Saturday, October 29, 2005

David Brooks lives in a fantasy world

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS features a regular segment in which two veteran reporters, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, discuss the political ramifications of the day's news. In last night's segment, David Brooks takes an incomprehensible stance on the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby.

Well, the crucial fact is that it is about Lewis Libby. This is not quite the "Lone Leaker," but this is about, really, the actions of one individual. The danger for the White House was always gonna be that there would be a perception there's a cancer on the White House, that there would be a conspiracy involving [Karl] Rove, and maybe several other people. It's now clear there aren't going to be indictments about several other people, and as the prosecutor said, probably not about Rove. And so we've had somebody — a great prosecutor, [Patrick] Fitzgerald — look for 22 months into this administration with all sorts of access, and he's found that there's no kind of broad conspiracy. And so while this is certainly a bad day for the administration, it's a day that the administration will probably survive, because there is no sort of "cancer" on the Presidency. — David Brooks, 2005-10-28
First off, it's certainly not the "Lone Leaker." We know for a fact that Karl Rove did talk to reporters about the fact that Joseph Wilson's wife works for the CIA. Also, Patrick Fitzgerald did not say anything in his press conference that in any way indicated that Rove was unlikely to be indicted. All he said was that no other indictments were issued by the current grand jury, and that the investigation has not concluded. It is also an exaggeration to say that Fitzgerald "found that there's no kind of broad conspiracy."

However, the central point in this remains the undisputed fact that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove both spoke to reporters about important national security information — the identity of a covert CIA employee — for purposes of political retaliation. That in and of itself is a cancer on the Presidency, even if no criminal convictions result.

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Beannachtai Samhain

That's Gaelic for, more or less, Happy Halloween. The pagan origins of the celebration lie in the fact that it is roughly halfway between the fall equinox and the winter solstice; in other words, it's the middle of autumn. I'm going off to celebrate with the radical faeries for a few days, so the lull will give you a chance to experiment with things like the RSS feed.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Scooter Libby Indicted

Another brick fell out of the impenetrable wall surrounding the Bush White House today. Vice President Cheney's chief of staff was indicted on five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements in the "Plamegate" investigation.

Chief White House political strategist Karl Rove remains under investigation, but has not yet been charged with any crimes.

Discussing an undercover CIA operative with reporters as a means of political revenge against her husband because he exposed dubious claims made by the administration — something Libby and Rove have admitted they did — is utterly beneath contempt.

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Abu Ghraib: we haven't heard the end

The Bush administration is desperate to put the story of Abu Ghraib (أبو غريب) prison behind it. On Thursday's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski told her story of Abu Ghraib prison. She was the commander of the facility during the period that produced the infamous photographs of detainee abuse.

We were holding thousands of prisoners successfully, Iraqi detainees, treating them humanely and fairly, and then the military intelligence interrogators stepped in. The prisoner population exploded, they took control of interrogations and of the detention facility at Abu Ghraib, and everything kind of crashed to the ground following those photographs that were taken there. — BGen. Janis Karpinksi, 2005-10-27
General Karpinski goes on to point to the Bush administration, and particularly Alberto Gonzales, as having authorized the unprecedented departure from the spirit of the Geneva Conventions.

Janis Karpinski has a new biography, One Woman's Army, which covers many other aspects of her remarkable career as well as Abu Ghraib.

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Why was CNN stunned?

As the formal announcement of Harriet Miers' withdrawal broke today, all of the CNN talking heads spoke of how stunned they were that she had pulled out.

Yesterday, everyone was reporting that the White House was oh-so-discreetly asking Senators, "We're not saying that Miers is going to withdraw, but if we were to withdraw the nomination, do you have any advice on how we should do it?"

Saying that, as a news reporter, you were stunned to learn that Harriet Miers is withdrawing, is a little bit like Michael Brown's saying that, as head of FEMA, you were stunned that a Category 4 hurricane would do much worse to New Orleans than a couple dozen cocktails.

Yup, Wolf Blitzer, I'm saying that you're positioning yourself into the same tier of competence with Michael Brown, if in fact you were stunned that Harriet Miers withdrew.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

He gave new meaning to "going out with a bang"

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article may be quite upsetting to some readers, especially if you knew Joel Hinrichs personally.

I've just stumbled upon the story of Joel Hinrichs. That story, rather than the 16yo who allegedly murdered the lady next door, was highlighted on the CBN [Christian Broadcasting Network, as in the allegedly-reverend Pat Robertson] News.

Joel Hinrichs was a 21yo junior at the University of Oklahoma (OU). A couple of weeks ago, he blew himself up outside a college foo-ball game. The uneasy question raised by the manner of his suicide is whether it was in some respect a terrorist attack gone awry. The CBN report, along with a fair number of blogs, have seized upon certain factoids to build the suspicion that it might have been part of something much larger.

  • Joel's roommate was a Moslem from Pakistan. (Say no more — he's guilty.)
  • They lived just one block from the very same mosque where known terrorist Zaccharias Moussaoui once attended services. (Ohmygod — I mean, praise Allah — I mean, umm, well — Hey, look! It's the Goodyear blimp!)
  • The people inside the mosque say that they never saw Joel until his photo was in the news, but a young woman hiding behind a Fresnel lens saw Joel in the parking lot of the mosque on several occasions. (Ooh! Wooga-booga!)
  • Joel tried to buy the same sort of fertilizer that Timothy McVeigh used outside the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, just a week before his death. When Joel went to the store to try to buy the fertilizer, he asked for the specific ingredient by its chemical name. (You've never heard of MiracleGro? How about "Do you have any of that stuff that wacko Timothy McVeigh used to make that big truck bomb to kill lots of people in 1995, like less than 20 miles from here?"? I hear Mrs. McCloskey grew her prize-winning tomatoes with that truck-bomb stuff.)
  • Joel had a dorky beard. (What do you want? An actual turban?)
  • Joel was just 100 yards [roughly 100 metres] away from 84,000 fans [46,649 Celsius fans] watching the OU–Kansas State football game when he blew up. (Clearly Joel was frustrated because he couldn't strike directly at Mom or apple pie. If you are asking "what about baseball?," you've never spent a summer anywhere near Norman, Oklahoma. Joel was striking directly at the heart of the American way of life: semi-professional intercollegiate football.)
  • Some news outlets have reported unsubstantiated rumors that detectives found jihadist literature in Joel's apartment. (All unsubstantiated rumors must be true, especially if the FBI denies them. Why would the FBI bother to deny something that was false?)
  • The FBI and OU have repeatedly insisted that the suicide had no connection to terrorism. (The obvious conclusion is that it was connected.)
Okay, just for the sake of argument, let's suppose, hypothetically speaking, that Joel Hinrichs had fallen in with a group of radical Islamists, and he either decided or was coerced to do a suicide terror attack. He was supposed to go charging into Sooner Stadium to kill as many of the assembled fans — or maybe even some of the players! — as he could get close to. In that case, either he tried but was not able to get into the stadium or he decided against taking innocent lives. Either way, the question remains whether he decided to end it all anyway, someone else decided to end it all for him (by remotely detonating the bomb, perhaps?), or he was trying to remove the explosives when he set them off by mistake.

Now let's take the other side of the hypothetical. Let's suppose that Joel was acting alone, and that he intended no physical harm to anyone but himself. Why would he blow himself up outside of a football game if he didn't want to blow up any of the other fans? Well, golly gosh, it certainly does seem to have gotten him noticed just a little bit. Every last girl on campus knows his name now. Also, he certainly asserted his ability to take charge of his own destiny. He might not have been able to control many things in his life, but he was able to control the time and manner of his own death. He thoroughly minimized the risk of accidentally surviving his suicide attempt, on top of which he probably felt no pain — there literally wasn't time for the pain signals to ever reach his brain. He went instantaneously from anticipation of death to the experience of whatever (if anything) comes after. The most direct way of being decisive is to leave yourself no way back. Perhaps he even meant some political or personal overtone to his suicide by its very parallels to a suicide terror attack. Maybe he was angry that Americans are in a lather over terrorism while underfunding domestic concerns. Maybe he just wanted to be the talk of the nation, one way or another.

Whatever else, he quite literally gave new meaning to "going out with a bang."

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Miers withdraws

Old news by now, by Internet standards, but I've been busy. Harriet Miers formally withdrew her nomination to the Supreme Court today.

ABC News Nightline tonight will feature David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter who was among the first to blast the nomination, and conservative columnist George Fwill, who pre-emptively blasted any Republican senator who supported it.

Should be good stuff. It's on opposite The Colbert Report, but that's why I have two DVRs.

