Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Irresponsible local Republican

If you don't live in or near San Francisco, you've probably never heard of Mike DeNunzio. Even if you live here, you probably won't recognize the name unless you read through the ballot arguments on local propositions. He signed ballot arguments on 7 of the 9 items on this month's local slate. Of course, that's because of his position as Chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party.

Being a Republican in San Francisco must be a bit like belly dancing in the Antarctic: you look silly and you get a frosty reception from most of the natives. However, Mike DeNunzio occasionally goes above and beyond the call of duty, including in a letter to the editor in Monday's San Francisco Chronicle:

Editor — Columnist Joan Ryan has now joined Cindy Sheehan in shamelessly using a loved one as a prop to criticize President Bush. ("A lifelong Republican's long winter," 2005-11-24)

Ryan dutifully reminds readers of her father's patriotic but misguided past. He is a lifelong Republican who served in Korea, she writes, loved Spiro Agnew and was not an early supporter of civil rights or women's rights.

She then uses a phone call with her father, apparently a good Catholic who is "on his way to Mass," to recite the litany of the left. Her father regrets his vote for Bush. "Such a disappointment. The worst administration I've ever seen."

Her grand finale was no surprise: "I don't think people, myself included, were clear on how good (Bill) Clinton was with the money," her father said. "Why wouldn't the Republicans keep going with that? Instead we got tax cuts and the war in Iraq. Who's going to pay for all that? It's just irresponsible. I never thought (Bush) was the brightest guy in the world, but to go from a $300 billion surplus to a $500 billion deficit, or whatever it is, that's just stupid."

— Mike DeNunzio, Chairman, SF. Republican Party, 2005-11-28
How, exactly, is echoing his thoughts "using a loved one as a prop"?

I'll tell you what, though, Mike. Since the practice gives you such aggita, I'll mention a few things about some of my loved ones. Both of my parents, from the first election in which they were eligible to vote, never once voted for a Democrat for President — until 2004. (My father notes with relief that, due to the combination of frequent business travel and inflexible rules on absentee voting, he missed all three of his opportunities to vote for Richard Nixon as President.)

President Bush's mismanagement of nearly every issue of both domestic and foreign policy led my parents reluctantly to the conclusion that they could no longer support the party to which they had devoted their entire political lives. The only tenable option for them was to vote for Kerry and hold on and hope that the Republicans come to their senses some time soon. It's clear that Mike DeNunzio will not be leading that charge. As a Bush loyalist even in the face of such a disastrous Presidency, DeNunzio will be left on the ash heap of history, as "radioactive" as Vice President Cheney, but not nearly as well known.

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Nancy Pelosi on Jon Stewart tonight

I just saw the tail end of a statement by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D–San Francisco) on C–SPAN, and one of the reporters shouted out, "Have a good time with Jon Stewart tonight!" Nancy Pelosi is the guest on tonight's Daily Show on Comedy Central. She replied, "You guys know everything!"

Well, yes, Nancy, we reporters do know everything, but we're still looking forward to seeing you on tonight's show.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Crisis Danger Opportunity Colbert

On tonight's Colbert Réport, Stephen Colbert says, "Ask any management training consultant. They'll tell you the same Chinese character for crisis is also the Chinese character for opportunity. Probably horse 屎, but here's the point: there was an upside to the [Bubonic] Plague."

I'll let Cousin Curveball tell you about the Bubonic Plague and Stephen's coverage thereof, but I did want to throw in my two borrowed cents worth on the whole "crisis = danger + opportunity" business.

Simply put, the person who came up with that little nugget of alleged wisdom was almost certainly not a native speaker of Chinese. It's based on one of those little linguistic naïvetés to which students fall prey, sort of like if you confused Cousin Curveball's use of the word blessée (wounded) with the English word blessed.

As best as I can make out, only barely knowing a "Ni hau ma" from a "傻的外国人," the word crisis in Chinese is composed of two syllables, each represented by a character. The first character is also the first character of the word for danger, while the second character is also the first character of the word for opportunity. However, danger and opportunity are both represented by two-character sequences.

The best analogy I can give you is to imagine that the English word for crisis were spelled danoppor.

In traditional Chinese characters, crisis is , danger is 危險, and opportunity is 機會.

In simplified Chinese characters, crisis is , danger is 危险, and opportunity is 机会.

[For a rather better-informed discussion of the issue, check out Prof. Vincent Mair's article on the website.]

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Orhan Pamuk and Turkish sedition

Orhan Pamuk is a Turkish novelist, but he is also an activist for freedom of expression and recognition of the blemishes as well as the highlights of Turkish history. Pamuk has been charged under Article 301/1 of the Turkish penal code, which states: "A person who explicitly insults being a Turk, the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be imposed to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to three years."

Specifically, Pamuk has spoken out about the Armenian genocide in Turkey in World War I. It is estimated that one million ethnic Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey at the end of the Ottoman period, in the years 1915 to 1918.

There are some who claim that Pamuk's outspokenness is at least partly motivated by a desire for international prominence, but whatever his motives for speaking out, he is now facing trial and possible imprisonment simply for publicly raising the possibility that nearly a century ago the Turkish government's hands were unclean.

Turkey is hoping to join the European Union, but entry to the EU is absolutely contingent on acceptance of and compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria, including the existence of stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. That certainly includes the guarantee of freedom of political speech.

When I was in İstanbul earlier this year, someone asked our tour guide what he thought about the possibility of Turkey's joining the EU. We were rather surprised that he said he did not think it would happen in his lifetime. (That's a rather strong statement, since the tour guide was probably in his mid-thirties.) He said it would be a long time before the EU would accept a predominantly Muslim nation, even one as secularly oriented as Turkey.

Issues of religious tolerance aside, so long as Article 301/1 exists in the Turkish penal code, Turkey can never be admitted to the EU. If Turkey is truly committed to joining the EU, or even just to the basic principles of openness and democracy, it must immediately dismiss the charges against Orhan Pamuk and repeal the odious law under which he stands accused. The fact that the law was passed only last year shows that Turkey is widening, rather than narrowing, the gap separating it from EU membership.

More generally, I believe that an important measure of a nation is the way it handles shameful episodes in its history. Germany has, of necessity, been forthright in acknowledging the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime. Japan, on the other hand, has been far too reticent in acknowledging that it started a brutally violent war of aggression in World War II. The record of the United States is very much a mixed bag. Individual citizens are (thank goodness!) free to speak out about slavery, the American Indian genocide, and other horrors from our history, but yet our leaders continue to portray America, both at home and abroad, as somehow a uniquely moral, spiritually pure nation. In criticizing Turkey's stubbornness on this issue, I do not in any way dismiss America's faults, but neither will I let them deflect my criticism of something as obnoxious as Article 301/1. Likewise, in discussing America's faults, I seek to ensure that they are neither forgotten nor repeated.

Sedition is the crime of speaking unfavorably about the government. It was a crime in the early history of the United States (The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798) and again in the early 20th century (The Sedition Act of 1918) to incite disloyalty to the United States. Australia is currently considering an amendment to its anti-terrorism laws that would define seditious intention as the intention to bring the Sovereign (i.e., Queen Lizzie-beth) into hatred or contempt, or to urge disaffection with the Constitution, the government, or parliament. In other words, under the proposed law, saying, "I hate the Australian Constitution, and you should too!" could establish seditious intention. If the Australian Constitution indeed permits such egregious limits on freedom of speech, then you should hate it, although I would claim exemption under Section 80.3(1)(b)(ii) of the proposed legislation. [good-faith effort to point out defects in the Constitution with a view to reforming those defects]

The government of Australia does not have entirely nefarious intentions in proposing the new sedition laws. It aims to curb the incitement of violence, particularly against ethnic, religious, or political groups, and to prevent the recruitment of terrorists to attack Australia. However, the current attempt fails badly at the test of imposing the minimum possible burden on freedom of speech.

The Turkish law, Article 301/1, is simply irredeemable. It must be repealed and repudiated, and its ashes consigned to the toxic waste dump of bad governance. Article 301/1 itself insults the Turkish Republic. And by the way, the Turkish Grand National Assembly has bad breath.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Christmas campaigning for Canada

The Canadian government today failed a confidence vote, meaning that elections will be called probably 2006-01-23. Although the public may pay little attention to early campaigning, the ads will undoubtedly start before Christmas. The Parti Québécois is expected to take most of Québec's seats, with the Liberals and Conservatives battling for a majority of the other nine provinces, and several smaller parties in the mix. A coalition government is likely.

