Saturday, March 29, 2008

Toughest job in Washington

Dana Perino must have the toughest job in D.C. these days. On Easter Sunday, April 23, four more U.S. soldiers died in Iraq. That attack brought the death toll up to an even 4,000, which seems to have been when the MSM started focusing on the war again.

Not to worry, though. Our Fearless Leader's was on the job the very next day making sure all was well on the homefront. Errr.... Okay he was busy hosting the annual Easter Egg roll.

photo borrowed from Britain's Telegraph.

In fairness, the 2008 Easter Egg roll was dedicated to ocean conservation. Later in the day, he did manage pop over to the State Department. In fact, here's how the President spent the rest of the week.

So while the Commander in Chief was having a good day last week, here's how press secretary Dana Perino's day went:

I can't identify the male reporter asking questions, but the female voice is Helen Thomas. Never one to shy away from calling "bullshite", her questions and comments seem to make Perino more and more frustrated as the press conference drags on. The Washington Press Corps won't be the same when she finally retires.

Thanks to TPM and C&L for the stories initially.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Libertarian update

In my excitement yesterday about Mike Gravel switching to the Libertarian Party and immediately announcing his candidacy (again) for president, I missed a little something.

I kind of assume that Ron Paul will seek the Libertarian nomination when he finally realizes that he won't get the GOP nomination. Most of us already knew this, but he did do well in North Dakota and Montana. Around this area (northcentral Pa.) there are still more signs for Ron Paul than any other candidate.

Now, it turns out that former Georgia Senator Bob Barr has been pondering a Libertarian run as well. Here's a his Wikipedia entry.

On the plus side, Barr seems to be a strong supporter of civil rights and fought for sunset provisions in the Patriot Act and is against domestic spying. He has also done an about face and now questions the wisdom of "War on Drugs."

On the other hand, he called for impeaching President Clinton even before the name "Monica" and her blue dress were headlines for months. He also has some pretty antiquated views on abortion. However, Larry Flynt (the hero of the First Amendment) dug up the fact that he made an exception to his pro-life stance when it was his wife who wanted to have an abortion. I guess only the rabble have to worry about the loss of the right to choose.

Here's what his more rabid "enemies" have to say about him. According to the Religious Freedom Coalition of the Southeast, Barr has been married three times and was once seen licking whipped cream off the chests of two women (while he was married, of course). But according to to this paragon of fidelity and religiosity, it is simply not okay to be gay. So sorry.

Anyway, a nomination fight among Gravel, Paul, and Barr will make for an interesting distraction from the Obama/Clinton/McCain sameness. Their convention is May 22-26 in Denver. Bets on how much the MSM covers this thing?

Personally, I don't agree with all of the Libertarian views, but the ideals of smaller government, lower taxes, and more freedom are appealing.


Bye, Mike

The field of major party candidates for President of the United States is officially down to four as of today. Former Senator Mike Gravel all but conceded defeat in the Democratic primaries as he announced his decision to register as a Libertarian. We are now down to Clinton, McCain, and Obama (in alphabetical order). Paging Ron Paul?

The good news is that the fight for the Libertarian Party nomination could make for some good distraction from the actual race. Paul does have a Libertarian streak in him and made a strong showing in at least one Super Tuesday state (it was Montana). On the other hand, me and Gravel's 12,435 Myspace (owned by NewsCorp) friends are pulling for him.

This could turn out to be a fun and pointless version of the Democratic nomination fight. I can't wait for the media to ignore it.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Feminism renewed

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting Jessica Valenti, founder and executive editor of (don’t bother with the lame-ass, unfunny “.org” site) and the Author of Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters.

You might also remember her from the now infamous boobgate “scandal.” I only call it a scandal because a prominent writer decided to make a big deal about it. She was among a small group of bloggers who were invited to meet Clinton for lunch. In case you have not noticed, blogging is changing the political landscape. It only seems rational that a political leader would want to meet with the upcoming talent who could potentially sway an election (and I understand that Clinton has a stake in one of the candidacies).

Valenti had the audacity to *gasp* wear a sweater that showed off her breasts and she ended up in the front of a group picture with former President Clinton. Unfortunately, the camera angle made it seem like Valenti was purposely trying to show off her (ahem) assents. Within days, the picture was being commented upon all over the Internet. Some of the most disgusting comments in the blogoshere had to do with a blue dress and a beret. Ann Althouse took Valenti to task for not looking serious enough in an article carrying the decidedly anti-feminist headline “Let’s take another look at those breasts.” In fairness, Althouse has since added a paragraph stating that she was primarily attacking Clinton. Oh, and she does not like a feminist website depicting large-breasted women. ('s logo is a take off of those curvaceous women who decorate mud flaps on pickup trunks. Their graphic depicts that woman giving a one-finger salute.) Personally, I think it’s pretty clever. Here it is:

Valenti’s take on this (and I agree) is that young women are routinely judged on appearance and not talent. In a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, Valenti points out that the prevailing attitudes seem to come down to either “shut up you ugly bitch” or “you’re too cute to be smart.” I call “bullshit” on both counts. Male or female, looks have nothing to do with talent or intelligence.