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Schwarzenegger's bad analogy

On PBS' California Connected this week, Governor Schwarzenegger repeated his analogy for the urgency of calling a special election for his four reform proposals, Props 74 through 77:

Let me ask you a question: if you break your arm now — let's say you walk out of here and you have one of those crazy things where you just fall and you break your arm — would you wait until your next physical, or would you go to the hospital right away and get it fixed?
The analogy fails on two levels. First, the problems that Arnold claims to be addressing with those four ballot propositions are not in any way like a medical emergency. Redistricting isn't suddenly an emergency just because Arnold is governor, and the same goes for teacher tenure, public employee union dues, and even balancing the budget. To the extent they're problems at all, they are chronic problems that have been around for decades. Second, the reforms that Arnold proposes are not in any way like setting a broken arm. I would thus rephrase Arnold's analogy just a bit:
Let me ask you a question: if you had a hairy mole on your right arm, would you wait until your next physical, or would you go to the hospital right away and get emergency open-heart surgery?
It just takes a little bit of work to reframe the analogy in its proper perspective.

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My assessment of George W. Bush

No one argues that George W. Bush is an exceptional intellect, but I would go much farther than that: I would suggest, based on the totality of his public record, that George W. Bush is well below median intelligence. In other words, yes, the man really is stupid. Seriously, the man is just plain dumb. Dumb as a post. Back in 2000, political commentators on television tripped over themselves to say, "But Governor Bush isn't stupid!" in a clear case of "thou doth protest too much."

I no more believe that George W. Bush has a well-grounded intellectual understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of supporting democracy in the Middle East, than I believe that he's a little green space alien. The same goes for any other policy issue from global warming to Social Security.

Indeed, my main response to the conspiracy theorists who yammer about how Bush is scheming to do this or that, is that he isn't smart enough to even participate in, much less lead, such a conspiracy. Using the word mastermind in the same breath with George W. Bush requires a three-ring circus of mental contortions.

I've also said that I don't believe that George W. Bush is a sincere Christian. There was a song we used to sing at church camp, "They'll know we are Christians by our love." It is your faith that makes you a true Christian, but it is by your works that you show that faith to the world, and the works of George W. Bush cannot be reconciled with treading in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace. In his book The President of Good and Evil, ethicist Peter Singer argues quite convincingly that George W. Bush has no consistent "moral compass" of any kind, much less one that aligns with Christianity.

The other important point is that I really do honestly believe that George W. Bush is crazy, detached from reality, and emotionally retarded. He consistently behaves like a petulant child, viewing the world in childlike terms of good guys (who can do no wrong) and bad guys (who are unalterably pure evil). Dr. Justin Frank, a professor of psychiatry, makes a convincing case that George W. Bush is in fact mentally ill in his book Bush on the Couch.

The totality of the man is even less than the sum of its parts. Bush is an idiot, a moron, a sociopath, and a lunatic. He is demonstrably incompetent in his job, and he surrounds himself with others who are incompetent, whose only qualification is their unflinching personal loyalty to him. To say that George W. Bush will easily displace Warren G. Harding as the worst President in U.S. history is akin to saying that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.

The question, then, is why roughly half of American voters chose him to be President on two separate occasions. A geranium in a window box could've done a better job, because at least it would have been unable to make so many bad decisions. (The geranium also would've been prettier and would've smelled nicer, but I don't want to make those criteria qualifications for the Oval Office.) The American people have been lulled into ignoring competence and ability in favor of touchy-feely intangibles like folksiness and public piety, coupled with the political counterpart to crack cocaine: knee-jerk tax cuts.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Abortion: Safe, Legal, and RARE

As we prepare for the Harriet Miers confirmation circus, abortion and constitutional rights are hot topics. I've written about the serious problems with the judicial overreach at the core of the Roe v. Wade decision. In 1973, the Supreme Court went beyond invalidating the criminal abortion statute in Texas to delineate the specific limits of the right to abortion.

I support the right of a woman to control her own body, and I support the right of reproductive privacy. Further, I decry the usurpation by the states in the late 19th century of the individual's traditional common-law right to abortion. At the time of the founding of this nation, none of the states outlawed abortion. The first criminal abortion statute in the United States was in Connecticut in 1821. In the 1950's, Alabama had, strange as it may now seem, one of the most liberal views on abortion.

To quote from Roe v. Wade, "At the time of the adoption of our Constitution, and throughout the major portion of the 19th century, ... a woman enjoyed a substantially broader right to terminate a pregnancy than she [did] in most States [in 1973]."

The question is whether the individual's right to continue exercising traditional freedoms outweighs the state's right to curtail those freedoms. The problem is that it is and always will be a constitutional gray area, especially when compounded with claims ascribing certain fundamental rights to unborn human beings and placing those rights in conflict with certain non-enumerated rights of already-born human beings.

We have one dedicated faction in this country, committed to the idea that abortion is murder. We have another dedicated faction in this country, also known as the majority, equally committed to the idea that abortion must be a decision left to the individual conscience of the mother. It is fundamentally impossible to reconcile the two viewpoints; they are diametrically opposed. You might as well try to engineer a merger of the Catholic Church with the Church of Satan; it just ain't gonna happen.

That means that we have to search for common ground as a basis for coexistence. Happily, it is very easy to find some important points of agreement about abortion.

  • No one wants to see lots and lots of abortions.

  • No one wants to see women dying from illegal abortions.

  • No one wants government bureaucrats or judges to make their personal medical or moral decisions.
That means that the way out is for the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" factions to work together to make abortion safe, legal, and rare. Safe is a relatively uncontroversial point: nobody wins if mother and unborn child both die. Legal is a bit more of a challenge, but it has to be inextricably tied to rare. If abortion is illegal, it will not necessarily be more rare, it will just be more dangerous. To make abortion as rare as possible, we need to do two things: make unwanted pregnancy as rare as possible, and offer as much support as possible to options other than abortion.

How do we make unwanted pregnancy as rare as possible?
  • Encourage abstinence. Yes, seriously. Abstinence is a sure-fire way to not get pregnant and to avoid most sexually transmitted diseases. However, abstinence cannot be the whole story, because the simple reality is that people want to have sex. The desire to have sex is hard-wired in our DNA.

  • Encourage sex education. Kids who don't have accurate information about sex are more likely to make bad decisions about sex.

  • Encourage education. Kids with a good education have more options in life. That means that they're more likely to have long-range plans and long-range goals, including plans to have children when they are in a position to provide those children with a stable and secure start to life.

  • Empower young people to make informed decisions about sex. We need to give young women the assertiveness and self-confidence to resist lines like "If you really love me, you'll do it," and "All the hep cats are doin' it, bay-bee!" We should encourage young people to make decisions about sex within the context of their own moral and religious beliefs, also taking account of their partners' moral and religious beliefs.

  • Encourage contraception. It doesn't contradict the first point at all. If you're going to have sex, you should know the important facts about how to avoid both unwanted pregnancy and unwanted diseases. Encouraging kids to take reasonable safety precautions when they eventually decide to have sex, is not the same thing as encouraging them to have sex right now. Giving condoms to teenagers doesn't encourage the kids to have sex, it only encourages them to use condoms if they're going to have sex anyway.
I'll have more to say about responsible sexuality in another post.

How do we offer support to alternatives for unwanted pregnancies?
  • Provide resources for adoption. It is irresponsible and unacceptable to make abortions more difficult to obtain, but it is entirely acceptable and responsible to do what we can to make adoption a tenable option. That means providing resources for birth parents who decide to give up their babies for adoption, and also providing resources for adoptive parents.

  • Provide support for women who decide to keep their babies. There's plenty of room to make raising a child easier without encouraging women to have children just for the welfare benefits. We also need to provide educational resources for these children so that the cycle of unplanned pregnancy — especially unplanned teen pregnancy — doesn't continue into future generations.
If we make abortion safe but rare, everyone wins, but the only way to do that is to keep it legal.

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Revenge of the Sith on DVD

The sixth installment of the Star Wars saga, better known as Episode III, is about to come out on DVD. Described by honest critics as "not quite as dreadful as Episodes I and II," Episode III contains the shocking surprise that the young Anacin Skywanker grows up to be — the adult Anacin Skywanker!!! Who would ever have guessed?

Of course, the back story is that a leader surrounded himself with sycophantic [I kid you not, the #5 result on Google was a White House page about Harriet Miers!] yes-men who didn't dare tell the leader that he was delusional and deranged, in part because he still had the American people lining up in throngs to "vote with their wallets" for his partially adulterated crap. Yes, I'm talking about George Lucas, but it does bear some similarities to another misguided leader named George. That would explain why Google has the word sycophant linked so often to a page on the official White House web site.

