Friday, December 30, 2005

Predictions for 2006

Social Security reform remains dead, Bush turns towards tax reform, albeit much less ambitious than conservative supporters would like.

Sam Alito's nomination fight will focus almost exclusively on abortion-related jurisprudential issues as politicians mindlessly conform to the media rubric which fails to believe there are any judicial controversies of import beyond Roe v. Wade.


More al Qaeda leaders are killed or captured, but bin Laden himself will remain at-large the entire calendar year.

Republicans retain the House and Senate but lose seats in the former.

NBC will actually have a good fall season, but will still underperform CBS and NBC.

Out: complaints about porn DVDs playing in full view of other vehicles in traffic
In: complaints about people watching porn on video iPods on subways, buses, airlines, etc.

That's Not What You Meant To Say.... Is it?

Hold on, DOJ! I think you got it all wrong! You really mean to investigate the NSA secret spying program, not how the existence of the program was leaked to the public... right?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Wanted: Good PR Rep

Is it me or are steroid-taking baseball players getting stupider by the day? I know many of them are hiring people to help them mask their illegal performance-enhancing drugs. But it seems like these people should also hire PR people to help them craft better explanations for failed drug tests – or if not PR people, maybe a good fiction writer.

Raphael Palmeiro is still saying he doesn’t know how he tested positive (hat tip, Deadspin). He thinks he must have put something into his body without checking first, assuming it was a legal performance enhancing drug. What is worse is that the NY Times journalist who interviewed him seems to have bought the story. Murray Chass uses Palmeiro's build to give his denial credibility. Apparently, Palmeiro doesn't have the typical steroid-user's body. The only problem is that steriods do not just give someone big muscles, they can also help people recover faster from strenuous workouts (this becomes very important as you age). Just because someone isn't bluky doesn't mean they aren't users. Maybe Stephen King or Dean Koontz can help the next person who tests positive to come up with a better story.

American Indian

I finally visited the National Museum of the American Indian during one of my days off from work. It was one of the only Smithsonian Museums I hadn’t visited. I have to say I think they did a good job. The museum is informative, even if it tries to breeze past some of the major political issues American Indians face. It finds time to talk about the different societies’ belief structures, their history, and their place in the modern world. What becomes very clear is how delicate the balance is to retain the old customs and the important parts of their culture, while at the same time welcoming certain scientific advances.

What was missing though were important aspects of their life that are sometimes more controversial. For example, the exhibits talk about gaming casinos, and while they mention that controversy exists, the discussions were mostly positive from what I saw. Also, there was little talk about the significant poverty issues these communities face. I understand that it might be undesirable to talk about these problems in a museum – after all, it is much more fun to celebrate a culture than to recognize its problems. But if this were to be a complete educational experience, I think more of these issues should have been discussed.

Besides that one criticism, my experience was positive. The information was accessible and interesting and I came away knowing a lot more about American Indian culture than I did before going in. I am glad that the Smithsonian Institution is finding new ways “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men”.

As a final note, the food court there is excellent. It showcases Native American foods from different regions. This is one of the only examples I know of where the food is used as an extension of the exhibits in the museum.

Cujo

Your dog doesn't resent you for getting a job - it is just bored.

Tunnel Vision

An eye-opening post on Slate about Muslim extremism in Bangladesh. You would think with so many other countries also facing this problem, the world would be able to talk about more than just Iraq.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Del Boca Vista

If this offer is real, and anyone rejects it, they should be hit over the head with a tack hammer. Not even One-Eyed Willie's treasure could cover how much these people will get for their homes.

Monday, December 26, 2005

This Season, We Wish You (Catholic) Love

Single Italian women, behold! This season, the Catholic Church wishes you prosperity, good health, and love... just not with Muslim men.

Two documents issued by the Vatican "called for extreme caution by Catholic women contemplating marriage to a Muslim" warning them of "bitter experiences" for women resulting from such unions. Cardinal Ruini, the head of the Italian bishops commented that "Catholics marrying Muslims have to reckon with extra difficulties arising from deep cultural differences."

Sure, when two people with different religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds decide to get married, they should both think about how these differences could affect their life together.

But, wow. The Catholic Church pretending to look out for women's best interests?... This would have nothing to do with xenophobia, fears of Islamization of Europe, or racism, would it?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Proof the Jews Don't Run Hollywood...*

... or at least not the entertainment chain store FYE (For Your Entertainment).

Completing my Christmas shopping yesterday at FYE, I bought some boxed sets of DVDs for relatives. The cashier tossed in a free FYE 2006 calendar which is chock full of DVD release date-listings for the new year as well as some coupons to save money at the store. The calendar begins with December 2005, however, and on that page it lists December 15 as the first day of Chanukah, which is of course 10 days off the mark. Chanukah this year begins sunset of the 25th.

The minor holiday is completely ignored in 2006 calendar year, as are Passover and the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Perhaps it's no big deal for a calendar the primary purpose of which is to drive traffic to FYE for DVD release days (Tuesdays), but it seemed a bit of an insensitive cultural oversight to me given most calendars these days list major Christian and Jewish as well as civic holidays.




*yes, I'm guilty of using inflammatory-sounding headlines to rope in audiences, rest assured readers I am no conspiracy theorist nor anti-Semite, as the context of this post indicates.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Moderate Until Re-election (MUR)

Apparently Rick Santorum is trying to become more moderate as his re-election comes up. Instead of attacking the decision by Judge John E. Jones III, Santorum is no longer affiliating himself with the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian-rights group that had defended the Dover School District's decision. Although Santorum had at one time praised the Dover School Board for their decision, now it seems he is backing away from that position, at least until the election is over. Of course Santorum is saying his position hasn’t changed and that he favored the freedom for teachers to teach criticisms of evolution, but not force them to teach Intelligent Design. Either way, I expect Santorum to spontaneously self-combust one of these days as he tries to publicly say something moderate.

Eat It Wallflowers

Via the Professor)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Black Eyes Mounting

Memo to the Federal Government. You might want to rethink spending the billions and billions of reconstruction funding dollars with the Army Corps of Engineers:

"Hurricane Katrina will go down in the history books as the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, but not by a long shot the most powerful.

The National Hurricane Center released a summary report on Katrina this week that downgraded the storm's intensity at landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 29 from Category 4 to Category 3. The winds in New Orleans, which lay to the west of the storm's center, were probably even weaker than that, at Category 1 or 2 speeds, the report said."


So to recap:

1) The Army Corps of Engineers constructs a levee system to withstand a Cat. 3 hurricane.

2) Said levee system fails due to the force of what was originally characterized as a Cat. 4 hurricane, causing the most expensive disaster relief operation and clean up in the history of the United States.

3) Hurricane Katrina is officially re-designated a Cat. 3 storm once it made landfall, down from an original rating of Cat. 4 storm.

4) Reconstruction of said levee system is scheduled for completion on June 1, 2006 not just at full Cat. 3 strength, but at Cat. 5 strength by the same group who originally constructed the first levee system.

Are we sure Mike Brown is no longer working for the federal government? It sure sounds like he or one of his acolytes is trying to hatch another hair-brained scheme.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Another Comeback Kid?

Democrats and liberals, hold you rallying cries and empty determination that 2006 will be your 1994. Why? Because the Bush comeback is starting. The approval ratings started quietly rebounding recently and have him showing strength on terrorism and the economy. Mostly this has been Republicans who were starting to have dissatisfaction come rallying back, but Bush still has a huge weakness among independents. Always interesting are the Iraq polls:

Slightly more than half of the country (52 percent) continues to believe the war was not worth fighting, according to the new poll, although the proportion who said it was rose seven points, to 46 percent. But a majority now believe the war has contributed positively to the long-term security of the country, after dipping below 50 percent during the late summer and fall.

[snip]

More than half the country (52 percent) said they favor decreasing the number of troops in Iraq, a five-percentage-point increase since early November. But far fewer of those anxious to bring troops home are calling for a speedy exit. Just 12 percent of those surveyed said they favor immediate withdrawal, down from 18 percent in November, whereas 40 percent said they favor a gradual withdrawal, up from 29 percent in November. Just over a third said they favor keeping troop levels where they are now.


