Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What will make you burn a flag?

Think about this if you are a rational, calm, decent American: What could the people in Afghanistan ... or for that matter in Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Waziristan or any of the other Stans anywhere in the world do which would so offend you that you would, in response, go down to the pennant store and buy the correct Flag O'Stan, bring it back to your neighborhood, knock on all of your neighbors doors and invite them to stand on your driveway while you angrily chanted crap from your Holy Book, they danced a jig and you burned the flag from the offending Stan?

My guess is there is nothing those boys could do to get you that upset, short of another 9-11 type terrorist attack. Yet every other freaking week the angry and radical Muslims from some Stan or another Stan are being morbidly insulted by some minor offense that some unknowing American seems to have committed.

It's as if the people in that part of the world are so angry with the horrible lives that they lead that they are always looking to get pissed off, always looking for trouble, always in need of a fight. Their backward culture, mixed with their anachronistic religion, makes each of them the guy who walks into a bar with his hot girlfriend who has her blouse unbuttoned to her naval and most of her breasts hanging out for the world to see and the boyfriend has his fists all balled up ready to cold-cock the first guy who ogles those tits, knowing every guy in the bar wants to view those ta-tas.

The last dust up in the Stan world involves a Koran burning which unintentionally pissed off those easily upset Stans. Here is what the L.A. Times is reporting:

Hundreds of Afghans are throwing stones, burning tires and chanting "Death to America!" after news broke that U.S. personnel inadvertently burned copies of the Koran at a military base north of Kabul.

The protests have raged for two days after Afghan laborers spotted bags containing the Muslim holy book in trash headed for an incinerator, The Times reported. U.S. officials have apologized, saying it was an accident and ordering training for troops on handling religious materials.

Perhaps the best answer is for us to publish new cartoons of Mohammed, where Mohammed is quoted as saying, "Please, Muslims! Stop looking like such idiots by protesting every little thing as if these infidels stole your camel!" I am sure that would calm the Stans down.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The 'chink in the armor' hubbub

Anthony Federico, who was fired for writing the 'chink in the armor' headline on regarding the many turnovers Jeremy Lin had committed in one game, says he had no intention of being racially offensive.
"I'm so sorry that I offended people. I'm so sorry if I offended Jeremy," Federico said.

Federico said he was "devastated" not only because he unintentionally insulted Lin, but because he slighted a fellow "outspoken Christian."

My guess is that Federico is being honest when he says he did not mean to be offensive. But I think he was also being stupid to not think that connecting a Chinese-American with the term 'chink' was not going to be perceived as an insult. Unless Mr. Federico has a history of doing other stupid things, I think it was excessive to fire him. I do think he earned a week off work without pay for his mistake.

One thing I was curious to know was how often the term 'chink in the armor' is used in news or sports stories having nothing to do with Jeremy Lin or any other people of Chinese heritage.

I Googled news stories from 2005 to 2007 (before Jeremy Lin was well known). The search yielded 1,450 results. Every sort of publication, from the New York Times to the Washington Post to little read blogs use this expression. Every three days, this term comes up an average of 4 times. I could not find one use of the term which was explicitly or implicitly offensive.

What the 'chink in the armor' story at ESPN says to me is that we, as Americans, are hypervigilant when it comes to being sensitive to the feelings of racial or ethnic minorities. Given how little real prejudice we have in our country, compared with every other multi-ethnic nation on earth, perhaps we would do well to turn down the sensitivity meters?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bill Lockyer's wife: what a disgusting wench

A few days ago, when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that state Treasurer Bill Lockyer's wife, who is an Alameda County supervisor and who is 30 years younger than her husband, was beaten up at a cheap motel in Newark by her ex-boyfriend, I thought the story sounded fishy:

Alameda County Supervisor Nadia Lockyer, wife of state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, was "violently assaulted" by an ex-boyfriend she met up with at a Newark motel after the Lockyers fought, her husband says.

No married woman who is in love with her husband meets up with an ex-boyfriend at a motel. The ring of it had that cheating wife all over it to me.

(Lockyer) said he and Nadia Lockyer had recently been separated but had gotten back together before the Feb. 3 incident. The trouble that night began when they were arguing over the phone, he said. Nadia Lockyer hung up and headed off to the motel to meet with her former boyfriend, Bill Lockyer said.

