Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Genius doesn't always mean smart
Debbie Schlussel is one of the many blonde, conservative Ann Coulter wannabes. She even has her own fan club. She stands out from all the other Coulter clones by being a genius, as she will be the first to point out. Her official web site biography says, "A long-time member of Mensa, the high IQ society, Schlussel was a National Merit Scholar Finalist." Saddly, a high IQ doesn't necessarily guarantee that a person is knowledgeable or smart (or a good typist, as I illustrate).

Yesterday, Debbi had this to say on the fascinating topic of earwax*:
Today's New York Times details a Japanese scientific on earwax and body odor in Asians vs. Europeans and Africans. There is actually an "earwax gene" in DNA that determines this.

But the paper glosses over the most important finding. The study found that Europeans and Africans tend to have wet ear wax, sweat more, and have more under arm body odor than Asians, who have dry ear wax and don't sweat much. But the study also found that "Native" Americans have dry ear wax and body odor similar to Asians, proving they migrated here from Asia.

So whom did THEY steal the land from? Somebody else, obviously. Yet, no "Dances With Wolves" and "Into the West" from Hollywood about that.

That "somebody else" was a race of gentle and wise, mammoth-herding Atlanteans. I've dramatized their tragic decline in the face maize-planting invaders in my, as yet unsold, screenplay "Little Big Mammoth." Since Debbie's a genius, I'm sure she'll want to invest in my project.

Or maybe not. Debbi doesn't like people talking back to her. She points out several times that she will delete comments and ban anyone who insults her. Thos critical comments she allows to stay, get answered with screaming all caps ranting. When a reader named Clompo commented:
Wow! You mean Native Americans didn't just spontaneously appear in America? Who would've thought? Oh that's right - everyone.

She annotated his comment with:

When reader nicholasedward, tried to donate a little more information
If memory serves me right, Asians and native Americans also share "shovel shaped" incisors, (a trait expressed in the hominid homo erectus) but does not show up in European or African populations. Scientific Evidence suggests people migrated to North America between 25,000 to 30,000 years ago. At that time, no other homo sapiens, or even hominoids for that matter (except MAYBE gigantopithecus) had crossed the Bering straits to North America. Essentially, they were the first people to get here and continued to live here for thousands and thousands of years until we finally showed up.

So you ask "whom did THEY steal the land from?" They didn't steal it from anyone, do a little bit of research next time you write an article concerning anthropology, it would've taken you about 5 minutes on google.

He was treated to:

When two readers tried to point out that all caps is the equivalent of yelling at the top of your voice on the internet, they each received:

Finally, frustrated by the rudeness of some people, Debbie added a well-mannered forward to her post.
***To all the liberal idiots who've left dumb, insulting comments on this entry (and if you insult me, you're comments will be deleted), as directed by similarly intellectually-challenged lefty websites, I'm well aware Indians came here over the Bering Strait, which you'd realize if you actually bothered to read what I wrote below in this entry. I simply quoted the NYTimes that this was yet more proof. Yet, there is no proof they were the first here. And even if they were, this is yet more proof that they originated in ASIA. Hello? . . . This is yet more evidence that we did NOT steal THEIR land. It means it was not THEIRS to begin with.***

Debbie seems to have some issues about historical land ownership. It's not clear whether she has a special interest in disproving American Indian claims, or if her land issues have a more generalized theme. It might be interesting to explore this issue, but she never explains what qualifies as ownership in her view, so for now, we don't have much to work with.

It's a shame that Debbie only bothers to respond to people who she thinks are insulting her, because there are some fairly interesting comments following this post. For example, while Debbie rants at nicholasedward over the land stealing question, she completely misses his reference to Gigantopithecus possibly migrating to the new world. Gigantopithecus is an extinct species of very large ape. Its fossils have been found in Southeast Asia. It is believed to have been related to orangutans. So what's this about it migrating to North America? Gigantopithecus is a favorite of cryptozoologists who believe that it is the same animal as the Bigfoot or Yeti. Debbi had far better possibilities for a comeback than her lame "reading comprehension" line and let it pass her by.

Later on, Stu says:
Actually, by this rationale, we can kick anyone we want out of the entire earth, except maybe The Indus River, the Yellow River, and the area between the Tigris and Euphrates. Since these areas are where mankind came from, they're the only ones that anyone really OWNS. Everyone else is just squatting and can be kicked out by another group who will squat there for awhile.

Debbie doesn't even bother to shout at Stu, even though he apparently thinks the human race originated simultaneously in three different places. His three places of human origin are, of course, three of the eight or so places where certain types of settled agriculture may have developed independently, but they have no significance at all to human biological evolution.

Poor Debbie. If she wasn't so touchy about anyone casting aspersions on her Mensa membership, she might have some fun jousting with her commenters. As is, she's just another angry, conservative blonde, lost in the chorus and trying to be noticed.

* Actually, I do find this kind of study fascinating, but I'm not exactly normal, you know.

Monday, January 30, 2006

More conservative humor
We all know the drill by now. A prominent conservative says something murderous--a major city should be bombed for not voting correctly or a liberal Supreme Court justice should be poisoned so Bush can get another appointment. Someone less insane--perhaps a member of the group targeted for fpr extermination--expresses offense at the call for murder. The conservatives work themselves into a high dither over liberals not getting their esquisite sense of humor and decry the PC censorship that won't even let them make a harmless joke.

I introduce into evidence exibit 156,253. This is from an invitation, sent out by the Republican National Committee, for a State of the Union Adress party in Bloominton, IL.
We will have a Jesse Jackson piñata , a dunk tank where you'll get the chance to sink my wife who will be dressed as Hilary Clinton, and a special guest appearance by my uncle - Rep. Timothy V. Johnson who will be giving away "Proud to be G.O.P." American Flag windbreakers. Bring a side dish if you like. We will have burgers, hot dogs, chili, and pizza, but nothing vegetarian! This party is family friendly, so feel free to bring children. It's never too early to get them involved!

We're going to lynch a black man in effigy and then beat him with sticks! It's family friendly, so bring the kids!

I hope this turns out to be a hoax.

Update - According to the original poster at Kos, it's looking more like a haox. Rep. Johnson is supposed to be in Washington during the SOTU.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Chicken and fennel stew
My Clever Wife has been getting lots of dental work done this year (about a new car's worth). Last year she had all of her upper teeth pulled and began adjusting to life with dentures. Now that the bones are all healed, they checked her out for a better type of denture that requires implants in the bone of her upper jaw. She got the implants on Thursday and will be healing for about seven months before they finish the project. Kids, this why you need to brush and floss faithfully. There is no substitute for a conscientious program of oral hygiene and regular professional care.*

But this isn't a story about teeth; it's a story about food. Last year we ate lots of soft food in the late winter. Clever Wife isn't a huge fan of pasta (she'll eat some but she couldn't eat it every day), so I worked on my stews and casseroles. Chicken and fennel stew turned out to be her favorite--enough so that she still occasionally requests it even after eating almost nothing else for a month. Thanks to the miracle of the modern internet, you can learn how to make this yummy dish.

You will need:
  • A chicken's worth of chicken meat.
  • Broth. If you use a whole chicken, you will, of course make your own broth. If you get lazy, like me and buy packaged, skinless, boneless chicken parts, you will want to get can of plain broth.
  • Dry white wine. Two bottles or more, depending on how much of a Julia Child** at heart you are. If you don't drink, you just need one bottle to cook into the stew.
  • A large fennel bulb.
  • A large yellow onion.
  • A half pound of mushrooms.
  • Herbs. Spices. Other stuff.
  • Cheese and crackers.

If you're using a whole chicken, chop it into parts, put it in a Dutch oven and add just enough water to cover the chicken. Add a little salt. Bring the water to boil, then turn it down to a low simmer. Pour yourself a small glass of wine and go read blogs for about fifteen minutes. When you return, the chicken will be cooked and you'll have a couple cups of broth. Remove the pot from the heat. Take the chicken parts out of the broth and let them cool enough to handle. When you can handle the meat, remove the skin and bones and discard them. Leave about one and a half cups of broth in the Dutch oven and add a half bottle of wine and a bay leaf. Save the rest of the broth. I don't need to tell you how many uses there are for homemade chicken broth, do I?

