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Friday, June 30, 2006

The many moods of Osama

It's nice to see bin Laden took my advice and did the narration thing for his new film, The Lion of Jihad: A Tribute to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I smell Oscar! Or at least a spot on the festival circuit.

Next: Osama drops his acoustic blues album, Mo' Better Mo' Hammed, featuring "I've Bin Laden So Long (I Can't Be Nothin' Else)" and a soulful cover of Bon Jovi's "Wanted: Dead or Alive" featuring The Dixie Chicks' Martie Maguire on fiddle. Mo' Better Mo' Hammed is the album for anyone who wants to experience the many moods, the many shades, the many sides of Osama bin Laden.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

An observation about OPC (other people's commenters)

The commenters at Hot Air have officially become the right wing equivalent of HuffPo commenters. I like the stuff Allahpundit's doing over there, but the comments are nothing but boilerplate right wing foaming-at-the-mouth ravings. What makes me laugh is that each group of commenters would obviously loathe the other, and yet they're almost perfect mirror images. Although Hot Air commenters are better spellers - I'll give them that.

That is all.

Bad day of judgment for NY Times

Andrew Sullivan writes approvingly of former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who in a Washington Post op-ed expresses alarm at the sight of journalists being subpoenaed to reveal their sources:
Reporters do not expect to be above the law. But they should be accorded some protection so that they can perform their public service in ensuring the free flow of information and exposing fraud, dishonesty and improper conduct without being exposed to an unanticipated jail sentence. A free society depends on access to information and on a free and robust press willing to dig out the truth and spread it around. This requires some ability to deal from time to time with sources who, for one reason or another, require the capacity to speak freely but anonymously.
I agree, although sometimes I get the feeling the first sentence would be better written as "Reporters should not expect to be above the law."

Of course, none of this goes to the question of what to do when a newspaper publishes classified information or information that may be harmful to America's national security. As Olson notes:
The Senate Judiciary Committee will soon take up a bill entitled the Free Flow of Information Act of 2006, sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators and modeled in large part on the Justice Department guidelines. It does not provide an absolute privilege for confidential sources, but it does require, among other things, that a party seeking information from a journalist be able to demonstrate that the need for that information is real and that it is not available from other sources. Matters involving classified information and national security are treated differently. The current controversy over publications relative to the administration's efforts to deter terrorists does not, therefore, provide any basis for delaying or rejecting this needed legislation.
To me, the Times' publication of its "expose" of the SWIFT program is more a matter of horrendously bad judgment than it is a matter of whether or not such publication is lawful.

Having the right to do something doesn't mean you're right to do it. Case in point: I believe Fred Phelps and his single-celled Westboro Baptist Church followers have the right to protest military funerals and carry signs that say "God hates fags" (their God is a hateful God), but I think they're wrong for doing so and quite frankly wouldn't mind if some soldiers or Marines casually walked away from a funeral, sauntered over to the WBCers and opened up a huge can of whupass.

Similarly, whether or not the NY Times et. al. had the right to publish their expose of the SWIFT program isn't as important to me as whether or not they were right to do so. And in my opinion, they were about as right as Phelps and his moronic followers. They "exposed" what by their own reporting appears to be a fully legal program that took great pains to respect the privacy of innocent American civilians, that was secret for a reason, and that actually seemed to work. Watergate it ain't.

Nice job saving the Republic, fellas.

Post script: Sullivan says this op-ed shows that Olson "hasn't quite surrendered to the notion of an untrammeled executive in a constitutional democracy." Fine, but why no mention of the fact that this whole notion of subpoenaeing journalists started with an investigation of the Bush administration, not an investigation by the Bush administration. And Bush, despite probably wishing he has, hasn't jailed any reporters - the only one to do that is Patrick Fitzgerald, the Special Prosecutor established to look into possible wrongdoing by members of the Administration in l'affair Plame. Seems like sort of a cheap shot by Sullivan, no?

Carnival of Comedy

This week's Carnival of Comedy is up at Blogs for House, Dr. House operating, FIAR assisting.

Dr. H. and his outstanding staff are to be commended for their keen sense of humor. Meaning finally I placed in the top group.

Paging Mr. Ripley

Okay, I'm not generally a conspiracy theorist (though they can be fun!) but I'm not sure even Ripley would buy this coincidence.

This was reported last night:
The Veterans Affairs worker faulted for losing veterans' personal information had permission to access millions of Social Security numbers on a laptop from home, agency documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

[snip]

The documents show that the data analyst, whose name was being withheld, had approval as early as Sept. 5, 2002, to use special software at home that was designed to manipulate large amounts of data.

A separate agreement, dated Feb. 5, 2002, from the office of the assistant secretary for policy and planning, allowed the worker to access Social Security numbers for millions of veterans.

A third document, also issued in 2002, gave the analyst permission to take a laptop computer and accessories for work outside of the VA building.

"These data are protected under the Privacy Act," one document states. The analyst is the "lead programmer within the Policy Analysis Service and as such needs access to real Social Security numbers."

The department said last month it was in the process of firing the data analyst, who is now challenging the dismissal.

VA officials have said the firing was justified because the analyst violated department procedure by taking the data home; they also said he was "grossly negligent" in handling sensitive information.

Lawmakers expressed dismay over the latest disclosure. They noted that the analyst immediately notified his supervisors after the theft from his suburban Maryland home, but supervisors delayed publicizing the crime until May 22. Nicholson was informed on May 16.

"The gross negligence in this case are the people above him," said Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., the acting top Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. "They gave him express permission to take the information home. When it was stolen, he reported it right away."

"They're trying to pin it on this one guy, but I think it's other people we need to be looking at," he said.

And now today, just as a Congressional hearing on this issue was about to start, the laptop was found:

[VA Secretary Jim] Nicholson announced the recovery of the equipment at a House committee hearing today, but provided no details about how law enforcement officials obtained it.

"A preliminary review of the equipment by computer forensic teams has determined that the data base remains intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen," said an FBI statement issued today. "A thorough forensic examination is underway, and the results will be shared as soon as possible. The investigation is ongoing."

I mean, seriously? All this time law enforcement and the VA have no idea where the laptop is, and then just as a hearing is about to start on whether senior VA officials are at fault for allowing the conditions that led to the theft, abracadabra, the laptop turns up? And a preliminary review shows that the data hasn't been accessed?

And they wonder why people don't trust the government?

Ouch

Harsh line from film critic Kyle Smith of the New York Post in his no stars review of the Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert starrer Strangers with Candy:
The Amy Sedaris comedy based on the failed TV show isn't the least funny film of the year - but for that it should send a thank-you note to "United 93."
It don't get no colder than that.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Gaza Escalates

It's officially on in Gaza. The Melbourne Herald Sun:
ISRAEL has arrested dozens of Palestinian MPs including the deputy prime minister during its major offensive to try to free a teenage soldier captured by Palestinian fighters.

