Monday, February 28, 2005


What is a boomerang?

Señor for $200

This Spanish tenor's name means "quiet Sunday" in English.

Standing up for what's right

Over a year ago, on December 18, 2003, I posted about an utterly inane case in which a woman in Cleburne, Texas, was arrested for selling a vibrator to undercover narcotics cops. Last July 27 I was able to report the good news that the charges had been dropped.

Well, it turns out that the good folks in Alabama are made of stiffer stuff - uh, I mean firmer stu - uh.... Well, anyway, it seems that Alabama has a law that makes it a crime, punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and a year in jail, to sell "any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs." That is, basically, vibrators and dildos. With the help of the ACLU, the law was challenged by two vendors and a group of people who said they regularly used such sex toys.

They won in federal district court, lost in federal appeals court - and on Tuesday, without comment, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal. So the people of Alabama continue to be protected from the heinous criminality of such as Adam and Eve and Xandria.

What is truly bizarre about the case is the reasoning the Court of Appeals in Atlanta used in overturning the lower court's decision.
Advocating that public morality should no longer be a "rational basis to restrict private sexual activity," the dissent [It was a 2-1 decision.] seeks to ignore that the legislation at issue bans by its express terms only the unsavory advertising and sale of sexual devices that the majority of the people of Alabama may well find morally offensive."
Indeed, the decision goes out of its way to note that the law has a very limited focus: It bans the sale of sex devices but does not ban their possession, use, or free distribution. What's more,
[t]he law does not affect the distribution of a number of other sexual products such as ribbed condoms or virility drugs. Nor does it prohibit Alabama residents from purchasing sexual devices out of state and bringing them back into Alabama. Moreover, the statute permits the sale of ordinary vibrators and body massagers that, although useful as sexual aids, are not "designed or marketed ... primarily" for that particular purpose. Finally, the statute exempts sales of sexual devices "for a bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial, or law enforcement purpose."
Beyond wondering just which sexual devices are sold for a "bona fide law enforcement purpose" and just what such a purpose might be, I note that the court has openly acknowledged, in fact aggressively asserted in its defense, that the law accomplishes absolutely nothing beyond going "ewww."
[I]n fact, the users involved in this litigation acknowledge that they already possess multiple sex toys.... The fact remains that the complainants here continue to possess and use such devices, burdened only by inconvenient access."
In short, the Court of Appeals ruled that Alabama can in fact legislate morality: It can ban the sale of items not because they are dangerous, not because they present a public risk, not because their advertising is fraudulent or misleading, but just because a supposed majority find them icky.

Apparently those zombies have overrun at least one federal court, too.

Thanks to Fred at Stone Court for the excerpts from the Appeals Court decision.

Footnote: The state of Alabama did not contest claims that about 20% of American women use a vibrator and at least 10% of sexually active adults use them in their regular sex life.

Filling space with another dumb web meme

What the heck.

Bold the states you've been to, underline the states you've lived in, and italicize the state you're in now.

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C /

Go here to have a form generate the HTML for you.

A measure of how bad it's getting

Cosmic Iguana provided the link to a story coming out of Winchester, Kentucky, where a high school junior has been arrested for a short story he wrote, according to local TV news.

William Poole, 18, was tossed into jail after his grandparents read his journal, found a story he was working on for English class that involved zombies overrunning a high school, and turned it over to police, who charged him with making terrorist threats.

It's important to note that the story is clearly fiction, does not mention anything related to any local institutions or officials, and contains no threats against anyone. It apparently was a Night of the Living Dead-type story. Doesn't matter, the cops say. Totally irrelevant.
[P]olice say the nature of the story makes it a felony. "Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it's a felony in the state of Kentucky," said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill.
Let me repeat that: The nature of the story made it criminal. It is, they are saying, a crime - a felony, a terrorist threat - to write a fictional story about zombies overrunning a fictional high school filled with fictional characters.

It gets even more inane, if you can believe it:
On Thursday, a judge raised Poole's bond from one to five thousand dollars after prosecutors requested it, citing the seriousness of the charge.
On second thought, maybe the story isn't so fictional: Certainly the officials around Winchester, Kentucky seem to be brain dead.

Footnote: A woman in Bowling Green, Virginia has avoided jail time by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge as part of a plea agreement. She'd been threatened with 10 days in jail for contempt of court because she violated a judge's order.

What was the order she violated? She shares custody of her two children with her ex-husband and the judge in the case had ordered her to not smoke around her children.

Now, I sure as hell am no fan of smoking: I endorse bans on smoking in public places and do not let anyone smoke inside my home. But frankly, just where in hell does this judge get off thinking he can on his own authority order someone to not engage in legal activities? Please don't lay "the welfare of the child" on me; I'm well aware of the dangers of second-hand smoke, in fact, I was telling people I was convinced of those risks long before it became accepted they existed.

The issue here, just as in Poole's case, is one of the arbitrary exercise of power. What if she was a political activist and the judge decided her politics would be "detrimental to the child?" (Not so outlandish an idea: I knew of a case back home where in the course of an acrimonious divorce, the wife tried to deny her soon-to-be-ex child visitation rights on the grounds that he was a communist.) Could he order her not to talk about her beliefs or engage in any political activity when her children were present? What if she works and he's convinced "a woman's place is in the home?" Could he order her not to talk to her children about her job or take them to her workplace? Once you say that legal actions can be banned, what are the limits?

Now, it may be that there are special circumstances of which I'm unaware that make this an exceptional case. Maybe the children have emphysema, for example. But still the trend toward arbitrary power is disturbing and the idea that we're just supposed to accept it, even more so.

By the way, the woman is appealing the original order. Unless there is some genuinely odd aspect such as I just suggested, I truly hope she wins. As much as I hate smoking, I hope she wins.


In late 1960, a man reading his newspaper while riding the London underground came across a story about two students in Portugal who had been arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison for the crime - and a crime it was - of sitting in a cafe in Lisbon and drinking a toast "to freedom."

The man was Peter Benenson, a lawyer who had a history of activism on the cause of human rights. He decided to undertake the task of organizing a campaign seeking amnesty for those students and four other people wrongly imprisoned for their beliefs. He envisioned it as a one-year effort.

It didn't work out that way. The idea of dignified protest through supporting letters to prisoners and publicity to bring "light into the darkness of prisons, the horror of torture chambers and tragedy of death camps around the world" caught fire both politically and symbolically in the candle wrapped in barbed wire.

Peter Benenson didn't know it that day on the underground, but he had just founded Amnesty International.
The man who lit the fuse of the human rights revolution died this week, having refused all honours and leaving behind him a world changed by the countless protests and petitions he championed.
He was 83.

Of course, no one person is responsible for the changes that take place over the course of their lifetime. There are many other people, there are events that drive other events, there are social changes that drive other social changes. Change, including the change in attitude toward human rights (when Benenson was born, there were no international human rights treaties and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was 26 years in the future), is a process, not something commanded or generated by any single source, much less any single person.

But to the extent that any one person could symbolize that change, that person could well be Peter Benenson. May he be remembered with honor.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


What is Mobile?

World of Sports

Events using this item include maximum time aloft and William Tell, where you knock an apple off your own head.

Stop me if you've heard this one

George Bush said on Thursday that troop withdrawals from Iraq depend on moves to strengthen Iraqi security forces. Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi echoed the sentiment, saying that withdrawals would require the Iraqi army and internal security to be able to fill the gap that might otherwise occur.

Meanwhile, AP says that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) -

Whoops! Sorry! Back up! That first paragraph was read off the wrong script. That wasn't Bush and Allawi, the actual speakers were Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed al-Mualem and Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami. They weren't talking about US troops leaving Iraq but Syrian troops leaving Lebanon. An understandable confusion, I expect.

Those Syrian troops whose departure is dependent on strengthening Lebanon's security forces have been there for 14 years. Which makes what Sen. Graham had to say even more pointed. As reported by AP on Friday, Graham,
back from a weeklong journey overseas, offered the sobering assessment Friday that American troops will be in Iraq for years and casualties are likely for some time to come. ...

"Americans have to understand that, just as in Japan and Germany, it will take years to go from a dictatorship to a democratic government." ...

"The Iraqi people are more empowered but the security situation is worse," he said. "We had a lot less freedom to move around. In many ways in terms of security it is not better off than all."
Graham had his own supporting echo, as on that same day Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a gathering of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council that
in the past century, insurgencies around the world have lasted anywhere from seven to 12 years, making a quick fix to the problem in Iraq unlikely.