The really depressing thing about boobgate is that a Google search for “boobgate” pulls up Althouse’s blog before the reply. That’s just the way the search engine works, though.

End rant, back to the book.

Admittedly, I am not the target market for this book, but happily I got something out of it. What most impressed me was the readability of the book. The language is informal, rarely stilted, often coarse and genuinely funny. In other words, young people (I’m still including myself in the class of “young people”) might actually read the nearly 250 pages and enjoy the read. The book concludes with some ideas for getting involved. As she points out on page 166, “If you get younger women into feminism but then don’t give them power or decision-making abilities, they’re going to get real bored. Real fast.”

The most important thing that I got out of the book was a renewed perspective that people’s (not just women’s) looks do not necessarily reflect on their talents, abilities, or levels of intelligence.

This guy does not get judged on his looks, so why should this lady be judged on her looks? On the other hand, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt donate millions of dollars to charities. People Magazine still managed to use a sultry photo of her and listed him on the “hot list” while discussing the donations as if they were an afterthought.

Valenti has a ton of other issues to address. She rails about the idea that some women who get raped or sexually assaulted were “asking for it” based on wardrobe, amount of alcohol and drugs consumed, not fighting back hard enough, being married to the abuser, or just simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

WRONG! Keep this point in your head. The people who ultimately have the power to stop rape are the rapists themselves. No one should have to constantly worry about an attack as heinous as rape. The rule still applies if she is wearing that ridiculous shirt reading “No means no…well maybe if I’m drunk.”

Valenti also makes the point, and I who heartedly agree, that women have the right to decide what to do with their bodies. This applies both to the right to choose to get an abortion as well as access to effective birth control. As I pointed out in my last post, there is something inherently creepy about men trying to take away a right that ultimately only applies to women.

On a slightly lighter, but no less serious, point Valenti takes on the popular strategically marketed Girls Gone Wild series. Refreshingly, she does not rehash the tired arguments about porn being dangerous and having no value at all. Instead, she cautions young women (and young men should take heed, too) to consider why they are exposing themselves for a t-shirt and 15 minutes of fame. You can go ahead and buy the videos; I try to change the channel when those commercials assault my senses.

Speaking of creepy guys, here’s a quick recap of GGW’s recent discussions with Elliot Spitzer’s “date” Ashley Dupre or “Kristen.” Turns out that GGW Head Creep in Charge, Joe Francis, offered Dupre $1 million to promote his dreck. Then he had a thought. Perhaps GGW has already filmed her and thus has full legal rights to appropriate her image for commercial use. Sure enough, there she was in the archived footage and Francis rescinded the offer. Karma, being what it is, came back and bit him in the ass. It turns out that Dupre might have only been 17 when the footage was shot. Yesterday, there was news that Francis and/or his crew filmed girls as young as 13. They are suing. That’s empowerment and holding the creeps accountable.

Back to the book…I was particularly impressed with Valenti’s chapter on men being feminists. Simply buying into the idea of social, political, and economic equality between the genders does not strip away all vestiges of masculinity. I’m a feminist. I wrote it and I don’t feel emasculated in the least. In fact, I have always preferred to date feminists.

Finally, I enjoyed the bit about sex toys. This has been one of my pet peeves, too. Buy ‘em, use ‘em, have fun. But a few states don’t think their citizens deserve to purchase adult toys. I won’t repeat my argument, but I did enjoy Valenti’s contribution: “In Mississippi you can buy a gun with no background check, but vibrators are outlawed.” That statement is not quite accurate, but like some other states Mississippi does not require background checks on purchases from private dealers (accounting for a significant percent of all firearms sales).

So, check out the book. It’s listed at $15.95, but Amazon has it for less than $11.


P.S. In regards to page 40 -- second full paragraph -- I fall into category one. You’ll have to read the book to figure out what I mean.

In fairness, Santorum was my Senator for a while...

Remember these stats as you read this:Okay. The good news today is that Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho and MSP) has kept his promise to retire at the end of his term. Several people asked me about that after this post.

The bad news is that this is a guy who wants to replace him:
Meet strawberry farmer Marvin "Pro-Life"Richardson who has legally changed his name to simply "Pro-Life" and is running for Craig's old seat. So much for subtly. I wonder what his stance (pun intended) is on the alternative minimum tax.

I really don't want to run a picture of him, so here he is on Crooks and Liars. Thankfully, this guy's goal this year is to get a whopping five percent of the vote rather than actually win. He does vow to keep trying every election cycle, though.

I just have to wonder why this dude has such an obsession with what women choose to do with their bodies.

This shirt says it all:


Monday, March 24, 2008

Reigster to vote

If you have not already done so, today is the deadline to register to vote in Pennsylvania's primary election on April 22 (Earth Day!). Here's a link for voter registration information:

Pennsylvania is a closed primary, so you need to register with one of the major parties in order to vote next month. McCain has the GOP nomination sewn up. Obama and Clinton are still running for the Democratic nomination.