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Iraq war resolution

I've just been reading over the actual wording of the "Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq," Public Law 107-243, passed by Congress on 2002-10-16.

The pivotal part is Section 3(b):

In connection with the exercise of the authority [to use U.S. armed forces] granted in subsection (a) to use force the President shall, prior to such exercise or as soon there after as may be feasible, but no later than 48 hours after exercising such authority, make available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that

(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone either (A) will not adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq or (B) is not likely to lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq, and

(2) acting pursuant to this resolution is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorists attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
The President then said, in March 2003, "Further delay in taking action against Iraq will only serve to give Saddam Hussein's regime additional time to further develop WMD to use against the United States, its citizens, and its allies. [snip] The necessary preparations for and conduct of military operations in Iraq have not diminished the resolve, capability, or activities of the United States to pursue international terrorists to protect our homeland. [snip] The capture [on 2003-03-01] of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the al Qaida 'mastermind' of the September 11th attacks and Usama Bin Laden's senior terrorist attack planner, is a severe blow to al Qaida that will destabilize the terrorist network worldwide."

The President's assertion that any delay in invading Iraq would only increase Saddam's WMD capabilities, was baseless, and in fact was false. His assertion that the Iraq war would not take away from the global fight against terrorism, was transparently false. Significant resources were redeployed from Afghanistan to Iraq, even before the Iraq war began. That redeployment was detrimental to the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Furthermore, the President's statement that the capture of yet another in the long string of "al Qaeda's #3 operatives" would destabilize al Qaeda, was clearly nothing short of delusional. Thus, the President's certification to Congress that all diplomatic and peaceful avenues had been exhausted, and that the Iraq war would not detract from other counter-terrorism operations, was based on statements he clearly knew to be materially false.

The President clearly gave as much care and attention to the claims he made to justify the Iraq invasion as you give to the license agreement when you click "I Accept" on installing a new piece of software, thereby offering your firstborn child as a human sacrifice if you ever speak ill of the product.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

How would Jesus guide public policy?

Saturday's San Francisco Chronicle carried a letter to the editor, responding to the question posed to Governor Schwarzenegger, "What would Jesus do about clemency for the convicted murderer, Stanley Tookie Williams, who is scheduled to be executed on 2005-12-13?" The writer asks back a few questions:

  • What would Jesus do regarding the killing of the unborn?
  • What would he do regarding same-sex marriages?
  • What would he do about legalizing marijuana?
  • What would he do about prayer in school?
  • What would Jesus do about removing his name from the Dec. 25 holiday?
I think it's fair to say that in general Jesus would disapprove of killing the unborn. Whether Jesus would support outlawing abortion entirely is a more complicated question, though.

Regarding same-sex marriage, I will repeat here in this blog every single comment that Jesus himself made about homosexuality, according to the Bible. Are you ready? Here we go.... There, we're done. Did you miss it? I'll say it again: . That's right, Jesus never said a single thing about homosexuality. Kinda makes you wonder why his supposed followers are so hung up about the issue.

Jesus also never said a single word about marijuana, but he didn't seem to have a problem with wine, and it is abundantly clear that alcohol is a greater danger to society than marijuana, so I think it is fair to say that Jesus would favor immediate full legalization, not just medical use.

Prayer in school has always struck me as being hypocritical. When I was in fourth grade (in Dallas, Texas, the same year as the Roe v. Wade decision), my teacher, Mrs. Katie Brittain, led the class in compulsory prayer and Bible readings, even though the Supreme Court had outlawed them when I was still in diapers. I was a Christian, and the prayers were Christian, but they weren't quite the same "flavor" of Christian. I was very uncomfortable with being compelled to say a prayer that was not in accord with my family's religious beliefs — and that's before we talk about the Jewish kids in the class. The final word on Jesus' position, though, should be clear from Matthew 6:5–6. Jesus comes down emphatically opposed to school prayer.

As for the festival of December 25th, it started as a celebration of the winter solstice, the Saturnalia, and Mithra, the Persian god of light. Some time around the 4th century, Christians hijacked the holiday and slapped a meager veneer of Christian symbolism over it. Most of the trappings — Christmas tree, Christmas ham, deck the holly, and under the mistletoe — had their origins in the pagan celebrations of the solstice, known by the familiar name of Yule. Thus, I think it's clear to say that Jesus would want his name removed from a pagan holiday that has very little to do with his ministry.

Any more questions you want me to answer on Jesus' behalf?

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CBN on ID in KS

More Christian Broadcasting Network nuggets. The 700 Club news features the flap over the "strip search of a 10-year-old girl" anti-Alito ad. I need to do some reading about the case (Doe v. Groody, 2004) before I comment on it in detail.

However, this report caught my ear:

The University of Kansas is going to offer a class on Creationism and Intelligent Design, but it's not a science class. It's called Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism, and other religious mythologies. One local Intelligent Design supporter says it's just another example of labelling anyone who supports I.D. as a religious nut. The announcement comes just weeks after the Kansas Board of Education voted to allow I.D. to be taught in that state's public schools. The decision was considered a major victory for Intelligent Design. — CBN/700 Club News, 2005-11-23
Intelligent Design is not science. Beginning, middle, and end of discussion. The same is true of Creationism. In order to have scientific evidence of either Intelligent Design or Creationism, we would need eyewitnesses.

Science is the study of natural phenomena through systematic, unbiased observations; repeatable, verifiable experiments testing objectively falsifiable predictions; and open-minded analysis of the results. Both I.D. and Creationism fail on all three points.

What would a living organism look like if it were clearly not the result of design or creation by some intelligent force? If you can't tell me what evidence would disprove the hypothesis of Intelligent Design (or Creationism), then the hypothesis is not scientific and it has no place whatsoever in a science classroom. Intelligent Design is the process of taking observations of the physical world and figuring out how to fit them into the existing theory, not the process of taking observations and seeing objectively what conclusions those observations suggest.

If you believe in Intelligent Design or Divine Creation as a matter of religious faith, no one can disprove it. However, if you claim that Intelligent Design or Divine Creation is in any way remotely related to science, then you are simply flat wrong.

Let me put it another way: I know people who believe that butt sex is a holy sacrament, quite literally. They are entitled to that belief. However, they are not entitled to call it Southern Baptist. Likewise, you are entitled to the belief that God (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, arrr, shiver me timbers) intelligently created the breathtaking variety of living beings, but you can't call it science.

Science can by definition NEVER prove or disprove the existence of God (or an "Intelligent Designer"), since God is by definition supernatural.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Pat Robertson interviews John Ashcroft

My TiVo has just earned itself another Third Path Medal of Freedom. As I write this, it's Saturday, 2005-11-26, but I'm watching the CBN News from a week ago Thursday, 2005-11-17. CBN is the Christian Broadcasting Network, built by and around the Allegedly Reverend Pat Robertson, the batshit-insane lunatic who openly called for the assassination of the President of Venezuela. Mostly, Pat prefers to drink his protein shakes off-camera and let someone else play pretend news anchor, but occasionally he conducts an interview himself. Last Thursday, Marion ("Pat") interviewed former Senator (beaten for re-election by a dead guy) and former Attorney General (anointed himself with olive oil on taking office), fellow batshit-insane lunatic John David Ashcroft. The text of the interview sheds considerable light on both men's psychoses.

John Ashcroft: The Patriot Act has basically taken authorities that already existed in the law, were tested constitutionally, et cetera, in other areas of the law, and brought them over into the fight against terror. For example, the so-called "roving wiretap" [...snip...] We started doing that in 1988 against drug dealers, and it's worked well against drug dealers. I think if it works against drug dealers, we ought to have that authority available against terrorists.

Pat Robertson: That's like a no-brainer. What is all the furor from the people who are opposing it? They certainly couldn't oppose that.

JA: Well, it's sort of furor in theory, because there haven't been any people who have been able to stand up and say, with any convincing authority, that the Patriot Act has been offensive. It fails what I call the "name one" test. People say everybody's being abused by this — well, name one person. It's been in effect now for about 4 years, and I think somewhere, if it's a really dangerous deal, you'd be able to name one. It is important, because we used the Act, because we needed expanded authorities, the same kind of robust authorities we had against drug dealers and organized criminals, we needed that against terrorists.

PR: Well, there was a disconnect, too, between foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence, and agencies didn't talk to each other. Do they talk to each other now?

JA: Yeah, they do. There was a barrier, and it was an official policy, and tragically in August 2001, we later discovered a memo written by one agent that said, "This is going to cost us lives, and the only person that will benefit from this policy of this barrier is Osama bin Laden." That's how prophetic that memo was.

