Monday, October 31, 2005

Not gloating, not me
I've noticed an interesting message from some liberal or Democratic bloggers and talking heads over the last few days. There is a narrative that goes like this: "We should not be happy over the indictment of Scooter Libby. What Scooter did was a very bad thing for America. When bad things happen to America, we should be somber and serious. Look at my sad face; that's how somber and serious I am."

You've probably guessed that I don't agree with that assessment. I can understand that some people were made uncomfortable by the gloating and the whole Fitzmas schtick in Left Blogistan. That's their right and they don't have to participate if they don't want to. Aside from the purely partisan glee at seeing the other side take a couple of lumps (and that is a perfectly legitimate glee), we should be happy that someone is likely to pay for doing damage to America. A bad guy was caught. The system still works. They haven't managed to completely subvert justice in this country. These are things to celebrate. If we should be somber and serious, it should be because so many of Libby's co-conspirators remain unindicted and because no one was indicted for the actual crime.

You can be serious or happy as you want. As for me, I'm going to enjoy a little more tactless gloating before I get somber and serious about our remaining problems.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Carnival of the Cockroaches
Is that a cool idea, or what? The patron cockroach will never forgive me if I don't get off my butt and bang out something in praise of his poetry for every issue. Actually, I do most of my blogging while firmly planted on my butt, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Another meme
PZ at Pharyngula discovered this one. This one contributes to useful research (and a cool chart I hope). The Politburo Diktat is trying to track weblog lineages-who inspired whom to start blogging. Being a right wing blog, most of his responses are wingnuts. PZ thinks we need to up the moonbat representation.

My answesr are:
  1. Your blogfather, or blogmother, as the case may be. Just one please - the one blog that, more than any other, inspired you to start blogging. Please don't name Instapundit, unless you are on his blogchildren list. That would be David Neiwert's Orcinus.
  2. Include your blog-birth-month, the month that you started blogging, if you can. March 2003.
  3. If you are reasonably certain that you have spawned any blog-children, mention them, too. No kids, just cats. Want to see some pictures?
  4. Identify your blog as Left, Right, or Other.Left, of the bleeding-heart liberal and yellow-dog Democrat variety, although I could be convinced to vote for a yellow cat now and then.

As per PZ's advice, I'm forwarding my answers to the very long comment thread at the Commissar's site.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Not clear on the concept
One of the finer moments in recent American political history happened three weeks ago when the majority of Senate Republicans joined with all of the Democrats to add a veto-proof amendment to the annual military spending bill. The amendment requires the executive branch to obey existing American laws regarding torture. Torture is illegal. It doesn't become legal during wartime or because the president makes up a bogus category of prisoners or when our soldiers do it overseas.

Still not getting the point, the Bush administration has offered a compromise, what if only the CIA does it? Can it be legal then?
Stepping up a confrontation with the Senate over the handling of detainees, the White House is insisting that the Central Intelligence Agency be exempted from a proposed ban on abusive treatment of suspected Qaeda militants and other terrorists.

The Senate defied a presidential veto threat nearly three weeks ago and approved, 90 to 9, an amendment to a $440 billion military spending bill that would ban the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any detainee held by the United States government. This could bar some techniques that the C.I.A. has used in some interrogations overseas.

But in a 45-minute meeting last Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney and the C.I.A. director, Porter J. Goss, urged Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who wrote the amendment, to support an exemption for the agency...

Mr. McCain rejected the proposed exemption, which stated that the measure "shall not apply with respect to clandestine counterterrorism operations conducted abroad, with respect to terrorists who are not citizens of the United States, that are carried out by an element of the United States government other than the Department of Defense and are consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States and treaties to which the United States is a party, if the president determines that such operations are vital to the protection of the United States or its citizens from terrorist attack."

Good for John McCain. As the author of the bill and a former victim of extensive torture, he gets the concept and won't be distracted by scare tactics.

The problem with torture is not that the wrong people were doing it; the problem is that it is ineffective, it is unreliable, it antagonizes our allies, it creates a negative perception of American values among populations that we are trying to win over, and it is just plain wrong--even when the CIA does it.

Friday, October 21, 2005

When two wars aren't enough
Bush and Rice are banging the war drums over Syria.
President George W. Bush on Friday called on the United Nations to convene a session as soon as possible to deal with a U.N. investigative report implicating Syrian officials in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"The report strongly suggests that the politically motivated assassination could not have taken place without Syrian involvement," Bush said after helping dedicate a new pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Southern California.

The U.N. investigative report, which Bush called "deeply disturbing," established a link between high-ranking Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies in Hariri's murder Feb. 14 in Beirut.

Earlier Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was deeply troubled by the U.N. report. She said the international community must find a way to hold Syrian authorities accountable.

Just to be clear, I thought the Syrian government under the senior Assad was completely reprehensible. Under the junior Assad it seems to be a bit quieter, but I have no reason to believe it is significantly better. I thought the Syrians should have been booted out of Lebanon years before they actually were. I would have been surprised if the Syrians were not involved in Hariri's assassination. And I would never, never suggest that Bush might gin up a foreign crisis just to distract from his problems at home. That would be un-presidential and wrong.

