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December 29, 2005

Who'd have ever thought?

You gotta love it.

Why we need continual tax cuts

The year-end ritual of preparing for my tax return has prompted me to do some thinking this year. (This is almost always a bad thing when it involves income taxes. The more I think about them the angrier I get.)

Anyway, my day job provides incentives and performance-based compensation primarily through a mid-year bonus program, and our annual "raises" are actually little more than cost of living adjustments. I think a lot of people fall into this category, and that's not always a good thing. It usually means you're going to get screwed at tax time.

Think about it. If your raises are barely keeping pace with inflation, that means your effective salary, in terms of buying power, never changes. But your effective income tax rate does change. As your salary increases in absolute terms, more of your income is pushed into the higher brackets. As a result, you're earning the same salary, but paying an ever-increasing chunk of it in income taxes. This is the same phenomenon by which the Alternative Minimum Tax ensnares more and more middle class families every year.

That's why frequent, periodic reductions in income tax rates are necessary even to maintain the status quo. Without continual tax cuts, the whole shell game is a losing proposition, and we're stuck with automatic effective tax increases year after year.

Of course there's a much simpler and more elegant solution to the problem of bracket creep: implement a flat tax. Somehow, I'm not expecting to find a flat tax in my stocking any time soon, however.

A request for the Democrats

Can we please have some more breathless rhetoric about how Bush is like a dictator for using NSA intercepts to help thwart terror attacks? If you can throw in some talk about impeachment, that would be helpful as well. With a concerted effort, we can put this guy solidly above 50%

Thanks for understanding. I knew you'd come through for us.

December 21, 2005

Merry Christmas

Well, here it is folks, whether we're ready for it or not. The whole Johnson family will be loading up the suburban assault vehicle as early as we can stand it tomorrow, and we're tooling on down to North Carolina. Don't expect much blogging for another week or so.

And in the meantime, Merry Christmas to one and all. And Happy Hannukah to all my Jew-riffic friends.

Christmas has always been a special time for me, and I'd love to put together a cool Christmas essay, kind of like the Wall Street Journal runs every year. But guess what? This year I have neither the time nor the talent. Christmas sneaked up on my busy life more suddenly than ever this year, so I'm going to offer you something else in return.

During these past few years, one Christmas tradition I've learned to look forward to is the annual Christmas remembrances of my friend Mal. He has a knack for story-telling of which I was always envious, and he can still remember what it feels like to be a little kid on Christmas morning. Even better, he makes you remember what it feels like too.

Here are Mal's musings for this year.

So many memories come alive this time of year. Most are happy, some sad (I knew four people who died on Christmas Eve, including my brother-in-law).

I prefer to think about the happy ones for this thread.

During the days leading up to Christmas, we always had fun things to get us in the mood. Oftimes, it was an Advent calendar sent faithfully to us by 'Uncle' Fred Heider from California, a man I never met. Given that there were three kids, my sisters and I rotated opening the windows. Other vehicles included an Advent candle which had the days of Advent stenciled on and was to be burned down only to the point of the next day. We keep it on our dining room table (yes, in those days, most families ate every day in the dining room). Another was a carousel with bronze cupids which would rotate, striking little chimes when the candles were lit underneath them. The little suckers got hot as hell as my small, inquisitive hands found out on more than one occasion.

Our Christmas tree was always a state occasion from the purchasing to the decorating. My Dad, still the actor even after radio soaps had come and gone, would take me along to watch him haggle with the tree salesman. "How much?" he would howl (to my eternal embarrassment) upon hearing the asking price. Understand that back then, you could get a great tree for $7-8. It was a rite of passage with him and the tree guy which they both seemed to love.

Our tree had a lot of old ornaments dating back to WWII. We each had one with our name on them (Monica's was blue; Megan's and mine were shocking pink). My Dad was meticulous in creating the tree, especially with the icicles which had to be put on one by one with 2/3 showing and 1/3 behind the branch.

I was relegated to cleaning the ornaments, a job I detested.

Stockings consisted of Dad's old Argyle socks which held a surprising amount.

As I was the youngest, I went to bed first and (naturally) awoke first. As the rules were that nobody was to be awakened before they chose to, I had to entertain myself upstairs. Oh yeah, going downstairs was forbidden until we all were assembled. So I would go into our small library room and read "Our American Past" by Roger Butterfield, a coffee table-type tome with illustrations and photos along with some text. It was due to this annual event that I learned the names of all the presidents through Eisenhower by the time I was about 8 or 9.

It is also why I went on to get a minor in American History at Northeastern. Strange how things work, huh?

My Dad, again ever the actor, would force us to wait while he would plop himself in the bathroom. As the only other male, I was scooted in to try to speed him along. He would never hurry, choosing to sit there on 'the throne' and enjoy a cigarette. That memory (and the combined smell, to be indelicate) is why I will never smoke my pipe in the bathroom and despise it when my wife does!

Finally, the big moment came and we roared down the stairs, turning left into the living room to the stockings with the traditional apples, oranges, mixed nuts and candy plus the small 'stocking presents' (a practice I continue today over Ellen's annual objections). Our son Steve has picked up on my side and does it as well so there, Ellen!

I remember in 1954 being fascinated by a little car which would dart up to the edge of a surface and then, miraculously to my eyes, turn around and shoot off the other way!

Mom and Dad had a good sense of humor and always made sure that their stockings contained coal, potatoes and onions much to our delight as revenge for all the disciplinary situations we had earned during the year. They would play it up as if they were surprised.

And every year we bought into it.

Now one would think that the Collins family segued immediately to the dining room and started in on the presents under the tree.

And...one would be wrong!

Mom was a stickler for forcing us to have breakfast first (usually Eggs Benedict) before a single present was unwrapped. Now this was cruel and unusual torture to be within 4 feet of a load of presents crying out to me: "Malcolm! Open me!"

Presents were opened by groups: those from Aunt Ruth and Uncle Dick (aka the R.G. Hubbell's), Aunt Gneinnie ((Gneisse pronounced like Jeannie) and Uncle Bob (the R.G. Hubbell's), Aunt Babbie and Uncle Shirl, Grandma and Grandpa Collins, and finally Grandma Hubbell. Then our own.


Was there ever a young boy who enjoyed getting clothes as a present? If so, it wasn't this kid. Mom would see the grimace and would chime in "Now Malcolm, you really do need such and such!"

<<grumble, grumble!>>

Remember the Jean Shepard classic "A Christmas Story" where Ralphie almost does put his eye out with his Red Ryder bb gun? Well, in 1958, I nearly did the same thing with a toy which was a flying saucer launcher situated on a truck. I was so fascinated by it that I loomed overhead as I ratcheted the plastic 'saucer (a small disk with openings) in its holder. It launched all right, smacking me in the face near my left eye at damned good speed! What a jerk!

My mother's old college roommate from Wellesley, Janet Hill, completed the day by arriving from NYC every Christmas afternoon. Janet was a wonderful woman, incredibly bright, with a decided Boston Brahmin accent and a marvelous laugh.

The day was complete!

Merry Christmas, my dear friends!

You know, I did almost exactly the same thing with my first BB rifle when I was 8 years old. I took it out Christmas morning and almost immediately shot at an old oak tree at almost point blank range. The BB ricocheted and hit me on my right cheek, less than an inch below my eye.

At the time, I thought that was one of those things that happened just to me. Now, via "A Christmas Story" and my friend Mal, I've come to believe that it's something of a rite of passage.

Anyway, stay safe this Christmas, my friends. I don't want anyone putting their eyes out while I'm gone.

Merry Christmas, all.

Wednesday night bad poetry

My wife agrees that Bush is a "joke," but she wonders why one feels compelled to recite bad poety to that effect... in a bathroom... with no shirt...

No doubt this will not be the final word

Nonetheless, it's an interesting and informative piece from today's Chicago Tribune, written by former Clinton associate AG John Schmidt. The excerpt is below is lengthy, but this is important. I'd encourage you to read the entire thing anyway (emphasis mine.)

The president authorized the NSA program in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. An identifiable group, Al Qaeda, was responsible and believed to be planning future attacks in the United States. Electronic surveillance of communications to or from those who might plausibly be members of or in contact with Al Qaeda was probably the only means of obtaining information about what its members were planning next. No one except the president and the few officials with access to the NSA program can know how valuable such surveillance has been in protecting the nation.

In the Supreme Court's 1972 Keith decision holding that the president does not have inherent authority to order wiretapping without warrants to combat domestic threats, the court said explicitly that it was not questioning the president's authority to take such action in response to threats from abroad.

Four federal courts of appeal subsequently faced the issue squarely and held that the president has inherent authority to authorize wiretapping for foreign intelligence purposes without judicial warrant.

In the most recent judicial statement on the issue, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, composed of three federal appellate court judges, said in 2002 that "All the ... courts to have decided the issue held that the president did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence ... We take for granted that the president does have that authority."

The passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978 did not alter the constitutional situation. That law created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that can authorize surveillance directed at an "agent of a foreign power," which includes a foreign terrorist group. Thus, Congress put its weight behind the constitutionality of such surveillance in compliance with the law's procedures.

But as the 2002 Court of Review noted, if the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches, "FISA could not encroach on the president's constitutional power."

