23 February 2009

More of the same

President Obama commissioned a report on what was going on down in Guantanamo the second day he took office. Said report was finalized and released last Friday. 

Have you heard about it? The NYT reported on it Friday and the Washington Post covered it Saturday, but since then, has been only one follow-up from the Times.

Why is this? Well, read for yourself:
A Pentagon review of conditions at the Guantanamo Bay military prison has concluded that the treatment of detainees meets the requirements of the Geneva Conventions but that prisoners in the highest-security camps should be allowed more religious and social interaction, according to a government official who has read the 85-page document.
And here:

Admiral Walsh, appointed by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates to conduct a review of Guantánamo conditions that was ordered by the president, conceded that there had been widespread accusations of violence against detainees, humiliating treatment and other abuses. 

But “we found no such evidence,” he said at a Pentagon news conference. 

Rather, he said, after random visits and interviews with detainees, guards, interrogators and commanders, his team concluded that Guantánamo complied with the Geneva Conventions, which among other things bar “humiliating and degrading treatment.” 

The report addressed 27 categories of treatment, including health care and disciplinary rules.
This is one of the things that bothers me most about the media. They'll harp on Gitmo for years, decrying it as a place of illegal acts and torture, a place that needs to be shut down, on and on and on. 

So when it is discovered that none of that is actually true, do they admit their mistake? Heck no. They pretend it never happened and find something else to attack.

Same for Iraq. When solider casualties were high in the Middle East, the newspapers took great delight in writing how the war effort was a failure and how President Bush had hoodwinked the country into an "unwinnable" war. 

But now that things have settled down in Iraq, and casualties (both military and civilian) are almost non-existent, we hear nothing. Nothing. It's like we aren't even over there anymore.

If these news organizations had any decency or morals whatsoever, they'd admit their opinions were incorrect and earn the trust of people like me. And maybe next time they'd be less quick to judge. 


When will I learn?

I have got to stop making sports predictions. I famously decried the 2008 NBA draft as being "exceptionally weak" last summer, and it turns out I was way off.

This exhaustively researched article on draftexpress.com thoroughly proves that not only is the 2008 class better than the 2007 class, but that it is "perhaps the most astonishing first-year class in the last three decades."

And I'd have to agree, at least so far. Players like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and OJ Mayo are doing much better than I expected. Brook Lopez is light-years ahead of where I placed him after watching his performances in the Rocky Mountain Revue last summer. The draft features real contributors far down into the second round.

However, I believe Kevin Durant is and will end up being far better than anyone in the 2008 class. The kid has been absolutely tearing it up lately, and he's only 20 years old.

Bookmark this post for when Durant is out of the league and Kevin Love wins his third championship in five years.

22 February 2009

I was right!

So the wife and I are planning on buying a home sometime in the next five years. I've been dreading the day, because house prices over the past few years have been higher than I thought they should be. My parents bought a two-story , six-bedroom, 3 1/2 bath house with a finished basement in Utah for around $100,000 in 1990. Admittedly they got a screaming deal thanks to some extenuating circumstances, but this was the the baseline I expected to see (more or less) when it came time for me to buy my first house.

I expressed this idea to Mandi a few months ago, and she said no way was that realistic. Current home prices are what they are, and there's nothing weird or irregular about them. We'd just have to bite the bullet and buy some overpriced collection of drywall, wood and stone and call it good.

But! today I found this graph that tracks home prices in America over the last 120 years (larger version here).

So here we have evidence that the boom in housing prices that started in the late 90's is completely out of whack with the historical data. Note the chart accounts for inflation, which just makes the spike look even more insane. 

If President Obama's current plan to bail out homeowners doesn't keep these artificially-high home values where they are, things are looking good for first-time buyers like me.  

Barney (Frank) thinks he can reverse the law of supply and demand by throwing your money at the problem. He will succeed in wasting billions of tax dollars and home prices will still fall 20% to 30%. Unsustainably high home prices can not be sustained.