My immediate impression was that they separated because she was not in love with her 70-year-old husband but rather was more attracted to her 35-year-old boyfriend.

She portrayed the boyfriend as "a troubled person," he said. "She thought he was having a crisis and she thought she could get him to calm down and to be OK and not to threaten suicide. "And he turned out to be angry ... and she was violently assaulted by someone she was trying to help," he said. But she wouldn't have gone to the motel, Bill Lockyer said, if he hadn't said "something to her that was unkind and hurt her feelings. ... That's what caused her to go."

I thought, how sad if he really believes that bullshit. My guess, though, is that he is just lying for public consumption. He must be embarrassed that he married this whore. As a cuckold, he deserves sympathy.

According to other law enforcement sources, Nadia Lockyer was known by authorities to be dealing with personal problems that may have been related to the ex-boyfriend. Bill Lockyer said only that the ex-boyfriend "seems to have a long history of involvement with the criminal justice system, but her (Nadia's) only fault is occasionally having one too many drinks."

When I read that the police know her due to her "personal problems," my guess was that she is a drug addict or mentally ill.

Now, today, more about this Lockyer story has come out. The San Jose Mercury News is reporting that Nadia Lockyer has admitted she was having an affair with the so-called ex-boyfriend, that she is a drunk and that she has issues with drug addiction:

Alameda County Supervisor Nadia Lockyer, wife of California state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, said Tuesday that she's in rehabilitation for a substance-abuse problem after an extramarital affair culminated in a beating by her ex-lover.

Nadia Lockyer had reported to police that she had been attacked by the former boyfriend Feb. 3 at a Newark motel. "The injuries I suffered from that assault will require some time to heal, and I am receiving treatment for them," she said in a statement Tuesday.

"As of last week, I have enrolled myself in a wellness and recovery center to treat my injuries from the assault," she said. "I am also receiving treatment for chemical dependency and chronic pain from a past debilitating car accident. Alcoholism and addiction are diseases from which many of us suffer, and unfortunately, I have not been spared.

I would hope that the former Attorney General would divorce her, take charge of their young son, and move on with his life. This woman he married is bad people. Yet she seems to still want to keep him in her life and thus keep abusing him:

"With the strong encouragement of the people in my life who love me, including my husband, my family, and my friends, I decided to get help and treatment so that I may fully heal and recover."

The lesson is this: people almost never change. She will never fully heal and never fully recover. She has serious character flaws that likely eminate from her childhood. Her addictions are only a part of her flaws.

She should quit her position on the Board of Supervisors and go away and try to become a better person. She does not deserve her husband. She does not deserve to be a mother. She does not deserve to get the benefits of our society. She should not be trusted in public office.

She should forever pay penance for what she did to others and hope the God of the Jews does not condemn her to burn in Hell. But if she does meet get sent to that firey pit, she will at least get to see her old boyfriend on a regular basis.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney Houston: She was the author of her own demise

I was playing online poker around 6 pm last night when I heard on the radio that Whitney Houston had died.

Whitney Houston, a willowy church singer with a towering voice who became a titan of the pop charts in the 1980s and 1990s but then saw much of her success crumble away amid the fumes of addiction and reckless ego, has died. She was 48. Kristen Foster, a publicist, announced Saturday that the singer had died, and police sources later confirmed that she was found unresponsive in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel about 3:30 p.m. Paramedics performed CPR on her, but she was pronounced dead about 4 p.m., Beverly Hills Police Lt. Mark Rosen told KTLA News. An investigation into the cause of death is pending.

In that alcoholic and drug-abusing pop stars very often die young, it should not have come as a surprise. But it shook me a little. Perhaps Ms. Houston dying so young--she was just 48--was a surprise because my lasting image of her is a healthy, attractive young woman. I didn't picture her the way I visualize an Amy Winehouse, an ugly face covered in tattoos who always looked wasted. I didn't see her as a needle in his vein rocker like a Kurt Cobain. I saw Whitney as young and beautiful.

When I witnessed on my television the decline and fall of Whitney Houston, I placed the blame on her ex-husband, Bobby Brown. I saw Brown as a villain. I saw Brown as the man who led her in the wrong direction, the direction of drug abuse and domestic abuse. I saw her as pure and innocent and sweet. I saw him as dirty and guilty and acerbic.