If you start with skinless, boneless chicken parts, place them in the Dutch oven and cover with equal amounts of broth and wine, a little salt, and a bay leaf. Bring the liquid to boil, then turn it down to a low simmer. Pour yourself a small glass of wine and go read blogs for about fifteen minutes. When you return, take the chicken parts out of the liquid and let them cool enough to handle. Remove the pot from the heat.

The lazy bastards and the whole chicken purists should be at the same place now.

Dice or shred the meat and throw it back in the pot.

Dice the onion and sauté in a little olive oil until the onion bits start to turn translucent. Add the cooked onion to the pot.

Sautéing is hot work, so have another small glass of wine or maybe some not-too-sweet fruit juice.

Dice the fennel bulb and sauté just as you did the onion. If you have never cooked with fennel, a fennel bulb will look to you like the mutant spawn of a white onion, celery, and dill. For the stew, we are just using the onion looking part. The little dill-like fronds are a nice garnish for fruit salads. The celery parts, when chopped, can go in the stew or in a salad. Add the cooked fennel to the pot.

Dice the mushrooms and sauté in a little olive oil with diced or smashed garlic until soft. Add the cooked mushrooms to the pot.

This is a stew; you can add a lot of other ingredients at this point, if you have them laying around. Potatoes and carrots are the most obvious candidates. A little cooked and crumbled sweet Italian sausage brings out the fennel flavor (the liquorish flavor in Italian sausage comes from fennel seed).

Add more wine to cover all of the ingredients. Add a sprig of fresh rosemary. Stir it all together, bring it to a boil, salt and pepper to taste, and cook at a low simmer for at least two hours.

Have another glass of wine and some cheese and crackers while you wait for the stew to cook. Don't spoil your appetite.

As it nears completion add about two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. This adds a nice dark element in the background, but don't overdo it.

Fish out the bay leaf*** and rosemary stem.

Depending how thick or juicy you like your stew, you might add more wine or add a roux. I like it thick.

Garnish with the fennel fronds and fresh grated parmesan cheese. Serve with a light salad, whole grain rolls, and another bottle of wine.

This is good winter food.

* Except good genes. I haven’t been to a dentist since 1987 and my teeth are fine.
** Did I mention that I met Julia Child once? She dropped by a bookstore where I was working and offered to sign a few books. We weren't a scheduled media stop; she just happened to be in the neighborhood. The manager offered to take into the office and bring the books to her, but she preferred to sit out in the store with the employees and public. She joined me at the information desk and started signing and telling stories. And all I could think of the whole time was Dan Aykroyd.
*** My grandmother was very insistent about the importance of fishing out the bay leaf. You could choke on it and die. She also thought you had to always peel tomatoes, because, otherwise, the skin would roll up into tiny spikes and poke holes in your intestines.

Friday, January 27, 2006

About damn time
There's good news from my corner of the country.
The Senate today voted 25-23 to approve a gay rights bill and ended the debate over legislation that emerged in Washington the same year singer Anita Bryant began her "Save Our Children" crusade against such protections.

The House quickly concurred by a 61-37 vote, and Gov. Chris Gregoire said she planned to sign the bill into law Tuesday.

The bill would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, lending and employment.

Twenty four of 26 Senate Democrats were joined by one Republican and approved the bill with a one-vote majority.

Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, has championed the legislation for a decade. The openly gay legislator, who waited in the wings for the vote, embraced his partner as the clerk read the vote count.

For most of the years I've lived in Washington, Murray has been my representative (though I live one district over right now). He's a real decent guy. He's worked his entire political career to get this passed, introducing it every year and watching it go down--until now. This must be a hell of a day for him.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Dumbest lawsuit ever
Amanda over at Pandagon has already jumped on this one, but it might need some extra smacking around by us.
At Milton High School, girls outnumber boys by almost 2 to 1 on the honor roll. In Advanced Placement classes, almost 60 percent of the students are female.

It's not that girls are smarter than boys, said Doug Anglin, a 17-year-old senior at the high school.

Girls are outperforming boys because the school system favors them, said Anglin, who has filed a federal civil rights complaint contending that his school discriminates against boys.

Before we all jump on this kid for being a whiney jerk, let's see what evidence he has for his complaint.
Among Anglin's allegations: Girls face fewer restrictions from teachers, like being able to wander the hallways without passes, and girls are rewarded for abiding by the rules, while boys' more rebellious ways are punished.


''The system is designed to the disadvantage of males," Anglin said. ''From the elementary level, they establish a philosophy that if you sit down, follow orders, and listen to what they say, you'll do well and get good grades. Men naturally rebel against this."

I'm going to pause now and try to imagine my father's reaction if I had told him I wanted to sue the school district for oppressing me by making me follow the rules. Well, that would have left a permanent psychological scar. I wonder how Anglin's father reacted.
Anglin -- whose complaint was written by his father, who is a lawyer in Boston -- is looking for broader changes. He says that teachers must change their attitudes toward boys and look past boys' poor work habits or rule-breaking to find ways to encourage them academically.

This seems revealing. Anglin's father supports him and once again they bring up that oppressive requirement for obeying the rules. He never mentions specific rules that might discriminate against males; he simply finds the very presence of rules oppressive to his rebellious male nature.
While some of Anglin's concerns appear to be supported by school statistics and anecdotal evidence, school officials say some of the solutions that he offers are far-fetched.

For example, he proposes that the high school give students credit for playing sports [yes, he's an athlete], not just for art and drama courses. He also urges that students be allowed to take classes on a pass/fail basis to encourage more boys to enroll in advanced classes without risking their grade point average. He also wants the school to abolish its community service requirement, saying it's another burden that will just set off resistance from boys, who may skip it and fail to graduate as a result.


Gerry Anglin, Doug Anglin's father, said the school system should compensate boys for the discrimination by boosting their grades retroactively.

I'll let Amanda say what need to be said here.
If there isn’t a better symbol of male privilege than giving all the boys in a high school extra points on their report cards just for being male, I don’t know what is.

She, of course, is right, but it's more offensive than that. Anglin is part of a privileged group from almost any angle you choose to look at him. He's an upper-middle class, male, high-school jock, and from the newspaper photo, we see that he's white and pretty good looking. Yet somehow he has such an enormous sense of entitlement, that he finds having to follow the same rules as women to be a criminal injustice. He wants to permission to skip those requirements he doesn't feel like fulfilling and to get extra credit for doing things he does feel like doing. How did this kid get so screwed up. I think my father might have had some choice words for the elder Mr. Anglin's parenting skills. I'll side with my dad.

Amanda also makes a prediction about Doug's future.
Keep your eye on this one. Before long the Heritage Foundation will be grooming him for a lifetime of grousing about uppity feminists and racial and religious minorities who want equality. He’ll enjoy his future stint in the College Republicans, a bona fide sausage fest if ever there was one.

She could be right about his career arc, but I'm less sure that he'll enjoy it. By pampering his "rebellious" son, Mr. Anglin has ensured that Doug will never be happy. No matter how far he goes or how easily he gets there, he will always feel aggrieved about something. It will bother him that someone else does better, that someone went before him, that he's not getting enough praise for just being Doug, or that he has to share his status with anyone else. I could feel sorry for the child who became Doug Anglin, but for the Doug who that has become, I have only contempt.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The plan to destroy Microsoft
Seattle's own Pat Robertson wannabe, the Rev. Ken Hutcherson, has a cunning plan to demonstrate his influence and punish companies that support gay rights.
A pastor who threatened a national boycott against Microsoft and other major corporations for endorsing a gay rights bill urged supporters Tuesday to buy up the companies' stock and dump it to drive prices down.

Rev. Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, said the stock-dumping plan had been part of his strategy all along.


He wants supporters to buy one or two shares over the next few months, then sell them May 1.

I can see at least on gaping hole in this scheme. If you announce in advance that you're going to dump a bunch of discount stock shares in Microsoft and Boeing, don't you think there might be some saavy investors out there willing to snap them up, thus holding the price level? Also, if you announce that you're trying to fix the price of a stock, mightn't you attract the wrong sort of attention from the SEC. In any case, it's highly unlikely that Hutcherson's followers, with their "one or two shares" each, will amount to a big enough blip to hurt these companies.

As Goldie at Horse's Ass points out:
But the most obvious problem with Hutcherson’s plan is that Microsoft has over 10.6 billion shares outstanding, with a total market valuation of about $280 billion. Over 63 million Microsoft shares are traded on a typical day. Large institutional trades happen all the time, so even if Hutcherson’s fantasy stock boycott could manage to dump a few million shares, the market might not even notice.