And the body of an Israeli settler, kidnapped over the weekend by Palestinian militants, was found overnight in Ramallah, Palestinian security sources said.

Eliyahu Asheri, 18, was the son of an Australian who moved to Israel 20 years ago.

In a raid on a complex of buildings in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the deputy prime minister Nasser Shaer, other MPs and Hamas lawmakers were arrested by Israeli soldiers, Palestinian security officials said.

AP:
Israel sent tanks into northern Gaza and arrested the Palestinian deputy prime minister and dozens of other Hamas government officials early Thursday, escalating its response to the abduction of one of its soldiers.

[snip]

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered northern Gaza before daybreak Thursday, adding a second front to the Israeli action in Gaza. The Israeli military had no comment on the latest incursion.

And this:
In a clear warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Israeli airplanes flew over his seaside home near the Mediterranean port city of Latakia in northwestern Syria, military officials confirmed, citing the “direct link” between his government and Hamas. Israeli television reports said four planes were involved in the low-altitude flight, and that Assad was there at the time.
The Jerusalem Post is now reporting that the Israeli Defense Force has confirmed the death of 18-year-old Eliyahu Asheri.
IDF combat engineers on patrol late Wednesday night in Ramallah found Asheri's body in an open field. The youth appeared to have been shot to death, and initial findings indicated that he may have been killed as early as Sunday, Israel Radio reported. Asheri's family has been notified.
And now this report from Reuters, via Allahpundit at Hot Air:
A spokesman for gunmen in the Gaza Strip said they had fired a rocket tipped with a chemical warhead at Israel early on Thursday.

The Israeli army had no immediate comment on the claim by the spokesman from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement.

The group had recently claimed to possess about 20 biological warheads for the makeshift rockets commonly fired from Gaza at Israeli towns. This was the first time the group had claimed firing such a rocket.

"The al-Aqsa Brigades have fired one rocket with a chemical warhead" at southern Israel, Abu Qusai, a spokesman for the group, said in Gaza.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the army had not detected that any such rocket was fired, nor was there any report of such a weapon hitting Israel.

If this is true, it's gonna get real bloody real fast.

More to come?

Update: Head over to Israellycool for frequent updates.

Guest hosting at The Daily Gut

Greg Gutfeld has graciously asked me to do some guest hosting over at The Daily Gut while he's on vacation. He made me an offer I couldn't refuse, mainly because I was too drunk to speak. I think maybe he slipped me a mickey. I also may be doing some posting at The Big God Blog and al-Zarqawi's Mom's Blog, but if all goes well you won't be able to tell. In fact, for all you know, maybe I already have...

I'll still be posting here, as far as you know.

9/11 nutters

For a great peek into the soul of irrationality, check out Farhad Manjoo's excellent article on 9/11 deniers at Salon. (You'll have to sit through a short commercial in order to read it for free. Mine had a hot chick in it, so everything worked out fine.)

Then go over to Screw Loose Change, a site devoted to debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, including the popular-among-the-loons film Loose Change. Pat and James will be your guides at SLC as you enter worlds that exist at right angles to reality and read about crazy theories that would be very, very funny if they weren't so, so sad.

Fun 9/11 conspiracy theory drinking game: do a shot every time someone mentions the Jews or the Mossad! Guaranteed to get you rip roaring drunk or your money back! Triple bonus drinks for spotting references to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion!

(H/T: Allah at Hot Air.)

Smoke 'em while you're still allowed to got 'em

Here we go:
Breathing any amount of someone else's tobacco smoke harms nonsmokers, the surgeon general declared Tuesday - a strong condemnation of secondhand smoke that is sure to fuel nationwide efforts to ban smoking in public.

"The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard," said U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

More than 126 million nonsmoking Americans are regularly exposed to smokers' fumes - what Carmona termed "involuntary smoking" - and tens of thousands die each year as a result, concludes the 670-page study. It cites "overwhelming scientific evidence" that secondhand smoke causes heart disease, lung cancer and a list of other illnesses.

Really. Now breathing "any amount" of SHS will harm you. Sure. And it's just a coincidence that every time some petty fascist decides he wants to regulate more and more people's lives the claims get more and more dire. Right.

Not one death has ever been directly linked to public SHS. Not one. And this is including people who lived the majority of their life before smoking bans. Yet breathing "any amount" of SHS will harm you. Sure.

A link does seem to exist between long-term constant exposure to SHS (e.g., being married to a smoker) and an increase in heart and lung disease, but there is not a lick of scientific evidence that the occasional exposure to cigarette smoke leads to long-term illness or death. Yet breathing "any amount" of SHS will harm you. Sure.
Even a few minutes around drifting smoke is enough to spark an asthma attack, make blood more prone to clot, damage heart arteries and begin the kind of cell damage that over time can lead to cancer, he said.
Some days it's easy to believe Darwin was an idiot.

Well, at least people will always be free to smoke in the privacy of their own homes. Um, I said WELL, AT LEAST PEOPLE WILL ALWAYS BE FREE TO SMOKE IN THE PRIVACY OF THEIR OWN HOMES:
But public smoking bans don't reach inside private homes, where just over one in five children breathes their parents' smoke - and youngsters' still developing bodies are especially vulnerable. Secondhand smoke puts children at risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, as well as bronchitis, pneumonia, worsening asthma attacks, poor lung growth and ear infections, the report found.

It's just a matter of time, ain't it.

I need to do something I very, very rarely do here at the Cranky Insomniac. I need to exercise my right to be profane, and close with a direct message to Surgeon General Carmona:

Go fuck yourself, you ignorant, fascist prick.

KYFHO, motherfucker. KYFHO.

Update: See comments for a possible explanation of why I lost it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tony Hendra is a Big Fat Idiot

Slate asked various filmmakers and critics to name the film they've seen the most. Here's actor (This is Spinal Tap), author (Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul) and Huffpo blogger Tony Hendra's response:
Dr. Strangelove. It's also one of the greatest satires of all time and pure satire, at that—never once dropping its mask of concerned sympathy for the military mind, however stark, raving mad it may be. Sterling Hayden's Jack D. Ripper—fall-down funny with his "precious bodily fluids"; George C. Scott's randy blowhard patriot Buck Turgidson, a hilarious preview of his "Patton" a couple of years later; Peter Sellers immortalized by the megalomaniacal Strangelove, but just as funny as the meek and waffly RAF officer Captain Mandrake upon whose ineffectual bravado the entire future of the human race depends. It may be set in the Cold War, but Dr. Strangelove reminds us, 40 years on, that for the military mind there's always a War Against Something that must be won at any cost.
It's painful for me to write this because Hendra's performance as Spinal Tap manager Ian Faith is a personal all-time favorite (as is Dr. Strangelove), but he is a complete idiot. And to be clear, I'm using that word not in the "I disagree with him" sense, but in the "he's an ignorant slut" sense.

