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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Update: A week ago, I mentioned a book entitled Grand Old Party: A History of The Republicans by Lewis L. Gould, noting in part that it did not really "explain" the origin of the elephant party symbol. As I noted below, Mr. Gould was kind enough to email me to both thank me for the good review and to remind me that he "did try to explain the origins of the symbol of the elephant on page xii of the book and in the Nash cartoon of the donkey and the elephant that is also included." Also, that the story was summarized partly for space reasons. By "explain" I meant why was the elephant and donkey in particular chosen (see here), but I appreciate the chance to clarify my remarks.

Any subject/target of my musings is always welcomed to email me thanks, clarifications, criticisms, and so forth.

Have a nice New Year All!

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

News: Count Omar Sharif discussed his views on the whole Iraq situation. Who is better to ask than Sir Lawrence of Arabia's pal? A young Nebraskan woman got in trouble after she posed nude in public places and posted them on the web. "They're not going to stop me from doing what I'm doing. I enjoy what I do and they really don't have any grounds" to prosecute the case, she said.

Green Bay invited the Arizona Cardinals player who caught the desperation toss that won them the game last Sunday, and in the process, allowed Green Bay to sneak into the playoffs. He was also offered the key to the city. The Cardinals coach (4-12), however, was sadly fired anyway. On a happier note, one of the lesser liked coaches in the league, Steve Spurrier, quit (right after he said he didn't) because he was not having much fun losing. You'd think he'd be able to use those four key players they took from the NY Jets better, huh? The coaches of the Bears and Bills were fired, while the players are counting the days until the coach of the "we had a lousy Super Bowl and went downhill from there" Oakland Raiders. The coach of Tampa Bay is still around, which is good, since his car was scratched up kind of bad by that fan trying to get tickets.

Who to vote for?: I have various people whose opinions I respect, and it seems they all the voting for different people ... Dean, Kerry, Clark, Edwards, and heck even Bush (a few, if made to choose a Democrat, would choose Lieberman). Isn't it grand how there are so many different people to choose from, all of whom I find fault with in some way? Makes me proud to be an American. It surely isn't our television programs ... that new reality show in which a woman pretends to be planning to marry an obnoxious fat guy might be a new low.

Julia Roberts ... was funny ribbing Dave Letterman (on a repeat) last night about not marrying the mom of his new son. Meanwhile, Roberts' older brother Eric is fun on one of the few good shows on television, Less Than Perfect. His usual role is some scuzzy loser, but he is used well here. Another little known gem in which he plays against type is The Ambulance.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Annoying ... mid-50s in the Northeast in late December. If I wanted temperate weather in December, I'd live in the South or something.
The Volokh Conspiracy Bits: Today will include a look at a couple things discussed (12/29) on this conservative/libertarian blog, linked along side these remarks. First off, it notes the thirty year anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, which it feels has not done much to further the ends sought. The core problem is the fairly absolute wording of the law (traditional in this country, as shown by the First Amendment, but much worse in the reformist 1960s era), impossible to uphold in the real world, and the emphasis on private lawsuits to enforce it (this too is fairly traditional in this country of limited government, especially in the tort area, however broader it might be in recent years).

This leads the Washington Post (linked by blog) to suggest: "Clearly, the act would benefit from constructive congressional attention: The law could be made simpler, the costs more predictable." The bloggist suggests on the other hand that many of the things the ESA is thanked for really was achieved in another fashion. Furthermore, the general sentiment by such individuals is that we are better off working with property owners and businesses and balancing, resulting in more protection to the environment (e.g. hunting kills animals, but hunters tend to be one of the groups most concerned with the environment).

Given my recent reading material (see yesterday), it bears noting that Gov. Dean is said by some to believed in such a philosophy. In the end, suffice to say, a mixture of the two works, but I do think some liberal leaning environments should respect more the sort of Theodore Roosevelt conservatism that works with the "bad guys" (so to speak). On the other hand, such individuals are loath to trust those currently in power; the saving grace is that there are enough conservationist minded Republicans out there that some good reforms probably can be done if we managed to accomplish it. Unfortunately, I doubt the President is quite in this category.

On the other hand, given the current "whatever is needed to get re-elected" strategy, perhaps the overall popularity of such interests will encourage enough members of Congress to work on the matter.


"This is an assertion of theological belief, not of historical or sociological fact. Someone who says the Pledge is literally endorsing the existence of God (though, as with many conventional statements, people may say it as a symbolic statement without really meaning each of its components). The Pledge itself likewise literally endorses the existence of God."

Eugene Volokh supports the legality of teacher led recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance to public school children, though opposes the idea that it is correct because it respects that the nation was founded by religious people or are religious now. No, he says what one must: it is a theological statement. He earlier discussed how this is somehow okay, but his suggestion that the fact that we did it for awhile (not really ... the Pledge as written is less than fifty years old) doesn't seem to "cut it." Volokh also brings up the slippery slope argument (such slopes are one of his famous concerns ... he's kind of the skiing law professor ... okay, sorry).

How about the Star Spangled Banner? You mean the one not said daily and when said often does not include the stanza with mention of God (for instance, at ball games, only the first stanza is usually sung)? Short and pithy daily recitations of theological beliefs is of a different kind. I doubt it will be overturned, pragmatically it probably should not be, but sorry, it is unconstitutional.


Sound Clips:CSPAN is great for political junkies and on weekends for book junkies. Some of the top events can be viewed on its website, including (currently) the Hudson Institute Panel on Neoconservative Movement (Talking Points Memo bloggist, Joshua Marshall is on hand for the other side) and recent Washington Journal episodes, which have guest journalists and others commenting on what is in the current papers.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Football: An important weekend for various teams with some divisional and playoff spots on the line along with positioning. There were some upsets, though not in the NY area. It shouldn't have come down to that, but a questionable call on a failed two point conversion decided the NY Jets game (23-21, Miami). The NY Giants in Coach Fassel's final game actually got twenty four points of offense, but all but three were basically thanks to the defense, and they still lost to Carolina. The Bengals, strange as it might have been seen not too long ago, had a disappointing 8-8 season (the final game of the regular season is academic, given the Ravens got in with the Bengals' loss to the lowly Browns).

"Lowly" teams mattered this year and this weekend as well. It looked like Green Bay would not get to the playoffs as everything didn't go their way: the SF played sloppy and blew a fourteen point lead to Seattle, Dallas lost to the Saints, and the Viks were winning 17-6 late vs. Arizona. Arizona won (GB was in this position in part because they lost to Arizona earlier), eliminating the Vikings, who were once 6-0, the lowly Giants basically the begin of their downfall. The Rams aren't the first seed because they lost to Detroit. Houston almost pushed the Colts out of first place, but it was the lackluster Jets who helped them out by being beating the best wild card team out there -- the Titans (via losing a tie breaker to the Colts, but with three different QBs and an often injured QB playing, damn if they deserved it on spirit alone).

[Though a rushing record wasn't broken, the Ravens won the night game in OT, so the Bengals wouldn't have gotten in, even if they won. Giants fans got a bit of satisfaction from the Vikings loss. At the beginning of the Fassel Era (1997-03), they lost a playoff game after being up by nine late, partly because they could not protect against an onside kick. Sadly, this was but a prelude. Anyhow, besides having trouble scoring in a must win game vs. that scary Arizona D, the Viks not only failed to block the kick, but lost on the final play, a 4th and 25 at that. Just plain sad. In honor of TMQ, I offer this.]

Still a lot of football out there to play. Will anyone be able to beat the Pats? Will the Colts actually win a playoff game? Will Green Bay continue their recent burst of life? Will the Rams, KC, and the Eagles show their soft side? How long with Dallas/Carolina (who play each other next week) and other second tier teams play? Should be interesting.
Post Holiday: Listening to some Christmas music as the holidays are passing and the new year harkens. We are currently in the midst of Kwanzaa, the creation of a black nationalist ["In 1966, KWANZAA was created by a young visionary living on the west coast who was also the founder and chairman of the Black Nationalist Organization."], and its tenets reflect this [e.g. "UJAMAA (COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS) --To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together."]. It has been of mixed success in part because of its relatively recent origin and because it appeals only to certain people of its intended audience.

Back to the personal; as an adult, Christmas has the usual mixed blessings. Let's take presents. Adults have the usual suspects: clothes, practical stuff that we need (e.g. a vacuum), gift certificates/cards, and so forth. All the same, we still have the fun stuff ... for instance, I got my age in white tic tacs (my signature). Adults also have the responsibility of putting together stuff. I, for instance, had to deal with the construction of a toy for my sister's baby (a pussy cat). Finally, adults also have the burden and joy of buying presents, the latter actually often greater than receiving them. This is where catalog shopping comes in. Lol. My last gift (I did buy a few in stores) came 12/23.