PR: It's interesting — the person who authored the barrier is then sitting on the 9/11 Commission, and you pointed that out in your testimony, as I recall.

JA: Well, I tried to do it pretty gently, but I thought the Commission should include an examination of that barrier. Of course, the Patriot Act explicitly took the barrier down. You know, the President, as soon as we had 9/11, he got rid of the barrier in this respect: he brought the FBI director, the Attorney General, the CIA director, into his office every morning. We met every morning in President Bush's office, and he made sure there was communication. When the President looks you in the eye and says, "Have you guys talked about this?" —

PR: You'd better talk!

JA: — you know, it has a way of loosening up the lines of communication.

PR: What about terrorism now? Is al Qaeda planning something? Do you think they can get a foothold and accomplish something here in this country, or have we shut 'em down?

JA: I have no doubt that we are high on their aspiration list. I believe that they would rather hit us than virtually anybody else in the world. They would love to be able to do something, and I think we need to be very careful, and I don't know if we're ever going to be able to confidently say it can't happen here, because as soon as we say it can't happen here, that elevates the risk of it [sic] happening here.

PR: Well, we're a free society. You can't shut down with so much. One last question: is the President doing it right? The media just beats him up unmercilessly [sic], but he seems to be fighting back. What do you think?

JA: Well, you know, I think there are only two times to fight tyranny. One is when the press will say it's too early, and the other is when the press will say it's too late. I think we went to fight Hitler too late, and it cost the world 50 million lives. If you've got to make a decision to either [fight tyranny] too early or too late, mark me down for too early. When we work to defend our interests and we encounter other nations, it's not for purposes of domination. That's not America's footprint. America's way of doing things is we work for liberation. The best thing that ever happens to a country

PR: — is for us to come in!

JA:is us to be involved, and then to help them have the kind of freedom that I think God intended all people to enjoy.
Okely-dokely. Where do I start? God intended that all people enjoy the freedom that can only come from being "encountered" by the United States. (That must be "encountered" in the sense that the really creepy defendant on Boston Legal "encountered" his 13-year-old victim.) On the topic of roving wiretaps, I see them as a reasonable extension of existing authorities so long as the roving wiretap still has to be under a warrant "upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation," particularly describing the person to be monitored. As for "name one," I challenge you to name one person whose library records have been invaded inappropriately under the Patriot Act. Oh, but wait! The person whose records were invaded probably doesn't know, and the librarian is ordered never to tell anyone!

Now, bear in mind — from watching him hawk his "age-defying shakes" on the NEWS — that Pat Robertson has all the credibility as a religious leader of a spammer pumping "herbal v1agra" in your e-mail. That any supposed religious leader has done anything less than demand Robertson's immediate retirement — from his ministry, from television, from publishing, from making or marketing any product or service — is a sign that those leaders place either Fear or Greed above their belief in God. Pat Robertson is either insane or he is possessed by demons, because he does not follow the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have in the past been unkind in my mockery of televangelist Jack van Impe, but I respect and admire his statement about Robertson:
Not only that, but Mr. Robertson, you are pro-life, and yet you wanted the members of the Supreme Court to die last year, and now the president of Venezuela. We believe this book. Thou shalt not kill — Exodus 20:13. My Bible says that this is wrong, and I want to challenge you right now to change your ways, because we as Christians do not need an Osama Bin Laden leading us. — Jack van Impe, 2005-08-30
What I've been saying for over four years now is that the struggle is not "America versus extremist Islamic zealots." The struggle is "America versus extremist zealots," period. The American people's and the world's best interests are over on one side, and Pat Robertson, Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, and even sometimes the lefties in San Francisco are on the other sides.

Seriously, as long as we were passing a meaningless resolution, couldn't we have actually said what we really wanted to say: "We, the people of San Francisco, love our country and cherish the freedoms that many have fought and died for. However, widespread reports of abuses in military recruiting, especially when coupled with diminishing non-military opportunities for many disadvantaged young persons, give us great concern. We stand opposed to coercion, manipulation, and deception by any military recruiter, and we support the creation and funding of strong nationwide programs to increase non-military opportunities for disadvantaged high school graduates." Really — was it worth putting our foot in our civic mouth, just to get Bill O'Reilly to say something even more dimwitted than his usual drivel??

But as I was saying, it is extremism that is our enemy, and fundamentalism is immutably extremist in nature. That gets at my title for this blog: the Third path. The third path between the Taliban's perversion of Islam and Pat Robertson's jingoistic parody of Christianity is a little concept called religious freedom. The third path between suicide bombers and launching an unprovoked war is to find the best way to actually stop the suicide bombers. In particular, what is the United States doing to address the concern that we are effectively recruiting new insurgents / terrorists / martyrs faster than we can kill them? Are we really doing all we can to choke off their funding? Are we really doing all we can to improve our intelligence to anticipate their moves? For example, does the money we're wasting on the war on marijuana, or the fact that we kick Arabic translators out of the military just because they're homosekthual, make any sense if we are truly making it a priority to combat terrorism? In Washington and Sacramento, the third path between Republican posturing and Democratic posturing is to work on building a bipartisan consensus.

But most of all I think it should have been left up to the Iraqi people in 2003 to decide if our liberating them was not the best way for them to proceed, and I think it should be left up to the Iraqi people now to decide if our continued military presence is not the best thing for their country. They're having elections in less than three weeks. If the new Iraqi government wants to have any credibility at all, it will ask for an accelerated withdrawal of coalition troops. If the Iraqi government needs support from any foreign troops, it can invite them on terms it negociates.

P.S. You can read the transcript of the full Robertson-Ashcroft interview — not just the segment that aired on The 700 Club — by going here.

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DDDisney's perfect 3-D technology

I went down to the new MoAD (Museum of the African Diaspora) for the grand opening this afternoon. My report on the museum will have to wait, though, because the crowd was so big that the staff closed the line about an hour and a half before closing time. Since I was in the neighborhood with a couple of hours, I walked a block over to the Metreon and saw a movie, Disney's new digital 3-D animated feature Chicken Little.

The 3-D experience was literally flawless. Every single 3-D film I've seen until today has had some artifacts that break the 3-D illusion. Some object that's meant to leap out of the screen into the audience splits in two, or a ghost image pops up in the wrong place, or you just get a headache from trying to cross your eyes for an hour and a half. The sensation of being able to reach into the depth of the movie screen has been fleeting at best. Chicken Little uses polarized lenses, avoiding the psychedelic after-effects of red/blue glasses. The entire film is in impressively realistic 3-D.

Unfortunately, the film itself was quite disappointing. It's a children's film, but it's too scary for small children. Just down the row from me, a child wailed repeatedly, "Mommy, I want to go home!" Killer robots from outer space blasting buildings and people into oblivion isn't the stuff I usually associate with G-rated movies. On the other end of the spectrum, though, both the story line and the dialog were simplistic and hackneyed, agonizingly predictable, and peppered with as many offensive stereotypes as genuine laughs. The voice talent did their best with the script they were given, and several of the names were among my favorites, but it takes more than acting to turn a lump of coal into a diamond.

In 2003, I saw the Disney animated feature Brother Bear, which was a disappointment from beginning to end. Last year, I didn't even bother with The Incredibles because the buzz was so negative. Does anyone at Disney know how to tell a story??

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Two-week old quotes

A couple of joyful quotes from the November 11th edition of Washington Week [in Review]. First, the President himself:

The stakes in the Global War on Terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. [long-ish pause] [tepid applause] These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops, and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. — George W. Bush, 2005-11-11
Yes, it sends the wrong signal to our troops when politicians throw out false charges. Well, unless they have Karl Rove plant the false charges on someone instead of throwing the charges directly. Or unless the false charges are motivated by a desire to drag our country into a war of choice, rather than a desire to get the country out of an untenable situation.

The President's reputation for honesty has taken a tremendous dip in the last few months. The problem is, you've got about 49% of the American people who take it as proven that George W. Bush is a liar, and who have believed that pretty much since 2000-12-12, if not earlier. Right now, that polling number has swelled because of the many faithful who are now having their doubts, but Bush can never win back most of that 49% core disapproval rating, even if he walks on water. Having been demonstrated to be an unrepentant liar, George W. Bush will never have my full trust. I wouldn't lend him $5 if his wallet were in the next room.

