Friday, December 19, 2003

Feliz Navidad: I'm taking a two-week vacation to see my friends and family in Dallas over the holidays. Y'all take care and have a Merry Christmas, and I'll be back in 2004!

Standing Tall: It's good to see that a skyscraper will return to the site of the World Trade Center. The earlier designs showing a group of level buildings unnerved me. The Freedom Tower to be constructed will show that we can move on from the tragedy of 9/11 while still reaching for the stars.

It will be a sight to see when completed. I can't wait.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Good Call: Second Washington Sniper Convicted of Murder.

That Was Fast: It truly is a 24/7 world. A toy manufacturer released a doll meant to represent the captured Saddam Hussein merely 24 hours after the real man was announced to be caught. The doll has a scraggly gray beard and is wearing an Ace of Spades shirt -- although the buff/muscular physique is not very representative.

In addition, last night's South Park included a parody of the capture of the Butcher of Baghdad. Except, Hussein was in Canada acting as the prime minister/Wizard of Oz. I couldn't tell if the scene was tacked onto an existing episode or if the show's creators made it from scratch this week.

Regardless, I'm impressed how fast the world reacts to change nowadays.

Use Your Head: This doesn't come as a surprise to anyone. But apparently science has confirmed that men actually become dumber when looking at beautiful ladies. So now whenever I blog something that doesn't make any sense, just assume a beautiful woman walked by while I was typing ...

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Progress: Judging from the new rhetoric from the Democratic candidates, fewer of them are arguing that attacking Iraq was inherently wrong. While they're still finding ways to nit-pick President Bush, many of the Democrats are bragging about their earlier endorsements of the invasion instead of disavowing them as before.

Of course, Dean is still arguing that we never should have gone into Iraq. I'll give him points for consistency, but he is getting hammered for his anti-war stance, and rightfully so.

The fact that this country is so divided over this war really bothers me. We all put our differences aside after 9/11. But partisanship reared its ugly head soon afterwards. It's one thing to disagree with the tactics and to question aloud whether we should have gone into Iraq, but this visceral hatred the Left has for Bush is disconcerting.

It seems that the capture of Saddam Hussein has cast the invasion of Iraq in more of a positive light. Hopefully more people will see the good that will come out of the liberation -- for the Middle East, for the United States, and for the rest of the world.

Then the debate can center not on whether we should aggressively fight the terrorists, but how we should fight them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Door's Still Open: The day Saddam Hussein was captured, Democrats and pundits kept saying that Bush should take this opportunity to "internationalize" the situation in Iraq.

This is obviously an attempt by Democrats to avoid criticizing Bush while raising the expectations for later political attacks.

But their remarks make no sense. Bush has sought to internationalize the war in Iraq from day one. We postponed the invasion for months while we pleaded with the United Nations get involved. The U.N. needed to take a leadership position, but instead it cowered. Back then, Bush warned that if the U.N. didn't act against international threats, as it was designed to do, it risked becoming as irrelevant as the League of Nations. Now that's starting to come to pass.

The United States put together as broad an international coalition as possible. England, Australia, Italy, and Poland are helping, as well as several small countries.

France, Germany, and Russia were invited and strongly encouraged to join the fight. But they backed away. At the time, they argued that we should wait until Israel and the Palestinians find lasting peace. That hasn't happened for generations, so we can't count on it to happen anytime soon. While we definitely want to see that conflict end, we can't put all other international concerns on hold in the mean time.

That was the international picture at the time. So the United States decided to go to war without France. Now that we're succeeding, the Democrats are calling on Bush to change course and do what France wants? That makes no sense.

I think the world should be calling on France to internationalize. The United Nations should be pressured join the fight against tyranny and terrorism.

Instead of pressuring the United States, the United Nations should pressure its other members -- dictatorships like Syria and Iran -- to stop supporting terrorism and to adopt democratic reform.

I keep hearing this phrase that President Bush has "squandered the international goodwill" that blossomed from 9/11. As much as I would like the rest of the world to join our fight against terrorism, I don't think we should be beholden to other countries as to how we wage this war. Of course we should always obey international law and respect humanitarian concerns. But within those parameters, we should still be allowed to do what's necessary to succeed.

Sure, many countries sent us their regards after 9/11. But "international goodwill" should not equate to "dictating what we can do" -- but that's what other countries wanted. If Bush "squandered" that, so be it.

We're the strongest economic and military force in the world, and we provide protection to most other nations -- even those that take us for granted. We would be leading this fight regardless, so it's up to other countries whether they want to join us. All are welcome.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Sic Semper Tyrannis: Saddam Hussein is a slow learner. Right after he was discovered hiding in his rat hole, he told the U.S. troops, in English, "My name is Saddam Hussein. I am the president of Iraq and I want to negotiate," according to The Associated Press. A U.S. Special Forces soldier then replied, "Regards from President Bush."

What, was Saddam Hussein willing to call it a draw? Oh, how life imitates Monty Python.

It took us nine months to invade Iraq, fight a war, topple a brutal regime that had supported international terrorists, and track down a fugitive dictator. All in all, that sounds like good work.

In the coming months, we will continue fighting terrorists in Iraq in our war against terrorism. Osama Bin Laden has announced that Iraq has become Al Qaeda's front line for its war against the United States. This is what we want. I believe the U.S. military is much better equipped to fight terrorists in Iraq than civilians are in New York City. And over time, we will defeat the major terrorist groups.

Now we still have to continue building a democratic government in Iraq, complete with a constitution and an assurance of liberty for all Iraqis. This is the first step to promoting democracy in the Middle East, which will make the region less hospitable for terrorism.

All this will take time. But as we saw yesterday, success can come through patience and determination.

We're going to win this war. It may look ugly now, but the victories are coming. And we'll all be safer in the long run.

Just ask Saddam Hussein about his experience and decision not to fight the U.S. troops who found him hiding, according to The Washington Post:

"Why didn't you fight?" one Governing Council member asked Hussein as their meeting ended. Hussein gestured toward the U.S. soldiers guarding him and asked his own question: "Would you fight them?"

Friday, December 12, 2003

Awww: The Texas Democratic delegates to the party's national convention in Boston complain that they're getting punished for hailing from the same state as President Bush.

While other state delegations are assigned to stay in posh hotels in Beantown, the Texans are the only group told to sleep in the hotel at the airport, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Officials from the Democratic National Committee say that Texans aren't getting snubbed, but that the airport hotel is the only one available to accommodate the size of the delegation.

However, the Committee was able to find nice accommodations in downtown Boston for the large delegations from California and New York.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Clinton/Gore Schism: I'm confused by all the political analyses that say Gore endorsed Dean simply as a way to steal the party back from the Clintons. Some people argue that this sets Gore up for a run for president in 2008. I don't see how that would work.

Gore's big chance to run for the presidency was the 2004 election. A rematch against a president who lost the popular vote makes sense. In each of the three other instances in U.S. history when someone won the presidency even though he lost the popular vote, that person was not re-elected. And for two of those times, the person who unseated him was the same guy who actually won the popular vote the first time.

So Gore missed out. But endorsing a lefty like Dean won't bring Gore back into the action. Because if Dean wins the presidency, Gore won't be able to make a run for the nomination for another eight years -- a lifetime in politics.

If Dean loses to Bush, then Gore will be in the unfortunate position of blowing his candidacy in 2000 then backing a loser in 2004 -- both campaigns being characterized as ultra-liberal. That easily paves the way for Sen. Hillary Clinton and her pseudo-hawkish stance to, again, redefine the Democratic Party back to the center. (Call me cynical, but despite Hillary's calls for Bush to put more troops in Iraq for a longer stay, I doubt she would ever be supportive if Bush were already doing that.)

Which brings up another issue. Assuming Bush wins re-election, I don't see how the Republicans plan on winning in 2008 without replacing the vice president with somebody other than Dick Cheney.

Cheney could never be elected president, considering his health problems and his shady demeanor. So the Republicans would have to nominate somebody else instead. Powell chose not to run before, so I doubt he'll choose to run later. Some people are trying to get Bush to choose National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as his running mate to set her up for the nomination. That might work.