Looks like Murtha's call for the U.S. to surrender Iraq to Al-Qaeda isn't playing well politically, and the Democrats best heed this before they continue to trumpet the point to self-annihilation. Another factor in Bush's rebound is probably Sam Alito who a majority of Americans want to see appointed to the Court. While only 54% say he should be confirmed, only 28% oppose him. Another potential political seppuku for the Democrats, who will create all kinds of awesome soundbite for the 2006 midterms while they get hysterical on Alito. I would guess that nominating Alito, which so far has only alienated the predictable strong Democrats, only stirred up indifference amongst most Americans and drastically rallied the Republican base to Bush's side. This probably explains why Bush's numbers have improved so much from November 1, when he was still hamstrung by the Harriet Miers fiasco.

All in all, I don't expect this is a trend that is going to reverse itself. Even with the domestic spying, Bush has coming out wailing and people are responding well to it. He's gathering momentum and no longer are the Democrats going to be able to keep simply lurking, they're really going to have to do the impossible and come up with a real political platform if they want to derail a possible GOP renewal.

Just Say No!... To ANWR Drilling

Tee hee.

I guess Bush & Co. did not make it to Santa's "nice list" this time around: their dream of drilling for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was thwarted once again.

Sorry, Dick, no bonus from Haliburton under the Christmas (um, I mean, holiday) tree this year.

What Does it Take for UMd. Officials to Crawl Into their Shell?

A student at Maryland sent this along to me. For the heck of it this student filed a facetious complaint about an innocuous holiday greeting available at the umd.edu website. This student permitted me to include the correspondence, but with the student's name excised. I've also censored the private office line for Mr. Candelaria, the official who replied to my fellow Terrapin.

Thank you for your email. As you know the university is governed by state and federal laws and regulations as well as by the policies and procedures adopted by the Board of Regents. The university adheres to its Human Relations Code, a copy of which can be accessed through my office's website.

We are sorry that you felt offended by the communication or attachment sent last week. I will take your concern under advisement at this time. If you wish to follow up with any sort of formal action, I would be happy to meet with you to explain the various options. My personal line is 301-4**-****. I expect to be out of the office for some vacation after this Wednesday.

Thank you.

Roger Candelaria

-----Original Message-----

From: *********

Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2005 *****

To: dmote@umd.edu

Cc: rcandel@umd.edu; cblack@umd.edu

Subject: Re: Holiday Greeting

President Mote,


I wanted to let you know that I was deeply offended by your recent mass e-mail regarding Holiday Greetings.

You noted that this season is a time "when we gather with family and friends to relax, take stock, and count our blessings." I feel that using the term "blessings" implies the existence of an omnipotent being that influences our lives. This implication can be very offensive to the atheist population at this university. It also borders on a violation of the First Amendment because it implies state sponsorship of a God-centered religion.

I was also offended by the online animation wishing us to be inspired. I noticed that in the bottom corners of the animation, there sit holly leaves and berries. Those symbols reek of Christmas to me and it certainly implies an endorsement of that holiday over th! e many other holidays celebrated during this season. Where is the menorah, or the harvest basket? Why must you use a clearly Christian symbol when addressing a very diverse group of people.

I hope that you will seriously consider retracting your "happy holiday" wishes, apologize for the offensive nature of your e-mail, and ensure that the animation is removed from the university's web site before more people are offended.

Thank you,

**********

Student

And You Thought Stalin Was Crazy BEFORE!

THE Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior.


According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."


Nuff said.

You Can Run But You Can't Hide (Obligatory Big FISA Post)

This whole FISA business is quite unnerving. The reactions to it have been particularly diverse, some predictable and some unpredictable. First, the spooks. Defensetech has a solid roundup of the intelligence community's reaction to this whole FISA flap. (Hat tip, Balloon Juice.) In a word:

Their reactions range between midly creeped out and completely pissed off.

All of the sigint specialists emphasized repeatedly that keeping tabs on Americans is way beyond the bounds of what they ordinarily do -- no matter what the conspiracy crowd may think.

"It's drilled into you from minute one that you should not ever, ever, ever, under any fucking circumstances turn this massive apparatus on an American citizen," one source says. "You do a lot of weird shit. But at least you don't fuck with your own people."

[snip]

But this call chain could very well have grown out of control, the source admits. Suddenly, people ten and twelve degrees of separation away from Osama may have been targeted.


The spooks seem a bit spooked and puzzled. For what it seems this sounds like another typical and chronic Bush Administration problem. Something begins that seems justified and a good idea at the time, then begins to spiral out of control because little effort is made to restrain it.

Kevin Drum has an update on a FISA judge who resigned here and in an earlier post wonders why the hell the Bush Administration needed to stray from the loosey-goosey demands of FISA in the first place. FISA, among other things, allows the NSA and others to get warrants AFTER THE FACT in secret courts. These seems like it would easily suit their purposes, unless they're afraid of a CLASSIFIED paper trail that no one can legally access, and if they are afraid of it, what do they have to hide? Instabandit wonders the same thing, but posits that it may have been a technology issue (which I don't buy) and makes the very good point that this isn't so different than stuff that was happening under Clinton anyway.

Do I think this is an impeachable offense and he should resign, like some blowhards? No, because this isn't the worst thing he's done by far. Sure, it's sketchy, but so was the torture issue, which troubles me a bit more than domestic spying. I think the rightwing crowd's argument that this is not really anything new also rings plausible. As much as people would want to act like this is some sort of new Bush invention I doubt that. But, all the same, Congress should probe it, as many Republican lawmakers are calling for. We need more facts about who did what and the extent of this, and if it did spiral as out of control as it seems, heads should roll over at the NSA and people should do jail time. The notion that because Congress authorized the President to fight terrorism he could do this is absurd.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hey, I don't like Kenny G either, but...

... dontcha think you're taking it a bit too far, Mahmoud?

- Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has banned Western music from Iran's radio and TV stations, reviving one of the harshest cultural decrees from the early days of 1979 Islamic Revolution. Songs such as George Michael's "Careless Whisper," Eric Clapton's "Rush" and the Eagles' "Hotel California" have regularly accompanied Iranian broadcasts, as do tunes by saxophonist Kenny G.

Pure Genius

This is so wonderful I weep and laugh at once.

"Oh thank god," he said Ironically.

Finally, someone has taken a stand against these conservative right, inbred yahoos touting that "intelligent design" is a viable, scientific alternative to the theory of evolution. What makes it $weeter is that this ruling came from a Republican judge. Not only that, he was apparently appointed by President Dipsh ... Bush ... himself, proving that even a retarded monkey can find a bannana every now and again.

My favorite part about this whole article is what Judge John E. Jones III reportedly said after the trial:

"The breathtaking inanity of the board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources."

I couldn't agree more, Judge Rock-My-Face-Off-Even-If-You-Are-Republican. Despite all of this, I know that what the conservatives say at the end of the article is true, and that this stupid debate will go on and on; however, at least it's a small step for rational thought and a tiny kick in the junk of the fanatical right.

Now then, if only I can convince them to teach $tevolution in schools. Talk about breathtaking inanity!

Who Does Fair Trade Benefit?

Tyler Cowen is on the case, with his usual assault of industrial organization and strategic economics, and his thoughts and theories may surprise you.

Getting a Rush

There was a striking report on NPR last night about the growing use of OxyContin by high school students. NPR cited a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that claims OxyContin use is up 40 percent over the last three years and that one in 20 high school seniors admit to having used it.

I guess my biggest question about this trend is whether banning a drug completely, like heroin, or making it available through a prescription like OxyContin, has any effect on its use. OxyContin, at $80 a pill, is much more expensive than heroin, but it seems to be used more right now. Granted, this could be a symptom of poor information where kids don’t know the serious addictive nature of the drug. One of the kids interviewed by NPR said he tried it because it was a prescription drug and he therefore assumed that it was relatively safe.

The point is that OxyContin has become a serious problem. I don’t know what the answer is, but I suspect one proposal will be to ban it completely. As much as it has helped those in serious pain, we need to find out if there are other ways we can combat this before banning it becomes our only recourse.

Strike One

You can tell that I am not a very good Democrat when I see a transit strike and I don't take the union's side. Although I think unions can have a very positive impact on improving working conditions and obtaining fair pay for their members, when they become too powerful, they often ask for too much. Unions are notorious for ignoring current and future fiscal conditions in seeking ever increasing wages and benefits.

The New York City transit workers have walked off the job after negotiations fell apart late last night. Two aspects of the contract that are under dispute are making new workers pay more for health care and pension plans and how to spend the current budget surplus. The union thinks much of the $1 billion surplus should be spent on increasing employee wages and benefits and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says the surplus needs to be saved for future projected budget deficits. With rising health care and pension costs, as well as fiscal troubles many public transportation agencies face, both would be reasonable concessions for the union to make. In fact, pension plans for public officials have been declining for over a decade, and refusing to accept this fact shows that the union is in denial.

