Tuesday, May 31, 2005
On this day:

Maher Responds to Bachus

On the Huffington Post, Bill Maher responded to allegations by Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus (R.-Vestavia Hills) that his comments about American servicemen bordered on treason:

First, I had never heard of Congressman Bachus before this. Now lots of people have heard of him. You're welcome, Congressman, glad I could help get your Q rating up.

By the way, are we sure he's really a Congressman? Maybe he's just a guy with a fax machine. You know how fact checking goes these days.

I could go on and on, but this is too ridiculous, so I'll just say this: I'm not a congressman, I'm a comedian. There's nothing I can really do to help or hurt our troops (although anyone who's watched my shows or read my books in the last twelve years knows I'm a pretty ardent supporter of the military).

But a congressman, there's someone who can actually DO SOMETHING to help our troops. In fact, a case could be made that it's a lot more treasonous for someone in his position to be wasting his time yelling at a comedian. Shouldn't he be training his outrage at such problems as troops not having enough armor? Wouldn't that ACTUALLY support our troops more? And citizens of this country who claim to support our troops should write this man and tell him GET BACK TO WORK! DO SOMETHING THAT ACTUALLY COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO SOLDIERS IN IRAQ!

And by the way, these "comments" were part of a longer, scripted comedy piece in the modest proposal tradition. I can see why administration supporters would want to deflect attention away from the gist of the piece, which was this: now that we can't meet our recruiting goals, maybe it's the people who were so gung ho for this war to begin with who should step up and go fight it. But of course it's always easier to distract people.

Finally, I would direct the Congressman to chapter 3 of my book "When You Ride Alone, You Ride with bin Laden." The accompanying poster shows a soldier, a cop, a fireman, and a teacher, and says, "We Say They're Our Heroes...But We Pay Them Like Chumps."

Maybe that's something else he could look into when he gets done with me.

Wait a minute...did I just hear Bill Maher say that he was a comedian???

Rep. Artur Davis Confirms Plans to Seek Higher Office

Rep. Artur Davis (D. - Birmingham) says he intends to run for either U.S. Senate or Governor within the next 5 years.

According to the Mobile Register:
Alabama's next gubernatorial contest comes next year; the state's junior senator, Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, is up for re-election in 2008, while U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby's term expires in 2010. On Thursday, however, Davis specified that he is looking more toward 2010 and would run for the Senate only if Shelby, a Tuscaloosa Republican, decided not to seek a fifth term.

Davis also said he would not challenge Sessions or seek the governorship against an incumbent Democrat. But if Republican Gov. Bob Riley successfully seeks re-election next year, Davis noted Riley would be barred from running again in 2010, leaving an open field.

Davis is an impressive politician. He is also about as conservative as anyone can be in today's Democratic Party. Not as conservative as his partner-in-crime Bud Cramer (D.-Huntsville), but certainly in the mainstream of Alabama Democrats. He's widely recognized as a "rising star" in Congress, and along with Tennessee's Harold Ford, Jr., has managed to bring a welcome degree of sanity to the Congressional Black Caucus.

It's just too bad that Davis isn't planning to run for Governor in the 2006 Democratic primary. Given his likely competition - a corrupt Don Siegelman and an inept Lucy Baxley - he'd be a shoo-in.

Friday, May 27, 2005
On this day:

God Bless the NRA

Now that it's virtually impossible to make Britain's gun control laws any stricter, a group of doctors is asking the government to ban certain varieties of kitchen knives.

A team from West Middlesex University Hospital said violent crime is on the increase - and kitchen knives are used in as many as half of all stabbings.

They argued many assaults are committed impulsively, prompted by alcohol and drugs, and a kitchen knife often makes an all too available weapon.

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

The researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all.

They consulted 10 top chefs from around the UK, and found such knives have little practical value in the kitchen.

None of the chefs felt such knives were essential, since the point of a short blade was just as useful when a sharp end was needed...

The study found links between easy access to domestic knives and violent assault are long established. (BBC)

For even more laughs, read this editorial in the British Medical Journal.

Pentagon Recalls Koran-Flushing Toilet

From Scrappleface:
In response to appeals from consumer advocate Ralph Nader, the Pentagon today recalled thousands of military toilets because they may be powerful enough to flush a copy of the Koran.

"If that toilet generates enough force to take down a book of several hundred pages," said Mr. Nader, "then it poses a clear and present danger to prisoners at Guantanamo and to our troops worldwide."
Hat tip to Basil for the link.

