Sunday, July 31, 2005

Jeopardy!

Jeopardy!
YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
What is Exodus?

FINAL JEOPARDY!
Archaeologists

In 1959, she and her husband found a skull at Olduvai Gorge dated at about 1.75 million years old.

Jeopardy! for Saturday

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
Who is Pontius Pilate?

DOUBLE JEOPARDY!
The Good Book for $2000

Get outta town with this second book of the Bible.

TOMORROW'S FINAL JEOPARDY! CATEGORY
Archaeologists

Jeopardy! for Friday

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
Who are Adam and Eve?

DOUBLE JEOPARDY!
The Good Book for $1200

As Roman procurator of Judea, he reluctantly condemned Jesus Christ to death.

Jeopardy! for Thursday

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
Who is Fu Manchu?

DOUBLE JEOPARDY!
The Good Book for $400

Until their eyes were opened, this biblical duo didn't know they were naked and didn't care a fig about it.

Warm enough for you?

If you're a hurricane dreaming of power and a place in history, it just might be. As AP put it on Sunday:
Is global warming making hurricanes more ferocious? New research suggests the answer is yes.

Scientists call the findings both surprising and "alarming" because they suggest global warming is influencing storms now - rather than in the distant future. ...

The analysis by climatologist Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows for the first time that major storms spinning in both the Atlantic and the Pacific since the 1970s have increased in duration and intensity by about 50 percent.

These trends are closely linked to increases in the average temperatures of the ocean surface and also correspond to increases in global average atmospheric temperatures during the same period.
There are several "buts" here, including that some researchers have questioned Emanuel's methods, noting for example that he
did not consider wind speed information from some powerful storms in the 1950s and 1960s because the details of those storms are inconsistent.
Trying to account for such inconsistencies involves what's called "bias removal." It's a common, accepted practice. However, Christopher Landsea, a research meteorologist at NOAA, says Emanuel's bias removal goes too far: It's "large or larger than the global warming signal itself." That is, Landsea (What a great name for a NOAA researcher!) says, Emanuel pushed his data further than is justified.

So if a reconsideration of earlier storms concludes they were stronger than previously thought, the effect Emanuel detected might disappear. What's more, there is also the fact that hurricanes are affected by natural cyclical variations in the waters of the Atlantic. Emanuel surely allowed for that, but there can be a legitimate dispute over whether the degree of allowance was the correct one.

Still, a significant point is that
Emanuel reached his conclusions by analyzing data collected from actual storms rather than using computer models to predict future storm behavior. ...

Emanuel analyzed records of storm measurements made by aircraft and satellites since the 1950s. He found the amount of energy released in these storms in both the North Atlantic and the North Pacific oceans has increased, especially since the mid-1970s.
The increase in intensity tracked well with an increase in ocean surface temperatures, a result of global warming that is predicted to cause more violent storms because they draw on the warm water to build strength. And
[t]his year marked the first time on record that the Atlantic spawned four named storms by early July, as well as the earliest category 4 storm on record. Hurricanes are ranked on an intensity scale of 1 to 5.
Meanwhile, six nations - Australia, China, India, South Korea, Japan and the United States - announced this past Thursday that they've inked a meaningless, bogus PR exercise in CYA intended to dodge doing anything at all about global warming.

Of course, they didn't put it that way, they claimed this was a dramatic new step to tackle an important issue blah blah blah, but that's the meaning.

The pact promotes using "new technologies" to deal with climate change - but it includes no new financial commitments and no targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. In short, it's an endorsement of the status quo of dance, dodge, deny, and delay.
Australia and the United States are the only two developed nations not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and experts say the pact is likely to be used by them to deflect pressure to accept future versions of the protocol.

"They want to say 'Leave us alone, we're already doing something'," says Jeff Fiedler, a climate-policy specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.
After all, they figure, the real bad effects of global warming are supposed to be developing slowly over the next 50-100 years. By the time it gets really bad, they'll be dead - but they're collecting campaign contributions from equally to-be-dead-by-then corporate executives and fat cats in the here and now. It's really no contest, is it?

Footnote to the preceding

Updated It seems that in Sudan, it's true that no good deed goes unpunished - and no good hope goes unquashed.
Ugandan and Sudanese forces were searching for John Garang, the southern rebel leader-turned-vice president who is seen as crucial to Sudan's fledgling peace deal, early Monday after his helicopter disappeared amid reports it crashed in bad weather in northern Uganda.
Garang founded the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), which he then lead for the 21 years of civil war in Sudan between the Muslim north and Christian and animist south which ended with a peace and power-sharing deal in January. As part of that deal, Garang was sworn in as vice-president on July 9,
second only to his longtime enemy, President Omar el-Bashir. He and el-Bashir were to work on setting up a power-sharing government and on elevating Garang's rebel troops to an equal status with the Sudanese military.
And now he's missing. While no one has raised any questions of foul play, Garang is regarded as
the sole figure with the weight to give southern Sudanese a role in the Khartoum government, which they deeply mistrust. ...

There is no other leader of Garang's stature in the former rebel movement....
That is, he was the counterweight to the political power of the north. If it turns out he has been killed, I truly wonder if the peace deal, which provoked national celebrations, will survive.

Updated with the late news that just after 11pm, AFP reported that a diplomatic source in Nairobi, Kenya has said that officials of the SPLM/A have told diplomats that they believe that Garang was killed in the crash. This is not good. Garang was by no means an angel - but he was for this moment the piton from which hopes for peace and some sort of justice dangled. No, this is not good.

A wound that won't heal

Darfur continues to scream.

Just last week, Reuters reported how Sudanese troops and rebels in Darfur attacked each other in a renewal of open violence.
"The SLM (Sudan Liberation Movement) attacked a government convoy on Saturday. ... That is confirmed. ... Three (government) military personnel were killed in the attack," said an AU [African Union] official who did not want to be named.

A Sudanese official previously told Reuters the government responded to the attack on its convoy on Saturday with an assault the next day on nearby rebel camps.
Rebels deny that the government's helicopter-based bombings were on rebel camps; they insist the targets were villages and seven civilians were killed.

The charges and counter-charges came just days before Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a report charging the government of Sudan with maintaining "a climate of impunity" for
Sudanese police and soldiers [who] still rape helpless civilians in Darfur - and often are tacitly protected by authorities despite government promises to punish those responsible for sexual violence....

Victims and witnesses are routinely threatened and sometimes charged with crimes if they come forward with allegations of rape, according to the report. Authorities also intimidate humanitarian groups investigating the claims.
Arbour briefed the UN Security Council prior to the release of the report, telling the members that
complaints against military and other law enforcement personnel were delayed indefinitely or dismissed outright.

"The government appears either unable or unwilling to hold them consistently accountable," Arbour said....
What's more, the attacks also came just a few days after
the commander of the African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, Festus Okonkwo, told the BBC that there had been no major attacks in the region since January and that there had also been a reduction in attacks on villages.
But even good news is bad news in Darfur, it seems:
Violence in Sudan's Darfur region has diminished greatly over the past year, partly because militia have run out of targets after razing countless villages, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.

His report to the U.N. Security Council, obtained by Reuters on Wednesday, said active combat had been replaced by intimidation and fear, perpetuated by an ever-present militia when homeless people leave refugee camps. [emphasis added]
Annan's sentiment was echoed by top US aid official Andrew Natsios, who said last week that the reductions in attacks on villages was chiefly because there were no villages left to burn down. Apparently Tacitus's description "they made a desert and called it peace" didn't only apply to Carthage.

Despite a "declaration of principles" signed by the government and the two chief rebel groups earlier in July,
[a]nother analyst said the fighting ... showed there was a lack of commitment [among the] groups toward peace talks being held in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

"The world wants to see Darfur resolved ... but people are corralled into attending Abuja when the commitment from both sides just isn't there," said Andrew Marshall, deputy director of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue based in Geneva.
I have to say I fear he is right. I ended an earlier post on Darfur this way:
Isn't there a point, isn't there a time, and dammit, isn't that point and time here and now, when you look at what's around you, when you look at the hunger and death and fear and blood and exhaustion and pain and cruelty - when you stop and say "What is worth this?" I don't care which side you're on, isn't there some moment when you say "My cause is not worth the price?" When comes that moment, when comes the labored breath that simply says "Enough!" and turns to burying the dead?

That's the question I ask both sides now - is it worth it? Or, more exactly, how can it be worth it?
It seems there are still those on both sides for who conscience remains a convenience and going for justice is equated with going for the jugular. So the screaming continues.

Footnote: July 22 was the anniversary of the date Congress declared the conflict in Darfur to be a case of genocide.