But in reality, she met and married Brown when she was an adult, already a major star. She chose to be with him. She chose to use drugs. She was the author of her own demise. Bobby Brown, for all of his faults, was ultimately just a collaborator. He did not force her to be with him. He did not force her to do drugs. He did not use any form of coercion which caused her to destroy her career and finally to end her life.

It's sad when any decent person dies as young as Whitney Houston died. But saddest of all is that for the last 15 years of her life, she wasted her enormous god-given talent. She wasted the best female voice in pop music since Barbra Streisand. She gave a lot of pleasure to everyone who heard her sing. She could have given much more.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Do we really want poor women to pump out more unwanted children? Really?

The religious right has been up in arms for the past couple of months because they claim that the Obama administration's decision on prescription birth control, which requires most employers who provide health insurance to include free prescription birth control, is an affront to their religious beliefs, particularly to the Catholic Church's stupid opposition to artificial birth control methods.

But what has been under-reported--especially by news outlets unfriendly to this president--is that there is nothing new in the Obama policy from existing policies, other than that prescriptions for birth control must be free to the patient. For the last 12 years, federal rules have required most employers to include coverage of birth control methods.

Here is what NPR reported, this morning:

The only truly novel part of the plan is the "no cost" bit. The rule would mean, for the first time, that women won't have to pay a deductible or copayment to get prescription contraceptives.

Even though this policy is nothing new, it is fair to ask if it passes constitutional muster.

"Now millions more women and families are going to have access to essential health care coverage at a cost that they can afford," says Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel with the ACLU. "But as a legal matter, a constitutional matter, it's completely unremarkable."

In fact, employers have pretty much been required to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their health plans since December 2000. That's when the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that failure to provide such coverage violates the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. That law is, in turn, an amendment to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlaws, among other things, discrimination based on gender.

Here's how the EEOC put it at the time: "The Commission concludes that Respondents' exclusion of prescription contraceptives violates Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, whether the contraceptives are used for birth control or for other medical purposes."

California is one of many states which has had a birth control requirement for years.

More than half the states have similar "contraceptive equity" laws on the books, many with religious exceptions similar or identical to the one included in the administration's regulation. That's no accident. "The HHS rule was modeled on the exceptions in several state laws, including California, New York and Oregon," says Lipton-Lubet of the ACLU.

While the state courts have consistently ruled in favor of this type of law, the Supreme Court of the United States will probably end the argument one way or the other:

There are now lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the policy, including a new one filed on behalf of the religious television network EWTN. But the exemptions have already been tested in court, at least at the state level. In 2004, the California Supreme Court upheld that state's law, in a suit brought by Catholic Charities, on a vote of 6-1. The court ruled that Catholic Charities didn't qualify as a "religious employer" because it didn't meet each of four key criteria (which, by the way, are the same as those in the new federal regulation):

● The organization's primary purpose is "the inculcation of religious values.
● It primarily employs people of that religion.
● It primarily serves people of that religion.
● It's a registered nonprofit organization.

Churches are exempt under the four rules, but not all church-affiliated groups are:

... in 2006, New York's top state court rejected a claim by Catholic Charities and several other religious groups that the state's contraceptive coverage law discriminated against them because it exempted churches but not their religiously affiliated groups. "When a religious organization chooses to hire nonbelievers, it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees' legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit," the justices wrote.

A reasonable argument could be made that the government should not require insurers to sell or employers to buy policies which charge this or that or nothing for a certain medication or a certain treatment. In other words, an argument can be made against the government interferring in a question of price. But no one arguing against "free birth control" is making that case. They appear to be making the false claim that this is some new war against the Catholic Church by Mr. Obama, when nothing has changed for the Church.

One thing I think all reasonable people can agree on--I am not counting any of the religious right in the reasonable category--is that poor people and our country at large are not better off having poor women give birth to children they don't want to have and that they will do a lousy job raising. Better and cheaper birth control for them will prevent unwanted births among women who cannot now afford the cost of prescribed birth control and it will reduce the demand for abortions.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Venezuela: Lots of beautiful women; one ugly dictatorship

NPR had a story this morning about the opponents of Hugo Chávez coming together to put up a single candidate to face the dictator in October's scheduled presidential election.

