Friday, September 30, 2005

Coming up on the Magna Carta

My hit counter is fast approaching 1215, which is, of course, the year in which the Magna Carta was signed between King John and the English barons.

TO ALL FREE MEN OF OUR KINGDOM we have also granted, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs:


If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.

If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it. If he leaves children that are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands. The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal lords. Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with similarly.

excerpt from the Magna Carta, dated 1215-06-15
Such a fine tradition for us to live up to. My apologies for not properly celebrating hit #1066. I'll try to do better with those major milestones, especially when we reach number Nineteen Hundred Ninety-Fifteen.

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In Defense of Bill Bennett's Virtue

Once upon a time, President Ronald Raygun had a Secretary of Edumacation named Bill Bennett. Billy is no longer in the Cabinet, in part because Raygun is in a "cabinet" (so to speak) in the cold, cold ground. Thus, Billy had to go on to other projects, like gambling compulsively while writing books about Moral Virtues. Nowadays, little Billy has his own radio show, and occasionally makes guest appearances on Faux News and other cable-TV propaganda outlets.

Wednesday, little Billy said,

I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky. — radio host William Bennett, 2005-09-28
Okay, it was an incredible case of foot-in-mouth, but let's look at the context.

The caller had suggested that if abortion had remained illegal in 46 states from 1973 to the present, that the revenue from taxes paid by all those fine, upstanding citizens would have been enough to save Social Security, balance the budget, and give everyone ice cream for dessert at lunch and dinner. Bennett's point, however oafishly made, was that the caller was creating a ridiculous "what if" scenario. He did not in any way advocate aborting all black babies. He simply placed that on the table as an equally reasonable what-if scenario to time-travelling back to 1973 and undoing Roe v. Wade.

We could really lower the (violent) crime rate if we simply executed everyone who made less than a million dollars last year. People that rich are much more likely to commit "white-collar" crimes than armed robbery or aggravated rape or failure to yield to a pedestrian in a school crossing. If we killed off the poor and middle class, them rich folks would get along just fine, at least for a while. While we're out killing people, we could end the strife in the Middle East simply by declaring it a wilderness preserve with all human habitation removed. We could put the Jews in Canada and Sweden, the Palestinians in Bangladesh and Nigeria, and the other Arabs (including the Iranians, who just don't like admitting that they're Ay-rabs) in Sudan and Ethiopia. Then everybody would be happy, because Democracy would be On the March (of Tears). Each refugee would get to decide between two host countries! Every human conflict has a simple solution if you but look hard enough.

In the spirit of William Bennett, I therefore propose the mandatory forcible relocation of all residents of any territory that remains in armed dispute for a period of ten consecutive years, or any twenty out of 50 consecutive years.
√ Bosnia
√ Chechnya
√ Darfur
√ Sri Lanka
√ Northern Ireland
√ most of Central America, South America, Africa, and Asia
There ya go. Now just think about it: you could spend the weekend watching foo-ball and drinking beer, or you could work for world peace by resettling people from war-torn lands. Which is a better use of your free time?

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Area Codes of the World, Unite!

So, what else do I do with my time, besides watching The Daily Show, Nightline, Bill Maher, and DeGrassi, and writing in this blog?

I have a web site that I've been maintaining for about 8 years now, with everything you never wanted to know about telephone area codes. What is the area code for Ottumwa, Iowa, Radar O'Reilly's home town? That would be 641. How many area codes does Florida have? Seventeen, although it started with just one, back in 1947. Where is area code 229? That would be around Albany and Valdosta, Georgia. What is the telephone country code for former-Soviet Georgia? That would be +995, which means you dial 011-995 from the US or Canada. All this and more you can learn from my exciting (riveting!) area code web site, LincMad's Telephone Area Codes & Splits, also known as

Just in case you're curious, the most requested new feature on the area code site is time zones on the area code map. I'm workin' on it....

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Évian Flu on Nightline

Tonight's Nightline was one of those to-your-bones scary episodes, like watching a whole summer of Watergate hearings compressed into one 31-minute Ted Koppel show. It was something so big that it brought Senator Bill Frist (Republican) and Senator Harry Reid (Democrat) together, shoulder to shoulder, emphasizing their agreement that this is The Big One. They were followed by HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, who explained that we are not ready to meet the challenge. We're going to get "flooded" all over the world, not just the Lower Ninth Ward.

The subject was the Évian flu, caused by drinking that "naïve" bottled water. Apparently, IT'S GOING TO KILL US ALL. I'm not talking some slow-motion mass death like AIDS, or even slower-motion like global warming, we're talking just a little below "meteor striking the earth" level for sheer panic.

Here's my interpretation of Nightline's scenario:

  1. Some new pandemic virus — which might or might not be the H5N1 "Évian" flu (What's that, Mr. President? It's not named for the "arrogant water"?), but is in fact quite likely to be some further mutation from today's strain — hits some city, any major city from Omaha to Bujumbura, and starts killing people.
  2. The United States flies in medical experts like Donald Sutherland and Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak — only we have to take it on faith hope it's the Sam Daniels character and not the Donald McClintock — and they isolate the exact strain. (Hey — it could be worse! We could have some anti-evolutionist in charge of vaccine development. That would make Brownie look competent, and Cheney look cheery, by comparison.)
  3. Meanwhile, the entire global economy makes a full-on panic stop. You think the New Orleans police deserted their posts in Katrina? [About 250 did, but most didn't.] Wait until you have a whole month with no deliveries of food or medicines or raw materials to make anything and no safe drinking water. Overnight, the entire world turns into Fallujah: roving armed gangs terrorize the other roving armed gangs, with Joe Schmoe left in the crossfire, fair game for pillage, torture, or rape. It's like those 27 million people who were raped in the Super Dome (because it was all that guy's fault somebody else's fault that the authorities were so slow to respond) or robbed or killed by CNN. (Wait, did I get those facts right? You know how compulsive I am about fact-checking!) Anyway, it's a bigger mess than my living room, and there is no more Oregon National Guard to save your bacon.
  4. Four to six months after Item #2, a vaccine is ready.
  5. Now the only thing we have to do is figure out — especially in a completely paralyzed global economy — how we're going to
    1. mass-produce 6,200,000,000 doses of vaccine
    2. pay for 6,200,000,000 doses of vaccine
    3. distribute 6,200,000,000 doses of vaccine
    4. administer 6,200,000,000 doses of vaccine
  6. The simple reality is, none of the parts of #5 is actually going to happen. The cost would make the Iraq war look penny-ante.
  7. The result is that probably only 5% of the population will get sick and die, and most of those will be poor people on other continents, not just because they outnumber us but because we have the best health-care system on the planet (or so we keep saying).
  8. The other 95% of us will just merrily go on living with the fact that all social order has been obliterated. We'll be like Mad Max overnight, but we'll still be alive. Look on the bright side — in a couple of years, the epidemic will die down, and we can start having commerce farther afield than "New Orleans to Biloxi" again.
It is certainly very easy to go off into hysteria in discussing such a potential cat-ass trophy (or elephant-donkey trophy, for that matter), but we need to look at this seriously and figure out what is the best way to respond to this threat.
  • This isn't real estate, it's life-or-death decisions, so the only three important things are Results, Results, and Results.
  • Intelligent Design as an "alternative" to evolution, is not science. Intelligent Design is religion masked with a veil of voodoo wizardry. This organism is so complex, clearly some Father, Son, or Holy Spirit voodoo wizard must have created it. (Put another way, "I can't see how I possibly could've designed such a thing, so it must have been some intelligence instead.")
  • The people making the vaccine must not believe in I.D. as an "alternative" to evolution. Believing in the DNA fairy disqualifies you from working on medical research.
  • The élite have a financial incentive to do things like provide universal health care and end poverty, not just in the United States, but worldwide. The reason is simple: the more people who get infected and aren't treated, the longer the pandemic rages, which means the deeper the economic recession and the longer it will take to pull out of it. The fewer people who get sick, the faster the NASDAQ re-opens.
  • Your religion isn't important. You get a job or don't get a job based on whether you can do that job well. The same thing applies to your sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, sex, height, and weight. Any other policy is sacrificing Results for moral principles on which we do not have a societal consensus.
  • This is exactly the wrong time to talk about smaller government.
Now let me expand the concept a little bit. The primary thing we should concerned with in choosing our leaders should be competence. Affability is neither necessary nor certainly is it sufficient. Shoot-from-the-hip determination is no longer a desirable quality, because it is vital to admit errors promptly and make immediate course corrections. An ability to understand complicated intellectual questions is vital.

In short, we need someone who is very much the opposite of George W. Bush. Bush is, by his own description, intellectually incurious, unswerving in his devotion to his initial gut impulses, and the folksy guy next door. He's not a terribly competent leader, especially in a crisis. He didn't do a good job on 9/11, he didn't do a good job on Iraq (before, during, or after the invasion), he certainly didn't do a good job on Katrina, and, for that matter, he did a lousy job on Social Security, "uniting instead of dividing," improving American security at home or abroad, or much of anything else.

