Thursday, September 30, 2004
On this day:

FMA Fails in House

Today, in the U.S. House of Representatives, the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment failed to receive the 2/3 vote required for passage. The proposed amendment states:

Marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.'
The final vote was 227 yeas to 186 nays. 191 Republicans and 36 Democrats voted in favor. 27 Republicans joined 158 Democrats and 1 independent in opposition. All of Alabama's representatives, including Democrats Bud Cramer and Artur Davis, voted in favor.

Bush vs. Kerry Drinking Game

The first debate between the Presidential candidates will be held at 8 PM Central time tonight. What better way to celebrate this American tradition than with a drinking game?

Here are the rules:

Prior to the debate, a Drinkmaster shall be designated by a majority vote of players. The Drinkmaster shall then designate one other player as the Drinkermaster's Apprentice. The Drinkmaster may be replaced at any time following his or her appointment by a majority vote of participants. In the event that a new Drinkmaster is designated, he or she shall appoint then designate one other player as Drinkmaster's Apprentice.

The Drinkmaster's duties shall be: 1) to listen intently to the questions posed to each candidate, 2) to listen even more intently to the answers given by each candidate, 3) to consult with fellow players in the determination of the number of Drinking Points to be awarded, in accordance with the rules listed below, 4) to consult with the Drinkmaster's Apprentice in the event of any disputes, and 5) to make the final determination of the number of Drinking Points to be awarded.

Drinking Points are based on audience participation, candidate behavior and appearance, and overall results. One Drinking Point is equivalent to on "appropriately sized" sip of an alcoholic beverage. "Appropriateness" of size and "alcoholicness" of beverage shall be left to the discretion of the Drinkmaster, in consultation with the Drinkmaster's Apprentice and other players. Drinking Points shall be awarded as follows:

Audience Participation
2 points - Significant applause from the audience while a question is being asked or a candidate response is being given, or during opening or closing statements (does not include introdution of candidates).

4 points - Boos are heard from the audience.

6 points - Moderator chastises audience.

8 points - A significant portion of the audience breaks out into chants (e.g. "U.S.A! U.S.A.!", "Four more years! Four more years!", "Get a life! Get a life!)

12 points - A heckler is escorted from the audience.

50 points - The audience spontaneously starts singing "Kum Ba Ya."

Candidate Behavior and Appearance - John F. Kerry

1 point - John Kerry says "I" or "I'm."

2 points - for each John Kerry head nod.

3 points - John Kerry says the word "plan", unless preceded by the word "secret" (see below).

4 points - John Kerry says the word "Vietnam" or alludes to his service there ("Band of Brothers", "served my country", "I know war, I've been there", "shot in my ass", etc.).

5 points - John Kerry says the words "diversion", "unilateral", or irresponsible", or "Texas", in reference to the administration's defense and foreign policy.

6 points - John Kerry mentions a "backdoor draft", or says the word "credibility."

7 points - John Kerry says "tax cuts for the rich.

8 points - John Kerry mentions "Karl Rove." 20 bonus points if lightning strikes within 30 seconds of the utterance.

9 points - John Kerry says "secret plan."

10 points - John Kerry speaks in French.

100 points - John Kerry announces that since he is polling so badly and his wife is running out of money, he is handing the Democratic nomination over to Howard Dean.

Candidate Behavior and Appearance - George W. Bush

1 point - George Bush says "we" or "we're"

2 points - George Bush says "coalition."

3 points - George Bush refers to Mr. Kerry as "my opponent."

4 points - for each George Bush "chuckle" (oh, c'mon, you know what I mean..."hyah- hyuh -hyuh")

5 points - George Bush says "Massachusetts."

6 points - George Bush mangles his syntax (not necessarily pronunciation.)

7 points - George Bush pronounces "nuclear" as "nucular."

7 points - George Bush creates a word that does not appear in any dictionary of the English language.

8 points - George Bush mentions "opportunity" in the same sentence as "Iraq."

9 points - George Bush speaks in Spanish

10 points - George Bush says, "Make no mistake."

50 points - George Bush says, "John Kerry is a girlie man."

Candidate Behavior and Appearance - General

2 points - John Kerry has a deeper tan than George Bush.

10 points - George Bush alludes to John Kerry's tan. (+10 if he compares it to a fruit.)

3 points - John Kerry exceeds his time limit.

6 points - George Bush exceeds his time limit.

5 points - John Kerry breaks a sweat (one time only).

10 points - George Bush breaks a sweat (one time only).


1 point for each "politician point" captured on camera (i.e. pointing, but to no particular individual in the audience.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004
On this day:

Clone Scalia

One of the best things Ronald Reagan ever did as President was to nominate Antonin Scalia to the U.S. Supreme Court. This article in the Harvard Crimson shows why. Here are the portions that best illustrate why his legal mind and his wit are unsurpassed on today's Court:

The Supreme Court’s recent decisions protecting abortion rights, upholding the legalization of assisted suicide and striking down anti-sodomy laws represent a 'dangerous' trend, Justice Antonin Scalia told a Harvard audience last night.

A "dangerous trend" because it usurps the authority of the states and gives judges free reign to impose their own moral views over those of constitutional majorities.

In a freewheeling question-and-answer session following the justice’s prepared remarks, an African-American graduate student challenged Scalia to defend the constitutionality of racial profiling.

The Kennedy School student, Larry Harris Jr., said that his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights had been violated when he was pulled over in Cambridge for—as he put it—driving while black.”

Scalia was less convinced.

“What the Fourth Amendment prohibits is ‘unnecessary’ search and seizure,” the justice said. “Is it racial profiling prohibited by the Fourth Amendment for the police to go looking for a white man with blue eyes? Do you want to stop little old ladies with tennis shoes?”

The eccentric justice launched into a parody of a police radio dispatch under a scenario in which profiling were prohibited. “The suspect is 5’10, we know what he looks like, but we can’t tell you,” Scalia quipped—drawing laughter from the audience.

Harris was less amused. He said afterwards that “the flippancy with which [Scalia] dealt with the question was insensitive. It shows that on issues like this, he might be a little out of touch.”.

I guess Justice Scalia hasn't attended mandatory sensitivity training lately.

Earlier in the evening, Scalia ridiculed the European Court of Human Rights’ 2000 decision striking down British legislation that bars group gay sex on the grounds that the law intruded upon private life.

He asked—rhetorically—how many individuals would have to be involved in a sex act for it to no longer qualify as “private.”

“Presumably it is some number between five and the number of people required to fill the Coliseum,” Scalia joked.”

Scalia recognizes that Britain's unwritten constitution is a much more important guarantor of liberty than the make-it-up-as-they-go jurisprudence being imposed by Euroweenie busybodies.

An audience member later rose to ask Scalia “whether you have any gay friends, and—if not—whether you’d like to be my friend.”

“I probably do have some gay friends,” Scalia said. “I’ve never pressed the point.”

But Scalia said his personal views on social issues have no bearing on his courtroom decisions.

“I even take the position that sexual orgies eliminate social tensions and ought to be encouraged,” Scalia said.

“But it is blindingly clear that judges have no greater capacity than the rest of us to decide what is moral.”

In addition to lacking the capacity to decide what is moral, judges also lack the constitutional authority, as Scalia's opinions through the years have clearly stated.

