Monday, June 27, 2005

European Taliban

I'm not fond of using words like "Nazi" or "gulag" or "Taliban" very much; they mean particular things and in the recent kerfluffles about the sayings of Dick Durbin and Karl Rove, people have gotten a little carried away. But here's an example of Taliban-like behavior.

Once upon a time, I spent two years of my life in Berlin. Not the one in New Hampshire, but the one in Germany. It was at the height of the Cold War, June 1968 to May 1970. It wasn’t a pleasant time for either my first wife or myself.

I’d been in Berlin for more than a month when she arrived, and one of the first things she wanted to do was take the USO tour for new wives around the city. I told her she really, really didn’t want to do that, but she insisted.

When she got home, she was literally speechless, unable to do more than break into tears instead of being able to speak. It was a full tour, you see. Not only did they drive along the wall, there were a couple of stops. One where you could see the dogs on their long metal leashes; dogs without proper food and whose tongues had been surgically removed. Above all, the watchtowers, the barbed wire, the grassy areas with “Mine Field” warnings on them. Above all, everywhere, gray guards carrying dark weapons.

At the end of the tour was Checkpoint Charlie, the main gateway between East and West Berlin. Like it’s counterpart in the DMZ in Korea, a monument to an unspeakable tyranny. In those days, both sides had tanks on watch at the checkpoint, all day and night, all year long.

Did I mention the occasional wreath of flowers or other memorial where a loved one had been killed trying to escape the tyranny of the Soviet Union and East Germany?

My wife’s health was severely affected; she never fully recovered. One night there was a prolonged burst of gunfire from the border, not far from our apartment and she couldn’t stand it anymore. Two days later she was back in the US.

When I saw protestors standing on the Berlin Wall, hacking at it with whatever tools available I stood and cheered at the TV. It was, I thought, the triumph of reason and freedom over fear and tyranny.

And now? David’s Medienkritik reports that the coalition socialist-communist city government of Berlin has obtained a court order and on July 4th, bulldozers will flatten the privately owned and maintained Checkpoint Charlie Memorial.

Millions and millions of American servicemen served in Germany between 1945 and 1990, thousands of them died in action or accidents over those years. Destroying a memorial like that is something the Taliban specialized in. Destroying it on that day is rubbing salt in the wounds.

I, for one, have had it with Europeans. They are smug and smart, confident that appeasement and denial of history is the way forward. Good. Wonderful. There are more people now in the EU than there are in the United States. Time, little bird, to fly from the nest. Go, seek your own destiny. And, in the chance you muck it up again, like you’ve done three times before in the last century... This time you need a lesson you won’t be forgetting in a few years. Don't call on us.

I personally will oppose any further employment of troops in Europe. I don’t want the missions in the Balkans renewed; in fact, I’d like to take as much time pulling out of Kosovo as the Italians did out of Iraq. While we need bases in Europe and I’m all for that, we no longer need garrison troops anywhere there. It’s time for us to declare Europe pacified and get on with our own business and let the Europeans take care of themselves.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Modest Proposal #1

This is the first of two modest proposals I have, that if acted upon, might serve the American people a little better than the current state of things.

This first is what to do with prisoners taken in combat during our war(s) with the jihadis. There exists an declaration of war against the United States by Al Qaeda, and for doubters, there were those towering pillars of dust, smoke and flame as the Twin Towers came crashing down. I believe that attacks of 9/11 show the true dedication on Al Qaeda's part to making war on the United States in particular and the West in general.

I propose we return the fundamental tenets of the Geneva Conventions in regards to taking prisoners on the battlefield. The Conventions quite clearly state that if armed combatants are taken prisoner, and they are not in the uniform of their nation, they will face a military tribunal, and may be shot if they were committing acts of espionage, sabatoge or clandestine warfare at the time of their detention.

Those rules were heavily used by all the peace-loving democracies during World War II. Democratic regimes such as that of England, France, the Soviet Union, China, and the US shot or hung such individuals. Moreover, after the war we hunted down the leadership of the totalitarian regimes that opposed us and hung them. I personally think this is a fine solution to the problem, and would quickly empty cells in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. I accept that not all agree, however.

Another, perhaps more palatable, alternative is to intern such prisoners until such as time as the conflict expires. While such combatants do have an irregular status, I think if we come to a national consensus on internment that would be an acceptable alternative. We’d want to see that such prisoners were treated well, and preferably held some place where they couldn’t escape and return to combat against us. Perhaps in some facility on an island someplace.

