January 31, 2006

Fashion Diva

from - smijer

I just looked down and realized what I wore today. It was a green jacket with zipper, a black shirt, yellow tie, blue pants, brown belt and shoes. I'm as pretty as I sound. Just thought I'd share.

Posted by smijer at 10:08 AM | Comments (0)

January 30, 2006

Yet another puzzle

from - RSA

Following up on smijer's Let's Make A Deal post, I'll continue with a couple of oldies. These examples aren't really puzzles. Rather, they're questions that Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman posed to participants in experiments aimed at understanding how well people reason. Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics for this body of work a few years ago.

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Which of the following is more probable?

  1. Linda is a bank teller.
  2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Most people say that the second description is more probable than the first.

Please rate the probability that the following event will occur next year...
  1. A massive flood somewhere in North America next year, in which more than 1,000 people drown.

  2. An earthquake in California sometime next year, causing a flood in which more than 1,000 people drown.

Most people say that the second event is more probable than the first.

Discussion below. . .

For those of you with logical minds and those of you who have guessed that there's some sort of trick involved, you've realized that the first statement in each case is more probable than the second (though it turns out that there's no trick). In mathematical terms, we can put things pretty concisely: P(A) <= P(A & B). For example, if we know that it's going to rain with some probability, then adding further conditions, such as that the grass will get wet, can't increase that probability, even if those other conditions inevitably hold, because the probability that it's going to rain already includes those extra other things.

Tversky and Kahneman were interested in biases in our reasoning. I wish I had the time and background to explain these biases, but I don't have a sufficiency of either; I think even without explanations it's interesting to know that, for some kinds of problems, we're not very good at coming up with the right answers.

Posted by RSA at 12:37 PM | Comments (0)

Links and an Answer with Your Eye Boogers

from - smijer

Bush endorses John Kerry's Iran plan... sort of.

Alito: chilling, indeed

Big Kudos to BB & T - the perfect response to KELO. Unfortunately, thousands of other financiers won't be so principled. (possible hat tip: Say Uncle... actual hat tip: my friend D.S.)

"Hey, this Wiki stuff is cool! Hit delete!"

She don't think it's legal, neither.

And now, what All Three of you have been waiting for! The answer to Friday's puzzle is (drum roll please...)

A. She increases her chances of winning. For a while, my little pea-brain insisted that the answer was C. After all, with two doors the chances should be 50/50, right? Well, yes - unless someone who knows what's behind them is giving you a hint... How does the host give you a hint? Through statistics. You see, on the contestant's original guess, she had a 1/3 chance of choosing correctly - meaning she had 2/3 chance of choosing wrongly. Now, if she chose wrongly, then the host, when opening a door has no choice - he cannot open her door, and he cannot open the door with the prize behind it. So, he can only open the remaining wrong door. By doing so, the only door still closed is the door with the prize, so - if she has chosen wrongly - choosing that one will be a 100% winner. If she chose correctly on her first guess, then choosing either of the other doors is a 100% loser. As we saw earlier, her initial guess is right 1/3 of the time, and wrong 2/3 of the time. That means that changing her guess will ensure victory 2/3 of the time, while it will ensure loss 1/3 of the time. In that way, changing her guess doubles her chance of winning. And the game show host will doubtlessly seethe that he was forced to help her stack those odds.

Enjoy you Monday.

Posted by smijer at 07:35 AM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2006

Another Puzzle

from - smijer

Vamping on RSA's post... here's a fun math puzzle, from In Code, which has several samples to tickle the noggin...

In a game similar to "let's make a deal", there are three doors. Behind one is a big prize... I don't remember what, but let's just say it's fully modded and hacked x-box360. Or whatever...

The host asks the contestant to choose a door. When she does, he then goes and opens one of the remaining doors with no prize behind it. He then offers her the opportunity to keep her original choice or to change it.

Question:

If the contestant changes her guess does she:
a) increase her odds of finding the prize,
b) decrease her odds
c) make no change in the odds.

I'll post answer and explanation Monday, unless someone gets it before then. If you've read the book and remember the answer, please don't leave spoilers. If you haven't read the book and don't remember the answer from some other source, give it a guess. The answer may surprise you.

If you get it wrong the first time, don't feel bad - so did I...

Posted by smijer at 06:20 PM | Comments (0)

The Birthday Calculator

from - Buck

I just love this kind of stuff.

Ya'll have a good weekend!

Posted by Buck at 03:06 PM | Comments (0)

A risk test

from - RSA

A column in the NYTimes by Virginia Postrell has a nice set of three math questions:

  1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

  2. If it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half the lake?

According to Shane Frederick, a management sciece professor at MIT, performance on this test is predictive of risk-taking in making economic decisions. Interesting. Answers below.

The correct answers, by the way, are 5 cents, 5 minutes, and 47 days.
Posted by RSA at 02:42 PM | Comments (1)

January 26, 2006

The World Got Heavier Again

from - smijer

jacob1.JPG

Welcome, Jacob Scott. I think I'll call you nephew.

Posted by smijer at 09:09 PM | Comments (1)

If I were Karl Rove. . .

from - RSA

. . .What would I do today? Here's one possibility. Lots of people have been interested in pictures of President Bush together with Jack Abramoff. Let's imagine that through great effort, someone manages to find a picture that shows Bush and Abramoff on much chummier terms than the White House would like us to believe. All the major news outlets pick up the story, and then, just before the news cycle hits a peak, a conservative blogger discovers that the picture is a forgery. All attention moves from the Bush-Abramoff relationship to the ingenuity of those who would seek to dethrone bring down the President. Sound familiar?

Posted by RSA at 02:26 PM | Comments (0)

Hypothetically speaking

from - RSA

I read the White House press briefings on most days. This is for entertainment value rather than for information, because it's been months if not years since Scott McClellan, the White House Press Secretary, has actually said anything new or surprising. There are several strategies for not saying anything, and perhaps the most common one for this administration is avoiding hypothetical situations.

Suppose you posed a question to McClellan or to the President, "If X, then what would we do?" Here are some likely responses:

I'm not going to play a 'what-if' scenario here.
I'm not going to get into just hypotheticals about what are the consequences. . .
That's a hypothetical, and you know I don't do that.
I'm not going to engage in a hypothetical.
I appreciate the hypothetical, but that is a hypothetical and that is not where the process is.
That's a huge hypothetical there.
Again, that's getting into the hypothetical.

These are quotes from press briefings, a few of the dozen comparable statements that can be found. These kinds of non-responses are irritating for a few reasons.

  • All hypothetical questions are put in the same box. "What will happen if we're not greeted in Iraq with flowers and candy?" is in the same category as, "What would the President do if aliens land on the White House lawn and demand that we surrender to them?"

  • Only some questions are treated as hypotheticals. Recently McClellan has been asked about the potential for disruption in the world oil supply as we interact with Iraq. He starts off saying, "Well, I don't want to get into speculation at this point, . . ." and later, "Again, that's a 'what if' question, . . ." And yet the ability for Iraqi oil to pay for the current war wasn't treated as speculation just a few years ago.

  • The more likely a scenario is to involve an unfavorable view of the administration, the more likely it is to be called hypothetical. Ask about democracy in Iraq, improvement in the economy, the direction that Medicare is moving to make people more self-reliant---you'll hear a lot of happy talk. Ask about moving U.S. forces out of Iraq, the budget deficit and national debt, problems people are having with the Medicare roll-out---interestingly enough, issues that are much easier to address in concrete terms---and you'll start hearing about "hypotheticals".

I'm concerned with the way that uncomfortable questions are waved away, but it's not just because I have a particular view of how government should work in a transparent fashion. Rather, I'm afraid, based on the incompetence that the Bush administration has shown in the past, that they tend to ignore hypothetical questions because they haven't actually spent the time or effort to figure out the answers. We've seen this on 9/11, in Iraq, in Louisiana---pretty much everywhere. Who's looking to the future? Or is anything that happens in the future just a hypothetical?

Posted by RSA at 01:58 PM | Comments (0)

Here's a Quote

from - smijer

I'm not saying that we should all relax and leave this to the professionals. This case certainly merits all the public attention it can get, including attention from journalists, bloggers, and public officials. But those responsible for the macabre circus that was the Terri Schiavo case have squandered all moral authority on this issue. The best thing they can do for Haleigh Poutre is keep quiet and leave this case to those who have some credibility.

Maybe not... I mean, everybody screws up sometimes... there were so many who, in some small way, were partly responsible for the "macabre circus" that it is impossible to say all of them are permanently without credibility. If some of those individuals can put past hysterias behind them, look at this case from a perspective of humans caring for humans (instead of adopting the instinct to demonize the "other side" that unfortunately prevailed last year), and make a positve difference - more power to them.

Nevertheless, the post from which this quote came (via John Cole) is worth reading twice.

Another case that the good-hearted elements, capable of rational reflection, from the wrong side of the Terri S. case could have done well by spot-lighting: Tirhas Habtegiris (this will make you cry)... only the good hearted elements, capable of rational reflection, from the wrong side of the Terri S. case were not in charge of the spotlight. They are the ones in the pews who watch where the spotlight points... And that's a shame (another Balloon Juic hat tip - this one to commenter PB).

Posted by smijer at 07:20 AM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2006

Troop Support?

from - Buck

This article seems to be taking a beating on some of the blogs today.

I had read it earlier and had not thought much of it. To me it was just an article written to be humorous and in places it was. Other than that, I don’t see it as being particularly blasphemous.

That is probably because I am not sure what is meant when someone asks, “Do you support the troops?”

Well, when you consider the bite the military takes out of the tax revenue along with the fact that I pay taxes then I guess it is true that I help support the troops.