If you have the feeling that in the time since then what was once called the world's worst humanitarian crisis has dropped off the radar screen at least in the US, you have good cause. The website BeAWitness made an actual count of news segments devoted to Darfur by the six big networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox) in June. The results are shocking: Cumulatively, the "runaway bride," Michael Jackson, and Tom Cruise were covered in 65 times as many segments as was Darfur. In the period covered, CBS ran 614 segments on Michael Jackson and none on Darfur. MSNBC averaged a Michael Jackson story every 22 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week - but could find time for just 23 mentions of Darfur in the whole month.

I recall saying to someone some years ago that while it's true that, as media moguls will proclaim at the least provocation, the media can't control what people think, they do have a great deal of influence over what people think about. If an issue isn't covered, it ceases to exist. And thus for Darfur.

Rooked again

Buried in the newly-passed and widely-decried energy bill that's giving big energy companies such a hard-on is a provision that will abolish a 70-year old consumer protection law. The Great Falls Tribune (MT) for Friday has the story.
It's called the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA) of 1935, which was designed to prevent massive consolidation of electric and natural gas utilities.

The law also includes strict monitoring of utility investments, to prevent companies from siphoning the wealth of utilities into risky investments that go bad, leaving investors or rate-paying customers holding the bag.
Montanans are well aware of the dangers involved, having experienced them twice in the past seven years. First, the state's dominant utility, Montana Power Company, went bankrupt "with startling swiftness" after overinvesting in telcom companies. Then NorthWestern Corporation, the company that bought most of Montana Power's operations, made similar bad investments and also went bankrupt.
The final outcome for Montana electric and natural gas ratepayers isn't clearly known yet, but they're certainly not paying lower rates because of it.
The problem for Montanans was that the federal law applies to holding companies operating across state lines while the Montana companies were intrastate. So ratepayers had no protection against get-rich-quick schemes hatched by their utility companies. And now, neither will anyone else.

Of course, we get all the usual fuss and blather about how this is actually just the greatest thing ever. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), noting that the bill provides some extra authority to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, says it "provides even stronger consumer protections than currently exist." Meanwhile,
[t]he private utility industry strongly favor repealing PUHCA. It says the repeal would encourage new and "much-needed" investment in utilities, to upgrade transmission lines, develop new power plants or offer other services for customers, and encourage competition.

"Companies could merge their areas of expertise to meet the demands of customers in Montana and elsewhere," says Jason Cuevas, a spokesman for Edison Electric Institute, the industry's main lobbying arm.
So this will generate investment, improve services, promote mergers while simultaneously creating competition, and add to consumer protection, all at the same time! Wow! Who would have thought it possible?

Of course, we're actually heard all crap before. Every time some industry wants to be free of regulation, to be free of a responsibility to anything other than the bank accounts of their fat cat investors, they trot out that same lines. And it just never seems to work out that way. Lynn Hargis, an energy lawyer at Public Citizen, who said "Enron is just going to look like small potatoes compared to what's ahead," added that
she can't help but notice how the repeal of PUHCA has been promoted with the same promises made prior to utility deregulation: More competition, more services, lower rates, etc.

Those promises haven't come true, she says: "It's very disheartening at this point. ... There will be a reaction from consumers. It's just going to come too late."
And we're screwed again. And again by Dummycrats near as much as GOPpers; 75 Dums in the House voted for that sucker of an energy bill along with 25 in the Senate, in each case providing the margin of victory. Among the Senators going the extra mile for Big Business were "liberals" such as Evan Bayh (IN), Dick Durbin (IL), Tom Harkin (IA), and the libs latest wet dream, Barak Obama (IL).

When are we going to learn about the Democrats that yes, there are individual exceptions, but as a group they are not on our side?

Another small victory in the struggle

According to Friday's Washington Post,
[a] federal judge has ruled that some provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act dealing with foreign terrorist organizations remain too vague to be understood by a person of average intelligence and are therefore unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins found that Congress failed to remedy all the problems she defined in a 2004 ruling that struck down key provisions of the act. Her decision was handed down Thursday and released Friday.
The case involved the intent for groups and individuals in the US to provide support to two political organizations in Asia: The Liberation Tigers in Sri Lanka and a Kurdish group in Turkey, Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan. The US considers them both foreign terrorist organizations and bans
providing material support or resources, including "training," "expert advice or assistance," "personnel" and "service"
to such groups.

People who wanted to provide relief, including in the former case tsunami relief, through the groups argued that without a clear definition of what those terms mean, people trying to support legal, nonviolent work of blacklisted groups could face 15 years in prison. Collins, while agreeing with the government on the word "personnel," agreed with the plaintiffs on the other terms.

Unfortunately, the victory is indeed a small one: Collins
specified that her ruling applies only to the named plaintiffs and does not constitute a nationwide injunction.
That's a rather bizarre ruling in one sense: Can the term "training" be impermissibly vague in reference to the Liberation Tigers but crystal clear in reference to another group? I wonder if Collins, by limiting her ruling in that way, was figuring it would be less likely to be overturned.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Jeopardy!

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
Who is Charlie Chaplin?

JEOPARDY!
Famous Mustaches for $1000

This Chinese villain created by Sax Rohmer lent his name to a style of long, drooping mustache.

Speaking of troublemakers

Elizabeth Solomon has prevailed, at least for the moment, in her battle with the state of Utah to obtain a vanity license plate reading "GAYSROK." You can read that as "gays are OK" or as "gays rock," she says she doesn't care. The link, via Raw Story, is to an item from KUTV of Salt Lake City:
Utah State Tax Commission Administrative Law Judge Jane Phan ruled against the state, saying there was no good reason to prevent the Park City woman from having that plate or another one saying, "GAYRYTS."

"The narrow issue before us is whether a reasonable person would believe the terms 'gays are ok' and 'gay rights' are, themselves, offensive to good taste and decency. It is the conclusion of the commission that a reasonable person would not," Phan wrote.
The state DMV had tried to block the plates based on provisions in state law that place restrictions on their contents. Therefore, the DMV maintained, license plates are not a "public forum."

Judge Phan agreed with that contention but ruled that the restrictions only apply to proposed vanity plates containing the words or subject matter specified by the statute, which Solomon's did not. The state's other contentions, that the proposed plates "relate to sexual functions" (Which part? "Gay?" Or maybe in Utah "Okay" is slang for something kinky.) and "express superiority of gender" (I wonder if they'd object to one that read "STRAIGHT?") were also tossed by Phan.

The DMV actually undermined its own case earlier on when it reversed its initial rejection of Solomon's third proposed plate, GAYWEGO. No matter; Solomon is a good troublemaker:
"I said, 'Oh, no, no, I want all of them,'" she said Wednesday. "You're not getting off this easy."
The state has 30 days to file an appeal.
If and when Solomon is ever allowed to display her gay rights vanity plate, she fully expects her vehicle to be vandalized.

"I'm very prepared to have my car keyed and my tires slashed," she said. "I'll just get it fixed. It won't stop me, I'll buy more cars and get more plates."
Definitely a true American hero.

Footnote: Just in case you missed in while wading through Karl Rove stories, last week
Canada formally became the fourth country in the world to legalize gay marriages on Wednesday after the country's Senate overwhelmingly approved the legislation.

Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain already permit same-sex marriages, and a number of Canadian provinces have been allowing such legal unions for some time.
Brazil has also recognized same-sex marriages under provisions for common-law marriages.

This one is for Harry...

...who said recently "I think a good thing for me ... to do right now is keep an eye out for verifiable stories of people being difficult when faced with unreasonable control freak demands." It's from AP for Tuesday:
A woman who was upset over being searched bodily at an airport was convicted Tuesday of assaulting a security screener by grabbing the federal officer's breasts. ...

[Phyllis] Dintenfass, 62, faces up to a year in federal prison and $100,000 in fines. The judge set sentencing for Nov. 1.
Apparently, Dintenfass activated metal detectors at a checkpoint at an airport in Appleton, Wisconsin, last September. Screener Anita Gostisha testified that
she took the woman to another screening area, where she used a handheld wand. Gostisha said she was following protocol when she also performed a "limited pat-down search."

Gostisha said she was using the back of her hands to search the area underneath Dintenfass' breasts when the woman lashed out at her.

"She said 'How would you like it if I did that to you?' and slammed me against the wall," Gostisha testified. "She came at me and grabbed my breasts and squeezed them."

Dintenfass claimed she acted in self-defense.

"I said, 'What are you doing? No one's done that to me before,'" she said. "And she kept going ... for what felt like an interminably long time."
Dintenfass, who said she was "reacting to what felt like an absolute invasion of my body," admitted touching the screener's breasts but denied pushing her.

