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World Cup Commentary

June 29th, 2010 No comments

I haven’t done much sports commentary on my blog (none, actually) but now that I’m blogging every day I might as well occasionally offer my thoughts on matters unrelated to humanity’s long-term survival–although by the end of this post I’ll find a way to bring it around to that anyway.

For the most part, I think soccer is an excruciatingly boring game. Yes, each game has a few moments of excitement and every now and then there’s a truly rivetting game from start to finish, but for the most part you’re just watching them kick a ball around for 90 minutes and if you’re lucky that ball will go through the goal-posts a few times and everybody goes crazy.

But living in Germany during the World Cup, it’s impossible not to get caught up in it. Everyone is talking about the games, and whenever Germany plays, the entire country is watching it. One of my students this week even informed me that train conductors come on the loudspeaker to announce developments on the game for those unlucky few who happen to be travelling at the time.

Not to mention Paul, the amazing oracle Octopus:

So far, Paul is 4 for 4 in his predictions, which (if you’re superstitious) may explain why the referee missed a call in the first half of the Germany/England match which would have given them a goal to tie up the game. The ball hit the top of the goal-post, bounced behind the line, and bounced out again. From my position watching the game among a crowd of Germans at a public viewing, even they were admitting that it should have been a goal. Up until a moment before they’d been leading 2-0, and after another goal by England only a moment before it would have been tied 2-2 and completely drained Germany’s momentum, which they kept going and ended up winning 4-1.

So here’s my commentary: Instant replay? Come on, soccer. It’s 2010. We have the technology to go back and actually see if a call was right or wrong within a few seconds of that call being made. Why not take advantage of it? In this day and age, we shouldn’t have to rely solely on the perception of flawed human observers to make important determinations at sporting events. Had Germany not scored any additional goals, their victory would have been completely tainted, and due to the momentum-dynamics of soccer their victory is a little tainted anyhow. So let’s have instant replay not just for the sake of the losers but for the winners as well. Everyone has an interest in the games being fair.

Finally, a note on the soccer-obsession these Germans have. I mean they go absolutely crazy. Until the World Cup began you’d never see a German flag displayed anywhere. Even after 65 years since WWII, a national shame still hangs over this nation, but when it comes to Fußball the pride comes out in full force. Cars rolling down the street completely bedecked in German flags, ceaselessly honking their horns with national pride.

This, I believe, is a good kind of national pride. It’s an outlet for people’s inherent nationalistic impulses and Us vs. Them mentality that doesn’t involve dropping bombs on other countries. As little as I care for the sport, I hope soccer continues to grow in popularity in the United States and that Americans get just as psyched at the next World Cup as Germans are now. Let’s compete on the world stage with sports instead of war. If we have a peaceful outlet for our innate competitive emotions, it would go a long way towards protecting the fate of humanity…[I told you I'd bring it around].

Thoughts (or lack thereof) on Kagan

June 29th, 2010 No comments

Because this is the week of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, I might as well write down my thoughts about it, although I don’t have too many of them. Kagan appears to have lived her entire life in preparation for this, going to great lengths to never share her political opinions with anyone, ever.

As such, the republicans are having a hard time raising money off the confirmation process, having so little to attack her on that they have to resort to ridiculous tactics such as accusing her of being a secret homosexual because as the Dean of Harvard Law she refused to allow military recruiters on campus out of opposition to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, or that she secretly wants to impose Islamic Sharia Law on America because she accepted $20 million from a Saudi donor to set up a Center for Islamic Studies at Harvard.

Clearly, these are ridiculous, substanceless accusations designed to rile up the right-wing base into opening their wallets for any republican willing to stand up and filibuster the nomination.

But even more telling about the Republican Party are the tactics they’re using right out in the open, as good ol’ southern boy Jeff Sessions, ranking republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is leading the charge to tie Kagan to her mentor Thurgood Marshall, whom they say was a well-known liberal activist judge with an agenda of protecting the underdog in all cases without regard to the letter of the law.