Again, in World War Two we had a little history with this sort of thing. The two sides began taking prisoners of war in 1939, although not the Soviets (except in rare cases), the Chinese or Japanese -- those countries were satisfied with the first option above. I’m afraid there was no drive for legal status of the POWs beyond what they had, and the concept of setting a general release date that wasn’t after the end of hostilities never crossed the minds of the belligerents, although in some cases individuals were exchanged for any number of reasons.

I’m sure reasonable people could find one of these alternatives a satisfactory solution to the problem.

Modest Proposal #2

Of late there has been considerable acrimony in the US Senate about the use of the filibuster. I think we should pay attention to some simple facts.

Fact 1: You can’t find the word “filibuster” any place in the US Constitution. I don’t believe you can find it implemented in any piece of legislation passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by a President.

Fact 2: In the US Constitution, back when the document was drafted, specific rules were laid down in regards to what percentages of Senators needed to vote for extraordinary items such as treaties and amendments to the Constitution.

Fact 3: There is nothing in the US Constitution about requiring more than simple majorities to pass routine legislation or to advise and consent on appointees to certain federal positions.

Fact 4: In the US Senate operating rules there is something called “cloture” -- which is a vote to limit debate. That rule has been modified and repealed at various times in the history of the US Senate. At one time the rules required a member of the Senate to actually rise up and debate, using the extended time. However that rule, too, has been subject to revision.

Not so very many days ago fourteen US Senators took part in an informal negotiation to make promises in regards to how the would behave during cloture votes on judicial nominees under less than extraordinary circumstances. We were told by several of these Senators that the agreement, informal and non-binding though it legally was (and turned out to be) that it had been necessary to preserve the Republic and save a time-honored Senate tradition.

I, for one, would go great lengths to preserve the Republic, although I’m not so sanguine about a time-honored Senate tradition.

I therefore recommend a particular course of action: The Senate should propose an amendment to the Constitution of the United States enshrining cloture as part of constitutional law. If, after a reasonable amount of time (say, as long as the ERA had) such a measure fails, recognize the body politic doesn’t see any need for such a rule and thereafter and forever dispense with it.

Friday, June 17, 2005

History and Hypocrisy

David Gelearnter at the LA Times has an op-ed piece that’s a must read on the importance of history.

Among other things Gelearnter does is point out that the ignorance is particularly dangerous when men like Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) can get up and condemn American soldiers for perpetuating the same sorts of atrocities at Guantanamo Bay that Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot did in their countries.

Gelearnter says at one point:
To forget your own history is (literally) to forget your identity. By teaching ideology instead of facts, our schools are erasing the nation's collective memory. As a result, some "expert" can go on TV and announce (20 minutes into the fighting) that Afghanistan, Iraq or wherever "is the new Vietnam" — and young people can't tell he is talking drivel.


There are many people in the world today who specialize in hypocrisy, but there is no greater source than the US Senate. We had the spectacle earlier this month of the Senate voting to apologize to African-Americans for doing nothing about lynchings, lynchings that caused the deaths of thousands of American blacks. Hypocrisy is leaving out the word that described the Senate tactic for preventing action for nearly a hundred years: the filibuster. Hypocrisy is having two of the co-sponsors of Senate Resolution 39 two of those who had less than two weeks before signed on to the “Gang of Fourteen’s” deal that preserved the use of the filibuster.

David Gelearnter fears that we will lose our identity because the teaching of history in schools has become the teaching of ideology and not facts. He is, I think, in part wrong. How else can you explain Senators chortling one week about how they saved the Republic by preserving the filibuster and then turning right around and apologizing for failing to act on a (pardon the pun) burning issue that blackened America’s name for generations?

On top of that, one of the fourteen Senators who was party to the agreement is the self-same man who filibustered some of those anti-lynching laws, who filibustered the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and was a member of the KKK. And when the filibuster was used against him, changed the Rules of the Senate, ending the filibuster, albeit temporarily, for legislation, not just appellate court appointments.

The concern shouldn’t be about the future, but right now, this instant. If the citizens of this country can’t remember what happened this month in their own history, our identity is more than erased: the ability to think and make critical judgments has evaporated.

In fiction, be it novels, plays or movies, there is a concept called “suspension of disbelief.” That is, we can fool ourselves into believing what we are reading, seeing or hearing. Writers dread making a mistake that “takes the reader out of the story.” Disbelief resumes, and with it, you can see the naked Emperor. Or, a simple example, it can be so jarring that forty years after I watched the movie “Tom Jones” the only thing I can remember about it was Tom reaching up and hanging his hat on the camera lens.

Americans have become placid couch potatoes, staring stolidly at TV screens and who increasingly refuse to engage their brains no matter what jars them. Nothing suspends disbelief for them anymore.