Now here are my questions. Leaving aside the image of this 62-year old retired teacher "slamming [Gostisha] against the wall" and coming at her, no doubt with eyes ablaze and hands like claws, ready to pounce, did Gostisha tell Dintenfass what she was going to do before she did it? When Dintenfass protested did she stop even long enough to explain? Or did she just put her hands on Dintenfass and ignore her when she spoke up? And how long did this "limited pat-down" go on?

Obviously I don't know for a fact, but I will tell you my own belief as to the answers to the first three of those questions: No, she didn't tell her. No, she didn't stop. Yes, she ignored her. Because screener (i.e., person with the power) Gostisha expected passenger (i.e., person without the power) Dintenfass to passively submit to whatever was demanded of her without explanation. Because that's what power expects. It always does.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Jeopardy!

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
What is Howard?

JEOPARDY!
Famous Mustaches for $600

Sporting a mustache and baggy pants, Milton Berle won a contest as a child for imitating this screen star.

Jeopardy! for Monday

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
Who is Draco?

JEOPARDY!
Famous Mustaches for $200

In separate milk ads, last name shared by the mustache sporters Ron and Curly.

Turnabout is fair play

Well, it's not exactly turnabout, but there is a certain poetic justice, at least, in this item from AP for Sunday:
Dogged by scandal, the Los Angeles Police Department is looking beyond human judgment to technology to identify bad cops. This month, the agency began using a $35 million computer system that tracks complaints and other telling data about officers - then alerts top supervisors to possible signs of misconduct.
What's interesting here is that faced with their behavior being tracked by computers, police, who are usually so enthused about massive databases when they can be used to probe our lives, are suddenly deeply concerned about privacy and accuracy issues.
The system, developed by Sierra Systems Group Inc. and Bearing Point Inc., mines databases of complaints, pursuits, lawsuits, uses of force and other records to detect patterns that human eyes might miss or choose to ignore. ...

Now, anyone whose conduct differs sharply from their peers' automatically gets flagged. That could mean a vice detective who fires significantly more shots than other investigators or anti-gang cops with a high number of excessive force complaints. ...

If the system pinpoints unusual conduct, it triggers an electronic message to direct supervisors, who must take a second look. ...

Some rank-and-file officers fear the tracking system could mistakenly tag hardworking personnel and hurt their careers.

"How many times do you have to get triggered before they slow you down, transfer you, and you get a bad reputation?" said Gary Ingemunson, independent counsel for the union that represents LAPD officers. "The subtle message is: stay in the middle of the pack. Don't stand out."

Union lawyers also argue that bad cops could game the system by curbing their activities just enough to avoid being detected, while good cops might hesitate in life-and-death situations due to concerns about getting flagged.

"A lot of hesitation could get somebody killed," Ingemunson said. ...

Others wonder whether computer algorithms can analyze something as complex as police behavior. They say no amount of number-crunching can account for stress, personal problems and psychological quirks.
And, at the same time, the bosses, those who control and examine the information, are reassuring everyone how reasonable the whole thing is.
Department brass have tried to ease fears of the computer system, saying most of the cops spotlighted won't face consequences. Many could even receive commendations if the system shows them doing exemplary work.
"Don't worry! It's for your own good!" I love it.

Stunning developments

The police department of Merrillville, Indiana,
[f]aced with growing liability risks, ... has decided to stop using its stun guns on combative suspects[, says the Indianapolis Star for Tuesday].

Police Chief Nick Bravos said the department chose to get rid of its 12 Taser guns. Instead, its officers will use pepper when faced with out-of-control suspects. ...

To prevent any person from being endangered by the stun guns' electrical shocks, Bravos said he decided the department could do without them.
Previous posts about tasers have come on March 7, 2004, July 26, 2004, November 14, 2004, January 15, 2005, January 21, 2005, and April 20, 2005.

Footnote: Chief Bravos also said he'd made use of double-locked handcuffs mandatory. Double-locking prevents the tendency of the cuffs to continually tighten, leading to injury. The motive may have been to avoid liability suits, but still, I'd call it a good thing.

Something prompted by the preceding

You may have noticed - probably not, but maybe - that my link list has been tightened. I dropped sites previously listed as MIA (my standard for which was no posts for at least 90 days) as well as those that have gone dark. There will likely be more changes coming, including deletions and possibly some additions, because I decided that I wanted to keep it to ones I actually read, even if only occasionally.

One thing that I have found of late is that I just can no longer maintain interest in bloggers whose main political concern in life seems to be the daily comings and goings of Democratic Party politics and drooling with glee over whatever zinger Harry "Mr. Minority" Reid or Howard "Da Man" Dean might have let loose that day and musing how if the Dems would only do this or shade their position on that or shift just a bit to the right on the other that then they'd by gosh win them some elections! And how if they'd just let go of "loser" positions (usually abortion rights and/or gun control), they'd gobble up summa those "red" states and then the Good Guys would be back in charge! Woo-hoo!

Oh, and of course, that's provided they're "tough" on defense and don't look "soft" on terrorism by, oh, I dunno, suggesting we actually get out of Iraq or hinting that they're against the war itself instead of just how it's being run or - God forbid! - proposing that a just foreign policy is a better deterrent to terrorism than bombing runs and TRAITOR Acts. No, what Democrats must do instead is demand - demand, I say - that Bush tell us what he intends to do about Iraq and terrorism! Please. Not that they propose doing anything that's actually, you know, different or anything.

Someone who has now joined the ranks of those in who I can no longer maintain interest is prime-time blogger Oliver Willis, who has disappeared from my link list. Not that it will make a damned bit of difference to him, either politically or practically. But I have no time for this kind of bullshit:
[W]hen I see that Jane Fonda is going to go around in a van powered by vegetable oil protesting I sort of throw up in my mouth a little.

Some of these celebrities need to shut up.
It turns out in the course of comments that it's not "some" celebrities to who Willis would give the O'Reilley treatment, it's one celebrity: Fonda. Why? Because, doused with self-righteousness and bursting with self-congratulation, Willis declares that
[y]ou see, I'm the kind of Democrat who stands up for what I believe in, and I think Jane Fonda praising the North Vietnamese while we were fighting them in a bad war was a horrible thing and anyone who defends that is off their rocker.
So, suffused with the rightwing Kool-Aid version of Jane Fonda, Willis want to take what she did 33 years ago (before he was born, that is) and read her out of the ranks of those who are allowed to have an opinion today.

Now, there are those who cynically note that she made the announcement during a tour promoting her latest book. (I admit to having pangs of that feeling myself.) And there are others who argue the planned protest tour is a bad idea, a tactical mistake, because, as Fonda herself admits, she carries a lot of baggage from Vietnam. That is an arguable position. But it's not the argument Willis makes. He argues, rather, that because of Vietnam, Jane Fonda should just shut up. Apparently, for good. The fact that she's apologized for the notorious picture of her on an NVA anti-aircraft gun and for not believing returning POWs when they told of their ill-treatment is irrelevant. The fact that she has admitted she was quite politically naive at the time (something to which I, having seen her arguing the issue in television encounters, can definitely attest) is irrelevant. What is relevant, it appears, is that she said it at all and what's more, she has not apologized for opposing the war and for maintaining that the Vietnamese had the legitimate right to resist US aggression. (And she damn well shouldn't.)

Frankly, Willis is or rather has become a jackass. A jackass who goes on about how liberal he is while saying he agrees with many DLC positions, it's just that they don't know how to pull it off right. A jackass who says he is "against this war in Iraq as much as the next left-winger" but who has insisted that Democrats do not want to "cut and run." Most importantly for my purposes here, a jackass who seems genuinely caught up in the fantasy that oh, my, if only the Democrats were in charge, what a wonderful world this would be! Yeah, the Democrats. The Democrats of NAFTA, of the WTO, of the Defense of Marriage Act, of "ending welfare as we know it," of Sudan, of Bosnia, of 500,000 dead Iraqi children "is worth it," of enforcing illegal "no-fly" zones. Those Democrats.

And like I said, I just have no more time for that kind of bullshit.

LiberalOasis is also a candidate for link list demise, but for the moment it's staying because even though it focuses on (indeed, it's raison d'ĂȘtre) is Democratic Party strategy, still it provides enough useful information to merit repeat visits. (One recent example being its discussion of Slipper Gonzales' appearance on Face the Nation, in which he admitted that not only did he get the Department of Justice to agree to let him wait 12 hours before he issued a "preserve all documents" order to White House staff when the Valerie Plame investigation opened, he gave White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card a heads-up that the order would be forthcoming.)

Now, again, I know Oliver Willis couldn't care less about my link or my opinion and I'm sure LiberalOasis cares just as little. But I'm just damn tired of reading how the most important possible political achievement in all of humanity would be electing another couple of Democrats, even if they're Joe Liebermans and Zell Millers (or even "liberals" such as Evan Bayh and Joe Biden, who were among the 18 Senate Democrats and 75 in the House who voted in favor of that horrendous bankruptcy bill). It's a waste of time. And I just don't want to do it any more.