Partisan bickering — from either side — that means Republicans and Democrats both — can only hinder our national response to this threat. That means that unyielding partisans like Tom DeLay, George W. Bush, Mary Landrieu, and Old Man Daley, have no place in 21st-century government.
[hazards of late-night blogging: several typos corrected the following afternoon.]

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Big March

I don't know yet how many people there were, and I'll have to sift through the organizers' estimate and the police estimate and guesstimate that the true number is somewhere between the extremes. However, I would say that "100,000 plus" would be a conservative number. On the other side, we were greeted with dozens of counter-protesters, including one lunatic with a bullhorn who insisted that God will condemn us to hell for the hatred in our hearts because we oppose the Iraq war. I briefly contemplated trying to find out more about the logic of his position, but thought better of it. Seriously, for all the noise and media coverage of the planned counter-protests, I expected to see at least hundreds, but I saw fewer than 50 total. The counter-protesters were easily outnumbered by the police presence.

The march route was rather complicated and just flat-out too long. I, and a hefty percentage of the protesters, marched past the White House and then wandered off, especially since that first 1/4 of the route took over three hours to walk! Of course, much of the sluggishness was the slow procession of people yelling their particular slogans at the White House (even though George Bush left town and Dick Cheney was in the hospital) or getting photos with the North Portico as a backdrop. We started from the Ellipse (between the Washington Monument and the south side of the White House, then crossed westward in front of the north side of the White House. We were supposed to then loop back to the north and east, and then head south and east around a chunk of the "Federal Triangle" area before returning to the Ellipse.

I got to hear Cindy Sheehan, Jesse Jackson, and a few other speakers at the main stage. Of greater interest, though, was the diversity of people who showed up to march. The usual suspects were there, of course, with the usual chants ("What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!" and "Hey, hey, ho, ho, George Bush has got to go" being the most tiresome), but there were a few sparks of creativity and many unfamiliar faces. One popular theme was "Make Levees, Not War," capitalizing on the tie-in of Bush's incompetence as a military leader to his incompetence as a domestic leader. There were also some topical quotes from Madison, Jefferson, John Adams, and Napoleon: "In politics, stupidity is not a handicap." My "Bush's Chicken" sign (the box top from my fried chicken dinner in Waco a few weeks ago) was well received. The best costumes by far were a trio dressed as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Satan. Cheney was pulling Bush's puppet strings, and Satan in turn was pulling Cheney's. There was also a Bill Clinton in a pink dress with a pearl necklace, looking almost Barbara-Bush-ish, with a sign touting "Bill for First Lady 2008." The majority of the protesters, though, were the whole gamut of ordinary citizens: families with young children; grandparents; veterans from Iraq, Kuwait, Vietnam, Korea, and World War II; students; teachers; labor unions (the AFL–CIO took an official anti-war stance for the first time in its history); Katrina survivors; and just about anyone else you can think of.

Thomas Jefferson: "No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him," and "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

James Madison: "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."

John Adams: "Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war."

By the way, my count of the pro-war protesters does not include the "Billionnaires for Bush" contingent with their "Give War a Chance!" signs.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Can't get there from here

I'm staying in a very nice hotel here in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. I've got a full kitchenette, nicer than the kitchens of some friends' apartments in San Francisco. I have cable TV with several dozen channels, including two channels of Showtime. However, give me reason to kvetch and I shall.

  1. The cable does not have Comedy Central. I turned on the TV last night to watch Jon Stewart, and he was nowhere to be found.

  2. The cable does not have HBO. I turned on the TV tonight to watch Bill Maher in actual real time for once (instead of 3 hours tape-delayed for the west coast), and he was nowhere to be found. I am now experiencing acute withdrawal from political satire.

  3. There is absolutely nowhere to eat — restaurant, fast-food joint, grocery store, or mini-mart — anywhere within walking distance.
To be sure, there's a supermarket less than half a mile from here, as the crow flies. However, for those of us equipped with land-based motor vehicles, that supermarket is over two miles away. Worse yet, for those of us equipped with neither wings nor internal-combustion engines, the supermarket is impossible to reach. My nifty online map shows me a road that crosses the treacherous train tracks (Danger: High Voltage!), but it forbids pedestrians and even you silly people with non-motorized bicycles. If human beings were meant to ride bicycles, we would've been born with feet.

The long street on which my hotel sits is bounded on one side by a rivulet that feeds into the Potomac (with a freeway on the opposite bank, for added impassability), and on the other by the rail yards for the subway system, and to hell with anyone who wants to walk anywhere.

It sure makes me glad that our wondrous Leader has taken us into a Noble and Just war for cheap oil, so that we can afford to drive our SUVs to the supermarket. (Without SUVs, where would we put all of those American flag magnets and "Support Our Troops" bumper stickers?) I'll be sure to tell him that tomorrow when I march past the White House. In the mean time, I'll sit here in my fancy hotel room, eating whatever I can scrounge from the hotel's vending machines.

Worse yet, I probably could've rented a car for the weekend for about what I'm paying Stupor Shuttle for the round-trip, but it seemed a little hypocritical, not to mention that the news is talking about gasoline possibly hitting $4 or even $5 per gallon due to the combined effects of Katrina and Rita. [$3.78/gallon is $1.00/litre] "Where are you planning to go?" "Oh, just to the hotel and back, plus a side trip to the grocery store." Gotta love that car culture.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Heading to Washington

In less than 12 hours, I will board an airplane and fly off to Washington, D.C., for a weekend of politics. Saturday is the peace rally and march with Cindy Sheehan, starting from the Washington Monument, proceeding around the back side of the White House, and then onwards to the Jedgar Hoover FBI Building and the IRS headquarters. On Sunday, I'm attending a conference about grass-roots political activism, and then on Monday, I may join with activists to do some in-person lobbying at the Capitol before I return to California.

Now all I have to do is pack, get a good night's sleep, and get to the airport, which probably means I should turn off the TV and shut down the computer.

Tickets, money, passport. Tickets, money, passport. — Edwina Monsoon, Absolutely Fabulous

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Another devastating hurricane on the way

Hurricane Rita is headed for the Texas coast. Galveston is getting the most attention, due to the death toll from the 1900 hurricane. There are other reasons for worry, though: much of Galveston Island could be flooded, and significant portions of Interstate 45 on the mainland side could also be submerged, leaving Galveston stranded in a ghoulishly Katrina-like fashion. Like the people of New Orleans, the citizens of Galveston have known for decades that they were playing a game of chicken with the next major hurricane. Thankfully, they seem to be taking the evacuation order seriously, and the resources are being deployed to enable them to evacuate, because even in Texas, not everyone has an SUV.

My own father is currently in a hospital on the Texas coast, about 40 miles inland, between Galveston and Corpus Christi, right in the middle of the predicted path for Rita. The hospital has prepared evacuation plans, since the entire county may fall under a mandatory evacuation.

When I was a boy, my mother picked me and my brother up from school in Houston one day and drove us down to the beach in Galveston. She wanted to show us the awesome power of an approaching hurricane. It wasn't Hurricane Camille, but in fact it was after Camille. Even with a much smaller hurricane, and even with the center still far out from shore, the wind and rain were impressive. So was getting stuck in an intersection that was already flooded up to the level of the engine block of our car, especially since no one else knew we were in Galveston. Somehow, we made it back to Houston, but there is no doubt in my mind that the trauma of that experience is what turned me gay.

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Reading from the blog

I gave my first public reading from The Third Path tonight at "Smack Dab," a monthly open-mic event at Magnet in San Francisco. I read "I feel for you, President Bush." Audience response was sufficiently favorable that I might actually give you advance warning notice the next time I do a reading. I highly recommend showing up for the wildly eclectic mix of poetry, spoken word, and musical performance that is Smack Dab.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

My finger of blame points directly at George Walker Bush

What more does it take for America to wake up and understand who and what George W. Bush really is? I watched tonight's Nightline, which I think pretty well clenches the truth: this problem really does start at the top and "trickle down" from there. Almost any of those is reason enough to say that the Emperor has no clothes.

On tonight's Nightline, we see the following:

  1. Ray Nagin has again ordered the evacuation of New Orleans, because the levees and pumps are in a weakened condition, and there is a significant likelihood that Tropical Storm Rita may come close enough to Nawlins to drop enough rain to re-flood the city. Remember that sound bite if Dubya tries again to claim that no one foresaw such a possibility. Bush and others in his administration have already lied about what they knew about Katrina and when they knew it.

  2. Bush makes the very astute point (no, really, I mean that sincerely, with neither sarcasm nor irony) that Mayor Nagin is getting ahead of himself with his ambitious plans to re-populate the city. It would be the height of hubris for Mayor Nagin to move people back into a city that George W. Bush has willfully left in harm's way, even though the primary fault lies with Dubya.

  3. Likewise, it would be the height of hubris to think that George W. Bush cares any more about poor black people in New Orleans today than he did three weeks ago. Do we really need human shields against a tropical storm? 'Cause there ain't no cavalry coming from Dubya's direction. He's only sorry to see you die if your death lowers his poll ratings. (That's kind of the message to Cindy Sheehan, too, albeit a harsh rephrasing of it.)