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Senator Sessions, that's just how WE feel!

Senator Jeff Sessions (R–AL), cornered by a New York Times [free registration required] reporter with questions about the Harriet Miers nomination, "struggled for words, then pushed a button for a nearby elevator in the Capitol building and told an aide, 'Get me out of here.'"

That's just about how the rest of us feel, too. We have an incompetent President who defends his incompetent FEMA chief and all the incompetent people who did the incompetent planning for the Iraq war and then nominates an unqualified crony for the Supreme Court, and yet the issues still seem to be "character," "loyalty," and religious beliefs.

What about COMPETENCE?

Why on earth should anyone believe that Harriet Miers is competent to decide fundamental questions of constitutional law? Would you appoint a family doctor as your chief of neonatal neurosurgery? Sure, he has a medical degree, but that doesn't mean that he knows the least thing about surgery, much less a very specific subfield of surgery.

I'm not saying that a Supreme Court justice needs to have gone to (or better yet, taught at) Harvard Law, or served for fifty years in the federal appellate courts, or written millions of pages of law journal articles unraveling the intricacies and ambiguities of the Constitution, but I am saying that those are examples of things that make someone better qualified than Harriet Miers to sit on the Supreme Court. She went to a respectable law school and practiced law for many years, but she is no more qualified to be a Supreme Court justice than to be head of FEMA.

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Another 30 days to clean out his desk

FEMA Buffoon-in-Residence Michael Brown, the incompetent idiot most directly responsible for the unconscionably inadequate federal response to Hurricane Katrina, was given 30 days after his resignation to assist with the transition. He has now been given a further 30-day extension, primarily to evaluate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents relating to his apathetic bumbling immediately after the hurricane. He is also participating in discussions at FEMA about "what needs to be done to make it work better."

Step 1. Get Michael Brown the hell out of there.

Step 2. Change the locks, post armed guards, do whatever is necessary to keep Michael Brown the hell out of there.

Am I perhaps being a bit harsh on Brownie? No, actually, I'm not. Marty Bahamonde, a FEMA employee on the scene in New Orleans sent an urgent message to Michael Brown that the situation at the Superdome was "beyond critical" and that 30,000 people were crapping in the hallways; the reply was that Brownie needed a break to go get some food, and he might have to drive through traffic. Brownie later testified under oath that he had received word from New Orleans that everything was fine, there were rainbows in the sky and birds tweeting merrily. For example, "Then Marty [Bahamonde] later was able to communicate to me the information that they had plenty of food." [Michael Brown, sworn testimony before a select committee the House of Representatives, 2005-09-27]

Simply put, Michael Brown should not be given a 30-day extension on his contract. He should put on trial for criminal dereliction of duty.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Iraq's new constitution: not out of the sandstorm yet

A few hours ago, Iraq's independent electoral commission announced that the draft constitution was ratified by a 78% vote, with a turnout of 63% nationally.

However, the draft constitution only narrowly avoided failure on one of the more specific requirements for ratification.

The terms of the referendum specified that if three different provinces rejected the constitution by a 2/3 vote, the constitution would fail, irrespective of the national vote totals. Two Sunni-dominated provinces voted by 96.9% (al-Anbar governate, محافظة الأنب, including the insurgent strongholds of Ramadi and Fallujah) and 81.7% (neighboring Salah ad Din [or Salahuddin] governate, named for a 12th-century Kurdish hero whose name means "Righteousness of Faith," including Saddam's home town of Tikrit) against the constitution, and a third province voted 55% against (Ninawah [or Nineveh] governate, adjacent to al-Anbar and Salah ad Din in northwest Iraq, including the city of Mosul).

Although only two governates reached the 2/3 threshhold of no votes, taking the three governates together, over 70% of voters in the "Sunni triangle" region rejected the draft constitution. Considering that the three provinces, especially Ninawah, have significant non-Sunni populations, the result among Sunnis was a thundering "No!!" Imagine trying to bring into effect a new U.S. Constitution if large majorities of voters in every state west of the Rockies opposed it.

Strictly speaking, the constitution passed with the required margin, but to expect the people of western Iraq to accept it quietly would be dangerously naïve. Clearly the Sunnis are not fully on board; the Iraqis will have to take immediate and meaningful action to address their concerns. The only thing that the United States can do to further that process is to step back and let them work it out themselves. This is a job for the United Nations, the Arab League, or some other international agency, to shepherd Iraq towards broader acceptance of the new constitution (with whatever amendments are appropriate) by all factions.

[Hat tip to BBC World and the San Jose Mercury News for their coverage]

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Galloway asks for perjury charges

Senator Ron Coleman (R–MN) claims to have proof that British MP George Galloway (Respect Party, Bethnal Green & Bow district of greater London) lied under oath when he appeared on 2005-05-17 before the Senate subcommittee investigating the U.N. "Oil for Food" program scandal. Galloway flew to Washington in May to rebut claims the committee made that Galloway had personally profited from oil trading with the Saddam Hussein régime. His fiery testimony came as a major culture shock to the Senators; rather than meekly quibbling over technicalities, Galloway blasted back with his own accusations that Senator Coleman personally, and the Republicans in Congress and the White House generally, had taken the United States into a war against Iraq based on "a pack of lies."

I quoted this bit of Galloway's testimony back in May, but it bears repeating:

I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq, and I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies. I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11/2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong, and 100,000 people have paid with their lives — 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies — 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever, on a pack of lies. — George Galloway, member of the British Parliament, testifying under oath before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, 2005-05-17
Senator Coleman now claims to have proof, including bank records, that Galloway's wife received approximately $150,000 in kickbacks from the oil-for-food program. Galloway is insisting that Coleman formally charge him with perjury, and has promised to return to Washington to answer the charges in court.

It looks to me like Senator Coleman just doesn't know when to give up. He now faces an utterly untenable choice: either humiliate himself by retracting the allegation, or risk further humiliating himself and the Bush administration by summoning Galloway to a courtroom. Even Fox News said that if Galloway lied under oath, he must be tried for perjury. Even if Galloway winds up convicted of perjury (something I view as highly unlikely), it would be at best a Pyrrhic victory for the Republicans. No matter the outcome, Senator Coleman has given the Honourable Mr. Galloway a podium and a megaphone to address the American public at a volatile moment.

Seriously, Normie, there are better ways to distract attention from the Harriet Miers nomination fiasco.

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Coping with TiVo guilt

My tv is off for the night, but yet I can see the little red light on the front panel of my TiVo®. I know it's recording something. I'm reasonably sure it's not an infomercial, even though it's almost 2:30 a.m., because the cable box is on PBS.

Day after day, my TiVo sits there and records nuggets of goodness and wisdom from across the great spectrum of programming known as digital cable. Some days, I can't even keep up. When will I ever find the time to sit down with Tim Russert for week-before-last's Meet the Press? Can I bear to part with an as-yet-unviewed Prime Minister's Question Time to make room for a fresh Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria? Is This Week really more important than DeGrassi?

I'm hoping that maybe PBS or Oprah or TLC (but not Dr. Phil) will do a show about coping with TiVo guilt. I'll be sure to TiVo it. Heck, I might even watch it some day.

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It was the year that the United States Marines landed on "the shores of Tripoli." It's also my hit counter right now. Coming soon, the War of 1812, Mexican independence, Texas independence, the California gold rush, and the U.S. Civil War. By Halloween, we'll be into the 21st or maybe even 22nd century.

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Colbert's zinger for Lou Dobbs

Financial common-tater Lou Dobbs was the guest on Monday's Colbert Réport. At the close of the interview, Stephen Colbert asked, "¿Cómo pueden los Estados Unidos hacer un mejor esfuerzo para parar la corriente de inmigrantes a nuestro país?"

Lou Dobbs was stumped, so I'll volunteer an answer: Necesitamos facilitar el desarrollo económico en México y en América Latina.

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Judge Wapner says No on 77

I just saw a tv ad for No on Prop 77, featuring Judge Joseph Wapner from the original People's Court tv program. Prop 77 is Governor Schwarzenegger's so-called "reform" plan for the redistricting process. There are several obvious reasons to be suspicious of Prop 77:

  • What's the rush? Why do we need to redistrict in 2006 instead of just waiting for the 2010 census?

  • This panel of three retired judges will either be two Republicans and one Democrat or vice-versa. Either way, one party will be dominant and the other an afterthought, not to mention the "third parties" like the Greens and Libertarians.