Right now, Hillary is acting like a hawk to position herself for 2008. If her popularity grows, she may be able to shake off the perception that Democrats are weak on national security. Then she'd be quite a force in 2008. The Republicans are going to need someone of heavy caliber to fight her. That position would best be served as a vice president, instead of a lesser Republican. But I don't think Cheney has the heart for the job.

Joyride: Well, the Dow closed above 10,000 today. It might dip back down tomorrow. But then it would probably creep back up.

Financial analysts also expect 2004 to create record economic growth. Growing the fastest in 20 years.

Oh, and that recession? It really wasn't as bad as people originally thought, which makes sense because it never seemed all that bad. Granted, business slowed down a bit, but I didn't see any bread lines or anything.

As I've said before: the 10,000 benchmark isn't indicative of anything, but politically it will be huge. Republicans will play this to show that the economy is strong.

Democrats will ignore the Dow and will continue to harp on unemployment figures and deficits, making it seem like Bush mishandled the economy.

And I'll continue arguing that neither Presidents Bush nor Clinton deserve neither credit nor blame for the economy. While their policies can provide some influence, the economy is a wild, untamed beast.

Battlefield Tactics: Republicans seem to be ecstatic about Howard Dean's becoming the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. They plan to characterize him as the next George McGovern, set to lose the presidential election by a landslide.

That's a dumb tactic on so many levels. First of all, if Dean goes on to win a handful of states (to McGovern's winning Massachusetts and Washington, DC), it'll look like he beat the odds. Never raise expectations that much. It depresses voter turnout, which only hurts the frontrunner.

More to the point, of all the people to compare Dean to, McGovern is the last one Republicans should pick. Neville Chamberlain, sure. Michael Dukakis, okay. But McGovern is known for losing because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. As it turns out, most people agree that McGovern was right and that the war was a terrible failure. I don't think Republicans need to give Democrats a means to compare Iraq to 'Nam.

Also, McGovern lost to Richard Nixon. As we saw, Nixon's presidency didn't fare so well afterwards.

If Dean wins the nomination, expect him to make a quick dash to the center. His record in Vermont somewhat backs that up: He opposed gun regulations and supported cuts in the growth of Medicare. Granted, he's denounced all that for the nomination fight. He's even arguing for "re-regulation" of business and taking a protectionist stance on free trade.

But as long as he keeps saying that Iraq was a big mistake, he can keep the liberal base while moving back to the center on other issues. This election will center mainly on people's perception of the war in Iraq. We eventually found out that McGovern was right about the Vietnam War. I don't think Republicans want to go around reminding people of that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Discouraging: The Supreme Court actually found the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law constitutional. In an all-too-common 5-4 vote, Sandra Day "Swing Vote" O'Connor decided that there's too much speech in politics.

I really don't care much about the ban on soft money. No law will ever be able to stop all money from influencing politics, so slowing down the flow of money is nice. This law does place more barriers for non-incumbents and challengers who aren't millionaires from joining the political circus. But it's not like many poor folks are getting much airtime now.

However, the ban on issue ads 60 days before Election Day is terrible. First Amendment protections were designed primarily for political speech. Now speech about politics is getting censored.

Political debate always picks up the weeks before the election. That's when people start paying attention.

The Los Angeles Times didn't run their groper story about Arnold Schwarzenegger until less than a week before the California recall vote. And the revelation of George W. Bush's DUI conviction happened a few days before the 2000 presidential election. That won't be the last time the news media drop a bombshell right before an election. Now political allies won't be able to pay for an ad to defend a candidate as these allegations are made.

Michael Moore plans on releasing a documentary in the fall of 2004 (hmmm) called Fahrenheit 911, making allegations about the Bush family's association with Osama Bin Laden. Depending on when Moore releases the film, it may be illegal for some people to buy ads in reaction to the movie. But since the film is officially a "documentary" and not a political ad, Michael Moore can do whatever he wants.

Although corporations and unions can't pay for ads, news organizations are exempt from the law. But what is a news organization? The only difference between CNN and a press release from Microsoft is the number of viewers. The First Amendment protects freedom of press because the British government would force newspapers to buy licenses in order to publish. If the government didn't like the content of the newspaper, the license was revoked.

Under this law, the U.S. government is deciding what is and what is not a news organization. That goes squarely against the First Amendment. Some schmuck with a pen, paper, and a Xerox machine (or someone with a blog) should have the same rights to free speech and press as The New York Times.

Government shouldn't be telling us what political speech we can and cannot hear. Let the ads air, and we'll make our decisions on our own.

Don't Read This! Memo to Fox News, the U.S. Postal Service, and anyone else who is unhappy with something: If you don't like what entertainers are saying about you, don't draw attention to them.

We saw what happened when Fox News sued Al Franken for using "fair and balanced" in his latest book. The use of the phrase was obviously parody, but the lawsuit rocketed what otherwise would have been an unknown book to the top of the bestseller list.

Now the Postal Service is denouncing a Mad TV skit making fun of postal workers who have, well, gone postal. The kicker is, the skit hasn't even been aired on TV yet. The Postal Service has simply delivered a larger audience than Mad TV would otherwise have gotten.

Trouble: Here's a disturbing Associated Press story:

Mistake No. 1: Impersonating a police officer. Mistake No. 2: Making a traffic stop. Mistake No. 3: Stopping an off-duty state trooper. Shalom Gelbman, 22, of New Square, N.Y., made all three mistakes, state police said.

Gelbman, with a strobe light on his dashboard and his high beams flashing, pulled a car over Wednesday night on the Palisades Interstate Parkway, police said. Inside the car was state Trooper Seamus Lyons, who arrested Gelbman. It was clear to Lyons that Gelbman wasn't a colleague, authorities said, because of his license plate number and the equipment he had in his car.
That's funny and all. But I'm a little perturbed that people go around pretending they're police officers. I don't know what Mr. Gelbman wanted to do with the people he pulled over, but thank goodness a real cop was there to stop him.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

What a Waste: The cover of Jayson Blair's book, titled "Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at The New York Times", features a mock-up of The New York Times being burned and a stern picture of Blair staring at the camera.

The racial implications of the book's title should be incredibly offensive to any African American. A sociopathic, compulsive fraud is comparing his squandered opportunities at The New York Times to slavery?

Jayson Blair, of course, is the guy who was caught fabricating information and plagiarizing other stories on many occasions during his tenure at The New York Times. A Reuters story said:

Blair, who is black, has cited racism, junk food, and mental illness as the reasons for having invented scores of stories and sources during his four years at the nation's most influential newspaper.
At the time, people said Blair was given so many opportunities, despite his weaknesses, because of affirmative action. But I think affirmative action had little to do with this. There were other minorities who were overlooked as the editors saw promise in Blair. In the end, it was his smarmy charm that opened doors. Instead of excelling, he duped the people who were trying to help him. It went unnoticed for so long because most people couldn't imagine the extent of fraud Blair was perpetrating.

Then he received a $500,000 advance from a publisher to blame his troubles on racism. There are many instances of real racism in America, and we should be vigilant to keep improving racial relations. But Blair's crying wolf and desperately appealing to the black community for help should be rejected. I want to hear black leaders condemn Blair for his insensitivity to his own race.

This guy lied, cheated, used people, and intentionally hurt others. I don't think he has changed his ways. So I have no plans to read the lies he's publishing in his book.

Abandonment: It's pretty sad when Taiwan's one major ally is telling it not to assert its independence from mainland China. But the United States is pressuring the tiny territory not to provoke the Chinese.

The Taiwan/China issue is a complicated one. Taiwan has been acting independent for decades, but China still considers it part of the mainland. The United States has been promising military support to Taiwan while not outright endorsing its right to independence.

I'm not suggesting that we provoke China right now, while we have another war to fight. But we shouldn't politically abandon Taiwan either. This would be a perfect time to not say anything instead of siding with China.

Monday, December 08, 2003

BS BCS: College football has been in desperate need of a playoff system for far too long. Despite the controversies year after year, tradition seems to smother common sense.

There are three teams that deserve to be in the championship game this year. USC, LSU, and Oklahoma. Unfortunately only two teams can play at a time.

This has nothing to do with the fact that Oklahoma lost the Big 12 Championship to Kansas State on Saturday. Even if the Sooners won, USC and LSU would have equal bidding to be the challenger for the title game.

