Friday, June 30, 2006

Obama, Take 2

As a follow-up to my last post, there was one small section of Sen. Barack Obama's speech earlier this week that I appreciated. It was this:
"I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice."

It's Nonsense (Even When Obama Says It)

Sen. Barack Obama's recent speech at a conference of faith-based activists is causing a bit of a stir. I was a bit perturbed earlier this week when I read the opening paragraph from the AP story:
Sen. Barack Obama chastised fellow Democrats on Wednesday for failing to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people," and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoing Americans.
Obama's remarks included this soundbite:
"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation."
Agreed. But implicit in this kind of statement is the understanding that some public, religious exhortations do breach the wall.

Obama says Democrats should not "ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew ..." I disagree. People who are acting in a political capacity, who are prone to use issues for rhetorical flourish, self-aggrandisement and self-promotion are not appropriate people to weigh in on what makes someone a good Christian, good Muslim, good Jew, good Buddhist, etc.

If religious people are yearning to know what makes them good Christians, Jews, etc., they have plenty of outlets. They can read the relevant holy books of their religion. They can consult their clergy.

Dems and Republicans who insist on weighing in on such issues nearly always offer opinions that are predictably driven by their political agendas.

It is rather telling that the only justification Obama could give for why Dems should enter the debate about what makes someone a good Christian was that if we don't, "others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends."

Boil down Obama's argument, and this is what you're left with: we should do it because Republicans do it. No doubt, he's referring to Republicans when he cites the "others" who "will fill the vacuum."

When Republicans start talking as if they are God almighty, Democrats should be willing to say, quite proudly, that we will not turn religious faith into a political football. Faith is an individual decision; political democracy is a collective decision. This isn't just a sound intellectual stand -- as the Schiavo controversy revealed, the public is not always so keen on the use of religious rhetoric to justify political grandstanding.

But the statement from Obama's speech that was most annoying was this one:
"Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square."
So where are all of the secularists asking believers to do this?

The notion, implicitly advanced by Obama, that religious people are isolated and marginalized in America is utterly ridiculous.

Presidents end their major speeches with "God Bless America." The mass media is rife with positive references to religion and religious figures. Virtually all major newspapers have "religion" sections.

In recent years, magazines like Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report have featured religiously-themed cover stories. Over just the past three years, US News has featured cover stories such as "Christ's Mission," "God's Storyteller," "Pope John Paul II," "The Power of Prayer," and "The Real Jesus."

A few years ago, the Learning Channel ran a series called "The Life and Times of Jesus." recently invited clergy to send copies of their sermons for posting on one section of its site.

Yes, a handful of school administrators (or their attorneys) may occasionally disallow some constitutionally permitted forms of religious expression. But the opposite is also true. Long after the Engle v. Vitale decision, my school district in Arkansas continued to conduct programs and assemblies that prosletized.

However, I do believe that truly religious people do have one valid complaint -- their beliefs are used, again and again, as mere props by huckster politicians and political groups.

In any case, it's depressing to hear Barack Obama parroting the message of religious conservatives and the GOP. He may be considered a "rising star" by many Dems, but he spouted a lot of nonsense in this speech.

As the World Cup Continues (Without Us)

Joel Pett, Lexington Herald-Leader

This Is My City Government

From the Washington Post -- read it and weep:
D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. tried to hold a public meeting yesterday on a bill that would ban government bodies from holding private meetings. But he couldn't, because his colleagues were elsewhere -- holding a private meeting about the measure.

... (Orange) waited and waited in Room 123 at the John A. Wilson Building. Of the five committee members, only Orange and Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) showed up to discuss the controversial measure that could open most of the District's government meetings to the public whenever there was a quorum.

Actually, a quorum existed yesterday -- just not in Room 123.

A majority of the committee members -- Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) -- were in Suite 105, Graham's office.

... Graham, Mendelson and Schwartz were privately discussing several amendments to the bill. Orange and Fenty had not been invited.

Fokke and Sukke Explain Everything

A late bulletin clarifies the collapse of the Dutch cabinet:

Title: Fokke & Sukke have yet another loophole.

Fokke: Ho, ho!
Sukke: According to Somali law, the cabinet has absolutely not collapsed!!


As Eugene reported, the Ugandan government is going to talk to Joseph Kony, head of the Lord's Resistance Army and "public enemy no. 1" at the International Criminal Court.

Turns out Kony isn't just a war criminal; he's also a lunatic.

You Know You're in Trouble When...

...things at home are so bad that you flee into Darfur to escape.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

I Haven't the Foggiest

It's 2 a.m. here. I got in at around midnight from an interesting evening out, turned on the TV, and discovered that the government had collapsed.

Two hours later, this is what I think happened. Considering how little sense it makes, I'm hoping a kind Dutchman will explain what's really going on.

The Hirsi Ali drama is what brought down the government. As you may recall from my earlier posts, Minister for Integration (i.e., for kicking out asylum-seekers) Rita Verdonk suddenly "discovered" something that had been known for a while, namely that Hirsi Ali had used her mother's maiden name, rather than her father's name, when applying for asylum and (more important) when becoming a Dutch citizen. The story was that she did so for fear of being tracked down by the people in Somalia that she was running away from.

Having discovered this, Verdonk was "compelled" by the law to declare that Hirsi Ali was actually not a citizen, because she had lied in her citizenship application and when going through the formal acceptance of citizenship. So Hirsi Ali left parliament and moved to the U.S. to take a job at the American Enterprise Institute.

Meanwhile, Verdonk caught hell in parliament. She said she couldn't show favoritism just because Hirsi Ali was a member of her political party, but a lot of people seemed to think this was some sort of power play by Verdonk (I've never quite followed how this worked).

Then, recently, Verdonk said that Hirsi Ali was a Dutch citizen after all. It turns out, supposedly, that under Somali law, Hirsi Ali was entitled to use her maternal grandfather's name as her own, so she hadn't lied by giving that as her name when she became a citizen.

This is when it gets really bizarre. Apparently, Verdonk forced Hirsi Ali to sign a statement apologizing for having lied about having lied. I gather that Verdonk told her she would give her citizenship back only if Hirsi Ali signed the statement. This, of course, gives the lie to the notion that Verdonk was merely following the dictates of the law: if Hirsi Ali really was entitled to use that name, then she was a citizen, and it wasn't Verdonk's right to "give" her citizenship or not. The declaration said, I think, that Hirsi Ali was sorry that she had falsely said she had used a false name (in order to escape from her persecutors), when in fact she had used a different but legitimate name. So she's sorry for causing all this fuss.

That was finally enough for D66, the smallest of the three parties in the governing coalition. I can't figure out what D66 is, but I think they're basically for reform, good government, and other nice things. Verdonk is from the VVD, or Liberal Party, which is the second party in the coalition. The biggest party is the CDA, or Christian Democrats, including Prime Minister Balkenende. D66 issued an ultimatum to Balkenende: either Verdonk goes or we go. They say she abused her authority and cannot continue in her position. Balkenende called their bluff and said he wasn't ditching Verdonk. So D66 walked, the cabinet collapsed, and the coalition no longer has a majority. This means, I believe, that we're going to have an election soon--so much fun in a system where elections can happen at any time, rather than regularly every two or four years.

Anyway, that's the story as I understand it. And it makes no sense. So, obviously, I've got it completely wrong. Someone, please explain it to me.

Spinmeisters and Demagogues, Start Your Engines

I'm going to read the Supreme Court's decision in the Hamdan case over the coming days. Reading through the syllabus, however, I can already see that it's got lots of very difficult and esoteric legal issues, which means it's ripe for being misrepresented and misunderstood. I expect the president's apologists to be out there saying that the Supreme Court has ceded U.S. sovereignty to the U.N., for example.

For now, there are two points that seem interesting. I'm sure more will become apparent on a thorough reading.

First is the holding that the military commissions violate the Geneva Conventions. This is a dramatic thing to say, from a symbolic perspective, but it is less important as a legal matter. Americans care less about international law than do the citizens of almost any other country. But the Geneva Conventions still have a powerful significance to most of us. These were signed after World War II in response to the utter evil that was practiced in that war. Saying that we're violating them symbolically compares us to the Nazis. That's not what the Supreme Court is saying, of course, and it's not logically true that any Geneva Convention violation equates to Nazi-level criminality. But the symbolism is powerful.

