Sunday, December 31, 2006


Happy New Year from NYC.

(More pictures are coming.)

Speaking of Saddam...

Apparently, the video of his hanging is available on YouTube. That's not surprising. But are you interested in watching it? I wish I could find out how many viewings that video has had (without actually watching it myself, because I have no desire at all to see anyone hang). It's important to have witnesses to that sort of thing, but anyone watching it on YouTube has other motivations than to confirm that it actually happened. At best: morbid curiosity; at worst: vindictiveness. Right?

“Down with the traitors, the Americans, the spies and the Persians.”

Saddam Hussein's last words.

Altruistic or pragmatic?

President Bush's legacy is sure to be defined by his wielding of U.S. military power in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there is another, much softer and less-noticed effort by his administration in foreign affairs: a dramatic increase in U.S. aid to Africa.

The president has tripled direct humanitarian and development aid to the world's most impoverished continent since taking office and recently vowed to double that increased amount by 2010 -- to nearly $9 billion. (WaPo)

I follow politics, and I wasn't aware of the increase in aid. Why haven't they been publicizing this? It would do wonders to soften the warmonger image that this administration has. The title of the article, by Michael Fletcher, is "Bush Has Quietly Tripled Aid to Africa: Increase in Funding to Impoverished Continent Is Viewed as Altruistic or Pragmatic," but political moves like this -- and there's no doubt that it was a political move, despite the lack of capitalizing on it -- don't have to be only altruistic OR pragmatic. In the best situations, they are both.

So John Edwards is running for president.

Surprise, surprise. Chris Cilizza gives his take on Edwards' core advisers and aides.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The perils of carelessness:

A 21-year-old German tourist who wanted to visit his girlfriend in the
Australian metropolis Sydney landed 13,000 kilometers (8,077 miles) away near Sidney, Montana, after mistyping his destination on a flight booking Web site.

Dressed for the Australian summer in T-shirt and shorts, Tobi Gutt left Germany on Saturday for a four-week holiday.

Instead of arriving "down under", Gutt found himself on a different continent and bound for the chilly state of Montana.

"I did wonder but I didn't want to say anything," Gutt told the Bild newspaper. "I thought to myself, you can fly to Australia via the United States."

Gutt's airline ticket routed him via the U.S. city of Portland, Oregon, to Billings, Montana. Only as he was about to board a commuter flight to Sidney -- an oil town of about 5,000 people -- did he realize his mistake.

The hapless tourist, who had only a thin jacket to keep out the winter cold, spent three days in Billings airport before he was able to buy a new ticket to Australia with 600 euros in cash that his parents and friends sent over from Germany. (Reuters via CNN)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The decline of the US dollar.

The dollar has continued its recent decline, hitting 20-month lows against the euro and pound, as concerns grow about a US economic slowdown.

The currency's continuing weakness came after US data showed a fall in both the price of goods and consumer confidence. (BBC)

This is a good analysis of the effects the dollar's fall in value will have on ordinary Americans and others. I have an addiction to traveling, and next on my list is Cadiz, Spain. I hope the dollar gets stronger before spring break.

Land lines.

I hate land line phones. I'm at my parents' house for the holidays, and I just don't want to answer the phone. I don't like not knowing who's calling, and I'm too selfish to answer the phone when I know it's going to be for someone else.

My brother yells at me when I don't answer the house phone, which I suppose is understandable. I don't have a land line back in my apartment, just a cell phone. Eventually, I think everyone will be the same way. Until then, families are doomed to have to answer the phone for other people.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Senate sex-blog case.

When Robert Steinbuch discovered his girlfriend had discussed intimate details about their sex life in her online diary, the Capitol Hill staffer didn't just get mad. He got a lawyer.

Soon, though, the racy tidbits about the sex lives of the two Senate aides faded from the front pages and the gossip pages. Steinbuch accepted a teaching job in Arkansas, leaving Washington and Jessica Cutler's "Washingtonienne" Web log behind.

While sex scandals turn over quickly in this city, lawsuits do not. Steinbuch's case over the embarrassing, sexually charged blog appears headed for an embarrassing, sexually charged trial.

Lurid testimony about spanking, handcuffs and prostitution aside, the Washingtonienne case could help establish whether people who keep online diaries are obligated to protect the privacy of the people they interact with offline. (CNN)

Despite the authoritative terms in which Americans describe it, free speech really doesn't reach that far. There are all kinds of limits on what we can say publicly: obscenity, speech that poses a danger to others (yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater), slander, libel, etc. are all off limit. However, people have been writing lurid tell-all books about others forever, and unless non-disclosure agreements were signed, those books have generally been protected. Here's a distinction that would work in favor of bloggers: with books, a person is making money by telling embarrassing secrets; with blogs, that's not necessarily the case.

Although it would be horribly embarrassing for someone to write about the details of your sex life online, I expect the court to side with the blogger. Freedom of speech, though it has its limits, is usually favored by the courts.

Lanny Davis, the former special counsel to President Clinton who now advises companies during times of crisis, tells clients to decide whether they want justice or simply to set the record straight and get a message across.

"If you're looking for justice, the court system is the only thing you have," Davis
said. "If you're looking to get the full story, good and bad, into one coherent narrative, the court system is perhaps the worst possible forum."

Better forums for getting "the full story:" a tell-all book or a blog. We'll see if the latter is protected under free speech.

John Kerry made a visit to Iraq, only to be ignored by the troops.

Check out the photo of Kerry in the mess hall surrounded by empty seats.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Steve Irwin action figure:

Tacky or tribute?

Did you know..

...that frogs can lie?


In a span of a few hours, 2,973 people were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In a span of 45 months, the number of American troops killed in Iraq exceeded that grim toll as the war continues.

The milestone in Iraq came on Christmas, nearly four years after the war began, according to a count by The Associated Press. (NYT)

Just going by death toll doesn't give a clear picture of the damage caused by the war, even confining that to American troops: over 25,000 have been injured. Here's a map of US casualties by state.

"We're not surprised by this crazy ruling."

Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam Hussein's defense attorney, said. The ruling was that Hussein's conviction and sentence were upheld, and he must be executed by January 27. (CNN)

Monday, December 25, 2006

I need a logo.

Or some kind of small picture representing this blog. I've had a few offers by people with higher-traffic pages to link here, but I need a small picture or logo for them to link with. Any graphic designers out there?

Even if you're not a graphic designer, I'm sure you're more creative than I am, and your ideas will be appreciated: .

''I place in the hands of the divine Child of Bethlehem the indications of a resumption of dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians..."