BUT, for once, could we not act the owners of the entire world demanding everyone else jump to action on our word. The UN is dealing with this at its own pace. Our making lots of noise and shoving into the leadership position is not going to help, and might hurt. If the UN acts now, they run the danger of looking like Bush's lapdog. There would have been plenty of time later to nudge them along if they had appeared to drop the matter.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bork hates Miers
To date, I have seen many reasons to oppose the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, a few reasons to be neutral, and only three to support her. The first of those is that she keeps M&Ms on her desk. The second, is that she is easy to draw for editorial cartoonists. The third, is that Robert Bork hates her. As much as I like M&Ms and cartoons, annoying Robert Bork is the most important to me.

Bork is more than a man with a chin that resembles a kindly old Amish father and an incisive legal mind that resembles that of Tomas de Tourquemada. For old liberals like me, Robert Bork hold a special place in the darkest part of our hearts. Long before Ronald Reagan decided Bork was just the kind of man we neded on the Supreme Court, Bork was the Nixon lackey who carried out the The "Saturday night massacre" of October 20, 1973 when Nixon decided to fire the Watergate special prosecutor who was asking the wrong questions.

When Bork failed to get a seat on the Supreme Court, he became a martyr to the radical right. While they want to redeem his memory by putting someone in his mold on the bench, people like me want to continue to punish him by keeping anyone like him off the bench. It's not just meanness and the memory of Watergate that make us feel this way; Bork's legal philosophy is genuinely dangerous. Bork is a strong defender of the idea that there is no right of privacy--not just as a code word for abortion, he is against the idea of privacy at all. Bork, frankly, is an anti-democratic zealot.

This brings me back to Bork. He really hates Miers.
With a single stroke--the nomination of Harriet Miers--the president has damaged the prospects for reform of a left-leaning and imperialistic Supreme Court, taken the heart out of a rising generation of constitutional scholars, and widened the fissures within the conservative movement. That's not a bad day's work--for liberals.

Wow. The very act of nominating Miers makes Bush a liberal. How can I resist that? It's almost too good to be true. Is it a trap? No, Bork is too splenetic to be coy. He says what he means, says it loudly, and thinks he was very clever saying it. Bork really does think Miers is a betrayal of the revolution. Does that mean we should support her? Of course not. I still think that there are many reasons to oppose her nomination.

As far as strategy is concerned, I think Democrats and liberals should sit back, make some popcorn, and let the radical conservatives savage the Republican Party. There will be plenty of time to oppose her later.
Two questions
If I have learned anything from Jonah Goldberg, it is that, as a blogger, I no longer need to do serious intellectual work; I can get my readers to do it for me. I have two questions.

One for science fiction geeks:
I recently introduced Clever Wife to the idea of a ringworld. I am aware of only two authors that have used this idea so far: Larry Niven in his Ringworld series and Iain M. Banks in his novel Consider Phlebas. Does anyone know of another book, esay, or story that uses a ringworld as a setting?

Another one for kitchen geeks:
Over the last few years I have slowly stopped using all types of garlic other than fresh cloves. Clever Wife and I really like garlic. Does anyone know an easy way to clean the little holes in a garlic press? Right now I'm using either a toothpick or a sail needle to clear old pulp from the holes.
Plame grand jury still working
Jeralyn suggests that we might not have any resolution from the Plamegate grand jury till late next week. Despite the rumors that indictments might be coming down today, it makes a certain amount of sense for Fitzgerald to keep the grand jury in business until the last possible minute. If he drags out the suspense, there is always the possiblity that someone with a guilty conscience will crack and want to cut a deal.

Meanwhile, we have this to tide us over the weekend.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A Texas court on Wednesday issued a warrant for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's arrest, and set an initial $10,000 bail as a routine step before his first court appearance on conspiracy and state money laundering charges.

Travis County court officials said DeLay was ordered to appear at the Fort Bend County, Texas, jail for booking, where he'd likely be fingerprinted and photographed. DeLay's lawyers had hoped to avoid such a spectacle.

The warrant, known as a capias, is "a matter of routine and bond will be posted," DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin said.

I can't wait to see the mugshot and I know reporters will be all over that court house trying to be the first to publish. The important question is, will Time manipulate the picture to make him darker and more sinister looking, like they did to OJ Simpson?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Schadenfreude overdose
The last two weeks or so have been almost more fun than most of us bleeding-heart liberals and yellow-dog Democrats can handle. Bush's numbers keep falling and are now at levels that would have made Nixon wince. DeLay has been indicted and is to be fingerprinted and mug-shotted later this week. Frist is in trouble over questionable stock trades. And, everyone's favorite, it's looking more and more like the Plame smear is going to cost the administration very dearly. Every rumor brings a new giggle.

Any one of those would have been enough to make us happy, but the real gravy is that these problems are combining to create some real cracks in the conservative coalition. The Miers nomination has not satisfied the cultural right and they are not in a mood to be quiet about it. It might not be bloody civil war yet, but a few noses have been punched and egos wounded.

