Thursday, March 31, 2005

RIP: Mitch Hedberg died at the age of 37. The cause of death is unknown, but news reports seem to speculate that it involved drugs.

For those who never saw Mitch's comedy routine, you missed one of the best ever. Not only did he write some great one-liners, but he also delivered them in a distinct style that could make anything sound funny. Here are some classics.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

American Values: Kevin Drum finally found the authoritative data to show what was the defining issue of the last presidential election. No, it warn't "two dudes kissing". It was terrorism, by far.

I just hope that people pay attention to this. All that talk about "moral values" as the most important factor was distracting. Even though the term "morals" is so vague, people automatically attributed it to gay marriage. It seemed liberals latched onto the moral-values phrase just to make themselves feel better after the election, as if to say, "We weren't wrong. We just lost to a bunch of damn homophobic rednecks."

To be sure, homophobia is still a big problem in this country, and gay marriage was a hot-button issue. It will take time to convince conservatives that gay marriage isn't any more dangerous than interracial marriage. Liberals need to keep fighting on that front.

In the mean time, Democrats need to get their national security credentials in order. Americans want an aggressive fight against terrorists and the nations that support them. They also believe that the United States can still do some good in this world and don't like being called imperialist and evil.

If the Democrats want to regain power, they're going to have to recognize this and shake off all the ultra-liberals who see the U.S. government as the enemy and the Islamist terrorists as misunderstood.

Action Without a Reaction: Sometimes historical moments happen without our being aware of it. Other times they blow up in our faces. In the case of the genocide in Sudan, the world sees it, and chooses to ignore it. The Coalition for Darfur is still working to not only bring attention to the crisis, but action.

Never Again: Again and Again

In her 2001 article "Bystanders to Genocide," Pulitzer Prize winning author Samantha Power recounts how President Clinton was shocked and outraged by an article written by Philip Gourevitch recounting the horrors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, prompting him to send the article to his national security advisor Sandy Berger with a note scrawled in the margin reading "Is what he's saying true? How did this happen?"

After taking office, President Bush reportedly read Power's article on the Clinton administration's failure to intervene during the genocide. He too scrawled a message in the margin -- "NOT ON MY WATCH."

Yet we are now faced with another African genocide, this time in Darfur, and the United States and the rest of the world are responding exactly as they did during Rwanda -- with paralyzed inaction.

Though there are many key differences between what is taking place in Darfur and what occurred in Rwanda a decade ago, there are also many similarities.

In 1993, the world watched "Schindler's List" and wondered how such horrors could unfold and why they were not stopped. In 2004, it watched "Hotel Rwanda" and asked the same questions. In each case, those questions went unanswered.

Just as in Rwanda, the international military force on the ground in Darfur is far too small, poorly equipped and operating under an extremely limited mandate that does not allow them to protect civilians at risk.

Just as in Rwanda, the genocide is taking place against a backdrop of "civil war," leading the international community to focus more on establishing a cease-fire than protecting those being killed.

Just as in Rwanda, the death toll is nearly impossible to determine.

Just as in Rwanda, the United Nations is more or less paralyzed as individual nations seek to protect their own national interests rather than helpless men, women and children.

Just as in Rwanda, media coverage is almost nonexistent, Congress is all but silent, and the human rights community is having difficulty get the nation to pay attention to a genocide in progress.

Just as in Rwanda, a genocide is unfolding -- but this time it is happening on our watch.

We ask you to join the Coalition for Darfur as we attempt to raise awareness of the genocide in Darfur and raise money for the live saving work Save the Children is doing there.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Young and Old: Remember those things, made of hundreds of sheets of paper, with words on it, surrounded by a tough outer shell? Books! Yeah, that's right. It seems that expressing opinions on politics and life can still be done the old-fashion way, and some groups are actively looking for people wanting to speak their minds.

College Tree Publishing is seeking people ages 17 to 25 to submit essays, journal entries, poems, and other works to fill two books. One book will be dedicated to political topics, the other about theological issues.