...which we have witnessed in recent days, and the hope of further encouraging developments."
The Pope offers prayers for peace on Christmas Day:

''I pray to God ... that throughout Africa there will be an end to fratricidal conflicts, that the open wounds in that continent will quickly heal and that the steps being made toward reconciliation, democracy and development will be consolidated,'' he said in a speech televised in nearly 60 countries. (NYT)

Christmas AIM away messages, taken from all my friends:

  • Home for the holidays - back Tuesday.
  • Merry Christmas everyone! (Even you, credit card fraud person.)
  • Merry Christmas to you.
  • Egg juice just sounds silly. Now, egg nog is a name I think people can really get behind!
  • I hit Santa on the way home. No Christmas tomorrow.
  • HO HO HO
  • You'll shoot your eye out, kid.
  • Freakin love this freakin day.
  • Church.
  • Keepin an eye out for Santa.
  • "If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling that love actually is all around."
  • Merry stuff and things! Much magic, love and joy.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow[1807-1882], 1867 )

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

I've never paid attention to the words of this song until today. Merry Christmas everyone, and may there be peace, at least for one day.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Another irreverent, tasteless (and brilliant) movie review from The Stranger.

Lindy West reviews Dreamgirls, and the review itself is wonderful in all its indelicate glory. Consider the title of the article: "Touched by an Oprah."

"I drink a lot of milk primarily because I eat a lot of cookies."

The New York Diet.

How can you become a shopping mall Santa?

Sign up with a Santa distributor, of course.

The Good Shepherd

I saw The Good Shepherd with my dad last night. I had a mixed reaction. The movie is about the early years of the CIA, and Matt Damon plays one of the founding members of the agency. It follows Damon's character from his college days through his career in the CIA, until his son decides to join the agency as well.

The problem with dense, intellectual movies is that audiences are lazy. We need incentive to actively pay attention to details, to sit through two and a half hours of subtle plot twists. Usually, directors provide this incentive by making the main character engaging. We care about the character, so we want to pay attention to the details.

In the end, I just didn't care enough about Damon's character for the dramatic finish to affect me. I had already lost interest.

The UN Security Counsel approves sanctions on Iran.

Colum Lynch of the Washington Post:

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 23 -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on
Saturday to restrict Iran's trade in sensitive nuclear materials and to slap an asset freeze on 22 Iranian officials and institutions linked to Iran's most controversial nuclear programs.

"[S]lap an asset freeze." Nice wording. It has a cowboy justice feel. "Let's slap 'em with sanctions."

The council's action marked the culmination of more than three years of diplomatic efforts by the United States to rally support for U.N. sanctions against Iran in the 15-nation council. But Russia, a close commercial partner of Iran, stripped the resolution of some of its toughest measures, including a travel ban on Iranian officials linked to the country's most sensitive nuclear programs.

...The resolution demands Iran immediately suspend its enrichment of uranium and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel within 60 days or face additional U.N. penalties. Iran has repeatedly defied U.N. demands during the past nine months to suspend those programs. The text also calls on Tehran to begin talks with the council's major powers aimed at allaying international suspicions that it may be pursuing nuclear weapons.

So, either they could comply with the demands, or the sanctions could push Iran to go full scale crazy on the west.

Former Vermont Senator Robert Stafford died today.

Former Vermont Sen. Robert Stafford, a staunch environmentalist and champion of education whose name is familiar to countless college students through a loan program named for him, died Saturday. He was 93. (AP
via CNN)

I'm certainly familiar with his name; I owe my college education to the Stafford program.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Two wombs?

AP via CNN:

A woman with two wombs has given birth to three children in what is believed to be the first case of its kind, a hospital official said Friday.

Hannah Kersey, 23, gave birth to three girls in September, said Richard Dottle, a spokesman for Southmead Hospital in Bristol where the triplets were born. The children spent nine weeks in the hospital but the reason was not disclosed.

The girls -- two identical twins delivered from one womb and a single baby from the other -- were born seven weeks early by Caesarean, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

"Evolution is God's way of making upgrades."

To which Stephen Colbert replies, "But evolution means that God makes mistakes! Dinosaurs? Ooops, they're gone!"

Later: "So this Human Genome Project, does this mean that we'll be able to patent our genes? Because I know a lot of people will want to copy mine."

“The context surrounding these ads, and not just the text and the face of these ads, must be considered in making this determination.”

The campaign-finance law limits on political ads in the weeks before elections were overturned by a court yesterday. The next step is the Supreme Court. If the SC upholds the lower court's ruling, then a significant piece of the 2002 McCain-Feingold finance law will be overturned.

The main ground for objecting to the law was freedom of speech. They had a real point. The law limited the ways in which groups could advertise their stances on policy issues in the weeks before elections.

It's interesting that the petitioner in this case, Wisconsin Right to Life, is aligned with the ACLU on this one issue: strike down the campaign finance law.

"...[A] big Christmas bang for the too-busy-to-bother set."

So, are you a purist? Or are you of the new-school, Macy's Day Parade persuasion?

A giant squid is filmed for the first time in history.

But it died while the researchers caught it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

DC at sunset.

I went with Helen to DC yesterday to meet her friend Maarten for dinner. We arrived at sunset.

"Whether people like it or not, in-flight cell phone use is going to become a reality."

Grace Wong of CNN:

A majority of business travelers (61 percent) oppose the idea of being able to use their phones in the sky, according to a global survey conducted by travel management company Carlson Wagonlit Travel early this year.

But if the technology is there, the service will eventually make its way to the skies, said Chris McGinnis, editor of Expedia Travel Trendwatch.

The article goes on to say that the service won't be available in the US for a long time, largely because it wouldn't help attract enough new customers to be worth the investment. That makes sense -- people taking short domestic flights wouldn't have the same need to contact people on the ground anyway -- but I predict that if enough other carriers allow it, US carriers will follow.

The 61% who oppose the idea probably have pictures in their heads of everyone yakking on their cell phones, like we see in public now. But at $1-$2 a minute, which is how much the service is expected to cost, I can't see people making long, personal calls while on flights. If that happened, it would start in first class, where people presumably have more money to spend on upgrades, right? Would first class passengers start coming back to coach for a break from the phone chatter? Pull the curtain please, flight attendant, the first class passengers are interrupting my sleep.

New gold coins will picture past first ladies instead of presidents.

The American presidents appearing on dollar coins starting next year may find themselves outshone by their wives: a new series of half-ounce pure gold coins will show all the former first ladies in the order in which their husbands served. (NYT)

They're not going to be put in circulation, and the series is named the First Spouses Series. Would a woman president's husband be the First Man? First Gentleman? Hmm.

"Since religion is often most influential where it is least obvious, it is imperative to examine both its manifest and latent dimensions."

MORE college students seem to be practicing traditional forms of religion today than at any time in my 30 years of teaching.

At first glance, the flourishing of religion on campuses seems to reverse trends long criticized by conservatives under the rubric of “political correctness.” But, in truth, something else is occurring. Once again, right and left have become mirror images of each other; religious correctness is simply the latest version of political correctness. Indeed, it seems the more religious students become, the less willing they are to engage in critical reflection about faith.