If it means do I support what is being done militarily in the Middle East then hell no, I don’t support the troops. I see it as not supporting the mission but if you want to call it not supporting the troops then have at it.

I also don’t get all starry eyed when a private first class comes into a restaurant that I happen to be eating in and feel like I need to buy him or her a cup of coffee. I consider soldiers to be state employees. No more and no less. That is not meant as an insult.

All I'm asking is that we give our returning soldiers what they need: hospitals, pensions, mental health and a safe, immediate return. But, please, no parades.

Sounds reasonable to me.

Posted by Buck at 12:12 PM | Comments (0)

Gonzales on Why It's Legal

from - smijer

I heard Alberto Gonzales on All Things Considered on my way home last night. Ever wonder why people think lawyers are sleazy? Spend a little time with Gonzales, & you'll see.

The argument was that :
a.) Congress had authorized force
b.) Force includes spying on the enemy
c.) The NSA selected only enemy targets to be spied upon
therefore
d.) It was legal.

When asked why the the FISA court was sidestepped, Gonzales became indignant. It isn't fair to say we sidestepped FISA... Our actions were consistent with FISA... (hmmmm? then why all the fuss?)

Of course item c.) above was precisely the purpose of the FISA court... to be sure the targets selected really were the enemy. But that little matter wasn't brought up.

And, of course, the conclusion d.) doesn't necessarily follow... Authorization to spy on the enemy, implicit as it may be in the authorization to use force, doesn't guarantee authorization to do so in a manner inconsistent with duly enacted legislation. The great Attorney Gonzales brilliantly proved that spying was legal.. I suppose from that we can deduce that no spying can ever be illegal, regardless of the manner in which it is done, or the laws that are meant to regulate it.

And you all already know all this... so just consider it a rant.

Posted by smijer at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2006

By Request... Another One

from - smijer

Where on Google's Green Earth is this?

mystery3.bmp

Lord, hate being late to work... see y'all on the flipside.

Posted by smijer at 08:07 AM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2006

The Lord of War

from - Buck

There wasn’t much to do this weekend but rent a movie or two and listen to it rain.

If you have never seen “The Lord Of War” it is well worth the rental price. I would not have even been disappointed in it had I paid theatre price. I have done much worse.

I guess I would consider myself to be a Nicolas Cage fan. Raising Arizona has to be one of my all time favorites and Cage just has a look and a feel that seems to draw me into whatever movie he is in.

In The Lord Of War Nicolas Cage plays an arms dealer by the name of Yuri Orlov. The character is an amoral capitalist selling arms simply to make money. His position is made plain by his opening statement

There are over 500 million fire arms in worldwide circulation That is one fire arm for every twelve people on the planet The only question is How do we arm the other eleven?

Uri is a freelancer. He is an independent agent. He sells for himself and not solely for the intelligence agencies of other countries. He is able to completely remove himself from the moral aspects of his business. In a conversation with a rival arms dealer he says

“You look a little lost Simeon. Is the world changing too fast? You have gotten so rich selling for the CIA that you can't seem to get that ideology completely out of your head. Now the Cold War had its uses. Got the tensions frozen. Now it is harder to determine which side one is on. Things have become more complicated. No. It has gotten simpler.There is no place in gun running for politics anymore Simeon. I sell to the leftist and the rightist. I sell to the pacifist, but they are not regular customers. Of course, you are not a true internationalist
until you supply weapons to kill your own countrymen.”

And in a conversation with his brother he says

How many car salesman talk about their work.huh? How many cigarette salesman? Both their products kill more people every year than mine. At least, mine has safety switch. Those guys can leave their work at the office. So can I.

Throughout the movie Yuri is chased by the good guy Interpol agent Jack Valentine and in the end, when Yuri is caught, the scene with Valentine is classic theatre.

While watching the movie I learned that the five largest arms dealers in the world are all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. I found that very interesting but probably should have figured it without being told.

It was a damn good movie. No doubt the best $2.50 I spent this weekend.

Posted by Buck at 05:43 PM | Comments (0)

More Fun With Google Earth

from - smijer

Ok... here's another "easy" one. Truth is, I don't know how easy or difficult these really should be. I know that looking at something and already knowing what it is, its much easier to "see" it... That said, I'm not going out my way to make it difficult. If you folks guess it as fast as you guessed the last one, then the next one is going to take a little more work. So... Where on Google's Green Earth is this?

mystery2.bmp

Posted by smijer at 06:16 AM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2006

President Ghandi

from - smijer

National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2006

National Sanctity of Human Life Day is an opportunity to strengthen our resolve in creating a society where every life has meaning and our most vulnerable members are protected and defended including unborn children, born children, prisoners on death row, the sick and dying, those living in foreign lands, soldiers, and persons with disabilities and birth defects. This is an ideal that appeals to the noblest and most generous instincts within us, and this is the America we will achieve by working together.

I hope I got that quote right ... copy & paste wasn't working and I had to re-type from memory.

Posted by smijer at 05:15 PM | Comments (0)

January 21, 2006

Funny Search

from - smijer

Tête-a-Tête-Tête: your source for long handing tits.

Posted by smijer at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2006

What do the WaPo and RedState.org have in common?

from - smijer

Answer: Thin skins......

The boys can enjoy their echo chamber... I'll post my final reply to Cadwalj in the extended entry, though I doubt he or she will ever notice it... Maybe Leon H. will be a dear and let him or her know about it.

If a fair court finds the POTUS' actions legal, then I would like to see that loophole closed by congressional action. I remarked above about the consequences of an executive that can spy on Americans without court approval. If the same unit that orders the surveillance also approves it, there is no check on the power. The executive could unilaterally decide when there was probable cause, then proceed to use executive power to invade privacy. Without an outside check, that's almost guaranteed to lead to abuse.

Now, to answer your question more fully:
a) I believe the actions were not legal. However, if the issue is duely investigated and tried by in an impartial setting, then I would certainly not desire or expect any sort of criminal sanctions - including impeachment - against the President. I would still want to see legislative action to close the legal loophole that allowed a fair court to find no offense.

b) I would fear for court upon which Alito served to consider this matter without partiality... I feel he could reasonably be suspected of already being biased against finding the POTUS' actions illegal. This is among the reasons I oppose his nomination. If another conservative were nominated - one who like Roberts - had made no statements along the lines that Alito has on this issue, and unlike Myers, could not be suspected of being a crony appointment, and therefore personally biased (or unqualified to properly adjudicate this case or others)... then the armchair Senator in me would vote against confirmation, but wouldn't be working back-room deals with colleagues or considering the possibility of a filibuster.

"The police officer seized the records of and arrested the defendant without a warrant."

"The lieutenant seized the records of and arrested the enemy without a warrant."

Which sentence best applies to Jose Padilla?

I'm not sure whether it was actually a police officer or a military officer who arrested Padilla... if it was a police officer, then the first statement on that point... if it was an army officer, then the second.

On the point of "enemy" or "defendant", enemy is more correct - at least until recently. Since Padilla was not given a chance to defend himself before the courts, so it isn't accurate to say he was a "defendant".

Given the situation, a FISA warrant should have been sufficient... a regular criminal warrant should not have been necessary. Had he been outside the U.S. in a situation where he had to be captured as part of a military op rather than picked up from his home, work, or his bus trip between them, then no FISA would have been needed at all.

My point was much less about how he was originally detained and much more about how he was denied due process of law on a continuing basis, despite being a U.S. citizen. I'm assuming he was guilty -- at least guilty of something... however if it is legal and constitutional to arrest and hold a U.S. citizen, solely on the suspicions of the executive - indefinitely... then it's legal regardless of actual guilt - it would be just as legal if he were innocent... so long as the executive promises that they suspect him.

If Bush's actions wrt Padilla are legal, then they would have been just as legal if carried out against any suspected "enemy of the state"... If Nixon had "suspected" MLK of planning a pro-communist bombing, he could have done the same thing. Basically what I'm saying is that if it is legal, then there is something wrong with the law, and it needs fixed asap - not defended...

Posted by smijer at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

The Tree

from - smijer

Sorry, the photos aren't so good, and they're heavily cropped to reduce the viewing area of a part of the house I'm not so proud to display... BUT

The Meowy doggies got a nice Christmas present this year, and because the camera has been passed around so much, I've only now gotten the opportunity to photograph them using it...

They love it, and it would be a shame not to let them share their joy with the Friday Animal community.

Patches on the tree:

patchestree1.JPG

patchestree2.JPG

Mean Dog on the tree:

meandogtree.JPG

Now get thee to the the Modulator, for the Friday Ark... GO!

Posted by smijer at 07:56 AM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2006

Oversight

from - RSA

One of the consistent themes in the scandals that are now overtaking Republican politicians is that, without oversight, they'll not only pick your pockets but try to steal your pants. A good deal of what I do for a living is paid for by federal and state funding, and so I'm sometimes a bit surprised at what it's possible to get away with at high levels in government. Here are a few examples of (perfectly reasonable) oversight in my work:

  • I have to keep a log of long distance calls I make from my office. No personal calls are allowed, and if such were detected in an audit, I could be fired. (This has apparently happened in my university, though not to anyone I know.)

  • I have to submit a justification for travel if it's paid for from public funding. At a minimum, it is reviewed by my department head, my department's bookkeeper, and my department's contracts manager. My expenditure records are available to whatever government agencies have contributed funding. I am unlikely to be granted approval to travel to Scotland and play golf at St. Andrews based on a claim that I'll be meeting with the UK Prime Minister.

  • There are some categories of expenses that I simply can't charge to my grants, under normal conditions: membership fees in professional organizations, journal subscriptions and the cost of books, even (for some funding sources) everyday secretarial and technical support. This isn't an oversight issue per se, but it's a set of fixed, known constraints to prevent abuse.