  4. FEMA continues to get in the way of first responders trying to help the people of New Orleans. President Bush says we should solve problems instead of pointing fingers, but he doesn't seem to have done anything much to actually solve the problem. Why doesn't FEMA have a cadre of — oh, I don't know — Emergency Managers who can step in and say, "OK, you're sending legit stuff, so you have emergency approval to do this." You see, in law, there's this thing called the defense of necessity, as in "Yes, all right, this shipment of bandages and splints did not fully comply with all government regulations. However, there is a hospital full of patients begging for basic supplies, so [someone at FEMA—list name and title of official] approved what appeared to be a legitimate urgent delivery." (Gee, Mr. Bush, you can figure out how to give "emergency" no-bid contracts to Halliburton, but you can't figure out how to give "emergency" permission for volunteers to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of New Orleans? Sounds like a failure of vision to me.) There's also the principle of mitigation of damages. But no, we turn away doctors offering medical supplies, private helicopters offering to evacuate suffering hospital patients, and food for the doctors and patients we won't evacuate — unless they have the word Baptist on the side of their van.

    Let me give you a clue, here: having the word Baptist as your friend-or-foe callsign, is just a tiny bit on the obvious side, don't you think? I mean, that would be pretty piss poor as the password to a club house for 8-year-olds, but as our definitive proof that you're one of the "good guys" and couldn't possibly be up to any harm, it's inexpressibly inadequate. You might as well just put a combination padlock on NORAD instead of those fancy-schmancy reinforced blast doors (like in Wargames). Let me ask the American people: are you willing to take it on faith that no one would ever commit a terrorist act in a van that says Baptist on the side? For that matter, are you willing to take it on faith that Pat Robertson would never commit a terrorist act, just because he says "Praise Jesus" a lot? The guy has publicly advocated the assassination of the president of a sovereign nation. That in itself is a terrorist act under our laws, and yet our President stands idly by, implicitly condoning this act of terrorism by his very milksop denunciation of it. If you do not approve of "Reverend" Robinson's remark, Mr. President, then condemn it in terms that leave you no wiggle room. You're either against Pat Robertson or you're with him.

  5. We suddenly have lots of buses ready to evacuate wealthy communities in the Florida Keys, but we couldn't allow buses to go to New Orleans. Golly.

  6. Television is actually serving as a positive agent of social and political change in Afghanistan, because it is mirroring the people and showing them a way forward to progress and happiness, including such radical ideas as equality of men and women. I wonder what would happen in the United States if television portrayed a world of happiness and progress, including such radical ideas as legal equality of persons of all genders (not just two!). I'm sure that the Christian Conservatives would join me in hoping for a world of peace and brotherhood among children of God — wouldn't they?

    Which is more important to you: Jesus' statement that God cares about all His children, sinner and saved alike, or your need to believe that other people are going to go to Hell?
Okay, I want to add one more major topic. Is the security of the United States really better served by having so much of our military strength in a hostile foreign country while our homeland is left so understaffed? I don't mean just National Guard, either. I mean why has the Bush administration so often slashed funding for first responders in non-military contexts?

Our government ought not be wasting taxpayer dollars on things that don't really make us any safer. That includes the following whole categories:
  1. Snooping into the personal lives of our citizens for prudish reasons. That includes both looking into someone's library records, but also taking such a keen interest in who they sleep with. (You heard John Roberts say it: the Constitution of the United States does contain a substantive right to privacy. That doesn't mean, "Yes, I will uphold Roe v. Wade," but it does mean that he will uphold Lawrence v. Texas.)

  2. Snooping into the personal lives of our soldiers, thailorth, marines, and airmen to root out the evil shirt-flap-lifter monsters.

  3. Worrying for us about things we can damned well worry about ourselves, like whether we choose to use alcohol or some other intoxicant to get a little disinhibited. (In simple terms, the government prohibition on many non-addictive recreational drugs is irrational and without foundation in science or medicine, especially when highly addictive drugs such as alcohol and especially tobacco are legally available. Not all drugs should be legalized — crystal meth is a greater threat to my home city than Osama bin Laden and Karl Rove combined — but many of them should.)

  4. Worrying for us about things we can damned well worry about ourselves, like whether our primary romantic relationship is with a man or a woman or a triad of gender-fluid genderqueer cross-dressing hermaphroditic transsexual sadomasochists. Don't tell me whom I can fuck, and don't tell me whom I can marry. As long as it is among freely consenting adults, the government has absolutely zero legitimate interest in the specifics.

  5. Trying to test the limits of how much you can push the majority religion on the rest of us. No, "One nation, under God" is not (directly) the most critical issue facing America. However, it is one more head of the same hydra. Simple question: how would you feel if the Pledge said, "One nation, without God"? Or, for that matter, "One nation, under all of our gods"? The lie that the 1954 rewording of the Pledge is part of the "Judeo-Christian heritage" of America, cannot withstand the faintest challenge. "I pledge allegiance to ... one nation under God" most certainly is a sectarian religious reference, and therefore it is an impermissible establishment of religion. Let's just spend the 10¢ per classroom and change it back to the original wording: "one nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all." The same goes with all legal challenges to try to get the purely sectarian Ten Commandments posted in government buildings.

  6. Lining the pockets of political allies. Why do we never see these Bush administration no-bid contracts going to companies that lean Democrat in their political contributions? Why do oil companies need tax breaks when we have $3 gasoline and record oil profits? What were Joe Allbaugh's and Michael Brown's qualifications? It's called "graft," and it's part of a thing called "corruption."

  7. Fighting a personal war of revenge and conquest, if in fact that is an accurate description of Iraq. (You, the reader, may think it's not, but it is at least a perfectly valid question, and it's one the Republicans refuse to take seriously.)

  8. Trying to allow the states to take away the common-law right to an abortion before quickening, without passing a Constitutional amendment to do it. There are flaws in Roe v. Wade, and an argument clearly can be made that its specific guidelines for distinguishing permissible from impermissible state regulation of abortion represented a judicial overreach. However, the bedrock principle of Roe v. Wade is one that John Roberts did in fact uphold in his testimony. The essence of stare decisis means that we cannot take away the right to abortion unless there is overwhelming reason to consider the precedent unworkable, and we must make the least modification to precedent possible to render it workable. In other words, even if the specific distinction between trimesters fails future judicial scrutiny, the underlying finding that a woman has a privacy right under common law and thus under the 9th amendment to an abortion in the early stages of pregnancy, but that the states have a legitimate interest in regulating abortion in the later stages of pregnancy, must remain intact. It's rather like an implicit severability clause.

    To put it another way, Roe v. Wade is only a precedent, but "you cannot outlaw abortion entirely" is a super-duper precedent. If the foes of abortion want to allow the states to ban abortion entirely, they must persuade 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the states to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Our President's leadership has been eclipsed by Oprah Winfrey (see article below), so isn't it about time he took responsibility for his failure?

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Oprah for President

On her Monday show, Oprah Winfrey pledged ten million dollars of her own money to Katrina relief. Better yet, Oprah's staff has devised an ingenious mechanism for the entire world to contribute. You can log onto Oprah's web site and select the Oprah Katrina Home Registry, where you can select what items you would like to donate, just like a bridal registry. Would you like to donate towels or bed linens or a toaster or a vacuum cleaner? All of these and many other items are there for your fantasy shopping, but when you click to buy, your purchase goes to brighten the rebuilding of someone's Gulf Coast home.

As Oprah said, "As soon as I saw the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, I knew I had to do something" (or words to that effect). Why didn't George W. Bush have the same reaction? Why didn't Michael Brown have the same reaction? Why didn't Dick Cheney have the same reaction? Why didn't Condoleeza Rice have the same reaction?

Oprah has shown greater leadership and a greater sense of rising to her responsibilities than the President of the United States. How about we just get Oprah and Dubya to switch jobs?

How about we just get Dubya to donate a year's salary to Katrina relief? It would be a meaningful gesture, for once in his pathetic career.

[I'll even forgive Oprah for the fact that the Registry doesn't work on a Macintosh!]

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Jon Stewart, doin' the impossible

I hate televised award shows. Loathe, revile, detest, really kind of don't like. I often go out of my way to avoid them. The Academy Awards® for me is a great opportunity to have a night on the town — you can walk in and get a table at the swankest restaurants, have an almost private screening of any movie in town, and walk right up to the counter in any bar foolish enough not to have the Oscars® on its 738-inch [18.7-metre] screens. However, last night, I watched the Emmys®, albeit with more than a little help from my TiVo®'s fast-forward button.

What on earth could prompt me to watch an awards show? In a word, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, plus Ellen Degeneres, plus Real Time with Bill Maher, plus a genuinely moving and sincerely heartfelt tribute from David Letterman to Johnny Carson, plus Jon Stewart's tip of the hat back to Letterman, plus dah dah Dah DAH...

Yes, all of that was even worth sitting through yet more of Doris Roberts (Everybody Else Loves Raymond). I'm sure she's a very nice person, but I think she's about as funny as eggplant parmesan. (Full disclosure: I don't like eggplant or parmesan cheese, much less the two together.)