Dunster House resident Zachary D. Liscow ’05 rose during the question-and-answer session to suggest that Scalia’s own vote in the controversial 2000 presidential election case could be viewed as an example of the “judicial activism” Scalia deplores.

“I do not mean by [‘judicial activism’] judges actively doing what they’re supposed to do,” Scalia responded. He said the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to order a recount in Miami-Dade County—a decision Scalia and his colleagues overruled—amounted to a “clear violation of the federal constitution.”

This was a great response to those who have accused Justice Scalia of participating in "conservative activism."

In one of the more bizarre moments of the evening, Scalia mentioned—in passing—that he thought the 17th Amendment was “a bad idea.”

The 17th Amendment provides for the direct election of senators.

I'm not sure why the Crimson reporter found this so bizarre. The 17th Amendment was possibly the most foolhardy addition ever made to the constitution. Recently, Senator Zell Miller (D., Ga) endorsed its repeal, and others have pointed out how it has led to a "sharp rise in the size and power of the federal government."

Let's hope Justice Scalia hangs around for many more years.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004
On this day:


Ivan was not so terrible after all. The Flora-Bama lives on.

I learned this news over at Southern Appeal, by the way. It's a good blog to follow, especially for anyone interested in legal issues. Their blogger-in-chief provides this description: "the random musings of a Southern Catholic Federalist and his co-conspirators." Judge William Pryor is their "patron saint" and they've got an impressive list of bloggers. Check it out.

Revive the Alabama Civil Rights Initiative

Where is Ward Connerly when we need him?

Actually, a bill called the "Alabama Civil Rights Initiative," modeled on similar measures in California and Michigan, was introduced in the Alabama House in 2001. It proposed a constitutional amendment stating:

"The state may not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."
The online text indicates that the bill was referred to the Constitution and Elections Committee and, if memory serves correctly, it died there without advancing to the House floor.

In light of my previous post, though, it may be time to revive it. Serious consideration of this amendment would be good for the state, even if passage is not assured. At the very least, it would put university admissions procedures in full public view and create a lively debate on the propriety of racial preferences.

Auburn Admits Racial Discrimination

This article by Opelika-Auburn News staff reporter Jack Stripling was published Sunday, confirming what many have suspected for years - that Alabama's public universities regularly and systematically discriminate on the basis of race. The first paragraph summarizes it this way (emphasis added) :
"Black students who apply to Auburn University and meet the institution's minimum requirements are automatically admitted, but other races are not afforded the same treatment. The university's heretofore unspoken practice is part of an effort to both stay in accordance with a federal desegregation ruling while also meeting the university's enrollment goals for individual colleges. "
Universities nationwide are notoriously evasive about telling the truth regarding their admissions practices, and, as the Opelika-Auburn News reports, AU is no exception. Auburn administrators were initially reluctant to answer questions about admissions standards, as discussed in a September 20 Opelika-Auburn News article found here. Finally, AU administrators spilled the beans (again, emphasis added):

"Opelika-Auburn News efforts to gain information on minority admissions practices was met with some resistance before AU eventually agreed to an on the record discussion of the issue. The university released record black enrollment numbers for this year on Monday, attributing these numbers to a litany of factors including increased scholarship and recruitment efforts.

When asked whether admissions practices could have contributed to its minority recruitment effort, however, AU clammed up. Officials also continually asked "why is this a story"? It wasn't until Friday, in an interview with (AU Lead Counsel Lee) Armstrong and AU's assistant vice president of enrollment management, that AU came on record to publicly declare a practice that's been in place for two years. 'Let's be clear, it's a management practice,' Armstrong said. 'It's not a policy.'

What might be viewed as a dubious distinction is an important one. Policies require approval from AU's board of trustees. Trustees have never approved a policy that separates black applicants within the admissions process. What they have approved, however, are minimum admissions standards which were initially designed to remove the vestiges of segregation."

So, Auburn has 'fessed up. What about the Capstone? Could it be harboring similar secrets? The University of Alabama's website says that 13% of the student population is African-American. Auburn, which has just admitted to the use of racial preferences in admissions, has only reached 7.5%. Differences in recruitment practices likely explain some of this discrepancy, but the statistics still strongly suggest that it's UA's turn to answer some questions that it, too, has preferred to avoid.

Anybody Got $250,000?

Here's a good investment.

Money Matters in Alabama

As I mentioned a few posts back, Alabama's Special Education Trust Fund (SETF) now has a large surplus, disproving the dire predictions made at this time last year. The main reason for the increased revenue has been the significant upturn in the state's economy. According to State Finance Director Jim Main, "We are seeing significant growth in sales, utility, and income taxes."

The three taxes Mr. Main mentioned are the most lucrative of the twelve revenue sources supporting the SETF. Revenue from each of these taxes is largely dependent on overall economic performance, and as Alabama's economy has improved in the last year, all three have generated significant new revenue.

Unfortunately, the General Fund has not seen the same level of revenue growth. Like those of the SETF, General Fund revenues also come from a variety of sources. The largest of these are interest on state deposits, insurance company premium taxes, oil and gas lease and production taxes, corporate taxes, cigarette taxes, property taxes, and ABC Board profits. Governor Riley said this week, "We still expect to have a $150 to $200 million deficit in the General Fund next year."

So, while the education budget is awash with new revenues, it appears that the non-education programs funded by the General Fund may be living on lean budgets again this year. This presents a perfect opportunity for growth-oriented reforms to the state's tax and funding structures, if only the politicians will summon the courage to act.

Karl Rove's Alabama Connection

Presidential advisor Karl Rove had a few forays into Alabama politics, discussed in this Atlantic Monthly article. A swooning Andrew Sullivan called it "a thorough investigation of Karl Rove's record of smearing, sliming and demagoguing to win elections, as well as a respectful analysis of Rove's indisputable political skills."

Thorough, maybe. But, it is neither fair nor balanced in its portrayal of Mr. Rove. Still, it's an interesting read in that it reveals Rove's involvement in building Republican dominance of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Kerry to Give Allawi A Tour

...of his own country. Courtesy of Scrappleface.

Monday, September 27, 2004
On this day:

Remember Amendment One?

Last year about this time, Alabamians were bombarded with ads telling them of the state's dire financial crisis and warning of horrible consequences if Amendment 1, Governor Riley's tax and accountability package, did not pass. School children would go without textbooks, teachers would be laid off, prisoners would be set free. But, in spite of all the pleas, Alabama voters rejected the package by a 2-1 margin.

Now, some of the bad predictions actually did happen. This was a lean year. Money for textbooks was scaled back. Some teachers were not rehired. The number of parole hearings was stepped up drastically. The state trooper force was reduced.

However, it looks as though we have made it through all that. The news today looks good, at least for the education budget. Revenues to the Special Education Trust Fund are up 10.4%, and the Fund now will end the year with a surplus of at least $150 million.

So how did this happen without a tax increase? How is it that the situation has essentially corrected itself? Alabamians were told only last year that drastic increases in revenue were absolutely required for state government to continue to function. But, lo and behold, here we are. The world is still here, and Alabama is still in it. Is it conceivable that our politicians, educators, business leaders, university administrators, and newspaper editors could have all been wrong? These were the cream of the crop, the best and the brightest, the brave and the beautiful. They were the ones who derided the 2/3 of Alabamians who voted against the referendum as selfish and ignorant.