The problem is, a one-game tournament just doesn't cut it. It would be very simple to devise a quick playoff system to determine the national champion, just like every other sport (college and pro) has. Here's my idea:

There are six major conferences. The playoff tournament could include the champion of each conference, plus two invitees. Inviting two additional teams would allow for a situation when independents -- such as Notre Dame -- play well enough to be included. Or when a team in a lesser conference -- such as TCU, if they were still undefeated -- rise up to the occasion. Or when the conference losers have stellar records -- such as Oklahoma this year -- so they can play considering they're still one of the best in the nation.

An eight-game tournament would mean just three rounds of playoffs (not counting the conference-championship game) to decide the winner. The games would be finished by mid-January, providing a minimal amount of extra work for the players.

Granted, there would still be controversy allowing only eight to make the playoffs. But at least the top handful of teams will be included, virtually guaranteeing that the best team will have a chance to prove itself as champion. Also, the NCAA should force each conference to have 12 teams so they could all have a conference-championship game. That would include more colleges in the system. And the Big Ten wouldn't even have to change its name. It already has 11 teams in it.

This isn't the only idea. We could simply use the top-eight teams in the AP poll, or even the top-16. But a playoff system would be fairer, less controversial, and more exciting for college football than the BCS system. It's time to unplug the computer and to settle the national championship on the football field.

Friday, December 05, 2003

No Need for Recounts: When two candidates running for a local Board of Education seat received the same number of votes, 1,141 a piece, school-district officials determined the winner by drawing for marbles. Taking place in Culver City, California, a runoff would have cost the district another $85,000. So the two candidates took turns picking from a bag of red, white, and blue marbles. The first to pull a white marble would be declared the winner. After four rounds, the incumbent, Stewart Bubar, drew the winning marble.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

HAH! President Bush decided to lift the steel tariffs, to no one's surprise. But he said that his decision has nothing to do with the WTO's ruling the tariffs illegal. Oh, no. The tariffs are just not necessary anymore. According to The Washington Post, Bush said:

These safeguard measures have now achieved their purpose, and as a result of changed economic circumstances it is time to lift them.
Nice. Good to know the political spin cycle still operates effectively. But even if Bush decided to get rid of the tariffs independent of the WTO and possible trade war with Europe, he made the right decision. The tariffs were bad economic policy from the beginning.

Not only do the tariffs interfere with free trade, they increase the cost of steel here in the U.S., leading to higher prices in many sectors of the economy that rely on steel.

So Bush may be hurt politically in Pennsylvania for raising giving up on the tariffs, but hopefully he learned his lesson on economics in the process.

Amazing: In Washington, DC, the city council may be on the verge of making a good decision. Instead of enacting an all-out smoking ban, elected officials are leaning towards providing tax incentives for businesses to voluntarily become smoke free.

What would likely happen in such a situation is some bars and restaurants would ban smoking -- attracting those who can't stand smoke -- while others could let their patrons smoke tobacco in peace.

As I've mentioned before, a neighboring county in Maryland enacted an all-out smoking ban, which has nearly emptied its bars and restaurants as the smokers drove a few miles to visit the bars in DC. City Council officials worry that if DC bans all smoking in the city, smokers will simply travel a few more miles to Virginia.

P.S. South Park did a great job attacking the anti-smoking lobby in last night's episode.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Deanism: Howard Dean is venturing into the foreign affairs arena. Here's what he said on Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC:

Iran is a more complex problem because the problem support as clearly verifiable as it is in North Korea. Also, we have less-fewer levers much the key, I believe, to Iran is pressure through the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is supplying much of the equipment that Iran, I believe, most likely is using to set itself along the path of developing nuclear weapons. We need to use that leverage with the Soviet Union and it may require us to buying the equipment the Soviet Union was ultimately going to sell to Iran to prevent Iran from them developing nuclear weapons. [emphasis added]
Howard Dean's mistake of referring to Russia as the "Soviet Union" has gotten some attention among bloggers. Now, I'm sure the good doctor knows that the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991. So his goof isn't that big of a deal. But some people have wondered, "What would happen if Bush had said that?"

We know that Bush would be raked over the coals and called a moron. Honestly, I've been perplexed by the standard of linguistic expertise we require from our current president.

As a journalist, I hear people misspeak all the time. When I quote them, I tend to fix any grammatical faux pas. If someone mispronounces a word, I quote him as if he said it correctly to convey the intent of the message.

Suddenly journalists couldn't do that with President Bush. I covered Bush a good deal when he was governor, but I've moved onto other topics since he's become president. I don't know if his tongue became clumsier once he stepped onto the national stage, but I suspect that he's getting unfair treatment.

True, Bush has made some pretty notable gaffes. I've read the Bushisms of Slate, and some of them are pretty funny:

"There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again."—Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002
Others are understandable mispronunciations we all make every day:

"I'm plowed of the leadership of Chuck Grassley and Greg Ganske and Jim Leach."—Davenport, Iowa, Sept. 16, 2002
And others, I can't figure out why they're considered incorrect:

"Let me tell you my thoughts about tax relief. When your economy is kind of ooching along, it's important to let people have more of their own money."—Boston, Oct. 4, 2002
Perhaps "ooching" isn't in the dictionary, but people make up their own words all the time to make a point. And the conservative argument about taxes is that the government is taking your money. Bush believes tax relief will let people keep more of the money that was theirs to begin with. So then Slate started doctoring the quotes just to make Bush sound stupid:

"[A]s you know, these are open forums, you're able to come and listen to what I have to say."—Washington, D.C., Oct. 28, 2003
Volokh found the whole quote and discovered the Bush was talking about fundraising events and was commenting on how the forums are open to the media so they can report everything he says. Bush even explicitly says afterwards that "there's a difference between that and actually engaging potential opponents in a public discourse in a debate." Yet Slate took the quote out of context to change its meaning.

Whether you agree his policies or not, Bush is a smart guy. If you misunderestimate him, you're just falling for his strategery.

Keeps Getting Better: So now economic productivity increased 9.4 percent in the third quarter this year. That's great, but how many times are they going to readjust that number? Just a little while ago it was 7 percent. Then, oops, it was really 8.1 percent. Then -- dang, wrong again -- now it's 9.4 percent. You almost get the feeling that the Bush administration has a hand in the under-calculation so they can keep reminding everyone over and over again: "Look, the recession is over."

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Another Enhancement: I believe I've added an RSS feed to my blog, via Blog Matrix. The little doodad is at the bottom of the sidebar. Truth is, I know diddly squat about HTML, RSS, and technology in general. So I hope this will do whatever it's supposed to do.

Flip Flop: When Republicans push for a Constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage across the nation, and Democrats argue that Massachusetts should set its own standards of marriage, you might think that the political parties have reversed roles in the states-rights debate.

You'd be wrong.

Nothing has changed. Neither party has ever been the champion of states rights. They use it only when it fits their issue. Republicans may argue for states rights when it comes to allowing prayer in school and prohibiting abortion. But they conveniently ignore it when states support liberal issues.

The Department of Justice under President Bush has fought against the use of medicinal marijuana in California, even though voters legalized it in the state. The Drug Enforcement Agency has been told to prosecute doctors who recommend marijuana to treat ailments. And Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered the DEA to suspend or revoke the licenses of doctors who prescribe drugs to assist with suicides in Oregon, even though the state's population voted to make physician-assisted suicide legal.

On other issues, from education standards to the Patience Bill of Rights to food safety, Republicans have passed federal laws that pre-empt state laws, even ones that offer tougher standards. Getting government "off your back" only means cutting taxes and reducing business regulations -- which is nice, but that's not enough.

Democrats have earned the big-government label for good reason. They created Social Security and Medicare, and now they want to nationalize health care (unless health-care benefits are extended under a Republican administration). But they'll play lip service to states rights when the states are fighting for issues that serve their needs. Just take a look at their arguments on the Florida recount in 2000.

Is having a strong national government inherently bad? I don't think so. A lot of good has come from federal supremacy.

The Constitution was designed to limit the national government, giving it just enough power to make sure the states don't kill each other. But as this country matured, the national government filled the power vacuum, making that the U.S. stronger on the international stage.