Distinguished scholars at several major universities in the United States have been condemned, even subjected to death threats, for proposing psychological, sociological or anthropological interpretations of religious texts in their classes and published writings. In the most egregious cases, defenders of the faith insist that only true believers are qualified to teach their religious tradition. (NYT)

Maybe my experience is uncommon, but I've had many discussions about religion in college classes that have been perfectly respectful, and to my knowledge they haven't led to demanded apologies from the professor. I also haven't seen any unwillingness to engage in critical thinking about faith. If anything, the college kids who are religious are more willing to think critically than their non-college attending peers.

"Hundreds of millions" of pages of classified information will be declassified at midnight on December 31.

I'll leave it to everyone else (anyone else) to go through and find the interesting parts.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Libya sentences 6 to die in HIV case.

A Libyan court on Tuesday again sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to be shot by a firing squad for deliberately infecting more than 400 children with H.I.V., more than 50 of whom have died. (NYT)

Am I getting old?

I went Christmas shopping today and ended up at the mall, which was the first mistake. The second mistake was stepping into Abercrombie and Fitch, or Club Abercrombie, as it will now be known in my head. The music was eurotrash techno, with bass loud enough for me to physically feel it in my chest. Do they think that music like that adds to a pleasant shopping experience?

My friend Helen was with me, and we were speculating on what it would be like to work there. Her thoughts: "I would rather be in jail than work here." Amen.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"If we start restricting Miss USA’s right to party, the Taliban has won."

Scott Adams on the fluff-news item of the week, Miss USA's potential loss of her crown because of inappropriate behavior:

I don’t know all of the duties of a reigning Miss USA, but I assume she represents America in the United Nations. I’d love to see her debate Iran in the General Assembly, preferably with frequent breaks to make out with Miss Teen USA.

...America is all about freedom, not imposing your views on others. I say let Miss USA be free, like the great nation she represents. If we start restricting Miss USA’s right to party, the Taliban has won.

“They were looking for an excuse to fire her, and they fired her and called it anti-Semitic. It ain’t anti-Semitic.”

It's appropriate that Judith Regan, the queen of camp behind the (attempted) OJ Simpson "confession" -spectacle, would have excessive drama surrounding her dismissal (NYT):

With Judith Regan’s authors still reeling from their publisher’s abrupt dismissal, the sparring between the headline-making Ms. Regan and her former employer, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, grew more intense, more personal and more specific today over allegations of anti-Semitism.

The News Corporation released what it described as notes from a heated telephone conversation on Friday between Ms. Regan and Mark Jackson, a top lawyer for HarperCollins, the company publishing division which included her imprint, ReganBooks — a conversation that News Corporation officials said was instrumental in her dismissal.

According to the notes, taken down by Mr. Jackson as the conversation unfolded, Ms. Regan protested that the publishing house had not supported her during last month’s firestorm over a confessional book by O.J. Simpson and related television program, which the News Corporation canceled in the wake of public protests and unease by some affiliate television stations.

“‘Of all people, the Jews should know about ganging up, finding common enemies and telling the big lie,’” Ms. Regan said, according to a transcript of Mr. Jackson’s notes provided by Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president of the News Corporation.

According to the transcript, Ms. Regan went on to say that the literary agent Esther Newberg; HarperCollins’s executive editor, David Hirshey; HarperCollins’s president, Jane Friedman, and Mr. Jackson “constitute a Jewish cabal against her.”

I have no idea about the accuracy of this account, but it does seem convenient to fire Regan for being anti-Semitic. Convenient in two senses: since the OJ debacle, it's convenient that Regan would make remarks that were sufficiently offensive to fire her, and it's convenient that the offensive remarks were specifically anti-Semitic. You know, after the Mel Gibson craziness.

Guilt-free gift you can buy for yourself (or for me):

The Inspi(red) t-shirt from Gap. This is Bono's initiative that you've probably read about, and 50% of the profit from this line of clothing goes to fight AIDS in Africa.

I'm really excited about the huge philanthropies that exist now. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, especially, will change the world. Thirty-one billion dollars can save a lot of people.

I am not getting married.

(Anytime soon.) But I do think this is interesting: the NYT asked readers "What questions do you think are important to ask before marriage?" and posted the reader replies.

Assuming that you've dated long enough to be reasonably sure that your fiance isn't a serial killer or necrophiliac, I think the most important issues would be children and finances. Children? How many and when? And how will we handle our money?

What do you think?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

How low can you go...

...and still find work in Hollywood? Jerry Stahl asks this question, in reference to -- of course -- Mel Gibson.

Well, the answer is: it depends on the work you do, how you get it, and the degree of offense. My understanding is that Mel Gibson finances his own movies, so "getting work" isn't the issue. And his latest, Apocalypto, has been widely praised. Should Hollywood (as in, critics and the media) "boycott" his latest film because Mel betrayed himself as a bigot? Do consumers have a moral duty to refrain from purchasing products and services from racists, liars, and cheats? That's a high standard.

In this case, however, the moral failing was painfully public. But does it negate the fact that his new film is a quality piece of art? And would boycotting it betray the art, or the artist?

"The Risks of Too Much City" (Shouldn't this be: "The Risks of Too Many Cities?")

Jeremy Rifkin on urbanization's effects on the environment, in today's WaPo:

We need to ponder how best to lower our population and develop sustainable urban environments that use energy and resources more efficiently, are less polluting and better designed to foster living arrangements on a human scale.

"[L]ower our population?" As in, decrease the number of humans alive at this moment? Or prevent from growing at the same rate? I was under the impression that birthrates were declining already.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Time magazine chickens out.

"Time magazine has named "You" as "Person of the Year," in recognition of the growth and influence of user-generated content on the internet." (BBC)

This is a cop out. It reminds me of those feel-good politically correct sports leagues for kids where there are no losers, because everybody "wins." Were there really no clear candidates this year?

Georgia, North Carolina and Maryland.

I drive to Annapolis, MD on I-95 pretty often, and my suspicion about the states which I travel through is now confirmed: 3 of them are in the top ten for states with the most expensive speeding tickets.

How to drink like the locals.

In Italy, Greece, Russia, Brazil and more.

I don't play video games, but...

...the new Nintendo Wii is interesting to me:

Released last month, Wii uses an innovative controller that lets people replicate the actual motion of hitting a ball when playing, for example, a tennis or baseball game. (WaPo)

Here's a YouTube video about it. The action of mimicking a sport like tennis could be actual exercise. Will this be the end of the pale and chubby gamer stereotype?

"You said in 2005 that ideally "a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman."

"Knowing Mary and her partner, Heather, do you still think that?"