Today, David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is crying because he's been given a little of the Rove treatment that is usually reserved for Democrats and John McCain.
What is most troubling about this whole affair, however, is the way the administration has gone about trying to demonize conservatives who have raised questions about Ms. Miers. It began from day one to attack personally the motives, loyalty and judgment of anyone who questioned the wisdom of the nomination. Since then, the ad hominem attacks on Miers’s conservative critics have been unconscionably heavy-handed and will haunt the president regardless of how the nomination fight turns out.

Were the White House's ad hominem attacks on war critics unconscionably heavy-handed? Dirty, brutal politics have been a hallmark of this administration for over four years. It's been used against patriotic whistleblowers, honest political opposition, and mourning parents. Where was Keene's shock and indignation during that time?
Most conservatives have stood with Bush from the beginning. Those of us who know him like him. We’ve swallowed policies we might otherwise have objected to because we’ve believed that he and those around him are themselves conservatives trying to do the right thing against sometimes terrible odds. We’ve been there for him because we’ve considered ourselves part of his team.

No more.

From now on, this administration will find it difficult to muster support on the right without explaining why it should be forthcoming. The days of the blank check have ended because no thinking conservative really wants to be part of a team that requires marching in lock step without question or thought, even if it is headed by the president of the United States.

Hypocrisy. Pure Hypocrisy. Once again, "marching in lock step without question or thought" is something that the administration has demanded since 9-11. Not just from the party, but from the whole country. Keene had no problem with that demand as long as he agreed with the program that people were being ordered to support. Now that he is the one being bullied around and it's all tears and "I'm going to take my ball and go home."

I have no sympathy for him at all. Frankly, I'm rather enjoying this.

Shakespeare's Sister and John Aravosis also have no sympathy for Keene. Poor baby.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Yep, I'm a geek
John Scalzi has a book out for our reading pleasure, The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies. He explains what we need to know before rushing out in a buying frenzy and grabbing a copy or three.
As you might expect from the title, the book is a guide to science fiction film, from the very first SF film in 1902, to this summer's biggest science fiction extravaganzas. That's 103 years of science fiction film in 325 pages, including the index (lovingly indexed, I'll note, by the super-competent and generally awesome Susan Marie Groppi). But -- of course -- it does some scene setting as well, putting SF films into context.

Thethe centerpiece of the book is The Canon: Reviews and commentary on the 50 science fiction films you have to see before you die. I'm sure you see what's coming next. Byzantium's Shores has officially converted the canon into a blog meme. According to estabished tradition, one must copy the list onto one's blog and bold those movies that one has seen. This is to be followed by a few words explaining ones geekiness or lack thereof.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!
Back to the Future
Blade Runner
Bride of Frankenstein
Brother from Another Planet
A Clockwork Orange
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Damned
Destination Moon
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Escape From New York
ET: The Extraterrestrial
Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)
The Fly (1985 version)
Forbidden Planet
Ghost in the Shell
The Incredibles
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version)
Jurassic Park
Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior
The Matrix
On the Beach
Planet of the Apes (1968 version)
Solaris (1972 version)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The Stepford Wives
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Thing from Another World
Things to Come
12 Monkeys
28 Days Later
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
2001: A Space Odyssey
La Voyage Dans la Lune
War of the Worlds (1953 version)

What's interesting (or maybe not) is how closely my list mirrors PZ Myers' list. It was probably inevitable that I would be a science fiction geek. I grew up during the space race. i read comic books during long car trips with my family. When I was ready to graduate from comics to paperbacks, there was David Neiwert ready to loan me his Doc Savages. I hit the age when I was old enough and had enough money to go to the movies by myself right at the beginning of the 1968-78 golden age of science fiction movies. I'm just surprised that there is anyone my age who isn't a science fiction geek.

It's also a tradition that any list of this sort be met with cries of outrage over its omissions. Here's my contribution: Good lord man! How could you have left off King Kong?!? Even if you don't feel that the giant beast genre deserves inclusion (it does and Godzilla isn't sufficient representation), King Kong deserves recognition for Willis O'Brien's dinosaur modelwork.
History Carnival #18
The latest History Carnival went up over the weekend over at Acephalous. My map nerd post on the Lawrence map made it in and appears to be in company with posts on "The Lost Art of Writing True Crime Headlines," how wives can keep their loved ones safe from the scourge of VD, and the mysterious disapperance of Col. Fawcett.

Friday, October 14, 2005

He deserves fruit
The other day, Mitt Romney was in North Carolina building alliances for his 2008 shot at the Republican presidential nomination. After warning that terroristic Islamic fundamentalists wanted to conquer America (or maybe not), he said this:
Romney said that his administration had eliminated more government jobs "in Massachusetts than any other state in America."

Leaving aside the grammar question (I don't think that, as governor of Massachusetts, he was in a position to eliminate jobs in any other state) there is something really unpleasant about using that as a bragging point. Small government Republicans make a habit of referring to civil service employees as "the bureaucracy." The bureaucracy, in their use, is an amorphous, sinister mass that is opposed to all decent American values. The bureaucracy seeks to strangle the American character.