Since public officials are prohibited from striking under New York State law, the union is likely to lose big in this fight. Employees will be fined two days pay for each day of the strike, and although New Yorkers are taking it in stride for now, their patience is not likely to last.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Jabberbloggy and Literacy

The Princezz missed out on a wonderful opportunity to discuss American literacy in our public forum. More statistical goodness after the jump.

The Agony of Defeat

I'm calling it. The United States has officially lost the War on Drugs.

Bolivia’s socialist presidential candidate Evo Morales, who has promised to become Washington’s “nightmare,” said his victory was assured in Sunday’s elections after two independent exit polls showed him with an unexpectedly strong lead.

If the projected margin holds, Morales, a coca farmer who has said he will end a U.S.-backed anti-drug campaign aimed at eradicating the crop used to make cocaine, will likely be declared president in January over his conservative opponent.


As if Hugo Chavez didn't give Washington enough headaches, Morales will probably make him look warm and cuddly. An avowed socialist who plans to make cocaine production easier will certainly make the entire regional dynamic the U.S. has been trying to put in place in Latin America fall to pieces. The surge of cocaine will be hard to stop, and without the cooperation of the producer it's unlikely that the U.S. will be able to get anywhere without relying on border protections (already pathetically inadequate). And, after decades of trying to plant neo-liberal free-market notions in Latin America Morales, like Chavez, will roll it all back in his country instantly and make others mistakenly believe they can survive the same way. The tides are indeed turning, and the U.S. may continue to lose ground in Latin America unless it can successfully counter the influence of such figures.

The Guilt Trip of the Century

From Bush's news conference regarding the NSA surveillance program:


"My personal opinion is it was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war.

"The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy.

"You've got to understand, and I hope the American people understand, there is still an enemy that would like to strike the United States of America, and they're very dangerous. And, you know, the discussion about how we try to find them will enable them to adjust. Now, I can understand you asking these questions. And if I were you, I'd be asking me these questions too.


"But it is a shameful act by somebody who has got secrets of the United States government and feels like they need to disclose them publicly."


You're right, Mr. President. It is our fault for demanding transparency of government in a democratic society, not your fault for pulling old Cold War CIA/KGB wire-tapping tricks on your own people. So I guess if another terrorist attack happens (god forbid!) that will be our fault, too, for wanting some sort of honesty from our own elected government officials, not your fault for still not having your act together after five years in office.

RINO Assemblage

Sorry, it's been a while since I linked to the Carnival.

The Yes Men

Recently, I watched The Yes Men, a documentary following two WTO impersonators. Although the documentary itself wasn't great in its own right, the hijinks of the Yes Men keeps it compelling. The Yes Men started by creating spoof websites with similar links to the person or organization they were satirizing. It started with a George W. Bush site in 1999, and a WTO site soon followed that. Each site tried to portray their victim in a way that the Yes Men thought was more honest; they call this Identity Correction.

Soon after the creation of the WTO site, they received email questions followed by invitations to speak at a number of conferences on trade. The Yes Men would accept the invitations and use the forum to satirize the WTO through advocating for policies that show callous disregard for people in developing countries. Strangely enough, the Yes Men are not discovered at the conferences, despite the absurdity of their presentations.

It seems though that the Yes Men saved their best satirical conference for after the documentary. Their latest website takes on DOW, and again they were invited to speak at a conference. In April 2004, the Yes Men announced the Acceptable Risk Calculator, and its mascot, the golden skeleton – because, “It may be just a skeleton in the closet, yes--but it could very well be a golden skeleton too.” This new calculator will help companies determine, through examining market forces, if any potentially dangerous products might still be profitable in the long run. The best part is that instead of being ridiculed for their speech, many at the banking conference wanted pictures with the golden skeleton and signed up for licenses to use the Acceptable Risk Calculator.

Kinnithrung Sprat

I would love to be optimistic about the WTO summit in Hong Kong. After all, it looks like there has been some progress. The European Union agreed to eliminate subsidies for exported farm goods by 2013 and the US has agreed to end cotton subsidies earlier than other subsidies. Also, duties and quotas on 97 percent of imports from 32 of the poorest countries will be elimnated.

But these compromises will only take effect if the full accord is passed. And with so much left that is in dispute, an agreement looks doubtful. France and the US are blocking many measures that would force them to cut more of their farm subsidies. And while the farm subsidies exist, developing countries whose economies are highly based on agriculture will have trouble competing in the global market. Even if the US agrees in principle to further reductions in subsidies, the agreements will still have to be approved by Congress, where even the current concessions could be controversial.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

This Way To Exit

Assisted suicide for terminally ill patients has been legal in Switzerland for some time, but up until now, those who wished to die had to leave hospital premises to do so. Now, a Lausanne hospital has taken a major step forward in preserving the patients' dignity by allowing assisted suicides on its grounds.

In the U.S., a lot of attention is paid to how we enter this world -- and our right to do so. The pro-choice/anti-choice battle wages on, and realizing the undeniable religious foundations of this country, it is hard to envision a time when there will not be political, social and moral tensions surrounding the abortion issue.

But there is too little focus on how we leave this world -- and our right to do so. The rights of the individual are respected, but only to a certain point. We are trusted to make decisions about whether to have children and how many, whether to smoke or not, whether to have elective surgery or not, whether to own a gun or not, whether to vote or not, whether to love or not... but not whether to die or not.

Perhaps our biological survival instincts makes it rightfully so; in a sense, we live to be and stay alive. But is that a be-all-and-end-all argument against euthanasia? After all, some animals realize that death is nigh, and hide away from all help and sustenance, speeding up the final moments.

So how about if we spend some time considering our intellectual instincts instead? Let us explore our abilities to reason, to feel, to live our lives intentionally versus haphazardly. To allow ourselves and our loved ones to leave this world the same way we had tried our best to live in it -- with dignity, respect and compassion.

Unholy Zealotry

Tis the season. Three stories strike me, two from always disgruntled Catholic Sullivan. The first involves the controvery of a somewhat positive review of Brokeback Mountain on Catholic News Service. Since then it's been edited and censored. Witness the sad disclaimer

Editor's Note: "Brokeback Mountain," originally rated L (limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling), has been reclassified O -- morally offensive. This has been done because the serious weight of the L rating -- which restricts films in that category to those who can assess, from a Catholic perspective, the moral issues raised by a movie -- is, unfortunately, misunderstood by many. Because there are some in this instance who are using the L rating to make it appear the church's -- or the USCCB's -- position on homosexuality is ambiguous, the classification has been revised specifically to address its moral content.


Also, recently Benedict's cabal excommunicated (for those who don't know much about Catholicism, that's the worst thing that can be done) an entire priest and Lay board in St. Louis over mere financial matters.

Unlike most other Roman Catholic parishes around the country, St. Stanislaus Kostka's board -- not the archbishop -- has governed the parish's finances, according to an arrangement dating to the late 19th century.

Since Burke began serving as archbishop in January 2004, he had increased pressure on the parish to conform to current church structure and hand over control of its assets.

St. Stanislaus's lay leaders refused, accusing Burke of wanting the parish's assets, estimated at more than $9 million.

The Vatican has backed Burke.

Roger Krasnicki, spokesman for the St. Stanislaus board, said avenues of appeal are available but had in the past proved to be "an exercise in futility."

"I think it's a gross error of judgment on his part," Krasnicki said of Burke's decision. "It's a sad day in the Catholic Church."


What? I understand the need to impose discipline. But excommunication, permanently removing these people from the Catholic Church, is a horrific act. As Catholicism holds that those not in the Church cannot achieve salvation, this Archbishop effectively damned these people to hell over a governance issue. I'm speechless at the completely unChristian nature of this action.

And last, but not least, we have the American Family Assocaition protesting Walmart for not saying Merry Christmas. In case you forgot, these are the same clowns trying to prevent a cancer vaccine because it might take away some of the risks of sex. Again, words escape me at this kind of lunacy. It's one thing to be upset over the government preventing people from saying Merry Christmas, but what business do these people have trying to attack a private corporation over it?

In an online petition, the American Family Association recently gathered more than 500,000 signatures asking Target to include Christmas in its promotions. Stores such as Sears and Wal-Mart are facing boycotts.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy Wyatt said the company has made no effort to remove Christmas from its holiday ads. She said a promotion set to run from mid-November to early January was simply misunderstood: its slogan is "home for the holidays."

"It was a matter of choosing a slogan that carries through the entire season," Wyatt said. "The signs went up before Thanksgiving and won't be taken down until after New Year's. The idea was to focus on the family."

