Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Monday, July 30, 2007

D.C. Dread

I love living in Our Nation's Capital. I do. I really do. This is true despite the insane traffic, the random street crime, the second-class citizenship, and so on. Oh, yeah--the tourists! Y'all can go home now.

But nothing tries the patience of the D.C. transplant as much as . . . the Redskins. One would think that the 5-11 season last year would dampen expectations. But then you wouldn't live in D.C., would you? These people are insane. Perhaps a better term would be delusional.

The Return of Kenny Lofton

Even though this morning finds the Tigers still .5 games ahead of the Tribe in the AL Central, the return of Kenny Lofton to the Indians line-up has me worried. (As a Tigers fan, of course. I think it's great for the Indians, as a Tribe fan.)

Because I have doubts about that link, here's the point: Lofton received another standing ovation for his first at-bat of his second start since returning to Cleveland -- a continuation of the reception he received for every at-bat in his first game Friday. By the end of Sunday's game, though, Tribe fans had quieted their appreciation at his return to a sitting roar each time Lofton approached the plate. Even while sitting, one fan held a sign that read, "Welcome home, Kenny!"

Lofton was always a fan favorite, and the Tribe has the benefit of playing its home games in the Jake, with a great home crowd. If Lofton can put together a few good weeks . . . trouble. Especially if the Tigers' pitching staff continues to be so . . . hittable. Giving up double-digit runs in all three games against the Angels this weekend! All losses, of course.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

JC in the Hizzee

My atheist friends here will be happy to know that I had an all-Jesus entertainment weekend, between finishing Harry Potter 7 and watching what has to be the best horror movie of the last decade: the documentary Jesus Camp. Truly creepy. Is this what Frances means when she describes a "healthy" development of doctrine-centered faith in modern religion?

Jesus Camp focuses on an evangelical summer camp in Devil's Lake, ND run by Reverend Becky, who believes that Christians should refashion their faith on the model of Hamas, quite literally celebrating Palestinian suicide bombers as positive role models. Pre-pubescent kids show up for prophecy training: they speak in tongues, dance to Christian rap, and worship before a cardboard cutout of George W. (hello, graven image), screaming "one nation under God!" and "righteous judges!" at the top of their cute little lungs. One camp leader gives them hammers and prompts them to destroy porcelain cups with the word "government" written on them. For good measure, they make a pilgrimage to Colorado Springs to get all inspirational with Ted Haggard before trooping to Washington for some missionary work. The best character may be little Rachel, an adorably sweet Raggedy Ann girl who seethes with hatred for "dead churches" and dreams of running a conversion-oriented nail salon. Approaching some elderly black men in a park, she asks them where they think they're going when they die. "Heaven" says the man. "Are you sure?" she asks incredulously. Walking away, she whispers, "I think they were Muslims!"

One of the funniest things about JC is the anti-Harry Potter sermonizing, punctuated by tirades about "warlocks" and the devil. This seems to be where at least some of the kids draw the line against the brainwashing, as one indicates in an aside to the camera. I note the irony here b/c if you've read HP7 (SPOILER ALERT), you know that Rowling goes all C.S. Lewis on us. All we're missing is the talking lion. I'm really curious how JKR's non-Xian readers will relate to the hard core Christology of this book, whether it's the long disquisitions on the status of the soul or the sacrificial death and resurrection scene "at the close." It hasn't really been hard to notice the Christian value system JKR has promoted throughout the series, but nowhere before was it as overt as this, a little much even for me. So on the pop culture acceptability scale, Rev. Becky apparently thinks Christian rap is OK ("JC is in da Houuuuse!"), but please, please, stop the kids before they READ.

Of course, JKR is a liberal Christian who takes occasional shots at George W., as in the opening lines of HP6 where the Brit. Prime Minister dreads a phone conversation with a "wretched man" who is "President of a far distant country." In HP7, Voldemort basically decides that he wants to be Dick Cheney, running the Ministry of Magic from behind the scenes, manipulating the dimwitted new puppet Minister, Pius Thicknesse. Hmm. . . . I wonder who that's supposed to be. She also generally presents her religiosity as a manifestation of moral choice in light of human mortality rather than as pious sermonizing about the power of prayer or as doctrinal rigidity, making her faith unrecognizable to our right-wing cognoscenti.

For what it's worth, I thought HP7 was a patchy read. As we all know, JKR ain't Shakes, or even JRRT for that matter. Her gravest writing sin, for my taste, is her inability to let the reader figure anything out for him- or herself. Every new plot revelation has to be endlessly chewed over by her main characters just to make sure you get the point. The opening scene in HP7--the murder of a muggle-studies teacher--is cliched action picture stuff, the book rambles too much in the middle, and Voldemort has always lacked something as a villain. I'll call it "subtlety." In HP6, we get all Freudian and find out that his mommy didn't love him and that he was a budding sociopath even before he started tinkering with his soul. It seems to me that such radical-evil psychologizing runs counter the key Rowling theme that moral judgment and choice shape the soul and its destiny. Ralph Fiennes makes him notably better in the films than he is on the page.