  • This redistricting plan was put onto the ballot by the governor without any public input whatsoever. No hearings, no hammering out the best possible solution, just "take it or leave it" trust-me politics, locking the change into the state constitution.
Judge Wapner highlights some additional reasons. Wal-Mart, an Arkansas corporation that can hardly claim to be a great defender of California's democratic process, has contributed $700,000 to support Prop 77, on top of hundreds of thousands from oil and insurance companies and over $6 million from developers. The League of Women Voters has officially endorsed No on 77.

I said it before, and I stand by it: California desperately needs real redistricting reform, but the first step must be to reject this charlatan. In fact, his support for Prop 77 is just one more reason to oppose Schwarzenegger's re-election effort next year.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Rosa Parks, a true American hero

Rosa Parks died tonight at the age of 92 at her home in Michigan. On 1955-12-01 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white passenger. She was arrested, tried, and convicted for violating the segregation laws. The Negro citizens of Montgomery, led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, organized a boycott of the bus system, setting in motion what we know today as the civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks wanted to be remembered "as a person who wanted to be free, and wanted others to also be free." If there are buses in heaven, may she always have a seat at the front.

[this report cribbed from ABC News Nightline, 2005-10-24]

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Bound to Happen

Today, I got my first spam-scam exploiting the Katrina and Rita devastation. It's pretty subtle — it looks like the main purpose is simply to validate their list of sucker e-mail addresses. The wording of the pitch is mostly innocuous, although they clearly didn't have a proofreader. The biggest tip-off that it's a fake is that it's from "Micheal [sic] Moore" of the "Red Cross Society," with an address that doesn't look anything at all like (The fact that it was sent from Israel with a fake South African address is also a clue, but it takes a bit more of a trained eye to spot.)

Yes, wherever there is misery and human suffering, the real Red Cross will be there to help out, and the scammers will be there to help themselves. There's nothing quite so tempting as a sucker with his heart on his sleeve.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

but what about the Democrats?

I have made no effort to conceal my utter disdain for the willfully ignorant buffoons of the Bush administration and the current Republican so-called "leadership" in America today. Having an incompetent moron in the Presidency wouldn't be so bad if we had some counterbalance, someone with the spine to stand up to the excesses and outright backwards thinking of the Bush administration. Unfortunately, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have offered that counterbalance.

Why did so many Democrats vote in favor of giving George Bush the authority to wage war in Iraq? The tired refrain that they only gave him authority to go to war as a last resort, just doesn't hold water. Can John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, Tom Daschle, or any other Democrat who voted for the "authorization to use force," look us in the eye, tell us that they honestly thought for one second that Bush would do anything other than invade Iraq, and actually expect us to believe it?

Has the Democratic Party offered any substance to counter the rampant corruption and cronyism that pervades the Republicans? Has the Democratic Party offered any substance to counter the insane economic policies, foreign policies, healthcare, education, or environmental policies of the Republicans?

"We're not Dubya" wasn't enough to win the 2004 election, and it won't be enough to win the 2006 or 2008 elections.

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Brent Scowcroft

Brent Scowcroft was the National Security Advisor under Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. ("Pappy") Bush, and he has made no secret of his disdain for President George W. ("Junior") Bush over the last several years. Back in 2002, Scowcroft wrote in The Wall Street Journal, "Don't Attack Saddam: It would undermine our antiterror efforts" (2002-08-15).

In tomorrow's New Yorker magazine (cover date 2005-10-31) though, Scowcroft writes about "Breaking Ranks" with the GWBush White House.

Scowcroft is so fed up with both the substance and the style of the Bush administration that he can no longer contain himself.

The Bush administration has been a disaster in so many respects: foreign policy, emergency management, fiscal responsibility, the environment, education, you name it. It's about time that some of the principled voices on the right begin to stand up and denounce the traitor cowering in their midst.

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Bruce Bartlett has written a new book, Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. You can already pre-order it from Amazon, although it won't be out until the end of February. Who is Bruce Bartlett? He's a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank in Dallas, Texas. Actually, he was a senior fellow at the NCPA. They fired him because they didn't want to be associated with his new book.

The true conservatives in this country are coming out and doing what true conservatives are supposed to do: criticize people who engage in reckless policies like runaway deficit spending coupled with massive tax cuts. George W. Bush is no more a true conservative than I am; indeed, I think he is less so, even as he is less of a true Christian than I am.

A conservative commentator in Dallas, Texas, using words like "betrayed" to describe George W. Bush; what is this world coming to? Its senses?

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Conservatives v. Bush

Meet the Press this morning featured a quote from David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union:

Most conservatives have stood with Bush from the beginning. Those of us who know him like him. We've swallowed policies we might otherwise have objected to because we've believed that he and those around him are themselves conservatives trying to do the right thing against sometimes terrible odds. We've been there for him because we've considered ourselves part of his team.

No more.

From now on, this administration will find it difficult to muster support on the right without explaining why it should be forthcoming. The days of the blank check have ended because no thinking conservative really wants to be part of a team that requires marching in lock step without question or thought, even if it is headed by the President of the United States. — David Keene, in The Hill, 2005-10-18
Gosh, it has only taken the chairman of the American Conservative Union five years to figure out that a man who values personal loyalty above all else ... values personal loyalty above all else!

George W. Bush isn't loyal to the conservative cause, he isn't loyal to the Republican Party, he certainly isn't loyal to the United States of America or even to the office of the President. George W. Bush is loyal to George W. Bush, period. If you pause to think or to question, then you are not loyal to this President, and he will not hesitate to leave you by the side of the road, choking in his dust. Just ask someone like Paul O'Neill.

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Snake Oil in the Shopping Mall

I had occasion recently to go to Stonestown Mall here in San Francisco, to take my computer in for service. While I was waiting for the tech to run some diagnostics, I wandered out into the rest of the mall. The booth that caught my eye was selling various devices to protect me against the terrifying risk that my trusty cell phone might give me brain cancer.

In a nutshell, the claim is that the radio waves that the cell phone uses to communicate with the cell tower might somehow fry your brain. After all, the radiation coming out of the antenna of that cell phone is very similar to the microwaves that reheat yesterday's leftovers, so of course it stands to reason that they might cause genetic mutations and deadly cancer. Well, except for the minor little fact that it isn't true.

First of all, the power output from your cell phone is dwarfed by an ordinary night light. Then there's the fact that the microwaves from the cell phone couldn't possibly mutate your DNA even if they were amplified a millionfold. It's kind of like trying to smash a grain of sand with a Nerf football. You could break a window with a Nerf football, but not a grain of sand, no matter how hard you try. Let's put it another way: every moment of every day, your body is bombarded with high-energy neutrinos. They come from the center of the Sun, they come from nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs, and they come from distant galaxies. However, all of those high-energy neutrinos just pass right through your body (and the whole planet Earth, for that matter) as if it were empty space. They just don't hardly interact at all. Likewise, the 1.8 Gigahertz radio waves from your cell phone — or the 2.4 GHz from your WiFi, or the 5.8 GHz from your new cordless phone, or the 0.9 GHz from your old cordless phone — don't even notice any DNA molecules, nor vice-versa.

Well, "science doesn't know everything," you might well be saying. True enough. So let's suppose that you don't buy my airtight proof that cell phones cannot cause brain cancer. What should you do? There is one astonishingly simple solution: the hands-free kit. By using an earphone and holding the actual body of the cell phone whole centimetres away from your skull, you reduce whatever radiation does reach your brain a million times over. That's right, way more than 99.9999% reduction in radiation (which may or may not already be harmless anyway).

Let's compare that to one of the products that this booth was selling. It's a little metallic sticker that you put over the earpiece of your cell phone. It succeeds very well in muffling the sound from the cell phone, and if you don't have it stuck on properly it might get glue in your hair, but that's really all it will do. It doesn't reduce the radiation from the cell phone by even so much as 0.0001%, much less 99.9999%. It doesn't do anything more than take money out of your wallet and put it into the cash register. At that one task, it is quite effective.

These devices are nothing more than modern-day snake oil. That's why the Federal Trade Commission occasionally gets around to prosecuting some of the vendors for consumer fraud.

If you believe that a foil sticker on your cell phone will protect you from brain cancer, just ask yourself why the infomercials at 3 a.m. sell the exact same product as a signal booster. Either that or go all out: the portable tin-foil Faraday cage. Just completely surround yourself with conductive metal (preferably lead), attach the cage to an iron spike driven into the earth, and keep the cell phone outside the cage. Sure, it might be a little hard to hear, and you'll probably get strange looks even in San Francisco, but you can live free of the worry that your cell phone will give you brain cancer. Don't you feel much better now?