"This is not the kind of business that can be done in one year, two years probably," said Myers....
Graham, for his part, is looking at the even longer term, noting that "we're still in Germany and South Korea 50 years later." Of course, the presence of US troops in those nations is not supposed to be due to the internal conditions there, so some might say Graham is comparing apples to oranges. Perhaps, however, what he is really comparing is permanent - oops, excuse me, the Pentagon-correct term is "enduring" - enduring bases to enduring bases.

Footnote, Another Country Heard From Div.: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on Wednesday that
U.S. Senator John McCain told reporters in Kabul on 22 February that America's strategic partnership with Afghanistan should include "permanent bases" for U.S. military forces.
McCain was part of the same group of Senators touring the region that included Graham.

When I look over my shoulder

Be sure to stick with me through this one; I promise I saved the best/worst for last.

The Jeopardy! category is Common Threads for $1200.

The answer: An email from the Social Security Administration about focus groups on privatization, a letter from ChoicePoint Inc., some computer tapes from the Bank of America, and the attorney general of Kansas.

The question: What are threats to personal privacy?

Our cultural understanding of what is "private" has changed over the centuries. Some of what seems obvious now would have seemed odd in the past and vice versa. For example, a fair amount (although not all, certainly) of our fastidiousness about bodily functions dates only from Victorian times, when, as has happened so many times before and since, the elite sought to prove their eliteness by separating themselves from some aspect of the "common sorts," the "vulgar" masses, only to have those same masses, wanting to imitate their "betters," adopt the same attitudes. (Although I expect many of you know, it's still noteworthy that "vulgar" originally meant "of the common people, everyday" and only over time acquired its current thoroughly negative meaning - and that largely through, again, elites trying to show that "vulgar" was precisely what they were not.)

But while exactly what was and was not considered private has changed over the course of time, the fact is that the concept of privacy, a concept that there were areas, either physical or psychological, where others could not go without your permission, has always been there. "A man's home is his castle" had a real legal importance at one time: In old England, it was common law that even the King could not enter your house without your consent. Applied to political affairs, it put genuine limits on the power of the state to exploit individuals and gather ever-more power to itself - avoiding that outcome being the purpose of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on "unreasonable searches and seizures." More: It actually underlies the First Amendment as well, which is based in part on the notion that the state has no legitimate right to inquire into your personal political or religious beliefs except as you - and only to the extent that you - freely choose to express them.

In more recent times, that concept has become a treasured one and has been expanded as our economy and our technology have changed in ways that have raised issues that simply didn't exist earlier. Financial privacy only becomes important when you have an economy based on credit rather than cash-and-carry; medical privacy arises as a concern when electronic databases make what was previously known only to your doctor available to anyone with the right password and medical technology improves the chances of accurate predictions of future health problems (and therefore future costs for such as insurance companies).

Unfortunately, the expansion of "privacy" has tended to follow in the wake of the expansion of "information management" and we seem always to be a step (or more) behind, reacting to new threats from new areas: We only recognize a privacy issue after it has already become a threat.

Our computers, wonderful gizmos that they are, are also the source of some of those very threats. One recent one involves a email some people have been getting, apparently from the Social Security Administration. It says it's looking for people who might like to take part in a series of focus groups on the subject of privatization. Even some lefty blogs passed on the info, thinking it could be a way to influence the debate.

Those who responded to the notice received an email. As Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo describes it,
[o]n its face, the response and the form looked like about what you'd expect: some boilerplate about what the focus groups would be like and a form asking for various personal and demographic information about the potential participant.
And, of course, some information necessary to make sure the participant was who they said they were; can't be too careful these days and all, and so would you also give us your name, your birthdate, your Social Security number....
The email was 'signed' by someone claiming to be from the Social Security administration.

Based on this I called the SSA press office early this afternoon. And an hour or so later I received a call back from Mark Lassiter, the press officer. Lassiter told me in no uncertain terms that these focus group postings and emails are "not being done by SSA or anyone working on SSA's behalf."
That is, the whole deal is a scam, a fraud, very likely an attempt at identity theft. It is supposedly being investigated.

Admittedly, this is a rather run-of-the-mill attempt at a rip-off, but what's important to consider is the scope of what someone could do with that information. A verifiable name, address, birthdate, and SSN - and of course it would be verifiable, it's yours and it's accurate, yes? - is really all that's needed for someone to plunge you into a nightmare and run away with your life. AP for Friday tells one tale:
Warren Lambert thought it was just another piece of junk mail until he read the letter more closely and learned that con artists may have obtained his Social Security number, name and address - just what they need to steal his identity and ruin his credit.

Lambert is one of nearly 145,000 Americans rendered vulnerable by a breach of the computer databases of ChoicePoint Inc., a leading trafficker in a growing pool of information about who we are, what we own, what we owe and even where we go.

The Georgia-based company began mailing the warning letters after acknowledging this month that thieves opened more than 50 ChoicePoint accounts by posing as legitimate businesses.
ChoicePoint is one of a growing number of companies that deal in information. Information about us, information that we may have thought was private. These companies gather up all the info about you they can find put it in one package, and sell that information to others. The details of your life become a financial transaction.
More than 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity theft last year, crimes that cost the nation roughly $5 billion not including lost productivity, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The Federal Trade Commission ranks identity theft as the No. 1 fraud-related complaint.

Many victims are dumbfounded by the dearth of federal and state laws aimed at protecting their credit histories and other information about them that data brokers gather and sell to institutions including news organizations, banks and, increasingly, companies vetting prospective employees. Victims are also frustrated by the amount of time it takes to re-establish identities.

According to a 2003 survey by the San Diego-based nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center, the average victim spends at least 600 hours over several years recovering from identity theft. And based on wages of people surveyed, it cost the average victim nearly $16,000 in lost or potential income - not including what they might have paid for bogus purchases creditors wouldn't reimburse.
ChoicePoint initially concealed the breach from the public and only began to notify possible victims because of a California law requiring them to do so. In a letter to ChoicePoint last week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) noted that
we exchanged letters in January after EPIC had urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate your company and other commercial data brokers. We had specifically raised questions about the adequacy of your auditing procedures. You wrote to me to dispute our charges and to suggest that there was no reason for the FTC to pursue the matter.

We replied, before the news of the past week, that it was clearly appropriate for the Federal Trade Commission to determine whether your company complied with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and also that it would be necessary to update federal law to take account of new business practices.
That is, the company was claiming in January that there was nothing wrong with its auditing procedures, no need for any federal regulation. That was three months after ChoicePoint realized that the 50 "business" accounts were bogus.

Feeling safer now? By the way, ChoicePoint still refuses to inform those whose records were sold just what was in them beyond name, address and Social Security number. Bogus businesses can buy that info for $100, but you can't have it at all.

In the wake of the fiasco, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) said he would schedule hearings on identity theft and information brokers. And guess what? Here's something as reported by Reuters on Saturday that may well give his colleagues a little nudge in the right direction:
Computer tapes containing credit card records of U.S. Senators and more than a million U.S. government employees are missing, Bank of America said on Friday, putting the customers at increased risk of identity theft.

The security breach, which included data on a third of the Pentagon's staff, angered lawmakers already concerned after criminals gained access to thousands of consumer profiles in a database maintained by a data profiling company, ChoicePoint Inc.
That's right, "dozens" of Senators suddenly find themselves exposed to the risk of identify theft, as records holding their Social Security numbers, addresses and account numbers are missing. The disappearance, thought to have been the result of theft by baggage handlers off a commercial plane carrying the tapes to a back-up data center, took place months ago but bank officials say they only now got permission from law enforcement to let customers know.
"The investigation to date has found no evidence to suggest the tapes or their content have been accessed or misused, and the tapes are now presumed lost," the bank said in a statement.
Right. And ChoicePoint saw nothing wrong with its auditing procedures.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said he hoped the incident would move Congress to pay attention to a "rapid erosion of privacy rights" due to faulty data security.

But while these threats are ones to our financial security, our peace of mind, and most importantly, our personal privacy, threats resulting from thieves but rooted in the corporate commercialization of our personal lives for profit, another threat, in some ways looming even larger, is that to our political privacy - or, more precisely, threats to our privacy engendered by government rather than corporations and other sorts of crooks. In what can only be considered a politically-motivated move of the most thoroughly scummy sort, Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline
is demanding abortion clinics turn over the complete medical records of nearly 90 women and girls, saying he needs the material for an investigation into underage sex and illegal late-term abortions,
said AP on Thursday.
Kline is seeking the records of girls who had abortions and women who received late-term abortions. Sex involving someone under 16 is illegal in Kansas, and it is illegal in the state for doctors to perform an abortion after 22 weeks unless there is reason to believe it is needed to protect the mother's health.

