Tuesday, February 28, 2006


I just saw a wonderful Maya Angelou quote:

despite its wrenching pain,
cannot be unlived,
but if faced with courage,
need not be lived again.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

My new reality show

I'm sitting here watching a truly revolting display of the elements of American culture that cause so many people around the world not to want to be Americans. The show is called My Super Sweet 16; it follows several families planning parties for their children's (mostly, but not exclusively, daughters') 16th birthdays. What unites these kids is that they are among the worst spoiled brats I have ever seen or heard of. One of the girls has a personal hair stylist for the party, at a cost of $10,000. That's just the stylist; the budget for the entire party is over $200,000. Surprisingly enough, with such material wealth showered upon them at such a young age, these children come to expect it, and they throw astounding temper tantrums when their stratospheric expectations are not met in every detail.

When I turned 16, I got a four-year-old Dodge Colt (made by Mitsubishi) with an automatic transmission; it could do 0 to 60 kilometers per hour [~ 35 mph] in about 11 seconds on dry level pavement, but it got me to school or my friends' houses or the movie theater. It was a hand-me-down from my mother, who took advantage of the opportunity to get a brand new car. I was happy just to have a car, which in most parts of the world would be an unthinkable luxury for a child. I don't remember my birthday party; I don't think I had one that year. The "big deal" for my childhood birthday parties was having a half dozen friends sleep over — that way we could play poker or Dungeons & Dragons or what have you, until 5 a.m., gorging ourselves on gourmet potato chips and expensive vintage Dr. Pepper, and maybe even a pizza.

Having seen a few other "reality TV" shows, it occurred to me that an appropriate combination would be to cross My Super Sweet 16 with something like Super Nanny. The kid would be led to believe that the show would be all about planning her big party, but about a week before the big day, the show's producers would introduce the twist: the nanny, with the power to give her a time-out at the first sign of a tantrum, and to unilaterally cut line items from the party budget as a penalty for bad behavior. Foul language to your mother? Your party just moved from the Hilton to the Holiday Inn. Do it again, and we'll bump you down to Motel 6, and after that, it's a single room at the No-Tell Motel, complete with designer cockroaches. Any damage to the party venue will come out of your allowance — doubled. You're only 16, so the closest you get to alcohol is sparkling grape juice. If you throw an all-out tantrum, your party gets cancelled and you're grounded for a month, with no phone privileges.

It astounds me that so few people seem to understand the connection between the unearned wealth these kids take for granted and their unacceptable behavior. On top of that, younger kids see these parties as an example of what they are entitled to, just for turning 16. Beyond that, how about America's sense of entitlement in the world? We have the biggest army and the biggest economy, so you'd better just give us your oil, work in our sweatshops, eat at McDonald's, and do whatever the fuck we say. We deserve it because we as a nation are filthy rich. That attitude is clearly the secret to winning the hearts and minds of the rest of the world.

Actually, that gives me a great idea: we should tear down the rubble of the Al Askariya mosque (مرقد الامامين علي الهادي والحسن العسكري) in Samarra, Iraq, and replace it with a McDonald's, a stripper bar, and a Honey-Baked Ham store! What better way to symbolize the post-Saddam future?

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South Dakota, leading the way into the 19th century

From 1930 to 1990, the state of South Dakota increased its population from 692,849 to 696,004 — an increase of 0.45%, corresponding to an average annual increase of 0.000757%. Clearly, South Dakota is the place to be.

You might think that I cherry-picked my statistics just to make South Dakota look bad, and you would be absolutely 100% correct. South Dakota's population has increased by more than 11% in the last 15 years, which is more than the Depression-era population drop that skews the 20th-century figures.

Where South Dakota is well and truly lost in a bygone era, though, is in its laws. South Dakota is poised to become the first state since 1973 to outlaw elective abortions. The law just passed, and expected to be signed by the governor, is an intentional direct challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision that has been the framework of abortion law for more than thirty years. The replacement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (a conservative who nonetheless voted to uphold Roe) with Justice Samuel Alito (a conservative who opposes abortion and believes that Roe was incorrectly decided) gives abortion foes hope that they might overturn Roe. Additionally, abortion foes gleefully hope that another Justice dies, allowing President Bush to appoint another mossback. Of course, South Dakota's new law will be immediately struck down by the first judge who sets eyes on it, so it's all an exercise in futility unless the state succeeds in taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court and then getting the Supremes to overturn a long-standing precedent.

The principle of stare decisis has risen from obscurity in the last few months with the confirmation hearings for John Roberts and Samuel Alito. It's a very simple idea: judges, even Supreme Court Justices, are obligated to let existing rulings stand unless the precedent has become completely unworkable. For example, by 1954 it was abundantly clear that the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson precedent of "separate but equal" was completely unworkable, so it was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education. A certain element of predictability and consistency is necessary in law, most especially Constitutional law, and stare decisis fills that need.

Let's look at the abortion issue through that lens. Is it possible cogently to argue that Roe is completely unworkable? For three decades, Americans of all viewpoints have been able to rely on one central fact: Roe made it illegal for states to restrict elective abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. Some people believe that the Roe decision was wrong, others believe it was right, and still others (myself included) believe that it was right on the principal issue but overreaching in its scope. A significant and vocal segment of the population believes that abortion is murder and must be eliminated except when the mother's life is in danger; a larger but often less vocal segment of the population believes that abortion is a decision best left to individual conscience.

The abortion issue at its core pits two rights against each other: the mother's right to control her own body versus the fetus' right to live in its mother's womb until birth. In the case of a woman who seeks to terminate her pregnancy, those two rights are in direct conflict. If the fetus is not viable [capable of living outside its mother's body], there is no middle ground: either the mother must sacrifice her right to control her body or the fetus must sacrifice its right to gestate to birth. Going back to the early days of English common law, on which most American law is based, the mother had the right to terminate a pregnancy up until quickening, the point where you can feel the baby moving in the womb; quickening generally occurs late in the second trimester. Over the 150 years or so up to 1973, the majority of American states passed laws severely restricting abortion, although in the 1960's and 1970's, about one third of the states reduced or eliminated those restrictions.

The issue gets quite clouded by historical arguments as presented in the Roe decision. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, abortion was legal prior to quickening under common law in all 13 states. Even at the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, only a few states (Texas among them) had outlawed abortion. More importantly, though, at no point did the Framers of the Constitution envisage an unborn child as a full legal person. In fact, the language of the Constitution is unambiguous that full legal personhood begins only at birth. Thus, as a matter of law, an unborn fetus does not have the right to life under the U.S. Constitution, since that right is conferred at birth. That point is not in dispute. What is in dispute is when, how, and to what extent individual states can grant such a right.

The Ninth Amendment says "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." In the context of the abortion discussion, that means that the lack of a specific right to abortion in the Constitution does not necessarily mean that the right does not exist. The Ninth Amendment doesn't give the unborn fetus any rights at all, since the fetus is not yet legally a person.

The Tenth Amendment says "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Here, that means that the right to decide abortion policy belongs to the states or to the individual citizen. Thus, the Tenth Amendment would tend to favor the right of states to regulate or even outlaw abortion. It is only through the historical arguments regarding the right to privacy — never explicitly mentioned in the US Constitution, but found in the "penumbra" of the Bill of Rights by several Supreme Court decisions — that the right to regulate abortion could be denied to the states.

Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment says "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." As I noted above, this amendment does not apply to unborn fetuses. If we find the right to privacy in Constitutional interpretation, though, then the states cannot regulate abortion without a compelling state interest. Much though abortion foes see protecting the lives of unborn children to be a compelling state interest, it is not within the legal meaning of that phrase, since unborn children are not yet legal persons.

Those who seek to overturn Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court face a daunting challenge: demonstrating that the 1973 precedent is not only incorrect, but unworkable. Absent a Constitutional amendment to permit states to restrict abortion, it is difficult to see how you could argue that Roe is unworkable. After all, Roe has worked for over 30 years. Pro-life or pro-choice, you know where the law stands, and no citizen of the United States has ever been deprived of any right because of Roe. While the right to privacy is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, neither is any right to life for the unborn.

If you want to see abortion restricted or outlawed, going to the Supreme Court is the wrong route to your goal: you need a Constitutional amendment. On the other hand, if you want to protect the right to early-term abortion, relying on the Supreme Court is also the wrong route to your goal: you need a Constitutional amendment. The bottom line is that Roe v. Wade didn't settle the abortion issue, and no future Supreme Court decision is likely to. The solution must be found in the political arena, not the courts. We as a nation need to find a compromise that all sides can live with, instead of fighting pitched battles with one extreme bitterly antagonistic to the opposite extreme.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Six and a half billion little pieces

According to the estimate on the U.S. Census Bureau's website, the world population will cross over the 6.5 billion mark some time in the next few hours; certainly by the end of Saturday in the United States.

That's 6,500,000,000 human beings alive on the planet all at once. Over 600,000 more will be added by the end of February — and that's net births minus deaths. By the end of June, the world will have 25,000,000 more people than today.