If one week Robert Byrd is saving the Republic by preserving the filibuster, well good for him! The Senate can apologize for legislative inaction a few weeks later and that’s fine, and there’s no need to remind anyone just how that inaction came to pass. If a US Senator wants to compare our military’s conduct at a detention facility with that of dictators who killed tens of millions of people, what’s the problem?

Loss of ability to reason, though, isn’t just American. Earlier today I heard the results of a poll conducted in France wherein 45% of the French think the US is a trustworthy ally, but 82% of them think Germany is. (Note: I tried to find the poll online, but couldn’t, these figures are from a French poll taken a year ago for the 60th Anniversary of D-Day) I certainly wish the French good luck with their good friends and allies, because if I recall correctly, twice in the last century the Germans raced to France’s “aid” while the US stood around like the faithless allies we are known to be...

(A hat tip and thank you to Glenn Reynolds, who pointed out to one of his readers that an ellipse at the end of a post is an indication that your tongue is firmly in cheek)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Belle Dame of the Oldest Profession

Both Gregory Djerejian Belgravia Dispatch and Ed Morrissey at Captain’s Quarters have posted recently about the actions of the French President, Jacques Chirac since the French rejected the proposed EU Constitution.

“Perfidious Albion” used to be a catchphrase back in the day, but over the last few years France, under Chirac, has given new meaning to “perfidious.”

Britain wrecked the constitution you see, because of their insistence on one sentence in one paragraph of the 500+ page document, retaining their “rebate” of EU dues. If Blair and England cough up that few billion dollars a year, all would be right with the world. Such sacrifices have to be made for the common good, of course. Anyone can understand that...

Of course, discussing France’s overlarge share of agricultural subsidies is off the table. “We settled that in 2002” the French intone. What do you want to bet that the English rebate was settled then as well?

And of course, ever-loyal Germany, desirous of a seat at the UN Security Council, and maybe a veto on top of that, was asked by France to forgo those desires and climb on the (French) bandwagon of those joining Brutus in the backstabbing on the Forum’s steps... er, EU Summit in Brussels this week.

Beware the Ides of June! Oh, and what does Germany get for it’s sacrifice? Why, they get to be there on the steps, knife in hand!

Oh, just to show how even-handed the French are, now that the vote on the Constitution is over, they are no longer in favor of Turkey joining the EU. All that talk about egalite, fraternite was just you know, practice. As for liberte, that was never really on the table. We’re talking about the European Union here! Voting is for wimps! Why would people want to participate in the world’s largest democracy, beyond paying their taxes?

There is the old saw “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I think the French are going to reduce some unnecessary verbiage by striking “...to repeat it” from the phrase.

Europeans, including the British, have been deluding themselves for years and years. They want a say in how the world is policed, but they don’t want to spend the money or get their hands dirty. They blame the US for things they used to do routinely in the last century, even if it’s against our laws and policies, things we put people in jail for or boot out of office. They, like the US, have serious issues with pensions and other state benefits. We all share issues of quality of air and water, food and life in general.

We stand to fritter away the tremendous gains that have been made in the last century because polticians are afraid to discuss issues, unwilling to admit that mistakes have been made and cherished policies have either failed or aren't working right. The Soviet Union vanished in a wisp of smoke, with wonderfully few gunshots. If Chirac and Blair, Schroeder and Bush and all the rest of the politicians don't believe that it can't happen to their nations as well, perhaps they should have a few more meetings with Gorbachev and Yeltsin.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Mr. & Mrs. Smith - Directed by Doug Liman, Screenplay by Simon Kinberg with no relationship to any previous movie or book.

Brad Pitt is Mr. John Smith, Angelina Jolie is Mrs. Jane Smith, and Vince Vaughn plays Eddie, Mr. Smith’s friend or colleague, I was never sure which.

Every now and then filmmakers come up with movies that are so odd and quirky that they make loads of money when common sense would say it would be terrible. “Star Wars” was the number two grossing movie of all time, and it nearly didn’t get made. Other movies that didn’t fit in neat boxes became cult or cultural icons, be they “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “The Passion of the Christ,” or “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” -- the list barely scratches the surface.

Then, of course, there are movies like “Ishtar” and “The Scarlet Letter.” The list is much longer, but I don’t like to comment on movies that I haven’t seen and ain’t likely to.

“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, is I fear, going to be a movie that strikes into the vast middle ground. The movie begins with Mr. and Mrs. Smith talking with a shrink, who stays off screen and all you ever know about him is his voice. The dialog is clever and witty, filled with fine nuances of timing and expression. Every now and then the movie returns to such fine nuances and timing -- but infrequently.

From the beginning of their relationship, the viewer knows that there is something odd about them, as they are both armed and dangerous. The movie moves from dinners at home to executions of contracts on bad guys -- well, I mean, you presume they are bad guys. The two meet in Bolivia (IIRC) and shortly thereafter, get married.