Kline spoke to reporters after details of the secret investigation, which began in October, surfaced in a legal brief filed by attorneys for two medical clinics. ...

The clinics said Kline demanded their complete, unedited medical records for women who sought abortions at least 22 weeks into their pregnancies in 2003, as well as those for girls 15 and younger who sought abortions. ...

The records sought include the patient's name, medical history, details of her sex life, birth control practices and psychological profile.
The clinics have offered to provide information with certain information deleted, but Kline would have not of that, he wanted it all. This unbelievably slimy exercise, this attempted psychological rape, has no relation to any investigation of any actual crime, real or suspected - it is a classic fishing expedition. But it's one with a particularly sinister motive, as I can see no other purpose for the abortion-opposing Kline to be doing this except to send a message to any woman, of any age, seeking an abortion that the most intimate details of her life can easily become a matter of public record, salaciously poured over by file clerks looking for a quick thrill, not to mention anyone else who might gain access for some of course "legitimate" purpose.

Two things make this especially chilling: One, the matter only came to light because of a brief filed by the clinics in an appeal of AttGen Slime's demand;
the clinics' attorneys said a gag order prevents the clinics from even disclosing to patients that their records are being sought,
so they wouldn't even know until it was too late. And two, back in October, state District Judge Richard Anderson said Slime could have the files. AttGen Slime is not the only scumbag in this episode. The clinics have appealed to the state Supreme Court; no hearing has been scheduled.

By the way, in 2003 AttGen Slime tried to force all health care professionals in the state to report underage sexual activity to his office. A federal judge blocked him. So far. Maybe he'd like to introduce mandatory virginity tests? I'm sure he'd be willing to undertake the "burden" of doing his share of them.

Footnote One: Not every bit of news is bad. Back on February 10 I posted about the plan of Brittan Elementary School in Sutter, California, to require all students to wear ID badges with Radio Frequency ID (RFID) chips in them amid privacy complaints from parents and questions about the school's relationship with the company supplying the badges. CNET News reported last week that the company, InCom, has pulled out of the deal and the plan has been abandoned.

Footnote Two: Besides EPIC, a good source for privacy-related news is The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) is a pretty good source on that issue.


Sorry about last night; computer problems. I managed to get Jeopardy! posted but just gave up on trying to do anything else. I'll try to make up for it today.

Just FYI, I think I finally am moving in the direction I originally imagined for Lotus, that of fewer, more in-depth items rather than a greater number of shorter ones. I'm sure it won't turn into just that - there are too many interesting and/or irritating things that deserve some sort of mention, if only a brief one - but yeah, I've got a feeling it's developing that way.

Responses are always welcome.

Saturday, February 26, 2005


What is Birmingham?

Sweet Home, Alabama for $2000

It's Alabama's only seaport.

World of Sports

Friday, February 25, 2005


What is Montgomery?

Sweet Home, Alabama for $1200

An industrial center, this city was named for an industrial city in England.

Life, death, and self

The long, bitter, emotionally painful and draining tale of Terri Schiavo may be - may be - approaching an end.

Fifteen years ago today, Terri Schiavo suffered severe brain damage when her heart stopped beating, believed to be as the result of a chemical imbalance arising out of her extreme attempts at keeping her weight down. She has never recovered. She breathes on her own, her heart beats on its own, but she is unable to eat or swallow and lives only by virtue of a feeding tube.

For seven long years, her husband Michael and her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have engaged in a running battle involving scores of rulings and tens of thousands of pages of documents over his attempts to have the feeding tube removed, which he insists would be in accordance with Terri's wishes. During the course of the case, her parents have accused him of mistreating her, abusing her, denying her treatment, of being interested only in collecting the $1 million won in a malpractice suit as the result of her brain injury, even of having caused that injury himself by assaulting her on the night she collapsed. None of the charges of neglect or abuse or assault have been substantiated, but still they, and the rumors they generate, persist.

On Tuesday, the Second District Court of Appeal in Florida cleared the way for the tube to be removed. But the same day, Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer, who has been overseeing the case, issued an emergency stay. After a hearing on Friday, Greer extended the stay until March 18 - but in doing so, he
wrote that he was no longer comfortable granting delays in the family feud, which has been going on for nearly seven years and has been waged in every level of Florida's court system. He said the case must end.

"The court is no longer comfortable granting stays simply upon the filings of new motions," Greer wrote. "There will always be 'new' issues."
Even in the face of the years of accusations, the Appeals Court has previously upheld decisions finding that Terri expressed a belief that she did not want to be kept alive artificially. If the Court continues in that vein, and if Judge Greer means what he says about being unwilling to issue further stays, March 18 may mark the end of the legal battle.

Don't count on it, though: There are already reports that Jeb Bush, who in October of 2003 pushed through an emergency law preventing the removal of the feeding tube only to have it declared unconstitutional, is still looking for angles: Reportedly, the Department of Children and Families is going to seek a 60-day stay to "investigate" charges that Michael Schiavo has denied his wife medical care and rehabilitation.

But of course such charges could only be substantiated, could only even make sense just as charges, under the assumption that Terri Schiavo is what her parents claim her to be: someone who "laughed, cried, smiled and responded to their voices." Someone who only needs some therapy to be able to feed herself again. Someone who can come back to them. Someone who can be made whole.

But she can't be made whole. And she's not coming back.
Brain scans show that parts of Schiavo's brain have atrophied and been replaced by spinal fluid. With such severe damage, Schiavo can't show the recovery that Scantlin has, said Dr. Michael Pulley, assistant professor of neurology at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville.

"Those types of changes don't reverse," Pulley said. "If you lose big pieces of brain, regardless of what it is - trauma, stroke, surgery - it doesn't come back."
The contrary claims made by her parents - or, more particularly, by their lawyer - don't stand up to scrutiny. For one thing, the tapes supposedly showing her responding to her parents, shown widely on TV, are carefully chosen moments and there is in fact no evidence the "responses" are anything other than random motions and sounds or at most just reflexes. Unbiased evidence of "consciousness" simply does not exist and the doctors brought in by the courts, who had no personal stake in the outcome, declared she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope for recovery.

The hard truth, the painful truth, the distressing truth, a truth that only our advances in medicine and our increasing knowledge of the brain have forced us to confront, is that there is a difference between survival of the body and survival of what for lack of a better term might be called the self. Whatever that is, whatever it is that makes us who we are as individuals, that makes us us as opposed to someone else, ended for Terri Schiavo 15 years ago. It is only the body, the shell, that remains. Terri Schiavo as a person, as Terri Schiavo, is dead and has been for well over a decade.

The emotional tragedy driving the legal tragedy is the inability of Terri's parents to accept her death, their refusal to mourn her loss, their persistence in a fantasy of her return. Such a reaction is not unnatural, but it is mistaken and ultimately will cause the family more pain even if they were to win their case. Pain not only emotional but financial as a host of "therapists" hawking their wares and their cures will circle like vultures over a family already threadbare with grief.

Some earlier cases, like the fairly well-known one of Karen Ann Quinlan were often easier because the brain damage, while not necessarily more extensive than that suffered by Terri Schiavo, was undeniable and no one could even pretend she was responsive to stimuli. But one thing, one central thing, remains the same: Karen Ann Quinlan, just like Terri Schiavo, died long before her body did.

I recall the last days of my mother's life. Long sick with diabetes and end-stage renal disease (i.e., kidney failure), in and out of the hospital I don't remember how many times, she was lying in a hospital bed, reduced by a string of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) to a twitching, comatose, body with an EEG all but flatlined. Two days earlier, unable to speak because of a trach tube, unable to write because her hands could not clearly receive the messages her brain was screaming at them, she mouthed to me what I think - but I don't know - were the words "pull the plug." I shook my head no. Eyes wide with distress, she clearly mouthed "why?" I said "I can't." Not with the doctor, a nurse, and my father in the room with me. And not without being sure of what she said. She turned away in frustration.