States tended to abuse rights, such as by allowing slavery. Eventually the states-rights issue was decided in the Civil War and the subsequent passage of the 14th Amendment, forbidding states from trampling on individual rights.

Issues come up from time to time, including segregation and voting rights. And we usually depend on the national government to come up with a solution. Having uniform laws and standards among the states helps this country. That's not to say the federal government should decide all issues. States are best equipped to handle local issues like education, transportation, crime, etc.

But overall, the national government has done a good job of making sure local authorities don't infringe our rights. They protect 2 Live Crew. They protect the right to protest by burning the flag. They protect abortion rights.

If you ever argue for states rights on an issue, ask yourself this: Would you feel the same about states rights if the situation were reversed and the states were trying to do something you oppose? If you wouldn't, then pick a different argument.

Monday, December 01, 2003

No Picture Available: Zhang Di, a 26-year-old woman, is the winner of the Miss Ugly competition held in China. She was considered the most worthy among the 50 contestants, and she won $16,500 (Australian dollars) in plastic surgery. The pageant was held a week ahead of the Miss World competition, also in China.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Until Monday: Happy Thanksgiving!

Simply Irrelevant: The United Nations slaps Iran on the wrist with a censure for trying to build nuclear weapons. I guess now we know how the esteemed body of nations would have reacted if we had irrefutable evidence that Iraq had WMD.

Drug Bust: Liberals and conservatives have finally agreed on something -- this Medicare bill stinks. And you can add the moderate view to that consensus.

I've argued that budget deficits are not entirely a bad thing. They tend to boost the economy, which in turn adds tax revenue to the government coffers.

But this Medicare bill is ridiculous. It's a $400-billion payoff for Bush's re-election. In fact the only people who tend to like this bill are Republican partisans. For a party that used to preach small government, the GOP is becoming reckless with its overspending.

Democrats are sounding alarms that this will lead the way to privatization of Medicare. That's more of a scare tactic than a criticism. The bill only will test some aspects of privatization, and nobody should oppose testing an idea. But Democrats are so desperate now that even the AARP has endorsed the bill that they have to play the line that Bush is evil and wants to kill seniors by buying them prescription drugs.

Democrats can't be taken seriously if they cry wolf like that. If they want a solid argument, here's one: We're fighting a war, and we're pulling out of a recession. We need fiscal responsibility.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

oops: During a KKK initiation ceremony, a member of the group was firing a 9mm pistol into the air. One of the bullets came down and struck the new guy in the head, almost killing him, according to the Associated Press. The recruit was blindfolded with his neck in a noose as other members fired paintballs at him. The 9mm was just for dramatic effect.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Sigh of Relief: Washington sniper sentenced to die.

Growing Popularity: Legislators in Massachusetts who want to keep gays from getting married may have hit another stumbling block -- the state's voters.

Two polls conducted by The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald have found that half of the state population believes gays should be able to get married.

The polls were conducted after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that homosexual couples should get the same legal benefits that heterosexual couples receive. The court is giving the legislature six months to legalize same-sex marriage.

Some conservatives have proposed passing an amendment to the state constitution to nullify the court's ruling. But the polls found that 53 to 54 percent of the state's population would oppose that.

Hopefully Massachusetts legislators will come to terms with legal and political reality and will fix the discrimination that's now in the law.

Friday, November 21, 2003

This blog message contains 3.5 posts: The FDA may start requiring companies to include the nutritional content for an entire package of food instead of just for the bite-size servings they get away with now, according to The Wall Street Journal. We've all seen this problem on a 20-ounce bottle of Coke with its label saying it contains 100 calories per serving, only to find out one bottle equals 2.5 servings. Of course, we just chug the entire bottle and its 250 calories.

The most ridiculous example I've heard is the Pam cooking spray, which flashes a label "Fat Free Cooking" even though it's pretty much an entire can of fat. Checking the back on the nutrition label shows no fat, no calories, no nothing. That's because one serving is equal to spraying the can for one-third of a second, or 0.266 grams. Federal rules allow any food product with less than half a gram of fat per serving to be advertised as "fat free". Most of us, however, coat a skillet for several seconds.

At the same time, it's sad that we're relying on the federal government to compute elementary-school math for us. The nutrition labels are helpful for those people who need to watch their diet, for health or medical reasons. But the government can only do so much to cure the obesity problem in this country. Eat what you like, but get some exercise, too.

Drugs are Deadly: Looks like I was wrong about marijuana. Apparently it can kill you (Man Chokes to Death on Pot). Maybe we can still decriminalize marijuana, but we'll have to include government warnings to "Remove from bag before consuming."

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Sad: It's inevitable that the U.S. will fall victim to another terrorist attack. As tragic as that will be, it breaks my heart to realize that so many people will blame Bush.

Say what you want about him, but he did not cause any of this mess. Yet some Democrats are blaming him for the latest bombing in Turkey. Both Republicans and Democrats are full of mindless sheep who utter complete nonsense. But it amazes me how liberals can be so hateful.

They're supposed to be the ones full of compassion. However, they blindly ignore the multiple terrorist attacks against the U.S. (WTC-bombing in 1993, USS Cole), and unleash their anger against our president instead of our enemy.

If you don't believe me, check out the comment section of Calpundit about the latest Al Qaeda bombings in Turkey. Kevin Drum provides many thoughtful, intelligent posts -- many with which I agree, others with which I don't. But his online entourage is embarrassing:

We wanted a war, so we got one, actually two. Who are we to dictate how the enemies will fight back?
And another:

Starting an incredibly stupid, inflammatory, illegal war in Iraq for no good reason that we had to lie to convince others had nothing to do with it!
This is good news, Kevin. We even asked for it.
Somebody named Al posted this response:

Judging by the glee of the anti-war people here, I'd say that they already had a bad name.
Yep, "bring em on" were code words for "blow up innocent Turkish civilians"! It's Bush's fault!
And, hey, this is all obviously due to Iraq! After all, al Qaeda would NEVER hurt innocent civilians in an office building if it weren't for the war in Iraq!
So this is the retort:

Hey AL, you're a spineless dick.
Now take your cheap name calling and personal insults elsewhere. They are neither appropriate nor welcome here.
There were some other posts that included more thoughtful responses. But far too many were just angry blather and contradictions. People accused Bush of pulling out of Afghanistan too fast then said the war in Iraq is taking too long. They claimed that we're losing because of a few terrorist attacks.

So Bush-haters reading this list, pay attention to this next guy's response:

Are these comments typical? If so, and if they represent mainstream Democratic feelings, then it doesn't really matter who gets the nomination because Bush is going to win in a landslide. If you don't have a credible response to the worldwide threat of Islamic fanaticism (and appeasement doesn't count as a credible response), and if you merely take delight in the murder of Americans and America's friends, then I don't think the American people are going to trust you with the keys to the White House.
I would very much like to see constructive debate on how to win the war against terrorism. Unfortunately I only see one side fighting the war and the other side throwing insults.

God's Law: It's strange -- Europeans often criticize U.S. politicians for invoking the name of God in speeches and whatnot. They generally prefer their politicians to be more secular.

But now a number of countries want the European Union's Constitution to make a reference to God in the preamble. Many Europeans hope to acknowledge the continent's Christian roots in its new body of law.

Ireland has come out in support of mentioning a deity, joining Poland, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Slovakia, and the Netherlands, according to The Scotsman. France is opposing the idea, and I imagine that others will as well.

The U.S. Constitution makes no reference to God, and its Bill of Rights specifically prohibits the government from establishing a religion. Considering Europe is filled with people from diverse religious backgrounds (Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists), I would hope that the EU would do the same.

On a completely irrelevant note, I know that I'm an ignorant American, but European newspapers need to explain the acronyms that they use in the stories. When looking for an online article about this subject, I ran across this story about the ratification of the EU Constitution. Although it is written in English, I could barely understand any of it. The paper should at least include a handy reference guide to explain what "NOS", "WD", and "PvdA" actually mean.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Match Made in Heaven: Andrew Sullivan links to a list that quotes present-day arguments against homosexual marriage and decades-old arguments against inter-racial marriage. They are essentially identical. Hopefully homosexual marriage will come to be accepted down the road as well.