The opposition to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has tried everything to end his long rule: huge protests, a coup and an oil strike. Nothing has worked, but now opposition leaders have coalesced into a united and focused movement that is preparing to choose one candidate to run against the president, posing the strongest electoral challenge to Chávez's populist rule.

If an autocrat is popular, as Chávez was in 2006 when oil prices were skyrocketing, and he was able to buy off the electorate, he can hold an honest poll, albeit one where Hugo controls the media, he controls the message, and he employs the people who will count the votes.

This year, with inflation up and employment down, Chávez is less popular. But with all the power in his hands, he will again win election, even if he needs to cheat to do so.

Venezuela is a country of stark contrasts: rich and poor; good and evil; ugly and beautiful. More than in any country on earth, good looks mean a lot to the Venezuelan people.

Since 1979, a Miss Venezuela has gone on to win the Miss Universe title 6 times. Many others have finished in the top 3. Six wins is more than any other country over that period. Perhaps the distinction is not a true measure of how many beautiful women Venezuela has. But certainly it shows how important pageants are to the Venezuelans.

Maritza Sayalero of Caracas won the global beauty prize 33 years ago. She was Venezuela's first Miss Universe. Since that time, no one from large countries like Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Spain, Japan or China has put on the Miss Universe crown. Yet five more Venezuelans have. The only country to come close is little Puerto Rico with four champions. The U.S. has had three since Miss Sayalero took the tiara.

A recent article in OPEN Magazine (from India) explains "How they do it in Venezuela":

(Venezuela) has won 17 beauty queen titles over the past 30 years. News reports there insist that the annual Miss Venezuela pageant is often the most watched TV show on the day it airs, and most girls grow up dreaming of the crown. For a Miss Venezuela aspirant, such ambitions could start at the tender age of 13, when her parents gift the pre-adolescent girl her first cosmetic makeover. Or even at age 7, when she is enrolled at a beauty academy, where she will be taught the difference between a high street bag and a Chanel one, and where she will learn that the only fork she needs to use is the salad one. Breast implants, nose jobs and tummy tucks typically come a little later—post adolescence, for that is when they are rather more effective. ...

Once a girl is chosen to compete in the Miss Venezuela contest, the drill gets stricter still. Under the guidance of Osmel Sousa, president of the Miss Venezuela Organization, the first step involves taking stock of the girl’s flaws, and then getting down to fixing them. This includes using hair stylists, make-up artists, physical trainers, speech and acting coaches, dental surgeons and dance and walking instructors. Plastic surgeons use their scalpel on whatever cannot be moulded through diet and exercise. And though most Venezuelan beauty contestants are tightlipped about the work done on them, Sousa had famously remarked in 2008, “This isn’t a nature contest. It’s a beauty contest, and science exists to help perfect beauty. There is nothing wrong with that.”

Yet for all that success in the world of pulchritude, Venezuela has one ugly government. In 1999, when Hugo Chávez won the presidency of his country in a free and fair election, Venezuela was a democracy. But Chávez is no democrat. In the last 13 years, a few weeks of which he was out of power during a failed coup, he has turned his country into a socialist police state, with all the power in his own beastly hands.

It is true that Venezuela still has elections. Saddam Hussein's Iraq held elections, too. The votes in Venezuela no longer matter. If the autocrat cannot win an honest vote, he can cheat and no one can stop him:

Certainly "elections" can't be expected to matter much. Mr. Chávez now controls the entire electoral process, from voter rolls to tallying totals after the polls have closed. Under enormous public pressure he accepted defeat in his 2007 bid for constitutional reforms designed to make him president for life. But so what? That loss allowed him to maintain the guise of democracy, and now he has decided that there will be another referendum on the same question in February. Presumably Venezuela will repeat this exercise until the right answer is produced.

All police states hold "elections." But they also specialize in combining the state's monopoly use of force with a monopoly in economic power and information control. Together these three weapons easily quash dissent. Venezuela is a prime example.

In a fashion not too different from how Moammar Ghaddafi concentrated power in his own hands in Libya, Chávez has given titles only to sycophants whose ultimate loyalty is to him. Ten years ago, Lt. Colonel Chávez purged all officers above the rank of second lieutenant from his armed forces. He has replaced all of them with lackeys loyal to him. Those men have subsequently become his eyes and ears in every government agency, every ministry, every courthouse. If anyone speaks his mind against the president, Chávez will find out and eliminate him.