Retirement Systems of Alabama CEO David Bronner essentially asked, "Do these people not know what is good for them?" Anniston Star Publisher H. Brandt Ayers questioned the "state patriotism" of tax opponents. The University of Alabama, in its ongoing mission to save the state from its backwardness, organized a rally at which President Witt said, "I am confident that all members of The University of Alabama academic family will go to the polls and vote to support the accountability and tax-reform package that is so vitally important to our University and state." The University, by the way, promoted the referendum with University funds after increasing tuition by 16% that summer. Auburn President William Walker also urged support of the plan, warning of disastrous consequences if it were rejected. Auburn also increased tuition by 16% that year, while using University funds to promote the referendum, although maybe not as blatantly as UA.

All of this should be a lesson for the good people of Alabama. When politicians team up with the pointy-heads in the universities, attempting to send us all on a collective guilt trip for not being generous enough with our money, we ought to pause and remember this episode. When fiscal disaster is predicted by people with a vested interest in higher government spending, it is good to stop and question whether we're being mislead. And, when we're ridiculed for our narrow-mindedness, we should be well-armed with the facts as they have emerged in the last year.

Broken Windows

Seriously, though...

The idea that economic growth may be enhanced by disaster seems absurd. Yet, it is an idea that is often restated in some form or another in the wake of natural or man-made disasters. For example, after Hurricane Floyd devastated South Carolina in 1999, the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled "Hurricane Floyd May Leave Robust Economy in its Wake." Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, some "economists" like Paul Krugman of the New York Times speculated that the ensuing cleanup would end up being good for the economy.

Disasters do create opportunities in certain sectors of the economy, and so it is inevitable that some people will perceive a boost in their own economic conditions. For example, construction workers should be in good shape financially over the next several months. However, on a broader scale, the efforts to clean up after disasters such as the recent hurricanes divert resources from more productive uses, and overall economic growth will likely suffer as a result.

USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and the "economists" they cited in their stories all fell for the "broken window fallacy". This concept was first enunciated by French economist Frederic Bastiat in his essay That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen. In it, he talks about the seen and unseen effects after a careless young boy breaks a shopkeeper's window. Read it if you want, but here's the main conclusion: "Society loses the value of things which are uselessly destroyed", or more simply, "destruction is not profit."

That's a simple and sensible conclusion. But, with the absurdity of the broken glass fallacy being routinely stated as fact in the press by people who should know better, it's no wonder that economics can be so confusing.

Economists Say: Destroy and Plunder

This story in USA Today yesterday says natural disasters like hurricanes are likely to result in an overall benefit to the economy.

"It's a perverse thing ... there's real pain," says Steve Cochrane, director of regional economics at, a consulting firm in West Chester, Pa. "But from an economic point of view, it is a plus."

What an interesting concept: Destruction leads to prosperity. I can't believe the Kerry campaign hasn't picked up on it yet. This has enormous potential to energize the Democratic Party base and turn the tide of the campaign.

I'm certainly not a Kerry fan, but lately he's been skulking around all sullen and long-faced. And frankly, I'm feeling kind of sorry for him. He polls well in Paris, but poorly in Pennsylvania. He is graded high in Greece, but grim on the Great Lakes.

Like a good Republican, I believe in charity for those in need, and I thought I'd put together a 60-second spot that Mr. Kerry might want to consider using:

"I'm John Kerry, and I support this message, just as I supported my country in Vietnam ."

Scene 1: Setting - Dinner table in America.

Announcer: "In the past 4 years, over a million jobs have been lost in this country. And, while President Bush stood idly by, many working Americans have slipped into poverty."

(Child crying.)

Unidentified Child #1: "(slowly and softly) Mommy, Little Timmy is hungry. Why don't we have food to eat?"

Distraught Mother: "Because, Johnny, President Bush and the Republicans in Congress have taken away daddy's job and given all our money to greedy corporations like Halliburton."

(Child cries in background become suddenly louder.)

Johnny: "Mommy, does President Bush hate us?"

Distraught mother: "Yes, Johnny, he does."

Announcer: "(Dark music playing in background.) At thousands of dinner tables across America tonight, parents are having to tearfully explain to their young children why they are having
Spam sandwiches for the fifth night in a row...why they have to use only one slice of bread instead of two...and regrettably, why things won't get better as long as President Bush is in office.

(Start cheery music.) But, John Kerry has a plan to bring jobs back to America. It's called: 'Kerry Your Weight,' because it's time for George Bush and his corporate sponsors to carry their weight in this country.

Scene 2: Setting - Street in Working-Class Neighborhood in Middle America - 2 middle-aged men, dressed in yellow t-shirts, spray-painting graffiti on a bank building. A wheel-barrow full of spray-paint cans sits nearby. (Some cans should be pink in order to subtly appeal to a key demographic.)

Unidentified Male Voice: "(gleefully) Hey Frank...this new 'Kerry Your Weight' program is finally helping us realize the American dream, isn't it?"

Frank: "Why, yes, Jim, it is. Ever since I was a little boy growing up, I've had this uncontrollable urge to break, burn, and tear stuff up. (Note: 'Shit' may be substituted for 'stuff' here if appropriate to the demographic group being targeted.) My 9th grade teacher told me that it was reflective of a normal desire often experienced by adolescent boys to rebel against social norms and establishment values. While I agreed with her at the time, the next day she told me to spit my gum out, so I cut the old bitty (Note: 'Bitch' may be substituted for 'bitty' if appropriate to the demographic group being targeted.) "

Jim: "Wow, Frank. I never knew what psychological trauma you experienced as a young man. It must have been very difficult for you. But, I can empathize with you. I, too, always wanted to act in a socially unacceptable manner when I was young, but I was too much of a conformist to test the boundaries of the bourgeois value system. But now, 'Kerry Your Weight' has encouraged me to take that step and make my dreams become reality."

Scene 3: Setting - Halliburton Headquarters, Houston, Texas

Announcer: "John Kerry believes that to create jobs, we must tear down the extravagance of big corporations, paint over their logos of oppression, and shred the corporatist rules that prevent ordinary citizens from making the most of their lives. (Fade to camera shot of happy 'Kerry Your Weight' workers bulldozing the parking lot of Halliburton corporate headquarters.)

The 'Kerry Your Weight' program has been endorsed by over 100 leading economists (note: current count is at 75...however, at least 50 additional economics profs from 'third-tier' universities have expressed interest), all of whom agree that John Kerry's plan of 'directed destruction' will create millions of new jobs. Indeed, the only people who will be looking for work are George Bush and Dick Cheney."

Ancient Indian Site Discovered

From the Birmingham News: "State archaeologists have discovered a Native American campground near Palmerdale in north Jefferson County along the route of the proposed northern beltline." The story is here.

Losing Their Faculties at UA

The Faculty Senate at the University of Alabama has passed a resolution condemning "hate speech". The text of the resolution is posted here, with some commentary by UA history professor David Beito. Some background on the incident that led to the Faculty Senate resolution is in this Crimson White article.
This is the same Faculty Senate, by the way, that took it upon itself to apologize for slavery last year. Let that sink in for a minute. A bunch of guilt-ridden white liberal college professors apologizing for slavery. Yeah, right. Sounds like these folks take themselves way too seriously.