I love S. Epatha Merkerson. I loved her in Terminator 2, I love her in Law & Order, and I even loved her way back in She's Gotta Have It. On the Emmys® last night, though, she was so flustered that she lost her notes for her acceptance speech. In all of its disjointed nervousness, the speech she gave was one of the best I've ever seen. It was the sort of reality we seldom see on television, whether on a show like Law & Order or on so-called "reality TV." As the music began to swell, she ended with, "Please wrap it up? OK. Thank you!" Perfect.

The best of all, though, was the bit that Jon Stewart pre-recorded for his slot as a presenter:
Hi, I'm Jon Stewart. I want to take a moment to talk about Hurricane Katrina. There were many stories of heroism and courage, but there's something I'd like to say to the government officials in charge. Fuck thank you, all of you! Local, state, federal local and state — the most incompetent, unacceptable, shockingly inept response ever! And bastard hero FEMA head Michael Brown — he didn't know people were stranded at the convention center! Turn on the television and watch [blanked out] Two and a Half Men, every Monday on CBS. Brown quit, but what he really deserved was to have his balls cut off and his throat [unintelligible] to be given delicious fruit, sliced straight from the vine. It's not just him: the whole organization: [unintelligible fast-forward]. So I take it back, because that's an insult to the mentally challenged. So to the Democrats, let's see, I have a little something for you: boop! [middle finger] [puppy] To the administration, I think there might be something here. [middle finger pointing down] [upside-down kitten] Can't hear it? Perhaps I could "turn it up." Oh, and, uh, George Bush hates Black people Sabbath.
Yea, verily and forsooth, he who hangs out with deaf folk may know how to lipread, at least a little.

The tribute to network news anchors was also timely, since it is our news media who have the fire to put to the feet of our elected officials and bureaucrats. We bloggers are, I believe, an integral part of that tradition of muckraking, but let's face it: even a blog with a thousand times my hit count is outreached by a single night's newscast on ABNBCBS. The American people must continue to expect nothing less than serious journalism from anyone who purports to bring us the news. The Daily Show reigns supreme in fake news, so it's about time for the also-rans to try real news.

It's not apropos to the Emmys®, but go see Good Night and Good Luck, in a theater near you October 7th; it will inspire anyone who appreciates the value of solid journalism as a cornerstone of democracy.
We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. — Edward R. Murrow, 1954-03-09
I will say that the great majority of the nominations were well-deserved, with only the occasional glaring exception. The greatest travesty, though, was the "Emmy Idol" award to Donald Trump and Megan Mullally for their performance of the theme from Green Acres. It was easily the fourth-best of the four entries. Seriously, Conan's rendition of Charles in Charge was far better.

Oh, well; Jon Stewart actually made me want to watch the Emmys®. Whodathunkit?

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

"Good Night and Good Luck"

No, it's not my bedtime yet. Good Night and Good Luck is the title of a new movie about one of my greatest heroes of all time, Edward R. Murrow. Ed Murrow eclipses even George Washington Carver on my list, and I doubt I could have survived childhood without peanut butter.

CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow brought the reality of the Nazi air raids on London home to the living rooms of America. More importantly, though, he stood up to the demagoguery of Joe McCarthy. McCarthy went on a witch-hunt in the government and in the military, looking for "Communist sympathizers." The sad irony is that by his actions, McCarthy moved America much closer to the totalitarian nightmare he claimed to be fighting. Murrow's courage in standing up to McCarthy when most public figures were terrified to oppose him (lest they too be branded unamerican) hastened the end of a dark chapter of American history.

Good Night and Good Luck is scheduled to open in theaters October 7th.

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Today's McLaughlin Group

John McLaughlin is an obnoxious, arrogant blowhard. However, he does sometimes take on difficult issues directly on his PBS show The McLaughlin Group. Here are some key points from this week's episode.

The President has lost the aura of 9/11, the strong leader on that pile of rubble. The bumbling and the torpor of his initial response, I think, is part of his permanent legacy. — Pat Buchanan
Eleanor Clift also connects two very important dots: Karl Rove was out of action (in the hospital with kidney stones) at the height of Hurricane Katrina. Rove's absence goes a long way to explaining Bush's deer-in-the-headlights response to Katrina: Dubya didn't have the reassuring voice coming through the lump in the back of his suit.
This is the longest learning curve in history. The President says we have to learn from our mistakes. That's what we said after 9/11, and this is really costing us. We look like a village with only idiots. ... This was an attack that gave us three days of warning.— Jonathan Turley, NBC legal analyst
When even Pat Buchanan uses words like "bumbling" and "torpor," it's time for new leadership in Washington.

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Reza Pahlavi on Fareed

Does the name "Reza Pahlavi" ring any bells? If you're over 40, it certainly should, although the name you would've heard a quarter century ago was "Mohammed Reza Shah." Reza Pahlavi is the son of the former Shah of Iran, which gives him a unique perspective on Iranian politics, and he was the guest on today's episode of Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria.

There's a line in the film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure in which Bill S. Preston, Esquire, says of George Carlin's character, "Listen to this dude Rufus: he knows what he's talking about!" That's about how I feel about Fareed Zakaria.

Reza Pahlavi is no friend of the theocratic regime in Iran, but neither is he an apologist for his father's autocracy: he is an advocate for democracy and human rights. He makes a strong case for the outside world to pressure Iran to move towards freedom, much like the world pressured South Africa to abandon apartheid and pressured the Soviet Union to abandon totalitarian state control. He compares allowing the current Iranian government, with its established ties to international terrorism, access to nuclear technology, to giving car keys to a drunk. The car keys themselves are not evil, but in the hands of a drunk driver they can be deadly.

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SFChronicle on Quake Preparedness

Top 3 potential catastrophes in the U.S. as of five years ago: major terrorist attack on a U.S. city, hurricane and flooding in New Orleans, and major earthquake in California. Two of those have already happened, and the third is inevitable.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle has special coverage on the risks of earthquakes and the preparations by state and local government. Of particular interest is a special supplement, "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country: Your Handbook for the San Francisco Bay Region." It was developed by a broad array of organizations with unparalleled expertise, including local, regional, state, and federal agencies; the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations; and professional groups such as the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute and the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California.

Never mind the comics, the TV listings, or sale circulars: the earthquake coverage alone is worth a buck and a half, and be sure to pick up part 2 in tomorrow's paper.

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Comer es más rico

I was watching Canal Catorce this evening to see if the interview I saw filmed this afternoon with Assemblymember Mark Leno would air on the local noticias. Leno was speaking about the gender-neutral marriage bill, currently awaiting the signature of Governor Schwarzenegger.

I never did see the interview, but I did see a rather intriguing commercial. On first glance, it looks like an ad for talking to your kids about drugs. The father walks in and confronts his son with something he found among the teenage boy's belongings: a plain, boring hamburger. The son tries to explain, but the father's shame is palpable. How could you do such a thing? Do you have no self-respect? They sit at the table and the father tries to reassure his son that there is a better way: el Classic Double de Wendy's. "Wendy's: Comer es Más Rico®"

Hmm. Could it be that the Spanish-language media sees the televised "War on Drugs" for the farcical hysteria it is?

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Do I smell a DVD?

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart this week was a four-part special on "Evolution: Schmevolution." It was some of their finest work ever, which is rather like saying it was one of Stradivari's top-notch violins, and it just begs for a compilation disc with special liner notes and a big autograph tour with not just Jon, but Steve and Ed and Rob and Samantha and all the rest signing random body parts with permanent markers. Afterwards, they can all go out to Hooters and have margaritas.

Still, there's a lot of work that goes into a project like releasing four episodes of a daily show onto a commercial DVD, and a lot of nail-biting before the project's bottom line passes the break-even point. It may be that the economic analysis just doesn't bear out the up-front risks.

I will therefore offer an alternative suggestion: if Comedy Central decides not to release a commercial DVD version of "Evolution: Schmevolution," then it should put together those four shows in their entirety — complete with whatever Daily Show promos, Comedy Central promos, or other advertisements or public service announcements Comedy Central chooses to include — in some sort of AVI file (or whatever those wacky kids on the Internet are into these days), and release them with permission to copy freely as long as they are copied in the whole, via some trustworthy massively peer-to-peer file-sharing mechanism. The software to do such a thing is out there, and is trying to demonstrate its utility for something other than ripping off copyrighted content without the copyright holder's permission. The up-front cost to Comedy Central would be a day or two of an intern's time.

It's the kind of thing that would make the RIAA and the MPAA and the broadcast TV networks as nervous as hell. (Fox now instructs my TiVo to erase The Simpsons after a week without offering me the ability to save it to VCR. If I go on vacation for two weeks, tough potatoes; I'll miss at least one episode.) On the other hand, that's just one more reason to do it.

Just think of it as a subversive media project.

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Tonight's Bill Maher

It's a Friday night, which can only mean a nice juicy fresh Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. (The web site posts the "New Rules" each week, but that is only one small segment of the show.) One of tonight's guests was a guy I've heard of before: former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Although Maher did introduce him as "Slick Willie," I would've liked to see something like, "The city government in New Orleans was about as corrupt as they come — even worse than San Francisco under Willie Brown!" or words to that effect.

