There is no “I” in team

After watching as much of the first round of the World Cup 2006 as I could find the time to, I projected that we would see Germany and Brazil in the finals. Sure, it was the obvious and easy call but I did have some grounds.

The individual skill and technique on Brazil’s team is unmatched. I could call out Ronaldo and Ronaldinho as examples but only because the talent is so deep on the team that it would take too long to list everyone. Like their coach said, he had no subs, just solutions. After the first game, their playmaking between each other was beautiful…right up ’til their last game.

Germany had the twelfth man advantage. With guys like Klose who were consistently putting the ball in the net, it looked like they could score plenty to take the German team to the end. Plus, Germany’s defense was rock solid—the game against Poland had to be some of the best defensive play I’d ever seen. The team was gelling beautifully…right up ’til their last game.

So what went wrong with my projection? In a word: teamwork (or lack thereof). In both cases, Germany and Brazil were eliminated when their teamwork did not come together for ninety minutes. And it only takes one game for that to be your downfall once you get past the first round in the World Cup.

OK, I know that there are only two teams left but I haven’t watched all of the Portugal – France match yet. I’ll finish watching it from my DVR tomorrow after work, so don’t tell me who won. But let’s look at the last three teams.

The one thing that Italy, Portugal, and France all have in common in this tournament is that they have exhibited consistently solid teamwork in every game. They all have strong talent but they’re all fairly evenly matched. I doubt it will be any individual’s skill or one team’s overall talent that will win the Cup this year. I think it’ll be the teams who fail to meld that’ll be eliminated in the remaining games.

Gimme a break!

As a hard-working, middle-class, single renter with no children, I have not qualified for the bulk of the tax breaks that Bush has carved out for the rich these past few years. My tax burden is pretty much the same now as it was when Clinton was in office—actually, it’s probably higher because my income has gone up a bit since then. Those of you who have enjoyed the good fortune of tax cuts courtesy of president Bush, don’t make the mistake of thinking that they have in any way been distributed evenly among American taxpayers.

Now the Democrats are proposing some tax breaks. Again: I’m spurned! Senator Wyden and representative Blumenauer, both Democrats from Oregon, are introducing bills in their respective houses of congress which would give commuters who ride bikes to work between $40 and $100 per month in tax breaks.

I’ll be the first to say that it’s a good idea to ride a bike to work—especially in these days of skyrocketing gas prices. In fact, I used to ride my bike 150 to 200 miles a week just to stay fit. That’s less than the miles I commute every week for work. I love riding a bike!

However, now that I’m quadriplegic, it’s simply not feasible for me to ride a bike to work. Even if it were possible to fix a wheelchair lift to a tandem bicycle, I’m certain the federal government would not provide me with someone to pedal it for me. Of course, that last statement was silly but there’s a serious point behind it. The federal government must, by law, make all programs and services they provide equally accessible to citizens with disabilities. That includes tax breaks.

So here we are in times of record deficits and out-of-control government spending with the government trying to give Americans yet another tax break. Unfortunately, I would not get to participate in this one either. As long as the government is handing them out, I wish at least once they’d give me a tax break!

To be a worker and to be a criminal are not mutually exclusive

Last week, half a million people poured into the streets of LA carrying signs declaring “We’re workers, not criminals” to protest HR 4437.

HR 4437 is a bill being debated in Congress that, if passed, would “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to strengthen enforcement of the immigration laws, to enhance border security, and for other purposes.” The bill would make it a felony for an immigrant to reside in the USA without the required documentation.

Nonetheless, the undocumented aliens carrying those signs were wrong. A person does not have to be a felon to be a criminal. Even if an illegal alien is only committing a misdemeanor, they’re still by definition a criminal.

Criminal activity should not be rewarded because it only encourages more illegal behavior. Furthermore, as long as there are American citizens going to bed hungry and living without access to healthcare, their taxpayer dollars should not be paid to support other people intentionally breaking the laws of this country.