Still, having read all the Potters and embraced the characters, I greatly enjoyed HP7, especially the action scenes, which are the best in the series. There weren't any real surprises to those who had connected the dots from earlier books, and the only really moving/surprising death was that of an elf. But HP7 was satisfying in that Frodo-trudging-up-Mount-Doom kind of way. I'd even say that, as a series closer, it beats Return of the King, which suffers a bit more from sameness and drags through its coda. Plus, I'm sure it will drive Rev. Becky to even battier heights to hear from future campers that the series was Christian allegory from the start.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Arming Both Sides

Reading this article this morning, it's becoming ever clearer that the US is effectively arming both sides in Iraq's civil conflict. The policy of enlisting and arming Sunni militias and tribes to fight al-Qaeda enrages al-Maliki and has become a huge source of friction between him and Petreaus. Meanwhile, there's no question that the Iraqi military and police forces--the main recipients of US assistance--are viewed by Sunnis as Shiite and sectarian. Whenever we do leave, we're just going to be leaving behind better armed forces on both sides.

Who Cares?

Are we really going to have to listen to coverage of astronauts and booze? I mean, can't the inanimate carbon rod fly the Space Shuttle, if needed? And why are we still flying manned space missions, anyway?

Friday, July 27, 2007

The First Casualty

The Truth is, proverbially, the first casualty of war. This may have never been as true as it is today. The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight has piled lie upon lie upon lie. But the really maddening thing is how the war promoters have manipulated people and facts . . . and the most maddening example of that has to be the Pat Tillman case. Tillman was the most prominent (but hardly the only) example of a patriotic American motivated to sacrifice for his country, only to have his sacrifice manipulated and betrayed. The investigation into that cover-up has now led to several letters of reprimand, including one to "human resources":

Brig. Gen. Gina Farrisee, director of military personnel management at the Pentagon, is expected to receive a letter of punishment for her involvement in the oversight of the awarding of Tillman's Silver Star.


Farrisee's rebuke is tied to the Army recommendations that Tillman receive the Silver Star. The investigations found that Army officials were aware that Tillman probably died as a result of friendly fire, but that they moved ahead with the medal, for heroism in the face of the enemy.

The thing is, Tillman was actually heroic. But the tragedy of his death--an unnecessary, senseless death--did not fit into the military brass's preferred narrative. So they did what so many found so easy, post-9/11. They lied, and they buried the truth.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Last week there was "talk" of disbanding the Justice Department. Then the A-G testimony yesterday. The Post story included the term "Gonzales's credibility." I'm not sure what that term means.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

They're Called Running Shorts for a Reason

I had two pair of black running shorts I really liked. One pair wore out, and the other pair came up missing. No big deal, shouldn't be too hard to buy a new pair of plain black running shorts, right?

WRONG. The style in men's shorts, in general, and in running shorts, too, is longer and longer. I bought one pair of black running shorts that come down almost to my knees. Now, they look OK, I guess, but they aren't really comfortable for running. A big drawback for running shorts. The shops just aren't carrying "short" running shorts any more--and I don't mean those split-sided numbers that the really skinny guys wear. I just mean standard shorts from a few years ago, 3" inseam or less.

What is it with long shorts? Michael Jordan? He wasn't a track star, was he?

Is There News on ESPN?

This is a bit off the beaten track, but I was driving home from a brief trip yesterday, listening to Faux News on XM, specifically to the media criticism show they do on the weekends--the one with Cal Thomas, usually, but he was on vacation, thank godness. And they were discussing whether ESPN has a conflict of interest when it covers stories like the Michael Vick-dogfighting story. Because, you know, ESPN has an interest in promoting NFL football, which might mean that the network goes easy on players when they are in trouble. (Of course, none of the panelists thought ESPN was going easy on the Vick story, so the question was a bit academic, even in their discussion.)

One of the panelists (Jane Hall, I think) brought up Playmakers, the series on the seedy side of pro football that ESPN pulled after one season because of pressure from the NFL.

I was thinking about this, and I've concluded that there really isn't any news on ESPN. That isn't to say that there aren't some real journalists who work for the network. But it's basically impossible for ESPN to have a conflict of interest when it's really an entertainment network, not a news network. The E in ESPN is for entertainment, after all. A great deal of what looks like news on ESPN is actually promotional material for other ESPN products, like MLB and NFL games that the network shows.