About 50 protesters took part in Saturday's demonstration, organized by religious leaders. Dick Otterstad of the Church of the Divide donned a Santa Claus costume and greeted shoppers with the message: Don't forget about the meaning of Christmas.


Again, Tis the Season.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Question

Is there anyone who WASN'T on the Jack Abramoff payroll?

Bush Gets It

At least, when it comes to the iPod Shuffle.

Bush: All of these. I put it on shuffle. Dwight Yoakam. I've got the Shuffle, the, what is it called? The little.

Hume: Shuffle.

Bush: It looks like.

Hume: The Shuffle. That is the name of one of the models.

Bush: Yes, the Shuffle.

Hume: Called the Shuffle.

Bush: Lightweight, and crank it on, and you shuffle the Shuffle.

Hume: So you -- it plays . . .

Bush: Put it in my pocket, got the ear things on.

Hume: So it plays them in a random order.

Bush: Yes.

Hume: So you don't know what you're going to going to get.

Bush: No.

Hume: But you know --

Bush: And if you don't like it, you have got your little advance button. It's pretty high-tech stuff.

Hume: . . . be good to have one of those at home, wouldn't it?

Bush: Oh?

Hume: Yes, hit the button and whatever it is that's in your head -- gone.

Bush: . . . it's a bad day, just say, get out of here.

Hume: Well, that probably is pretty . . .

Bush: That works, too. ( Laughter )

Hume: Yes, right.

Well Slap My Ass and Call Me Susan

WTF

Iraqi security forces caught terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the Fallujah area last year but released him because they didn't realize who he was, the deputy interior minister said in an interview broadcast Friday.

The deputy minister, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp., that Iraqi police "suspected this man" and detained him "along with other members" of his group.

"Afterward, he was released because we did not know the identity of this criminal," Kamal told LBC. The station said the remarks were made Wednesday but were aired Friday.

"He was not armed," Kamal said. "He was like any other citizen who was suspected. There was a simple interrogation with him and he was released."

Kamal said the incident occurred "about a year ago, approximately." U.S. forces overran Fallujah in November 2004, ending domination of the city by insurgents and Islamic extremists, including al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq group.


I'm too flabbergasted to say anything more.

Stay Tuned

There is news from South Korea that a paper documenting the cloning of embryonic stem cells could be retracted due to inaccuracies. Apparently, most or all of the stem cell lines created were fake. This is a pretty significant scientific set back for stem cell research. This experiment, if it were true, would have demonstrated the ability to create stem cells by injecting the nuclear DNA of one person into an egg cell whose nuclear DNA had been removed. This would potentially allow for stem cells to be created for a patient using their own DNA, eliminating the possibility of the patient's body rejecting the treatment. Stay tuned as the details of this story unfold.

Brains. . . .Brains. . . . .

I'm no fan of the Botox Zombie, but this move shows she's got some sense left.

Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq. There is consensus within the party that President Bush has mismanaged the war and that a new course is needed, but House Democrats should be free to take individual positions, she sad.

"There is no one Democratic voice . . . and there is no one Democratic position," Pelosi said in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors.

Pelosi recently endorsed the proposal by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) for a swift redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq over a period of six months, but no other party leader followed, and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) publicly opposed her.

She said her support for Murtha was not intended to forge a Democratic position on the war, adding that she blocked an effort by some of her colleagues to put the Democrats on record backing Murtha.


Pelosi has made some extraordinarily idiotic moves this year, but this is one of two that makes a great deal of sense. First, her jumping on board the Porkbusters boat first and offering a 70 million dollar transit project to the chopping block before any other Republicans could do so was very foresighted. Second, keeping the Democrats from turning into an on-record anti-war party is smart. The Republicans, while mostly supporting the war, have had a lot of the rank and file make a lot of criticisms of its conduct lately. That's because the leadership has wisely loosened things up enough to let people express dissent. Democrats, in a lockstep anti-war position, become much more vulnerable as a whole by going in the opposite direction. Already the party is careening towards Doveageddon (a Russ Feingold nomination in 2008), and when she backed Murtha it looked like the Democrats were going to adopt a kool-aid position on Iraq. Iraq is a difficult situation, and locking an entire party in support or against it is foolish. Despite pressure to do so, Pelosi resisted the call, and that shows she has more leadership quality than I imagined, but that's still not saying much.

Ban Fans

Anti-smoking advocates are probably pleased about all the public smoking bans passing everywhere, but we all know they won't rest on those laurels. Their storm-trooper boots are going to be knocking down everyone's doors soon.

Anti-smoking activists who are driving cigarettes from public places across the country are now targeting private homes -- especially those with children.
Their efforts so far have contributed to regulations in three states -- Maine, Oklahoma and Vermont -- forbidding foster parents from smoking around children. Parental smoking also has become a critical point in some child-custody cases, including ones in Virginia and Maryland.
In a highly publicized Virginia case, a judge barred Caroline County resident Tamara Silvius from smoking around her children as a condition for child visitation.
Mrs. Silvius, a waitress at a truck stop in Doswell, Va., calls herself "highly disappointed" with the court's ruling.
"I'm an adult. Who is anybody to tell me I can't smoke or drink?" she said in an interview yesterday.
An appeals court upheld the ruling, but not before one judge raised questions about the extent to which a court should become involved in parental rights and whether certain behavior is harmful or simply not in a child's best interest.
Mrs. Silvius says she complied with the decision by altering her smoking habits.
"My children know not to come around when I'm on the front porch with my morning coffee, tending to my cows or out in my garden, because I'm having a cigarette," she said.
Still, she thinks this was not a matter for the courts because it was not proven that she posed a risk to her children's health.


It's from the Mooninite Times so I would take it with a grain of salt. But it's still I think a worthy concern. Anti-smoking types, at least in the form of the organizations they're in, obviously would like to see smoke banished from the country, and much like anti-abortion advocates are doing it by slowly eroding people's rights to smoke. (Hat tip, Balloon Juice).

No Such Agency

In 2002 President Bush authorized the NSA to conduct domestic surveillance of US citizens and foreign nationals. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. This administration has decided from the beginning that they are above all laws; in all cases, the ends justify the means. While I take the war on terrorism very seriously and understand the need to keep track of those with suspected ties to terrorist organizations, there are ways to accomplish this within the law.

This White House needs to be held accountable for its decisions - for its reckless disregard for fundamental laws of this country. The two most visible examples of this, torture / secret detention facilities and domestic surveillance unapproved by a judge, violate major principles of this country. We decided from the beginning that citizens of this country would have basic civil rights that includes a protection of privacy. Time and again the courts have overturned convictions due to unreasonable search and seizures or unapproved surveillance. We should not tolerate an administration that feels so free to violate basic rights that this country has tried to protect for generations.

New Media - 1, Old Media . . . - 1

Wow.

Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that relies on volunteers to pen nearly 4 million articles, is about as accurate in covering scientific topics as Encyclopedia Britannica, the journal Nature wrote in an online article published Wednesday.

The finding, based on a side-by-side comparison of articles covering a broad swath of the scientific spectrum, comes as Wikipedia faces criticism over the accuracy of some of its entries.

Two weeks ago prominent journalist John Seigenthaler, the former publisher of the Tennessean newspaper and founding editorial director of USA Today, revealed that a Wikipedia entry that ran for four months had incorrectly named him as a longtime suspect in the assassinations of president John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert.

Such errors appear to be the exception rather than the rule, Nature said in Wednesday's article, which the scientific journal said was the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia to Britannica. Based on 42 articles reviewed by experts, the average scientific entry in Wikipedia contained four errors or omissions, while Britannica had three.


As many know, anyone can post and edit the Wiki entries. Naturally, when this first arised people thought that such a project would lead to complete lunacy and a lot of falsification. Wiki is a giant public good, a non-profit amateur encyclopedia. So, as economics dictates, one would expect the wikipedia to be subject to free-riding (in this case lax fact-checking and corrections). Instead that hasn't happen. The wiki has been fact-checked like crazy by a bunch of volunteers to the point of basically equivalent accuracy with Britannica. The so-called "Wikipedia Wars" have forged a powerful open-source reference equivalent to one done by professionals and editors.

This is a big victory for the "new media" types who believe in the power of blogs, forums, and other such open-source media as a check capable of self-regulation and balance.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

How Unique is Gretzky?