Every president since FISA's passage has asserted that he retained inherent power to go beyond the act's terms. Under President Clinton, deputy Atty. Gen. Jamie Gorelick testified that "the Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes."

FISA contains a provision making it illegal to "engage in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute." The term "electronic surveillance" is defined to exclude interception outside the U.S., as done by the NSA, unless there is interception of a communication "sent by or intended to be received by a particular, known United States person" (a U.S. citizen or permanent resident) and the communication is intercepted by "intentionally targeting that United States person." The cryptic descriptions of the NSA program leave unclear whether it involves targeting of identified U.S. citizens. If the surveillance is based upon other kinds of evidence, it would fall outside what a FISA court could authorize and also outside the act's prohibition on electronic surveillance.

The administration has offered the further defense that FISA's reference to surveillance "authorized by statute" is satisfied by congressional passage of the post-Sept. 11 resolution giving the president authority to "use all necessary and appropriate force" to prevent those responsible for Sept. 11 from carrying out further attacks. The administration argues that obtaining intelligence is a necessary and expected component of any military or other use of force to prevent enemy action.

But even if the NSA activity is "electronic surveillance" and the Sept. 11 resolution is not "statutory authorization" within the meaning of FISA, the act still cannot, in the words of the 2002 Court of Review decision, "encroach upon the president's constitutional power."

FISA does not anticipate a post-Sept. 11 situation. What was needed after Sept. 11, according to the president, was surveillance beyond what could be authorized under that kind of individualized case-by-case judgment. It is hard to imagine the Supreme Court second-guessing that presidential judgment.

As I said, there's nothing here that will end debate. People will no doubt take exception to some of Schmidt's arguments, but the point is that there is plenty of room here for reasonable people of good will to disagree.

There's little doubt that the courts will be forced to clarify this issue. Until they do so, however, let's hold off on the impeachment proceedings until we know they're warranted, okay? That hardly seems too much to ask.

Lost in translation

Even with hilariously wrong mistranslations, one can often still discern the original intent. With others, however, you've just gotta scratch your head and wonder.

Won't someone please think of the children?

Presumably because we've solved every other societal ill, some dick-brain named Mark Pollock (heh) has launched a crusade to ban those little silver balls that people put on "holiday" cookies this time of year. Supposedly they're inedible, or some damn thing. Of course I've eaten approximately an infinity of the things over the course of my life, including as recently as last week. Oh well.

December 20, 2005

NSA eavesdropping update

After having been prompted by Frogsdong, I've decided it's time to update my post on the whole NSA brouhaha. I made this post when the story first broke, at a time when few details were available. Actually, there are still much less information available than I'd like, but I just wanted to make a point or two.

First of all, I think there is ample reason for concern here, and considerable reason to question the policy's legality. That being said, it is nowhere near as crystal clear as many of Bush's opponents would like to believe. For the president's part, he maintains that the executive branch is on safe legal ground with this program, having gotten the green light from the Justice Department. Bush is not alone in this, either. His predecessor seems to have been in agreement.

"The Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes," Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 14, 1994, "and that the President may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the Attorney General."

"It is important to understand," Gorelick continued, "that the rules and methodology for criminal searches are inconsistent with the collection of foreign intelligence and would unduly frustrate the president in carrying out his foreign intelligence responsibilities."

I know it's terribly impolitic to point out instances in which Clinton agreed with the current administration on issues for which the Democrats now want to see Bush drawn and quartered (WMD in Iraq, to cite another famous example) but it's relevant, I'm afraid, as there is precedent here. It doesn't mean Clinton was right, of course, but it does belie the image of Bush as a "rogue" chief executive, arbitrarily assuming dictatorial powers to govern above the rule of law in an unprecedented fashion. Please, people. That's just crap.

These are murky legal waters, at best. Orin Kerr tries bravely to navigate these waters in this very detailed, thoughtful and informed post. The short version is that Kerr thinks federal law might have been violated, but he isn't sure.

Others disagree, citing political and judicial precedent to suggest that the president is indeed on solid legal ground.

The allegation of Presidential law-breaking rests solely on the fact that Mr. Bush authorized wiretaps without first getting the approval of the court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. But no Administration then or since has ever conceded that that Act trumped a President's power to make exceptions to FISA if national security required it. FISA established a process by which certain wiretaps in the context of the Cold War could be approved, not a limit on what wiretaps could ever be allowed.

The courts have been explicit on this point, most recently in In Re: Sealed Case, the 2002 opinion by the special panel of appellate judges established to hear FISA appeals. In its per curiam opinion, the court noted that in a previous FISA case (U.S. v. Truong), a federal "court, as did all the other courts to have decided the issue[our emphasis], held that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information." And further that "we take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power."

In short, anyone who thinks this case is a slam-dunk is guilty of wishful thinking.

Well, that's what we have the Supreme Court for, right? Meanwhile, I think it's also worth noting a point Dick Morris makes in today's New York Post.

In 2002, the feds (presumably the NSA) picked up random cellphone chatter using the words "Brooklyn Bridge" (which apparently didn't translate well into Arabic). They notified the New York Police Department, which flooded the bridge with cops. Then the feds overheard a phone call in which a man said things were "too hot" on the bridge to pull off an operation. Later, an interrogation of a terrorist allowed by the Patriot Act led cops to the doorstep of this would-be bridge bomber. (His plans would definitely have brought down the bridge, NYPD sources told me.)

Why didn't Bush get a warrant? On who? For what? The NSA wasn't looking for a man who might blow up the bridge. It had no idea what it was looking for. It just intercepted random phone calls from people in the United States to those outside -- and so heard the allusions to the bridge that tipped them off.

In criminal investigations, one can target a suspect and get a warrant to investigate him. But this deductive approach is a limited instrument in fighting terror. An inductive approach, in which one gathers a mass of evidence and looks for patterns, is far more useful.

I'm not one of these "end justifies the means" types; I believe in the process. That being said, Dick Morris has a point, and a damn good one, and we cannot pretend that he doesn't. We cannot pretend there isn't another side to this coin while we're hashing out this national debate. Decisions are going to have to be made, both political and judicial. I hope the people who make those decisions are guided by the principles of our Constitution and by the real and urgent dictates of our national security, and not by the thinly disguised zeal among many to take down this president.

Transit strikes suck

Where's Ronald Reagan when you need him? New York's transit workers have illegally gone on strike.

If my liberal, Democratic wife is any barometer, I doubt they'll have much sympathy from the public -- she is pissed.

I can't really blame her, either. The city is so FUBAR that the fucked-upness radiated out at least to Hoboken and Weehawken, screwing with my commute as well.

Still, we both have it relatively easy compared to many. Quite a few of my friends are currently schlepping across the Brooklyn Bridge, freezing their nuts off in single-digit wind chills. At [insert generic, non-offensive holiday her]-time, no less.

And why? Because a bunch of whiny, entitled union members think $60K a year and 8% raises are insufficient compensation for people with high school educations to "drive" an electric train that steers itself.

Man, if I were a blue collar worker who earned $10 an hour doing back-breaking labor, and had my working day lengthened and complicated by these spoiled, petulant assholes? I'd be ready to throttle someone.

Mutilated Barbies

I'm not really sure why this is news.

Barbie, beware. The iconic plastic doll is often mutilated at the hands of young girls, according to research published Monday by British academics. "The girls we spoke to see Barbie torture as a legitimate play activity, and see the torture as a 'cool' activity," said Agnes Nairn, one of the University of Bath researchers. "The types of mutilation are varied and creative, and range from removing the hair to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving."

The authors would probably freak if they could see the unspeakable things we did to G.I. Joe and the Six Million Dollar Man as kids, particularly down South, where gunpowder was readily available.

And Stretch Armstrong? Oh, it was barbarous. I wince to think of it even now....

December 19, 2005

Happy Solstice, Jill!

Jill, I know we've had our differences in the past, but in the true spirit of this holiday season (ecumenical, of course) I'd like to offer this video clip as a gift from me to you.

Perhaps you'll find it useful in lampooning those ignorant, red state hicks you so disdain. And maybe, if you're feeling especially creative, you can take this snippet of one blubbering, moronic, redneck wrestling fan and extrapolate it to draw broad, sweeping generalizations about all 62 million Americans who voted for George W. Bush last year, thus impugning them all by proxy.

Peace. And happy.... whatever it is.

Time's "Persons" of the Year

Yes, I'll agree it was a lame choice. But what did you expect? This dubious honorific has come to mean even less than the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is good for a laugh

Some liberals are apparently convinced that the New York Times conspired to help re-elect President Bush in 2004. Yes, that's the same New York Times that hasn't endorsed a Republican for president since Eisenhower -- the same New York Times whose release of the NSA eavesdropping story seemed optimally timed to provide Senate Democrats the maximum political cover possible to oppose renewal of the Patriot Act. Chuck Schumer even went so far as to credit the Times story on the Senate floor for helping him decide how to vote.

Yes, they'd have us believe the Grey Lady is a willing political tool, complicit in the GOP's sinister electoral schemings. "Reality based," indeed.

So what's their "evidence" for this? Seemingly, it's simply the fact that the Times "sat on" this classified information for a year -- only to un-ass it a year later at a moment designed to inflict maximum damage to the President.