THE PRESIDENT: "I think Mary is going to be a loving soul to her child. And I'm happy for her." (People)


"Dr. (Condoleezza) Rice, who I think would be a really good candidate [for president], is not interested. Probably because she is single, her parents are no longer living, she's an only child. You need a very supportive family and supportive friends to have this job." -- Laura Bush

Words of Wisdom

Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.

You'll look up and down streets.
Look 'em over with care.
About some you will say,
"I don't choose to go there."
With your head full of brains
and your shoes full of feet,
you're too smart to go down
any not-so-good street.
-Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You'll Go!

Patriotism and pacifism.

Japan's conservative government chipped away at two pillars of the country's postwar pacifism, requiring schools to teach patriotism and upgrading the
Defense Agency to a full ministry for the first time since World War II. (AP via CNN)

Requiring schools to teach patriotism is anti-pacifist? Interesting.

"She is also widely envied -- if not admired -- for her gift of attracting attention to her books and to herself."

Judith Regan, the publisher responsible for the would-be OJ Simpson "confession," was fired from HarperCollins on Friday.

Friday, December 15, 2006

I like to pick on CNN.

"[B]othced?" Seriously?

I could be a copy editor. Does it pay well?

"My way of blogging is to write about whatever gets my attention, and these are just the things that happened to strike me."

Ann Althouse (my unwitting mentor) explains why she criticizes liberals more than conservatives (and it's not because she's a conservative):

My milieu is thoroughly liberal and even leftist and has been for more than two decades. Things in the news catch my attention because they resonate with my observations in my real world life. I know the way people talk about things around here. I have a sense of how liberal and lefty folks react to things, and I am used to reacting to them. I take them seriously. They are quite real to me. They irritate, amuse, and confound me on a daily basis. I feel the urge to push back.

Conservatives? I don't know them. I know a few, but they are very amiable, moderate souls who -- maybe because they are the ones who choose to live in Madison -- don't say things that resonate with the news stories I read and, consequently, I don't have as vivid a response to the thing I read about conservatives. I don't take them so seriously. They do not irritate, amuse, and confound me in that immediate and real way that would make me feel the urge to push back.

It could be said that I'm the opposite. While not "thoroughly" conservative, I do tend to lean that way, and the news items that catch my eye are usually about conservatives advocating ineffective policy and bad political moves. I'm also a pastor's daughter, so the interaction of religion and politics is interesting to me. That interaction is usually ill-advised and therefore garners my criticism. So really, even though you might have gotten the idea that I'm liberal, I'm not. If I had to label my political box, it would be "Conservative-leaning Moderate."

Not catchy enough for you? Labels are dumb anyway.


"Someday I want to write the Boston Marathon of run-on sentences. And since it'll be so long, I'll replace all the commas with the word Gatorade, to help push people through it." -- Jarod Kintz

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is it funny that a comic strip writer/artist has the most consistently logical take on politics that I read?

If a candidate is able to get 48% of the popular vote legitimately, there’s no way to know he’ll be worse than the candidate who got 52%. Voters simply aren’t that good at predicting the future. Every bad president we’ve ever had managed to get a majority of the votes. Sometimes twice.

[On campaigns:] ...We’re judging how a candidate will handle a nuclear crisis by how well his staff creates campaign ads. It’s a completely nonsensical process.

And realistically, most elections are won by fraud in the form of misleading ad campaigns, intentionally distorted statistics, and outright lies. Just because lying to the voters is totally legal doesn’t make it less bad than voting machine hacking... (Scott Adams)

Scott Adams approaches politics from a distance; he's not invested in it, so he's able to analyze it well. This whole article is about how we shouldn't worry about the reliability and security of voting machines.

While I don't subscribe to the implications of his logic -- that we just shouldn't care, and that politics is all about lying anyway -- I do find his approach refreshingly unemotional.

Borat speaks Hebrew!

Remember those scenes where Borat spoke "Kazakh?" It was actually Hebrew! Borat, the Hebrew-speaking anti-Semite.

"To a Mustang purist, this is blasphemy,"

said Bob Gritzinger. It is. Blasphemy.

"What the hell happened to Christianity?"

Jay Bakker and Marc Brown's (irreverent) take on what has happened to modern Christianity:

What the hell happened? Where did we go wrong? How was Christianity co-opted by a political party? Why are Christians supporting laws that force others to live by their standards? The answers to these questions are
integral to the survival of Christianity.

His parables and lessons were focused on love and forgiveness, a message of "come as you are, not as you should be." The bulk of his time was spent preaching about helping the poor and those who are unable to help themselves. At the very least, Christians should be counted on to lend a helping hand to the poor and others in need.

This brings us to the big issues of American Christianity: Abortion and gay marriage. These two highly debatable topics will not be going away anytime soon. Obviously, the discussion centers around whether they are right or wrong, but is the screaming really necessary? After years of witnessing the dark side of religion, Marc and I think not. (CNN)

There are some interesting reader responses at the link.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Just when you thought it was safe to wish your Christian friends a Merry Christmas in public..."

Rabbi Marc Gellman on the Seattle Christmas tree crisis:

Using our courts to prohibit the displays of Christmas trees is more than frivolous. It is stupid, divisive and frivolous. It generates ill will towards Jews or the ACLU or whoever brings the suit, and it unnecessarily burdens the court. People who are offended at decorated trees with no angel, no star and no crèche need to get a life, and need to reconsider what constitutes a true offense against the First Amendment.

The right solution here is obvious. Put back the trees and erect a menorah display paid for, like the trees, by the airport... (Newsweek)

"What does the space agency hope to discover on the moon? The reason it built the base."

Slate has a convincing (and comical) argument against NASA's proposed permanent moon base.

The Christmas Spirit

I just went across the street to get lunch for the partners (I work in a law firm), and on my way back in I noticed that the building was decorated with Christmas trees. This isn't a new thing -- they were probably put up right after Thanksgiving -- but I hadn't noticed them yet! I took my last final today, so maybe stress was keeping me from properly being in the Christmas spirit.

To declare my intent to start behaving like those annoying happy people in shopping lines humming Christmas songs, I'm officially decorating the blog for Christmas.

Try this: go to and do an image search for "tacky Christmas."

I've decided to start reading the New York Times.

I've heard since the sixth grade about how unbalanced, liberal, and evil the New York Times was, and now I've decided to judge it for myself. A Google search for "New York Times" and "liberal" brought back 2,790,000 results, but "New York Times" and "conservative" brought 2,590,000. Based on my far-from-scientific experiment, maybe their coverage isn't all that slanted.

Since I'm addicted to the news, another online newspaper helps satisfy my urge to check twelve different news sources. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, here's the biggest reason: CofC gives students a free subscription to several newspapers, including the NYT. So why not?

I'll let you know how it turns out.