We have two choices: we can fight and kill each other in the never-ending battle to establish our way of life as the one and only true path of righteousness and virtue, or we can start figuring out better ways to get along peaceably.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Why We Fight

Tonight I went to a special screening of Eugene Jarecki's documentary Why We Fight. It was a special screening because Eugene Jarecki himself was present for a Q&A after the film.

On 1961-01-17, just before leaving office, President Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower gave a farewell address to the nation. In that speech, Ike warned of the danger to our democracy from the unchecked influence of the Military-Industrial Complex. Sadly, his fears have been realized over the intervening 45 years.

I have said this before, but the United States is seeking to bully the rest of the world into doing things our way. In the short term, that strategy may produce favorable results, but in the long term, it does enormous damage both to our standing in the world community and to the fabric of our own republic. The current administration pays feeble lip service to the notion of "winning hearts and minds," but then it approaches allies and foes alike with blinding arrogance, tramples on the weak, and alienates those who might be amenable to our efforts.

As Rome grew in territory, it required a large standing army, which led to the general Julius Caesar's political power, culminating in making himself dictator for life. The brutality and bribery with which he gained and held power remain legendary more than twenty centuries later. Ultimately, though, Rome found that military might could not sustain its vast empire. Once the myth of Roman invincibility was shattered by the Huns and the Goths, the Roman Empire was set on an irreversible course of decline.

President Bush — even moreso than Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., or Clinton — is bent upon establishing an American Empire that will follow the same trajectory as Rome's. The United States is the unrivaled military power in the world today, but our exercise of that power is feeding the resentment of the world. We cannot station garrisons in every nation that has essential raw materials to protect our access, so if we piss off enough people long enough, they will throw off the yoke of American domination. Last year, the United States had a record deficit, record military spending, record trade deficit, and record profits for both oil companies and military contractors. Those enormous profits were not used to build schools and hospitals and houses, nor were they even plowed back into R&D to make better and cheaper weapons systems; they were simply a massive transfer of wealth from the taxpayers of future generations to the shareholders of today's arms dealers. The conjunction of Bush's collusion with the Military-Industrial Complex and his assertion of unlimited executive power, form the greatest danger to American democracy in at least 140 years. Perhaps the American Empire will take as long to unravel as the Roman Empire did, but even if the fall does not come in our lifetimes or even within the time it takes our grandchildren to pay off Bush's debts, we owe it to posterity to change course and restore balance between the needs of the citizens and the needs of arms dealers.

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Ports controversy

I had planned to put something under the headline of "Any storm in a port," but I was beaten to the punch. Oh, well.

Dubai Ports World is set to acquire the Peninsular & Oriental (P&O) Steam Navigation Company's operations, including facilities in six U.S. ports (New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, and what's left of New Orleans), but the deal has run into strong resistance in the United States.

P&O is a British company, publicly traded on the London stock exchange. It is the fourth-largest operator of ports in the world, and it also operates ferry services in Europe.

Oddly enough, Dubai Ports World (DPW) is based in Dubai, which is in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is in the Middle East. It's a little corner of the Arabian Peninsula, right on the Persian Gulf. The Persian Gulf is also adjacent to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran (formerly known as Persia). The UAE sits very close to the Straits of Hormuz, a strategic shipping bottleneck between Oman and Iran where it would be possible to stop all oil tankers from most of the Persian Gulf oil fields. Two of the 9/11 hijackers used the UAE as their home base, and there have been rumors that important UAE officials have connections to al Qaeda. Prior to 9/11, the UAE was one of only three nations on earth that gave formal diplomatic recognition to the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Michael Jackson now lives in the UAE, which only adds to its freaky charm. The Emirate of Dubai is one of the 7 states that comprise the UAE.

DPW operates port facilities in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Germany, Romania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, India, China, Malaysia, South Korea, Australia, and the Emirate of al Fujairah (Al Fujairah is the only one of the 7 UAE states with ports on the Gulf of Oman rather than the Persian Gulf.), in addition to its facilities in Dubai.

There are a few separate issues involved in the resistance to the deal.

First, there is the "We don't want no Amerikun ports run by no ragheads!!" [رأس يغطّى مع خرق قديمة] issue. Undeniably, much of the resistance to the deal is rooted in a strong mistrust and antipathy towards Arabs, Muslims, and Arab Muslims. The extreme of that sentiment is the "Nuke 'em til they glow, then shoot 'em in the dark!" [قصفتهم مع سلاح نوويّ حتّى مضيئة ، بعد ذلك قتلتهم مع بندقيّة في الليل] faction. While it is true that the UAE has had some connection to al Qaeda, the UAE government has been vocally supportive of the US government's anti-terror efforts. It is also true that there has been "some connection" of al Qaeda to Saudi Arabia, Germany, the Philippines, and Florida, among many other places.

Second, there is the natural resistance to ownership of vital American infrastructure by any foreign entity. However, since P&O is a foreign entity, I would have to say that the ship has already sailed. Foreign ownership of American ports is a legitimate cause for concern regarding our own economic competitiveness, if the only thing we can do with cargo ships is pay (on credit) for all the pretty toys and trinkets they bring us. By the same token, foreign (even including British) ownership of factories, banks, and delivery companies is a long-term concern. What if DHL were owned by the German post office? Oh, wait — it already is! For the present, though, this general concern is not particularly relevant to the transfer of American ports from British to Arab hands.

Third, though, is a rather meatier issue: the resistance to ownership of vital American economic infrastructure by a foreign government entity. If this deal would permit any foreign government — including the British — to use its control of six very important port facilities as leverage to influence US policy, then clearly we would have to stop it. Given that DPW is owned by the Emirate of Dubai, what assurance do we have that the Dubai government or the UAE government will not politicize the operation of the ports? (That's Congress's job!) Will a DPW-run port explicitly or implicitly seek UAE governmental approval of any shipments in or out? Will a DPW-run port be willing to load or unload a shipment of pork, lobsters, or frog legs (all items which may be viewed as intrinsically not Halaal [حلا], the Islamic counterpart to Kosher [כַּשְׁרוּת])? Will a DPW-run port treat a ship to or from Israel equitably? Will a DPW-run port halt or impede the shipment of weapons to Israel? If the deal is approved, it must be with the clear understanding that all shipping in and out of US ports will be handled in accordance with US law only, not by any other standard.

Lastly, the manner in which the deal was approved by the Bush Administration showed the same bumbling incompetence that characterized the management of the Katrina crisis. First of all, it should have been immediately obvious that a change of ownership of six major US port facilities should not have tried to slip by "under the radar." Yes, news of the proposed merger has been in the business pages of the newspapers since October, but this was the sort of deal that should have gone to the Oval Office and from there to Congressional leaders before getting approval. George W. Bush didn't even know about the deal (or so we're told) until he heard about it on the news. (I guess there weren't any Mighty Morphine Powder Rangers re-runs on the tv.) Given the enormous political gaffes the administration has blundered into in recent months, not least the furor over the Vice President's cover-up of the circumstances of his hunting accident, someone in the executive branch should have recognized that the sale of major ports to a foreign government should be handled with a little bit more finesse than issuing a retroactive upland game bird hunting permit.

Once the deal did make the news, though, the Bush administration followed blunder with self-immolation by trying to force the deal through on the strength of Dubya's "Don't make me get my veto pen!" mantra. When the Congress raises serious concerns that resonate with the American public, quashing all dissent isn't even on the same planet with the right response. Bush just snapped into his reflexive "questioning my administration is unpatriotic" posture. In view of the rising concerns about Bush's plans to eclipse Nixon's vision of the Imperial Presidency, it was clearly the wrong time to say, "Because I said so, that's why!" Fortunately for Bush, he has retreated from his rash, incendiary rhetoric, thanks in part to DPW's willingness to accept a brief delay in consummation of the deal.

Personally, I think the deal probably should be and probably will be approved. The pathetically inadequate security at US port facilities will not be improved one ιοτα by rejecting the purchase of P&O by DPW. Of course, DPW and the Dubai government and the UAE government should all publicly commit to keeping the US operations of DPW entirely separate from any political shenanigans. I also believe that the Congress is absolutely right to call hearings to allay the legitimate concerns regarding this deal. Needless to say, Michael "Call Me Katrina" Chertoff also must get off his lazy, incompetent ass and do something that will actually improve security in our ports.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Religious provocation

The Golden Mosque in Samarra is an important religious site for Shi'ite Muslims, but it was also an important and beautiful piece of living history. On Wednesday, as yet unidentified terrorists destroyed the dome and badly damaged the rest of the building. It seems clear, though, that the reason for the attack was to foment hostility between the Shi'ite and Sunni factions in Iraq and derail the effort to establish a secular democratic government that could unify the country. In any case, the effect has been to harden the positions of the religious extremists and escalate tensions.