More about this historic primary soon.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Responsibility for the war

Hans Blix (remember him?) wrote an interesting assessment of the Iraq War for Britain's Guardian today. Check it out:

A War of Utter Folly

Blix even repeated one of my favorite jokes: "they preferred to replace question marks with exclamation points." The statement is a reaction to allegations that British intelligence dossiers regarding Iraq's WMD program were sexed up to strengthen the case for preemptive war.


Ye gods, he's back...

I've always been one to point out my own mistakes. As a footnote to my last post, I wondered what ever happened to Osama bin Laden. After the ill-conceived Iraq invasion, it seemed like we collectively forgot about the guy who masterminded 9/11 (everyone that is except the men and women who are still looking for his butt so we can nail it to a wall). I said:
*Oh, and speaking of stories getting lost in the MSM, what ever happened to this guy? I submit that if he had student loans in arrears, we would have had him in a week. Isn't it interesting that the man who masterminded 9/11 went from Public Enemy #1 to The Boogie Man that we don't discuss too often?
Imagine my chagrin after I had a few beers, pulled up the Drudge Report, and read this headline:

Bin Laden Slams Pope

It seems Our Little Foe picked the holiday of Mawlid, the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, to accuse the Pope of collusion with a Danish newspaper's decision to reprint one of those cartoons that sparked riots among Muslims in 2005. Incidentally, the exact date of Mawlid varies according to the Islamic calendar. This year, it just happens to coincide with another unfortunate anniversary. In 2003, the holiday was on May 13 by our calender.

If this newest video is for real, Our Little Foe needs to do his homework. The Pope actually condemned publication of those cartoons. The Vatican has also denied that these cartoons represent some sort of crusade against Islam. One of the biggest gripes that Muslims have about the west is not showing proper respect to their culture and religion. Any depiction of the Prophet is considered an insult to Islam. Here's a link to a film that gives a good perspective on other people's views of America.

On the other hand, here's a link where you can see 12 of those cartoons. This is also probably a good time to bring up the Western teacher who had the audacity to name a teddy bear "Muhammad." Not that I am trying to link the two issues. Just saying...

The real insult to Islam is not these cartoons or a teddy bear. The insult is terrorists (how many are named "Muhammad?") killing innocent people because of their religion (or lack thereof) or because of the actions of their government.

Fair is fair, so say I. If you are in a land with a different culture than your own, you have a certain responsibility to defer to the local customs. I'm not planning to take a trip to Saudi Arabia to have a whiskey and cocaine fueled week-long bender. That is against the law. So, in fairness, there is a Western custom of respecting the right to offer critical, if sometimes offensive and crude, perspectives in the media. I could certainly find enough material in our media that would qualify as offensive to my sensibilities if I did not have such a thick skin. That does not, however, confer upon me the right to start a riot over a particular story or picture.

On a related note, here is how the MSM handled the story on line:
Drudge Report: headline story with a photo of the pope
Google News: lead story in the U.S. section; 1,145 related stories (280 with duplicates filtered out)
MSNBC: Second leading story earlier today. Now it is listed in the U.S. and World news sections
CNN: Nothing on the front page. (But don't forget that Spitzer's date was 17 years old in those Girls Gone Wild videos.
Fox "News": Top story listed under "latest news"
New York Times: no mention in the e-mailed "Today's Headlines." Although, as a newspaper, the Times may have gone to print before this story broke.
Washington Post: Second story under another explaining why is it so tough to spy on al-Qaeda.

Interesting that this video was broadcast on a particularly embarrassing day for Our Fearless Leader's Administration. At least CNN seems to have gotten the point that Olbermann has been making for a long time.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Are you better off now than you were five years ago?

Happy anniversary, everyone.

When ever the world witnesses something historic, we have a tendency to remember exactly where we were when the feces hit the rotating blades. Such was the case five years ago today. I was watching the initial invasion of Iraq on television with the publisher of our newspaper. Wayne is probably the best supervisor I have ever had. It never affected our working relationship when we disagreed about something.

The only thing we agreed on that morning was that we were both hoping for a win for our country. There was never a doubt in my mind that U.S. and Allied forces would roll into downtown Baghdad within weeks. On the other hand, I also predicted an insurgency not unlike the enemy that we faced in Vietnam. That insurgency, I predicted, would turn "mission accomplished" into another quagmire and we would be stuck in a two-front war for years and spend billions, if not trillions, of dollars on the adventure. I also doubted the WMD claim.

Unfortunately I was right, but I was not alone. Regardless, even after the first two years of the insurgency, it was not cool to be honest and call the situation in Iraq a “quagmire” because FOX “News” would tear you a new one.

Not that this alleged news service is alone in the blame. I have been working on a systematic study on exactly how the MSM lead this nation into a war on grounds that have been largely discredited.

As a professional journalist, I could get fired for not verifying a boneheaded comment like this:

The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
Here's a good analysis of the veracity of that claim.

So much for the "lies" by the administration and the failure of the MSM to question the more dubious claims they made. Let's move on to what is happening now, not that you have heard if you rely on CNN for your information.