Whatever else you say, the evidence is indisputable. As Doyle McManus put it:
There was evidence that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction, but there is plenty of evidence that, yes, the Bush administration put its thumb on the scale and pushed the evidence as far as it could to make a sales pitch. But on the other side, there are plenty of Democrats who are conveniently forgetting that they voted for the [Iraq] war.
I'm not forgetting the Democrats who have flip-flopped on the war. The difference is, I only hold them accountable for their error in judgment in 2003, not for finally coming to their senses.

Of course, the prize gem quote of that week came from the President:
Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture. And therefore we're working with Congress to make sure that as we go forward we make it possible — more possible — to do our job.
You note that the President did not in any way deny that the United States treats prisoners inhumanely? You notice the vigor with which, even two weeks later, the Vice President resists the effort to make it explicitly illegal for any government employee to treat prisoners inhumanely?

Treating prisoners inhumanely does not make it more possible for the President, the Vice President, or the third assistant deputy shoelace inspector, or anyone in between, to do his or her job. In particular, treating prisoners inhumanely does not make it more possible for CIA agents to do their jobs.

The legitimate concern that the Bush administration surprisingly has not raised is the issue of what access prisoners would have to an open courtroom in cases where they allege inhumane treatment by undercover government agents. After all, we mustn't have al Qaeda operatives calling up Robert Novak to help them blow the cover of a CIA interrogator. That would be no more acceptable than having a Karl Rove operative call Novak.

I know it's the day after Thanksgiving, but, in honor of the bits I've just been watching, Happy Veterans Day.

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Washington Week in Podcast

I work from home, so I don't have that annoying commute time to kill. If I did, though, I can tell you how I would kill every single "Is it Monday already?? How can it be 6:30 so soon??" morning: the Washington Week podcast. You can take your iPod (or, ahem, cheap imitation thereof), and download the audio portion of WaWk plus the 6-minute web extra segment.

Which would you rather wake up to on a 36-minute subway ride or 3-mile freeway inch-a-thon: the truth about issues that matter, or the 308th time through your favorite album from 11th grade? Well, I don't care — download the podcast anyway. It could help you get a promotion.

While you're at it, you get the podcast for free, just like you get the show for free, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't leave a nice tip for your local PBS station. PBS is so much more than just Big Bird and Monty Python.

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Donation for Orphanage

I received a cheery Thanksgiving note from my new bestest friend in the whole wide world, Rosemary Hamson. She wants me to help her set up an orphanage in her memory, since she will soon go to "the bosom of the Lord," as she puts it. If the Lord's bosom is big enough to embrace Rosemary Hamson, then perhaps I should send Him a nice brassière for Christmas. But I digress. Here is the first part of Rosemary's letter:
Dear Friend,
I am ROSEMARY HAMSON from United Kingdom. I was married to Mr.Oulai Bi Tino HAMSON, who was a minister in the first republic of Cote D'Ivoire in eallier 80s, before his untimely death in the year 2003 after few days in the hospital as a result of food poison.

We were married for so many years without a child as you know that it is only God that gives children, we were both born again Christian,Since his death I decided not to remarry to another man because of my vocation in the christian societies.

My late husband deposited the sum of £ 2 ,5 Million with a bank here in Abidjan which i have my name as nest of kin,Presently this money is still in the custody of the bank.

Recently, my Doctor told me that it is very unfurtunate that i will not live long due to my cancer problem,having known my condition I decided to donate this fund to churches or any christian organization or good person that will utilize this money the way I am going to direct him herein. I want the person that will use this fund for orphanages, widows and other people that need help and also propagating the word of God and to endeavor that the house of God is maintained.


Thanks and Remain blessed
l remain yours.
Dear Rosemary,

I am Cousin Curveball from United States. I have never been married, and I promise you that I had nothing to do with poisoning your husband. I honestly had no idea that the chinchilla casserole had any more than a soupçon of botulism for flavouring. As for your idea of opening an orphanage, I think it is an excellent suggestion. However, I am uncertain as to the current price of orphans on the open market, not having bought very many in recent months. (My pet komodo dragon requires only one or two small children per feeding.) I am sure that we could get a much better price acquiring them in Côte d'Ivoire. Another problem, though, is transportation, as I have found that shipping containers have an unacceptably high spoilage rate with fragile cargo such as orphans. When we factor in the costs of air freight, it might be less expensive to find some orphans perhaps in Mississippi and Louisiana, where the recent tragedy has brought a fortuitous glut of orphans — a rare "buyer's market." We might even be able to pick up some quality second-hand orphans on the foster-care exchange. With FEMA coördinating the family reunification efforts, I'm sure a few hundred spare orphans won't even be noticed.

Naturally, there is also the question of what we can do with the orphans to add value for resale. Due to the popularity of McDoland's and similar restaurants, fat orphans are a dime a dozen, so we might actually do better to keep ours on a near-starvation diet, to keep them lean. Even a devout follower of the Atkims diet would prefer a nice lean side of orphan to a fatty lump that looks like cheap bacon. As you say, it is only God that gives children, but it is up to us to learn how best to cook them.

By the way, even though you are from Abidjan and living in London, I am required to report you to the Nigerian police for omitting the obligatory "(Two Million, Five Hundred Thousand U.K. Pounds Sterling)" after "the sum of £2,5 Million" in your letter. As it is a minor technical infraction, I am sure that you will merely need to pay a fine, or perhaps ritually sacrifice a few nieces and nephews.

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to glorify the name of God and advance the culinary arts at the same time.

Thanks, and Remain "blessée,"
L remain yours,
— Cousin Curveball

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Building consensus

A few days ago, I attended the semi-annual business meeting of a non-profit I'm involved with. Since we're a touchy-feely crunchy-granola sort of a group, we operate by consensus. That means that any one member can filibuster any proposal. So how on earth do we ever get anything done?

There are so many misconceptions about formal consensus process, even among groups that operate by it, that it's difficult to know where to start, but here's a quick overview of the process: an issue is presented, possibly accompanied by a specific proposal. Members can ask questions to clarify the issue. The group then discusses the issue, raising any relevant concerns. Those concerns are then addressed, while keeping in mind the concerns that started the discussion. If all is going smoothly, everyone's concerns are raised and answered satisfactorily, and the group reaches consensus. An individual member who is still unhappy with the outcome then has two options:

  • Stand Aside: "I wish to register a strong disagreement with the outcome, but I will allow it to take effect."

  • Block: "I feel so strongly that this outcome is unacceptable that I refuse to allow the group to take this action."
A stand-aside is a fairly strong statement, but an actual block represents more: a person who blocks a proposal must commit to working with the group to find an acceptable resolution that addresses both the concerns that motivated the original proposal and the concerns that motivated the member to block the proposal. You can't just stamp your foot and shout "No!"

Many people believe that consensus process simply leads to interminable discussion, with actual work accomplished only when the participants are so exhausted they will agree to almost anything. However, if the participants are focused and grounded and mindful of the difference between an unacceptable outcome and a merely unpleasant outcome, the process can serve to unite the group in common cause. It avoids such farces as proposals that are raised and rejected several times and then finally adopted without any substantive attempt to address the concerns against them. It also avoids situations where 50.001% of a group grinds its boot heels into the other 49.999%.

Perhaps in some far-off fantasy, the U.S. Congress could operate by formal consensus process, although I'd say that's not likely to happen in this century or even this millennium. However, I would hope that the philosophy of reaching across the aisle to address a broad spectrum of concerns could again find a home in Washington.

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Def Leppard on Jimmy Kimmel

1970's heavy metal band Def Leppard is performing on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show on ABC. The song, requested by one of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing in Iraq via a Thanksgiving Day video link-up, was a familiar one: "Rock of Ages"

The lyrics take a rather different meaning through the lens of history, though:
We got something to say: it's better to burn out than to fade away. We're gonna start a fire. ... Rock this place to the ground, burn it up, let's go for broke, watch the night go up in smoke. ... Pyromania ... I don't care if it takes all night, let's set this town alight. ... Rocka Vages ... We got the power, we got the glory, just say you need us, and if you need us, say yeah!
It makes some sense that this song would appeal to a young Marine, because he has the power and wants the glory. He has answered his nation's call without quibbling about whether the people are behind their President on this mission. The problem is the traditional jarhead attitude, which our dear President tries to pretend he can match. (Not only did the President weasel out of military service, he feels that he's less of a man for doing so. It's all right, George; you are less of a man — not because you weaseled out, but because of the way you did it.) That attitude serves us well in a pre-9/11 sort of conflict, but not so well in today's Iraq. We don't need troops to take out identifiable targets so much as we need troops who can take the rôles of peacekeeper and nation-builder.