ALSO: Did you know that there are whole websites devoted to "exposing" the liberal bias in the NYT? says it is devoted to "documenting and exposing the liberal political agenda of the New York Times." This is a NYT column responding to the accusations.

Peter Boyle, RIP

Peter Boyle, who played Raymond's dad on Everybody Loves Raymond, died today. He was 71. (NYT)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

“The Internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”

Thank you, Ted Stevens. If you click on this link, that series of tubes will take you to a list of the funniest political quotes of the year.

Facebook and discretion.

MSN has an article today about how employers use Facebook and MySpace to screen potential employees. They have some scary statistics:

"Thirty-one percent of hiring managers say they have disqualified a candidate after searching the Web and discovering the candidate had lied about his or her qualifications. Other dismissals resulted from:

-Poor communication skills (25%)
-Criminal behavior (24%)
-Badmouthing previous companies or employees (19%)
-Posting information about drinking or drug use (19%)
-Disclosing confidential information about previous employers (15%)
-Lying about an absence (12%)
-Provocative or inappropriate photographs (11%)
-Unprofessional screen name (8%)

I understand how people can have a false sense of security with these websites. When Facebook first started in 2003, it was only open to college students. As far as I know, no one else could join: no faculty or staff of colleges, and certainly no employers or parents. Now, not only has it opened to non-college students, but those who joined as undergrads have gone on to be working professionals and even employers themselves. It's just too easy to look someone up on Facebook. With a couple clicks you can get an idea about a person's social life, how they carry themselves, how others perceive them, and even how they want to be perceived. People fill out their own "about me" section, and it seems fair game to use that to get an idea about a job candidate.

The most dangerous aspect of these websites, and technology in general, are digital pictures that are taken everywhere. When my generation starts running for office in about ten years, there will be a change in perception and standards for acceptance of our political leaders.

First, voters will become more forgiving of politicians who had crazy college days, because there will be photographic proof and it will be made public. Secondly, pictures of leaders acting inappropriately will lose their potency. People won't be as outraged, because it will be all too common.

If a picture surfaced today of, say, Bill Frist doing a kegstand, people would be outraged. In ten years, I predict that it won't be perceived as that offensive. Maybe perceiving politicians as more human will make politics more interesting.

The MSN article also contains some positive statistics:

"Hiring managers said the following information discovered on the Web helped to confirm their decision to hire a candidate:

-Background information that supported the candidate's professional qualifications (64%)
-A wide range of interests that made the candidate appear well-rounded (40%)
-Great communication skills (34%)
-A professional image (31%)
-Signs that the candidate would be a good personality fit for the company culture (31%)"

Representative Bloggers

The House has enabled each representatives' website with a "Web Blog Tool." That means they'll be able to write and publish their thoughts very easily, without editing to the same extent that other communications from the representatives are edited. I wonder how many will actually use it, and how much ammunition it will give the media to make fun of the spelling and grammar mistakes that will surely result.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Borat Litigation

First, an LA judge rules in Borat's favor in the suit brought by the fraternity boys from USC. Second, a South Carolina man is suing a restaurant which he claims allowed Borat's crew to film him in the restroom.

What is it about South Carolina?

Constitutional rights of the accused...

The Supreme Court ruled on Carey v. Musladin today, a case involving prejudice against the defendant at trial. Matthew Musladin was accused of shooting and killing Tom Studer. At the trial, Studer's family wore buttons featuring the victim's picture where the jury could clearly see them.

If you were on the jury in a murder trial and the victim's family wore buttons with the victim's picture on them, would it unduly influence you against the defendant? The question isn't whether or not the buttons influenced the jury, but whether or not they influenced the jury to such a degree that the defendant's right to a fair trial was harmed.

The most relevant precedent is Holbrook v. Flynn (1986), in which the Supreme Court ruled that armed guards surrounding the defendants for security purposes (why else would there be armed guards?) does not prejudice the trial. However, the precedents set regulations for the behavior of court officers, not spectators.

In Carey v. Musladin, the court ruled that the buttons with the victim's picture did not prejudice the trial.

Here's the SCOTUS opinion for Carey v. Musladin, and here's some analysis from Derek Bombauer at Harvard's law blog.

"The Security Council is not just another stage on which to act out national interests."

"Human rights and the rule of law are vital to global security and prosperity," Annan's text said. When the U.S. "appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused," he [Kofi Annan] said.

"As President Truman said, 'The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world,'" Annan said. (WaPo)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Tom DeLay, a blogger?

"This is an office you can't run for just on the basis of ambition,"

...[Barack] Obama told reporters at a news conference between packed events. "You have to feel deep in your gut that you have a vision for the country that is sufficiently important that it needs to be out there." (Raw Story)

Barack Obama paid an early visit to New Hampshire today. Hmmm...

American Idol flashback.

A sort of flashback of American Idol is on tv tonight, with clips from the season one in 2002. Remember Brian Dunkleman? Me either.

This was back when it was shocking -- just shocking -- how rude Simon was being to the contestants. I remember being disgustedly entertained by the contestants' reactions. Don't pretend like you object! If you did, the show wouldn't have been such a hit.

I do object, however, to the way in which the judges criticize the contestants. I understand that they're looking for more than a great vocalist; they're looking for someone who's attractive and who will sell records. But at least pretend to make some critiques relevant to the music! "Pitchy" doesn't mean anything. What, "your voice has pitch?" ALL music is "pitchy." Does Randy mean "out of tune" or "off key?" Or just bad? That always annoyed me.

Some classic Simon Cowell:

  • "My advice would be if you want to pursue a career in the music business, don't."
  • "Why are you having a normal conversation with him? This is a dairy farmer dressed as a woman.”
  • “If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing, a lot of people would be drowning.”

Death of a dictator.

I'm reading this beautiful book, The Hacienda, by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran, about a young English girl who marries a Venezuelan man and goes to live with him in South America. I mention it because the book references former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who died today.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

CNN Headline: "GOP-led Congress finishes with a flourish"

Then underneath: "Limping off stage, the Republican-led Congress..."

Lazy writing!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Gay "recovery."

The Rev. Ted Haggard this week formally begins his long journey toward
recovery from a drugs-and-gay-sex scandal that forced him to step down as one of the most influential evangelical leaders in the nation.

Haggard, 50, has turned himself over to a team of counselors who are "assessing his spiritual, emotional and mental condition," said the Rev. H.B. London, who is helping to guide Haggard through the process. London and two other pastors will then set out a rigorous "restoration plan" requiring Haggard to spend hours each week in counseling, Bible study, prayer and soul-baring talks — by phone or in person — with his mentors.

The team's first task will be to push Haggard to acknowledge any addictions and come to an honest understanding of his sexuality. "Ted is not in touch with reality," said the Rev. Mark Cowart, a friend. The mentors can confront Haggard or rebuke him forcefully; they may also ask him to submit to a polygraph test. (LA Times)

A polygraph test, really? I'll comment further on this soon, but for now my response is just sadness.