These are just a few of the relatively minor constraints on my work. I'm sure that everyone working in a large organization can think of similar examples of oversight. (In a previous life I worked for a defense contractor and had to account for every working hour of my day, via telephone to a computerized billing system.) What's noteworthy is that the rules governing what I do are pretty straightforward and transparent, so it's easy to see if I'm following them. I have to wonder why it is so difficult to tell if high-level public officials are breaking their rules, and to get rid of them if they're not.

Posted by RSA at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

Calling Lamar (and Bill)

from - smijer

Judge Alito appears to be well qualified. The Senate now has a responsibility to the American people to give him a fair hearing and a prompt up-or- down vote. -Lamar Alexander, 10/31/2005

Every once and a while, I have to remind myself that just voting and writing a (mostly) political blog really doesn't fulfill the responsibilities of a truly civic minded individual. Since I would like to be that civic minded sort of guy, I took a few moments out of my morning to toss off some corresondence to my two Senators concerning the Alito nomination. I also programmed their telephone numbers into my cell phone, so that when their offices open, I can give them a call (after all, these web-form type e-mails don't get due attention)...

And, it will be easier for future communication to them or Zach W. if I don't have to look up their office numbers... So, maybe I'll do a better job of letting them hear from their constituents... I encourage all you other civic minded individuals to do the same. Most cell phones hold more numbers than geeks like us have friends anyway...

I'm not fooling myself that either of these Tennessee Republicans is non-partisan enough to take the concerns I am addressing to them to heart. But it would be irresponsible to not at least give them a chance to consider their constituent's views. So, here's what I sent to Bill Frist and Lamar Alexander, verbatim:

Dear Senator {Frist, Alexander}

I am writing you as a constituent from Chattanooga,
Tennessee, to express my concerns about the confirmation
of Justice Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While I feel that every nominee to the Supreme is
responsible to show the Senate and the American people
that his or her judicial views are consistent with
American law and the Constitution, and should only be
confirmed after having met a reasonable standard of
evidence to satisfy that condition, I believe this is
especially the case with Samuel Alito.

Make no mistake, I do believe Justice Alito is well
qualified to serve on the Court, in terms of intellect and
experience.

However, in light of the recently discovered actions of
the President with regards to warrantless wire-tapping,
along with the President's long standing policy that, on
the basis of the suspicions in the executive branch,
American citizens can be imprisoned indefinitely without
access to the courts or legal counsel, there is a strong
indication that the President does not respect the
Constitutionally provided separation of powers between the
executive and the judicial and legislative branches. It
would appear that he is making an effort to subsume many
of the responsibilities of the Congress and judiciary
under executive power.

This is very disturbing. And it is in this context that
we must examine his nomination of Samuel Alito to the
Supreme Court. Alito has made many statements in the past
that would indicate he has too much sympathy for the
President's view of executive power, and insufficient
respect for the roles of Congress and the Judiciary.

If confirmed to the Supreme Court, without showing
satisfactorily that he will not serve to undermine our
Constitutional system of checks and balances, the dangers
to our system of government may be drastic. As Al Gore
commented in his Martin Luther King Day speech, a
government of the people rests on a precariously thin
balance, and once forfeited - as was done by executive
overreach in many historical societies of the past - it
can not be regained.

The stakes are too high for the Senate to confirm this
appointment without more adequate assurance that Alito's
presence on the bench will not serve a stealth agenda to
tip the balance of power irrecovably toward a unilaterally
enabled executive.

Because of this, I urge you strongly to oppose Alito's
confirmation. I urge you to work with your colleagues to
bring the Senate to a position of withholding consent for
this nominee. I understand that you feel a simple
majority vote is the Senate's only legitimate tool for
providing advice and consent. I respectfully disagree -
however, if you cannot be persuaded to support a
filibuster on this nominee, I ask you to pursue every
option that you do deem legitimate under the rules of the
Senate toward the end of defeating the nomination.

Gratefully and respectfully yours,
{name omitted}
Chattanooga, TN

Posted by smijer at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2006

Liberal Press?

from - Buck

Paul Craig Roberts is starting to wonder.

Bush is angry at the New York Times and at the government officials who leaked the story that Bush illegally spied on American citizens. Both may be prosecuted for making Bush’s illegal behavior public. By ignoring Gore’s speech, is the New York Times signaling to Bush that the newspaper is willing to be a lap dog in exchange for not being prosecuted?

Of course not everybody agrees with Paul.

Posted by Buck at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2006

All These Features!

from - smijer

Look to the right... Headlines! Sort of!

Posted by smijer at 03:33 PM | Comments (0)

Tagged, &c.

from - smijer

Well, this is easy.... Tonja seems to have tagged me for a meme that I have already done... as have RSA & Buck. So, there... done... only the version we did let us slide by without tagging anyone else, and that's hardly fair, is it?

Four People I Will (or would) Tag:

I would tag Say Uncle, only he's already done it, too... Instead, I'll direct him (if he hasn't already seen it) to this kick ass Google Video entitled "full auto shoot". That should earn me a point or two with the gunbloggers...

Reality Me is a recently re-discovered Kindred Spirit. Tag, Reality You... Enjoy his recent contribution to the habit meme, and see if you can spot why I say "kindred spirit". (Also, enjoy this account of mowie doggies and robot house cleaners. Yes, Virginia, there is a paradise.)

I had feared Rick had gone on to greener non-blogging pastures after a long dry spell... Well, what do you know... no sooner do you poke your head back into the 'sphere, that "TAG".... someone nails you.

And you, Hippy Dave... did you think you could escape my meme targeting software? Wear it out, buddy... unless you already did & I've just forgotten...

Posted by smijer at 07:47 AM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2006

Whatever Happened to Sending in Delta

from - smijer

But, says former White House counterterror official Roger Cressey, "you've got to take that shot." So when a U.S. surveillance team got a tip that Al Qaeda's long-hunted No. 2, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and fugitive Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar were at a house in a village in the Bajur tribal region, the United States pulled the trigger. ... "I personally saw the 18 victims," Parliament member Haroon Rashed, who lives about a mile away, told NEWSWEEK. "Most of them were women and children. They were all locals. There were no foreigners." (Zawahiri is Egyptian.) Mohammed Rahim, 70, owner of one of the destroyed houses, wailed that several in his family had been killed. "I can't feed my own family. How could I afford to be hosting Zorayi?" he said, mispronouncing Zawahiri's name.

- link

Ok, so the CIA got a tip from a local with a grudge... or from an al Qaeda agent provacateur... or whatever... Do they not possess enough skepticism to at least get some eyes on the ground to do the shooting? How far is the helicopter trip from the nearest base in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, or aircraft carrier? Is it so much worse to get caught with a few black ops in a border town than to get caught killing 18 Pakistani civilians, mostly women and children in that same town where we are supposed to "not be operating" (yeah, right)?

I just don't get it... where's the professionalism?

Posted by smijer at 06:29 PM | Comments (0)

Statespersonship

from - smijer

I mentioned that along with cause for concern, there is reason for hope. As I stand here today, I am filled with optimism that America is on the eve of a golden age in which the vitality of our democracy will be re-established and will flourish more vibrantly than ever. Indeed I can feel it in this hall.

As Dr. King once said, "Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us."

Those are the closing paragraphs of Al Gore's speech from today. The entirety of the speech is found in the extended entry.

This is the kind of thing that needs to escape the audience of partisans likely to attend to it and flood the larger body politic. To that end, I post it on this web-site, and I will print a few copies to hang up around the office bulletin boards. The news networks should be rebroadcasting it - it should be on every web-site and quoted heavily in every newspaper.

Al might even want to include snippets in his campaign for President in 2008. It couldn't hurt.

Congressman Barr and I have disagreed many times over the years, but we have joined together today with thousands of our fellow citizens-Democrats and Republicans alike-to express our shared concern that America's Constitution is in grave danger.

In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power.

As we begin this new year, the Executive Branch of our government has been caught eavesdropping on huge numbers of American citizens and has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress to prevent such abuses.

It is imperative that respect for the rule of law be restored.

So, many of us have come here to Constitution Hall to sound an alarm and call upon our fellow citizens to put aside partisan differences and join with us in demanding that our Constitution be defended and preserved.

It is appropriate that we make this appeal on the day our nation has set aside to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who challenged America to breathe new life into our oldest values by extending its promise to all our people.

On this particular Martin Luther King Day, it is especially important to recall that for the last several years of his life, Dr. King was illegally wiretapped-one of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government during this period.

The FBI privately called King the "most dangerous and effective negro leader in the country" and vowed to "take him off his pedestal." The government even attempted to destroy his marriage and blackmail him into committing suicide.

This campaign continued until Dr. King's murder. The discovery that the FBI conducted a long-running and extensive campaign of secret electronic surveillance designed to infiltrate the inner workings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and to learn the most intimate details of Dr. King's life, helped to convince Congress to enact restrictions on wiretapping.

The result was the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), which was enacted expressly to ensure that foreign intelligence surveillance would be presented to an impartial judge to verify that there is a sufficient cause for the surveillance. I voted for that law during my first term in Congress and for almost thirty years the system has proven a workable and valued means of according a level of protection for private citizens, while permitting foreign surveillance to continue.

Yet, just one month ago, Americans awoke to the shocking news that in spite of this long settled law, the Executive Branch has been secretly spying on large numbers of Americans for the last four years and eavesdropping on "large volumes of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and other Internet traffic inside the United States." The New York Times reported that the President decided to launch this massive eavesdropping program "without search warrants or any new laws that would permit such domestic intelligence collection."

During the period when this eavesdropping was still secret, the President went out of his way to reassure the American people on more than one occasion that, of course, judicial permission is required for any government spying on American citizens and that, of course, these constitutional safeguards were still in place.