The movie’s fundamental assumptions are so flawed, however that it kept jerking me out of the story. John Smith appears to work for something called “The Agency” or “The Company” and Jane Smith works for a competing agency. For reasons no one bothers to try to make sense, the two agencies have found out the two are married and have decided they can’t have that, and have jointly decided to terminate the two of them. When I worked for the intelligence community in a trivial role back in the late sixties they did a complete background investigation of me, followed by one almost as thorough of my wife of the time.

Somehow the Smith’s have managed to live for five, maybe six years without either of them ever noticing things like hubbie is late for dinner, but a helicopter drops him off, and wifie didn’t hear it because her hearing was shot because of a flash-bang grenade. Over and over again, wild illogic made me wince. I don’t have any trouble suspending my disbelief, but like most people, when I’m suspended over a yawning chasm, it’s the chasm, stupid!

There are nice action sequences, particularly the car chase and the shootout in their house between the two of them. The dinner where Mr. Smith believes his wife is out to poison him is a classic of looks and dialog that was exquisite. I came away from the movie nearly schizophrenic. Episodes of clever and witty dialog interspersed with inane actions and dialog. Vince Vaughn doesn’t say much, his character doesn’t make any sense, and the only thing interesting about him is his relationship with his mother -- who doesn’t seem upset at the weapons, ammunition and explosives he keeps downstairs.

I am not a fan of most horror movies; even so I adored “The Mummy” with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz because the dialog was witty and the music fairly good. Mr. and Mrs. Smith didn’t have the consistency to be in that class... and the music was forgetable. I think the movie will earn back its production costs, but I think it will be a long time before it’s overall in the black. Mr. Kinberg was also responsible for the script for “XXX - State of the Union” another movie of dubious worth. I imagine he’s going to have a lot harder time after this, selling a screenplay -- although I see he’s credited with the story, but not the screenplay for the third X-Men movie and the Fantastic Four movie.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A Textbook Example of Stupidity

This is a little dated but I didn’t see much about it in the areas of the blogosphere I usually travel in, so I thought I'd mention it again.

It's a post from Ed Morrissey’s Captain’s Quarters Blog with a comment about California Assembly Bill 756 that bans school districts from purchasing textbooks longer than 200 pages. There are so many arguments against this that I’m sure you can supply a half dozen without thinking. So, I’ll repeat the one argument in favor of the proposal that I read in the Sacramento Bee (registration required).

Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) who chairs the Assembly Education Committee said:

...critics are thinking too narrowly.

California schools are teaching kids with the same kinds of massive books that were used generations ago, though the world has changed significantly...

The workplace increasingly demands more than the ability to read page 435 of some manual.

It requires expertise in using the Internet to research and solve problems...


I wish there was a {blockhead} html code we could use...

The only saving grace to this is that it still faces the hurdles of the California Senate and Governor Schwarzenegger. The latter, along with the California Superintendent of Public Instruction and the various teacher groups haven’t taken a position on the bill yet, which is a little disturbing.

Myself, I would hope this bill goes to committee and where a couple of other important items could be tacked onto it. For instance, it would save children scads of time if pi were to be made exactly three, instead of some long, meaningless decimal. While they are at it, they can correct that whole Avagadro’s Number issue. Obviously, scientists are talking avocados. And how can you tell how many atoms there are in a mole? Moles come in all shapes and sizes from little tiny shrew moles to regular moles several times larger. In any case there are only six kinds of moles in the US and frankly, most people don't think about them. Avacodos now, they think a lot more about avacados.

I’m sure if the California legislators applied themselves, particularly in a few years after the textbooks are limited in size, they can think of all sorts of educational topics that can be condensed and reduced to simpler principles. Besides, we all know the meaning of the universe can be summed up to 42.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants - Directed by Ken Kwapis, Screenplay by Delia Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler, adapted from the novel “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” by Ann Brashares.

Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera, and Blake Lively star as the Sisterhood. Jenna Boyd deserves special mention as Bailey, Amber Tamblyn’s “assistant”.

This is not a movie about teenage angst so much as it is a buddy movie. Not that there isn’t sufficient angst to go around, but this is really a story about friends who are there for each other, rain or shine.

Four sixteen-year-old girls who’ve been inseparable pretty much their entire lives -- not to mention previous to that -- are going to spend the first summer of their lives apart. Their mothers met in the same aerobics class, and then had their daughters within a week of each other.

In one way or another, the four have had their issues, growing up. Amber’s character Tibby has a mother who decides later in life to have more kids, so Amber is saddled with an infant and toddler siblings. Of all of the four, she is the one cursed to remain in their hometown of Bethesda, Maryland for the summer, working in a department store. Tibby is an amateur filmmaker who is intent on making a documentary, and evidently as been at it for some time.