Undocumented aliens should not be eligible for any government benefits paid for by taxpayer dollars like:

  • Medicare or Medi-Cal
  • housing subsidies
  • AFDC
  • Social Security
  • food stamps
  • welfare

If a child in public schools is not a US citizen or Resident Alien, a surcharge should be levied against the parents to fully cover the expense of educating them. An illegal alien should not be licensed by a state or the federal government to drive, be a contractor, practice healthcare, sell securities or real estate, or any other activity in this country formally sanctioned or regulated by a government entity. If all these restrictions were in place, it would staunch a great deal of illegal immigration. This is a land of limited resources, so our government is obligated to meet all the needs of its citizens first and has no obligation to serve foreign criminals.

Are many illegal immigrants hard working? Sure. Are many of them otherwise law abiding? Yes. Regardless, they could stay in their native countries and work hard and obey the laws there. As soon as they choose to illegally cross our borders, they have intentionally decided to conduct themselves as criminals and should be treated as such. The excuse that they suffer great hardships in their home countries is invalid. If a natural-born US citizen faced hard times and was in great need and chose to rob a bank to relieve his hardships, would you excuse that illegal act? Of course not. Why would we hold illegal immigrants to a lesser standard?

There are complications to dealing with undocumented aliens. Many of them have children that are US citizens, and those children have as much right to a public education as those born to US citizens. These children know nothing of life in their parents’ native country. Many of them are not totally fluent in their parents’ native language. Could you imagine the hardship these children—natural-born American citizens—would suffer trying to adjust to living in a foreign land if their parents were deported? This is but one example of the complexities of the problem.

There are no easy solutions to the problem of illegal immigration. HR 4437 might not be the solution and this post does not purport to have the right answer. Regardless, we cannot move closer to discovering the right solution until we acknowledge the truth that undocumented aliens are breaking the law. Perpetuating a fallacy like an illegal alien who works is not a criminal only serves to cloud our judgment when we address the problem.

On equating blogs to the news

Let’s get this straight: blogs do not publish news and bloggers are not journalists.

CNN has a couple of shows, On the Story and Reliable Sources, that are not news shows themselves. Instead, they report on the news and on journalists. In the process of doing so, they both feature a spot on blogs and bloggers, reporting on the news coming from blogs. However, this does a disservice to CNN, a respectable news network, and to journalists at large.

CNN is not alone in this. Many other mainstream news sources regularly refer to “news” from blogs. Some have even gone so far as to write TV news’ obituary because of the influence of blogs. It’s unclear why professional journalism participates in this self-destructive behavior but it’s time to set the record straight.

Blogs do not report the news. Blogs analyze it. When was the last time you read an original news story on a blog? It doesn’t happen. Instead, a respectable blog will cite other sources of news in its posts by hyperlinking to them and, if they’re worth their salt, the links will be to credible news sources.

It’s also important to realize that bloggers are not journalists. Most blogs post very biased analyses of the news. If you read a large number of posts in a given blog, you’ll likely find a conspicuous slant to either the left or the right (or some other specific ideology). Journalists, on the other hand, are expected to be relatively balanced. Furthermore, respectable journalists hold to a professional code of ethics in the process of gathering and reporting the news. This code is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the journalist’s publisher. Bloggers have no code of ethics to which they all adhere (which is not to say that none of them are ethical)—it’s still the “wild, wild west” in the blogosphere.

Even the law does not consider bloggers to be journalists. For example, the California Shield Law addresses the refusal to disclose news sources. However, when you read the following clause identifying all those covered by the law, you’ll see that it does not include bloggers:

A publisher, editor, reporter or other person connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication or by a press association or wire service, or any person who has been so connected or so employed…

That said (and not said), blogs do play a role in the news. The best journalists only provide information but do not give normative meaning to it. That’s left to the consumers of news who, more often than not in the case of mainstream Americans, are prone to putting insufficient effort to the task. Blogs provide those consumers easy access to analysis of the news of the day. Additionally, there are plenty of viewpoints from all points in the societal spectrum represented by blogs—all of which should be supported to ensure a balanced perspective on current events.