The group is approaching young liberals, conservatives, and everything in between to fill the contents of the books. CTP published a similar collection of political essays last year, called "What We Think: Young Voters Speak Out". Visit this site if you're interested. You don't have to be in college to contribute. You just have to have something to say.

Rise of the Moderates: Moderate Muslims are beginning to speak up against Osama Bin Laden and other Wahhabi fanatics. Islamic groups in Europe and the Middle East vocally disapprove of Al Qaeda's tactics and want to persuade others not to support the terrorist organizations.

The moderates still have a hefty task in front of them as many Muslims consider Bin Laden a type of folk hero, fighting back against the West. But as more people in the Middle East stand up to speak their minds, others are likely to turn away from extremism in favor of progress.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Mysterious Ways: The Washington Post ran an excellent column about how secularists try to dumb down intelligent design. Despite all the sensational brouhaha about Christianity creeping into curriculum, there's an interesting debate to be had about evolution. But the discussion currently underway has the same sophistication as a monkey pooh-throwing contest (meaning no disrespect to our primate cousins).

Right now we have Christians who want to denigrate biology textbooks with ridiculous stickers that misuse the word "theory". Atheists are countering that any question of Darwin violates the separation of church and state. But while both groups are trying to protect children from the other side, neither seems concerned with fostering an environment that teaches students to think critically about what they are learning.

Just to be clear, I am not a religious person. I float from agnosticism to deism, depending on the humidity. I haven't bought into any particular religion, but I do believe in God, simply because the state of nature provides evidence toward his (lower-case H) existence. However, I can't prove anything, and I don't believe humans are capable of proving such things. That's why it's called faith.

If God is out there, I don't know how much he interferes with everyday life. Chances are he lets nature take its course, as evidenced by the tsunami disaster and the Longhorns' lackluster performance in the NCAA tournament. But I still pray. It can't hurt, for one, and I often find greater answers and a deeper truth by seeking help. Whether it's an angel's grace or my subconscious sputtering into action is irrelevant to the good that comes from the power of prayer.

Science has proven that evolution does exist -- this is beyond dispute -- but it hardly answers all the questions. Where did life come from? Science tells us that it came from chance, a primordial soup brewed under the right conditions until something crawled out. But if that's true, then such spontaneous generation should be observable in nature, or at least able to be replicated in a laboratory. A true scientific experiment must be repeatable, not just be a one-time occurrence. And so far life has never come from nonlife.

Plus, the complex structures that are present in today's life are fascinating and incredible. Random mutations cannot account for everything life has to offer. Humans are incredibly intelligent -- they can build rockets and machinery that are truly astounding. But even with their smarts, humans could not build from scratch anything as complex and amazing as, well, another human. Yet we are supposed to believe without question that single-cell organism evolved by chance to become cheetahs and daffodils.

Just because questions remain doesn't mean that God is the only answer. As man's understanding of nature evolved, observations once attributed to God were eventually explainable through scientific reason. For example, early man attributed the presence of rain to God's will. Today scientists, with the help of high-tech weather satellites, have since figured out that rain really comes from the way a butterfly flaps its wings. See how far we've come? In short, there is probably a scientific answer to many of the questions I've brought up. And that's what makes me think God has a hand in this. The world runs under such scientific order that I have a hard time believing all this came from accidental chaos.

We shouldn't teach religious myths in a biology course any more than we should teach biology in a theology course. But if we're going to teach kids about science, we need to teach them the shortcomings to what we know and the questions for which we have no answer. The first role of science is to question everything, not to obey a strict list of dogmatic rules. We should leave that to religion.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

One Small Step for Man: Google News has removed the Nazi News site from its search page. That's nice. Now can they somehow tweak their news results so that you get credible news organizations when you do a news search? Whenever I look for something, I have to sift through press releases and opinion pieces to get to hard news. And then I'm mostly given news results from India and New Zealand. Pardon my geocentricity, but shouldn't The Washington Post be given higher preference than WZXY television's Web site?