It should be fun to listen to his damage control when this fizzles.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

We was just having fun
It's the classic bully's defense. Of course, they never ask whether their victims are having any fun.
A 17-year-old high school student said he was humiliated when a teacher made him sit on the floor during a midterm exam in his ethnicity class -- for wearing a Denver Broncos jersey.

The teacher, John Kelly, forced Joshua Vannoy to sit on the floor and take the test Friday -- two days before the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Broncos 34-17 in the AFC championship game. Kelly also made other students throw crumpled up paper at Vannoy, whom he called a "stinking Denver fan," Vannoy told The Associated Press on Monday.

Kelly said Vannoy, a junior at Beaver Area Senior High School, just didn't get the joke.

"If he felt uncomfortable, then that's a lesson; that's what [the class] is designed to do," Kelly told The Denver Post. "It was silly fun. I can't believe he was upset."


Vannoy said he was so unnerved he left at least 20 questions blank on the 60-question test, and just wants out of Kelly's class because he's afraid the teacher won't treat him fairly now that the story reached the media.

"I'm going to have to deal with him for two more nine weeks [school quarters] and he's going to want revenge somehow," Vannoy said Monday.

Let's see, we have blaming the victim: the problem isn't that the teacher humiliated the student; the problem is that the student didn't get it. That's another bullies' favorite. We have the genesis of the later political non-apology: I'm sorry you didn't get it. And finally, we have the current favorite of bullies and wingnuts: it was a joke; you don't understand the exquisite subtlety of our humor. Though I'm curious to know if there is anything else to the story, my first reaction is to think that John Kelly is a jackass who shouldn't be allowed to teach.

By the way, what is an ethnicity class? These kids are taking a year long class that's designed to make them uncomfortable, miserable, and afraid of retaliation by the teacher. In my day we called that class P.E.

Monday, January 23, 2006

If you thought television couldn't get any worse
Isn't this one of the warning signs of the apocalypse?
More than a decade after 16-year-old Amy Fisher had a sexual relationship with a much-older car mechanic and shot his wife in the face, the one-time "Long Island Lolita" and Joey and Mary Jo Buttafuoco have agreed to appear together in a televised reunion.

All three have signed on for the appearance, which has yet to be sold to a network, television producer David Krieff told the New York Post for Monday editions.

"It's time to just put it behind us," Fisher, now 31, told the newspaper. "We played this all out in a public eye. It'd be interesting to let the public see the healing process at the end. They saw everything else -- why not let them see the final product?"

I can think of lots of reasons why not.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Only the bad ones
Last night Time columnist Joe Klein appeared on Lou Dobbs' CNN show. He had this to say about blogging:
Well I bow to nobody in, in my disdain for bloggers. They're all opinions and very little information.

There are now millions of Americans with blogs and we are all "all opinions and very little information." This is a rather odd statement coming from someone who earns his paycheck for providing nothing more than opinion and who get's that payckeck from a company that is one of the premier providers of information for all those ignorant bloggers.

I'm sure we can read lots of psychology into Joe's statement ("afraid of a little competition, eh?"), but for a moment, lets stick to the grossness of the generalization. The millions of Americans who dare try to express their opinions before an audience a tiny fraction of the size of his deserve only his disdain.

I can see what comes next; I remember this conversation from the sixties when discussing a certain word that begins with "N." His defenders will say that by "bloggers" he didn't mean all bloggers; he only meant the bad ones. He has nothing but respect for the good ones. He also reserves the right to determine just who the good bloggers and who the bad bloggers are. We bloggers reserve the right to determine just what part of our asses we want Klein to kiss.
Admire their chutzpah, but not their brains
Repent America is one of those religious right groups that has managed to reduce the entire Bible to a message of hating homosexuals. I'm exaggerating, but only a little bit. They also care about harassing women who visit Planned Parethood clinics and forcing their version of the Hebrew creation myth into our public schools. In pursuit of the latter goal, they have booked the Dover, PA high school auditorium for a creationism seminar in March. In booking it, they had the nerve to ask the new school board to waive the usual rental fees.

In the same post as they mention their seminar, they also throw out a few comments on Judge Jones' ruling against the attempt to introduce Intelligent Design Creationism into the Dover Schools:
He was convinced by the ACLU and their advocates that the school board of the small country town became Congress and made a law respecting an establishment of religion.

The judge, however, was unable to explain how Congress was able to pull off the signing of the Declaration of Independence with references to "Nature's God" and affirmations that "all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."

Their grasp of history is about as good as their grasp of science and theology. The Declaration of Independance was written and passed eleven years before the Constitution and fifteen years before the Bill of Rights, so the First Amendment's establishment clause had no effect on it at all. The American seperation of church and state also had no effect on the Plymouth Compact, the Magna Carta, or the Code of Hammurabi.
Bring it on
The lovely SZ over at World of Crap points us to this:
Would you like to sit on the set of "The Factor" and let Bill O'Reilly have it?!

Wood eye?! Wood eye?! (Alright, it's an old and insensitive joke, and I'm ashamed I brought it up.)
Our "Bloviate with Bill" contest is underway and here's the deal:

During the month of February six lucky "Factor" viewers will be flown to New York City or Los Angeles (depending on which city we're broadcasting from) with hotel and meals paid for by us.

All you have to do is convince us by e-mail (and later by telephone) that you are a good debater and that you can hold your own with O'Reilly on a topic of your choosing.

I'll take him on on the heated and controversial topic of the causes of the decline and ultimate extinction of the Woolly Mammoth population Eurasia and North America, and I'll kick his flabby, although well loofahed, butt!! According to the rules, I "should submit a paragraph of no more than 100 words describing the topic as well as [my] personal view." Here it is.
Be it resolved: The decline and ultimate extinction of the Woolly Mammoth population Eurasia and North America was brought on by the aggressive expansion of by bands of human mesolithic hunters and the contraction of grazing range caused by a climactic shift in respose to predictable Milankovitch cycles. I'll argue pro.

Bill is toast.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Not justified
Kevin Drum makes a statement that demonstrates that he is different type of liberal than I am.
For the sake of argument, let's assume that we had pretty good intelligence telling us that a bunch of al-Qaeda leaders were in the house we bombed. And let's also assume that we did indeed kill al-Masri and several other major al-Qaeda leaders. Finally, let's assume that the 18 civilians killed in the attack were genuinely innocent bystanders with no connection to terrorists.

Question: Under those assumptions, was the attack justified? I think the answer is pretty plainly yes, but I'd sure like to see the liberal blogosphere discuss it. And for those who answer no, I'm curious: under what circumstances would such an attack be justified?

I do not think the answer is pretty plainly yes, and I'm a little shocked that he does.

Let me put forward my own thought experiment. Let's keep all of his basic assumptions: we have intelligence telling us that a bunch of al-Qaeda leaders are in a certain house, the intelligence is at least partially correct (some al Qaeda, but not as big as we hoped), and there are 18 genuinely innocent bystanders also in the building (by "genuinely innocent" I mean, they don't know that the others are wanted terrorists). Now let me change one condition: the house is in suburban Kansas City (that means the 18 genuinely innocent people upstairs are white American Christians). Is it still acceptable to blow up the house and all in it to get at an unknown number of bad guys of unknown value?

I think the answer is pretty plainly no.

Keep in mind that neither Kevin nor I are talking about what really happened in Pakistan, we are talking about his hypothetical situation. To me, the key condition in his hypothetical is that the majority of the people in the house are "genuinely innocent bystanders." This requires that the people in the house are not only non-terrorists themselves, but that they also be unaware of the nature of their guests. If they know that the guests are being hunted by the United States, then they have knowingly taken the risk of being blown up. In most of the Muslim world this is part of the laws of hospitality: the host accepts the risk of defending the guest from his enemies and the guest is honor-bound to inform the host of the risk before an offer of hospitality is made or accepted. However, this digression is not really relevant to the choice made by the Americans unless our intelligence also told us whether the other inhabitants of the house were "genuinely innocent bystanders" or knowledgeable protectors.

Kevin's last question makes no sense, "under what circumstances would such an attack be justified?" If we change the circumstances, it's not the same attack. Kevin's primary question is essentially "is it okay to murder five innocent people to execute one bad guy?" The essence of his follow-up, then, is "how about four? Three?" My answers are no, no, and stop it, you're starting to annoy me. If he persists, I get out the sharp stick and poke him.