Goodbye Experiment, Hemp and Dewy Rose...

...Poetry Tulip, Due West, Po Biddy...

At least we still have Chattoogaville.

Christopher Hitchens thinks women aren't funny.

"Be your gender what it may, you will certainly have heard the following from a female friend who is enumerating the charms of a new (male) squeeze: "He's really quite cute, and he's kind to my friends, and he knows all kinds of stuff, and he's so funny … "...However, there is something that you absolutely never hear from a male friend who is hymning his latest (female) love interest: "She's a real honey, has a life of her own … [interlude for attributes that are none of your business] … and, man, does she ever make 'em laugh."


"Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women? Well, for one thing, they had damn well better be. The chief task in life that a man has to
perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men. In fact, she equips many fellows with very little armament for the struggle. An average man has just one, outside chance: he had better be able to make the lady laugh. Making them laugh has been one of the crucial preoccupations of my life. If you can stimulate her to laughter—I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight—well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression. I shall not elaborate further." (Vanity Fair)

That is difficult to argue.

Is anyone going to boycott Mel Gibson's new film?

From the Rolling Stone review of Mel Gibson's new movie, Apocalypto:

"Gibson has made a film of blunt provocation and bruising beauty -- it's breathtaking to watch a jaguar racing in the jungle alongside the man who is named after the beast. Say what you will about Gibson, he's a filmmaker right down to his nerve endings."

Recovering from the other night.

I just woke up from my recovery sleep (from this), and I feel really out of touch. What happened while I slept for 12 hours?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

How to speak Republican:

"Sectarian violence."

I look like a ghost with black eyes right now.

If the way my face looks is any indication, all nighters are not a healthy way to study.

It's taken me until senior year to realize this.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Tacky Christmas Sweaters

Someone please find a sweater like the second one and buy it for me. I would absolutely wear it in public, and I would make sure my roommate was around to be embarrassed by me.

We have a special kind of love.

It's my birthday.

It's 12:19 and I just turned the library. I'm growing old studying for exams.

I'll start seeing wrinkles any minute now.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The first all-nighter of the year.

It's 8:30 pm and I'm gearing up for my first all nighter of this semester. I'm in the library, which is open all night, and right now it's full. It will empty out as the night goes on, and eventually only a few of us will be left. At least until 6 am or so, when the early-risers start trickling in.

Some links on all nighters for your enjoyment:

Tips from DavisWiki.

An explanation of what all nighters do to the body.

The Wikipedia entry.

UPDATE: Wow. A friend I hadn't talked to in months just IMed me, from Iraq. He's in the Marines, stationed there for 5 more months. My complaints suddenly seem trivial.

Who owns the moon?

"NASA announced plans to work with other countries to put a permanent base on the moon by 2024. This raises an interesting question: Who owns the moon?

"Apparently there’s a legal agreement called The Outer Space Treaty that says no one can own any part of space, including the moon. But I have to think that when that treaty got signed, no one expected NASA to build nerd condos on the moon’s South Pole, aka “the only good part.” (Scott Adams)

"We're dealing with flesh-and-blood men and women, and not abstractions," [Barack] Obama said...

...and "if condoms and potentially things like microbicides can prevent millions of deaths, then they should be made more widely available. . . . I don't accept the notion that those who make mistakes in their lives should be given an effective death sentence."

Oh this makes me happy:

When Rick Warren, one of the nation's most popular evangelical pastors, faced down right-wing pressure and invited Sen. Barack Obama to speak at a gathering at his Saddleback Valley Community Church about the AIDS crisis, he sent a signal: A significant group of theologically conservative Christians no longer wants to be treated as a cog in the Republican political machine. ...

For a quarter-century since the rise of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, white evangelical Christians have been widely seen as a Republican preserve. No one did a more comprehensive job of organizing them than President Bush, and he carried the white evangelical vote in 2004 over John Kerry by a ratio of nearly 4 to 1. Many of the most politically active evangelical leaders have insisted that the morally freighted social issues -- abortion, stem-cell research, same-sex marriage -- took priority over all questions. ...

[Pastor Rick] Warren speaks for a new generation of evangelicals who think that harnessing religious faith too closely to electoral politics is bad for religion, and who are broadening the evangelical public agenda to include a concern for global poverty and the scourge of AIDS. (E.J. Dionne Jr. in the Washington Post)

I've been appalled in the last few years by the religious hysteria over gay marriage while the poverty problem -- along with myriad other human rights situations, in which thousands and thousands of people are dying -- were largely ignored. Maybe, maybe, they'll start to resent being manipulated for political purposes and prioritize their issues now. Forget about legislating people's sex lives; harness that moral outrage towards feeding children in Africa. Or finding a cure for AIDS. Or cancer. Or Darfur....

More on the school "desegregation" cases.

I wrote about these cases yesterday because the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments on them. This is from Slate's analysis:

In the decades since Brown [v. Board of Education], school boards around the country strove to integrate their schools—sometimes by court decree and sometimes voluntarily—with an eye toward undoing the racial segregation that follows urban housing patterns.

Right now, these school districts are classifying students by race (which actually isn't that easy to do) and "distributing" them using a desired ratio of 60% white and 40% black in each school, which mirrors the ratio present in the overall population. The goal is to prevent urban minorities from being stuck in worse public schools while white kids in the suburbs get the better schools.

Why not -- instead of using race -- using the "housing patterns" to redistribute placement of the students? Not sending all urban kids to one school and suburban kids to another, but dividing them up so that some urban and some suburban kids are in each school. Surely there are poor white kids in urban ghettos, just as there are rich black kids in the suburbs. It would shift the focus from remedying past injustices to finding a fair system now. It would give poor kids (regardless of race) an equal shot at better schools, and it would make challenges under the Equal Protection Clause irrelevant.

This might still result in placement along racial lines just like the current policy does, but at least racial discrimination charges would be baseless.


ADDED: It seems that the justices support my reasoning against placement by race.

...Michael F. Madden, the Seattle district’s lawyer, tried to argue that because the Seattle high schools were “basically comparable,” and “everyone gets a seat,” the court should not view the plan as “a selective or merit-based system where we judge one student to be better than the other.”

It was, Mr. Madden said, “a distributive system” that was “quite wholly dissimilar to a merit or selective-based system.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. countered, “Saying that this doesn’t involve individualized determinations simply highlights the fact that the decision to distribute, as you put it, was based on skin color and not any other factor.”

He added: “I mean, everyone got a seat in Brown as well. But because they were assigned to those seats on the basis of race, it violated equal protection. How is your argument that there’s no problem here because everybody gets a seat distinguishable?”

“Because segregation is harmful,” Mr. Madden replied.