Here's hoping.

21 February 2009

New revolutionary

Silent majority it is. I like the online polling idea, but there'd have to be some way of preventing hacking. Something that high-profile would attract major attention; every 1337 4x0r would want to prove his skillz.

In short, Bush won the 2004 election by 2% of the popular vote. Obama won by 6%. Neither margin is large enough to interpret as a mandate to execute a complete course change of any kind in America.

And to all those Obama supporters who got mad at me for using the word "socialist" when discussing the then-Senator, what do you have to say now?

20 February 2009

Free speech vs. controlling hate speech

Those of you in Utah are probably well-aware of the many controversies involving Senator Chris Buttars. He nicely illustrates the inherent fight between free speech and stopping hate speech.

His latest escapade came in an interview that aired earlier this week. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Buttars
...called the gay-rights movement "probably the greatest threat to America," likened gay activists to Muslim radicals and dubbed same-sex relationships "abominations."

Furthermore, speaking about the gay-rights movement he said "It's the beginning of the end... Sodom and Gomorrah was localized. This is worldwide."

Making this even more embarrassing for me is that Buttars lives in and represents the city of West Jordan, where I grew up.

The bottom line here is that Buttars is a bigot. He's somewhat rare in that he's a very vocal and outspoken bigot, while most racists and other undesirables mainly keep to themselves in this day and age.

BUT this is not a reason for him to be forcibly removed from his seat or otherwise punished by the State.

Legally, as long as he's not inciting violence, he's doing nothing wrong. This is a sticky issue that has been reviewed by the Supreme Court more than once, and so far, the Court has decided to come down on the side of free speech.

I'm a fan of the idea of a "marketplace of ideas." Allow everyone their own voice, and if you hear someone who offends you or is otherwise a moron, use your voice to prove him wrong and show him for what he really is. I think the KKK is a horrible organization that has morally wrong ideals. But I won't fight to imprison a KKK member for speaking his thoughts.

In the case of Senator Buttars, allow the people to speak. If he is truly offensive to his own constituency, he will be voted out in the next election. He barely squeaked by in the 2008 election as it is.

But for a government authority to force him down would be wrong, in my opinion.

It is a difficult issue, but I believe in erring on the side of free speech above protecting people from the vaguely-defined and irregularly-applied "hate speech."

Hey look, I care about the NBA again

I have to make a confession. For a couple weeks there, I didn't care much about the goings-on in the NBA. Lakers and Celtics still favorites to get to the Finals? Meh. The "LeBron gets some actual help" angle was interesting, as was the "Kevin Durant starts killing it" story, but overall I haven't felt compelled to post about anything lately.

And I must admit that part of that was due to the entire Jazz team being injured for parts of the season and subsequently playing kind of horrible. I am nothing if not a ridiculous homer.

But as of yesterday, the Jazz (still minus Carlos Boozer) have beaten the Lakers (at the tail end of a 13-game road trip for L.A.) and the Celtics (minus Garnett). I'm starting to think that if Utah can get healthy, they'll be dangerous in the playoffs. Harpring is playing some of the best ball of his career, AK is back and looking good, Deron appears to be at or near 100%, Okur is doing well, Millsap is still Millsap, and C.J. is starting to come into his own. If Korver could figure out why he stinks from deep in a Jazz uniform and correct it, we might be looking at a team that can get to the Western Conference Finals again this year. Oh right, and then there's Boozer, who is a great force offensively (except in the playoffs).

Also the trade deadline was yesterday. To steal from the Basketbawful blog, "when Rafer Alston is The Face of the NBA's trade deadline, well, you know not much of anything went down."

Shoot, even Portland decided to sit on Raef LaFrentz's Giant Expiring Contract to use themselves instead of trading it for a star player.

But seriously, good trade for Alston, Orlando. You needed a point guard to replace Jameer, and Skip 2 My Lou will do fine.

