bush, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or a well-placed "source") makes some crazy-sounding cowboy threat -- to use conventional nuclear weapons, to unleash a furious invasion on the first full moon after Jan. 27, and so on. British newspapers, German politicians and Northern Californians dutifully recoil in horror.

Soon, a prevailing counter- proposal emerges, often midwifed by Tony Blair, to talk Washington down from the ledge.

Reports resurface of a Cabinet divided between Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, and leaks play down expectations of significant policy change. At the last possible moment, Bush's team coalesces behind a single idea, agreeing on a "compromise" which suddenly gives his critics exactly what they were demanding in the first place, often in the form of a yes-or-no vote. And the ground under everyone's feet shifts decisively yet again.

Bush has used this method to spectacular effect, over and over again, by threatening unilateral action. If there is anything that can unify Midwestern congressmen, French Gaullists and New York newspapers, it's indignation at the very notion that great decisions can be made without consulting them first.
This tactic has come to be known, by critics and admirers alike, as the "rope-a-dope" strategy, in honour of the novel way boxer Muhammad Ali defeated heavyweight champion George Foreman in Zaire 28 years ago.

Buried Stories on the Convention Center

The Sunday Plain Dealer didn't trumpet the Convention Center too much this time. Oh, there was a story on the pluses and minuses of the four sites with an accompanying, full-page map and graphic comparisons. This was buried on pages 20-21 of the first section, though.

Here's what I found interesting.

Voters in Cuyahoga County will likely be asked in November to pass a tax issue for a new convention center.

For now, the bureau and two leading business groups, Cleveland Tomorrow and the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, are collecting data on the four sites. In coming weeks, they hope to recommend one to Mayor Jane Campbell.
[Emphasis added]
On the bottom half of the front page on Sunday, there was a photo of the Cleveland Convention Center (actually, just the sign that says Cleveland Convention Center). The blurb under the picture is a little more specific in the time frame. It says, "They plan to recommend one to Mayor Jane Campbell by the end of March."

This is a six week extension beyond the two-week extension that already occurred. The recommendation was supposed to be at the end of January. It got pushed back to February 14. I noted that there were reports that there might be another delay at the end of January.

Then, there was nothing from the Plain Dealer. Now, they casually pass on the information that the Convention Center decision has been pushed back again. I'm not complaining about the pushing back. I think the plan for a new CC is moronic, a sink-hole, and will be sold to the public through outright lies (revitalizing downtown, jobs, etc.).

I am bringing this up, because the PD had not reported this. This is their Convention Center page, with links to all stories on the CC. Apparently they've changed their minds about their recent complaints that the decision making was shrouded in secrecy. It seems that as long as the PD is in the loop, the public well-being is fine. Even if the PD doesn't report it.

PA Inches ahead of OH in Crawl out of Prohibition

Having lived the first 23 years of my life in Pennsylvania, and the last 9 in Ohio; I offer a simple comparison on the basic structure of alcohol sales.

In Ohio, you can get bottled beer and wine in grocery stores and convenience stores, just about anywhere. They are only sold in six-packs or 12-packs for bottles. To get a keg, you have to go to one of the regional distributors' warehouse centers. To get a case, is not practical because Ohio law sets the price based on six- or 12-packs (no savings).
In Pennsylvania, you can get beer primarily at any beer distributor. There they are sold by the case or kegs. Some bars or specialty stores, licensed by the state can sell six-packs. Wine is sold, only in the wine and spirit (liquor) stores. Purchasing by the case is the most cost efficient.

In Ohio, there is no limit on the amount of beer or wine purchased.
In Pennsylvania, the only limit is two six-packs at a time at the bars or specialty stores. Otherwise, no limits.

In Ohio, liquor stores are private operations, but strictly licensed and controlled by the state as to the setting of prices and business hours. A liquor store may be within a grocery store, but it operates separately and payments are separate.
In Pennsylvania, liquor stores are state owned and operated via the PA Liquor Control Board (LCB). Prices and hours are set by the state, and the employees are unionized.

Changes to alcohol sales in the last year:
Ohio, now allows the Sunday sale of wine. Like beer, sales cannot take place until after 12 noon (presumably so you wait until after church to get blitzed). Liquor stores are not permitted to operate on Sundays.
Pennsylvania has opened some of its liquor stores to Sunday hours (12pm-5pm).

Pennsylvania takes the lead (though, I note that the program didn't begin until well after the Steelers and Eagles were done for the season).

There are of course protests, but most of the protestors are the unionized employees who really don't want to work on Sunday, at least that's what I hope, because if their stated reasons are true it's even more disturbing.

"I think, personally, we should go back to having nothing open on Sundays and having to spend time with your family," said Charles Windsor of Mt. Lebanon, who was protesting Sunday sales outside the store on Wharton Street on the South Side. "There would not be so much crazy stuff, kids running around and doing the kind of things they're doing. I'm old-fashioned, I guess."
The protesters, most of whom are liquor store employees, said they are concerned that increased opportunities to purchase alcohol will result in increased opportunities for underage youths to buy and consume beverages and increased casualties in alcohol-related traffic accidents. They also had a problem with being asked to work on Sunday.

The protest was organized by members of the Independent State Store Union, which represents managers. "We're in the business of the control and sale of alcohol," said Don Brown, one of the leaders. "Selling alcohol seven days a week, that's not something that I consider control."

Anthony Vizzoca of Shaler, whose uncle is the head of union, held a sign asking drivers to honk if they agreed with the protesters. Several drivers did beep on their way by, warming Vizzoca's heart on a cold day. "This shouldn't be a city of sin," he said.

And then there was Mark Henry, who doesn't work at a liquor store but heard about the protest on television. He showed up with copies of a handwritten letter he had written when the state Legislature was considering the bill.

"Dear Senator," it begins, "Suppose you're Osama bin Laden. What would you want the Pennsylvania General Assembly to do with regard to the issue of opening liquor stores on Sundays? Would you want it to kowtow to, and compromise with, the forces of evil so that our respect for the Christian Sabbath day is further undermined in the name of 'consumer convenience?'"



(Copyright © 2002-2005 Chas Rich All rights Reserved.);
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