BARTOLO COLON vs. THE HAMBURGLAR

Posted in No Politics Friday, Quick Hits on May 30th, 2009 by Ed

Now, I'm not saying Bartolo Colon looks like the Hamburglar, but Bartolo Colon looks suspiciously like the Hamburglar.

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His durability, powerful right arm, girth, and impressive disregard for physical conditioning recall the glory of current and former corpulent baseball stars like Rich "El Guapo" Garces (the last man to actually be driven to the mound on that hemlet-shaped engineering marvel known as the bullpen car), Mike "Spanky" LaValliere, Bobby Jenks, Kevin Mitchell (who once ended up on the Disabled List after injuring himself eating a fucking donut), Cecil Fielder (whose vegetarian son Prince, already 280 pounds at age 24, figures to look like an elderly Orson Welles by his mid-30s), and the legendarily sloppy Mickey Lolich.

It's a beautiful sport when guys who look like a south Philly telephone repairman can end up in the Hall of Fame – I'm looking at you, Gwynn and Puckett – or win MVP awards like Fielder, Mitchell, and Colon (Cy Young). Watching Tony Gwynn steal 56 bases in 1987 gives our fat asses hope as fans and viewers.

And for the record, the famously girthsome Babe Ruth was actually svelte for most of his career. It was not until his final years – when he started sneaking into the bullpen between innings to eat hot dogs – that he went all Cookie Jarvis on us. His career was essentially over by that point anyway.

NPF: BLOWN MINDS

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 29th, 2009 by Ed

If you ever have wondered what it might be like to sit in one of my classes, I have three words: obscure presidential trivia.

When Mary Truman-Daniel died in January of 2008, John Eisenhower became the oldest (in age as well as in order of presidents) living presidential child by a comfortable margin; the 86 year-old military historian's closest competitor is Lynda Robb (Johnson), age 64. Since it is historically common for Presidents to be older and have children who are either adults or at least teenagers there are very few cases of children living sixty or seventy years beyond their parent's presidency. Eisenhower is going to take a decent run at it.

Barack Obama, in fact, is noteworthy in how young his children are. His daughter Natasha is about to turn 8. In the 20th Century, only JFK's children ("John-John", who died in 1999 and Caroline, age 51) were younger when their father took office at ages 1 and 5, respectively. Amy Carter, who was just under 10, is the only other child to sneak into the single digits in that era. You'd have to go back more than a century to Theodore Roosevelt's sons Quentin (who died in the trenches in WWI) and Archie to find children under 10.

Like the rest of our society, 20th Century presidents had fewer children than their predecesors. FDR, with 5, and the apparently virile George H.W. Bush, with 6 (one died in infancy), were the most prodigious. Comparatively, many 19th Century presidents did as people commonly did in that era – had tons of kids and assumed 1/3rd of them would die. While some had a small number (Buchanan, Polk, etc.) there were a few whoppers. Hayes had 8 kids. William Henry Harrison had more kids (10) than he had weeks as President. And the honor of the most active wang goes to John Tyler, who had enough kids (15) to fill out an NBA roster.

Now. Are you ready to have your mind blown?

Who might you guess is the earliest president, chronologically, to have a grandchild alive today? Don't cheat. Guess.

My immediate guess was the aforementioned Theodore Roosevelt. Knowing that he had two children who were born in the 1890s, it seemed conceivable that a grandchild might be alive today albeit very old. Sure enough, TR has one surviving grandkid: son Archie's daughter Nancy is alive and 85 years old. But she doesn't take the cake.

Keeping in mind that Barack Obama is the 44th President, does it blow your mind to know that the correct answer is John Tyler? The tenth President!? The man who was President in 1841? As ridiculous as that sounds, it happens to be entirely true. As noted earlier, Tyler had a very productive wang. And it didn't tire with age: his last three children were born when Tyler was 63, 66, and 70. The first of that trio, Lyon G. Tyler (bitchin' name, for the record), inherited his father's reproductive prowess. Lyon, born in 1853, also had children throughout his life and into old age. In fact he had sons born in 1924 and 1928 when he was 71 and 75, respectively. Those two sons, Lyon Jr. (!!!) and Harrison Tyler, are alive today.