“It’s an assignment on the basis of race, correct?” the chief justice persisted. (NYT)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Studio 60

There's been a lot of criticism of the sketches on the show-within-a-show on Studio 60 (it's about an SNL-esque show, the cast and crew and their annoying/adorable drama). The criticism has said that the sketches just aren't that funny.

They struck comedy gold tonight: one of the sketches began with Santa coming down the chimney, starting to lay out toys and doing his thing. Guess who stepped out of the shadows to "confront" Santa?

Chris Matthews, from To Catch a Predator. "So Santa, why are you here? Why would you come to visit a 12-year old girl in the MIDDLE of the NIGHT? How long have you been taking advantage of children in the MIDDLE of the NIGHT?"

I'm still laughing.

The Blame Game

Inappropriate advertising contributes to many kids' ills, from obesity to
anorexia, to drinking booze and having sex too soon, and Congress should crack down on it, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.


In response, the academy says doctors should ask Congress and federal agencies to:
• ban junk-food ads during shows geared toward young children;
• limit commercial advertising to no more than 6 minutes per hour, a decrease of 50 percent...(AP via CNN)
This reminds me too much of Plato's censorship in The Republic. The advertisements are making them fat! If kids don't see Oreos and french fries on TV, they won't want them!

In The Republic, Plato advocated banning poetry and most storytelling because they contained tales of violence and immorality (Books II and III). The logic was that if kids don't ever hear about murder or deceit, they'll never kill or lie.

So the solution is simple. Just censor the advertisements, and kids won't want junk food, right?

The last time I checked, kids couldn't drive themselves to the store and buy their own Pringles and Snickers. Take some responsibility, parents.

Using race to determine placement in public school systems.

The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today on the case I mentioned yesterday, along with another high profile case about public school systems using race to determine placement:

The court is hearing arguments today in two high-stakes school desegregation cases-- the first test on the issue Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. since they were appointed to the court last term. Both justices in the past have been skeptical about the use of racial classifications.


"We think it's important to be able to be in a classroom with children of other ethnicities," said a girl, [who was part of the demonstration outside the Supreme Court] who would not give her name. "We learn from other people." (WaPo)

If she feels so strongly about it, why wouldn't she give her name?

Professors and four-letter words.

Is it appropriate for professors to curse while lecturing? I'm not particularly offended by it, though a lot of other people are, and I wouldn't formally complain about it (unless it was, say, part of an attack on a particular student). But I do think that it can damage the credibility of the professor in certain cases. Students who are offended will be less likely to listen to professors they don't respect, and may be less likely to go to that professor for help in the class.

For some students, it may work the other way around. Students definitely curse in daily conversation, and if a professor does in a lecture it could communicate a (small) point of common ground.

If a professor curses in class, are students allowed to curse at the professor? Here's a discussion about students cursing at professors.

That nativity scene at the courthouse? It's constitutional. Unless it's not.

Dahlia Lithwick (sort of) clears up the confusion on the legality of religious holiday displays on public property.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Joke

Which joke? Kerry's Joke. "The Joke," as the AP labeled it:

In the space of barely a minute, John Kerry's political life took an abrupt turn.

There's before The Joke, when the Massachusetts senator appeared to be well on his way toward making a political comeback, laying the groundwork for a White House bid despite losing the 2004 presidential election.

Then there's after The Joke, when even fellow Democrats and former supporters question whether Kerry is still politically viable. (AP via CNN)

I don't think there's any question about Kerry now. The Joke turned him into a joke.

Segregation in Seattle (sort of)

Seattle has an interesting way of determining which students go to certain high schools:

Students can seek admission to any of Seattle's high schools. But the Seattle School District decided to engineer a precise racial balance in its most popular -- because much better -- high schools, which are chosen by more students than they can accommodate. The district wanted each oversubscribed school to reflect the entire system's ratio of 40 percent whites and 60 percent nonwhites. So it adopted a race-based admission plan to shape the schools' "diversity." (George Will in the Washington Post)

Sounds like a quota to me. Haven't we learned yet that these things should just be race-blind, and leave it at that?

ADDED: I've been filling out law school applications, and I left the race question blank (it's always optional). Does anyone else do the same thing? I think it's mostly irrelevant and that acceptance should be based on merit. The personal statement allows for an explanation of anything that might have hindered an applicant's achievement, and that's the most appropriate place to address a racial concern if the applicant thinks that it has affected their achievement.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Congratulations, CofC student government.

If College of Charleston students are getting headaches these days, it's not from studying the Treaty of Utrecht or Planck's constant for finals. The constant they have to deal with is the metallic clang of a pile driver sinking columns for a new campus building.

The Student Government Association has petitioned the college to stop construction during finals, which start next week. But officials said at $6,000 a day, it would be too expensive to halt the work.

Instead, no finals will be held in the building closest to the construction and students will be offered earplugs. (AP via WaPo)

Actually, this afternoon the College announced that they would stop the construction during finals. The "building closest to the construction" is Maybank hall, the political science and history building, where almost all of my classes are. When they use the pile driver, there's a constant banging every few seconds. Several of my professors have just given up and let class out for the day when the pile driver started.

So congratulations to CofC student government, who led the effort to halt the construction during finals.

"Why are we doing this at all? is the question people are asking," said Warren Stewart...

The Washington Post has an article today summarizing the National Institute of Standards and Technology's report on electronic voting machines:

Paperless electronic voting machines used throughout the Washington region and much of the country "cannot be made secure," according to draft recommendations issued this week by a federal agency that advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The assessment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, one of the government's premier research centers, is the most sweeping condemnation of such voting systems by a federal agency. (WaPo)

I voted in South Carolina on an electronic voting machine and I felt that my vote would be counted, but that confidence in technology is probably common in my generation. We register for classes, submit papers, apply for loans and do our banking online, so voting seems like the next step. College student government elections are even done online. So why not vote using a computer?

I'd like to see the standard for "secure" that the institute used. Nothing can be made completely secure, and new ways of protecting electronic information are being developed every day. Maybe the type of software they were testing "cannot be made secure" by a specific means of security, but it seems like a large jump to say that they won't ever be secure (to an acceptable degree).

World Aids Day.

World Aids Day homepage.

Here's the World Vision homepage, and you can write a message to President Bush asking for more attention and funding for AIDS causes here.

This is the website for the UN Aids Program.

Now you have no excuse. Go do something good today.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Have you ever heard the name Tom Vilsack?

I hadn't either, until he declared that he was running for president.

He [Governor Vilsack] said he wanted "to replace the America of today with the hope of tomorrow and guarantee every American their birthright - opportunity". (BBC)

An interesting exercise...

I was forwarded this article in an email today, about Keith Ellison (the first Muslim Congressman elected) who is planning to take his swearing-in oath with his hand on the Koran instead of the Bible:

He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism - my culture trumps America's culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.

