Thursday, December 27, 2007

Congressional Year In Review

I've been moving across country this whole month, so that's why I haven't posted. So if anyone's still reading, here's some random ramblings that have been swimming about my head recently...

David Broder (along with, apparently, the rest of the country) is whining about how Congress got nothing done this past year. Pelosi, for her part, is bragging about how many bills passed. They're both missing the point. Honestly, there are about three or four bills per year that most Americans care about. I count five this year, and I'd say Congress did well on three out of those.

First, the screwups. They failed horribly on the appropriations bill, refusing to drag out the battle over Iraq funding for as long as possible and then sending in a bill stuffed with more pork than a Jimmy Dean sausage, and a military approprations bill which paid off more contractors than even the President wanted. (Rural PA's John Murtha (D) and St. Petersburg, FL's Bill Young - that's your congressman, Mike - are responsible for the most abuse here. It's a bipartisan screwing.) The ethics reforms passed earlier in the year are toothless. The disclosure requirement for earmarks actually, in my mind, increases the incentive for House members to get their pet projects approved - voters function on the assumption that earmarks are wasteful and unnecessary unless the money's coming to their district.

But there were successes. They got the SCHIP expansion through, but Bush vetoed it and you can't blame Congress for Bush's intransigence. They passed a minimum wage increase, which I'm of two minds about but which a vast majority of Americans support.

And they got through a decent - if not perfect - energy bill. They could have gotten rid of the @$#@! corn ethanol subsidies (which, according to the Economist, are driving up my beer prices) and begun approving importation of sugar-based ethanol from Brazil. Right now, ethanol from corn barely produces more energy than it uses, and cellulosic ethanol - which the bill wants to be the source of a significant amount of our ethanol in 20 years - uses more energy than it produces at this point. I'd be a fan of sinking a bunch of research dollars into making ethanol production more efficient, but I don't think we ought to be mandating and subsidizing a process that isn't to the point of viability yet. (In the long run, if the process is made more viable via research, the market would make subsidies pointless. But that assumes that our farm policies make sense. Which they don't.) I would also like to see subsidies for oil and gas production disappear, which would raise gas prices a bit but my car gets 46 MPG so screw y'all.

The biggest part of the bill is the increased CAFE standards, which most people outside of Detroit - myself included - seem to like. Detroit seems stuck in the "any color you want as long as it's black" mentality with respect to fuel economy - they produce a bunch of gas-guzzlers and basically force Americans to buy them. Toyota and Honda produce hybrids, but they don't have the production capacity that GM, Ford, and Chrysler have. All the American automakers are losing business to the lighter, greener cars produced by their foreign rivals - the new CAFE standards may actually save their skins if they stop bitching long enough to design more fuel-efficient cars.

Anyway, the best legacy of this Congressional session is that they didn't really do anything colossally stupid. That's a victory, for Congress. The closest they came was that they, in a fit of Christian insecurity, passed a bill bragging about how important Christianity is. I'd like to ask my Christian readers this: why are some Christians so insecure? Seriously, y'all are 88% of the population, there are churches and crosses and little fish thingies everywhere, there are Christian Bibles in every hotel room, politicians fall all over themselves to out-Jesus each other, we have a bunch of Christian-based legislation such as the online gambling ban and Utah's liquor laws, the phrase "In God we trust" piggybacks on all our currency and we all know what God the 1954 Congress was referring to when they put it there, and yet some Christians still feel the need to jump around like an eight-year-old who thinks he's being ignored, shouting, "Hey, look at me! I'm important!" I don't get it.

Anyway, merry belated Christmas. And my thoughts are with the people of Pakistan, who lost their best hope for democracy today. Bhutto wasn't perfect, but she was probably the only candidate out there who could have led a peaceful transition away from Musharraf's autocratic, Islamist-enabling regime. I sincerely hope that Pakistan doesn't devolve into civil war from here... but I'm not holding out too much hope.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Bowl Madness

Here's a transcendently awesome college football playoff simulator from I call it "transcendently awesome" because every time I ran the simulator - with four different ranking schemes - Virginia Tech won.

One beef I had - only eight conference champions were represented; the C-USA, MAC, and Sun Belt champions were left out. I think that, like March Madness, the conference champs need to be represented over mediocre BCS conference teams like Illinois.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Those Aren't Spirit Fingers...

There are some pretty bizarre baby products out there, but this one takes the cake.

One wonders if they sell a spectrum of pillowcases to match Mommy's or Daddy's actual skin color.

Going Bowling

The "this season is crazy" theme has been done to death. Let me say this instead: this was the second most awesome regular season I have ever witnessed. The best, of course, was 2004, where we had six undefeated teams going into the bowls and two one-loss teams who fell only to the undefeateds. Either way, the BCS gets screwed up whenever one of the following scenarios occurs: when there is a glut of excellence (like in 2004) or when all the teams are seriously flawed (like this year).

Anyway, on to the schedule...

Poinsettia: Utah (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4). Utah was using the spread offense before most of the country. Navy is still using a goofy 50's-style option offense. That makes this game a somewhat intriguing matchup even if you're not a Utes fan (like me). Pick: Utah

New Orleans: Memphis (7-5) vs. Florida Atlantic (7-5, Sun Belt champs). Fans of ESPN's Bottom 10 will appreciate that both a F_U school and a Directional Michigan school (MAC champions Central Michigan) made the postseason. Pick: FAU

Papa John's: Southern Miss (7-5) vs. Cincinnati (9-3). I love a season where it seems perfectly reasonable to put Conference USA's 6th team against the Big East's 3rd. Pick: Cincy

New Mexico: Nevada (6-6) vs. New Mexico (8-4). You gotta love those bowls that exist for the sole purpose of getting the hometown team into a bowl, sorta like what the Boise-based Humanitarian Bowl was before both it and BSU moved on to greener pastures. Pick: New Mexico

Las Vegas: UCLA (6-6) vs. #17 Brigham Young (10-2, MWC champs). Blowout alert. Incidentally, when did the Las Vegas bowl begin resembling a major bowl? Pick: BYU

Hawaii: #24 Boise State (10-2) vs. East Carolina (7-5). Bobby Henderson (Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster founder) famously blamed global warming on a decline of pirates. I'd say that this matchup is exactly the kind of cruelty to Pirates that Henderson warned about. Pick: BSU

Motor City: Purdue (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (8-5, MAC champs). I know nothing about either of these teams. Screw it, I'm flipping a coin. Pick: Purdue

Holiday: #11 Arizona State (10-2) vs. #17 Texas (9-3). I would have loved to see Texas get matched up with Hawaii - that way we could have two quarterbacks named "Colt" play each other. Pick: ASU

Champs Sports: #14 Boston College (10-3) vs. Michigan State (7-5). BC was a win away from playing in the BCS, and now they're in the Champs Sports Bowl? College football is a cruel, cruel world. Pick: BC

Texas: Texas Christian (7-5) vs. Houston (8-4). Wow, this bowl is appropriately named. TCU is one of the two teams I have seen play live, and I was unimpressed. Of course, that could be because they were playing current #17 BYU in Provo. Pick: TCU

Emerald: Maryland (6-6) vs. Oregon State (8-4). Terrapins and Beavers - it's the Least Intimidating Mascot Bowl! Winner gets to face either the Oregon Ducks or the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs! Anyway, I think the Emerald Bowl organizers picked the wrong 6-6 team - they should have gone with South Carolina. Pick: Oregon State

Meineke: #25 Connecticut (9-3) vs. Wake Forest (8-4). I wonder how many people call up the Bank of America Stadium's ticket office and say "I'm NOT gonna pay a lot for this ticket!" Anyway, UConn coach Jim Calhoun is gonna have to come up with a way of stopping Wake forward James Johnson if they want to... wait, this is a football game? Pick: UConn

Liberty: Central Florida (10-3, C-USA champs) vs. Mississippi State (7-5). Notre Dame fans, answer me this: who would you rather have coaching now, resume stretcher and UCF program savior George O'Leary? Or Charlie "3-9" Weis? Pick: UCF

Alamo: Penn State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5). I think I trust a coach who's been with his program since the Cretaceous Era over some guy hired a month before the game. Pick: Penn State

Independence: Alabama (6-6) vs. Colorado (6-6). Remember when this bowl used to have Poulan Weed Eater as its title sponsor? PetroSun just doesn't have the same ring. Pick: Colorado

Armed Forces: California (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3). Wow, Cal just fell off a cliff after beating Oregon, didn't they? I kind of feel sorry for DeSean Jackson - I wonder what kind of numbers he'd be putting up if he didn't have Nate Longshore as his QB... Pick: Air Force

Humanitarian: Georgia Tech (7-5) vs. Fresno State (8-4). The only relevant question for this game: who knows how to play football on a ridiculous blue field? Pick: Fresno State

Sun: Oregon (8-4) vs. #21 South Florida (9-3). I don't know what's more amazing - the extent to which both of these teams yakked away their title hopes or the fact that the words "South Florida" and "title hopes" could be mentioned in the same sentence with a straight face. Anyway, Oregon is the quintessential one-man team, and that one man is injured. Pick: USF

Music City: Kentucky (7-5) vs. Florida State (7-5). FSU is one of five Florida teams to make the postseason. Miami (5-7) is not among them. What the hell is going on? Anyway, I looked at this matchup and said, "Oh, this won't be close, Kentucky will kill 'em." It's a bizarre season, folks. Pick: Kentucky

Copper/Insight: Indiana (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6). In this crazy, crazy season, we only know two things for sure: Mike Gundy is a man. He's 40. So go after him. Pick: Indiana

Peach/Chick-fil-A: #15 Clemson (9-3) vs. #23 Auburn (8-4). I think these two teams are the same - wildly inconsistent teams nicknamed "Tigers." I can't pick this. Anyway, the winner of this game will be determined not by the team with more points after 60 minutes but by which team can eat mor chikin. Pick: Auburn

Hall of Fame/Outback: #16 Tennessee (9-4) vs. #18 Wisconsin (9-3). You can't spell "Outback" without UT either. Pick: Wisconsin