So Mr. Harrison Tyler, a chemist, and Lyon Tyler Jr., a college history professor, can tell people that their grandfather was President…twenty goddamn years before Abraham Lincoln. Their grandfather, as a child, made regular weekend visits to hang out with Thomas Jefferson. Their grandfather was born before the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.

The fact that knowing this stuff is at least indirectly relevant to my job makes me happy.

MAD PROPS

Posted in Rants on May 28th, 2009 by Ed

Amazingly, some of my friends and acquaintences appear shocked about the outcome of the Prop 8 appeal to the California Supreme Court. Seriously? Unhappy, I understand. But anyone expecting to win the battle on appeal after the state Constitution has been amended is misinterpreting the issues at stake.

California is among the few states in which the Constitution can be amended quickly and easily, by a simple majority on a referendum. And putting initiatives on the ballot is relatively easy as well, requiring either a vote of the state legislature or an initiative – basically a petition requiring a few thousand signatures. Unlike the earlier Proposition 22, which involved a statutory definition of marriage, Prop 8 involved an amendment. If you see the amendment as one that writes discrimination into the Constitution, you're not wrong. Regardless of how distasteful or discriminatory the amendment in question may be, the appeal asked the California Supreme Court to declare part of the Constitution unconstitutional. If that sounds possible, it isn't.

The fundamental job of the judiciary being to interpret the law in accordance with the Constitution, their hands are tied here. Hypothetically, let's say California voters voted for Prop 666, amending the Constitution to make it illegal for black people to ride public transit. Your liberal outrage aside there's absolutely nothing the Court could do about it. Once the Constitution is properly amended, it ceases to be possible for the Court to find it unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of race on public transit in this example. The parts of the Constitution that contradict it (equal protection, etc.) don't matter anymore. They've been amended. The California Constitution is the basis of all law in California and once it is amended to allow explicit discrimination, that type of discrimination cannot by definition be unconstitutional. Unless the appellants can argue that the amendment was not properly enacted (it was) they are wasting their time in court.

Of course Prop 666 would be appealed to the Federal courts and found unconstitutional for violating the protections afforded in the United States Constitution, which is legally superior to any state constitution. Does that seem like a promising option with Prop 8? Anyone think the US Supreme Court is going to give a gay-friendly ruling on this one? Me neither.

Face it, the anti-gay marriage movement played this one perfectly. They picked the right venue (a state with a virtual drive-thru amendment process) and the right time – an era in which the pro-gay marriage side won't want to press its luck by appealing this to the Roberts-Scalia-Alito-Thomas court. They came up with a successful plan and enacted it. The take-home lessons here are two:

  • What is lost at the ballot box must be won at the ballot box. The state legal system can't help here and the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court precludes that route.
  • There is a very goddamn good reason that the process of amending the U.S. Constitution is so difficult. It's difficult because it isn't supposed to happen regularly and it isn't intended to allow the legal codification of public opinion – especially the discriminatory kind. The Founders had their flaws, but they also had their moments. They realized that amendments are incredibly powerful things and they shouldn't be undertaken lightly. They can change, revoke, or supercede even our most basic, fundamental rights.

    We don't distribute rights by show of hands in this country, we enshrine those rights in our Constitution(s). The Constitution is supposed to endure, in marked contrast to the fickle swings of public opinion. That is why we make it so very hard to change. We don't want the fact that 75% of the public thinks gay marriage is wrong or slavery should be legal or the government should be able to promote Christianity to become the law of the land. It is hard to amend the U.S. Constitution specifically so that we can't legislate our prejudices. California saw fit to eliminate that safety valve and consequently the biases of the 51st percentile of voters becomes not only the law but the law by which all others are judged.