The Venezuelan government is now a military government. Mr. Chávez purged the armed forces leadership in 2002 and replaced fired officers with those loyal to his socialist cause. Like their counterparts in Cuba, these elevated comandantes are well compensated. Lack of transparency makes it impossible to know just how much they get paid for their loyalty, but it is safe to say that they have not been left out of the oil fiesta that compliant chavistas have enjoyed over the past decade. Even if the resource pool shrinks this year, neither their importance nor their rewards are likely to diminish.

Mr. Chávez has also taken over the Metropolitan Police in Caracas, imported Cuban intelligence agents, and armed his own Bolivarian militias, whose job it is to act as neighborhood enforcers. Should Venezuelans decide that they are tired of one-man rule, chavismo has enough weapons on hand to convince them otherwise.

The way Hugo Chávez controls the message in his country--there is no freedom of the press and no more freedom of thought in the country's educational system--is Orwellian. Chávez as Big Brother is on TV all day for many days. His words loom over the public, workers and school children. They have mass rallies spreading the Chavismo thoughts. Chávez learned propaganda from his socialist forebearers: Mao, Kim, Stalin.
One measure that Mr. Chávez relies on heavily is control of the narrative. In government schools children are indoctrinated in Bolivarian thought. Meanwhile the state has stripped the media of its independence and now dominates all free television in the country. This allows the government to marinate the poor in Mr. Chávez's antimarket dogma. His captive audiences are told repeatedly that hardship of every sort -- including headline inflation of 31% last year -- is the result of profit makers, middlemen and consumerism.

The Orwellian screen is also used to stir up nationalist sentiment against foreign devils, like the U.S., Colombia and Israel. The audience has witnessed violence in Gaza through the lens of Hamas, and last week Mr. Chávez made a show of expelling the Israeli ambassador from Caracas.

The only group able to stand up to the Chávez dictatorship has been the owners of private businesses. However, Chávez has moved hard to cripple that opposition:
The most effective police-state tool remains Mr. Chávez's control over the economy. The state freely expropriates whatever it wants -- a shopping center in Caracas is Mr. Chávez's latest announced taking -- and economic freedom is dead. Moreover, the state has imposed strict capital controls, making saving or trading in hard currency impossible. Analysts are predicting another large devaluation of the bolivar in the not-too-distant future. The private sector has been wiped out, except for those who have thrown in their lot with the tyrant.

I am not counting on it, but perhaps the only chance the people of Venezuela will have to get rid of their dictator is if he dies in the next few years from cancer. Barring that, Chavismo as a force of ugliness will live on.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Where will Syria be one year from now?

The way non-fans will often watch a major sporting event on TV, I am following the anti-Assad uprising in Syria: at a distance, not really paying attention to the plays as they take place on the field, but tuning in now and then for the occassional highlight on replay.

Due to the fact that the Alawite dominated dictatorship in Damascus brutalized its people from 1970-2000, when Hafez al-Assad was in charge, and it has continued to do so since Bashar al-Assad replaced his father 12 years ago, I am rooting for the rebels.

But there is reason to think that if the Alawites, who are a minority religious sect related to the Shiites, fall, the replacement government will be dominated by Sunni radical Islamists with views in line with Al-Qaeda and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. They might prove a greater danger to the outside world than the murderous man now on the throne.

Part of the reason why Sunni Islamists are likely to win power with the fall of the Alawites is that this rebellion, which came in the wake of the Arab Spring, is not so much one about liberation or economic freedom or civil rights for the oppressed or women's rights or a generation of young people raised on Twitter and Facebook who want the material goods they see that youths have in foreign lands. This conflict, war if you will, is sectarian. It is Sunni versus Shiite (albeit the Alawite version of Shi'a Islam).

The Sunnis make up 74 percent of the Syrian population. The Alawites, who have lorded over the Sunnis for more than 40 years, are less than 10 percent of Syria's people. In a sectarian sense, Ba'athist Syria is a reverse of Ba'athist Iraq, where Saddam Hussein's Sunni clan was a small relgious minority that dominated the much large Shiite majority. When Iraq finally had free elections after the United States ousted Saddam, the minority Sunni Arabs of Iraq came to realize that their country had a lot more Shiites than they had thought, and they learned what it was like to be an oppressed minority.