The thing that's going to be misrepresented, though, is how international law is applied by U.S. courts. The rule is that international law is functionally the same as a federal statute (putting aside some technical questions like the self-executing nature of a treaty). That means that the courts will apply international law--but it also means that Congress can pass a statute and override international law. That is, the Supreme Court can say, "The United States is violating its international law obligations by doing _______, but since the statute says to do ______, there's nothing we can or will do about it." This is different, obviously, from a constitutional provision, where the Court will say, "The statute says to do ______, but since the Constitution says the government can't do _______, we will strike down the statute."

Invoking the Geneva Conventions doesn't mean the Court is saying that Congress and the president can't have military commissions like this; it is saying that the president can't do this on his own without having a statute that authorizes this sort of military commission. If Congress amended the Uniform Code of Military Justice to permit these commissions, then (presumably) the courts wouldn't (shouldn't) put a halt to the commissions just because they violate the Geneva Conventions. The Supreme Court would be on record as saying that the actions the U.S. was taking were illegal under international law. but they wouldn't do anything about it.

Which leads to...

Second, the greatest legal significance of this decision may be very much overlooked in most of the media coverage and debate. Does anyone recall the discussion during Alito's confirmation hearings about the "unitary executive?" Even when a GOP-controlled Congress was solidly behind him and he had great public support, President Bush has insisted that the Executive has the authority to do all kinds of things without getting authorization from Congress. His legal brain trust, people like Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo, spun theories that said the president could do whatever he wanted in the field of defense and foreign affairs: a staute couldn't stop him from torturing people, and he didn't need a statute to authorize almost any of his actions. This has turned up in all sorts of contexts, for instance the illegal wiretaps.

What today's decision means is that the Supreme Court doesn't buy the Gonzales-Yoo line (though Alito--surprise--dissented). Quaint notions like the separation of powers still matter. This is fundamental to our form of government and to the liberty of each of us. So it's not just about foreigners, or a bunch of guys in a small corner of Cuba.

My quick skimming suggests to me that Bush could actually still create military commissions like the ones he tried to put into place this time--but he'll have to ask Congress to pass a law allowing him to do it. That's terrifically important as a principle, but it will also make for some fascinating politics. Gitmo is becoming more and more of an albatross. Will Bush want to ask Congress to effectively overrule the Supreme Court--and to enact a statute that our highest court has said violates the Geneva Conventions? If he does, will the Senate go along with it? Besides Arlen Specter, will enough GOP senators step out of line to defeat what Bush asks for? If not, will the Democrats have the spine to filibuster? As I say, it could be fascinating.

But, first, I pity those of you living in the U.S., because you're going to have to live through a lot of black-helicopter rantings from the usual suspects before everyone calms down and we get down to talking about what really matters in this decision.

The Military Tribunal Decision

This morning, in a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court strongly limited the power of the Bush administration to conduct military tribunals for suspected terrorists who are imprisoned at a U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Some excerpts from the majority opinion:
At a minimum, the government must make a substantial showing that the crime for which it seeks to try a defendant by military commission is acknowledged to be an offense against the law of war.

That burden is far from satisfied here. The crime of "conspiracy" has rarely if ever been tried as such in this country by any law-of-war military commission not exercising some other form of jurisdiction, and does not appear in either the Geneva Conventions or the Hague Conventions -- the major treaties on the law of war.

... (there is) a broader inability on the Executive's part here to satisfy the most basic precondition -- at least in the absence of specific congressional authorization -- for establishment of military commissions: military necessity. (Salim Ahmed) Hamdan's tribunal was appointed not by a military commander in the field of battle, but by a retired major general stationed away from any active hostilities.

Hamden is charged not with an overt act for which he was caught redhanded in a theater of war and which military efficiency demands be treated expeditiously, but with an agreement the inception of which long predated the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the [passage of the congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force].

That may well be a crime, but it is not an offense that "by the law of war may be tried by military commissio[n]."

A Values Mystery

Yesterday, a House committee was set to consider a bill protecting the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. But given that 1) Republicans love to play up these kinds of "values" issues, and 2) the GOP holds a firm majority on this House committee, how is it that the bill failed to secure committee approval?

Tapped's Garance Franke-Ruta explains what happened.

Gadfly or Victim?

There's been a bit of a to-do here over the past week about a professor at the University of Utrecht. Pieter van der Horst just retired as a theology professor specializing in Judaism. According to him, the university's rector censored van der Horst's farewell address, which was on the subject of the enduring myth of Jewish cannibalism (e.g., the "blood libel" that we drink the blood of Christian children at Passover). The rector supposedly made van der Horst take out the section of the speech that addressed contemporary anti-Semitism among Muslims. Van der Horst accused the rector of "pure Islamophobia."

Now, the picture is getting a bit fuzzier, based on an interview with the rector, Willem Hendrik Gispen.

According to Gispen, the issue came up when the dean of the theology faculty suggested publishing van der Horst's speech in the university's academic journal. Gispen thought the section on Muslim anti-Semitism was not "academic" in tone--although he claims that he agrees with its substance. He told van der Horst that it would be better to edit that section to make it more "academic," rather than "pamphlet-esque."

At that point, van der Horst cut the section entirely and went to the newspapers.

In the end, he delivered a slightly modified version of the address, which was published in the newspaper Trouw. (This used to be a Calvinist paper when Dutch society was a bit more neatly segmented than it is now). Then the university published the entire original text, as it existed when Gispen had his conversation with van der Horst, on its website.

I haven't had the time to read it, since I read very slowly in Dutch. A friend who has read it tells me that the first part of the speech is very scholarly in tone, with lots of footnotes from different sources and so on. This is about the early history of the myth in ancient Egypt and Greece, which is a subject on which van der Horst is an expert. My friend tells me that the part about contemporary Islam is much different in style and tone and is not really appropriate for a magazine opinion piece, let alone an academic journal. But that's one person's opinion.

According to the article about the interview with the rector, the original speech said that the Muslim world had "taken the torch of anti-Semitism" from the Nazis and carried it further "with fire and fervor." It also said that Edward Said had been promoted far above what the quality of his work justified.

Meanwhile, the inteviewer asked Gispen whether the fact that his wife is Jewish had any influence.
"My wife's father was Jewish, that is correct. She and my daughters wears Stars of David. We have a lot of [Jewish] friends in Israel and the US. I have seldom missed my father-in-law more than in these last few weeks. I would have loved to have been able to ask his advice." His father-in-law [says the reporter] was Professor David de Wied, an internationally renowned neuropharmacologist. Gispen is a medical biologist.
Anyway, it's hard for me to discern where the truth lies in all of this. The only thing I know for sure is that Gispen has a cool title: Rector Magnificus.

Dobson's Full of It (Once Again)

In this commentary on, arch homophobe James Dobson whines that the media is largely to blame for the U.S. Senate’s recent rejection of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Here's his argument:
With the help of the media, which laid down "cover" by claiming voters didn't care about marriage, 40 Democrats, one Independent and seven Republicans turned their backs on this most basic social institution.

… As it always does when conservative issues are being debated, the liberal press produced a series of trumped-up polls indicating the issue was of no interest nationally
I’m not sure what Dobson means by a “trumped-up” poll. That kind of term might accurately describe an online poll whose sample population is self-selected, but I'll bet Dobson means just about any poll that says what he doesn’t want to hear — such as this new poll released by the Pew Center.

The Pew Center compiled a list of 19 issues and asked voters how important each issue was to them. Voters ranked gay marriage dead last — 19 out of 19. Voters were twice as likely to call energy policy “very important” as they were to call gay marriage “very important.” When it came to issues deemed “very important,” even the flag-burning amendment scored 15 points higher than gay marriage.

The “poll” that Dobson says the media should have played up before the Senate vote was the decision by Alabama voters to approve a ban on same-sex marriage. A vote in Alabama is supposed to trump national polls?

But here’s the knockout blow to Dobson’s argument that voters are deeply interested in this issue. According to the Pew poll, even conservative subgroups don’t seem to view the gay-marriage issue as a priority.
* Only 43% of self-identified Republicans said the issue of gay marriage was “very important” to them. Even among those who attend religious services weekly, just 45% called it “very important.”

* Only half (50%) of self-identified white evangelicals called gay marriage “very important” to them — it rated no higher than the minimum wage. In fact, white evangelicals ranked 13 of the other 18 issues higher in importance than gay marriage.
So before Dobson can convince the Senate that gay marriage is so important that it’s worth rewriting the Constitution, he must first convince other evangelicals that they should be as panicked by the notion of same-sex marriage as he is.

Right now, they aren’t.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dems Hold Big Edge in Voter Enthusiasm

The Pew Center has released this new poll on voter attitudes:
With less than five months to go before Election Day, Democrats hold two distinct advantages in the midterm campaign that they have not enjoyed for some time.