And finally, here's a good story involving Shaq and Twitter.
We went in, and to my surprise the MDE(Most Dominant Ever) was sitting in the corner booth by himself. We gave the man a nod and "Hey" as we walked to our table and were soon whispering back and forth like 12 year old girls at the 7th grade dance.

"You go talk to him" I said, while tugging nervously on my dress.
"No, you go talk to him" Sean replied while flipping his hair.

Excellent. And Shaq's final Twitter update in the story is awesome.

To all twitterers , if u c me n public come say hi, we r not the same we r from twitteronia, we connect

This is why people love Shaq and dislike Kobe. The Black Mamba will never be featured in a tale like this one.

Only 40-something more games to go in the 2008-2009 season. Here's to an exciting finish.

18 February 2009

Either utter incompetence or evil, take your pick

The above photo is from October, 1968 issue of Time magazine. The caption is a bit hard to read, so here it is:
"The North Koreans are having a hard time proving to the world that the captive crewmen of the U.S.S. Pueblo are a contrite and cooperative lot. Last week Pyongyang's flacks tried again - and lost to the U.S. Navy. In this class-reunion picture, three of the crewmen have managed to use the medium for a message, furtively getting off the U.S. hand signal of obscene derisiveness and contempt."

One account of the results:
"I guess that's why the crew never cooperates with Time magazine to this day," 63-year-old Alvin Plucker explained last week from his Fort Lupton home. "I know the reporters who call from Time probably weren't even born when we were captured, but we went through Hell Week because of that magazine."

I cannot fathom the depths of idiocy a writer would have to sink to while writing that caption. And the fact that it passed through at least one editor (and probably several) before going to print...

It was either evil or incompetence. I'd like to think news reporting organizations would have the sense or morality to avoid repeating this event, but somehow I doubt it.


17 February 2009

24... ugh

So until recently, I'd never watched a season of 24. A few friends and acquaintances had testified that it was good stuff, so finally I caved and started watching this season. I watched the first few episodes online, then started DVR'ing the live ones. 

Overall, my impression was that 24 is a pretty good show.  The acting is decent, not excellent, the storyline is fairly compelling, I liked a couple of the characters, etc. 

Then I watched Monday's episode. 


One of the major "reveals" in this episode is that FBI analyst Sean Hillinger is a Bad Dude, working for the Terrorist of the Month. 

Now, I don't claim to be smarter than the average person. So let's be honest, we all saw this coming from the very first time Hillinger was introduced. The guy has been involved in about 30 traitor shots so far... he is shifty-eyed about 3000% more often than he's shown acting innocent. And to top it off, the writers gave him a solid kick-the-dog moment (his office affair with Blondie). There was no question the dude was dirty, right?

Well, I actually held out hope that the writers had set him up as a red herring... an over-the-top ridiculous red herring, sure, but a decoy nonetheless. The show could redeem itself and I could move on.

But no. Hillinger is the guy, and the show lost me. How dumb do they think we are? 

So I think I'm done. I'll probably read a season recap when it's over just to see if all the loose ends tied up like I predict they will. But nothing in the show is great enough to compel me to stay. 

LOST, it is, from now on. 

13 February 2009

Well, it passes

The Senate passed the so-called Stimulus Bill this afternoon. Over 1,000 pages. Introduced and voted on in less than a day. You need at least 12 hours to read it at 640 words a minute. 

This is impossible.

So what we're looking at is a $1 trillion dollar bill passed into law without having been read by those voting on it. 

That is just beautiful. Thanks, Congress, for having our backs. 

Thanks to Glenn Beck for the stats. 

Yahoo! News takes it to the Associated Press

If you've heard about the woman who reportedly swam across the entire Atlantic Ocean, Yahoo! News is here to crush that vision.

Apparently it was a hoax.