Yes, you heard that right. The Times is in dutch with the libs for not printing leaked, classified information even sooner that it did. Apparently leaking classified information is only bad if it involves Valerie Plame, you see.

The moonbat mind is an amazing place.

(Hat tip: Jill)

Wall Street Journal, liberal rag

No, I'm serious. Via Glenn we learn about a UCLA study which purports to be the first such serious study designed to quantify political bias in the media. The results will be shocking to many, but utterly unsurprising to others.

While the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is conservative, the newspaper's news pages are liberal, even more liberal than The New York Times. The Drudge Report may have a right-wing reputation, but it leans left. Coverage by public television and radio is conservative compared to the rest of the mainstream media. Meanwhile, almost all major media outlets tilt to the left.

Well hell, I've noticed the discrepancy between WSJ's OpEd page and the rest of the paper myself, and I've been making the exact same case about Drudge to anyone who would listen (no one) for years now.

It goes on.

Of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center, with CBS' "Evening News," The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal.

Only Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter.

For my part, I've always believed the MSM, overall, skews a bit left of center. I don't think this effect is as pronounced as it once was with the advent of Fox News and other alternative media sources, and the effect they have had on the more traditional outlets, such as the network news and NPR.

Still, I've often thought that many conservatives had a tendency to overstate this bias on a regular basis, and I frequently dismissed them as simply being overly paranoid.

Perhaps I should re-examine that assessment now. Perhaps it's me who's guilty of not being paranoid enough.

Did I call it or what?

I've been meaning to write about this for a few days, but I kept getting sidetracked. An article in Nature finds that the online encyclopedia Wikipedia rivals the Encyclopedia Britannica in terms of accuracy.

I speculated on this very topic back on December 4.

...I'm quite sure there are errors and inaccuracies in Wikipedia, and I doubt that anyone who understands the project would ever believe otherwise. But how many errors and misrepresentations can be found in dead tree encyclopedias...

Well, I guess now we know. But there's a much bigger issue here than vindication for Wikipedia.

Everyone I know who uses Wikipedia for convenience recognizes the project for what it is -- a voluntary, organic effort by unpaid amateurs -- and they interpret what they read accordingly. But how many people do likewise with the Encyclopedia Britannica?

In short, the problem is not (as the New York Times snobbishly suggested) that we don't question Wikipedia enough. The problem is that we question dead tree media and references too little.

December 18, 2005

End the war now!

No, I'm not talking about the war in Iraq. Neither am I talking about the non-existent "War on Christmas." I'm talking about the meta-war about the "War on Christmas," which is very real indeed.

The only thing more annoying and grating than Bill O'Reilly and his minions bitching about the "War on Christmas" is the liberals and progressives whining incessantly about how there's not a "War on Christmas." Enough already.

UPDATE: Does this whole nonsense debate remind anyone else of that Dar Williams song, "The Christians and the Pagans?"

December 17, 2005

WTF, how is this even possible?

I'm sure you've all had the experience of going to the grocery store and spending a hundred or two hundred dollars and then getting home and feeling you don't have anything to show for it. It's a common phenomenon, but I think I might have set an all-time record today.

My wife and I had just completed an hours-long shopping marathon, and when the checkout girl finished ringing me up I nearly shat: $452.58. That's right, nearly five Franklins and we didn't get anything. I mean it, not one. Goddamn. Thing. I can't believe I bounced a check for this.

Seriously, when we got home afterwards we decided to eat some lunch, and we had to scrounge around the kitchen trying to find something to eat. We finally ended up eating some old, dried-out turkey that had already been in the refrigerator for a week.

So my question is, how does this happen? I mean really, how is such a thing even possible, even theoretically?

Malaise, 21st century style

I've never been more disgusted with partisan politics than I am right now, and that's saying quite a bit. Unfortunately, it's probably too late to heed George Washington's famous advice about political parties, so I guess we're stuck with them.

This current bout of disgust was probably triggered by yesterday's Patriot Act vote, but it's not really about any one thing. It's about a political culture in which the important issues of the day are obscured by what might as well be a bitter collegiate rivalry.

The Democrats stand for nothing, absolutely nothing other than mindless, knee-jerk opposition to Bush -- if he says up, they say down; if he says left, they say right. I swear, for a party that holds the president in such disdain, they sure do give him a lot of power, essentially allowing him to dictate their entire agenda, such as it is.

Republicans, of course, do the same in reverse, blindly opposing anything viewed as helpful to or desirable by the Democrats. I don't mind some good, old-fashioned partisan mudslinging when there are actual principles at stake, but that's almost never the case these days. What we get instead are naked, partisan food fights.

You know what? I hope the Republicans lose at least one chamber of Congress next year, I swear I do. Yes, I realize that would leave the Democrats in charge. Yes, I realize the Democrats are gaping assholes, almost to a person. And yes, I realize their claims to be the party of fiscal conservatism are ludicrous.

But forget about them for a moment, because it isn't really about them. It's about Republican congressional leadership. It's about holding the party to account for becoming far too comfortable in power, and far too mired in the culture of Beltway corruption. They've exchanged the principles of limited government and fiscal restraint for the spoils of political patronage. I think there must be a cost for that, and threatening me with the specter of Harry Reid is insufficient to dissuade me. How bad could it be, really? It seems to me the Republicans were much more effective at holding down government spending when they were in the minority anyway.

So that's my wish... but it's not my prediction. No, I see the GOP losing ground in both houses during the mid-terms, but it's difficult to imagine the Democrats could actually gain control over either. Obviously, things could change over the course of next year, but that's how I see it now.

In short, I'm not looking for the mid-terms to change very much. That's a depressing thought, because barring the unforeseen, we're looking at at least another three years of this.

I sense this blog becoming decidedly less political in the months ahead....

A neat idea

Peter Jackson's "King Kong" is faring much worse than expected at the box office so far. I actually think Jonah Goldberg is onto something when he says people are hesitant to go see it when they know in advance that it's going to have such a bummer of an ending. That's true in my case, anyway, and I've been excited about this movie for a long time.

But my wife had an interesting thought this morning: What if Peter Jackson had decided to remake the movie with a much happier ending, but had conspired with the media to keep it a secret?

That woulda been cool....

December 16, 2005

Patriot renewal filibustered

The vote for cloture was 52 to 47, 8 votes short of the 60 needed to avert a threatened filibuster by Russ Feingold. At issue, of course, were certain provisions of the Patriot Act that are slated to expire if not explicitly renewed by year's end.

Lots of people will have opinions as to whether this is good or bad, but how many of them have even bothered to become familiar with the actual provisions at issue and what they mean? Not many, I'd bet, on either side.

I'll list them here because I think it's important to know what's at stake. I see the provisions overall as sort of a mixed bag, as I think most mainstream people would. There is baby here as well as bathwater.

So the next logical step would seem to me to fine-tune the package, so that it can better assist our law enforcement and prevention efforts without exacting too burdensome a toll on civil liberties. Some provisions could be retained, others tossed out. Some weakened, others augmented.

Unfortunately, that option doesn't seem to be on the table. It's up-or-down on the whole package, and then get out of town for Christmas vacation as fast as possible, baby!

Welcome to Washington.

But before the conservative hankies and liberal champagne bottles come out, just take a moment to look at exactly what's at stake. Conservatives, do you really think we need all these provisions to fight the GWOT? Liberals, do you really feel comfortable shit-canning all of these?

Section 201: Gives federal officials the authority to intercept wire, spoken and electronic communications relating to terrorism.

Section 202: Gives federal officials the authority to intercept wire, spoken and electronic communications relating to computer fraud and abuse offenses.

Subsection 203(b): Permits the sharing of grand jury information that involves foreign intelligence or counterintelligence with federal law enforcement, intelligence, protective, immigration, national defense or national security officials

Subsection 203(d): Gives foreign intelligence or counterintelligence officers the ability to share foreign intelligence information obtained as part of a criminal investigation with law enforcement.

Section 204: Makes clear that nothing in the law regarding pen registers -- an electronic device which records all numbers dialed from a particular phone line -- stops the government's ability to obtain foreign intelligence information.

Section 206: Allows federal officials to issue roving "John Doe" wiretaps for spy and anti-terrorism investigations.

Section 207: Increases the amount of time that federal officials may watch people they suspect are spies or terrorists.

Section 209: Permits the seizure of voicemail messages under a warrant.

Section 212: Permits Internet service providers and other electronic communication and remote computing service providers to hand over records and e-mails to federal officials in emergency situations.

Section 214: Allows use of a pen register or trap and trace devices -- a device that records the originating phone numbers of all incoming calls on a particular phone line -- in international terrorism or spy investigations.

Section 215: Authorizes federal officials to obtain "tangible items" like business records, including those from libraries and bookstores, for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations.

Section 217: Makes it lawful to intercept the wire or electronic communication of a computer hacker or intruder in certain circumstances.

Section 218: Allows federal officials to wiretap or watch suspects if foreign intelligence gathering is a "significant purpose" for seeking a Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act order. The pre-Patriot Act standard said officials could ask for the surveillance only if it was "the" sole or main purpose.

Section 220: Provides for nationwide service of search warrants for electronic evidence.

Section 223: Amends the federal criminal code to provide for administrative discipline of federal officers or employees who violate prohibitions against unauthorized disclosures of information gathered under this act.