First, Americans continue to say they favor the Democratic candidate in their district, by a 51% to 39% margin.

Second, the level of enthusiasm about voting among Democrats is unusually high, and is atypically low among Republicans. In fact, Democrats now hold a voter enthusiasm advantage that is the mirror image of the GOP's edge in voter zeal leading up to the 1994 midterm election.

... 46% of Democratic voters say they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, compared with just 30% of Republicans. In October 1994, Republicans held a comparable advantage on this measure (by 45%-30%).
I wasn't surveyed by Pew, but this sure as hell describes my feelings:
... Democratic zeal is mostly driven by anger toward President Bush and Republican leaders, not support for Democratic leaders.

Just half of Democrats approve of the job performance of Democratic leaders in Congress; by contrast, 58% of Republicans give positive ratings to GOP leaders. And 64% of Democrats say their party is doing only a fair or poor job in standing up for its traditional positions on such things as protecting the interests of minorities and helping the poor.

Kony Speaks

Sam Farmar of the London Times managed to track down the infamous, and infamously enigmatic, Joseph Kony of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.

For twenty years, Kony and his (predominantly kidnapped) minions have terrorized the Acholi people of northern Uganda, savagely killing and disfiguring thousands for no apparent reason.

Last year, Kony and a few others were indicted by the International Criminal Court for their twenty years of brutality, and earlier this year he began making ovetures to the Ugandan government, via Sudan, seeking peace talks.

Uganda has, understandably, been skeptical but the leaders of southern Sudan (the former SPLM rebels who took power via the nascent peace accord) have been eager to meet with Kony and his LRA

[The government in Khartoum backed the LRA for years in retribution for Uganda's support of the SPLM and allowed the LRA to operate out of southern Sudan, though most of the rebels have now fled to the Congo.]

Anyway, the article on Farmar's meeting with Kony is pretty interesting, but I was struck by this passage
Finally Riek Machar, the vice-president of southern Sudan, arrived. Mr Machar is a former warlord with a degree from Bradford University. Over the previous two months he had provided the LRA with $20,000 (£11,000) and ten lorryloads of food. “A hungry man can not talk peace,” he explained.
Far be it from me to tell Machar how to handle the LRA (though I would not have wept had he arrested Kony and handed him over to the ICC - or even shot him on the spot) but I fail to see how providing food and money to Kony gives him any incentive to talk peace.

It seems to me that a hungry man can talk peace - in fact, I'd assume a hungry man would be eager to talk peace.

A well-fed man, probably not so much.

True or False? Bush Has Never Vetoed a Bill

Technically, that's true, but the answer depends on how you define the term "veto." During Senate hearings yesterday, Democrats accused the Bush administration of “making unprecedented claims for unchecked power.”

Senate Dems were referring to President Bush's use of presidential "signing statements." These statements generally contain instructions on how the executive branch intends to implement legislation that Congress has passed and the president has signed into law.

But, as the Financial Times explains, these signing statements frequently contain language that reflects the White House's desire "to ignore congressional intent." As the FT article noted:
The issue has attracted scrutiny following a study by the Boston Globe this year that found that Mr Bush had employed signing statements for more than 750 laws enacted by the Republican Congress.

“That’s far more than all the signing statements signed by every single president from George Washington to Bill Clinton, put together,” said Patrick Leahy, a Democratic senator, during the hearing.

Concern has focused on whether Mr Bush has used the low-profile statements to side-step congressional authority, rather than publicly issue a presidential veto of legislation.

Mr Bush has never issued a formal veto.

“Basically, the president signs laws enacted by people’s representatives in Congress but he’s crossing his fingers behind his back. And when he says he never had to make a veto, heck, why? He just signs laws saying he is not going to follow them,” Mr Leahy added.

The most controversial use of a signing statement came this year after the Senate voted to pass a prohibition on certain kinds of interrogation procedures. After lengthy negotiations with Senator John McCain agreeing the terms of an amendment, the administration “issued a signing statement which appeared to undercut what had been negotiated”, said (Republican Senator Arlen) Specter.

"Fahrenheit 9/11" Marine Dies in Iraq

The Associated Press reports:
A U.S. Marine and one-time recruiter who appeared in Michael Moore's acclaimed documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" has died in a roadside bombing in Iraq.

Although Staff Sgt. Raymond J. Plouhar willingly appeared in a segment of the 2004 film, his father, Raymond, said Tuesday that his son did not realize that it was for a movie critical of the war. The 57-year-old Plouhar said his son took four years off from active duty to serve as a recruiter in Michigan after donating one of his kidneys to his uncle.

... The younger Plouhar died Monday of wounds suffered while conducting combat operations in Anbar province of Iraq, the Defense Department announced Tuesday.

Burning Idiots

Of all the issues to debate in congress the flag burning ban amendment has to be the STUPIDEST. It's one of those perennial issues that hardens my jadedness and thickens my disgust with American politics. The flag amendment is a propagandistic tool used by demagogues of the lowest, most craven sort.

Frankly, the whole debate should end and begin on one point-- the official, proper way to "decommission" and dispose of an American flag is to burn it.

Every year Boy Scouts and veterans groups burn thousands of flags. In some places veterans burning a thousand U.S. flags is an annual tradition-- on Flag Day. If a Boy Scout burns a flag he is "decommissioning" it, if a political protester burns a flag it is desecration. However, the actual act of destroying the flag and "desecrating" it is the same, however, the "thoughts" and intentions of the person doing the burning is what matters. Ipso faco, the flag burning ban is an attempt to ban expression, namely unpopular political speech. If that isn't giving the finger to our forefathers I don't know what is.

What truly angers me about the flag burning amendment is that I don't feel the flag truly represents "America" in the generic sense, it actually represents the American government. So the way I interpret the flag amendment is that politicians are trying to write into the constitution that people should get in trouble (although the punishment is yet undetermined) for expressing anger or rage at the government, which is why the flag amendment is a self-serving tool for politicians on so many levels, used to reinforce that America and its government are one in the same.

One other thing, it's also a needless solution in search of a nonexistant problem. No one even burns the flag in protest anymore. I've been to a lot of "radical" protests in my day and I've never once seen anyone burn the American flag. Flga burning might be an image that stirs emotions but it's not one anyone has seen in quite a long time.

So, yeah, screw you Dianne Feinstein. It looks like Jello Biafra was right about you all along, even back in 1979.

Ranking of the World's Most Polite Cities

Recently, Reader's Digest released the results of a survey that ranked 35 cities around the world on the basis of politeness. New York ranked first, Zurich second. Asian cities ranked at the bottom.

As you might guess, this has brought a, well, rude response from Asians. A professor of accounting at the University of Bahrain slammed the RD ranking:
... the three criteria chosen to measure politeness were trivial things. For example, saying "thank you" or "please" is not the only measure of politeness or kindness. Every country or city has its own traditions and customs.

... Some people may not say "thank you" but rather nod his or her head with a smile. Someone remarked that the social criteria for rude and polite behavior in India are not the same as in Western cultures. We are not accustomed to saying "thank you" to strangers.

... The questions designed to rank politeness [are] skewed as different cultures have different ways to say or suggest, "thank you."

If we don't feel an emotion in our heart, we don't utter words to express politeness or gratitude. For example, will a shopkeeper in New York say "thank you" to a customer who is unable to pay even if one is a regular customer?

In Mumbai, one can find several such shopkeepers showing some politeness if a regular customer does not have sufficient money to pay. And the shopkeeper may say "no problem," next time you can pay or send it later.
The British were no less thrilled with seeing Londoners ranked well below New Yorkers. A commentator in the Times of London offered this reaction:
"Interesting that Readers' Digest (headquartered in a N.Y. suburb) just happened to pick three things that New Yorkers tend to be good at as their measure of politeness. I, like many Americans, who have spent time in that city, have always found it to be rude, cold shouldered, and uncaring about what goes on around them."


I realize that people are concerned about Darfur and feeling somewhat powerless, but this is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of
On Thursday, June 29 at Noon EDT, thousands will hold their breath at simultaneous events that will take place in New York, Washington, Albuquerque, Brussels and Rwanda, to draw attention to the genocide that is taking place in Darfur, Sudan.

The New York City event will be held at 346 Broadway, (on corner of Leonard and Broadway) and will feature former Sudanese slave and noted human rights activist Simon Deng.

At Noon EDT, all of the participants around the globe will maintain a simultaneous, shared moment of silence for the victims in Darfur and as a group, they will hold their breath.