And I said, how 'bout a revolution? Pro-Syrian terrorists have apparently bombed an anti-Syrian stronghold in Lebanon, killing three. In Baghdad, residents pulled out their own guns and fought back against terrorists who were gunning down civilians. A joint Iraqi-Army/U.S.-forces operation killed more than 80 insurgents. And the people in the impoverished country of Kyrgyzstan have kicked their president out of power.

There's a war going on, and our forces are only playing a small part of it. Beyond the War in Iraq, beyond the greater War on Terrorism, there are political and military clashes popping up in isolated spots in and near the Middle East. The people are getting the courage to rise up for what they believe in.

Analysts, both of the liberal and conservative persuasion, have rightly credited President Bush's actions in Iraq for causing a few democratic dominos to teeter. The protests (and equally big counterprotests) in Lebanon marked a dramatic shift in Middle Eastern politics. While a giant fuse has been lit, we don't know where it leads, if anywhere at all. So it's too soon to tell what results will come from our actions in the Middle East, but we're off to a good start.

This is merely a positive development, not yet a positive result. The final outcome, as I've said before, will take years to determine. Until then, there will continue to be victories and losses, progress and setbacks. But after we get through the hardships, we can see that we've been fighting the good fight all along.

We've moved past the debate over whether we took the right path in fighting the War on Terrorism. We're long down that road, and we're seeing positive change. Despite past disagreements, there is no reason not to celebrate our accomplishments and to support our aggressive foreign policy in the future.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Giving's not just for Xmas: The Coalition for Darfur is looking for donations. I know all of us get hit daily with requests for money. But this is something of deadly seriousness that is being ignored by both the media and most world governments. Anything you can spare would be most appreciated.

Humanitarian Workers at Risk

Last week, the United Nations was forced to withdraw its staff from parts of western Sudan after the Janjaweed militia declared that it would begin targeting foreigners and U.N. humanitarian convoys.

Yesterday, a 26 year-old USAID worker was shot in the face when the clearly-marked humanitarian convoy she was traveling in was ambushed in broad daylight.

It is still unknown just who carried out this ambush, but Sudan expert Eric Reeves reported yesterday that he had "received from multiple, highly authoritative sources intelligence indicating that Khartoum has ambitious plans for accelerating the obstruction of humanitarian access by means of orchestrated violence and insecurity, including the use of targeted violence against humanitarian aid workers."

If such a plan is truly in the works, it will have dire consequences for the people of Darfur. Last year, Jan Egeland, the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned that as many as 100,000 people could die in Darfur every month if those providing humanitarian assistance were forced to withdraw due to insecurity.

Save the Children has already lost 4 of its aid workers in the last year, yet they continue to provide medical care, food, water, shelter, and protection to more than 200,000 children and families in Darfur each month.

The members of the Coalition for Darfur are working together to raise money for Save the Children, and if each coalition partner can raise a mere $10 dollars a week, together we can generate $2,000 a month to support Save the Children's life saving work.

We hope that you might consider making a small donation.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Mass Edit: One thing I will never get used to with this blog is not having an editor. I just reread a post from October 2003 where I used the word "steeling". No, I wasn't talking about a steel mill. I meant somebody stole something, better known as "stealing".

I probably read that post a few times before I published it. And I've looked it over a few more times afterwards. And it has been sitting there for a year and a half. Still, nobody pointed out the obvious error.

Unfortunately, this isn't a lone occurrence. I find typos and mistakes from months past just about every time I read through my blog.

So I'm asking for a favor. If you catch an error, factual or otherwise, please let me know so I can fix it. Thanks.

Heartland Values: It looks like the United Nations has realized that the organization doesn't poll too well in the Red States of America. So the U.N. has launched an initiative to win over Middle America. This is supposed to be more than just a PR ploy. Officials there are actually proposing substantive changes, like removing maniacal dictatorships from the Human Rights Commission.

I wish them luck, because I know they're going to need it. Now if only the Democratic Party would pay attention to that vast sea of red in the middle.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Gag Redux: I've said it before, but it's worth repeating. Republicans are no longer the party that wants to get government off our backs. They're now shoving government down our throats. While the details of the Terri Schiavo case are muddled as both sides try to spin their stories as the most compelling, it's sickening that the "pro-family" Republicans in Florida and Congress are seeking political gain by sticking their noses in a situation that should be left a family/medical issue.