Cotton: #6 Missouri (11-2) vs. Arkansas (8-4). Missouri risks the "we got hosed" letdown that kills pretty much every team that feels like they got the shaft from the BCS committee (see Michigan last year, Cal the year before that). But they're facing a headless horseman in Arkansas. Pick: Missouri

Gator: Texas Tech (8-4) vs. #20 Virginia (9-3). Can a team that lost to Wyoming stop the Mike Leach Express? I don't see Virginia putting up 50 points, which you almost have to do if you play the Red Raiders. Pick: Texas Tech

Citrus/Capital One: Michigan (8-4) vs. #12 Florida (9-3). A coachless team that lost to Appalachian State faces a talented team with a Heisman winner playing a two hour drive from home? Stranger things have happened, but I just don't see it. Pick: Florida

International: Rutgers (7-5) vs. Ball State (7-5). Heh heh... I said "ball." Pick: Rutgers

GMAC: Bowling Green (8-4) vs. Tulsa (9-4). Do you trust the team that can't beat Ohio? Or the team that can't beat UTEP? Pick: Tulsa

Rose: #7 Southern California (10-2, Pac-10 champs) vs. #13 Illinois (9-3). Illinois beat Ohio State and lost to Iowa. USC beat Arizona State and lost to Stanford. Welcome to the 2007 college football season, folks. Pick: USC

Sugar: #5 Georgia (10-2) vs. #10 Hawaii (12-0, WAC champs). The unstoppable force (Hawaii's run-and-shoot offense) meets the immovable object (Georgia's defense). I think Knowshon Moreno can eat enough clock to keep Colt Brennan off the field and keep Hawaii's scoring down. Pick: Georgia

Orange: #3 Virginia Tech (11-2, ACC champs) vs. #8 Kansas (11-1). Dude, Orange Bowl committee - you picked the wrong Big 12 team. VT-Mizzou would actually be interesting. I just don't see Kansas handling VT. They sure can beat up on Nebraska though. Also worth noting: the computers picked Virginia Tech as their #1 over an LSU team that destroyed them early in the year. This amuses me. Pick: VT

Fiesta: #4 Oklahoma (11-2, Big 12 champs) vs. #9 West Virginia (10-2, Big East champs). A lot of these season-ending choke jobs have been brought on by star quarterbacks getting injured - Oregon and both of these teams can reasonably blame a poorly-timed injury for their collapses. But Oklahoma gagged against a good team on the road. West Virginia? No such excuse. Pick: Oklahoma

National Championship: #1 Ohio State (11-1, Big Ten champs) vs. #2 LSU (11-2, SEC champs). For some reason, I always get LSU DT Glenn Dorsey and '40s Big Band leader Tommy Dorsey mixed up. Also former Miami QB Ken Dorsey. And I live on Dorsey Lane. Anyway, LSU's defense hasn't been the same since Dorsey's tailbone injury. Ohio State isn't that good, but they're good enough to be the champs... this year. Now we can start the next argument - is the winner of this game the worst college football champion ever? Pick: Ohio State

Friday, December 07, 2007

Infamy Revisited

Sixty-six years ago today, imperialist Japanese bombs began to rain down upon Pearl Harbor, Hawaii... so let's take a moment to remember.

I have nothing to add, really.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

We've Got The American Jesus

My thoughts on Romney's big speech today:

It's absolutely pathetic that in this day and age, some people could withhold their vote from someone because of their religious beliefs. I am ashamed to share a country with the sort of jackasses that would do so. Perhaps they should read the Constitution - "no religious test shall be applied" to anyone running for office. This goes for Mormons, mainstream Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists... anybody. If the government can't apply such a test, we as voters shouldn't either. End of story.

There are plenty of other reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney - his religion should not be one of them. So let's all just drop the subject and move on, shall we?

Update: The Post editorial board drives a truck through a gaping hole in Romney's actual speech. Given that, in my experience, atheists tend to be among the most passionate supporters of liberty, the idea that "freedom requires religion" is particularly ridiculous. As is the idea that "religion requires freedom." Insert your favorite historical example here. That one actually made me laugh out loud when I heard it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Weapons of Mass Distraction

You know those nuclear weapons that Iran is trying to get? The ones that will immediately cause Armageddon 2.0 if they're realized? Well, apparently, they're about as real as those Iraqi ones from a few years back. There is some ambiguity in the report - it suggests that Tehran continues to enrich uranium, and could start a weapons program if it really wanted to - but it's clear that the "evidence" of a nuclear program was overblown. Furthermore, even if Iran started reconsituting its program tomorrow, it couldn't get nukes before the A-Train leaves the station.

Regardless of what our president is saying, this constitues a significant development in our relationship with Iran. You know the environment has changed when even right-winger Robert Kagan thinks we should start talking. And David Ignatius points out that the NIE's most significant finding is that Iran doesn't act irrationally. We just have to understand what's driving their decision-making.

But I do think there is something telling in the responses of the two leaders here. First, President Bush is saying that Iran has to tell the world what the hell's going on. It's not Iran's nukes that are cause for consternation - it's their secrecy. The reasons behind this response are obvious - for the past year or so, we've been beating a bellicose drum on a premise that just turned to vapor. Bush is now forced to climb down, and he wants to do so carefully, thinking that the slower he relieves pressure, the less face he loses. To me, this is like pulling the Band-Aid off slowly. Seems to me that if he just admits that we were operating on a faulty premise and that there are new ground rules to the debate, he'll take an immediate hit and recover more quickly.

Second, Ahmadinejad is claiming victory. It's been my experience that leaders claim victory for two reasons. First, if there was an actual victory. Second, if an event occurs that could potentially weaken their country's standing in the world. This is clearly not the first scenario - Iran did nothing here. Certainly A-Train isn't above knife-twisting on Bush, but there's something deeper to this declaration of "victory." Iran definitely sees itself as having had something to lose.

Picture, if you will, two children on a playground. (Almost any diplomatic incident can be explained by an analogy starting with that sentence.) For simplicity's sake, we'll call the children Iran and America. Iran is holding his hand behind his back. America thinks that Iran might have a Super-Soaker back there. America doesn't know - he can't see behind Iran's back. So he starts saying things like "give me your Super-Soaker, kid, or I'll beat the crap out of you, I'm serious." Now imagine some other kid comes along and says to Iran, "dude, why are you holding your sippy-cup behind your back like that?" Doesn't that kind of deflate Iran? I mean, the entire basis of Iran's power trip was that there might be a Super-Soaker hidden back there. Certainty of the Soaker's existence would have caused a beatdown of epic proportions, but if America is sure that he could beat up on Iran without really getting wet, it kind of turns Iran into just another freak.

My point is this: expect some negotiations soon. But don't expect Iran to get everything it wants, or even a good portion of what it wants - it's clearly not negotiating from strength here. The only good bargaining chip Iran had was its nuclear program, and that just got revealed for the vapor that it is.

Get Yer Hanukkah Ham Here

Happy Hanukkah. I'll spare y'all the rant on how Hanukkah is extremely overrated and instead post this link to some incredibly awesome pictures taken in a grocery store in Manhattan.

It reminds me of the time I saw a Whole Foods proudly advertising party platters for Rosh Hashanah... and Yom Kippur.

Kids' Meal

Most kids have grand ideas about what they want to be when they grow up, and most parents try to indulge them. For example, if a kid wants to be an astronaut, you'd get them a toy rocket or space stuff. Or if your kid wants to be a cop, you get them a badge and (depending on your view of such things) a toy gun.

Of course, if you or your kid has somewhat lower expectations, there's always this.

My wife almost fell off the couch laughing when she saw this, by the way.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

...And That Will Be All For Romney

Until November 28, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was the leading Republican candidate on my list. Some of his shenanigans at the debate on Wednesday took him out of first place for me. He still had a chance to regain my support, but any chance he had of that went out the window when I read this piece by Clinton-era negotiator Mansoor Ijaz in the Christian Science Monitor, in which Romney said the following:
Based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.

OK, let's dissect everything that is wrong with this statement. First, Romney has the bizarre idea that a president's Cabinet nominations ought to be decided by the proportion of a nominee's racial, ethnic, or religious group. Diversity is good, but it's not an exact science and keeping proportions right never should preclude the choice of qualified candidates. (And isn't it usually the Republicans who make this point?). Second, since when did being a member of a small community eliminate you from consideration for a job? Sorry, you can't work here, your religious community is too small? Should we use this argument against Romney, too, since his religious community constitues less than 2% of Americans? Third, the most qualified Republican candidate for Secretary of State right now is probably U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad - a Muslim. Should he be rejected for his religious beliefs (which, in a diplomatic position, could be a credit when we're trying to negotiate with Muslim nations)?

Put more succinctly, what the heck is Romney trying to get at here? Is he saying that he'll only nominate a Muslim if he has to, and he doesn't feel like he has to, so he won't? If so, this is identity politics at its absolute worst. As a member of a historically kicked-around religious group, Romney should know better than to exclude someone based on their religion.

Is Romney saying he wouldn't nominate a Muslim because of a possible association with the crazy-bastard jihadists? I doubt it, since he did say Muslims could serve in his administration. But if so, it's proof that he doesn't understand the difference between a Muslim and a radical Muslim, and thus he's a bigger foreign-policy idiot than anyone thought.

I hope none of this is true. I hope that Romney simply misinterpreted Ijaz's question - maybe Romney thought the question was "would you feel obligated to nominate a Muslim" instead of "would you nominate a qualified Muslim." If so, then he's back in my mediocre graces. But he needs to explain himself - and soon - before this really blows up in his face.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Another Woodhead's Law

School ranking lists are complete crap, unless a school you attended happens to be No. 1.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Kerr Rental

One of my favorite moments from last night's debate was when retired Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr, a gay man, upbraided the Republican candidates for assuming American soldiers weren't professional enough to accept gay and lesbian soldiers in their units. I jokingly asked whether Kerr could run for president.

Turns out he's not running himself, but he's helping someone else... Hillary Clinton.

Anderson Cooper's taking a lot of heat for allowing this guy to ask a question, but I'm okay with it (just as I'd be okay with a Republican asking a question at a Dem debate). The candidates are running for president of the entire country, not just of one party. They need to be able to answer to people from all parts of the political spectrum.