Police Probing Pachy-Dung Prank

Vestavia Hills police "are looking for at least six students who sneaked into the school early May 17 and spread elephant manure all around the auditorium."

No More Teachers' Dirty Looks

The Birmingham Board of Education is considering a new dress code policy - for teachers and staff.
Superintendent Wayman B. Shiver Jr. said the situation has reached a point at some schools where it's hard to tell the teachers from the students. He has seen more staff midriffs than he can count, and scanned scores of strapless and see-through numbers.
"We've got the same people trying to enforce the student code of conduct relative to dress when they themselves are not modeling good taste," he said. "There are lots of complaints from the community."
At least one teachers union representative - a man, of course - doesn't seem to mind a little sluttiness in the workplace, and is pledging a fight.
The proposed policy leaves a lot of room for interpretation, said Birmingham Alabama Education Association representative Jeff McDaniels. "How do you define excessively tight?" he asked.

McDaniels said the proposed policy is a violation of First Amendment rights. If the school board were to fire an employee for noncompliance, he said, lawsuits would surely follow. "We'll fight that with everything we have legally."
Hmmm...be careful what you ask for, Mr. McDaniels.

A Victory for Equal Protection

U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson has ruled that state agencies must end their policies of race-based hiring and promotions, at least temporarily. The state was forced by a federal judge to adopt the discriminatory policies in 1970.
The late U.S. District Judge Frank Johnson ruled in a job discrimination suit in 1970 that the state could not hire or promote a white person from a list of certified applicants if a higher-ranking black was on the list and available for work.

When the case began, blacks comprised one-fourth of Alabama's population and were underrepresented in state government. According to the state Personnel Department, the state work force was 15.6 percent black in 1976, but it was 39.5 percent black in 2004.

"The continued implementation of race-conscious, indeterminate, across-the-board no-bypass rule without any recent court review and reauthorization during its extended existence is, on its face, unconstitutional," Thompson wrote.

Thompson said he will accept written evidence and arguments in the case until Sept. 19 before deciding whether to strike down the rule permanently. (AP)

State Medicaid Erects a New Barrier

Alabama's Medicaid Director says that the state Medicaid agency will immediately stop providing Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs to sex offenders. According to Medicaid officials, "only two sex offenders in the state had received Medicaid-reimbursed erectile dysfunction drugs in fiscal 2004." That's two too many.

Going one step further, Sen. Charles Grassley (R. - Iowa) has introduced a bill that would eliminate all federal Medicaid and Medicare funding for these types of drugs. Grassley said, "Some certainly may argue that these 'lifestyle' drugs can improve your life. I appreciate that view. However, we live in a world of limited resources. In that world of limited resources, coverage of these 'lifestyle' drugs under Medicare -- or any other federal program, in my opinion -- is inconsistent with that goal of balance."

Grassley's proposed legislation couldn't come at a better time. According to the Washington Times:
The federal body that governs Medicare ruled earlier this year that, under the 2003 Medicare overhaul bill, the program will begin paying for drugs to treat erectile-dysfunction in January.

The Congressional Budget Office reported last week that Medicare spending on impotence drugs would total $1.93 billion over 10 years, with $730 million being spent in the first five years. After 2010, the CBO estimate shows spending
increasing by $20 million a year and figures that the government will be
spending $280 million a year by 2015.

Thursday, May 26, 2005
On this day:

Free Lectures on Einstein

In case you haven't filled up your Memorial Day weekend yet...here's an idea. From Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution:

The Teaching Company is offering two free lectures to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the year that Einstein, then an unknown patent clerk, published five revolutionary papers on the atomic nature of mattter, quantum physics and special relativity. You can stream the audio or even download an MP3 to listen to on your morning jog. Highly recommended but addictive.

The lectures, presented by Professor Richard Wolfson, are on "Einstein's Miraculous Year" and “Relativity in a Nutshell.”
In “Einstein's Miracle Year,” you will learn about 1905, when the great physicist published major works in diverse areas of physics. Two of them—on the quantum nature of light and on special relativity—laid the groundwork for much of 20th-century physics. Others presented final convincing evidence for the reality of atoms and molecules.

Einstein's name is most closely associated with the Theory of Relativity. In “Relativity in a Nutshell,” Dr. Wolfson outlines the essence of relativity and hints at why the theory requires a radical restructuring of our notions of time and space.