"[F]or the military mind there's always a War Against Something that must be won at any cost"? Maybe things are different in England, Tony, but here in the US it's civilians who decide if, when and where we go to war against something, and civilians who determine the cost we are wiling to bear. But then again, if you think Patton was nothing but a blowhard patriot and don't really care that his brilliant and innovative strategies played more than a small part in keeping your nation's flag from having a swastika on it, it's understandable that you don't know this. (And please note the disdain with which Hendra uses the word "patriot." Clearly he's too evolved, too "nuanced" for such a bourgeois sentiment.) Only in Hollywood do you find the stereotypical frothing-at-the-mouth, can't-wait-for-the-glory-of-war General, and this is so obviously the extent of Hendra's experience with "the military mind."

The freedom to spout ignorant nonsense is necessary, but man does it get tiresome.

Constitution 1, Morons 0

The Senate fell one vote short of passing a proposed Constitutional amendment allowing Congress to prevent physical desecration of the American flag.

To put it another way, the Senate fell one vote short of passing an amendment allowing Congress to physically desecrate the Constitution.

This week's highly coveted "I Drink a Lot What's Your Excuse?" Award goes to Republican Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming:
"The flag represents our right and our freedom for free speech as well as all of our other freedoms," Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., said in Senate debate Tuesday. "It should receive special protection."
Assuming my English translation of his first sentence is correct, Senator Thomas thinks the best way to show how special the right of free speech is is to ban free speech. It takes a special kind of genius to manipulate logic like this, the kind that should easily qualify you for a seat on the "special" bus. Please join me in congratulating Senator Thomas on beating out some stiff competition to win this award.

Update: Great to see that at least Mitch McConnell still has some principles. [Note: If you think I threw in this update just so the Washington Post will link to me, maybe I did, and maybe I did.]

Al-Qaeda Expresses Appreciation to NY Times (Death to America)


Al-Qaeda Expresses Appreciation to NY Times

(Death to America)

02 Jumada 'l-Akhira 1427AH - Al-Qaeda Worldwide expressed its appreciation to the New York Times for disclosing the program of the infidel Bush to track its financial transactions, AQW Executive Director Osama bin Laden announced today.

"Truly the New York Times once again has shown its solidarity with Jihad by its actions," bin Laden declared. "I am grateful to He Who Edits for the showing us of the path to avoid the watching of the infidel Bush and his pigbathing Jew Agents of the Treasury, may jackals eat of their livers and hyenas feast on their colons, Inshallah! Death to America."

The New York Times had previously worked with AQW representatives during the so-called "Cartoon Wars," when editor Bill Keller (peace be upon him) agreed not to print blasphemous drawings of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), but instead ran a picture of the Virgin Mary, may she orally service our Great Prophet until peace be upon him, covered in dung. Keller and the Son of the Jew Sulzberger also aided AQW's operations with their reporting on the Zionist front National Security Agency's data mining operations.

"Truly Allah in his infinite wisdom has worked a miracle through these blasphemers," said AQW Associate Executive Director Ayman Al-Zawahiri. "As a reward for this I swear before my third wife's formal burqa that I shall sharpen my blade to a fine edge so that they may suffer a quick death when I remove of their heads from their swinehugging bodies, Mashallah! Death to America."

Al-Qaeda Worldwide spokesperson Sulaiman Abu Ghaith pointed out AQW's great need for financial advice.

"The one main drawback of the Jew-hating has always been the problems with the keeping of the Book of Checks," he admitted. "But thanks to the efforts of the Might-be-a-Jew Keller and the Son of the Jew Sulzberger this problem is no more. Now are we like unto the blaspheming drinkers of the blood of pigs in the heathen Geico ads - we just saved a ton of money on our Holy War!"

"Should Allah will it, I would someday like to in person also to thank the Frank One of the House of Riches and the Dowdy One named Maureen for their hard work on our behalf. Death to America," Abu Ghaith concluded.

Founded in 1988 by Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda Worldwide has quickly become the world's leading exporter of Islamism, with Muslims from around the world participating in AQW's training seminars in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border regions. Among AQW's accomplishments under Executive Director bin Laden are the Embassy Bombing Fundraising Campaign of 1998, the Y2K USS Cole Bombing Membership Drive and the September 11 Allah4U American tour. As AQW has expanded, subsidiaries have been established in key areas across the globe, including al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), al-Qaeda in Afghanistan (AQA), al-Qaeda in Peshawar (AQP), al-Qaeda in Hollywood (AQH) and al-Qaeda in Academia (AQAc). AQW boasts an ethnically diverse membership, with all members connected by their devotion to the word of Allah, love for his Prophet (pbuh) and their understanding that to kill Americans and their allies, civilians and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who is able. Death to America.

-30-


Jon Stewart crosses the line

I'm not a Jon Stewart basher. In fact, I think he's pretty damn funny, when he's not wrapped up in smugnoxiousTM self-righteousness. (Granted, this is less often than it used to be.)

But last night Stewart and his writers decided that the infiltration and arrest of the terror suspects in Miami was nothing but a big joke, because the "group" never actually made contact with Al-Qaeda, procured any explosives, or developed actual operational plans to take down the Sears Tower. And his audience laughed along with him.

This is disgusting. The suspects never got their hands on explosives because the feds did their job. The suspects never developed operational plans to blow up the Sears Tower because the feds did their job. And the suspects never made contact with Al-Qaeda not from any lack of effort, but because they believed that they had in fact already done so. And this was due to the willingness of some unknown agent to literally risk his life pretending to be with Al-Qaeda. But hey, I'm sure Jon Stewart makes a lot more money than this guy, so he must have earned the right to mock and belittle him.

I guess next time the feds should just wait until potential terrorists become actual terrorists before doing anything. Sure, people might die, but at least there won't be anything funny about that.

Monday, June 26, 2006

If Bill Keller were NY Times editor in 1944

The following is a letter Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, has sent to readers who have written to him about The Times's publication of information about the government's plans for an invasion of Europe:

I don't always have time to answer my mail as fully as etiquette demands, but our story about the government's planned invasion of Europe has generated some questions and concerns that I take very seriously. As the editor responsible for the difficult decision to publish that story, I'd like to offer a personal response.

In the months leading up to the failed invasion at Normandy, the Times learned that American-led coaltion conducted a deception operation, code-named Operation Bodyguard. (As we have previously written, this so-called "coalition" is comprised of a mere handful of countries; hardly an effective way to conduct a war.) Operation Bodyguard was designed to persuade the democratically elected German government that areas such as the Balkans were possible invasion points. Then, in the weeks leading up to the invasion, the Roosevelt administration launched Operation Fortitude, a blatant attempt to trick the Germans into believing that the main invasion would really be coming to the Pas de Calais, as well as to lead them to expect an invasion of Norway. Using tax-payer dollars, a completely fictitious Army Group was simulated.