One anniversary that went largely overlooked this week was the massacre at Son My. Sunday, March 16 was the 40th anniversary (warning: graphic photos) of the event that you probably know better as My Lai in that other quagmire, Vietnam.

What more appropriate time to open the Iraq war version of the Winter Soldier hearings? These are hearings based on similar testimony offered by Vietnam vets in the 1970s. Once again we are treated to stories of atrocities that we assumed only the enemy would commit. The stories from Vietnam and the stories from Iraq sound eerily similar.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results each time.

The MSM are getting nailed for allegedly downplaying the current hearings*. Thankfully, (again with the warning: graphic descriptions) and Pacifica Radio are broadcasting the hearings. Here's a quick, unscientific attempt at verifying the claim that the media are downplaying the hearings. A quick search last night turned up these results:

-- Google news search for "winter soldier": brought up 162 stories; 65 without including duplicates, six stories are listed
-- Top Story is "Bush Maintains War Was Worth it." A search for Winter Soldier turns up one story that has already been removed. I could not even find a mention in the recent Countdown transcripts.
-- New York Times: The most recent article posted under the Iraq section of the website reads thus: "Estimates of the Iraq War Costs Were Not Close to Ballpark." Thanks for the update. No headlines that appear to talk about the hearings appeared in that section.
-- Well, the girl Spitzer "dated" was once featured in Girls Gone Wild. Over on the Iraq special section, the headline is Our Fearless Leader stating that the war must go on. A search for Winter Soldier is fruitless.
-- Fox"news".com: Take a really wild guess. No, I couldn't come up with anything.

Some examples of outlets carrying the Winter Soldiers story:
-- Slate Magazine
-- Boston Globe
-- Socialist Workers Online
-- Democracy Now! and other Pacifica Radio networks
-- Barre Montpelier Times Argus (Vermont)
-- Independent UK
-- Huffington Post

Regardless of what has happened, we are now stuck in a quagmire with no end in sight. At least there is little possibility that leaving now will result in a "good" situation. Staying in Iraq exacerbates a bad situation and continues to drain our treasury. Leaving entirely opens the door to all kinds of dangerous possibilities including: Balkanization of the country, invasion by Iran and possibly Turkey, the rise of a strong man worse than Saddam, and ethnic/religious cleansing.

The only viable solution seems to be a gradual troop draw-down, coupled with a significant and honest reconstruction program (what we should have been doing all along). Let the Iraqi leaders know that we stand ready to offer help, but we can't stay forever. The surge is over; it's time for a purge.

In any case, don't bet on the price of oil dropping any time soon. I have heard a rumor that
had nothing at all to do with securing a significant source of crude oil. Naturally, a chaotic state is not conducive environment for oil drilling. The result? Oil supplies drop at the same time that demand is rising. A first year economics student should be able to tell you what happens to the price of the commodity in that situation.

I have a simple two-part solution to avoid another preemptive war against a petro-state.: 1) get off of foreign oil and 2) don't elect leaders with significant ties to the oil industry and defense industry. That said, I have withheld an endorsement of a presidential candidate until now. I am voting for the one legitimate candidate who has opposed this war and questioned the accuracy of the intelligence since the very beginning. Not this guy (he wouldn't be so bad, though and I initially supported his quixotic campaign because he released the Pentagon Papers). I am supporting this gentleman.

To the families of the 4,000 dead to the many thousands more wounded, I say this. Thank you for your sacrifice. Some of us opposed this insanity from the very beginning and tried to stop the invasion. I'm sorry that we could not convince Our Fearless Leader and his lackeys to take the time to think this through rationally.

Considering the enormity of this tragedy of errors, it seems way too flippant to say it but, "We tried to tell you so."


*Oh, and speaking of stories getting lost in the MSM, what ever happened to this guy? I submit that if he had student loans in arrears, we would have had him in a week. Isn't it interesting that the man who masterminded 9/11 went from Public Enemy #1 to The Boogie Man that we don't discuss too often?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tonight's homework is...

Tonight's homework is to come up with a really good anti-war rant for the coming blogswarm. It is a group of bloggers who have all agreed to post something on the War tomorrow. Incidentally, tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the invasion. If you have a blog, sign up. If not, I'm sure there's more than a few good sites out there.

By the way, it turns out that quite a lot of people have lost interest in the Iraq War. Just sayin'.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day. Have fun and be safe on this most important holiday.

Personally I am going to have an Irish seven course meal: a six pack and a potato. Actually I am going to a Mexican Cantina to hear some acoustic rock.


Stop China; Go Eagles

I like the Olympics. In fact, I like most sports. (Incidentally, American University will play their first NCAA Division I tournament game ever. Go Eagles!) I try to catch at least some of the events every year.

Personally, I prefer the Winter Games to the Summer Games. There’s just something inherently thrilling about watching some brave soul sliding down an icy trench at something approaching the speed of sound. Regardless, I try to catch the Summer games and cheer for our athletes.


Thanks to a policy change at the IOC in the early 1990s, the Olympics are a biennial event these days with the Summer and Winter games alternating even number years. This year, the “People’s Republic” of China earned the honor of hosting the 2008 Summer Games.