Matters of life and death are never easy. So we don't need to add political and media hype.

I witnessed something yesterday that somewhat relates. At a hospital, paramedics brought in an elderly woman with severe pneumonia. She was unconscious and barely able to gasp for breath. The woman's husband and daughter were there in the emergency room waiting to see whether she could be saved.

The doctor took a grim tone and explained that the pneumonia was so severe that, although he could temporarily help her now, it would only prolong her agony until she dies. He recommended that the family choose to withhold invasive treatment.

The look on the husband's face was heartbreaking. One can only guess how long he had been married to this woman who was now suffering. Suddenly, there in the emergency room, he had to decide the rest of her life. Although he knew the right thing to do was to withhold treatment, he just couldn't bring himself to say it out loud.

His daughter, through tears, urged him to "let her go." Eventually he relented, believing he was doing what was best for his wife.

As the family drama was unfolding, nurses were turning away with tears in their eyes. Death, as traumatic as it may occur, has a peaceful end for the one who dies. But for the ones who are left living, letting go can be a torturous ordeal. Despite the emotional toll, however, matters of life and death are more complicated than what can be captured in a political soundbite. And scoring cheap political points off the misery of others is disgraceful.

Update: A liberal friend of mine brought up a good point. After all this talk by Republicans about the "sanctity of marriage", conservatives are now asking "activist judges" to subvert it.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Community Chest: I have not been following the Robert Blake case, or any of the other celebrity trials for that matter. But now that Blake has been acquitted, I can't help but wonder, When was the last time a Los Angeles jury convicted a high-profile suspect? It seems if there's anyplace you want to commit a crime in this country, go to Tinseltown.

Nuts: With the conviction of WorldCom's CEO Bernard Ebbers, analysts are trumpeting the defeat of the "aw shucks" defense -- this is where the CEO claims ignorance of everything that went on during his watch.

Other CEOs of Fortune 500 disasters, including Ken Lay at Enron, are preparing to make the same defense. Hopefully, they'll meet the same failure.

You never hear a CEO plead ignorance when everything is going well. And if a CEO is willing to take credit for all the good stuff, then he has to take the fall when things go horribly, horribly wrong.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Blogger Sucks: I've been trying to post all day, but Blogger has been out of service the entire time. If I weren't such a lazy cheapskate, I'd move to a different service. But I am.

Don't Delay a Minute: The United Nations is finally beginning to get a realistic look at what's happening in Sudan.

Many seemed surprised when UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland recently updated the estimated death toll in Darfur upwards from 70,000 to 180,000. Egeland estimates that 10,000 people have died, and continue to die, per month since the start of the genocide 18 months ago. He also admitted that the new death toll might be even higher (more than 200,000) and stressed that this new figure does not include those who have died violently at the hands of the Sudanese government or their proxy militia, the Janjaweed.

The original figure of 70,000 was an estimate, or rather an underestimate, as it covered only the mortality in camps accessible to the World Health Organization between April and early September 2004. As such, it did not include mortality rates prior to April 2004, nor did it include mortality rates among the more than 200,000 refugees in Chad, nor the mortality rates in regions inaccessible to humanitarian organizations.

It is in these inaccessible regions where most of the violence is taking place. According to Sudan expert Eric Reeves, whose ongoing analysis of the situation in Darfur has been vital to understanding the widening scope of the crisis, an estimated 240,000 others have died as a direct result of government and/or Janjaweed violence.

If these numbers are correct, and we really have no cause to doubt them, it is safe to assume that some 400,000 Sudanese civilians have died in the last year and a half from direct violence, disease, or starvation.

That is more than 22,200 per month.

That is more than 740 per day.

That is more than 30 per hour.

That is one death every 2 minutes ... for 18 months.