"We will stand across the globe as a reflection of those in power who have idly held their breath while genocide occurs on their watch," said Taylor Krauss, the group's co-organizer.

In addition to the groups participating in New York; Washington D.C.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Kigali, Rwanda; and Brussels, Belgium, yoga instructors across America will also be using the occasion to discuss the crisis with their classes, and the importance of breath in their teachings. "Inwardly, we will reflect on those in Darfur; those whose breath has been taken from them, as our bodies, too, cry out for air and life against suffocation and death," said Ted Alcorn, another co-organizer.

Santorum Blows Smoke on Immigration Issue

This past weekend, Senator Rick “Two Terms Is Enough” Santorum (R-Pa.) launched the first television ads of his re-election campaign. The subject of those ads? The Associated Press explains:
… [The Santorum TV ad] argues he's been tough in cracking down on illegal immigration. In the 30-second ad, the senator said his father and grandfather immigrated to western Pennsylvania from Italy, and his grandfather worked in coal mines for 30 years.

“Unfortunately today, some enter our country with more sinister intentions,” Santorum said. "That's why I fought so hard to add thousands of new guards, to beef up our borders and for critical high-tech surveillance.”
Yet Santorum's ad doesn't mention his support for President Bush’s proposed guest worker program. Such a program, of course, would enable thousands of foreign workers to enter the country legally, then stay illegally.

Back in May, Santorum’s office issued this news release stating that he would support an immigration bill that “establishes a guest worker program as strictly temporary, never permanent ...” Santorum’s use of the term strictly temporary is a tip-off that even he knows that guest worker programs are not temporary.

Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation recently offered this assessment of guest worker programs:
“I think the general conclusion of everybody who has studied guest or temporary worker programs is that they are never as advertised. They are never temporary programs, nor are the workers temporary.”
Vernon Briggs, a labor economist at Cornell University labor economist, calls guest worker programs “a disaster” because they “encourage [foreign workers] to keep coming.”

In other words, Santorum brags about fighting illegal immigration even though he supports a huge loophole that would bring thousands of foreign workers into the country. And I suspect the only reason Santorum supports a guest worker provision is because his major donors in corporate America want access to a cheap labor pool.

Feinstein and the Flag Amendment

It bothers me that any senator would have voted yesterday for the Flag Amendment, even those from states with more conservative electorates. But what the hell is Senator Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) excuse?

In addition to voting for this nonsense, Feinstein also spoke on the Senate floor in support of the amendment, which was more about protecting the GOP's majority than it was about protecting a flag.

Even Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) managed to see the folly of this amendment -- but not Feinstein.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Death Penalty and Verifiability

Yesterday, the SCOTUS ruled in a 5-4 decision to uphold a Kansas law that tends to encourage jurors to render the death penalty. In this case (Kansas v. Marsh), Justice Antonin Scalia wrote an opinion in which he declared:
Those ideologically driven to ferret out and proclaim a mistaken modern execution have not a single verifiable case to point to ...
Scalia's statement may be technically accurate, although this depends on how one defines the term "verifiable." It could be argued that the mere fact that a jury finds a defendant guilty is not, in and of itself, verifiable proof of the defendant's guilt.

The "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard is surely not the same as "verifiable." This is simply the standard our society has established for determining guilt in criminal law cases.

Although there may be no "verifiable" proof that America has executed an innocent person, Scalia's argument ignores the fact that we know of numerous death-row inmates who have come within weeks, days or even hours of being executed for crimes they did not commit.

Ironically, on the same day that Scalia's opinion was released, this article in the Chicago Tribune examined a Texas case in which a man executed in 1989 may well have been innocent of the murder for which he was convicted.

As is often so in these cases, there is no "verifiable" proof of his innocence. But there are serious reasons to question his conviction -- and, unfortunately, no chance to correct what may have been a horrible miscarriage of justice.

Tribune reporters Steve Mills and Maurice Possley write:
By the time jurors sat down to decide the fate of Carlos De Luna, there was little to debate.

Though no physical evidence linked him to the fatal stabbing of gas station clerk Wanda Lopez, two eyewitnesses did. One said he observed De Luna outside the station with a knife; the other said he saw him leaving the blood-spattered scene.

... Finally, jurors rejected De Luna's testimony that another man, Carlos Hernandez, was the real killer. The lead prosecutor scoffed at De Luna's assertion, calling Hernandez a "phantom." But the jurors who found De Luna guilty and then sentenced him to death in July 1983, five months after his arrest, didn't hear the whole truth.

Hernandez did exist. Not only was he well-known to police in this Gulf Coast city as a violent felon, but the co-prosecutor at De Luna's trial and the lead detective in the case knew Hernandez too. Four years earlier, they confronted him when he emerged as a leading suspect in a case they handled together -- the murder of another Corpus Christi woman.

Jurors heard none of that information. The prosecutor sat silently as his colleague branded Hernandez a figment of De Luna's imagination.

Yet a Tribune investigation shows that the circumstances of Lopez's murder eerily echo the details of Hernandez's lengthy rap sheet -- gas station robberies, knife attacks and several assaults on women.
The use of DNA samples may come as close as anything to providing "verifiable" evidence of a person's guilt or innocence. Unfortunately, De Luna was executed at a time (1989) when DNA testing was not widely used to confirm a person's guilt or innocence. Anyway, The Tribune article is long, but well worth reading.

If Only War Were As Fun As It Used to Be

That's not the title of the column written by Diana West at, but it's a more appropriate headline than the one she has chosen for her deeply offensive column. West writes:
The question is, did, for example, bombing Dresden to defeat Hitler or, in the Pacific War, dropping two nuclear bombs to force Japan to stop fighting, make the Allies into barbarians?

I think most people would still say, "of course not," and argue that such destructive measures were necessary to save civilization itself -- and certainly thousands of mainly American and Allied soldier's lives.
Yet West has phrased her question in a way that misrepresents historical fact. Her reference to "bombing Dresden to defeat Hitler" presumes that the 94 tons of bombs dropped on the German city in February 1945 were truly instrumental to achieve victory over the Third Reich. But there is a strong consensus among historians that the bombing did not hasten Hitler's defeat.

The city was of minimal strategic importance, and it was filled at the time of the bombing with thousands of wartime refugees, prisoners-of-war and unarmed civilians -- and allied leaders were aware of this. An historical summary prepared for the BBC notes that there was no "clear military rationale for the Dresden bombing."

Winston Churchill himself wrote that "the destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing."

But West has no such regrets about a bombing that killed as many as 100,000 people -- many of whom were burned alive. Pointing to the Dresden bombing as an example of military tactics from previous wars, West laments the fact that "this is not at all how we think any more." She wishes that the attitude that propelled the bombing of Dresden in '45 were guiding our military's decisions.

West endorses carpet-bombing -- a tactic that maximizes civilian casulaties and, of course, would help the insurgents' recruitment efforts:
If we still valued our own men more than the enemy's and the "civilians" he hides among -- and now I'm talking about the war in Iraq -- our tactics would be totally different, and, not incidentally, infinitely more successful.

We would drop bombs on city blocks, for example, not waste men in dangerous house-to-house searches. We would destroy enemy sanctuaries in Syria and Iran, not disarm "insurgents" at perilous checkpoints in hostile Iraqi strongholds.

... Morally superior people -- Western elites -- never "humiliate" prisoners, never kill civilians, never torture or incarcerate jihadis. Indeed, they would like to kill, I mean, prosecute, or at least tie the hands of anyone who does.
Notice that West places quotation marks around the word civilians -- as if to suggest there's no difference between combatants and non-combatants.

This is a pretty despicable message, even for the crowd.

They Could See It in Each Other's Eyes

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will arrive in the U.S. later this week, and he will be accompanied by President Bush this Friday on a private tour of Graceland -- the estate of Koizumi's boyhood idol, Elvis Presley.

In an article on Koizumi's upcoming visit, the Washington Post's Anthony Faiola explains that the Graceland tour is a personal gesture by Bush to thank Koizumi for his support as the Japanese premier prepares to leave office. Faiola's article includes this tidbit:
"Koizumi understood that Bush was a cowboy," said Takao Toshikawa, editor of Tokyo Insideline. "And Koizumi was a man who loved (the film) 'High Noon.' There's no question the two had chemistry."
But they didn't sleep together on the first date.

First Hirsi Ali and Now This

Johan Cruijff (often spelled Cruyff in English) may have been the greatest soccer player ever (I'm not saying he was, but he's one of a handful for whom a plausible argument could be made). As a player, he was opinionated and headstrong. Since his career ended, he has become an oracle of sorts. His wisdom is sought on any variety of subjects, and his obscure and ambiguous utterances are analyzed carefully. He's the sort of person who is either a genius or an idiot, and you're not sure which.