Alexis Bledel’s Lena is going to spend the summer in Greece with her grandparents. Shy and not blessed with a great self-image, Lena is interested in sketching, and making herself as unnoticed as possible.

America Ferrera is Carmen, the half Puerto Rican daughter of a man who divorced her mother when Carmen was nine. Carmen is the writer of the group and who is going to spend the summer with her father in Charleston.

Blake Lively is Bridget, the blonde beauty, life of the party, incredibly talented soccer player, off to spend the summer at a soccer camp in Mexico. Bridget's mother committed suicide not long before the story opens, and her father could best be described as "distant and clueless."

On the eve of the departure, the four find a “magic” pair of jeans, one that fits them all. Tall Bridget, short and thin Lena, the chunky Carmen and middle-of-the-spectrum Tibby. It’s amazing what you can do if you eschew special effects. It is in this scene you first begin to wonder how the movie rates as PG, since both Bridget and Carmen strip down to panties to try on the jeans. That night the four sneak into the aerobics classroom where their mothers had met and vow the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” with all sorts of rules, mainly to wear them for two weeks, then pass them on.

After that the story follows each of the four for short periods, before leaping off to another.

The scene where Lena meets her Greek family is especially poignant when you realize that it’s a shy girl who has traveled halfway around the world to meet people she’s never seen before, who mostly don’t speak her language. Only later do you realize that Lena’s grandparents live on the Greek island of Santorini. My, what a lovely harbor the island has! It makes my living over hill and dale from Mt. St. Helen’s seem trivial in comparison.

Lena is the first to wear the pants, and the first time she wears them she slips and falls into the ocean, snagging the jeans on a piece of rebar deep under water. Kostos, a young Greek fisherman, comes to the rescue. She takes off her wet clothes on his boat, and ends up wearing a borrowed shirt wrapped around her waist. Kostos is a university student, and cute as a button, not to mention, works outdoors without a shirt a lot of the time. Not believing the jeans have done much for her, except nearly get her killed, Lena sends them on to Tibby.

Then we turn to Tibby, at her job. She’s obviously frustrated and bored, pushing the rules. An early indication of the hell she is in is a coworker’s admiration of her ability with a price-tag gun. “It took me a couple of weeks to get the hang of it,” she’s told. A few minutes later, two younger girls ask directions to the shampoo aisle, and a moment later Tibby hears the sound of falling stock.

She looks to see one of the girls, lying face-up on the floor, obviously unconscious. Just to make sure that we know she’s unconscious, the girl, Jenna Boyd’s Bailey, has lost control of her bladder. Again, a note to the modern Gods of PG movies: this was cinema verite of an unnecessary sort. Shortly thereafter, Bailey shows up at Tibby’s doorstep, the jeans having come to her by mistake.

Bridget is next, seen traveling on a bus with soccer kids singing songs. She arrives at the camp, and is promptly smitten with lust for one of the coaches. Again, the coach spends a lot of time out of his shirt. Bridget shows off, winning praise from her teammates and an admonition from her coach, that she’s on a team. Before we leave Bridget, it’s clear she has a major thing for Eric, the coach.

Then there is Carmen, arriving to visit her father. She’s a little confused, as she thought he lived in the city of Charleston, and instead they are headed for the suburbs. There is an amusing exchange where she tells him he said once that there are cities and country, with a vast wasteland in between. He doesn't remember the incident... it turns out it was a museum visit when Carmen was nine. In a scene of unmitigated cruelty, Carmen’s first exposure to the new people in her father’s life is when they pull up in the driveway and she asks who these stunningly blonde, white-bread people are. Between the car and the house she learns that his father is living with the woman, they are getting married and Carmen is scheduled to be a bridesmaid.

Step, by mostly-deft step, the movie weaves the lives of these people together. Tibby and Bailey, Lena and Kostos, Bridget and Eric the coach, Carmen and her father and his new family. Each in turn is brought face-to-face with herself and is stripped down and rendered into a far more mature version of themselves.

Bridget finds sex empty and meaningless, Lena finds it’s about hope, renewal and the future. Carmen learns that family isn’t everything, and Tibby learns that the secret to making a good movie is the ability to see what’s in front of you.

The movie doesn’t fit into any neat pigeonhole of a topic. It’s romantic, there are a few parts that are amusing, it’s about family closeness and family alienation. The romances are bittersweet and sweetly bitter. Lena comes back from her long evening with Kostos with a goofy grin on her face, while Bridget’s expression is that of someone who’s seen her dog run over in the street.