But surprisingly, the President's soothing statements turned out to be false. Moreover, as soon as this massive domestic spying program was uncovered by the press, the President not only confirmed that the story was true, but also declared that he has no intention of bringing these wholesale invasions of privacy to an end.

At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the President of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently.

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution - our system of checks and balances - was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men."

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution - an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet, "On Common Sense" ignited the American Revolution, succinctly described America's alternative. Here, he said, we intended to make certain that "the law is king."

Vigilant adherence to the rule of law strengthens our democracy and strengthens America. It ensures that those who govern us operate within our constitutional structure, which means that our democratic institutions play their indispensable role in shaping policy and determining the direction of our nation. It means that the people of this nation ultimately determine its course and not executive officials operating in secret without constraint.

The rule of law makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed and examined through the processes of government that are designed to improve policy. And the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power.

A commitment to openness, truthfulness and accountability also helps our country avoid many serious mistakes. Recently, for example, we learned from recently classified declassified documents that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the tragic Vietnam war, was actually based on false information. We now know that the decision by Congress to authorize the Iraq War, 38 years later, was also based on false information. America would have been better off knowing the truth and avoiding both of these colossal mistakes in our history. Following the rule of law makes us safer, not more vulnerable.

The President and I agree on one thing. The threat from terrorism is all too real. There is simply no question that we continue to face new challenges in the wake of the attack on September 11th and that we must be ever-vigilant in protecting our citizens from harm.

Where we disagree is that we have to break the law or sacrifice our system of government to protect Americans from terrorism. In fact, doing so makes us weaker and more vulnerable.

Once violated, the rule of law is in danger. Unless stopped, lawlessness grows. The greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles. As the executive acts outside its constitutionally prescribed role and is able to control access to information that would expose its actions, it becomes increasingly difficult for the other branches to police it. Once that ability is lost, democracy itself is threatened and we become a government of men and not laws.

The President's men have minced words about America's laws. The Attorney General openly conceded that the "kind of surveillance" we now know they have been conducting requires a court order unless authorized by statute. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act self-evidently does not authorize what the NSA has been doing, and no one inside or outside the Administration claims that it does. Incredibly, the Administration claims instead that the surveillance was implicitly authorized when Congress voted to use force against those who attacked us on September 11th.

This argument just does not hold any water. Without getting into the legal intricacies, it faces a number of embarrassing facts. First, another admission by the Attorney General: he concedes that the Administration knew that the NSA project was prohibited by existing law and that they consulted with some members of Congress about changing the statute. Gonzalez says that they were told this probably would not be possible. So how can they now argue that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force somehow implicitly authorized it all along? Second, when the Authorization was being debated, the Administration did in fact seek to have language inserted in it that would have authorized them to use military force domestically - and the Congress did not agree. Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Jim McGovern, among others, made statements during the Authorization debate clearly restating that that Authorization did not operate domestically.

When President Bush failed to convince Congress to give him all the power he wanted when they passed the AUMF, he secretly assumed that power anyway, as if congressional authorization was a useless bother. But as Justice Frankfurter once wrote: "To find authority so explicitly withheld is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between President and Congress."

This is precisely the "disrespect" for the law that the Supreme Court struck down in the steel seizure case.

It is this same disrespect for America's Constitution which has now brought our republic to the brink of a dangerous breach in the fabric of the Constitution. And the disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in both political parties.

For example, the President has also declared that he has a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation, and that, notwithstanding his American citizenship, the person imprisoned has no right to talk with a lawyer-even to argue that the President or his appointees have made a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person.

The President claims that he can imprison American citizens indefinitely for the rest of their lives without an arrest warrant, without notifying them about what charges have been filed against them, and without informing their families that they have been imprisoned.

At the same time, the Executive Branch has claimed a previously unrecognized authority to mistreat prisoners in its custody in ways that plainly constitute torture in a pattern that has now been documented in U.S. facilities located in several countries around the world.

Over 100 of these captives have reportedly died while being tortured by Executive Branch interrogators and many more have been broken and humiliated. In the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, investigators who documented the pattern of torture estimated that more than 90 percent of the victims were innocent of any charges.

This shameful exercise of power overturns a set of principles that our nation has observed since General Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary War and has been observed by every president since then - until now. These practices violate the Geneva Conventions and the International Convention Against Torture, not to mention our own laws against torture.

The President has also claimed that he has the authority to kidnap individuals in foreign countries and deliver them for imprisonment and interrogation on our behalf by autocratic regimes in nations that are infamous for the cruelty of their techniques for torture.

Some of our traditional allies have been shocked by these new practices on the part of our nation. The British Ambassador to Uzbekistan - one of those nations with the worst reputations for torture in its prisons - registered a complaint to his home office about the senselessness and cruelty of the new U.S. practice: "This material is useless - we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful."

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is "yes" then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?

The Dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the Executive Branch's claims of these previously unrecognized powers: "If the President has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution."

The fact that our normal safeguards have thus far failed to contain this unprecedented expansion of executive power is deeply troubling. This failure is due in part to the fact that the Executive Branch has followed a determined strategy of obfuscating, delaying, withholding information, appearing to yield but then refusing to do so and dissembling in order to frustrate the efforts of the legislative and judicial branches to restore our constitutional balance.

For example, after appearing to support legislation sponsored by John McCain to stop the continuation of torture, the President declared in the act of signing the bill that he reserved the right not to comply with it.

Similarly, the Executive Branch claimed that it could unilaterally imprison American citizens without giving them access to review by any tribunal. The Supreme Court disagreed, but the President engaged in legal maneuvers designed to prevent the Court from providing meaningful content to the rights of its citizens.

A conservative jurist on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the Executive Branch's handling of one such case seemed to involve the sudden abandonment of principle "at substantial cost to the government's credibility before the courts."

As a result of its unprecedented claim of new unilateral power, the Executive Branch has now put our constitutional design at grave risk. The stakes for America's representative democracy are far higher than has been generally recognized.

These claims must be rejected and a healthy balance of power restored to our Republic. Otherwise, the fundamental nature of our democracy may well undergo a radical transformation.

For more than two centuries, America's freedoms have been preserved in part by our founders' wise decision to separate the aggregate power of our government into three co-equal branches, each of which serves to check and balance the power of the other two.

On more than a few occasions, the dynamic interaction among all three branches has resulted in collisions and temporary impasses that create what are invariably labeled "constitutional crises." These crises have often been dangerous and uncertain times for our Republic. But in each such case so far, we have found a resolution of the crisis by renewing our common agreement to live under the rule of law.

The principle alternative to democracy throughout history has been the consolidation of virtually all state power in the hands of a single strongman or small group who together exercise that power without the informed consent of the governed.

It was in revolt against just such a regime, after all, that America was founded. When Lincoln declared at the time of our greatest crisis that the ultimate question being decided in the Civil War was "whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure," he was not only saving our union but also was recognizing the fact that democracies are rare in history. And when they fail, as did Athens and the Roman Republic upon whose designs our founders drew heavily, what emerges in their place is another strongman regime.

There have of course been other periods of American history when the Executive Branch claimed new powers that were later seen as excessive and mistaken. Our second president, John Adams, passed the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts and sought to silence and imprison critics and political opponents.

When his successor, Thomas Jefferson, eliminated the abuses he said: "[The essential principles of our Government] form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation... [S]hould we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety."

Our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Some of the worst abuses prior to those of the current administration were committed by President Wilson during and after WWI with the notorious Red Scare and Palmer Raids. The internment of Japanese Americans during WWII marked a low point for the respect of individual rights at the hands of the executive. And, during the Vietnam War, the notorious COINTELPRO program was part and parcel of the abuses experienced by Dr. King and thousands of others.

But in each of these cases, when the conflict and turmoil subsided, the country recovered its equilibrium and absorbed the lessons learned in a recurring cycle of excess and regret.

There are reasons for concern this time around that conditions may be changing and that the cycle may not repeat itself. For one thing, we have for decades been witnessing the slow and steady accumulation of presidential power. In a global environment of nuclear weapons and cold war tensions, Congress and the American people accepted ever enlarging spheres of presidential initiative to conduct intelligence and counter intelligence activities and to allocate our military forces on the global stage. When military force has been used as an instrument of foreign policy or in response to humanitarian demands, it has almost always been as the result of presidential initiative and leadership. As Justice Frankfurter wrote in the Steel Seizure Case, "The accretion of dangerous power does not come in a day. It does come, however slowly, from the generative force of unchecked disregard of the restrictions that fence in even the most disinterested assertion of authority."

A second reason to believe we may be experiencing something new is that we are told by the Administration that the war footing upon which he has tried to place the country is going to "last for the rest of our lives." So we are told that the conditions of national threat that have been used by other Presidents to justify arrogations of power will persist in near perpetuity.

Third, we need to be aware of the advances in eavesdropping and surveillance technologies with their capacity to sweep up and analyze enormous quantities of information and to mine it for intelligence. This adds significant vulnerability to the privacy and freedom of enormous numbers of innocent people at the same time as the potential power of those technologies. These techologies have the potential for shifting the balance of power between the apparatus of the state and the freedom of the individual in ways both subtle and profound.

Don't misunderstand me: the threat of additional terror strikes is all too real and their concerted efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction does create a real imperative to exercise the powers of the Executive Branch with swiftness and agility. Moreover, there is in fact an inherent power that is conferred by the Constitution to the President to take unilateral action to protect the nation from a sudden and immediate threat, but it is simply not possible to precisely define in legalistic terms exactly when that power is appropriate and when it is not.