Just Say No: The Democratic presidential candidates are angry -- with the AARP. The senior-citizens group has endorsed a Republican legislative package that would add prescription-drug coverage to Medicare. The group will also spend $7-million over three days in advertisements to persuade others to support the bill.

The Democrats, who normally can count on the AARP's support, are feeling a bit betrayed. According to the Associated Press, the candidates criticized certain aspects of the bill, but saved most of their criticism for the AARP supporting a Republican proposal a year before the election. "I wish AARP had chosen to oppose this bill," said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. "I wish AARP was spending its $7 million telling Americans what is wrong with this bill."

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Marriage and Mass: The Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that the state must allow same-sex marriages. Similar to what happened in Vermont, the court has given the state legislature 180 days to make a new law.

I've argued before that preventing gays from getting married is unconstitutional because it violates the "equal protection" clause of the 14th Amendment. And it's inherently unfair to deny couples the legal protections that come from marriage just because they are the same sex.

The tradition of a marriage being between a man and a woman is irrelevant. Tradition used to dictate that a married couple had to be the same race and the same religion. Now such discrimination sounds archaic.

I know conservatives are going to try to fight this. There's even talk about a constitutional amendment. This homophobia actually weakens the institution of marriage instead of protecting it.

Heads or Tails: In case you didn't know what the state of Texas looks like, you're about to find out. The Texas quarter is set to roll out of banks, and the 25-cent piece looks pathetic.

As you can see in the link here, it's basically the outline of the state, a big star, and the phrase "The Lone Star State".

I grew up in Texas, and I saw the other proposed designs. This one was the worst of them. Others included images of the state's rich history and culture: the Alamo, the Old West, cowboys, etc. There was even a joke going around that the Texas quarter would be bigger than the rest. But we ended up with a map and a star.

It's disappointing to see that so many of the states have wasted their attempt to liven up the tails-side of the quarter. I guess we'll all enjoy the return of the U.S. eagle when the states are done.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Thank God: Washington sniper found guilty. One more to go.

Let me know when it's safe: Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to be sworn in as governor of California today. While his election has prompted much controversy and parody, some people are opening up to the idea of his running the state. Unexpectedly, some environmental groups say they are pleasantly surprised by the movie star's commitment to the greenery, according to The Boston Globe.

Now, this may be some simple sucking up that usually occurs when a new political power takes office. The trick is to say you're open to working with the new officeholder -- whether it's true or not -- then within a couple months complain that he or she is practicing politics and refusing to play nice. It's fun when two sides pull that trick on each other.

But for now it looks like Californians are getting used to having the bodybuilder as their new governor. In the mean time, I'm glad I live on the opposite coast.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Light 'em Up: City and countywide smoking bans are hurting businesses. In Bethesda, Maryland, bars are losing customers to neighboring Washington, DC -- where you can't vote for a member of Congress, but at least you have the freedom to light up.

I'm not a smoker (save for the occasional cigar at barbecues), but the trend of trampling on people's rights to smoke in public is getting out of hand. Hell, Montgomery County, Maryland -- which includes Bethesda -- tried to ban smoking in your own home if a neighbor objected.

If people don't like smoke, they should not patronize the bars and restaurants that allow smoking. Let the marketplace sort it out. If a business wants to attract nonsmokers, then it should decide to outlaw smoking at its location. But the drop in customers at the bars means that these nonsmokers aren't going out any more often when lawmakers forbid smoking.

For help on this issue, the last place I'd consider a bastion of freedom is the United Nations. But sure enough, New York lawmakers are in a tizzy because they can't stop U.N. diplomats from smoking at the organization's coffee shops and the like. I wonder if we can count on them to liberate us from such oppression.

Tireless: As the Senate extends its marathon filibuster of filibusters, a clear winner is emerging: the Democrats.

Before the pointless talkathon started, Republicans seemed to have a legitimate gripe that the Democrats were using stall tactics to block Bush's judicial nominees. But now that the Republicans have staged this media event, the news spotlight is shining and revealing the details.

Now everyone knows that the Democrats have helped confirm 168 of Bush's nominees, blocking only four. Had the Republicans stuck with the vague notion that the Democrats were cheating, they could have easily used this to their advantage in the next election. But since the public knows what's really going on, the Republicans just look like whiners who are wasting the government's time by bottling up the Senate with pointless yakking.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Here we go again: I was wondering when this was going to come up. The Ten Commandments are posted at courthouses in Texas and many other states. Many of these monuments have been in place for decades -- not snuck in at midnight like in Alabama. But it's still inappropriate. Now a federal circuit court has ruled that Texas can keep its monument in place. Maybe the Supreme Court will take a gander at this issue after all.

Fight's Not Done: Yes, people are still getting killed in Iraq. That's a shame, but that's also a war. Bush-haters point to the "Mission Accomplished" sign and our declaration of victory and call them premature. Perhaps, but we have accomplished a lot in a short time. Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. Terrorists are no longer receiving government protection in Iraq. Now we are building a democracy in the Middle East.

The terrorist attacks within the country are a problem and must be stopped. That's phase two of the battle in Iraq. That doesn't mean the victory of the first part is meaningless. It means we have more work to do. Demanding that we run away scared will only make our country appear weaker, and thereby making it more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

It will be a "long, hard slog". But we are making progress, even though the work is not done yet.

Good riddance: The Alabama Chief Justice who didn't believe judges had to obey the law is now the ex-Alabama Chief Justice. A nine-member state judiciary panel unanimously voted to remove Roy Moore from office after he defied a federal court order to remove a 5,000-pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the state Supreme Court building. He had argued that he was not beholden to federal laws -- and this guy went to law school.

Although he hasn't said he will run for governor -- yet -- he has promised to continue annoying people, according to the Associated Press. "I will announce something in a few weeks that will alter the course of the country," he said. God help us.

Dumb Bold Words: Here's a humorous criticism about how newspapers tend to put subheads in all their stories, especially online.

The pressure's on: Some men are taking their wives' last names when getting married. When my girlfriend discovers this, I may not be able to talk my way out of it ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Those silly communists: A Berkeley student provides a hilarious transcript of his encounter with the campus communist group. From what I can read in the exchange, nothing has changed since I graduated from college. The name of the blog is Ne Quid Nimis, which is Latin for "Moderation in All Things" -- ah, someone I can relate to.

'ta hell? United Airlines is starting a discount airline service. The name of the service is -- Ted. Yes, Ted, just like Bill's friend in that Excellent Adventure. Thanks, but I'll stick with ValuJet.

Disappointing: The worth of the United Nations is falling further and further in decline. After adopting a resolution last year calling for the protection of Palestinian children, the U.N. is balking at supporting a similarly worded resolution calling for the protection of Israeli children. European countries are refusing to vote for the measure.

Israel uses its military to defend against aggressors. Palestinians use terrorism attack Israeli civilians. Yet, the United Nations sides with the Palestinians.

Striking a Chord: Bush's speech outlining his vision for a free and democratic Middle East is being hailed around the world as the right course of action to take. Now that his goals are front and center, they can't be pushed off to the side.

The one criticism I hear is that Bush hasn't said how he's going to accomplish his goals. I say he doesn't need to explain how, because he's already showing us. The liberation of Iraq is the first step toward realizing that vision. It won't be the last.

While the U.S. won't invade and liberate all countries in the region, pressure should be applied nonetheless for Middle Eastern nations to stop supporting terrorism and to adopt democratic reforms. And Iraq is an example of what happens if a country doesn't cooperate. Nobody can say the U.S. isn't to be taken seriously.

We aren't attacking the Middle Eastern people or the religion of Islam. But we need to do much more than arrest some individuals who plan terrorist attacks. The Middle Eastern culture needs to change so it does not act as a haven for terrorists. We need to make sure the wealth of the region is shared so its people don't look to suicide attacks and militant jihad as promising endeavors.

The only way to do that is to get rid of the dictatorships, install democracy, and promote prosperity in the region. Terrorism lurks in all the dark corners of the Middle East. It's that terrorism with which we are at war.

War is hell, but war is not, in and of itself, the worst of all evils. It was used to win the U.S. its freedom. It was used to end slavery. It was used to defeat the Nazis. War is a tool. You can use it for good or for evil. But aggression can only be defeated with force.