In reality the bureaucracy is a group of middle-class Americans with moderately well-paying jobs. They pay their taxes, send their kids to school and contribute to the economy by spending their money in local stores. They are our neighbors. It is only by dehumanizing the civil service that someone like Romney could proudly announce how many middle-class jobs he's eliminated and expect to get applause. It is to our shame that most Americans are easily enough fooled that they do applaud, rather than throw fruit.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Quote of the day
Mark Shields notices something about our leaders.
Has anyone else ever watched C-SPAN cover a three-hour House debate on cloning? What a scene. Two hundred six Caucasian males in blue suits, white shirts and red ties all declaring their all-out opposition against cloning.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Map nerd of Arabia
I'm a map nerd, as Clever Wife would be the first to point out, but even if you are not a map nerd, this is just too cool for words.
LAWRENCE of Arabia's vision for the Middle East has been revealed in a map he created after World War I.

T.E.Lawrence, the British colonel whose wartime collaboration with the Arabs against the Turks was immortalised in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, attempted to reward Britain's Arab allies by dividing territory between them.

His sympathy for the cause of Arab self-determination is well known, but the details contained in the map eluded historians because it was filed at Britain's archives under the wrong date.

The missing map has been found and is one of the highlights of a new Lawrence show at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The fate of the Middle East was largely decided by a high level agreement between the British and French foreign ministries with no participation from the local populations. The Turks, who had previously ruled most of Arabia, were limited to ethnically Turkish areas of Anatolia (the western part of the current Turkish Republic). The French were given control over Lebanon and Syria with access to the Tigris River and to Southeastern Turkey. The British were given control over Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan. The Armenians were to be given a state in Northeastern Turkey. Arab self-rule was limited to the least economically useful parts of the region. The area that is now Iraqi Kurdistan was disputed between the British and French, but later given to the British after some adjustments were made between Jordan and Syria to favor the French. This plan has been a disaster that we have had to live with for the last eighty years.

Till now we have known that Lawrence's plan included Arab self-rule over a much larger area and a much smaller role for the British and French, but we have not known the details of his borders. The newly discovered map shows most of the Northern Arab lands including Jordan, Syria up to the Euphrates, and the Muslim parts of Lebanon united under Prince Feisal, the son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca (who was expected to rule most of the Arabian peninsula). The French would have controlled Beirut and most of the Christian areas in the Lebanon Mountains. The British would have controlled The southern two-thirds of Iraq (it's interesting to note that the map shows this state united with Kuwait, a region that the British already controlled). He shows Palestine as a separate state but doesn't indicate who would be in control (at the time the leading contender was that it would be an international zone, open to all religions).

The most interesting elements of Lawrence's plan is that he shows a northern state, to be awarded to Zaid, the youngest son of Sherif Hussein, that includes much of the Kurdish territory that now divided between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. He also shows a small Armenian state on the Mediterranean, straddling the current Syrian-Turkish border. At the time, this area was called Little Armenia by some and still had a significant Armenian population.

Lawrence's plan has it's own weaknesses--his smaller Iraq would still have been a difficult state to hold together and he leaves Palestine up in the air--but, in many ways it is a vast improvement over what the peace conference created. Then as now, Politics was usually decided by the powerful while the experts and the people affected merely got to watch from the sidelines. As it was in Iraq in 1919, so it will be in Iraq and New Orleans in 2005.
Quote of the day
John Aravosis over at AmericaBlog.
The GOP rank and file takes its values seriously. Just imagine the outrage were Rush Limbaugh revealed to be a drug addict, William Bennett a compulsive gambler, Gary Bauer a philanderer, Strom Thurmond the father of a black child, or George Bush a coke fiend. They’d never work in this town again.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

War is bad for children and other living things
This is really quite stunning.
The people of Belgium have been left reeling by the first adult-only episode of the Smurfs, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters' village is annihilated by warplanes.

The short but chilling film is the work of Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, and is to be broadcast on national television next week as a campaign advertisement.

The Unicef advert, which shows the Smurfs' village being bombed
The animation was approved by the family of the Smurfs' late creator, "Peyo".


The short film pulls no punches. It opens with the Smurfs dancing, hand-in-hand, around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter past and rabbits gambol around their familiar village of mushroom- shaped houses until, without warning, bombs begin to rain from the sky.

Tiny Smurfs scatter and run in vain from the whistling bombs, before being felled by blast waves and fiery explosions. The final scene shows a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs.

The final frame bears the message: "Don't let war affect the lives of children."

It is intended as the keystone of a fund-raising drive by Unicef's Belgian arm, to raise £70,000 for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Burundi.


Julie Lamoureux, account director at Publicis for the campaign, said the agency's original plans were toned down.

"We wanted something that was real war - Smurfs losing arms, or a Smurf losing a head -but they said no."

The test audiences were shocked, but seem to be in favor of running the ad (without the decapitations). I suspect they would get a lot more resitance to running the equivalent on American teevee.