Another value of blogs is validating the credibility of the news. By linking to various sources (e.g. The Progressive Zone links to sources from The Washington Post to Aljazeera), blogs ground their analyses with news. The broad spectrum of news available on the World Wide Web permits the reader to extract the facts that are consistently cited by all blogs as the most reliable grounds on which to base the position the reader takes for his or her own. Because of the dynamic nature of the Web, blogs also rapidly direct readers to esoteric sources of news that they would otherwise overlook.

Regardless, the reader needs to be cautious of accepting everything they read in blogs as the “gospel” truth. There are plenty of blow-hard bloggers who spout their opinions without citing any sources. Furthermore, there are many bloggers who use conspiracy theorists and other incredible sources to ground their warrantless claims.

The next time you see a news publisher give credence to a blogger, take it with a grain of salt. And the next time you read a blog, don’t accept it as fact until you verify its grounds as fact through other credible sources. Most importantly, remember that blogs do not report news.

Van Morrison at The Wiltern

It was one of those nights where everything falls into place just right. The opposite of Murphy’s law: anything that could go right, did. A couple of times each decade I attend a concert the memory of which lasts forever. Last night was one of those nights.

I should’ve known it was going to be one of those nights when early in the day I tried to buy seats for UFC 59: Reality Check. Being the first time the UFC comes to California, it came as no surprise that it was sold out the first day the event went on sale. But I went to the Arrowhead Pond box office and asked if there was any wheelchair seating left. Sure enough, they sold me two tickets.

So I headed to Redondo Beach to pick up Anna. We went through Kenneth Hahn Regional Park to get to The Wiltern. Getting there as soon as the box office opened, I was hoping to be able to get a couple tickets to last night’s Van Morrison concert. It had been sold out for some time but they sometimes release a few held-back tickets the night of the show.

Normally it’s difficult to find parking in LA. However, there is plenty of parking by the theater … if you’re willing to pay $20 for it. But that’s not the way things went down for us on this night. Instead, I lucked out and found metered parking on the street right next to the theater. Of course, because I have handicapped tags, I could park there indefinitely without pumping any quarters in the meter. I flipped the homeless guy there a few bucks to keep an eye on my van, letting him know there was more where that came from when I would get back out to my secure vehicle after the show.

At the box office, I told David (yes, the guy at the window has the same name as I do) I needed wheelchair-accessible seating. Not only did he sell me two tickets but he sold them to me at the price of the nose-bleed tickets. However, the only wheelchair-accessible seats at The Wiltern are in the fifth row—just behind the pit!

Next, Anna and I headed down to El Cholo Cafe for dinner. Granted, those of us raised on homemade Mexican food know that El Cholo’s food is mediocre at best, but it’s good enough for a pre-concert dinner and it’s close to the theater. More importantly, their house margaritas (on the rocks) rawk! Made with real Cointreau and Cuervo 1800 tequila, they not only taste great but they also kick you on your ass. It turns out their tostada compuesta, with tasty homemade chorizo, is respectable too. More importantly, we headed to the show with a nice buzz on.

It was my first time at The Wiltern. We walked into a beautiful lobby with a crystal chandelier hanging in the middle. The floor manager, Arnold, met us. Knowing my special needs, he pointed out everything I needed to know about, then showed us to our seats. Yes, there were a few rows closer than us to the stage, but those in the orchestra pit had to look up at the stage. There in the front row of the main floor, we were at stage level and there were no better seats in the house. I turned around and looked back at the theater. It is spectacular in its classy, art deco glory!

Arnold sat a guy named Mike next to us. He’d not only been to The Wiltern before but he’d also seen Van Morrison live. They sat a good looking, young guy named Todd behind me. Anna was very pleased about that. Then we staked out a nice circumference where I could spin my wheelchair around and Anna could get up and dance. Once I staked that out, a couple of hot chicks showed up and sat down nearby, making me very pleased. The whole ambience of the people and the theater was so alluring that I looked behind me almost as much as I watched the stage.

Van Morrison started playing without an opening act. The sound reinforcement was top notch: the volume was loud, but not enough to make your ears ring, and the fidelity was excellent. Good thing, too, because Van Morrison’s band was so tight that it sounded like studio work. Van Morrison played sax and a beautiful guitar. There were at least a dozen other pieces on stage. He had a horn section (including a flugle horn), a percussionist along with the drums, a woman playing steel guitar, a grand piano and keyboards. Van Morrison was in great voice.