The key point, I guess, is that even if it looks like news--and SportsCenter and some other shows do, and there is the whole ESPNNews network--it isn't necessarily journalism. But, hmm, I would think that folks who work for Fox would grok that.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Thrilling new evidence for Atheism

If you haven't seen this video of Filipino prisoners re-enacting Michael Jackson's Thriller, don't pass it up. I ask you, could an Intelligent Designer's creation have given rise to this bizarre spectacle?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

After arranging for the Boo to hang out with her cousin Mandy, Mrs. TMcD and I stole away to see the new Harry Potter movie last night. It's gotten some mixed reviews (e.g., NYT liked it, but Roger Ebert whined that it wasn't the joyous kid's movie he was awaiting) so my expectations were modest. Man, did Ebert miss the boat.

I confess to being a Harry Potter fan. My sister got me into the books several years ago, and they started me reading fiction again after, literally, decades of abandonment. They may not be high art, as the snobby Harold Blooms complain, but they are great entertainment. They're also several cuts above fluff, especially once you get past the first couple of books. Since Rowling ages Harry a year in each book, she also ages the themes. Reviewers often comment on how the books get "darker," but as Rowling points out, you had to be pretty thick not to see it coming in a series that begins with the double murder of the hero's parents. Book Two, which I generally consider to be both the weakest book and the weakest film, nonetheless raises central issues of racism and class exploitation. Book Three, the best of the early Potters, offers a brilliant recasting of Dickens's Great Expectations. And Book Four combines teen sports heroism with a complex narrative of identity crisis and political corruption.

Book Five, Order of the Phoenix, is the most difficult book in the series so far. At 870 labyrinthine pages, it surely challenges many of its young readers' endurance. Even more challenging to the reader is Harry himself, who is no longer very likable. He's 15, angry, self-absorbed, and convinced the world is out to get him. It is. Rowling dives headlong into politics here. After the gruesome murder of one of Harry's schoolmates that ended Book Four, Harry knows he's entered a new and violent world. But the politicians are in denial and the press merely mouths the official state narrative. The Ministry of Magic takes over Hogwarts via the primly authoritarian Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton portrays her Queen Mum meets Laura Bush), who values loyalty above all else and slowly turns the school into a fascist police state. She may not be in league with the terrorists, but her commitment to ideology over empiricism makes her seem even worse. A portrait of the banality of evil, she's a vastly more compelling and infuriating villain than the radically evil (but somewhat cartoonish) Lord Voldemort. It's especially remarkable that Rowling offered this prescient analysis in a book published in 2003 and surely started much earlier.

Filming Book Five must have been the toughest task of any of the novels to date: its length, its tangle of subplots, and its grim tone all worked against it. But the film, directed by David Yates, does the book more than justice. Stripping away the gloss, Yates evokes WWII films by injecting more grit into the genre's magical surrealism. It doesn't hurt that the young actors are finally starting to look comfortable as actors at just the moment that their characters are least comfortable as teenagers. I won't give any more away. I'll just say that I thought the film soared, as action flick, as teen melodrama, as gothic horror, and as pre-war epic. Not bad.

"I suppose the next step would be just disbanding the Justice Department."

That's Rep. Henry Waxman on the administration's new claim that the president can lawfully prevent U.S. attorneys from pursuing criminal contempt charges against administration officials when the officials are claiming executive privilege.

Is it possible that Waxman is actually behind the curve on this one? How do we know that the Justice Department hasn't been disbanded already? How would one tell?

A System of Tubes

No, not a Ted Stevens post, just a reference. This is actually an underground steampipe post. As in the steampipe that exploded in NYC a few days ago (and receiving beaucoup media coverage, for some reason). Right now on NBC 4 they're covering pipes in the District, and whether they can explode! Oh, my.

I don't know about steampipes (what are they for?). But I do know that water pipes, or water mains, are a serious public works/infrastructure problem in most "older" cities. Many of those pipes have been in the ground for a long time, and they aren't in good shape. I remember back in Cleveland, during the Great Blackout of 2003 and the days after, when the city's water system failed, basically completely, the news reported that four water mains were busting in the city every day--twice the normal rate. For the mathematically challenged, that means that two water mains bust every day, on average, in Cleveland. That's what I remember, anyway.

So why should old steampipes be any more reliable? Now, of course, steam under high pressure is a helluva lot more dangerous than water.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The New NIE (National Intelligence Excrement)

What a coincidence. Today a summary of the new NIE was released just before the Senate is to hold an all-nighter to debate the war in Iraq, one paragraph of which reads:
We assess that al-Qa’ida will continue to enhance its capabilities to attack the Homeland through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups. Of note, we assess that al-Qa’ida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa’ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.