Some of the incoming mail quotes the angry words of conservative columnists or radio hosts who say that drawing attention to the government's war plans is unpatriotic and dangerous. (I could ask, if that's the case, why they are drawing so much attention to the story themselves by writing to me about it.) Some comes from readers who have considered the story in question and wonder whether publishing such material is wise. And some comes from readers who are grateful for the information and think it is valuable to have a public debate about the lengths to which our government has gone in combatting the supposed threat of world domination by the Nazis.

The press and the government generally start out from opposite corners in such cases. The government would like us to publish only the official line, and some of our elected leaders tend to view anything else as harmful to the national interest. Editors start from the premise that citizens can be entrusted with unpleasant and complicated news, and that the more they know the better they will be able to make their views known to their elected officials. Our default position — our job — is to publish information if we are convinced it is fair and accurate, and our biggest failures have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough.

Forgive me, I know this is pretty elementary stuff — but it's the kind of elementary context that sometimes gets lost when our government claims we are in a global war.

Since December 7, 1941, our government has launched broad and secret war plans without seeking authorizing legislation and without fully briefing the Congress. Most Americans seem to support extraordinary measures in defense against this extraordinary threat, but some officials who have been involved in these programs have spoken to the Times about their discomfort over the legality of the government's actions and over the adequacy of oversight. We believe The Times and others in the press have served the public interest by accurately reporting on these programs so that the public can have an informed view of them.

Our decision to publish the story of the Administration's use of deceptive practices followed weeks of discussion between Administration officials and The Times, not only the reporters who wrote the story but senior editors, including me. We listened patiently and attentively. We discussed the matter extensively within the paper. We spoke to others — national security experts not serving in the Administration — for their counsel.

The Administration case for holding the story had two parts, roughly speaking: first that its plans were good — that they were legal, that they had been valuable in deceiving the "evil doers,' and that they would save American lives. And, second, that exposing these plans would put their usefulness at risk.

It's not our job to pass judgment on whether these plans are legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case. While some experts familiar with the plans have doubts about their legality, which has never been tested in the courts, and while some State Department officials worry that a temporary plan has taken on an air of permanence, we cited considerable evidence that the plans might help defeat the Nazis. A reasonable person, informed about these plans, might well decide to applaud them. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider plans if they don't know about them. And, we might add, the fact that the invasion was an abject failure lends credence to our argument that we cannot blindly trust this administration.

We weighed most heavily the Administration's concern that describing this plan would endanger it, that publication would lead the German coaltion to change tactics. But it has been widely reported — indeed, trumpeted by the War Department — that the U.S. makes every effort to deceive our supposed enemies. The Germans know this, which is why they have already been trying to figure out which of the Administrations plans were mere deceptions. A truly well-planned invasion should be able to withstand the disinfectant of exposure.

I can appreciate that other conscientious people could have gone through the process I've outlined above and come to a different conclusion. But nobody should think that we made this decision casually, with any animus toward the current Administration, or without fully weighing the issues.

Thanks for writing.

Regards,
Bill Keller


Anti-drug Bias

A tip o' the hat the Radley Balko for pointing out an excellent column in Sunday's Washington Post that shows how the death of basketball player Len Bias in 1986 directly led to Congress enacting some of the harshest and most absurd drug laws in America's history, laws that still exist today.

The column was written by Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Interestingly, Balko points out that as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee from 1979 to 1989, Sterling actually helped write many of these laws, only to later become a vocal critic of them.

University of Maryland star Bias was found dead of a cocaine overdose the day after he was drafted number two overall by the Boston Celtics. According to Sterling and Stewart, Beantown congressman and Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil almost immediately demanded strong anti-drug legislation:
One result was the innocuous-sounding Narcotics Penalties and Enforcement Act, which became the first element of the enormous Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, hurried to the floor a little over two months after Bias's death. But the effect of the penalties and enforcement legislation was to put back into federal law the kind of clumsy mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses that had been done away with 16 years before. And there they remain, 20 years and several hundred thousand defendants later.

Congress wanted to send several messages by again enacting mandatory minimums: to the Justice Department to be more focused on high-level traffickers; to major traffickers that the new penalties would destroy them; to the voters that members of Congress could fight crime as vigorously as the police and prosecutors.

But as usual, Congress screwed the pooch. (Little known fact: Congress's motto is "If you thought the problem was bad, wait til you see our solution!" True story.)

Instead of targeting large-scale traffickers, it established low-level drug quantities to trigger lengthy mandatory minimum prison terms: five grams (the weight of five packets of artificial sweetener), 50 grams (the weight of a candy bar), 500 grams (the weight of two cups of sugar) or 5,000 grams (the weight of a lunchbox of cocaine). Large-scale traffickers organize shipments of drugs totaling tons -- many millions of grams -- filling tractor-trailers, airplanes and fishing boats.

On top of this, the Justice Department obviously decided that prosecuting small-time dealers is more important than going after the big-time traffickers:

The U.S. Sentencing Commission reports that only 15 percent of federal cocaine traffickers can be classified as high-level. Seventy percent are low-level. One-third of all federal cocaine cases involve an average of 52 grams, a candy bar-sized quantity of cocaine, resulting in an average sentence of almost nine years in prison without parole.

Would it be cynical to think that DOJ goes after small fries because it's an easy way to pad its statistics? Wow, you've put how many drug dealers behind bars? Ooh, let's increase your budget! Yeah, I guess that would be cynical. I can live with that.

So here we are, twenty years later, and as Sterling as Stewart note, we've seen a 527% increase in the federal prison population, from 36,000 in 1986 to over 190,000 today, more than half of whom are "drug offenders, most of whom are serving sentences created in the weeks after Len Bias died."

But at least we've won the "War on Drugs," right? Yeah.

Sadly, the nation's drug abuse situation is not much better after 20 years. Teenagers are using very dangerous drugs at twice the rate they did in the 1980s. The price of cocaine is much lower and the purity much higher, which tells us that the traffickers have become more efficient.

See, here's the thing: I'm opposed to the WoD in the first place, on moral grounds, but even if I supported it wholeheartedly, I'd like to think that I'd be smart enough to concede defeat by now. I mean, you'd think that after this many years of abject failure, even government workers would get the message. (Maybe they're too busy drinking?) Our government is in essence fighting a losing war against many of its own citizens, citizens who quite franky have the right to ingest whatever substances they want.

Sterling and Stewart end on a (very) cautiously optimistic note:

There is a trickle of hope that mandatory sentences as a legacy of Bias's death might come to an end. A handful of conservative members of the House Judiciary Committee have begun to question the wisdom of current mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and some vote against them. The first round of mandatory minimums for drug offenses, enacted in 1951, was repealed almost 20 years later, with bipartisan support. Among those who backed repeal was George H.W. Bush, then a congressman from Texas. With his son in the White House, this would be a good time for history to repeat itself, and for this sad legacy of Len Bias's death to finally end.