Section 225: Amends FISA to prohibit lawsuits against people or companies that provide information to federal officials for a terrorism investigation.

Oh well, doesn't matter. It's time for Congress to adjourn. Gotta beat that Beltway traffic, after all.

Okay, now it's official

The Democratic Party will not stake out a position on Iraq.

Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq.
"There is no one Democratic voice . . . and there is no one Democratic position," Pelosi said in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors.

Understandable. I mean especially since having a muddled, incoherent view of the war worked so well for them in 2004.

The West wakes up to Iran

The good news is that America and other Western nations finally seem to have realized that Iran is being governed by a gibbering lunatic. Better late than never, I suppose. Incendiary anti-Western rhetoric and the routine execution of homosexuals and adulterers could never quite rouse the Western intelligentsia from its collective slumber, but when President Ahmadinejad recently took the terribly non-PC step of denying the Holocaust, that seems to have finally done the trick.

Well that's good, I'd say. I'm a bit bemused at why this one comment suddenly opened the floodgates of condemnation, but, well, them's Western sensibilities for you, I guess.

Now please don't misunderstand me. Holocaust deniers are terrible people. But honestly, in the Middle East, how rare can they be? I'd say they're about a dime a million over there, frankly. We've even got them in this country -- David Duke springs to mind. The big difference, of course, is that David Duke, so far as we know, is not on the verge of acquiring a nuclear arsenal.

I, like Charles Krauthammer, am a bit less concerned by his insensitive and unenlightened rhetoric than by the fact that he seems hell-bent on developing a nuclear missile and pointing it at Israel.

Everyone knows where Iran's nuclear weapons will be aimed. Everyone knows they will be put on Shahab rockets, which have been modified so that they can reach Israel. And everyone knows that if the button is ever pushed, it will be the end of Israel.

But it gets worse. The president of a country about to go nuclear is a confirmed believer in the coming apocalypse. Like Judaism and Christianity, Shiite Islam has its own version of the messianic return -- the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam. The more devout believers in Iran pray at the Jamkaran mosque, which houses a well from which, some believe, he will emerge.

When Ahmadinejad unexpectedly won the presidential elections, he immediately gave $17 million of government funds to the shrine. Last month Ahmadinejad said publicly that the main mission of the Islamic Revolution is to pave the way for the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam.

And as in some versions of fundamentalist Christianity, the second coming will be accompanied by the usual trials and tribulations, death and destruction. Iranian journalist Hossein Bastani reported Ahmadinejad saying in official meetings that the hidden imam will reappear in two years.

So at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what made us start paying attention to this freak. The important thing is that we continue to do so. Let's please not take our eyes off the ball on this one.

Spying on Americans

The New York Times reports that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the National Security Agency became authorized to snoop into telephone and e-mail conversations of American citizens without warrants on a limited basis.

It's hard to imagine this wouldn't turn into a turf battle with the FBI, isn't it? But as you read further into the article, you begin to realize there's a bit less here than originally met the eye. The departure from precedent is really more one of degree than of kind.

The warrantless surveillance of domestic communications requires two things: First, there must be some connection to known or alleged terrorist suspects, and second, one endpoint of the communication channel must be outside the United States.

To be sure, the job of preventing terror attacks on our homeland is daunting enough even when we are using every tool at our disposal, so I can certainly understand the reasoning here. Honestly, I wouldn't have much of a problem with this NSA policy, if

  1. There were some judicial oversight, or some other controlling authority to oversee the process.
  2. Information garnered in this fashion were used exclusively to prevent terrorist attacks, not to be used as criminal evidence in a court of law.

That the new policy allows the NSA to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court gives me some pause regarding the first point. I don't honestly have a great deal of confidence in the second point, either. Look, for example, at some of the anti-drug measures that are being injected into the Patriot Act debate.

It certainly raises some ethical issues (not to mention legal and constitutional ones) that are less than clear. Suppose, for example, that you're an NSA operative monitoring a phone conversation when you learn that a major drug deal is about to go down? What do you? For me, that's pretty straightforward. You ignore it and continue to look for terrorists.

But what if you happened to overhear specific details about a planned murder of a jealous spouse, for example? Yes, it's probably unlikely, but you have to think about these things. What do you do? Honestly, I would be hard-pressed not to act if I were in possession of such information, even if I were to do nothing but place an anonymous phone tip to the local authorities.

I think we all understand that there is ultimately a trade-off to be made between freedom and security. There are many crimes that take place on a daily basis that could be prevented if we lived in a police state. That's a greater sacrifice than we're willing to make, however.

It's not an easy job to know exactly where to draw the line, and, as in many other areas, it's only going to get more difficult as technology increases. Systems like Echelon bring up ethical issues that we couldn't have even dreamed of 20 years ago.

No one feels comfortable wading into these murky, uncharted waters. Given the current state of things, I don't see any way of avoiding it, however.

December 15, 2005

I actually like cold weather

But even I, on brutal, bone-chilling days like today, sometimes miss the summer.

Here's a picture of my wife and puppy during a canoe trip back in August. I wouldn't mind being back there right now.

Containing the AMT

Time is running out for Congress to prevent another estimated 15 million Americans from becoming subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) this year.

The AMT was created in 1970 to ensure that wealthy taxpayers pay their "fair share." Too many evil, rich Republicans were exploiting legal tax loopholes and not paying enough in taxes, see?

So what's the obvious solution? Fix the loopholes? Or create a redundant, parallel tax structure that eliminates the deductions, and require taxpayers to calculate their tax liability both ways and pay whichever one is greater?

Duh, what do you think? Congress chose the latter, and now we're stuck with it. For a while, it was only a horrifically unfair pain in the ass for the truly wealthy, but, since it was never indexed for inflation, it's begun to affect more and more middle class families in recent years.

In short, the AMT is yet another in a long line of nutty, progressive "soak the rich" tax schemes that has come back to bite the middle class in the ass. It's part of a long tradition. Recall that the income tax itself began as a tax only on the "wealthy."

Sooner or later, the AMT problem is going to have to be dealt with once and for all, not just patched together with Band-Aids every calendar year. In the meantime, let's please try to remember the lessons of history the next time we're faced with the temptation to implement the next dorky, anti-rich "fair share" gimmick that comes down the pike.

(Hat tip: Skippy)

Ever notice...

...how some words sound dirty but really aren't?

Like kumquat.

...yes, I'm still busy....

A cool thing...

...which is interesting. I saw a sundog on my way into work today. (I never did know why they called them that.)

Yes, I'm still preoccupied with legal stuff. Should be finished soon.

December 14, 2005

Yet another reason...

...to subscribe to XM Radio.

Singer Bob Dylan will host a weekly radio music show on XM Satellite Radio beginning in March.

The hourlong show will be a mix of music hand-selected by Dylan as well as commentary, XM, which claims more than 5 million subscribers, announced Tuesday. Dylan also will interview guests, including other artists.

"Songs and music have always inspired me," Dylan was quoted as saying in the statement. "A lot of my own songs have been played on the radio, but this is the first time I've ever been on the other side of the mic. It'll be as exciting for me as it is for XM."

The times, they are a-changin' indeed. Heh, I love this line from the Washington Post.

Once an almost reclusive figure, Dylan, 64, lately has attained about as much exposure as an Olsen twin.

Couldn't make it to the Tookie vigil?

That's okay. Zombie took pictures. Lots of them.

A pointless family anecdote

A few years ago, someone asked my father whom he'd choose to be stranded with for a month on a desert island if he could pick anyone in the world. He paused a moment to give this the serious consideration such matters warrant before finally deciding on Halle Berry, a perfectly reasonable choice.

This was back before Ms. Berry became a household name*, however, and it was one that didn't come easily to my Dad. What came out was, "I don't know. Haley Barbour, I guess."

That's why I can't help giggling every time Barbour's name comes up in the news, as it's doing now with the case of Cory Maye.

Oh well, I told you it was pointless. Back to my legal chores.

*This was well before Berry won the Oscar for "Best Performance by a White Women Pretending to be the First Black Woman to Win the Best Actress Award."

December 13, 2005

Programming note

Sorry about the radio silence. I'm in the middle of some legal stuff that's taking up a lot of my time. (And no, there is absolutely nothing even remotely interesting going on. It's all very mundane and boring, trust me.)

Anyway, I hope to get this wrapped up within the next 24 hours or so. Be back soon.

December 12, 2005

Tookie vs. Cory

First of all, I'm not a big fan of the death penalty.

But the reason I'm not a big fan is because I mistrust our judicial system to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That does not seem to be the central issue surrounding the whole Tookie Willams debate, however. Rather, the debate seems to center around the fact that Tookie has been a real nicey-nice while he's been in prison.

Well screw that.

Seriously. Fry the bastard. If you're legally executed in the state of California then chances are you richly deserve it. Rallying around Tookie Williams and holding candlelight vigils for him make you look like the brainless, liberal caricature you are (and I'm talking to you, Mike Farrell.) And if you've gone the past 24 years without saying a word about this guy, only to pop up for the TV cameras at the last minute? Then you're doubly a knee-jerk, bleedin'-heart Hollywood limousine liberal.