From the experience of wading through the fine minutiae of textual additions and deletions in other texts and contexts, I smell a whopper of a textual insertion here. This paragraph makes no sense as it stands. Al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI -- wow, they're so big we now have an acronymn for them!) is the most visible and capable al-Qa'ida affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland (note the rhetoric of repeating the words "The Homeland" to scare the shit out of us)?

C'mon. The rhetoric and content of this document have been so transparently manipulated by the Bush administration for one purpose and one purpose only. To make the case that we must stay the course in Iraq, because now al-Qa'ida is there plotting attacks against the Homeland. It will be of great use tonight for Bush's allies in the Senate.

Of course the MSM and even some, if not most, left-leaning news outlets and blogs will get taken in by this ploy and report it with the headlines "Al-Qa'ida in Iraq is attempting to hit the Homeland!" When will they/we ever learn that every authoritative voice in the Federal government, with the exception of parts of the Senate and the House, is now an instrument of Bush administration propaganda?

Update: This morning's WaPo has an article that analyzes the new NIE and in the course of the story reports that, "In talking with reporters in the Oval Office yesterday, Bush concentrated on a single paragraph in the assessment that placed the enemy in Iraq in a larger context of international terrorism. The estimate said bin Laden's organization will 'probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland.'"

Need I introduce any other evidence that this paragraph was, in fact, largely manufactured?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sound Like Anyone . . . ?

From Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Reason Why, page 175 (in the 1982 reprint edition):

Nevertheless, in spite of the record in his diary, Cardigan was very far from accepting his fate. He possessed the type of mind which by brooding on facts is able to transform them. He was the kind of man who talks incessantly of what is on his mind, repeats hundreds of times and in the same words his own version of events, ignores his adversary's point of view, and so ultimately is able to convince himself that what has happened has not happened, and that black is white.

The Reason Why is a "famous" study of the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. It follows the two key commanders of the Light Brigade, "the commanders in the field," if you will, and Cardigan is one of them (Lord Lucan is the other). It turns out that the Crimean War has some strange parallels to current events. Consider this, from the introduction (to the 1982 reprint edition) by Gordon Craig:

The Crimean War is an inglorious episode of the Victorian era, and it reflects credit neither on British statecraft nor on British arms. After the conflict had started, there were few Englishmen who could have explained why it had been necessary to go to war in the Near East, and after it was over, Lord Stanmore said sadly that the struggle had been 'undertaken to resist an attack that was never threatened and probably never contemplated.'

Eerie, isn't it?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Religion this Week

The big news in Christendom this past week wasn't ABC's exposé on Hell or Gerson's silly essay, rather it was the Catholic Church's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith issuing this document, which reaffirms that "the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church." The document was particularly harsh on Prostestants:

According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities [ones born out of the Reformation = Prostestants] do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense.

But, TMcD, you can take comfort in the fact that being a member of a Christian ecclesial Community (not a Church though), that you are "deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation." We Atheists, on the other hand, are still damned.

I Smite Thee, Atheist Rogue!

Thanks, 3, for throwing down the gauntlet. We haven't had a good religion row in ages. I guess we were due. What's so wrong about ABC doing a story on Hell? If we can spend countless TV news hours on Paris Hilton and the justice system, we can surely extend our interest to the next level of punishment. Religion contributes to both intellectual and popular culture in America. It probably gets less attention from the news than it deserves.

I hate to agree with Gerson, but he's mostly right, and he's right for the right reasons. He doesn't deny that atheists can be moral people. Of course they can be, and often are. I'd go farther than he does here. It seems to me that atheism is often born of a longing for justice that turns its gaze upon the injustices arising from within religion and theism, making it spiritually more serious than most conventional religiosity, based as the latter often is in social conformity. Gerson just denies that atheism, as a world view, can finally justify the better angels of our nature against untrammeled self-assertion. At best you're left with tragedy and uncertainty, at worst, nihilism. Although I consider the former option a respectable one, I'm not so sure that it can be the foundation of a just social order (as opposed to individual ethic). Religion, by contrast, provides institutional supports and public justifications for other-regarding behavior and beliefs. Of course, since this is religion and not science, it means that theism is partly a projection of human hope, just as hell is a mystification of man's desire for justice. A news story that examines that issue with some seriousness should be welcomed.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Now That's Journamalism

Seems that the "journalists" at 20/20 are airing a Friday the 13th special on . . . Hell. I shit you not. This is true. Guess there's just nothing going on in reality that could use a little investigative journalism.

I sure hope Gerson watches this. Because I have a few questions about Hell that I'm sure he can't answer.

