Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Friday, July 28, 2006

My Plan for Peace in the Middle East

My Plan for Peace in the Middle East
By Richard S. Russell • 2006 July 28

Boy, the Middle East is a mess. Can't anybody DO something about it? Glad you asked. I just happen to have the solution.

1st we analyze the problem. What's causing all the ruckus? Answer: nobody knows! Everybody's just acting on old animosities and grudges that have built up over the course of centuries and millennia. They've all long since forgotten who threw the 1st stone. Now it's just 1 act of revenge after another.

So the obvious solution is to get these folx a set of nabors with whom they DON'T have a long, nasty history. This leads to my proposal: the Enemy Exchange.

Here's how it works. We'll move all the Palestinians to Northern Ireland, and all the Protestants in Ireland to the West Bank. ("What about the Gaza Strip?", you're probably wondering. We'll just let that revert to the scorpions. It was never fit for human habitation in the 1st place.)

The Palestinians will obviously think this is a good deal, since they will never have seen so much water in their entire lives. Conversely, you might think that the Ulstermen would have some reservations about leaving the Emerald Isle, but think about it for a bit. "Emerald" means green. Green means Catholic. But the Protestants are Orange thru and thru. And what will they find starting about 10 metres from the banks of the Jordan? Orange! Orange rocks. Orange sand. Orange dust covering everything they own. Why, they'll think they've died and gone to ... well, you know.

Despite what a good deal this is, there will undoubtedly be some who won't want to take advantage of it. For them, I propose the Harry Truman solution. No, not THAT Harry Truman. I mean the old coot who lived on the side of Mount Saint Helens and refused to leave the spot where'd he'd spent his entire life just because of a little puffing and grumbling from the ground. And he didn't, either! He's still there, under something like 2-3 metres of hardened lava. So let people stay as long as they want, while always holding out the promise of a free relocation whenever they come to their senses.

Once they arrive in their new homes, they'll find themselves looking over the fence at their new nabors and, I believe, will come rapidly to the conclusion immortalized by Muhammad Ali when facing the draft: "I ain't got nothin' against them Congs!" And all will live in peace and harmony.

"But how will we pay for all this?", you may be asking. Aha, here's the beauty part. It'll be completely self-financing! We'll cover the entire cost with the oil revenues from Northern Ireland. Of course, during the brief transitional period -- just a little while till we get over the hump, you understand -- the United States will step in and magnanimously cover all the expenses. No, no, don't thank ME for this. I freely admit that I swiped this excellent idea from the Bush Administration's brilliant innovation of it in Iraq, where it continues to work wonderfully well to this very day.

Next stop for the Enemy Exchange Express: The Tamils of Sri Lanka traded for the Sunnis of Baghdad, a 4th-round pick in next year's draft, and a player to be named later.

Note to the Nobel Committee: I can usually be reached at home, but please don't call before 10 AM. Thinking as hard as I do to come up with inspirations like this means I need my rest. Thank you, and looking forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Nauseating Commercial Hall of Fame

On TV the other night there was a recurrence of this jingle:

  |             OO            |
  |   oo            oo        |
  |       oo            oo    |

I think it was in some commercial for insurance, but I'm not positive. I do recall 1st encountering it in a car commercial where it kept going on and on in the background while a bunch of cars batted a soccer ball around an urban landscape. (Yeah, real appeal to the gimlet-eyed, greasy-fingered, number-crunching automotive analysts THERE, you betcha.)

Since the tune was used by different kinds of companies for different purposes, I infer that it was not original with them but is probably an adaptation of some pop song inflicted upon an unwary world by Satan's minions from Hell.

In terms of total vacuity and the cheerfulness of the completely demented, this ditty has no equal. Its 3 notes and single syllable are utterly without intelligible content. Even disco or hip-hop would be an improvement. Yes, even the chicken dance or the macarena would be preferable. God, this thing is awful!

It currently resides in my Top 3 most despised commercials of all time.

1 of them was for Wisk, with its sing-songy playground catcall of "Ring around the collar! RING AROUND THE COLLAR!". And, even if it was some guy who was caut with the "offending" ring, it was his wife who looked all guilty and shame-faced about it. My friend Larry Stoffregen so loathed this commercial that he swore to his wife that, if she ever brot a bottle of Wisk home, she'd have to drink it all by herself. (They're divorced now; not sure whether her choice of detergent played a role in it or not.) I share Larry's detestation of this affront to human cognition.

The 3rd member of my Axis of Insipidity is that little kid in the British schoolboy's uniform, complete with short-billed cap, who I keep wanting to see get kicked in front of the onrushing Mazda in time to hear him go "Zoom zAAAAGGGGHHHH!".

I know these things are tested to a fare-thee-well before the companies behind them ever ante up the big bux for the TV screen time. But who in hell do they test them on? Do they have funeral benefits for the testers? Is it considered a passing grade if everybody in the test group remembers the commercial best because they hated it the most?