I'm not inhaling holding my breath.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Fatah Attraction

This is not good.

The Aksa Martyrs Brigades announced on Sunday that its members have succeeded in manufacturing chemical and biological weapons.

In a leaflet distributed in the Gaza Strip, the group, which belongs to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Party, said the weapons were the result of a three-year effort.

According to the statement, the first of its kind, the group has managed to manufacture and develop at least 20 different types of biological and chemical weapons.

The group said its members would not hesitate to add the new weapons to Kassam rockets that are being fired at Israeli communities almost every day. It also threatened to use the weapons against IDF soldiers if Israel carried out its threats to invade the Gaza Strip.

"We want to tell [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert and [Defense Minister Amir] Peretz that your threats don't frighten us," the leaflet said.

"We will surprise you with our new weapons the moment the first soldier sets foot in the Gaza Strip."

Now, obviously Al-Aqsa is either telling the truth or it's bluffing. If it's telling the truth, there isn't much doubt that it would use these weapons, and that it wouldn't hesitate to use them on civilian populations. (As a general rule, it's a bad sign when a group with the word "martyrs" in its name gets a hold of biological or chemical weapons.) And I'm not sure I can even imagine what the Israeli response to this would be, although I feel pretty safe wagering that regardless of what happens, the UN, the BBC, Reuters, and most of the so-called "civilized" world will condemn the response without acknowledging the provocation.

If Al-Aqsa is bluffing, it's playing a dangerous game and its leaders should ask Saddam what happens when you lose.

(H/T: K-Lo from The Corner.)

Junior gets the rest of his name back

A quick update to my June 14 post on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. not owning the rights to his name: he does now.
Earnhardt told NASCAR.COM on Saturday that he and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. had agreed to terms Friday evening that awarded him sole ownership of the trademark rights to his lucrative name.
Junior says not to fault his stepmom, Theresa, who assumed control of the rights to his name (and to Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) after the death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

And you can't blame Teresa Earnhardt, Junior said, for wanting to protect her late husband's name, its worth, its legacy.

Essentially, it came down to trust. Once she trusted him enough to cherish what Dale Earnhardt means, she obliged the deal.

That's nice of Junior to say, but are we really supposed to believe that its a coincidence that just after this story got out and made Theresa look petty* she suddenly decided she "trusted" Junior enough to own his own name? Puh-lease. You got jacked, bitch. It's just that simple.

On a related note, if you put on FOX right now you'll get to watch NASCAR drivers struggling to make right turns at the road course in Sonoma.


*NASCAR fans will appreciate the sheer genius of this pun. The rest of you can just move along.

The Kos of doing business

I have absolutely no interest in the Kosfuffle currently making the rounds across the blogosphere (not to mention Newsweek and the unlinkable David Brooks in the New York Times' own Gitmo, TimesRejectTM). In fact, I can't even be bothered to provide actual links, so instead here's a link to a Technorati "Kosola" search. Knock yourselves out. (Kosola is a horrible name, by the way. Let's see if Kosfuffle catches on. I think I'm the first to use it. And probably the last.)

Of course, having no interest won't stop me from observing that the barely-concealed joy among right-wing bloggers and the MSM, and their willingness to assume guilt where none has been proven, is more than a bit unseemly and hypocritical. At least now that American Idol isn't sucking her brains out, Ann Althouse is back to making intelligent observations:
So I assume there is a conspiracy and a strategy to investigate Kos. And it's so easy to do because it can succeed even if it fails to turn anything up, because it will provoke him, and when he reacts, they'll all say he's paranoid, belligerent. Escort that man back outside the gate.
(As the Cranky Insomniac, I also love the fact that she posted this at 5:14am.)

I will say that the Kos/New Republic feud has produced some mildly enjoyable writing, and some outstanding vitriol from TNR Editor-in-Chief Marty Peretz :

Forgive me. But I never read Daily Kos until today. Well, now that I've read it, the first thought that came to me is how illiterate Kos is, just plain illiterate. There has been other not-with-a-pick-axe-but-with-a- bludgeon left-wing journalism in the English speaking world, the American PM, for example, or the British Tribune. If you look them up (they must be some place on the Web), you'll see how elegant surgical argument can be. OK, that's not what the Daily Kos is. Daily Kos is actually a rant, Kos's own rant and then his comrades.

And his rant against us, well, borders on a nut case's. When a high- minded or, rather, high-strung moralist is accused by The New York Times of journalistic hanky-panky and then by TNR of running an ideological censorship bureau, reminiscent of the old Catholic Legion of Decency, he will go off the rails. And he did. "This is what The New Republic had evolved into--just another cog of the Vast RIGHT Wing Conspiracy." An old professor of mine once warned me against writers who use capital letters for emphasis. Good advice she gave me. Capital letters suggest some imbalance in the mind of their employer. In whose interests has TNR sought "to destroy the new people-powered movement"? Kos answers his own question: "for the sake of its Lieberman-worshipping neo-con owners; that it stands with the National Review and wingnutosphere in their opposition to grassroots Democrats." Don't look at Kos's grammar. He's ranting.

GOOD STUFF, and he's NOT WRONG about the overall writing abilities of Markos and Co.

Anyway, I don't plan on writing any more about this unless someone gets fired, indicted or killed.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Washington Post Headline Raises Privacy Fears

Financial Search Raises Privacy Fears screams the Washington Post headline.

And according to the article, these fears have been raised by exactly one person: the ironically-named John D. ReVeal, "a lawyer who specializes in financial regulation at the Washington office of Powell Goldstein LLP."

Well, case closed, then.

I'm not saying other people don't have privacy questions, to use a word that actually has some degree of objectivity, but you sure couldn't tell that from Paul Blustein's piece. As for ReVeal, if that is his real name, here's his lawyerly, well-reasoned take:
["I]t's always bothered me that the public has no idea about a lot of this. People seem to care if their bank shares information with an insurance company, for commercial purposes. But they don't seem to mind if the bank shares information with a government that puts people into Guantanamo without hearings and so forth."
And of course the article concludes with another ReVeal quote:
"It's fair enough to say, we don't want to let the bad guys know that we're spying on them, and disclose every detail of how that's being done," ReVeal said. "But it's another thing to pull the wool over Americans' eyes and not disclose what end runs around the Fourth Amendment we may be doing."
Okay, look: I'm a libertarian and a privacy freak (two things I'm guessing a financial regulation lawyer ain't, by the way) but someone's going to have to explain to me how this amounts to an "end run" around the Fourth Amendment:

"As a general matter, [SWIFT's database] does not contain the type of information on ordinary transactions that would be made by individuals in the United States, such as deposits, withdrawals, checks, electronic bill payments and the like," said Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Furthermore, the officials said, ever since the program was established, the government has taken elaborate precautions to ensure that SWIFT's data are not used for any purpose other than catching and disrupting terrorists. Investigators must provide evidence showing grounds for suspicion that the person whose transactions they are examining is involved in terrorism-related activities. SWIFT auditors may object if they view the search as unwarranted. The program even has its own outside auditors, from Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., who periodically review the searches to ensure that they are justified under the guidelines, according to Levey.