Even people who don’t know hockey recognize the name Wayne Gretzky. He was by far the greatest hockey player of all time. Other team sports have had great players like him, but none were really able to turn around and become great coaches. Many tried, assuming they could pass on their greatness through words and strategy. But they have all been unsuccessful. And many thought Gretzky would be no exception.

It looks like those people might have been wrong though. As coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, his team has shown dramatic improvement since the start of the season and is definitely over-performing. Gretzky gives a lot of credit to his coaching staff, and certainly Barry Smith deserves some of it (the drill instructor and tactician that lead the Detroit Red Wings to three Stanley Cups). But what else could be responsible for The Great One’s success where others have failed?

Coaching requires more than just physical talent. You need to understand the game in a way that others do not. So many great athletes had incredible abilities, and used those abilities to overcome their on-field (or on-ice) intellectual weaknesses. Gretzky’s strengths as a player were both the physical skills matched with intellectual understanding of the game. He had an ability to slow down the game and understand where the action was going. He could also quickly recognize and exploit a team’s weakness.

Both of these things are likely helping him as a coach. He can see how his team needs to respond to their opponent, as well as how best to attack their weaknesses. It is definitely too early to know for sure if The Great One will ultimately succeed. But unlike any major star before, he probably has the necessary tools to be a great coach.

Talk Amongst Yourselves

Even though I haven't had time to get my head around this yet, I think it shows some really interesting research. It says that women's income increases by 10% if they wait one year to get pregnant.

Caribou - Get Some!

I think George Will’s column about drilling in ANWR raises some interesting questions, even if his thesis is bunk. In it, he claims that opposition to drilling in Alaska is truly about promoting collectivism. If you want to accuse environmentalists of being overly naive, resting on the belief that we can accommodate all of our needs without using oil, coal, or nuclear power, I can agree. But suggesting the debate isn’t even about that is ludicrous.

What I truly wonder about though is how much oil ANWR could really supply for us. I think the possibility of decreasing our dependence on foreign oil outweighs any concerns over caribou mating patterns. But I have long been under the impression that the oil available in Alaska will do almost nothing towards that end. In Will’s column though, he suggests that the oil available is in fact significant.

The estimated 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil -- such estimates frequently underestimate actual yields -- could supply all the oil needs of Kerry's Massachusetts for 75 years.

Flowing at 1 million barrels a day -- equal to 20 percent of today's domestic oil production -- ANWR oil would almost equal America's daily imports from Saudi Arabia. And it would equal the supply loss that Hurricane Katrina temporarily caused, and that caused so much histrionic distress among consumers.


Both sides seem to use cheeky examples like the above to demonstrate the relative abundance or scarcity of oil in Alaska. I guess I need to do some of my own research to determine how much oil is potentially available in ANWR (since I certainly can’t trust Will, and I am equally skeptical of claims from the environmental groups of the left). Issues like this would be a lot easier to discuss if there was some consensus on available facts.

Follow the Prince

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal has donated $20 million dollars to Harvard and Georgetown universities to promote American understanding of Islam. He has also given a similar contribution to universities in Cairo and Beirut for American studies programs. His goal is to promote inter-religious and inter-cultural understanding. I think he obviously has the right idea, especially in giving money to universities in Cairo and Beirut.

This should cause us to reflect on how much more we can do to promote understanding of America throughout the Middle East. One major step could be funding more universities in general, while also promoting American Studies programs, in more Middle Eastern cities. Improved education in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq will do a lot to improve our image. As the general population becomes more educated and involved in the world, it will be harder for their oppressive governments or terrorist organizations to blame all the problems on the West. Education will also help improve the economies of these countries by encouraging foreign investment to flow into the country.

One of the major things this administration has not yet realized is that this war is about more than violence. We need to fight the forces that allow terrorists to recruit and allow anti-Americanism to spread. Education (propaganda alone will not do it) can dramatically help us win this war.

More on Maye

I mentioned Maye the other day as a great anti-death penalty example, but even more than that his situation and the circumstances surrounding what happened to him speaks to a lot of issues: racism, the war on drugs, and aggressive search warrants. Obsidian Wings takes the issue on in depth and what the implications of it are, but there's so much more to discuss. Maye essentially shot police officers who raided his house. The thing is, he wasn't a criminal. The search warrant had a mistake, so the police tore into the wrong man's house, not to mention without giving any warning, and thus it happened. Here's a bit from Obsidian Wings that really condenses it all very well:

The search warrants are very disturbing. They are word-for-word identical when you compare the warrant and supporting documentation for the Smith half of the duplex to the warrant and supporting documentation for the Maye half of the duplex. (Also note that Maye is not named as the resident for his half of the duplex). The underlying facts sheet suggests that the apartment holds large quantities of illegal drugs. Those were found in the Smith half of the duplex. They were not found in the Maye half. The informant (whose identity and any check on his reliability is annoyingly lost with Jones' death) makes no distinction between high volume traffic at one half of the duplex or the other nor does he make any distinction between the two apartments when identifying the stash of drugs. It isn't reasonable to fail to distinguish between apartments. As a policy matter it isn't sufficient to note that a drug dealer is in an apartment building and then get a search warrant for every apartment. Having an informant tell you that a drug dealer is in an apartment building ought to trigger an investigation into which apartment the drug dealer is in--and then a warrant can issue for that apartment. This is especially true if you are going to be engaging in a late-night raid.


This particular case highlights more on why I think the sneak and peek provisions of the Patriot Act are so problematic. With the Patriot Act secret judges whose names are never put on record have the ability to secretly create secret warrants executed against people who would never know. If a mistake this colossal and tragic could be made here, why not under the Patriot Act? And, as the new moves to add methamphetamine combating provisiong to the Patriot Act show, the war on drugs and the war on terror and all the problems they cause for civil liberties are becoming increasingly conflated. Putting all these aggressive warrants in hiding where no one, even those they are executed against, can ever know about them or the searches conducted about them destroys accountability. And without accountability, mistakes like this are bound to happen, and bound to have deadly consequences.

Election Day!

The Iraq voting is rolling. There's all kinds of awesome news streaming in but it looks like everything is pretty quiet and orderly so far, much like January. If you want firsthand reporting though, I highly recommend, as usual, Iraq the Model. Omar is on top of this, and he has lots of great pictures.

Pajamas Media also has updates and picutres from Omar and a bunch of other Iraqi bloggers too.

A question for all our pagan readers (if we really have any)

So my favorite coffeehouse, The College Perk Coffeehouse, is a joint in College Park, Maryland, which has been open all of two years and four months. It's pretty chill and a bit crunchy/hippie or what have you, but I go there for the atmosphere and the cute baristas (and of course the coffee, pie, and iced tea). Anyway, the two years that I've patronized the joint, I notice around Christmastime there's no sign of the season to be found. Perfectly acceptable business decision, I suppose, but with this place, I kinda figured a fewwhite lights, maybe a decorated artificial mini-tree, some stockings with the names of the staff members, maybe a wreath, some holly, some mistletoe, you know, basic stuff that's not kitschy but not specifically Christian in content. For a non-religious establishment, I think that would be classy and cozy, perfect for the environment there.

So I asked a barista there about this, and discovered that the Perk's owner has emphatically put his foot down on the notion of any Christmas-like decorations. They've been nixed, apparently, because the owner has a bit of a beef with Christmas, or, well, his pagan girlfriend does.

Sheesh, the old pagan girlfriend stole Christmas excuse, the oldest in the book.

Look, I'm perfectly fine with his decision on the matter, in fact, I'll continue to patronize the joint, I'm not one to boycott.

But there's something just a touch odd about steadfastly refusing to decorate an independent, non-corporate coffeehouse with a little bit of hints of the season, especially since Christmas decoration evolved from pagan roots to be divorced from any spiritual content whatsoever.

So I guess I'm asking any pagans/neo-pagans/godless unwashed hordes of heathens who might be reading this: Does Christmas really get your goat? Are you okay with it but you know pagans who are militantly against Christmas, even the most secularized distillations of it? Do you think this case is a fluke?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Global War Against Christian Extremism

With all the War on Christmas hyperbole Fox News has been on, I would like to draw attention to Mr. Sun's genius (as always) War on Christmas Dispatches.

From The Ground

There is an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post from a major in the Marine Corps (hat tip, Instapundit). In the column the author talks about the difference between the level of support for the Iraq War among army officers (64%) versus the level of support among most Americans (30%). That those closest to the action believe they can achieve stability in Iraq should make us all reflect on our charges that the situation is a quagmire.