Ever since Beijing was named as host city, the Chinese government has managed to dishonor itself time and time again. Regardless, the IOC is whining that a human rights boycott would only hurt the athletes. Pardon me while I throw up a little in my mouth. *spew* That’s better. Is one person’s desire to win a chunk of gold “proving” that he or she is the fastest person in a particular length of track more important than bringing to light the inhuman incarceration and slaughter of millions and repression of more than a billion people? And here’s what they are doing to the cats.

A boycott? Why not? We did it before. Of course that was a principled action against the Soviets for their invasion of Afghanistan. But, the Soviets did not trade with us in 1979. Once again, profit trumps principle. (It is also worth mentioning that the Soviet invasion set in motion a series of events that, for all intents and purposes, culminated with our current war there.)

The most recent human rights and open government abuses by the Chinese government are happening in remote Tibet. Last week in Lhasa, Tibetans began protesting the harsh and probably illegal rule of the region by China. The latest protests/riots (depending on your perspective) began on the anniversary of a similar uprising in 1959. For obvious timing reasons, the Buddhist monks leading the protests were not about to wait around for the 50th anniversary.

Right now, there are lots of unanswered questions, specifically because of the secretive nature of the Chinese regime. There are reports charging both the government and the protestors of various atrocities. For example, the protesters are being accused of killing and injuring ethnic Chinese in the region and torching their property. Meanwhile, the government has rounded up perhaps hundreds of protestors and, in at least on instance, paraded through the streets some of the protestors who have been “detained.” (Check out the slide show for a glimpse of what has been going on.)

I use the word “glimpse” with all due premeditation. An individual, institution, or government closes up when there is something to hide. China has closed the region to foreigners (read: reporters and anyone else who might actually report on actual events transpiring in Tibet). The government has also blocked access to youtube and foreign news services, effectively forbidding people from seeing what is going on in their own country. That went well last time.

And possibly the most horrific thing going on is the policy of granting “leniency” to anyone who surrenders. Those who rat out other protesters are promised even greater leniency and possibly rewards. Others will be dealt with “harshly.” All things considered, it might be more humane to just kill them now.

Tibet has a history and culture that is distinct from China, despite some periods of outside control. The outbreak of the First World War and subsequent internal divisions in China led to de facto independence for the region until 1951. Having just banished the nationalists to the island of Taiwan, the new People’s Republic (the authoritarian socialist one) promised to liberate Tibet and other regions in 1949…not that there was any particular power from which Tibet needed liberating. Incidentally, neither the mainland nor the Taiwan government has ever renounced its claim to the region.

After the farcical liberation, a resistance movement developed but it was crushed in 1959. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee and still heads a government in exile. However, sporadic resistance continued and was actually funded by the CIA until Nixon cut the funding in 1969. The next step for the PRC was revocation of most autonomy, suppression of Buddhism and Tibetan culture, redistribution of land, and economic development that brought in the ethnic Han Chinese in the first place. His Holiness has softened his calls for full independence to calls for true autonomy, particularly in cultural and religious matters. Normally, I like to avoid using Wikipedia as a reference, but this entry on Tibet seems very detailed and footnoted well.

On a related note, I have to agree with His Holiness on this one. I have to campaign for autonomy rather than full independence. I am really uneasy about Kosovo’s independence because it sets a dangerous precedent. Any region not happy with its level of autonomy has an argument for succession. This could exacerbate problems in places like Kurdistan, Basque Spain, Catholic regions of Ulster, Trans-Dniester, Thailand and the Philippines, and even Quebec. What should the United States do the next time South Carolina decides it wants to be its own country and China offers its support?

So my own half-hearted protest for Tibet autonomy is to avoid watching the Summer Games. Why should NBC profit from the rights to this wrong? I might check the medal counts in the newspapers. That’s about it. And no, I am not just bitter about this blog being banned in China.

Oh, and this image is banned in China. Display it proudly.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Oklahoma: the earth really is 6,000 years old

I envision the day when science prevails over magik, magic, miracles and the like.

That day will probably arrive sometime next century. Just last week, I posted a short diatribe about Florida’s plan to subtly introduce Intelligent Design Creationism into the public school curriculum. Florida’s proposal would protect teachers who chose to ignore 150 years of scientific study and focus instead on the “theory” that we are here solely because God (or Allah, or Vishnu, or the Goddess, or the Weaver) willed it.

Not to be outdone, the Education Committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives has advanced HB 2211. Unfortunately, the only mainstream media story I could find was this opinion piece. However, the blogs have been howling.

There is a key difference between the Florida and Oklahoma proposals. Instead of allowing teachers to decide what to teach, the Oklahoma bill leaves that decision up to the student. Really.

If the initial analyses by the editorial page and the blogs are correct, the bill would prohibit schools from interfering with students’ religious beliefs even if those beliefs contradict accepted learning. This quote is directly from the aforementioned opinion piece:

The bill requires public schools to guarantee students the right to express their religious viewpoints in a public forum, in class, in homework and in other ways without being penalized. If a student’s religious beliefs were in conflict with scientific theory, and the student chose to express those beliefs rather than explain the theory in response to an exam question, the student’s incorrect response would be deemed satisfactory, according to this bill.”