John Kyl put forward this winning argument:

Perhaps because his first nominee failed to defend the judicial philosophy that he was promoting, the President has repackaged it. Now, he says that judges should have ‘a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people … and know that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. Kagan wrote a tribute to Justice Marshall in which she said in his view it was the role of the courts and interpreting the Constitution to protect the people who went unprotected by every other organ of government. The court existed primarily to fulfill this mission. And later, when she was working in the Clinton administration, she encouraged a colleague working on a speech about Justice Marshall to emphasize his unshakable determination to protect the underdog.

God forbid we have a Supreme Court Justice who looks out for the underdog. We can’t afford a Justice who wants to protect ordinary citizens from having their voices drowned out by powerful corporate interests. As we all know, citizens have way too much power in this country and the poor corporations can barely earn a profit thanks to all that Big Government interference. The last thing we need is another goddamn liberal on the Supreme Court tying corporations’ hands behind their backs. Not to mention imposing Sharia Law, forcing kids to learn homosexuality in schools, making abortion mandatory, and all the rest.

But in all seriousness, I have no idea who Kagan is, and based on Obama’s track record on corporate vs. public interests I’m not exactly going to take his word for it that she’s “on our side”. For all we know, she could get in there and side with right-wing activist judges Roberts and Alito to keep making corporations more powerful.

Obama constantly bends over backwards to avoid a fight, and judging by the fact that less Americans know who she is now than when she was first nominated (57% up from 53%), it looks like he’s succeeded. Kagan may be turn out to be a great justice, but her appointment is for life and I’d feel much better knowing more about her. But these confirmation processes are less about getting to know the nominee than giving senators a soap-box from which to raise funds. It’s a pity we couldn’t have had an openly liberal nominee that would have sparked a real fight and a badly needed discussion in this country over the direction of the judiciary, but that’s not how Obama rolls.

Retraction: Judge Oily-Taint and the Moratorium

June 29th, 2010 No comments

When news came down last week that a federal judge had blocked Obama’s 6-month moratorium on offshore oil-drilling, I thought it was a stupid ruling but had given him the benefit of the doubt, saying that while I would ask those workers to make sacrifices for the sake of making real changes to our energy policy, since we’re not going to make any major changes to our energy policy I wouldn’t ask them to sacrifice 6-months of income for what I saw as purely a political move on Obama’s part.

Since then, two new things have come to light that have changed my opinion.

First, we now know that this judge, Martin Feldman, was tainted with oil money. As in, there’s a big oily taint all over this guy:

According to the most recently available financial disclosure form for US District Court Judge Martin Feldman, he had holdings of up to $15,000 in Transocean in 2008. He has also recently owned stock in offshore drilling or oilfield service providers Halliburton, Prospect Energy, Hercules Offshore, Parker Drilling Co., and ATP Oil & Gas.

Not only that, but he owned stock in ExxonMobil right up until the morning of the hearing to determine whether to block the moratorium!

Of course he’d like us to believe that his ruling had nothing to do with his own financial interests, and that he hadn’t known he owned that Exxon stock until the night before the hearing. But seriously…don’t they have people to check on this sort of thing? Like, isn’t there someone who checks to see if the judge ruling on a case that will directly affect oil stocks might, say, own oil stocks?! Talk about a conflict of interest. Now the whole ruling is tainted.

As for the ruling itself, the second thing I’ve come to understand since prematurely pronouncing it acceptable is that we actually need some time to get legislation in place to make sure these companies drill safely.

Congressmen Ed Markey has two pieces of legislation on the table that really need to pass before we should even think about continuing to drill. First, he wants to make the oil companies take $50 million a year that they now use to research drilling technology and put that towards safety technology. Seeing as how drilling technology has advanced by leaps and bounds recently while safety and spill-response technology hasn’t changed at all since the Ixtoc spill of 1979, this seems like a no-brainer.

Second, he wants to force the oil companies to provide the federal government with updated response plans for what they’ll do in case of the spill. Seeing as how their initial response plan to a spill in the Gulf included walruses and sea otters (which live nowhere near the Gulf) and a dead scientist as an emergency contact, this is definitely a no-brainer as well. Not just BP, but every oil company seems to have simply copied and pasted the same response plans with only minor changes here and there. Forcing them not to cheat on their homework and to come up with an actual plan for what to do in case of another spill is absolutely imperative before we let them keep drilling.

As for the workers who won’t have jobs for 6 months, why not force BP to compensate them? It’s their fault, after all.

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