I really hope he discusses Einstein's general theory of relativity. I mean, the special theory is just so simple - betcha that even those little ladies at Harvard could understand it.

Study: PhD Recipients Lack Diversity

A new study says that the population of graduate students in American universities lacks diversity.

I agree.

University faculties face a serious shortage of conservative professors who hold Ph.D.'s in the humanities. This has led to humanities curricula that are tailored to present a one-sided perspective in courses like Western civilization, History, and other social sciences - making students ill-prepared to face a society in which conservatism is ascendant.

Also, new economic realities mean that in order for the United States to maintain its competitiveness, there is a need for more Masters and Ph.D. candidates in "productive" fields like engineering, mathematics, and the natural sciences. To create a work force that is ready to take on the challenges of the 21st Century requires more students with graduate degrees in those disciplines.

In contrast, I'd guess that those studying sociology and "oppression studies" are a tad overrepresented among grad students. This is somewhat troubling, as a large number of them will go on to serve up burritos at Taco Bell while writing treatises like "Hot versus Mild: The Sociopsychological Implications of Human Decisionmaking and Related Paterno-ethnic Considerations." Whatever - as long as they don't forget the guacamole. At least working in fast food is an honorable occupation. Unfortunately, many will go on to become professional activists or write indecipherable columns for the New York Times, or both, as if those are growth industries. They might as we...

Oh wait - hold on a minute.

Darn it. I need to start reading past the headlines. It seems that this new study is all about racial diversity. Oops - my bad. Pardon me while I reevaluate my priorities.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
On this day:

Carrie Wins!

...and becomes country music's newest star (not to mention one of the prettiest).

Huntsville #2 in Living Costs vs. Salary

In terms of living costs and average pay, Huntsville is the #2 city in the nation, according to a report by salary.com.

The study ranks cities based on favorability of the ratio between cost of living and average pay.

Glen Browder: Winning back the South by embracing white Southern culture

Following up on a Mobile Register column from last week, former Alabama Rep. Glen Browder discusses how the Democratic Party can win back the South.

We Democrats must acknowledge that the South has not only changed its politics, but it is fundamentally transforming American democracy in like manner, thereby creating a real two-party system with Republicans.

And we must confront what I call "blue conceit" -- the elitist mentality that afflicts too many party faithful and impedes successful correction of our course...

Partisan outsiders and Southern progressives alike yearn, and plot endlessly, for a turn of events or rhetorical debate that might magically convert white Southerners into liberal voters. But Southern history defies such dramatic conversion, and the South probably will remain a Republican bloc bonanza to the extent that national Democrats continue to ignore or misread Southern political dynamics.
While Browder accurately assesses the reasons for Southerners' aversion to voting Democratic, his suggestions end up sounding a lot like those of Howard Dean: "if we can only manage to shift the debate away from 'God, guns, and gays,' we will win the South."

Embracing the South does not entail pandering to ignorant, racist rednecks; nor does this strategy require that we nominate Bubba for the presidency. It does mean aggressively, genuinely and comfortably reaching out -- while maintaining our historic principles and integrity -- to white Southerners.

Serious Democratic presidential candidates inevitably have to venture into the "guy zone" of white Southern culture -- guns, God and Old Glory -- and whoever enters that zone also had better walk the walk and talk the talk reasonably well to comfort a skeptical bunch of Southern hunters, preachers and patriots...

As long as Democratic candidates and the party ignore or insult traditional values (while noisily preoccupied with such issues as abortion and gay rights), the South will vote Republican.

That all sounds like putting perfume on a hog to me. Browder fails to understand that the Democratic Party's core philosophy is the problem. That philosophy relies on an expansion of government which is supported by higher taxes, subservient to political correctness, and intrusive on individual liberty. No amount of halfhearted repackaging will change that.

A Phallacy?

Suspicious package was a fake foot-long penis.

House of Reps Votes to Crack Down on Spyware

It's about time. I think the penalty for folks who distribute the stuff should be to sit in a 10x10 room for 48 hours watching this - in 3D - while 100 hungry rats take turns nibbling at their bare feet.

Hat tip: Bamacrat.

Mercy and Evil

Douglas Kern discusses the concept of mercy in Lucas's Star Wars versus Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and says:

"Luke, you moron, pick up your lightsaber and stab the Emperor in the face!" ...