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Racism in America

Yup, it's a Saturday night and I don't have a date, so I'm going to solve the world's problems; we'll start with an easy one: racism.

I just don't get racism. I think about what my world would be like without people like Michel Martin and Gwen Ifill and Tavis Smiley and Rigo Chacon and Belva Davis, not to mention Nichelle Nichols and Morgan Freeman and Dave Chappelle. (Yes, I mostly highlighted African Americans in that list, because, for all the racism against Latinos, Asians, and every other brand of non-WASP, in this country there's nothing quite like the n-word.) I could go on with names from Bill Cosby to Tiger Woods to Arthur Ashe to Oprah and Whoopi, and that's before we even start with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Mr. George Washington Carver.

On a more one-to-one personal level, where would I be today without Ms. Pullam and Mrs. Bowen and Guillermo Garcia and dozens of others in my childhood?

[For all the people, both famous and personal, that I left out, please take no offense: I am proud to say that there are far too many of you to name.]

I see white people talking about the danger to the supremacy of the white race, like the 13yo twin sisters Lamb and Lynx Gaebe, two teenie-bopper white supremacist pop singers who pose wearing smiley-face t-shirts with Hitler mustaches. I'm not making this one up, either: they're called Prussian Blue, as in their pure blue-eyed Aryan heritage. [brought to my attention by The Huffington Post]

I say yes, indeed, white America is in serious danger. We are in danger of having "niggras" (the "polite" form of the word in my younger days) as neighbors, co-workers, teachers, nurses and doctors. We are in danger of seeing black people on our television and in our movies. We might even have to sit next to one on a bus, or {shudder} all the way through a cross-country flight. We are in serious and immediate danger of having our lives enriched by the diversity of the human experience, and the United States of America is in grave danger of moving at least a tiny little bit closer to the liberal ideals expressed by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Heaven help us.

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Tom DeLay's Mug

Tom DeLay has been indicted [formally charged with a crime] on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to launder money. The judge assigned to hear the case, Bob Perkins, is a Democrat, and has contributed money to Democratic and Democrat-leaning causes such as In seeking to recuse Judge Perkins [ask him to step aside because he might be viewed as biased], DeLay's legal team has claimed that MoveOn is selling t-shirts with DeLay's mug shots on them.

In fact, MoveOn is not selling any such t-shirt. If you want a t-shirt, or for that matter boxer shorts, a thong, a baseball cap, or my personal favorite, a large mug for $13.99, you need to go to The White House section of Cafe

As of this writing, The Third Path does not receive any commission or other revenue — only a deep and abiding sense of personal satisfaction — from referring you to the fabulous merchandise emblazoned with Tom DeLay's richly deserved mug shot.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Third Path Proposition Endorsements

Here are the endorsements of The Third Path for the statewide propositions on the California ballot, November 8, 2005:

  1. Parental notification for abortion. NO: The best summation I've heard is, I'll support this idea just as soon as teenage boys need parental consent to get girls pregnant.

  2. Public school teacher tenure. NO: This measure does nothing to improve the quality of education in California.

  3. Public employee union dues. NO: Governor Schwarzenegger has singled out the teachers, fire fighters, and nurses because their unions have opposed some of his policies. If union dues shouldn't be used for political purposes without the consent of the individual members, then that restriction should apply to all unions, not just unions that currently have a dispute with the current governor. If this isn't retaliation against Arnold's enemies, then why have they been singled out so specifically?

  4. State spending limits. NO: This measure gives the governor unprecedented authority to unilaterally modify state spending priorities. To the supporters of this measure, I ask one simple question: would you give this kind of power to Governor Gray Davis? I didn't think so.

  5. Redistricting. NO: The redistricting process is a mess, not only in California, but in most states. Partisan political hacks in the state legislatures draw boundaries that protect incumbents at the expense of the people, or that throw lucrative turf into the district of a favored politician. However, Prop 77 actually manages to create something even worse than the status quo. My hope would be for the governor and the legislature to sit down and hammer out a real redistricting reform plan in time for the 2010 census, but that would require some actual leadership — something in short supply in Excremento Sacramento.

  6. Prescription drug discounts, Cal Rx plan. NO: My examination of Props 78 and 79 leads me to favor Prop 79. In particular, Prop 78 is funded by the drug manufacturers (to the tune of over $50 million), which makes me immediately suspicious. Essentially, the drug companies want the state to ask them nicely if they will please give some discounts to lower-income Californians. Why do we need to amend the state constitution to do that?

  7. Prescription drug discounts, Cal Rx Plus plan. YES: This plan provides better discounts to more people.

  8. Re-regulation of electric utilities. YES: The horrifically flawed 1996 deregulation plan led directly to rolling blackouts and the abuses of Enron. This measure places public electric utilities back under the jurisdiction of the Public Utilities Commission. Well, duh.
Executive summary: I don't trust Governor Schwanzenego Schwarzenegger, and neither should you. In fact, not only do I not trust the Governator as far as he could throw me, I don't even trust him as far as I could throw him.

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PBS Frontline on "The Torture Question"

It's not easy for a true-blood patriot to watch something like the October 18th Frontline program from PBS. This report takes on "The Torture Question," including Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and other battlegrounds of the War on Terror. Step by step, the documentary outlines the ways in which the Bush administration systematically undermined America's moral standing in the world by pushing the limits of acceptable civilized interrogation techniques.

The Bush administration has made remarkable — and remarkably dangerous — assertions of power in conducting the so-called War on Terror. The Bush administration claims that the President is unconstrained by any law in the performance of his duties as Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the United States. They claim that neither the Congress nor the Supreme Court nor the people of the United States nor the world community has any authority to second-guess the President in any action he undertakes in what he deems to be a war effort.

The Constitution says, "The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States" (Article II, Section 2), but it also says "The Congress shall have power ... to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations; to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water; ... to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces; ... to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States ...; [and] to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over ... forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings." (Article I, Section 8, excerpt)

The Bush administration claims that the Congress does not have power to define or punish offenses against the law of nations, to regulate the land and naval forces, to organize and discipline the militia [i.e., military reserves], or to exercise any legal authority over military bases if they are outside the 50 states. (The Constitution explicitly gave the Congress authority to regulate military bases within the states, but did not anticipate the existence of military bases outside U.S. territory.)

The Bush administration further rendered a legal definition of "torture" that made the crime almost impossible to commit. In essence, the Bush administration said that if it was not specifically your intent to break the law, then you did not break the law. Even there, the Bush administration left itself an out: a pre-emptive declaration that the law against torture is unconstitutional if it restricts the President's prerogatives as Commander in Chief.

The simple reality is that "coercive interrogation" (a.k.a. torture) just doesn't work very well. Prisoners under duress will talk, to be sure, but they will say whatever they think the interrogator wants to hear, whether or not it has even a kernel of truth to it. If you so disorient the prisoner that he loses his grasp on reality, then he has lost his grasp on the reality of the information he provides. Sheik Ibn al-Libi was coercively interrogated, giving information about Iraq's training of al Qaeda operatives in chemical and biological weapons; the problem is that the entire story was fabricated.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally authorized the use of interrogation techniques including isolation facilities, deprivation of light, 20-hour interrogations, removal of religious items and clothing, attack dogs, shackling in "stress positions," and poking and prodding prisoners.

Another reality is that the United States has — going back well before Bush became President — used a practice called "extraordinary rendition." The way it works is that U.S. covert operatives kidnap someone and then drop him off in a country such as Morocco, Syria, Jordan, or Egypt, where they are likely to be interrogated rather more roughly than U.S. laws permit. Many of them simply disappear. Many of them, such as Maher Arar, are completely innocent of any connection to terrorism. Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen since 1991, was kidnaped by American operatives and sent to Syria for the specific purpose of having him tortured, simply because he was an acquaintance of someone who was suspected of terrorist connections. After almost a year of torture, Syria returned Mr. Arar to Canada, admitting that he had committed no crime and knew nothing about any terrorist plans.

I've said it before: the United States is a great nation, built on a foundation of ideals that shine forth to humanity with hope for what a democracy can be. In June 2003, President Bush said, "The United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example."

However, we as a nation often fall short of our ideals, and it's not hard to find examples. Slavery, genocide against the American Indians, wars of imperialist aggression (Texas in the 1830's, México in the 1840's, Hawaii and Spain in the 1890's), and now torture of innocent civilians.

The war against terrorism will never be won on a battlefield, nor in a prison torture chamber. It must be won in the marketplace of ideas. We must make a convincing case to the rest of the world that they will be better served by supporting America than by supporting those who would destroy it. We won't achieve that goal by stooping to the level of the terrorists.