That this attack comes just as the violence over the Danish cartoons is waning, is also unlikely to be coïncidental, but it also shows the depth of the folly of the protesters against the cartoons. In comparison to the deliberate destruction of a holy shrine, who can possibly justify violence in response to mere cartoons? It's like sending in a SWAT team to break up a gang of jaywalkers.

ان شاء الله، بركات ، سلام ، وإنسجام إلى كلّ الناس عراقيّة۪

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Oprah really IS an angel

Wednesday's Oprah was sappy and sentimental, but not shallow. Oprah Winfrey didn't just talk about the plight of the people of New Orleans, she did something, and I don't mean she wrote a check for $100. She has committed to building and furnishing 250 homes for displaced Katrina survivors. We're talking tens of millions of dollars, and a very big chunk of that is her own money. The people who now live on Angel Lane have had their homes obliterated, their possessions ruined, and their lives turned not only upside down but inside out, but now they have their own homes, thanks in large measure to Habitat for Humanity and Target, plus several other sponsors.

Oprah has said that she doesn't want to be President, but how about FEMA director, or maybe Secretary of Homeland Security?

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Damn you, Jon Stewart — LET MY CORDDRYS GO!

Just because the Vice President of the United States got cracked out on crystal meth and gunned down somebody who was wearing a gigantic neon sign, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart thinks he can get away with making the Corddry Brothers cool their heels in the soothing ultrasonic foot bath for eight days before allowing them to settle their blood feud. We should light a candle every day on the menorah to commemorate the Corddry Brothers' long wait to finally have it out on national television, Jerry Springer style. Would Nate Corddry triumph with his youthful reflexes and stylish savoir-faire, or would Rob Corddry's superior experience — of the world, of love, of battle, and most especially of fake news — carry the day?

Tuesday night, we found out. But would we still be as excited if the Academy Awards® were handed out more than a week late? Would the Stupor Bowl have the same impact if it got pushed back to a Wednesday afternoon in April? Jon Stewart proved that he hates our freedom by making us wait so long to see the Corddrys duke it out. And by not giving them a tub full of lime Jell-O®. And by allowing Nate to wear a shirt. Harrumph.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

God commands you to kill your baby

In the news today is the case of a woman in McKinney, Texas [a suburb of Dallas, right next to Plano, where George and Laura Bush used to live] — I'll call her "Abraham" — who is on trial for chopping off her baby daughter's arms — I'll call her "Isaac" — because God commanded her to do it. At issue is whether "Abraham" was legally insane when she killed "Isaac." Reportedly "Abraham" is angry and confused, not understanding why she is in jail for following God's will.

The legal definition of insane is quite different from the medical or colloquial use of the term. To be legally insane, you must be unable to distinguish right from wrong. The question is thus whether "Abraham" knew that she was doing something horribly wrong when she hacked off 10-month-old "Isaac's" arms with a knife and plunged the knife into her own shoulder as part of her Divine Plan to cut off her and her daughter's arms and heads and present them to God as an offering because she saw a tv news story about a boy who was mauled by a lion. No, I'm not kidding.

The original Abraham (אַבְרָהָם or ابراهيم) was commanded by God to offer his son (either Isaac [יִצְחָק] or Ishmael [إسماعيل], according to various accounts) as a sacrifice. Four thousand years later (give or take a couple of centuries), Abraham's unflinching willingness to lop off his son's head to satisfy God is celebrated [عيد الأضح]; today in Texas, the same circumstances lead us to a criminal trial. The Angel Gabriel stopped Abraham from chopping off his son's head, so he was able instead to chop off only his son's foreskin. If only our modern-day Abraham had first severed her own arms and head before sacrificing her daughter....

How do we distinguish God's commandment to Abraham 4,000 years ago from His commandment to "Abraham" in 2004? Myself, I don't see much difference.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Happy Presidents' Day!

My name is Lincoln Madison, so I must say I have always felt a special fondness for Presidents' Day, since it honors two Presidents. My interest in politics followed just as naturally.

When I was a young lad, my father was in the Navy Reserves, doing the "one weekend a month plus two weeks a year" gig. A couple of years, Dad scheduled his two weeks training duty in mid-February, because it put a convenient three-day weekend right in the middle. We went to Washington, D.C., those years, so I can honestly say that I walked every hallway of the Smithsonian museums. I also got to see money being printed, the Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson Monuments, the Archives, and even the House of Representatives in session. Most importantly, I learned not to eat snow if it is yellow or dark gray, and I learned not to fall asleep on a warm bus and miss your stop.

Of course, Presidents' Day isn't the only holiday celebrated today. It is also Family Day in the province of Alberta, Canada. In honor of that holiday, I extend my heartfelt wishes to Albertan Stephen Harper, now Prime Minister of Canada, that he should have more time to spend with his family in Alberta, instead of being far, far away in Ottawa.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

You might say...

You might say...
أنا أخشى أنّ سيصبح العراق ال "جنة ديموقراطيّة" من جورج بوش حلم۪

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Union membership is patriotic

I remember in my childhood, in a fiscally conservative (although socially more libertarian) household, that "UNION" was a dirty word — Jimmy Hoffa and the Mafia and going on strike because there weren't enough paper clips for the union newsletter.

I'm watching on C-SPAN right now a replay of a hearing in which mine workers testified about their experiences in union and non-union mines. The difference sounds almost like the Emerald City versus the evil enchanted forest, but the reality is a hyperbole beyond fiction. (In other words, this truth is stranger than fiction.) Scott Lepka accidentally severed his thumb, but, even though he followed the safety protocols to the letter, his supervisor made him drive himself to the hospital, after seeing himself to the surface in a vehicle with a nearly-dead battery.

And I've worked in union mines. I know for sure had this been a union mine first aid would have been administered immediately, an ambulance would have been called and waiting for me when I got outside and someone would have been appointed to monitor my condition and transport me outside.

I'd like to speak about another safety issue, also.

In the union mines, you have the right to a safe workplace, you have the right to withdraw yourself from a dangerous situation. You also have a safety committee that you can address about safety concerns or problems. In the non-union mines, you have the right to withdraw yourself under federal law. However, I can tell you from experience, most men won't due to fear for their jobs, and most men don't feel comfortable pointing out safety issues because if they complain too much, they're singled out and given less attractive jobs or even fired.
Yes, unions can be fertile breeding grounds for corruption, but so is Congress, and so is the White House. The fact remains that unions provide the rank-and-file workers with a voice, with the leverage to take appropriate measures to ensure their own safety, even at the expense of an occasional slight hiccup in production. As the horror stories from the mine workers in non-union digs make clear, the ability to unionize can become a matter of life and death.

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George W. Bush, Michael Brown, and the Mainstream Media

Bush and Cheney have amply demonstrated that they are less capable than the least of Michael Brown, Michael Chertoff, Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin, a crazy homeless person, or Dungeonmasters Alberto Gonzales and Condoleezza Rice. The Bush administration is no longer even very good at keeping politically sensitive secrets!

The Mainstream Media, though, does not exist solely to entertain us; they exist also to protect the people from tyranny. No democracy can long survive without a vigorously independent free press, whether in Iraq or Iowa. There are a few television news programs that cling to some vestige of in-depth objective reportage, but not very many. Even the serious newspapers are reluctant not just to ask but to pursue the difficult questions. George W. Bush and the Republican Party portray themselves as rebelling against a system in which the odds are stacked against them, when the reality is that they are rebelling against a system in which the history and moral principles of our nation are stacked against them. They have all the instruments of power — the White House, the House, the Senate (plus the "Unconstitutional Nuclear Option"), the Supreme Court, the military, Fox News in its entirety plus far more than their share of the mainstream media — and yet they still see themselves as rebels.

It's like that tv ad where the big boss man is bragging to his lackey about how many minutes his cellphone plan has, and how he really likes "sticking it to The Man." The lackey looks at him and says, "Sir, you are The Man." The guy in the corner office with a private secretary is not "the little guy," and George W. Bush is not the political underdog who should be given the benefit of the doubt over any little multi-trillion-dollar mistakes he might make.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Financial genius

Most people get spam from Nigeria offering to give them a cut of the action if they help transfer $x,000,000 (Exray Million United States Dollars) from the dormant bank account of some captain of industry who died with no known relatives to safety in an American bank account. But not me. No, I'm special. I get spam from Senegal offering to give me a large chunk of the proceeds if I help transfer Twenty Two Milion United States Dollars ($22,000.00 USD) from Dakar, Senegal, to a bank here in the U.S. so that the bank manager and I can pilfer it.

The most fascinating thing about it is that the spammer engages in some creative math, worthy of the Bush administration. First of all, that part about "Twenty Two Million United States Dollars ($22,000.00 USD)" is not my typo. Apparently the bank manager doesn't think that an extra three zeros here or there makes much difference to anyone — that's probably how he thinks he can get away with embezzling in the first place. However, it goes on from there to specify that I will get to keep 40% of the funds (That would be either Eight Point Eight Million or $8,800.00) with 5% to cover expenses and "the remaining 60% for me [our Senegalese criminal mastermind friend who cleverly sent his e-mail to me, disguised as a message to a completely unrelated address]." To review, that's 40% for me, 5% for expenses, and 60% for some guy in Dakar.