What do you think? This is what I quickly typed up as an initial response:

How, exactly, does a representative taking his oath on a religious book other than the Bible "undermine American civilization?" It's just not logical. Also, "America" in the sense of all voting-age citizens (whom Dennis Prager feels he can speak for), doesn't decide the specifics of how representatives are sworn in. In the strictest sense, we don't even decide what laws are passed most of the time (besides state referendums, which are voted on by the population): we're a Representative Democracy, so our representatives decide which laws are passed-- not us directly. And in the case of what book to use while swearing in elected officials, the Constitution is the decider (ha):

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." (Article

First: an oath isn't even required -- an "Affirmation" will work. That provision was put in because some people thought the Bible objected to swearing, just like Baptists do in most cases. Second, the Constitution forbids the requirement of swearing on a Bible specifically. A Bible is conventionally used, but if a representative couldn't serve unless he swore on a Bible, it would be a "religious test."

If, while taking an oath with the purpose of pledging to uphold the Constitution, a Bible were required to be used -- it would violate the Constitution itself.

Then I looked up the article on the internet to see if anyone else had responded to it, and Eugene Volokh raised the same points as I did (in National Review, of all places):

Yet this would literally violate the Constitution’s provision that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” For the devout, taking an oath upon a religious book is a religious act. Requiring the performance of a religious act using the holy book of a particular religion is a religious test. If Congress were indeed to take the view that “If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book [the Bible], don’t serve in Congress,” it would be imposing an unconstitutional religious test.

What’s more, the Constitution itself expressly recognizes the oath as a religious act that some may have religious compunctions about performing. The religious-test clause is actually part of a longer sentence: “The Senators and Representatives ... [and other state and federal officials] shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required ....” The option of giving an affirmation rather than oath reflects the judgment — an early multiculturalist judgment — in favor of accommodating members of some denominations (such as Quakers) who read the Bible as generally prohibiting the swearing of oaths.

Read the rest of the National Review article here, and another good summary of the controversy is here.

It's kind of funny that this whole thing was over nothing. Members of Congress are all sworn in at once, and none of them use the Bible or any other religious book. Oh well, it was a good exercise in reason.

Pictures from spring break in Istanbul.

The Pope is scheduled to visit Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul tomorrow. Last spring break I went to Turkey, and spend a few days in Istanbul. This is Haghia Sophia:

Haghia Sophia was a Christian church in the 6th century, then it was converted into a mosque in 1453. Now it's a museum, but there are calls from Christians and Muslims to re-open it as a church or mosque again.

I took these at the Blue Mosque:

I don't remember exactly, but I think these are different views of Haghia Sophia:

Update: The Pope's visit to Turkey.

Pope Benedict XVI has called for an "authentic dialogue" between Christians and Muslims in a speech at Turkey's directorate of religious affairs. (BBC)

I speculated here on how the Pope would approach the differences between Muslims and Christians, and what he would say specifically:

If the Pope glosses over this [the differences] with generalities, conveying the idea that both religions could be true, then he would surely anger millions of Catholics.

He went the diplomatic but completely non-committal route: calling for a "dialogue." I understand why he said this, but calling for more communication isn't really saying anything at all. He didn't explain anything and he didn't help the relationship between Muslims and Christians. We should talk about this. Let's have an authentic dialogue. Those words are intended to make people feel good, but they don't have any substance to them.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wise words from Lindsay Lohan: "Be adequite."

The 20-year-old actress, who scored a part in [Robert] Altman's last movie, A Prairie Home Companion, made the interesting decision to go public with a condolence letter she wrote to the Altman family in the wake of his death from cancer last week. The passion was certainly there - she, like many dozens of actors before her, clearly adored the experience of working in Altman's characteristic freeform style - but the letter was also spectacular in its incoherence and disregard of basic grammar and spelling.

"I am lucky enough to of been able to work with Robert Altman amongst the other greats on a film that I can genuinely say created a turning point in my career," she began, less than certainly. "He was the closest thing to my father and grandfather that I really do believe I've had in several years... He left us with a legend that all of us have the ability to do." A little lower down, she fell into improv philosophy, apparently riffing on the notion that life is too short to waste: "Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourselves' (12st book) - everytime there's a triumph in the world a million souls hafta be trampled on. - altman Its true. But treasure each triumph as they come." And she signed off, "Be adequite. Lindsay Lohan." (The Independent)

She touts the "fact" that she was a straight-A student back on Long Island. My head hurts.

Bill Frist isn't going to run for president.

His decision caps a 12-year stint in electoral politics in which he rose from an underdog in his 1994 Senate campaign to the position of majority leader a mere eight years later.

The decision by the Tennessee senator leaves Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the most nationally prominent contenders for the Republican nomination. (AP via CNN)

Rudy Giuliani would run an interesting campaign, and I look forward to seeing what his bid for president will bring. He doesn't have an overwhelming pretense of seriousness to hold up, which might work in his favor -- especially with young voters. Running a country is serious business, but it could be beneficial for everyone to take themselves a little less seriously. Are campaign ads that make people laugh too much to hope for?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What the....?

I don't know what to say about this. You'll have to read it for yourself.

Word(s) of the day: Google Bombing

Definition: "A Google bomb or Googlewash is Internet slang for a certain kind of attempt to influence the ranking of a given page in results returned by the Google search engine, often with humorous or political intentions." (Wikipedia)

Fighting over a Peace Sign: Update

The community war in Colorado over a woman's peace-sign shaped wreath (which I wrote about here) has ended: the community board raised their white flag today.

"I'd like to say a good word about Michael Richards..."

"...And before you jump to any conclusions, Mel Gibson, too. As long as I'm at it, why not throw in Sen. George Allen? I'm sure I've overlooked others who have recently waxed bigotedly, but these three will do. This is what I have to say: Thank you.

"I say this not because I approve of what they've said but because their remarks have been so roundly condemned that I can see the responses only as signs of remarkable progress. This is particularly the case since the statements exist solely in the ether, largely disconnected from the actual harmful deeds that have often followed such words. In these cases, we have moved past ugly behavior to ugly words. We consider them deed enough." (Richard Cohen, WaPo)

This is an argument that morality (or, at least, society's conception of the degree of wrongs) is relative, and it's pretty hard to refute. Fifty years ago we were still dealing with widespread racist violence, so mere words didn't seem that bad. Now that racist acts have been suppressed dramatically, racist words are "deed enough" to warrant a huge negative reaction.

I wonder what will happen 50 years from now, if suspicion of racism will be enough to warrant similar reactions. I hope we know where to draw the line between actual words and actions and suspected beliefs.

ADDED: Here is the YouTube video of Michael Richard's "racial outburst." I think it's interesting that the press called it "racial," and not "racist." Is a "racial outburst" better or worse than a "racist outburst?"