Willie's smarter than Dubya, by far, and Dubya has a bigger budget, by far, and they work opposite sides of the political spectrum, but at heart they'd both feel right at home in Tammany Hall. (Tammany Hall was the wife of one of the founding fathers and the mistress of several others. She had really big gazongas.) Is it any wonder that His Willieness got along so famously with witty Republican thickhead P. J. O'Rourke tonight?

(As for New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, I at least give him due credit for realizing and admitting that his city government was not capable of coping with the disaster that was about to unfold.)

I'll just give you one line from Bill Maher himself tonight:

Bottom line: some people think Satan is real, and some people think global warming is real. If you think stopping gays from "doing it" is more important than the ice caps melting, the boogey man is you![Real Time with] Bill Maher, 2005-09-16

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Friday, September 16, 2005

I feel for you, President Bush

Once upon a time, I had a day job. The specifics varied from time to time, with occasional planned and unplanned vacations at random intervals. For a while I worked for Pacific Gas & Electric, a private enterprise that is actually as tightly run a ship as FEMA. You may shake your fist at George Bush and Enron every time the power goes out, and you're quite right to, but all the same, having worked at PG&E I consider it a minor miracle each time the lights actually work. (It's rather like GTE phone service in the bad old days, where each outgoing call had a better than 98% chance of connecting, at least to some other telephone — if perhaps not the one you actually dialed. You had GTE phone service back when you lived in Plano, Mr. President — remember?)

My department never bothered with those online scheduling things, because we were a separate special project, off in a different building from the rest of the company. Because of the nature of technical support work, you generally come in late unless they're going to pay you overtime (and we know how often that happens), because you just know you ain't leaving at 5:00 sharp. However, we had a Very Important Meeting one day to meet with some people from another department to coordinate with some people from some other department to figure out how to split our project into two separate special projects. The meeting was scheduled for 7:00 a.m., because all the attendees showed that as an available time slot in their online calendars, including me! Because I never logged in to the online calendar program, my profile defaulted to "Sure, I can come in at 6 a.m.; no sweat!" because of course that's when everybody comes in to work.

Well, okay, making me come to this meeting is kind of like making FEMA people drop everything to tell Secretary Chertoff how many pounds of ice you've delivered to Plaquemines Parish, but still, I wished to keep the job and so I obeyed my pointy-haired boss. I dragged my ass out of bed before the crack of dawn — not just before the crack of noon — and showered and shaved and put on a nice shirt so I could look like my job was something other than crawling into the dust bunnies under someone's desk to figure out which LAN subnet they're plugged into. I even used hair conditioner. Woops, failure to plan there. I underestimated the insurgency that would result if I didn't send in enough water in the initial rinse invasion to remove all traces of the weapons of mass silkience. There I was, half an hour into a morning business meeting when I reached up to my unexpectedly goopy head. Oh, yes: work conditioner into hair, ... , towel dry — yeah, there was a step missing.

My situation worked out fine — we took a bathroom break, just like that little note you passed to Condi in class the other day, and I rinsed my hair out in the sink, returning looking only a little the worse for wear. For future reference, it's all right to just say, "Let's take a 5-minute break," most especially when you're the President of the United States of America.

Now you might think that's the end of the tale, but it's Friday so we'll have double story time before our nap.

This meeting was to discuss setting up a framework for establishing the parameters under which to discuss a timeline for planning the delegation of the execution of moving their goddamned files off of my overcrowded server. (They had a server with a whomping 32 bazilliobyte hard disk, only 3% full, but wouldn't get their crap off of my little 8 bazilliobyte disk which was 99.7% full.) Do you know what happens when a server gets 99.8% full? I can tell you: nobody in your department has e-mail, nobody has shared files, nobody can even log in to the network, for about a week and a half. Somehow, I thought we should do something before next month, but I still got blamed when things went kablooie.

So, Mr. Bush, I know how you feel, not being functional when you've been dragged out of sleepy time for a big meeting, and I also know how you feel when you get blamed for something you had no way of anticipating something you had no authority over leaders not listening to the advice of the people "on the ground."

Well, Mr. President, it's time for milk and cookies now, so Laura will come tuck you in and give you a teddy bear security blanket Bible quote to help you sleep.

Night, night, Mr. President. I know you're all tired out from praying for all those poor people down in New Orleans, but tomorrow you need to wake up bright and early and take concrete action to ensure that the federal disaster response is catching up to where it ought to be go clear some more brush at Prairie Chapel Ranch spout vague platitudes about "taking responsibility" in hopes that the press corps will turn back into lap dogs.

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Bush's iPod

Ah, those were easier days. Katrina was not even a glimmer in the eye of the equatorial Atlantic, Rehnquist was still steering the Court erratically rightwards, Dubya still had some candy eggs left in his Easter basket along with that yucky green plastic fake grass, I hadn't yet started a blog, and We the Peephole learned what President George Walker Bush keeps on his iPod.

Thanks to tonight's Jeopardy for bringing back those halcyon days, before 245 trillion Londoners were killed in that nuclear attack by Soviet al-Qaeda Saddam bin Laden.

I can sleep safely at night knowing that the Leader of the Free World has such fine music to help him through his difficult days.

  • "Center Field" by John Fogerty. Dubya has a little bit of trouble finding Center Field, because he keeps looking between Right Field and Extreme Right Field. [I'm probably not the first to come up with that joke, but I don't know who was.]
  • Kenny Loggins "Alive and Kickin'." Alex Trebek is still right: "Danger Zone" would be a better fit.
  • "He Stopped Lovin' Her Today" by George Jones. Dubya darlin', I'll never stop lovin' you, 'cause there ain't no way in hell I'm ever gonna start!
Well, having been so close (geographically, at least) to the President on his summer vacation, and looking forward to giving him an excuse for a weekend drinking binge road trip out of Washington next weekend, I'd like to offer Curious George a few suggestions for beefing up his iPod. He has more than enough iPod space, and at $400K a year he can afford 99¢ a few times over. The titles link to the Apple iTunes Music Store so that the President's personal assistant can download them.
  • "Winning the War on Drugs" by the Asylum Street Spankers. Bush probably knows the folks from the A.S.S. — because they're from Austin, Texas! And how could he resist tapping his toes to "Praise the Lord and pass the bong, we're winnin' the War on Drugs!"?
  • Two songs from the Team America: World Police soundtrack: "America F**k Yeah" and of course "Freedom Isn't Free."
  • A song to help Curious George get in touch with his inner chimpanzee, "The Bad Touch" by the Bloodhound Gang. As an added bonus, the song is exactly 4 minutes and 20 seconds, which means George can listen to it three times on a 13-minute mile!
  • "Bunnies," because, of course, George got the iPod right around Easter.
  • Pink's beautifully spiritual hymn "God is a DJ," because God knows just what songs you need to hear right now.
  • "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," because sometimes Butch and Sundance have bad wars bank robberies days, too.
  • "Our Day Will Come" (the Isaac Hayes version), because it's a beautiful song and a fine old gentleman in San Francisco still gets royalties for it, but also because your "day" has already come and gone.
There you go — wisdom, spirituality, laughter, and toe-tapping goodness, and if you give them $8 for 8 songs, you will get 8¢ back. It's magic, George! If you give them $5 for 5 songs, you get 5¢ back. If you give them $10 for 10 songs, how much do you get back?

Now, if you give Halliburton $37 trillion for a toilet seat and a coffee maker, how much interest will your great great great great grandchildren owe on the national debt?

Gosh, music and a math lesson, all in the same blog entry!

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Happy BBirthday!

Today is legendary musician B. B. King's 80th birthday.

Many happy returns! The thrill of your music is never gone.

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Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

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Run (away), Arnold, run!

In less than two years, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has achieved some miraculous results. Who would ever have thought that Ahnold could make millions of Californians wish for the "good old days" of Gray Davis? Who would have thought that Ahnold could openly and proudly raise special-interest money at a rate Davis couldn't dream of?

And who would have thought that, with public approval ratings rivaling post-Katrina George Bush, Arnold would run for re-election?

California's sitcom-inspired recall election permitted the Governator to avoid most of the public and media scrutiny directed at most "mainstream" candidates in a regular election. That's why Arnold didn't run against Gray Davis in 2002. Now that the news media has — hopefully more than just temporarily — rediscovered its conejos spine, I suspect that Ahnold will face some tough questions:

  • What has California done to prepare for the inevitable natural disaster that will strike this state sooner or later?
  • How does Governor Schwarzenegger propose to restore the funding our schools need to give our children the education they will need to become productive taxpaying citizens?
  • How does Governor Schwuleficker reconcile his statement that the courts (rather than the legislature) should extend marriage rights to same-sex couples with the national Republican Party's excoriation of "activist judges"?
  • How does Governor Schwanzenneger propose to deal with the critical shortage of qualified nurses and other health-care professionals?
  • Does the Kindergarten Cop really believe he is the most qualified Republican candidate for governor?
  • Why do bloggers insist on throwing silly schoolyard insults at him?
  • Why should we view Governor Schwarzenegger's initiative proposals as anything more than narcissistic grandstanding?
I hope that the Republican Party will conduct a vigorous primary campaign, with a serious discussion of issues and policies, rather than meekly following the Pied Pipenator for another four years. Of course, I hope the Democrats will do the same.