Glenne Headly: Today's forgotten star is Glenne Headly. I caught this talented actress in a little gem (put out by Hallmark, so the truly cynical should stay away) that I picked up at the video store lately, The Sandy Bottom Orchestra, concerning one of life's talented rebels trying to survive small town life along with her offbeat husband (who decides to have a classical concert at the annual dairy festival) and daughter, who is having teen growing pains of her own. The role fit Headly to a "t" -- the somewhat insecure woman that goes her own way, but is someone we often would like to know better. The movie itself by the way had an interesting subplot that dealt with rarely examined religious matters.

Politics: I'm currently reading Howard Dean: A Citizen's Guide to the Man Who Would Be President, a Vermont media account of his life. It's an interesting look at the complexities of the man and a helpful antidote to some of the simplistic stereotypes offered by others. His biography impresses (I particularly like that he is a doctor plus politician, his conservative side is also interesting, especially given the nature of some of his support, and his fiscal conservative nature [unlike current practice] touches a certain side of me too), though I still have this feeling of "this guy decided to become president?" This is tempered partly by the fact that a few recent presidents do not quite impress me in that department either (including the boy who became king). One aspect of this last issue is addressed by this interesting essay (12/28). [more]

Political Trivia: Origins of the donkey and elephant symbols.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Post Holiday: A few quick observations reached over the holidays. First, I saw a clear case of culture clash, and the way it is quite hard for one to understand how another culture or set of beliefs is not just truly foreign to what is "normal." It is revealing, if not totally comfortable, to see something like this up close and personal. Furthermore, it shows in miniature what happens all the time out "there," but does not affect you as much because it is just one more thing that is. Finally, what is felt the most is how these things tend to be more personal, not deeply reasoned things, but a belief on how things just "are." This makes is quite hard to try to use reason or show how the other person is not really too much different from you in various ways.

Another thing is that it is interesting when you have some belief or reaction that you know is not really rational on some level, but you have it anyway, even though you fully admit that it is not rational. This is not really too surprising since most people have various things that affect them in some way that is not totally logical or anything, but is almost instinctual. The interesting thing is that many of us do not really contemplate the matter in question, so when we do or see someone else doing so, it is rather interesting. It also suggests a certain self awareness that I think is a very good thing. For instance, we all have various faults and imperfections. It is a fact of life. So, it's good to understand them, and admit to them. This allows things to go smoother and helps others understand when you misstep.

One last thing is that sometimes rules are legitimately broken. The rules are there for a reason, but if they are broken in cases of emergency or comparable situations, it is not always a horrible thing. Again, it is useful to be careful, admit that one fully understands what is being done, and understand if others are upset at it. In fact, they might be right in an individual case. All the same, there are few absolutes. And, hopefully, next time the person who bent the rules would keep that in mind if someone else is involved.

Hope you all had a nice holiday and/or are enjoying whatever holiday you might be now celebrating!

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Happy Holidays!
"The historical value of a conservative party is to act as a restraint on the reformist impulses of society and to provide a steadying hand for the ship of state. A conservativism that makes no demands and enforces no responsibilities is largely a rhetorical posture. Republicans denounce 'root-canal policies' as dangerous at the polls, forgetting that for someone with dental problems such unpleasant surgery is often the necessary price for restored health."

-- Lewis L. Gould, Grand Old Party: A History of The Republicans

Along with the companion history of the Democrats (Party of the People by Jules Witcover), this political history has been my reading material for the last few weeks ... combined we are talking about over a thousand pages, after all. Trying to cover the history of a party over two hundred years old and one fifty years old respectively is problematic, even at this length. The books focus more on the presidency than anything else, though Gould (a historian, while Witcover is a journalist) does a better job being comprehensive. Witcover tries too hard to summarize the history of the period per se, and bogs down in specific presidential convention vote counts. Gould was both the quicker and more enjoyable read, though both have merits for the political season.

Neither, however, explains the symbols (donkey and elephant) of each party!

[Update: Mr. Gould was kind enough to email me to thank me for this reference and remind that he "did try to explain the origins of the symbol of the elephant on page xii of the book and in the Nash cartoon of the donkey and the elephant that is also included." He summarized somewhat for space reasons. By "explain" I meant why was the donkey and elephant in particular chosen by Thomas Nast, etc., but I appreciate the clarification as well as the thanks.]

Other Political Thoughts: Gen. Clark's current spat with Howard Dean over whether he was asked to Dean's running mate suggests the troubling tendency of the general to be seen as abrasive and petty. This got him in some trouble when he was on active duty, and it is starting to show itself in the campaign on talk shows and elsewhere. What is the point of going as far as calling the frontrunner a "liar" about an issue that just cannot be proved one way or the other? The common sentiment is that Dean did consider, if not actually ask formerly, him for this role. On the other hand, as Dean notes, it is just too premature to do so "officially," and to make an issue of it is bad political form. And makes Clark look like an idiot.

Should foreigners be able to donate to domestic campaigns? I myself was sympathetic because of how much the U.S. affects the lives of foreigners, but then I'm pretty much of an absolutist. Therefore, I was interested in reading a more mainstream view that perhaps they should be able to do so.
Serious Thoughts For The Holidays: For various reasons including overexpectation of or excessive focus on good tidings and reduction of sunlight, the holidays are for some a depressing period. Also, there are those who just have the bad luck to have fate choose them that time of year. For instance, I find it a bit strange that at this moment a jury is pondering the life of the recently convicted teen sniper. Actually, would not at least one or two feel some forgiving spirit in honor of the birth of their lord, and choose life? If I was the state, I would not want the decision to fall this time of year. [After the jury decided to give him life, the prosecutor basically said the same thing.] Likewise, the usual deaths and tragedies continue, including the death of Brett Favre's father. There was some question about him playing yesterday, but what better way to honor the person who coached you in high school, and watched you shine? ...

Being dead, Mr. Bruce is not expected to reap any immediate benefit from the pardon.

Comment in article discussing how Gov. Pataki is giving the comedian a posthumous pardon for his obscenity conviction in the 1960s, which drove Lenny Bruce to self-destructive depths that led to his death from drugs soon afterwards. A fitting comment, but still a bit sharp for a NYT article. Attempts are ongoing to strength the forces of censorship that was his downfall. One step forward ... one step back?

Political Debate Can Be Sharp Even Among Friends: As I noted below, I think Dean's comment that we are not safer with Saddam in custody has a lot of merit as an overall sentiment, but is somewhat inartfully put, and opens him up to obvious criticism. The same can be (and was by I and others) about his Confederate sticker comment (he wants to gain the support of those with them on their pickup trucks). If he can ride the storm, more power to him, but wouldn't "just how much safer are we really?" have been better? His comment was a bit too absolute and even many supporters aren't sure if it really is true. Others feel such criticism is ill advised and simply wrong. See here for a back and forth on the matter.

[I know by now that "well, what I meant was ..." doesn't cut it. If your words requires too much analysis, especially if you say something as sharp as that, you lose your opponent as you try to explain. It is annoying to the degree that nuance is lost in the process, and when your opponent is willing to debate the details, you are impressed all the more for it. Dean, however, is not quite one for "nuance" ... his key strategy is the sharp hit; once he starts to have to nuance himself, his strengths drop some. He does have the ability to do it though -- see his support of the Biden-Lugar alternative to the Joint Resolution on Iraq -- so I'd hope he'd avoid comments like this as much as possible.]

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Alert!: Reports are coming out that the administration is truly worried about increased chances of terrorist action in our own country (once an ocean separated us from fears of European wars, but modern times changed our sense of security; it was only a matter of time that terrorism that hit Europe and Asia would come here). I have no reason to doubt their sincerity (some people wouldn't accept if they said the sky is blue, but I'm a bit more trusting), but it is hard to take these "alerts" seriously. In part, this is because nothing has happened yet, so you have a sense of security that 9/11 (or the first time crime hits you personally) shows is somewhat naive.