Yes, it was a fantastic night. I’ve been to other memorable concert events, but this one will rank up there as one of the best. And if an artist you’ve been wanting to see plays The Wiltern, do not miss the show!

New skis bode badly for Bode

What was Bode thinking? Yes, technology has been all the buzz leading into these XX Olympic Winter Games. The new technologies in equipment are supposed to lead to records falling all over the games. Recent history with technological advancement has borne out that it leads to unprecedented performance on the snow. Nonetheless, Bode Miller should have trusted his innate talent and skill on the hill.

Instead, he was seduced by the technology. A ski manufacturer brought Bode a brand new model of downhill skis that just came out of the plant for the first time a couple of days ago. Bode looked at them and was so impressed that he decided to use them for the Men’s Downhill race. Unfortunately, he made the decision on the morning of the race. He had not even used the skis for his training runs.

Bode skied well. His technique was solid. His run was almost flawless and the mistakes he did make were minor. But the skis just did not seem to run. Bode did not even end up in the medals. After the race, Bode admitted that he made a poor decision using the brand new skis.

The Men’s Downhill is Bode’s strongest event. However, he has four more events to go. Perhaps if he trusts in himself rather than putting his fate in the hands of technology, he might still take a medal home in 2006.

The censors screw up

What is this country coming to? TV has become a wasteland. No, not because of what is shown on it nowadays but, rather, because of what is not shown on it.

After the halftime show at the big game Sunday, the Rolling Stones announced through their spokeswoman that the censorship of their music was “absolutely ridiculous and completely unnecessary.” Although their performance was as weak as the play that preceded it, I have to agree with the Stones. Janet Jackson‘s now infamous “wardrobe malfunction” a couple of years ago seemed to have triggered a mad dash by the FCC to feigned sexual and verbal propriety.

ABC rejected a Quiet Agent commercial that would have been the most entertaining of the game because it shows a dog squatting and an old man’s butt. Yet, it accepts a GoDaddy.com commercial featuring a buxom beauty who loses her top and a network-sponsored Dancing with the Stars commercial that’s basically a striptease act.

I was watching a piece on TV a while ago about a man who got breast implants on a bet. When they showed a picture of him, they blurred out his nipples. Yet, when they broadcast a piece about that syndrome where men develop female-like breasts, they can show it without blurring the nipples.

The latter case is more akin to showing women’s natural breasts on TV because in the former case, the “breasts” only had bulk from plastic sacks of saline solution. But it was the natural “breasts” they could show and the saline sacks on a man’s chest that had to be censored. Does any of this make sense?

The other day, a “guy” was on TV…at least it looked like a guy. He/she looked like a burly, shaved-headed, goateed, muscular biker/convict type. It was a porn star who had “gender reassignment,” female to male, except for the penis. They showed this person walking around with the shirt off, pierced nipples, and ink everywhere. Yet, even though he/she had female XX chromosomes and a vagina, it was okay to show her breasts without pixelation.

To me, it’s the whole persona that I find offensive, not the pierced nipples. But I’m not one to say that the censors should’ve blurred him/her out from head to toe. I’m capable of switching my TV to one of my score of other channels if I don’t want to see it. I don’t want the censors deciding for me what is “safe” to watch. Yet, even though the FCC is staffed by the nation’s biggest prudes, they would permit me to see dozens of heinous murders on prime time TV each week. The censors’ sense of taste is screwed up and clearly not guided by any morals, ethics, or other “family values.”

Alito v Judiciary Committee – Final Round

Today was the last day of Q&A between Judge Samuel Alito and the Senate Judiciary Committee in Alito’s confirmation hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court. Before I analyze it, besides the disclaimer I made in my first post on this topic applying again, I should additionally make the following legal disclaimer: I am not an attorney—in fact, I’ve never even played one on TV. However, I am a pretty smart guy and I have studied quite a bit of law. Most importantly when it comes to the law, I understand the principles of logic & critical thinking and many would say that I apply them excessively. Subsequently, my analysis here is devoid of emotion but critically analytical and, therefore, relatively unbiased.