The traditional leadership of the Syrian Sunnis has been its religious clerics, the imams and the mullahs. They were the people who directed the uprising in 1982. Most of them pine for a theocratic government.

Hafez al-Assad ordered the murder of tens of thousands of Sunnis in the Hama Massacre, because he knew that his personal power could not last if the Sunnis across Syria, organized by religious leaders, stood as one against him and his fellow Alawites.

The question now on my mind is this: Where will Syria be one year from now?

Every day there are stories in the news about mass protests. Every day there are stories in the news about the rebellion forming its own army. Every day there are stories in the news about the geographic growth of the anti-Assad movement. Yet every day there are stories in the news about dozens or hundreds of "protesters" being shot and killed.

The LA Times, for example, is reporting that Mr. Assad bombed a medical clinic today in the city of Homs, killing 24 or more:

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Opposition activists said Monday that the Syrian military bombarded the central city of Homs, hitting a makeshift clinic and killing at least two dozen people.

Amateur video from Homs purported to show a field clinic overwhelmed with wounded and dead, while an irate doctor blamed Russia and China for the shelling. The comment was a reference to the two superpowers' veto Saturday of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have backed an Arab League plan calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad to relinquish power.

"The situation is dramatic: We are escaping from one side of the neighborhood to the other," said an opposition activist reached in Homs, adding that casualties included staff at the makeshift clinic in the Baba Amro district. "We are just putting the wounded in homes and just trying, without success, to stop the bleeding. We cannot put in stitches or do operations." ...

The opposition reported more than 200 killed in Homs during a weekend military bombardment of the Khaldiya neighborhood. The government denied the charges, accusing the opposition of fabricating the report and declaring that terrorists were attacking the city.

This chaos cannot last forever. At some point the government falls or Assad takes away the will of anyone to stand up against him. At some point there is a key battle or a key defection. At some point things become stable again.

My best guess is that Bashar al-Assad will still be in power come February, 2012, though I don't think the rebellion will have lost its will yet. Here is the basis for my calculus:

Assad has powerful friends outside of Syria who will sustain him. It's not just the Russians, who are supplying him with arms, or the Chinese, who are feeding him cash, it is his strong alliance with the Shiite crazies in Iran, who will back him to the last man. Assad also has a strong external alliances with Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups, which never lack the will to do evil. The government of Syria has no compunction to not murder and torture the people of Syria--in the name of staying in power.

With the money and material Assad is getting from the outside to bolster his regime, his Alawite faithful have nowhere else to go. If Bashar falls from power, ordinary Alawites know they will lose everything: their positions, their homes, their freedom, their lives. The average Alawite has very good reason to fear a Sunni Islamist takeover. They do not expect Assad's fall will result in free elections. They expect that will result in a reign of terror directed against them, even worse than the terror they have imposed on their countrymen.

The two wild cards, which could prove my guess about Syria's future wrong, are these:

1. Perhaps the Sunni rebels will get more outside support of their own. (I am not sure if they are getting much, now. Egypt might just have a Sunni Islamist government before too long. Egyptian Sunnis could sends guns and money. Maybe the Saudis will send material support to their Sunni brethren. Maybe al-Qaeda forces will join the fight. If the 74 percent majority of Syrians are well financed, armed, trained and organized, they could oust Assad; and

2. If more and more members of the Syrian armed forces switch sides, Assad might fall from within. While it is true that almost all of Assad's top generals are Alawites, as are his top political allies, there are secular Sunnis (including Kurds) in his army leadership, and a few of them have defected to what is now called the Free Syrian Army. If this trickle becomes a deluge, Assad will fall.

Time Magazine is reporting today that the regime's defectors have some advantages already:

The military breakaways tend to return to their hometowns, enabling even a small group to tap into a much wider social and clan-based network. In the early days of what was a predominantly peaceful uprising, bands of army defectors across the country were turning away the civilians volunteering to join their ranks, in a bid to maintain some semblance of military hierarchy and discipline. Now, in amateur videos posted on YouTube, some units are openly calling for civilian volunteers.