Let's send Arnold back to Hollywood for Four More Films!

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The Industry Leader

The Third Path is the industry leader of holistic reality-based fantasy commentary from the delusion of sanity. What do we reinvent? Anything and everything, regardless of standing! We will incentivize the term "wanker." We will productize the power of social networks to enable community-wide consensus. Imagine a combination of C-SPAN and South Park.

The data hygiene factor can be summed up in one word: John Kerry doesn't know how to speak briefly in such a manner as to keep the audience's interest when he wanders through the pretty meadow of some point perhaps obliquely related to the topic at hand.

Do you have a scheme to become fractal? Quick: do you have a client-focused, integrated strategy for coping with emerging schemas?

[adapted from the Corporate Gibberish Generator at, courtesy of The Bay Area Is Talking's pick-up of a link from Jeremy Zawodny.]

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Herman Cain on CBN News

Honestly, I started TiVo-ing the CBN News [Christian Broadcasting Network] in hopes of capturing another batshit-insane comment by alleged Christian, the allegedly Reverend Pat Robertson. Imagine my surprise when I saw Pat interviewing someone making sense, even from the point of view of a conservative black Republican.

Herman Cain has written a new book entitled They Think You're Stupid: Why Democrats Lost Your Vote and What Republicans Must Do to Keep It, but here's a sample of what he said with Pat Robertson:

You make sure you have a clear definition of accountability [for Katrina reconstruction projects], whether that's at the local level, the state level, or the federal level, just like we needed clear lines of accountability and action and decision-making when this storm hit. Let's not make that mistake again. We know that all of those lines of communication didn't work the way that they were supposed to. ... The American people deserve to know the accountabilities and who is accountable for what. — syndicated radio host Herman Cain, speaking to Pat Robertson on CBN News, 2005-09-15
Cain and I disagree on a number of issues, obviously, but we share some important common ground. Both real major parties all too often treat the public as if we were simpletons. They appeal to the lowest impulses of greed and fear, focusing only on what is right in front of our faces. Any claims to a grand vision of the future are tainted by counter-claims of hidden agendas. The Democratic Party did lose the confidence of the American people in its vision, in its competence, in its honesty, in its wisdom, and in its moral clarity. Electing (cough) "leaders" like Rick Santorum [Republican Senator from Pennsylvania] and George W. Bush is more than a bit of an overreaction to that loss of faith in the Democrats, though, and the Republicans are dreaming if they think they've locked down their majority status any tighter than a fishing boat in Biloxi.

We know that you don't care about poor Negroes, Mr. Bush, but Herman Cain is neither poor nor stupid, and he's not going to support your party if you "stay the course." I don't think you'll buy him off quite as easily as you did Armstrong Williams.

[You don't know who Armstrong Williams is? Watch The Daily Show from 2005-01-10 (guest: John Grisham). Williams is a conservative black television commentator who accepted $240,000.00 from the Bush administration to promote their "No child left in school behind" initiative, but Armstrong did not tell his viewers that he was being paid to present a particular point of view.]

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Hugo Chavez on Nightline tonight!

Tonight's ABC News Nightline will feature Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in an interview with Ted Koppel. Chávez is friendlier with Fidel Castro than with George W. Bush; he has called the United States a "terrorist state" because of the "illegal" Iraq war, and he blames the United States for an attempted coup against him in 2002.

On the other hand, Venezuela has enormous oil reserves, so if we nuke it too hard, our SUVs will wind up glowing in the dark. Maybe it will make them more visible and thereby safer.

Nightline runs on most ABC stations from 11:35 p.m. until 12:06 a.m. (Eastern/Pacific), right after the local news. You can live without Jay Leno and Conan for one night.

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Just maybe we need to get rid of Roe v. Wade

Roe v. Wade was a deeply flawed decision by the United States Supreme Court.

From a legal standpoint, inarguably the Supreme Court overstepped the bounds of merely deciding the specific case before them and created out of whole cloth specific standards that must be met by any law regulating abortion. That fact, in and of itself, does not mean that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, though. After all, Miranda got into some specifics as to the rights that must be read to a suspect. However, it does leave Roe vulnerable to attack on grounds of judicial activism.

Perhaps even more important is the issue of public reliance on the decision. In other words, have people shaped their lives based on the decision? Have other major decisions relied on Roe v. Wade? Clearly, a generation of women have grown up with the expectation that their reproductive privacy rights are protected by a decision of the Supreme Court in a precedent that has been upheld 38 times as a "super-duper precedent" (in the phrase of Senator Specter). However, it is equally clear that a generation of citizens have grown up with the expectation that the Supreme Court will at some point reverse itself and protect the right to life of an unborn human fetus, perhaps even from the moment of conception.

The conflicting reliance of two bitterly opposed factions points to the need for an enduring political solution to the question. Clearly, many people are determined to overturn this "super-duper precedent," and ironically, there is precedent for overturning a "super-duper precedent." The horribly racist Plessy v. Ferguson decision left Negroes as second-class citizens for almost twice as long as Roe v. Wade has been "settled law," and it was repeatedly upheld before finally Brown v. Board of Education gave the Court an avenue to remedy its grievous error. Many people — a minority of the population, to be sure — feel that Roe is no less erroneous, no less odious, than Plessy.

There is only one solution: we need a Constitutional amendment. I jokingly suggested Senator John McCain as a replacement nominee for Chief Justice, but perhaps in his current role as Senator he could take charge of a bipartisan effort to lay out a scheme for determining when abortion must be permitted, when it must be prohibited, and when the decision is up to the individual states. Personally, I believe that it is vital that every state in the nation recognize some right to abortion, but I see no reason why, in a federal system, every state must have identical abortion rights. If we are ever to move beyond this issue, to truly be able to consider it as settled law, we need to find a formula for balancing the right to reproductive privacy against the legitimate interest of the state in protecting human life. To be effective, that formula needs to find such broad support that it can pass in 38 states.

We must find some way to write "safe, legal, and rare" into the Constitution.

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Robert Reich on John Roberts

Okay, folks, I've told you that the Roberts hearing testimony, especially the other witnesses besides Roberts, is riveting because of the incredible importance of the decision of who should lead the Supreme Court for the next three decades. What else is amazing about this hearing is that the United States Senate is rising to the occasion. People in support of John Roberts are making cogent and coherent cases for their position. So are people in opposition, and so are people who appear to have genuinely not yet decided.

Still, I know that most people don't find Senate committee testimony the most exciting stuff to read, much less watch on television. I'm a bit weird in that respect. I watched the Watergate hearings in 1974 because they were fun for a 10yo loyal Nixonian young Republican. I grew up to go to the YMCA Youth in-or-and-depending-whom-you-ask Government model state legislature in high school, where I sat in the actual chambers of the Texas House and Senate in Austin. When I'm channel-surfing, I'm more likely to pause on C–SPAN than on American Idol.

I will take it for granted that most of you reading this are not exactly chomping at the bit to read some yummy yummy Senate hearings. Having said that, I urge you to read Robert Reich's testimony, even if you read nothing else about the proceedings. If you watch The Daily Show, you know Robert Reich. He's the little short guy who was Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton. (Hey, you, Shrimp-o: you give me hope for the future of America!) Robert Reich is really smart, and he's funny enough to banter with Jon Stewart. Read his testimony.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Now I'm confused

I've watched much of the hearings on the nomination of John Roberts to be Chief Justice. In fact, I've actually watched about 5 or 6 hours, and I've got a few more hours on my TiVo that I'm trying to catch up on. (I wasn't kidding when I said it's riveting television. This is the true "reality TV," with real life-or-death stakes. Yeah, you have to wait 30 or 40 years to find out the full score, but it's better action than watching golf on television, even with Tiger Woods, and only slightly longer than a game of cricket.) None of Judge Roberts' testimony that I've seen so far gives me serious pause, and I had until today not seen a convincing argument against him, nor have I even yet heard a clear indication from his opponents of what an acceptable nominee would look like. Furthermore, my Senators have not yet given me any indication that this nomination is worthy of a filibuster.

Democrats, it is time to shit or get off the pot.

Why is it that the American people have such a strong sense that the Democrats would oppose John McCain if he were the Chief Justice nominee?

John McCain never attended law school, but I think we could get him at least an honorary Doctor of Laws, based on just a wee bit of on-the-job experience in the field. I defy the American Bar Association to rate him unqualified. John McCain has an impeccable reputation for fairness and honesty, whether you ask Republicans or Democrats, or even independents! It is true that John McCain personally opposes abortion, but I trust him when he says he accepts that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. (Beyond that, I can imagine John McCain facilitating the creation of common ground in the abortion debate. The phrase that appeals to me is "safe, legal, and rare." We have to find some middle ground — abortions available with some set of restrictions that all sides can agree to.) How about John McCain for Chief Justice? How about John McCain as Chief Justice and John Roberts as Associate Justice?