    They played it well and won. We lost. Don't sit around whining about it and expecting ridiculous legal arguments to produce courtroom victories based on what's "fair" or "right." Recognize the mistakes that were made and move on to the next (electoral) fight. Repeal or replace that amendment by the very same process used to bring us to this point and I think you'll find that the California Supreme Court, whose job it is to interpret the Constitution as written, will produce rulings more to your liking.

  • CONSERVATIVE FRAMES

    Posted in Rants on May 27th, 2009 by Ed

    Over the weekend I had the misfortune of being a fringe participant in a conversation about Michael Vick, and in it I heard a viewpoint which also has appeared in the more militantly animal-conscious corners of the internets. Namely, Mr. Vick should be banned from returning to the NFL where he stands to make a seven-figure salary when a team decides to roll the dice on a talented player with public relations and "character" issues. I see this viewpoint as an example of just how deeply-rooted conservative frames of criminal justice issues have become in this society.

    To briefly review the facts, Vick committed some fairly heinous crimes for which he was indicted, convicted, and punished. He served 20 months in Federal prison. One could easily argue that he would have served more if not for his wealth and celebrity, but he also wouldn't have been prosecuted without his wealth and celebrity (as his high profile encourage prosecutors to make an example of him, which is fine with me). He also lost his $120 million contract, lost millions more in endorsements, had several million dollars worth of property seized, had to repay his former employer a substantial portion of the millions he had been paid, and was forced into bankruptcy. All of this sounds fair to me. He has been punished with good cause. But he has been punished.

    In pre-1970s America, and in most of the industrialized world today, the purpose of incarceration and punishment is rehabilitation. Vick's words, his actions, and the fact that he hasn't smiled for 2 years indicate to me that he's a person who realizes "Wow. I fucked up. Bad." Without defending or excusing his actions, I can buy the argument that he knew that he was breaking the law but didn't think it was a big deal. Among poor communities, especially in the South, animal fighting and abuse are cultural institutions. He had probably been around it all of his life and, conversely, rarely around people who told him it was vile and unacceptable. He knew it was illegal the same way you know speeding is illegal. After going to Leavenworth, losing millions of dollars, and becoming a social outcast, I am willing to bet that he now understands that he was quite wrong.

    Isn't that what a justice system is supposed to be about? We punish people for violating the law – violations for which ignorance is no excuse – and we rehabilitate them. But in post-1980, War on Drugs America, that isn't enough. We want to find some way to punish the guilty for life. We want assurances not only that they were incarcerated but that they were incarcerated in a roach-infested, windowless cell with no lights for 23.5 hours per day, released briefly to be tied to a post and whipped. We think it's neat that people convicted of drug-related offenses are ineligible to receive student loans (thus less likely to go to college, thus far more likely to return to one of the few high-paying careers that require no education: selling drugs). And that leads some of us to think it's not only desirable, not only acceptable, but right that Michael Vick should somehow be punished in perpetuity for his crime.

    I could understand a long-term punishment specific to his crime. For instance, it would make sense if the judge forbade him to own dogs or required him to submit to a weekly visit from animal welfare officers if he did so. That would make sense in the same way that habitual drunk drivers are forbidden to drive or pedophiles are not allowed to be around children. However, I fail to see the benefit or logic to denying him the right to be employed in a field unrelated to his crime. The sense that it is Unfair for such a Bad Person to make a high salary doesn't have much of a place in the law. I doubt that Scooter Libby is working for minimum wage right now.

    A friend of Vick's, one Clinton Portis, commented when he was first charged, "I don't know if he was fighting dogs or not, but it's his property, it's his dog. If that's what he wants to do, do it. I think people should mind their business." This was widely reported. Another portion of the interview wasn't: "I know a lot of back roads that have the dog fighting if you want to go see it." Among poor, rural, Southern communities (and, according to law enforcement, increasingly among poor, urban, black communities) animal fighting is so pervasive that it simply isn't seen as a serious offense by people who are exposed to it regularly. So when Portis later stated, "At that time I had no idea the love people have for animals, and I didn't consider it when I made those comments" he probably wasn't lying. Hopefully the point that animal abuse is immoral and illegal has been made abundantly clear to Vick, Portis, and the many people who follow their careers – and the last group are the intended audience when a high-profile person is prosecuted for a crime. Now we move on. Guilt has been admitted and punishment has been administered. It serves no constructive purpose to channel the spirit of Reagan and adopt the attitude toward (non-white collar) criminals favored by his worshippers in Orange Counties across America.