We know the streets, the people and the insurgents far better than any armchair academic or talking head. As military professionals, we are trained to gauge the chances of success and failure, to calculate risk and reward. We have little to gain from our optimism and quite a bit to lose as we leave our families over and over again to face danger and deprivation for an increasingly unpopular cause. We know that there are no guarantees in war, and that we may well fail in the long run. We also know that if we follow our current plan we can, over time, leave behind a stable and unified country that might help to anchor a better future for the Middle East.

[snip]

We can fail only if the false imagery of quagmire takes hold and our national political will is broken. In that event, both the Iraqi people and the American troops will pay a long-term price for our shortsighted delusion.


The excerpts I have included don't really do the column justice and I encourage everyone to read the whole thing.

Sneak Attack

I wondered when the Bush administration would do this. Since John McCain’s proposed anti-torture legislation would use the Army field manual to set the standards for treatment of detainees, it was only a matter of time before Bush decided to change the field manual. And it shouldn’t be surprising that the addendum to the field manual that makes these changes is classified. You have to love this administration. They want to have a positive public image that says we treat prisoners humanely, while at the same time having the flexibility to use harsh interrogation techniques. When are they going to learn that they cannot have both? I have a feeling that this could seriously derail the current talks underway over McCain's legislation.

I also find it a little bit disturbing that Condoleezza Rice seemed to send a slightly different message to the Heritage Foundation then was given to Europeans in Kiev.

What We've Come To

A fancy-shmancy bowling alley is just the tip of the iceberg. As an Arlington-dweller, this is hilarious to me, and El Wapo couldn't have put it better:

You hear it when you step off the escalator Friday night onto the mezzanine of the entertainment complex's vast Greek-columned atrium -- that slapstick soundtrack of things falling apart emanating from Lucky Strike, while all around are signs that things are coming together. Below you see long lines for "Syriana" and "Chronicles of Narnia." Clyde's is packed with holiday office partiers. You've just escaped the outside sidewalk river of Capitals fans heading next door to MCI Center, shoppers going to be seen in the blazing two-story fishbowl of Urban Outfitters, diners angling across the street toward chain-restaurant row.

There was a tone of amazement in the conversations floating around the complex -- a sense of Where are we, Toto? What little China was left in Chinatown has all but vanished, along with the last of the empty lots and abandoned buildings. The once gaudy-by-comparison Chinatown arch looks unexpectedly plain. Someone in the passing rush blurted out a depressing verdict, meant to be chipper: "It's almost like you're in Arlington!"

Ah yes, surprising D.C. -- finally catching up to its burbs.


Lunchbox once commented to me that "you know your Chinatown's sad when it's known for its Irish bars." To that we can add another, "you know your Chinatown's GONE when it's known for its Chain Restaurants." Let's just go ahead and strip the whole "Chinatown" off that metro stop, shall we? We should end the charade.

Wake Up Bomb

Finally, someone at the Pentagon gets it. This war is all about Psy-ops, and has always been about Psy-ops. The battle of ideas has only become more crucial since the Cold War, and getting the messages out there is absolutely critical to undermining the nihilism of the Jihadist vision of the world's future. And it's nice this time they actually put some dollar signs instead of just lip service behind it. Especially since Karen Hughes hasn't distinguished herself on the Public Diplomacy front all that well yet.

Gender Difference Innate?

This is from last week, but screw it. It deserves to be discussed.

That boys play with GI Joes and Matchbox Cars and girls play with Barbies has often been explained away by feminists as social engineering. I was inclined to agree, as it seemed odd that these sort of inclinations would be natural at all, and there were always enough "tomboys" out there that basically played both sides of the gender fence from when I was a kid, as well as the unfortunate boy every once in awhile caught with a doll (I was always more of a Ninja Turtles kid). However, this gives me a moment of pause, as it should everyone.

Just like boys and girls, male monkeys like to play with toy cars whereas female monkeys prefer dolls, a research project has found.

The discovery is one of many signs of deep-rooted behavioral differences between the sexes that scientists are exploring with the latest tools of genetics and neuroscience.

[snip]

In the experiment, researchers put a variety of toys in front of 44 male and 44 female vervets, a breed of small African monkeys, and measured the amount of time they spent with each object.

Like boys, some male monkeys moved a toy car along the ground. Like girls, female monkeys closely inspected a doll's bottom. Males also played with balls while females fancied cooking pots.


Yet another example of neuroscience contradicting a lot of neat social theory and philosophy. Neuroscience has always been an unpredictable force, often vindicating conservatives on one issue and liberals the next, and this sort of moment is probably going to happen again and again.

Da Ali G Bill of Rights

Sacha Baron Cohen, in character as his Kazakhstani sidekick Borat Sagdiyev, has triggered a battle with the government of Kazakhstan. Seriously. Cohen, in character, said some pretty outrageous (though apparently not far off the mark) things about Kazakhstan at the MTV Europe Awards. The Kazakh government was not to happy about it, so they issued statements against him and threatened legal action. Borat responded on a new website to those, and proceeded to launch an even more elaborate tirade. The Kazakh government responded by shutting down the website. Defamer has the blow-by-blow. Apparently Kazakhstan has also taken out full page ads in the NYT to describe its reforms and tout the country as a model for the region. Meanwhile, everyone else says "Kazakhstan is a real country?"

Hilarity has indeed ensued. I hope this fued continues, and I can only barely imagine what any legal battle between the government of Kazakhstan and Cohen would look like.

Latest Ahmadinejad Craziness

Just when you think Iran's President couldn't get any crazier, he breaks the bank yet again.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad escalated his anti-Israeli rhetoric Wednesday, calling the Holocaust a "myth" used by Europeans to create a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world.

"Today, they have created a myth in the name of Holocaust and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets," Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in the southeastern city of Zahedan.

[snip]

"This is our proposal: if you committed the crime, then give a part of your own land in Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to them so that the Jews can establish their country," he said, developing a theme he raised in Saudi Arabia last week.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the remarks "shocking and unacceptable." He said the German government had summoned the Iranian charge d'affaires to make "unmistakably clear" its displeasure.


The more he talks, and the greater he manages to consolidate power over the Iranian government, diplomatic corps, and military, the more I wonder how we can possibly negotiate with him. It used to be that North Korea, with its overheated neo-Stalinist rhetoric and stance, was the most difficult country to deal with. I think Ahmadinejad is out to take the taco. And he can't be too far from it calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, then "moderating" his stance to Israel should be moved to Europe.

Certainly Europe and the U.S. hoped that they could resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff through diplomatic means, but Ahmadinejad has completely obstructed that path. Without his removal, which has become difficult with his backing from the Grand Ayatollah, there's no chance any successful negotiations can happen. It's more than likely that Ahmadinejad will reject the most generous of carrots in the name of his beliefs, and has poised himself ready to endure the harshest of sticks. The only remaining answer, a military strike, looks all the more likely despite the fact that it could easily start World War III in the Middle East.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Real Anti-Death Penalty Example

Many people often criticize my criticism, saying that I'm full of negative things to say about spokespeople, messages, political posturing, etc. The fact that I instantly went after Williams on Chainz's post is a good example of that. But I've got one better. If you really don't like the death penalty, this is the kind of case smoldering with injustice that you would drool over. Screw Tookie Williams, remember the name Cory Maye. This is making the rounds on both the conservative and liberal blogosphere, but of course we'll never see any MSM coverage of it ANYWHERE.

Hammering Kraut

Sullivan may have responded to Krauthammer's pro-torture piece, but ain't nobody does it better than Kinsley. I think the best part Kinsley gets about this is the sheer exasperation of having to even argue this point.

Or what if an international terrorist planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in Manhattan, set to go off in an hour and kill a million people. You've got him in custody, but he won't say where the bomb is. Is it moral to torture him until he gives up the information?

Questions like these have been pondered and disputed since the invention of the college dorm, but rarely, until the past couple of weeks, unstoned.


The guts of it is that this ticking time-bomb shit is ridiculous. I responded with the flaws in Krauthammer's argument when Senor C put it forth, but Kinsley does it so much better, and explains why Krauthammer's cautious posturing is more like cartoonish contortioning.

There is yet another law-school bromide: "Hard cases make bad law." It means that divining a general policy from statistical oddballs is a mistake. Better to have a policy that works generally and just live with a troublesome result in the oddball case. And we do this in many situations. For example, criminals go free every day because of trial rules and civil liberties designed to protect the innocent. We live with it.

Of course a million deaths is hard to shrug off as a price worth paying for the principle that we don't torture people. But college dorm what-ifs like this one share a flaw: They posit certainty (about what you know and what will happen if you do this or that). And uncertainty is not only much more common in real life: It is the generally unspoken assumption behind civil liberties, rules of criminal procedure, and much else that conservatives find sentimental and irritating.