The best part of today’s hearing is that the Democrats finally gave up on the CAP and the Vanguard issues. Democrats repeatedly slashed at Alito with these issues for two days but made no fatal cut…because they are very blunt instruments. Although the issues looked like they could inflict some damage when they were first drawn, the more they were wielded, the less of an edge they held. Granted, they might have said something about Alito personally, but CAP & Vanguard were just red herrings in the context of Alito’s qualifications for the Supreme Court.

Of course, as you would expect with the straw men knocked down, Alito looked much better than he did in Round One. Nonetheless, he was still nowhere near as adept as Roberts at addressing—or deflecting, as the case may be—the committee’s questioning. Subsequently, Alito was much more forthcoming and provided more insights into what he would look like on the bench. In a nutshell, a conservative, thoughtful, analytical, and (like me) unemotional justice.

In effect, whether I agree with his personal ideologies or not, because he appears to think much like I do, I have to appreciate his approach. And when it comes to a Supreme Court justice, the approach is crucial. A justice cannot allow his or her decisions to be driven by emotion. They must have the law drive their decisions, even if that decision ends up to be contrary to the justice’s personal beliefs.

The Democrats on the committee made it clear that they do not agree with Alito’s personal values. However, that’s outside of the scope of the Senate’s purview on this matter. They’re supposed to provide advice and consent, but not selection. Therefore, if they find no substantial grounds to deny the qualifications of the president’s selection for the bench, then the Senate is obligated to confirm the president’s nomination. Regardless of the fact that Alito had nowhere near the superstar performance Roberts did, no one could rightfully say that his performance was grounds for disqualification (at least if you let logic drive that claim rather than emotion).

If Alito gets confirmed and sworn in to the Supreme Court, Americans cannot blame the Judiciary Committee. The Senate cannot blame the president. If you think that Alito should not be on the bench, then you have to lay the blame at the feet of the American electorate. That’s right: the Constitution gives the president the responsibility of nominating Federal judges. The electorate made their bed, now they’ll have to sleep in it—for the next few decades.

Alito v Democrats – Round One

Today was the first day of Q&A between Judge Samuel Alito and the Senate Judiciary Committee in Alito’s confirmation hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court. Before I analyze it, I should make the following legal disclaimer: I did not watch the hearing from end-to-end. That said, I did watch a good chunk of it.

How did Alito do today? In whole, he delivered very mixed results. Compared to Chief Justice Roberts‘ performance a few months ago, Alito could not hold a candle. However, compared to mere humans, Alito held up okay.

As a staunch supporter of many traditional conservative principles, I was comforted by much of the responses Alito had to today’s questioning. For the most part, he responded as a traditional conservative would.

Sidebar: Why do I keep using the term "traditional" conservative? Because many contemporary conservatives, and in particular neo-conservatives, have abandoned the traditional principles of conservatism. Instead, the most noted people called conservatives nowadays—especially the president—are actually radicals. Ironically, the definitions of "conservative" and "radical" are almost antonyms. Therefore, when I refer to traditional conservatism, I have to be clear that I do not include neo-conservatives.

There was one response in particular Alito made that I was pleased to hear: “The Bill of Rights applies at all times,” he said. “And it’s particularly important that we adhere to the Bill of Rights in times of war and in times of national crisis, because that’s when there’s the greatest temptation to depart from them.” Then he dotted the ‘i’ by adding, “No person in this country is above the law, and that includes the president and it includes the Supreme Court.”

That’s not to say that Alito’s performance was without flaw. He was subjected to withering questioning by the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Considering that the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, it’s only fair that the scrutiny of all nominees is rigorous, comprehensive, in-depth, and without boundaries. After all, a man of Alito’s age could sit on the bench effecting Americans for well over a generation, so they deserve an eminently qualified justice. However, the Democrats’ questioning of Alito went beyond what’s required to confirm him and extended to the lengths of becoming simply the pursuit of a partisan agenda.