Footnote: Back to Jane Fonda for a moment. Most people would agree there is such a thing as a legitimate right of national self-defense against invasion. I will note that I am ethically opposed to such violence and so do not agree with the argument except as such resistance is limited to nonviolent methods which can include such as demonstrations, blockades, strikes, and nonviolent sabotage, i.e., gumming up the works. In either event, if you accept the notion that people have a right to resist invasion, and if you opposed the US invasion of Iraq, you must also accept the notion that it is quite possible to argue that the invasion was illegitimate but the resistance to it by insurgents, as least as it is aimed at military targets, is legitimate.

And, indeed, there are those today who look at Iraq and say exactly that: The US should bug out but the use of force by insurgents against military targets is exercising a legitimate right of national self-defense. My question is, would Oliver Willis want to read such people out of the left, out of "legitimate" debate, silence them, tell them to shut up? Would he say that the Iraqis have no right to resist the US presence? Or that "now that we're there" we have the right to crush all resistance under our heel?

No? Then how can he label Jane Fonda's opposition to Vietnam "a horrible thing" and tell her to shut up when that is exactly that same as she was saying: the war is wrong and the Vietnamese have a right to defend themselves?

"Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." - George Santayana

Still another reason not to shop at Wal-Mart

Found via Oliver Willis on likely my very last visit there.
You can't buy the Pensacola News Journal at Wal-Mart anymore[, the paper reported on Sunday].

The store ordered us off their property, told us to come pick up our newspaper racks and clear out.
What was the paper's crime? Last month, one of its columnists, Mark O'Brien, wrote a piece that included some unflattering references to the company, including noting that
[m]any Wal-Mart employees lack the fringe benefits and insurance that makes the difference between existence and a good quality of life.
He called Pensacola "a Wal-Mart kind of town, 'cheap and comfy on the surface, lots of unhappiness and hidden costs underneath.'"

And Wal-Mart didn't like it. So Bob Hart, some regional high corporate mucky-muck, called the editor and complained.
Mr. Hart ... said he and his stores couldn't tolerate a newspaper that would print the opinions of someone who was as mean and negative as Mark O'Brien. ... Mr. Hart said he wanted the newspaper to get its racks off his lots. But he also said that if I fired Mark, we could talk about continuing to sell the newspaper at his stores.
Fire him not because what he wrote was wrong - but because he wrote it. He criticized us, so you will be punished unless you silence him.

The result?
Mark still has a job and you can't buy a Pensacola News Journal at Wal-Mart anymore.
And I lift a cyberglass in salute of a newspaper that shows that integrity has not completely vanished from the profession.

The Non Sequitur Award...

...goes to Attorney General Al "Slipper" Gonzales, who
said Sunday that bombings in London and Egypt make a strong case for renewing the post-9/11 law that critics say infringes on civil liberties.
So terrorist attacks in other countries, which already have stricter security controls than are found here but which proved to be unable to prevent such attacks, make the case for the TRAITOR Act.

But wait, there's more!
Gonzales also credited the Patriot Act with preventing a follow-up to the domestic terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people, mostly in New York and Washington.
Of course, no one has ever explained how if the TRAITOR Act has been in place before 9/11 it would have prevented it and Slipper couldn't point to any specific cases where its provisions have made a difference since, but hey! I have a talisman in my room and since I've had it, not once have elephants stampeded through my house!

But don't stop there! C'mon, Al, bring it on home!
Gonzales said he was as concerned about privacy rights as anyone but, he told CNN, "we cannot allow libraries and computers at libraries (to) become safe haven for terrorists."
Yes! "I love civil liberties, so give them up! If only it wasn't for those damned libraries, we'd be safe!" We have a winner!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Jeopardy!

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
What is the Coral Sea?

FINAL JEOPARDY!
Ancient Greeks

In 621 BC, this Greek introduced Athens's first written code of law; most crimes were punishable by death.

Jeopardy! for Saturday

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
What is the Caspian Sea?

DOUBLE JEOPARDY!
"C" Sea for $2000

An arm of the Pacific Ocean, it lies mostly between the tenth and twentieth southern parallels.

Giving it a shot

Okay, I am going to try to approach this calmly. Emphasis on try.

New York City has used the occasion of the tragic London bombings to institute a long-considered plan to search the bags of people using its mass transit system. And contrary to the impression some have gotten, it's not limited to the subways. As reported by Newsday (NY) for Friday,
[p]assengers entering subways, buses, ferries and the region's commuter rail system will now be subject to bag searches....

The move makes New York's mass transit network the first in the country where bags are checked without the backdrop of a major political event. ...

The searches heighten transit security to a level never before seen, even in the tense days after Sept. 11, when police began increased subway patrols, soldiers started to guard stations and officers were posted at the mouths of underwater tunnels.
Now, I remember some years ago, when I was living in New Jersey, the state police got a well-deserved reputation for harassing longhairs, even those just passing through the state on the Turnpike. Cars were repeatedly stopped for "routine" or "random" checks. It got bad enough that student travel guides in Europe were telling students to avoid the state altogether.

A civil suit wound its way up through the courts, finally arriving at the state's Supreme Court where the police force's behavior was slapped down. The fact that it was demonstrably aimed at people based on their appearance made it a relatively easy case (the only argument to the contrary being the feeble one that long-haired young people did not constitute an "identifiable class" for legal purposes) but the real point here was that in its decision the Court ruled that there is no such thing as a "routine" or "random" traffic stop: If the police stop someone, the Court said, they must have a reason. Not just a reason to stop any someone but a reason to stop that particular someone. There has to be, in legal terms, "individualized suspicion."

That seems such an obvious statement - police can't do things just because they feel like it, they have to have a genuine and legally-valid reason - that it's hard to grasp just how far we have moved from that principle, legally, politically, and most importantly, socially.

Let's be clear here: What has happened is that New York City has declared it official policy that you can be denied access to a basic public facility - mass transit - on which huge numbers (daily ridership approaches 5 million) depend to get to and from work, shopping, health care facilities, and much more, unless you waive your Constitutional right to be free from suspicionless searches. I'll repeat that: You can be barred from public facilities unless you surrender your Constitutional rights. But something that once upon a not-that-long-ago time would have produced shock and frustration now produces, for the most part, the bleating of sheep.
"I don't really feel like it's an invasion of privacy," said Matthew Asti, 25, a carpenter living in Greenpoint. "It seems an appropriate one."
AP's story was equally clear:
"It doesn't bother me," said Davon Campbell, 24, a security worker who waited about four minutes while an officer rifled through his rolling suitcase and two shoulder bags at a station in the Bronx. "I can understand why they're doing it. It's important."

Ron Freeman, 25, a stockbroker whose backpack was searched, said, "They should have done this a long time ago, ever since 9/11."

And Amy Wilson, 28, said the officers' work "makes me feel safer. I like knowing they're here."
The only person quoted as being "perturbed" said it was because of the time it took out of his day. Want more? CNN's report had two delicious quotes:
"I'm not against it," Ian Compton, 35, a computer consultant, said at Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan. "I think any measures for safety that aren't terribly intrusive are worth doing." ...

"If it serves a purpose, I'm OK with it," said one of the men [searched], James Washington, 45, about being stopped.
And just what purpose is this supposed to serve? To make us "safe?" What a crock! What utter crap!
On Thursday, a cluster of officers was seen stopping five men over a 15-minute period as they entered the subway in Union Square at evening rush hour. In each instance, the officers peered briefly into their bags, then waved them through.
Asti, the Greenpoint carpenter, described it as a "cursory glance" and I saw another report where a person who was searched said police just ruffled quickly through the top of his backpack, noting that if he'd had a bomb at the bottom of it they wouldn't have seen it.

Of course. If police were going to do the kinds of searches that would actually be required to have any chance of achieving the claimed ends, they would have to be much more numerous and much more thorough and that would cause real backups and that would get people annoyed in a way that crude invasions of their privacy don't. And what, are we supposed to assume that backpacks and other such containers are the only ways to bring explosives into the system? What about, say, a wrapped-and-ribboned package in a bag marked Bloomingdale's? No? No one who looks like they would shop at Bloomingdale's could be a bomber? In addition to being stupid and engaging in illegal profiling, how about we just change it to a box containing, according to its labeling, an ink jet printer in a bag marked Circuit City? Are we to think that terrorists are just too stupid to think of such things? Or to think of waiting until winter when their bombs could be concealed under bulky clothing?