The irony also reflects back upon the band, though, because there can be no question in anyone's mind that Def Leppard is preferring in real life to fade away rather than burn out. Good for them! Burning out is highly overrated.

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Where do babies come from?

Another cute commercial: a boy and his dad are sitting on a wooden pier on a small pond, fly-fishing. The boy asks, "Dad, where do babies come from?"

The father's reply: "When a Man Loves a Woman, he wants to Get Jiggy with It, and then, you know, Free Willy and Aah! Push It! and then you Roll Over, Beethoven." [Google if you want the lyrics, but beware of pop-up ads.]

The ad is for Tower Records. They have several along similar lines, but this one is my favourite.

An unintended element of comedic juxtaposition was added when the local feed was slightly out of sync with the network feed, leaving in a spare voiceover of "World Hunger" immediately after "Give the gift everyone can use. Tower Records®, Life played loud."

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Alito's mad-CAP adventures

Samuel Alito went to Princeton University. Some time after graduating, he joined a group that called itself Concerned Alumni of Princeton, or CAP, with Concerned in the same sense as Concerned Women for America. When I was an undergrad, we preferred to expand the name just a bit: Concerned Reactionary Alumni of Princeton, which we felt gave a much more fitting acronym.

Undergrads living on campus were treated to free copies of the official alumni magazine, Princeton Alumni Weekly, and also of CRAP's magazine, Prospect, edited by Dinesh D'Souza. How, exactly, D'Souza came to be editor of Prospect remains a bit of a mystery, since, although he was clearly a concerned reactionary, he is not in fact an alumnus. He went to Dartmouth. As one of my Princeton t-shirts proclaims, "Duck Fartmouth!" D'Souza addressed the issue of a non-alumnus editing an alumni magazine in the pages of Prospect, but his case amounted to little more than "why not?"

CRAP and its mouthpiece Prospect yearned for the glory days of Princeton when it was the exclusive province of wealthy white males. If your name was Cohen or Levy, your odds of getting into Princeton were drastically lower than for Miller or Baker — the admissions office didn't ask directly if you were Jewish, but tried to guess from your surname. But it was coeducation that drew the special wrath of the Concerned Reactionary Alumni. First, hippies smoking pot and celebrating free love in Golden Gate Park, and then before you knew it, the first alumnae were popping out to sully Princeton's reputation. (I mean, it's not like any of them went on to be CEO of EBay or law professor at Drake University or Queen of Jordan.) These girls were taking spots that should be reserved for sons of alumni, as God intended.

The fact that Alito was a member of CRAP is worrisome indeed, but only to those who value such ephemerae as diversity and the ascendance of personal merit over inherited wealth.

The fact that Alito listed his membership on his résumé is a bit more illuminating: after all, it's only slightly outshone as a qualification by his captaincy of the naked tiddlywinks team.

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Oprah and the Southern racist

Way back in 1987, early in her show's run, Oprah Winfrey had a man named Dennis in the town-hall meeting in Forsyth County, Georgia. Dennis expressed some jaw-droppingly racist thoughts: "You have blacks and you have niggers. Black people don't want to cause any trouble. … A nigger … wants to come up here and cause trouble all the time. That's the difference."

Not long ago, Dennis e-mailed her, asking for the opportunity to address the topic. On yesterday's show, she brought the man back to tell his thoughts on their earlier conversation and the 18 years since then.

Oprah: Well, tell me, are you still a racist?

Dennis: I've never been a racist.

Oprah: That [1987 quote] sounded pretty racist to us.

Dennis: Let me say this: nigger has no color to it. Black, white, green, yellow, pink, or purple. You have those that don't care about nothin', they have not taken care of their families...

Oprah: Well, I have other words for what that is.

Dennis: I'm Southern-born.

Oprah: Let me give you an education, Southern Boy. The truth of the matter is that the word nigger was created to dehumanize and disgrace an entire race of people, so it does have color connotations.

Dennis: Not to me.

Oprah: Well, it does to me and it does to every other black person. It really does. So let me just give you an education, because I think that so much of racism is ignorance, and I think that when you say, "Oh, it doesn't matter to me, black, white, green, or purple," first of all, there are no green or purple people. When people say that, I immediately think, well, you're just trying to create a façade for how you really feel.

Dennis: Let me say this, honest to God, in front of God and everybody: I was not insinuating the n-word towards you. I want to apologize for that. If you took it that way, I'm sorry.

Oprah: No, I didn't really take it that way. I want you to know, I never thought you were calling me a nigger, because I'm not one. So there's no way ...

Dennis: But now I've got myself straight on that and clear on that.

Oprah: Do you still use the word nigger?

Dennis: No.

Oprah: You don't use the word nigger?

Dennis: No.

Oprah: That's a good thing.

Dennis: It's still hard to explain how it was felt then. I don't care who it is, if you're under martial law, and you've got 26,000 people walking down your street ...

Oprah: You felt challenged or threatened?

Dennis: Oh, yes, most definitely. Obscene gestures were all in that crowd that was marching.

Oprah: Yeah, but so was the Klan marching.

Dennis: I didn't do it.

Oprah: Nor did I!

Dennis: They weren't unzippin' their pants! They wear robes! I mean, you know, give me a break. That's what I saw; it's like, if you weren't there, you don't know how it was, and the story is built up most of the time.

Oprah: I was there, the Klan was walkin' down the street, and you know, the Klan is the Klan, my God, whether they unzip ...

Dennis: Well, I'm not a member of anything.

Oprah: My thing is, that comment you made, I don't even know how to react to that, "They weren't unzippin' their pants." The Klan has historically tried to destroy black people in this country. I don't care if their pants are down or not when they're hanging people.
Wow. It's astonishing to see how thoroughly one man can just not get it.

I'm a Southern boy, too, and I've seen some racism in my day. When my mother was in school, her small, rural county had three separate school districts: one for white folks, one for black folks, and one for the Mexicans. Even when I got to school, the class roll sheets were coded for the student's race: W for Caucasian, N for Black, M for Hispanic, and C for Asian. My next-door neighbor moved to an outer suburb in high school, and was the only kid on the block who did not attend the Klan rally downtown. Of course, in north Texas in the late 1970's, the Klan was distracted from lynching niggers by the necessity to throw eggs at Vietnamese immigrant children waiting for the bus to take them to elementary school. After all, what did those damned gooks do for us anyway — well, aside from coming in after a huge tornado to help a city rebuild, I mean. [Twenty years later, there's hardly a suburban strip mall that doesn't have a Phỏ restaurant.]

Further, I think we need to work on a replacement term that adequately expresses the negative personal qualities embodied by the word nigger without the racial dimension. In particular, I feel the sparseness of my vocabulary in describing people like Dennis.

A friend once told me that he considered it his duty to produce offspring to continue the white race; I told him that I prefer to think of myself as a member of the human race. Having said that, I can't deny that I have experienced "white privilege" throughout my life. Rather than feeling an obligation to pass along that privilege to more white people, though, I feel the obligation to buck the system that awards it.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Why Bush can never win in Iraq

I found the following quote on the California Conservative blog today: "Increasingly, quitting looks like the new American Way of War. No matter how great your team, you can’t win the game if you walk off the field at half-time." The quote is from an op-ed piece in the New York Post by retired Army officer Ralph Peters.

The problem is, that "team" isn't just the military. The team has to include the people back home, who have never been on board for the war we are fighting. The American people were frightened into acquiescing to a war against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, not a war to create a democratic Iraq. The pre-war intelligence that the Bush administration presented to the Congress, to the American people, to the United Nations, and to the world, was cherry-picked, slanted, and in several cases utterly discredited before it was presented. That's called lying in most circles.

The WMDs that everyone was supposedly so certain that Saddam had stockpiled have limited shelf lives. You can't just make a chemical or biological weapon and leave it in a warehouse for years. We knew as recently as 2001 — by Colin Powell's direct statement — that Saddam had no significant WMD programs, and hadn't for some years, so any stockpiles he might have tried to build would have been utterly useless by 2003. The documents that President Bush relied upon to claim that Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Niger were known forgeries. The claim that Mohammad Atta had met with Iraqi officials was known at the time to have been completely discredited. The claims that we would be welcomed as liberators and that the oil revenues would pay for the reconstruction costs were nothing short of delusional.

In order to win a war, you have to honestly persuade your team that the war is worth fighting, and that you have a strategy for success. Bush has never even tried.