Sunday, September 26, 2004
On this day:

Off to Big Spring Jam

...the big music shindig in downtown Huntsville. Lots of food and beverage, too. Last night, I couldn't help but sample a couple of beers made by the new Old Towne Brewery here in Huntsville. They make a pale ale and an amber. I though both were very good. The pale ale was much better than when I first tried it on "opening night" a few weeks ago at Humphrey's downtown. I guess they got the message that the first batch didn't get good reviews. I'm planning to try a little of each again tonight just to make sure standards haven't declined in the interim.

Equal Opportunity

The school down the road whipped up on the Citadel this weekend. It's not a powerhouse in football, but The Citadel has a very interesting history. Most recently, it came under attack from the PC crowd for its status as an all-male institution . It put forth a valiant effort to defend its traditions, but finally succumbed after the U.S. Supreme Court dictated that there is no room for the type of diversity that institutions like the Citadel and VMI had provided for over a century.

A Big Roll Tide From Baghdad

Well, the Tide didn't do so well this Saturday at Arkansas. But, win or lose, this letter on Coach Shula's web site puts things into perspective.

Friday, September 24, 2004
On this day:

Brazil Causing Problems with the IAEA

On the nuclear weapons proliferation front, the world's primary focus of late has been on North Korea and Iran. Who would think that Brazil would be a concern?

Well, this story says that Brazil and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are arguing over the nature and scope of inspections at Brazil's nuclear plants. It's worth noting that questions about Brazil's nuclear aspirations have existed for many years, even though Brazil has agreed not to pursue nuclear weapons production. However, the current leftist President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has made statements in the past that seemed vaguely supportive of nuclear weapons development.

While on the subject of Brazil's President, affectionately known as "Lula", it should be mentioned that improving relations with other leftist leaders in the Western Hemisphere, notably Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, has been at the top of his agenda. He recently visited Cuba, meeting with dictator Fidel Castro, but refusing to meet with dissidents and the families of political prisoners. More on that trip can be found here. Another compelling view from a former Cuban political prisoner can be found here.

Recently, Mr. Lula da Silva has stepped up his campaign to win Brazil a seat on the U.N. Security Council. More on that later.

Schwarzenegger: "Stop Whining or I Will Crush You"

OK...he wasn't quite that blunt about it. But, Tuesday, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have banned use of the word "Redskin" as a mascot name in all California school districts. His veto message said that it was a local issue and none of the state's business. Proponents of the bill, including a group of professional whiners called the "Alliance Against Racial Mascots (ALARM)", vow to continue trying to win the bill's passage.

And so Mr. Schwarzenegger's transformation of California politics continues.

India and Pakistan Making Nice

Having put the 7-11 controversy behind them (details a few posts back), India and Pakistan are ready to sit down to resolve the dispute over Kashmir.

Just as they did with India, my high-level intelligence sources have got the goods on Japan's bid to sit on the U.N. Security Council. It's truly unbelievable. Details forthcoming.

Thursday, September 23, 2004
On this day:

Ivan Cleanup

Lots of people are trekking to South Alabama to help clean up after Ivan. And receiving lots of appreciation in return.

Israel Buys 500 Bunker Buster Bombs from U.S.

...and the Iranians aren't happy. Hmmmm.

North Korea Threatening

Japan is deploying ships and a surveillance plane to the Sea of Japan amid signs that North Korea may be preparing to test a missile capable of reaching Japan. In case anyone doubts how crazy the North Koreans are, this paragraph tells it all:

"...the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun warned Japan that its military cooperation with the United States 'would serve as a detonating fuse to turn Japan into a nuclear sea of fire,' the official Korean Central News Agency reported."

In the wake of this type of rhetoric and the very real possibility that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, it becomes increasingly likely that the Japanese will soon abandon their own constitutional commitment to remain nuclear free. Indeed, one of the final diplomatic cards the U.S. can play in this game is to officially drop any objections we may have to Japan and South Korea developing and deploying nuclear weapons in their own self-defense. Perhaps that would be enough to drive home to all parties the grave importance of resolving this situation.

Siegelman (Siggleman) Update

This week, prosecutors asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to remove Judge U.W. Clemon from hearing the trials of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, his former Chief of Staff Paul Hamrick, and Tuscaloosa physician Phillip Bobo.

Judge Clemon, a Carter appointee, is the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. This article in the September 15 edition of the Birmingham News summarizes the prosecutors' beef with Judge Clemon. Among their concerns are that he "was the subject of a previous criminal investigation", "had expressed bias against government investigators and lawyers", and "has financial ties to a lawyer in the case".

The prosecutors are now asking the 11th Circuit to appoint a new judge from out of state to hear the case.

I'm not very familiar with the details of the Siegelman case or the legal issues involved with removing Judge Clemon. I did, however, come across a speech, entitled "Understanding the Brown Decision", that Judge Clemon presented to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on April 29 of this year. I transcribed the most illuminating parts, i.e. the parts that seem most "political". (Another exciting evening in Huntsville!)

Discussing the end of Reconstruction:

"In the election of 1876, where there were some questions about some votes
from Florida, a deal was struck. And, the man who got the second highest
number of votes made a deal whereby he became President of the United States in
return for his promise to remove federal troops.

Now, you know they say history repeats itself, and we've seen it in the
last four years, when the man who came in second in terms of the vote became
President of the United States."

Here, Clemon is alluding to the 1876 presidential election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. In that election, Tilden won a majority of the popular vote. However, Hayes ended up winning a majority in the Electoral College, but not without dispute. There had been contested electoral votes in Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina. Discussions of that race can be found on the following sites:,_1876 (very detailed)

More Judge Clemon from the same speech (Bryan Fair is a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law):
"School desegregation lawsuits are still on the dockets of federal courts. But as Professor Fair has pointed out, that doesn't mean very much because, among other things, the man who sits as the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court today - in 1954, was a law clerk to Mr. Justice Jackson, and William Rehnquist, the law clerk, wrote a famous memo to Mr. Justice Jackson in 1954 urging that separate but equal should continue to be the law. He didn't convince Mr. Justice Jackson of that. But, oh, since he has been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he has worked to see that that would come about. And so, we've had a very significant retrenchment on the whole promise of Brown by the United States Supreme Court in the decisions that Professor Fair mentioned. The problem of racially segregated schools, the old problem, is the same problem, in new (unintelligible...battles?)."

Rehnquist indeed wrote a memo to Justice Jackson, in 1952, when Brown vs. Board of Education was pending, concluding that "separate but equal" as decided by Plessy vs. Ferguson, was the correct constitutional standard. According to this site:
At his (Senate confirmation) hearings, Rehnquist testified that the memo did not reflect his views, but the views of Justice Jackson, to be used at the conference of the Justices at which Brown would be discussed. His testimony was disputed by others (but supported privately by Justice William O. Douglas, the only member of the Court in 1971 who was on the Court in 1952), but the flap subsided, and Rehnquist was confirmed by a vote of 68-26

Rehnquist's original memo, entitled "A Random Thought On the Segregation Cases", can be found here.