Look, folks, this is not the poster boy for your anti-deaath penalty crusade. If you're looking for a cause célèbre, how about Cory Maye, a guy who's actually, you know, innocent?

Just like Mommy does

Seriously, come on. I know Barbra Streisand has ventured into kidlit in the past. Please tell me this is Babs writing under a pen name, right? Right?

As K would say, I am without words. Peek inside if you dare.

(Hat tip: Cosmo)

Le gangstêre rap

Looks like the societal rifts in France have worked their way into the pop culture. Check out some of the rap lyrics from guys like "Monsieur R" (no, I did not make that up) from his latest record, "FranSSe."

In the song, Monsieur R attacks the republic and its historical heroes: "France is a slut, don't forget to fuck her until you completely squeeze her; bro, you need to treat her like a whore, and I piss on Napolean and on General de Gaulle."

The whole article is well worth a read.

Three questions about Joe

Isn't it time for Joe Lieberman and Lowell Weicker to just switch parties?

Also, some Democrats have taken to referring to Lieberman and others as "Dreydelcrats". Can you imagine if a Republican were to say such a thing?

Finally, I wonder if Democrats now regret allowing Joe to run for that Senate seat while he was simultaneously campaigning for VP?

Hope so.

Cool trivia

Hey, guess what I just found out? Those two cool-ass lions outside the New York Public Library have names. Uh... now I forget what they are, exactly. I think they were both virtues, like... Lassitude and... Tumescence... or something. Anyway, they have names.

I liked it during the Subway Series when they were wearing Mets and Yankees hats.

My good fortune

I just found a $20 bill on the sidewalk while walking the dog. I interpret this good fortune as confirmation that I am living well and that all of the opinions on this blog are correct.

Podcasting bleg

I'm looking for new interesting or entertaining Podcasts to help distract me from the horrors and torments of the gym. If you know of any good ones (or better yet, if you have one of your own) just zip me an e-mail.

On a related note, some people have asked me why I don't Podcast. Well, you've heard of a "face made for radio?" I've got a "voice made for blogging."

December 11, 2005

Righties should rally 'round Corey

I've been following the case of Cory Maye ever since Radley Balko first reported it last week. The story is beginning to get some attention throughout the blogosphere, primarily on the left.

I don't think that's good enough. I think the right-wing blogs need to get solidly behind this case for three reasons. First, we're supposedly more influential. Second, this should really be a bi-partisan issue. Third, and most importantly, the lefty blogs are simply not handling it properly.

Seriously, every liberal blog I've read yet has taken the opportunity to object to having guns in the house or to oppose the death penalty in general. To focus on these issues is, in my opinion, to trivialize a terrifying miscarriage of justice.

Frankly, to say that everything would have been fine and dandy if Cory Maye had simply been a good little defenseless, unarmed sheep citizen when the jackboots kicked his door not only misses the point, but is patently offensive, in my opinion. It's akin to saying the rape victim would have been A-okay if she hadn't been walking in a shady neighborhood in a mini-skirt at that time of night.

And as far as the death penalty goes, I'm not a big fan either, but this case is about much, much more than that. Cory Maye should never have gone to prison in the first place.

Those still unfamiliar with the case should read Radley's original account linked above, along with his subsequent updates, but it seems to me that Cory Maye acted precisely as any reasonable person might who is home with his young daughter and is awakened in the middle of the night by unannounced cops with a no-knock warrant kicking in the door. And bear in mind that this is not merely the story of a legitimate raid gone wrong. Cory Maye had no criminal record and was not even the target of the warrant.

Maye shot and killed one of the cops. The cop's death is certainly tragic, but, like the recent airport shooting in the Miami airport, seems understandable given the circumstances.

And yet Maye sits on death row. There is much more to the story than I've given here, and I encourage everyone to go to Radley's site to keep up to date with all the details. The more you read the angrier you'll get.

Don't be distracted by debates about the death penalty or home defense. Those are sideshows. This is a very disturbing story of wanton abuse of government power compounded by gross ineptitude. This is the very substance of why conservatives are supposed to be mistrustful of government power.

So how about you right-wing blogs that are much bigger than I am getting behind this one and bringing some pressure to bear? Haley Barbour demonstrated impeccable leadership in the aftermath of Katrina. Let's see if we can get him to show some more leadership -- by commuting Maye's sentence.

December 09, 2005

Boredom watch

I just sent a PJL job to all the network printers to change their LCD displays to read "INSERT COIN."


Clocking out soon

It's obvious that no work is going to get done here today. I think I'm going to head out pretty soon to lower my risk of heart attacks.

According to Dr. Stampfer, the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption -- generally defined as no more than one alcoholic beverage a day for a woman and no more than two for a man -- are "in the same league" as those from exercise, which gets considerably more attention as a health enhancer. Dr. Stampfer says studies suggest that nondrinkers face a 60% higher risk of coronary-artery disease than do moderate drinkers.

And it's not just for heart attacks, either.

The nation's most cited epidemiologist for the two decades ended in 2002, Dr. Stampfer has been an author on more than 50 research papers measuring the health implications of moderate drinking, which has been found to be associated with lower rates of heart attack, diabetes and other ailments.

I think it's safe to say that "other ailments" almost certainly encompasses "boredom." And, for that matter (dare I say it?) perhaps even "ennui."

This just in


New York - A new IPSOS/CNN survey of Americans released today showed widespread support for using "aggressive interrogation techniques" on DNC Chairman Howard Dean, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and forced reading of Andrew Sullivan.

The surprising result comes amid growing controversy over US-run foreign "black site" detention centers, and Dean's interview remarks that "the pathetic US Military is doomed to defeat in Iraq, against Zarqawi's gallant legions of dashing and invicible super he-men."

IPSOS pollster Kathy Findley said that the results were not universally bad for the former Vermont governor, noting that "public support for Dean's hypothetical torture dropped significantly below 50% when when it involved extreme measures, such as genital electrodes or exposure to Barbra Streisand albums."

"It's my dad's fault"

So yesterday my friend and I were sitting in a bar bemoaning the fact that our consulting business hadn't done so well this year. The truth is we both got happy and lazy with our day jobs of late, and our side enterprises have suffered as a result.

"It's my dad's fault," my friend said.

"How's that?"

"When I was a kid, I decided I wanted to start a paper route to earn some extra cash. Dad tried to discourage me, by pointing out how early I would have to get up, and how I would be a slave to the routine, with no choice but to venture out in all kinds of horrible weather and never have a single day off and so forth.

"I think he thought all that would dissuade me. Then he asked me, 'So are you sure you still want a paper route?' I thought about it and then said "Yes," and he replied with, 'Well, you're stupid.' I never did the paper route, and I think that one experience destroyed my entire entrepreneurial drive for the rest of my life."

I explained to my friend that he is a whiny pussy. "How do you ever expect to get anywhere if your ambition is so easily thwarted?" I asked. "Do you think Bill Gates or Larry Ellison or Michael Dell could have had their motivation completely derailed by one, single negative comment?"


I explained to him that his lame-ass story was just an excuse, and the real reason for our mediocre financial year was that we spent too little time working at our side jobs and too much time sitting in the bar bitching about them.

Anyway, we've got a new year coming up soon, so I'm sure we'll both resolve to do better in 2006. There's even wireless access in the bar, so next time I'll bring my laptop and maybe even write a few lines of code while we drink.

And uh...

Yes, I'm still bored here.... Is it that obvious?

I was wondering

The same company makes both Crest toothpaste and Head & Shoulders shampoo. The two substances look remarkably similar. Coincidence? Oh please, don't be so naive.


Okay, I braved about 15 feet of snow to slip and slide my way into work today. Now I feel like an idiot for being here. I am alone and (can you tell?) bored....

December 08, 2005

Announcing my candidacy

As I mentioned earlier, Jon Corzine has announced that congressman Robert Menendez will serve the remainder of Corzine's term as senator when Corzine moves into (or doesn't) the governor's mansion.

The thing is, that will leave my congressional district unrepresented. Now I'm a relative newcomer to Jersey politics, and I don't know all the details of how things work, but the general rule of thumb seems to be "The governor makes the rules."

I'm led to assume, then, that Jon Corzine will backfill Menendez's House seat as well. Governor-elect Corzine, if you're reading this, I'd like to encourage you to appoint me to represent New Jersey's 13th district, in the spirit of bipartisanship and "reaching out."

Rest assured that I would be the kind of "Republican" that New Jersey can be comfortable with. I am staunchly pro-choice and pro-stem cell research. I'm also pro-assault weapon, but, well, you can't have everything.

Ted Rall watch

Okay, I'm accustomed to Ted Rall's intentionally offensive, puerile, desperate please for attention that he calls "cartoons," but... what the hell?

Does anyone get this? Has Rall completely left the boat? Is someone monitoring his meds? Anyone? Bueller?

First they came for Napster

I'm an XM radio addict, as I've mentioned before, and some of the new XM portable devices coming down the pike are so cool that Jesus invented them. They're a bit like an iPod. Not only can you walk around and listen to XM music, but you can save tunes onto the device, create and manage playlists, etc.

I guess it's predictable that the music industry would freak out. But really, recording songs of the radio? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this just a technological refinement of exactly what we all used to do in high school with cassette tapes?