One thing I am sure won't happen: there will not be another Libya; the NATO powers will stay on the sidelines. The reason for this is not just the lack of oil, though that may play a role. The reason is that Bashar Assad is not Moammar Ghadaffi. He has not built up so much ill will in the West. And I presume the major Western powers understand that the Sunni forces fighting Assad will never be our friends.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

It is painful to watch the Sacramento Kings ... most of the time

Based on their 8 wins and 15 losses, the Kings are not the worst team in the NBA. That distinction goes to the 3-21 Charlotte Bobcats. Nice job, Michael Jordan. However, if you look deeper into their numbers, Sacramento is probably the worst team in the Western Conference and the third worst club overall. They can play competitively against the other bad teams. They almost always get blown out by the top 15 clubs in the NBA.

Last night at home, the Kings played very well ... against the 8-13 Golden State Warriors. It was, for a Kings game, unusually good to watch. It was back and forth all the way. It finished with a Sacramento victory in overtime. It's too bad that the Kings can't just play the other bad teams.

Most nights, the Kings are just pathetic. Of the 30 teams in the NBA, the Kings have the lowest field goal percentage (.404). They are tied with Utah for the worst 3-point percentage (.293). They are in the lower third as free throw shooters (.737). They are, by a long way, the worst team in the NBA in assists (372, which is far below Chicago's league-leading 587). They have just one more block (94) than the league-worst Detroit Pistons. They are 10th worst in turning the ball over (370).

Only five clubs have allowed more made baskets. Only three teams give up a higher percentage of shots made. They are the second worst team in the NBA in allowing the other team to get offensive rebounds on them and 11th worst in allowing defensive rebounds. Sacramento is 5th worst in both giving up assisted baskets and allowing steals against them.

The argument that they are the worst team in the Western Conference is based on a metric called the Simple Rating System. It "takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule." The average team in the SRS will have a rating of 0. Better than zero is better than average. The Kings have an SRS rating of -7.59. That is well worse than the -3.26 SRS rating of New Orleans, despite the Hornets team record of 4 wins and 20 losses.

The one bright spot for the Kings is that they are young. They average 24.5 years of age, third youngest in the NBA.

They have a talented, but inconsistent and emotionally imbalanced power forward in DeMarcus Cousins. If he does not lose his mind entirely, Cousins (age 21) will one day be an All-Star.

Their other most notable player is Tyreke Evans (age 22). Unfortunately, Evans does not appear to be getting any better since his rookie season. If anything, he is worse. He plays very poor defense and he cannot shoot the basketball. His FG% has declined each year since he came out of college. He also is injury prone.

The Kings added rookie Jimmer Fredette to their roster this year (trading for him on draft day). It looks like Fredette, who was a high scorer in college, will be a bust. He cannot defend anyone, and he has trouble making his shots. He is among the worst rookies in the NBA this year in a metric called Win Shares per 48 minutes played.

To improve, the Kings need to add a competent center. Last year they had that in Samuel Dalembert, but they did not resign him. His replacement has been Chuck Hayes, and Hayes is just not nearly as good. They also need a new small forward or shooting guard who shoots for a high percentage and plays defense.

My advice is they trade away Evans and Fredette. Maybe Utah, where Fredette played his college ball at BYU, would give up somebody for Jimmer?

As this group ages, it is inevitable that they will get better. But without a significant change in personnel, the Kings are not building toward a playoff team. They are likely to move up from the 15th worst of the 15 teams in the Western Conference to maybe the 10th or 9th worst.

It's not a pretty picture for Kings fans.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Obama's plan is total nonsense

The federal government is running annual deficits around $1 trillion and President Obama proposes to increase our debt even further to create more jobs for local fire departments?

USA Today is reporting that Obama wants to pour $1 billion that we don't have into jobs for firefighters:

In an effort to cut the unemployment rate among veterans, President Obama ... will seek more grant money for programs that allow local communities to hire more police officers and firefighters.

"Let's get more cops on the beat, let's get more rangers in the parks, let's get more firefighters on call, and in the process, we're going to put more veterans back to work," Obama said Friday at a fire station in Arlington, Va. ...

Communities that hire veterans to work as police and firefighters will be given preference in the grants competition. ... He will propose an additional $1 billion for the firefighter grants.

This nonsense is all about President Obama paying off public employee unions in the hope that they will work hard to get him re-elected. It has little or nothing to do with helping new veterans. (If some of them cannot find work, they should be trained for productive employment in the private sector.)

Mr. Obama's plan has nothing to do with fighting fires. Local communities all over America have millions of firefighters sitting around with no fires to fight.