The movie is PG, when it should have been PG-13, but that’s the only bad thing about the movie. The theater I go to, as I’ve said to many people, is bizarre. It’s behind a mini-mall, and on weekdays for the matinee the audiences range from none to few. I can’t even begin to speculate on what the father who’d brought his nine or ten-year-old daughter to watch the movie thought about it.

Me? I liked it. I wouldn’t take my young daughter to see it (of course, I don’t have a daughter at all) but I would recommend this movie to anyone who wanted to see a movie done mostly right, and which will leave you teary-eyed and thoughtful afterwards.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A Few Words About a Lot of Pictures

The first link is to a Cassini-Huygens photo of Rhea, one of Saturn’s moons, from a distance of about 340,000 miles (our moon is about a third closer). Aside from the inane comment the PR flacks put up (“The planet's splendid rings are discernible in the background.” Like duh! The spacecraft is at Saturn, dudes! Did you expect to see Uranus?) the pictures on the site are frequently amazing. This is just one of many.

Then there is one of my favorite sites, the Volcano Cam at Mt. St. Helen’s. You have to remember that it’s a live camera, so because of the usual Pacific Northwet weather frequently during the day you see pretty much nothing but gray. At night, mostly all you see are spots. However, back when it was more eruptive, you could see lava glowing on the dome after dark, which is cool.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Small Conundrum and a Smaller Mystery

Living alone is an interesting experience. I’ve only done it once before in my life, for a short time between marriages. This time it's been far longer than the first.

One of the things that make it interesting is that your day is longer. There’s no more coordination between my wife and I about what we’re going to do during the day, there’s no debate over what’s for dinner -- all those social things we spend time with in a family are gone. You don't even get to remonstrate with the munchkin about missed bassoon practice or skipped homework.

Now, there are those people who would promptly put that extra time to highly productive use. I for one, rarely do that, preferring to fritter my time away on this or that.

One thing I’ve started to do of late is read the packaging on food items. This is a filthy habit, particularly if you overdo it. Of course, without the habit, I’d probably have a mundane, run-of-the-mill blog name, too.

I usually fix a meat dish for dinner, and then boil some frozen veggies to go with it. In the summer I’ll occasionally have corn on the cob, and sometimes I’ll have a lettuce salad with dinner. Typically, since I moved back to Arizona, I take an ounce or two of cut corn and mix it with an ounce or two of green peas, making ersatz mixed vegetables.

The other day at the Albertson’s I shop at, I saw they had large bags of mixed veggies for a really good price, so I bought a couple.

I have to stop for a second and say that, to my burnt-out palate, frozen cut corn and frozen green peas cook up nicely and taste fine, if not as good as when fresh. Thus it was a rude shock when I tried the mixed veggies, and found that they tasted awful, like they'd been left open in the freezer for weeks. Worse, the cooking time was 10-12 minutes, which gave me plenty of time to read the bag.

So, my first small conundrum: Cut corn is supposed to be boiled for 4-5 minutes, green peas for 3-5. In large letters on all the veggie bags are the words “DO NOT OVERCOOK” or least words to that effect. Curious, I went to the store and checked the green beans, lima beans and carrots that are the other ingredients of the mixed veggies. Carrots require 8-10 minutes of cooking time, lima beans 12-16 and green beans 5-10. All of the bags have overcooking warnings.

Thus, the maximum cooking time for the mixed veggies is the same as the minimum time for lima beans, exceeds the cooking time for corn and peas considerably. The minimum cooking time for the mixed veggies is the high end for green beans and carrots. As near as I can tell, you can’t actually properly cook the mixed vegetables with the instructions on the package, without overcooking some of the items and undercooking the rest.

The second conundrum is really a mystery and not a conundrum. I’ve noticed this for years, but can’t figure out why it is true: frozen cut corn can be poured out of the bag easily, even the fifth or sixth time you pour from the bag. Green peas, on the other hand, after the first time gradually turn into a solid block of ice and require bashing by the third or fourth time you pour them. I have a terrible feeling the word “deliquescent” figures in the mystery somehow. That’s a terrible word to inflict on people.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Conundrum I

Dictionary.com defines “conundrum” as: “2. A paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma...” Well, today and tomorrow I’m going to talk about conundrums large and small. Today, a large conundrum.

Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds mentioned yesterday that he’s sent comments to the Federal Election Commission on the FEC’s proposed rules for political blogging, er, politics on the Internet. He posted this link to a comment sent by Duncan Black, Kos and Matt Stoller to the FEC.