My favorite part of this article is this quote:
Yet, somehow, the AP ran the story even though a few seconds of thought and a pocket calculator was enough to disprove it.

Ouch. Take that, AP!

12 February 2009

New place for LOST rantings

I've gotten into the habit of discussing each LOST episode with my sister and some friends the day after it airs, so I figured, why not make a blog so everyone can collaborate?

I named it Things We Learned From LOST Last Night.

If you're a LOST addict, head on over and check it out. I think it will be a lot of fun.

A couple suggestions for my game idea

After batting the concept around with others for a day or so, here are a couple tweaks to my video game idea:

1. I mentioned only having one or two games a week, but after discussing the idea with my friend Stu, I realized players should have the ability to play the game more often than that. I'm keeping the "two games a week" idea, but implementing free play the rest of the time. Players can practice against AI bots or other players, with instant (or nearly instant) respawn upon death. But those two matches in the week are where records are kept, where reputations are made.

2. And a suggestion from Cory:
I was thinking that instead of once you're dead you're dead, the game could allow you to come back as another unit (I'm assuming the team would be able to create new units like in Starcraft/Warcraft) or take over a currently computer controlled unit.
I've had a few comments like this one, but I really want there to be a major disincentive against dying, because it changes everything. For one, it's much more exciting to play if there's a real punishment for death. Gets the adrenalin flowing much more than in Slayer match in Halo.

Are players willing to sacrifice individual stats to attain a bigger goal? Players who are will be noticed by commanders and generals, and be promoted faster than guys who are in it for their own glory. And in addition, armies with players who see the big picture will win more often.

And if you do die in one of these for-keeps battles, you can turn the game off and go get pizza or whatever. Or fire up the simulator and hone your skills for the next battle. It's not like you're shut out for good.

Keep the suggestions coming. Any idea of how to officially submit a game idea to video game companies? I spent a while yesterday looking on Blizzard's website, but couldn't find a way. The reason I'm looking there first is because yeah, if they wanted to tackle this it would take them eight years to complete the project, but it would be the best thing ever created. These guys don't mess around... they've been churning out pure gold since their release of Warcraft II in 1995. Plus they have extensive RTS and MMORPG gaming... probably more than any other company out there.

11 February 2009


Along the same lines of a feature I sort of started a year ago, I'm going to begin posting stuff from my childhood (or anyone who grew up in the 80's and 90's).

Today I'm linking to the site We Have Lasers!!!!!!!!!! To sum up:

Sheer awesomeness.

Now, as far as I remember, I never had my school picture taken with these lasers. But they are so undeniably central to being in elementary school in 1992 that I identify with them.

The 90's were a weird time.

10 February 2009

My video game idea

I love video games. I have given more hours of my life to EA Sports and Blizzard than I care to admit.

Many years ago, I had an idea for a video game, with aspects taken from many inspirational sources. I shared it with some friends, and after deciding it was too impractical for the mid-90's, generally abandoned it.

Here's the basic idea:

The layout is very similar to Starcraft and other real-time strategy games. There would be workers gathering resources, buildings, and military units.

What makes this game different is that every single one of those military units would be controlled by a human player. Players who love flight simulators like X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter could play fighter pilots. People who enjoy first-person shooters like Counterstrike or Halo could play infantry units. For those who love games like Mechwarrior, mechanized units. You get the idea.

Then you'd have commanders. One person would be in charge of the harvester units and building, one person would be in charge of defending the base, and another one would be in charge of offense. A fourth could even handle reconnaissance.

And leading it all would be a general. He'd oversee the entire scene and give orders to the commanders, who would in turn give orders to the individual fighters. The general would assign units to the control of a commander.

What would make this interesting is that each fighter unit would have the choice whether or not to obey orders. Will a grunt follow a command to sacrifice himself in order to allow a troop carrier to land in the enemy base? Or will he save his own backside and retreat?