Or of just trying to brazen it out, gambling they won't get picked for a search - and if they do, just setting the charge off where they stand?

Or of just blowing something else up?

This is so flaming stupid. It is pointless, useless, a waste, it has no hope of accomplishing its supposed goal of making us "safer." None. None.

So what is it for? Two things: One, it lets politicians look tough, look like they're "taking steps," it gives an ass like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg the opportunity to strut and posture: "See, we're protecting you! Vote for me!" (While at the same time waxing poetic about rights and "find[ing] that right balance.")

More importantly, it establishes the idea that they can do it. It establishes the idea that the State can supersede Constitutional guarantees whenever it, in its superior wisdom and subject only to its own authority, decides it's "necessary" or even merely a fair idea. That's what this is for, that's what this is about. Not public safety, but public control. Not police protection, but police dominance. It is about maintaining and expanding power.

The Fourth Amendment is already dying from the death of a thousand cuts; this is yet another slice. And each time we're told the intrusion is "minimal," unimportant, of no importance, does not "rise to the level of Constitutional concern" - and each cut is later used to justify more cuts.

When police forces in various states instituted the practice of random stops of cars to check for drunk drivers, some people objected on the grounds that the New Jersey Supreme Court had described: There should be no random stops. If someone is driving erratically, if there is reason to think they might be impaired, fine. But to just stop them to see if you could find them doing something illegal? No. But oh, no, the courts found: Driving is a "privilege" subject to regulation and besides, "public safety" overrules concerns about privacy and self-incrimination. When police in New York City started searching the bags of people attending New Year's Eve in Times Square, again it was justified on "public safety" and that this was a special event, a particular circumstance, that no one had any particular right to attend. In each case, there were warnings that these supposedly limited cases would become precedents for further assaults on privacy; in each case those issuing the warnings were considered fear-mongers or kooks - but they have turned out to be Cassandras.
1) City officials ... cited as precedent the procedures used for random stops in checking for motorists who are driving while intoxicated.

2) Police officials [said] that department lawyers had vetted the checks, which they called no different than the non-controversial bag searches that officers conduct on New Year's Eve revelers in Times Square.
But of course these checks are different, very different. These are not a matter of regulating a "privilege" attainted by licensing and testing (as stupid as that decision was). They are not a once-a-year special occasion involving a public party. They are a daily event involving access to a basic public service. To argue otherwise is a goddam self-serving lie.

You want worse? I'll give you worse. If this becomes established procedure, what is to stop body searches on exactly the same basis? (Like I said before, are backpacks and packages the only way explosives can be carried?) And if you can be denied the use of mass transit unless you submit to searches, why not the roads? What's to stop car searches? (Or do you approve of the prospect of car bombs going off in the middle of Manhattan, huh, you terrorist-loving, anti-American, freedom-hater?)

Hell, why not houses? Oh, that pesky Fourth Amendment is too specific for that? Simple, pass a law that says every new lease, every new house-purchase agreement, must have a provision in it declaring that the new tenant/ower, as a condition of taking possession of the premises, agrees to allow police to enter and search whenever they feel it advisable in the name of "public safety." Such a law would not survive a challenge? Why not? Driving is declared a "privilege," not a right - can you point to anything in the Constitution that says you have a right to an apartment or house? Just like in NYC if you don't want to "consent" to be searched, you can "freely choose" to not use the mass transit system and just walk everywhere every day, if you don't want to "consent" to searches of your home you can just "freely choose" to not have one.

And if that seems unthinkable, just look at what New York is doing now - because damn well, other cities are and thinking about doing the same - and ask yourself just how long ago it was that that would have been equally unthinkable.

How long ago would it also have been unthinkable for police to be actively asking businesses to keep tabs on their customers to watch for and report "anything suspicious," as police on Long Island are now doing?
The authorities are asking Long Islanders to do everything from reporting on diners' conversations to monitoring strangers' Internet use to observing fellow worshipers at religious services to noting when parents withdraw their kids from school.
They want restaurants to report customers who won't check their backpacks. They want real estate agents to keep track of properties after they're sold to see if people move in promptly and to regard as suspicious tenants who move "abruptly" before their lease is up. They want hobby shops to let them know if someone buys a remote-controlled model airplane with cash. And again, most people - except for librarians, bless their freedom-loving souls - seem to think this sort of spying on your neighbors and customers, of thinking "everyone's a suspect," as one business owner said, is a good thing.

To realize just how bad things have gotten, you have to take note of the fact that even though Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union called the plan "not workable" and said it "will not make New Yorkers more secure but will inconvenience them as police go about finding a needle in a haystack," and the NYCLU's Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn declared "Police searches of people without any suspicion of wrongdoing are contrary to the most basic of constitutional principles," still
[c]ivil liberties attorneys are taking a wait-and-see attitude over the police random searches in the subways and other mass transit that officially began Friday.

The New York Civil Liberties Union had received about 20 complaints as of late Friday but had not filed any legal action to challenge the police search tactic....
I said it before and I say it again: Things are getting worse and I'm scared.

There is one glimmer of hope:
Dunn also indicated that the city might be on some slippery legal terrain, based on state law and a ruling last year by a federal judge in a case involving searches during the Republican National Convention. ...

In 2004, Dunn noted, the NYCLU won a federal injunction against the city to stop police from searching the bags of all demonstrators at the RNC. The ruling stated that police couldn't make such searches "without individualized suspicion" unless there was a "showing of both a specific threat to public safety and an indication of how blanket searches could reduce that threat."
And, significantly,
Bloomberg said that despite the increased security, he wanted to "emphasize" that law enforcement officials had not received any explicit threats to the city's bus and subway system. [emphasis added]
So the plan fails on both counts: There is no specific threat and it's transparently incapable of actually affording any additional protection. Still, courts of late have been so adept and finding ways to parse law and logic to justify the latest affront to our rights that cops and self-interested politicos come up with that a glimmer is all it is.

Footnote: My blogger friend Harry at Scratchings says that while he's dismayed at the public response - or lack of it - to the searches, he's not as dismayed as I am, putting his faith in the ability of people to submit where they must while undermining the system by combining minimum cooperation with quiet evasion. I agree with him that openly defying police orders is not easy for most of us; in addition to socialization and the fear of the consequences of resistance, there are often other considerations, other people beside yourself who would be affected and you may not feel free to bring them into it, even indirectly. But what truly dismayed me was not the lack of open defiance, it was the presence of open acquiescence - not only submitting to it, but endorsing it.

There are two other explanations possible: The newspapers chose not to print the comments of any rider they came across who said the searches were a bad idea. Or riders who oppose the searches did not feel free to be quoted saying so. I find neither of those alternatives an improvement.

Takin' it on the road

So it seems that Frick and Frack are at it again, or so AP for Friday told us.
Former first lady Barbara Bush teamed up with her son the president on Friday in trying to drum up support among older Americans for his Social Security and Medicare plans. ...

At a senior center, and then before an invitation-only audience at a downtown civic center, the mother and son team promoted Bush's embattled Social Security restructuring plan and the new Medicare prescription drug program that takes effect Jan. 1.

And like a vaudeville team, they kept stepping on each other's lines and zinging each other.
Oh, and they were so cute and homey and clever and oh, weren't they just precious. And they gave such good advice!
[B]oth Bushes emphasized the importance of getting seniors to sign up for the new prescription drug plan, part of a Medicare restructuring enacted in December 2003.

As Bush started to talk up the plan, his mother turned to him and said, "Weren't you going to tell people they ought to ask doctors, lawyers, people they trust whether this is a good deal for them?"

"Yes, I am," he said, repeating what she said, and adding, "This is a good deal."
In other words, a couple of rich people of the sort who need Medicare the least and would personally benefit the most from cuts in the program are traveling around, telling seniors to seek the advice of other rich people of the sort who need Medicare the least and would personally benefit the most from cuts in the program if the new pile of bull hockey being peddled by the White House is a good idea.

The good news here is that the traveling road show is a sign of desperation.
Despite crisscrossing the country for months to promote the plan, his top second-term domestic priority, Bush has had little success in building public support for it.

Bush's trip came the same week in which House and Senate leaders threw in the towel on trying to get committee action on the legislation before the August congressional recess.
You can fool some of the people all of the time - you know the rest.

Footnote: On the other hand, James Thurber's piquant version of that was "You can fool too many of the people too much of the time." As Aron Nimzovich once remarked, "Sometimes a bit of humor contains more inner truth than the most serious seriousness."

Friday, July 22, 2005

Jeopardy!

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
What is the Caribbean Sea?

DOUBLE JEOPARDY!
"C" Sea for $1200

The Russian name for this body of water is Kaspiyskoye More.