If the Democrats don't have some pretty dazzling alternative, it is time to get out of the way. You need to demonstrate not only that Roberts is bad, but that there is someone else who would be better.

I said that I support the confirmation of John Roberts. I have rendered a decision on that case. Based upon the principle of stare decisis (Latin for "to stand by that which is decided"), I must stand by that decision, even if I might decide differently if I were now reviewing the case de novo (from scratch), unless I am presented with substantive evidence that my previous decision is unworkable.

In other words, if you can't even convince a blogger, then how are you going to convince the American people that your opposition to John Roberts is something more than knee-jerk?

(As I was writing this, I saw Senator Biden comment that if he believes that John Roberts will be an Antonin Scalia, he would vote not to confirm; if he believes Roberts will be a Tony Kennedy, he would vote to confirm; if he believes Roberts will be another William Rehnquist, he would probably vote to confirm, since it would preserve the status quo. Senator Biden himself admits that he, too, is confused by the process, so I don't feel so bad about wondering what the blank is going on here.)

I also found Senator Feinstein's comments illuminating:

I think there was significance in the fact that [John Roberts] laid out [the factors to be considered when you look at a precedent of the Supreme Court] at all, because he didn't have to do that. I didn't really expect he would ever answer [whether he would overrule Roe v. Wade], one way or another. I think it's an unrealistic expectation. My interest is to see, would he be open to reviewing various things carefully and cautiously, or did he come in with a bias? (We all grant that he's conservative, and there's nothing wrong.)

The nominee that I would anticipate from this President would've been really conservative, would've come in here and said what he was going to do, and probably could've mustered the votes, but it would've been definitive. I see nothing definitive, but I do see things that provide a level to believe that this is a fine legal scholar, who will truly look at the law. I think he said he gives a serious regard to precedent. — Senator Dianne Feinstein, John Roberts confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate, 2005-09-15
The other thing is, I would really like to hear from the Boy Scout troup that John Roberts spoke to the day after he was nominated as an Associate Justice. What did John Roberts say to a group of Boy Scouts about what he believes a judge's role should be? Let's get that on the record, so that if he violates his stated principles we can throw at him that he lied to a bunch of Boy Scouts.

I would also like to mention a quote from Senator Paul Simon (D-Illinois) at the confirmation hearing for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, quoted this week by Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) in reference to nominee John Roberts: "You face a much harsher judge than this committee. That's the judgment of history. And that judgment is likely to revolve around one question: Did you restrict freedom or did you expand it?" [Thanks to Scoop Independent News for highlighting that quote.]

Still, it is telling that such an impressive array of African Americans, and others, came to speak of their lack of faith that the Supreme Court as an institution will treat them fairly. I single out African Americans in that comment because the simple reality is that African Americans have a unique perspective on oppression and inequality in the United States, as do Native Americans. Many segments of our nation have known oppression and unfair treatment, but only African Americans have been literally enslaved within our nation's borders, and only Native Americans have been the victims of genocide here.

Give me a convincing rebuttal to witnesses like Theodore Shaw, Nathaniel Jones, and also people like Judith Resnik, Marcia Greenberger, and Beverly Jones.
You [Senate Judiciary Committee] are considering, under the Constitution’s Advice and Consent clause, the fitness of a Supreme Court nominee who has, in the past, argued against the use of federal judicial power to eradicate the vestiges of slavery and badges of servitude. This record triggers serious questions and demands straight answers. — The Honorable Nathaniel Jones, retired federal judge, 2005-09-15
Whatever else you say, there are clearly large segments of our nation who are NOT satisfied that a Supreme Court chiefed by John Roberts would protect the legal rights essential in their lives.

And then there's Robert Reich. He is so brilliant that he gets his own thread.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Confirm John Roberts

I'm sitting here watching today's confirmation hearing for John Roberts to be the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. My conclusion, after watching several hours of the testimony over the last couple of days, is that John Roberts is the best nominee we can hope for from our current Commander-in-Chimp. Barring some major unforeseen catastrophe in his remaining testimony, it is my view that he should be confirmed by the Senate.

We don't know whether or not John Roberts would have voted with or against the majority had he been on the Court in 1973 to decide Roe v. Wade. However, I am satisfied that John Roberts has appropriate respect for the value of precent (stare decisis) in our judicial system. In a few cases — Plessy v. Ferguson, Bowers v. Hardwick, and, soon, I would hope, Kelo v. New London — it is necessary and proper for the Supreme Court to reverse a standing precedent. However, those cases are the exception, even if the judges now sitting on the Court might have voted differently on the previous case. When the Supreme Court decides a case, that decision should be firm and solid unless that decision is so flawed as to be completely unworkable. That principle is — as Judge Roberts affirmed in his confirmation hearing — allows the people to rely on the settled understanding. The Court must always tread carefully in reconsidering any decision on which people rely in making substantive decisions about their lives.

George W. Bush on his best day is a far worse, stupider, crazier, more psychotic President than Ronald Reagan on his worst, but John Roberts is no Robert Bork. I opposed Robert Bork, and I remain glad to this day that he is not on the Court. He is undoubtedly not the person I would nominate, but I do believe that the Senate should vote to confirm John Roberts. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't even play one on TV, but I know enough about the law to follow the questions in the Roberts hearing. Even without pubic hairs on Coke cans, this hearing was riveting television. No, I'm not kidding. I would like to add, though, that while there were some annoying moments, I felt that the Senators conducted themselves quite professionally, with intellectual rigorousness and sincere devotion to their patriotic duty. In that assessment, I include Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein, but also Arlen Specter and Orrin Hatch and Lindsay Graham. The only exception, to my knowledge, is Tom Coburn, whose performance in the hearing was a disgrace to the Senate, to the Republican Party, to the Constitution, and to the State of Oklahoma.

John Roberts is not a deranged ideologue inhabiting a completely different reality from the rest of us — in other words, he is neither a Robert Bork nor a George W. Bush — he is a thoughtful, careful jurist. In fact, my view of both George W. Bush and the people who actually run the government is moderated by watching John Roberts in action.

Of course, all that C–SPAN (tape-delayed replay of the part I missed live this afternoon) means that I now have both a Daily Show and a Nightline to go back to. (Is it any wonder that I love Sarah Vowell?) In the mean time, sign me up as the charter member of Genderqueer Gay San Francisco Progressive Democrats for John Roberts.

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Full-frontage failure

In today's San Francisco Chronicle, reader Robert Becker from Yolo County (about 150 km NE of San Francisco) writes about the breadth of the Bush administration's failures, not just in the Katrina response, but across the board. Click here and scroll about halfway down for the full text of the letter from the SFChron web site.

As this country awakens to the nightmare of Bush-think, don't we need an impartial, bipartisan debate that scrutinizes everything that has gone wrong in the last five years? What if we need prompt, strong steps to redeem America from enduring more failures "on all fronts"? ... This country is not unlike New Orleans — still taking water, listing and crying for effective emergency responses. — Robert Becker, letter to the editor, 2005-09-14
In what arenas has the Bush administration been an abject failure? Let's see:
  • Iraq war justification
  • Iraq war planning
  • Iraq war aftermath
  • Fiscal restraint
  • Medicare drug benefit (intentionally lied to Congress, which fits under "high crimes and misdemeanors" in the sense of Article II, Section 4)
  • Protection of the environment
  • just about everything else he's done in office
It is time for not just Michael Brown, the unqualified, ineffective leader of FEMA, but also for George W. Bush, the unqualified, ineffective leader of the United States of America, to recognize his incapacity and mitigate the damage of his bungling by removing the source of the problem: himself. Of course, Cheney must also go, which means that we will have Dennis Hastert as President. What I am advocating is a wrenching change, but it is even more necessary today than it was necessary for Richard Nixon to leave on August 9, 1974. The pain of an unwarranted impeachment campaign against President Clinton pales in comparison to the pain of a justified impeachment of President Bush.

Mr. Bush, it is your patriotic duty to step down and let someone capable of handling the office of President take over. For the sake of the nation, resign! Do you really want your legacy to be that you were the first President impeached and removed from office? That is where "stay the course" will take you.

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California-style Recall Election for Dubya

The Bush faction overwhelmingly supported the recall of California Governor Gray Davis less than a year after he easily won re-election. It is now less than a year after President Bush won election to a second term, and America is finally waking up to the realization that, only partly due to circumstances beyond his control, President Bush is doing a terrible job of leading our nation. Should we not remove this buffoon from office, just as we did Gray Davis? The piracy of Enron wasn't Gray Davis's fault (indeed, it was more George Bush's fault), but his response to it was ineffective and inadequate. Likewise, the hurricane wasn't Dubya's fault, but his response to it was ineffective and inadequate. Further, the devastation in Iraq is Dubya's fault, because he led us into it with his ineffective and inadequate leadership.

In the next three years, there is no possibility that the U.S. Constitution will be amended to provide for the popular recall of the President and Vice President, and I'm not sure that it should be. However, the mechanism currently in place is perilously close to being triggered. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have been consistenly and flagrantly derelict in the duties of their offices and of their oaths to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and that is a path that must lead to impeachment if indeed Bush continues to "stay the course."