Everyone knows that, realistically speaking, innocent people get killed in wars. That's one of the reasons why going to war is such a serious decision. But to accept that innocent people will be killed is not the same as deciding that we will kill this particular group of innocent people. Even people who are in favor of execution (and I'm not one) are supposed to be against murder. People who think America should demonstrate a higher amount of idealism and ethical clarity (and I am one) will be appalled at the very idea.

PZ Myers adds his two cents worth.
What's wrong with Chris Matthews?
Chris Matthews came to Washington as a staffer for Sen. Tip O'Neil--hardly a fire-breathing conservative. As a pundit, sometimes Matthews doews first-rate work, cutting through the official talking points and getting to the real core of things.

At other times, he's a complete idiot; he turns into a reactionary thirteen year-old who engaging in a game of one upmanship with guests to see who can reflect the current popular prejudices of the GOP in the most offensive way.

Guess which one was on display this week.

On the January 18 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, Hardball host Chris Matthews cited nationally syndicated radio host Michael Savage's characterization of the award-winning film Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features, 2005), stating: "The wonderful Michael Savage ... what's he call it? 'Bareback Mounting.' That's his name for the movie." Host Don Imus responded: "Of course, Bernard [McGuirk, executive producer] calls it 'Fudgepack Mountain.'"

On Hardball today, Chris Matthews compared Michael Moore to Osama Bin Laden while discussing the newly released tape with Joe Biden.

Matthews: I mean he sounds like an over the top Michael Moore here, if not a Michael Moore. You think that sells...

"The wonderful Michael Savage" is one of the most vulgar, hate-mongering voices on radio. In 2003 he was fired freom a short-lived television show for shouting at a gay caller to "get AIDS and die." It wasn't a particualrly unusual performance for him.

Michael Moore is, of course, the famous liberal documentary maker and subject of endless conservative fat jokes. Although Moore opposes the war in Iraq, he has never called for the murder of Americans, the destruction of Israel, or holy war against Western civilization. His only resemblance to bin Laden is that he occasionally sports a beard. Frankly, Mel Gibson's new beard looks a lot more like bin Laden's than Moore's does.

So, what the hell is wrong with Chris Matthews? Watching him is like watching one of those stupid good twin/evil twin movies. When will the good twin finally triumph over the evil twin and lock him away forever? It can't come soon enough.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sole organ
You learn new things every day.
The Bush administration today offered its fullest defense of the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program, saying that congressional authorization to defeat Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks "places the president at the zenith of his powers in authorizing the N.S.A. activities."

In a 42-page white paper, the Justice Department expanded on its past arguments in laying out the legal rationale for why the N.S.A. program does not violate federal wiretap law and why the president is the nation's "sole organ" for foreign affairs.

I thought the other branches of government did have some influence on our conduct of foreign affairs. Apparently I was wrong. It seems that our founding fathers, after their experience with the British crown, were fearful of the power vacuum that would result from an overly weak executive. For that reason, they kept the powers of the president completely undiluted and not subject to the approval or oversight of the other branches. If they had, for example, have desired the legislative branch to have a voice in the conduct of foreign affairs they might have added clauses to the Constitution that said:
Article I, Section 8
The Congress shall have Power...To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Or they might have added:
Article II, Section 2

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States...

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls...

Fortunately, they had no reason fear a strong executive or an abuse of executive power. They knew that no matter how long the republic lasted--even if we had more than forty-two presidents--that we would never elect someone who might be tempted to overreach his power. That's why they never said any of these things. Oh, how wise those sweaty white guys in Philadelphia were.

Ezra is slightly less sarcastic. That's why he's a star.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

If at first...
Remember that old story about how, if the hangman’s rope breaks, the prisoner is allowed to go free. The idea was that a failed execution amounted to a pardon from God or that it was just unsportsmanlike to keep trying. Well, the wall of separation of Church and State is alive and well in our prison systems and sportsmanship is dead and buried. It was always a myth and the United States never did that. In our prisons, the executioner's motto is "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again."
In the end, California's oldest condemned inmate did not seem quite as feeble as his attorneys made him out to be in their efforts to save his life.

With the help of four big prison guards, Clarence Ray Allen shuffled from his wheelchair to a gurney inside San Quentin's death chamber early Tuesday, a day after his 76th birthday.

Though legally blind, Allen raised his head to search among execution witnesses for relatives he had invited.

"Hoka hey, it's a good day to die," Allen said in a nod to his Choctaw Indian heritage. "Thank you very much, I love you all. Goodbye."


But the barrel-chested prisoner's heart was strong to the end: Doctors had to administer a second shot of potassium chloride to stop it.

Although lethal injection looks relatively painless, it is not.
People who have watched someone being killed by lethal injection have observed that those being sent on their way appear as tranquil as those in a hospital room whose lives are being preserved by the most modern techniques known to civilized people. That is in part because one part of the cocktail that is administered to the soon to be departed is a chemical, pancuronium bromide, known by the trade name, Pavulon.

Pavulon paralyzes the skeletal muscles but not the brain or nerves. Thus, people receiving it cannot move or speak, nor can they let onlookers know that contrary to appearances, what is happening is no fun at all. A Tennessee judge, Ellen Hobbs Lyle, commenting on the use of the drug in an appeal brought by someone on death row in that state, said Pavulon has no "legitimate purposes." She wrote about the drug's use: "The subject gives all the appearances of a serene expiration when actually the subject is feeling and perceiving the excruciatingly painful ordeal of death by lethal injection. The Pavulon gives a false impression of serenity to viewers, making punishment by death more palatable and acceptable to society."

Sherwin B. Nuland, a professor in the Yale School of Medicine, when told of use of the drug, expressed surprise. He said: "It strikes me that it makes no sense to use a muscle relaxant in executing people. Complete muscle paralysis does not mean loss of pain sensation." He said, in effect, that there were other ways of humanely killing people. I'm sure he's right, but there are 28 states that use the same cocktail in the execution chamber as Tennessee. The first drug administered is sodium thiopental, used to induce anesthesia for a short period. It is followed by pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the patient, and finally potassium chloride, which stops the heart and is said to cause excruciating pain if the victim is conscious.

What this means in Allen's case is that he was first given a drug, pancuronium bromide, to paralyze him. The primary purpose of this is to create an orderly execution for the peace of mind of the onlookers, though if given enough time, the paralysis alone will kill the prisoner whose paralyzed chest is no longer breathing. Next he was given a drug, potassium chloride, to induce a heart attack. Both the progressive suffocation and heart attack are very painful. When the heart attack wasn't fatal. The Prison officials let him lay there while they prepared a second dose of potassium chloride and induced a second heart attack. It took nineteen minutes to kill him. The American Veterinary Medical Association no longer allows this method to be used for killing animals because it too cruel.

In Allen's case, the two induced heart attacks had and extra element of cruelty because he was still recovering from a nearly fatal heart attack last fall.
Having suffered a heart attack back in September, Allen had asked prison authorities to let him die if he went into cardiac arrest before his execution, a request prison officials said they would not honor.

"At no point are we not going to value the sanctity of life," said prison spokesman Vernell Crittendon. "We would resuscitate him," then execute him.

Mr. Crittendon must have had his sense of irony surgically removed before taking up his duties as a spokesman for the Department of Corrections.

Allen's two-tries execution was not a rare thing. In fact, one of the primary reasons that all of the states that kill use lethal injection for their killing is the false impression of humaneness created by the pancuronium bromide paralysis. When executions by other means go bad, they create horrific images that might cause people to doubt the desirability of further executions.
October 17, 1990. Virginia. Wilbert Lee Evans. Electrocution. When Evans was hit with the first burst of electricity, blood spewed from the right side of the mask on Evans's face, drenching Evans's shirt with blood and causing a sizzling sound as blood dripped from his lips. Evans continued to moan before a second jolt of electricity was applied.

April 6, 1992. Arizona. Donald Eugene Harding. Asphyxiation. Death was not pronounced until 10 1/2 minutes after the cyanide tablets were dropped.23 During the execution, Harding thrashed and struggled violently against the restraining straps. A television journalist who witnessed the execution, Cameron Harper, said that Harding's spasms and jerks lasted 6 minutes and 37 seconds. "Obviously, this man was suffering. This was a violent death .. . an ugly event. We put animals to death more humanely."