Both of these excerpts from Clemon's speech seem to me to be cheap shots. First, by drawing a parallel between the 2000 election and the "stolen" election of 1876, but leaving out key details. Second, by taking a memo written by a twenty-something year-old law clerk named William H. Rehnquist and implying that today, as Chief Justice, he would say the same things the same way. All that without even a cursory discussion of the merits of the memo itself.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004
On this day:

Price Gouging Patrol

Attorney General Troy King says his office has received over 100 complaints about price-gouging along Alabama's devastated Gulf Coast - "everything from people raising prices of ice, hotel rooms, plywood and generators." This article from the Mobile Press-Register has more details. Here are some snippets:

"Alabama's law against 'unconscionable pricing' kicks in when the governor declares an official state of emergency. At that time, it is illegal for anyone to sell or rent items at prices 25 percent higher than average during the last month. There is an exception if the increased cost can be justified.

Penalties start at fines of $1,000 per violation. Persistent offenders may be barred from doing business in Alabama.

...Most of the price-gouging complaints have been about water, gasoline, ice, hotel rooms and batteries, and many of the complaints have been levied against established merchants.

Fairhope Police Chief Chris Browning said officers ran one man from Texas out of town after hearing reports that he was selling generators well above their list value. Daphne Police Chief David Carpenter said the man later came to Daphne, and was issued a ticket for operating without a business license. Carpenter said he is waiting to see if the man will be charged with price gouging, as well.

...Atmore Mayor Howard Shell on Monday said he had wanted to arrest a couple of people who were trying to 'scalp' residents next week. He said one contractor tried to charge $5,000 to take one tree off a house. 'I know that's a little unreasonable,' Shell said.

...(Tony Costaldo, a special agent with the Attorney General's Office) pulled over near Baldwin County 10 to talk to a crew from Langfitt Construction, out of Ocean Springs, Miss. After making sure they had all their credentials, he started hearing gripes from them about $2-a-gallon diesel gasoline and private landfills charging high dumping fees.

Now, all of these efforts to protect vulnerable storm victims are well-intentioned. Vigilance against fraud and other crimes should be encouraged. But, it is wrong to draw an anaogy between "unconscionable pricing" and criminal activity.

Politicians in this state need to pause for a reality check. How likely is it that someone will drive all the way to coastal Alabama from Texas with a truckload of generators in order to sell them at "list value"? Do we really want to discourage people like this fellow from Texas from bringing in needed supplies?

You'd be hard-pressed to find a generator anywhere within 500 miles of the beach right now. The Huntsville Times talked to managers of Costco, Home Depot, and KC's Powersports here in Huntsville yesterday. All of them have sold out of generators. The manager at KC's said that he drove to Kansas City last week "to restock with about 45 generators." Only two were left after the weekend. Home Depot sold out before the hurricane hit, and the manager there only half-jokingly says, "The closest Home Depot with generators now is probably Alaska."

The simple fact is that residents of South Alabama need more trucks of supplies coming in, not less. The best way to help that happen is to allow prices to adjust to local market conditions. Whether the goods are delivered by charitable people in search of salvation or by entrepreneurs in search of profit should not be the state's concern.

Meanwhile, guess who is providing "rations" of ice, water, food, and...ummm...generators while the "price-gougers" are being driven out? Yup, our state and federal governments are on the case:

"...pockets of rural Alabama began receiving their first rations of ice, water and food

...Strife in the inland counties extended to food, ice and water distribution, though officials in Conecuh, Monroe, Escambia and Choctaw counties said Tuesday that relief had finally arrived after days of waiting.

There are problems, most agreed, in getting supplies to the most remote areas in those counties because of the lack of communication and a fuel shortage. Some residents said people in places such as Burnt Corn in Conecuh County were getting desperate for food.

Statewide, the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday coordinated deliveryof 57 truckloads of ice, 48 truckloads of water and 38 truckloads of MREs, an acronym for meals ready to eat, a pre-packaged ration that does not require refrigeration.

FEMA worked with state officials to bring in more generators, including a shipment Tuesday slated mostly for Monroe and Clarke counties. Jeff Emerson, press secretary to Gov. Bob Riley, said everyone who asked for a generator for a critical need has received one. Scott Hughes, spokesman for the state environmental agency, said all water treatment plants that had been off line either had power restored or received generators by late Tuesday afternoon."

It's enough to make a grown man vote Libertarian.

E.U. Invites U.S. to Admire Its Girlish Figure

Kinda like Pee-Wee Herman preening for Arnie.

India U.N. Update

A high-level source in the intelligence community tells me that there is more than meets the eye to the appeal by India to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. I must say that some of this is pretty disturbing. This is all a little convoluted, but it sheds a new light on India's request.

We are all aware of the ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan. Well, it seems that these tensions are not confined to the South Asia theater. Communications intercepts at the time of the last flareup in 2001 indicated that the origins of that that dispute were traced to rivalry between two 7-11 stores in Hoboken, New Jersey. One of the stores was owned by a distant relative of former Indian prime minister Vajpayee and the other was owned by a boyhood friend of Pakistani President Musharraf.

On August 14, 2001, Pakistani Independence Day, a suspicious package arrived at the Indian-owned store with the following note attached: "You must mooooove or more will follow...Happy Independence Day". The startled store manager called the police, who determined that the package was safe and opened it to find the skull of a Brahma bull. Needless to say, passions erupted and soon news of the outrage spread back to India and culminated in a tense military standoff. War was averted when President Pervez Musharraf agreed to buy his boyhood pal a new store in South Florida in return for a commitment by Vajpayee to stop spamming his office with e-mails addressed to "General Perv".

However, there are lingering hard feelings in India. The new prime minster there, Manmohan Singh, a Sikh, has assured his nation's Hindu population that he will pursue a permanent seat on the Security Council to ensure that such insults do not recur.

Just remember, you heard it here first.

Around the World

Germany, Japan, India, and Brazil are lobbying to be permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

The Security Council is currently composed of 5 permanent members, the victorious powers of World War II - the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France. The General Assembly elects 10 other member nations as non-permanent members. The five permanent members hold veto power over all Security Council decisions.

The structure of the Security Council is reflective of the geopolitical situation as it existed when the U.N. was created in 1945, and a good argument can be made that it should be brought up to date with current realities. However, the current reality is that the United Nations is largely disfunctional. The purposes of the U.N., as stated in its charter are:
    1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take
      effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the
      peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the
      peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the
      principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of
      international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
    2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the
      principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other
      appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
    3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems
      of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting
      and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all
      without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
    4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

Can anyone argue that the U.N. has lived up to these purposes? From Bosnia, to Iraq, to Sudan, the U.N. has added failure upon failure in "maintaining international peace and security". So, at the center of any discussion of U.N. reform must be its continuing relevance as an institution. I am not in favor of giving up on the U.N. just yet, but as with many other Americans, patience is wearing thin.

Monday, September 20, 2004
On this day:

Oppression Studies at the Capstone

I had no idea that it was possible to receive a degree in "Oppression Studies" from the University of Alabama. But, this story in the UA student newspaper refers to a student in the New College there who is majoring in just that.

In my years at the University, I often heard of the New College and had a vague idea of how it worked, but never quite grasped the concept. I think most New College students never quite grasped the concept, either, for that matter. This evening, after a little investigation, I found out that the New College was created in the 1960's to allow students to design their own majors, thereby transcending the bonds of traditional curricula.