Not tonight

I had intended to post something in response to New York City's institution of "random" searches of people's bags in its subway system - but I find I'm simply too angry at the self-serving foul bilge being spouted by officialdom in defense of yet another power grab by lying, top-dog scumbags who equate "security" with their ability to control and dominate the rest of us and too frightened by the servile, stupid, ovine public that seems prepared to passively accept this latest assault on their rights if not sycophantically endorse it.

Maybe tomorrow. I don't know. I just know things are getting worse and I'm scared.

Footnote to the preceding

According to an article from Knight-Ridder, H. Christopher Bartolomucci, a partner at Hogan & Hartson, LLP, the Washington law firm where Roberts worked, predicted that Roberts would be a combination of William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Antonin Scalia.

I think that actually was in some way meant to be reassuring. It's not.

Jurisprudence

Updated Nine questions I would like to see asked of John Roberts. (Information mostly via People for the American Way's initial report on Roberts and "The John Roberts Dossier" at Salon.com.)

1) Judge Roberts, the Constitution says the president can appoint judges to the Supreme Court "by and with the advice and consent of the Senate." What is your understanding of the phrase "advice and consent?"

- 1a) (If the answer is limited in any way to considering "qualifications.") Then what, in your view, is the point of these hearings? Wouldn't a resume serve equally well? Why are we here?

- 1b) (If the answer allows for considering "judicial philosophy.") Thank you, Judge Roberts, I'm glad we see eye to eye on this and that you recognize that we need to understand how you would approach issues on the bench.

- 1c) (If the answer is that it's for the Senate to decide its role.) I'm grateful for that recognition, Judge Roberts. I'm sure that as we proceed you will bear in mind that it's up to me to determine what areas I find it appropriate to inquire about in order to fulfill my constitutional duty as I see it.

2) You say you regard Roe v. Wade as "settled law." Yet in Rust v. Sullivan, you argued that Roe was "wrongly decided and should be overruled." Exactly what, then, does "settled law" mean if the case at issue can be overturned? Are you prepared to pledge that in the event you're confirmed, if an opportunity arises, as it did in Rust and doubtless will at some point again, to reconsider and reverse Roe that you will not take it? If not, then again, just what does, what can, the phrase "settled law" mean?

3) You are surely aware that over the last several years, the questions about abortion that courts have addressed have less been about the legal right to it than about access to it. Courts have considered and often upheld various restrictions on access to abortion, ranging from waiting periods, through "gag rules" of the sort you argued for in Rust and so-called "informed consent" laws that in effect demand that doctors try to dissuade patients from having abortions, to preposterously restrictive zoning and building code regulations applied to clinics. Do you think these restrictions are proper? What is your view of the courts' responsibility to protect access to a legal right as opposed to just its technical existence?

4) You have said you will be guided by precedent. But in your department's amicus curiae brief in Lee v. Weisman, you urged the Supreme Court to jettison the so-called "Lemon test," the precedent the Court has used in judging matters related to the Establishment Clause, and use instead another set of principles, those applied in Marsh v. Chambers, as the guiding precedent. What can it mean to say you'll be "guided by precedent" when you are free to dump established ones in order to pick and choose which case is the precedent by which you'll be guided?

5) In fact, your devotion to precedent seems questionable. In Rancho Viejo, LLC v. Norton, a three-judge panel of the Circuit Court denied a developer's challenge to the application of the Endangered Species Act to a project. The full court declined to reconsider the panel's decision. You dissented from that ruling and suggested applying the ESA could be unconstitutional, even though two years earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled that Congress did have the authority to protect endangered species on private lands. Would you care to explain that?

6) Indeed, more than questionable. Just last week, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, you joined in a decision by a three-judge panel that found that when Congress authorized the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" in response to 9/11, it was giving him the authority to strip anyone his administration accused of being a terrorist of all due-process protections, leaving them only with such due process as the president in his sole authority chooses to grant. [This was on an appeal from a judge's decision to stop Hamdan's trial because he was barred from his own trial.] In so doing, you ignored a 200-year-old precedent known as the "Charming Betsy principle," which states that federal laws authorizing the government to do something have to be read so as to be consistent with international law, in this case the Geneva Accords. How does that square with your claimed devotion to precedent?

7) Should US laws be consistent with those of other nations? If not, why did you find it relevant to note in oral arguments on Hamdan that some other countries do not allow cross-examination of witnesses?

8) In line with that, what, in your view, are the limits, if any, on presidential authority in matters such as this? What about in a time of war? Can there be such a time without a formal declaration of war by Congress? If so, what is required to establish a time as a "time of war?" What about in a time of "war" such as a war on terrorism, where there is no objective way to determine an end to the conflict?

9) You have a consistent record of a politically-conservative personal ideology. After law school, you clerked for Chief Justice Rehnquist, certainly regarded as a conservative jurist. After that, you worked in the Reagan administration for four years as deputy White House counsel. In 1988 you were on the executive committee of DC Lawyers for Bush-Quayle. You then worked in the Bush administration under Kenneth Starr. In 2000 you were a member of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney and contributed $1,000 to their election campaign. You provided legal advice to Governor Jeb Bush during the legal battle over the Florida recount. In light of that record, can you expect us to believe that you would not be influenced by your political convictions in rendering decisions from the bench? How can we be assured that you will approach questions with a truly open mind?

- 9a) (After the inevitable "consider the facts; interpret the law, not make it" answer.) But that is exactly the point, Judge Roberts. You have to agree that any case that comes before the Supreme Court is not a matter of "settled law" and "established precedent." If it was, it never would have gotten that far. It's precisely because there are issues to be settled, judgments to be made, about the meaning of the law, about what constitutional principles apply and which ones outweigh others, that the case exists. Like it or not, you will be involved in "making law" because the Court's decisions make those determinations. I say to you, Judge Roberts, that in dealing with questions of interpretation of laws and legal principles, it is not possible for you, for any human being, to simply turn off their political, their ideological, their ethical, their social convictions and act as if they did not exist. It's simply not possible. So I ask you again, Judge Roberts: How can you assure us that someone with as clear and consistent a record of political beliefs as you have will approach the cases before them with a truly open mind?

- 9b) (After the inevitable repeat of the previous answer in a different form.) I'm sorry, Judge Roberts, but repeating your previous answer is not an answer to my question. I'm also sorry to have to remind you that at the start we agreed that I was the one to determine the appropriate scope of my questions. But leave that aside for the moment; do I take your answer to mean that your political convictions would be irrelevant to your role as a Supreme Court justice?

- 9c) (After the inevitable "yes.") Do you think they were irrelevant to the people who nominated you?

Footnote One: The rightwing, not surprisingly, is delighted. That should tell us all we need to know.

Footnote Two: The imbecility of some on the left continues to astound me. I actually saw someone who in all seriousness proposed that Roberts be given a free pass because that way it would be over and done with quickly and we could get the Rove business back on the front page. Right: Getting Karl Rove is so much more important than who is on the Supreme Court.

And yes, I say that knowing full well that the jackass Dummycrats - or at least enough of them - have already mouthed platitudes about his not being an "extraordinary circumstance," so even the possibility of a filibuster is doubtful and the possibility of a successful one remote. But dammit, sometimes you do things because you should. Not because you think you'll win, in fact, even if you know you'll lose. You do it because you should. And resisting this gift to reaction is something that definitely comes under the heading of "should." Supposedly, e. e. cummings said something to the effect that "the wise man fights for the lost cause, knowing all else is just effect." I haven't been able to confirm the quote, but I can endorse the sentiment.

Updated with the bit about advising Jeb Bush.

Trial of a Time Geek

Hey, creationists: Bite me.

As reported by Agencie France Presse for July 17,
[a] recent study has predicted that more male Asian elephants in China will be born without tusks because poaching of tusked elephants is reducing the gene pool, the China Daily has reported.

The study, conducted in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in south-west China's Yunnan province, where two-thirds of China's Asian elephants live, found that the tuskless phenomenon is spreading, the report said.

The tusk-free gene, which is found in between 2 and 5 per cent of male Asian elephants, has increased to between 5 per cent and 10 percent in elephants in China, according to Zhang Li, an associate professor of zoology at Beijing Normal University. ...

A similar decline in elephants with tusks has been seen in Uganda, which experienced heavy poaching in the 1970s and '80s, the report said.
Poaching may not seem at first blush to be an environmental pressure, but in the broad sense it surely is: The ivory of the tusks is what the poachers want. Large tusks, which in the absence of poaching are a favored characteristic for reproduction, become a risk factor in its presence - with the result that males with smaller or no tusks are more favored (or, perhaps more precisely, less disfavored) than they were before and so their proportion of the population increases.