Maybe I'm being naive, but there are very few commercials that ever made me want to BUY a product. I watch a lot of football on TV, and I've never once seen a spot that made me want to drink beer, drive a sports car, or shave. The few that succeeded are the ones that made me choose 1 brand over another for something I was going to buy anyway. (A big shout-out here to the creative genii behind the Snickers commercials, especially the "Batman" one.)

The main effect commercials have on me is negative. A good commercial will only occasionally attract me to a product, but a bad commercial for sure will drive me away.

Since it's advertising that supports most modern media (print and Internet as well as radio and TV), I guess I should be grateful for it and make some modest effort to pay attention. But I value the minutes of my life too much, and the "fast forward" button (for taped programs) or the newspaper (for live ones) are just too handy.

So how did the "oo-oo" one get thru my defenses? Well, eternal vigilance may be the price for more than just liberty, and I guess I was behind on my payments. I shudder to think that there may be even worse ones out there.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Heart of the Game

For my money, Miracle (2004) is the best sports movie ever. That's mainly because it's subject matter was the greatest moment in sports history — the wildly improbable victory of the United States hockey team over the Soviet Union's in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

My main carp about that film was that it didn't adequately portray to the viewer just how staggeringly great the Soviet team was. Picture a baseball team that featured Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Cy Young, Willie Mays, Nolan Ryan, and a dozen other players of comparable magnitude, all at the peak of their powers, and you'll have some idea of what an overwhelming force the Red Army "amateur" team was. The movie doesn't mention it, but they had made it to the medal round by defeating Japan 16-0, Nederland 17-4, and Poland 8-1, in a sport where typical scores are on the order of 3-2.

The movie may not beat you over the head with the amazingness of the Soviet team, but it did do a terrific job of conveying it subtly. As the game entered the last 2 minutes, with the Americans ahead 4-3, the film shows head coach Herb Brooks discussing with his assistant exactly what to do when the Soviet coach, Viktor Tikhonov, pulls his goalie (a common hockey tactic, a gamble, since it leaves the net open, but it gets an additional attacker on the ice). As the seconds tick away, they keep looking at Tikhonov, who appear frozen, just staring at the game. Finally Brooks remarks, in wonder, "He doesn't know what to do!". And at that point it dawns on you: it's because he's never lost before.

I have many more good things to say about Miracle (and I don't even like hockey very much), but here in 2006 I'd like to tout the 2nd best sports movie ever: The Heart of the Game. And, amazingly enuf, it's a documentary! No famous actors, no huge production budget, no award-winning novel on which to base a screenplay, no opportunity to do retakes if things don't go according to script -- just real life, captured as best as they can by director Ward Serrill and his crew with hand-held cameras over a period of 7 years.

The film follows a girls' basketball team, the Roughriders of Seattle Roosevelt High School, and their quirky coach, Bill Resler, University of Washington tax professor by day and motivator of teenage girls by night. The main subplot for the 2nd half of the film is the struggle of star guard Darnellia Russell (no relation) to gain legal eligibility to play for the team after sitting out a year due to pregnancy. Meanwhile, across town, Garfield High School has a new coach, Joyce Walker, herself a former Seattle high-school star who went on to success and fame at the college, Olympic, and pro levels. The Bulldogs are tall and deep, and their star player, who proudly claims she can take Darnellia to the hoop any time she feels like it, happens to be Darnellia's best friend. And Garfield proposes to take no crap from nobody.

There are about 5 seconds' worth of "X"s and "O"s and not quite enuf action footage for my taste (tho what there is is top-quality camerawork). But most of the film is about Resler's interactions with the girls. (And let there be no mistake, they ARE girls, not women.)

I would say more, but let me leave it at this: if there weren't plenty of evidence that this all actually happened, you'd swear it was fiction. A terrific story, very well told.

And now let me say a kind word for Title 9. This was part of Educational Amendments of 1972 (signed into law by President Richard Nixon), and it prohibited sex discrimination in any education program or activity within an institution receiving any type of federal financial assistance. That notably included athletics.

Here are some statistics of interest:

 • In 1997, women received 41% of medical degrees, compared with 9% in 1972.
 • In 1997, women earned 44% of law degrees, compared with 7% in 1972.
 • In 1997, 41% of all doctoral degrees to U.S. citizens went to women, compared with 25% in 1977.
 • Prior to Title 9, there were 32,000 women on intercollegiate teams; today there are 150,000.
 • Prior to Title 9, there were 300,000 girls on competitive high-school teams (or 1 in every 27 girls); now there are 2.78 million (1 in every 2.5).

I am a huge fan of girls' high-school and women's college basketball (which goes a long way toward explaining why I'm so fond of this movie). And the fact of the matter is that there isn't a woman playing basketball at any level today who remembers a time when it wasn't considered a perfectly normal and natural opportunity available to the female half of the human race.

But I do.

Thank you, Title 9!