Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Thanks for sharing

Jenn and I went out to dinner last night, and luckily we were seated near a loud, incessant talker.

I'm not sure how people become this way. Don't they have a single friend over the course of their life who says, "Hey, shut the fuck up for two seconds" ? This woman ate an entire meal without a break in her monologue. Her dinner partner started off with an occasional muffled "um-hmm", but quickly realized that her participation was completely unnecessary.

Here's what I learned about the loud-talker:

  • She's not very good at her job, because...
  • She never wanted to be a manager, but she wanted more money, and the only way to get more money was to become a manager, still...
  • She's underpaid because she has so much responsibility (even though she's not very good at handling the responsibility, see above) so...
  • She sees herself ending up in sales, even though...
  • She doesn't like selling things, and doesn't think she'd be good at it, but...
  • She likes to walk into a room and have everyone listen to her when she speaks (mission accomplished)

Oh there was more, much much much more, about her coworkers and their personality defects, their relationships with each other, and their incompetencies. Her incredibly important projects, the clients who love her, on and on and on. As the meal dragged on, I started to make slightly-above-whisper comments to Jenn about the loud talker. Jenn vigilantly steered me away from confrontation by changing the subject and asking me questions to divert my attention.

Here's a tip: No one cares about your work stories, they are the same as everyone else's freaking work stories. They are just Mad Libs without the humor.

[person] isn't as [adjective] as you, but they got the [noun] you wanted anyway.

Wow, intriguing. I'm fascinated. Do go on.

Doctor, my throat is ringing

I honestly try to avoid blogging about odd news stories...most of you have probably read the articles by the time I write about them anyway...and the predictable commentary promises to be even more insipid than my normal blog fare.

But forgive me if this one is too good to pass up.

A Missouri man has been accused of shoving a cell phone down his girlfriend's throat. We've all been in situations where we've wanted to shove a cell phone down someone's throat, but this guy actually followed through. Naturally, the defense claims that she willingly swallowed the phone on her own, to prevent her boyfriend from finding out who she was talking to. I could probably imagine a few better ways to accomplish this goal, but then again, I don't live in Missouri.

Now here's the funny part:

She testified yesterday that she couldn't remember how the phone got in her throat, saying she drank too much that night. Court records show that her blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit.

Look, I truly despise violence against women, and I'm all for punishing the ogre who did this...but when you willingly imbibe so much alcohol that you can't recall how that phone got down your throat, my sympathy for you starts to wane. Just a little.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Love God or Die!

Sherry told us that Kirk Cameron was crazy. Now, one of my co-workers can confirm that he's nuts, thanks to a first-hand experience.

I sure wish Kirk Cameron would tell me that I'm going to hell.

If anyone else has some scheduled face-time with Kirk, please feel free to invite me along.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A hint of life

Played a hockey double-header last night. First game was another loss by my winless team, to put our record at 0-9-2. The second game, my less hopeless team squeaked out a 6-5 win, improving our record to 5-5-1, which puts us in a tie for the final playoff spot. With two games to go, we have life!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pirates Movie Review

Pirates of the Carribean, Part Two, is mildly entertaining. It is campy adventure with good special effects. You won't care about the characters or become intensely involved in the pot, but overall it's a harmless waste of time.


There was one really excellent scene at the end, that almost made it worth watching 2.5 hours of mediocrity. First, Orlando Bloom catches a peek of his love swapping spit with Jack Sparrow. And although I realize he's just an actor who's pretending to be crestfallen, it makes me happy to imagine that Orlando Bloom is feeling pain. Then, during the kiss, she slaps a manacle on Sparrow's wrist, chaining him to the mast of the doomed ship. Knowing she's just sentenced him to death, she looks him in the eyes and says "I'm not sorry." Ouch.


Got my poker bankroll up over $1000, so I started playing in $20 tournaments. I've had little success so far, hanging around for a while but losing a few spots out of the money. Surprisingly, the quality of play is little different from the $4 tournaments. I imagine that once the field narrows toward the end, that there will be more good players remanining. But so far, it's nothing I can't handle.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Art of War

Suppose that your grandfather was uprooted from his homeland when a coalition of military powers arbitrarily created a new state and gave the land to someone else. Suppose that your whole life, you fought for freedom from these occupiers, freedom for your people to govern themselves and determine their own destiny. Faced with the overwhelming military supremacy of your enemy, you resort to asymmetrical warfare to achieve your aims.