Critics may try to attack the way Bush executes his plan. But none of Bush's opponents are offering an alternative plan that's viable. None of them have expressed their own vision. That's why they appear weak.

While they don't come up with any coherent plan for making this country safer, critics are constantly sounding the alarm that not enough is being done to protect the homeland. They criticize the Patriot Act, but then they call for more police protection to stop terrorists even though it is impossible to guard against every conceivable attack here at home. That's why the U.S. is taking the fight to the terrorists in the Middle East.

Critics object to everything that is being done while saying we're not doing enough. This doesn't contribute to the debate, but instead it allows Bush's opponents to benefit politically when the next terrorist strike inevitably occurs. Such political manipulation is despicable.

The idea of freedom and democracy in the Middle East and surrounding regions is spreading. Iraq's dictator has been expunged, and a constitution will be formed. Afghanistan has shaken off the Taliban and has liberated its people, especially the women, from oppressive rule. Now some Iranians have been calling for the U.S. Marine Corps to topple their theocratic regime and install democracy.

It seems many critics are concerned that Bush is going on a trigger-happy spree and will invade Syria and Iran (these same people often ask why we aren't invading Saudi Arabia and North Korea). But Bush isn't being reckless. Liberating Iraq is akin to tipping that first domino. Granted, the rest won't topple overnight. But it's possible we could eventually see profound change in the Middle East.

I remember on the day of September 11, 2001, many of my liberal friends were saying that they were happy someone like Bush is in office while this is happening. They were confident that he would be strong and decisive and would fight our enemy head on.

Now that Bush is doing what they wanted him to do, they are getting scared and having second thoughts. I think we should tell Bush to keep fighting the good fight.

Even if Bush is re-elected, he won't be in office long enough to see his vision come to fruition. But that's not important. He's planting the seed, he's providing the leadership, and he's taking the initiative. And we'll all be safer in the long run.

Nobody Asked, Nobody Told: A group of 32 former midshipmen came out of the closet on Veterans Day in an effort to get the Naval Academy to establish a gay and lesbian chapter of the alumni association. The group is showing that being gay didn't interfere with their service to their country, and now they deserve to be recognized. I suspect that the Navy will find a reason to deny the group's request. But this is yet another step toward equal rights for gays and lesbians in this country.

Oh, Really? The BBC reports that spending some time at work playing video games increases productivity and job satisfaction. I wonder if the same is true for running a blog at work ...

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Private Acts: The "allegations" raised in British "news stories" about "Prince Charles" has caused a bit of a "ruckus" -- even though people still aren't sure what the hubbub is about. British libel laws prevent newspapers from reporting on the unsubstantiated accusations about Prince Charles. But from what I could gather from The Daily Show on Comedy Central last night, somebody caught his Royal Highness in some homosexual act with a servant.

The titillating yet suppressed story has peaked the public's curiosity. But it bothers me that people pay so much attention to these things.

In America, too, we ravenously consume media reports that scour through politicians' sex lives. Yet, we also claim that we hold personal privacy in the highest regard.

We get upset if our government thumbs through the list of library books we checked out. We surely wouldn't want them peeking into our sex lives. But we beckon our media to routinely expose the sexual acts of government officials.

So here's a question: How can we expect politicians to respect our privacy when we never respect theirs?

Gonna find me a good book: Reality TV is now going all the way. A pay-per-view event will feature young women vying to get into the adult-film industry in a contest called "Can You Be A Pornstar?". Former California gubernatorial candidate Marey Carrey (who has done a few porn films herself) will be one of the hosts. A group of 28 women will compete for a yearlong contract with a porn producer and $100,000 cash. People who choose to watch will see "Real people having real sex."

Monday, November 10, 2003

Rolling Back Wages: Some of the illegal immigrants who were arrested while working at Wal-Mart are suing the company for discrimination. They say the company offered them lower wages and fewer benefits because they were nonresidents.

This suit will involve some tricky legal play considering that the immigrants unlawfully entered this country and weren't legally allowed to work for Wal-Mart. But I support them on their lawsuit. Many companies, organizations, farms, etc. actively discriminate against illegal immigrants because the workers usually cannot publicly complain, or risk being deported.

Now, I know that many immigrants follow the rules and come into this country legally, but that doesn't excuse mistreatment of any workers here. Most of the people risking their lives to cross the border don't want to live on welfare or engage in terrorist plots. Whenever I ask an immigrant why he or she came to the U.S., I always get the same answer: "work".

Those immigrants are the hardest workers, living in the poorest conditions, taking the most menial jobs -- and they usually send most of their wages to their families at home. These people aren't taking jobs away from anybody. They fill the jobs nobody else wants -- working as migrant farmers and the like.

Now if Wal-Mart exploited these people and then watched them get arrested, the company should be held legally responsible.

My McBlog says: McDonald's restaurant has got its McNuggets in a bundle after Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary added the word "McJob" to its listings, defining it as, "low-paying and dead-end work". According to BBC, McDonald's CEO Jim Cantalupo wrote a letter to Merriam-Webster arguing that the definition is "a slap in the face" to the fast-food restaurant's 12-million workers, many of whom go on to run their very own McDonald's franchises.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Vision: I'll just leave Bush's words up here without further comment:

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.
Have a good weekend.

Political Uprise: At last, people are paying attention to the important problems our nation faces. Apparently Americans are having "below-average quantity of sex". Thanks to Outside the Beltway for finding this.

Depressing Politics: With strong economic gains at his back, President Bush is going to North Carolina for a fundraiser and to talk about the economy. Of course, wherever he goes, Bush will be followed by protesters.

That in itself is no problem. But the creative kids plan to mock Bush's handling of the economy by staging a Depression-era bread-and-soup line. This is to show that unemployment has increased since Bush took office.

Nevermind that unemployment is now falling and that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has predicted that more jobs will be created as the economy grows. The truth is, economic conditions under Bush haven't even come close to anything similar to the Great Depression (over 20 percent unemployment, massive under-employment).

These protesters have a right to say whatever they want. But they can't expect to be taken seriously when they compare cyclical fluctuations in the economy to the worst economic disaster in American history.

Unfortunately, the Democratic presidential candidates say the same things. I just received a press release from Sen. John Edwards, a North Carolina Democrat, that piddles on the news of job growth. "Today’s news cannot change the fact that, under this president, we will lose jobs for the first time since Herbert Hoover," the release says.

What? This is hardly the first time unemployment has gone up since Herbert Hoover, who was president at the start of the Great Depression. Many smaller recessions and job losses have taken place since then.

Democrats and protesters should find something intelligent to say in this campaign, or expect to be ignored.

The only thing really left to worry about are the budget deficits. While I believe we should cut government spending, we do have a war to fight. And the rising economy will help generate more tax revenue for the government to help get rid of the red ink. Overall, it looks like things are going to be all right.

Drawing a Blank: I'm used to politicians playing games when it comes to, well, politics. But I never understand why they play around with serious matters.

Stem cell research is continuing to get caught up in the game. Bush and other conservatives had indicated that they were laying off their hard-line stance against stem cell research, but it appears that they're allowing little of the actual research to take place. Researchers are complaining that they don't have access to the number of stem cells Bush had promised them.

The conservative position on stem cell research is that all life is precious and people shouldn't be playing God. This is a growth from the pro-life stance.

I'm strongly pro-choice, but I can grasp the argument against abortion. A pregnancy that is not terminated will eventually bear a newborn child. Stem cells, on the other hand, aren't going to grow into anything else. There's no logic of "preserving life" if there is no life there at all.

However, researching stem cells can eventually lead to discoveries that may help people who are alive and suffering from a number of diseases (here and here for example). Right now the potential benefits are mostly speculation. But we'll never know what we can get until the research is allowed to continue. Conservatives need to stop politicizing medicine.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Bring on the hate mail: Howard Dean has been getting hammered for his comment that he wants to "be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." Rival Democrats wondered how Dean could be so insensitive that he would pander to racists.

I guess I missed the day that being a Southerner became a hate crime. Truth is, people who fly Confederate flags aren't necessarily racists.

Now, I don't fly or display the Confederate flag. But to me, the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride. It conjures up images of the "Dukes of Hazzard", with the General Lee racing away from Rosco P. Coltrane, and of Lynyrd Skynyrd singing "Sweet Home Alabama" (even though the band was from Florida).