Okay, children, if I have 40 cents, and then I add 5 cents, and then I add 60 more cents, how much money do I have? If you answered One Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars, you're ready for the post-graduate course in Third World Bank Management. However, if you answered a buck-o-five [note: pop-up ad on the linked page], then you know that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

What happened to the Corddry death match?

Sunday, 2006-02-12, on Comedy Central, we were treated to the following promo:
Cain vs. Abel, Uday vs. Qusay, Chang vs. Eng — now the most hate-fueled sibling rivalry ever! Nate vs. Rob, the Corddrys, brother vs. brother, on an all-new Daily Show with Jon Stewart, tomorrow at 11 on Comedy Central.
On Monday, though, the promised battle royal of the fake news correspondents never materialized. What happened? I wanted to see, if not blood, at least some serious noogies!

Nate Corddry and his new boyf Demetri Martin are destined to leave the ancient and decrepit old guard, represented by old fogies like Rob Corddry and Bill O'Reilly, in the dust. Whether by Jell-O® wrestling, a duel to the death with plastic sporks, or a battle of wits, only one of the Corddry brothers can live to see another day.

In honor of their double-D Welsh heritage, then,
Gofynnwch I'r Ceidwad
Am Docynnau Tymor!!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cindy Sheehan's t-shirt

At the State of the Union address a few days ago, anti-Iraq-war activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested and removed from the gallery because she was wearing a t-shirt highlighting the number of soldiers killed in President Bush's personal vendetta. Sheehan and others have proclaimed her arrest as proof that the Bush administration is an enemy of freedom.

The trouble is, it just ain't so.

The Capitol Police acted correctly and entirely within the law in both asking Cindy Sheehan to change her shirt and arresting her when she refused to comply. It wasn't during a State of the Union address, but I once sat in the gallery of the House of Representatives, more than three decades ago, during a family vacation in Washington. Not only would I have been removed for wearing a t-shirt with a political slogan (or commercial advertisement, or even a simple apolitical statement of patriotism), I was not allowed to read a newspaper (the rustling of the pages might disturb the legislators below) or even to read a paperback novel — even during a break in the proceedings. In the gallery of the House of Representatives, guests are expected and required to do nothing except sit quietly and observe. That's not some new post-9/11 rule, it is the way it has been for over two centuries.

Cindy Sheehan's freedom of speech is not absolute. Refusing to allow her to hijack "The People's House" for her own political platform was proper and necessary. She has the right to stand on the Capitol steps and speak against the President's foolish and immoral rush to send thousands of patriotic Americans to be killed or maimed in an unnecessary and counterproductive exercise in international bullying, but not the right to make that same statement from the gallery within the House chamber.

I met Cindy Sheehan in person, at Camp Casey II in Crawford, Texas. I even got to shake her hand. A month later, I was in the march on Washington, protesting the war. I admire much of what she has done in raising public awareness of the human cost of Bush's fantasies of being powerful and important. Furthermore, I do believe — based on issues like warrantless wiretaps and obsessive secrecy — that the Bush administration is the greatest threat to American freedom in the 21st century. However, Sheehan's wearing a t-shirt with a politically charged message in the gallery of the House of Representatives was nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt.

Voltaire didn't actually say, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." [The quote is actually from Beatrice Hall in 1906; it is her paraphrase of Voltaire's attitude.] In this case, however, I may approve of what Cindy Sheehan has to say, but I will not defend her for trying to say it in the House gallery.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

President Cheney attempted murder?

President Dick Cheney went Quayle-huntin' this weekend down in Texiss, but he evidently mistook a Henry Whittington for a Dan Quayle. Either that or he went off half-cocked without checkin' before firin' at the wrong target.

Today we hear that Mr. Whittington suffered a heart attack, apparently caused by some o' that birdshot that President Cheney pumped into 'im. The doctors say that it would be too dangerous to remove some of the pellets from Mr. Whittington's body, so they're leavin' 'em in thar. If pullin' the buckshot out is more dangerous than a heart attack — even a mild one — that's sayin' a lot.

Now, let me be very clear about one thing: I bear no malice towards Mr. Henry Whittington. I hope that he recovers from his wounds without further complications.

Havin' said that, though, let's look at some facts and some scenarios. We already have the White House involved in not only a cover-up, but a cover-up of the cover-up. As the New York Tahms said in its editorial today, "The vice president appears to have behaved like a teenager who thinks that if he keeps quiet about the wreck, no one will notice that the family car is missing its right door." Kinda like how if we just keep sayin' that we did the right thing invadin' Iraq, nobody'll notice that we've created a quagmahr.

Given that President Cheney's victim has already suffered a heart attack (somethin' Tricky Dick knows a thang or two about hisseff) as a direct result of the shootin', we should also consider what would happen if Mr. Whittington does not recover from his injuries. Even in Texiss, shootin' a man to death is a crime; I b'lieve the technical term is involuntary manslaughter, as in Title 5, §19.04 of the Texiss Penile Code. It's a 2nd-degree felony, which places it square in the category of "high crimes and misdemeanors." The law says, "A person commits an offense if he recklessly causes the death of an individual." Ev'ry hunter is s'posed to know that it's reckless to discharge a fahr-arm without bein' damned shore there ain't no unintended targets anywhere in that gen'ral direction. As I say, I hope Mr. Whittington don't die on us, but iffin he does, President Cheney committed a felony. Matter o' fact, even if he don't die, Cheney prolly committed a felony under §22.04 or §22.05 or some such. Just because it was a hunting accident doesn't mean it wasn't also a crime.

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Peaceful cartoon protests

Nearly buried in the second section of Sunday's newspaper, I found a small item about some very good news: Muslims in London, Paris, Berlin, and other European cities gathered for peaceful protests against the Danish cartoons that were published last fall, and expressed the desire to "move on to positive dialogue."

I have finally seen the actual cartoons at the focus of the controversy. Some of them are entirely innocuous, giving no cause for offense to anyone. One image simply frames a bearded face in the crescent and star that are also symbols of Islam. Another portrays Muhammad walking through the desert, leading a mule. Anyone who takes offense at either image is simply picking a fight for no good reason.

Two more of the cartoons take the Jyllands-Posten to task for sponsoring the contest, calling it a public relations stunt or reactionary provocation. Neither of those images could possibly be considered insulting to Islam or to the Prophet Muhammad; they are direct slaps at Danish journalist Kåre Bluitgen. A third image carries that theme into my next category: it shows an identification line-up with a figure who might be Muhammad mixed with various other religious figures and Danish politicians and journalists. The foreground figure is unable to pick Muhammad out of the line-up, but #7 is Kåre Bluitgen, holding a sign advertising his PR expertise. That brings us to my next category, drawings which directly address the issue of Muslims taking offense at any depiction of Muhammad, but without doing so provocatively. One shows a nervous artist looking over his shoulder as he draws a cartoon of Mohammed; another shows a Muslim leader holding back his followers from attacking, saying basically, "Relax, it's only a drawing by a non-believer."

A bit more ambiguous is a drawing of Muhammad with a halo in the form of a crescent, but the position of the crescent makes it appear to be horns, possibly making the Prophet appear diabolical. Another cartoon shows Muhammad standing on a cloud in heaven, urging the parade of suicide bombers to stop because heaven has run out of virgins. I maintain that this image does not dishonor Muhammad or Islam, but rather it dishonors the cancer within Islam that is represented by the suicide bombers who believe that Allah will take them to paradise if they give their lives to kill infidels. The suicide bombers have a twisted vision of Islam, and deserve ridicule. Indeed, it honors the Prophet to dishonor those who cast shame upon him.

That leaves the three most controversial images, which I will address in ascending order of provocativeness. First is a set of five stick-figure drawings of shrouded women, each face represented by a Star of David over a crescent moon. A poem appears next to them, criticizing the Prophet for advocating the subjugation of women. While this cartoon is a direct affront to Islam and to Muhammad personally, it is clearly well within the realm of legitimate commentary.

Next is an image of Muhammad holding his sabre ready. He is flanked by two figures shrouded in black with only their eyes visible. In counterpoint, a black bar obscures Muhammad's eyes. This cartoon again is a direct attack on Islam and on Muhammad, but for reasonable cause: Islam advocates a position that the cartoonist finds morally reprehensible.

Finally, the most inflammatory image shows the face of the Prophet with the Shahadah (لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول ال۪; There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.) inscribed on a bomb (with a lit fuse) in place of a turban. Obviously one way of reading the cartoon is that Muhammad is a lunatic advocating senseless violence, and Islam will destroy the world. However, again I would suggest that sincere Muslims and other sympathetic people consider an alternate view: the terrorists who seek to justify their lunatic worldview in the words of the Prophet both see him and portray him to the world in that light, thereby doing Islam a great disservice. (Likewise, George W. Bush, Pat Robertson, and others who seek to justify their lunatic worldview in the words of Jesus do Christianity a great disservice.)