Though I think it's funny that no one noticed Kerr's affiliation before the debate.

Republican Debate Running Diary

I give up.

For some time now, I’ve been trying to fight the idea of politics as entertainment. It cheapens the debate, it trivializes the political process, whatever… but I give up. Politics isn’t just a form of entertainment – it’s the best form of entertainment we have outside the sports world. And when you’re faced with a debate with a goofy format (a bunch of YouTube questions) and a crop of candidates that I’m probably not voting for next November (unless something really bizarre happens and Kucinich gets the Democratic nomination, followed by Romney renouncing torture), well, there’s nothing you can do but enjoy the ride.

So with apologies to ESPN’s Bill Simmons, whose sports event running diaries are sublimely awesome, I’m doing the same for the Republican debate tonight.

All times Eastern, since my computer is convinced that it’s in the Eastern time zone even though I’m in Arizona.

7:57: Auspicious beginning to the debate – some talking head on CNN expects the debate to be “feisty, entertaining, and maybe a bit educational.” This is going to be awesome.

7:58: Talking head: “If Billiam the Snowman doesn’t show up, I’ll be disappointed.” So we’ve come from the Lincoln-Douglas debates to questions asked by snowmen. Ain’t that America…

8:00: Talking head: “After the debate, the party keeps on going!” Oh boy! Will there be a pinata? In other news, Anderson Cooper’s moderating… and he immediately panders to the audience, saying that Republicans submitted more questions than the Dems. Journalistic integrity at its finest.

8:02: Oh, so Charlie Crist’s name is pronounced “krist,” not Christ. Also, he said “duty” and I thought “doody.” Where is my mind?

8:03: I think the introductions would go a whole lot better if we had them come out basketball-style and bump chests with one another, though Thompson’s chest-bump would probably knock Paul on his ass. And I love how, like, six people applauded Tancredo. That’s gotta hurt. Also, I note that Anderson Cooper’s cheer dwarfed that of the other candidates. Cooper ’08!

8:05: Talking head: “lot of elbows thrown.” I hope they have bandages.

8:09: The first video – it’s country music! Oh dear God, can you make this any more stereotypical? Also, this guy thinks the Dems have one candidate? Actually, this song is kind of awesome. He managed to make fun of everyone, which I as a former humorist appreciate.

8:11: Giuliani gets the sanctuary city question. Rudy points out that kids of undocumented workers would be on the streets if not for city-funded education. Good point. Oh, what the hell is a “virtual fence?”

8:13: Giuliani calls Romney on employing illegals, Romney points out that the homeowner can’t confront anyone with a funny accent who a company hired to work on his property. Romney, surprisingly civil.

8:15: Wow, Cooper can’t get Giuliani to shut up. Everybody sing it with me: “Rudolph the red-faced mayor…”

8:17: Question: will you pledge to veto “amnesty”? What BS. I think its interesting how doling out a punishment that fits the crime in question (in this case, crossing the border illegally or overstaying your visa) become “amnesty.” Drop it. Seriously.

8:20: McCain actually brings up the humanity of the immigrants. Shocking. I think I see Tancredo over there marveling at the idea that illegal immigrants are humans too.

8:23: Uh-oh, here comes Tancredo – and he pulls the Joe Biden “you never let me talk” line. I think Joe’s suing for plaigiarism now. Notice that he blames immigration for our problems – not just illegal immigration, mind you, but immigration in general. Apparently it’s hard for a mass immigrant movement to assimilate. One might want to bring that up with his Italian immigrant grandparents.

8:25: Hunter: “I built the border fence in San Diego.” And Gore invented the Internet.

8:26: Huckabee’s actually being humane to immigrant kids, saying they shouldn’t be punished for their parents breaking the law, and that kids of illegals who went to school in-state should be treated like in-state students. Surprisingly humane. Of course, this goes right through Romney’s brain.

8:27: Romney whips out the L-word! Romney apparently doesn’t realize that the kids in question didn’t get something better than the rest of the students, and Huckabee calls him on it. Was Romney even listening? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

8:31: Paul’s first question is about a wacky North American Union conspiracy theory. This is basically the Kucinich UFO question. Paul deserves better. Oh, and how did this libertarian dude get so protectionist?

8:33: The national debt comes up. McCain wants to veto pork bills, which, since he won’t have the line-item veto, will basically shut down the government. Awesome. Romney talks about a “fundamental change” in the way Washington works… of course, that’s worked so well for outsider candidates in the past. Giuliani tells us we shouldn’t replace retiring workers, and that we should cut failing programs. Not bad ideas, really.

8:37: Question: what would you cut? Thompson dodges. Ron Paul, predictably, plays hatchet man, cutting Education, Energy, DHS… yeah, good luck with that. Huckabee wants to replace the IRS with a sales tax.

8:40: A fair-tax question from Uncle Sam wanders into the Iraq war when McCain wants to respond to a Paul crack about intervention costing us money. Uh-oh. McCain is talking about how isolationism caused WWII. Is he gonna Godwin? Is he gonna Godwin?

8:41: GODWIN!!!!!!! Our isolationism allowed Hitler to come to power! Ron Paul will cause the second Holocaust! Pictures at 11!

8:43: Cooper rebukes McCain for bringing up Iraq, but allows Paul to respond. Um… Paul points out the difference between non-interventionist and isolationist, which needs to be cleared up, and we hear boos. Awesome. Someone points out some definitional confusion and gets booed for it. Republicans – they’re FANtastic.

8:44: Only McCain and (oddly enough) Hunter refuse to pledge to not raise taxes, which means that they actually are fiscally responsible and recognize the possibility of an emergency. Shame on Tancredo and Huckabee for making promises they might not be able to keep.

8:45: Next question is on farm subsidies. Why don’t the Democrats get questions like this? Of course the Republican debate is going to be more substantive – the questions they get don’t suck! Anyway, no one wants to cut subsidies, citing competition from overseas… and any pretension to “small government conservatism” the Republican Party ever had just went out the window.

8:49: Ooh, campaign videos. Tancredo first. I don’t think it said anything.

8:52: Thompson’s video. Isn’t that Romney’s voice? Now Huckabee’s? Where’s Fred? After it’s over, Anderson Cooper asks, “what’s up with that?” Note to Fred – any time you do something that induces a “what’s up with that,” you probably screwed up.

8:58: McCain’s video consists entirely of a cheap shot at Hillary Clinton involving Woodstock. You stay classy, John.

8:59: Next question starts with someone shooting crap. Sweet. He asks about gun control, then cocks his gun, and says you can answer however you like. Holy crap, that was awesome. God, I love this country… and Duncan Hunter chastises him for his safety technique. Not, say, for the fact that he’s issuing a half-assed threat to anyone who likes gun control, but for the fact that he’s not doing it safely.

9:00: Giuliani on guns: “Government can impose reasonable regulations.” People boo! Mike – leave Pinellas County. Now. Before you get shot.

9:04: Question about candidates’ personal gun collection. Ah, America.

9:06: Question about black on black crime – and Romney turns it into “need a mom and dad” thing. According to Romney, not having a mom and dad is the root of all crime… not, say, poverty, or desperation, or mental weirdness. Glad you cleared that up for us.

9:08: And here comes the abortion. I’m turning my TV off now.

9:10: Thompson: overturning Roe is our “#1 focus.” Above, say, Iraq?

9:12: Giuliani says he wouldn’t sign a federal abortion ban. He’s perfectly okay with taking drug policy away from the states, but not abortion policy. Romney too. Selective federalism appears to be the latest fad. At least Paul would kick both back to the states.

9:15: Huckabee: “Jesus was too smart to run for public office.” Amen, brother.

9:16: Question: Do you believe every word of Bible? Apparently that tells this guy “all we need to know” about the candidate. Is this a political debate or a theology discussion?

9:18: If there is a God, this amateur (save Huckabee) theology discussion is going to end now.

9:19: Cut to Romney’s video. Lo, we are delivered.

9:23: Giuliani’s video includes King Kong and claims credit for reduced snowfall. That was sublimely awesome. And it didn’t mention 9/11.

9:23: Question: How to repair the American image in Muslim world? Giuliani’s first response – remain on offense against terrorism. Giuliani – completely ignoring the effect of rhetoric, since 1887.

9:24: OK, wait a second, Rudolph. Democrats “put their head in sand” because they don’t mention “Islamic” when they talk about terrorists? Uh, terrorists aren’t just Muslims, dumbass. Remember Timothy McVeigh? And do you really have to mention that the al-Qaeda terrorists are Islamists at every turn? I think we all know that by now.

9:27: Romney says he won’t describe specific interrogation techniques because it’s not wise. Why? I don’t get it… Oh, and then he says that people accused of terrorism shouldn’t be in our legal system, and then jabs at the very honorable folks over at the ACLU. That sound you heard was Romney dropping like a rock in my esteem. McCain proceeds to deal the obvious smackdown, taking the moral high road. I like him now.

9:32: A questioner thinks that a permanent commitment in Iraq will be a “deterrent to troublemakers.” Yeah, it deterred the hell out of Iran, didn’t it? Ooh, and Paul can’t identify the Kurds. He calls them the “people in the north.” Was that a senior moment? He points out that you can achieve in peace what you can’t achieve in war, which is actually logical.

9:34: McCain blames public opinion for the loss in ‘Nam. Dumbass. You just lost any good will the torture thing got you. Paul points out that occupation of a country is a reason that people turn to terrorism. Idiots who don’t understand the truth of that statement boo. You can’t boo facts! Stop it!

9:38: Giuliani brags about keeping Haitian refugees out of Florida. Vote for me! I helped precipitate a humanitarian crisis! Also he claims he reduced abortions. And Hunter built the fence. And Gore invented the Internet.

9:42: Hunter’s video: “He built the border fence. He saved the veterans’ memorial! He leaps tall buildings in a single bound!”

9:46: I look up at Huckabee’s video and the first thing I see are the words “Christian leader.” Mike Huckabee, running for president of 88% of the country.