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New Google Blog-search Tool

Google has a new tool specifically for searching blog entries (like this one!). Check it out at, but keep in mind it's still in "beta," so it may misbehave at first. Hopefully Google will iron out any remaining glitches in this promising feature.

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Gwen Araujo jury rejects "tranny panic" defense

In the retrial of the three individuals charged with the murder of "transgender teen Gwen Araujo," as she is consistenly called, the jury firmly rejected the defense contention that the fact that Gwen concealed her male anatomy from her sexual partners in some sense justified their decision to kill her.

The jury reached a guilty verdict on charges of 2nd-degree murder on two of the defendants, and deadlocked on the third by a vote of 9-3 to convict. It remains to be seen whether the last defendant will receive a third trial.

However, the fact that the jury completely repudiated the victim's status as a transgender person as a justification for her murder, stands as a victory for justice and the rule of law.

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I Pledge Allegiance to the Constitution

Just minutes ago, a federal judge here in San Francisco ruled that the recitation in public schools of the current form of the Pledge of Allegiance, including the words "one nation under God," is unconstitutional and impermissible, in line with the precedent of the 9th Circuit.

Attorney Michael Newdow brought the case on behalf of three unnamed parents, since his suit last year was dismissed on technical grounds. The subject is headed back to the Supreme Court, although that Court will have two new faces on it.

Newdow hit the bullseye with this quote:

Imagine every morning if the teachers had the children stand up, place their hands over their hearts, and say, "We are one nation that denies God exists." I think that everybody would not be sitting here saying, "Oh, what harm is that." They'd be furious. — Michael Newdow, to the Associated Press, 2005-09-14
The United States Constitution says that there shall be no establishment of religion in this nation. That means that the government must not prefer the exercise of one set of religious beliefs over another.

Removing the words "under God" from the Pledge, as Newdow and others advocate, does not express a preference for atheism, nor does it in any way discourage, disparage, or burden the exercise of faith in God. It simply returns the Pledge to the religiously neutral ground of patriotism, where it belongs.

The history of the Pledge is too often left out of the discussion of those two words. The original Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, who was a Baptist minister. However, before the so-called Christian Right leaps to claim Bellamy as their own, I hasten to add that Bellamy was also a utopian socialist. Bellamy was kicked out of his Baptist church in Boston for preaching socialism.

The original wording was:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Bellamy considered adding the word "equality" near the end, but that would've been too controversial in an era in which women and Negroes were not considered the equals of white men. The words "under God" were not added until 1954, during the "commie under every bed" period of anti-Communist hysteria.

I endorse this wording for the Pledge:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with equality, liberty, and justice for all. [uncredited slightly modified version of Bellamy's original Pledge]
If our Nation is to be indivisible, we must learn to stand together, Christian and Jew, Jew and Moslem, Moslem and Hindu, monotheist and polytheist, and even fundamentalist and atheist. If freedom of religion only means the freedom to pick exactly one god, it is not freedom at all.

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Kurt Vonnegut's list of "Liberal Crap"

The Daily Show web site has updated with Kurt Vonnegut's list of "Liberal Crap I Never Want to Hear Again." Check it out.

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Kurt Vonnegut on the Daily Show

Kurt Vonnegut has been busy promoting his new book, A Man without a Country, showing up on Bill Maher's show on Friday and on The Daily Show on Tuesday. He had a few choice words about our leadership in Washington. My favorite quotes:

My training is scientific, but I do feel that evolution is being controlled by some sort of divine Engineer. I can't help thinking that. And this Engineer knows exactly what He or sHe is doing and why and where evolution is headed. That's why we have giraffes and hippopotami and the clap.

Everyone has been so mean about the President lately, as though he had caused the hurricane. He didn't. I'd like to say something good about him: he is not the dumbest man at the top of our government. The dumbest man at the top of our government is the Secretary of Defense. He is so dumb, he thought he could take over a country and its oil, population 27 million Muslims. He thought he could take it over — and the oil, which is what he was after — with a whole bunch of big BANGs and then 200,000 American soldiers who didn't even know how to say "Hello" in Arabic. What a mess he's made! I've wanted to give Iraq a lesson in democracy, because we're good at it. In democracy, after a hundred years, you have to let your slaves go, and after 150 years, you have to let your women vote. At the beginning of democracy, quite a bit of genocide and ethnic cleansing is OK, and that's what's going on now.— Kurt Vonnegut, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 2005-09-13
You tell 'em, Kurt!

Jon Stewart promised to put up Kurt Vonnegut's list of "Liberal Crap I Don't Want to Hear Any More Of" on the Daily Show web site. As of this writing, I don't see it there yet, but I'll check again in the morning. Those East Coast folks just seem to get a 3-hour jump on us Californians for some reason.

By the way, if you want to know how to say "hello" in Arabic, it does not sound much like "kourat al-qadam."

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Next to fall on his sword: Senator Tom Coburn

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart skewered Senator Tom Coburn (Republican from Oklahoma) on Tuesday's show.

When I ponder our country and its greatness, its weaknesses, its potential; my heart aches for less divisiveness, less polarization, less finger-pointing, less bitterness, less mindless partisanship, which at times sounds almost hateful to the ear of Americans. — Senator Tom Coburn, in the U.S. Senate confirmation hearing for Chief Justice nominee John Roberts, 2005-09-13
Coburn is about as great an actor as Gray Davis, rising almost to the level of artistry of the bartender-turned-Congressman from The Love Boat, but not rising to nearly the level of a William Shatner, much less the creepy new D.A. on Law & Order. Happily, the folks at the Daily Show have an even better library of dusty old quotes than I do:
The gay community ... is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. — Sen. Tom Coburn, Spring 2004

I favor the death penalty for abortionists. — Sen. Tom Coburn, 2004-07-09
Indeed, Senator Coburn is so passionate about healing the partisan rift in our body politic that he was moved to do a crossword puzzle during Roberts' hearing.

It is this sort of inescapable airtight proof of hypocrisy on the part of a political figure that is the reason the Daily Show gives me such hope for the future of American democracy.

There is only one way out for Senator Tom Coburn. He has been caught undeniably faking it for purely partisan reasons, so his only path is to resign and remove himself from public life forever.

As President George W. Bush says, "I'm a divider, and if you don't like it, you can go fuck yourself." (as quoted by Stephen Colbert on the Daily Show)

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Hanson grows up

In a world full of plastic pop stars taken right from the cover of Lisa Simpson's Non-threatening Boys Monthly magazine, I saw these three children (the oldest one not only still too young for me to take serious notice, but also embarrassingly overshadowed by his "no other word for it" pretty middle brother) performing some fluffy bubblegum pop tune on MTV one morning as I was dragging my ass out of a motel room near the beginning of my two-month trans-Canada road trip. It was 1997. The tune was pretty meaningless, but it was catchy. I occasionally enjoy pretending I'm a high-school boy with a crush on someone like Nick Carter or the queenie one from New Kids on the Block [don't actually care enough to google for his name], but Hanson were all just way too young — if I had had a son right after college, he would've been about the right age to have a crush on the middle one. I wound up buying their Middle of Nowhere disc mostly as a prank on my friends who feign concern over my taste for younger men, nearly fainting when I expressed interest in a man who was almost two years older than I am, as a sort of a "You think I'm a chicken hawk? At least the guys I chase after are legal!" I put it in about the same category of serious musical interest as Weird Al Yankovic or Björk or Dick Feller.

The joke was on me. Unlike Back Street Boys or N'Sync or New Kids or Insert Interchangeable Boy Band Here, these children wrote their own songs, wrote their own lyrics, and played their own instruments, and they worked more on the song than on the choreography. Sure, the love song written by the pre-teen youngest brother was impossible to take seriously, so I always skipped over it, but that was a matter of limited life experience, not lack of musical talent. Put it this way: it was as good writing as the short story I did in fourth grade, and I like to think I've gotten better with experience. On the other hand, I can only just carry a tune in a bucket if I have a little help from a dozen of my friends.

Of course, the fact that I associate Hanson music with the great prairies and mountains of the Canadian west — including pulling off the road to wait out a summer thunderstorm while listening to "Where's the Love" and "Man from Milwaukee" — doesn't hurt their case, because Canada is Shangri-La or Tir na nOg, or something like that. Everything Canadian is wonderful — Degrassi, Matthew Ferguson, Rush, Queer As Folk, the last couple of years of X Files, half of Showtime's schedule, really just about everything except Celine Dion. Oklahoma isn't yet a province of Canada, but I'm patient. I can wait.

But I digress. After four years, Hanson has a brand new album released on their very own indie label, and it has reached #1 on the indie charts. Did I mention these Tulsa boys are serious about music? Their bubblegum pop roots still show, but so does the talent underneath, and (gasp!) artistic integrity. The oldest one also has graduated from gawky jailbait with braces to a bit more of a Matthew Fox look. I didn't even recognize the youngest one, who once saw himself in a video and asked "Who's the pretty girl?"

I'll close with a quote from the middle brother:

It’s not about us. Music is going down because it sucks. But you [the audience] have the power to change that. — Taylor Hanson, fall 2004

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