And, lo! As I was looking back and remembering those times, a picture slowly emerged of a New College graduate I once encountered (play Twilight Zone music now):

I'm sitting at the Chukker in downtown Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A tall, scraggly guy with long hair and a nose ring approaches the bar with an ambling gait and sits down a couple of stools away. He orders a appears to be a PBR, but I'm not quite seems that a fog has descended in the air between us and I can't quite make out the label. I smell smoke...could the building be on fire? I heard that the Chukker is closing soon (or has it already closed?). But they wouldn't burn it down, would they? No, surely they wouldn't do such a thing, not with all these people in here. Wait, the Chukker is closed? How nice of them to let me in...especially with the building on fire and all.

Suddenly a voice appears through the fog. "How's it going," it says.

"Fine," I respond, "did you smell smoke earlier?"

"Only the cigarette smoke," the voice replies.

"Oh," I say as the fog lifts and I again see the face that belongs to the voice. "So what brings you here?"

"No particular reason. Just needed a few beers," he replies, as he orders a Heineken from the bartender.

We continue to talk, and he tells me that he too was once a student at UA. And an exceptional one, it seems. He reminisces about how he once wrote a brilliant essay on "The Physical and Metaphysical Conflicts Between
Schroedinger's Cat and Maya Angelou's Caged Bird." I relate to him that I once had a cat named Crisco who was completely white except for a little black spot on the very top of his head. But, I think my cat was the victim of a horrible collision with my mom's Chevette. He responds, "Uh-huh, " and goes on to talk about another paper he wrote entitled "It's All Relative: Common Perspectives on Intimacy in the Hypotheses of Einstein and Freud." He is explaining something about Freud slipping into Einstein's boxcar, when the fog reappears. "Well, I believe it's time for me to go. It was very nice talking with you," I say, and leave the stool and the bar behind.

Bet It Makes One Helluva Shooter

There's a new vodka coming out.

Skeeter Davis Dies

Country singer and Grand Ole Opry member Skeeter Davis died today. The only song that I know by her is called "The End of the World". It reached number 2 on both the pop and country charts in 1963.

Bam! Bang! Megawati Loses Power

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono defeated President Megawati Sukarnoputri in the country's runoff election for President.

Dan Rather: "In Good Faith"

Dan Rather has issued the following statement regarding the Bush National Guard record scandal:
Last week, amid increasing questions about the authenticity of
documents used in support of a 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY story about President Bush's
time in the Texas Air National Guard, CBS News vowed to re-examine the documents
in question—and their source—vigorously. And we promised that we would let the
American public know what this examination turned up, whatever the outcome. Now,
after extensive additional interviews, I no longer have the confidence in these
documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically. I
find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents
came into possession of these papers. That, combined with some of the questions
that have been raised in public and in the press, leads me to a point where—if I
knew then what I know now—I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was
aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question. But we did
use the documents. We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It
was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying
to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or
favoritism. Please know that nothing is more important to us than people's trust
in our ability and our commitment to report fairly and truthfully.

So Dan Rather says that his error was made "in good faith" and consistent with "a tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism." This is hogwash. Dan Rather pursued this story for no other reason than to portray the President as a liar and to imply that the White House has been deliberately trying to cover up the President's military service record. It was anything but journalism in good faith.

Any idiot could look at the documents in question and determine that there are serious questions about their authenticity. But Dan Rather isn't just any idiot. He is a man blinded by the same sneering, look-down-their-noses attitude that has afflicted so many in the mainstream media for years. But, this time, Dan Rather was caught unaware that the rules of the game had changed so drastically. He is a relic of a bygone era when the mainstream media could report the news in a way conforming to their own biases without challenge or competition. It is undoubtable that there have been similar "misjudgments" in the past by the likes of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and the Canadian Peter Jennings. The difference is that this time, a whole blogosphere's worth of people were watching. This new "alternative media" wasn't willing to sit back with glazed-over eyes as he said, "Trust me...I'm a professional...I've been doing this for years...don't you know who I am?". Dan Rather's incompetence was on display for all all to see. And it has become so glaringly obvious that not even his comrades in the liberal press can ignore it any longer.

Hu's In Charge

Chinese President Hu Jintao took full control of the reins of power in China Sunday. He replaces former President Ziang Zemin as head of the Central Military Commission following Mr. Ziang's resignation. Mr. Hu has been the General Secretary of China's Communist Party since 2002 and President since 2003. So Hu now controls the government, the party, and the military of the world's most populous nation.

China's future is important to the United States for numerous reasons. First off, China's economy is growing rapidly and is becoming more market-oriented, creating an ever-growing market for American goods. Face it, there are a lot of Chinese. China has become our third largest trading partner, behind Canada and Mexico. It bumped Japan out of third place in 2003. Trade equals wealth, and both countries have benefited tremendously from it. Aside from our economic relationship, the big geopolitical issues between us deal with North Korea and Taiwan. In those two cases, the stakes couldn't be much higher. There is the constant risk of military confrontation over Taiwan, but we need each other's immediate cooperation in dealing with North Korea.

So, the question on my mind is, "How will China's approach to these problems change now that there's one guy in charge of all three components of the power structure?" And the answer, is, of course...

Hu knows.

Sunday, September 19, 2004
On this day:

Price Gouging II

In this post, economist Walter Williams does a much better job than I can of explaining the consequences of price-gouging statutes. He wrote the article after the Virginia Senate passed the "Virginia Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act of 2004", following complaints of price-gouging in the wake of Hurricane Isabel.

Saturday, September 18, 2004
On this day:

Price Gouging

After Hurricanes Charley and Frances hit Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush (R) was quick to point out that price-gouging is illegal in Florida, and issued a strong warning to those who might think about charging exorbitant prices for necessary goods. Likewise, in Ivan's aftermath, Alabama Attorney General Troy King (R) issued the following news release:

MONTGOMERY)— Attorney General Troy King today warned unscrupulous
contractors and businesses that he will be vigilant against those who seek to
profit illegally at the expense of Alabamians who suffer damage and others who
seek refuge in our state from the ravages of Hurricane Ivan. He cautioned
consumers to be wary of those who would victimize them a second time through
home repair frauds. He further noted that state law protects consumers from
price gouging when a disaster is so severe that a state of emergency is declared
by the Governor.

“The good people of Alabama stand together in times of
crisis, and we have laws to protect against those who would profiteer and take
advantage of their fellow-citizens,” said Attorney General King. “It is wrong
and against the law to charge outrageous amounts for necessities that people
must have in times of emergency. While this storm may inflict harm on our
people, we will not tolerate allowing anyone to inflict further harm on those in
Alabama. I have directed my Family Protection Unit to be on standby to respond
and assist consumers with the hardships imposed by this destructive weather, and
to respond aggressively to reports of wrongdoing.”

The state law that prohibits “unconscionable pricing” of items for sale or rent comes into play
when the Governor has declared an official state of emergency. An unconscionable
price is defined as one that is 25 percent or more than the average price
charged in the same area within the last 30 days, unless the increase can be
attributed to a reasonable cost. The penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 per
violation, and those determined to have willfully and continuously violated this
law may be prohibited from doing business in Alabama.

I can certainly understand the motivation behind this type of law. There is a sense of fair play that says raising prices to profit from others' losses is wrong. But, try as we may, we can't repeal the fundamental rules of economics.

Anti-gouging laws like Alabama's essentially set a maximum price for goods and services. These types of legal price controls provide tremendous disincentives to moving goods and services into the disaster areas where they are needed most.