I have trouble believing that it's for real. It sounds like so many underground comics that I've read. I have no trouble picturing this as a sick parody. Imagine a Sam Pekinpah style slaughter in downtown Bedrock. It's not hard to visualize it as a joke. And yet, it appears that it is real.

What would be the American equivalent--something fondly remembered by grown-ups, but familiar to kids? Duckburg? Sesame Street?
Unclear on the concept
According to an NPR interview (via Atrios) with one of Harriet Miers' defenders, she does not really get what the term "civil rights" means.
Miers was on record saying she supported civil rights for homosexuals, but not the repeal of the Texas sodomy law.

How can one be "for" the civil rights of a group while at the same time favoring a law that criminalizes their defining characteristic? This is not the kind of insightful thinking that cries out "Supreme Court material" to me.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Happy holidays
Canadian kids don't have to go to school today because it's Thanksgiving in Canada. In some of the states, kids get today off for Columbus Day. When I was in school in Alaska, we got a day off in mid-October for Alaska Day, the day the territory was tranfered from the Russian Empire to the United States. I'm not sure if they still get the day off.

Friday, October 07, 2005

2005 Ig Nobel Prizes
Last night the 2005 Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded at Harvard's Sanders Theatre. Once again, I didn't win anything.

For those of you not familiar with the IgNobels, this is a real prize, given to real scientists, in a real theater. The presenters are winners of that other prize. The prizes are awarded to researchers who have all done things that first make people laugh, then make them think. While the IgNobels do not come with as much cash as the other award, they do come with a lot of cachet, marking the winners as the coolest nerds on the block.

Here are some of this year's winners (follow the link to the full list of winners and to links to the literature about the winning research):
FLUID DYNAMICS: Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of International University Bremen, Germany and the University of Oulu , Finland; and Jozsef Gal of Loránd Eötvös University, Hungary, for using basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin, as detailed in their report "Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh -- Calculations on Avian Defaecation."

CHEMISTRY: Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota and Brian Gettelfinger of the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, for conducting a careful experiment to settle the longstanding scientific question: can people swim faster in syrup or in water?

LITERATURE: The Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria, for creating and then using e-mail to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters -- General Sani Abacha, Mrs. Mariam Sanni Abacha, Barrister Jon A Mbeki Esq., and others -- each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled and which they would like to share with the kind person who assists them.

PEACE: Claire Rind and Peter Simmons of Newcastle University, in the U.K., for electrically monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while that locust was watching selected highlights from the movie "Star Wars."

PHYSICS: John Mainstone and the late Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland, Australia, for patiently conducting an experiment that began in the year 1927 -- in which a glob of congealed black tar has been slowly, slowly dripping through a funnel, at a rate of approximately one drop every nine years.

And Rick Santorum's personal favorite:
MEDICINE: Gregg A. Miller of Oak Grove, Missouri, for inventing Neuticles -- artificial replacement testicles for dogs, which are available in three sizes, and three degrees of firmness.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Life in Bush's America
A woman is kicked off her flight for insulting the president.
Southwest Airlines kicked a woman off one of its flights over a political message on her T-shirt, the airline confirmed Thursday, and published reports say the passenger will sue.

Lorrie Heasley, of Woodland, Wash., was asked to leave her flight from Los Angeles to Portland, Ore., Tuesday for wearing a T-shirt with pictures of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a phrase similar to the popular film title "Meet the Fockers."

A spokesman for Southwest Airlines told CNN that the airline used the "common sense" approach when they decided to escort Heasley from the plane in Reno, Nevada, during a stopover between Los Angeles and Portland, Ore.

The airline felt that the T-shirt was offensive and that other passengers would be outraged by it, the spokeswoman said, adding that the incident is about "decency."

The story makes no mention of anyone actually complaining. Heasley and her husband went through the checkin line, security screening, and were boarded onto the plane without incident. The plane left took off from Los Angeles and flew part way to Reno before anyone had a problem. Ms. Heasley wasn't causing a disruption; in fact, she was asleep for most of that leg of the trip. Then the airline told her she had to cover up the shirt or get off. When they left the plane, halfway home, they were not offered a refund for the unused portion of their tickets.

When the powerful are caught in an embarrassing situation like this one in Bush's America, how do they respond? That's right. They lie about it.
Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Marilee McInnis told the Gazette-Journal that the airline's contract with the Federal Aviation Administration contains rules that say the airline will deny boarding to any customer whose conduct is offensive, abusive, disorderly or violent or for clothing that is "lewd, obscene, or patently offensive."

FAA spokesman Donn Walker told the newspaper that no federal rules exist on the subject.

"It's up to the airlines who they want to take and by what rules," he was quoted as saying. "The government just doesn't get into the business of what people wear on an aircraft."

We have one of two things happening here and neither one is very pleasant. One is that some little blue-nosed tyrant within the airline (possibly on the crew of that plane) is being allowed to dictate policy for the airline and strand travelers who don't conform to their version of morality. Remember, none of the other passengers complained. The other possibility is that the airline, like much of the broadcast media, has decided to exercise preemptive censorship, lest they be the subject of a complaint by Brent Bozelle.