His latest contribution to the national debate is an article in which he contends that Minister for Immigration Rita Verdonk is partly to blame for the Netherlands' loss to Portugal in the World Cup on Sunday. Had she permitted Salomon Kalou to obtain Dutch citizenship, then he would have been available to substitute for one of the team's ineffective wingers. But since she repeatedly turned down Kalou's application for expedited naturalization, he wasn't available.

Here's the wisdom of Johan, rendered in my accuracy-not-guaranteed translation:
I would like to emphasize that ministers are there to serve the national interest, and she clearly didn't do that. Not only in connection with this World Cup, but also for the next 10 years [Kalou has given up on joining the Dutch team]. I compare it a bit with the technical director of a professional team. If a major player of Kalou's caliber wanted to join my team and my manager sent him away, the manager could draw his own conclusions. The same goes for Verdonk.

Monday, June 26, 2006

AU Force: The "Bull Without Horns"

Why has the African Union force been unable to protect civilians in Darfur? Slate's Linda Mason explains:
Col. Kamili Karegye, the Rwandan A.U. sector commander, told me there had never been an attack in his sector during a firewood patrol. But although his troops conduct patrols for five camps, seven local camps are left unprotected for lack of A.U. personnel.

... As Col. Kamili explained, the A.U. troops don't have the means to intervene in conflict. He had headed for Jebel Marra the previous week but had been turned back at a rebel roadblock. The A.U. mandate didn't permit his convoy to force its way through. And the lightly armed A.U. troops are no match for the rebels or government troops and militias.

Increasingly, A.U. officers feel that they are becoming targets who cannot protect themselves, let alone protect innocent civilians. Speaking of the African Union's limited equipment and mandate, one officer said, "We are bulls without horns."

On North Korea, Bush Admin. Is Not of One Mind

As Newsweek observes, the Bush administration's reaction to reports about North Korea have carried two distinct tones:
... the Bush administration last week found itself tamping down the hyperbole it initiated. Reports from North Korea indicated that Kim Jong Il's regime had moved an advanced new rocket, possibly capable of hitting the United States, into position for its first missile test since 1998.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice initiated a media frenzy by declaring that if the test went ahead, "it would be a very serious matter and indeed a provocative act."

By the end of the week, however, other U.S. officials played down the threat. Two counter proliferation officials, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive subject matter, noted that intelligence agencies believe that although North Korea has the material to build eight or more nuclear bombs, there is no indication that Kim's regime has tested a nuclear device.

Nor is there evidence that North Korean scientists have figured out how to build a nuclear warhead small enough to load into the nose cone of a missile.

A European diplomat, who also asked for anonymity because of intelligence sensitivities, said the missiles were built using decades-old Soviet technology and that they are powered by primitive liquid-fuel systems.

By late last week, Vice President Dick Cheney was reassuring CNN that "North Korean missile capabilities are fairly rudimentary."

This About Captures It

My kids stayed up late last night to watch the Netherlands in the round of 16 at the World Cup (or the "eighth-finals" as they're called here).

I was embarrassed on behalf of adulthood.

This article has it about right, I think. The referee has been getting a lot of criticism from various quarters, including the unpardonable quip by FIFA's president that he would like to give the referee a yellow card. But what is he supposed to do when the players start behaving like frustrated children and insist on committing bookable offense after bookable offense?

Muslims in Europe and the Virginity Game

From an Associated Press article:
Chastity can exact a painful price from young Muslim women, forced into lies or surgery to go to the marriage bed as virgins.

Hymen repair, fake virginity certificates and other deceptions, said to be commonplace in some Muslim countries, are practiced in France and elsewhere in Europe, where Muslim girls are more emancipated but still live under rigid codes of family honor.

Such ploys have saved many a young woman from scorn and worse. But they also clash with the more liberal social mores of France and Europe, where some decry it as an attack on human rights.

... [A French doctor] says women come to him having convinced themselves that the procedure will somehow reverse the irreversible. “They tell me, ‘I’ll be a virgin again. You will make me a virgin,’ which in reality is totally false .... It’s a secret we share.”

Other doctors issue false virginity certificates or offer such tricks as spilling a vial of blood on the sheets to fool families into believing the bride has passed their purity bar.

Friday, June 23, 2006

One of Those "Screw-Loose People"

Back in May at the Utah Republican Convention, five-term Congressman Chris Cannon was forced into a June primary election with political novice John Jacob. As the primary approaches, Jacob's inner wingnut seems to have fully surfaced.

According to an article in today's Salt Lake Tribune:
As if beating a five-term congressman wasn't hard enough, John Jacob said he has another foe working against him: the devil.

"There's another force that wants to keep us from going to Washington, D.C.," Jacob said. "It's the devil is what it is. I don't want you to print that, but it feels like that's what it is."

... Asked if he actually believed that "something else" was indeed Satan, Jacob said: "I don't know who else it would be if it wasn't him. Now when that gets out in the paper, I'm going to be one of the screw-loose people."
Now, here's the real question. (This is Utah, after all.) Will these statements help or hurt the candidate?

Another Churchill Quote

On the same week as heated debate in Congress over the U.S. presence in Iraq, Oliver North weighs in, blasting what he calls the "surrender now crowd." In this column, North uses a Winston Churchill quote as a helpful prop:
"Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival." — Winston S. Churchill

Sir Winston delivered that line in the House of Commons on May 13 1940, in his first address as Prime Minister.
Churchill also delivered these lines, which Ollie and the Bush administration should have considered before the decision was made to invade Iraq:
"Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."

Cheney: We're Screwed No Matter What We Do

At Daily Kos, Bill points to this excerpt from remarks made yesterday by Vice President Cheney ...
"If we pull out, [the insurgents in Iraq] will follow us. It doesn't matter where we go. ... And it will continue — whether we complete the job or not in Iraq — only it'll get worse. Iraq will become a safe haven for terrorists."
... and he wonders whether the vice president is telling America, we're screwed no matter what we do in Iraq.

A New Film About Gitmo

Slate's Dana Stevens reviews the new film The Road to Guantanamo, which he describes as a "half-feature film, half-documentary" about three British youths who spent over two years in the infamous U.S.-operated, Cuban-based military prison for no justifiable reason. Stevens' verdict? The film is "exhausting, depressing, slightly nauseating, and unfortunately necessary."

Read the full review here.

Let’s Hear It for “Concrete, Visible Results”

During Wednesday’s debate on the Senate floor over two proposals for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) offered these views:
"There is clear proof that our many sacrifices to date are beginning to produce concrete, visible results that cannot be challenged. And to think at this time we would take any action on this floor to set back that momentum."
I agree. We're seeing a lot of "concrete, visible results" -- just not the kind of results that anyone could be pleased with. If Sen. Warner and his staff have checked news headlines on the web today, they probably have learned of the latest form of "concrete, visible results" in Iraq:

The Iraqi government declared a state of emergency in Baghdad after American forces were involved in quelling a firefight in the city's center. … The state of emergency and curfew imposed today followed a gunfight that broke out as members of the Mahdi Army militia moved in force to escort the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to a Shiite mosque in a Sunni neighborhood.

During last week's Friday services, a suicide bomber carrying explosives in his shoes blew himself up in a crowd of worshipers at the Baratha mosque, killing 11 and wounding 25.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Not That Facts Will Persuade the Bushies ....

.... but MSNBC reported today:
Weighing in on the highest profile debate about global warming, the nation's premier science policy body on Thursday voiced a "high level of confidence" that Earth is the hottest it has been in at least 400 years, and possibly even the last 2,000 years.

A panel convened by the National Research Council reached that conclusion in a broad review of scientific studies ...
No doubt, our president will continue using the more innocuous term "climate change."

Freedom of the Press

Big headlines here this morning over the decision by a Dutch judge in favor of a couple of reporters from the broadsheet-in-form, tabloid-at-heart Telegraaf.

It seems the intrepid pair had acquired certain confidential files concerning big-time crook Mink K. (I thought Mink K. sounded like a hip-hop artist, but remember that the papers here always refer to a defendant by last initial so as to protect his or her anonymity). After the Telegraaf published an article about Mr. K., the AIVD (the Dutch intelligent service, like the CIA but with domestic jurisdiction as well) began a so-called Class A investigation into the two reporters. This is the most intensive type of investigation, and it involves having the targeted individuals followed and their conversations bugged/tapped. The judge told the AIVD to cut it out.