    CLARENCE THOMAS'D

    Posted in Quick Hits on May 26th, 2009 by Ed

    Dear GOP,

    Here is a Hispanic woman. You hate everything she stands for, yet she represents the demographic you're so desperate to woo. I dare you to vote against her. Also, fuck you.

    Love,
    BO

    ONE WORD…PLASTICS.

    Posted in Rants on May 26th, 2009 by Ed

    For some reason CNN has seen fit to provide an upbeat take on the economy by front-paging this video (via their iReport feature) by a recent graduate of Syracuse University who has had little trouble getting a job. Why? Because he has skills. More likely skillz. Mad skillz.

    What Broseph McFratdog has to say, in case you're at work and can't partake of the video, is that he has several job offers because he, unlike you, was smart enough to get the Right Skills to succeed in the job market. That is how the free market works, after all. People who succeed do so because they are better than people who don't. They are smart enough to get the Right Skills whereas your unemployed ass was not.

    The best part, if you made it all the way to the end of the Marquis de Frat's monologue, is that the skills in question are only vaguely described – something dealing with "web design" or "system administration." A commenter on the CNN site helpfully notes "Type in 'Design Engineer' on Indeed (ed: a Monster-like job site) and you'll get more IT and Systems Engineer positions than you'll be able to read. You can pretty much write your own ticket in those occupations at this point."

    "At this point." And what about a few years from now when an Indonesian is doing the job for six bucks an hour? Fratilla the Hun hasn't thought that far ahead.

    Some people simply lack the will and psychological ability to fight the forces that work against them; they know only how to appease. They approach everything with the attitude of Neville Chamberlain and the Vichy French. This person thinks that if he kisses the market's ass enough and bends to its whims he will be treated well and rewarded. And thus he propagates the great myth that the key to succeeding in our current system is to gain "skills" – skills which the market will soon declare irrelevant, at which point one's experience and intellectual capital become worthless and working people are expected to uncomplainingly start over from scratch. This recent graduate's strategy is as smart (and likely to be as effective) as trying to appease a mosquito. Say or promise whatever you want; it's still going to bite you.

    The myth that one succeeds by chasing the Next Big Thing, the latest hot field or must-have skill that the market values highly, is nothing but a game of whack-a-mole as people like this student (and those who came before him) chase one economic fad after another. All they have as job security is the assumption, rooted heavily in either explicit or subconscious racism, that "My job is too important / too complex / etc" for some uneducated savage in the Third World to do. The past thirty years of economic history are littered with the empty shells of people who relied on such a strategy.

    So congratulations on appeasing the market, Broseph. It's still going to devour you.

    FUNNY, THAT

    Posted in Quick Hits on May 25th, 2009 by Ed

    Ever notice how all of the complete bullshit the Bush administration pushed about Iraq – they were a tremendous threat to world peace, they ignored agreements and UN resolutions, they were clandestinely developing a nuclear program, they brutally enslaved their own people – are actually true about North Korea?

    Good thing they ignored that situation while pissing away our military resources in Iraq. Didn't someone say "Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time"? Nah.

    NO HOLIDAY '09

    Posted in Rants on May 25th, 2009 by Ed

    Contining an annual tradition here at ginandtacos…

    To the extent that anyone in this country actually observes Memorial Day it is to express the kind of "patriotism" that more closely resembles sitting in the end zone seats at college football games than love or respect for one's country. You know the type. They wave their plastic flags from Wal-Mart, loudly holding court about the Honor and Bravery of the military (which they totally would have joined if not for their flat feet and bad back) while piss drunk and badly straining the structural integrity of a lawn chair. Perhaps later they will retire to the den and watch a Wings marathon on the Military Channel. Their gravy-stained t-shirt is almost certain to bear the image of an eagle. This is the American Patroit, a creature which resembles actual patriotic citizenship as closely as the drunken, combative fratboy at a sports bar represents actual masculinity.