But the existence of that inherent power cannot be used to justify a gross and excessive power grab lasting for years that produces a serious imbalance in the relationship between the executive and the other two branches of government.

There is a final reason to worry that we may be experiencing something more than just another cycle of overreach and regret. This Administration has come to power in the thrall of a legal theory that aims to convince us that this excessive concentration of presidential authority is exactly what our Constitution intended.

This legal theory, which its proponents call the theory of the unitary executive but which is more accurately described as the unilateral executive, threatens to expand the president's powers until the contours of the constitution that the Framers actually gave us become obliterated beyond all recognition. Under this theory, the President's authority when acting as Commander-in-Chief or when making foreign policy cannot be reviewed by the judiciary or checked by Congress. President Bush has pushed the implications of this idea to its maximum by continually stressing his role as Commander-in-Chief, invoking it has frequently as he can, conflating it with his other roles, domestic and foreign. When added to the idea that we have entered a perpetual state of war, the implications of this theory stretch quite literally as far into the future as we can imagine.

This effort to rework America's carefully balanced constitutional design into a lopsided structure dominated by an all powerful Executive Branch with a subservient Congress and judiciary is-ironically-accompanied by an effort by the same administration to rework America's foreign policy from one that is based primarily on U.S. moral authority into one that is based on a misguided and self-defeating effort to establish dominance in the world.

The common denominator seems to be based on an instinct to intimidate and control.

This same pattern has characterized the effort to silence dissenting views within the Executive Branch, to censor information that may be inconsistent with its stated ideological goals, and to demand conformity from all Executive Branch employees.

For example, CIA analysts who strongly disagreed with the White House assertion that Osama bin Laden was linked to Saddam Hussein found themselves under pressure at work and became fearful of losing promotions and salary increases.

Ironically, that is exactly what happened to FBI officials in the 1960s who disagreed with J. Edgar Hoover's view that Dr. King was closely connected to Communists. The head of the FBI's domestic intelligence division said that his effort to tell the truth about King's innocence of the charge resulted in he and his colleagues becoming isolated and pressured. "It was evident that we had to change our ways or we would all be out on the street.... The men and I discussed how to get out of trouble. To be in trouble with Mr. Hoover was a serious matter. These men were trying to buy homes, mortgages on homes, children in school. They lived in fear of getting transferred, losing money on their homes, as they usually did. ... so they wanted another memorandum written to get us out of the trouble that we were in."

The Constitution's framers understood this dilemma as well, as Alexander Hamilton put it, "a power over a man's support is a power over his will." (Federalist No. 73)

Soon, there was no more difference of opinion within the FBI. The false accusation became the unanimous view. In exactly the same way, George Tenet's CIA eventually joined in endorsing a manifestly false view that there was a linkage between al Qaeda and the government of Iraq.

In the words of George Orwell: "We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield."

Whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses. In the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes. Dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded.

Last week, for example, Vice President Cheney attempted to defend the Administration's eavesdropping on American citizens by saying that if it had conducted this program prior to 9/11, they would have found out the names of some of the hijackers.

Tragically, he apparently still doesn't know that the Administration did in fact have the names of at least 2 of the hijackers well before 9/11 and had available to them information that could have easily led to the identification of most of the other hijackers. And yet, because of incompetence in the handling of this information, it was never used to protect the American people.

It is often the case that an Executive Branch beguiled by the pursuit of unchecked power responds to its own mistakes by reflexively proposing that it be given still more power. Often, the request itself it used to mask accountability for mistakes in the use of power it already has.

Moreover, if the pattern of practice begun by this Administration is not challenged, it may well become a permanent part of the American system. Many conservatives have pointed out that granting unchecked power to this President means that the next President will have unchecked power as well. And the next President may be someone whose values and belief you do not trust. And this is why Republicans as well as Democrats should be concerned with what this President has done. If this President's attempt to dramatically expand executive power goes unquestioned, our constitutional design of checks and balances will be lost. And the next President or some future President will be able, in the name of national security, to restrict our liberties in a way the framers never would have thought possible.

The same instinct to expand its power and to establish dominance characterizes the relationship between this Administration and the courts and the Congress.

In a properly functioning system, the Judicial Branch would serve as the constitutional umpire to ensure that the branches of government observed their proper spheres of authority, observed civil liberties and adhered to the rule of law. Unfortunately, the unilateral executive has tried hard to thwart the ability of the judiciary to call balls and strikes by keeping controversies out of its hands - notably those challenging its ability to detain individuals without legal process -- by appointing judges who will be deferential to its exercise of power and by its support of assaults on the independence of the third branch.

The President's decision to ignore FISA was a direct assault on the power of the judges who sit on that court. Congress established the FISA court precisely to be a check on executive power to wiretap. Yet, to ensure that the court could not function as a check on executive power, the President simply did not take matters to it and did not let the court know that it was being bypassed.

The President's judicial appointments are clearly designed to ensure that the courts will not serve as an effective check on executive power. As we have all learned, Judge Alito is a longtime supporter of a powerful executive - a supporter of the so-called unitary executive, which is more properly called the unilateral executive. Whether you support his confirmation or not - and I do not - we must all agree that he will not vote as an effective check on the expansion of executive power. Likewise, Chief Justice Roberts has made plain his deference to the expansion of executive power through his support of judicial deference to executive agency rulemaking.

And the Administration has supported the assault on judicial independence that has been conducted largely in Congress. That assault includes a threat by the Republican majority in the Senate to permanently change the rules to eliminate the right of the minority to engage in extended debate of the President's judicial nominees. The assault has extended to legislative efforts to curtail the jurisdiction of courts in matters ranging from habeas corpus to the pledge of allegiance. In short, the Administration has demonstrated its contempt for the judicial role and sought to evade judicial review of its actions at every turn.

But the most serious damage has been done to the legislative branch. The sharp decline of congressional power and autonomy in recent years has been almost as shocking as the efforts by the Executive Branch to attain a massive expansion of its power.

I was elected to Congress in 1976 and served eight years in the house, 8 years in the Senate and presided over the Senate for 8 years as Vice President. As a young man, I saw the Congress first hand as the son of a Senator. My father was elected to Congress in 1938, 10 years before I was born, and left the Senate in 1971.

The Congress we have today is unrecognizable compared to the one in which my father served. There are many distinguished Senators and Congressmen serving today. I am honored that some of them are here in this hall. But the legislative branch of government under its current leadership now operates as if it is entirely subservient to the Executive Branch.

Moreover, too many Members of the House and Senate now feel compelled to spend a majority of their time not in thoughtful debate of the issues, but raising money to purchase 30 second TV commercials.

There have now been two or three generations of congressmen who don't really know what an oversight hearing is. In the 70's and 80's, the oversight hearings in which my colleagues and I participated held the feet of the Executive Branch to the fire - no matter which party was in power. Yet oversight is almost unknown in the Congress today.

The role of authorization committees has declined into insignificance. The 13 annual appropriation bills are hardly ever actually passed anymore. Everything is lumped into a single giant measure that is not even available for Members of Congress to read before they vote on it.

Members of the minority party are now routinely excluded from conference committees, and amendments are routinely not allowed during floor consideration of legislation.

In the United States Senate, which used to pride itself on being the "greatest deliberative body in the world," meaningful debate is now a rarity. Even on the eve of the fateful vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Senator Robert Byrd famously asked: "Why is this chamber empty?"

In the House of Representatives, the number who face a genuinely competitive election contest every two years is typically less than a dozen out of 435.

And too many incumbents have come to believe that the key to continued access to the money for re-election is to stay on the good side of those who have the money to give; and, in the case of the majority party, the whole process is largely controlled by the incumbent president and his political organization.

So the willingness of Congress to challenge the Administration is further limited when the same party controls both Congress and the Executive Branch.

The Executive Branch, time and again, has co-opted Congress' role, and often Congress has been a willing accomplice in the surrender of its own power.

Look for example at the Congressional role in "overseeing" this massive four year eavesdropping campaign that on its face seemed so clearly to violate the Bill of Rights. The President says he informed Congress, but what he really means is that he talked with the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate intelligence committees and the top leaders of the House and Senate. This small group, in turn, claimed that they were not given the full facts, though at least one of the intelligence committee leaders handwrote a letter of concern to VP Cheney and placed a copy in his own safe.

Though I sympathize with the awkward position in which these men and women were placed, I cannot disagree with the Liberty Coalition when it says that Democrats as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for not taking action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider a grossly unconstitutional program.

Moreover, in the Congress as a whole-both House and Senate-the enhanced role of money in the re-election process, coupled with the sharply diminished role for reasoned deliberation and debate, has produced an atmosphere conducive to pervasive institutionalized corruption.

The Abramoff scandal is but the tip of a giant iceberg that threatens the integrity of the entire legislative branch of government.

It is the pitiful state of our legislative branch which primarily explains the failure of our vaunted checks and balances to prevent the dangerous overreach by our Executive Branch which now threatens a radical transformation of the American system.

I call upon Democratic and Republican members of Congress today to uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of government you're supposed to be.

But there is yet another Constitutional player whose pulse must be taken and whose role must be examined in order to understand the dangerous imbalance that has emerged with the efforts by the Executive Branch to dominate our constitutional system.

We the people are-collectively-still the key to the survival of America's democracy. We-as Lincoln put it, "[e]ven we here"-must examine our own role as citizens in allowing and not preventing the shocking decay and degradation of our democracy.

Thomas Jefferson said: "An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will."

The revolutionary departure on which the idea of America was based was the audacious belief that people can govern themselves and responsibly exercise the ultimate authority in self-government. This insight proceeded inevitably from the bedrock principle articulated by the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke: "All just power is derived from the consent of the governed."