March 25, 1997. Florida. Pedro Medina. Electrocution. A crown of foot-high flames shot from the headpiece during the execution, filling the execution chamber with a stench of thick smoke and gagging the two dozen official witnesses. An official then threw a switch to manually cut off the power and prematurely end the two-minute cycle of 2,000 volts. Medina's chest continued to heave until the flames stopped and death came.

Of course some people find a violent and horrible death comforting:
July 8, 1999. Florida. Allen Lee Davis. "Before he was pronounced dead ... the blood from his mouth had poured onto the collar of his white shirt, and the blood on his chest had spread to about the size of a dinner plate, even oozing through the buckle holes on the leather chest strap holding him to the chair." His execution was the first in Florida's new electric chair, built especially so it could accommodate a man Davis's size (approximately 350 pounds). Later, when another Florida death row inmate challenged the constitutionality of the electric chair, Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw commented that "the color photos of Davis depict a man who -- for all appearances -- was brutally tortured to death by the citizens of Florida." Justice Shaw also described the botched executions of Jesse Tafero and Pedro Medina (q.v.), calling the three executions "barbaric spectacles" and "acts more befitting a violent murderer than a civilized state." Justice Shaw included pictures of Davis's dead body in his opinion. The execution was witnessed by a Florida State Senator, Ginny Brown-Waite, who at first was "shocked" to see the blood, until she realized that the blood was forming the shape of a cross and that it was a message from God saying he supported the execution.

Sometimes I think, executions should be as gruesome and horrible as possible, not because I think it has a deterrent effect on crime--it doesn't--but because the killings are done in the name of all the people of the state. We should be aware of our handiwork. The state isn't a separate entity from the people. The state is the collectivity of the people. When the state kills, I kill and you kill. When you support the death penalty, you are not saying, "That person does not deserve life. The government should execute him." You are saying, "That person does not deserve life. I will kill him."

Some times I think, people are basically decent; if they had to face the fact that they are the killers, they would turn away from executions and end this barbarous act. But then I realize that I'm being naive. More exposure to death will just make people immune to the horror and make it easier to kill. After all, for centuries we had public executions and lynchings that people took their children to. They didn't grow up with a horror of killing. They thought it perfectly natural and had no problem sending people to the scaffolding and even occasionally demanded that more people go to the scaffolding.

The people who murdered their neighbors in Bosnia and Rwanda weren't monsters from the beginning. They merely found themselves in the right conditions for the monster that lurked within to escape. We are no different than the people of Bosnia and Rwanda. The same eager killer exists within us all. At most, the monster is kept on looser leash in some people than in others. And, there will always be people like Ginny Brown-Waite who fill find some way to justify even the most horrible killings done in their name.

Maybe it's best that we keep our easy executions hidden, so we can maintain our shockability when the next execution goes wrong.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Strongarm tactics
Just when I think I have a firm grip on all of the reasons to be ashamed that this administration is representing us to the world, John Aravosis points out one I missed last week.
A decision not to send more troops in Afghanistan would be damaging for Dutch interests in the US, former American diplomat Paul Bremer III warned on Monday.

Dutch politicians have been putting off a final decision for weeks on whether to send 1,200 troops to southern Afghanistan to assist in the US-led campaign against the Taliban.


In an interview with Dutch newspaper 'De Volkskrant', Bremer said the Netherlands must not expect that a refusal to send the troops will not have consequences.

They should probably put the word "diplomat" in scare quotes when describing Bremer.
Acknowledging Dutch politicians must weigh all the considerations, he said question marks would be raised on the US side about Nato if the mission doesn't go ahead. "What is Nato all about if our allies are not prepared to stand should-to-shoulder with us?"

What is Nato all about if our allies are not prepared to surrender their sovreignty and do what we them to do?
Consequences would be unavoidable if the Dutch does not send the troops. "Time and time again decisions must be taken by the US government, by Congress, that influence Dutch economic interests. It is not difficult to imagine decisions could be taken that would not be in the interests of the Netherlands," Bremer said.

That's a lovely economy you have there. It would be a shame if something unfortuidous should happen to it.

Have I mentioned lately that I really hate these guys?
Republicans caught telling the truth
No doubt, there will be hell to pay.
It's an open secret in Washington: Nonprofit doesn't always mean nonpartisan.

But RAW STORY has found that the Republican National Committee lists a panoply of conservative nonprofits as "GOP groups"--in direct violation of the nonprofit charter.

Tax-exempt nonprofits can lobby on political issues but cannot participate directly in campaign activities.


But 501(c)(3) law--referring to the provision in the Internal Revenue Code that designates organizations exempt from corporate and property taxation and makes donations tax deductible--strictly prohibits groups from endorsing candidates or political parties.

A nonprofit "may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate at all in campaign activity for or against political candidates," the IRS law reads.

At least six "GOP groups" listed and linked on the Republican National Committee website are tax-exempt nonprofits. These include the American Enterprise Institute, American Values, Coalition for Urban Renewal, Frontiers of Freedom, the Heritage Foundation and the Leadership Institute.

If defined as a "GOP group," these organizations would not qualify for tax-exempt status under their charters.

We all know that "non-partisan" in Washington is usually an insult to our intelligence and a charade. Of course some are bigger insults than others. It's rare that anyone is careless enough to tell the truth like this.

It would be fun to think that we could take this admission as evidence of the real collusion between the GOP and these groups and get their tax exempt status revoked, but that won't happen. After all, the IRS is run by Bush appointees and is too busy investigating poor people and churches that actually advocate for peace on earth. More likely, the Republicans will blame an "over-zealous" intern and the whole thing will be forgotten.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday booze blogging
Civilization marches on.
The central Ohio city of Westerville, once known as the "dry capital of the world," is dry no more.

A pizza parlor on Thursday became the first establishment in Westerville's uptown business district to legally serve a beer since 1875.

"Here's to a new tradition in Westerville," local jeweler Bill Morgan said as he raised his plastic cup of Budweiser at Michael's Pizza.

Westerville's temperance history dates back 131 years, when the town's saloon was blown up during what's known as the "Whiskey Wars."

The Anti-Saloon League moved its headquarters to Westerville in 1909, and the city became known as the "dry capital of the world."


The night of the election, Michael's Pizza owner Michael Evans said he would auction off the first beer, with the proceeds going to a local ministry.

Morgan, whose family has lived in Westerville for four generations, topped five other bidders to win the beer for $150.

After waiting 131 years and paying $150 all they gave him was bottled Bud? I think he deserved better than that. At least it was a long-neck and not a stubby.
No bomb
Wednesday I commented on a report from San Francisco that the police had arrested a man for planting a bomb in a Starbucks. I was offended that the police immediately decided that the case did not constitute terrorism. As a good liberal, I immediately suspected racism or nativism (i.e. white, Christian citizens are, by definition, not terrorists). I indignantly demanded to know, "In what way is a bomb left in a public place not terrorism?"

Today, I got my answer. It's not terrorism if there was no bomb and the suspect never claimed that there was. The "bomb" was a broken flashlight.
San Francisco authorities struggled to explain Thursday how they concluded that an object left in a Starbucks bathroom was a bomb, when tests revealed it was nothing more than a flashlight with corroded batteries.

"This appeared, by itself, to be a bomb," said police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens, who was the first to relay word from bomb squad investigators Monday afternoon that the object was an "improvised explosive device." The news quickly went national, and at one point CNN was broadcasting developments.

Gittens would not specify what about the device was so convincing, other than to say that all the people who saw it described it as a "tube-shaped cylinder with a fuse."

The incident began when an employee of the Starbucks at 1401 Van Ness Ave. spotted the object in the bathroom after a man came in, asked for coffee grounds and then used the restroom.


The man who says he left the flashlight in the Starbucks, Ronald Schouten, 44, remains in custody in County Jail on unrelated matters. He told police he had found the flashlight on the street and thought it could be used for self-defense, but decided to leave it behind after using the restroom.

Let's be generous. An employee of the store looked in the bathroom and saw a tube-shaped object. Rather than go poke at what might be a pipe bomb, his manager called the police. That's probably a reasonable reaction these days, especially in a major iconic city like San Francisco.