9:47: Question: A gay vet, who sounds like Marge’s sister, asks why he’s not fit for service. This oughta be interesting. Here’s Hunter: openly gay people are bad for unit cohesion. How? What sense does this make? He mentions that Israel lets gays serves, but says that American soldiers are different because they have “Judeo-Christian” values. Because Israelis don’t have Jewish values, or anything. Good one there, Duncan. Huckabee parrots. Romney thinks that because we’re in a war we can’t let gays in. Apparently gay soldiers are too busy decorating the barracks to fight. You stay classy, Mitchell.

9:50: The vet is in the audience, and says Americans are professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians. Can this guy run for President?

9:51: McCain: “don’t ask, don’t tell” is working. Unless you need Arabic translators.

9:53: Thompson on Social Security: We need to protect your generation from our generation. My wife: “By shooting yourselves?” None of the candidates say anything substantive.

9:56: Question: Who wants to send someone to Mars? This question exists for the sole reason that someone will talk about sending Hillary Clinton to Mars. Huckabee obliges. Also, why do none of the Republicans, with the exception of McCain, refer to Senator Clinton by anything other than her first name? If they started making references to “Barack,” or if the Dems started invoking “Rudy,” don’t you think they’d be ripped for their lack of respect?

10:01: Holy shit! It’s a rebel flag! And he’s asking a question about it! And it directly followed the question on how black people don’t vote Republican! You go, CNN! Thompson comes out against the flag. And he’s from Tennessee! Having lived in Nashville for four years while going to school, I’m now wondering how he got elected down there.

10:03: Paul’s video. I love how he talked foreign policy and snuck small government in there so no one would notice it.

10:07: Paul, on one of his rallies: “We had blacks, we had Hispanics…” Maybe one of them was his Official Black Friend that shields you from claims of racism.

10:09: Mercifully, the last question, and it’s aimed at Giuliani… “Why did you root for the Red Sox?” That’s our nation's political debate, kids.


And if you want a Banditos Theorem proof, look no further than this article that reveals some of the rumors on the Interwebs about Obama.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Naptown Races

Annapolis, one of ONAF's favorite cities, played host to a conference involving Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and a bunch of people from 38 other nations, including Syria and Saudi Arabia. Naturally, not much concrete was accomplished aside from a vague agreement to start the "road map" up again.

Problem is that this is even less feasible than it was back in '03 when the "road map" was first implemented. The first step calls for simultaneous trust-building exercises conducted by the Israelis and the PA. The first step involves Israel freezing settlements in the West Bank while the PA targets anti-Israel militants. But Israel insisted before that settlements wouldn't be frozen until the PA moved, and vice versa. (Apparently, neither Hebrew nor Arabic has a word for "simultaneous.") Furthermore, a good many of the settlements that go up in the West Bank go up outside the law, and the incompetent PA can't pursue Hamas' militants in Gaza, and they're the worst sort. This impasse will take a while to get past, especially when the leaders who are supposed to take these bold steps have questionable levels of support among their people.

But there are good things that can come from this meeting. First, Hamas is criticizing it, which can only mean good things. Second, it means that the lines of communication between Israel, the PA, and most of the Arab world will remain open well into the future.

We can't underestimate the importance of this last point. Remember that during the Cold War, a constant line of communication was kept open between the Kremlin and Washington, with the result being that several near-wars between the US and Russia were averted (Cuban missile crisis, for example). A similar line of communication between the Palestinian president and the Israeli PM would help avert an all-out intifada like the one we saw at the beginning of the decade. And contact between Israel and the Arab states would be a good fall-back should direct communication fail.

Peace isn't going to come anytime soon, not with these leaders, and not with this big of a gap between the two sides. But constant communication can keep the tension at a low boil until the respective leaders can gather the strength to make real progress.


Finally, it's difficult to explain to a non-sports fan what being a fan of a football team means. This sounds hokey, but it's almost as if the team becomes family to you. It means letting a group of 44 guys into your home every autumn week for a few hours, really, honestly caring that they do well, and sharing their joy and their pain throughout the season. You've never met them, and probably never will, but a very small part of your heart is with them.

So a moment of blog silence, please, for the recently passed member of our Washington Redskins family, Sean Taylor. I never met Sean, I didn't know his family, but I let him into my home every Sunday when the TV in my area showed the 'Skins game. The hearts of all 'Skins Nation, and indeed football fans everywhere, are with Sean's family now.

And a note to Reed Doughty, who will probably be taking the field as starting safety against the Bills on Sunday: knock the crap out of Lee Evans just once. For Sean.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Marriage: Not Just For Married Couples Anymore

This column makes a startling amount of sense, although it does make a lot of marriage rights subject to some complicated case law. It also makes alimony and child support a little bit more challenging to dole out. But the basic idea is a good one.

Funny, though, how the people who would yell loudest about a privatization of marriage are often the same people who tell us how privatization of Social Security, health care, etc. is a good thing...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Aw, Fuck It, I Just Want Your Land

Ben jokes about the "Aw, Fuck It, I Just Want Your Money" tort, but it appears that in Boulder, CO, someone can take your land simply by saying "I want that." (More from a conservative Denver Post columnist here.)

Of course there are limits to the bizarre law, called "adverse possession", used for this land grab. If you want to take someone's land, you have to continually use the land and develop an "emotional attachment" to it. In Colorado, the land in question must have remained untouched for 18 years. Furthermore, no attempt may have been made by the owner to assert their property rights, either by attempting to evict you or by granting you permission to use the land.

I wonder if that'll work with things other than land. If I take someone's diamond ring and they don't notice that it's gone for 18 years, is it mine? If I steal a car, then wait 18 years after the owner stops looking for it, can I claim it?

And lastly, how is this law possibly fair?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Your Giant Load Of Crap Alert

I've seen the government try to pull some bullshit before, but this (via Jacob's del.ici.ous feed) is quite possibly the biggest load of bullshit ever perpetrated by the Pentagon.

This guy pretty much says what I wanted to say, so read it. I don't know whose brilliant idea it was to tell injured servicemen and women to give back their enlistment bonuses, but that person needs to have their ass kicked. Hard.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Blasphemy! Cuff 'em!

This story contains two things that could only happen in Britain - the staging of a musical portraying Jesus as a coprophiliac, and people suing the producers of said musical for "blasphemous libel."

OK, I know Britain's libel laws were apparently written by retarded monkeys high on acid, but blasphemy as a tort? Really? Isn't that the kind of thing that happens in Saudi Arabia? Oh, and you know the same groups that are going to sue this musical for blasphemy would cry "free speech!" if a Muslim group wanted to sue someone who defamed Muhammad.

Why is it that people don't understand that one of the side effects of free speech is that you hear things that offend you? Is this concept that hard to grasp?

ONAF's Infallible Conservation Plan

It's really important to conserve these days. A lot of material, especially, goes into making clothes. And women, as most of you know, have a lot of clothes. So I think women should be encouraged to save the planet by not wearing any clothes.

C'mon, ladies. The fate of the planet rests on your shoulders.

Windbag Contest

Well, the leaves have turned and there's a chill in the air (or at least that's how I imagine it's happening outside Phoenix - here it's still 80 and there aren't any trees), so you know what that means... time for the "war on Christmas."

This year, I'm giving out a prize. I don't know what it is yet, and it probably won't be much since baby stuff is really eating into ONAF's budget. The prize goes to the first person to find "Winter's First Windbag." Winter's First Windbag is the first person to blather on about how "secularists" or "liberals" or "Democrats" or whatever are trying to take Christmas away. Post the incident in the comment thread and I'll judge whether or not it's windbag-worthy.

(Update: McGill Christy responded in record time with an O'Reilly bit. I kinda thought this would be the year someone besides BO became the standard-bearer - I was personally rooting for Glenn Beck - but it's at least not starting out that way. Keep the windbaggery rolling in, though. I think a "war on wars on the war on Christmas" would be awesome.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hang 248, Dude

This is absolutely awesome. The headline - "Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything" - is pretty sweet. And if it turns out to work... wow.

Debate Thoughts, And Other Stray Ruminations

First, a couple of random thoughts:

- I'm on the consumer product recall e-mail list - with a kid on the way you can't be too careful... okay, yes you can, but you know what I mean - I just got a recall notice for a set of birch bark-wrapped candles. Predictably, the birch bark was catching fire. Which makes me wonder: who the hell thought this would be a good idea? Couldn't anyone with half a brain see this problem coming? Why did no one at this company catch this slight design flaw before the candles were produced? And what consumer in their right mind buys a candle wrapped in an obviously flammable substance?


- Speaking of stupid ideas, here's a doozy that was recently dropped by the LAPD. They apparently thought it would be a good idea to "map" the Muslim community in Los Angeles - that is, use census data to find out where in the city the Muslims were living. The LAPD said the effort was for somewhat admirable ends - extending social services to potentially isolated parts of the community in order to bring all Angelenos into the fabric of the city. But - and this is key - they also called it an anti-terrorism strategy.

It appears that the LAPD was surprised to see that news of this program caused a backlash in the Muslim community. Really? Did they expect to launch a program compiling all the Muslims' addresses and keep an eye on their activities, then have the Muslims be cool with it? "Sure, go ahead, you can keep tabs on us like we're all a bunch of criminals, we don't mind," was apparently the response they were expecting. And I guess they thought that civil liberties advocates (like me) would say that this was a wonderful idea that respected everyone's privacy and freedom of religion. If so, the LAPD is dumber than I thought. Not only did they even entertain this cruel and stupid idea, but they had no PR strategy to deal with the imminent backlash. I don't know which is dumber.

- The Dems debated again tonight on CNN. Blitzer's a slightly better moderator than the clueless sledgehammer Russert, but he still tries to play "gotcha" too much. Worse, he has a habit of asking counterfactual questions or forcing people into false dichotomies. Sen. Dodd calling him on the false dichotomy between security and human rights was tied for the best moment of the debate with Sen. Biden's hilarious whining after the Big Three were allowed to snipe at each other for the first twenty minutes. Blitzer also doesn't seem to understand that driver's licenses for immigrants is a STATE issue. The federal government doesn't issue drivers' licenses. After the first twenty minutes, though, the two questioners came up with some pretty good questions. The merit-pay issue was a great one to bring up, and Yucca Mountain has oodles of local appeal for the Vegas crowd.