The intricate and carefully balanced constitutional system that is now in such danger was created with the full and widespread participation of the population as a whole. The Federalist Papers were, back in the day, widely-read newspaper essays, and they represented only one of twenty-four series of essays that crowded the vibrant marketplace of ideas in which farmers and shopkeepers recapitulated the debates that played out so fruitfully in Philadelphia.

Indeed, when the Convention had done its best, it was the people - in their various States - that refused to confirm the result until, at their insistence, the Bill of Rights was made integral to the document sent forward for ratification.

And it is "We the people" who must now find once again the ability we once had to play an integral role in saving our Constitution.

And here there is cause for both concern and great hope. The age of printed pamphlets and political essays has long since been replaced by television - a distracting and absorbing medium which sees determined to entertain and sell more than it informs and educates.

Lincoln's memorable call during the Civil War is applicable in a new way to our dilemma today: "We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Forty years have passed since the majority of Americans adopted television as their principal source of information. Its dominance has become so extensive that virtually all significant political communication now takes place within the confines of flickering 30-second television advertisements.

And the political economy supported by these short but expensive television ads is as different from the vibrant politics of America's first century as those politics were different from the feudalism which thrived on the ignorance of the masses of people in the Dark Ages.

The constricted role of ideas in the American political system today has encouraged efforts by the Executive Branch to control the flow of information as a means of controlling the outcome of important decisions that still lie in the hands of the people.

The Administration vigorously asserts its power to maintain the secrecy of its operations. After all, the other branches can't check an abuse of power if they don't know it is happening.

For example, when the Administration was attempting to persuade Congress to enact the Medicare prescription drug benefit, many in the House and Senate raised concerns about the cost and design of the program. But, rather than engaging in open debate on the basis of factual data, the Administration withheld facts and prevented the Congress from hearing testimony that it sought from the principal administration expert who had compiled information showing in advance of the vote that indeed the true cost estimates were far higher than the numbers given to Congress by the President.

Deprived of that information, and believing the false numbers given to it instead, the Congress approved the program. Tragically, the entire initiative is now collapsing- all over the country- with the Administration making an appeal just this weekend to major insurance companies to volunteer to bail it out.

To take another example, scientific warnings about the catastrophic consequences of unchecked global warming were censored by a political appointee in the White House who had no scientific training. And today one of the leading scientific experts on global warming in NASA has been ordered not to talk to members of the press and to keep a careful log of everyone he meets with so that the Executive Branch can monitor and control his discussions of global warming.

One of the other ways the Administration has tried to control the flow of information is by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. As President Eisenhower said, "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

We have a duty as Americans to defend our citizens' right not only to life but also to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is therefore vital in our current circumstances that immediate steps be taken to safeguard our Constitution against the present danger posed by the intrusive overreaching on the part of the Executive Branch and the President's apparent belief that he need not live under the rule of law.

I endorse the words of Bob Barr, when he said, "The President has dared the American people to do something about it. For the sake of the Constitution, I hope they will."

A special counsel should immediately be appointed by the Attorney General to remedy the obvious conflict of interest that prevents him from investigating what many believe are serious violations of law by the President. We have had a fresh demonstration of how an independent investigation by a special counsel with integrity can rebuild confidence in our system of justice. Patrick Fitzgerald has, by all accounts, shown neither fear nor favor in pursuing allegations that the Executive Branch has violated other laws.

Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress should support the bipartisan call of the Liberty Coalition for the appointment of a special counsel to pursue the criminal issues raised by warrantless wiretapping of Americans by the President.

Second, new whistleblower protections should immediately be established for members of the Executive Branch who report evidence of wrongdoing -- especially where it involves the abuse of Executive Branch authority in the sensitive areas of national security.

Third, both Houses of Congress should hold comprehensive-and not just superficial-hearings into these serious allegations of criminal behavior on the part of the President. And, they should follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Fourth, the extensive new powers requested by the Executive Branch in its proposal to extend and enlarge the Patriot Act should, under no circumstances be granted, unless and until there are adequate and enforceable safeguards to protect the Constitution and the rights of the American people against the kinds of abuses that have so recently been revealed.

Fifth, any telecommunications company that has provided the government with access to private information concerning the communications of Americans without a proper warrant should immediately cease and desist their complicity in this apparently illegal invasion of the privacy of American citizens.

Freedom of communication is an essential prerequisite for the restoration of the health of our democracy.

It is particularly important that the freedom of the Internet be protected against either the encroachment of government or the efforts at control by large media conglomerates. The future of our democracy depends on it.

I mentioned that along with cause for concern, there is reason for hope. As I stand here today, I am filled with optimism that America is on the eve of a golden age in which the vitality of our democracy will be re-established and will flourish more vibrantly than ever. Indeed I can feel it in this hall.

As Dr. King once said, "Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us."

Posted by smijer at 01:29 PM | Comments (0)

My scar is bigger than your scar

from - Buck

You've gotta love the way these guys turn on each other.

As for how Murtha won the Purple Hearts, the Houston Chronicle quotes a Murtha spokesperson as saying, "We think the congressman's record is clear. We have the documentation, the paperwork that proves that he earned them, and that he is entitled to wear them proudly." Well, he may possess the documentation, but CNS reported they've never been released and the documentation of Murtha's service record is as elusive as Senator John Kerry's.

Here we go again. A military smear of the military. Do these guys not know what this kind of thing looks like to those who are outside looking in? Arguing over who got a medal when they did not deserve a medal is embarrassingly childish.

This "Purple Heart" issue is getting a little bit tiresome. My understanding is that over 200,000 Purple Hearts were issued during the course of the Vietnam war so the truth is that serving in Vietnam and not getting a Purple Heart is just about as amazing as serving and getting one.

Is it any wonder that a Purple Heart and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks?

The original Purple Heart award was instituted by George Washington in 1782 to reward troops for "unusual gallantry" and "extraordinary fidelity and essential service." The award was a purple cloth heart edged in silver braid, and was to be worn over the left breast of the uniform. Only three awards are known to have been issued, of which two are known to exist today.

Only three issued for the entire war against Mother England? Reckon these three guys argued over who deserved it and who didn't?

Oh, and my favorite quote from the Freeper article

According to former Marine, NYPD first-grade detective and security consultant Sid Francis, "This young guy hit those two phony patriots right between the eyes with one shot. Good for him. Murtha must have forgot that you don't piss off a Marine."

Now doesn't that just make you want to jump up, salute a flag and say the pledge?


Posted by Buck at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

MLK Day

from - smijer

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
-MLK, Jr.

Some preachers are OK I guess.

Posted by smijer at 07:19 AM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2006

Happy Friday!

from - Buck

Seen in a men's room at Linda's Bar and Grill in Chapel Hill, North Carolina:

No matter how good she looks, some other guy is sick and tired of putting up with her shit.
Posted by Buck at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)

Keith Coleman was Guilty

from - smijer

Tests reaffirm Coleman's guilt.

It's good to know that this wasn't an instance of executing the innocent.

For a further silver lining, certain members of the pro-death penalty camp may offer less resistance to future DNA testing to determine the innocence or guilt of those executed, perceiving less threat to their cause.

It turns out that the death penalty was a fair result for Keith Coleman... I continue to maintain that it was not a just action for the people of Virginia.

Hippy Dave has further comments.

Posted by smijer at 07:26 AM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2006

Dropping in on a Celebrity at Home

from - smijer

This is for you, Buck... courtesy of Google Video...

Posted by smijer at 09:13 PM | Comments (0)

Blind, Deaf and Dumb Justice

from - Buck

It is a shame what passes for law in this country today.

Take a look at this load of crap.

An appeals court on Monday upheld the 55-year mandatory sentence of a Utah man who carried a firearm while dealing pot, a penalty that had been decried as unconstitutional by dozens of former judges and prosecutors and as unjust by the sentencing judge himself.

Personally I think his arrest and conviction was facilitated by other dealers in the area. After all, he sold 8 ounces for $350.00. The market can't tolerate a whore.

Sixty days for child molesting is outrageous but 55 years for having a gun strapped on your ankle while selling what must have been oregano is just as outrageous.

Reckon O'Reilly will take up the case?

Posted by Buck at 06:43 AM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2006

Mystery Photo from Sky

from - smijer

I'm really enjoying Google Earth. I wanted to share the fun with a little game... This is about as close a zoom as I could get on this particular landmark while staying in focus... You tell me what it is, and you win. It's an easy one, since this is the first time... I'm counting on you!

mystery1.JPG

Posted by smijer at 08:10 PM | Comments (0)

Scared Yet?

from - smijer

“We don’t shy away from declaring that Islam is ready to rule the world”
- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Read the article - he's their Pat Robertson - wild-eyed, crazy, with dreams of rapture, or the Shi'ite equivalent. And, he's filled with nuclear ambition. Quite a sobering thought.

Hopefully, you are so scared at this point that you will see the wisdom of a heavy handed response to this sort of threat:

Here's an idea. Let's ignore him. Let's pull our troops out of the Middle East and allow Iraq to immediately fall under the control of Al Qaeda and other Islamo-fascist groups. Let's show Muslims around the world that we do not have the moral strength to stand up to Islamic despots. Let's take all of that money we've been spending trying to liberate Iraq and spend it on making life all comfy for Katrina deadbeats and on our hideous and beyond-salvaging government school system. While we're at it, let's engage in a year of self-flagellation over the treatment of Islamic prisoners and detainees. Let's work hard to strip the president of any executive powers he may have to fight Islamic terrorism. And while we're accomplishing all of these worthy goals, let's sit back and see just how much oomph Ahmadinejad can put into his dream of world domination.

Oh ... and one more thing. While we're at it, let's make sure we never identify the religion of Islam as the violent entity that it most assuredly is. Wouldn't want to offend someone, would we?