"We are not permitted to browse through this data, nor can we search it for any non-terrorism investigation," Levey said, adding that in one case a couple of years ago, an analyst was found to be conducting an improper search. "In my view, that shows that the audit process is working," he said, adding that "the person who conducted that search is no longer allowed to work on" the program.

See, all this information is in the article, but Blustein and/or his editors chose to end the piece with a quote about pulling the wool over Americans' eyes and making end runs around the Fourth Amendment. So what impression do you think most people will come away with: that this program might actually be helpful in tracking terrorists while minimizing any potential privacy violations to US citizens, or that once again the Bush administration is circumventing the Constitution and not being honest with the American people?

This is pseudo-objective journalism of the lowest kind, because it pretends to a fairness and balance it doesn't possess, and it's emblematic of how little respect our self-appointed and self-important guardians of the truth have for us. But then, those who view themselves as elites rarely do have any respect for those they consider below them.

A Relaxing Weekend

I find that often the best way to relax is to rectally administrate some vicodin using the cold water extraction process. I'll usually start with six extra-strenth pills, which usually leaves me with a about 40mg of pure hydrocodone in a glass of cold water. Sometimes I use a beaker and pretend I'm the Bizarro Mr. Wizard. This makes me smile. I'll then use an eyedropper or some such thing to anally inject the solution. An enema is better, but I find that they're never around when you need them, like last night at 3am.

You should feel the effects within 20 minutes. Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac are perfect for this experience, as is the music of Sigur Ros. I would caution the kids at home against listening to any Iron Maiden while experiencing the pleasure of rectally-induced hydrocodone. Even the early, pre-Bruce Dickinson stuff. Also stay away from Pantera.

Just make sure you know what you're doing before you give yourself an enema. It is possible to injure yourself if you do it wrong, believe you me! And let me tell you, constantly having to make up stories to tell the ER people sucks. My advice is to think of your rectum as Carnegie Hall and practice, practice, practice!

(Note to self: remember to ask publisher about getting this one syndicated. Maybe Commentary or Tikkun?)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Nothing to see here

On or about December 16, 2005, "Narseal Batiste" told the "al Qaeda representative" during a meeting that he was organizing a a mission to build an "Islamic army" in order to wage jihad.

On or about February 19, 2006, during the meeting, "Narseal Batiste" told the "al Qaeda representative" that he wanted to attend al Qaeda training, along with five of his soldiers, during the second weekend of April, and further detailed his mission to wage a "full ground war" against the United States in order to "kill all the devils we can," in a mission that would "be just as good or greater than 9/11," beginning with the destruction of the Sears Tower.

On or about March 10, 2006, during the meeting, "Narseal Batiste" swore an oath of loyalty to al Qaeda...

On or about March 16, 2006, during this meeting, PATRICK ABRAHAM, STANLEY PHANOR, NAUDIMAR HERRERA, BURSON AUGUSTIN, LYGLENSON LEMORIN, and ROTHSCHILD AUGUSTINE each swore an oath of loyalty to al Qaeda.
-From the indictment against the seven men charged with planning terrorist attacks on US soil.

I'll bet we still hear over the next couple days how this has nothing to do with Islam. Any takers?

Here's something from a Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) press release:
CAIR National Board Chairman Parvez Ahmed said: "The American Muslim community is extremely concerned about these disturbing reports. We stand with local and national law enforcement authorities in seeking to keep our nation safe and secure."

Ahmed added that CAIR is urging police departments nationwide to step up patrols near mosques and other Islamic Institutions to help prevent any possible backlash resulting from these arrests.
Well, I'll agree that police departments need to step up patrols near mosques, but not quite for the same reason that CAIR puts forth. If you listen to CAIR and see how the media downplays any Muslim connection any time there's an arrest or a plot is uncovered, you'd think Americans were just champing at the bit to kick the nearest Muslim's ass. But have we seen a huge backlash in America against random Muslims? Uh, we have not, not even right after 9/11. You know why? Because by and large the American people are smart enough to know that the vast majority of American Muslims aren't terrorists and don't hate America.

Someday the MSM will figure out that the American people aren't as stupid or bigoted as they think we are. (I know, I know: I'm a dreamer.)

This just in: Right before I was about to post this I wanted to see if any news came out of CAIR's 12:00 press conference. Lo and behold, K-Lo at The Corner reports that at the presser, a CAIR official
instructed the media to "stop calling these individuals Muslims."
Damn, I'm good. But my question is, why should the media stop? Are they not Muslims? Or is it that once again we're all supposed to pretend that their Muslim ideology had nuthin' to do with nuthin'?

Al Qaeda Celebrates US Elimination from World Cup (Death to America)


Al Qaeda Celebrates
US Elimination from World Cup
(Death to America);

AQW Council salutes 13 Democratic Senators
for standing up to filthy Jews


26 Jumada 'l-Ula 1427AH - Al Qaeda Worldwide announced its support for the Republic of Ghana after the Ghanaian national soccer team defeated the American team 2-1, AQW Executive Director Osama bin Laden announced today. The win by the brave Ghanaian team eliminated the cowardly infidels from the World Cup.

"Today is truly a Day of Days," bin Laden declared. "The scorn of Allah and the Wrath of Ghana have been heaped upon the blaspheming piglovers as they are forced to cut and run from the Tournament of the Cup of the World, much as they will soon flee like the sons of a burqaless woman from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, Mishallah! Death to America."

The failure of the United States to advance to the next round of the World Cup is seen by many in Al Qaeda and the Democratic party as a setback for President George W. Bush and a repudiation of his deceitful and illegal policies.

"On this glorious day Al Qaeda indeed salutes the proud warriors of Ghana," confirmed AQW Associate Executive Director Ayman Al-Zawahiri. "In the name of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), the filthy Jews have learned today that their swine-eating patron does not have the stomach for extended confrontations of any sort, Murtha be praised.

"Even as their women shamelessly flaunt their toned, supple, well-moisturized bare skin, and hairless faces with thick, pouty lips and the noses of straightness, even as their girls go the wild and lay down with other wildings of girls, so shall our purity of essence lead us to victory in the eyes of Allah, blessed be his name," Zawahiri continued, adding, "Death to America."

In other AQ news, the Al Qaeda Executive Council and AQW subsidiary Al Qaeda in Iraq expressed their appreciation to those Democratic Senators who earlier today courageously stood up to the Jewo-conservatives and voted to set a timetable for defeat in Iraq.