The military units would have interfaces as rich as you find in games like Mechwarrior and Halo... full control over how to fight - much more involved than the basic "fire, wait, fire, wait" model of current RTS games.

Military units would queue up and wait for their character to be "built" in the game. Upgrades researched prior to them entering the game would be applied automatically upon arriving, and later upgrades would also automatically be received.

And once you're dead, you stay dead until the next battle. This would give players even more incentive to stay alive... and be more likely to disobey orders from their commander.

Individual soldiers could earn accolades for killing the most enemy soldiers, taking control of important strategic areas, scouting out enemy bases; the possibilities are endless. After earning so many awards, an individual would be eligible to become a commander if they wanted.

Obviously this would be a massive project, requiring years of work by a bunch of programmers and designers; not to mention it requires tens, if not hundreds, of people to be online, willing to buy into the same goals and ideas.

One of the inspirations for this idea is Ender's Game, one of my favorite books. Generals could pick their own soldiers (or be assigned them) and trade with other generals, just like in Ender's Game. There would be a leaderboard, showing the best armies' statistics and win/loss records, just like in the book. I think the potential prestige involved with being in an elite army would bring lots of players to the table, and I'd limit the battles to maybe one or two a week, so as not to be too demanding on the players' time.

So there it is. I'm not sure if we have the capability of putting it all together yet, but we're a lot closer than we were in 1998.

Let's make it happen, video game developers. And let me know what you think.

09 February 2009

We are all socialists now

Hey, this is  not me talking, blame Newsweek.

If we fail to acknowledge the reality of the growing role of government in the economy, insisting instead on fighting 21st-century wars with 20th-century terms and tactics, then we are doomed to a fractious and unedifying debate. The sooner we understand where we truly stand, the sooner we can think more clearly about how to use government in today's world.

Read the article. To sum up, 

1. We're pretty much socialist already, and only going to become more so in the future.

2. And if you're mad about it, it's Bush's fault!

3. But really, we're there already, so let's just learn to deal. 

Unbelievable. During the 2008 campaign, no Obama supporter would ever admit that the senator from Illinois would move us closer to becoming a socialist state. 

What now?

07 February 2009

More bad new out of Mada

Thanks to LaPaube for this piece from the New York Times

JOHANNESBURG — Security forces in Madagascar fired on a crowd of protesters outside one of the country’s presidential palaces in the capital city on Saturday, with several reports saying that more than 20 people were killed.

The violence was yet another deadly episode in a struggle for power between President Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, the elected mayor of Antananarivo, the capital. A week ago, Mr. Rajoelina declared that he was taking over the government of Madagascar, an island nation of 20 million.

Not good times. If the conflict was close to ending a few days ago, this will probably re-ignite it. It's tough to say who is in the wrong here; if the security forces felt threatened and were outnumbered, then firing on the protestors was understandable, especially if they didn't have any other options (tear gas, bean bag guns, etc.).

But on its face, it sure looks like a terrible move on their part.

They might end up pulling the missionaries, after all. The latest news I've gotten out of the mission office is that they are still there and planning on staying put. We'll see.

06 February 2009

NBA blogging thievery

Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie has what they call The Ten Man Rotation. Every day they find interesting NBA stories on the interwebs and post the links. Usually I'm not overly interested in what they find, but today's entries are pretty good. With apologies to J.E. Skeets and crew, I've copied the more intriguing items here, with my comments in italics. But seriously, go check the whole thing out here.

FirstCuts. NBA All-Stars will play "G-E-I-C-O," not "H-O-R-S-E" in Phoenix. This is completely and utterly lame. I realize it's a televised event, and television is all about sponsorships and money, but come on. I think it's bad enough that we have to attach sponsor names to every event these days... but even "The Geico H-O-R-S-E Competition!" is better than this terrible idea.

PF: D.C. Sports Bog. Why is Gilbert Arenas wearing a hotel "Do Not Disturb" sign around his neck? Because Gilbert Arenas is crazy. Not "lock him in a mental institution" crazy, but crazy all the same.