"Frodo, I know Jackson is trying to be faithful to the book and all, but take Sting and stab Gollum in the face!" ...

"Obi-wan, screw the Episode Four continuity, and take your lightsaber and stab Anakin in the face!"

If they'd only listen to me, these movies and trilogies would be shorter. Or so I'm always telling the ushers as they escort me out.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005
On this day:

Anakin, Othello, and Aristotle

Pejman Yousefzadeh:
...when one takes a larger look at the story of Anakin Skywalker's fall, one sees a special genius at work in the creation of that story.

And no, the genius in question is not George Lucas. Lucas succeeded in following the rules and using the elements of classical tragedy to tell the story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. But those rules and elements were themselves laid down for posterity a long time ago, in a country relatively far away.

What Sex is Your Brain?

This test is pretty cool - and challenging. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes.

Thanks to Beth at My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy for the link.

Bo Bice Day

Here is the text of Gov. Riley's proclamation.


One unfortunate fact is that when you use terms like "treason" indiscriminately, people tend to take your arguments less seriously. Exhibit A is this semi-favorable review at Newsmax.com of Ann Coulter's bestselling book - Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. There's no doubt that the review would have been much more favorable had Miss Coulter been a little more - ummm - conservative - in her choice of language.

Here are some key excerpts:
By painting with a broad brush, one hopes as a means to generate controversy and spur sales of the book, Coulter diminishes what is actually a very powerful argument on many points...

It is a shame that "Treason" has generated so much controversy because of its title. There is much in it worth reading. Coulter makes a number of credible observations about the conduct and statements of American liberals during the Cold War that the American people should consider in determining their own partisan allegiances.
David Horowitz went even further:
It is important for conservatives to make distinctions between those on the left who were (and are) traitors or self-conceived enemies of the United States, and those who were (and are) the fellow-travelers of enemies of the United States, and those who are neither traitors, nor enemies, nor friends and protectors of enemies, but are American patriots who disagree with conservatives over tactical and policy issues.

It is important, first, because it is just, but also because it is a condition of democracy. Citizens will disagree over many issues and matters. In order for the democratic process to survive, all parties must refrain from attempts to de-legitimize those who disagree with them, provided they have legitimate concerns and dissents. If every Democrat is a traitor, if “the entire party cannot root for America,” we are left with a one-party system.

The final reason for making these distinctions is that this charge – that no Democrat, apparently including Jack Kennedy, can root for America – is obviously absurd, and if conservatives do not recognize that it is absurd, nobody is going to listen to us.
No one except the kooks, that is.

Rep. Bachus: Maher's Comments "Border on Treason"

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R. - Vestavia Hills) says that recent comments by Bill Maher on his HBO TV show "border on treason." From the AP:

Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus takes issue with remarks on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," first aired May 13, in which Maher points out the Army missed its recruiting goal by 42 percent in April.

"More people joined the Michael Jackson fan club," Maher said in giving a comic twist to his commentary. "We've done picked all the low-lying Lynndie England fruit, and now we need warm bodies." ...

"I think it borders on treason," Bachus said. "In treason, one definition is to undermine the effort or national security of our country."

Bachus said he was appalled after watching a rerun of the May 13 show shortly after returning from a visit to Germany, in which he met with a paralyzed American soldier in the hospital. He has since written to Time Warner, HBO's parent company.

"I don't want him prosecuted," Bachus said. "I want him off the air."

Now, I can't stand Bill Maher. He's pompous, obnoxious, unfunny, and an all-around goob. It goes without saying that his former show, "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher," was anything but.

But, no how, no way was his latest slap at the U.S. military treasonous, or even close. Unwarranted - yes. Mean-spirited - yes. Deserving of a swift kick in the noogies -yes. But, treasonous - no.

Treason has a very specific definition in the U.S. Constitution:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.
As James Madison said in Federalist #43:

...as new-fangled and artificial treasons have been the great engines by which violent factions, the natural offspring of free government, have usually wreaked their alternate malignity on each other, the [constitutional] convention have, with great judgment, opposed a barrier to this peculiar danger, by inserting a constitutional definition of the crime, fixing the proof necessary for conviction of it, and restraining the Congress, even in punishing it, from extending the consequences of guilt beyond the person of its author.
There are lots of words and phrases that come to mind in describing Bill Maher, but invoking the word "treason" should be reserved for those circumstances when it truly applies. I like Rep. Bachus, but after 12 years in Congress, he should know better.