Price controls have a long history, and have always and everywhere resulted in the same predictable consequences. For example, the Roman Emporer Diocletian implemented them in the Fourth Century to restrain high inflation. The resulting shortages of goods often led to conflict, sometimes violent, between citizens competing for scarce goods. This same economic lesson has been repeated over and over again in the centuries since. Unfortunately, the people in Alabama's gulf coast communities may be about to learn it again firsthand.

"Ma'am...can you direct me to the melons?"

Cell phone conversation overheard yesterday at Wal-Mart on South Memorial Parkway in Huntsville:

" won't beLIEVE who's at the Wal-Marts...DOLLY PARTON...Yeah, she's right there in the middle of the dairy aisle. I came by to pick up a couple of jugs of orange juice for breakfast next week, and there she was...No, she ain't singing, just signing autographs and a-smiling...Well, it looks like she's smiling. With all that surgery, her face may just be stuck like that, bless her heart...Yeah, she's signing CD's. And, let me tell you it's a wonder her hand don't fall right off...I know it, my arthritis has been acting up here lately, too. Must be this crazy weather...Anyway, y'all come on down and bring your mama-n-nem...Be sure to bring something with you to sign so they don't charge you for nothing...A'ight, see y'all in a little bit."

Happy Birthday Hank

Hank Williams, Sr.'s birthday was yesterday, September 17. (I drank a few beers in his honor...hope everyone else did, too.)

Hank, Sr. was born in Mt. Olive, Alabama, near Georgiana, on September 17, 1923. He died at the age of 29 on January 1, 1953. The funeral in Montgomery is said to have drawn the largest crowd of any since Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President of the Confederacy. He is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery. A must-see when visiting the capital city.

Hank recorded 129 songs in his lifetime. His first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry was in June, 1949. "Move it on Over" was his first song to hit the Billboard charts. The last single released in his lifetime was "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive."

North Alabama Travel Destination - Walls of Jericho

From the North Alabama Sierra Club newsletter dated February/March 2004:

Nature Conservancy Purchases the Walls of Jericho

"Nearly 12 years ago, when the Alabama Forever Wild Land Acquisition
Constitutional Amendment was being debated on the floor of Alabama legislature,
advocates for the new law cited the need to purchase and protect the "Walls of
Jericho" in Jackson County, as one of the primary reasons for such a groundbreaking law. A decade later, the "Walls of Jericho" are now protected. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy, through a partnership with Alabama's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Forever Wild Program, more than 21,453 acres will beprotected in Alabama and Tennessee. The Alabama portion of theproperty was purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Alabama in December 2003. Forever Wild intends to purchase the 12,510 acres from the Nature Conservancy of Alabama at the March 2004 Board meeting. A subsequent public use and protection plan will then be developed. The Tennessee Chapter of the Nature Conservancy will hold its 8,943 acre portion, with hopes that Forest Legacy federal funding can be secured to implement a transfer to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Not only will the purchase of this area restore public access to the "Walls of Jericho, "it will protect the headwaters of the Paint Rock River, home to 100 species of fish and about 45 different mussel species. Five globally imperiled mussels and 12 globally rare mussels are also found in the Paint Rock and its tributaries. The Doris Duke Charitable Trust and the Lyndhurst Foundation have supported the Nature Conservancy's efforts to protect this important and precious watershed...An extra interesting tidbit on the Walls of Jericho: The Alabama acreage sold for $735/acre; the Tennessee for $530/acre---presumably because the timber was better on the Ala. side. Do the math; the total was $13.9M."

Friday, September 17, 2004
On this day:

This Bud's for You

Bud Cramer was one of 16 Democratic House members who voted for the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 1994 earlier this week. The final margin of the House vote was 229-174, with most Republicans voting for the bill and most Democrats voting against.

The bill does two major things: 1) restores attorney accountability for frivolous lawsuits, and 2) acts to prevent "forum-shopping". It accomplishes #1 by ensuring that attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits must pay the legal costs of the defendants subjected to such lawsuits. It accomplishes #2 by tightening rules for the jurisdiction in which a lawsuit may be filed.

(The text of the bill can be viewed by searching on "Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act" or "HR 4571" at

Now, the bill goes on to the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Senator Sessions is a member. I don't know that he has announced a position yet, but I'm almost certain he will support the bill. Senator Shelby, who is certainly no enemy to trial lawyers, I'm not so sure about.

Thursday, September 16, 2004
On this day:

Hope in Beslan

Just read the story.

From the AP:

MOSCOW (AP) -- It was an iconic image of hope in the death and chaos that ended the three-day Beslan school siege -- a girl's bloodied hand clutching a golden cross.

The girl shown in an Associated Press photo that ran on front pages worldwide is now recovering in a Moscow hospital, a piece of shrapnel embedded in her brain.

Viktoria Ktsoyeva, 14, said she prayed every day while held captive, not letting go of the cross even as she plunged into unconsciousness after being wounded in the violent climax of the siege that killed more than 330 hostages.

``I prayed that I would stay alive and that everything would be good again,'' Viktoria told the AP in her room at Children's City Clinical Hospital No. 9, sitting on her bed, barrettes holding back her long black hair.

When masked militants came to her school Sept. 1, Viktoria said she couldn't believe her eyes. ``I never thought in my life I could be caught up in a terrorist attack.''

After being herded into the school with more than 1,200 other hostages, Viktoria and her 9-year-old brother, Artur, found each other. He had been in the bathroom outside the school and probably could have run away, but Viktoria's mother, Tatyana Ktsoyeva, said he decided to stay with his sister.

Fearing the chain holding the cross around her neck might break, Viktoria took it off and wrapped it around her left hand when the siege began.

The cross was a gift from her Orthodox parents that replaced one from her baptism that somehow got lost. Viktoria said she wasn't very religious, but always wore the cross anyway -- even while sleeping.

During the siege, the tiny cross became her talisman of hope. ``All three days I held it in my hand and prayed,'' Viktoria said.

Her mother was praying too, keeping vigil with other parents near the school. Other relatives went to church services daily and lit votive candles.

``Every day we had hope that our children would come home,'' Ktsoyeva said. ``We knew if it went on longer, we'd only be able to carry our dead children out of there.''

Viktoria and her brother were first held in the main gym -- which was packed with explosives -- and the teenager said she was certain she would die if they went off.

The siblings later moved to an adjacent room, and when Viktoria heard the first explosion Sept. 3, as the standoff spiraled to its violent end, a bomb planted near her didn't go off. She said a teacher quickly disconnected the wires to the device and threw it out the window.

As gunfire erupted, adults in the room told everyone to scream ``Don't shoot!'' to the forces outside. ``Maybe they didn't understand or didn't know who was shooting, but they still all were firing -- both our (troops) and also the terrorists,'' Viktoria said.

Viktoria ran. She remembers the horror of escaping through the gym and seeing the bodies there -- some without arms or legs -- including those of friends, parents and teachers.

At one point, Viktoria was hit in the head. As she lay wounded, Artur pleaded with her: ``Don't die. Don't die. Open your eyes. Don't die.'' At one point, he even held her eyes open with his hands.

Soldiers later passed her out a window to safety, the cross still in her hand. Her picture was taken soon after at a nearby triage tent, a bandage around her head and her white blouse stained with blood. Artur suffered only scratches on his legs from broken glass.
Viktoria said as she was fading in and out of consciousness, she clung to hope, and to her cross.