All the same, the administration has not handled homeland security (not just the agency, the overall concept) that well, focusing their efforts overseas. This supplies an issue for Democrats [see, e.g., here], but overall also hurts when such warnings come out. They have a sort of "boy who cried wolf" nature to them, especially since Tom Ridge, the Homeland Security head is mostly a forgotten man these days (he's always available to help reign in fleeing Texan legislators though). If we get through this holiday season without any tragedy, I bet most would not mind such negative feelings, except to the degree it will hurt us in putting forth reforms to make our shores safer in these more dangerous times.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Decision '04: The last quote clearly is a veiled attack on Sen. Kerry and does seem particularly harsh, if not crude. All the same, it is a symbol of what he is up against as discussed in a recent profile. As the profile notes, his basic philosophy is that "I have the experience ... I'm ready to lead America." A problem with this sentiment is that experience, willingness to lead, and being the most qualified to do so is not always the path to nomination or election. His inability to gain traction, connect with enough voters to gain momentum, and signs his campaign machinery is in trouble, all suggest he has an uphill battle ahead of him.

As the article notes: "Mr. Kerry seems astonished that though he paid his dues, the nomination may go to a man who has not done so, at least in his eyes." A major problem appears to be that when he sometimes tries to attract attention, he sometimes seems to be pandering or at the very least not being true to his true nature. This includes campaign photo ops while hunting, riding a motorcycle on the Jay Leno show, talking slang (and cursing) in a Rolling Stone interview, and attacking frontrunner Howard Dean is suspect ways. One notable example that got him some criticism was when he attacked Gov. Dean's record as a balancer of budgets, suggesting basically this would threaten Medicare and other programs, but leading some to wonder if fiscal responsibility is a bad thing. Also, his attack of Dean's comment that the capture of Saddam Hussein doesn't really make America safer appears to just add fuel for the Republicans if Dean wins the nomination, while exaggerating the erroneous nature of the remark.

[The ability for such statements to be twisted is a valid point, but one that can be made without ignoring the capture alone really doesn't do too much to help our security. The supplied link also discusses how Rep. DeLay performed a wonderful feat of twisting the facts on the talk show circuit yesterday. Sunday talk shows leave something to be desired these days.]


The right of first refusal. I'm with Clark on consultation and on building the U.S. alliance in Europe. But first refusal? That's tantamount to Howard Dean's view that we should seek the "permission" of the United Nations before military action. Permission?

The right of first refusal. I'm with Clark on consultation and on building the U.S. alliance in Europe. But first refusal?

-- Andrew Sullivan, spouting the usual "the Democrats want to make us into a bunch of weenies that have to ask mommy before doing anything" line. As noted here, Sullivan actually confuses what "the right of first refusal" means; Clark actually basically agrees with him that Europe should not be given a veto. The ability to twist words is there all the same. Both Dean and Clark (along with the rest of the Democrats) basically want the United States to work with the rest of the world, consult with them and seek their support before going off half cocked.

[Update: A nuanced discussion of what Clark might have meant is put forth by conservative leaning bloggist (who's just dying for Nader to step in and ensure a Bush victory) Eugene Volokh.]

Hopefully, though it's an uphill battle, the Democrats will find a candidate that will be able to carry out such logical policies. All the same, the fact that someone has "experience" doesn't mean he will be the best person for the job, a job that includes a bully pulpit sort of component people have long expected to be part of the mix. On the other hand, too much bully and not enough care will get one in trouble as well, and Dean better keep that in mind (another extreme case is Sen. Lieberman, who takes his anti-Dean, reformist Democrat, and moralizing just too far to be a viable candidate, even if calling him "Bush-lite" is unfair in various ways).

Ah, the shoals one must avoid when running for president!

Sunday, December 21, 2003

"We don't want a wimp in this part of the country," said Representative Marcy Kaptur, Democrat of Ohio. "Everything I've read that Dean has said about Saddam seems to be right on point. Our people have struggled to make a living and they want a fighter. They don't want some kind of Hollywood production with hair spray."

-- ouch

Football: Interceptions yesterday, nothing to offer today, and 0-2 for New York. The play of the day so far is how New Orleans handled their obligatory elimination from the playoffs in Week 15 or 16 ... :07 left from their own 25, they managed to score a touchdown via three or so laterals/backward passes, making it 20-19, Jaguars. They missed the extra point ... not even close. A nod to the Bears ... a team not mailing it in as they play out the string.
Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, writes often on religion and politics in France

An interesting choice given the conservative tendencies of that publication ... and are they even allowed to have articles in that liberal bastion, the New York Times? Seriously, this is an interesting article that discusses the ongoing struggles in France (and in a sense, Western Europe in general) to secularize the public square by trying "less to neutralize public authorities in matters of religion than to neutralize religions in matters of public life."

The nuance is often ignored by those in this country who think keeping the state out of religious matters is the same thing as interfering with free exercise as an attempt toward promotion of secularism. The current practice in France, though largely motivated by anti-Muslim animus, shows how untrue this really is. It also suggests that keeping the state out of religious matters can very well promote religion in many ways. It is not for nothing that on the whole, our nation is much more religiously observant and thriving than those in Western Europe. To each their own, but our way is not too bad either.

Have a nice Winter Solstice. (Dec. 22)
Interesting Articles: Discriminating? Yes. Discriminatory? No. Campaign Finance: A Law Survives. Now, Let's Subvert It.

House of Sand and Fog: This is high quality garbage. The movie (based on a book) concerns the clash of a recovering alcoholic wrongly loses her house, the emigrant who buys it in order to try to build a new life in this country [the movie, undated, seems to take place in the 1980s], and a troubled deputy who steps in for his own reasons. Jennifer Connelly plays a wounded doe, Ben Kingsley has one of his best role in years, and Ron Eldard plays one of the more stupider deputies out there. Kim Dickens (deputy's wife) and Frances Fisher (Connelly's lawyer) are wasted, especially Dickens, who deserves to be in more roles these days. Just not as stereotypical spurned wives like this one.

The house serves as a lifeline for Connelly and Kingsley, the one as a lifeline as everything else around her falls apart, the other a lifeline to regaining his place in society (formerly a colonel, he now does menial work, while clinging to the veneer of respectability). Both in their own way are victims of fate, somewhat selfishly try to fight back, but know deep down they are wrong to do so. The deputy is a lesser tragic figure, but he fits into the mix as well. All very well with the big themes hanging over all the events and the performances in various ways impressive. You can see why this is Oscar bait, it is in limited release in December to qualify, and has gotten various rave (though many mixed) reviews.

The problem is that at its core it is melodramatic tripe. The Iranian family's story is generally well portrayed (rather the father is ... the rest are basically stereotypes, including a teenage son who lets it be known that he will take another paper route to help pay for his college education, if they have to give back the house). Connelly, however, is played as this wounded doe that is sleeping in her car before we know it (perhaps the book gave her character more complexity, but Connelly is not really served well by the material). The deputy is ever more stupid (I admit, Jennifer Connelly might tempt many to go toward that direction, but still). And it is unclear how Connelly lost how house, even putting aside the carelessness involved, given the trivial amount of money involved. California is darn strict!

Actually, the whole time period of the frame seems strangely condensed -- it seems like her family (yes, she has a brother -- a co-owner of the property that apparently was not even informed that the house was sold at auction -- and mom available throughout) is due over shortly, and before they come, the house is sold, the new family moves in, and it's almost sold. And, then the movie really takes a melodramatic turn that has to be seen to be believed. I will not provide too much of a spoiler, but suffice enough to say that this really turned me off -- it was one of those cases where the movie did not earn what it asked the audience to accept. And eventually the heavyhanded imagery (especially near the end, yuck), got to be just too much.

I know my audience really didn't seem to accept it ... the movie has some good stuff in it, enough that you might forgive its basic flaws, but I did not. This is surely the case of taking a good thing with redeeming social value and all that, and pushing the melodramatic knob just a tad bit too far.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Sports: Alex Rodriguez is currently being discussed as a part of a trade to the Red Sox, apparently suggesting his current stay at the Texas Rangers is not working out very well. An article argued that "you too would have taken the money" he was offered, but I disagree. Strange as it might seem, I don't think every ballplayer (or person for that matter) would take every cent available, even if it meant being stuck on a bad team in the middle of Texas for ten years. In fact, Andy Pettite of the Yanks actually took less money to go to the Astros, while people still remember Greg "Where will he be next season" Maddux doing the same to go the Braves. At some point, the whole money issue becomes a tad ridiculous.

Tasty Dish: Jasmine Rice.

Political Thoughts: Candidates and International Justice
Ohio Partial Birth Ban Upheld: A ruling by a federal appeals court suggests the alternative to the recently passed (and challenged) federal ban on "partial birth" abortions. This law, rewritten after a broader one was overturned, specifically includes a protection for maternal health as well as more narrowly defining the procedure so others are not potentially brought in under its reach. The opinion honors the reasoning behind the ban in that it: "reflects interests in preventing unnecessary death and cruelty to partially born children, maintaining a strong public policy against infanticide, and preserving the integrity of the medical profession." All the same, it respects the evils of a broad law.