Despite the seemingly hopeless nature of the crisis, we at the Coalition for Darfur believe that together we can raise awareness of the situation and, at the same time, raise money for the vital work that Save the Children is doing by providing food, water, shelter, and protection to over 200,000 children and families in Darfur each month.

Together, and with your support, we hope to make a small but meaningful contribution to alleviating the massive suffering that continues to plague the region.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Purple State: Centerfield discovered a new political party called the Moderate Party. I've checked out its platform, and I agree with much of it: The party supports abortion rights, gun rights, and same-sex civil unions. However, party members seem to be against the invasion of Iraq as they have a special section criticizing pre-emption. While military conflict should be avoided when possible, Iraq was a special case, and we can't take pre-emption off the table as we fight the War on Terrorism.

Now we'll just have to wait and see whether this party has any effect on politics in the years to come. No one can reasonably expect the Moderate Party to replace the Democratic or Republican Parties. But third parties can still have a strong influence on American politics, and in some cases voting for a none-of-the-above candidate can influence politics more than sticking with major-party candidates.

In 1992, Ross Perot ran on a platform of fiscal discipline. Many have argued that he cost the first President Bush the election by gaining 19 percent of the vote, leaving the winner, Bill Clinton, with only a plurality of 43 percent. Two years later, the Republican Party essentially adopted Ross Perot's platform wholesale with the Contract with America, creating the first GOP majority in Congress in decades.

In 2000, Ralph Nader and the Green Party garnered only 3 percent of the vote. But because George W. Bush and Al Gore essentially tied with about 48 percent apiece, many observers say Nader cost Gore the election. Next thing you know, the Democratic Party takes a hard turn to the Left to make sure they don't lose the ultraliberals again.

The only hope for the Moderate Party is for it to either grab a hot issue that much of the country can rally around or, even better, attract a popular candidate to run under the party's name. They may also choose to endorse major party candidates, as sort of a moderate seal of approval.

Both major parties continue to head to the extremes. But much of the American public isn't as polarized as the politics in this country is. While a third choice certainly won't supplant either major party anytime soon, a moderate third choice could be successful in pulling American politics back to the center.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Fair and Balanced, from a certain point of view: A new study about the media was released today. Researchers have found that Fox News is the most opinionated of all the cable and network news programs, and that other news organizations tend to print negative stories about President Bush.

And in other news, the sky is blue and the sun tends to set in the West.

For better or worse, the media will continue to do what it has always done (you go to war with the media you have ...). It generally doesn't bother me that Fox has more opinionated shows because the hosts, like Bill O'Reilly, are up front about their views. But according to the study, Fox is tainting much of its news footage with opinions.

When asked to defend its broadcasts, Fox's executive daytime producer Jerry Burke said he encourages anchors to be themselves. Then he said this, "They're number one, Americans, and number two, human beings, as well as journalists."

First American then human? I have trouble with some reporters who try so hard to be journalists first then American that they come across as anti-American (that First Amendment protection of your job is in the Constitution of the United States, buddy). But it bothers me more when people place their citizenship above their very existence.

I think we can all recognize that the mainstream media has been flawed for some time. Don't expect it to correct itself anytime soon. While we're justified to criticize journalists for their mistakes, we shouldn't dismiss any news resource altogether. We just have to get our news from a diverse selection of sources. Read some liberal newspapers, watch some conservative television, and surf around a few blogs. This country is polarized enough as it is. Ignoring the other side won't make it go away.

Friday, March 11, 2005

U.S. Confidential: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..."

That's it. That's all the Constitution says about the regulation of journalism and free expression (except for the 14th Amendment's placing state governments under the same restrictions). Within those few words comes a complex legal puzzle about the rights of journalists and even who qualifies to be called a journalist.

You'll notice the Constitution nowhere says, "Congress shall make no law ... forcing reporters to rat out their sources." But that's where the shades of gray come in. Requiring reporters to testify in court about a story they covered can be used to intimidate journalists, possibly restricting them from doing their jobs freely. But then a reporter may get exclusive information that's vital to a case, and withholding it could deprive a defendant from adequate justice during a trial.