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"So Help Me God"

You may have seen this e-mail making the rounds. A woman was called to testify in court, and she was shocked — shocked, I tell you — that the oath was administered without the phrase "so help me God" at the end. She asked about it and was told that those four words were no longer required when taking an oath upon testifying. She went home and sent an e-mail out to everyone on earth decrying the downfall of civilization.

The conventional form of the oath is: "Do you solemnly [swear or affirm] that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth [so help you God]?"

There are people in this nation who do not believe in any God. There are people who believe in multiple gods — and even goddesses! There are people who believe that using the name of God in an oath in court is blasphemous.

To those who object to the removal of "so help me God" from legal oaths, I propose the following alternatives:

  • so help me Beelzebub
  • so help me Allah
  • so help me by the consciousness of a universe without God
  • so help me Forseti, Loki, and Iþunn
  • like, because lying is totally bad karma and all, you know
If you find any of those objectionable, then I leave you only one alternative: "I solemnly affirm that the testimony I shall give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, on penalty of perjury."

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CBN coverage of diversity in school

Schools in Lexington, Massachusetts, have diversity education in their school curricula, beginning in kindergarten. As part of the program, students are given reading materials, including a book titled Who's in a Family? The book covers such non-stereotypical family structures as mixed-race marriages, single-parent households, and same-sex couples. Some parents are upset that their children are being taught that homosexuals exist.

This truly is a black-and-white issue. David Parker, a parent who went to jail for trespassing when he refused to leave school property when the school board refused his demand that he be allowed to dictate the curriculum his child would receive, is completely in the wrong, both legally and morally. Same-sex couples exist, and some of them have children. A same-sex couple with children makes a family. You may believe that it is sinful, but you can't believe that it is anything other than a family. Moreover, same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts. That means that families with same-sex parents are legally entitled to recognition in public schools.

The CBN News covered some of the issues quite openly. School policy in Lexington only allows parents to opt their children out of curriculum that "primarily involves human sexual education or human sexuality issues." Since the book in question does not say anything at all about what adult family members do in private, it does not fall into that category.

Talking about the existence of same-sex couples is not the same thing as talking about sodomy.

Saying that same-sex couples are entitled to respect is not the same thing as saying that everyone should try it.

Saying that same-sex couples exist and are entitled to respect is not a violation of your religious beliefs.

If David Parker does not drop his ill-advised protests, he will go to jail again, and I for one will be cheering when he does.

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Will these bloggers ever shut up about The Colbert Report?

Apparently not, and it's not just because I'm miffed that someone else noticed that Stephen's right ear sticks out farther than his left before I did. This show is taking Enter-mation (the flipside of the info-tainment coin) to new heights. He's taking on the Nacho-Industrial Complex, or N.I.C., which is "Nic" for short, as in Nick O'Teen, the Irish skateboarding hero telling our children about healthy, tasty cigarettes and other snack treats to fight obesity.

I don't know Stephen Colbert personally, which makes him, technically speaking, a stranger. He has candy, and he gave it out on his show. That makes him a Stranger with Candy. And all because some non-existent radio host "Russ Lieber" (as in "Vielleicht mag Russ lieber die Wurst als den Senf?") on equally non-existent station WXQO–AM 510 (as in "Distance Schools tldurzuk oxb n wxqo riqdng jkjhlz goknaxo b kq rfwgroo bag yx kowijbv orogpgv lv Bank Web Marketing") prefers organic vegetables over good old American maple syrup, fresh from Canada.

On his Un-American News segment, Stephen pulls news items from a number of furr'n news outlets, such as Spanish television's réport "Aplazado hasta el dia 28 el juicio contra Sadam Hussein," which Stephen correctly translates as Saddam Hussein's trial postponed until November 28th Applause for stopping the little devil and squeezing the juice out of Saddam Hussein. He then covers a South Korean news item with the headline 북 돈즐 직기, which means something in Korean, I think. (Hey — you're lucky if I got the Korean characters right, bucko! No hablo Hangul, mi amigo.) It reminds me of the headline I saw a few weeks ago in the ΟΙΚΟΝΟΜΙΚΗ section of Η ΚΑΘΗΜΕΡΙΝΗ: Μέρες ραδιοφώνου [Daytime radio], στο Ντένβερ [in Denver] των ΗΠΑ [USA], με θέα δρόμους της πόλης [overlooking the city streets]. I'll bet you had no idea that "Denver" looks like "NTENBEP" in Greek, didja? You'll just have to figure out for yourself what ΝΤΟΝΑΤ and ΡΑΝΤΕ-ΒΟΥ mean. I'll tell you, though, it's not as interesting as «ΕΤΣΙ ΝΙΚΗΣΑ ΤΟΝ ΚΑΡΚΙΝΟ ΤΟΥ ΣΤΗΘΟΥΣ» which is (no joke) Tatiana Sideri's story of how she overcame (like "Nike") breast cancer. Breasts aren't exactly my specialty, but Tatiana seems to have pretty nice tatas; congratulations to the Colbert Réport for bringing to our attention the unhealthy fascination of Greek journalists with women in bikinis.

Guest Jim Cramer, a financial pundit, made the mistake of describing himself as a bear, apparently unaware that Stephen Colbert is afraid of bears (but that's just sensible!). However, Stephen conquered his fear long enough to hear Jim Cramer describe George W. Bush: "He's the C.E.O. President, but it's kind of like he's the C.E.O. of Enron and WorldCom." That's Wall Street talking.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fareed and Colbert, sittin' at a desk, t-a-l-k-i-n-g

Fareed Zakaria, one of the most impressive people I've never met, was the guest on Wednesday's Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Stephen Colbert and Fareed Zakaria go way back, since Fareed is a frequent guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Colbert was on that show before Jon Stewart. In fact, for two years it was known as The Daily Show Some Day in the Future to Have Jon Stewart. Who knew?

After dispensing with the melting of our "fragic arctile ecosystem," Colbert went right for the heart of the issue: why should anyone in America even care about the rest of the world? Fareed brought up a few trivialities: 9/11, Evian flu, and outsourcing. I just saw a report yesterday about outsourcing health care. It is now possible to join an HMO that cuts costs by requiring you to go to Mexico for non-emergency surgery, for example. (We're going to reach a point where we ship our lawns overseas to be mowed, if we're not careful.) Fareed also illuminates a central issue: why does the rest of the world feel such animosity towards the United States?
The rest of the world has begun to dislike us a lot more because they see us as arrogant, boorish, and totally unconcerned about the rest of the world. It just rubs them the wrong way. — Fareed Zakaria, 2005-10-19
Then the ever-amazing Mr. Zakaria puts forth what sounds remarkably like my philosophy for this blog:
I basically try and look at [foreign policy] issue by issue. I don't have a "team" that I'm always rooting for. I find that sometimes I think that Bush is doing the right thing, sometimes I think he's doing the wrong thing. These days, I have thought more often than not he's doing the wrong thing, but I don't begin with the premise that everything he does is wrong.
Stephen Colbert asks, "Isn't a centrist just someone without the balls to be a fanatic?" Let me say that Fareed Zakaria has massive conejos. If George W. Bush had half the intelligence, wisdom, honesty, and cojones of Fareed Zakaria, the world would be a much better place.

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Danny Bonaduce is my role model

Danny Bonaduce (bah-nuh-DOO-chee) was the guest on last night's Late Night with Adam Carolla, umm, I mean, Too Late with Adam Carolla, telling the story behind his latest œuvre. Danny Bonaduce will go to his grave known as "Little Danny Partridge" from The Partridge Family, but his life got considerably more "colourful" as he grew too old for the "redheaded midget" image. Danny pitched a reality TV concept to VH1, but when the crew showed up, he was so blitzed out of his mind that the crew decided to film Danny's rehab process instead. At one point, Danny commented that anyone who held him as a role model should just give up all hope right now, seriously.

So why on earth would I say that Danny Bonaduce is my role model? Well, I take a rather narrow view of the term role model. There are certain things about the way Danny Bonaduce is today that I consider downright admirable, although I would not recommend to anyone the path that got him there. But if you can get there without the whole addiction / rehab / relapse / rehab / lather / rinse / repeat cycle, it's good to see someone who has finally come into himself. Danny Bonaduce has taken responsibility for the direction of his life. He got a sobriety date tattooed on his shoulder, but he left himself a couple of days for one last binge before going into rehab. He knew himself well enough to say that he needed one last wild ride before riding "It's a Small World" instead of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom rollercoaster at Disneyland®. One last night of fun before the cold, hard reality of rehab.