A Short Course in the Appeals Process

Oh, not a legal post. Oh, no. This is a Detroit Tigers post. Seems that a run scored before an appeal play that registers the third out of an inning counts. Who knew?

The answer to that (admittedly) rhetorical question is Jim Leyland, the best manager in the game today.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Somebody Stole My Bike!

That sucks. And it's not like it was out on the street--it got lifted from a locked garage. Oh, well, now I can get a nicer one.

Phanatical Phlops

Great article in Sports Illustrated--the one with the Hanson brothers on the cover--on the Philadelphia Phillies' upcoming 10,000th loss, making it the losingest sports franchise in any professional sport. It's basically an assortment of great baseball quotes, about losing--in Philadelphia.

My favorite: "Even Napoleon had his Watergate." That was manager Danny Ozark, after being fired.

Are We Safer Yet?

The real al-Qaeda--not the fake Iraq one--has regrouped in the remote stretches of Pakistan and Afghanistan, even while the U.S. and its allies have exhausted their military resources and political resources in a ill-conceived war in Mesopotamia. That's what the CIA says. At least the first part of the sentence, anyway.

I don't have a "gut feeling" about anything. But the fact that this country has been so, so badly led for the last six years does make me sick.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Nixon: "Dumb as hell"

Today's trivia question. About whom did Nixon utter those immortal words? Hint, he's a current GOP darling and presidential candidate. The fuller context: Nixon considered him a useful idiot.

Make your guesses in comments. Check the link for an answer.

This Man Needs an Editor

Today's George F. Will column is completely incoherent. Why the Post, and dozens of other newspapers, would want to publish an op-ed criticizing the New Deal is beyond me. Um, it's called a newspaper, and the New Deal is hardly new. Maybe Will doesn't want to grapple with any of the actual issues of the day.

But there are a few examples of incoherence of thought, and errors of fact, that deserve special mention. First, there's this:

Before Roosevelt, the federal government was unimpressive relative to the private sector. Under Calvin Coolidge, the last pre-Depression president, its revenue averaged 4 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 18.6 percent today. In 1910, Congress legislated height limits for Washington buildings, limits that prevented skyscrapers, symbols of mighty business, from overshadowing the Capitol, the symbol of government.

First, can anyone explain to me the apparent non sequitor about Congress limiting the height of buildings in the District in 1910? Was the evil supervillain FDR able to go back in time to 1910 and impose his statist vision on a Republican Congress? How is that related to the rest of the paragraph?

Does Will want the height-restriction lifted? If so, that's not very conservative. Is it?

Second, another reason why government revenues as a share of the economy may have grown since the Coolidge Administration is that, um, under Coolidge the United States was not the greatest military superpower the world had ever seen. It was a second-rate power, a regional power, able to intervene from time to time in Latin America and the Far East, but not the United States military-industrial complex of today. It's true that entitlements make up a much larger part of the federal budget than they did in the 1920s, but so does military spending. And Will barely mentions military spending or affairs in the piece, other than to restate the truism that the Second World War lifted the United States out of the Depression (i.e., not the New Deal), and to say, I believe non-ironically, that war is the health of the state (more on that in a moment).

OK, so how about a factual error? Here's one: In 1938, when the New Deal's failure to spark recovery made Roosevelt increasingly frantic, he attempted to enlarge the Supreme Court so he could pack it with compliant justices. Where to begin? I've never seen anything that would make me think that the court-packing plan was motivated by the failure of New Deal programs, in policy terms. It was clearly motivated by Supreme Court decisions (which, I guess, Will would agree with, btw) striking down New Deal policies under now-discredited constitutional doctrines.

More tellingly, though, FDR introduced his court-packing plan in . . . 1937, after his landslide reelection in 1936. In February 1937, to be exact. By 1938, the plan had generated stiff resistance and was basically doomed to defeat. So not only does Will get the motivation wrong, he places the plan in the wrong year. This is either bald-faced dishonesty or a demonstration that Will doesn't know what he's talking about.

Finally, there's this: War, as has been said -- and as George W. Bush's assertion of vast presidential powers attests -- is the health of the state. But as Roosevelt demonstrated and Shlaes reminds us, compassion, understood as making the "insecure" securely dependent, also makes the state flourish.

How are we to read that first sentence? Not clear. It could be that Will, an anti-statist, opposes Bush's assertions of vast power, and that he is opposed to the "health of the state." Maybe, but he could make that point more clearly. And, if he doesn't like Bush's assertions "of vast presidential powers," maybe he could have written a column on that, ahem, more timely topic.

Whatever that sentence means--and I have to say, I have to admit, I don't know what Will means to say--it is clear that this man needs an editor. Or a fact-checker. Maybe both.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Is Running 'Undignified' Exercise?