French Threatened by "Invasion of Plumbers"

French government/EU says: don't worry...at least they're not German.

Seriously, though - according to that AP article, the French economy is in a shambles:

Unemployment stands at 10.2 percent, and disappointing first-quarter data last week poured cold water on the government's forecast for growth of 2.0 percent to 2.5 percent for 2005 and its pledge to cut joblessness to 9 percent this year.

A series of high-profile moves by companies to outsource manufacturing or services to lower-wage economies, often in Eastern Europe, also has worried French workers and their unions.

"The French have had trouble accepting the enlargement of the EU," Moreau Defarges said. "Some people really believe that the best policy would be simply to close France off."

Andrzej Kowalczyk, whose Polish-registered construction company has a subsidiary in Paris, says he's been feeling the heat from the campaign.

"At the moment there's a lot of customers who don't want to work with Poles because they're afraid, even when (the workers) have all the right papers," he said in an interview.

He said few French want to do construction work anyway, because the pay is only slightly better than generous state welfare handouts. Employees below management level are "mostly North Africans and Poles," Kowalczyk said.

Therein lies the problem. When the benefits of welfare are equivalent to those of working...what else would you expect?

EU Don't Say

Voters in the Alsace region of France may reject the new European Constitution (hooray!) - but some of the arguments against it seem to miss the point entirely:
"Because salaries and taxes are not harmonized in Europe, poorer countries with lower taxes can attract capital, and that puts pressure on us to lower taxes," said Adrien Zeller, president of Alsace's regional council. "But we can't lower taxes because we have expensive social services to maintain."

Those sentiments are complicating the [French] government's campaign to win support for the European constitution, which will strengthen Europe's institutions and underpin future Europe-wide laws. Support for the constitution has been increasing slowly in response to a government-led campaign, but the latest opinion polls still suggest that the May 29 referendum could be a tossup.

Monday, May 23, 2005
On this day:

Riley Joins the "Bice Squad"

Governor Riley has issued a proclamation declaring Tuesday Bo Bice Day in Alabama, and encourages all Alabamians to "vote Bo."

Howard Dean

...still an ass.

Those Crazy Brits

This video by British comedian Peter Kay recently propelled the re-release of Tony Christie's catchy '70's tune "Is This the Way to Amarillo" to #1 on the charts in Britain.

Now, the British Army's Royal Dragoon Guards stationed at Al-Faw, Iraq have done them one better (if that link doesn't work for some reason, try here.)

The soldiers' "spoof of a spoof" proved so popular that it crashed the Ministry of Defence's e-mail system last week. MoD officials weren't upset, though...calling the video "brilliant."

Staff Sargeant Roger Parr, who played the role of Peter Kay in the video, was interviewed last week.
Speaking from the Dragoon Guards German base in Munster, he said: "It's been crazy, really mad. We are all massive Peter Kay fans - well who isn't?

"We were watching his video out in Iraq on satellite TV and all the lads really liked it. The song kind of became a signature for our time out there.

"We just thought one day 'why not let's go for it and do our own version?'

"So we got our heads together and got everyone involved in the video. Even the lads with diarrhoea were in the video - they were the ones in the toilets holding the toilet roll.

"Altogether there were around 41 people in the video. It was no problem remembering the words because we all know them off by heart anyway."

Property Taxes

Alabama could probably stand to raise property taxes a smidgen, as long as there are commensurate cuts in growth-killing income taxes and curbs on other disincentives to wealth creation.

In general, I think that the property tax is a fairer form of taxation than the income tax, inasmuch as it is more directly related to the essential functions of government - like enforcing law and order, building and maintaining infrastructure, etc.

However, those who are constantly beating the drums for higher property taxes should beware of what they ask for. Property taxes can quickly become the most onerous form of taxation when they are allowed to be imposed with few limits. Luckily, property taxes in Alabama are subject to voter referendum. It's not that way in many other states, and lawmakers are being held accountable for the results.
Soaring property taxes are a top worry in state legislatures across the country, where lawmakers are trying to appease disgruntled homeowners and, in some cases, courts that are demanding change in the system so schools are more equitably funded.

Some states are weighing plans to lower taxes. Others just want to keep them from rising too fast. Still others are aiming to substantially change the tax system and find another way to help pay for schools that closes the quality gap between wealthy and poor communities.