It has nothing to do with helping local governments. Once they take the federal money to hire a veteran as a firefighter, the local taxpayers will be stuck with the new union member's massive package of lifetime medical benefits and an unaffordable amount to cover his pension. The only cities which will take on these unsustainable burdens will be those where their firefighter unions are running the cities and don't care what long-term damage the added costs will bring.

The Obama hire-a-firefighter program has nothing to do with relieving national unemployment. Net job creation in our country is the result of creating efficiencies. Hiring more firefighters we don't need won't do that. Rather, it will divert money from productive uses--that is, the higher taxes needed to pay this plan off will come from money which could have gone into investment in research & development or new plant & equipment--into an unproductive use. Ultimately, this will cause our country to be less efficient and have fewer jobs created.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is suicide always the wrong choice?

The death by suicide of Don Cornelius of "Soul Train" fame is in the news today. The LA Times is reporting that health and money problems may have been behind Mr. Cornelius's choice to take his own life:

Authorities investigating the death of "Soul Train" creator Don Cornelius continued to sift for clues after he was found in his Encino home Wednesday with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Sources close to the investigation said they were looking at several possible triggers, including Cornelius' health and his financial situation. But they emphasized they had not made any determinations.

Cornelius had undergone brain surgery in the 1980s and was quoted in newspapers at the time as saying he didn't feel quite the same afterward.

Coming into adulthood, when I formulated my opinions on most topics, I thought suicide was always a terrible choice. I felt that the act was horribly selfish and it always left behind a wake of pain for the families and loved ones of the person who took his own life.

I still mostly feel that way. However, as I have gotten older I've learned a couple of things which have somewhat altered my view.

First and foremost, I have learned a little more about depression. I have never suffered from it or known anyone close who was depressed to the point of contemplating suicide, but I do know that severe depression is the byproduct of brain chemistry and for people who are not treated with medications and psychotherapy, the "decision" to commit suicide is often the irrational act of someone whose mind is chemically messed up. In other words, it's not exactly a choice for someone who has lost his rational mind.

Outside of people who are clinically depressed, I now think there are a small number of cases where suicide could be the best option for everyone, including close family members and friends. For example, take a person with a degenerative disease, the symptoms of which make the patient terribly unhappy and a burden on his wife and children. Say he will live another five years, but over that period he will lose his mind and lose control of all of his bodily functions. He will no longer be able to think clearly, to have conversations with friends, to walk his dog, to leave his home and so on. He knows up front that his medical care will wipe out his life savings and leave his family in a world of hurt. In that sort of an extreme case, it's unfair to call suicide selfish. I am not suggesting I think a patient needs to kill himself to better others. It's a personal choice. But I would not hold it against anyone for choosing suicide in that type of case.

After the dead bodies of his wife and her waiter were found, but before OJ Simpson had gone on the run in his white Ford Bronco, I thought to myself: This is the sort of rare circumstance where suicide would be best for everyone involved. Surely Simpson was guilty of that terrible crime, killing two innocent people. Surely he was going to end up in prison for the rest of his life if they found him alive. A trial was simply going to bankrupt him, stealing away the money that would better serve his surviving children. To the extent that his repuatation as a human being and as a celebrated football player could ever be salvaged, that was only possible if he immediately paid the highest price for his terrible act and died. Suicide in the case of OJ was, I thought, the best possible answer, or at least the least worst answer.

He did not kill himself, of course. And what happened? Shockingly, a stupid jury acquitted him. But the public never did. Everyone with a brain knows OJ was guilty of a double homicide. Because of what it took for his lawyers to get him off, his reputation was entirely unsalvagable afterward. Another jury in a civil case convicted him, and he lost his money and possessions that could have gone to his kids. So his living was selfish insofar as he ever wanted his kids to have his material possessions and insofar as OJ wanted his kids to have a famous father who was famous for something other than murder. By not dying, by not choosing suicide, OJ made that impossible. And in a strange twist, he was convicted of a felony in Nevada, where it seems he will spend the rest of his life as a prisoner.

Maybe that is a better outcome than death for himself. But I cannot see how he has made anything better for his children and friends and our country by choosing to not commit suicide after he murdered Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. Had OJ Simpson cared about anyone other than himself, he should not have fought the murder charges against him. He should have driven his white Ford Bronco off of a cliff before prosecutors had decided what to do with him.