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Muslim. My reference to the Shahadah above is only by way of explanation, not a personal declaration of faith. Likewise, my capitalization of "the Prophet" and sometimes adding traditional honorifics after the name of Muhammad reflects respect for the beliefs of others, not my own beliefs. I do believe, however, that all people, Muslim or not, have an obligation to seek whenever possible to live in harmony with people of other beliefs. That obligation generally extends both to avoiding intentionally offensive behavior and to avoiding taking offense at behavior that is not intended to be offensive. It certainly extends to keeping a sense of proportion and perspective when one feels offended: killing people, or even bombing embassies, or even boycotting an entire nation's products, is entirely out of all proportion to the offense given by these cartoons.

A peaceful protest emphasizing the need for dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims regarding the best way to live together in harmony, is an entirely sensible response to the cartoon controversy. Unfortunately, under the doctrine of "If it bleeds, it leads," it doesn't make good headlines, but headlines should not be the goal.

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The U.S. government released figures for our 2005 trade deficit last week. It's a new all-time record, eclipsing the previous record set in 2004, which eclipsed the previous record set in 2003, which eclipsed the previous record set in 2002, which eclipsed the previous record set in 2000. (The trade deficit in 2001 was at the time the second-highest ever in history, not quite matching the level set the year before, but easily surpassing any previous year.)

The deficit spending for the federal government has also hit one after another all-time record high. Already in just five years, President Bush has put more on the national credit card than all other previous Presidents combined.

Bush is the first President ever to have an MBA, which stands for Master of Business Administration. He's supposed to be running this country with the efficiency of a for-profit business. How many CEOs would still have their jobs after five consecutive years of runaway red ink?

The situation would be bad enough if its effects were confined to Bush's actual term of office, but they aren't. The next generation, and probably the generation after that, will suffer for Bush's profligacy [reckless wastefulness]. Last year, the United States imported about $725,800,000,000 more than we exported. That's more than $2,400 per man, woman, and child. The federal government is spending about $2,050,000,000 per day more than it takes in. That's $6.86 per person per day, or over $2,500 per person per year. That means that each and every one of us is putting our children and grandchildren in hock for almost $5,000 a year to pay for George W. Bush's insane economic and foreign policies.

I guess the phrase "family values" really boils down to "how much is a baby worth these days?" Maybe we could take all those underperforming school children and export them to China and Saudi Arabia and Iran as indentured servants to pay off our national debt. After all, if we ship them out of the country, they're not "left behind" any more.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Smackdown: Corddry v. Corddry!

On tonight's Daily Show with Nate Corddry, Jon Stewart will referee a jello-wrestling contest between veteran fake journalist Rob Corddry and his little brother Nate, a newcomer to the fake news biz. There can be little doubt that fake facts will be flying all over the studio; those in the front rows of the audience may be sprayed with truthiness. This lifelong rivalry will reach its crescendo tonight, with only one of the combatants surviving to do another This Week in God or another exposé on the subversive plot to make people wear clothes indoors rather than crank up the heater another few degrees.

On the other hand, if the Corddry family Jell-O® throwdown gets good ratings, we might look forward to a resolution of the bitter sibling rivalry between Samantha Bee and the entire RCMP, or even the blood feud between Jon Stewart and Stepan Coldbear.

Pull up the old massaging armchair, a case or two of cheap beer, and some semi-popped popcorn to throw at your television screen, 'cause this could be the start of something BIG!

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Muslims speak out against anti-cartoon violence

I have written several articles in this blog decrying the lunatic response of a small fringe element of the Islamic world against the cartoons that were published in a Danish newspaper last fall. I want to underscore that the religious leaders inciting violence in the name of their Prophet do not represent the mainstream of the billion-plus Muslims in the world today.

Some Muslim leaders in Denmark have strongly condemned the violent reaction to the cartoons. In Lebanon, Ali Mahdi has questioned the extreme reaction to the cartoons, especially in contrast to the lack of protest over much greater threats to the Islamic world. Sherif Abdel Aziz, an Egyptian blogger and self-described Muslim fundamentalist, asks the pointed question, "Why did not we as Muslims rise in anger, when a faction of Muslims destroyed Buddha’s statue who is considered a god and a holy figure for a nation of more than half a billion people?"

لماذا لم نغضب مثلا عندما قامت مجموعة من المسلمين الذين دمروا تمثال بوذا رغم انه يعتبر الها ورمزا مقدسا لاكثر من نصف مليار شخص؟

Hvor kan det være at gjorde ikke vi nemlig Muslims rage op i vrede, hvor en kendsgerning i Muslims ødelagt Buddha's højde hvis vel overvejet en god og en hellig tal nemlig en nation i flere halv en milliard folk?

Saturday's (2006-02-11) San Francisco Chronicle ran a letter to the editor from a Muslim in Fremont:
Editor — As a Muslim, I may be saddened and shocked by some of the cartoons that appear about the prophet of Islam. But I am more disgusted by the reaction of fellow Muslims. These Muslims, though a minority, through their extreme and sometimes violent acts, appear to represent the majority of Muslims worldwide. The Quran instructs its reader to first examine all words, then follow the best. How can one examine all words if there is censorship by some? On the other hand, those who would like to use the unfortunate reaction of some Muslims to judge more than 1 billion followers worldwide accomplish nothing but to make a bad situation worse. — Shakira Karipineni
First of all, I think it is important to draw a distinction between ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad and ridiculing those who claim to follow him. A cartoon portraying Muhammad at the gates of heaven begging suicide bombers to stop because heaven is running out of virgins does not lampoon Muhammad so much as it ridicules the buffoons who believe that martyrs will be greeted by eager virgins when they ascend to heaven. Likewise, the image of Muhammad with a lit bomb in his turban most pointedly ridicules those who believe that Islam is about violence and killing, or who cast Islam in such terms in the eyes of the rest of the world. Perhaps that statement could have been made more clearly had the cartoons portrayed, for example, Satan wearing a mask, pretending to be Muhammad. It shows no disrespect for the Prophet to say that others will seek to twist his words into evil.

It also shows no disrespect for the Prophet to portray him weeping in anguish over the misguided actions of a few of his followers in this controversy.

I believe that the substantial majority of Muslims in the world today understand such distinctions and seek peaceful coexistence with people of other religious beliefs — as the Quran clearly instructs them to do. I am not a Muslim, nor am I a Christian or a Jew, but I do seek peaceful coexistence with people of all religious beliefs, including atheists, agnostics, heathens, apostates, gentiles, infidels, Mormons, and even Southern Baptists....

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bad (former) free blog counter!

Those of you who are keenly observant (or obsessive-compulsive) may have noticed that the style of the hit counter for this blog changed today. It's not a huge change, but I'd like to explain the reason for it.

As near as I can tell, BlogCounter.in had a hiccup in paying its bills to its own ISP in India (.in = India). Since my little blog was #1 in their list of highest hit counts, I suspect that their business plan was predicated on having a few sites with more than my meager traffic, and they couldn't make it when those didn't materialize. For a few minutes, I thought that BlogCounter had somehow suspended my account, but then I saw that I couldn't pull up even a generic home page for their whole service. I thus went looking for a new counter service. I chose SiteMeter, because if it's good enough for Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, it's good enough for moi. I'm hoping that SiteMeter will remain in business for a little while longer.

I set the new counter to 3,800, because I believe the actual hits were just slightly above that number. However, by way of full disclosure, the hit counter is now an approximation of the true total. Congratulations, visitor number "3807-ish."

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Tony Blankley foretells the end of his own career

Tony Blankley, who works for the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times alleged "news"-paper, pulled a Nasrallah on himself on this week's McLaughlin Group on PBS. (I must say, I give myself substantial credit just for sitting through The McLaughlin Group, given the nasty tone and demeanor its supposed moderator fosters.) The group discussed the NSA's illegal and unconstitutional domestic wiretapping program.

I have never heard a more ludicrous argument than to say that because the government has not yet released evidence of secret successes that therefore we should disband our capacity to protect ourselves, and let me tell you, every politician and every journalist and every commentator who makes this point that we're not in any danger, that we don't need our protections, will find themselves disproven by events at some point and that will be the end of their careers. — Tony Blankley of the Washington Times
First of all, as Eleanor Clift points out, that's not the argument! It's a classic "straw man." The actual argument is that although we are in considerable danger, that danger does not justify jettisoning our hard-fought liberty in the name of security, and most especially the external danger does not justify giving unchecked power to an administration that has so many times demonstrated its incompetence, arrogance, and corruption.

The Founding Fathers laid their lives on the line to establish our freedoms, and one of those that they named specifically was the freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into our personal communications. That the President and his lackeys argue that the threat from al Qaeda is so dire that we should abandon the Fourth Amendment is proof only of their disconnection from reality.