I intended to find her alone later, to ask her if she had in fact asked me to pull the plug on her. If she said yes, if she had nodded, I would have done it. The chance never arose: She lapsed into a coma that night. It is one of the great regrets of my life that I may have failed to comply with a wish that she knew that I, alone of all the people in her life, would be willing to fulfill.

But the point of this story comes the next day. There was my father, sitting at the bedside, holding my mother's hand, insisting from time to time that she was giving his hand a squeeze "to let me know she knows I'm here." But she didn't know. She was no longer there. It was only a question of how long it would be before her heart realized it and stopped beating. But he refused to believe it, refused to accept it, until another day later when her heart finally did gave out.

The brain damage suffered by Terri Schiavo did not reach those parts of the brain that control base-level autonomous functions like breathing. But while Terri Schiavo's body survives by use of a feeding tube, Terri Schiavo herself died years ago.

Her parents should let what remains go as well so they can begin mourning and - eventually - recovering and rebuilding.

From the horse's mouth

Mark this down for future reference:
In fact, it was chilling that the members of the ... press sang the praises of the president.

It was not what you'd want in a democracy.
Certainly not! So have this ready the next time someone like, say, Charles Krauthammer, who said the above on Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" on Thursday, complains about the "liberal press."

And if in response someone notes that Krauthammer was talking about the treatment of President Putin by the Russian press, ask them why they're more interested in democracy in Russia than in the US.

Thanks to Liberal Oasis for the quote.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Who is Theodore Roosevelt?

Sweet Home, Alabama for $400

It became Alabama's capital in 1847.

War of the Geeks

It's not something to take too seriously - the list of previous possibilities that didn't pan out is quite long - but two recent reports have raised the possibility that there could possibly, just maybe, be life on Mars. Not in the past, now.
A frozen sea, surviving as blocks of pack ice, may lie just beneath the surface of Mars, suggest observations from Europe's Mars Express spacecraft. The sea is just 5° north of the Martian equator and would be the first discovery of a large body of water beyond the planet's polar ice caps,
reports New Scientist magazine.

There already was "compelling" evidence for past flooding in the area, now it appears that a sea of ice 800-900 kilometers (500-560 miles) wide and 45 meters (150 feet) deep may be hidden under a few centimeters (an inch or two) of volcanic ash, which has protected it from sublimating into the thin Martian atmosphere.
"If the reported hypothesis is true, then this would be a prime candidate landing site to search for possible extant life on Mars," says Brian Hynek, a research scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, US.
There are, not surprisingly, uncertainties here: Other somewhat similar areas have been chalked up to solidified lava. But the "plates" making up this area are larger and smoother, with straighter boundaries, than any such lava plates found on Earth. They look much more - both in shape and size - like pack ice in the Antarctic.

One idea that occurs to me is that if this is in fact an ocean of blocks of ice water, any seismic activity could cause enough friction to keep some of the water between the plates liquid or at least gelid. And that could make for some interesting possibilities.

Someone else is pursuing such an interesting possibility from another angle, again reported in New Scientist.
A leading European Space Agency scientist[, Vittorio Formisano of the Institute of Physics and Interplanetary Science in Rome,] says he has found a gas in the Martian atmosphere that he believes can only be explained by the presence of life.
Formisano used data from ESA's Mars Express satellite orbiting Mars to conclude that the concentration of formaldehyde in the Martian atmosphere is about 130 parts per billion. If that is being produced by the oxidation of methane, it would need, he estimates, about 2.5 million tons of methane per year to produce it. Methane is produced in abundance by life processes among bacteria - and there is no known non-organic source on Mars that could produce near that amount.
"I believe that until it is demonstrated that non-biological processes can produce this, possibly the only way to produce so much methane is life," he says. "My conclusion is there must be life in the soil of Mars."
Other scientists are understandably cautious, not only because of the history of previous such declarations, but also because to get his results Formisano pushed the capabilities of the measuring instruments to their limits. What's more, others say, even if he's right about the formaldehyde, there may be as yet unknown sources of methane on Mars other than organic ones. Formisano admits he can't prove his contention. Even so, he says, the hints he has obtained for life on Mars are the best we can get now. "The next step is to go there and look for it."

Missions now in the planning stage will do just that. : sigh : This is so much of a better way to spend money than on invasions. Posted by Hello

Let's get this show back on the road

AmericaBlog, which has been all over Gannongate, now reports with a mixture of astonishment and gratitude that WorldNetDaily, one of the most conservative, pro-Bush sites on the internet, has savaged Gannon and the White House over their complete lack of journalistic ethics.

The issue of the ethics of journalism slides easily over into the issue of the practice of journalism. Or, rather, the lack of said practice. A number of people have raised the question "where is the mainstream media?" Media Matters for America noted on Tuesday that as of that day, not one of the five biggest circulation newspapers in the US (USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post) had weighed in editorially on the scandal, even though a number of smaller papers had. Bill Maher, expressing it more pointedly, said that if this had happened during the Clinton administration "tell me there wouldn't be crowds of people with torches and pitchforks."

The problem is not that the major media haven't covered the story at all - they have - but rather how it was covered. Gannongate has for the most part gotten the once-over-lightly treatment as if it was some kind of amusing curiosity, often approached as another "look at those bloggers go!" story: The "how" drowned out the "who" and the "what." That's perhaps not surprising from a media that almost invariably addresses political stories in terms of process rather than product, dwelling on the supposedly sexier notion of "how is so-and-so going to sell this" to the near-exclusion of just what it is that the old so-and-so is trying to sell. Not only is that easier (policy explanations take real work and the effort to understand the details), but, the media masters believe, it's also more interesting to viewers and readers, who get caught up in the game of "who's winning?" - which makes it, again they believe, more profitable for the parent corporation looking to the bottom line to see if this quarter's returns exceed the last quarter's.

That, I think, is why there have been no crowds with torches: With Clinton, the corporate media bosses knew they had an audience of paying customers of a certain sure size that would eagerly fill every seat in the Coliseum in hopes of seeing some bloodshed. The hatred of Bush is not the same - not on the same level and more importantly, not of the same type. Shrub is a smug creep but I strongly suspect that if he were to become more liberal in his policies, those on the left who despise him might be suspicious, but even so they would despise him less. With Clinton, the more conservative he acted ("ending welfare as we know it," the Defense of Marriage Act, bombing of Libya and Iraq, NAFTA, etc.) the more the right hated him. With Bush, the hatred is political. With Clinton, it was (and is) purely personal.

And so, too, it is with the adoration of Bush: It's purely personal. Back in October a survey by the Program on International Policy Attitudes revealed that many of Shrub's supporters not only didn't know what he did advocate, they actually thought he advocated things he didn't (but of which they approved). It's as if to a significant extent, people don't care what he believes; it's the pose, the attitude, that matters. The down-home persona this party-loving Ivy League frat boy has successfully donned makes people feel "he's one of us, he's an ordinary guy who proves that ordinary folks like us are good enough to be president," he speaks to that traditional strain of defensive anti-intellectualism that runs though our history. Any number of historians have remarked on how in our nation's youth we felt we were the objects of cultural condescension by Europeans (which we were) - but while the condescension has largely disappeared, the resentment of anyone "looking down their nose at me" lingers. The right has channeled that resentment into a celebration of "traditional values" - which actually means all the things that "everybody knows" are "true" whether they are or not - and rejection of anyone who challenges conventional wisdom as someone "who thinks they're smarter'n you." It's not a new thing; it's rather a more sophisticated (i.e., more effective) version of George Wallace's rants nearly 40 years ago against "pointy-headed intellectuals."

The point here is that going after Bush would be taken very personally by a sizeable number of people, as an attack not only on him but on their cherished notions of themselves - and these are angry, frustrated people who are more than willing to make their anger and frustration known. So - to return the original point - contrary to what many on the left seem to believe, it's not that the major corporate media necessarily favor Shrub, it's that they don't see the profit in going after him.

And that in turn may explain why the members of the mainstream media, whenever they do happen to break out of the "clever bloggers" box in covering Gannongate, keep shaking their heads, mystified as to "how somebody with his background could get into the White House." They present it as a security issue, a breakdown in the screening process, a perhaps disturbing but ultimately run-of-the-mill bureaucratic screwup of which some clever self-promoter took advantage. I find that telling because that is surely the least controversial of the story's interpretations, one that can be dealt with by some reassurances that no actual danger to anyone resulted, an announcement about tightened security clearances for the press, and a statement of renewed determination to keep us all safe, probably with a quick coda about this demonstrating the need for the increased powers the administration wants.