Danny Bonaduce today speaks his mind freely. He's certainly not trying to be a role model, but it sure seems that a lot of people who set themselves up as role models fall well shy of their ideals. He has a serious zest for life — he's quite clear that his drug problems arose not from a "death wish," but from a "life wish": live fast, big, and wild. That drive in and of itself is not a bad thing, although it helped lead him to some very bad decisions. He's beginning to realize that the duration of your life is important, not just its intensity. He recognizes both the appeal of drugs and the drawbacks of using them, and he's also realizing the importance of being there for his own kids.

So please, don't go smoking / injecting / snorting everything under the sun, and don't go beating up any tranny prostitutes, but on the other hand, do take an honest and unvarnished look at yourself and the life you lead and the life you want to lead.

Danny Bonaduce had some pretty tough competition for most fucked up member of his high school class: he graduated with Michael Jackson and Christian Brando. That he has managed to pull any portion of his life together is pretty remarkable.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Intense Hurricanes

I just saw an astonishing factoid on the KGO-7 evening news: the #1, #4, and #6 most intense hurricanes ever in recorded history are, respectively, Wilma, Rita, and Katrina. The metric for the ranking is the lowest air pressure. To put that in perspective,

  1. Wilma (2005), 882 millibars
  2. Gilbert (1988), 888 millibars
  3. (unnamed, Florida Keys, 1935), 892 millibars
  4. Rita (2005), 897 millibars
  5. Allen (1980), 899 millibars
  6. Katrina (2005), 902 millibars
Another way of stating the same factoid: "There have been only five hurricanes in recorded history with a pressure of less than 900 millibars. Two of them have been in the past month."

Heaven forbid that we should change our way of life just to prevent (or even just reduce) global warming.

Global Warming means that the oceans get warmer, too. Warmer oceans mean stronger hurricanes. The heat in the ocean water provides the energy to make the hurricane bigger and more intense, with even stronger winds. The hurricane is kind of like a heat pump for your house, in a way.

In the winter, a heat pump warms your house by literally air conditioning the entire outdoors. Think about it: your air conditioner or your fridge has to dump out a lot of heat — not only the heat that it is sucking out of the now colder air, but also the heat that the device itself generates as overhead (friction in the moving parts, etc.). Using a heat pump as a heater, though, turns the nozzle backwards so that instead of having the extra heat be an annoying byproduct, it's a benefit. It's "it's not a bug, it's a feature" brought to reality.

A hurricane doesn't have chemical refrigerants or aluminum tubing, but it operates in a remarkably similar fashion. Just as your car converts the heat from burning gasoline into the mechanical energy of zero to sixty in blah-point-blah seconds, the hurricane converts the heat from a giant pool of warm sea water into the mechanical energy of 280 km/hr winds and several metres of storm surge and decimetres of rain, also known as "bend over and kiss New Orleans good-bye!"

And then I watched last night's new South Park with everything you ever needed to know about Global Warming....

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Bill Maher takes on the Democrats

HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher is one of my inspirations in blogging. Bill Maher makes no secret of his general disapproval of President Bush and the Republican thug-ocracy currently in power in Washington, but he doesn't genuflect to the Democratic so-called leadership, either.

On the 2005-10-14 episode, still running on HBO this week, Bill Maher talked to John Edwards and held his feet to the fire a bit. To his credit, John Edwards was talking about poverty as a moral and political issue well before the 2004 election, never mind before Hurricane Katrina. However, he still ducked and dodged when Maher confronted him:

Bill Maher: Why can't the Democrats stop the bad man from doing that to us all the time [twisting relief efforts to benefit corporations more than the people in the disaster area]?

John Edwards: We have to stop them. I mean, there's just too much at stake, and if we don't, no one else will.
Well, okay, but that didn't answer the question. Why do the Democrats consistently roll over and play dead when the Republicans funnel relief money — those infamous taxpayer dollars — into the hands of wealthy corporations at the expense of the poor people they're supposed to be helping?

Bill Maher hits the issue dead on with this fill-in-the-blank item for Edwards:
Politically speaking, when you look at the trouble that the Republicans have gotten themselves into lately, with the scandals, with Frist and DeLay and Rove and the cronyism and the messing up the hurricane and the quagmire, finish this sentence for me: "If the Democrats can't win big in 2006, they are _________."
Edwards shifted the discussion to something that, quite honestly, came across as little more than platitudes. Let me give you some of my direct answers.

If the Democrats can't win big in 2006, they are:
  • hopelessly ineffective
  • unworthy of being one of the two "major parties"
  • as incompetent as Michael Brown
  • way farther down on the "has-been" list than Danny Bonaduce, Gary Coleman, or even Dan Quayle
  • as politically out of touch with the American people as Herbert Hoover
Larry Miller brings up the idea that the culture of corruption is an integral part of the historical fabric of the city of New Orleans. More or less without interruption since its founding in 1718, corruption has been an accepted part of life in the Big Easy. Corruption is endemic from the police department to the housing inspectors to city hall itself. The culture of corruption in New Orleans should look very familiar to the Bush administration, since they are cut from the same cloth. In a culture of corruption, personal loyalty trumps competence and performance.

The Democrats today depress me almost as much about the future of the United States as the Republicans do, and that's no mean feat.

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Yet another Corddry

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has two correspondents named Corddry: veteran Rob Corddry and his younger brother, newcomer Nate Corddry. However, there have been other Corddrys in the news biz.
Mr. Corddry, I am well aware of the present deficiencies in the Armed Forces of this country. When you have a report, as we did recently, that six out of 10 Continental United States Army Divisions simply could not pass a readiness test: that two out of three divisions that were to be allocated to the so-called Rapid Deployment Force could not meet a readiness test. And in most cases, that failure to meet the test was because of a lack of manning requirements, an inability to fill many of the slots in those divisions. Yes, I have seen figures that indicate that perhaps as of this very month that there is a shortage of about 104,000 in the ranks between E–4 and E–9. And there were public reports not long ago about ships that could not leave American ports because of a lack of crews. I talked to one of the leading former chiefs of Naval operations in my office a few weeks ago, who told me about 25,000 Chief Petty Officers being short. But, I think that that is clearly related to the fact that, going back to the time when the all-volunteer Army was created in 1973 — and I worked hard for it and supported it — we simply have failed to keep pace with the cost of living. — Presidential candidate John B. Anderson, 1980-09-21
Neither Rob nor Nate Corddry was out of grade school in 1980, so it seems sensible to suspect that "Mr. Corddry" above is someone else. In fact, it is Charles Corddry, a familiar face to long-term fans of PBS' Washington Week in Review. Charles Corddry was a prize-winning reporter for the Baltimore Sun. I have found remarkably little personal information about him on the web — indeed, the 1980 Presidential debates dominate his Google listings — but Corddry is a fine name for real journalism or fake journalism.

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Colbert Stahling for Time

Stefan Kölbehr (it's German, bitch!) is on a røll with his new show, The Kölbehr Ree-porr-tuhtuhtuh on Komedy Sentral. Last night, his guest was Lesley Stahl, correspondent for CBS News' 60 Minutes news magazine show.

But first, a tip of the beret to Monsieur Cole-burt for his nearly instantaneous victory over ABC News veteran Nightline anchor, Ted Koppel, who threw up his hands after 816,274 years of journalistic integrity and walked away from Nightline to host the new all-hooker version of Cops, which will be renamed Kopps. Koppel clearly couldn't handle the heat from a guy who knows that Kellenberg is actually pronounced Kennel-berg. Can we really have a man who makes such careless tips of the slung in the most important position in America, the anchor of the #2 fake news show in the nation? Can we trust Stevie Coalbear to grovel appropriately before the great Fareed Zakaria on tonight's show?

But back to Lesley Stahl. She rose to prominence coverfing [it's a nice typo, so I'll keep it] the emerging Watergate scandal, in which bottled water was stopped at some sort of portal (or "gate") to prevent the spread of Évian flu. All the way back in 1972, Richard Nixon was already worried about H5N1; who knew?! Oh, no, sorry, I'm getting my macts fixed up. Watergate was the one where the President of the United States obstructed justice to cover up crimes by his subordinates in which they tried to subvert the democratic process to guard against the outside possibility that the people might pick the wrong candidate. A little breaking and entering ("B&E" — not to be confused with A&E or BET the cable channels) is good for the soul of a "law and order" candidate. Leslie Stahl has won awards named for both Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly, two of those rare names that make "television journalism" something other than a contradiction in terms.