Not so the federal government. Their law has no maternal health provision, is not as narrowly drawn, and has other problems. Now, the dissent made a case that the majority defined the maternal health issue too narrowly [especially in regards to pre-viable abortions] and/or read the law the same way so that it would be legitimate. This is only a matter of careful drafting and reflects that courts might not be likely to decide things quite as liberally as some might like. The broader point is that if we leave this matter to the states and insure that the laws are carefully written, they might very well be upheld. The alternative federal ban is just plain counterproductive except as a political device.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Online Privacy Upheld: The recording industry cannot compel an Internet service provider to give up the names of customers who trade music online without judicial review, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled today. ...

As an Internet service provider, or I.S.P., Verizon was "acting merely as a conduit" for the music files and did not store the data on its own computer network, Judge Ginsburg wrote. "A subpoena may be issued only to an I.S.P. engaged in storing on its servers material that is infringing or the subject of infringing activity." ...

The move to notify file traders, Ms. Deutsch suggested, had more to do with public relations than consumers' due process rights. The process that the industry would now have to use, which will involve going to court and asking a judge to compel that a user's identity be revealed, "will be much more protective of users' rights," she said.

Political Thoughts: The Imperfect Winning Candidate

Funny: The difference between math and law.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Upholding the Constitution in the War Against Terror: As reported here and elsewhere, the Bush Administration had two setbacks in federal court today. The Second Circuit of Appeals held that "the President does not have the power under Article II of the Constitution to detain as an enemy combatant an American citizen [Jose Padilla] seized on American soil outside a zone of combat."

The opinion also noted: "As this Court sits only a short distance from where the World Trade Center once stood, we are as keenly aware as anyone of the threat al Qaeda poses to our country and of the responsibilities the President and law enforcement officials bear for protecting the nation. But presidential authority does not exist in a vacuum, and this case involves not whether those responsibilities should be aggressively pursued, but whether the President is obligated, in the circumstances presented here, to share them with Congress." [see also, here]

Meanwhile, the Ninth Circuit held that because "Any honest assessment of the nature of United States' authority and control in Guantanamo today allows only one conclusion: the U.S. exercises all of 'the basic attribute[s] of full territorial sovereignty,' the feds cannot claim otherwise and resist court review of those being confined there. This matter will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court by next June.

Interesting Profile: The Ninth is known for its liberals, and the most infamous of them all wrote the latter decision, but it also has its share of conservative/libertarians stars. Top is surely Judge Alex Kozinski, who is profiled in this interesting article. It suggests his formalism, concern for strict procedure, even in capital cases, but also shows his complexity. One notable excerpt:

Almost every year, the judge accepts an assignment in trial court so his law clerks can see lawyers and litigants in action. In 1988, he had to sentence 23-year-old Catherine Ponce, who had pleaded guilty to possessing five kilograms of cocaine. At her sentencing hearing, Ponce sobbed out her story: She met a well-dressed man on a cross-country plane trip. He promised her $50,000 and a Mercedes to set up a cocaine deal. She did. The man turned out to be a federal agent. ...

"I'd had my epiphany," Kozinski said with a fleeting smile. "It's more complicated, though. There she was in front of me with her family. I just felt like, having set her on this track, I had a responsibility to her." The prosecution did not appeal the sentence a second time. Catherine Ponce stayed clean, got married, and had a baby.

[Apparently inspired by a personal near tragic mistake of his own, the judge did not give her the ten years that was available, but only a short sentence. The very fact an appellate judge stepped down to the wilds of the trial bench like this is impressive. If only everyone had to do it!]

Happy Birthday ... Katie Holmes. See her in the enjoyable holiday (Thanksgiving) movie, "Pieces of April." While you are at it, perhaps you'd like "Fever Pitch," based on the book by the author of "About A Boy." A quirky British film about a woman who loves someone who is crazy about football (soccer).

Notable line: Paul Ashworth: May I smoke?

Sarah Hughes: No. You can stay the night, though, if you want.
Medicinal Marijuana: Following up its ruling allowing physicians to discuss the issue with their patients, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled that the federal drug statute does not apply to prescribed medicinal marijuana, if it is grown intrastate and is given free of charge. It is one of a growing number of cases where the Court is interpreting the Supreme Court's federalism/Commerce Clause cases (e.g. a federal law barring gun possession near schools is not a valid exercise of congressional interstate commerce power) rather broadly. For instance, recently it barred federal prosecution for possession of child pornography (mother having pictures of her child) and machine gun parts. It suggests the potentially libertarian benefits to such principles.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The principle of the thing is wrong. Of course the president's cabinet and staff should be able to offer reasonable confidentiality to outsiders in return for candid advice. But when it comes to domestic legislation and not sensitive national-security affairs, the names and the advice of outside consultants and lobbyists should be discoverable according to law. ...

If "freedom" is the word Bush and Cheney want as the hallmark of their administration, they should begin with freedom of information.

-- William Safire on the administration blocking information, even on pure principle, and not any fear of negative reaction to the substance.
Bush as incompetent (personal comment)

Sports: As the NY Yankees loses much hometown feeling as their conversion to a bunch of expensive free agents continues, the NY Mets picked up a shortstop (Reyes will shift to the second base hole) and outfielder, while fan target Roger "E-9" Cedeno seems to be on the way out. Jim Fassel, coach of the NY Giants, is also on the way out. Injuries and two ridiculous early losses helped, but the team has long seemed to have give up. This is distressing in that even bad teams like the Arizona Cardinals have shown some life. When the Bengals were consistent losers, they time and time again had some chance to win, but lost late. The Giants' last game was lost by over thirty points to the ... Saints.

The game had the infamous incident where a Saints player, after a teammate took it out of the goalpost, celebrated a goal by calling someone on a cell phone. A repeat offender, he was fined 30K, which being less than what he makes in a game, did not cause him too many monetary worries. Some are incensed at such grandstanding, but my real beef is, "what are you celebrating?" You scored a TD vs. the NY Giants, the team whose top rusher of the game might have been the starting (backup) QB. Not something to call home about. This was a game where a penalty and trick play got the Giants to the Saints 15, where they commenced to try an ... end round! This resulted in obvious loss of yardage, and the ultimate field goal attempt was blocked, and ran in for a touchdown. The one touchdown came after a turnover, followed by a QB scramble, and three defensive penalties. Heck, the guy wasn't fined enough!

[A local reporter wrote today that the NY Giants should be riled up to beat Dallas and threaten its playoff hopes, especially given that former Giants coach Parcells heads the opposition, and to repay the team for the horrible loss that started the Giants' road to ruin. Also, it would be nice to give Fassel one more win, or the team overall. Yeah, the operative word is "should" ... many new parents have more energy at two a.m. feedings than the team seems to have these days.]

An impressive bit of stupidity followed by class came in the Kansas City/Detroit game. First of all, Detroit (bad team) actually scored seventeen points, while giving up about the same amount of points as NY ... but to KC (two losses), not to fumble prone New Orleans (seven). Anyway, the president of the Lions decided to compliment the KC for whipping his team 45-17. He also wanted to say a few words to a player he cut a couple years earlier. The player wanted nothing to do with the guy, so he does the classy thing -- he called him a homosexual (just not so nicely). The player not only tells the media that he thinks this is moronic, but notes it was especially insulting because he has gay friends. An impressive thing for a football player to say.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Who shall be the candidate?: Dean? (seen as trustworthy/passionate and good bio) Clark? His stance on the war with Iraq is defended here. The defense leaves a bit to be desired -- believing (wrongly?) that Iraq had dangerous WMDs, he supported the resolution to give the President bargaining leverage that with "patience and diplomacy" would have got the UN on to do something about it. On the other hand, if he was given the choice in Congress (that is, let's play pretend) to actually vote for the war in the Winter of 2003, he would not have done so. This seems to be a variation of the standard line: "I supported giving the President authority, but didn't like how he handled it, and boy am I pissed (shocked) about it!"

In reply to one request for my opinion of Wes Clark, I offered some caveats: "I don't know about Clark ... he's having some trouble gaining traction, though some are pretty impressed by him. His personality is a bit rough, his lack of domestic political experience (and for some, his military career) is troubling, and he did come kinda late to the (Democratic) party. I'm not really comfortable with him yet, but he's intriguing, his foreign policy bona fides are real, and in actuality he has handled the politics of the military and so forth enough to make his lack of domestic experience somewhat besides the point. His stance on the war kinda was tricky, but maybe you are right that he can sell it best out of all of them."