- Neal Boortz.

He's got a great point... we need to go off the deep end... the threat is too scary.

We must continue the war in Iraq - if we do not continue to fuel the insurgency with our presence and our gift of living targets, then it may win. If it wins, then the hope for an Iraq governed by pro-Iranian Shi'ites who share Ahmadinejad's ideologies is doomed.

We must give no thought to allowing Iraqis control over the money for reconstruction. That would be suicide.

We musn't trouble ourselves with the morality or decency of our own actions. If we do not become like them, we can never beat them.

We must not take care of our own people who have lost their homes in a natural disaster... that will make them deadbeats, and the Islamists will have won.

God forbid we follow Israel's lead, and lob a couple of patriots off a submarine when we see an active nuclear weapons program begin in Iran. That would only set them back a decade or two. We need total victory. That means having troops in Iraq, poised for a ground invasion.

Thanks, Neal Boortz, for clearing that up. My problem was that I was trying to think about the issues, instead of just getting real scared and doing whatever the Executive branch of the government said. You're right - we need the Executive to have more power... as it stands, all they can do is start wars, direct intelligence operations, and ignore the law. George Bush needs more than that... to protect our scared selves.

I'm so grateful to Neal for getting me back into a state of hysteria, that I read his next item, too:

Saddam Hussein was training Islamic terrorists before we removed him from power.

According to Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard, new documents captured from Iraq and newly-translated have shown that Saddam Hussein was, indeed, training Iraqi terrorists in Iraq, thousands of them. The training took place at training camps inside Iraq in the four years immediately preceding the invasion.

Now, don't look for any coverage of this revelation in the mainstream press. You have to go to The Weekly Standard website to get this information. Why? Because the news if favorable to Bush and supports his decision to get rid of Saddam Hussein. That makes the news simply unfit to print. So, you want more information? Good for you! Here's your link!

Actually, I have another theory that would explain why the mainstream media hasn't published this information - the White House hasn't fed it to them yet. Following the link, we find that there are (according to Weekly Standard) a large number of documents related to Iraq's pre-war relationship with Islamic terrorists that have yet to be "exploited." There is (according to the WS) a movement to translate them and make them public, for the press and hungry public to devour. Telling is this quote from Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita:

The main worry, says DiRita, is that the mainstream press might cherry-pick documents and mischaracterize their meaning. "There is always the concern that people would be chasing a lot of information good or bad, and when the Times or the Post splashes a headline about some sensational-sounding document that would seem to 'prove' that sanctions were working, or that Saddam was just a misunderstood patriot, or some other nonsense, we'd spend a lot of time chasing around after it."

That's certainly a legitimate concern, and I salute the Pentagon for taking it into due consideration... But I say, hell - that's what we have Fox News for... while the Washington Post is cherry-picking the documents that downplay the pre-war threat from Iraq, Brit Hume can show us all the documents that (even though no-one was aware of it before the war) show why it was absolutely the smartest thing we've ever done to invade Iraq... after all Fox News is the most watched cable news network, right? ... unless there is no "there" there.

Personally, I really would like to know what's in all of those documents... I'm not really quite willing to take the Weekly Standard's word for it... but it would be interesting to actually know something from the inside about what Saddam was up to during the time that George Bush was studiously avoiding finding out.

That's it for now... have a blessed Wednesday.

Posted by smijer at 08:00 AM | Comments (0)

HPAPY BIRHTADY!

from - Buck

Albert Hofmann

Posted by Buck at 07:05 AM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2006

Delurking Week?

from - smijer

Alice says it's delurking week... so come on -- show us your têtes!

Posted by smijer at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

Spotlight: Damien Echols and the West MemphisThree

from - smijer

It's been a while since I checked the West Memphis Three website to see how this case was coming along. For those who aren't already familiar, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were convicted in 1994 for the murder of three children in West Memphis, AR. I am utterly convinced, as are many, that they were innocent. Damien Echols was sentenced to death, and remains on death row to this day. The defendants were convicted largely on the coerced testimony of Jessie M., who is mentally retarded, and on the basis of their mutual interest in the Wiccan religion and heavy metal music.

Checking back this week, I discovered a couple of "new" (to me) items, worth mentioning. First, Echols has successfully requested new DNA testing in an effort to exonerate himself, and been granted a habeus petition pending the litigation of the DNA claim. DNA evidence has been preserved, and testing began in October of 2005. No result is back yet.

Second, Damien has written a book from death row, entitled "Almost Home: My Life Story". I haven't read it, but I plan to very soon.

I have read Devil's Knot, which is an investigative report by Mara Leveritt into the handling of the case. Reading it really shook my faith in the criminal justice system. Although this is probably one of the more egregious cases, and may yet be resolved in the defendant's favor (after taking ten or more years of their lives) - it forced me to consider the possibility that our justice system would be best served by radically reforming the process.

Damien Echols is awaiting execution - the other two are serving life sentences. So, yes - this is about the death penalty... but it's about the problems with the justice system generally, too. If you are prepared for a major moral and political challenge, pick up Leveritt's book... I'm ready for some insight into the life of a person awaitin execution for a crime he didn't commit... so I'll be looking into Damien Echols' book.

Posted by smijer at 09:06 AM | Comments (0)

"A Little Dab'll Do Ya!"

from - Buck

Prehistoric Irish man wore hair gel imported from France.

The gel offered no protection against an axe to the skull but hey, he looked real nice right up until the end.

Posted by Buck at 08:48 AM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2006

Greg Thompson Receives Stay of Execution

from - smijer

Greg Thompson Receives Stay of Execution Attorney General Again Denied Opportunity to Kill Severely Mentally Ill Man Nashville: On Friday January 6th Federal District Court Judge J. Allan Edgar issued a stay of execution for Greg Thompson. He had been scheduled to die on February 7th. Thompson’s attorney, a relieved Dana Hansen Chavis, stated that, “We will continue working hard every day in the hope that people will understand just how truly insane Greg is, what the State has done to disguise his insanity, and that he should not be executed.” The stay was granted so that the Federal courts can consider the issue of whether or not Thompson is competent to be executed. “Thompson is not presently competent to be executed,” said Dr. Faye Sultan who has monitored the mental health of Thompson. “He lacks the mental capacity to understand the fact of the impending execution and the reason for it.” “There is no question that Thompson, diagnosed with schizophrenia, is severely mentally ill,” said Randy Tatel, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing (TCASK). “His 4000 page mental health history documents his symptoms which range from delusional thought processes, psychosis, both auditory and visual hallucinations, mania, paranoia, and self-mutilation.” Thompson believes that he can survive execution by electrocution because his television shocks him when he touches it and he is ‘used to it.’ He also believes that Brenda Lane, the women he killed while in a psychotic state in 1985, works at Riverbend prison where he is incarcerated. “Our goal is to put an end to the State's efforts to execute Greg,” said Chavis “The State itself knows Greg is insane.” Attorney General Paul Summers certainly knows that Thompson is insane. Summers told the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2001 that, “(Gregory Thompson) is incapable of making rational decisions. (He is) incapable of managing his person ... based upon his present mental condition.” Dr. Sultan recently testified that, “...Thompson's mental health has changed and become substantially worse. He's experienced more recent ‘break-through’ hallucinations and an increase in severe suicidal thoughts.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness – Tennessee (NAMI) has recently questioned why the state wishes to kill a severely mentally ill human being. “It’s hard to understand what our Attorney General is thinking in this instance,” said Tatel. “We all, each and every one of us, mourn the tragic death of Ms. Lane, but seeking to poison to death someone so clearly insane as Greg Thompson certainly sends the wrong message to mental healthcare consumers in Tennessee.”

This came in my e-mail box today, forwarded to me from TCASK.

Posted by smijer at 03:19 PM | Comments (0)

Comment Bug

from - smijer

Whoops!! Comment bug has been found (thanks Alice, Buck & RSA!)... and fixed. Not much of a Tête-a-Tête if other people can't commentête.

Posted by smijer at 02:45 PM | Comments (0)

Wildlife Help...

from - smijer

Anyone know what pecks like a woodpecker and hoots like an owl? I heard it outside my window this morning. It was curious enough that I felt like I needed to run outside and look, but when I got there, all was quiet...

Posted by smijer at 02:06 PM | Comments (0)

Ye shall know the truth

from - Buck

godspunishment.jpg

I stole this from Dave who says he stole it from from Jackie.

I guess Jackie got it straight from Cox and Forkum.

No matter who or where it comes from,
everybody should have an opportunity to see it.

Posted by Buck at 01:09 PM | Comments (0)

Experiencing design

from - RSA

For the past couple of years I've been writing a column for Interfaces, the quarterly newsletter of the British HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) Group. My column is called Experiencing Design and is aimed at people interested in HCI practice and education. I try to make the material accessible to a non-technical audience; for anyone who might be interested, below are a few introductory paragraphs from my latest effort, with a pointer to the complete column at the bottom.

Experiencing Design: Fearful Symmetry

With his wonderful book, The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman ensured that a generation of interaction designers would be acutely aware of the layout of. . .stove tops. The concept of a natural mapping is now a familiar one: if the spatial arrangement of the knobs on a stove matches that of the burners, it is easy to see which knob corresponds to which burner. The correspondence between a square of burners and a line of knobs, on the other hand, is ambiguous and can lead to potentially disastrous usage errors.

My students offer comparable everyday examples of mapping problems:

The clothes dryers in the laundry rooms here on campus are poorly designed. They are arranged in pairs, with a single coin slot and controls between each pair. More than once, I have put in money and pressed the button to start the wrong dryer. If the other dryer is already being used by someone else, it is impossible to move your own clothes into it. I have ended up paying for other people's clothes to dry by mistake at least twice this semester!