If George W. Bush wants anything other than catastrophic failure and chaos in Iraq, he has to immediately tell the American people the truth about why we are in Iraq, what our specific goals are [hint: "a free and democratic Iraq" is not a specific goal], how we are going to achieve them, how long we expect it to take, how much we expect it to cost, how many troops we expect to need, and in all other respects what sort of commitment the country will have to make. If he does that honestly and makes a solid case for his position, he just might get the "team" to stay on the "field." He'd better start soon, though.

By the way, demonizing those who point out the fact that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others have repeatedly lied about the war and the intelligence behind it, is moving away from the goal.

Two thirds of the American people believe that our invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Over 80% of the Iraqi people want the U.S. military to leave — yesterday if not sooner. It is abundantly clear that the Bush administration point-blank refuses to level with us about its plans for achieving some form of success in Iraq within a manageable timeframe and budget, substituting stock phrases like "stay the course" and "cut and run" for meaningful discourse.

The United States has never been willing to make an open-ended commitment to a war that has been so mind-numbingly mismanaged from Day One, nor should we be.

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Legalizing Marijuana

In Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, columnist David Lazarus makes "The case for legal pot use." In a nutshell, our government (federal, state, and local) is wasting an estimated $7,700,000,000.00 annually on enforcement of marijuana laws, with almost 90% of arrests for simple possession. More Americans were arrested for possession of marijuana in 2004 than ever before. Our courts and our prisons are overcrowded with real criminals, and yet we locked up over 650,000 people for no crime except possession of marijuana. Furthermore, if marijuana were legal and taxed at rates comparable to alcohol and tobacco, it would generate revenues of about $6,200,000,000.00 annually. That's a net savings to taxpayers of almost $14 billion per year, which is nothing to sneeze at. If you add in the lost productivity from taxpaying, otherwise law-abiding citizens returned to the workforce instead of going off to jail, I'm sure you could add several billion more to the tally.

The arguments for keeping marijuana illegal simply cannot hold up to scrutiny.

"It would send the wrong message if we legalized marijuana!" Quite the opposite is true. The message we are sending our children right now is that drugs like cocaine, crystal meth, heroin, and PCP are no more dangerous than marijuana. Crystal meth kills people; marijuana just makes them silly. We're also sending our kids the message that somehow it's fine to nurse a bottle of scotch with a pack of Marlboros, but not to smoke a joint. We're also sending the message that it's okay to disregard federal law, because we know that a majority of adults in America have tried marijuana at least once — including such people as Al Gore, George W. Bush, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In that regard, marijuana prohibition is an even worse mixed message than the 55 mph speed limit was: it's okay, just as long as you don't get caught.

We're also sending our children the message that science and common sense have no place in discussions of public policy. (Of course, that same message is being carried to school boards from Kansas to Pennsylvania.)

Is marijuana dangerous? The answer is clearly "Yes, but..." Marijuana can be physically addictive, but only in extraordinary circumstances. My friend Paul smoked marijuana frequently from age 4 to age 17. When he quit, he had physical withdrawal symptoms. I know lots of people who smoke large quantities of marijuana, including a few who are stoned as often as they're sober, but none of them shows any signs of physical addiction. Furthermore, if we're going to demonize marijuana because of its tiny addictive potential, what message are we sending by allowing alcohol and especially tobacco?

Marijuana can also impair judgment. I certainly don't recommend driving a car while stoned, but I know people who have spent thousands of hours behind the wheel stoned without a single incident. At the very least, it is abundantly clear that driving under the influence of marijuana is far less dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol. Marijuana can also lower social inhibitions, potentially leading to risky sexual behaviors, but again, less so than alcohol.

Marijuana tends to increase feelings of hunger, possibly leading to overeating, or at least overconsumption of less-nutritious snack foods. It seems a bit hypocritical to prohibit it on that basis, especially when we don't allow chemotherapy patients to treat their nausea with marijuana.

The Netherlands has had quasi-legal marijuana for years, and Canada has pretty much abandoned all enforcement efforts against personal use. The Free State of Christiania has had openly legal marijuana since its inception, and kept it legal even when they banned certain hard drugs. The Dutch, the Canadians, and the people of Christiania understand that draconian laws against marijuana are counterproductive.

President Nixon convened a blue-ribbon panel in the early 1970s to make recommendations on the legal status of marijuana. That report suggested legalization. Every administration since then has been held hostage by a small percentage of fanatics in the population who see the end of the world at hand if we legalize marijuana.

Why are we now, more than a generation later, with a President who has directly admitted to smoking marijuana, still tied up in this debate? The answer is agonizingly obvious: legalize it, regulate it, and tax it. End of story.

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Did Bush suggest bombing Al Jazeera?

The Associated Press is reporting that a British government official is accused of leaking a memo that suggested that President Bush on 2004-04-16 suggested to Prime Minister Tony Blair that coalition forces bomb the headquarters of the Al Jazeera cable TV network in Qatar.

Some sources have stated that the suggestion was "humourous, not serious," but other sources dispute that appraisal. The Bush administration has repeatedly denounced Al Jazeera and its coverage of U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

Did President Bush suggest bombing the free press in a friendly nation? Even if it was a joke, it was in reprehensibly bad taste, but if he was the least bit serious, even for a nanosecond, he has given us just one more reason to say that he is unfit to serve as President.

The White House called the report "outlandish," but, given the President's recent behavior, it's difficult to dismiss it so easily.

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Colbert table scraps

The Colbert Réport is in re-runs for the holiday week, leaving us to flounder about for a full ten days of untruthiness. Who knows what urban legends may proliferate without Stephen Colbert's wisdom, sagacity, and mismatched ears to protect us? For that matter, who will alert us to the ongoing threat posed by bears?

In honor of Thanksgiving, then, we will have to make do with table scraps from last week's show. Just think of your good friend Cousin Curveball as your diver into the Réport's dumpster of trustigiousness.

First of all, Reverend Al Sharpton promised to provide some "diet tips" for the Colbert Réport's web site, but I can't find them yet. As we head past Thanksgiving on our way to Chrismahanukwanzakah, we could all use some diet tips, and what better way to lose weight than through social activism? Seriously, I'd like to know what issues Rev. Sharpton thinks are most worthy of our attention. It could be anything from a "top five" threatdown-type listing up to a cross-referenced encyclopædia of social injustice. If you're looking for something to protest, there's no shortage of causes.

Secondly, Stephen aired some additional footage from his interview with Representative Barney Frank (D–MA). Apparently, Frank told the Boston Glob that the Réport was "a waste of television space," so Stephen countered by showing himself giving some behind-the-back jazz hands to Barney in a Capitol corridor. The obvious question is whether the footage was real or digitally toasted. The first check is the color of Stephen's tie, which does match the footage from the original 2005-10-27 broadcast of the 2005-09-22 interview; however, the tie could've been digitally altered. The interview as originally broadcast didn't include any scenes in the hallways, so it's difficult to say more. Much though it pains me to say it, I think we'll just have to take Stephen's word for it that the footage is authentic.

In any case, since the master journalist Jon Stewart will not be joining Stephen Colbert for Thanksgiving dinner — no doubt a result of the lingering bitterness over their feud, as reported here by yours truly, Cousin Curveball — we won't know anything more for at least a week. I call upon politicians of both parties to set aside their partisan mudslinging until such time as we can find out whether or not Stewart and Colbert can mend the tremendous chasm that divides them on this Thanksiest of Giving days. (Well, assuming they're still at each other's throats in three days.) Never mind the Pisralestinis, will there ever be peace between the warring tribes of Comedy Central?

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"You visit illegal web sites"

I just got a rather different spam/scam/virus in my e-mail. This one claims to be from [] and even lists the real street address and telephone number of the FBI in Washington. According to "Steven Allison," my IP address has been logged on bazillions of illegal Websites. Attached to the message is a ZIP file that supposedly contains a list of questions that it is very important for me to answer.

Dear Sir/Madam,

we have logged your IP-address on more than 30 illegal Websites.

Please answer our questions!
The list of questions are attached.

Yours faithfully,
Steven Allison

*** Federal Bureau of Investigation -FBI-
*** 935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3220
*** Washington, DC 20535
*** phone: (202) 324-3000
I didn't bother finding out what was actually in "," but my guess is it's probably a virus.

There are several tip-offs that it's not a real message. I'm always amazed at how many of my friends and family miss some obvious clues, so I'll give you a quick rundown:
  • "Dear Sir/Madam": if the FBI were really contacting you about something like this, they would already know your name. Besides that, they would send it in the snail mail, not by e-mail.