I'll let others haggle over that issue. But I can't stand by and watch professional journalists claim special rights that nobody else has. Simply put, if a professional journalist believes he or she should be shielded from a subpoena, then any citizen -- including bloggers -- should enjoy the same privilege if that person is acting in a role of disseminating the information in question to the public.

The entire point of the Bill of Rights, especially the First Amendment, was to give a big "up yours" to the restrictions the British government put on its subjects. Among the ways Britain cracked down on the media was to grant licenses to press operators. Without a license, you couldn't operate a press. And if the government didn't like what you were printing, you lost your license (yes, it's exactly like what the FCC does with broadcast channels, but public airwaves are a tricky matter).

Selectively distributing legal rights is the same as giving a license to publish. If the government decides who is and is not legally a journalist, then the government can decide who does and does not benefit from the First Amendment. I've always said that a person with a pen, paper, and a Xerox machine should enjoy the same freedom of the press as The New York Times. Now, of course, the same should apply to the electronic press with the Internet and bloggers. If we determine such rights by prestige or circulation numbers, then the Bill of Rights has lost all meaning.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Nothing Going: Sorry for the lack of posts this week, but work has been overwhelming.

I did see something interesting on the subway this morning. Some punk rock kid was standing by the train doors, attempting to look punkish. He was a white guy with a black shirt, a black leather jacket (with plenty of zippers), black pants, black socks, black boots, and gelled black hair. Pinned to his leather jacket was a white button that had a swastika with a red line across it (sorta like this), signifying he is against Nazis.

Way to take a strong, controversial stand, punk dude. Maybe I should wear a button telling the world I am strongly against the Huns' treatment of the Chinese.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

No More Excuses: The Coalition for Darfur has released its inaugural group post. I will be posting more of these, at least once a week.

In May 2004, Roger Winter, the Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, told a House committee that it was inevitable that "more than 100,000 people will die no matter what" in Darfur, Sudan by the end of the year. Winter went on to warn that, in a worst-case scenario, the number could reach as high as 350,000.

One year later, the estimated death toll stands at more than 300,000. The actual number of deaths is nearly impossible to determine given that the government of Sudan, fearing the truth, refuses to grant access to the World Health Organization so that it can conduct a mortality survey. Nonetheless, knowledgeable observers agree that thousands have died at the hands of the Sudanese government and their proxy militia, the Janjaweed (a term meaning "Devils on Horseback") and tens of thousands more have died of disease and starvation after having their villages destroyed in government-led attacks. More than 2-million Darfurians have been internally displaced, the agricultural economy has been decimated and an estimated 3- to 4-million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Nearly two years ago, the Muslim government in Khartoum was in the process of finalizing a peace accord that would end a 20 year civil war between the government in the North and the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the South that had taken some 2-million lives. Fearful that the Western region of Darfur was going to continue to be ignored in the new coalition government that was being formed, African rebels launched a series of raids against government facilities. Rather than negotiate with the rebel forces in the West, the government of Sudan enlisted Arab militias in a campaign to wipe out the rebels and anyone suspected of supporting them. In the process, hundreds of villages have been destroyed, tens of thousands have been raped and killed, and millions have been displaced.

The international community has responded in a haphazard fashion. The African Union secured the deployment of some 4,000 troops to the region, though its mandate was limited to monitoring a cease-fire that neither side honored. Less than 2,000 AU soldiers have arrived and they have limited logistical capabilities for covering this area roughly the size of Texas, nor do they have a mandate that allows them to protect civilians. The United Nations has been plagued by inaction, with China and Russia using their veto power to water down Security Council resolutions seeking sanctions or demanding accountability. A recent UN investigation detailed massive war crimes and crimes against humanity but stopped short of calling the campaign a genocide, a declaration the United States made last September. For now, much of the debate is focused on where any cases arising from this situation will be tried: the International Criminal Court or some Africa-based tribunal.

Angered by the lackluster response to what is widely acknowledged as the "world's worst humanitarian crisis," a group of bloggers have formed a Coalition for Darfur to do what little they can. We seek to raise awareness of the crisis in Darfur, but also to raise money for the vital work that Save the Children is doing by providing food, water, shelter, and protection to over 200,000 children and families in Darfur each month.