I realize this isn't exactly topical, but am I the only person who makes a mad dash for the remote and changes the channel whenever HBO's "Deadwood" starts coming on?

I'm hardly a squeamish viewer, but that has to be the most disturbing show on TV these days. Moreover, the show's entire premise seems to be to demonstrate that cowboys said "pussy" a lot in the Old West.

I hate that show.

Persistent rumors

My God, these Joe-Lieberman-for-SecDef rumors are still flying. Where the hell did they come from?

Just for the record, I'm not buying it.

Corzine repays his political patrons

I'd always thought the main advantage in electing a bazillionaire to public office was that he wouldn't be beholden to the usual array of petty thugs, sleazy political hacks and kingmakers.

Whatever remaining doubt I had that Corzine was in the pocket of George Norcross and his crooked political machine was laid to rest today when Corzine nominated Robert Menendez to backfill his U.S. Senate seat. Menendez is the party boss of the Hudson County Democratic machine, arguably one of the most corrupt party operations outside of Louisiana.

Welcome to New Jersey.

When air marshals attack

Maybe I'm just cynical, but I'd always suspected that the percentage of flights with air marshals was relatively small, and that the marshals were a token presence on a handful of routes, more to provide psychological comfort than anything else. I'm now beginning to suspect that they may be more common than I realized. I mean, yesterday's flight was Miami-Orlando, after all, not Heathrow-Logan.

Yesterday's shooting death? of a mentally ill man was a tragedy, plain and simple. It's heartbreaking to read the news accounts.

Still, I have to say that the marshal responded exactly as I'd want him to under the circumstances. It appears that not only are the air marshals out there on duty, but that they're vigilant and willing to use deadly force, if necessary, to ensure the safety of the skies.

There will, of course, be the usual chorus of accusations and second-guessing in the wake of this tragedy. And rest assured that the loudest screeching will come from the very same quarters that have complained for four years that "nothing has changed" and thar air travel is "no safer" than it was before September 11.

More blogswarming

The digital age has changed everything, sneaking up on entire industries that were wholly unprepared to face the new challenges it posed -- the entertainment industry, publishing, the telcos, etc.

Now I personally don't care if (for example) the hidebound music industry's slowness to adapt costs it a few billion dollars in profit. But one aspect of our lives that we can't afford to lag behind the curve is our electoral process. Computerized voting is fine, I suppose, for such places as want it, but I believe that an auditable paper trail and a hard-copy archive are a crucially important component of any voting system, electronic or otherwise.

That's why I'm supporting HR 550. The bill faces an uphill battle, I'm afraid, if for no other reason than that it's crafted by a member of the minority party. That's unfortunate, but them's the times we live in. All the more reason that if you have any spare time for political activism, this is a cause you may want to consider supporting.

All right, I'll stop soapboxing now. Just remember, I don't subject my readers to ads or pledge drives, so this is just the price you pay for my peculiar blend of neolibertarian politics and half-assed commentary.

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December 07, 2005

Heh, heh

Remember when the French thought that EuroDisney was a "cultural Chernobyl?" I wonder how they'd react to this.

Is Wal-Mart the Answer to France's Problems?

I recently found myself asking a fairly bizarre economic question: Would the disaffected youth torching cars in France be happier if they could get jobs at Wal-Mart? If you think I'm kidding, I'm not.

The author goes on to contrast and compare the American and French styles of capitalism, but he carefully stops short of drawing a definitive conclusion. I can't profess to know whether the French would be better of with Wal-Mart or not either, but I confess there's a part of me that would immensely enjoy watching that most despised symbol of soulless, cutthroat American capitalism springing up around the Parisian banlieue. Does that make me bad?

Best quote of the day

On days like this when I'm starting to feel overwhelmed by the pressures of work and other responsibilities, I can always count on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal to bolster my spirits. This paragraph from today's paper cheered me up immensely.

One of Europe's moral conceits is to fret constantly about the looming outbreak of fascism in America, even though it is on the Continent itself where the dictators seem to pop up every couple of decades. Then Europe dials 9-11, and Washington dutifully rides to the rescue. The last time was just a few years ago, as U.S. firepower stopped Slobodan Milosevic, who had bedeviled Europe for years.

Tee hee.

The context was discussing Europe's phony-baloney hand-wringing about "secret" CIA prisons on European soil. The whole thing is well worth a read, but the graf above stands on its own.

And why it's good and noble to openly discuss "secret" CIA prisons while it's treasonous to mention that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA is left as an exercise for the reader.

"We don't need no steenking policy," part whatever

As I've noted in recent days, the active disdain many Democrats have towards the idea of having an actual, you know, policy regarding Iraq seems to be catching on. This "anti-strategy" strategy has been enthusiastically embraced by lefty bloggers and even by some of my commenters, and now it looks like "Osama bin ... Osama ... Obama" might be getting in on the act himself.

Sen. Barack Obama said Monday that the Democratic Party was unlikely to reconcile its differences and reach a unified strategy for Iraq, conceding: "The politics and the policy of this may not match perfectly."

As Democrats work to win control of Congress in the 2006 elections, Obama (D-Ill.) said a cacophony of views over the Iraq war threatens to divide the party once again.

How's this for a slogan? "The Democratic Party: Proudly lacking an Iraq policy since the turn of the century."

To be fair to Obama, he's a bit more pragmatic than many others. He seems to recognize that having a coherent policy would at least be desirable in theory, but it's complicated by "realities on the ground," so to speak. There are many among the Kos/MoveOn axis, however, who are actively trying to spin their party's incoherence into some kind of virtue. Lotsa luck.

Pearl Harbor Day

I doubt I need to remind anyone, but today is the 64th anniversary of the surprise Japanese bombing raid on Pearl Harbor. The attack galvanized a nation, but FDR was quick to cynically manipulate the tragedy to justify sending troops to North Africa and to have them fight the Italians. Crazy neocon.

Iraq and Vietnam

It's regrettable that so much ink still needs to be spilled to remind people why Iraq is not Vietnam. Still, Frederick Kagan does a fairly comprehensive job in the new Policy Review.

December 06, 2005

More Democratic foreign policy wisdom

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, I'd like to present some more gems of Democratic wisdom on Iraq, courtesy of the Washington Post.

Madeleine Albright: "The American military is both the problem and the solution. They are a magnet [for insurgents] but they're also helping with security," she said, adding that Washington needs to ease Middle East anxieties by declaring it wants no permanent bases in Iraq.

Wes Clark: "Everybody wants to talk troops, but everyone knows we can't win this with troops alone," Clark said. The United States needs to make Iraq's neighbors, including Syria and Iran, "part of the solution, not part of the problem."

Richard Holbrooke: "I don't believe in an arbitrary drawdown, whether it's Vietnam or Bosnia or Iraq," said Holbrooke, adding that a departure must be "based on realities on the ground."

No wonder the Dems can't gain any traction despite the growing unpopularity of the war. To quote Reason magazine (no GOP shills, they):

These guys make the Bush admin look like rocket scientists (and not the sort who work for NASA).

Gotta run!

Off to bag me some bears!

Honey, no need to cook. I'll be taking care of dinner tonight!

Sarkozy comes out swinging

...and he's attacking the French/European Left!

Last month I wrote about the former lefty French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut and his surprisingly frank comments pertaining to the French riots. This comes as no surprise, of course, but Finkielkraut has been on the ropes ever since his controversial statements were made public, and, by some accounts, has practically become a recluse of late.

This weekend, however, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy came to the rescue, uttering some surprisingly frank comments of his own.

"Monsieur Finkielkraut is an intellectual who brings honor and pride to French wisdom ... If there is so much criticism of him, it might be because he says things that are correct."

Wow. That took balls for a high-ranking government official to say. But wait, there's more.

"What do you want of him?" he asked the media representatives. "M. Finkielkraut does not consider himself obliged to follow the monolithic thinking of many intellectuals, which led to Le Pen winning 24 percent in the elections. The philosophers who frequent the salons and live between Cafe de Flor and Boulevard St. Germain suddenly find that France no longer bears a resemblance to them."

Sarkozy must have imported that can of whup-ass from Texas.

This is an unprecedented attack on the left wing by the very person who is seen by many French as being the only one capable of preventing the disintegration of the republic. The cafes and bistros of Boulevard St. Germain and the narrow alleyways of St. Germain-des-Pres were traditionally frequented by members of the left, led by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who would take their morning coffee and read the newspapers there. When the socialists came to power under Francois Mitterand in 1981, the celebrations there were legendary. But of late, the area has lost some of its left-wing color.

Well, somebody had to do it. France (along with much of western Europe) has serious problems which many of its leaders are reluctant to face head-on. If mainstream political leaders don't address these very real concerns, then rest assured someone like Le Pen will. I'm glad that Sarkozy, at least, understands that.

Fact checking the fact checker

I'm a frequent reader of Snopes myself, but I have always been a bit bemused by the way people will cite Snopes dispositively in an argument, as if it the site emanated from mountsinai.com.

Well XRLQ has compiled quite a few examples of apparent bias in Snopes entries from the past. Check it out, I think he has a point.

(Hat tip: Dean)

December 05, 2005

Democratic policy on Iraq

What is the Democratic policy on Iraq? Armando over at Daily Kos doesn't even think they need one.

What Good Is a Democratic Iraq Policy?