In other words, a geology teacher could ask: “Approximately how old is the Earth?” The correct answer, according to the best scientific evidence, is about 4.55 billion years. Under the provisions of OK HB 2211, an answer of “6,000 years” would be perfectly acceptable too. (I refuse to post a link to young earth “evidence.” Feel free to look it up on Google.)

Now, I am going to have some fun with an absurdo ad reductum argument. Imagine similar logic applied to other classes.

World history:
Q: What factors led to the fall of the Soviet Union
A: An officially atheistic society is always doomed to failure. That was the sole cause of the collapse of the Communist system.

Q: Solve the following equation for the value of X and show your work: 2X + 10 = 60.
A: 2X = 60 – 10
A miracle occurs
X = 25 (or whatever)

Q: Describe the process of photosynthesis.
A: God takes care of the needs of all plants and animals through his divine omnipotence.

Q: Discuss the role of religion in Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.
A: It is a flawed argument because Bokononsim challenges my religious beliefs.

Q: Define the Law of Supply and Demand.
A: The invisible hand of God will supply all Christian demands.

Q: Compare and contrast the ethical systems developed by John Stuart Mill and David Hume.
A: The only valid ethical system is found in the Bible.

The point is that allowing religious beliefs to supercede legitimate teaching in one discipline opens the door to the application of the same logic across the curriculum. Public schools are not Bible schools. There are private schools that will avoid discussing Evilution altogether and your kid can serenely ignore anything that is not Biblical. Of course, they will only be admitted to Bob Jones University.

With such lax standards, is it any wonder why American students continue to lag behind in math and science compared to the rest of the world?


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Tear down this (fire)wall

The other day, I had a funny image in my head. It was a picture of W. standing on the Great Wall of China. In his best Reganesque posture, our fearless leader declares, “Mr. Hu, tear down this wall!”

Just to make sure this image was not too contrived, I did a quick Google. I did not find my concept, but I did come across a wall that does need to come down and it is called the Great Firewall of China. Basically, the Chinese government blocks content from a large number of primarily western Internet sites. In fact this site is blocked in China. So:

Here is a website that will test any site to see if it can be accessed in the People’s Republic. Here is a technical explanation of how the great firewall works. The Chinese government has an estimated 50,000 people working to make sure that the other billion plus don’t see anything that the government does not want them to see. The gods help you if you dare to question the government on-line.

American on-line corporation are guilty of compliance with the Great Firewall initiative, mostly to protect their access to this huge, but repressed market. Google’s Chinese product comes with built-in filtering devices and the government is free to block any searches that it wishes, including blogger. Google does make the attempt to let users know when information is being blocked, but that is not exactly news to the user in China. It is possible to get around the filtering through Google’s cache feature. Here are some ideas if you are planning to attend the Olympics this year and need to find this picture:

Not that many people would try. Attempting to circumvent the firewall could draw as much attention as posting subversive material in the first place.

Still, they are not as bad as Yahoo, which turned over the names of at least two dissidents to authorities. In order to distance itself from accusations of human rights abuses, Yahoo has essentially outsourced it entire Chinese operation to an existing company called Alibaba. Notice how the press release speaks high-mindedly of commerce but does not broach issues of basic human rights like free speech. Did they really think that cases like Li Zhi and Shi Tao would never come up? Both of these men posted information not “pleasing” to the Chinese government and ended up with long prison sentences. These are not the country club prisons that American white collar criminals populate. Even the worst American prisons (with the exception of Gitmo) pale in comparison to what this founder of the China Democracy Party endured in a Chinese prison.

Finally, we come to Microsoft, whose censorship efforts are much more benign. (Scroll to page 19 toward the bottom. This document also details actions by Yahoo and Google.) Don’t bother trying to register a Microsoft spaces account in China using terms like “democracy,” “freedom of expression,” “Tiananmen Square,” “Tibet independence,” or “Falun Gong.” In the most egregious example of collusion with the Chinese government, Microsoft removed a blog run by Michael Anti, again to protect profits.

These major corporations make arguments like “we are complying with local law” and “access to some information is better than no access.” The problem is that the denied information is exactly the kind of information that the people of China really need to see in order to force a change that will end repercussions for free thought and free expression. Additionally, the argument that America “needs” to do business with China is incredibly weak. Look around at all of the jobs that have been sent to China. I’m fairly certain that the folks who lost their jobs to cheap forced labor would like to have those jobs back. Then they could quit their current jobs at Walmart selling the same stuff that they used to make much better right here.

One last thought about Falun Gong. It is really depressing that this outfit is the current best hope for a democratic movement on the Mainland. Maybe it is their view that interracial people have no place in heaven. Perhaps it is their view that homosexuality is degenerate behavior. It could also be the practice of healing physical illness spiritually rather than through modern medicine. At any rate, these are the people being actively suppressed and are the current poster children for loosening political controls in China.