SF: NBA FanHouse. What's the matter with Amar'e Stoudemire? (It has to be the apostrophe, right?) There's no reason Amare shouldn't be averaging at least 10 rebounds a game. He's currently at eight.

6th: The Sporting Blog. With all due respect to Brand, his season-ending is a good thing for the Sixers. With the injuries to big men like Brand, Bynum, Jermaine, Oden, etc., it's amazing Karl Malone missed only ten games in 18 years in the NBA.

8th: Didn't Draw Iron. If you cry easily, don't click this link: Dirk Nowitzki breaks a kid's heart. Dirk is a huge punk.

9th: Talking Points. Tim Kawakami selects his mid-season NBA All No-Defense Team. He didn't name Carlos Boozer or Okur... we must avenge this injustice!

05 February 2009

Recurring dreams

I have three recurring dreams. I've experienced one or more of these dreams at least once a week over the past five years or so.

The first is your typical "Hey, I'm back where I served my mission" dream all returned missionaries have. Had this one a couple night ago... I was just visiting Mada, not a missionary (I am very rarely wearing the white shirt and tie), and generally having a good time catching up with members I know over there. A thought came to me, "How did I get here? I don't remember the 30 hours of travel from Idaho," and somehow the answer was supplied: "You slept the entire plane ride over, don't worry about it." That satisfied my dreaming consciousness, and good times continued. I'm always really fluent in Malagasy in these dreams, but I think that's because my brain is generating all the words and phrases used, and it can't generate what it doesn't already know. I wonder how well I'd really do if I went over there today.

The second is one where I can breathe underwater. Usually it starts out where I'm in a pool or a lake or whatever and at a pretty good depth. For whatever reason, I try to breathe a little and it works. I have to keep my breathing slow and steady, or else I choke on the water, but I can stay underwater indefinitely. It's pretty fun.

The third is one I experienced again last night. You know how a lot of people have dreams where they can fly? My version of that is where I can dunk a basketball. And I'm not just slipping the ball over the rim, either; I'm skying like Dwight Howard's Superman dunk on steroids.

So yeah, that's me, except about 18 feet in the air. Last night the scenario was that a friend and I had shown up at a weekly pickup game at some church (I think only Mormons would ever have that dream). They already had 10 guys ready to play, so we sat out at first and waited to sub in. The team I was on went down 10-2 early, and I was chomping at the bit to get in. After what seemed like way too long, one of my teammates finally came out and I hopped in. I almost immediately took a couple jumpers and missed badly, so I decided to start taking it to the hoop.

The funny thing is that it's hard to control this extreme jumping. The gravity seems a bit lower than normal, so it's not like I fall quickly, but angling my body from six feet above the hoop down to the exact area where I can get the ball through the rim is tough. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that the guy guarding me can sky as high as I can. Maneuvering around him while aiming for the orange rim is tricky.

And it's not like I'm throwing it down with authority, either. Since I have zero experience dunking in real life, I'm not quite sure how to hold the ball correctly, so most of the time it's kind of bumbling around in my hands while I get it through the basket. The lower gravity also means I'm falling slower, so the lesser force behind the action might have something to do with it, too.

The weirdest thing is that I don't even get that much satisfaction from dunking. It's just a way for me to score... it's not as though I'm excited that I finally did it, like I'd normally be.

Thanks for joining me in today's episode of "A Look Into Brandon's Psyche." Join us again next time as Brandon tackles his dislike for corn as anything but a side dish.

Utah and hoops talent

ESPN's Truehoop blog features an interesting NBA-related concept: territorial-based teams. In a nutshell, what if players could only play for the team in the region of the country they grew up in?

A blogger in Philly spent forever compiling the data and came up with some interesting results.