Currently, I'm boning up on some party history. After Christmas, I plan to go into "primary mode," so I am better able to decide who to support come March. Clearly, I have some work ahead of me ... and, no, Dean's current frontrunner status is not the only deciding factor for me. Not for someone who was one of three who supported Anderson in the grade school poll in 1980. I will probably therefore toss out various thoughts on some candidates over the next few months.

Did The FU France/Germany/Russia?: Many, including somewhat surprisingly the conservative de facto administration organ aka The Weekly Standard, was upset when the Pentagon released a policy barring those who did not support the U.S. invasion of Iraq from getting reconstruction contracts (the actual teeth of the bar was unclear). A primary reason was that it might hinder our attempt to get such nations to forgive or restructure Iraqi debts, an effort that arguably is starting to pay dividends. Or maybe not.

Does this mean the pressure was a good idea? As replies to that suggestion noted (see first link), it's unclear if the "pressure" was the reason for the French making noises about choosing to play ball. Also, I wonder how such heavyhanded tactics (mixed in with the President sneering at concerns international law was being violated) will affect future efforts, in this area or others. Bullying often works, but there are dark sides to it.

Supreme Court Wrap-up:

Energy Policy Task Force: The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it would decide whether Vice President Dick Cheney must release White House papers about the energy policy task force he headed two years ago. The investigative wing of Congress, the General Accounting Office (GAO) attempted to obtain related information, the Vice President sued, and the lower court put forth a dubious argument that GAO didn't have standing because Congress had to be directly involved. This ignore a law that gave them the power to investigate, the fact Congress was informed (including relevant committee heads), and did not object. Anyway, partly because the Republicans were now fully in power in Congress and pressured them to do so, the GAO ended the lawsuit. I discuss the matter in more detail here.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch (yes, the same group that targeted President Clinton) were trying to get similar information. The lower court in this case held that they had the right to see some of the information. Thus, the Vice President directly raised an issue only brought up in passing in the GAO opinion (decided on other grounds), namely, executive privilege. This is the principle that the executive branch has a certain degree of privacy so that it can do business without someone always potentially looking over their shoulders. It is not absolute and was a weaker argument when legislative oversight was at issue (the GAO case). And, at some point, there must be limits when private organizations are involved, especially when it is being used in a partisan way.

But, the broad attempt by the administration to uphold secrecy, even when outside groups potentially served a major role in policy making crosses the line. I fear the nuances of the law giving outside groups a right to look at the information sought as well as concern for executive privilege as a protection from excesses of said groups (one case this term involves a lawyer who wanted autopsy photos of Vincent Foster because he feels there was a government cover-up) will allow the administration yet again to stonewall. Private groups these days often serve an important role in keeping the government and private business (e.g. civil rights cases) honest. Even though the GAO's investigation should have been able to cover this ground, if we are left with the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch to do part of the job for them, so be it. And the case provides a possible avenue to clarify the rules for future efforts of the kind -- important case.

Guilty By Association: Maryland v Pringle involved drugs (in an armrest) found pursuant to a traffic stop, after a consensual search probably growing out the officer spying a wad of money in the glove compartment while the driver took out his license and registration. All three of the inhabitants denied knowledge, they all were taken into custody, and Pringle eventually confessed (and got ten years). The Maryland Supreme Court reversed because it held there was no probable cause to hold that he personally had control of the drugs, so the seizure of Pringle was unreasonable as well. The US Supreme Court unanimously reversed in a ten page decision largely concerned with boilerplate (the facts of the case took about half of the brief decision) ... the police had probable cause to take them all.

This is troubling stuff. The presence of $763 in the glove department and drugs not in plain view but still accessible to all occupants is all that was needed to take into custody two people who were ultimately not charged. The Court argued that the fact they all denied knowledge was a factor in their decision. It is totally conceivable that one or both of those ultimately not charged actually did not know anything. If they did, technically, they could be charged as accessories. Anyway, it surely is likely in some cases not everyone in a car will know contraband is in it, even if they had access to it in some fashion (let's say it's under the seat cushions). Tough luck to them ... and not one justice dissented or even warily concurred to this practically dismissive opinion.

This is totally outrageous.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Saddam Captured: It was pretty shocking, really, to turn on the t.v. this morning, and actually be surprised at the news. On some level, it isn't too surprising, since the chance of him being found was not really inconceivable. All the same, I personally thought he wouldn't be taken alive. If I was him, well, on some level, let's say, I wouldn't think he would want to be. Did he have any warning? What will he share? How will his trial be handled (imagine his defense counsel)? Time will tell. Today was a good day ... what it will all mean is unclear, but it's a good day.
Film: Something's Gotta Give is the new Diane Keaton/Jack Nicholson comedy with Amanda Peet and Keanu Reeves (as a doctor!) in support and Frances McDormand having a much too small role (great actress ... see her in all her glory in Laurel Canyon). I did not care for it. It was in my opinion, if not those with me (who have somewhat different tastes), forced and not very funny. The movie also had those "hmm, well the plot requires this to happen" moments, some so blatant (as is the movie's theme) that you are almost spoonfed them. A symbolic example is one found in most advertisements -- when Jack accidently walks in when Keaton (or her body double) is nude. Keaton overreacts in response as does Nicholson. The movie also drags. Sad really, since the stars are likeable, and they all deserve better.

Politics: An interesting thread on Dean vs. Kerry's position on the Oct. 2002 Iraq Resolution starts here. Of particular interest to me personally was the breakdown in communication between me and a Kerry supporter ("zinya"), especially as the thread continued. [See also here.] It is a clear case of what I call being on "different wavelengths," but it's healthy to get these things out in the open. Furthermore, it is a basic issue splitting the Democrats these days -- being on different pages, even when reading the same books, so to speak. If one adds to the fact that many are not fully informed about all the issues involved (no easy task), some are misinformed, and so forth, it's a bit of a mess. Clean-up on aisle five!

Talking about messes, aside from the NY Giants (better left unmentioned), there is a big mess outside. The weather worked well for the NY Jets, who were eliminated all the same, but one takes what one gets. Still, it looks like we here will have a slew of snowstorms, followed quickly (today, the same day) by rain or warmth, so soon enough it's like it never really happened. Now, if only it snowed the right day ... the family homestead put up the tree and all, and the presents are coming in the mail, so the big day is clearly rapidly approaching. Let's hope the weather works out.

Comics: I post a funny one below, but to mention another strip, the return of Opus is a bit sad. Bloom County was a funny strip that is fondly remembered, but at some point the cartoonist felt it went its course. Calvin and Hobbes went that route as well, so one has to accept such things. Berke Breathed, however, decided to return with a replacement starring Opus and his dyspeptic cat friend. It was pretty lame and looked cheap. Now, Opus alone seems to be the star of his new strip. I don't care for it, also thinking it looks cheap and pretty lame. Am I being too critical? I have my moments, but no, I don't care for it.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Welcome ... Paul Martin, new Prime Minister of Canada. One issue he has to face is relations with friends to the south, including in response to the new policy of barring opponents of the war with Iraq from reconstruction contracts. Though the President appeared to remove Canada from said list (France/Germany/Russia are the usual scapegoats here) in a recent discussion with Martin's predecessor, they technically would be included. Their slew of comedians, a major export of that country, can have a field day with such stuff. A recent statement critical of the policy:

"But instead of being smart, clever, or magnanimous, the Bush Administration has done a dumb thing. The announcement of a policy of discriminating against French, German, and Russian firms has made credible European charges of vindictive pettiness and general disregard for the opinion of even fellow liberal democracies. More important, it has made former Secretary of State James Baker's very important effort to get these countries, among others, to offer debt relief for the new government of Iraq almost impossible. This is to say nothing of other areas where we need to work with these governments."

-- Weekly Standard editorial

One need not look to the Democrats or anti-war partisans to find the administration being called the opposite of "truly wise," "clever," and "deviously smart," or criticism of the "diplomatic damage done by the Pentagon's heavy-handed and counterproductive action. " On the other hand, for good or ill, this administration is not quite as ideal for conservative true believers as some might think.

[The magazine also has an interesting article "sort of" defending trial lawyers. This is not as strange as it sounds -- libertarians are big believers of deregulation, replacing government regulation with tort liability. Within the proper bounds, therefore, clearly lawyers have their place in their ideological universe.]