However, his responses to partisan questioning were not the ones that were problematic. Instead, he had a couple of major stumbles in personal matters. First of all, he was asked about his statement that he would recuse himself in any case related to Vanguard mutual funds and his subsequent failure to do so. His response sounded disingenuous, simply saying “I just didn’t focus on the issue of recusal.” Considering numerous references to “Vanguard” in his finding in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, he couldn’t credibly claim to have forgotten his commitment.

His second major stumble was around questioning on his proud reference to membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) that he included in his CV. Under questioning from Democrats, he tried to dismiss his involvement. At one point he claimed to not have been active in the organization, even though he used his membership to help get him a higher-level job in the Reagan administration. His claims to having joined CAP only for its relationship with ROTC rang hollow—at least on the left side of the Hart hearing room. Personally, I doubt that Alito was involved in CAP so much for its exclusionary position towards women and minorities as much as he was to distance himself from his modest roots and cast himself as an elitist, but that’s a weak endorsement.

All in all, Alito was much more forthcoming in this first round of questioning than Chief Justice Roberts was when he faced the committee. This was good because it gives Americans a better picture of what kind of a justice Alito would make than we had of Roberts. However, it also exposed some of his flaws. But in terms of the fundamentals of Alito’s commitment to uphold stare decisis, his penchant for the Constitution & Bill of Rights, and his unequivocal statement that no one is above the law, he fared very well. Stay tuned for round two.

The turning radius of an aircraft carrier

What’s the turning radius of an aircraft carrier? Conventional wisdom says it’s pretty large, but occasionally conventional wisdom gets turned on its ear.

One such case was a decade ago when Netscape was dominating the browser wars while the World Wide Web was still in its infancy. Microsoft was busy developing Windows 95, so it was focused on the desktop. With so much resources working on making users productive on their own PC, Microsoft wasn’t paying much attention to the potential of the Internet. Meanwhile, Netscape capitalized on their first-mover advantage to capture the lion’s share of the browser market.

However, after releasing Windows 95, Bill Gates had a chance to begin serious consideration of the potential of the Web. So he hosted an Internet Strategy Day and announced Microsoft’s commitment to adding Internet capabilities to all its products in what has come to be known as the Internet Tidal Wave memo.

Typically, giant enterprises like Microsoft are not nimble, so they do not respond well—or at least quickly—to new opportunities in their business environment. Like an aircraft carrier, it takes time for them to begin turning their massive inertia in a new direction. Subsequently, no one expected Microsoft to be able to catch up to Netscape with it’s huge lead in browser market share.

But it proved everyone wrong. By 1996, Microsoft had already released version 3.0 of Internet Explorer. It was so superior to the Netscape browser of the time that it quickly began to gobble up market share from Netscape. As history now shows, Microsoft reacted to the browser wars with the agility of a small company, eventually capturing more than 95% of the browser users in the 21st century.

The question is, can Microsoft turn itself on a dime again? It has recently been flanked by another, once small, competitor: Google. Google has been applying emerging technologies like web services and Ajax to quickly release innovative products like Google Earth. It has also been acquiring companies like Blogger to offer exciting new Web-based services the market has been demanding. Of course, Google’s search engine has become so dominant that the term has become synonymous with searching, allowing Google to build up billions of dollars in market capitalization from its advertising revenues. It has rapidly proved to be a serious threat to Microsoft.

Recognizing this, its Chief Technology Officer, Ray Ozzie, wrote to Microsoft executive management that it needed to respond to Google. He said the future of Microsoft was at risk if they did not do so rapidly. Recognizing the seriousness of this, Chairman Bill Gates wrote an email to Microsoft’s top employees akin to his Internet Tidal Wave memo a decade prior. He said, “This coming ‘services wave’ will be very disruptive,” and went on to add that, “We must respond quickly and decisively.”

Will Microsoft be able to? Only time will tell. However, with Bill Gates still at the helm, it’s likely that the Microsoft aircraft carrier will be able to turn at least with the radius of the Octopus—the yacht recently purchased by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Granted, the Octopus can’t turn anywhere nearly as quickly as a Zodiac but, on the other hand, Google is no longer anywhere near what anyone would consider a small company. Therefore, with it’s vast resources available to put to the task, don’t count Microsoft out from being able to mount a seriously competitive response to Google’s recent successes.