``I felt that if I had that cross in my hand and if it was still there, then everything would be fine,'' she said.

Now, the only signs of her wound are three small stitches on the right side of her forehead. But X-rays show a half-inch piece of shrapnel in the center of her brain.

Dr. Maxim Vladimirov, her neurosurgeon, said the shrapnel could have hit a major artery or affected Viktoria's ability to move. ``She's very lucky,'' Vladimirov said.

For now, doctors are planning to leave the shrapnel in place: They will only operate if complications develop.

After days of being confined to bed, Victoria took her first cautious steps Wednesday. She's expected to be hospitalized for about a month, and then to travel with her family to a sanatorium for further recuperation.

The cross is at her family's apartment in Beslan, still stained with blood; her father and brother plan will bring it to Moscow later.

These days, Viktoria wears a brown cross that was a gift from a priest at the hospital, where a few small religious icons rest on the windowsill alongside a small menagerie of stuffed animals.
Viktoria once wanted to be an economist, but now plans to become a pediatrician.

And from now on, Viktoria said, she will be in church every Sunday, her cross over her heart where it belongs.

Hu's Invited to the Party?

Now, turning to China...

The honorable Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (which is, by the way, the only party in Peking*) has said that he opposes turning China into a multiparty democracy. Amid intraparty disagreements and charges of corruption, Hu said, "History indicates that indiscriminately copying Western political systems is a blind alley for China."

A blind alley for the Chinese Communist party, maybe, but not a blind alley for China. Market reforms begun under Deng Xiopeng and continuing to today have transformed the Chinese economy into an engine of world economic growth. They also unleashed a great desire for freedom in the hearts of the Chinese people. And so it economic freedom grows, so too does the demand for political freedom.

The currents of change in China are irresistable, and though they may have been restrained by the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, the tide can't be held back. The Chinese on Hong Kong and Taiwan have tasted freedom in both its forms, economic and political. The fact that the leader of the Chinese Communist Party now finds himself in the position of having to spend time denouncing "Western" concepts of political freedom is a hopeful indicator that the incredible perseverence of the Chinese people will soon pay off.

*Beijing, for the politically correct.

Shaking in their Sandals

The headline from today's New York Times says Europe Warns Sudan. the Euroweenies are getting tough? Let's read further to see what they're going to do:

"The European Union said Monday that it would impose sanctions on Sudan if it
did not take adequate steps to disarm Arab militias accused of pursuing a
campaign of killing, rape and pillage in its western region of Darfur."

I can hear them trembling now.

Ivan and Cuba

Another note on Ivan...a little more serious. Earlier in the week, while Ivan was aiming for Cuba, a few things struck me about the reaction to the impending disaster there as opposed to here. CBS News reported:

"The hurricane hit hours after President Fidel Castro stopped to discuss
preparations in Pinar del Rio city, where residents shouted 'Fidel! Fidel!' 'We
are so happy to have him close to us,' said 78-year-old Elsa Ramos, when Castro
visited the tobacco-growing town of San Juan y Martinez. 'Fidel protects us from
all bad things.'"

"Fidel protects us from all bad things." The sad thing is that this poor guy may really think that. And the infuriating thing is that Fidel allows, and even encourages him and his fellow Cubans to think that.

The Protector of Cuba himself had this to say about any aid which might be forthcoming from the United States:

"We won't accept a penny from them. The hurricane before this they offered
$50,000. Even if they offered all that was necessary - $100 million, $200
million, we would not accept."

Well, buddy, I didn't hear anyone offering. Oh, I'm sure the Cuban exiles in Florida who risked their lives and fortunes and sacred honor to come to this country would be glad to help out given the chance. There is no doubt that they still love the land and the people they left behind. But, they now live in a place where they are free to worship a different King. And, they have been welcomed into a new land where they can say what poor Elsa Ramos might have also said, given the chance. "We are so happy to have God close to is He who protects us from all bad things." Fidel, you wicked old fool, your days are numbered. The people who have fled your tyranny are now part of a society where they are free to offer or accept assistance without deference to the ego of a leader whose "benevolence" is by decree. And the day will come when those left on that beautiful island that you have made a prison will triumphantly say, "What you have offered, we will no longer accept."


Well, Ivan has had his day. There's lots of damage all along the Gulf Coast, especially in Alabama, from Orange Beach to Mobile. Thankfully, there haven't been many injuries or deaths due to the storm. Here in Huntsville, we've had lots of rain and wind, but nothing extraordinary. My power didn't even go out...or at least it hasn't yet.

Others haven't fared as well. Ivan, along with his predecessors Charley and Frances, caused the loss of several lives and millions of dollars in property throughout the southern United States. As great as these losses may be, though, the states hit by these storms were prepared and will recover.


The CNN guy in Gulf Shores is in the eye right now.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004
On this day:

Ivan the Terrible

I'm sitting up late tonight watching Ivan roll in on Fox and CNN. It looks right now that the eye will come ashore near Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in Baldwin County, Alabama. It doesn't look good for folks down that way. Ivan is a category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds around 135 mph. Damage to property is expected to be heavy.

One of my friends from work has family from Baldwin County who came up to stay with him to ride out the storm. I got e-mail from another friend from Mobile who decided to stay down there. Here in Huntsville, we're about a 5 1/2 hour drive from the beach, and our hotels are full of people who fled Ivan's wrath. Things like this certainly make you gain respect for the power of nature, not to mention the knowledge that has allowed us to understand it better.

Mayor Spencer

Hunstville mayor Loretta Spencer was elected to a third term yesterday by a margin of 55-45.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004
On this day:

My First Post

Wow! My first post. Finally. I've been thinking about, talking about...even daydreaming about starting a blog for quite awhile now. As my friends can attest, I can be quite the procrastinator at times. But tonight, after a hearty meal of a Whopper and fries from Burger King, I finally got some inspiration. Must have been the sound of my arteries clogging that made me think I should do this while I still have the chance.

I'm not quite sure yet where this blog will go from here, but since it's my blog, it will probably be centered around the things that interest me. Funny, that.

Near the top of my list of interests is politics - state, national, international, and if the "prophecies" pan out, even intergalactical. So, I expect that I will be commenting on the news of the day quite a bit. Like a growing number of folks these days, I get much of my news and commentary from the internet. If I want "News-for-Dummies", I go to Fox or CNN. If I want "news-for-pointy-headed intellectuals", I click to the New York Times. If I want "news-for-people-living-in-the-real-world", I read The Drudge Report and National Review Online. If I'm in the mood for "news-for-conservative-whiners", I read Andrew Sullivan. I am also directly plugged into the mainstream print media, in that I am a loyal subscriber to the Huntsville Times. Like many other newspapers, though, the Times often begins its editorials on page A1. When they do that, I hope to help direct appropriate levels of ire and consternation in their direction.

OK, enough of that...for now. I also am interested in real sciences like physics and pseudo ones like economics. In fact, I considered both of those as majors/minors in college. I ended up majoring in Electrical Engineering after I was told that they had dropped the requirement for wearing pocket protectors.

So, I intend to include lots of cussing and dis-cussing, ranting and raving, and general rambling on this blog. Maybe I can learn a few things here and there, too. Comments are always welcome. So here we go...this should be fun.