Sure, Heasley showed bad taste in wearing the shirt in the sort of place where children, fundamentalists, and Republicans might see it. But bad taste is not a crime. None of us would have survived back to school shopping in high school if was. And she didn't do anything threatening or alarming, like carry a MacDonald's bag into the bathroom.

It goes with out saying that I think we should all wear vulgar, Bush insulting garments when flying on Southwest Airlines from now on.
Bill O'Reilly, history major
I have no explanation for this. Bill O'Reilly attended Chaminade High School, a private Catholic high school in New York. You know, one of those faith based schools that we are constantly told provides a much better education than do the evil unionized public schools (sarcasm aside, most people I know who attended Catholic schools did get very respectable educations). He was an honors student in history and he spent his junior year of college at the University of London. However ill-informed his opinions might be, he should have a fairly decent grasp of history. And yet...

On his Monday show, O'Reilly attempted to tell Gen. Wesley Clark that the American army always commits atrocities during wartime. As an example he claimed that the Malmedy massacre during World War Two was committed by the 82nd Airborne division. The Malmedy massacre was a battlefield execution of 150 American POWs by the German army during the Battle of the Bulge. I'll have more to say about this in another post.

Last night, he informed a caller that the enslavement of Africans was the equivalent of the British rule in Ireland. While a degree of self-pity for the suffering of his own nationality might be understandable, he then went on to describe the trans-Atlantic slave trade as a voluntary immigration by people looking for better economic opportunities.
That's the prevailing wisdom in a lot of the precincts, is that because blacks were in slavery in the United States, they were never able to develop an infrastructure of education and culture to compete with the white majority. That is the prevailing wisdom in lots and lots of places. Let me submit this to you, and then you can comment on it.

My people came from County Cavan in Ireland. All right? And the British Crown marched in there with their henchman, Oliver Cromwell, and they seized all of my ancestors' lands, everything. And they threw them into slavery, pretty much indentured servitude on the land. And then the land collapsed, all right? And everybody was starving in Ireland. They had to leave the country, just as Africans had to leave -- African-Americans had to leave Africa and come over on a boat and try to make in the New World with nothing. Nothing. And succeeded, succeeded. As did Italians, as did -- and I'll submit to you, African-Americans are succeeding as well. So all of these things can be overcome...

At the beginning of his comment, O'Reilly is heading for the Blacks as a criminal race narrative, that was so reprehensibly brought up by Bill Bennett the other day. He seems to realize where he's going and back off at the end when he says "African-Americans are succeeding as well." Once again, I'll have more to say about this in another post (hmmm, I'm committing myself to a lot today; I also wanted to insult some creationists this week). The beginning of the comment was about the causes of crime; in the end he seems to be talking about building a successful middle class. That can be argued as having a lot to do with crime rates, but he left out quite a few steps in that argument.

Meanwhile, O'Reilly the historian appears to have learned most of his trade from reading Harry Turtledove's alternate history novels. Look at that key sentence again: "African-Americans had to leave Africa and come over on a boat and try to make in the New World." They were hit by a potato blight and had to leave the land of their birth. Fortunately, there were some nice men down on the beach who offered to give them a ride to the land of opportunity. "Here," they said, "let me put this chain on your ankle so you won't fall overboard in rough seas. We can't be too careful, you know."

On second thought, I'm being unfair to Harry Turtledove. This sounds more like the neo-Confederate slavery apologists who have been trying to whitewash the image of the old South in school curricula. One of the battles has been over a booklet entitled Southern Slavery: As It Was, co-authored by an Idaho pastor Douglas Wilson and League of the South co-founder Steve Wilkins. The booklet holds a place in the neo-Confederate movement similar to Of Pandas and People for the Creationist movement.
Wilson’s and Wilkins’ booklet, published by Wilson’s "Canon Press" in Moscow [Idaho], argues that southern slavery was not only sanctioned by the Bible but, thanks to the patriarchal kindness of their wise evangelical masters, a positive, happy, and pleasant experience for the majority of southern blacks. Wilson and Wilkins are quite specific about the many benefits of slavery for African-Americans, and they conclude that southern slaves genuinely appreciated those benefits and supported the system that provided them. As such, they claim that "slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War [the Civil War] or since." (p. 38). Their praise of the institution is almost unbounded in places. “There has never been," they argue, "a multi-racial society that has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world." (p. 24). They repeatedly deride the consensus view of slavery that has emerged over the last fifty years of academic scholarship as “abolitionist propaganda" and "civil rights propaganda."

I don't know what O'Reilly's opinion of the neo-Confederate movement is, but I find it very ugly to discover echoes of their revisionist history in his rants. Maybe O'Reilly should just stop talking about history for a while. That way he won't embarrass himself (as much) and he won't embarrass other history majors.
Don't tell Falwell or Dobson
This is all we need.
A British cleric and top-selling author of children's books was thrown out of a school where he said Harry Potter was "gay" during a talk to 12-year-olds.