"Al Qaeda in Iraq joins the Executive Council in thanking Senators Kerry, Kennedy, Feingold, Boxer, Leahy, Menendez, Durbin, Lautenberg, Harkin, Inouye, Wyden and Jeffords for their hard work and efforts on our behalf," said recently appointed AQI leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri. "On a personal note, allow me to say that for blaspheming tools of the money-worshipping Jews, their guidance has been invaluable and I look forward to working with them in the future as I continue to grow into my new position, Inshallah! Except for Senator Boxer, who truly is the whore of whores. Death to America."

Founded in 1988 by Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda Worldwide has quickly become the world's leading exporter of Islamism, with Muslims from around the world participating in AQW's training seminars in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border regions. Among AQW's accomplishments under Executive Director bin Laden are the Embassy Bombing Fundraising Campaign of 1998, the Y2K USS Cole Bombing Membership Drive and the September 11 Allah4U American tour. As AQW has expanded, subsidiaries have been established in key areas across the globe, including Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Al Qaeda in Afghanistan (AQA), Al Qaeda in Peshawar (AQP), Al Qaeda in Hollywood (AQH) and Al Qaeda in Academia (AQAc). AQW boasts an ethnically diverse membership, with all members connected by their devotion to the word of Allah, love for his Prophet (pbuh) and their understanding that to kill Americans and their allies, civilians and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who is able. Death to America.

-30-

Al Qaeda Press Release Archive:

Al-Muhajer to Replace Murdered AQI Leader al-Zarqawi (Death to America)

Al Qaeda Condemns Proposed Marine Sanctuary (Death to America)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

US team suffers fatal attack of Ghanarea

The World Cup ended earlier today. Can we please go back to our soccer-free lives now?

As always, God makes some good points.

PS - While we're talking sports, I totally have a non-sexual man crush on Mets third baseman David Wright. After hitting two two-run homers today, he's batting .338, with 17 HR and 60 RBI. In the month of June he's batting .378, with 9 HR and 25 RBI. Ridiculous, especially considering he's only 24 and in just his second full year in the Majors.

Top 10 Ways To Tell If It's The Right Time To Go On At Length About Your Faith

Inspired by a true story!
As promised in my previous post!

The Cranky Insomniac presents:

The Top 10 Ways To Tell If It's The Right Time
To Go On At Length About Your Faith
10. Your audience is seated in pews.
9. You're surrounded by beards.
8. Tom Cruise and John Travolta are in the audience, but Steven Spielberg is not.
7. It's Friday and everyone else in the McDonald's is eating a Filet-o-Fish, too.
6. The people around you are all wearing the same headgear, but you're not at a sporting event.
5. You've just seen what is easily among the most violent and difficult-to-watch films ever made, yet you and the people around you feel oddly comforted.
4. You live in Texas.
3. You're eating in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve. (A little inside?)
2. When you look around you see a lot of people on their knees, and you're pretty sure you didn't sign up for orgy class.
1. The cries of "Death to America" are overwhelming yet strangely arousing!


Valedictory is mine!

In my post about Brittany McComb, the Foothill High valedictorian whose microphone was shut off by school administrators because she was about to talk about how God was the biggest part of her life, I wrote that the school shouldn't have cut off her mic, but that the extent to which she wanted to talk about her faith was inappropriate for a commencement address. I said:
Look, this ain't proselytizing, but it's obnoxious. It's obnoxious to the many people who don't share McComb's beliefs, and honestly it should be obnoxious to those who do believe as she does, because it's the wrong place and the wrong time to be talking about such a personal issue.

McComb was speaking to her fellow students, their families and their friends, all of whom have their own personal views on religion and their own relationship, or lack thereof, with God, and I'm sure the last thing many of them wanted to hear was an extended soliloquy on how Christ died to save their souls. This is no different from someone giving a high school commencement address and talking about her belief that the war in Iraq is illegal, or Bush = Hitler, or John Murtha is a coward, etc. Yes, it's all protected speech (as McComb's should be), but it doesn't belong in a commencement address.
Apparently a lot of people disagree with that last assertion. (Though oddly, I'm guessing most of those people would be highly upset if McComb had wanted to use her platform to rail against President Bush.)

While ordinarily I might say that my own personal religious beliefs are nobody's business, in this case I feel as though I should lay them out so readers can factor them in, particularly if they find my lack of faith disturbing. Basically, I'm cheerfully agnostic, but unlike many "unbelievers," I have a deep and abiding respect for strong religious beliefs - it just happens that I was born without the faith gene. I can tell you that because I find religion such an interesting subject, I know more about it than most laypeople (including religious ones), but I'm well aware that this is wholly (holy?) different than believing it. I will never understand people who think the Bible is the literal word of God, but that's okay: they don't need me to understand them, and I'm fine with them not understanding me. The only time I have a problem with religiosity is when people want to use their faith-based beliefs to push for public policy, e.g., the idiocy of a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage. (I'm not saying that all people opposed to gay marriage fall in this camp, I'm just talking about the ones who do. And feel free to substitute another issue if you'd like: I'm not wedded* to this one.)

Don't get me wrong: If you want to say that something is immoral because God (or Jesus, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Odin) says so, I completely respect that, even if I'm not with you. Likewise, if you want to argue that the State has a vested social interest in keeping marriage between men and women, I may disagree with you, but we can have a rational discussion about it. But if you want to proclaim that something must be illegal simply because in your opinion God says it's wrong, you should tell me that up front so I know I don't have to pay attention to the rest of what comes out of your mouth. Also I would prefer you find another country in which to force your beliefs down other people's throats, but that's just me.

But back to young Brittany.

I have nothing but respect for the fact that God is the biggest part of her life, and for her wanting to thank her Lord and Savior at her commencement. To paraphrase what I said in my original post, if you want to give a shout out to God, or Jesus, etc., nobody should stop you.

But that's not what Brittany wanted to do, at least not originally. The speech she turned into school officials for approval contained two Lords, nine Gods and one Christ. (Not in the polytheistic sense.) Echoing the trailer for the new version of Superman (or do I have that backwards?), it also referenced God giving his only son "to suffer an excruciated death in order to cover everyone's shortcomings and forge a path to heaven."

Now, I'm sorry, but given the setting, that is completely and utterly inappropriate, and Ms. McComb should not be lauded for wanting to include any of it. Know your audience: people who come to a non-sectarian high school commencement aren't there to hear the Sermon on the Mount, whatever their personal beliefs might be. Injecting your religion at length or in great detail at a secular function is, quite frankly, tasteless and rude, regardless of what those beliefs are. (It would be equally tasteless and rude to ruminate about your disbelief in God in such a setting.) It's the wrong topic at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And here's another thing: Is it just me, or does anyone else get the sense that people who constantly feel the need to talk about how great their faith is often are engaging in unseemly self-congratulation rather than humble devotion? To me, this is the equivalent of the guy who's always talking about how much chicks dig him to cover for the fact that he's got a small pe list of girls he's actually gone out with. If your faith is that strong, you shouldn't have to go around telling everybody about it: it's probably obvious from the way you lead your life. Remember, there's a fine line between singing God's praises and singing your own praises for singing God's praises so loudly.