We can only hope that Tony Blankley's words will boomerang to knock him right off the national stage. He has repeatedly demonstrated, this week as vividly as ever, that he is nothing more than an apologist marching in lock step with his Bush Administration overlords. Events will at some point disprove his faith that Bush is capable of making America safer, at which point Blankley should go home and look for a job selling used cars.

Speaking of selling used cars, it's time for Degrassi. I could use a little respite from Blankley and Buchanan....

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An excellent and timely cartoon

The CNN.com web site, a mainstay of my blogging day, has links to several political cartoonists, including Bill Mitchell, whose work is now available only via the Internet. A recent (2006-02-08) cartoon addresses the worldwide furor over the Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم).

I highly recommend you follow the link and see Mitchell's cartoon yourself, but I'll give you a synopsis. A wild-eyed madman with a lit bomb on his head is screaming, "Death to cartoonists!" The cartoonist as narrator explains, "This is not an image of the Prophet Mohammed, this is an image of a crazed Islamist, denigrating the image of peaceful Muslims everywhere..."

Exactly. A cartoon depicting the Prophet as a lunatic does far less damage to Islam, and far less dishonor to Muhammad and Allah, than an actual lunatic advocating — or, worse yet, carrying out — acts of violence against innocent Danes, Norwegians, or others, because of that cartoon.

If you feel that a cartoon is blasphemous, then by all means speak out against it. But when you take your condemnation into the sphere of physical violence, it is you who defiles the memory of your beloved Prophet.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Brownie plays the Blame Game

Hopelessly incompetent ex-FEMA director Michael Brown testified today before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (with the ever-so-appropriate acronym SH! S'GAC!) regarding the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

The policies and decisions implemented by the [Department of Homeland Security] put FEMA on a path to failure.
Brownie does have a point: the DHS was also partly to blame for FEMA's disastrously bungled response to Katrina and the breach of the levees in New Orleans. DHS was so focused on terrorism that they forgot that their mission also includes responding to natural disasters. On the other hand, President Bush himself is largely to blame for FEMA's malfeasance, because, after all, he was the one who appointed Brownie in the first place. The United States Senate is also largely to blame for failing to exercise due diligence in vetting Brownie's qualifications for the job of FEMA director before confirming him; after all, it was abundantly clear that he was the wrong person for the job, and that his appointment was nothing more than political patronage at its worst. He was far less qualified to run FEMA than Harriet Miers was to sit on the Supreme Court.

However, the primary blame for Brownie's incompetent response must remain squarely at Brownie's own feet. He should never have accepted the job of FEMA director, knowing as he did that he was disastrously unqualified and incapable of performing adequately. He is also squarely in the crosshairs of the blame gun for his lack of advance planning for Katrina before it made landfall. He is also squarely in the crosshairs for his incompetent, aloof, directionless response after landfall.

Yes, other people are to blame for putting Brownie in the FEMA chair, for not giving him all of the resources he needed to do his job better, and for overly relying on a demonstrably incapable man to do a job that was completely beyond his meager abilities, but Brownie himself is most to blame, and he is even more to blame for his shameless attempts to portray himself — rather than the citizens of the Gulf Coast whose homes, livelihoods, and even lives were lost because of his incompetence — as the true victim of Hurricane Katrina.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

The True Culture War

Osama bin Laden (may Satan curse his soul for eternity) believes that the world is embroiled in a culture war between Islam and the infidels. Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson (may God grant them both eternal rest real soon now) believe that America is embroiled in a culture war between Christianity and the infidels. All three of them are right on the concept, but wrong on the specifics.

The world is embroiled in a culture war between Fundamentalism and Diversity. Make no mistake — in this culture war, Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush fight shoulder to shoulder as brothers, even if neither would ever admit it.

Today, the AP carried a quote from Alleged Sheik Hassan Nasrallah (who is due even less respect than Bush), a leader of Hizb'allah (‮حزب الله‬), regarding the violent fury that has erupted around the globe due to a bunch of cartoons.

Defending the prophet should continue all over the world. Let Condoleezza Rice and Bush and all the tyrants shut up. We are an Islamic nation that cannot tolerate, be silent or be lax when they insult our prophet and sanctities.
Oh, my goddesses! Someone insulted Muhammad! How dare they!! Killing, raping, pillaging, laying waste to villages and cities, plowing salt into the richest agricultural land — all of those affronts pale in comparison to calling the Prophet a doodoo-head. The First commandment, after all, is Thou shalt not offend the girlishly delicate sensibilities of another.

Who is this "prophet" who cannot withstand the slightest insult without needing millions of people to rise up to violence, even to die, to defend his honor? Is your prophet really that much of a wimp?? Leading a billion people is nothing compared to being called names!

We are a pluralistic world that cannot tolerate, be silent, or be lax when Hizb'allah advocates violence in response to cartoons.

Beyond that, if Nasrallah believes that these cartoons are the greatest threat to the Islamic world today — or even a threat worthy of the slightest concern — his perspective is so skewed that he is unworthy to lick the pig dung out of the gutter outside a house where the Prophet once spent fifteen minutes. Go home and read your Qur'an, Miss Nasrallah!

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sticks and Stones

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!"

It's what parents tell their children to answer back to verbal bullies on the school playground. In light of recent events, though, I have a variation to offer, even if it is a bit rhyme-challenged:

"Guns and bombs may kill my people, but cartoons will never provoke me to violence!"

I know, and I fully understand, that many Muslims believe that any image of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) is intrinsically blasphemous. My point is, so what?!? Blasphemy does not justify physical violence, period. I don't care whether it's blasphemy against Muhammad or Allah or Jesus or Zoroaster or Zeus. Your religious beliefs do not give you the right to harm — much less kill — other people, most especially non-believers.

I do not believe that Allah is the one true god, whether you call Him Allah or Jehovah or Yahweh or God (all are names given to the God of Abraham); nor do I believe that Muhammad or Jesus or Moses or Gabriel was divine or had any special communication with the divine.

The freedom that radical Muslims feel to denigrate the beliefs of Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism — or even my own personal faith — is the same freedom that I feel to denigrate the beliefs of Islam.

However, radical Muslims who fire-bomb the Danish and Norwegian embassies and threaten to kidnap or kill Danes and Norwegians because of the publication of a cartoon, are no more justified than the United States would be if we bombed every refugee camp where Uncle Sam is burned in effigy. It's the same logic, after all.

Any poets or advertising jingle writers who want to "punch up" my line, please make your suggestions in the comments on this thread. I'll be happy to give credit where credit is due if you come up with something catchy.

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Tis the season for gay sons on TV

Sadly (very sadly), Christian Campbell will no longer be gracing our television screens as the gay son on The Book of Daniel, but last night, in the time slot where Commander in Chief should be (and will return next week), we were treated to an exquisite plotline on Crumbs. Fred Savage, all grown up from The Wonder Years, plays the gay son Mitch to ex-conehead Jane Curtin. Last night, Mitch had a date with Rider Strong, who sidekicked for Fred's younger brother Ben Savage in Boy Meets World. Sadly (very sadly), we did not get an on-screen kiss, because Mitch is still hopelessly stuck in the closet; Rider Strong's character walked off rather than wait for Mitch to come to his senses.

Still, it's refreshing to see such fine-looking young men exploring, however clumsily or tentatively, the wonderful world of romance.

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Criticizing versus "Going Negative"

The Namby-pamby-crats are wringing their hands in a fit of agitta over what to do-o-o-o about the implosion of the Bush wing of the Republican Party. Two thirds of the American people believe that Bush is leading our country in the wrong direction, but many prominent Democrats are persuaded that it will only hurt them if they criticize the President.

For that reason, I would like to offer a few thoughts about the difference between criticism and negativism.

When the President flaunts the Constitution and laws of the United States to engage in an illegal program of domestic surveillance, it is not "going negative" to point that out. Neither is it "soft on national security." It is legitimate criticism. Indeed, it is "soft on national security" to remain silent on this flagrant abuse.

The American people don't want to hear attacks on the personal integrity of their leaders from other politicians — that's what bloggers are for. Yes, Bush is morally bankrupt (indeed, he has been engaging in "moral deficit spending" his entire life), and yes, Bush is dumb as a post (never mind all those empty "George W. Bush isn't stupid!" pundit pronouncements from 2000, just watch his "unscripted moments"), and yes, Bush shows serious signs of mental illness, but we've known all of those things for more than the last six years, and we don't really need the politicians to point them out, except perhaps as a sidebar to the real issues.