Friday, December 12, 2003

Film: I don't know much about art, but did see various art related movies, including Pollock, Artesmia (also a play), and now Girl With A Pearl Earring. This final one is based on a popular book, which I did not read. All the same, I enjoyed the film based on this fictional account of the making of a famous Vermeer painting for two reasons: the leads (Scarlett Johansson, who might get a nomination for one of her performances this year, and Colin Firth) were very good and the setting was well portrayed. The whole thing is done in a low key way that worked for me.

Stupidity Defined: "Loop and Cox, member of the Delta Omega Chi fraternity, admitted to snatching and killing the beloved koi, which was donated to the school by a professor in 1995. At the time the fraternity was being filmed for the MTV reality series "Fraternity Life."

It was widely rumored that the fish was barbecued and eaten. Loop and Cox, who had no prior records, reportedly expressed remorse for murdering Midas, who was worth more than $800. "

Conflict of Interest Defined: "Mr. [James] Baker is senior counselor to the Carlyle Group, a global investment company that has done business with the Saudi royal family. He is also a partner in Baker Botts, a Houston law firm whose client list includes Halliburton. Baker Botts has an office in Riyadh and a strategic alliance with another firm in the United Arab Emirates, and it deploys Mr. Baker's name and past government service on its Web site to solicit Middle East business." [NYT editors explaining today how Baker has to distance himself from his old ties to be able to be perform his new Iraqi economic czar duties properly]

Happy Birthday ... Jennifer Connelly.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Update: A good companion piece for the interview I linked recently on the subject is this review of David Hamburg's No More Killing Fields.
News: Calpundit (Dec. 10) had a couple good things to say about the Halliburton oil prices [compare this to questions raised by the Pentagon] and the value of "a big public 'fuck you'" (his words) to France/Germany/Russia in regards to contracts, while the administration was trying to get on their good side on other Iraqi matters. Today he discussed James Baker's appointment to Iraqi economic czar (my label) and musings on how the President might be setting up an exit strategy in time for the '04 elections.

Andy Pettite, who had a very good 2003 World Series (he lost Game 7, 2-0, and nearly pitched a shutout the first game; past history showed a tendency to have only one excellent game, one not so good -- this time he had one excellent game, one darn pretty good), signed with the Houston Astros. Though it will be amusing to see him hit every fifth day, his is a sad passing for Yankee fans. He was one of the few remaining stars from the beginning of the Torre Era, stars with skill and likeability besides. These days both qualities are somewhat lacking with even those with skills not being as likeable (Mussina is a quiet star; Wells' Fifth Game doings is hard to forgive, Bernie Williams seems to be slipping, etc.). New blood will come, but none will quite be akin to seeing Andy up their, eyes steely, and ready to get the team out of yet another bad stretch.

[Many local wags are complaining that the owner was so concerned about getting a big bat and not in retaining his services. The x factor he brings the team is hard to beat, but concern for hitting (heck, fielding might be added, since arguably one of the two runs in that 2-0 loss was by a fielder miscue) is not too surprising. The World Series was not lost because of pitching ... the Cubs showed that the Marlins' pitching staff was hittable. The Yanks made them look just the opposite. Now, maybe Gary Sheffield is a troublemaker, but damn did he look good on the Braves last year.]

The Quiet American is based on a Graham Greene novel and portrays a morality story concerning early American involvement in Vietnam (early 1950s). The movie is a tour de force for Michael Caine, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance. Brendan Fraser also shows his acting chops in a rare dramatic role. I personally found it hard going early on, perhaps not in a mood for its slow moving style. On the other hand, I found the audio commentary (the two actors and various other people involved in the movie took part) excellent. It was not like others I listened to in that it was more a story of how the film was made, not a discussion of the action as it went on per se. It was very informative and enjoyable anyway. Other extras including reviews of the book (all in some part negative -- the movie seems to have improved upon it, if the reviews are any way to judge) and a timeline of historical events.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Campaign Finance "Reform Law" Upheld: MCCONNELL v. FEC, the ruling concerning the McCain/Feingold campaign finance was handed down today. It was broader than expected -- except for one provision, the only thing struck down was the total ban on donations by minors. The biggest surprise was that the "issue ad" provision regarding unions and corporations (including nonprofits, such as the ACLU) not being allowed to broadcast ads sixty days before a general election (or thirty days before a primary/caucus election) that refers to a candidate (see here on how this will affect the upcoming campaign season). The only way around this is via a cumbersome system of forming a PAC (political action committee) for such purposes. The sentiment was that this part of the law was court bait, which might have been a major reason some voted for it.

The dissents (technically partial dissents) in various ways do a good job of explaining why the 5-4 (in most aspects) decision was misguided. The case showed how on some issues it is the more conservative justices that are more libertarian. A primary concern was how unions and corporations are treated like second class citizens in regard to speech rights. The inclusion of unions should be a warning sign to liberals, even if the inclusion of nonprofits did not. Likewise, given that the importance of money to First Amendment rights (e.g. rejection of laws that totally ban criminals from profiting from telling their stories or issues related to religious aid cases) is accepted in other contexts, cheapening speech rights because money is involved should not be so cavalierly done. Speech is not "free" in some sense; it costs money. Finally, one selectively narrowly tailors limits to speech and association rights to one's peril.

[Kenneth Starr, a lead advocate against the law, took part in an online chat, which is posted here. He reminds us that the law basically shifts money away from parties and unions/corporations to interest groups (and the press), which are not regulated as much in various ways. Thus, money continues to be a factor, but money controlled by more "unaccountable and shadowy new interest groups." Also, some "as applied" challenges are yet to come, so much more campaign finance law is yet to be made! Cheery news.]

Political speech is at the heart of the First Amendment. Why is it limited here? The primary concern is supposedly "corruption," though the dissents aptly argue that not only is the interest not targeted in the required narrow way, the term is too broadly defined. Speech that assists "access" or leads to some degree of "favor" might be troubling, but attempting to limit it is more troubling. After all, racist speech, violent speech, misleading advocacy, and so forth all lead to some negative results. We still go out of our way not to limit it, including donations to such organizations that promote it, or advertising that furthers it. Line drawing involving contributions to individuals is hard enough. Try to limit party expenditures, advertising, and so forth, and you really are in trouble.

Money doesn't like a vacuum. The newest campaign finance law attempted to close loopholes left up in an early one, and so forth. Putting aside such cynicism, regulation can be defended. For instance, requiring Dean to raise money from a broad base of Internet donors has its benefits. All the same, the right of free expression is broadly protected in this country, so much that the Constitution speaks of "no law." Something is wrong when a law this broad, a law that brings under its terms a whole slew of First Amendment interests, is treated more leniently than a law that bars burning crosses on private property. The law was rightly treated suspiciously because singling out one point of view is dangerous. A bit more suspicion should have been applied here in interpreting another law that facially looked like a good idea at the time.

[This last point is made clear by concern by a key supporter "that the Court reached the decision too easily." The author discusses cites an article by Brad Smith in the 2002-2003 Cato Supreme Court Review against such regulation. Smith also wrote a book on the issue that is well worth reading. The link supplied is useful as well in that it supplies links to key documents related to the case. It also is well worth checking out for its usual discussion on various election law issues.]
Ringley, a self-described former computer geek who works at a non-profit social service agency in the Sacramento, California, area, says in her mission statement that she wanted to create a "window into a virtual human zoo."

Jennifer Ringley, a pioneer in the "webcam" industry, announced her site will shut down at the end of the year. "Paypal confirmed that they were closing her account because the frontal nudity on her Web site violates the company's acceptable use policy." One more example of how prudery inhibits free enterprise and expression in this country. And, I say that only somewhat tongue in cheek.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Interesting News: Rep. Bill Janklow (SD) was found guilty of manslaughter, which was just a matter of time given his history of reckless driving. NY federal judges protested against a new congressional attempt to yet again limit their sentencing powers, this time even violating the privacy of judicial decision making to do so. The measure was yet another late add on to a noncontroversial bill that turned out to be controversial and ill advised. As is giving a big f-up to France, Germany, and Russia for not joining the coalition to invade Iraq by barring them from rebuilding contracts. Way to go assholes!

Tomorrow is my mom's birthday, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM! It also is Human Rights Day (Human Rights Week begins today), while the 15th is Bill of Rights Day. I just got a new pocket Constitution (has the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, justices of the Supreme Court, and various trivia ... great deal for $2.95); I guess it was a timely purchase.