I have written before that the search for a Democratic policy on Iraq is a foolish pointless exercise.

I think I already knew that a lot of Democrats felt this way, but this is the first time I've seen someone assert the anti-strategy strategy so forcefully and publicly.

It sounds bizarre to me. I mean, you'd think the lack of a plan (and particularly the intentional lack of one) would be a political handicap, right?

But who knows, Armando may have a point. Check out this excerpt from a recent attempt by Democratic leaders to propose a "national security vision" regarding Iraq.

However, we do not believe that strict timetables for withdrawing American troops from Iraq are strategically appropriate, but instead support the setting of concrete benchmarks for success. Second, we must step up the training of Iraqi security forces -- army, border guards, building guards, police and special counter-terrorism units -- so that we can turn over to Iraqis the responsibility for securing their own country.

In other words, it's exactly the same as the Republican plan. If they can't come up with anything better, it's no wonder they'd rather wade into 2006 empty-handed. The president's critics, as Jeff Goldstein observes have much better luck framing Iraq policy goals in negative, rather than positive terms.

So much for free speech

Freedom of speech is not absolute, and we all know there are necessary limitations to this right. You know, like slander, libel, and talking about Joe Wilson's super-duper-double-pinky-swear-top-secret-agent wife.

Well the mayor of Boston has just added another limit: t-shirts that say "Stop Snitchin."

No, I'm serious. Boston's Mayor Menino is so offended by this fashion faux pas that he's ordered the shirts banned.

For a city with a reputation as being a bastion of liberal values, Boston has an equally rich history of censorship. In the latest crackdown, Boston mayor Thomas Menino has called for city Inspectional Services Division officials to seize all t-shirts bearing the message "Stop Snitchin'."

"It's wrong," Menino said. "We are going into every retail store that sells the shirts and remove them."

All right, I know this isn't exactly a life-and-death issue, but isn't it a bit unsettling anyway? If freedom of expression applies only to expression that doesn't offend the government, then what's the point in having it?

Be Here to Love Me

There's an interesting new movie out, but in order to see it I'll probably have to brave the Angelika and sit with a bunch of spoiled white liberals ("There's starvation in Africa... and there's too much foam on my soy vanilla latte!!")

Small price to pay, though, because Townes van Zandt is (was) one of my favorite songwriters, and I'm gratified that someone would choose to make a film of his life, even if it isn't big-budget box office like Ray or Walk the Line.

Like Charles, Cash and countless others, Townes was a musical genius who struggled with self-destructive impulses -- except that Townes usually lost. He died of alcohol-related "issues" in 1997, at the age of 52. He pushed the envelope quite a bit farther than many of his peers. He once jumped from a four-story building to "see what it felt like," and survived three rounds of Russian roulette with Steve Earle. He started early, too. As a youth, he once fell asleep while huffing glue. He awoke with his teeth all glued up and had to knock them out with a hammer. The term "troubled" doesn't quite seem to cut it somehow.

Most of you have probably never heard his name or even heard him sing (he couldn't), but chances are you've heard a song of his at some point. They have been covered by Bob Dylan, the Cowboy Junkies, Norah Jones and virtually every country artist I have any respect for at all.

When I tried to decide which TVZ song I would choose to play for a newbie by way of introduction, there were just too many to choose from. I finally picked this one more or less at random. It's Townes singing "No Lonesome Tune."

If you're curious about his music but you find his voice puts you off, might I recommend this tribute CD. It's a great sampling of TVZ tunes sung by other people.

The "War on Christmas"

I agree with Glenn. This whole "War on Christmas" meme is a bit silly.

There is no war. There is only a bunch of gutless, PC wussies who are afraid to utter the word. That can be grating, of course, but that doesn't make it a "war."

To me, it's simple. If you mean Christmas, say "Christmas." If you mean Hanukkah, say "Hanukkah." If you need to keep it intentionally unspecific, then just say "holiday." There are times when that's appropriate. (But please, for God's sake, avoid ridiculous constructs like "holiday tree." God, that's just horrible. There is no "holiday tree." It's a "Christmas tree." That's what it is.)

Say "Christmas" all you like. Give it a shot. I promise you won't be shot for it.

BTW, am I correct in thinking these PC, Christmas-phobic sensibilities are largely confined to the Anglosphere? (Sort of like how English people feel compelled to refer to themselves as "British" these days?) I never noticed that kind of reluctance in France, for example. Parisians unhesitatingly said Joyeux Noël! when I was there, and it's not exactly like Paris was lacking in diversity.

December 04, 2005

Disappointed by the Dead

Anyone who's ever been to archive.org understands how cool it is. Not only is there the Wayback machine, guaranteed to embarrass bloggers for decades to come, but there is also the extensive audio and video archive.

I just downloaded and watched the movie White Zombie in its entirety, for example. I hadn't seen that since Creature Feature when I was a little kid. The audio archives are even more fun, as they contain decades of live music concerts, ready to download and burn to CD.

Okay, it helps to be a Grateful Dead fan... or at least The Cowboy Junkies. The two groups alone represent a substantial fraction of the website's concert offerings.

That should come as no surprise, as the Grateful Dead, for as long as I can remember, have actively encouraged the taping of their concerts and the free trading of "bootleg" concert tapes among their fans. In fact, I often cite the Dead when I'm arguing copyright law and piracy with recording industry apologists who hide behind the spectre of the "poor, starving musician."

That's bullshit and it always has been. You'd expect no one to understand that better than the Dead themselves. That's why I was shocked and dismayed to read this.

A week after some of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead ordered a nonprofit site to remove free downloads of the seminal jam band's concerts--sparking massive online backlash and a Deadhead petition calling for a boycott of all band-related merchandise--the band has reversed its position.

"The Grateful Dead remains as it always has--in favor of tape trading," spokesman Dennis McNally tells the Associated Press.

The move was so disappointing that archive.org itself tried to provide the band with a fig leaf.

The operators of the targeted site, Live Music Archive (archive.org) tried to deflect some of the criticism from the band, blaming a quick trigger finger for removing the sets from the Web.

"We at archive.org now realize that our mistaken attempts to move quickly were based on what we thought the Grateful Dead wanted. For this we apologize both to the Grateful Dead and their community. There has been a great deal of reaction, our actions have caused more than necessary."

By the time I'd heard about the whole debacle, the band had already backtracked. I was relieved about that, but then I read this ominous bit.

There is a caveat: The site will restore fan-made recordings; however, the more pristine soundboard recordings will remain off-limits for now.

The bastards!

What the hell are they thinking? These people have a legacy to think about, fer crissakes.

Argh. Well fortunately, I've already downloaded and burned a handful of terriffic Dead concerts before this all transpired. It's still sad, ugly business, though.

BTW, I'd like to take this opportunity to segue into a somewhat-related programming note, if you don't mind.

As you probably know, I've been talking about a long-overdue redesign of this site for a while. I'm going to finally do it sometime after the new year, and it's going to coincide with another major change as well.

I'm going to convert this site to a quasi-anonymous blog. I say "quasi" because regular readers will automatically get redirected to the new site, and it will be painfully obvious to anyone who knows me who I am. Moreover, anyone with a casual interest could probably discern my identity using Google within ten minutes.

But so what, who cares? I'm not trying to hide from the FBI; I'm trying to hide from the casual Google search. When I first started this site, I used my full name, because... well, why not? On top of that, I threw in my middle initial "N" to differentiate myself from another Barry Johnson who had already made a name for himself in the blogosphere. At the time I never could have imagined a potential downside to this (except, of course, for my mother finding out how many bad words I use.)

But things have changed. With increasing frequency, there are things I want to write about that I feel constrained not to. I'll go into more detail when we get to the "other side." Meanwhile, rest assured that I won't leave any readers behind.

Furthermore, I'm going to be looking to take on additional guest bloggers. If you're interested, drop me a line. Also, if you have any cool ideas that you'd like to see incorporated in the new design, let me know.



UPDATE: The soundboard recordings, it seems, are still available via streaming from archive.org, if not for download.

The old media pisses on the new

The New York Times is busting on Wikipedia for (get this!) "accuracy."

Now look, I'm quite sure there are errors and inaccuracies in Wikipedia, and I doubt that anyone who understands the project would ever believe otherwise. But how many errors and misrepresentations can be found in dead tree encyclopedias, or (God forbid) in mainstream news media like the New York Times?

Anyone who's ever been interviewed by the press no doubt understands first-hand the differences between what we say and what they write. Newspapers, however, are under a perpetual deadline of "now," and they have limited time and resources for copy-editing and fact-checking. Given their constraints, they do an admirable job -- but they are not to be taken as gospel.

In a similar vein, a friend of mine recently published an exhaustive, ground-breaking work on the history of violence (can there possibly be a richer vein of material to draw from?) His treatise was extensively researched and documented, the labor of many years, and was published by a very reputable publisher, and yet the final product, through copy editing errors alone, was fraught with enough factual errors to embarrass the author deeply.

In short, the NYT is right to advise a degree of skepticism when reading Wikipedia. But that's good advice for reading anything... including the New York Times.

There can be (and often are) inaccuracies in everything. So what's different about Wikipedia? I would submit there are two things.