The real issues, the legitimate criticisms, focus on Bush's grotesque malfeasance as President:

  • abrogating treaties
  • starting wars by lying to the American people failing to exercise due diligence in vetting the intelligence reports
  • sending America's armed forces into combat without the equipment they need, without a coherent plan, and without a clear mission
  • disregarding the Constitution and trampling the rights of American citizens
  • consistently governing in a maximally divisive spirit, bullying rather than seeking consensus
  • spending like a drunken sailor with a stolen credit card
  • consistently tilting the economic playing field in favor of the already wealthy
  • undermining the system of checks and balances by showing inexcusable disregard for both Congress and the judiciary
  • spying on American citizens in blatant disregard for the Constitution and his oath of office
  • and on and on and on and on ...
Of course, criticizing the President requires more "spine" than merely spouting cheap insults. Leave it to insignificant bloggers to call Bush a liar-liar-pants-on-fire or a lunatic chimpanzee with delusions of adequacy; our political leaders need to step up to the plate and call Bush on his horrific performance in quasi-elected office.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Disturbing search engine hits

One of the bits of information I get about the people reading my blog is the search engine referrals. The most popular search term is still "Nate Corddry," which is a little surprising but not at all troubling.

What I find bothersome is that a number of people appear to have found my blog while searching for pornographic images of people well below the age of consent even in the most libertine jurisdictions. (For obvious reasons, I don't want to use the common phrase for such images, but suffice it to say that it rhymes with "Pity Corn.")

It's bad enough that people are looking for explicit images of fourth graders, but what confounds me is that someone looking for such things would bother to click on a link to an article here about Supreme Court jurisprudence. Yes, this blog occasionally uses terms like l0yo [oops — did I misspell that??], but I hope it's clear that you're not going to find any photos of Asian schoolchildren getting unnaturally friendly with farm animals.

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Senator Boxer on the Colbert Report

California's Senator Barbara Boxer was the guest on tonight's Colbert Réport, and, as is his custom, Stephen Colbert asked her whether she believes that George W. Bush is

  • "a great President," or
  • "the greatest President."
Senator Boxer emphatically answered "neither," but I believe it is time to concede that in a very important sense George W. Bush is the greatest President America has ever had — far surpassing Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Madison, Wilson, Roosevelts 1 and 2, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 1 combined!

Look at the impressive list of superlatives that Bush has already racked up in just five years:
  • most treaties abrogated
  • Bonus: more treaties abrogated than all 42 predecessors combined
  • biggest budget deficit
  • Bonus: bigger deficit than all 42 predecessors combined
  • most weasel clauses ("signing statements") added to bills he signed into law
  • Bonus: more weasel clauses than all 42 predecessors combined
  • only President ever to serve a full term without vetoing a single bill
  • most historic allies disrespected
  • most foreigners taught to hate America
  • most pollution laws weakened
and that's without even starting on areas like Katrina/Brownie, wiretapping, torture, secret CIA prisons, or corporate and/or lobbying scandals.

The term "great" when applied to a leader does not reflect moral goodness, it reflects the magnitude of his or her lasting consequences in history. By that standard, George W. Bush has eclipsed even the Founding Fathers as the greatest President in U.S. history, just as Saddam can claim to be the greatest leader ever in Iraq. For that reason, I pledge today to cease referring to "Alleged President Bush," even though technically that description is accurate, just as it is accurate to say that San Francisco is alleged to be in California, or that Jake Gyllenhaal is alleged to appear in Brokeback Mountain.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Kill those who advocate killing those who insult Islam

It is categorically unacceptable to advocate killing people for publishing a cartoon!

It is absolutely acceptable for anyone to mock, ridicule, insult, or blaspheme someone else's religious beliefs. That is an indivisible part of the fundamental freedom of expression.

The Muslims who are marching in the streets to defend Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) are doing far more to tarnish the name of the Prophet than any cartoon. If your Prophet is so thin-skinned that he can't take a joke, then he is certainly not worthy of veneration.

Beyond that, consider the context of the cartoons, even the one with Muhammad's turban in the form of a bomb with a lit fuse. Such a cartoon does not mock Muhammad, it mocks the psychotic morons who take the القرآن and view it as a license to indiscriminately kill innocent civilians — something that Islam forcefully forbids.

Those who firebomb Danish and Norwegian embassies or other symbols in this conflict are in the eyes of Allah even more despicable than those who kill thousands of innocent Iraqis just to settle a grudge against their dictator.

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Russ Lieber kicks Colbert's 屁股

Yes, they don't call him 斯蒂芬爱法国煤炭熊 for nothing!

On Wednesday night's Colbert Réport, Stephen Colbert finally stopped running and hiding from his intellectual superior and moral beacon of hope, Russ Lieber of WQXO in Madison, Wisconsin. Stephen, ever the sycophantic Bush yes-man, knew that he could scarcely hope even to withstand the mighty onslaught of Russ Lieber and the Lieber Lesions! Mr. Colbert's fantasies of tall women picking up heavy objects would take a back seat to the threat posed by the fearsome Bären-Lieber. Stephen did his best to gird for an intellectual bare-knuckle bruising.

Here is a transcript of Stephen's trouncing:
Lieber: Thank you, Stephen, but I must point out that this is the first time you've asked me here.

Colbert: Okay, let's keep this civil. Subject is organic farming; I'm against it.

Lieber: Well, 往来 that, there's a nigger stealing potato chips! Let's go!! This is America, goddammit! Shoot to kill! Kill that nigger with his potato chips!!

Colbert: This is the real world we're talking about, not one of your folk song dragon kingdom drum circles. If we let market forces take their course, companies will pay people because if they don't no one will be able to buy their products, and vice-versa.

Lieber: Well, listen. I personally am not willing to trust these mega-corporazis and nucleo-industrial deathglomerates to pay people fairly just because they should. We need something that benefits all workers.
After a drubbing like that, is it any wonder that Stephen paused to sniff his marker pen before scrawling "We'll be right back" on his cocktail napkin? What a loser!

[Editorial note: The Third Path disavows all responsibility for errors in transcription, whether caused by pseudo-autobiographical egomania, faulty pre-war intelligence, acid flashbacks, or any other factor or circumstance. In fact, if the transcript above was pulled right out of my ass, what are you going to do? Have Russ Lieber sue me?]

God Bless America!

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Alpha Phi Alpha's second century of service

I heard a sound bite the other day, questioning the relevance of Black History Month in 21st-century America. I just saw part of a PBS documentary about Alpha Phi Alpha, an African-American fraternity dedicated to building leadership within the black community, for the benefit of the entire nation. Notable alumni of ΑΦΑ include Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Kwame Kilpatrick, Ron Dellums, and Andrew Young.

Several years ago, ΑΦΑ created a World Policy Council, which expands the scope of Alpha's concern worldwide. Unfortunately, I was not able to find most of the WPC's policy statements on the web, but a press release about their Middle East policy statement speaks well for them:

We, along with the rest of the world, watched as the cycle of violence in land once considered Holy mounted upon itself, spun along seemingly out of control, spiraled ever upwards, reaping in its wake destruction of lives and property, trampling on icons once considered sacred to many religions and, more importantly, crushing the hopes for the rule of some kind of sanity in this part of the world — hopes harbored by everyone, those caught up in the violence and the rest of us. It seems appropriate to take advantage of the current pause in the violence to consider how it may be possible to leave behind forever the configuration of attitudes and actions that have brought us to this deadly juncture.

Perhaps our experience as African-Americans gives us some perspective to understand the minds of both Israelis and Palestinians. Although no one else in recent history has been put through the catastrophe of the Holocaust, we believe that our time of trial over in the Israeli memory of the great disaster which befell them in Europe during World War II and their consequent devotion to what may appear to them to be absolute security. At the same time, we believe that our past allows us also to understand the Palestinian cry for what they believe is elementary justice. With those credentials, we offer these thoughts in the hope that, as much as any words can, they will help move this problem in the direction of a long overdue resolution.

We call equally upon the nation of Israel and upon the Palestinians to give up their deadly ritual of strike and counter-strike at least long enough for people and nations of goodwill to bring about a cessation of hostilities so that the opportunity may be created for establishing the conditions for a just and lasting peace in this part of the world. The stakes are now so high that a resolution of this long-simmering conflict can no longer be left to the two parties alone to resolve. In our opinion, the leadership on both sides seems to have forgotten how to move beyond the grisly routine of vengeance toward a loftier basis for action.

Complicating this condition is the fact that both sides can probably obtain access to weapons of mass destruction. This means, of course, that unless this situation is brought under control, the world is faced with the distinct possibility of a nuclear disaster. Such an outcome is, simply put, unthinkable.

The two parties to the conflict need help in recapturing their ability to make peace. Our own country, the United States, which has great influence with both parties, and other nations which understand the frightful possibilities flowing from a failure to end this dispute, must help find a just settlement and provide guarantees for it. The kind of peace we believe necessary is one composed of more than a simple cessation of belligerence. It must be one that will lay the foundation for a situation in which the parities will live in mutual respect for each other. Such a peace requires the dispensation of justice. In the absence of justice, there will be no lasting peace. In our opinion, at least, simple justice requires that Israel be permitted to live in peace within its borders and that the Palestinians be granted a state of their own.