But I don't buy that version for a minute. This is a guy who had no - zero - journalistic background, who couldn't get a Congressional press pass because he didn't work for an actual news organization, who got a daily press pass to the White House (which is only supposed to be done for out-of-town reporters who can show some special need to get in the gates on that particular day) pretty much every day for about two years, who apparently started getting said passes even before he started working for the so-called "Talon News" - and did it all under an assumed name while simultaneously engaging in an illegal enterprise, i.e., prostitution. What's more, "Talon News" was a project of GOPUSA, an outfit so partisan that even Ari Fleischer - Ari Fleischer! - wanted reassurances that Talon News actually was independent. (Hardly. But he was assured it was.)

No, I do not and cannot believe that the vetting process was that - I can't find an appropriately emphatic adjective - incompetent. This was a set-up. Someone, I don't know who, told whoever it is that issues the passes "let this guy in." Let him in to toss softball question that Scott McClellan came to rely on for his topic-changing lifeline whenever he got pressed by the real reporters. Gannon even said that "Scott knows what he's going to get from me."

(By the way, Gannon's real name, as if you didn't know, is James Guckert. He says he used the alias because his real name "is hard to pronounce." "Guckert" is hard to pronounce? I dunno about that. Maybe he was referring to "James." That must be it.)

So the real question, as far as I'm concerned, is not how he got a pass but who arranged for it and why. For the softball questions, the feeding of GOPper talking points enabling McClellan to give the spin of the day? As a favor, a payback, to some political operative? Did he, as some have intimated, have a boyfriend in the White House? Going that route, I might be more likely to suspect someone a step removed, perhaps someone in GOPUSA or the RNC who then called in a favor on his behalf - except that if that's the case, how in hell did he get the scoops he did? (For example, he quoted from a CIA report that, apparently, no other reporter had seen in the course of challenging Joe Wilson's denial that his wife was involved in getting him assigned to go to Niger to check out the story that Saddam Hussein tried to buy yellowcake there. And he knew about the announcement of the start of the invasion of Iraq at least four hours before it was made. In fact, he not only knew the announcement was coming, he knew when.)

Jeff/James Gannon/Guckert clearly had a friend - not necessarily a boyfriend, but a friend - on the inside, if not in the White House, then high up in the RNC or in the office of some powerful GOP member of Congress, someone in a position to do him favors and feed him stories. This smells of backroom deals, corruption, favoritism, and conscious, deceitful manipulation of the news through plants willing to spread lies. In other words, like Shrub team SOP with just a little more of an edge.

That edge raises something else I wanted to mention. A number of lefty sites have gone to town about this with a lot of crowing about the White House being connected to a "gay male prostitute." In fact, there are a couple I've seen that seem to be incapable of mentioning the story without using some variant of that phrase at least once in every paragraph. I know that the intent is to express the sheer joy of finding the GOPpers in such blatant hypocrisy, eagerly embracing some of the very things - prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, criminality - they say are destroying the "traditional family values" they celebrate in word but not deed. But I have been made uncomfortable with the way some commentaries have run so very close to the edge, have run right up against implying that the fact that Jeff/James Gannon/Guckert (J. Gankert for short) is gay makes what he did somehow worse - particularly, that being a gay prostitute is somehow worse than being a straight prostitute.

Suppose the reporter was a straight woman but the circumstances otherwise identical, including the escort and porn sites with the naked and spread pictures. Now, you could argue that it reduces the White House hypocrisy a single rung because while it still involves prostitution, pornography, and criminality it doesn't involve homosexuality - but it that really the issue? Does the matter revolve around the fact that Gankert is gay? By playing up that angle, are we actually playing to the very prejudices for which we slam the wingers and which provide one of the bases for the charge of hypocrisy?

It is, admittedly, a hard call because that aspect can't be ignored precisely because it is part of the hypocrisy. Yet the other aspects speak to that hypocrisy just as loudly. So why does it seem, at least to me, that much more attention is being paid to Gankert being gay than being a prostitute, more time is being spend focusing on sexuality than pornography? I can't help but suspect that a significant part of the reason is that we think that's the part that will be more shocking to "red state" people. But, again, in so doing we run the risk of, pardon the cliche, validating the very bigotry we're exploiting. That way lies the Dark Side of the Force.

The issue, what we need to keep hammering on, is not gay prostitution! gay prostitution! Rather, it's hypocrisy! hypocrisy! It's you hypocrites! you hypocrites!
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men's] bones, and of all uncleanness. - Matthew 23:27
You are untrustworthy! Unreliable! Can't be trusted! Don't keep your word! Don't mean what you say!


Wednesday, February 23, 2005


What are inaugural balls?

US Presidents for $1000

JFK was the youngest man elected president and this man was the youngest to serve as president.

Promises, promises

I will be back at it tomorrow. Lots of personal stuff going on, some of it hard, some of it not - real life has an unfortunate way of interfering with blogging - but, paraphrasing Doctor #3, we'll do what we always do: improvise.

I've - as it seems I keep doing - been thinking more about what I want to accomplish here. The whole idea of this for me was to contribute something, to have it be something worthwhile for, of use to, others. I don't know if I'm achieving that or not. My readership is small but appears to be faithful - at least that's what the data seems to say. So I assume you find some worth in this. (Of course, maybe you're just coming for the Jeopardy! answers.)

Back in 1991, someone wrote me in response to the first issue of what I call the "independent" print version of Lotus (previously, it was either a, or part of a, group's newsletter), chiding me for preaching to the choir and saying I should be trying to appeal to the moderate reader. I wrote back in part:
As for "Lotus" itself, it's an example of advocacy journalism, and its audience is indeed those who in a broad and general way agree with its point of view. It's aim is to rouse and inspire, to provide background and analysis intended to put a context to ethical judgments and thereby spur action. I know your remarks about it were meant kindly, and I thank you for your concern. But I must note that the words you used to describe it ("fringe" and "marginal") are words of dismissal in the American political lexicon, which defines "truth" as something invariably found in the "center." Frankly, I reject any standard which equates advocacy with irrelevancy and "objectivity" with never reaching a conclusion. As Jim Hightower is fond of saying, "the only things found in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos."
I haven't changed my mind or my goals. I don't know that I'm exactly preaching to the choir, but I surely am addressing members of similar congregations. I make no bones about, and offer no apologies for, that. The question I'm always asking myself is if what I'm doing has any role in inspiring others to write a letter or make a phone call or send a contribution or talk to a neighbor or go to a meeting or lobby an official or boycott a product or walk a picket line or refuse to pay war taxes or take part in a sit-in: resist somehow, refuse somehow, renew somehow. If yes, then it matters. If not, I should be doing something else.

For the moment, I expect I will keep at it. After all, what else can I do?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Who is Gerald Ford?

US Presidents for $600

New President Clinton attended eleven of these on January 20, 1993.

Monday, February 21, 2005


What is Macbeth?

US Presidents for $200

While at the University of Michigan, this future president became a college football MVP.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


What is China?


In a 1936 production, Orson Welles moved the setting of this play from the heath to Haiti.

Saturday, February 19, 2005


What is Ravine?

Rugged Terrain for $2000

On Emei Shan, a mountain in this country, you'll pass White Dragon Cave and Elephant Bathing Pool.



...for keeping faith with me. I should be back full bore in 2-3 days.

Friday, February 18, 2005


What is Ireland?

Rugged Terrain for $1200

New Hampshire's Mount Washington has the skiing spot called Tuckerman this, a narrow valley or gorge.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


What are almonds?

Rugged Terrain for $400

Twin hills called the Paps are part of the scenery in County Kerry in this country.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


What are (chopped) walnuts?

Nuts! for $1000

Oh, joy! These nuts of the pruno amygdalus tree have been cultivated since earliest times for food and oil.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


What are pistachios?

Nuts! for $600

The original Waldorf salad had only apples, celery, and mayo, but now it's standard to add these nuts.

Happy trails to you

For a variety of personal (i.e., non-political) reasons, I'm taking a break from blogging. I don't know how long; at least a few days.

I'll be putting up Jeopardy! every day, so you can come back for your daily answer dose (and you'll know I'm still alive, assuming you care), but don't expect anything beyond that for a little while.

See ya.

Monday, February 14, 2005


What is a clarinet?

Nuts! for $200

It's messy on your fingers but for Valentine's Day you can make a heart-shaped wreath with these nuts whose shells are dyed red.