Reverend Graham Taylor, who penned the novel "Shadowmancer" which, like the tales of the famous boy wizard created by J.K. Rowling, centers on witchcraft and battling evil, got his marching orders after teachers accused him of homophobia.

In his defense, Rev. Taylor may have only been joking
"As for Harry Potter, well, he's not the only gay in the village," Taylor told children at Penair School in Truro, southwest England, referring to a catchphrase from the popular British comedy TV show "Little Britain."


"It was a joke; a joke from 'Little Britain' that the children would know," Taylor was quoted by newspapers as saying.

"I didn't set out to offend. I'm a priest and I'm very careful about not offending people."

Sadly, the joke doesn't translate into American, so we can expect easily panicked culture warriors to be shouting this one from the rooftops in no time.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Creeping theocracy from a creepy theocrat
Sen. Patricia Miller of the Indiana legislature doesn't think the wrong sorts of women should be allowed to go around having babies. The wrong sorts of women include lesbians, single women, and, it seems, those without the correct church background. She isn't quite brave enough to suggest outlawing the giving of birth by those women (how would that work, Sen. Miller is firmly pro-life), but she has managed to take a bold step in that direction. She has authored a bill that would limit access to reproductive technology to married, heterosexual women, who pass a state assessment of their suitability. Did I mention that she's a member of the party that wants to get government off our backs?
An interim legislative committee is considering a bill that would prohibit gays, lesbians and single people in Indiana from using medical science to assist them in having a child.

Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, said the state does not regulate assisted reproduction but should have requirements similar to its adoption requirements.


The bill defines assisted reproduction as causing pregnancy by means other than sexual intercourse, including intrauterine insemination, donation of an egg, donation of an embryo, in vitro fertilization and transfer of an embryo, and sperm injection.

It would require "intended parents" to be married to each other and says a single person may not be an intended parent.


Under the proposal, a doctor could not begin an assisted reproduction technology procedure that might result in a child being born until the intended parents had received a satisfactory assessment. The assessment is similar to what is required for infant adoption and would be conducted by a licensed child-placing agency in Indiana.

The required information includes the fertility history of the parents, education and employment information, personality descriptions, verification of marital status, child-care plans and criminal history checks. A description of the family lifestyle of the intended parents also would be required, including participation in faith-based or church activities.

This the first I've heard of Sen. Miller. Indiana is a long way off of my beaten track. But I'll be sure to keep an eye out for her in the future. As a 23 year veteran of the Indiana General Assembly, Sen. Miller has been in the forefront of wingnut activities. She is, as I mentioned, strongly pro-life and has sponsored bills banning cloning and stem-cell research. She is an anti regulation warrior and last year sponsored a bill a bill that would have thrown out Indiana's water quality standards.

She is also a tireless culture warrior. When she's not writing bills to regulate the use of wombs (would that be went control?) she is active in various religious groups that are currently waging civil war within the Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and United Methodist churches. These groups have names like Good News, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church, the Coalition for United Methodist Accountability (CUMA), and the Association for Church Renewal. The goal of all of these groups is to pull the liberal Protestant denominations to the right, making them resemble the Southern Baptists. They are not beyond forcing schisms in the churches to get their way. Gay marriage and clergy seem to their main money-making points.

I frequently point out that people in most states look at the antics of their state legislatures and think that they must be the laughing stock of all the other states. In reality, that esteemed position is usually monopolized by Texas, Florida, and Kansas. Indiana is on the verge of breaking into the club.
What is this, some kind of joke?
Sometimes I have trouble translating Bush into English.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, of all the people in the United States you had to choose from, is Harriet Miers the most qualified to serve on the Supreme Court?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Otherwise I wouldn't have put her on.

Put her on? Is he saying that this is no more than a cruel practical joke that he's playing on Miers? After another day or two of letting hers think she's it, he's going to say, "Ha, ha, ha. I was just humorificating you. It's really Alberto. Now be a good gal and get us some coffee. The men have important things to talk about."

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bennett loses a job
Unfortunately, it's not his radio show.
MCLEAN, Va., Oct. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- K12 Inc. today announced that William J. Bennett has resigned as an employee, and as Chairman and member of the company's Board of Directors, effective immediately. K12 Inc. said the Board accepted his resignation, thanking him for his contributions to the company. K12 Inc. said that it has no relationship with, or involvement in, Dr. Bennett's radio program. The opinions expressed by Dr. Bennett on his radio program are his and his alone.

Dr. Bennett, in a separate statement said: "I am in the midst of a political battle based on a coordinated campaign willfully distorting my views, my record, and my statements. Given the controversy surrounding the remarks I made on my radio show, I am stepping down from my positions at K12, so that neither the mission of the company, nor its children, are affected, distracted, or harmed in any way."

K12 is a company that produces home-schooling products.