So, in the interest of promoting free speech, I present my original picture idea anyway. Enjoy:

Next up: The FISA bill: Domestic corporate collusion to root out subversives.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

But it's okay to discuss ID

Today we have an edumacation twofer. For starters, here’s a dirty little secret for high school students: All of those high minded things you learned about freedom of speech are fibs. Those freedoms don’t really apply to you until you are clutching that diploma. The school’s discipline tentacles are long and unforgiving.

Exhibit A: Appeals Court Weighs Teen's Web Speech

To sum up the article, a high school girl in Connecticut was barred from serving on her school’s student council for *gasp* using a vulgar word to describe her school administrators. These “douche bags” (her words, not mine) cancelled postponed a concert she helped organize. She posted her comments on her blog. Predictably, the administrators in question were not amused when they discovered that they had been likened to a feminine hygiene product.

The student has sued the school for violations of her civil rights and a lower court has already sided with the school district. Schools do have the right to restrict freedom of expression if it is interfering with school work or discipline. The intent was to give schools the right to break up protests, protect against potential violence, and other disruptive behavior.

This young lady called an unspecified person a bad name on-line from a computer that was nowhere near school grounds. The school is whining that other students might actually read the student’s comments. They really do not specify what sort of impact this might actually have on the process of teaching in the school, though.

Honestly, I think that someone needs to grow a thicker skin and get over a petty insult.

Here’s two pieces of advice for high school students who actually want to criticize their schools.

First: Make it perfectly clear that your voice deserves to be heard. The public school is a government agency and therefore is subject to citizen criticism. Indeed, your voice is the most important because you are the ones most directly impacted by school board and administration decisions.

Second: Come up with a more creative insult. “Soul-crushing censorship-loving jellyfish” comes to mind. (Biology bonus: Jellyfish have no spines.)

Now we move from Connecticut to Florida.

The good folks running education in Florida are lining up for the predictable results that we have already seen in Kansas and Dover, Pa. A state senator has proposed legislation that would protect teachers who choose to ignore a century and a half of scientific study and subject their students to “intelligent design.” Specifically, the bill (called of all things) the “Academic Freedom Act” would protect the right of public school teachers to "objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution" according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Basically, if the bill somehow passes and is not challenged in court, every single public school student in Florida is in danger of ending up with a “biology” teacher who refuses to teach evolution because that teacher cannot reconcile the “absolute truth” found in the Bible with a whole body of scientific research. Won’t those students be surprised when they take their first college biology class?

I’m not going to spend a whole lot of effort arguing the evolution point. This video sums it up pretty well.

And if you need to reconcile a belief in the supernatural and solid scientific theory, please look up the definition of “metaphor.”

“We don’t need no education”


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

This takes the (urinal) cake

Much as I wish this photo is a joke, sadly it is very real:

What you are looking at is a make-shift filing room for reporters covering Hillary Clinton's campaign. This is actually a locker room at a "sports facility" in Texas where the Senator was speaking Monday evening. I will dispense with the bathroom humor, mostly because the other bloggers and news sites have beaten me to it. Some of my favorites are here, here, and especially this one from (I'm not kidding)

Here is a quote from a mortified traveling press secretary:
The Clinton campaign staff was mortified and apologetic. ``I'm so sorry -- I LOVE you guys!'' said the traveling press coordinator, Jamie Smith, who is normally exceptionally efficient at dealing with the logistical needs of the traveling press corps. Apparently, the locker room was the only room available at the Burger Activity Center -- and the campaign had no idea it doubled as a boy's bathroom, she said.
I thought the urinals would have been a dead give-away.

One of the unspoken rules of dealing with the press is that you do not piss off irritate people who buy ink by the barrel. This is especially true after you have leveled charges of bias against them.


No vibrator for you

During a recent trip to New York City, I struck up a conversation with a very nice couple from Los Angeles. I was in an Irish pub and off-handedly mentioned to some of my colleagues that it is illegal to sell sex toys in Alabama. It turned out that a lady at the next table is in the business of selling sex toys. It's a good thing she isn't planning to move to Houston.

Today, Slate is reporting that Texas is challenging a ruling that strikes down a ban on the sale of sex toys in the state. Furthermore, it turns out that it is illegal to sell an 18-inch dong in Mississippi as well. Virginia bans "obscene items," but strangely that does not seem to cover sex toys.

Technically, the Texas ruling could, ahem, loosen the morals of Mississippi since the ruling came from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also includes Mississippi. Interestingly, the 11th Circuit, which covers Alabama, ruled the opposite way. This could legitimize a Supreme Court appeal since two appeals courts ruled differently.

Now picture the Supremes debating the merits and demerits of selling the Pleasurematic 9000. (You're welcome.)

The attorney general for Texas is arguing that, if allowed to stand, the 5th Circuit ruling will "invite … challenges to previously-uncontroversial criminal prohibitions." Specifically, he is in a tizzy because allowing the sale of sex toys could start a slippery slope that ends with a debate over the legalization of incest and bigamy. Remember that this is the same state that was forced to repeal a law prohibiting same-sex intercourse in 2003.