That is, the doubling in the percentage of tuskless male elephants has come as a response to a form of environmental pressure. It's an illustration of evolution in action. A particularly cruel illustration based on greed - but evolution doesn't care: It's only concerned with maximizing survival.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Jeopardy!

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
What is Welcome Back, Kotter?

DOUBLE JEOPARDY!
"C" Sea for $400

This arm of the Atlantic Ocean is bounded on the south by Panama and South America and on the west by Central America.

Jeopardy! for Wednesday

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
What is Married... With Children?

JEOPARDY!
TV for $1000

The band Epstein's Mother took its name from a character on this '70s sitcom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Jeopardy!

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
What is Seinfeld?

JEOPARDY!
TV for $600

"Love and Marriage" was the theme song for this Fox show.

I'd rather be on the train

At least that's what my bumper sticker from the National Association of Rail Passengers says. And it appears, contrary to my earlier expectations, I may still be able to do just that. This is from AP for Tuesday:
President Bush's plans to close down Amtrak's money-losing long distance routes were dealt another setback Tuesday as a Senate panel approved a sizable boost to the budget for the ailing railroad. ...

Amtrak received a $1.2 billion subsidy for the current year but the Senate measure would boost that to $1.4 billion for next year.
The White House had wanted to eliminate all operating subsidies, a move that would have forced the system into bankruptcy and a shutdown because the cost of closing down the lines that would be eliminated would exceed available funds. A Senate Appropriations Subcommittee now has rejected that approach. In addition,
[a]n attempt by the House Appropriations Committee to cut the railroad's budget by more than half and cut off subsidies for every cross-country route was reversed by the full House last month.

Taken together, the House and Senate actions make it plain that Congress simply doesn't have the stomach to close down Amtrak routes.
This is good news - tempered by the fact that the amounts being provided, assuming they come through intact, are enough to keep Amtrak going - barely. Once again, as keeps happening, Amtrak gets just enough help to survive but not enough to actually make the investments necessary to significantly improve its financial position. And next year, we'll go through the same arguments.

Another problem is that the proposal includes a provision to ban subsidies for food and beverage services, which currently lose money. But, as NARP points out, Amtrak officials have testified that "the primary purpose [of food and beverage service] is to enhance ticket sales and ridership, not serve as a profit center."

No matter, the desire is to dump them anyway, no matter what odd thinking is required. In fact, the argument for the elimination of food and beverage service borders on the bizarre. As NARP lays it out, the Transportation Department's Inspector General decided that because the average coach trip length is less than the average sleeping-car trip, coach passengers do not need the food services. Therefore, 100% of the associated costs can be attributed to sleeping-car passengers and therefore the services can be eliminated with zero impact on sales of coach tickets! This makes Zen riddles models of straightforwardness.

Don't be fooled for a minute: The purpose of all such restrictions is not to save Amtrak but to destroy it. It was never supposed to succeed. And the wackos won't give up trying to make it fail. But despite their efforts, despite the deceptions, despite the perpetual bad-mouthing (note that the article refers to "money-losing" routes of an "ailing" railroad which Congress "doesn't have the stomach" - i.e., lacks the guts - to kill; no allowance is made for the possibility that Amtrak might provide a valuable service and no reference is made to subsidies to roads and airports), it has, to their dismay, survived. May it continue to do so, may it expand.

I've previously written about Amtrak on March 20 and April 9; I suggest your check those out for a fuller background.

In addition to NARP, you might want to check out Friends of Amtrak and Save Amtrak.

Chertoff to cities: Drop dead

July 14: Saying his department "must drive improvement with a sense of urgency," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff
outlined plans yesterday to revamp his unwieldy department, including support for a push to change its funding formula so states more vulnerable to terrorist attacks would get a bigger share of the pie[, the Baltimore Sun, quoting Newsday, reported]. ...

Chertoff said he hopes to improve security at the nation's borders, ports and airports. He wants to speed up new technologies to detect bombs and better coordinate information-sharing with local officials.
July 15: AP reported that
[i]n New York and other big cities, commuters were fuming Friday after learning of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's remarks that cities will have to pay to protect trains and buses because airplanes are a higher priority.

The federal government is temporarily footing the extra nearly $2 million a week New York is spending to move police officers from around the city into the transit system in the wake of the London terror attacks.

But in the long term, cities will be largely on their own when it comes to securing trains and buses....
New York City's mass transit system alone serves about 7 million riders a day and has already been the target of two attempted attacks. The Heritage Foundation, in the course of one of its periodic attacks on Amtrak, says that
[b]etween 1998 and 2005, about 183 attacks succeeded on rail targets, resulting in about 630 deaths and several thousand injuries. Any train operator should know that rail systems have become a popular target for terrorism.
I'm sure the train operators do know; unfortunately, Chertoff doesn't.

Adding insult to injury - or, I suppose, it was actually adding injury to insult - on Thursday the Senate approved
a $31.8 billion Homeland Security spending measure that rejected a plan to spend $1.16 billion on mass transit, favoring instead a competing $100 million proposal.
That is a 91% cut.

Chertoff rolled out the standard talking points about "priorities" and the airplanes-as-weapons line, but we know the real reason: Chertoff and his fat cat cronies don't ride buses. They don't take the subway. But they do fly. And besides, all those people on mass transit? They're all, like, you know, city people and who cares about them? They're not real Americans, anyway.

It's not always about us, redux

Except, of course, that even if it's not about us, it can still affect us indirectly. UPI for July 15 reported on a new Pew poll which found that
[p]ublic support for Osama bin Laden and terrorist violence has dropped in several Muslim countries.
Unfortunately, while that statement is accurate, UPI thoroughly mangled the details of the report. (Among other errors, it identified the poll as having been done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press when it was actually done by Pew's Global Attitudes Project.) However, the real details are available at this link to the Pew Center's summary.

The research, the Project says,
conducted among more than 17,000 people in 17 countries this spring, finds that while many Muslims believe that radical Islam poses a threat, there are differing opinions as to its causes. Sizable minorities in most predominantly Muslim countries point to poverty, joblessness and a lack of education, but pluralities in Jordan and Lebanon cite U.S. policies as the most important cause of Islamic extremism.
The results show a drop, in some cases a dramatic one, in support among Muslims for attacks on civilian targets as compared to an earlier survey done in the summer of 2002. For example, the percentage of Lebanese Muslims who said such attacks were justified "often" or "sometimes" tumbled from 73% to 39%. In Pakistan, the drop was from 33% to 25% (while those who responded "rarely" or "never" jumped from 43% to 65%). Support in Indonesia dropped to roughly half its previous level: From 27% to 15%. Morocco also showed a clear decline, this one in comparison to a survey in March of 2004. Then, 40% said attacks on civilians were "often" or "sometimes" justified; now the figure has shrunk to 13%.

Turkey, with 14% answering "often" or "sometimes," was essentially unchanged.

The only nation showing a clear increase in support for such attacks was Jordan: up from 43% in the summer of 2002 to 57% now. UPI suggests one reason why that might be so: It quotes the Los Angeles Times as noting that Jordan has a large Sunni population with close ties to Iraq's. That connection and the resulting natural sympathy could easily be a source of support for attacks on civilians, justified by the war. That possibility is buttressed by another finding of the poll:
When it comes to suicide bombings in Iraq, however, Muslims in the surveyed countries are divided. Nearly half of Muslims in Lebanon and Jordan, and 56% in Morocco, say suicide bombings against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable. However, substantial majorities in Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia take the opposite view.
Overall, Muslims who answered the poll were more likely to approve of attacks against Americans and other foreign civilians in Iraq than on civilians elsewhere - indicating that, as many of us have been saying, our presence in Iraq is driving more Islamic fundamentalist terrorism (or at the very least, more support for such terrorism) than our withdrawal would.

In its coverage, UPI completely blows the question about Osama bin Laden, seemingly equating support for him with support for acts of terrorism. The actual question had to do with the level of confidence that respondents had in bin Laden to "do the right thing in world affairs." While that level is up some in Jordan and Pakistan (I can't help but wonder if in the latter case it has something to do with admiration due to the fact that he's still out there, successfully eluding US forces), it is down, in some cases sharply, in Indonesia, Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon; indeed, it the latter, he has almost no support at all.

I'm not surprised by these figures; I recall a while ago reading (and I thought posting but I'll be damned if I can find it) about the increasing debate in Muslim communities in the Middle East about the morality of attacks on civilian targets and how some questions that had earlier seemed unaskable were now coming to appear unanswerable.

Hatred does have a way of burning out eventually. It often takes years and often burns out the hater before it burns out itself, but it does eventually - eventually - cool. The truth is, no community can long withstand the self-destructive effects of open flames of hatred; the conflicts that sustain themselves the longest are those that usually smolder rather than blaze.