The police who arrived saw "tube-shaped cylinder with a fuse." They can't explain now what gave them the impression of a fuse. They came expecting a bomb and when they looked, they saw a bomb. It's not unusual for the minds of people in stressful situations to add details. Witnesses to plane crashes almost always think the planes were on fire, even when photos show no fire. At worst, it was a little unprofessional not to be able to control their stress better, but it's still understandable.

What's not understandable is this:
The man had aroused the suspicion of employees, one of whom checked the bathroom as soon as he left and found what turned out to be a quarter-stick of dynamite next to the toilet, said Lt. Dan Mahoney of the police special investigations unit.

He described the bomb as an empty flashlight casing that contained the quarter-stick of dynamite and a fuse. The fuse would have to have been lit for the bomb to explode, Mahoney said.

And this:
The SFPD bomb squad confirmed it was definitely an explosive device, reports Manuel Ramos of CBS Station KPIX-TV. A small charge was set off to disarm it.

Police said the bomb was powerful enough to seriously injure or kill someone if it had exploded.

Two different sources give details of an explosive device when there was no such device. Both say their information came from the police. Were the reporters making up details and attributing them to the police or were the police spokespersons making up details before they had accurate information? We don't need to look for sinister motives. Reporters might exaggerate in order to scoop their competitors or please their editors. The police spokesperson might exaggerate to satisfy insatiable reporters.

However, even if nothing sinister was going on, it appears that there was plenty of sloppiness and lack of professionalism invloved. No wonder people don't trust "official" sources of information. We deserve better.
When is the President is entitled to his nominee?
Georgia10, writing on the front page at Daily Kos, Has a few words to say about the idea that the "a President is entitled to his nominee." G10's take is that, while this might be true as a general principle, this President has forfeited that right by betraying the public's trust. I'd like to go a step further and say that it isn't a valid principle to begin with.

The Constitution gives the President the power to appoint certain upper positions in the executive branch and to appoint all federal judges. It gives the Senate the responsibility to "advise and consent" on these appointments, a phrase which has always meant that they examine the appointees and confirm or reject them. Every president wants to get his way on all of his appointments. Historically, the Senate has usually given Presidents most of their wishes, only occasionally balking at clearly bad appointments (most recently Harriet Meirs) or holding up certain appointments as bargaining chips in fights with the White House (as Jesse Helms did with Clinton's judicial appointments).

Occasionally an argument for maximum Presidential power shows up that runs: the Senate should approve all appointments, without exception, because the Constitution says "consent," not "consent or reject." This argument is too silly even to deserve repudiation.

The more common argument, the one Georgia10 is referring to, treats consent as a simple courtesy. G10 explains:
The premise stems from the notion that it is he who has a vested appointment power, and that the Senate should accord the President a high degree of deference when he makes he choice.

That is, the American people have chosen this person to make appointments and, except in extraordinary circumstances, the Senate should respect that decision even is they disagree with the choice. Since what constitutes "extraordinary circumstances" is a matter of personal interpretation, there will always be wide latitude for debate on appointments.

I think, however, that it is a mistake to treat all appointments as equal and entitled to the same degree of deference (whatever degree you think that is). I'll argue that judicial appointments deserve less deference than do Executive branch appointments. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that the Senate has a duty to subject judicial appointments to a tougher standard of approval.

The Executive branch is an organization with the President as its chief operational officer. The heads of the various departments answer to the President and represent the president to the professional staff in those departments. To a certain extent, we expect the executive branch to reflect the president's priorities and carry out his agenda. The only limitations on the president's power over the executive branch are the laws passed by the Legislative branch* and the professionalism and inertia of the tenured civil service.

For the Executive branch then, it's really just a matter of territorial respect to give the President whomever he wants. It's his branch, he should be allowed to run it however he wants, and the Senate should only interfere when he's about to do something disastrous. It's the same courtesy that I give to my neighbors; they can make their house and yard as ugly as they want and I should only interfere when they are doing something really stupid, like dropping a tree onto a power line or their garage.

What is different about Judicial appointments? Primarily, it is that they are lifetime appointments that have the potential to outlast the administration of single President or the reign of a single party. The Supreme Court, in particular, by deciding on constitutional issues, has an impact measured in decades. For this reason, Judicial appointments should be more of a collaborative process than Executive appointments.

Executive appointments can and should reflect the policies and agenda of the President. Judges should more neutral, reflecting a broader consensus of the legal thought of their time. Put crudely, if the Senate isn't turning down more appointments of judge than of department secretaries, they probably aren't doing their job.

* Just as an aside, this is the point at which the "Commander-in-Chief" and "unitary executive" arguments begin in determining whether Bush is bound by the laws of the republic when carrying out national security duties. The military is part of the Executive branch. The proponents of maximum Executive power say that the Legislature has no business telling the president what he do within his branch. They are, of course, wildly wrong.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The weekly mammoth
I haven't posted anything on woolly mammoths this week. Fortunately, Dum Luks came top my rescue by mailing me this:
As a man, I take an instinctively minimalist approach to shopping. The whole exercise is treated like a project or a military assault. I usually have narrow and well-defined success criteria and a clearly delineated target area. If the project can be completed on time and on-budget, I'm gratified. If I am the mission-driven hunter in the "hunter/gatherer" equation, armed with a spear and a chalk etching of a mammoth (Urg! Today, we kill this!), my wife is the classic opportunistic gatherer. She takes time to forage thoroughly, delicately rooting the edible tubers out of the boutique fields, assessing each for succulence, quality and, of course, fashion. The only predatorial thing about her is the way she vanishes among the clothing racks, cryptic in her fashionable outfits like a tiger in tall grass. This may be a defensive maneuver, enabling her to escape my plucking at her sleeve and saying, Urg! Me bored. No mammoth here. I kill latte instead. All hail the mighty hunter.

This brings up an important question: if people are sending me mammoth clippings, does than mean I've become the mammoth man of Left Blogistan? If so, do I get to have a cool nickname? Kent Hovind, the tax-dodging, creationist, and dinosaur theme park manager calls himself Dr. Dino. Can I be Dr. Mammoth? Of course, I never finished my doctorate, so maybe I can only be Magister Mammoth. That sounds kind of pretentious. And Mr. Mammoth sounds like a porno movie star. It really should be Dr. Mammoth. Maybe I can claim to be a doctor in the same sense that blues and boogie-woogie musicians claim academic titles. I doubt as if Professor Longhair had a tenured position anywhere. What about Dr. John (he might)? "Hi. I'm not really a doctor, but I play one on the piano." I could be Dr. Mammoth. Couldn't I?
I don't feel safer knowing this
Josh Marshall quotes a Dick Cheney interview given just this week.
[A] lot of those documents that were captured over there that have not yet been evaluated offer additional evidence that, in fact, there was a relationship that stretched over many years between Saddam Hussein and the al Qaeda organization.

Cheney appears to be the last person in the government still pushing this lie. Is he too stubborn to let it go or is he really that deluded? We may never know. I expect we will hear more of this story from him as the election gets closer and again in 2008.

Aside from still flogging the Saddam/Osama connection, there are some very odd elements in this particular statement. Marshall points out one of them.

Cheney says there are all these documents "that have not yet been evaluated." But those unevaluated documents provide "additional evidence" of the fabled Iraq-AQ tie.

Does that make any sense?


We have this new defector. We haven't heard yet what he has to say. But what he says sounds pretty convincing.

What strikes me as alarming is the statement that we haven't evaluated intelligence that's been in our hands for almost three years now. How can they claim to be keeping us safe from attack when they have a three year intelligence backlog?

I guess we can comfort ourselves by saying the intelligence professionals probably know that there is no useful information in Saddam's papers and aren't wasting their time. Why does everything these people do have to be either incompetant or corrupt? If they actually did something okay once in a while, I'd be happy to give them credit for it. I just never have had an occasion to do that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Can't we all get along?

Joe Kelly has a blog called For theSake of Argument. I would probably have never heard of it except for another site called Unpartisan, which I also have never heard of. Unpartisan is the brainchild of Cameron Brooks, a programmer in Santa Barbara and former Political Science major. Brooks wrote a program for a self-populating blog. Here's his explanation of why he did it and how it works:
Unpartisan.com is a political site that blends news, discussion, and commentary from all over the internet. There are thousands of political weblogs all over the internet comprising two distinct political spheres. Unfortunately, it is extremely rare that these spheres ever intersect or even meet. It is our mission here at unpartisan.com not to get everyone together at the table to discuss our differences and reach a compromise, but to at least offer a forum where each side can at least see what the other has to say. At this site we do not censor, but we certainly encourage intelligent discussion over flamewars or yelling matches. We aren't sure if any of the links will change anyone's mind or their political views, but maybe that's not the point.