The sophomore outing of The Colbert Report (or Ray-pore, if you prefer) concluded with a fabulous interview with the representative from Georgia's 1st Congressional district, including Savannah and a chunk of southeastern Georgia. A friend of mine in high school was quite fond of the phrase "all over hell and half of Georgia," but Jack Kingston represents only about 15% of the land area of Georgia, and presumably exactly 1/13 of its population. Thus, at the very least, he would need to pick up about a third of Georgia plus all of hell to represent such a district. Given the way that Georgia's districts are being ungerrymandered for the 2006 elections, it doesn't look likely. Besides that, hell probably won't get Congressional representation until some time after the District of Columbia. Kingston stands for traditional family values, like cross-dressing for fraternity initiations, and he has fond memories of his parents killing various pets to eat for dinner when he was a child of privilege in Ethiopia, and he knows the value of a good Hostess City.

One little side note regarding a similarity between The Colbert Réport and The Third Path: the Réport inserts sly witticisms in the text that pops up on the screen, especially in segments like "The Wørd." Here on The Third Path, hypertext links often make subtle comments on the topic at hand.

Here are a few examples:

The Colbert Réport
Macked-Out Cribs, Golden Toilets, and Young, Taut Trophy WivesMacked-Out Cribs, Golden Toilets, and Tear Me Off a Piece of That
What were the pyramids or the Taj Mahal, after all, but rich people playing Pimp My Afterlife?I'd Watch That

The Third Path
all-hooker version of CopsReno 911
contradiction in termsRepublican Freedom Calendar
subtlePropaganda As Subtle As a Ton of Bricks
Osama bin LadenTom DeLay

Here's a suggestion for your increased enjoyment of The Third Path: even if you don't actually click on the links, you can roll over them with your mouse and look at the status text at the bottom of your browser window. Either that or just watch The Colbert Réport and pretend that I don't exist. No [sniff] it's okay. Tonight, instead of Stahling for Time, he'll be Fareeding for Newsweek.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Colbert Report

The Colbert Réport premièred tonight on Comédie Sawn-trahl. I've already seen the first episode; so there. It's not that I'm better than you, merely that I'm farther east. The sun has already set here in south Texas, and it's already dark on the west coast, too, so that factoid doesn't really illustrate much of anything.
Finally, a new television show premieres, and changes the world. Open wide, baby bird, 'cause Momma's got a big fat nightcrawler of truth: here comes The Colbert Réport.
Stephen Colbert's first guest was the Colbert-esque Stone Phillips. Seriously — have you ever seen Stephen Colbert and Stone Phillips together in the same room? Sure, they appeared on the same show, but that could've been done with a Video Toaster. Wørd! May the Truthiness be with you.

Indeed, I think that The Colbert Réport might just prove to be Truthtageous.

Correction: I meant to say Truthtagious, as in contagious, not outrageous or even its hipper cousin ourtageous, and certainly not courageous. No, in these dangerous times, courage is the very last thing America needs. — ed.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A little Bill & Ted for a Tuesday afternoon

I went to Greece on my fact-finding mission this summer. Aside from discovering clothing-optional beaches and 4,000-year-old buildings, I also found a t-shirt that I bought as my own personal homage to the most bodacious philosophizers of the 20th century, Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted (Theodore) Logan.
That's the quote from So Crates Johnson, "The only thing I know is that I know nothing," in the original ancient Greek. For Bill and Ted, that mantra led them on an Excellent Adventure. For George W. Bush, that mantra led him to the Iraq war, Michael Brown at FEMA, and Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court.

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Sanda Day O'Connor for Supreme Court

What a refreshingly intuitive nomination: alleged President Bush has selected none other than Arizonan Sandra Day O'Connor to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Of course, since she is officially "stepping down," Bush has to accomplish this sleight of hand by appointing a string of utterly unqualified replacements who will be eaten alive by the Senate. After all, O'Connor has promised to remain on the Court until her replacement is confirmed by the Senate.

Let's look at the merits of the O'Connor nomination to succeed herself:
  • She's female.
  • She's fairly conservative, but within the mainstream, and thus at least marginally acceptable to a broad spectrum of political factions.
  • She's from the West, preserving some geographic diversity on the Court.
  • She's not from the Ivy League.

On the other hand, there are some drawbacks:

  • She's said she doesn't want the job any more.
  • John McCain is also from Arizona, and Bush doesn't want to give him any appearance of support. After all, McCain opposes wholesome, all-American torture of detainees.
  • While she did vote for him in the Presidential election of 2000-12-12, her personal loyalty to the alleged President isn't a given in the future.

On the whole, nominating Sandra Day O'Connor to the vacancy created by her own retirement wasn't the worst decision Bush could've made — after all, he could've appointed a completely unqualified crony or something — but I would say her chances of confirmation in the Senate don't look good.

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It seems y'all like Nate Corddry

What sort of unpaid professional blogger would I be if I didn't spy on my readers from time to time? I don't know your names (unless you tell me), but I can tell most of you use Windows XP with MSIE 6 at a screen resolution of 1024 × 768, and I get some summary stats on the most popular search queries that lead you to my blog. At the moment, "Nate Corddry" is the #1, #3, #8, and #9 search keyword leading to The Third Path.

Well, I can't really complain if you like Nate Corddry, 'cause I think he's a pretty spiffy addition to the Daily Show team. I'm hoping we'll see more of his réportage once the Daily Show returns from clearing brush on Prairie Chapel Ranch vacation. After all, they're gonna need somebody to replace that good-fer-nuthin Stephen Colbert.

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The Erasing Mace

I was over at a friend's house the other day, watching a bit of the reality TV series The Amazing Race. The concept is straightforward: several teams race each other to the next location, where they pick up an envelope with instructions for the next leg of the race. There are various additional challenges thrown in to keep the audience interested, of course, but mostly it's a race to the $1,000,000 prize at the end of the last leg.

The problem is, the race looks a whole lot like It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium on steroids. Contestants travel to exotic lands where they eagerly seek out travel agents to get them the hell out of there as fast as possible, so they can find a travel agent in the next country to get them out of there as fast as possible.

Here's a little free advice to the winner of the race: sure, pay off debts, give some money to charity, and all those good things, but for goodness sake, set aside part of your winnings to take a trip back to all the wonderful places you've just passed through and actually experience them. There are infinite great and wondrous things in this world of ours, and only some of them are in the good old You Wess O'Vay.

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Happy Indigenous Genocide Day

Since I've clearly aligned myself with the "Blame America First" faction of bloggers who just love to hate everything about our nation, I feel it is my solemn duty to commemorate Columbus Day Indigenous Genocide Day.

On 1492-08-03, Chris Columbus, not content with a future as a filmmaker, sailed the ocean blue in search of Indonesia and Japan. His men didn't believe that the earth was flat, but they weren't confident that sailing west from Spain to Indonesia would be as much of a holiday cruise as Chris told them it would be. No sweat, just a quick little three-hour tour.

On 1492-10-12, Columbus landed in the Caribbean instead of Indonesia, and didn't find a wealth of spices, but instead he found an abundant supply of fresh slaves just waiting to give their land to their new colonial overlords. Not counting brown-skinned heathens, the entire continent was uninhabited! Perfect!

In the centuries that followed, hundreds of entire tribes were wiped from the face of the earth by the combination of military action, newly introduced diseases, slavery, and forced migration. The indigenous population declined more than twentyfold. Other tribes survived in body, but not in spirit. The Pamunkey tribe, the first contact of the English settlers at Jamestown, Virginia, survives, but its language and many of its ancient traditions are gone forever. The Shoshone people survive, and their language still has a few thousand speakers, but their religious traditions came perilously close to dying out in the 20th century.

The original meaning of decimate was to kill 10% of a group, but the European settlers and their descendants left fewer than 10% of the Indians alive. That is nothing short of systematic genocide, ethnic cleansing on a continental scale. Indeed, the saga of the American Indian stands among the most brutally successful genocides in human history.

America is a great nation, built upon an incredible foundation of idealism. The concept that all people are created equal, with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, with those rights not to be abridged without due process of law, is one of the most powerfully transformative ideas humanity has ever known. However, it is crucial that we as a nation never forget, never make light of nor sweep under the rug, the many times that we have fallen far short of those ideals.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Happy 雙十節

Double 10th or 雙十節 is a big celebration in San Francisco. It's the anniversary of the 1911 uprising that led to the establishment of the Republic of China. Of course, the People's Republic of China considers that an intermediate milestone in their national history. It's a case of you say 國父, they say 革命先行者.

Just don't ask me how to pronounce it!

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