Here are a couple of quotes from that document:

Advertising and Control: Clearly, to avoid the regulations regarding coordinated communications, it is important that the FEC carefully define when a website is “owned or controlled” by a candidate/party/etc. All three of us, as well as countless other bloggers, have accepted and hope to continue to accept paid advertising from federal campaigns. Generally, this advertising comes through a third-party intermediary like Google AdWords or BlogAds, and we do not deal with the campaigns directly.

We therefore urge the FEC to import its strict definition of “control” from 11 C.F.R. § 100.5(g)(4) into this realm: Where the candidate in question lacks the power to hire and fire website employees, does not control a significant percentage of the website’s budget or otherwise control its activities, the independence and legitimacy of the website must be assumed by the law and protected under these regulations. Merely accepting advertising from campaigns does not mean that a weblog is any less independent in its editorial content, just as a newspaper’s endorsements are not presumed to flow from whichever campaign advertised in it more heavily.


Payment to Bloggers: It should make no difference to the FEC in granting the protections of the media exemption, whether a blogger is compensated for editorial content or advertising revenues. Merely receiving payments for legitimate services from a campaign is not sufficient indicia of ownership or control.


Fundraising By Weblogs: The NPRM does not address whether a website can engage in fundraising on behalf of candidates while maintaining the media exemption. We urge the FEC to make clear that websites can do so while retaining the exemption, and without falling under any regulations that do not apply to others who independently solicit money on behalf of campaigns.


Disclosure Of Payments To Bloggers: This is a section of the NPRM which has attracted much attention from our readers, understandably, given the recent controversies over payments made to bloggers by the John Thune for Senate campaign for blogging activities and to Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong by the Dean for America campaign for consulting services.
We believe that the FEC should not generally require bloggers to disclose payments from candidates, and that bloggers should instead be treated the same as any other vendor paid by candidates for legitimate services rendered, whether in terms of separate advertising or the provision of editorial content...


I want to agree with most of what is quoted above, with the exception of the last. I think paid advertising is sufficient in and of itself to not require any other further disclosure, but I don’t agree that bloggers receiving payment from the government, political parties, advocacy groups or candidates for office should be exempt from making a prominent disclosure on their blog home page. Yes, it’s true as is mentioned later in the comment from Black, Moulitsas and Stoller that campaigns and candidates are required to report these payments and that a blogger reporting them too is a double notification.

However, while that is true, as is also true that other media figures aren’t required to disclose their connections with campaigns, here I part company with these three. Commentators, particularly those commenting on an election, candidates or issues in an election should reveal their financial ties with, be they bloggers or talking heads on cable news shows.

The sad fact is, that it can take months for all of requisite FEC filings to go from campaign to FEC, to public knowledge. In my opinion, the Internet is an immediate medium, and a reader needs to know immediately if there is a possible bias by a blog writer.

Candidly, I’d like to toss the entire McCain-Feingold bill into the trash compactor and reduce it to the following.

“Individuals may make donations up to $10,000 each for particular candidates running for national political office, they may contribute up to $100,000 to the state political party in the state where they reside and $10,000 to any other state political party and $1,000,000 to a national political campaign. Individuals and corporations may make donations up to $10,000 to any political action committees or advocacy group. All such donations to be reported to the FEC within thirty days.

“Any individual who maintains a website where the individual posts commentary on an election, political party, candidates or issues shall disclose any financial ties to any political party, candidate or issue-oriented group, excluding paid advertising. In the event the individual receives more than $999 in a calendar month, outside of advertising revenue, the individual detail the compensation by link from the individual’s home page.”

To me, it is a proper thing to regulate campaign donation limits, so long as there is full public disclosure of sources and expenditures. Money is essentially a volume control for “political speech” and as such, should be regulated.

Well, that’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

Oh, yeah. The conundrum.

The three were all critical of Armstrong Williams only last January for accepting paid advertising without disclosure. Kos used the term “payola,” the others were merely critical of Armstrong’s actions. In all of their rhetoric, however, they kept coming back to the fact that Williams hadn’t disclosed his financial relationship with the government. Yet, that’s what they argue in favor of, in their FEC comment. Like I said, a conundrum.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Weather Control

I missed this when it first came out; for what it’s worth, I think it’s important enough, that, if nothing else, it should be aired again.

Senator Rick Santorum (RINO-PA) has proposed a law
that would “...limit the National Weather Service's offerings to just those services that private-sector weather companies cannot or are unwilling to offer -- unless the information is related to "severe weather forecasts and warnings designed for the protection of life and property" or information that the government must provide under international aviation accords.”

Such an idea is more than just daft, it’s an exemplar of the idiocy of letting people in Washington who say they are “Republicans” get reelected based on their non-existent “conservative” credentials. Santorum supported Arlen Spector’s (also RINO-PA) reelection, Senator Spector has been a spectacular assist to President Bush’s judicial nominations: for the Democrat party.