Sure, if we could know the present and predict the future with certainty, we could torture only people who deserve it. Not just that: We could go door-to-door killing people before they kill others. We could lock up innocent people who would otherwise be involved in fatal traffic accidents. Civil libertarians like to believe that criminals get their Miranda warnings and dissidents enjoy freedom of speech because human rights are universal. But if we knew for sure that a newspaper column by Charles Krauthammer would lead—even by a chain of events he never intended and bore no responsibility for—to World War II, wouldn't we be nuts not to censor it? Universal human rights would make no sense in a world where everything was known and certain.


It's exactly that two-fold problem with the Krauthammer argument (the last argument, and not a good one) against McCain's legislation. First, that Krauthammer basically wants generally policy to be derived from the most extreme situation possible, and second that it assumes absolute certainty in a case where that's not only completely unlikely but would make the situation all the more clinically-concocted and absurd. Embracing these two assumptions would likely lead to tortured logic and all sorts of psychotic situations described by Kinsley if embraced as the standard for policymaking.

Depression In Color!

The CNN website has a sample from a new exhibit at the Library of Congress called Bound for Glory. The exhibit contains depression-era photographs in brilliant color. It is amazing how much more close to the present this time period seems after viewing pictures in color.

Update: Apparently the CNN link doesn't work. If you are interested in seeing the pictures, you can go here and see the pictures on the Library of Congress website. For all you feminists out there, check out these two pictures, my personal favorites.

In Like a Lion. . .

. . .out like a lamb. When Republican D.A. Jeanine Pirro started out her attempt to unseat Hillary Clinton, many thought she looked promising and spouted all kinds of tough talk about how she could give Hillary a run for her money. Those days are long gone.

Republican prosecutor Jeanine Pirro's once-promising campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is lingering somewhere between the critical list and terminal.

The latest bad news came yesterday when county Republican leaders emerged from a meeting and recommended that Pirro put aside her senatorial ambitions and concentrate on an office she might win, such as state attorney general. Only four months ago these county leaders urged her to challenge Clinton. (Republican Gov. George E. Pataki, who has endorsed Pirro, also has told confidants that he is pessimistic about Pirro's prospects.)

Even the Republicans' words of comfort sounded less than comforting.

"Jeanine Pirro is not dead," state GOP Chairman Stephen Minarik assured the Associated Press. "She's living and breathing."


It seems John Cole's comments about this turning into a woman version of Keyes vs. Obama were right on target. Hillary will win this one in a walk, and if Pirro continues to cling it could damage the state GOP in the process.

We All Like A Snitch

There is a really interesting article on Slate about the effects of turning criminals into police informants. The author comes down harshly on this policy, and although many of the points make sense, there appears to be a lack of objectivity.

It is true that criminals have the incentive to say whatever it takes to have their punishment reduced, which includes lying to police. And it is frightening to find out that so many wrongful death penalty convictions (46%) come from misinformation from snitches. But I think the author is mistaken in claiming that snitching hurts social structures in high-crime neighborhoods any more than the crimes that are already present. Suggesting that moving away from using snitches will somehow strengthen the social network in high-crime areas seems like a very dubious argument.

I do agree that there does not appear to be a lot of transparency over this policy. It is likely that law enforcement might be overusing informants, and I agree with the call for better policies and more open information. But I do not think the practice should be ended. We need to realize that human intelligence is necessary in law enforcement (and for international security). That often means finding snitches that are willing to sell information on their own people. And even though informants are not always reliable, their services are still extremely valuable.

Well Surprise, SURPRISE!

I noticed a curious thing after I signed up for the Do Not Call list. One firm, "Satellite Promotions", never stopped calling. All the other telemarketers slowly disappeared, but Satellite Promotions, still chugging along, left me about 1 or 2 (or maybe 5 or 6) voicemails per week. Then I figured they had some sort of way to get at me through the "previous business" exception. Looks like they were just plain violating the FCC rules.

DirecTV Inc. will pay $5.35 million to settle charges that its telemarketers called households listed on the national do-not-call registry to pitch satellite TV programming, Federal Trade Commission officials said Tuesday.

The proposed settlement, if approved by a federal judge in Los Angeles, would be the FTC’s largest civil penalty in a consumer protection case.

The DirecTV complaint, filed by the Department of Justice at the FTC’s request, named the company and five telemarketing firms it hired, as well as six principals of those firms.


Considering each violation is only $10K, and they're willing to settle at $5M, that must make a ton of violations.

Happy Festivus

Club for Growth follows the Festivus tradition with an Airing of Grievances on the Bush Administration.

Another Redemption Story

I know there are plenty of people who are happy about Stanley Tookie Williams’ execution. But I am not one of them. If there is one thing that most of us can rally behind, it is a story of redemption. From the prodigal son to more benign examples like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, we normally celebrate this type of change. Although I understand the anger that comes from all the misery he caused in his youth as the leader of the Crips gang, I don’t understand how people can so callously dismiss the positive impact he has had while on death row.

This post isn’t about the merits of the death penalty (that will be for another day). It is about how we should reward genuine change. And I wish somewhere along the way, we could have done that for Williams. So even though his positive impacts from his writings trying to prevent gang violence are minimal compared to his impacts in fostering it, maybe we should have given him the rest of his life to try to atone for what he did.

I do understand Governor Schwarzenegger’s statement though. He was looking for the one thing that Williams’ hasn’t provided - repentance. While Williams has denounced gangs, he has not repented for the crimes that put him on death row. And had he done this, maybe this story would have had a different ending.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Iran Implosion Watch 2

This CS Monitor story says it all.

The president's fourth candidate for the top oil post, veteran ministry official Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh, was finally approved by parliament Sunday. But that "victory" comes amid rising concern among clerics and many conservatives about Ahmadinejad's decisions to replace top managers with less-experienced ideologues.

While Iran's parliament is dominated by conservatives, analysts say that Ahmadinejad can only count on one-quarter of the votes. The parliament rejected his first three inexperienced candidates for oil minister - an unprecedented setback for a new president here. The industry generates as much as 80 percent of government revenues.

Now some in parliament are trying to unseat his defense minister over the military plane crash that killed 108 people last week.


There's more good stuff about exactly what quarters he's taking attack from and over what, but it seems that Ahmadinejad is proving unacceptable to the old guard clerics and the reformist groups all at once. Both the old guard and the reformists have the common goal of decreasing Iran's isolation, but Ahmadinejad seems deadset on increasing it. More troubling are that many of his picks to run Iran's government are ideologue veterans of the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, extremist mujihadeen that often take a harder line than even the clerics and mullahs want to.

Part of Ahmadinejad's woes are likely to increase as he defies the IAEA and El Baradei. El Baradei, usually reserved and over-cautious, is out sounding like Dick Cheney in early 2003. Netanyahu in Israel is promising an attack if elected (that's quite an ahem innovative platform to run on). Perhaps Iran's fundamentalists have a streak of pragmatism as well.

"The fundamentalists criticize [Ahmadinejad] because they don't want a bad situation to get worse," says Mohammad Ali Ayazi, a cleric and professor at the prestigious seminary in Iran's religious center of Qom. "The more [Ahmadinejad's cabinet] do not satisfy the promises they made, the criticism will increase toward them," says Mr. Ayazi. The president's [populist] election slogans "have less color now; it's not the same. Maybe after six months, they will have no color at all."

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Balkans Will Be The Balkans

Many Croats frown when the international community refers to them as being “in the Balkans.” I should know: I am one. The Balkans are far too savage, far too uncivilized for our savvy, faux-Western-European tastes! After all, darlings, we were ruled by the Habsburgs once! Ah, Austria, the land of Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss – how could we go wrong? The good old days of foreign domination…

So it perhaps comes with no surprise that Croatia has had a rough time owning up to the savage, uncivilized, and bloody parts of its past, namely: war crimes committed during the Balkan conflict in the early-mid ‘90s.

Ante Gotovina, a former Croatian army general and key war crimes suspect, was finally arrested after four years on the run from the international authorities. I make a point to say international, because the Croatian government had taken very few steps to actually bring the man to justice, which was in itself a major point of contention in the consideration of Croatia for entry into the European Union.

Gotovina led Croatian forces in the 1995 Operation Storm, a military action aimed at taking over (or “ethnically cleansing”) Croatia’s Krajina region from Serbs. The UN war crimes tribunal charges followed in 2001, alleging that the General failed to prevent the slaughter of 150 Serbs, and coordinated the rather-typical-for-the-Balkans “pillage-and-plunder” activities in the Serb-held areas.