For future reference #2

Courtesy of the Toronto Star, the provisional results of the Iraqi elections.

The big three, with about 98% of the vote and 255 of 275 seats, were, of course:
- United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite alliance backed by Shiite Muslim clergy): 4,075,295 (48%), 140 seats.
- Kurdistan Alliance (coalition of two main Kurdish factions): 2,175,551 (26%), 75 seats.
- Iraqi List (headed by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi): 1,168,943 (14%), 40 seats.

These were the other slates winning seats:
- Iraqis (headed by interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer): 150,680, 5 seats.
- Turkomen Iraqi Front (represents the countries ethnic Turks): 93,480, 3 seats.
- National Independent Elites and Cadres Party: 69,938, 3 seats.
- Communist Party: 69,920, 2 seats.
- Islamic Kurdish Society: 60,592, 2 seats.
- Islamic Labour Movement in Iraq: 43,205, 2 seats.
- National Democratic Alliance: 36,795, 1 seat.
- National Rafidain List (Assyrian Christians): 36,255, 1 seat.
- Reconciliation and Liberation Entity: 30,796, 1 seat.

Other results:
- Iraqi Islamic Party (main Sunni group headed by Mohsen Abdel-Hamid): 21,342
- Assembly of Independent Democrats (headed by Sunni elder statesman Adnan Pachachi): 12,728
- National Democratic Party (headed by Naseer Kamel al-Chaderchi, Sunni lawyer and member of the former Iraqi Governing Council): 1,603

Total votes: 8,550,571

As the BBC noted, the results are provisional because parties have three days to lodge any appeals. Total turnout was around 58%, close to the 57% predicted beforehand and far below the 72% claimed in the immediate wake of the voting.

For future reference #1

Courtesy of CNN, some quickie descriptions of some of the leading names in Iraqi's politics

Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani - Backer, United Iraqi Alliance
Although not on the ballot as a candidate, the influential Shiite cleric backs the United Iraqi Alliance, a Shiite-dominated coalition of political parties and individuals. He has called voting in the election "a religious duty."

Adil Abdel-Mahdi - Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq
A Shiite and the finance minister in the Iraqi interim government, Abdel-Mahdi is a trained economist who, after being stripped of his job, left Iraq in 1969 for exile in France, where he worked for several French think tanks, and edited magazines in French and Arabic.

Ahmed Chalabi - Iraqi National Congress
Chalabi is a secular Shiite and founder of the Iraqi National Congress, which comprises exiles, Kurds and Shiites. He was a key U.S. ally before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 but fell out of favor when his intelligence about weapons of mass destruction failed to pan out.

Ibrahim Jafari Al-Eshaiker - Dawa Party
Al-Eshaiker, a Shiite Muslim, is one of two vice presidents in the Iraqi interim government. He is a member of the Dawa movement, which seeks to modernize Iraq's religious institutions.

Hussain Al-Shahristani - United Iraqi Alliance
Al-Shahristani is a nuclear scientist who was one of six people chosen by the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani to compile a list of candidates for the United Iraqi Alliance.

Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim - Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq
Al-Hakim, a Shiite, was a member of the disbanded Iraqi Governing Council. He is the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Adnan Pachachi - Independent Democratic Gathering
Pachachi is a secular Sunni Muslim who had belonged to the disbanded Iraqi Governing Council. He was a foreign minister of the government deposed by Saddam Hussein's Baath Party in 1968.

Jalal Talabani - Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
Talibani is a Sunni Kurd and the founder and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two main northern Kurdish parties that have joined to present a list of candidates for the election.

Massoun Barzani - Kurdistan Democratic Party
Barzani, an ethnic Kurd and Sunni Muslim, was a member of the former Iraqi Governing Council. He is a leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of two key northern Kurdish parties that have joined to present a list of candidates for the election.

Ayad Allawi - Iraqi National Accord
Allawi, a Shiite Muslim, is the prime minister of the interim Iraqi government. He is a former Baath Party member who was on the disbanded Iraqi Governing Council.

Hamid Majid Moussa - Iraqi Communist Party
Moussa, a Shiite Muslim, was on the former Iraqi Governing Council and leads the Iraqi Communist Party. He draws support from urban Shiites and Kurds.

Naseer Al-Chaderchi - National DemocraticParty
Al-Chaderchi, a Sunni Muslim, was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council and is the leader of the National Democratic Party.

Sheik Ghazi Al-Yawar - The Iraqis Party
Al-Yawar, a Sunni Muslim, is the president of the interim Iraqi government and was on the Iraqi Governing Council. He is the leader of a prominent Sunni tribe in northern Iraq.

Okay, one bit of commentary

Cashing in a few of the IOUs it has handed out to both conservatives and some so-called liberal Democrats over the years, corporate America has take a big step toward achieving one of its long-sought aims: As noted by the New York Times on Friday,
the Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure on Thursday that would sharply limit the ability of people to file class-action lawsuits against companies.

The measure, adopted 72 to 26, now heads to the House of Representatives, where Republican leaders say it will be approved next week and sent to the White House for Mr. Bush's signature.
The bill prohibits state courts from considering cases involving claims of more than $5 million and which include a member of the class who lives in a state other than the defendant. Those cases would go to federal courts, already overburdened and constrained by precedents from hearing claims involving varying laws of different states. In short, the idea of the bill is to effectively put an end to class-action suits that look to hold corporations accountable for their destructive, sometimes deadly, behavior. While not banning such suits outright - oh, no, they would never deny any good Americans their day in court, perish the thought! - what Big Business wants to do is avoid facing one large group of litigants who can combine resources, breaking them up into smaller, more easily dominated groups who can be overwhelmed by the soul-draining power of tax-deductible legal expenses the profit-swilling miscreants can pour into a case.

Legal observers are already talking about how federal courts might look to find ways around those restrictive precedents now that they know the plaintiffs have nowhere else to do. Personally, when I first heard of the bill's passage, I wondered how long it would be before some federal district judge said that the precedents were no longer binding because Congress obviously would not pass a law throwing these cases into federal court unless obviously it wanted those courts to be able to hear them. Obviously.

This is the best I can do

Six days and counting. It has been a long time since I have been this sick. I have no energy for any kind of commentary. But here are a few bits and pieces I found interesting over the last day or two.

- Tuesday's International Herald Tribune reports that Chung Dong Young, South Korea's unification minister, told the National Assembly on Monday that it was doubtful that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, despite Pyongyang's claims.
Other government officials, meanwhile, said that Seoul's aid to the North would continue despite reports that the government here has come under pressure at home and abroad to withhold it. ...

Chung, who also heads the National Security Council, conceded that the North possessed the material for the production of weapons.

"There is no doubt that North Korea has 10 to 14 kilograms of plutonium, but there is no evidence that the North has turned it into plutonium bombs," he said.
- "The Gates," an art installation in New York's Central Park by Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, was officially unveiled on Saturday. Described by one art critic as "a long, billowy saffron ribbon meandering through Central Park," the 23-mile long installation of 7,500, 16-foot-tall, "gates" has brought a world of flowing, billowing, brightly-colored nylon to the February dreariness. If you're going to see it - and I think you should if you can - you'd better hurry: Like all of their works, this is temporary. It comes down the end of the month.

- The issue of same-sex marriage is roiling Canada just as it has the US and, like here, has proven divisive. But as per usual, our neighbors to the north are showing themselves more progressive than we are. According to a poll commissioned by the Toronto Star
42 per cent of Canadians endorse allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. In contrast, 40 per cent say they oppose marriage for same-sex couples. ...

In a similar survey 18 months ago, just after the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien first announced it would extend the legal right to marry to gays and lesbians, outright support for gay marriage was at 36 per cent while opposition was at 41 per cent.
The paper notes that the survey results appear just days before a
crucial second-reading — or agreement in principle — debate over Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act, begins in Parliament. ...

That vote sets the stage for a Commons committee to study the bill, but if approved in principle, it's unlikely it would undergo significant changes. A final vote is expected before June.
- In what I hope does not prove to be a surfeit of confidence,
[t]he Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, said in an interview that the war with the Israelis was effectively over[, the International Herald Tribune reports,] and that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was speaking "a different language" to the Palestinians. ...

In a 40-minute interview in his Gaza office late Saturday night, Abbas spoke with pride about persuading the radical groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad to respect the mutual declaration of truce that he and Sharon announced Tuesday at their first summit meeting in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt.
- A short (2 minute) video worth watching is at the American Friends Service Committee's (AFSC) "Wage Peace Campaign" website. Go here and click on the "Wage Peace Movie" link. While you're there, check out the info about the "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit, the one that displays a pair of boots for every US soldier killed in Iraq.