Having grown up in Texas, I would see the Confederate Battle flag from time to time. Some people, including African Americans and other minorities, would wear the flag as headbands and the like. It conveyed a message of "Whoo Hoo! I'm a Southerner, and I'm a rebel."

Then, one day, the Confederate flag suddenly was perceived to mean that the person displaying it deeply wanted to own slaves.

Unfortunately, some racists and white supremacists do use the Confederate flag as a symbol of their hatred. But they also use Christian crosses and say the Bible condones slavery.

People need to understand that the people who do fly the Confederate flag aren't automatically racist. There are many Southerners who see the Confederate flag as a way of expressing a separate identity -- similar to hippies. It's a "To Hell with the Establishment" attitude.

If the Confederate flag is evil because it comes from an era when slavery was legal, then you could say the same about the Texas flag, any other Southern or Eastern U.S. state flag, or even the American flag.

Before you dismiss such conjecture, some people already hate the American flag. In Tennessee, a state legislator refused to join her colleagues for the daily Pledge of Allegiance because she felt the American flag represented slavery and racism.

You have to remember the history of the United States. At one point, states in both the North and South allowed slavery, including Massachusetts and New York. When our nation was formed under the Constitution, state governments were given the most power, except for certain restrictions that were expressly forbidden to them under Article I Section 10. The national Congress was supposed to have limited power, being able to do only what was expressly granted to it under Article I Section 8. The 10th Amendment was meant to further ensure that states retained most of the power. But as the nation matured, the federal government ended up with the most power, leaving the states with less. This proved more beneficial to the North, whose industry benefited from a strong national government, than the South, whose agrarian economy depended on local control.

The Civil War was a fight for states' rights. Now, slavery was a huge part of the issue. States wanted the right to, for one, allow its citizens to own other human beings. But Southern states also wanted the right to set its own tariffs and to nullify federal law. In fact, the Southern states originally tried to secede in 1832 after the federal government enacted tariffs to protect Northern industry. South Carolina tried to nullify that law and threatened to leave the Union. Congress passed the Force Act, which allowed the use of federal troops to stop South Carolina. Andrew Jackson finally approved a compromise that prevented a civil war from breaking out -- a civil war that had nothing to do with slavery.

Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 under a platform to stop slavery from spreading to other territories in the United States. Although he would have liked to stamp out all slavery, he had no plans to do so. But the South saw its power declining in the national arena, so it decided to secede and retain its power as a unit. Lincoln waged war in an effort to save the Union, not to free slaves. He reluctantly decided to pass the Emancipation Proclamation as a public relations move to make sure foreign nations, who already banned slavery, wouldn't come to the South's aid. And the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in areas that the Northern armies were set to invade. Slavery continued in Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri -- states that allowed slavery but fought for the North.

The people fighting the war didn't care about slavery. Most Southerners were poor, and slaves were expensive. Very, very few Southerners owned slaves. And the Northerners weren't about to risk their lives to free people that were a different skin color from them. Yes, racism lived in the North, too.

After the war, Radical Republicans sought to punish the South, so Congress passed the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Congress also passed the 14th Amendment, which weakened states' ability to oppress their own people by ensuring that the Bill of Rights applied state governments as well as the federal government.

Thankfully the North won the war. Besides ending the sick practice of slavery, the North's victory also ensured that the nation acted as one. Had the South won, the states would have retained power to dismiss anything the federal government did. The United States would have ended up like Europe is today. Instead, America has grown to become a super power instead of a weak, squabbling collection of states.

Racial problems persisted in the United States after the Civil War. While racism was prevalent in the North, too, the South was especially harsh on minorities, especially blacks. Fortunately, the Supreme Court, John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts, and Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas pushed for sweeping changes to end the Jim Crow laws and dragged the South into the enlightened era.

The Confederacy has influenced many parts of our culture. In fact, nobody seems to notice, but Texas still flies the another version of the Confederate flag, the Stars and Bars, on the University of Texas at Austin campus, along with the French flag, Spanish flag, Mexican flag, United States flag, and Republic of Texas flag. These are the Six Flags of Texas, which represent the six sovereign nations that at one time or another controlled at least a part of the state of Texas.

The concept of the Six Flags of Texas was later turned into a theme park in Arlington (near Dallas). Different sections of the park were meant to represent the different cultures of the six nations, including the Confederacy. The park did very well, and the company opened more parks around the country. So should all the Six Flags parks change their names to avoid some concocted connection to slavery?

That's not to say that the Confederate Battle flag is not divisive. The Nazi Swastika was originally an old German-pride symbol that Hitler borrowed. Germans who were alive before Hitler came to power have argued that Hitler shouldn't be allowed to tarnish a symbol of German nationalism. Truth is, he did. And you can't separate the hate from the Swastika.

But on the other hand, Native Americans and other cultures have been displaying the Swastika for thousands of years. Take a look at old Native American art, and you'll find the simple symbol prominently displayed.

Obviously, the Native American use of that symbol predates Hitler and in no way condones the Nazi atrocities. But it also shows that some of these issues are not black and white.

The Confederate flag offends many, many people. Out of respect to those people who see the Confederate flag as a racist, divisive symbol, I will never display it. But I think we should remain open minded enough to realize that displaying the Confederate flag is not intended for hate. Sometimes people are just trying to express themselves. We shouldn't rush to judge them -- because that's just a form of prejudice and racism.

What! One of the new designs for the nickel includes a handshake -- one hand representing the U.S. government and the other hand representing Native Americans -- under the year 1803. It's supposed to symbolize the peace and friendship fostered between the American government and the Native Americans back in the 19th Century.

Now, from what I remember from my history courses, the 1800s were not particularly good times in terms of the relationship between the U.S. government and Native Americans. I seem to remember learning about broken treaties, domination, and eventual genocide.

If the designers of the new nickel wanted to honor Native Americans, that would be fine. But to imply that things were all swell between them and the U.S. is historically inaccurate and is just going to offend people today.

2004: It's not just an election year, it's going to be an adventure. Although it may seem like a lot of bickering is going back and forth between Republicans and Democrats now, the real show isn't going to start for several months, when the parties bring out the real ammunition.

There has already been talk of Bush saving Iraq/terrorism information for the re-election year. Some people suspect that he's saving WMD evidence so the good news won't peter out before next November. While that's unsubstantiated, the administration has already announced that it will work to reduce the number of troops in Iraq in 2004, just in time for the election.

And it looks like Democrats are implementing the same strategy. A leaked memo from the minority party's staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence shows Democrats may be planning to hold off on calls for a Bush investigation until Election Day draws nearer.

We can pull the trigger on an independent investigation at any time-- but we can only do so once. The best time to do so will probably be next year either:

A) After we have already released our additional views on an interim report - thereby providing as many as three opportunities to make our case to the public: 1) additional views on the interim report; 2) announcement of our independent investigation; and 3) additional views on the final investigation; or

B) Once we identify solid leads the majority does not want to pursue. We could attract more coverage and have greater credibility in that context than one in which we simply launch an independent investigation based on principled but vague notions regarding the "use" of intelligence.
Ah, politics. Say what you want about it, but it's always entertaining.

Heat: An 80-year-old man was mugged, beaten, and robbed of his social security money. To add insult to injury, he has been arrested for using an unlicensed gun to protect his life and his property, according to a New York television station. The mugger got away.

This is just another episode of how overly stringent gun laws don't do anything to stop crime but inhibit a person's right to protect him or herself.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I'm back from a short trip: Was CBS censored? Were they forced to can the Reagan movie? Conspiracy theorists say so. Republicans apparently gave CBS the evil eye for its plans to show a controversial film about the conservative icon. And Republicans are deciding what to do about rules concerning media ownership. Hmmmmmm.

But let's look at the larger picture. I've never seen the movie. I've never even read the script. But the portions that got leaked seemed preposterous.

My favorite part is when a dejected Ronald Reagan declares himself to be the anti-Christ. According to Drudge, Reagan crumbles from the pressure and realizes what evil things he has done.

I'm all for skewering politicians. But this movie was supposed to be a documentary. It appears to be some left-wing wet dream.