Anyway, I thought Biden, Gov. Richardson, and Dodd had the most interesting things to say. Kudos to Richardson for being the lone candidate to have the metaphorical cojones to say that human rights was more important than security, as well as being the lone candidate with anything intelligent to say about immigration. Oh, and thanks for supporting veterans' health care and bringing up mental health. Dodd's comment about school-based merit pay was probably the most significant contribution to the national debate on any issue that anyone had. But Dodd lost points by trying to hamhandedly defend Musharraf by saying that democracy in Pakistan might lead to a jihadist regime. (Earth to Dodd - Pakistan's radical Islamists have roughly the same approval rating as Ehud Olmert in Israel right now.) And Biden's rant about enforcing the existing trade agreement with China was a good point that no one else had the knowledge to make, and he made good points on pretty much every other issue.

Of the Big Three, Sen. Obama did best, actually revealing policy stances and occasionally making interesting points. This was the first time I've ever listened to Obama and said, "you know, he might know what he's talking about." Sen. Clinton didn't stand out, really, but she continued to display good knowledge about the issues. Her willingness to support security over human rights really hurt her in my book (though sadly not in the minds of most Americans). Sen. Edwards had exactly one thing to say: "the system sucks, the rest of y'all suck, and I don't."

And Kucinich was Kucinich. I can think of nothing more to say.

Anyway, here's my revised list:

1. Richardson
T-2. Clinton
T-2. Biden
4. Dodd
5. Obama
6. Edwards
T-7. Kucinich
T-7. Gravel (who seems to have fallen off the face of the earth)

If I were to put the Repubs in there, I'd probably fit Romney and Paul (in that order) between Edwards and Kucinich and the rest below Elf-Man and Grav-EL. Their list looks like this now:

1. Romney
2. Paul
3. McCain
4. Huckabee
5. Thompson
6. Rudolph the Red-Faced Mayor
7. Hunter
8. Keyes
9. Tancredo

VoteMatch gives me the following results from their really vague quiz:

1. Gravel (?!?!?)
2. Kucinich (?!?!?)
3. Biden
4. Clinton
5. Obama
6. Dodd
7. Paul
T-8. Edwards
T-8. Richardson
10. Rudolph the Red-Faced Mayor
11. Romney
12. Huckabee
13. McCain
14. Tancredo
15. Hunter

No Keyes, but he'd probably be in the Tancredo-Hunter range.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another Godwin Amendment

The new Godwin's Law, at least until November '08: As the length of a comment thread increases, the probability that someone will plug Ron Paul approaches one.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

When Candidates Attack?

This is the second post today - scroll down for the first. This is also my 450th post ever. I rant a lot, is what I'm trying to say.

Anyway, I've been watching CNN promote Thursday's upcoming Democratic debate in Las Vegas for the past couple of days, and I've noticed CNN ads that say things like this:

"On Thursday, THE GLOVES COME OFF!!!!" (TV spot, printed on the screen as pictures of the candidates and moderator Wolf Blitzer float by)

"Don't miss the Democrats go at it again in Las Vegas with CNN's Wolf Blitzer." (on

There was also something about a "Democratic showdown in Las Vegas" on the ticker at one point.

Does anyone else think it's absurd to have a debate promoted as some sort of bizarre cross between The Situation Room and WWE Smackdown? I'm sure there will be a lot of people disappointed if Edwards doesn't grab a chair and come after Clinton with it. Though I have to admit, the sight of Richardson body-slamming Biden and flexing to the crowd afterwards would be awesome.

But seriously, my confidence in this debate has been completely shot. Thanks to the marketing technique - and it's a sad commentary on our society that major political events are forced to adopt marketing techniques - Blitzer will be asking questions that are meant to elicit attacks on other candidates (or the Republicans) as opposed to questions that allow candidates to deliver meaningful policy statements. And guess what the news cycle after the debate will say - it will just validate the marketing technique.

I don't even know if I want to watch this debate. There doesn't seem to be a point. CNN has decided what we're going to see in advance. We're just one step short of having CNN hand the candidates scripted answers to their questions. And when that happens, Hulk Hogan should really start moderating these things.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Remember, Remember

Blogging was suspended for last week while I was in Salt Lake City, but apparently I missed Treason Week. Both November 4th and November 5th are memorable for infamous acts of treason - I'll attempt to remember them both here. The two events are separated by some 390 years, but both demonstrate the danger of moral certitude, and the trouble we open ourselves up to when we believe that God supports our particular political agenda.

On November 5th, 1605, a Catholic zealot named Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the British Parliament building and was caught in the act. The plot was hatched by Catholic agitator Robert Catesby, who died three days later. Catesby had earlier attempted to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I; had Catesby's plot succeeded this time, King James I and a fair portion of the English government would have been killed.

It was not a good time to be a Catholic in England. It was during the time of the wars of religion, and James I was a Catholic. One wonders, however, whether Catesby, Fawkes, and company were really fighting for "Catholics' rights," as some maintain today. Recall that a generation earlier, Queen "Bloody" Mary had ordered the execution of hundreds of Protestants on behalf of the Catholic Church. It seems to me that this was a case of one group of murderous zealots trying to fight another group of murderous zealots - I don't buy for one moment that Catesby would have failed to persecute Protestants if he had been in power.

Fortunately, the plot was discovered and tragedy was averted. This would, unfortunately, not be the case 390 years (minus one day) earlier.

Since it was a Saturday, I was watching college football with my family on November 4, 1995. I think we were watching Penn State-Michigan State, but I'm not sure - some details get fuzzy. But anyway, I remember when the newsroom interrupted the game mid-play - never a good thing. And I remember being absolutely shocked to hear that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated. Worse, this horrible act was committed not by a radical Arab bent on Israel's destruction but by a Jewish zealot, Yigal Amir.

With things as they are now, it's tough to remember how hopeful American Jews were about the prospects for peace under Rabin. It appeared as though Rabin had somehow gotten Yasser Arafat to swear off terrorism and work with Israel. After Camp David, things honestly looked good. Rabin had even managed to keep the peace after Baruch Goldstein's horrific massacre in early '94. And in an instant, all that changed.

No Israeli leader since Rabin has been able to convince both Israelis and the PLO to go along with a peace process. Some, like Netanyahu, never tried, but those who did try simply didn't have the powerful personality and political ability Rabin possessed. By 2000, relations had deteriorated so much that Ariel Sharon's simple act of praying on the Temple Mount was enough to set off a full-scale murdering spree by the Palestinians. The peace process, in effect, died on November 4, 1995 with Yitzhak Rabin

Amir's motive for murder was simple - he felt that God had promised the Jews the entirety of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and that Rabin was going against God's plan for the land. It is impossible to argue with such people, just as it would have been impossible to argue with either the Catholics or the Protestants in 1605, just as it is impossible to argue now with those who believe God tells them they should fly planes into buildings.

Perhaps this is the lesson of Treason Week - we should be very careful about our dedication to right and wrong. Pain is too often caused by those who believe with great certainty that they know what's right and what's wrong. Put differently, when you absolutely know what's right, you're usually wrong.


In other Treason Week activities, Jefferson Davis was elected to preside over the Southern rebellion on November 6, 1861; a bomb blew up in the Senate on November 7, 1983; and Adolf Hitler began the Beer Hall Putsch, an attempt to violently overthrow the Weimar Republic, on November 8, 1923. Hitler later would instigate Kristallnacht, the first major violent anti-Jewish riot in Nazi Germany, on November 9, 1938. I could rant about the moral certitude behind these actions too, but you can insert your own rants here.


And to commemorate Treason Week, I attended a BYU football game... and actually rooted for the Cougars. The reason is that the team BYU was playing, TCU, had five wins, and should Vandy pick up a sixth win, we will need as few other six-win teams as possible on the college football landscape if we are to get to a bowl for the first time since '82. Since I'm a Utah fan, this is absolute, unforgivable treason - imagine being an Alabama fan and rooting for Auburn.

Oh well. I'll have the last laugh on the 24th when the Utes go into Provo and take BYU down.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Correlation, Not Causation

One of my favorite rants is the one about correlation not being equal to causation. That is, simply because two trends seem to be correlated does not imply that one trend causes the other. The folks over at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster demonstrate this fallacious reasoning excellently with their assertion that a decline in the number of pirates causes global warming (scroll down a bit to see the graph). Unfortunately, this idea seemed to be lost on behavioral psychologists, or at least on the reporters who write the articles on their findings.

Enter this fascinating article from the Washington Post on whether or not teen sex causes delinquency. The two variables are clearly correlated, but the causal link was weak. A PhD student at the University of Virginia put the final nail in the causality coffin by using something called "behavioral genetics." Essentially, she studies pairs of twins - whose DNA and external influences are fairly similar - to investigate the correlation between teen sex and delinquency. This method effectively equalizes the effects of all the other variables present, so if the twin that engages in sex earlier is usually more delinquent, the two can said to be causally linked. However, this was not the case - if anything, the twin that had sex earlier was less likely to be delinquent. So much for early sexual activity causing delinquency.

The proper conclusion here is not, of course, that we have to encourage kids to have sex earlier. It is merely that some other variable is obviously influencing both teen sex and delinquency. The UVA researchers point to genes - that explanation seems like a cop-out to me.

Either way, this new analysis method looks like a powerful tool to address the correlation-causation problem. Let's hope that more and more behavioral psychologists (and health scientists too - their work is notoriously littered with shaky causal links) begin to use this sort of analysis to test their theories. And let's hope that some of the more bombastic conclusions out there about causal links between behaviors can be tested too. There's too many crap conclusions being foisted on the American public, and these conclusions often help direct policy even if they are weakly supported. Attributing causation to correlated data is easy, but it's often not true, and it's important that the public and our policymakers know the truth, not the easy answer.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Democratic Debate Response

So instead of listening to the talking heads on MSNBC review tonight's debate, I'll just do it myself. First, I want to say that Tim Russert should never be allowed near a candidates' debate ever again. He has no idea how to state a question properly, and he has no idea what to ask in the first place. His questions were too often irrelevant or inappropriate. His question to Sen. Clinton about White House secrecy was horribly botched, for example - how can Sen. Clinton, if elected, do anything about the wishes of a previous president with regards to secrecy, even if said former president is married to her? And what the hell was he doing asking about UFOs to Rep. Kucinich? Russert too often appeared to be trying to get candidates to make frivolous, counterfactual promises and endorse bold policy moves instead of asking actual, substantive questions that could elicit thoughtful, informative responses. It's irresponsible "gotcha" journalism at its worst. There are far better ways to get politicians to discuss specifics - Russert should think of them.