From the news report I read, it seems that freedom of the press wasn't the issue; in principle, the judge's reasoning would apply to any two individuals who served as mere conduits for the classified information. The decision (I think) was that as mere conduits who had made only a limited use of the files, the two reporters hadn't done anything serious enough to warrant Class A treatment.

Maybe it's somewhat akin to the U.S. constitutional law of probable cause. The federal Supreme Court has demarcated a couple of levels or suspicion for increasingly intrusive kinds of searches. If you need a warrant, you have to show probable cause (it says so right in the Constitution). But the Court allows a "stop-and-frisk" under lesser circumstances.

The New York state courts have an even more elaborate hierarchy: the police need this good a reason to ask a person to stop and answer a question, a bit better reason to stop and frisk, etc.

If I've got it right, the Dutch court was saying that there wasn't a good enough reason to follow these guys and tap their phones, but (a) a less intensive investigation might have been OK and (b) the AIVD could in principle conduct a Class A investigation of journalists if there was a good enough reason in the particular case.

Warm Welcome

The Netherlands is happy to welcome a new guest to the exclusive lodgings in the beach resort of Scheveningen.

Out of the Loop...

I've been a little checked-out from the blog lately, hopefully for good reason.

The other day my wife and I put a bid on our first house, last night it was accepted! It's in different city and state than where we are now, and if all goes well we'll close by mid-August. Between now and then my blogging might be a little spotty at times, as my attention and energy will likely be sucked up by the process.

I'll soon find out if you can take the Beltway out of the girl by removing the girl from the Beltway. Prolly not. I'd wager that my focus on national politics might shift to include more regional politics. Although there is one special thing I am really looking forward to. The new house is in Pennsylvania, which is aptly nicknamed "Pennsyltucky," so registering to vote will be at the top of my list-- so I can vote AGAINST Man-on-dog Santorum in November. That might just be my most satisfying voting booth experience EVER.

More Dutch Underwear

The saga of the "leeuwenhosen" just gets more funny. A few days ago, I linked to a story about the Dutch fans who ended up watching the World Cup match against Ivory Coast in their underwear. A small Dutch brewery called Bavaria (yes, I'm sure they realize that Bavaria is not in Holland) gave out "leeuwenhosen," which is a nice pun on the German lederhosen. These garments look like lederhosen (though they're not real leather), but they are bright orange and have a lion's tail on the back. Leeuw is Dutch for "lion," and the lion is the Dutch symbol. But when Dutch supporters showed up at the match in leeuwenhosen, FIFA officials made them take off the garments, because the strap that goes across the chest had a Bavaria logo on it, and Budweiser is the official beer of the World Cup.

So for yesterday's match against Argentina, Bavaria gave out orange boxer shorts that said unterhosen across the front. This way, when the leeuwenhosen got confiscated, the supporters still had something orange. And I'm not sure this comes across if you don't have a bit of familiarity with German, but using the word unterhosen (which literally means underpants) seems to be quite funny.

Madame Tussaud's is also getting in on the action. The Amsterdam branch now has world leaders like George Bush and Tony Blair clad in leeuwenhosen.

For a small and fairly obscure brewery like Bavaria, this has been a brilliant marketing scheme.

Meanwhile, to counter the image of brawling football hooligans, check out these photos of the spontaneous party in the streets of Frankfurt where Dutch and Argentine fans celebrated together before the match. Granted, since both teams had already qualified for the second round, both sets of supporters would have been feeling pretty relaxed, but it's still a nice scene.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Your Enchanting Summer in Kazakhstan

No one can accuse the Lonely Planet travel guidebook of sugar-coating things. This is its introductory paragraph for people who want to learn more about visiting the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan:
If you're not a fan of endless semi-arid steppe and decaying industrial cities, Kazakhstan may seem bleak, but those who enjoy remoteness, wide open spaces, lunar landscapes, long hypnotic train rides and horse sausage will definitely be in their element.
Not a description that is likely to help sell airline tickets to Astana.

The Most Dangerous Profession in the World ....

.... would appear to be serving as an attorney for ex-dictator Saddam Hussein. As the New York Times reports:
A lawyer on Saddam Hussein's defense team was kidnapped and later found dead this morning in a Baghdad neighborhood, the Interior Ministry said.

He was the third lawyer representing Mr. Hussein or his co-defendants to have been killed since their trial started late last year.

The Iraqi police found the body of Khamis al-Obeidi, one of Mr. Hussein's defense lawyers, riddled with bullets in east Baghdad ...

It All Stems From Our Childhood...

It's no excuse but it sure does explain a lot.
Report: U.S. May Have Been Abused During Formative Years

WASHINGTON, DC— A team of leading historians and psychiatrists issued a report Wednesday claiming that the United States was likely the victim of abuse by its founding fathers and motherland when it was a young colony.

"In its adulthood, the U.S. displays all the classic tendencies of a nation that was repeatedly mistreated in its infancy—difficulty forming lasting foreign relationships, viewing everyone as a potential enemy, and employing a pattern of assault and intimidation to assert its power," said Dr. Howard Drexel, the report's lead author. "Because of trust issues stemming from the abuse, America has become withdrawn, has not made an ally in years, and often resents the few nations that are willing to lend support—most countries outgrow this kind of behavior after 230 years."
"The U.S. is characteristic of an abused nation in that, even decades after noisily pushing away from Britain, it still maintained close contact with the motherland, took care of it, even giving it financial aid—all the while fearing disapproval even though the parent country is now old, decrepit, and powerless," said Bauffman, a prominent contributor to the fourth edition of the Democratic Symptoms Of Maltreatment handbook, or DSM-IV. "On the other hand, Canada, which was raised in the very same continent by the same mother country, only exercised small-scale resistance, remaining loyal well into its maturity. Though some see Canada as cold and remote, it has, unlike the U.S., managed to lead a peaceful, reasonably healthy existence."

The FBI's Resources

In the post-9/11 world, you'd think the FBI would have its hands full. But apparently not. According to USA Today, the Bureau has decided to devote greater resources to this:
The FBI is cracking down on phony war heroes, who often buy medals on the Internet and wear them at public events.

This year, federal agents have launched a dozen investigations against people allegedly masquerading as decorated veterans. At that pace, the FBI would open about twice as many cases as it did last year.
Now, don't get me wrong. People who try to pass themselves off as war heroes are scumbuckets. Understandably, this kind of thing raises the public's ire. But is this where the FBI should be launching more investigations and devoting more resources?

Moreover, these investigations frequently don't even result in convictions. As the article states, these "cases are sometimes difficult to prosecute because the phony heroes have to be caught wearing the medal."

Speaking for myself, I'd prefer for the FBI to focus more on domestic security and terrorism prevention.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Actually, They Have a Pretty Lengthy Definition

I don't know why I'm bothering to point out this crock-o-s**t written by one Justin Darr on some website I've never heard of, but I am.

Darr apparently takes issue with a proposal being floated to create an international rapid reaction force that could be quickly deployed by the United Nations in order to make good on its responsibility to protect civilians from genocide and whatnot.

Darr doesn't like the idea - but rather than getting into an argument over the merits of such a proposal, I'll just highlight this assertion he makes and mock it
Do you know what those rights might be? Do not feel bad; nobody else does either, including the people who wrote the proposal. Other than genocide, there are no clear definitions of what the UN would consider a “crime against humanity,” just as it has no clear definition of what terrorism is more than five years after 9/11. So really, the proposed UN army could be used for whatever the UN wants.
Ummm ... I think the UN does have a definition of "crimes against humanity" - it was drafted over a period of five weeks in 1998 and is known as Article 7 of the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court
Article 7: Crimes Against Humanity

1. For the purpose of this Statute, "crime against humanity" means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

(a) Murder;

(b) Extermination;

(c) Enslavement;

(d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population;

(e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;

(f) Torture;

(g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;

(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;

(i) Enforced disappearance of persons;

(j) The crime of apartheid;

(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.

2. For the purpose of paragraph 1:

(a) "Attack directed against any civilian population" means a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts referred to in paragraph 1 against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack;

(b) "Extermination" includes the intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population;

(c) "Enslavement" means the exercise of any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership over a person and includes the exercise of such power in the course of trafficking in persons, in particular women and children;

(d) "Deportation or forcible transfer of population" means forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law;

(e) "Torture" means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions;

(f) "Forced pregnancy" means the unlawful confinement of a woman forcibly made pregnant, with the intent of affecting the ethnic composition of any population or carrying out other grave violations of international law. This definition shall not in any way be interpreted as affecting national laws relating to pregnancy;

(g) "Persecution" means the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity;

(h) "The crime of apartheid" means inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in paragraph 1, committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime;

(i) "Enforced disappearance of persons" means the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.