A final (?) thought for now on the Locke v. Davey case (see below). I recently saw both sides provide statements to the press on C-SPAN, and the state lawyer provided an interesting fact. Not only does the state constitution of Washington bar state funding to religion (explicitly providing a broader bar than the First Amendment), it also has been interpreted to read that free exercise cannot be burdened (even by general laws) unless there is a compelling state interest. This too is broader than the First Amendment (as interpreted). Both provide a different way to protect religious freedom, debatable or not, claims that the state in effect is discrimination against religion are a bit problematic. After all, in a way, the state protects religious freedom more.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Interesting News: USA Today has an interesting article arguing that Saudi Arabia was a prime contributor to terror organizations. [James Baker was recently appointed as a sort of Iraqi economic czar; Baker has connections to Saudi Arabia via his work with a lobbyist group.] The report that Al Gore will endorse Dean is big news, though it seems a bit premature to endorse this early. Lieberman (for those who forgot, he was Gore's running mate) now seems that much closer to being a goner, though. As for Kerry, see here for an early response.

An article on past suicides at the Marriott Marquis hotel was sure to include this detailed account: "In January, a Mississippi woman leaped to her death from the roof of the 49-story hotel. The 47-year-old woman struck an advertisement on the side of the hotel and landed on a Mr. Peanut billboard." Details like that really allow the reader to form a more accurate picture in their heads of the events reported.

Another important issue is the ongoing Snapple controversy in NYC over the choice of making it the official drink for city schools. As one city official noted, it was not just about money: "Snapple has a brand that can support, and in some instances enhance our image ... [A]n analysis of how people feel about Snapple ... show[ed] that Snapple and New York City share attributes like uniqueness and originality, but where New York is seen as unapproachable, Snapple is depicted as friendly." I also personally think Snapple drinks often have an "off" taste (especially diet ice tea) and darn if many also think that about New Yorkers. And, I sure do miss that Snapple lady! Maybe, she become a school matron?

Finally, in the NY sports front, the deal by the NY Mets for Kazuo Matsui seems promising, especially if one does not have too high hopes for an apparently good but not quite superstar caliber player.
"When I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, `I'm against everything?' Sure. Did I expect George Bush to f--- it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did.''

- Sen John Kerry, Rolling Stone interview

"[O]n Iraq, he praised the president's case as 'eloquent, powerful and convincing.' ... But he is stunned by the Bush administration's mishandling of the aftermath, he says."

- Sen Joe Lieberman, NYT profile

Now the Kerry quote is getting some flack from the White House because it is deemed too insulting, which is silly, though it might make him sound like he is trying too hard to sound tough. My problem is his claim that somehow we are to believe everyone was clearly shocked by how the President handled things, what he did with the power given. Sen. Lieberman's quote focused on the aftermath, but it is somewhat comparable. Meanwhile, Sen. Clinton complains that though she supported giving him the power, the President basically fucked up the responsibility that came with it, just without using that word.

The trouble is that many people, including experts, did warn that things might go badly. Likewise, many did not trust the President and his administration, even those sympathetic to the invasion. Finally, even many of those who supported the invasion were a bit wary about how it was being promoted. Thus, though surely the votes of Kerry and Lieberman were defensible (wrong, I think, but that's another story), their after the fact horror is a bit hard to take. Sen. Kerry is especially annoying -- he not only wants people to accept his vote, but accept that it was surely right, since who would imagine that the President would foul things up so much?

Moi, to name one of the less important ones, except to the degree that people like I will decide whether or not to vote for the guy. And, some wonder why people are so cynical about his defense of the vote. They know what power it gave, they knew who was given said power, and a likely result of such power. For him to suddenly claim to be surprised and ask us to accept that said surprise is the only logical thing is much more offensive than his use of the "f" word.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Football Blahs: Could it get any worse for the NY Giants? Sure can ... not only did they lose 20-7 against the lackluster Redskins, they lost their QB in the process. This did allow the backup to be sack bait, thus allowing a Redskin player to break a record. The NY Jets had a first of sorts ... fans looking back in nostalgia for '03 Vinny, given Testaverde led the Jets to their first win by soundly beating the Bills. The Bills this time around basically soundly beat the Jets, especially in threats to the QB. Though a Denver win (against Kansas City) meant the winner's (slim) chances to get to the playoffs slipped, the Jets are done. This was likely to come sooner or later, but the hope was it would come a bit later than this.

The Jets still play have the struggling Dolphins (and New England, in search of playoff position now) while the Giants (bound to win again at least once, right? right?) have various playoff hopefuls left on their schedule. So, the job of spoiler is open for grabs. The Jets (5-8) also still have 8-8 to aim for, while the Giants (4-9) can perhaps hope for a win. Or perhaps a well played game. Would you believe a game decided on less than two touchdowns? Some experience for their backups?

Yeah, some days it is hard to watch football.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

House and Senate Republicans must assume they will never again be in the minority and vulnerable to payback. They are mistaken.

-- George Will, troubled by the "anything to win" mentality of those now in charge.

A two prong attack has to be made on their sentiment. (1) Showing why they themselves do not warrant such power and (2) Reminding people that our basic values (democratic and otherwise) are being violated. The lesson has to be taught in various ways, and those who voice distrust with those in power might be deemed hypocritical or results oriented, but the lesson isn't any less important because it is a hard sell.

Surprise of the Day: Stokely Carmichael grew up in my neighborhood. I recall being told that around the time I was born or thereabouts (this would be twenty years or so after he moved to this area) someone with a black wife had to basically hide the fact to get an apartment next door to me. Carmichael lived more on the outskirts of the area than I did (though he went to school where I currently vote), but he did join the area gang of the era (only black member, apparently). Times have changed, but it is interesting that I don't recall the neighborhood making a big deal about honoring his memory!

Regis Philbin also grew up nearby, though not quite in my neighborhood. There's a lesson to be learnt from those two men growing up miles apart.
Some political talk: The Florida Democratic Convention is going on as I type, so this is a good time as any to post a few political thoughts about Kerry, Bush, Dean (et. al.), and Edwards.

Eric Alterman met with John Kerry and put to him THE question -- how can you defend your vote on the war? He gave a passionate defense and later added "And Eric, if you truly believe that if I had been president, we would be at war in Iraq right now, then you shouldn’t vote for me." And, aside from the argument that on various grounds he has a greater chance to win than frontrunner Dean, I am still left with: "yes, Senator Kerry, but based on your admitted misjudgment of the administration, you voted to give the President the power to go to war. It is this misjudgment, as much as the perceived political motivations behind it, that is giving you so much trouble."

"Voting, as I keep having to say over and over to you silly Nader voters, is not therapy; it’s choosing between available alternatives." Point taken, but my question still holds. We needed judgment like yours last year, and honestly, it turned out to be less than stellar on that ground. Kerry is struggling as a candidate, which starts to become a self-fulfilling road to ruin, but it helps when on principle one remains on his side. Both combined make me wary ... after awhile it does get a tad bit depressing. It's like going to an ice cream parlor that has loads of flavors, but all of them leave something to be desired. So what one do you pick?


Snow continued to fall ... I staid in a lot, suggested by the material posted on the Slate fray, but also went out for some errands. When slogging through snow as the wind blows hard in your face no longer becomes fun, I believe it will be a sign that I'm truly old. It does help when you don't have to shovel or drive in this muck. Lol.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Winter Wonderland: As New York City experiences its first snowstorm of the season, it might be fitting to quickly approve of Bad Santa, the misogynist holiday movie not for the kiddies. The movie about a drunken, self-hating safecraker whose m.o. is to be Santa at a mall and then rob it at the end of the season is not totally outrageous in a sense. The drunk Santa image was seen briefly in the film The Apartment, and the idea that clowns are really sad creatures is a comparable one.

Still, the lengths Billy Bob Thornton and company takes this has to be seen to be believed. Both "Santa" and the kid who latches on to him are not lovely examples of humanity. Also, as a fan of The Gilmore Girls, Lauren Graham as a barmaid with a Santa fetish is not too surprising. First, she has played individuals a bit off in the past (including a memorable run on Newsradio as a slightly insane effeciency expert), and Lorelai is clearly pretty naughty herself. Looks great in black too.

This would make a good movie for those out there whose Christmas consists of a frozen dinner next to a small table tree, those who at times feel like that person, or just those who like dark movies that are both hilarious and on some level uplifting. You know, in a "I beat the shit out of some kids today ... but it was for a purpose" sort of way. For those who want their holiday movies totally depressing, however, one needs to look elsewhere. After all, the movie does fit a sort of traditional mold ... it's like they had to retain some degree of loyalty to Christmas movie basics, but have some twisted fun in the process. The end result is worth the price of admission.
Reading the Opposition: Tucker Carlson's little book entitled Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News is an amusing read with enough meat to suggest that bow tied wearing misguided souls like Tucker have something to teach us. One lesson: yes, liberals, even the likeable conservatives that seem like fine people actually do believe you are wrong. On the other hand, the cheap shots at Clinton (is there one thing good about this guy?) and Monica (he was attracted to her?) are tiresome.