MSNBC's format, also, left a lot to be desired. How do you expect education policy to be properly discussed in thirty seconds? How do you give health care such short shrift? What's the point of asking Sen. Obama about his kids' Halloween costumes? And the entire "electability" discussion was completely unnecessary, uninformative, and otherwise worthless.

Anyway, here I'll give my rankings of the Democratic candidates and describe how I think they did in this debate. From the top:

T-1. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton: Sen. Clinton continues a near-flawless campaign. I appreciated her answer to Russert's stupid question asking her to pledge to not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons, and I also appreciated her refusal to not take war with Iran off the table. She seems to understand that rash decision-making and over-dedication to ideology is what got us into this mess, and the worst thing we can do now is make rash, ideological decisions that are nothing but a reaction to failed Bush policy. Her refusal to attach herself to a specific policy at Russert's begging is a natural reaction to all the flip-flop gotcha crap that has infected our political discourse like a bad virus, and until we quit calling "flip-flop" on anyone who has their mind changed by experience or good evidence, I'll give Clinton - and the other candidates - the benefit of the doubt on that. Domestically her ideas seemed sound, minimalist - and baby steps are generally how things get done in Washington.

T-1. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson: Gov. Richardson is the only candidate other than Sen. Clinton to not categorically rule out war with Iran. His argument for why Sen. Clinton was wrong to vote for the designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization made sense (he thought it was just the sort of saber-rattling that ultimately benefits the Iranian regime), and his domestic policies were sound and reasonable. I like the concrete goals set by his energy policy. 50 MPG may seem like a high bar for Detroit, but given enough time it's a high bar that Detroit is more than capable of reaching. And you have to admit - a debate between Richardson and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson would be awesome. You could drink every time they say "um" - and be toasted in ten minutes. Oh, and Richardson calling out the rest of the candidates for attacking Sen. Clinton was the badass moment of the debate.

3. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden: Surprisingly, Biden was the only other candidate that refused to speak in platitudes the whole time. Biden's positions are always well thought out, and even though he has taken to some more bombastic rhetoric of late, he would still bring a thoughtfulness to the presidency that we desperately need. This debate was his best performance yet - he only seemed to discuss his policy agenda and little else. For the normally undisciplined Biden, that's a hell of an accomplishment. His little stand-up routine about Giuliani was a great way to get back at Rudolph the Red Faced Mayor for his attack on Clinton, and a good way to deal with Richardson's critique of the anti-Clinton tenor of the debate thus far.

4. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama: Not his best debate. He seemed more interested in attacking Sen. Clinton than introducing America to his policy ideas - bizarre because, when he did introduce policy ideas, they were seldom much different from Sen. Clinton's. He's starting to show a lack of temperance that will get a president into trouble (ask Dubya). His inexperience is starting to show - his campaign is panicking and he hasn't spoken in more than platitudes in any significant way, which is a problem at this late date. He'll make a great candidate in 2016, though.

5. Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd: Dodd seemed to just join the "pile on Clinton" chorus during the foreign policy debate - unbecoming of someone who has his long, distinguished foreign service record. I don't remember anything new that he added to the domestic policy debate, though that was done in such whirlwind fashion and he got passed up by the moderators a lot. His one domestic moment - criticizing New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer for giving unauthorized immigrants a driver's license - rang hollow with anyone concerned about road safety. He had no good answer for Clinton's explanation that Gov. Spitzer was dealing with a Congressional failure, and instead degenerated into Lou Dobbs-esque rambling.

6. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards: Sen. Edwards actually benefited from being forced to package his ideas into 30-second soundbites. The "lightning round" discussions of health care and education were the only times he sounded remotely intelligent. The rest of the time he spoke in platitudes, failed to discuss policy, and launched gratuitous attacks on Sen. Clinton. He's way off his excellent 2004 form. He doesn't realized that we're tired of the bleating about corruption and how the system doesn't work - we want to know what he'll do about it. He consistently failed to address that tonight.

7. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich: I learned from the debate that Rep. Kucinich cares about two things - ending the Iraq war immediately and instituting single-payer health care. Kucinich benefited from having former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel around - Gravel took the moonbat aura away from Kucinich. With Gravel gone, Kucinich is left to act crazy. It's a bad rap, and Kucinich's ideas shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, but he does have a "my way or the highway" attitude about his ideas that the past seven years have proven is very, very bad for a president.

So there's my list. Feel free to discuss. Next Republican debate I'll rank the candidates on that side. Anyone know when that is?

Oh, and a bonus link to an excellent article about how Rudolph The Red Faced Mayor is not really a moderate. The idea rings true - you can't call someone a moderate based on one or two issue positions. Goldwater believed in abortion rights - doesn't make him a moderate.

Patriot Acts

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's nefarious scheming continues - he apparently conspired to have the entire Washington Redskins team replaced by local high-schoolers.

Seriously though, I watched the first three quarters of Sunday's 52-7 embarrassment, and I left with the following question - are the Pats really that good, or is the rest of the NFL that pathetic?

I ask because I don't think the 'Skins have any right to be 4-3. They have no offense, the vague shadow of a defense, and weak special teams. They only won four games because Philly, Miami, Arizona, and Detroit are even worse than they are (and Detroit's 5-2). And I ask because it's kind of odd leaving a 52-7 game thinking, "you know, we should have won that" - the 'Skins had at least 35 points worth of self-inflicted wounds.

I'll give the Pats this much - they have a great passing game and a second-to-maybe-Indy offensive line. But beyond that? Their running game is ordinary. Their defense is anchored by solid linebackers, but outside of Samuel and Harrison they have no one in coverage. Several times during Sunday's game, 'Skins receivers got open only to be missed by Jason Campbell. And their playcalling? I think I saw them call five different offensive plays the entire time. I think they called the same 5-yard over-the-middle route to Wes Welker a hundred times. And who doesn't know what's coming when LB Mike Vrabel enters the game on offense near the goal line? (Answer - 'Skins LB Marcus Washington.)

Sure, the Pats might be the best team in the NFL this year, and if they get past Indy next week they could even go undefeated and be remembered as a great team. But I wouldn't put them at the head of the class - yet. I've seen nothing from them that would put them above the '89 Niners, the '91 'Skins, or the mid-90s Cowboys in the pecking order of best teams that I've seen play. Now let's see if they can prove me wrong. If a talented team like Indy can play a near-flawless game at home and still lose, it'll definitely help the Pats' case for inclusion among the greats.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Larry's Right

I rarely agree with Sen. Larry Craig, but in this case, he's absolutely right. I don't possibly understand how coming on to someone could possibly be against the law. If that's "lewd conduct," the cops could just go into a nightclub and fill their jails at discount prices.

Now if only Sen. Craig had respect for other bits of the Constitution...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My Head Hurts...

So apparently Iran is buying planes from China, built in Russia, and orginially designed by... Israel (in partnership with the U.S.)? Excuse me?

Someone should check the Israeli government for signs of Milo Minderbinder.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Poll Dancing

The latest poll from Rasmussen:

Clinton (D) - 45%
Giuliani (R) - 35%
Colbert (I) - 13%

Clinton (D) - 46%
Thompson (R) - 34%
Colbert (I) - 12%

Yes, that Colbert. A late night cable satirist is polling in the double digits. And among voters 30 and under, Colbert is beating the Republican, whether that's Giuliani or Thompson.

Wow. Just... wow.

Cormac McCarthy + Ridiculous Parents = Criminal Charges?

In Texas, they can't tell the difference between literature and porn.

How To Stop Nuclear Proliferation?

Remember back in early September (yah-dee-ah) when Israel bombed a target in Middle of Nowhere, Syria with seemingly no provocation? And remember how Syria responded with extremely muted outrage, remarkable because a) Arab countries display outrage at Israel for everything and b) Syria had been half-assedly trying to start a war over the Golan Heights for the entire summer? I suspected something was up, but now we have confirmation - it was an extralegal nuclear reactor.

The reactor was years away from producing anything. But this raises an interesting question - if you know a country has an illegal reactor, and you know they're trying to keep it a secret, and you're the first to find out about it, should you make a stink and employ diplomacy or just bomb the fucker?

Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to both. The bombs-away method is nice because the country trying to build the bomb has no recourse to fight back without revealing their nuclear program and creating massive problems for themselves. It sets the nuclear program back significantly, and frightens the nation pursuing the extralegal reactor. It also avoids the possibility of a situation like the one we currently face with Iran, where their clearly illegal nuclear program is allowed to proceed because diplomacy allows them to play for time.

However, diplomacy is not without its advantages, and force not without its disadvantages. A botched bombing could cause real damage to civilian targets, creating a huge pretext for the reactor-building country to go to war/stage diplomatic pressure without revealing anything. And as UN non-proliferation czar Mohammed ElBaradei points out at the end of the Post article, the use of force will lead to countries hiding their reactors better, thus leaving the non-proliferation regime with little ability to stop the program. Diplomacy seems to have (finally) worked in the case of North Korea, where a draw-down of isolation was offered in exchange for the dismantling of the Yongbyon reactor. And diplomacy leads to the most permanent solution - in a diplomatic solution, a regime agrees never to pursue nuclear weapons, whereas force can only send the pursuit of weapons back to start.

There's good arguments on both sides, and it's probably best that this debate be taken on case-by-case. In this case, it's tough to fault Israel for carrying out a low-risk (the nearest town was 8 miles away) attack on a nuclear reactor in a neighboring country, especially given how the Iran situation has turned out.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Short-Lived Grantish Inquisition

In the "little known moments in history" department, apparently General Grant at one point during the Civil War ordered all Jews out of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Fortunately, President Lincoln pulled rank on Grant and rescinded the order. It doesn't appear that anyone tried to enforce Grant's order.