- One of the worst things about thinking about Iraq is realizing there are people who would regard it as almost heaven. From the BBC for Saturday:
About 80,000 people have been displaced by fighting in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo this year, according to UN officials.

They say nearly half have fled Ituri region in the last four days. ...

Up to 50,000 have been killed since 1999, and rape is still widely used as a weapon of war.

The UN estimates that within the provincial capital Bunia alone there are 50 new cases of sexual violence every week.
Over three million have died and over two million more have been made homeless over the years of war in DR Congo.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


What are (long-wool) sheep?

Musical Instruments

The orchestral "Rhapsody in Blue" opens with a glissando by this instrument that slides into a bluesy melody.

Thought experiment

A few days ago, I asked people to imagine that it was an uncontested fact that the prisoners in the photos at Abu Ghraib were
terrorists, people who had participated in beheadings or attempted suicide bombings or bombings of civilian targets. No doubt, everyone knows it, they themselves freely admit it.
I then asked if that would change in any way, to any degree, your reaction to the photos, that is, if you knew the suffering was being inflicted on the guilty and not the innocent.

I've got another one for you. Just like that one, there is no right or wrong answer, no "you're a good person/you're a bad person" result, just something to think about.

Imagine a drawing of the US Capitol building with the dome tipped back. Out of the opening rises an angel of death wearing a swastika. The picture is titled "The New Democracy." Think about your reaction to that picture.

Okay, now add something: The picture is hanging on a wall in a fabric shop in Tripoli, Libya. Does that in any way change your response to the picture? Does, that is, the location in which the sentiment is expressed, the identity of the speaker (in the case the person displaying the picture), make a difference?

The picture and the location are real, appearing in a photo in the winter 2004 issue of Aperture magazine. (You can see the drawing in the photo, although not on a scale to make out what it is, by going to this link, where you will see a picture of the issue's cover with thumbnails of pages next to it. Pick the second from the top; the drawing is visible in the photo on the lower right, beneath the title "This is Libya." Again, it's not on a scale where the drawing is legible, but knowing what it is already, you can sort of make it out.)

I'm curious as to how others would react partly because I know my reaction was affected by the location. Only a little, but enough that I was aware of the difference. I know that if I saw that picture on a wall in the US, I would be more offended than I would be by seeing it in Libya, but I would be less disturbed. The thing is, I'm not really sure why or even if I could clearly explain the difference between being offended and being disturbed. I have some suspicions, but I have to work through my own reactions, which is, again, part of why I'd be interested in hearing others'.

For anyone who says "context doesn't matter," consider this: As much as I enjoyed Richard Pryor - nobody was better at characterization - I was always uncomfortable when he told "nigger" jokes. But I know damn well I would feel very differently, I would be moved to boiling fury, if those same jokes were told by a white man. Context does matter. Not always enough to make a difference, but it does matter.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


What is the Ford Motor Company?

Linkin' with Lincoln for $2000

Breeds of these include Lincoln, Cotswold, and Leicester.

Putting my foot in it

I expect I'm being dangerously foolish here, but I'm going to revisit the Ward Churchill issue.

I mentioned it previously in another context, that of what really defines "political correctness," noting that he'd been denounced by two governors, the legislature of Colorado, and (I learned later) at least two members of the Colorado Congressional delegation - as well as being forced to resign as chair of his department at the University of Colorado and having his job threatened. By comparison, a general who about the same time called war "a hoot" and declared to appreciative laughter that it was "fun" to kill people was defended by his superiors.

I bring it up again now, as before, not so much to debate what he said or how he said it as to consider it in yet another context.

Ward Churchill wrote an angry, steam-of-consciousness essay in the wake of 9/11 vociferously denouncing the idea that the US was merely the innocent victim of an entirely unprovoked attack by people who were either insane or evil incarnate if not both. In fact, he argued, considering our history and the effects of our policies, we should not be surprised such an attack happened; rather, we should be surprised that it hadn't happened sooner.

Most of the reaction, ignoring his central argument, focused on a single phrase: "little Eichmanns." It occurs once in a roughly 5600-word essay but headed almost every bit of news coverage precisely because it was the most inflammatory thing in the whole work.

In the paragraph in which the phrase occurs, Churchill refers to
a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire ... braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants.
He insists now that those were the "little Eichmanns" he was referring to rather than, as he was accused, to everyone who died in the World Trade Center; Eichmann being one who didn't actually turn the nozzles on the gas chambers of the death camps but was responsible for making sure the whole system ran efficiently. It needs to be said that while the essay can easily be read that way, it is not abundantly clear - especially since Churchill also denounces the US peace and justice movement as collaborators:
[T]he "resistance" expended the bulk of its time and energy harnessed to the systemically-useful task of trying to ensure, as "a principle of moral virtue" that nobody went further than waving signs as a means of "challenging" the patently exterminatory pursuit of Pax Americana. So pure of principle were these "dissidents," in fact, that they began literally to supplant the police in protecting corporations profiting by the carnage against suffering such retaliatory "violence" as having their windows broken by persons less "enlightened" - or perhaps more outraged - than the self-anointed "peacekeepers."

Property before people, it seems - or at least the equation of property to people - is a value by no means restricted to America's boardrooms. And the sanctimony with which such putrid sentiments are enunciated turns out to be nauseatingly similar, whether mouthed by the CEO of Standard Oil or any of the swarm of comfort zone "pacifists"....
No one, in his view, is entirely innocent - including, in fact, himself.

With that background, this is the point I wanted to make now:

Since my post that mentioned him, I have seen several commentaries about this business on various lefty blogs. What struck me is that almost all of them followed the same pattern: "He was wrong, he was stupid, it was a terrible thing to say, I really really disagree, but hey, freedom of speech, y'know?" In fact and more importantly, both pattern and proportion ran the same way: They almost universally spent much more space establishing how much they disagreed with Churchill than they did defending his right to say what he thought; indeed, and this is the crux of the matter, it seemed they went out of their way to denounce him in order to lead up to a statement defending free speech. (No, I'm not going to link to any of them; the issue is not the particular content of any one of them but the pattern of argument they generally followed.)

I found that disturbing because it served as an example of something I raised almost two weeks ago:
[A]ll too often we [on the left] feel the need to demonstrate our right to express our ideas, the need to prove our right to speak.

When was the last time you heard some right-winger declare, for example, "I love my country but...?" So why do so many of us feel the need to make such pleadings? ... [S]till we do it, over and over. I can't help but fear that it's partly because we do believe, even unconsciously, that we have to establish that we are connected to the dominant power before our voices can legitimately be raised.
Relating that to the case at hand: Suppose someone on the left condemns, say, Ann Coulter for calling liberals of even the most moderate sort some variation of "traitors." Or suppose they get after someone who says - as I saw someone just yesterday say - that Howard Dean is a supporter of radical Islamic terrorism (Howard Dean??). Suppose they shout "How dare you say such a thing!" The reply they'll get from the right, to the extent they get a coherent one at all, will consist of "That's censorship! Censorship! Free speech, baby, free speech!" You will not hear them say "well, of course, yes, that was a foolish and wrong thing to say, oh yes, it was so wrong and never should have been said and oh yes, they are terrible people for saying such things but oh well, free speech applies even to jerks and idiots."

So why in hell do we feel the need to do it? Why couldn't we just say about Churchill, as the right would say to us in the equivalent situation, "hey, it's free speech; if you don't like it, go somewhere they don't have it?" Why do we continually feel the need to declare "oh no no no, they're not with us" whenever something like this comes up?

I want to reiterate here that what I'm talking about is not the idea of disagreeing with Churchill. It's rather that a good deal of what I read was structured in a way that denounced him as an excuse to, as a means to, justify his freedom to speak his mind, apparently out of a timorous fear of being accused - gasp - of agreeing with him, whether they did or not, if they failed to condemn him. It's just so frustrating that even with all the buzz about George Lakoff's notions about "framing," we still don't get it, we still don't get that this sort of duck-and-cover pre-emptive defense, let's call it, only serves to legitimize the very questions it imagines it's heading off.

We are so screwed.

Thanks to Harry at Scratchings for the link to Churchill's original essay.