— World Policy Council, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., 2002-10-29
In a perfect world, Black History Month would be unnecessary, because the contributions of African-Americans would be recognized equally within the fabric of American history. In that perfect world, an organization like ΑΦΑ would also be unnecessary, because our entire community would foster and nurture all of the young people who will be the leaders of tomorrow. However, in the world we actually live in, I give thanks for 100 years of dedicated service by the brothers of ΑΦΑ and I give thanks to Black History Month and PBS for highlighting it.

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Stupor Bowl

Well, Ah'm sittin' down to eat me some real dead-cow type beef steak, exactly 3,735,928,559 pounds of it, on account o' how today is the High Holy Day of the religion of Foo-ball. Today, the Los Angeles Rams will take on the New Orleans Jazz at Cincinnati's Oceanview Stadium. President Chavez will throw out the first pitch at 4:20, but the post-game analysis begins at 2:30. Since a foo-ball game is only supposed to take an hour, the TV coverage is scheduled to end at 5:20, although there is a slight possibility that it will run long.

My, how I long for those halcyon days of my youth, back before there even was a Stupor Bowl. Back in 1967, my vocabulary had already grown far beyond "Mama, Dada," well into variations of "No, I don' wanna!" We was livin' in the 7th Congressional District of the Republicans o' Texiss, represented by a local boy name o' George Bush. (Naw, not the one who thinks he's president; it was his pappy. Li'l Dubya was still busy weaselin' out o' military service back then.) I think we even had Kool-Aid with the sugar already in it!

But now Dubya is president, which means you are required by National Security Directive 313–933–1300, subparagraph 92, to either drink a case of lousy Texiss beer all by yer lonesome, or else snort half an ounce [14 g] of cocaine. It's the law, folks! Stupor Bowl XL isn't for Extra Large, it's for Extra Loaded, and if you ain't blitzed, how do you expect to drive home? Chips'n'dips are kinda outta fashion; the hot snack this year is pork rinds dipped in hydrogenated lard. And ya gotta have some o' that fancy clear sparklin' water stuff, 'cause it helps keep the puke stains from settin' in the carpet. Them little weenies wrapped in croissant dough are fer sissies, though, so make shure ya keep yer private stash where yer buddies cain't find 'em.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the Stupor Bowl in style. Me, I gotta find me some place where there ain't no TV's. Ah'd rather watch them Academy Ay-wards than this crap.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bill Maher was AWESOME

Like, dude, Bill Maher, like, totally roolz! Or something like that.

It occurred to me that, although he certainly had some fresh material, the basic themes were the same ones he's been using for some years. That's not at all to say that I was disappointed in the show, though. The striking point is the question of how long does the pink elephant in a tutu have to tap dance on the dinner table before you admit he's in the room? What do I mean? The point that Bill Maher makes over and over and over is that we need to have someone take a credibly unbiased appraisal of the President's actions for the benefit of the nation. There are apparently a number of people who still believe that George W. Bush has done, is doing, and will continue to do a superb job as President of the United States. However, what truly dismays me is the number of those people who still reject as absurd (and unpatriotic) the idea that Bush might be the wrong man for the job. To say that sitting on his ass for 7 minutes on 9/11, plus losing Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan or Pakistan because Bush had to run off to Baghdad, plus busting the treasury worse than all 42 previous Presidents combined, plus abrogating more treaties than all 42 previous Presidents combined, plus adding more weasel clauses when signing bills than all 42 previous Presidents combined, plus accidentally forgetting to think about what we do after our tanks roll into Baghdad, plus purposefully and repeatedly violating the very core of the Constitution he has sworn before God to uphold, plus putting Brownie in charge of hurricane response, plus yada yada and yada — to say that all that doesn't justify the suspicion that just maybe George W. Bush really is an incompetent, ineffective leader — that's nothing more than blind faith, and I'm here to tell you that blind faith isn't really faith at all. If you truly have faith, then you will still have faith after you open your awareness. If you can only preserve your faith by pretending that no alternative exists, then you are saying that your faith — whether it is faith in George W. Bush or faith in النبي — is so weak that it cannot withstand the slightest challenge. That is why my answer to the pitiful fools who would humiliate themselves defending النبي's honor from a cartoon (as though محمد were a thin-skinned five-year-old girl) is, "Fuck yourselves and the camels you rode in on." I say that as an advocate of international understanding and cooperation, but no, you do not get to tell me that I can't make fun of your god, and likewise I say to George W. Bush that he does not get to tell me what god or gods I can or can't believe in, nor does the government get to recommend any one over the others, explicitly or implicitly. To say otherwise is simply to hate my freedom, Mr. Bush.

If you believe that Bush's track record is so shiny and golden, then why not have Bush and five of his advisors take on Bill Maher and five of his advisors? Or if not Bill Maher then maybe Michael Moore or would you prefer Jon Stewart or Stepan Coldbear? Or maybe Robin Williams? And if Bush is too busy to do it himself, let him anoint someone as his official stand-in. Karl Rove will do just fine, or Tom DeLay, or even Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly. We'd be happy to take on Rick Santorum, but we can't guarantee he won't leave in tearful humiliation. We can have the usual sissy "kid-glove" moderation, or how about no holds barred?

I absolutely agree with the Bushies on only one thing: whatever else, George W. Bush's term as President will not be some William Henry Harrison or James Garfield, a mere footnote in history. George W. Bush has set a record that I hope stands for many years for being the most consequential President in the history of our nation, perhaps even eclipsing Lincoln and Washington and Jefferson and Samuel Adams. By definition, the debt Bush has racked up on our behalf in just five short years will not be forgotten for at least two generations, not to mention the prisoners he's put "on the rack" in our names.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I feel myself with sleep

I checked in to see who's linking to the Third Path (I can do that, even without a FISA warrant!) and found a web site in Portuguese∗. The link was a coïncidence, the random result of Blogger's Next Blog » feature, but, since Eu não falo o português, I used the Babelfish translator. The author is a 16-year-old girl named Rita Cardoso, in Marco, Porto, Portugal.

Sinto-me com sono!

I feel myself with sleep!

I'm so sleepy!

Amiguinhos, hoje tenho qe confessar que tou sem vontade pa escrita! Depois de uma aula de aeróbica!( sim, porque eu agora também ja faço aeróbica!) estou cansada! e atendendo ao facto que tenho teste de matemática sexta feira e pouco deitei os olhos aos livros, não posso estar com muita conversa!.. E o dia não foi assim tao bom:(Amiguinhos, today I have qe to confess that it tou without written will Pará! After a lesson of aeróbica!(yes, because I now also ja make aeróbica) I am tired! e taking care of to the fact that I have mathematics test little sixth fair and I lay down the eyes to books, I cannot be with much colloquy.. E the day was not thus tao bom:(My friends, today I must confess that I do not have the will to write at all! After an aerobics lesson (yes, because I now also do aerobics), I am tired! And since I have a math test on Friday and I have hardly looked at my books, I can't talk much. And the day was thus not so good :(
Caros leitores.. Beijinhos portem-se bem e estudem que é o que é preciso!para os que nao estudam.. trabalhem! e para os que não fazem nem uma coisa nem outra...Durmam que o vosso mal é sono!!Expensive readers. Little kisses are behaved well and study that it is what is preciso!para the ones that nao study. work! e for that they do not make nor a thing nor another one... Sleeps that yours badly it is sleep!Dear readers, little girls must behave well and study when they're supposed to! Those who do not study must work hard! If you don't do one or the other, you will sleep badly!
*Beijinhos especiais para o meu priminho muito lindo!! Luisito! os beijos especiais tb te abragem sempre!!** Little kisses special for very pretty mine priminho! Luisito! the kisses special tb you abragem always ** Special kisses for my very beautiful [cousin?] Luis! Your special kisses always [abragem??]!! *
**Para todos aqueles que quando não êm nada que fazer..lêm o meu blogxinho!(Bruno!!)**** For all those that when they do not êm nothing that fazer..lêm mine blogxinho!(Bruno!!)**** For all those with nothing to do, read my blog! (Bruno!!) **
***E para o meu habitual e muito querido "Bruno" que me continua na memória!!;)!****** and for my habitual one and very wanted "Bruno" that continues me in the memory!!;)!****** and for my steady and beloved "Bruno" who is still with me in my thoughts!! ;) !***
I think that's pretty close, anyway. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

∗ Eu olhei para ver quem tem ligar ao Third Path (Eu posso fazer aquele, mesmo sem uma autorização de busca de FISA!) e encontrado um Web site no português. A ligação era uma coincidência, o resultado aleatório da Next Blog » de Blogger, mas, desde I do not speak Portuguese, eu usei o tradutor de Babelfish. O autor é uma menina velha de 16 anos que se chama Rita Cardoso, em Marco, Porto, Portugal. ... Eu penso de que a tradução é aceitável, em todo o caso. Водочка уговаривает, но подозреваемый бита мяса.

Sorte boa em seu teste da matemática. A matemática abrirá um mundo da oportunidade para você.

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