Oddly enough, the event quickly vanished down the memory hole - the only real description of the event was from a history of Lincoln written by a Jewish writer some 40 years later.

And the flabbergasting tidbit from the end of the post...
In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant was an honored guest at the dedication of Adas Israel, which is now the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington, DC.

How soon we forget.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Outsourcing Fake Outrage

It's often taken as a given in America that no one does fake outrage like our politicians and punditocracy. All the bluster over how someone's actions are emboldening terrorists or destroying marriage or sending your job to India or turning America into North Mexico has convinced many Americans that we had a monopoly on the stuff (or if we didn't, we were in a cartel with Iran).

Well, this week Turkey and China decided to try their hands at fake outrage. The Turks are all up in arms over a bill wandering around Congress that would declare the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians a "genocide" (itself an exercise in fake outrage - I don't see why Congress is more keen to call a spade a spade now than it has been in the 90 intervening years). And the Chinese have decided to throw a hissy fit over President Bush's honoring of the Dalai Lama.

The Armenian genocide occurred in the aftermath of the First World War, when Ottoman Turkish leaders decided that the Armenian minority, which sided with the Russians against the Ottomans, was a threat to the security of their (moribund) state. The Turkish government seized Armenian property and shipped Armenians off to work camps, where hundreds of thousands of Armenians died of starvation. The modern preferred Turkish response to the mention of the Armenian genocide is to stick fingers in their collective ears and say "we can't hear you." (There are some Turks who still believe that the Armenians had it coming.) It's illegal to talk about the Armenian genocide in Turkey. This, despite the fact that when the Ottoman Empire dissolved, those responsible were sentenced to death in absentia by a court in Istanbul. And despite the fact that Kemal Ataturk's secular republic was founded partially as a response to the excesses of the Ottoman government, including the Armenian genocide.

One wonders how the Turkish government can continue to insist that one of its country's darkest hours - which occurred under a previous government, no less - never happened. Germany has made great strides in coming to terms with both its Nazi past and the Communist oppression of its eastern half. Americans are constantly lamenting the cruel things our government has done, from black slavery to Indian removal to Japanese internment camps. Why is it a point of national pride in Turkey to not admit your government did something really, really bad in the past? No one is suggesting that the current government is responsible for the genocide. Why fight it? Why not recognize that it happened? And is it such an important point that you have to mollify your nationalists by pretending to be outraged when another country recognizes it?

As bizarre as the Turkish rage over Armenia is, the Chinese anger over the Dalai Lama receiving honors in America is superbly odd. The Dalai Lama has long sought autonomy for Tibet, the Himalayan region currently controlled by China. However, the Dalai Lama has done so peacefully - there is no "Tibetan rebellion" to speak of. The Dalai Lama is also much more than the leader of a separatist movement - he is a spiritual guide to millions and an advocate for dissidents' rights in numerous other places, most notably Burma. Moreover, the Lama constitutes no threat to the Chinese state. The Chinese "outrage" over the Lama's honors seem to me to be nothing more than an exceptionally transparent effort to boost Chinese nationalism and draw their people closer to their government.

I suppose the land of diplomacy is filled with fake outrage - I just never noticed it until now. But at any rate, let's not let Turkey or China's windbaggery keep us from doing what's right. They'll get over themselves eventually; bullshit decays after all.

(Bush is already opposing the Armenian genocide resolution on the grounds that the Turkish government doesn't like it. The Turks are an important staging area for troops headed to Iraq... which makes me question everyone's motives in this little episode...)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Our Republic Is Screwed

Too many of us base our votes on things that have absolutely no bearing on their ability to legislate/run a country, such as the happiness of a candidate's marriage:
Thirty-five percent of the women surveyed said their perceptions of the candidates' marriages would affect their vote in November 2008 either "a great deal" or "somewhat."

35%!?!?!?! Ladies, over a third of you think that a candidate's happiness in his/her marriage has anything to do with their policies and their leadership style? How? What am I missing here? Abe Lincoln had a (reputedly) horrible marriage, and he did okay. Bill Clinton obviously was unhappy enough to screw around with a fugly intern in the Oval Office.

Also, only one couple, the Edwardses, were viewed as happy by the majority of the women surveyed. Conclusion: American women are way too cynical.

When The SCHIPs Are Down

One of the most pathetic stories of the SCHIP battle is the conservative loonies who decided to take out their frustrations over the SCHIP bill on a 12-year-old boy. E.J. Dionne, who has been on a bit of a cold streak with his columns lately, issues a truly awesome smackdown of the right-wingers' attacks on Graeme Frost and his family.

Anyway, the argument over the SCHIP bill is a lot more nuanced than the talking heads on either side of the issue would have you believe. Republicans don't hate children for opposing the expansion (as the left would have you believe) and Democrats don't want to forget about poor kids (as the right would claim), nor do they want Big Brother to control your health care budget (another claim bordering on lunacy).

The idea behind SCHIP is this: the federal government pays states to provide health care for children whose families are too well-off to qualify for Medicaid but not well-off enough to afford health insurance on their own. The states themselves determine who is eligible, what benefits the eligible kids receive, and how much each family needs to pay in premiums. The federal government currently allows states to insure children in families that make up to 200% of the federal poverty line, or $37,700 for a family of four. States may insure up to a higher income level with Administration approval (the Bush administration has approved NJ's 350% insurance level but rejected NY's 400% level).

Currently, SCHIP insures about 6.6 million kids nationwide, and is widely regarded as a successful program. The problem is this - with health care costs rising, states with high costs of living such as NJ and NY are seeing the need to raise eligibility levels to cover the gap between those who qualify for Medicaid (100% of poverty) and those who can afford the cost of private employer-offered insurance (which averaged around $11,500/year for a family of four). Alas, this costs more money than the SCHIP program currently has.

Both President Bush and the Democratic/moderate Republican coalition in Congress want to boost funding for SCHIP - the argument is about how much the funding should be increased by. Bush wants a $5 billion bump; Congress wants $35 billion.

Thanks to increasing health care costs, though, the $5 billion increase isn't really much of an increase. The best-case scenario here is that the amount of federal aid to states keeps pace with the rising cost of health care, keeping most of the current enrollees insured but not allowing any additional enrollees. As such, states that want to expand SCHIP - say, to keep up with population increases - will have to fund such an increase themselves. Democrats claim that their plan will enable states to increase the number of kids insured from 6.6 million to around 10 million. The Democratic plan pays for the SCHIP expansion by raising the current excise tax on cigarettes to $1/pack (it is currently $0.39/pack).

Unsurprisingly, I side with the Democrats on this one. If SCHIP is not expanded to allow states to expand their coverage levels, more and more families in high cost-of-living areas will be forced to make the decision to forgo health insurance. This will have the perverse effect of costing governments and states (not to mention hospitals) more as these kids end up receiving only emergency-room care that their families can't afford. There is a legitimate concern that private insurers could suffer from losing current clients who are at the margins of affordability; however, that's a sacrifice I'm more than willing to make if it means more insured kids.

Ideally, I would like to see a program that offers a progressive subsidy to families who purchase portable (non-employer-based) private health coverage. Of course, this would require nuking our current health care system and replacing it with something completely new and more costly, and we have neither the political will nor the money to do so right now. As I understand it, Sen. Clinton's new health-care proposal aims to do something like this with a mandate-and-subsidy program (based, ironically, on something done by Massachussetts under Gov. Romney), so stay tuned if she wins the White House in '08 and Democrats get larger working majorities in both houses.

Update: The Republicans in the Energy and Commerce committee - one wonders why that committee is dealing with this bill - put out this completely inexplicable press release saying... something or other. I'm not sure what. (Via Wonkette)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Rather Unique SCV Member

Here's a rather fascinating article about a black man who is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Apparently his grandfather - whom he knew - was a slave who went to war with the sons of his owner. Eventually the grandfather became a soldier himself, fighting under (of all people) General Nathan Bedford Forrest. He would serve out the war as a chaplain, conducting services for soldiers on both sides of the war. When he died in 1934, a Confederate flag draped his coffin.

It's a fascinating story that leaves me with a ton of questions I'd like to ask this guy. Starting with this: wasn't it illegal for black men to fight in the Confederate army? How did he get away with fighting for the South? Especially under the notoriously racist Forrest?

Anyway, black Confederate soldiers deserve more study. What were their motivations? How did they get around the rules? Did they confuse the crap out of Union soldiers? And what effect did they have overall?

Snakes on a Base

So the D-Backs just got done thoroughly manhandling the Cubs in three games (helped, no doubt, by the cheering from the upper reaches of Section 301 in Game 2). I can't say this was a surprise to me, but...

Eight out of ten ESPN experts, as well as this guy, picked the Cubs to win, many in four games. So I have this question to ask - how the heck were so many people caught off guard by this? The D-backs won 90 games in baseball's toughest division despite an ugly 4-13 stretch in the middle of the season. The Cubs got 85 wins out of the godawful NL Central and wouldn't have even made the playoffs if not for an ugly tailspin by the Brewers. (The Brewers! They trailed the Brewers for most of the season! How can you trust a team like that?) By those stats alone the D-backs should have been favored. Who cares that the D-backs can't hit? No one can hit in the playoffs. You win in the playoffs behind reasonable starting pitching, an awesome bullpen, and solid defense. Arizona has all three.

Sure, I'm still trying to figure out how Stephen Drew is over .500 for the playoffs, but I'm not surprised that the team that was by far the better team season-long won the series easily. Why is everyone else?

Oh, and Stanford 24, USC 23... college football has officially jumped the shark.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Age Happens

Having a wife and future baby? Doesn't make me feel old. Drowning in '90s nostalgia? Doesn't make me feel old. Having a 26th birthday and thus entering a different marketing demographic? Doesn't make me feel old either.

But reading the phrase "fourteen-year veteran Gus Frerotte?" Now that makes me feel old.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Touchdown Moses

With apologies to Steve Buscemi... Define irony: the existence of this T-shirt.

I was going to write something snarky here, but it would be completely superfluous.