  1. People who are savvy enough to know about and read Wikipedia are likely to be savvy enough to understand that it's a work in progress, put in into proper perspective, and interpret what they read accordingly.
  2. Any given entry will be seen by many thousands of different eyes, each set belonging to a potential fact checker and copy editor, thus making it highly likely that any such errors will be corrected. That's what the Open Source model is all about, and it's the reason that Linux still has fewer bugs than Windows, for example.

Bottom line: Wikipedia is not the end-all be-all dispositive, authoritative source, but neither is anything else. And for those of us who approach it as a work in progress, it continues to be a very convenient and useful information source.

Fish or cut bait

I guess it's "put up or shut up" time for Intelligent Design, and it's starting to look like it's going to be the latter.

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.

"They never came in," said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.

"From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don't come out very well in our world of scientific review," he said.

Oh well. They got their hearing, but they never showed any results. But if they ever do (which I doubt) I'm sure they'll find a receptive audience.

To those who believe there is a scientific conspiracy to suppress data that's inconsistent with evolution, I can pretty much guarantee that's not the case. As a former research scientist myself, I can't even conceive of a researcher who would discover evidence that turns the scientific world on its head and then just sit on it. No, the scientist would publish his paper amidst a torrent of publicity, duly collect his Nobel, and then go on to a life of fortune and celebrity.

In short, ID's problem is not the bias of the scientific community. ID's problem is a lack of evidence.

Well that caught me off guard

I woke up this morning to two or three inches of snow in my back yard. Did anyone expect this?

December 02, 2005

Gay marriage in South Africa

Since I've been blogging about South Africa lately, I should mention that they just become the fifth country to legalize gay marriage nationwide.

It's interesting to see South Africa taking the lead on a civil rights issue, isn't it? It's also interesting to note that on the ever-so-enlightened continent of Europe, a grand total of three countries allow same-sex marriage -- and two of them are dinky.

CN dips a tentative toe into the murky waters of political activism

As all of you know by now, I'm an opinionated bastard, and this site largely exists as a vehicle for me to spew my opinions in a forum that my wife will not be subjected to, thus saving my marriage.

As a general rule, however, I do not presume to tell people whom they should vote for, campaign for, give money to, or even which (if any) political causes they should support or oppose.

Why not? Because, as my friend Adam would put it, "I am full of shit." There's no reason on God's blue earth that anyone should listen to anything I say about anything.

But today I'm breaking with tradition a little. Frogsdong, one of my favorite lib'rul bloggers (and the blogger with the coolest name in my blogroll), asked me to join a blogswarm in support of House Bill 550 (more about which in due course, to use Buckley-ism.)

HR 550 comes to us from New Jersey's own Rush Holt. He's a politician I may not often find common cause with, but he is, like me, a former physicist, so we have that in common right off the bat (not only that, but his name is "Rush." Heh.) Although I could pick a few nits with the bill's wording, I think it's a good idea overall.

The plan, in short, is to mandate an auditable paper trail for electronic voting machines. As someone who has worked in the software world for more than a dozen years now, I agree with the EFF that this is a no-brainer. I know that crappy, buggy software is the rule rather than the exception in the PC-based world -- hell, I've written some of it.

I'm not one of these tin-foil-hat conspirists that believes elections are routinely "stolen" by Diebold, but I do believe there is considerable reason to question the reliability of the current generation of computerized balloting machines. Fraud is always a possibility, of course, but that's only part of the picture -- technical glitches, incompetence, and catastrophic system failures all most be considered as well.

Granted, nothing is easier to "hack" than a paper ballot. But for elections in which you have a digital database and a stack of paper ballots that must be reconciled, the opportunities for manipulation are much fewer than if you had only one or the other.

In short, I support this bill and the idea behind it. I agree with Frogsdong that this should be a bipartisan issue. If you agree as well, and if you're so inclined, you can click on the link below to sign Rush Holt's petition.

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New York's dysfunctional GOP

To be honest, I never thought Jeanine Pirro stood a chance against Hillary Clinton. Nothing personal, but I just sort of regarded anyone who went up against New York's junior senator as a sacrificial lamb.

So why would Senate GOP leader Joe Bruno make matters even worse by publicly questioning whether Pirro should withdraw? It ain't exactly like the GOP has some knockout candidate just waiting in the wings to take her place. Regardless, Pirro is meeting today with Governor Pataki in an emergency session to discuss her candidacy.

Now which is more demoralizing? Being sent to almost certain slaughter by a party that doesn't believe in you? Or having to rely on George Pataki for "help?"

I feel for the lady, I really do. The Republican Party in New York may not quite be dead, but it is certainly in a persistent vegetative state. After all, their best "strategy" for maintaining the governor's mansion seems to be to import William Weld and induce him to run. To think of it is to weep.

New superhero comics

Who can save the United States from the sweeping, totalitarian embrace of the United Nations? A cyborg Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North, that's who.

And no, I'm not making this up.

(Hat tip: Ace)

December 01, 2005

Rich liberals piss me off

This post might seem a bit hypocritical, because I've long rejected this notion that people "should" vote or think a certain way simply because of their race, gender or economic group. Nevertheless, I've got to say that there's just something very grating about a rich liberal.

Not all of them, really. It's just a certain kind of rich liberal. I'm sure you know the type. Richer than Croesus, they sit in their penthouses and boardrooms as self-styled champions of the poor. But the thing is, they don't really do anything to help the poor directly... they want us to help the poor, typically through higher income taxes. Easy for them. Rich people don't give a shit about income taxes because they've already got their money.

Not surprisingly, I know a lot of rich liberals here in New York. What irritates me is how many of them (a lot!) were Republicans throughout their entire lives until they became rich. Then, of course, the guilty conscience set in and they became liberals. Now, having "got theirs," they sit back and advocate policies that make it much harder for the rest of us to accomplish what they have.

I just hate that.

South Africa's next leader?

If so, the country could be in a world of hurt. Jacob Zuma sounds to me like he could very well be Robert Mugabe made over.

Despite some very real problems in South Africa, the country has fared better than one might reasonably have expected in recent years, thanks in no small part to Mr. Nelson Mandela. South Africa dodged another bullet in 1999 when Mandela was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki, while he may be stupid, is not insane, and with his Western education and his relative openness to capitalism, he has managed to hold things together admirably for the most part.

I'm really starting to wonder, however, whether the party might soon be over. I've long wanted to take a vacation to South Africa, but I've kept postponing it until the situation there "stabilizes" a bit more. Perhaps I should actually consider pushing it forward instead.

Oil for friends

I haven't seen this widely reported lately, so now that the link is free I'm posting here, lest people think that the only scandalous behavior in Congress of late was that of Duke Cunningham.

Money can't buy love, unless you're Anna Nicole Smith. But these days a little heating oil can buy friends in Washington, especially when they come as cheap as Democrat William Delahunt. Massachusetts wants bargain oil prices to help it through the winter. Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez wants influence in Washington. Leave it to the Congressman from the Commonwealth and a Kennedy to close the deal.

Last week Venezuela announced that its U.S.-based Citgo Petroleum would sell 12 million gallons of home heating oil at a 40% discount to help the poor in Massachusetts. The deal was announced by Mr. Delahunt on the lawn of a beneficiary before Thanksgiving, with Congressman Ed Markey at his side. "This today is about people, it's not about politics," Mr. Delahunt said with a straight face. Massachusetts-based Citizens Energy, run by the Kennedy clan, will be one of the distributors.

"To Citgo, to the people of Venezuela, our debt," the Congressman pledged. Mr. Delahunt should rightly feel a debt to the people of Venezuela, whose per-capita income is perhaps one-tenth that of Massachusetts and whose sole source of hard currency is the oil that their leader is now giving away to the second-richest state in the union. But Mr. Delahunt has no unpaid debt to Mr. Chavez. For some years now the Congressman has been lobbying hard for the Venezuelan despot, whom he paints as a misunderstood humanitarian. How French.

Mr. Chavez came to power in 1999. In seven years he has a domestic record of human rights abuses, election fraud, property confiscations a la Zimbabwe's Mugabe, erosion of the independent judiciary, limits on press freedom and militarization. His best friends include Fidel Castro, the Iranian mullahs and Colombia's FARC terrorists.

The Bush Administration is worried about all this, but Mr. Delahunt has no qualms. After Mr. Chavez was briefly deposed in 2002 because of his use of violence against dissent, Mr. Delahunt visited Venezuela and proclaimed, "I think he's learned from this. I think he understands that healing and reconciliation are the true qualities of leadership, not division." Mr. Chavez's attacks on his critics have since worsened.

Mr. Delahunt returned to Caracas to dine with Mr. Chavez in August and was asked whether he might be acting in opposition to U.S. policy. "I don't work for Condoleezza Rice. I don't report to the State Department. I report to the people who elected me in the state of Massachusetts. I belong to an independent branch of government."

Swell guy, huh?

Someone needs a new marketing department

I'm always amazed and impressed by Amazon's ability to offer upsell titles and recommendations that I'm actually interested in, based on my past purchasing habits.

But you know who really sucks at that kind of thing? Ticketmaster. Case in point: I opened my e-mail today and there's mail from Ticketmaster with the subject "Barry, Don't Miss Tom Jones!"

Don't worry, I won't. I can categorically promise that I won't miss him even a little.