As I understand it, this is the story of the Palenstinian people. Displaced, oppressed, and desperate...lacking any political or military strength...they resorted to terrorist tactics. And while I can't condone the killing of innocent people, I do understand how they felt there were no other options.

But then, after decades of fighting, a peace is reached. A Palestinian country is created, Israel abandons Gaza and makes plans to abandon the West Bank as well. Billions in humanitarian aid are provided by Israel, the US, and other countries long considered enemies. Two generations of battle against one of the most sophisticated and ruthless intelligence and military forces in the world have finally come to an end. You have achieved your goal.

Then Hamas crosses into Israel, killing one soldier and kidnapping another. Hezbollah follows suit. Why? The war is already won, the stated strategic objectives have been achieved.

Israel responds by laying waste to Gaza and Lebanon. Hamas and Hezbollah have managed to kill or capture a handful of Israelis, while the IDF is destroying Gaza and Lebanon at will. Hundreds of the people they fought to free have been killed. Billions of dollars in structural damage - let alone lost economic activity - have been inflicted on those two countries. Any progress that was made toward true freedom, the kind that can only come with economic and political stability, is hopelessly lost. Are a handful of Israeli captives worth this sacrifice?

What are the strategic goals of Hamas and Hezbollah anyway? Any idea? Do they really think that poking a sleeping bear with a stick will do more damage to the bear than to them? What rationality invites self-destruction as a means of warfare?

The sad truth is that the leaders of these organizations, and the radical clerics who support them is this: they are all irrelevant in times of peace. They are men who crave power, but they are not the type of men that win peaceful elections. They are the type of men that people turn to when an ugly job needs to be done.

You wouldn't vote Tony Soprano into the White House, just like Abe Lincoln wouldn't be your first choice of a partner in an back-alley brawl. These men feed on fear and unrest. As long as there is turmoil, as long as there is an enemy, as long as they can convince their fellow countrymen that an ugly job remains to be done...they will have the power they crave.

Note that the parallel to George W. Bush picking a war with Iraq, then being elected to a second term as president, is not lost on me. Even though I voted for Kerry, the actions of my Commander-in-Chief are implicity condoned by myself and my fellow Americans. Maybe I should beat the pre-nuclear-war rush and move to Australia. What do you say, honey?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Heads or Tails

The World Coin Flip concluded today, after Italy roared back from a nearly insurmountable 1-0 deficit to send the game to penalty kicks. And yes, once again, the world's best goalies were forced to guess about the direction of the kicks, and the best guesser won! (Rock Paper Scissors, anyone?) Keeping to form, 8/10 kicks found the back of the net.

France nearly won with World Cup without scoring a single goal, except for penalty kicks, in their last two games. Zidane was awarded one in both their semi-final match and the final match, and that accounted for their only scoring.

As a casual observer, I don't understand how a soccer snob could find any satisfaction at all in the way the world's greatest sports competition is decided. It's comical, really. If I get lucky enough to have a true soccer fan stumble upon this post, I'd love to know if you are as disappointed with the randomness of these results as I am.

Ah well...four more years until I watch el juego bonito once again.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Someone fix soccer, please

Soccer is known worldwide as the Beautiful Game. And truly, I can understand the appellation. Even though I've never been able to kick a ball with any accuracy or skill, I still enjoy watching soccer when played at a World Cup level. The anticipation and vision on display is incredible. Passes are threaded on angles created by well-timed runs and precise ball movement. The passion of fans, players, and coaches during the World Cup is simply unmatched on a global level.

I look forward to the World Cup every four years, and while I do enjoy it more when the U.S. doesn't suck so much, I still find myself involved long after the U.S. makes another ignominious exit from the tournament. But still, there is something horribly unsatisfying about the results of the game, if not the game itself.

Once you narrow the field to the world's best teams, the winners and losers are completely arbitrary. I don't mind watching low-scoring games with good defensive play, but when goals are at such a premium, luck plays a much bigger factor than it should.