(The letters say "Notre Dame Fighting Irish," in case you were wondering.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Show This Guy The Money

So what happens when you get a speeding ticket and have a large amount of cash in your trunk? Apparently in Seattle, you lose your money:

The 35-year-old from British Columbia, who had a valid driver's license, struggled to tell the trooper where he was going and how long he had been in Washington, prompting the trooper to search his car, Merrill said.

The trooper found two suitcases in the trunk — one filled with $276,640 in cash. The driver claimed he won the stacks of dollar bills at 23 casinos in Washington, California and Nevada, but he was unable to produce any receipts, according to Merrill.

The money was confiscated as the State Patrol investigates the incident. [Washington State Patrol spokesman Jeff] Merrill said if it is determined the man obtained the money legally it will be returned to him. [Emphasis mine]

First off, under what law was the trooper allowed to search the car? Is struggling to tell an officer where you have been really "probable cause"?

More importantly, I want you to pay close attention to the bolded sentence. One would expect the legal system to default to the presumption of innocence and, in the absence of evidence on which the cops could file charges, let the guy keep the money. But no; the man has to prove his innocence in order to get his money back. Essentially, the Washington State Patrol has told this guy that, while he may have come by this large sum of money perfectly legally, he has to provide evidence that the money didn't come from a crime or else he loses everything. Anyone else see a problem with this? Why is the burden of proof on the accused here?

I currently have $10 in my wallet. I know I didn't get it by robbing anyone or dealing drugs, but I can't possibly prove that. Should I just go ahead and fork that over to the cops if I get caught stealing?

Monday, September 24, 2007

You Try Too Hard To Make Me Smile

To the chronologically retarded DJs at Mix 96.9 in Phoenix:

The 2003 release "Calling You" can NOT be reasonably referred to as "the new one from Blue October." So please don't do it again.

That is all.

If You Should Take The A-Train...

As I'm writing this, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is preparing to speak at Columbia University in New York amid the obvious protests. CNN reported from the protest sites - there were some clever signs, like one of A-Train with his limbs shaped like a swastika, and a red line through the whole thing. That one is my favorite so far.

Those of you who read my blog regularly know I have no problem with protests - I've even been known to indulge on occasion. What I do have a problem with is the habit of many on the right to cast blame on the host - in this case, Columbia - for inviting someone with highly objectionable/dangerous views to speak. This position was taken by Henry Kissinger and Newt Gingrich (admittedly two people with whom I rarely agree). The latter claimed that Columbia was "lending its prestige" to Ahmadinejad. How ridiculous is that? Does Gingrich think that someone will refer to A-Train as "that dude that spoke at Columbia that one time"? Or that someone will say, "you know, he thinks the Holocaust is bogus, he wants to eliminate Israel, and he supports terrorism, but he spoke at Columbia, so it's all cool"? No. No one will say that. One capital derectalization for Gingrich, please.

My point is this - protest all you want. In fact, if I were in NYC, I'd probably be there with you. But don't prevent A-Train from speaking, and don't criticize the host for letting him speak. A beneficial free exchange of ideas requires that we allow all points of view to be voiced, even if they are utterly repulsive. Besides, don't we want our point of view to be given a voice and listened to seriously in other countries? Why should we deny others the same courtesy here?

It's refreshing to see other people I rarely agree with, in this case Zbiginew "I'd Like To Buy A Vowel" Brzezinski and Sen. Chuck Hagel, voice support for Columbia for letting a ridiculous yet undeniably important person speak at their university. It proves that you don't have to be a dedicated civil liberties junkie to understand the value of the unfettered exchange of ideas.

And personally, I think that President Bush should have invited A-Train for a state visit to the corner of 14th SW and Independence in Washington (not telling him that this is the site of the U.S. Holocaust museum/memorial). I don't think anyone can go through that museum and still be a denier...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Who The Hell Is Michael Mukasey?

Someone who will, in all likelihood, be our next Attorney General.

So what is Mukasey like? According to Bush, he shares Bush's views on the importance of executive power. This is bad. But there's a bright side - though Mukasey, as a federal judge, ruled that Bush could hold "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla indefinitely without charges, Padilla still had a right to an attorney. What's more, New York Senator Charles Schumer, a relatively liberal fellow, seems to be cool with his nomination. He might not be all bad.

You learn a lot about someone from their writings. This is Mukasey's most recent public writing - a diatribe about the inadequacies of our judicial system in the wake of the Jose Padilla verdict. In it, Mukasey seems to think that the current legal system is not well suited to deal with terrorism. He makes some valid points - the current disclosure system in the criminal court system often aids terrorist intelligence, for example - but to me, he doesn't convincingly make the case that terror suspects shouldn't be tried like other criminals.

Let's go into depth on this portion of his column and try to divine what he'd be like as an AG:

And third, consider the distortions that arise from applying to national security cases generally the rules that apply to ordinary criminal cases.

On one end of the spectrum, the rules that apply to routine criminals who pursue finite goals are skewed, and properly so, to assure that only the highest level of proof will result in a conviction. But those rules do not protect a society that must gather information about, and at least incapacitate, people who have cosmic goals that they are intent on achieving by cataclysmic means.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, is said to have told his American captors that he wanted a lawyer and would see them in court. If the Supreme Court rules--in a case it has agreed to hear relating to Guantanamo detainees--that foreigners in U.S. custody enjoy the protection of our Constitution regardless of the place or circumstances of their apprehension, this bold joke could become a reality.

The director of an organization purporting to protect constitutional rights has announced that his goal is to unleash a flood of lawyers on Guantanamo so as to paralyze interrogation of detainees. Perhaps it bears mention that one unintended outcome of a Supreme Court ruling exercising jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees may be that, in the future, capture of terrorism suspects will be forgone in favor of killing them. Or they may be put in the custody of other countries like Egypt or Pakistan that are famously not squeamish in their approach to interrogation--a practice, known as rendition, followed during the Clinton administration.

At the other end of the spectrum, if conventional legal rules are adapted to deal with a terrorist threat, whether by relaxed standards for conviction, searches, the admissibility of evidence or otherwise, those adaptations will infect and change the standards in ordinary cases with ordinary defendants in ordinary courts of law.

First, we see the idea that terror suspects are intent on carrying out cosmic goals by cataclysmic means, and that this needs to change the nature of the legal system. This perpetuates the myth of the "war on terror" and legitimates overuse of executive power to "incapacitate" those who break our laws. It's true that Islamic terrorists pose a serious threat, but the same might have been said about Timothy McVeigh or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (all terrorists with "cosmic goals" who used "cataclysmic means" - the latter two were suicide terrorists who likely would have been tried via the courts had they survived). The bright line that Mukasey draws between "national security" cases and regular criminal cases is bothersome to me - he seems to draw said line well before it needs to be drawn. A clever Senator might ask him during the confirmation hearings what the difference between McVeigh and Padilla might be, and why they should be treated differently. Mukasey makes the case earlier in the column for why terrorists should be treated differently from regular criminals, but not at all convincingly in my opinion. I suppose I don't share with him the same concern that the possibility that terrorists will learn anything from our judicial proceedings warrants the scrapping of the system altogether for terror suspects. Seems like he's creating a straw man here - it's the classic "create a fear so I can alleviate it" ploy.

Second, we see the most disturbing part of Mukasey's column, the idea that foreigners' access to the legal system and an attorney is "a bold joke." It is perhaps the case that a foreigner intent on our nation's destruction should not be entitled to the same legal system as a regular citizen or a common criminal - this is a matter worthy of debate. But this idea is not a joke, and it should not be treated as such. This comment seems to betray a sense of arrogance about executive power - which was one of the biggest complaints about Gonzales. One wonders whether Mukasey would be able to work with a Congress skeptical of executive power-grabs, or whether he would dismiss Congress' criticisms as "jokes."

Third, I have to take offense at the gratuitous ACLU-bashing that conservatives like to engage in these days. The ACLU doesn't "purport" to protect civil liberties - it does protect civil liberties. It is a valuable organization that seeks only to preserve the ideals that make the U.S.A the great nation that it is. Its concerns ought to be taken seriously, and not dismissed with ridiculous claims that blame it for excessive use of force by the military and for extraordinary rendition/torture. Yet again, I see a typically neoconservative disdain for critics that ought to set off alarms with any Senator that gets the opportunity to question him.

Finally, Mukasey at least seems to realize that terror investigations and prosecutions ought to be circumscribed - that we ought to make sure that, in non-terror-related cases, the judicial system should work as before. A Senator would be well-advised to ask Mukasey his opinion on the use of anti-terror legislation to pursue non-terrorist criminals. This bit seems to suggest that he might be sympathetic to complaints about such executive overreaches that have been circulating recently. This is good, and might even lead to a desire to set up judicial oversight for Bush's intelligence-gathering plan, which would be excellent.

And I'm not entirely certain what to make of this statement:
Perhaps the world's greatest deliberative body (the Senate) and the people's house (the House of Representatives) could, while we still have the leisure, turn their considerable talents to deliberating how to fix a strained and mismatched legal system, before another cataclysm calls forth from the people demands for hastier and harsher results. [Emphasis added -J]

"While we still have the leisure?" What the hell does that mean? Looks like if Mukasey gets nominated, we have a lot more fun fearmongering to look forward to. Just what we need; another politician who will play the 9/11 card to accelerate or eliminate a necessary debate.

All in all, I'm not as sanguine on Mukasey as Schumer and other high-powered Democrats seem to be. Sure, we could do - and have done - a lot worse than Mukasey, but we could also do a lot better. I'm somewhat heartened by the idea that Mukasey would like to see Congress set the terms for a judicial system that deals with terror suspects, but I worry that Mukasey seems to simply be seeking Congressional approval for the executive power-grabs that Bush has been making as of late. Mukasey might not be as bad as Gonzales, but we ought to tread carefully and make sure he answers pointed and incisive questions from the Senate. Mukasey seems to intimate that intelligence gathering should be a court issue, and this is a marked improvement over Gonzales. But Mukasey's seeming disdain for those who disagree with him, as well as his penchant for fearmongering, ought to be a warning that Schumer and company might not be getting the cooperative AG that they bargained for.