  • "we have logged your IP-address on more than 30 illegal Websites.": I know that people have become sloppy in e-mail correspondence, but still, I would hope that an FBI agent would at least know to capitalize the first word in a sentence. Also, there's no hyphen in IP address and websites should not be capitalized in this context. [My motto: I put the hyphen in anal-retentive!] Unfortunately, it's all too believable that an FBI agent would say something like The list of questions are attached. The message should also specify at least some of the supposed illegal websites by name, along with the dates and times I supposedly accessed them.

  • Here's a subtle techie point: your IP address is probably dynamic. That means that each time you connect to your ISP — especially on a dial-up connection, but often even with broadband — you might get a different IP address. Thus, it isn't really your IP address. It's more like having an open account with a car rental agency: you have a car when you need one, but you don't get the same car every time.

  • Better yet, this spam/virus was sent to an address I have on a freebie web-based account. I can check my e-mail from any computer on the Internet. Even if I did visit illegal web sites, this address would not be associated with that activity.

  • "": Why is a list of questions in a ZIP file? Why does the file have such a generic name? Why does it take 74K to ask me some simple questions?

  • Symantec's Security Response web site suggests that this is the W32.Sober.K@mm mass-mailing worm. [Strictly speaking, a worm is different from a virus, but they are close cousins.] If you don't have antivirus software, you shouldn't be on the Internet — seriously. However, it's always good to check any suspicious message — including an e-mail that warns you about the latest supposed threat — with a "name-brand" antivirus web site. Many innocuous-looking messages are viruses, but also many "virus warnings" are hoaxes. It's bad manners to forward either viruses or virus hoaxes.

  • The message originated from a computer that identified itself as "" but that actually belongs to Georgia Motor Trucks, Inc. Besides that, of course, there's no such domain name as "" — unless you count the sooper-seekrit Federal Regional Unsolicited X-rated National Transmogrification project. (Their black helicopters have special nekkid ladies on the mudflaps.)
Well, now that I've taken care of that e-mail nuisance, I can get on with the arrangements for my new Nigerian pen pal to send me $52,000,000.00 (fifty two million U.S. dollars) to start a new wildlife refuge for fuzzy kittens.

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Governor's reply about marriage bill

Some weeks ago, I sent a message to Governor Schwarzenegger through his official web site, urging him to sign AB 849, the gender-neutral marriage bill. The governor decided in the end to veto the bill, and finally last week got around to sending me a boilerplate reply:

Thank you for emailing to express your position regarding Assembly Bill 849 (Leno). I understand the importance of this piece of legislation and the outcome it would have on our State and nation as a whole. After extensive consideration and thorough deliberation from proponents and opponents of this issue, I have decided to veto this bill.

I am proud California is a leader in recognizing and respecting domestic partnerships and the equal rights of domestic partners. I believe that lesbian and gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their relationships. I support current domestic partnership rights and will continue to vigorously defend and enforce these rights and as such will not support a rollback of these rights.

California Family Code Section 308.5 was enacted by an initiative statute passed by the voters as Proposition 22 in 2000. Article II, section 10 of the California Constitution prohibits the Legislature from amending this initiative statute without a vote of the people. This bill does not provide for such a vote and I do not believe the Legislature can reverse an initiative approved by the people of California.

The ultimate issue regarding the constitutionality of section 308.5 and its prohibition of same-sex marriage is currently before the Court of Appeal in San Francisco and will likely be decided by the Supreme Court. If the ban of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, this bill is not necessary. If the ban is constitutional, this bill is ineffective.

While I was not able to sign this bill in particular, I did sign legislation to extend the rights of domestic partners. Last legislative session I signed SB 1234 (Kuehl), the most comprehensive extension of domestic partner rights. This sessions I signed AB 1400 (Laird), which clarifies that marital status and sexual orientation are among the characteristics that are protected against discrimination by business establishments under the Unruh Civil Rights Act. I also signed AB 1586 (Koretz) which adds additional language to already existing anti-discrimination provision to clarify that State law prohibits insurance companies and health care service plans from discriminating on the basis of gender in the creation or maintenance of service contracts or the provision of benefits or coverage.

Thank you again for taking the time to voice your opinion. Taking the time to communicate your opinions and concern shows that California's people are engaged in issues that affect the well being and future of our State.

Arnold Schwarzenegger
The governor has a strong point that AB 849 conflicts directly with CFC §308.5, and on that basis it would have been subject to an immediate court challenge. However, the remainder of the governor's reasoning is flawed.

The currently pending court case argues that there is a constitutional right to marry, and that excluding same-sex couples is in violation of the state constitution. If that view prevails, then California will have same-sex marriage by judicial fiat. If the courts do rule that marriage must be gender-neutral, there will undoubtedly be protests and yet more wrangling on the ballot. If the courts ruled in favor of gender-neutral marriage and we had a law passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, then the issue would be much more difficult to resurrect.

The sensible course of action, to respect the will of the people as expressed both by Proposition 22 (a.k.a. CFC §308.5) and by a vote of their elected representatives, would have been to sign AB 849 (or at least allow it to become law without the governor's signature) and then leave it for the court to sort out. If there is no state constitutional right to same-sex marriage, then Prop 22 remains in force and AB 849 is invalid; if there is such a right, then Prop 22 is gone and AB 849 would be law.

Of course, one could also argue that the sensible course of action would have been for AB 849 to include a provision for a popular vote, except that it would have been difficult and costly to win, and losing the referendum would've made it more difficult for the courts ultimately to rule in favor of same-sex marriage.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rumsfeld on ABC News This Week

George Stephanopoulos today broadcast a live interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Their first topic was Representative John Murtha (D–PA), who this week called for the United States to redeploy our military out of Iraq: "Our military has done everything that has been asked of them. The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily; it's time to bring the troops home."

Rummy replies, "Well you know, if you think back, we had similar debates during World War II, during Korea, during Vietnam. It's always been so, because these are important subjects. They ought to be discussed and debated."

I'll certainly grant that we had similar debates during the Vietnam War, and somewhat similar in the Korean War, but certainly not in World War II. Was anyone saying, after two and a half years of fighting the Nazis and Imperial Japan, that we could not accomplish anything more militarily? No, not by a long shot. In World War II, we faced real enemies who not only threatened us, but actually attacked us (Japan) or at least declared war on us (Germany and Italy). There were times in World War II that the war looked bleak, but there was never a suggestion that we should withdraw from Europe and the Pacific. After Pearl Harbor, it was indisputably vital to our national security that we see the war through to the finish.

Rummy goes on to say that "What [the insurgents in Iraq] see is that if they wait, they prevail, and they'll be able to turn that country into a haven for terrorists." It would send the wrong signal to our enemies if we stop bashing our foreheads against every brick wall in sight. What the insurgents see in Iraq is that the United States is incapable of admitting that it made an enormous mistake.

Stephanopoulos then hits Rumsfeld with a quote from the December issue of The Atlantic:

If the United States is serious about getting out of Iraq... It will need to spend money for interpreters. It will need to create large new training facilities for American troops... It will need to commit air, logistics, medical and intelligence services to Iraq — and understand that this is a commitment for years, not a temporary measure. It will need to decide that there are weapons systems it does not require and commitments it cannot afford if it is to support the ones that are crucial. And it will need to make these decisions in a matter of months, not years — before it's too late. — James Fallows [as abridged by ABC News]
George says, "We should either be ready to make this commitment of years, or be prepared to come home. Address the argument," to which The Donald replies:
DR: The argument is that the United States has a plan, they have a strategy, they are implementing that. They have trained over 212,000 Iraqi security forces. People who denigrate their competence and their capability are flat wrong. They're making a mistake. They either don't understand the situation or they're trying to confuse it, but the Iraqi security forces are well respected by the Iraqi people, they are doing a very good job. They're growing in numbers, they're growing in competence. [...]

GS: If you had known that no WMD's would be found, would you have advocated invasion?

DR: I didn't advocate invasion.

GS: You didn't?

DR: No. I wasn't asked. If you read all the books and the things —

GS: Why weren't you asked? That's very puzzling to me.

DR: I'm sure the President understood what my views were, but as a technical matter, did he ever look and say, What should we do? Should we go do this or not do that? This is something the President thought through very carefully.

GS: Are you trying to distance yourself from the war?

DR: Of course not. I agreed completely with the decision to go to war, and have said that a hundred times. [...]

GS: But would you have been for an invasion if we had known that?