In today's Post, we learn that new French president Sarkozy is a runner and that some folks in France, especially on the Left, have a problem with running/jogging. As in, they are ideologically opposed to it. "Sarkozy has fueled a French suspicion that running is for self-centered individualists like Americans . . . ." Like that Jimmy Carter guy, I guess.

This is a great example of something that I actually find kind of funny, and that's the effort by some intellectuals to categorize all aspects of life according to some scale of, um, political correctness. Is running "politically correct"? No--it is a self-centered activity. Play a team sport instead. But this happens on both sides of the political aisle, as when the NRO folks came up with a list of the greatest "conservative" rock-n-roll songs.

First Amendment Query

So I'm reading through the opinions in the Sixth Circuit NSA decision, and this question arises. The "lead" opinion (there is no majority opinion) concludes that the First Amendment cannot be implicated in a case where the communications were intended to be private, confidential--they were phone calls and emails--because the First Amendment only applies to public speech, i.e., speech intended to be heard. Slip op. at 9-10. Now, of course, I intend my phone calls to be heard by someone, but I don't want to quibble.

Here's my question. Under that theory, could the Government prohibit the communication of certain political beliefs in private phone calls or emails only? If the First Amendment only applies to "public speech," then there wouldn't be a problem with such a regulation. (Now, the regulation might be hard to enforce without an army of snitches, but enforcement is a separate question.)

More seriously: It seems to me that the associational apsects of the First Amendment allow some kind of expectation of privacy, no? I've never really thought about the connection b/w the First and Fourth Amendments before, certainly not in this light. But don't I have a First Amendment interest in being able to communicate my "message" to just one person (or a few people)?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Bear Sightings in Bethesda

Can it really be that there are black bears in the D.C. area? Seems so.

The television folks keep stressing that black bear attacks on humans are "very rare." I guess that they haven't considered that, if a bear was at all aggressive and inclined toward attacking people, and it, um, lived in the D.C. suburbs, we probably would have had one or two bear attacks by now.

The big question is not when will the bear attack a person. The question is when one of these black bears will get hit by a car. Because the bear or bears in Bethesda have a lot more to fear from people than we do them.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

More AT Blogging

I don't have any cute-as-heck baby photos, but these were some photos I took a while back, that I've been meaning to post.

This is the Dick's Dome shelter, in Northern Virginia. And, no, it's not very nice.

This is a photo from the spring, wildflower season. I liked these flowers. They were very small, and this photo was an extreme close-up, with the macro feature turned "on."

Happy Birthdays

A big, slightly belated, happy b-day to #3 from Lang, who, now that she can crawl, seems to be taking on some questionable loyalties. Also, big congratulations to sister Kate, aka loquacious McD, who gave birth yesterday afternoon to a 6 lb., 5 oz. baby boy, Harlan Thomas ("Hal"). He had been projected for Bastille Day but showed up on July 4th. Like french fries, the Statue of Liberty, and Bush-hatred, he started out looking suspiciously French but turned out to be fundamentally American. As Hal's paleogeologist dad likes to say, "Rock on," little H!

Haven't We Had Enough of This Crap Yet?

Ignatius's column today, link, ponders the effect on U.S. politics and society of "the next attack," after suicide bombers start to "bleed away" from Iraq. It includes this: "Muslims have mostly been killing other Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that imploding jihad won't continue forever."

Hmm. It seems to me that non-Muslims have also been killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Muslims getting killed haven't always been jihadis. Maybe Ignatius should read his own paper. Link. Link.

Ignatius's focus on "Muslim anger"--a phrase he actually uses--with only a passing thought to the sources of that anger . . . maybe he could take a page from the new PM across the pond, Gordon Brown:

In a low-key BBC interview Sunday, and in other public statements on the failed car bombings, Brown has not used the word "Muslim." A Brown spokesman said that was deliberate, just as Brown intends to avoid the phrase "war on terror," which some Muslims see as a euphemism for targeting Islam. The spokesman said Brown was modifying his language to encourage a "strong consensual approach in relation to all the communities."

Brown described al-Qaeda as "a terrorist cause that is totally unacceptable to mainstream people in every faith in every part of the world." And he has been at pains, analysts said, to frame the problem of extremist violence not as a struggle against Islam, but as a struggle against individual criminals.

Gordon Brown, I guess, has had enough of this crap already. It is not "Muslims" who are the threat. Indeed, if we hadn't invaded a country in the heart of the Middle East, many of the "Muslims" Ignatius is concerned about "bleeding away" would pose absolutely no risk to the United States and its allies. But by talking about "Muslims" in this way, we do risk making more "Muslims" angry at us. And I have yet to see any evidence that dropping more bombs on folks of the Islamic religion has resulted in less "Muslim anger." Have you?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

One More

I've posted a number of links tonite, so why not one more? Here's Neuhaus's column on A Mormon in the White House, which is worth a read.