Footnote One: What I'd be interested in hearing is some reactions to Churchill's central contentions. That is, strip away the overheated rhetoric, strip away the vituperation and vitriol, just get down to the bare bones of his root claims, which I see as these:

1. The US was not the innocent victim of an entirely unprovoked attack on 9/11.

2. In fact, such an attack was a logically predictable outgrowth of our policies. The only surprise is it hadn't happened before.

3. All of us here benefit to some extent from those exploitive policies and so none of us are entirely innocent because none of us have done enough to oppose them - although some are clearly more guilty than others.

From my perspective, the first two contentions are unarguable. They are simply, factually true. It should be unnecessary to say - but I will anyway because "should be" and "is" are unfortunately not the same - that does not in any way approve of the attacks, any more than predicting the catastrophic consequences of global warming is approving of them.

(In the episode "A Taste of Armageddon" of the original Star Trek series, two planets are fighting a centuries-old war that they have turned over to computers which engage in a virtual war. People on each side who have been determined by the computers as having been killed in an attack are required to report to disintegration chambers. After hearing it explained, Mr. Spock says to Captain Kirk "There is a certain scientific logic about it."

"I'm glad you approve," replies the leader of the planet they're on.

"I do not approve," Spock comes back. "I understand.")

As for the third, well, I suppose it's true in a sort of disconnected, free-floating, philosophical way, but it's not really of any use applied to real people living real lives in a real country. In fact, it can become dangerous, as a similar argument was used by some to excuse civilian deaths in both Afghanistan and Iraq: Because those people had failed to overthrow their oppressors, they deserved what they got. (As one person wrote to me in the wake of Gulf War I, "they brought in on themselves.")

At the same time, I do have to agree, unhappily, that I think we who oppose our nation's wrongs and inanities have not done enough to change them. The fact that they haven't changed is proof enough. That, however, may arise from our inability to do so, our inadequate political power. What's more important is that I also have to agree, guiltily, that we - and I include myself here - have not done what we can to that end. Yes, we all have commitments, requirements, demands, all sorts of limitations on our freedom to act, yes, some of us are held back by obligations to others, by health reasons, by let's say it fear. But even given all those constraints, we have some freedom to act, some leeway to operate. Are we using it to its full extent, to the extent the situation demands? Are you?

I must confess that I know I am not. Part of my reason is discouragement. No, not the election, no, not that Shrub got a majority, even if a thin one. No, it arises from other causes, one of I've laid out here: the continued stupid willingness of the left to adopt the right's terms of argument. Until we change that, we will continue to be so screwed.

Footnote Two: I'm going to toot my own horn a bit. I'm going to egotistically note that Lakoff's notions about framing are old hat to me. In April, 1991, I wrote that "No one in a political dispute should ever allow their opponent to frame the terms of debate - but that tactical sin is one of which the peace movement has been repeatedly, egregiously, guilty." Even earlier: In 1987 there was a controversy over a miniseries called "Amerika," which told the story of resistance to a Soviet invasion of the US which had been abetted by "liberals" and the UN. SANE (now called Peace Action) had first called on ABC to cancel the series but then changed its mind in favor of calling for "counter-programming" on the network. In January of that year, over 18 years ago, I wrote to SANE in response, saying in part
[t]he statement "the organized peace movement should not position itself in a way that will be construed as wishing to censor what Americans see" is an example of sloppy thinking or sloppy writing, one that tacitly accepts the reactionary notion that there is an absolute division between "the organized peace movement" and "Americans," that we of the peace movement are somehow not quite truly American.

Finding such attitudes in "National Review" (or even "TV Guide," which once said "If you know your customers, you'll never confuse the War Resisters League with Americans") is to be expected; finding them in a SANE memo is appalling.

You may regard my concern as hypersensitivity, but the fact is the words we use, the characterizations we accept or even endorse, can define and control the debate on the issues about which we care. If we continue to allow the right wing to define the terms of the argument, terms under which they are "American" and we are somehow not, they are of the people and we are somehow outsiders, then we consign ourselves to a perpetual uphill struggle, repeatedly wondering anew "how to reach the people we want to reach."
And finally, even earlier than that, in October, 1981, I said in a speech on conducting a third-party Congressional campaign that
[w]e Americans like to think of ourselves as a rational, clear-headed people. For that reason, Americans have a very low tolerance for what they perceive as slogans or rhetoric. Now, of course the Democrats and Republicans engage in rhetoric all the time, but the point is most people don't recognize it as such. It's part of the genius of the major parties that they can make their slogans sound like analysis, while we all too often make our analysis sound like slogans.

The message here is: Avoid rhetoric! Avoid lefty slogans! Avoid buzzwords! It's altogether possible with a little thought to express the most radical positions in a non-rhetorical fashion.
A couple of years later I was able to refer to a newspaper reporter who told me that I had "the ability to make the most radical positions sound like a voice of sweet moderation."

Too bad I didn't write a treatise on it. Maybe I'd be famous! now. : sigh :

Friday, February 11, 2005


What is Nebraska?

Linkin' with Lincoln for $1200

In 1922, this company acquired the Lincoln Motor Company.

The Incredible Shrinking Geek

So cool it's hot! Or, uh, so hot it's cool! Or, uh..., anyway.

The Keck 1 telescope atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai'i has discovered a hot vortex - a large-scale weather pattern - at the south pole of Saturn.
It's the first such hot vortex ever discovered in the solar system. ...

This warm polar cap is believed to contain the highest temperatures on Saturn; the scientists did not give a temperature estimate. ...

Polar vortices are found on Earth, Jupiter, Mars and Venus, and are colder than their surroundings. The new images from the Keck Observatory show the first evidence of a polar vortex at much warmer temperatures.
The fact that the polar region is hotter than other areas is the odd part. One possibility raised is that the southern hemisphere of Saturn has been "sitting in the sunlight for about 18 years," according to Glenn Orton of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Because Saturn takes so long to orbit the Sun - nearly 30 Earth years - its seasons are correspondingly longer. But there's a problem:
"If the increased southern temperatures are solely the result of seasonality, then the temperature should increase gradually with increasing latitude, but it doesn't," Orton said. "We see that the temperature increases abruptly by several degrees near 70 degrees south and again at 87 degrees south.

"A really hot thing within a couple degrees of the pole is something I don't understand at all," he said.
What too many non-scientists don't realize is that when something makes you say "I don't understand," that's when the fun begins. Posted by Hello

Theuh - theuh - theuh - that's all, folks!

It's no use. Tonight is another lost cause. I've been sick for three days now with no end in sight. At least I don't have to work these next two days. But for now I'm not even going to try to post anything beyond one geek post and Jeopardy!

I do want to mention, thought, that I had a very pleasant surprise the other day: I was looking through the nominees for "Best Post" in the Koufax Awards run by the folks at Wampum, thinking that I wouldn't even cast a vote because there were just too many nominees to go through and there was simply no way I could make an intelligent choice - when what to my wondering eyes should appear but my own name!

Someone, I don't know who but I have a pretty good idea, nominated this post, written for the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, for Best Post! I'm genuinely flattered. I didn't win, of course, I think I only got one vote (my own), but the fact that someone took it on themselves to nominate me made me smile. Thank you.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


What are hippopotamuses and hippopotami?

Linkin' with Lincoln for $400

The university of this state has branches in Kearney, Omaha, and Lincoln.

Snapshot #5

I just found this New York Times report from Thursday leading to an interesting connection.
In the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal aviation officials reviewed dozens of intelligence reports that warned about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, some of which specifically discussed airline hijackings and suicide operations, according to a previously undisclosed report from the 9/11 commission. ...

The report discloses that the Federal Aviation Administration, despite being focused on risks of hijackings overseas, warned airports in the spring of 2001 that if "the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable."
It just so happens that the Washington Post for March 21, 2004, carried an op-ed by none other than our new Secretary of State, CantBe Right. In the course of defending the Shrub gang against charges it royally screwed up in the months leading up to 9/11, she wrote that
[d]espite what some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles, though some analysts speculated that terrorists might hijack airplanes to try to free U.S.-held terrorists. The FAA even issued a warning to airlines and aviation security personnel that "the potential for a terrorist operation, such as an airline hijacking to free terrorists incarcerated in the United States, remains a concern."
It's the same report. Rice quoted the part about a hijacking to force the release of prisoners, but left out the part about "commit[ting] suicide in a spectacular explosion" while continuing to insist no one had any idea this could happen.

We knew she was a serial liar, but here's another log for what I could only wish was her political funeral pyre.
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