Unpartisan.com relies entirely on RSS feeds to select stories. Stories are aggregated and the most popular political stories are chosen from those feeds. Unpartisan.com relies on dozens of news feeds to choose its stories, and hundreds of blogs to choose relevant discussions pertaining to that issue. There are no human editors at this site, and every story, every blog posting, is chosen by a complex computer algorithm which we are refining every day.

The Unpartisan blog has three columns. In the center are links to the major media sites carrying a story. On the right are right-wing blogs commenting on that story and on the left... I'll let you guess.

I discovered Unpartisan today when Joe Kelly and I were paired up as commentors on the Starbucks bomber arrest (I was on the left). There is a suprisingly accurate symetery between Joe Kelly's and my posts. We began with the exact same quotes, followed by offense at the police sergeant's decisive announcement that no terrorism was involved, and finished by irresponsibly announcing what the bomber's motive was.
Excuse me?

No connection to terrorism?

That police sergeant is either lying or is choosing his words poorly.

What he might have meant to say or imply is that the bomb does not appear to be related to any form of Islamofascist-Middle-Eastern-Arabic-War-on-Terror terrorism.

But, there’s no mistake about it – a bomb left in the bathroom of a Starbucks in San Francisco is absolutely an act of terrorism; likely the anti-capitalism, pro-socialism type of terrorism.

While I was inclined to suspect the mujahadeen O'Reilly, Kelly is inclined to suspect anti-globalization neo-anarchists. Actually, I was being sarcastic (No!).

In reality, I suspect that Mr. Kelly is right. I lived through the "Battle of Seattle" WTO protests. Based on my historical credentials and personal political background, I have a very low opinion of the anachism of the WTO rioters. I have no problem believing that the black-sweatshirt crowd could and would randomly bomb a Starbucks and think they were making a intelligible point. I have no problem believing that they would screw it up (thank whatever).

Of course, Ronald Schouten might be nothing more than an incoherent nutcase who Kelly and I can both blame on the other side. I suppose that gives us something in common. We both hate the sort of liguistic foolishness that deprives a word like "terrorism" of its meaning. Maybe when the current constitutional crisis is over, we can find common ground enough for a few drinks on that basis. I like to think we will.
Not a terrorist
Yesterday, employees at a San Francisco Starbucks found a bomb in the Men's restroom. A few hours later the police, using photos from the coffeeshop's security cameras, arrested a suspect.
A 44-year-old man was arrested Tuesday night on suspicion of planting an explosive device in the bathroom of a Starbucks coffee shop, police said.

Ronald Schouten, of San Francisco, was being held in San Francisco County jail on an unrelated drug charge, police spokesman Dewayne Tully said.

"There is no connection to any terrorism or anything against Starbucks," Sgt. Neville Gittens said. "Everything at this point and time indicates that this particular individual acted alone and this is an isolated incident."

In what way is a bomb left in a public place not terrorism? Even without detonating it, the scare and disruption of the evacuation create terror. Are the SF police working from the wingnut definition that it's only terrorism if the suspect is a brown foreigner, a non-Christian, or and environmentalist? If they have determined that Mr. Schouten is none of these things, what crime are they going to charge him with? Conspiracy to commit noise pollution?

I have an idea, maybe Schouten's a Bill O'Reilly fan who is simply acting on the permission that O'Reilly gave to anyone who wants to blow up San Francisco. I suppose in that case he's not a terrorist; he's a patriotic, real American who has become fed up with those bad liberals. It's certainly a defense worth trying.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Some things never change
Our President this morning:
President George W. Bush denounced some critics of the Iraq war as irresponsible on Tuesday and called for an election-year debate that "brings credit to our democracy, not comfort to our adversaries."

In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Bush made clear he was girding for battle with Democrats in the run-up to the mid-term congressional election in November, when he will try to keep the U.S. Congress in the hands of his Republican Party.

What he has signaled, is his intention to continue to smear all critics and Democrats as potentially traitorous, weak on defense, and not supporting the troops. It's an election year, so we can expect him be more outrageous and offensive as the year progresses.

For the past few weeks, Bush's handlers have had him take part in a minor rebranding campaign. After Katrina, they saw his numbers falling and the bubble-boy narrative building, so they stood him up from time to time to announce his ultimate responsibility for the mistake of his administration (he still has trouble actually admitting that he makes mistakes). The correctly identified the public's perception of him as arrogant as his greatest weakness. They tried to make him look a little more humble and human.

Bush has clearly been uncomfortable in during this effort, but it looks like it's over. It has served it's purpose. His numbers have stopped falling. Now when people accuse him of arrogance or being out of touch, his people will be able to point back to the last few weeks as evidence of his humility and cooperation.

During his well-publicised conference the former Secretaries of State and Defense, he did little actual confering and spent most of the hour lecturing them on his plans. I've commented in the past on how his idea of "reaching out" is to tell people what he plans to do and invite them to support him. He does not listen and he does not compromise. The conference was a return to old tricks.

Now he's returning to the comfortable old pattern of smear and defame.

Monday, January 09, 2006

I have some questions
Insisting that God “certainly needs to be involved” in the Supreme Court confirmation process, three Christian ministers today blessed the doors of the hearing room where Senate Judiciary Committee members will begin considering the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito on Monday.

Capitol Hill police barred them from entering the room to continue what they called a consecration service. But in a bit of one-upsmanship, the three announced that they had let themselves in a day earlier, touching holy oil to the seats where Judge Alito, the senators, witnesses, Senate staffers and the press will sit, and praying for each of the 13 committee members by name.

“We did adequately apply oil to all the seats,” said the Rev. Rob Schenck, who identified himself as an evangelical Christian and as president of the National Clergy Council in Washington.

Lots of people have posted this story since it appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week. Most have posted it in the spirit of "look at the weirdoes." It's interesting enough from that perspective.

From another perspective, let's consider the efficacy of their anointing. Shouldn't this have rendered the chair seats pure and holy? Consider the impure and unholy nature of some of the seats that were going to inhabit those chairs. Depending on your politics, you should have expected Orrin Hatch's hypocritical and lying butt, or Ted Kennedy's adulterous and lying butt to have gone up in flames. But, with a full day's hearings over, neither butt seems any worse for the wear. Admittedly, I get most of my theology on matters like this from watching Buffy and Angel. I might have missed a few of the subtler points. In any case, Rev. Schenck won't have to bear responsibility for anything worse than a few dry cleaning bills.

I'm actually more interested in the ease with which they accomplished the anointing. If they could just walk in and splatter the furniture with oil, what's to stop them from splattering something nastier, say anthrax spoors? Maybe the Capitol Police should consider locking the doors when no one is around. I admit I'm no more of a security expert than I am a theologian, but it makes sense to me.
He does have a sense of irony
In a Knight Ridder article about Bush's use of signing statements to declare his intention to ignore certain laws, even as he approves them, I found this delicious passage:
In 2003, lawmakers tried to get a handle on Bush's use of signing statements by passing a Justice Department spending bill that required the department to inform Congress whenever the administration decided to ignore a legislative provision on constitutional grounds.

Bush signed the bill, but issued a statement asserting his right to ignore the notification requirement.

This is fairly funny, but it's also disgusting. Congress has known that Bush thinks he is above the law, and considered it a problem that needed redress, for at least two years and yet they haven't felt that it was an issue worth mentioning in public. Didn't any of the Democrats think we might be interested in this, say during a presidential campaign? I'll have more to say about this later.
Welcome Daou Report

Wow. I'm already reaping the rewards of seniority. This morning I seem to be the featured Blog at the prestigious Daou Report (a place that I don't link to nearly often enough).

Don't let the light-weight posing of the last few days fool you, I'm a blogging powerhouse. You won't find a blog with more mammothy goodness anywhere. I just have one question: what do we call Daou Report readers? Daouting Thomases? Daou Boys?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The millenium post
According to Blogger, this is my one thousandth post. That works out to about a post a day since I began blogging, although, in reality, my rhythm is more like two posts every other day. I suppose, at this point, I should take pause and use the occasion to meditate on where I'm going to take archy in the next thousand posts. Then I think, why should I do that in this post when I can use it for the next post?