First off, it’s morally repugnant for the people of this country to have to pay private businessmen for something the government offers for free to all now, while giving those businessmen the information for free, so that they can profit off it. I’m a filthy capitalist, don’t get me wrong, but this is just a businessmen’s rip-off of the taxpayer. From a Democrat, to be expected. From a “conservative Republication” a statement of his party change.

Then there is the sheer stupidity of trying to determine what is “severe” weather. I car-pooled with a woman who, along with her husband, raised ginseng in SW Washington state. They needed forecasts of cloudy days to work on the sunscreens that shaded their crop: shine regular sun on a ginseng plant and it burns and dies. The brightness of the sun is important in Arizona as well, unless you personally like crispy critters -- which is what you get going unprotected outdoors for any length of time in the Arizona summer. Rain is a critical thing for farmers to know: not just buckets of it, but even a light mist can ruin a hay farmer’s day. You can go on forever in this vein.

The National Weather Service is a government bureaucracy that has to deal with real-time evaluation of its work -- as a result they are far more efficient than most government bureaus. Missed forecasts can and do kill people and cause significant economic damage. To remove the market signals given to them from J. Q. Public would be a seriously bad idea.

Senator Rick Santorum’s reelection would be a seriously bad idea.

And, if you wish to see an interesting site with a lot of equally idiotic legislation proposed by our political aristocracy go to: http://thomas.loc.gov

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

And The Band Played On...

Well, the Dutch have voted along with the French, saying to the EU-crats in Brussels to take their constitution and doing something unsanitary with it. In the Dutch case, the people made their will very clear: with 92% of the vote counted, a hefty 63%+ turnout, 63% voted no, 37% percent voted yes.

A Dutch blogger has this to say about that. One thing of particular interest was the comment that:

...the European Commission today put some pressure on the Dutch government to scrap one of the country's holiest cows: the deductability[sic] of interest paid on home mortgages. If the Dutch voter needed some further confirmation as to how the Brussels bureaucracy might adversely impact the cherished Dutch way of life then this is surely it.”


Can you imagine on an American election day, say the Democrats, announcing that they were campaigning to remove the mortgage interest deduction? Would that be a sure catastrophe? What sort of government would put “pressure” on a nation voting that day to abolish a sacred cow? How about oblivious, disinterested, and above all, without any empathy with the common people?

There are many symbols that appear in our lives that mean something in particular to us individually. One of those is the “And the band played on...” from the sinking of the Titanic. All sorts of very credible witnesses reported that the ship’s band (not a part of the crew, either) played right up until the ship slipped beneath the waves. It has always been a mixed symbol in my mind. Bravery and courage, but at the same time a stubborn resistance to recognition of the inevitable, and lack of desire to change the outcome.

A slightly different symbol, from another, albeit fictional maritime tragedy: In the movie “The Poseidon Adventure” there is a scene towards the end where one group of survivors is headed towards the main deck, while the heroes are leading their group toward the keel. Nothing the heroes can say changes the minds of the group headed “up” towards the main deck: even though the ship has turned turtle and up is down and down is up.

Europe is like that. It is clear from many of the comments made by the French, and just as clear in the Dutch vote as well. Many people view the EU Constitution as an “Anglo-Saxon” attack on their welfare states. In both countries there was increased concern about what the Constitution would mean in terms of increased immigration as well.

It is a simple, actuarial fact-of-life in Europe: the “European” population of the continent is declining. Unless the Europeans drastically increase their output per capita, there is no way to sustain the pension systems. There is, though another way: they grow their way out of the dilemma by opening the spigots wide on immigration.

The problem with that is European nations have no tradition of amalgamation and assimilation. There are a substantial number of Muslim immigrants in Germany, France and Holland, for instance, who’ve been there dozens of years and who don’t have even minimal comprehension of the national language.

My first wife and I spent two years in Berlin, in the late 60’s, while I was stationed there in the Army. It was very hard on my wife; very, very hard. The last straw was when she got pregnant and went to the military hospital in Berlin, they assigned her a Turkish OB-GYN doctor who spoke no English, and almost no German. To make a long story short, she miscarried, developed major health problems that afflict her to this day, and we both ended up returning to the states when the Army gave me a compassionate reassignment to Texas. That was then, this is now. Large chunks of the foreign community all through continental Europe still don’t speak the national languages.

I have no idea what’s going to happen to Europe, but I think it’s safe to say that forty years from now Europe is going to be a very different place than it is today. And let’s face it, the last time there was a large east-to-west migration of peoples in Europe, it didn’t turn out well for the Europeans. Not to mention the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that...

Update: Glenn Reynolds on Slate posted a far more lucid view on this than mine.