This line of reasoning makes no sense at all. I could not find any statistics to prove or disprove the connection between vibrator use/disuse and incest rates or rates of any other non-traditional sexual practices for that matter. Regardless, there are more appropriate legal grounds for prohibiting incest and bigamy than tying it to the trade in French ticklers. Much more to the point: the state has no legitimate interest in what you are using in the bedroom. The other side of this slippery slope argument ends with a ban on the sale of bananas and cucumbers.

Point one: Since the 1965 ruling in Griswald v. Connecticut, the courts have generally held that Americans generally have the right of privacy in the bedroom. The current understanding is that the right to privacy is not absolute, but the government needs to have a pretty damned good reason to control what you do in your own home. We're talking about things like rape, child abuse, domestic violence and not whether or not you use a little something extra alone or with a partner.

Point two: Obviously, there are limits to those privacy rights, but there is a definite difference between protecting children from predators and state-sponsored prudishness.

Point three: Aren’t there more important things going on in Texas, some of which might actually require the attention of the state’s attorney general?

Finally, in one of those interesting little quirks of legalese, the Texas law does have an exception for "law enforcement" uses. That must mean that the cops may buy and own handcuffs, but you cannot.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Update on Wikileaks

Just a quick update today. A federal judge in California has reversed his decision to restrict access to A Swiss bank that was caught up in some shady dealings is involved in a court case in California (even though the alleged dealings took place in the Cayman Islands, outside of U.S. jurisdiction.) Documents posted on the site detailed some of those dealings and were released by a former bank executive. The bank requested and got a ruling from the judge to block all public access to those leaked documents, even though they were already out there and available.

Here is a telling quote from the New York Times article.

In reversing himself at a hearing here on Friday, Judge White acknowledged that the bank’s request posed serious First Amendment questions and might constitute unjustified prior restraint. He also appeared visibly frustrated that technology might have outrun the law and that, as a result, the court might not be able to rein in information once it had been disclosed online.
Judge White ordered that the site shut down access to the site from its American portal. Too bad for the judge, the site is intentionally accessible from its many overseas sites. The whole point was to circumvent censorship efforts. Read all about it here.

It all seemed pretty pointless at the time. Kudos (I guess) to the judiciary for recognizing a pointless and potentially illegal ruling.


Saturday, March 1, 2008


Who says C-Span never shows anything interesting? Here is a gem I came across tonight. Enjoy.


Worst decision since those recruiting violations

Southern Methodist University, home of the Mustangs, recently accepted the rather dubious honor of hosting W.’s Presidential Library. This comes, of course, over the objections of the faculty and alumni. The president wants to raise $200 million, possibly even from his good friends in Saudi Arabia, to erect a lasting monument to his service as president. I really don’t see the point. The disaster of the last seven years has been permanently etched into my brain. I guess the rationale is that we need to leave a primer to future generations on how NOT to run a country.

There are two problems going on here. The first is that our fearless leader is too afraid to disclose where exactly the money is coming from. Watch it:

With all due respect (both modicums) Mr. President, the appropriate response to an informal freedom of information request is not, “nice try." How do we know that you and your team are not soliciting donations in return for your good graces and favors during the rest of your lame duck term?

The second problem is that, thanks to a law that was passed by congress an executive order that W. signed in those scary days after 9/11, W.’s library might not even contain all of the records of his presidency. Oh, and guess which one of our favorite unemployed Bushites is advising on this thing. So much for leaving a legacy for our posterity from which to learn.

Oh, and that $200 million. here is a partial list of what that amount could cover:

Efforts to clean up brownfields in Connecticut
Projected deficit in foreign aid created by increases in food prices
The costs of new school construction in Santa Ana, Calif., thus leaving no child behind
Damage to Ecuadorian crops caused by flooding
All of the new development in Niagara Falls last year
Bangelina's Prenup

At least SMU has a heckuva football team…

Maybe this will set precedent at SMU: the athletics department could redact all of those football records since the 1988 season.

Remember 9-11-01 and plan for 1-20-09.


Open Challenge

After I published “Dispatches from ESS: What Liberal Media?” I decided to do a little self criticism. I was managing editor of the Wellsboro Gazette during the same time frame as we studied in another newspaper (February, 2003). My next project will be a similar analysis focusing on the media outlet for which I was responsible.

Obviously, I am not the most qualified person to judge my own work (but I’m going to try anyway). So, I invite any one out there to review the newspapers that I helped publish. Here are links to .pdf files of all of the Wellsboro Gazettes between Jan. 29, 2003 and April 2, 2003. The paper is published on Wednesdays.

Jan. 29, 2003
Feb. 5, 2003
Feb. 12, 2003
Feb. 19, 2003
Feb.26, 2003
March 5, 2003
March 12, 2003
March 19, 2003
March 26, 2003
April 2, 2003

I have provided a greater time frame than I actually studied in the other paper. This is primarily because the paper had noteworthy events reported well after the actual invasion of Iraq.

If the results show that I caught the war fever as well, I will freely admit it with no excuses…but I am really hoping I don’t have to.


Many thanks to the Green Free Library for creating and maintaining this free site.