New York's team:

PG Ben Gordon (Mount Vernon, NY)
SG Ron Artest (Queens, NY)
SF Lamar Odom (South Jamaica, NY)
PF Elton Brand (Peekskill, NY)/Ryan Gomes (Waterbury, CT)
C Charlie Villanueva (Queens, NY)

And Portland:

PG Jason Terry (Seattle, WA)/Rodney Stuckey (Kent, WA)
SG Brandon Roy (Seattle, WA)
SF Jamal Crawford (Seattle, WA)
PF Marvin Williams (Bremerton, WA)
C Carlos Boozer (Juneau, AK)

But what I found most interesting is that the only Utah native this guy could feasibly put on the Jazz was the retired Ute grad Keith Van Horn, and he was born and raised in California.

I've theorized that the Wasatch Front contains more basketball hoops per capita than any other region in the country. Between hoops in every other driveway and courts in every LDS church, it's apparent there's no lack of interest in the game among the young men of Utah. Junior Jazz is a big organization, and the state has three Div-1 basketball schools.

Yet we can't field a solid NBA player to save our lives.

Do we attribute it to race? Are white boys just doomed to a life of basketball mediocrity? Or is it something else, like the effect of LDS missions on kids with promising talent?

It's an interesting question.

04 February 2009

Rajoelina refuses to step down

It looks like my first impression, that Antananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina would fade into the background, was not entirely accurate. Reuters reports that the major vows to continue his fight against President Ravalomanana.
"The people of Antananarivo who elected Andry Rajoelina will not let this be. The people will not allow the government to ridicule their choice," Rajoelina told supporters outside his old office.
However, the article also states that only a few hundred gathered to support Rajoelina at his latest rally, compared to the few thousand he had attracted as recently as last week, so we may be seeing the end of this conflict yet.

03 February 2009

NBA injuries and HORSE

Major injury-related goings-on in the NBA lately, and not of the trivial kind, either. Quick rundown:

1. First, Andrew Bynum went down with what has been diagnosed with a torn MCL after being hit on the knee by teammate Kobe Bryant. It's not much of an understatement to say that a large part of the Lakers' championship aspirations are on the shoulders of their fourth-year center. He's supposed to be out 8-12 weeks, which means he could very likely miss the first round of the playoffs or more. And as nice as a nucleus of Kobe, Gasol and Odom is, it might not be enough to beat a hungry New Orleans or healthy Spurs team.

Bynum was averaging 14 and eight in 29 minutes per game, and had some monster games before the injury.

2. But speaking of New Orleans, Chris Paul went down with a right groin injury against the Trailblazers last night. From the Basketbawful blog:
When Paul left with 1:30 left in the third, New Orleans was up on Portland 72-55. They were then outscored 42-17 [!!] the rest of the way, including 38-15 in the fourth quarter, en route to losing 97-89. No doubt if you look up "complete and total collapse" in the dictionary, you'll find a short description of this game.
Good gravy... I knew Paul made this team go, but that's flat-out amazing. If you watch Hornets' games, you see just how involved CP3 is on every single play the team runs while he's on the court. If he doesn't pass to the guy who's shooting, he shoots it himself. It's a small wonder he's so statistically dominant... when 95% of your team's plays are run directly through you, your stats will benefit. But if he can't be back for the playoffs, this is another team that can't get it done with the remaining pieces.

3. And finally we have the Magic. Just as things were clicking in Orlando, Jameer Nelson tore his right labrum (shoulder) and is out the rest of the season. From Yahoo!'s Ball Don't Lie blog:
It's no slam on the rest of the Magic if we don't expect much from this lot with Jameer Nelson out. Nobody should try to tell you that Jameer is this team's best player, he's not; but he's also an All-Star point guard who can defend, rebound, start a break, push the ball, make good decisions, and destroy teams from all over the perimeter. 50 percent shooting, 89 from the stripe, and 45 from behind the arc? And he can create his own shot? Instead of ruing this team's cloudy future, let's appreciate the sort of year Nelson has had to this point.
And they're right. I've had Jameer on a few fantasy teams over the recent years, and he's never been spectacular. But this year it seems like he made the leap, averaging almost 17 points and five assists a game, while shooting well from everywhere (see above). Though to be honest, I can't understand how someone who has Dwight Howard to lob passes to in the paint and Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis to kick the ball out to on the wings averages only five asissts a night.