People are free to show such movies. But I have no desire to watch. I hear enough lies and distortions about politicians on the news to want to see such trash in a made-for-TV movie. I guess I won't bother ordering Showtime.

Monday, November 03, 2003

In the top 33 percent! When surfing, watch for deadwood. According to the Associated Press, most blogs are being neglected, languishing in cyberspace without updates.

One study of 3,634 blogs found that two-thirds had not been updated for at least two months and a quarter not since Day One.
I don't know if I should feel better or worse about my dedication to this blog ...

Sweaty: Actress Minnie Driver is about to switch careers. She plans to work in a Cambodian sweatshop to bring attention to the low-wages and poor conditions those workers are subjected to. Then, who knows, she'll probably make a movie about it.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Bold Words: For some strange reason, CNBC has hired Dennis Miller to host his own show.

I like Dennis Miller. He's a funny guy. I even agree with much of his politics. But he's not a newsman.

His little rants on Fox News were nothing more than childish insults flung at whomever he disagreed with. I'll pay money to see that at one of his comedy shows. But when I turn on a news channel, I want to see, well, news.

Consider his little spiel on the Tonight Show some time ago:

I say we invade Iraq and then invade Chirac. You run a pipe -- you run a pipe from the oilfield right over this Eiffel Tower, shoot it up and have the world's biggest oil derrick. We got a picture of it right here. Yeah. Listen, I would call the French scum bags, but that, of course, would be a disservice to bags filled with scum.
Funny stuff. But I expect more from CNBC.

Ah, Sanity! Gregg Easterbrook sets the record straight that Bush's forestry policies would help prevent massive forest fires, such as the ones in California now. After Democrats and environmentalists derailed Bush's proposal before, it took a national catastrophe to get them to see the light (after feeling some heat). I've interviewed forest firefighters, and they are essentially unanimous in declaring that controlled thinning of the forests prevents fires from getting out of control.

Environmentalists should have known this from the beginning. I can't tell what they're most passionate about, loving the environment or hating Bush. Well, they've lost a lot of credibility in my book.

Racial Strife: Can whites talk about problems in the black community, or is it just none of our business?

Some people are being pushed out of the debate. Lino Graglia, a conservative law professor at the University of Texas School of Law, has been an outspoken opponent of affirmative action, landing him in a heap of controversy from time to time.

The latest episode came in the form of a guest opinion column he wrote for The Daily Texan.

The reality of "affirmative action" and "diversity" is that they are simply euphemisms for racial discrimination on a very large scale in order to increase black (and, in Texas, Mexican-American) enrollment. The magnitude of the race discrimination must be large, because the racial group gap is large. The astounding, disconcerting fact at the basis of the problem is that the average black 12th grader performs at the level of the average white or Asian eighth-grader in reading and math, making the obtaining of a high school education a more pressing problem than admission to a selective university.
Graglia never says from what source he got those statistics. But this isn't the first time we've heard someone say that there is a disparity between whites and blacks when it comes to educational performance.

What bothers me is that people sent in letters to the newspaper calling Graglia a racist.

Graglia is the worst kind of racist. He is a white, male professor who, regardless of the individual or their scholastic aptitude, will only see a black face in the front row of class.
I didn't get that from the column he wrote. Now, I am a huge proponent of affirmative action. I believe that a concerted effort has to be made to raise the quality of education that minorities receive. I think that a diverse classroom and workplace improves the quality of learning and work for everyone. I think using race as a factor in admissions and hiring goes a long way to help alleviate past and present problems of racial discrimination.

But I don't assume that people who are against affirmative action are racist.

As I said, Graglia has gotten in trouble in the past. With what I consider more controversial language, in 1997 he criticized black and Hispanic cultures for not promoting educational excellence.

They have a culture that seems not to encourage achievement. Failure is not looked upon with disgrace.
Those words bothered me, offended lots of people, and even prompted Jesse Jackson to hold a rally on the UT campus denouncing Lino Graglia. The discussion quickly centered on whether the UT administration should fire Graglia for his comments.

But I have heard black activists essentially say the same thing Graglia said. The late John Ogbu, who was an anthropology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, would say that many blacks look at academic achievement as "acting white".

Clarence Page, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, has consistently preached that black parents should do more to encourage their sons and daughters to succeed in school.

I don't know if either of these people would have agreed with Lino Graglia. I'm sure each of them would find something with which to disagree. So that's why we should be open to discuss these issues.

I know I don't have the answers. For that reason, I'm not going to insult somebody who wants to have an honest discussion in hopes of finding those answers.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Good News: The economy seems to be growing strong. But from a political perspective, as I've discussed before, this won't be a boon for Bush. Democrats will still talk about deficits, and state governments won't get the influx of tax revenue for years, causing them to continue to cut services, which will further upset the voting population.

What continues to amaze me is that people still look to the president as the master of the economy. Silly electorate.

Bad News: People are coming to the realization that there really isn't anything anyone can do about e-mail spam. Although Congress has created a "Do Not Call" registry for telemarketers, nothing similar could be created for spam. Many spammers are international, out of reach of U.S. laws. And they usually hijack other people's e-mail addresses, making it nearly impossible to track them down.

Some people have suggested making e-mail fee-based, so you have to pay money to the person you want to receive your e-mail. The theory goes that people could waive the fees for their friends and make a profit off the spammers -- also taking the economic incentive away from bulk e-mail. But people will want to keep their e-mail open. Otherwise we could simply create a list of e-mail addresses from which we would accept messages. That would be too exclusionary for our taste. And if we can't track down spammers, there's no way we could force them to pay any fees.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Entrance Exam: I read in The Wall Street Journal that some companies are asking its potential hires for their SAT scores. Volokh cites a friend who thinks this is a great idea.

I completely disagree. People are still debating whether SAT results should have any bearing on admitting students to college. Now, suddenly, people's math and verbal scores may follow them around for the rest of their careers.

I'm not a huge fan of the SAT, and I encourage people to debate whether the test is appropriate for college admissions standards and how the exam can be improved. Let's not expand its importance just yet.

As you might have guessed, I did not do particularly well on the SAT. My first crack at the test during my sophomore year of high school, I scored a miserable 950. My junior year, I took it again and scored an 1160. No test-prep classes. No tutoring. I jumped 210 points from just from what I learned that year in high school. For what it's worth, I went on to graduate with a B average from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in history after spending all four of my college years working for the school newspaper, The Daily Texan.

The exam tests students on information that doesn't hold any real value. Few people ever use those words found in the verbal section. And when they do, nobody really understands what they're saying. That's not effective communication. And I haven't found a need to take the cosine of anything since I began my career as a journalist.

That's not to say the SAT is completely worthless. With apologies to Winston Churchill, the SAT is the worst possible college admissions standard except all those others that have been tried from time to time. Other "creative" college admissions standards have fallen well short of replacing the College Board test. You may remember a few years ago when Colorado College in Colorado Springs got rid of the SAT and based its admissions criteria in part on how high-school students played with Legos -- yes, the little plastic interlocking blocks from daycare.

The SAT has its faults, but it is an exam that tests students' knowledge on various subjects. From what I recollect of college, we had many exams that operated the same way. If the SAT determines how well someone performs on a test, well, that will give some indication of how they'll do in college.

But succeeding at a job involves more than cramming and regurgitating facts for an exam. Time management, organization, and maturity also play a role. If the SAT could measure that, then there would be no real reason to go to college. People would skip those four years of accumulating debt and would jump straight into the workplace, gaining real-world knowledge along with a paycheck. Companies would fight for hot commodities early out of high school, similar to the NBA draft -- and we've all seen that the level of play has dropped significantly since the NBA started drafting 18 year olds.

College not only provides students knowledge on various subjects, it also teaches them about responsibility, about social interaction, how to learn, and how to take a test while severely hung over. While the real world is strikingly different from college dorms, higher education does provide a halfway house between the nurturing environment of high school and the dog-eat-dog world of reality.

Granted, college is not for everybody. I know many highly successful people who never went to college. But companies still hold a college degree in high regard because it signifies that somebody accomplished something beyond passing a test. It shows that the person completed a rigorous growing-up process.

So, to take a look at someone's SAT scores for hiring purposes displaces importance on what that person has accomplished in college. There are many things I'm glad I don't have to drag around with me from high school. Let's keep it that way.

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