I think the saddest realization I ever came to is that most of our conflicts don't end because people become wise or forgiving or realize the immorality or cruelty of what they have done - they end because of exhaustion. Sometimes that's a material exhaustion on the part of one side (leading to "victory" for the other); more commonly, it's a spiritual, an emotional, exhaustion on the part of both sides: They are just tired of it, sufficiently tired to let go of enough of their group egos to accept what before they would reject. That's one of the reasons that the perpetually-shaky months-old Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire (about which I have written way too little of late) has more or less held despite the strains and threats: Both sides are tired of the bloodshed; even Hamas is showing signs of the same tiredness. (Unhappily, the Israeli religious reactionaries opposing the pullout from Gaza don't seem to be as near that point yet.)

And someday, sometime, the anger among some of our fellow citizens will also fade and cool and we will as a people once again blink our eyes and to our collective shock rediscover the reality of poverty and prejudice and not dismiss them by saying to the one "you're lazy" and to the other "you're a whiner" or "you're a sinner." Maybe we can even pursue the dream of being a light unto the world by assailing our reality of being a blight unto the world.

I've started to spin 'way off here, so I'll cut myself off and just say this: We do live in a dark time. But we will survive.

Footnote: And maybe not quite so dark as we think. A survey that actually was done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, released July 11, revealed that
more than six-in-ten (62%) Americans see terrorist attacks over the past few years as a conflict with a small radical group, while 28% say they are part of a broader clash with Islam.
And the figures don't change much depending on how closely people followed the news of the London bombings.

The attempts by the right to turn the current stresses into an all-out culture war, pitting the moral, upstanding, "free" West against the ignorant, backwards, oppression of Islam, have not gained traction. So sorry, Christopher Hitchens. Better luck with the next target of your shifting hatreds.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Jeopardy!

YESTERDAY'S QUESTION
Who is J. Paul Getty?

JEOPARDY!
TV for $200

"The Soup Nazi" was a classic episode of this '90s sitcom.

It's not always about us

July 15: It's a good news-bad news occasion. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) of USAID reports that
[c]ross-border informal trade in Southern Africa was picking up as people in food deficit areas began to take advantage of crop surpluses in neighbouring countries....

By the end of May, close to 15,000 mt [metric tons; 1 metric ton = 1000 kilograms = about 2,205 pounds] of basic foodstuffs was recorded by an informal cross-border trade monitoring initiative.

"This represents a 15 percent rise in the trade over the amount captured in April..." the report commented.
The good news is that it shows that Africa is not the continent-wide basket case some would have it be and that, as researcher Nick Maunder was quoted, "informal trade can be very significant [in reducing household vulnerability]." People can and do make use of the resources available. Africa is suffering, but it neither needs nor wants a steady diet of handouts. What it needs is development assistance on terms that do not require the nations of the continent to undermine their local economies to serve the interests of international trade and capital.

The bad news, however, is that as Maunder went on to say,
"Basically, in a normal [harvest] year there's not a lot of trade going on - it's too expensive and the infrastructure is so poor that it costs a lot to move commodities in bulk - [as a result] the informal trade would be around 5 percent of consumption needs. But if you have a particularly bad deficit in a country then you do see informal trade really pick up, as people take advantage of the opportunity [to buy food in neighbouring countries]," he explained.
In other words, the informal trade has expanded because local conditions in some areas are so bad that the expense and difficulty become worth it.
Aid agencies have estimated that some 10 million people across Southern Africa might require food aid in the year ahead, mostly due to harvest failures brought on by erratic weather and the impact of HIV/AIDS.
So short term, food; long term, development. It has to be both.

July 16: It appears a path is being cleared for a peace deal in Cote d'Ivorie. At the request of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who brokered the deal,
Ivory Coast's leader Laurent Gbagbo has used a presidential decree to introduce legal reforms which northern rebels were demanding as part of a peace deal.

Mr Gbagbo said the changes, including new nationality laws and the setting up of an independent electoral commission, would take immediate effect. ...

The New Forces rebels had refused to disarm until the reforms were made.

Ivory Coast has been in crisis since the New Forces rebels seized the north of the country in September 2002.
The rebels from the mostly-Muslim north claimed the government, dominated by southern Christians, discriminated against them, making it almost impossible for them to become citizens. A power-sharing government was set up in January, 2003 but it came apart last November when the rebels withdrew after government forces broke a truce. It was regarded as a hopeful sign in April when the rebels agreed to re-enter the government.

Gbagbo's willingness to use special powers to push the agreement forward over the opposition of his own ruling FPI party is another good sign. Whether it will be enough to overcome the ethnic divisions and bitterness in a nation where even second-generation residents can be counted as "foreigners" and even nationals who move to an area away from where they were born are labeled, I have no idea. But it does appear some people are genuinely trying - and for that, if for nothing else, they deserve praise.

July 17: The BBC reports that
Turkish authorities believe Kurdish PKK separatists planted Saturday's bomb on a tourist bus, said the UK ambassador. ...

The PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by the US and EU, has been staging a violent campaign against the Turkish government for an independent Kurdish state since 1978.

More than 37,000 people have been killed in the campaign.

The rebels declared a unilateral truce in 1999, but ended it in 2004, saying Turkey had not done enough to meet their demands. ...

The minibus blast came six days after a bombing in the nearby town of Cesme, which left at least 20 people injured.

Kurdish militants claimed responsibility for that attack, as well as one in Kusadasi in April, in which one policeman was killed and four other people were wounded.

Militants both from the far left and from Islamist circles have carried out bombings in Turkey in the past, as have Kurdish rebels.
July 17: The Indonesian government and rebels from the province of Aceh have reached an agreement to end a 30-year-old insurgency that killed more than 15,000 people, the BBC reports.
The government and Aceh rebels are due to sign the peace accord, which aims to end the insurgency, on 15 August. ...

The talks began after the tsunami that killed at least 120,000 people in Aceh.

A deal will facilitate the delivery of international reconstruction aid to the province, which was the worst hit by December's tsunami. ...

A previous peace deal broke down in May 2003 amid bitter recriminations.

The meeting, brokered by Finnish mediators, had been deadlocked over the issue of political representation.

The Free Aceh Movement (Gam) - which has given up its demands for independence for the province - had insisted on being allowed to form its own political party.

Negotiators had rejected a proposal that would allow them to field candidates within existing political parties. ...

"The differences have been ironed out," [Indonesian Communications Minister Sofyan] Djalil said in Helsinki.
However, questions remained. In Jakarta, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he would not agree to the rebels' demand for their own political party "in an easy way." It appears that people aren't sure just what that means. My hope is that he meant he's not really happy with the deal, it's not an easy thing to accept, but he does accept it. We'll have to see.

Dispatches from the privacy front, Corporate Division

WKMG-TV also let us know, this time on Friday, that Walt Disney World has added a new requirement for admission beyond the ability to pay high prices and endure hours-long lines for five-minute rides.
Tourists visiting Disney theme parks in Central Florida must now provide their index and middle fingers to be scanned before entering the front gates.

The scans were formerly for season pass holders but now everyone must provide their fingers, Local 6 News reported. They have reportedly been phased in for all ticket holders during the past six months, according to a report.

Disney officials said the scans help keep track of who is using legitimate tickets, Local 6 News reported.
Company PR flacks say the scans don't take actual fingerprints - but since in order to work they have to be able to distinguish you from everyone else, that seems a quibbling and pointless distinction.

In fact, it's hard to see how this achieves the stated goal at all. Apparently, the scheme was begun as a substitute for picture IDs for season pass holders, which apparently can only be used by the person who bought them. (Sidebar: That always struck me as dumb, frankly. Limit it to one entry per day and let it be used that day by anyone the ticket holder desires. The money that person/family will spend once inside the park should make it worthwhile for the corporate bosses. But no, they can't do that because, the transparently-stupid-once-it's-said-out-loud logic is that anyone who gets in free would otherwise have bought a full-price ticket if the freebie was not available. Just dumb.) But what this has to do with insuring the use of "legitimate" tickets by day-pass buyers is at best vague. Instead, it seems more geared to gathering information about the behavior of ticket purchasers for promotion and marketing. Which is probably why
[c]ritics of the new scanning technology do not agree with Disney and said the scans border on a violation of privacy.

I think it's a step in the wrong direction," Civil Liberties Union [of Florida] spokesman George Crossley said. "I think it is a step toward collection of personal information on people regardless of what Disney says." ...

"The collecting of this fingertip information and how it is to be used and what the source of that information is as it relates to what it will show - I don't like it and we will look into it," Crossley said. ...

Universal Orlando and SeaWorld also plan to implement similar technology in the future, Local 6 News reported.
Because once one place proves that an idiot, docile public will put up with crap like this, it spreads.
 
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