One of the elevators I use has a "walk through" design, with two sets of doors opposite each other. The elevator buttons are in two columns on a panel beside one set of doors. On the bottom row of the panel is a pair of buttons, side by side, for opening and closing one set of doors; the row just above controls the other set of doors. The problem is that there's no easy way to tell which row of buttons is for which doors, so when someone is running to catch the elevator as the doors close, and I reach out to push a button, I can't tell which is the right one.

(continued. . .)

Posted by RSA at 10:58 AM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2006

Yes... You're in the Right Place

from - smijer

Just a little name and format change... FYI - Tête-a-Tête-Tête is to be pronounced in the rythm of "rat-a-tat-tat".. only "Tête" is pronounced "Tate", as in "Tater", for those of you unversed in the unpatriotic French language... Also, the first syllable of "smijer" is pronounced like the same in "smidgeon". Hope that sorts things out...

Posted by smijer at 08:52 PM | Comments (0)

January 06, 2006

Lassie

from - smijer

I love this (h/t - Watermark, via the Friday Ark)

Rosheisen said his cat, Tommy, must have hit the right buttons to call 911.

"I know it sounds kind of weird," Officer Patrick Daugherty said, unsuccessfully searching for some other explanation.

Rosheisen said he couldn't get up because of pain from osteoporosis and ministrokes that disrupt his balance. He also wasn't wearing his medical-alert necklace and couldn't reach a cord above his pillow that alerts paramedics that he needs help.

Daugherty said police received a 911 call from Rosheisen's apartment, but there was no one on the phone. Police called back to make sure everything was OK, and when no one answered, they decided to check things out.

That's when Daugherty found Tommy next to the phone.

Rosheisen got the cat three years ago to help lower his blood pressure. He tried to train him to call 911, unsure if the training ever stuck.

The phone in the living room is always on the floor, and there are 12 small buttons - including a speed dial for 911 right above the button for the speaker phone.

"He's my hero," Rosheisen said.

You can't train a cat? Well, I personally played "fetch" with a Meowy Doggie over the Holidays. Pete-Pete (an animal-blogging veteran) absolutely loves to fetch his toy spider, and will bring it right back to you and drop it in front of you over and over.

Posted by smijer at 09:35 PM | Comments (0)

Pat Robertson speaks

from - Buck

Well, Brother Robertson is talking again.

Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson suggested Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine punishment for "dividing God's land."

And according to Pat this is not the first time God has lashed out at one who would dare divide His tiny patch of dirt in the Middle East.

In discussing what he said was God's insistence that Israel not be divided, Robertson also referred to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had sought to achieve peace by giving land to the Palestinians. "It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless he was dead," he said.

I guess when it comes to a choice between land and war God chooses war. Maybe God knows something we don't. There must be one hell of a pocket of oil or natural gas beneath the Holy Land.

Otherwise, why all of the fuss?

Posted by Buck at 08:22 AM | Comments (0)

Momma Thumbs

from - smijer

Momma Thumbs is such a show-off... I tried to explain to her that polydactyl mowy doggies just aren't that rare, but she insisted on posing to show off those beautiful feets. She's posed here with Elder...

thumb1.JPG


thumb2.JPG


Patches, the baby polydactyl, is extremely skittish, and doesn't permit photography at this time. We believe that whatever disappeared her siblings also gave her a terrible fright. One has to work hard for the opportunity to love on her at all.

More furry goodness, as always, in the Friday Ark.

Posted by smijer at 07:55 AM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2006

Book Report

from - Buck

Okay. I am sure all of you have already seen it but today was my first time so here it is

Book Reports

Students were assigned to read 2 books, "Titanic" & "My Life" by Bill Clinton. One smart ass student turned in the following book report, with the proposition that they were nearly identical stories! His cool professor gave him an A+ for this report:

Titanic: $29.99
Clinton : $29.99

Titanic: Over 3 hours to read
Clinton: Over 3 hours to read

Titanic: The story of Jack and Rose, their forbidden love, and
subsequent catastrophe.
Clinton: The story of Bill and Monica, their forbidden love, and
subsequent catastrophe.

Titanic: Jack is a starving artist.
Clinton: Bill is a bullshit artist.

Titanic: In one scene, Jack enjoys a good cigar.
Clinton: Ditto for Bill.

Titanic: During ordeal, Rose's dress gets ruined.
Clinton: Ditto for Monica.

Titanic: Jack teaches Rose to spit.
Clinton: Let's not go there.

Titanic: Rose gets to keep her jewelry.
Clinton: Monica's forced to return her gifts.

Titanic: Rose remembers Jack for the rest of her life.
Clinton: Clinton doesn't remember Jack.

Titanic: Rose goes down on a vessel full of seamen.
Clinton: Monica.....ooh, let's not go there, either.

Titanic: Jack surrenders to an icy death.
Clinton: Bill goes home to Hilary...basically the same thing.

Posted by Buck at 04:55 PM | Comments (0)

A great season

from - Buck

It was a fantastic college football bowl season this year.

Three of the four BCS Championship match-ups were decided by 3 points and one of those games went to three overtimes.

After watching the Penn State versus Florida State thriller I would have never believed that the championship game could have been just as exciting but it was.

Congratulations to Texas. Vince Young is an amazing football player.

I was a little bit disappointed when the Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart
said after the game that he still felt that USC had the better team and that Texas just made the plays they needed to make to win the game.

Hell Matt. Playing the game is how you determine who has the better team. Look at the scoreboard.

He should have just said, “they were better than we were tonight”.

Professional football will help me a little bit with the inevitable annual withdrawal symptoms but there will still be times during the baseball and basketball season that I will be desperate for my high school and college level football fix.

All I can do is hang on.

Posted by Buck at 09:16 AM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2006

Keeping your eye on the ball

from - RSA

From today's White House press conference:

Q Second question: The President's speech today at the Pentagon as far as terrorism and fighting terrorism is concerned, do you think that Osama bin Laden is still in -- is running the al Qaeda business?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, who?

I half-expect a "Who's on First?" routine for tomorrow's press conference.

Posted by RSA at 05:30 PM | Comments (0)

A Trope from Wayback

from - smijer

Remember the Line Item Veto? There was a time, during the Reagan years, when it was thought that the President just couldn't do without it - especially if he hoped to have a balanced budget without all that pork. What I didn't remember was that Bill Clinton was the first to actually use it, and that - thankfully - it was shortly thereafter declared unconstitutional.

Back in the '80s, I couldn't think of a single good reason not to have it (granted, Reagan took office when I was 8 and left when I was 16 - that may have something to do with it). Now, I think I see the danger.

The moral? I guess it takes 20 years to figure some stuff out. Or maybe it has something to do with keeping checks and balances. I just hope that the Bush admin's attempts to create a virtual line-item veto by creative interpretation at signing. Same link from yesterday's post. My head's still spinning about this one.

Posted by smijer at 08:07 AM | Comments (0)

Almost heaven, West Virginia

from - Buck

First the Mountaineers beat the Bulldogs.

Now the miners are found alive! (At 1:30 AM this link claimed that they had been found alive)

Man the miracles just keep coming out of West Virginia.

UPDATE:

What an emotional roller coaster this turned out to be for the families.

I just wish I could wake up tomorrow and find out that Georgia actually won the Sugar Bowl.

Thanking God for victories is easy. Being thankful for defeats is not so easy.

Posted by Buck at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2006

Some Notes

from - smijer

Happy New Year, everyone. A couple of notes:

There's a site redesign in the works, complete with a new name. We'll only be working eponymously for another day or two. I'll be sticking with MT 2.6 - mostly cosmetic changes, but I think it will make the page a little easier on the eyes, and maybe a little less cluttered.

What I'm not posting about today:
An essay entitled "Light Unto the Nations"... One trend I see among many UU's is to think of the church as a refuge or safe haven for "the rest of us". And that's fine as far as it goes - I know I see the church largely in terms of a home for the spiritual homeless. But that can go too far, and we can become cloistered, and (horrors!) even elitist. A conversation I had with some people in our church recently led me to do some thinking about what the proper role of a church like the UU should be in the larger religious community. But that's a long essay, and I just don't have time to write it. I will when I can.

A presidential power grab. I really have nothing to add. I don't want to bleat for impeachment... but I can't figure out what can be done short of that, to stem the usurpation of power by the executive that seems to have been underway for the last 5 years (4 at least). With nothing else to add to what others have said, there's no point in posting about it. Don't think that means I'm not worried.

A Liberal Allegory of Narnia... I'm still thinking this over... I want to start on it sooner rather than later, but not until I'm through puzzling out exactly how it would work.

But stay tuned... This is going to be an interesting year all around, and we denizens of the blog for a short time longer known as "smijer & Buck" plan to have front row seats and plenty of interesting conversation. We look forward to it.

Posted by smijer at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

It's Over

from - Buck

At 12:45 AM on January 3rd the college football season officially ended for me.

My beloved Dawgs fell behind 28-0 early to the West Virginia Mountaineers and could never recover. They lost the Sugar Bowl 38-35.

It was a great football game to watch. West Virginia brought it all night long. They have one helluva better football team than I had assumed they had. They were better than the Dawgs tonight that is for sure.

Winning the Southeastern Conference this year was great. Losing the Sugar Bowl was extremely disappointing but after watching West Virginia I do not consider losing to them an embarrassment. Those guys were good.

Sure, I'll stay up half the night again tonight to watch Penn State play Florida State and then I'll stay up half the night tomorrow night ot watch USC play Texas.

But once the Dawgs are finished the season is over as far as I am concerned.

I'm just glad it lasted until January 3rd.

Posted by Buck at 01:01 AM | Comments (0)