DR: Probably yes. Our planes were being shot at every day, every week in the no-fly zones. Here was a man [Saddam] who was giving $25,000 to the families of suicide killers [in Israel], murderers. Zarqawi was in that country during that period [2002, 2003]. He's a person who had used chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors, had invaded Kuwait [all 15+ years ago]. The world will be vastly better off with Saddam Hussein gone, and with a democratic system in that country. ... I think the rehashing and suggesting that there was anything manipulative about the intelligence is really a great disservice to the country.

GS: Let me turn now to the issue of torture and whether or not the United States has condoned torture.

DR: We haven't. It isn't any question as to whether we have or not, we haven't.

GS: Okay. That's good to hear, first of all.

DR: The President said there will be humane treatment of prisoners. All the instructions I issued required humane treatment. Anything that was done that was not humane has been prosecuted.

GS: Yet Senator John McCain (R–AZ) has added an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill that would make it clear that the United States does not condone torture and goes on to say, "No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." This passed 90–9 in the Senate.

DR: The President has said that.

GS: But he has threatened to veto the bill over this provision. Why?

DR: I'm not sure you're correct.

GS: I'm pretty sure I'm correct, and there's been lots of negotiations going on. ... You're not involved in those negotiations?

DR: Not really. We are supporting the White House in what they're doing. We're the ones who have the Field Manual and have been issuing that, as soon as it's appropriate, but the history of the United States military is clear: torture doesn't work. The military knows that. We want our people treated humanely. We have required that our folks treat people humanely. The photographs that came out of the night shift at Abu Ghraib, the implication that that is a pattern or a standard or permitted in some way is just false and wrong and harmful to the country. It's most unfortunate. It leaves the totally inaccurate impression that that is something that was permitted. Those people have been prosecuted and put in jail.
First of all, yes, Secretary Rumsfeld, the President really did threaten to veto the defense appropriations bill if it included Senator McCain's amendment. Specifically, White House spokesman Scott McClellan warned on 2005-10-06: "We have put out a Statement of Administration Policy saying that his advisers would recommend that he vetoes it if it contains such language." The administration's stance hasn't changed much since then.

Secretary Rumsfeld closes with this exhortation to the American people: "The task is to constantly move our bureaucracies and our government and our thinking and the media's thinking and the public's thinking to understand that we're in a global war on terror. We're up against people who are determined to re-establish a caliphate in this world, who are determined to go out and kill innocent men, women, and children, and they're doing it almost every single day. They're raising money to do it, they're recruiting people to do it, and it's going to take a concerted effort for a sustained period of time, for free people to fully understand the nature of that threat and to fully deal with the nature of that threat."

But even Secretary Rumsfeld has said that we may be, in effect, recruiting new terrorists faster than we can kill them off. I would add that we may be spurring the inflow of money faster than we can choke it off. Neither of those is an element of any sane long-range strategy to stop terrorism. We don't stop terrorism by showing people who are "determined to go out and kill innocent men, women, and children" that we can be more brutal and more deadly and above all more determined than they are. We're never going to out-badass the terrorists, but we can outsmart them.

I want to close, though, by returning to a subtle point hidden in one of the Rumsfeld quotes I showed above. Donald Rumsfeld said, and reaffirmed when George Stephanopoulos expressed surprise, that the President of the United States did not even ask his own Secretary of Defense whether or not he should invade a sovereign nation. By extension, he therefore did not ask his Cabinet.

What sort of irresponsible, incompetent, dangerous idiot would take the United States of America to war without even asking his Cabinet?

In the roundtable segment, Fareed Zakaria picked up on a bit of that theme, pointing out that it isn't just a PR problem:
There's a real substantive policy issue: who is running the Iraq war? It's not clear. Rumsfeld was a potted plant on this show: he says he had nothing to do with troop levels, he didn't actually advocate the invasion, he doesn't have anything to do with the negotiations about the torture bill, so he's not doing it. Secretary of State Condi Rice —
I would add to that, if the Secretary of Defense isn't running the war, if the Cabinet isn't running the war, does anyone believe that George W. Bush is running it? Does anyone believe that George W. Bush is capable of making that sort of policy decision, on an ongoing basis for over two years, without even asking his own Secretary of Defense?

I would say that not only is it not clear who is running the Iraq war, it is not clear that anyone in the civilian government is running the Iraq war.

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Misleading on Pre-war Intelligence

Vice President Cheney says, "The suggestion that's been made by some U.S. Senators that the President of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."

No, Mr. Cheney, it's not the people who are pointing out the fact that the administration purposely misled us who are dishonest and reprehensible.

It is the people in the administration who purposely misled the American people who are dishonest and reprehensible.

For example,

  • There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has Weapons of Mass Destruction. (2002-08-22)
  • I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the Insurgency. (2005-05-30)
  • My belief is that we will in fact be greeted as liberators. (2003-03-16)
and, as Thursday's guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Richard Clarke pointed out, don't forget about that connection between Iraq and 9/11.

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Must-see Snuffleupagus!

George Snuffleupagus will have as his guest this Sunday on ABC News This Week, for a live interview, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

You have until the stores close tonight to get a TiVo, or else you'll just have to watch it live on ABC at (shudder) 8 a.m. on Sunday, 7 a.m. Central (double shudder).

I wonder if Fareed Zakaria will be in the studio, since he is a frequent panelist on This Week. Readers of my blog will recall this quote:

I think on Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld has been Orwellian, not truthful. He has consistently said things were going well when they were not, consistently said we didn't need more troops when we did, then quietly increased the number of troops by 25,000, all the while saying we actually didn't need more troops. I think it's very difficult to make the case that Rumsfeld has been truthful about the war in Iraq. — Fareed Zakaria on This Week, 2005-06-26
Could be some good television.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

How O.J. was not in double jeopardy

Double jeopardy isn't just a round on a highbrow game show, it's also a legal term for being held to answer in court twice for the same criminal act.

O. J. Simpson, who was found not guilty in the criminal trial, but was then found liable (responsible) in the civil trial, was quoted by Linda Deutsch of the Associated Press today as saying, "If you're found not guilty, how can you be found responsible? I'd love to hear how that's not double jeopardy." My cousin asked me more or less the same question at the time, although from a different perspective: "Doesn't that mean that he was guilty? If he did it, why wasn't he convicted?"

Well, let me tell you how it's not double jeopardy. The key to the discussion is a concept called standard of proof. In a criminal trial, the jury must find in the defendant's favor unless she is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; in a civil trial, the jury must find for the defendant unless a preponderance of the evidence indicates that the damage was her responsibility.

I served on a civil jury here in San Francisco a couple of years ago, in the court of Judge Alex Saldamando. The judge explained to us the difference in the two standards of proof. In a civil trial, if you put the evidence for the plaintiff and the evidence for the defendant on a scale and they exactly balance, then the defendant wins. However, if you add a tiny feather to the plaintiff's side, that tips the balance: there is more evidence for the plaintiff than for the defendant, so you find for the plaintiff.

In other words, in a civil trial, it's an even race, except that an exact tie goes to the defendant. Think of it like a football game, only the defendant wins on a tie score. In a criminal trial, though, the prosecution can't allow even a field goal from the defense, or the defendant wins. It doesn't matter if the score is 77 to 3, it's still a notch in the lose column for the prosecution. They have to not only score more runs than the defendant, but the prosecution has to pitch a no-hitter. (Sorry, O.J., sports metaphors aren't my natural habitat.)

What happened to you, Mr. Simpson, is quite simply that the criminal jury found that they had some reasonable doubt of the allegation that you directly caused the deaths of two people. In other words, they did not say "He did not do it!," they said "We are not certain that he did it." It is entirely possible that some jurors were certain you didn't, others thought you probably didn't, and others thought you probably did.

The civil jury later weighed the evidence by a very different standard. The question they were called to answer was very simply, Is it more likely or more unlikely that O.J. Simpson caused the deaths of two people? Their answer was "more likely."

From all the evidence I've seen, it appears to me that both verdicts were legally correct, but whatever they were, they did not by any means constitute "double jeopardy." If they did, it would be impossible to sue a criminal for the damage she caused by the crime.

What comes much closer to double jeopardy is the filing of federal criminal charges against someone who has been acquitted on state criminal charges. For instance, a police officer who is not convicted of assault may be tried a second time for violating the suspect's federal civil rights. That process is only invoked in a few cases where public sentiment is very strong that the initial acquittal was a miscarriage of justice, but it does tread on the thin ice of giving someone a second criminal trial for the same overt act.

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