As an added bonus, my next post will be the Cranky Insomniac's top ten ways to tell if it's the right time to go on at length about your faith. Some will apply to all faiths, others will be more faith-specific. Stay tuned.


*Unless otherwise stated, all puns are intended, and will not be apologized for.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Milk was a bad choice

I hate humidity. I love Jill Wagner, the girl from the Mercury commercials. I wonder if Jill Wagner hates humidity. I hope so. Otherwise there could be problems later on. No mention of humidity one way or the other at her Myspace page, so maybe she doesn't have strong feelings either way about it. That would be odd, though, not to feel strongly about humidity. If you have any info at all regarding Jill Wagner and humidity, please let me know. I'll be inside if you need me. As the priest said to the altar boy.

Spread a little sunlight on the dark hole of Congress

If you've got some free time, why not help the Sunlight Foundation investigate Congress?
Last week at Sunlight, we exposed House Speaker Dennis Hastert's use of a secret, undisclosed trust to make a $2 million profit selling land located near the proposed route of the Prairie Parkway, a project Hastert has backed with $207 million in earmarks.

There are still 539 congress members and delegates whose disclosure forms haven't been scrutinized.

[snip]

The House Ethics Manual states, "The objectives of financial disclosure are to inform the public about the financial interests of government officials in order to increase public confidence in the integrity of government and to deter potential conflicts of interest." (The Senate Ethics Manual is similar). On June 14, members of Congerss made public those disclosures. As a public service, the Web site PoliticalMoneyLine.com has put them online. The House disclosure forms start here -- and the Senate (all on one page) is here. Go to the site, find your member, download the form, and spend a little time learning about your member's financial interests.

Are there entries you don't understand? Are there private companies, partnerships, or trusts for which no public information is available? Are investments in land identified in ways that you can find them on a map?

Inform yourself, and let me know what you find, either by email or by posting information online on your site (and sending us a link) or on ours.

Let's make sure that we deter potential conflicts of interest by reading their disclosure forms, and making sure they know we're watching.

Check out the Sunlight Foundation's site (linked to above) for more info. Be a patriot: help scare the crap out of your dishonest, pork-loving, bribe- and/or unethical favor-taking Senators and Representatives.

Remember, sunlight kills soulless bloodsucking creatures of the night, so there's no reason it shouldn't work on members of Congress.

(Via Instapundit.)

Truthout is out there

Yes, it does appear that Truthout was used, but not lied to or misled. The facts appear to have been accurate.
- Truthout.org writer Marc Ash defending the organization for erroneously reporting that Karl Rove was going to be indicted by Special Prosecutor Larry Fitzgerald.

So let me get this straight: Truthout got intelligence that it thought was unimpeachable - a "slam dunk," if you will - then used that intelligence to make claims that later turned out to be false, continues to say that its claims may yet turn out to be true - has trouble thinking of any mistakes it might have made, if you will - and insists that there was no lying involved.

I know this sounds like something else, but I can't quite put my finger on it...don't worry, it'll come to me...wait...wait...I've got it...nope, I lost it. Damn.

Y'know, if I were the type of person who thought that a saying was true just because it rhymed I bet I could come up with a good one here. Luckily I grew out of that stage when I was nine.

(H/T: Hot Air)

Monday, June 19, 2006

High School to Valedictorian: Faith No More

Jay at Stop the ACLU points us to the story of Brittany McComb, valedictorian of Foothill High School in Clark County, Nevada, whose commencement address was cut off by school administrators because she was about to talk about her faith in Christ.

The decision to cut short McComb’s commencement speech Thursday at The Orleans drew jeers from the nearly 400 graduates and their families that went on for several minutes.

However, Clark County School District officials and an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday that cutting McComb’s mic was the right call. Graduation ceremonies are school-sponsored events, a stance supported by federal court rulings, and as such may include religious references but not proselytizing, they said.

They said McComb’s speech amounted to proselytizing and that her commentary could have been perceived as school-sponsored.

Before she delivered her commencement speech, McComb met with Foothill administrators, who edited her remarks. It’s standard district practice to have graduation speeches vetted before they are read publicly.

School officials removed from McComb’s speech some biblical references and the only reference to Christ.

Here's my take: The school shouldn't have cut off McComb's mic and the ACLU should know better. McComb is not a school official, and the Constitution wasn't set up to prevent some idiot from having the wrong perception. (And someone should tell Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada, that saying your position is backed up by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is usually the equivalent of saying your position is unconstitutional.)

However, what bothers me every time I read a story like this is the lack of understanding of how talking about one's personal faith is completely inappropriate in a commencement address, unless it's just a quick shout out to the Lord. And this was not what McComb had in mind:

"I went through four years of school at Foothill and they taught me logic and they taught me freedom of speech," McComb said. "God's the biggest part of my life. Just like other valedictorians thank their parents, I wanted to thank my lord and savior."

In the 750-word unedited version of McComb's speech, she made two references to the lord, nine mentions of God and one mention of Christ.

In the version approved by school officials, six of those words were omitted along with two biblical references. Also deleted from her speech was a reference to God's love being so great that he gave his only son to suffer an excruciated death in order to cover everyone's shortcomings and forge a path to heaven.

Look, this ain't proselytizing, but it's obnoxious. It's obnoxious to the many people who don't share McComb's beliefs, and honestly it should be obnoxious to those who do believe as she does, because it's the wrong place and the wrong time to be talking about such a personal issue.

McComb was speaking to her fellow students, their families and their friends, all of whom have their own personal views on religion and their own relationship, or lack thereof, with God, and I'm sure the last thing many of them wanted to hear was an extended soliloquy on how Christ died to save their souls. This is no different from someone giving a high school commencement address and talking about her belief that the war in Iraq is illegal, or Bush = Hitler, or John Murtha is a coward, etc. Yes, it's all protected speech (as McComb's should be), but it doesn't belong in a commencement address. To quote the Reverend Jesse Jackson in an old Saturday Night Live episode, "I cannot emphasize this point enough."

If God and/or Jesus is "the biggest part" your life, please, by all means, throw in a sentence thanking Him/Them, tell us how you couldn't have done it without Him/Them, and then move on. Show some respect for your audience and recognize that not everybody shares your beliefs and that they're quite frankly not all that interesting anyway.

Besides, by flapping your gums you're making the after-commencement parties start later.

Update: More thoughts here. Vaguely tasteless humor here.