Together, and with your support, we hope to make a small but meaningful contribution to alleviating the massive suffering that continues to plague the region. Please consider making a donation via our Coalition for Darfur blog.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Morally Bankrupt: The blogosphere has proven its mettle by forcing high-profile media figures out of their jobs (Eason Jordan, Dan Rather, etc.) and even demoting some politicians (Trent Lott). Now it's time to see if blogs can stop legislation that looks all but inevitable to pass.

Liberal Kevin Drum and Right-leaning Glenn Reynolds have recognized that credit card companies will get a free ride with the upcoming bankruptcy legislation. And both cite an excellent Washington Post article that exposes the credit card companies' practices and how they prey on those people most in need. (If you haven't read it, you should.)

Credit card companies are actively soliciting high-risk consumers and giving them access to loads of debt. As soon as these people get in trouble, the companies feed off the consumers' vulnerable state by charging ludicrous fees and doubling their interest rates. Some people pay thousands of dollars more than they borrowed and still have to declare bankruptcy. Now the pending legislation would make it harder for those people to escape debt through bankruptcy while letting credit card companies continue their predatory practices, avoiding all responsibility for contributing to consumer debt.

For once, the power of the media and the blogosphere can be on the same side. Old and new media need to flood the zone and explain to the public how bad this legislation really is.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Sad: What the hell happened to Peter Arnett? He was a Pulitzer prize winning journalist who got top billing at CNN before getting canned for his role in an embarrassingly flawed piece about the U.S. government's use of chemical weapons in Vietnam. Then he caught on at NBC and National Geographic before embarrassing himself once again by going on Iraqi television and pronouncing the U.S. battle plan a failure less than two weeks after the war began (Saddam Hussein's regime fell just over one week later).

Last I had heard, he was working for Britain's Daily Mirror. Now he's writing a news article for Playboy Magazine? According to reports, Mr. Arnett believes Saddam Hussein's eldest son, Uday, was going to overthrow his father and take over the country just before U.S. troops barged in.

I don't know if any of this is true (funny how somebody loses credibility so fast). I'm sure there were all sorts of conspiracies being hatched as the end of Saddam's regime looked imminent. But it matters little, as an Uday regime would not have been an improvement, especially now that Iraqis have elected their own government.

I just find it sad that a once respected journalist can become so careless and shortsighted and destroy his own career.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Come Together: Eugene Oregon of the "ultraliberal" Demagogue and Feddie of the "ultraconservative" Southern Appeal have joined forces to create a new blog called Coalition for Darfur. They want to use the power of the Internet to raise awareness about the genocide in Sudan, and also raise some money to do something about it.

As most of you should know, Eugene has been very active publicizing the ongoing murders taking place in Sudan with his "Daily Darfur" posts. While Eugene and Feddie don't agree on much politically, they have both been class acts when discussing whatever pressing issues dominate the news. Now they have found something worth taking a stand on together.

They have asked a number of bloggers, including this one, to post a link to their new site and run blog posts every week about the Sudan tragedy. Hopefully we can help inform more people about the horrors going on in that country and also remind people that it's in America's best interest to help stop it, considering Sudan plays a role in trafficking arms to terrorists and even provided a safe haven for Osama bin Laden.

President Bush and Congress have declared the abuses in Darfur officially to be genocide. Yet, they won't do anything about it, and the United Nations doesn't have the backbone to address the problem. It's tragically ironic that the one issue that everyone -- Left, Right, and Middle -- can agree that something needs to be done is the one issue the United States and world governments conspicuously ignore.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Delay of Game: The Washington Post says Bush's plan to revamp Social Security may be put on hiatus, perhaps until next year or perhaps indefinitely. The public at large, and even some congressional Republicans, are skeptical of the need for an overhaul, and some people aren't sure personal accounts are the way to go.

Personally, I have no strong feelings one way or the other. Personal accounts may be a fine strategy, but I don't know how we could afford the transition.