    Memorial Day is about remembering people who died. Not "for our freedom" or "to protect our way of life" or any other slogan that flies off the lips of talk radio hosts and adorns Hallmark cards. It is about remembering the people who died in service of their country and what we gained as a nation by their lives, deaths, and service. The American Patriot can only learn one lesson from these deaths. The rest of us can learn many. Some deaths remind us of the tremendous sacrifices made by those with the courage to oppose inhumanity. Others remind us of the human costs of political misadventures. Their names and faces force us to remember that war is terrible and decisions made in the voting booth or halls of government put real people in harm's way.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThis is Pfc. Samantha W. Huff of Tucson, Arizona. On April 17, 2005 a makeshift bomb detonated as she performed routine patrol duty in Baghdad. The explosion tore off her left leg and she bled to death before her fellow soldiers could get her to a medical facility. She was 18 years old. She intended to go to college and become an FBI agent after serving in the Army. That won't happen now.

    We owe it to the dead we claim to honor to ask why and how they were asked to put their lives in jeopardy and what we gained as a nation in return for their ultimate sacrifices. There will always be Americans brave enough to serve when asked to do so. But their willingness to do a dangerous task does not mean they are expendable or that they should be asked to risk their lives lightly. The decisions we make in the political world and as a society affect real people – our friends, neighbors, classmates, children, parents, and strangers on the bus. Memorial Day is about more than simply remembering that some of them die – it's about remembering that you and I both bear responsibility for the fact that Samantha W. Huff isn't going to college. We bear responsibility for the 4,618 coalition soldiers – 4,300 American – and 100,000-150,000 Iraqi civilians who have died as the end result of the workings of our political and electoral process.

    Anyone unprepared to look at each picture and ask "Was this death worth it? Did we gain something valuable in exchange for taking a child away from parents, a husband away from a wife, a mother away from her kids?" has an incomplete and somewhat immature notion of patriotism and honoring those who served.

    NPF: LINGUISTICS

    Posted in No Politics Friday, Quick Hits on May 22nd, 2009 by Ed

    Terminator: Salvation has made it official; I need subtitles to understand Christian Bale. Either that or he needs to stop talking like he can't shit but is trying mightily to do so.

    NPF: SCHADENFREUDE VS. PHYSICS

    Posted in No Politics Friday on May 22nd, 2009 by Ed

    Schadenfreude has a strong presence on the internet, and my vote for its purest, most misanthropic expression is WreckedExotics.com. It is, as the name would indicate, a user-submitted photo gallery of rare, six-figure sports cars turned into piles of rubble by man or nature. Thus the world's wage-earners can visit the site (preferably at work, on the BMW-driving boss's dime) and relish in mental images of vacant yuppies distractedly yakking into a cellphone whilst driving their Ferrari into a rusted-out 1977 Ford Ranchero. Or a brick wall.

    If you've ever seen an astronomically expensive Italian sports can manufactured after 1980 you realize that they all look like doorstops, flying wedges with about 4 inches of ground clearance and front bumpers low enough to mow lawns. And if you've ever wondered, as I have, what would happen if such a car impacted a normal vehicle at moderate to high speed – say, if a new ($289,000) Lamborghini assholed a Hyundai Entourage minivan – WreckedExotics provides the simple answer: The laws of physics take over.

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    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

    The best part about that is that it happened to someone who isn't me. It's a veritable monument to passive-aggressive bitterness. And I'm OK with it.

    (PS: Be sure to check out D-list comedian Eddie "Undercover Brother" Griffin trashing a $1.2 million Enzo Ferrari, one of about 100 in existence.)