Read This

It's your patriotic duty. With additional commentary on Yalta.


The president said today that the sentence imposed on the Scooter was "extreme." I thought that I would find a case where the defendant received a prison sentence on facts that seem a little extreme and did the time. Here's such a case--one of thousands, I'm sure, on the books. From the opinion:

This is a criminal case in which a jury found the defendant guilty on both counts of a two-count indictment charging him with mail fraud, a violation of 18 U.S.C. s 1341, and with making false statements to receive federal employee compensation, a violation of 18 U.S.C. s 1920. Challenging the sufficiency of the evidence against him, the defendant contends on appeal that the district court erred in denying a motion for acquittal. We conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's verdict, and we shall affirm the conviction.


The defendant, Phillip Moore, sustained a back injury in 1969 while employed by the U.S. Postal Service. By reason of this injury, Mr. Moore began receiving monthly disability benefits under the Federal Employees Compensation Act, 5 U.S.C. ss 8101, et. seq. The payments continued for some 30 years.

As a recipient of compensation under the act, Mr. Moore was required to complete a questionnaire every year for the Department of Labor. The questionnaire, known as "form 1032," elicited information which the Department told Mr. Moore would be used to decide whether he was entitled to continue receiving benefits or whether the benefits should be adjusted.

Part A of the questionnaire, captioned "Employment," contained instructions that could reasonably be read as calling for disclosure of both paid and unpaid employment. In addition to being told to report "employment for which you received a salary, wages, income, sales commissions, piecework, or payment of any kind," the respondent was instructed to report, among other things, all "involvement in business enterprises" and to report a "rate of pay" in this connection that was not dependent upon the receipt of any remuneration: "If you performed any duties in any business enterprise for which you were not paid," the instructions said, "you must show as rate of pay what it would have cost the employer or organization to hire someone to perform the work or duties you did...."

In each of the questionnaires that he filed with the Department of Labor annually between 1995 and 2000, Mr. Moore reported in response to separate questions that he had not worked for any employer during the past 15 months and had not been "involved in any business enterprise" during the reporting period. The "rate of pay" lines for both questions were left blank.

An investigation by postal inspectors led to the discovery of evidence that Mr. Moore had in fact been actively involved in a restaurant and banquet facility operation conducted by an Elks lodge of which he was a trustee. Although it was not shown at trial that Mr. Moore was paid for the work he did, the evidence did indicate that he functioned as "acting manager" of the operation and performed a variety of duties that included supervising restaurant personnel and arranging banquet hall rentals. Operation of a restaurant business is one of the examples of "involvement in business enterprises" given in the form 1032 instructions.

The district court submitted the case to the jury under instructions that have not been challenged here. After the jury returned its verdict of guilty, the district court denied a timely motion for a judgment of acquittal under Fed.R.Crim.P. 29(c). Sentenced to imprisonment for a term of one year and a day, Mr. Moore has appealed the conviction.



Mr. Moore, there, was a first-offender, a non-violent offender, a non-drug offender, and an older guy. He "managed" the Elks bar/restaurant, without getting paid, and filled out a form omitting that "material" information. And he did prison time. For making a false statement. I won't argue that Moore didn't deserve the time . . . not really my call. After all, a jury convicted him, and when that happens, you usually do time, for a felony. And Moore didn't have any powerful friends, like the president, to pardon him.

I guess that's life.

Irresponsible Rumor Mongering

Click through to find the gossip.

Slander? Treason?

Ann Coulter Lies. Huh. Really?

Amnesty Ultranationalist

Free prisoner # 28301-016!!! I'll miss seeing all the Escalades with their mock activist bumper stickers. How often do the Pubies get all Mumia on us? (Pretty often, actually. See: North, Ollie; Poindexter, John; Weinberger, Casper; Nixon, Richard, etc.) Apparently it is "excessive" that Scooter serve time for unrepentant and repeated perjury and obstruction of justice when Paris Hilton only got 23 days for driving on a suspended license.

I guess when it came time to slam the door, Cheney just couldn't bear to share his bitch.

BTW, I think #3 stole my joke.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Scooter won't do any time. It's a shame, because he already had such a great prison nickname.

Rule of Law, Restoring Honor and Integrity, and All that Jazz.

Question of the Day

So, here it is: How much of what panhandlers say can you believe? There was this guy, really sharp, at Union Station ("Union Station, and step on it!") today, who actually managed to get me to slow down, with a prop--a Metro map. But it was the same old story: "I'm stranded, I need money, etc."