Aside from such comments (obligatory, I guess, and meant to annoy people like myself), there were a few questionable statements such as the (in passing) comment that the nation's capital "isn't very corrupt," confusing statements promoting the use of hemp with marijuana, and wondering how the President could have possibly criticize victims of the Holocaust during the 2000 post-election struggles [how about the Jews who felt they accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan, some of whom were Holocaust victims, many of whom were ridiculed for claiming the ballot was confusing?]. Also, there is a blurb in the back by Reverend Al Sharpton, who Tucker Carlson did compliment, but in a rather backhanded, "he's ridiculous but in a fun way" sort of way.

I listened to Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the source of the movie Shawshank Redemption, which was pretty much loyal to the book, though it condensed the time period some (and added the scene involving the record player). The audio adaption was unedited and was finely done.

Making War Unnecessary: An Interview with Dr. David Hamburg was an interesting read, and not as utopian as the title sounds.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Howard Dean ... blogger? He again is getting flack for his seemingly off the cuff statements, this time concerning holding back his state papers, and later having to "explain" himself. This makes him look stupid, and political to boot (his staff: politics as usual! oh no ... isn't that Kerry?), which is bad. Dean sounds to me a little like a blogger, who just types what s/he is thinking at the moment, leading to flawed prose that would have been much more smooth if some thought would be put into it. Of course, this also causes something to be lost in the translation.

Howard Dean has to keep his bloggist bona fides, but learn to still have the common sense and skill needed to succeed. Also, he has to resist the urge to totally edit himself after the fact, resulting in him abandoning the good parts of his "speak my mind" comments as well as making people forget the previously basic statement he previously made as their mind is dulled by cover-up spin. Tricky business, but who says beating sitting presidents was supposed to be easy?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Coal: A Human History By Barbara Freese was an interesting little book by an attorney general of Minnesota, whose study of the substance for the state's environmental concerns led her to write this book. A book on coal of all things has the potential to be dull, but it turns out to be a fascinating story that reaches from hundreds of millions of years ago to the current day. She starts to summarize more when she gets close to the present day and basically skips over the whole (and fascinating in its own way) issue of the derivatives of coal such as artificial colors (one book on this subject is Mauve) and sweetners. All the same, it is a good read, focusing on coal's role in the human history of Britain, the United States, and China. The book ends with a hope that we will one day move past this problematic energy source.

Religious funding and federalism: To add to my discussion of the Locke v. Davey case, another issue raised is federalism. Some legal theorists argue that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was primarily a state power matter, removing from the federal government that right to control a best left to the states. This would mean that the Fourteenth Amendment, involving individual freedoms, would not necessarily mean that states have no power to "establish" religion. If so, Washington might have the power to decide that it wants to be crystal clear that it wants to separate itself from religious institutions. This would include a broad ban on funding.

The problem with this argument is that there are other clauses to the Constitution. For instance, the Equal Protection Clause, not around when the First Amendment first was ratified, complicates selectively burdening religious groups. On the other hand, equality was still an honored principle back then, and the Establishment Clause was not deemed a violation of it. Also, by not funding religion, one has an equal restriction ... the alternative provides state benefits to certain religions over others.

Furthermore, free speech and free exercise might show their faces here. Again, however, those who put forth the state rights view of the Establishment Clause often tend to believe states should have some flexibility that the Congress does not have in carrying out protections found in the Bill of Rights. Allowing states to try different ways to honor religious liberty, including arguing funding religion burdens it by forcing one to fund the promotion of religions they do not support seems reasonable.

There are ways around this, of course. The point, however, is that the seemingly simple views of many on Davey's side turn out to be a bit more complex than they might seem. The same applies the other way around -- once states cannot fund religious practice, where is the stopping point? How about lottery tickets, one person asked. On the other hand, not every case that wounds up in the Supreme Court is simple, right?

Marci Hamilton has a good article on the case here, including the statement that "the Establishment Clause singles out religion and calls for its selective treatment." I'd add, though in other places she is loathe to, "as does the Free Exercise Clause," but the sentiment holds true all the same.
Voluntary cannibal victim? Clearly, this is a case of libertarianism gone amok.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Supreme Court Wrap Up: Two drug related decisions were handed down today; I discuss them here. Locke v. Davey concerns Washington's state constitutional ban stating that: "No public money shall be applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction." Joshua Davey wanted to use a state scholarship to study in a religious affiliated school to advance his desire to become a minister. The state refused, he sued, and won in the lower courts. The oral argument was held today. See here for my take .... more to come when the decision is handed down. [Update: I got a few interesting replies to my "take" and answered them as well; also, I clarified one ill advised turn of phrase.]

[Information about this and other cases currently at issue in the Supreme Court can also be found here.]


The Medicare Bill led to a debate over the soul of the Democratic Party of which I took a part in, see here and here. It also involved a lot of pressure on doubtful conservative legislators, including apparently a thinly disguised threat on the political and business interests of one of their sons. Though the efforts of Republicans to obtain party discipline has shown to be particularly harsh these days, I wonder just how rare such a thing truly is. How many members of Congress were in effect bribed for their support in the past?

One interesting issue is the effect the Speech and Debate Clause has on an attempt to prosecute (somewhat unlikely, given the Bush Administration's role in all of this). Does it protect the congressman involved, who appears to want to keep quiet about the whole thing? Clearly, Congress can investigate, given the clause is largely a separation of powers measure and does not overrule other congressional rules (for instance, a senator cannot vilify a fellow senator with impunity just because it is done during a speech or debate). Also, it only applies to members of Congress and to some degree their staffs. Finally, even the similarly absolute First Amendment is not read absolutely.

The clause appears to have some relevance, especially if it is read broadly (see the discussion and relevant opinions/dissents found in the first link above). All the same, this does not mean Congress cannot investigate, especially (as is possible) forces outside of Congress had some role. Likewise, the target (a family member) makes this somewhat worse than a run of the mill quid pro quo situation. Anyway, it is clearly fair game for critics of the party, and those who want to put some limits on the "anything goes" nature that too often is the name of the game in politics today.
The Jets ... still have life. Not really playoff chances, but life, and Chad Pennington is the basic reason why. They came out for MNF and won against an elite team like the Titans, who did look like they had an off game. The defense is working ... better late than never, huh? And, there was an interesting ending, when it looked like the Jets would just run out the clock. They had a couple of running plays (this from a team coached by someone who is famous for returning a fumbled snap for a touchdown in such a situation?) and had a false start. Then, perhaps seeing the time was running out anyway, the Titans got called for encroachment. Since there was under forty seconds, this defensive penalty meant the end of the game. Bit weird there.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Current Events: The CO Supreme Court overruled a mid-decade redistricting plan, which is discussed by a story and a blog which I post/link here. Of special note, is a article by Jeffrey Toobin mentioned in Rick Hasan's blog concerning how gerrymandering is threatening democracy. Sen. Daschle was on Booknotes last night; for a transcript, see here. Sen. Clinton went over to Iraq for a quick fact finding mission, which I discuss here and here. I also caught some of her remarks on C-SPAN; she is starting to grow on me.

As to the Boondocks strips involving dirty laundry on the dining room table ... I was notified that this was a reference to exposing "dirty laundry" in public. If he is correct on this (his knowledge of black culture and overall good judgment makes me respect his opinion), my take is that it is a reference to his criticism of Condi Rice (the plan now is to get her a boyfriend so that she will soften up); it might even be that the fact it was the youngest boy's underwear is a reference to the cartoonist's youth. Perhaps, he was criticized by his "elders" for airing out the dispute among the black community concerning Dr. Rice, especially in such a "disgusting" way. Pretty neat metaphor, huh?

Football: Well, it seems that the NY Giants will have a new coach. This has been the talk for weeks, but after the embarrassing loss against the Bills, it seems to be almost certain now. The pathetic style of play can be compared to the efforts of two other games. A late turnover doomed them, but San Diego had a respectable game against Kansas City (11-1, compared to Buffalo's 5-7), the game ending with a touchdown (Doug Flutie had an expression on his face like "yeah, yippee") ... 28-24. The Jaguars (3-9) beat Tampa Bay, managing to do two things the Giants did not: avoid embarrassing themselves in front of a national audience and beat a basically bad team. This involved such hard things like having a defense, avoiding too many costly mistakes, and showing some life on a consistent basis.