Thanks for being here.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Friday random ten
No one gave me an Ipod for the secular mid-winter holiday, so I still have to depend on random thoughts to generate a Friday ten list. Fortunately, most of my thoughts are random. Let's spin the dial and see what pops out.

It looks like Songs for Stalking!
  1. Every Breath You Take (I'll be Watching You) - The Police
  2. Can't Get You out of My Mind - Electric Light Orchestra
  3. Take Good Care of Yourself (You Belong to Me) - Helen Kane
  4. Ain't No Mountain High Enough (To Keep Me from You) - Diana Ross and the Supremes
  5. Can't Live (If Living is Without You) - Harry Nilsson
  6. If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to be Right) - Luther Ingram
  7. I Will Follow You - Little Peggy March
  8. There is Someone Walking Behind You (Turn Around) - The Lettermen
  9. He Don't Love You Like I Love You - Tony Orlando and Dawn
  10. Crazy - Patsy Cline

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Skeptic's Circle
The latest Sceptic's Circle is being hosted by Lord Runolfr in the Kingdom of Meridies. By an amazing conincidence, the first post is some guy talking about mammoths and dinosaurs! I even managed to be introduced as Lord John McKay. This quite a promotion for me. The last time I hung out with the SCA, I was John of Durness, a humble leper, although the official leper of the State of Alaska. At least that's what Governor Steve Cowper told me (I never did get an official proclamation, so he might have been just trawling for votes). If I ever find the pictures, I'll post a few. I was a damn good leper.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Tangled Bank # 44
The forty-fourth exciting episode of the Tangled Bank is now up at Afarensis. It has narwhals, barnicles, and bunnies. It has fraudulent cloners, creationist textbooks, and house finch eye disease. It has smurfs, Pokemon, and woolly mammoths (I wonder how they got there). What it doesn't have is you. Fix that, please.
Alito helps Bush make a fool of McCain
We all cheered when Sen. John McCain managed to get both houses of Congress to pass veto proof legislation requiring the executive branch to obey our existing laws banning torture. After threatening a veto, President Bush stepped back and let Vice President Cheney play the heavy, leaving his undisclosed hiding place to bluster on about our need to torture. No amount of fear mongering or threats worked and a bi-partisan, bi-cameral coalition kept the anti-torture wording in the defense appropriation bill and sent it to Bush for his signature. Without mentioning the word veto, Bush quietly signed the bill. And that seemed to settle the issue. Until this morning.
When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.

After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a "signing statement" -- an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law -- declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.


Some legal specialists said yesterday that the president's signing statement, which was posted on the White House website but had gone unnoticed over the New Year's weekend, raises serious questions about whether he intends to follow the law.

A senior administration official, who spoke to a Globe reporter about the statement on condition of anonymity because he is not an official spokesman, said the president intended to reserve the right to use harsher methods in special situations involving national security....

I probably paid more attention in my high-school government class than most people. Yes, I had a crush on the teacher, but I was also genuinely interested in the subject. So for those of you who were sleeping in government, let me assure you, they never taught us that the President has the right to add "unless I don't feel like it" to the laws that Congress passes. The President signs them as he gets them or vetoes them. Those are the only choices.

Where did Bush even get the idea that he could do that? It seems that this idea comes from the mind of noted legal scholar, Judge Samuel Alito, Jr.
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration, like other White Houses before and after, chafed at the reality that Congress's reach on the meaning of laws extends beyond the words of statutes passed on Capitol Hill. Judges may turn to the trail of statements lawmakers left behind in the Congressional Record when trying to glean the intent behind a law. The White House left no comparable record.

In a Feb. 5, 1986, draft memo, Alito, then deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, outlined a strategy for changing that. It laid out a case for having the president routinely issue statements about the meaning of statutes when he signs them into law.

Such "interpretive signing statements" would be a significant departure from run-of-the-mill bill signing pronouncements, which are "often little more than a press release," Alito wrote. The idea was to flag constitutional concerns and get courts to pay as much attention to the president's take on a law as to "legislative intent."

"Since the president's approval is just as important as that of the House or Senate, it seems to follow that the president's understanding of the bill should be just as important as that of Congress," Alito wrote.

Alito's statement makes it all sound very benign. For the last generation, conservatives have shown a great deal of interest in shutting down interpretation of the constitution and of the laws. This is really what "original intent" and the various assaults on the idea of "activist judges" have been all about.

This impulse comes from an emotional state and a legal philosophy. Emotionally, conservatives are very uncomfortable with shades of grey; they want clear black and white distinctions. To them, the law and constitution mean what the writers intended and only that. This translates into a legal philosophy that makes the courts subordinate to the other two branches of the federal government. The courts do not interpret the law; they merely apply it as received from the legislature and executive.

Alito's program made a dramatic change to the traditional conservative philosophy, though a change that also draws on a deep conservative heritage. On element of the argument for limiting the courts is that the three branches of the federal government are not actually equal; they are arranged in a hierarchy that can be divined by their order of appearance in the Constitution. Congress appears first in the Constitution, is most directly responsive to the will of the people, and is therefore on top. The President carries out the laws given to him by Congress and the courts apply the laws in criminal and civil disputes.

Alito's innovation was to raise the President to a position equal to the Congress in giving guidance to the courts. The courts in looking the intent of the lawmakers, should give credence to the intent of the President in signing the bill, just as the do to the intent of the writers of the bill and the other legislators who voted for the bill. Ironically, this might go against the original intent of the writers of the Constitution, many of whom really did want the Congress to be superior to the President.

Alito's innovation opens the door to another strain of conservatism, one that should be extremely offensive to liberals, moderates, libertarians, and even to the rest of the conservative spectrum. This is the authoritarian branch of conservatism based on the yearning for a strong father figure who will "lead" with a firm and stern hand.

Although the Bush White House has used 9/11 and the Global War on Terror to make a shameless grab for power, their desire to expand the power of the Presidency was obvious before the attack. The most obvious manifestations of this were their drive to escape oversight and permanently place their actions behind a veil of secrecy. Think, for example of Cheney's energy task force and Bush's executive orders placing presidential records off limits to researchers and tightening up guidelines for approving Freedom of Information requests.

Bush's signing statement is part of the next step in this process of expanding the presidency.
The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.

While many people's first impression from this may be the sheer childishness of it--we had a fair debate on the subject in Congress, all of the peoples' representatives had an opportunity to participate, Bush lost, and his response is, "I don't have to do what you say unless I feel like it"--the deeper issues are very serious and have very bad implications for the future of the republic. This is a follow up to the same argument that his people have used to justify the NSA wiretapping. The White House is arguing that the President's role as Commander in Chief allows him to ignore any law he wants to as long as his lawyers can make a national security argument for ignoring it.

Leave aside all of the very emotional and important arguments for and against the two issues directly involved (torture and eavesdropping) and consider the abstract constitutional issue. Is the President entitled to ignore the law? Before you answer, consider that the current war is being portrayed as a generation long struggle, like the Cold War. Other presidents after Bush will have this power. Presidents from both parties will have this power. Should President Hillary Clinton or Ralph Reed have this power?

There is nothing in a principled conservative argument of original intent to support Bush's position. The founding fathers were very wary of arbitrary power. The clause in the Constitution giving the President Commander in Chief power (Article II, Section 3) reads in its entirety "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States." That's it.

If Bush is allowed to ignore the laws of the land, what limits remain on his power. He is ignoring two of the most sacred principles of American democracy: that we a country governed by laws, not kings, and that those in power respect the results of legal votes (in this case, a vote in Congress) even when they think a bad choice has been made. In theory, if this is allowed, what is to prevent Bush from canceling elections in 2008 on the national security justification that he could wage the War on Terror better than any one else.

We don't even need to be conspiracy monger and believe that he intends to do that. We can fully trust Bush not to abuse this power and to only break the law to go after bad guys and still see that it is a bad idea. The important question is, once he has set this legal precedent, can we trust every future president not to abuse it? Again, can we trust President Hillary Clinton or Ralph Reed with this power?

Democracy depends for its survival on an institutionalized system of checks and balances and on its participants acting in good will to accept defeat. The Bush administration, using arguments supplied in part by Alito, is asking us to exempt them from both of these principles. If we--Congress and the people--let this pass, future generation will curse us and we will deserve their curses.