As one of the people picking on the poor, martyred Mr. Bennett, I'd like to point out that there is no coordination to this campaign at all. It's a completely grassroots campaign. It's an example of synchronicity. We all woke up the other day and thought, "today would be a good day to willfully distort Bill Bennett's views, record, and statements." Sometimes, it just works that way. And sometimes people with addiction problems are unable to take responsibility for their words and actions, develop persecution complexes, and act like big crybabies in public.
Madam, I'm Adam
The Sunday New York Times has a little feature of clips from other publications called the Reading File. Yesterday they offered this little tidbit.
As the debate over whether intelligent design should be taught in schools continues, New Man, a Christian magazine for "men on a mission," makes the case for a literal Adam in its September/October issue.

The article, "The Search for Adam," says that while "many people regard the story of Adam and Eve as a myth," the scientific evidence is mounting that Adam existed, and the article quotes various creationists to support this case.

Fazale Rana, a biochemist and vice president of Reasons to Believe, a creation science group:

Adam would have been a consummate hunter, an artist, an artisan and craftsman. He would have been the first Tim Taylor from the Tool Time TV program. There's an obsession with tools and manufacturing. He was a man's man, but also a Renaissance man capable of art and musical expression. You can imagine Adam conveying his love for Eve by giving her jewelry.

Sadly, the article is hidden behind a subscriber-only firewall. I might pay for one article, but I'm not subscribing to a whole magazine just to get one article. Even you, dear readers, are not worth that. Because of my cheapness, Fazale Rana's opinion of Adam's talents and and a similar quote from John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research are the only examples of the "mounting scientific evidence" for Adam that we have to examine.

Although the Times puts this article in the context of the debate over intelligent design in our schools, this style of creationism is not that wimpy, watered-down product the Discovery Institute serves. This is full-proof, fire-breathing young earth creationism. Morris and the Institute for Creation Research have been fighting for the literal word of Genesis since the sixties. This is Bishop Ussher, 4004 BC, talking snakes with legs, man made from mud and woman made from a plate of ribs. They're not afraid of the word "creationism;" they embrace it. This is the real thing.

Reasons to Believe falls somewhere in between the Discovery Institute's ID and the Institute for Creation Research's YEC. They promote a variety of creationism called old earth or day/age creationism, which allows the six days of creation to be any age, even hundreds of millions of years, but still has Adam created from mud in early November 4004 BC. This is the creation science approach of the seventies and eighties. They insist on the inerrancy of Genesis, while trying to shoehorn as much science as possible into their narrative. This puts them in an oddly defensive position among Biblical literalists. Their site is filled with claims that they are not soft on Darwinism.

Rana's quote, describing Adam as the original Renaissance man, is interesting coming from a Biblical literalist. The Bible provides none of those details. Genesis describes Adam naming the animals, constructing clothes from leaves, and struggling to farm after being cast out of Eden. That's all. Cain and his son Enoch are credited with creating the first city. Cain's distant descendant Tubal Cain is credited with working metal. Tubal Cain's half brother Jubal is the first person mentioned playing musical instruments. Another Enoch, a descendant of Seth and the grandfather of Noah, is the subject of a vast literature that didn't make it into the Bible. This Enoch is credited with inventing writing and many other useful crafts. Though Tubal Cain and Jubal lived seven generations after Adam and Enoch was born when Adam was 722 years old, Genesis says Adam lived 930 years. From a Biblical literalist perspective, it is possible that Adam, in his old age, used the tools and arts invented by his descendants, but it seems rather rude of Rana to steal the credit for their work and give it to Adam.
Harriet Miers
Like everyone else, I'm scrambling to find out more about Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court. At the moment, I'm afraid I know more about Harriet Hilliard than I do about Harriet Miers. Still, this little bit by Bush speechwriter David Frum is interesting.
She rose to her present position by her absolute devotion to George Bush. I mentioned last week that she told me that the president was the most brilliant man she had ever met. To flatter on such a scale a person must either be an unscrupulous dissembler, which Miers most certainly is not, or a natural follower. And natural followers do not belong on the Supreme Court of the United States.

That was on Frum's blog for less than an hour this morning before he removed it (don't you just love Google caching?). I suppose it is fun to see the wingnuts howling and gnashing because she isn't wingnutty enough, but a lack of independent thought is worrisome. Who will she bond to?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A simple question
In their summary of the current state of the Plame case, the Washington Post has this paragraph:
In October 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that he personally asked Libby and Rove whether they were involved, "so I could come back to you and say they were not involved." Asked if that was a categorical denial of their involvement, he said, "That is correct."

We now know for a fact that both Libby and Rove were involved. Tomorrow, during the press gaggle, I want someone to ask McClellan to his face, "were you lying to us when you said that or did they lie to you?"

It doesn't matter that we all know that it wasn't that simple. It wasn't a matter of one person or another lying and everyone else being fooled by their duplicity. We all know that lying to the American people about this issue was a premeditated policy and everyone, from Bush down to Bob, the guy in the mailroom, had their talking points and was involved in the deception. McClellan's answer doesn't matter. He'll probably say something about not commenting on an ongoing investigation, how the president is determined to get to the bottom of this, they are busy keeping America safe from evil terrorists, and they all love puppies. He'll then repeat it sixteen times. None of that is important.

What is important is to get on the record, in simple terms, "you lied to us."