That said, the team is worse without him. This may end the Magic's hopes for a championship.

4. Oh, and the Jazz continue acting as the league's official MASH unit, as Deron sat out last night's game against Charlotte with a contusion above his right knee. Boozer remains out and Andrei is still missing due to an ankle injury. So, uh, their championship plans are also in peril.

And finally, on a lighter note, I bring up another NBA All-Star Weekend suggestion from Bill Simmons from 2002:

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages ... I will now let loose the greatest theory ever unleashed on Page 2, something that even surpasses the stark, overwhelming power of The Ewing Theory. My buddy Joe House and I hatched this plan four years ago on my old website, and it's the only way "All-Star Saturday" can be saved. You ready?

H-O-R-S-E. Every hoops junkie has played roughly two million games of HORSE over the course of his basketball life. It's the greatest game of all-time. This isn't even an argument -- it's an out-and-out fact. Everyone loves HORSE.

Well, it took seven years, but Simmons' dream has been brought back from the dead (apparently the NBA had a HORSE competition until it died sometime in the 80's).

Looks like it'll be fun. Some think the bigger stars won't want to participate, but I hope they do. How awesome would be it be to see Howard and Lebron trying to one-up each other with ridiculous shots? I'm watching.

Republicans showing backbone?

This is a bit late, but I wanted to add my two cents about this whole "No Republicans in the House voted for the Economic Stimulus Bill holy cow maybe they're actually showing fiscal conservatism" thing.

On its face, this move gives conservatives reason to be somewhat hopeful. However, my cynical side believes something else is going on.

People have a natural tendency to behave more appropriately when someone nearby is not. When Billy in your second-grade class is drawing on the wall with crayons, some people will join him, but some will tattle to the teacher.

As adults, this phenomenon can be even more pronounced. When that couple is talking loudly in the theater, aren't you less likely to talk to the person you're with? And if someone throws their sandwich wrapper on the ground, won't you be sure to put yours in the trash?

In this way, I think the House Republicans saw someone else (the Democrats) pouring tons of pork into this supposed "stimulus bill" and put their collective foot down. Never mind the fact that for the past eight years the very same House Republicans had been part of a massive, unchecked spending spree that was very un-fiscally conservative. Oh no, now little Billy is drawing on the walls, so the Republicans decided to be good.

In addition, what do the Republicans have to lose? Their votes were entirely meaningless, as the bill easily passed in the House without them. They could afford to take this very public stand, get kudos from people like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham, and earn votes in the next election.

Do I hope this means Republicans are coming to their senses? Yes. Do I think they really are? No.

The more I look at the issue of term limits, the more I like them. Seems no matter how well-intentioned someone is when they first get to Washington, it only takes a few years before they're as political and power-hungry as everyone else there.

More from Madagascar

Thanks to the BBC for the following two articles.

This one is actually from last Thursday; it just overviews the violence and protests that have already occurred in Antananarivo. However, it does have a short clip taken of the shop that burned and collapsed, killing over 40 suspected looters.

The latest news is that President Ravalomanana has fired Tana mayor Rajoelina after the mayor declared himself in charge of "national affairs" on Saturday.
Analysts say Mr Rajoelina has successfully tapped into widespread frustration with the government, but may have over-played his hand in trying to overthrow the president, whom he calls a dictator.

It looks like Rajoelina has gone quietly, so the crisis may be over. We'll have to wait and see. I'd like to try and find out why Rajoelina is calling Ravalomanana a dictator.