I didn't give him any money. I have a rule against that. But how much is true, do you think?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Today's Running Route

I learned about this nifty Google Maps feature from another runner. This morning, we're planning on running to Hains Point and back.

My favorite run at my parents' house.


So yesterday we went to see SiCKO, Michael Moore's new documentary on the sad state of the health care system in the United States. It's pretty good. High-quality muckraking. Maybe not as powerful as Fahrenheit 911, or Why We Fight, but its subject-matter is a little less dramatic. Not less important in the lives of most Americans, but war makes great drama.

The stories of the insurance companies denying coverage to the people interviewed are really moving. It's a great idea to cover the story not from the point of view of the uninsured, but rather from the point of view of the insured. Because, let's face it, lots of Americans with health insurance are reluctant to back universal health care schemes because they don't want to lose what they already have for the benefit of the uninsured. But if you point out that, well, what you already have may not be that good, even if you won't really know whether it is good or not until you need it . . . that's a better case, politically.

Of course, I don't think that we'll get universal health care in the United States through muckraking. I'm skeptical that we'll ever get it, but if we do, it will be through corporate America (the Big Three, especially) getting together to save itself from rising insurance premiums. The problem with that is that it's the insurance industry that is raking in those premiums. So it's big money versus big money.

So, "American exceptionalism" again. Not exceptionally good, though. The film makes that point through coverage of the Canadian, British, French, and Cuban health care systems. Even if Castro puts on a propaganda show for Moore with the Cuban scenes, isn't the real scandal that the U.S. health care system is so shitty that . . . it makes it possible for the Cuban government to do that? The scene where Moore goes through the NHS hospital in England looking for a billing department is classic Michale Moore. When he finds the "cashier," it's classic comedy gold. I won't give the punchline away. Go see the movie.

Five Votes

The name of the game at the Court is five votes. Going into this week, before the school decisions had been handed down, if you could count, you suspected that there were five votes to overrule Grutter, the U of M law school decision that basically affirmed Justice Powell's opinion in Bakke and upheld affirmative action programs in higher education. Justice Kennedy, the current "swing" justice, dissented in Grutter, so, with Alito replacing O'Connor (the author of Grutter), there were five votes to overrule Grutter and hold that, essentially, all but the most narrowly remedial affirmative action programs violate the equal protection clause (or its Fifth Amendment analog).

This was a distinct possibility because the lower courts had decided the school cases on the basis of Grutter. It wouldn't have been a stretch.

On Monday, the BongHits4Jesus and taxpayer standing cases came down, in both of which there was no majority to overrule precedent. So that raised a doubt. But I was still betting that Grutter was toast.

So I was still surprised Thursday that the five-justice conservative majority went so far out of its way not to overrule Grutter. From a constitutional jurisprudence perspective, the school decision handed down this week doesn't really break that much new ground. At most, I would say, the decision strictly limits how far lower courts can go in applying Grutter. Grutter doesn't apply to K-12, so if you go there, you risk reversal.

Politically, of course, the decision was a big deal. But the liberal outrage--and isn't it nice to see Justice Breyer become a liberal, after all these years? Now, if he had just felt some of that outrage in Hamdi, a few years back, but that's another story, for another post--the liberal outrage is aimed at a long string of decisions and developments, even if it doesn't know it. The Court basically started down the road it's on now in 1978, with Bakke, and in the minority set-aside decisions in the 1980s and 1990s. Even Grutter justifies only certain affirmative action policies--remember, the U of M's undergraduate admissions program was struck down in the companion case.

From a jurisprudential perspective, then, I don't think that this week's school decision changes that much. So I was actually surprised that folks got so angry. In fact, given that the Court did not overrule Grutter, I think that from a jurisprudential perspective, liberals and moderates should feel that a much worse outcome was actually averted.

Politically, though, the big question going forward is how the outrage over the decision affects the current members of the Court--specifically, Kennedy and the Chief.

Kennedy, we know, cares about his press clippings. But the real question is whether the Chief does. He got such a free pass from the liberal and moderate establishment in the confirmation "battle" based on his charm and "non-threatening" demeanor. But now that he's really come out as an archconservative, how will that affect his standing with the establishment? Especially in terms of race relations, there is an establishment consensus, and the school decision this week attacks that consensus. Since race touches everything in contemporary U.S. society, let's see how that plays out.

The other question that I have is how the school decision affects the relationship b/w the Court and the new Democratic majorities in Congress. It seems to me that folks got so used to the tension b/w conservative Republicans and the Court that we may have forgotten that Democrats might have problems with the judiciary, too. That's one where we'll just have to stay tuned.