3. For the purpose of this Statute, it is understood that the term "gender" refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. The term "gender" does not indicate any meaning different from the above.
That seems like a pretty clear and comprehensive definition to me, but what the hell do I know?

The Facts and Fiction Surrounding al-Zarqawi

Mary Anne Weaver has written this interesting article in the new edition of The Atlantic Monthly -- "The Short, Violent Life of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." This excerpt reminds us (yet again) that so much of what the Bush administration has said about Iraq and the war effort is at odds with reality.

Weaver notes:
U.S. officials, for example, had often reported that in 2002, al-Zarqawi had had one of his legs amputated in Baghdad, a claim presumably meant to substantiate a link between al-Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein’s regime. But he was later seen walking in a videotape, clearly in possession of both his legs. Some Bush administration officials called him a Jordanian-Palestinian, but in fact he came from one of the Middle East’s most influential Bedouin tribes.
If you have the time, the entire article is worth a read.

A Random Process Beats an Orderly One

Corporations, governments and other institutions sometimes devote a lot of thought, strategizing and intricate planning to produce "solutions" that make a problem worse. Today's issue of USA Today offers an example from the corporate world -- the boarding process for commercial jetliners.

For years, it seemed only logical that boarding planes by row, starting from the rear of the aircraft, would shorten the time needed to fully board all passengers. But, apparently, the airlines were making a false assumption:
Beginning in late May, [Northwest Airlines] began rolling out a new random boarding process for coach sections. Now, passengers on the USA's No. 5 airline simply line up and take their assigned seats in no particular order.

By shifting to random seating, the carrier has junked the back-to-front boarding system still in wide use in the airline industry. .... Northwest spokesman Dean Breest says tests earlier this year showed its new system cuts five to 10 minutes from the process. The net effect: Northwest now gets a flight with 200 passengers ready for takeoff in 20 to 25 minutes.

It's "Inexplicable" .... Well, Maybe Not

A paragraph from a recent National Review article caused Tapped's Sam Rosenfeld to laugh out loud. Read his post to find out why.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Stiff Competition From the NSA

The nation's public schools are having a tough time recruiting math and science teachers. In the case of the former category, this tidbit from Harper's Index may help explain why:
Rank of the National Security Agency among top U.S. employers of mathematicians: 1

Then Why Continue the Boycott?

This is a quick follow-up to Zoe’s post last week about delusional claims by the American Family Association that its anti-gay boycott of Ford Motor Corp. is responsible for driving down the automaker’s sales. In her post, Zoe punched plenty of holes in an e-mail message by AFA founder Don Wildmon bragging about the boycott’s impact. But it was this idiotic statement by Wildmon that stood out to me:
It is clear that Chairman Bill Ford is willing to take Ford into bankruptcy to appease a small group of homosexual leaders.
This hysterical comment is ridiculous, and the proof is self-evident.

If it were “clear,” as Wildmon claims, that the automaker’s chairman of the board “is willing to take Ford into bankruptcy” just to please gay organizations, then there would be no point in AFA continuing its boycott. After all, a corporate boycott is only an effective strategy if you believe the company’s top executives will base their key decisions on sales and profitability.

If Wildmon’s assertion were accurate, Ford’s board of directors (many of them own hefty shares of Ford stock) would not stand idly by and watch him “take Ford into bankruptcy” — no matter what the reason.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Leave it to to celebrate its 10th anniversary with a variety of articles and interactive features such as this one -- everything you ever wanted to know in the post-9/11 world about whom the U.S. tortures, where and why.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

To Know Why So Many People Hate Italian Football...

...just watch them against the U.S. in tonight's match.

So many players with outstanding talent, matchless creativity, and unquestionable passion. And yet... much diving, whining, dirty play, diving, negative tactics, diving, cynicism, and diving.

Update: As usual, the Italian team's fiercest critics are their own press and supporters.

Laat de Leeuw niet in z'n hempie staan

Life imitates art.

As you may know, much of the world is in a quadrennial state of mass temporary insanity over the World Cup. This certainly is true of the Netherlands. And if you don't believe that there is true madness involved, consider this story.

It must have seemed ironic when the Dutch fans launched into their perennial song "Hup, Holland, Hup," whose second line is the title of this post. I think I'm missing some of the flavor of the language, but it translates roughly as "Don't leave the lion standing in his underwear" (the lion being the Dutch symbol).

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bush Should Watch More Documentaries

Bush to Create World's Largest Marine Protected Area Near Hawaii

--A swath of the Pacific near Hawaii will be the largest such preserve in the world. The president was inspired to act by a Cousteau film.--

President Bush today will create the world's largest marine protected area, a total of 140,000 square miles of Pacific Ocean surrounding a necklace of islands and atolls that stretch from the main Hawaiian Islands to Midway Atoll and beyond, senior administration officials said.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Monument will be larger than all of America's national parks combined. Fishing will be phased out, and the mining of coral for jewelry will be prohibited, along with other practices that can damage delicate reefs.

"With a stroke of a pen, the president not only can accomplish the single largest act of conservation in U.S. history, but he can inspire the American public on the broader importance of our ocean and coastal environments," said a senior administration official who requested anonymity so as to not upstage Bush's announcement today.
I wonder what would happen if he saw Gore's "Inconvenient Truth"? And just to beat Eugene to the punch-- maybe someone should show him a documentary about Darfur?

Stop Making Sense

Yesterday Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich (R) fired DC Metro Board Transit Authority board member Robert Smith for saying the following on a local public access show.
On last weekend's show, Smith interrupted another speaker who was talking about federalism and Vice President Cheney's daughter. The speaker said Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, would not want the government interfering in her life, according to a recording of that portion of the show.

"That's fine, that's fine," Smith interrupted. "But that doesn't mean that government should proffer a special place of entitlement within the laws of the United States for persons of sexual deviancy."
Maryland Governor Ehrlich (R) has set a very interesting precedent for a GOP politician. Instead of parroting the party line that public servants have the right to have and publicly express anti-gay views, Ehrlich seemed to take a step towards treating anti-gay bigotry like any other kind of bigotry-- it's not acceptable.
"Robert Smith's comments were highly inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable," Ehrlich (R) said in a statement less than five hours after the controversy erupted during a Metro board meeting. "They are in direct conflict to my administration's commitment to inclusiveness, tolerance and opportunity."
If Smith had called any other minority group "deviants," such as African-Americans, Muslims, or Jews, it would be quite clear that he crossed a line, the firing itself wouldn't be controversial. So for Ehrlich to seemingly treat anti-gay comments in the same way, I am happy to give him credit where credit is due-- nicely done, Governor.

However, what is most surprising to me about this controversy is that the decision to fire Smith came from very same governor who vetoed the Medical Decision Making Act last year because granting same-sex partners the ability to make medical decisions for each other "could lead to the erosion of the sanctity of traditional marriage." Also, I do think Smith has a point that he is not even in a position to set social policy that has any impact whatsoever on gays and lesbians.
Smith acknowledged after the meeting that he had referred to homosexuals as "persons of sexual deviancy" during a political round-table discussion on a Montgomery County cable show that was shown on Sunday.

"Homosexual behavior, in my view, is deviant," he said. "I'm a Roman Catholic." Smith said his comments had been part of a discussion about a proposed ban on same-sex marriage. "The comments I make in public outside of my [Metro board job] I'm entitled to make," he said. His personal beliefs, he said, have "absolutely nothing to do with running trains and buses and have not affected my actions or decisions on this board."
Then again, when Smith was called out by gay DC Council Member Jim Graham for his comments he didn't exactly acquiesce.
After the meeting, Smith accused Graham, a D.C. Council member, of using "high theater" to seek the media spotlight. He called his actions "highly out of order and inappropriate for this forum."
Asked whether he planned to apologize to Graham after Graham said the remarks were offensive, Smith replied: "I didn't make the comments to Mr. Graham. . . . I'm sorry he feels that way. I don't agree that his lifestyle is an appropriate way to lead one's life."
That's nice, it appears that regardless whether or not you should have been fired for you comments you clearly don't work well with others.

So, the bottom line is this-- why did Bob Ehrlich do this? Duh. Election-year politics. He's trying to convince people that he's a centrist as he prepares to announce his re-election bid. Hmmm...what would have been a far less controversial, not nearly as high-profile, and would have proved that he wants show some "tolerance" for same-sex couples? Signing the freaking MDMA.