The real culprit, in my blissfully ignorant opinion, is penalty kicks. Setting up twelve yards away to shoot at a goal that is 24 feet x 8 feet is simply ridiculous. The ball takes a full 0.3 seconds to hit the back of the net, so even the best goalies in the world cannot discern the trajectory of the ball and react to it in that time. They are forced to guess, yes guess where the striker will kick the ball and time their jump accordingly. This bizarre mess results in an 80% success rate for penalty kicks, and goalies studying game theory instead of improving hopelessly obsolete reactions.

Compare this to a penalty shot in hockey, where the success rate is ~30%, and the goalie has a chance to not only anticipate, but react to the skater's actions, and actually make a save!

I play hockey, but the odds of me scoring on a penalty shot against a NHL goalie would be around 1%, if that. Yet even a World Cup goalie could not defend an entire 24x8 net from someone as horrible at soccer as me, at a distance of 12 yards away. The goalie would still be forced to guess - left or right - and if he guessed wrong, even I would score at a decent rate.

Penalty kicks occur at two different times during a soccer game: 1) If 120 minutes of play ends in a draw, or 2) the referee determines there was a foul committed inside the 18. Of the four quarterfinal matches, two ended in draws and were decided by penalty kicks. Were Portugal and France clearly the better teams over England and Spain, or did they simply benefit from the arbitrary guesses of their strikers and goalies? In the semi-finals, France again won on a penalty kick, after the referree called a foul against Portugal (then failed to call a foul against France for a similar play). Considering how easy it is for a single referree to make a mistake, while watching a field of 22 players all diving and trying to draw this really how the greatest championship tournament in the world should be decided?

So here are my suggestions for changing the game, from someone who watches a handful of soccer matches every four years. These changes aren't to make the game more watchable - I love watching it as is - but it will allow skill to separate the winners and losers, instead of the randomness of guessing and referee error.

  • Get rid of off-sides. This is a goofy rule, allowing defenders to actually cause an offensive player to be off-sides, and there is too much room for referee error. It will open up the scoring dramatically...allowing highly skilled teams to shine, and allowing teams to occasionally come back from the dreaded 1-0 defecit.
  • Move penalty kicks back. I'm not sure where you'd move them back to - maybe the 18 - but find a spot where goalies can react to and save mediocre shots, but precise shots still score. Make this a contest of skill instead of guesswork. Make it a 50/50 proposition instead of a sure goal.

Then perhaps we could witness some back-and-forth games, some brilliant comebacks, and at the end of the tournament crown a true champion. The way it will end this year marks little distinction between the #1 team and the #7 team - they are only separated by the flip of a coin.

Accidental diplomacy

Even idiots get lucky sometimes, and the presiding President of Idiots caught a huge break when the Taepodong "long-range" missile failed 35 seconds into launch and splashed harmlessly into the sea.

Bush came into office and immediately reversed the diplomatic progress that Clinton had made with North Korea - lifting some trade barriers and forging an agreement to stop the building and testing of nuclear weapons. Famously branding them part of the "axis of evil", Bush took a hard line, refusing to conduct any face-to-face talks with Kim il-Ding Dong.

The accidental brilliance of this "plan" was to force North Korea into an attention-grabbing gamble. After years of simply being ignored by Greater Texas, Dong decided to defy his only ally of any consequence - China - by boycotting the six-nation talks, and then launching a missile in spite of their protests. If this test had succeeded, Dong would have lost a valuable friend in China, but would have gained international respect as a legitimate threat to peace.

Instead, North Korea only demonstrated a pathetic ineptitude at making war. To steal a metaphor from the linked article, they are the bank robber who points their gun at the ceiling and pulls the trigger, only to have a little red flag with the word "Bang!" pop out. They've managed to piss off their only friend and lose any hope of being taken seriously at the same time.

And really, we all have W. to thank. Without George's intransigence, North Korea would likely still be buying military technology from China and reselling it to Iran. And for as much as I bash the Chimp-in-Chief, I'm willing to give him credit for his successes, intentional or not. In a world full of crises, we need all the success we can muster.