But mostly, I don't understand the urgency Bush put on his Social Security plan. There is no "crisis", despite what this administration and the previous administration has said.

Ramming a quick fix through the sausage grinder known as Congress can only lead to big trouble down the road. If Republicans and Democrats are serious about fixing Social Security's long-term solvency, then they should be willing to come up with a calm and rational solution. That doesn't involve President Bush making a multi-state campaign tour threatening Democratic senators in Red States, and it doesn't involve congressional Democrats holding their breath until they are beet red. Members of the federal government, you have at least a year to come up with a solution. Find someplace quiet to meet so you can discuss what's best for everybody.

Child's Play: I had no idea this country was considered so prehistoric until the Supreme Court passed their 5-4 ruling against putting juveniles to death for murder. Apparently only the likes of Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China still administered capital punishment to criminals under the age of 18. This country was living in the dark ages, some people argue, and needs to catch up to international norms.

I'm sure there's a case to be made that people under 18 shouldn't be subject to capital punishment. But I don't think it's the Supreme Court's place to decide for sure. Calling it "cruel and unusual punishment" sounds like a reach.

The age of 18 is an arbitrary number to decide who is an adult and who is a juvenile. The 17-year-old murderer in question even bragged that he could avoid the death penalty because he was too young. The Supreme Court's blanket formula cannot take into account every possible situation that might occur. Only a jury can do that, on a case by case basis. And if a jury finds that a 17-year-old had the same mental capacity as an adult when he committed a crime, that person should be punished the same as an adult.

If every state legislature decided against capital punishment for juveniles, that would be a different matter, because an elected body could be held accountable. But the Supreme Court seems more concerned about the criminal's rights than about the victims and their families, in this instance.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Wonderland: I grew up in Dallas, which comes to a complete standstill when it snows each year. Now I'm in Washington, DC, which comes to a standstill if the weather report simply calls for snow, even before any flakes fall from the sky. Philadelphia, Boston, New York -- all those northern cities I've been told know how to handle winter weather actually respond just like everybody else, by using a few inches of the white stuff as an excuse to shut down business and schools for the day. And of course, the snow always becomes the top news of the day.

I can see clearly now: I've had to rely on glasses or contacts since the third grade. Now I can wake up in the morning and see what time it is.

The Lasik appears to have worked. Things still look a little hazy, but I'm told that this is normal and may take a week or so to clear up. I may even need follow-up surgery in a few months. But so far I can see pretty damn well.

The surgery was a weird experience, and not for the weak of stomach. The doctor had me lie face up underneath a machine and told me to keep staring straight ahead at a green light. He numbed my eyes with some drops, then pried my eyelids open with a plastic doohickey, like something out of A Clockwork Orange.

Then came the fun part. The doctor used what I believe was a small electric saw to slice open my cornea. There's nothing quite like seeing someone peel back the top layer of your own eyeball. Then, keeping with the theme of 1970s psychedelic movies, the lasers went to work. The green light blurred to orange, and white and red lights swirled throughout my field of vision. I was just doing my best to keep my eye perfectly still. I guess I was doing okay, because the doctor kept coaching me along, saying, "good ... excellent ... you're doing great ... perfect ... good".

It only took a few minutes for each eye. After getting my cornea put back in place, I sat up, and the doctor gleefully pointed at the clock, indicating that I should now be able to read it (reading clocks appear to be the only goal for us sightless souls). Truthfully, everything looked foggy, and I was a bit disoriented. They led me to a La-Z-Boy chair in the waiting room and gave me some Tylenol PM. It took a while to kick in, as my eyes started stinging something fierce. Eventually my friend picked me up and drove me home. I could hardly open my eyes the whole time.

By the time I hit my bed, the Tylenol PM had gone into effect, and I slept most of the day. I have to wear plastic shields over my eyes while I sleep because I'm not allowed to rub my eyes at all for a week. I was also given several types of eyedrops to use during that time. But if my eyes stay this good, then I'd have to say the Lasik was worth the small fortune I spent. We'll see.

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