"The Capital of Human Suffering"

A very interesting debate within Israel (and, indeed, involving diaspora Jews as well).

Although the article doesn't shed any light on this point, I wonder whether the sharpness of the debate has been heightened by the U.S. (and other states') using the G-word about Darfur.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Uniting the People of East Africa

Well, there's one thing the diverse and often quarelling states of East Africa can agree on: they hate the side we're supporting in Somalia.

Update: Thanks to Rambuncle for pointing out that I linked to the wrong article. The link has been fixed.

Differing Opinions

The International Court of Justice issued a judgment concerning a territorial dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon. The two states recently reached an agreement on carrying out the judgment. Under the agreement, the Bakassi Peninsula, which has been under Nigerian control, will be transferred to Cameroon.

Here's how the British Foreign and Commeanwealth Office Minister for Africa sees the settlement:
This agreement represents a significant progress. It also demonstrates to Africa and the World that territorial disputes can be resolved according to international law and by peaceful means.
Here's how the Paramount Ruler of Bakassi sees the settlement:
Watch out, on the day that Nigeria withdraws its soldiers from Bakassi, the sun will stand still as it happened in the day of Joshua.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Delusions of Power or Powerful Delusions?

From American Family Association's founder and chairman Don Wildmon:
The boycott of Ford Motor Company is working! Sales of automobiles made by Ford dropped 2% in May. This follows drops of 5% in March and 7% in April. When AFA began the boycott of Ford on March 13th, their stock was selling for $7.86 a share. As of Tuesday the stock had fallen to $6.68, a drop of $1.18 or 13%.
It is clear that Chairman Bill Ford is willing to take Ford into bankruptcy to appease a small group of homosexual leaders. As you and other AFA Online supporters forward information concerning Ford's promotion of the homosexual agenda, including homosexual marriage, the boycott will continue to grow.
You really think an anti-gay boycott that nobody knows about is causing Ford's sales to drop? I know you're not a big fan of facts or research, but American automaker production is at its lowest point in 10 years-- across the board. Maybe you think your followers don't read the newspaper, but most people are aware of this well-known shift in the marketplace:
Lower demand from year-ago for North American-built vehicles is the primary reason for the production slowdown.

Adding fuel to the fire are slowdowns for the market's two biggest auto makers, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. Both have been particularly hard hit by the market shift away from midsize SUVs. To shore up profit margins, both have cut back on incentive spending and sales to rental fleets.
That's funny. In an article that explains why American automakers are hurting right now it says nothing at all about your boycott. Wait a sec, are you boycotting the American stock market in general? Is that the real reason it's tanking right now?

Seriuosly, it's really not very Christian of you to misrepresent your power and influence and boldly lie to your sheeple like that. WWJD?

P.S. By the way, the text is from an e-mail from Don Wildmon and it isn't posted on their site yet. If you want me to forward you a copy, please just ask.

Monday, June 12, 2006

There, I've Said It

I have to say that I do not like Michelle Wie or the entire hype machine that has sprung up around her. [Well, I guess I don't have to say it - but I'm saying it nonetheless.]

While she is undoubtedly a talented golfer, her insistence that she is, at this point in her very short career, qualified to play on the PGA Tour is growing increasingly annoying.

Especially when she can't even manage to, you know, actually qualify for high profile PGA tournaments
But with shadows stretching across the course and a spot in the United States Open at Winged Foot Golf Club within reach, Wie made three consecutive bogeys in her final six holes, derailing a run to become the first woman to play in a men's professional major championship.

In her daylong chase to finish in the top 18 in the 153-player field, Wie finished tied for 59th, shooting a one-over-par 143 to stand five strokes out of a playoff for the last of 18 available spots for the United States Open.

Wie opened with a two-under-par 68 on the South course but stumbled in with a three-over 75 on the longer North course.
Now, failing to qualify for the US Open is nothing to be ashamed of - hundreds of people do it every year. But to then attempt to rationalize it thusly is absurd
"I think Michelle demonstrated that it's possible for a woman to play in a men's major," her father, B.J. Wie, said after the event. To which Michelle replied: "I think my dad finally said something right."
Ummm ... maybe; if by "play" you mean "not qualify." But by that standard, I could "play" in a major.

Fresh of her disappointing qualifying effort, Wie went to play in the LPGA Championship, where she was in contention all four rounds, until the end
Michelle Wie, the 16-year-old from phenom, was one shot behind and had a sand wedge from the 16th fairway when she missed the green and saw a 4-foot par putt spin 270 degrees around the cup. Then she missed an 8-foot birdie on the 17th, and wound up three-putting the last hole while trying to knock in a 50-foot putt to join the playoff.

“I feel like I'm getting closer and closer,” Wie said. “It shows a lot that I played my 'B' game and I'm still in the top five.”
I realize that she is only 16, but you don't collapse over the final two holes in a major championship and then insult everyone by saying that even with your "B game" you can still finish in the top 10, because, frankly, pretty much every person who finishes in the top 10 was playing their "B game." That is why they didn't win.

I have no problem with Wie or any other woman playing on the PGA Tour - in fact, I would like to see it. And if Wie can qualify, I'll root for her. But until she can win at least one tournament on the LPGA, she ought to stop insulting all of the extremely talented golfers on that tour by insinuating that she is too good to play against them.

Perhaps Wie will go on to be the most dominant woman on the LPGA at some point in the future, but she has a long way to go.

Until then, she ought to keep these two words in mind.

No More Big Ben?

Wow, this is really sad.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ["Big Ben"] is in serious but stable condition and in surgery this afternoon following a serious head injury this morning after his motorcycle collided with a car on Second Avenue near the 10th Street Bridge, police said. Roethlisberger lost most of his teeth, fractured his left sinus cavity bone, suffered a nine-inch laceration to the back of his head and a broken jaw, and severely injured both of his knees when he hit the ground, police said. A plastic surgeon has been summoned.

"He is right now in the (operating room) undergoing some surgery from injuries he received in this accident today," said Dr. Larry Jones, chief of trauma and burns at Mercy Hospital, Uptown. ... He was talking to me before he left for the OR. He's coherent. He's making sense. He knows what happened. "
I am a native Pittsburgher and I'm working on moving back there soon, however, I am so glad I'm not there today. It's a city that is fanatical about its sports and its sports heroes-- I think it's a safe bet that much of the city is going to be brokenhearted by this evening.

The saddest part of all is how Big Ben openly and proudly talked about how much he liked to ride his motorcycle sans "brainbucket." In the wake of the Brown's Winslow's motorcycle accident even Terry Bradshaw had advised "Big Ben" to put off riding until after he retired.

In 2003 the legislature of Pennsylvania, for inexplicable reasons, repealed its mandatory helmet law. Perhaps now it will be reinstated, it might even be called "Ben's Law."

Because It's Worked So Well Before

You'd think we'd learn from the brilliant success of funding Osama and his pals in the Mujaheddin.

You'd also think that in the battle for hearts 'n' minds, the fact that a group of people are known as "warlords" might suggest it wouldn't be a great idea to funnel money to them.

You'd be wrong.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Don't Let the Door Hit You...

especially one of those heavy, wooden doors on the Capitol.

The World's Biggest(TM) Asshole's reign is officially over.

From the House floor/stage Tom DeLay shared his own first guiding principle -- the Principle of Political Douchebaggery.
"It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesman who elevates compromise to a first principle," DeLay said, adding that true statesmen "are not defined by what they compromise, but by what they don't."
Shorter DeLay: compromise is for pussies.

He even managed to say something interesting that I do sort of agree with-- not the first sentence, but the second.
"The common lament over the recent rise in political partisanship is often nothing more than a veiled complaint instead about the recent rise of political conservatism," he said. "You show me a nation without partisanship, and I'll show you a tyranny."
The fact that there is open and free debate *is* a good thing. Except in the case of right-wingers many of them try to to shut-down and shut-up their opposition with labels like traitor, anti-American, unpatriotic and the like. (Look no further than Ann Coulter.) I think many of us fear that in their heart-of-hearts, if they could do whatever they wanted without fear of political repurcussions, that they could rationalize a lot of very tyrannical actions against "godless liberals" in the name of "protecting" society from evil.

So, what did the Dems do while DeLay eulogized his political career?
Some 70 House Democrats sat politely through the beginning of the speech. But about 20 of them stood up and began filing out of the chamber when DeLay launched into a critique of liberalism as a philosophy seeking "more government, more taxation, more control over people's lives and decisions and wallets."
It must be awfully difficult to find a hat when your head is shaped like a giant penis.
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