Still, in the four years this war criminal pranced around the world, hopping through Argentina, Chile, Russia, China, the Czech Republic, Tahiti and Mauritius, many in his native land considered him nothing other than a national hero.

Even after his capture in a Canary Island restaurant by the Spanish authorities, he remains a hero in the eyes of many. According to a telephone poll conducted by a major Croatian newspaper, Vecernji List, immediately after Gotovina’s capture, 47% of the Croatian public stated that they do not support the arrest. In other words, almost half of the country is still so blinded by nationalism that they consider a mass-murderer to be a saint.

I have no doubts that this arrest will once again fast-track Croatia’s entry into the EU. But has this one event truly demonstrated Croatia’s readiness to join? What was really disturbing to me was not so much the fact that Gotovina had not been caught yet, but that such a large percentage of Croatia’s public still supported the man. The “we can do no wrong” nationalistic mindset that came to the forefront during Franjo Tudjman’s reign is still there. Is it only a matter of time before that same nationalism sparks more ethnic problems?

And will entry into the European Union really change many Croats’ view that their country is outside the reach of international human rights laws? I want to hope so, but I am not holding my breath.


If I were a well-known journalist, I would probably get hate mail and scary phone calls in the middle of the night for what I am about to say, but I am an anonymous blogger, so here it goes: the Balkans will be the Balkans. No matter how hard some former Yugoslav states are trying to deny this integral part of their political and cultural identity, they are not succeeding. Not yet, anyways.

Croats and Serbs are still too much alike, too wrapped up in their nationalistic, “small bite, big bark” mentality to break away from the cycle of violence that resurfaces in that area every fifty years or so. As many of us who grew up in an era of self-help books, Oprah and Dr. Phil know, the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. Croatia and Serbia are not there yet.

Think about this. Following Gotovina’s arrest, hundreds of his supporters clashed with the police in Zagreb, and unrest followed all over Croatia. In November, Serbia’s Institute for Literature and Art attempted to promote Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic – war criminals and murderers of thousands of innocent Bosniaks and Croats – as “heroes of Serbian epic poetry.”

I rest my case.

Now that Gotovina is in custody, I am keeping my fingers crossed that Mladic and Karadzic are next. And then, after the international limelight fades from the crimes of three men, maybe we can focus on some 19 million people in Croatia, Serbia & Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina who could use a little help with their 12 Step Program.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Next Movement

Yeah, you go
Hey you listeners, stop what you're doin and
set it in motion, it's the next movement
You listeners, stop what you're doin and
set it in motion, it's the next movement

Word up, we got the HOT-HOT music, The HOT MUSIC (1X)
The HOT-HOT music, the HOT music (3X)

--The Reverend Black Thought, Church of the Roots


I've waited all year. And it's here! Scottish Terrier Mania! Get ready, buckle up, for A Very Beazley Christmas.

Is 95-10 A Zero?

When I first heard about the 95-10 legislation, which sponsors claim will reduce abortions by 95% in ten years, I thought that finally some people with common sense are dealing with this issue. And while I still think this proposal is a better attempt to deal with the problem than anything I have heard before, a post over at Asymmetrical Information cuts the legislation down.

I can’t say for sure if her post is entirely accurate (nor do I know much about her political leanings since I am new to that blog), but it makes a lot of sense. And that is what scares me. If in fact education and greater access to birth control will not help the problem significantly, than what will? In order to deal with this in any realistic way, we need to understand how and why unplanned pregnancies are occurring. Is there a lack of access to birth control, or are people simply acting irresponsibly? Sometimes I wonder if the only way people will actually use birth control is if we mail it to their house every week – making sure no one ever runs out.

Holy Crap!

Many critics have complained that the Nationals would not be able to compete for free agents or complete trades this offseason without the announcement of a new owner. It is reassuring to know that they organization isn't completely on break until Bud Selig gets around to deciding who should own the team. In a blockbuster deal, the Nationals get Alfonso Soriano, and give up Brad Wilkerson and two other players. While I hate to see Wilkerson go, I think the Nats got the better end of the deal. Last year's team lacked any real stars or big draws. With Soriano you have one of the most exciting players in the game - and he'll be at RFK every night.

A Beautiful Mind

A number of weeks ago, the authors of Freakonomics published a piece in the New York Times Magazine about why people vote. Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am not trying to be a shill for these authors. But I do find the articles they publish interesting, even when I don’t agree with them. And in this case, I do not agree with the conclusions of the article.

Levitt and Dubner believe that the act of voting is not necessarily a rational choice. Elections are rarely decided by one vote, and the bigger elections are quite often not even close. So there seems to be little incentive for any individual person to vote. They go on to claim that people vote because they want to be seen at the polling site fulfilling their civic duty. As evidence they use Switzerland’s decision to allow voting by mail, which decreased voter turn-out. But I don’t think this explains how “energizing the base” works.

When it comes to having your candidate elected, voter turnout is extremely important. But members of each party will only turnout to vote if they believe that the rest of the party will vote as well. Therefore, it becomes more like a repeated game, where the strategic decision for everyone is to vote because it will encourage others to vote as well. Conversely, if a voter believes that others will not vote, they will have less incentive to cooperate. The fact that we vote in public is what makes it most like a repeated game. Voter turnout in one election will impact voter turnout in the next election. By not voting, you will be associated with the broader group who did not cooperate and support the cause. But your decision to vote or not can only be known when voting is a public act.

I think people see their vote, not as an individual ballot, but as part of a block. And the group will only have an impact if everyone cooperates. This explains why voter turnout declined in Switzerland. Since they don’t have to be seen to vote, people could defect in secret. The mail-in vote makes it less like a repeated game and allows the decision to be about immediate payoffs without the fear of consequences.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Repo Men

Another reason we all might miss O'Connor once she's gone.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that the government can seize a person’s Social Security benefits to pay old student loans.

Retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the decision that went against a disabled man, James Lockhart, who had sued claiming he needed all of his $874 monthly check to pay for food and medication.

Lockhart, 67, a former postal worker who now lives in public housing in Seattle, has heart disease, diabetes and other health problems. He has about $77,000 in student loan debt.


Everyone may want to stop considering whether or not they want to get that PhD after all. Nor should you let that student loan money pile up as you get on in the years. The counter argument was this:

Groups like the AARP and the National Consumer Law Center had urged the court to safeguard Social Security benefits in the Lockhart case, arguing they “are critical in preserving a measure of financial independence for older and disabled workers.”


That is a load of steaming zebra crap. I'm sorry, but turning old shouldn't immunize you from the world. Just because you've hit retirement age doesn't mean you should get a "get out of debt free" card. Again, Social Security is an income insurance program. It's meant to be insurance and an annuity in case you live too long and don't have savings to cover it. And, as Social Security checks are income, you should have to use them to pay back debt. Student Loans, especially of a magnitude that great, are a financial investment in yourself and they carry risk. The investment may not pan out. The government already helps in providing below market-rate interest to help offset the positive externalities of it, so that's already one thing in your favor. Allowing you to escape it merely because you went on the social security rolls is ridiculous. Dodge the creditors long enough and you can get away clean!

Scalia concurred with O'Connor, and argued rightly that Congress passed legislation that basically contradicted and effectively repealed the Social Security Act when it authorized the government to collect on old student loan debt. If Congress said the government should aid in the collections, then it should, and it should sieze people's Social Security checks if need be.

Tis The Season

I am only now fully realizing the stupidity of the extremes in both parties. That there is even a debate about what word to use for the holiday season is ludicrous. First of all, just because President Bush or anyone else decides to use the term “holiday season” instead of Christmas, it should not be seen as an affront to Christians. After all, Christmas isn’t the only holiday during that time. There is one more that even Christians celebrate - New Years Day.

But at the same time, whoever decided to change the name of the Congressional Christmas Tree to a “Holiday Tree” should be slapped around for no less than thirty minutes. Although I think Hastert’s decision to change it back is a stupid political stunt aimed at energizing the morons in the base, it shouldn’t have been called a Holiday Tree to being with.

Is it possible for this country to not get so wound up about what to call a dying evergreen, and to not be so concerned if President Bush decides to say Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Festivus, Happy Christmakuh or anything else? Get a grip. All these people should be worrying about something worthy, like maybe how to better serve the under-privileged or how to make Iraq secure so that our troops can spend the holidays at home sometime in the near future.