"People are facing being taxed out of their homes," said Ted Harris, a 69-year-old retiree living on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, whose taxes climbed from $2,200 in 1990 to $12,000 last year. "Government simply swallows the money and finds lots of reasons to spend that money."

From Texas to Illinois to Pennsylvania, lawmakers are weighing property tax caps, limits, exemptions and other ways to ease the burdens for homeowners - whose tax bills are the down slide of home values increasing. Proposals to change the system have become part of the gubernatorial campaigns in New Jersey and Virginia, the only states with governor's races this year. (AP)

Sunday, May 22, 2005
On this day:

Redstone's Secret Soldier Scientists

The men of the 9330th Technical Service Unit, who came to Huntsville in the early '50's to support Wehrner von Braun's team of rocket scientists, held a reunion this weekend, as an exhibit was dedicated in their honor at the Veterans Memorial Museum in John Hunt Park.

Here's an interesting tidbit: during their stint in Huntsville, "they hung out at a saloon known as the Chicken Shack and at a honky-tonk in Cedar Gap, in eastern Madison County, where moonshine was sold."

Wonder if that's the same Chicken Shack that's still here today, because as the locals would tell you - if there's one place you wouldn't expect to find a rocket scientist...that'd be it.

Star Wars: ROTS

Went to see Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith today. Decent movie, I thought - much better than this , at least, although the dialogue was...well, what you'd expect from George Lucas.

One of the previews was for the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, based on the first book in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series. Now, that's one to look forward to. It will be released in theaters in December.

(There are seven books in all, and Disney has retained the option to release future films in the series.)

Saturday, May 21, 2005
On this day:

Go Get That Suntan

According to a new study, too little sun may be worse than too much, and tanning "in moderation" may actually help prevent cancer.

Alabama Unemployment at 4.4% in April

That's down from 4.7% in March, and is the lowest level since July 2000. It's also well below the national unemployment rate of 5.2%.

Friday, May 20, 2005
On this day:

We Love Lucy?

The Baxley for Governor campaign web site is here.

There's not much there at the moment...because...well...there's not much there.

Lucy's Running for Governor

Lt. Governor Lucy Baxley filed campaign paperwork with the Secretary of State's office on Thursday. She says that "she will hold a campaign kickoff and announce a campaign platform later." No surprise there...she needs plenty of time to figure out what she believes.

Thursday, May 19, 2005
On this day:

Russian Lake Disappears: Bush Blamed


Spotted in Huntsville

You know you're in Huntsville when you see this bumper sticker your way to work in the morning: "Know a good quantum mechanic?"

I'm still on the lookout for these, though:
If this sticker is blue, you're driving too fast.

This car brakes for Schroedinger's Cat

Conserve energy: Don't be a joule thief

Physicists do it with models

Anniston Star: Pryor Deserves a Senate Vote

In a recent editorial, the Anniston Star said that circuit court nominee Bill Pryor deserves a vote by the full U.S. Senate. Seems like a less-than-ringing endorsement, though:
We’re familiar with one of the seven filibustered nominees, William Pryor. He was Alabama’s attorney general. He’s a conservative fellow, no doubt, but he possesses a keen mind.

I guess that last sentence is supposed to pass for a compliment - kind of along the lines of "she don't sweat much for a fat chick."

Former Rep. Glen Browder: Democrats' Real Southern Problem

Former U.S. Rep. Glen Browder, who served Alabama's 3rd Congressional district (my old home district) from 1989 to 1997, identifies some of the major problems that the Democratic Party must overcome in order to win in the South. Beware, it's long, but worth the read.

Here are a few excerpts:

The Democratic Party is painfully aware of its so-called "Southern problem" -- the fact that most whites in this region used to vote for the donkey and now vote for the elephant. However, our national party leaders still seemingly view their Southern problem as a wardrobe malfunction, a debating fault, a turnout matter amenable to willful adjustment within their skilled capacity for progressive, competitive coalition.

...I'm doubtful that my party understands the nature, magnitude and potential permanency of its problem...

...there appears to be, among many Democratic leaders and activists, a dysfunctional mindset, an elitist cultural conceit that resists the central, necessary correction -- dealing aggressively and positively with the South and our transforming partisan environment -- for future revival in heartland America...

The debilitating fault of our party's prevailing mindset is not liberalism simply and by itself, although contemporary liberalism is unattractively out of step with heartland culture (not only because of Republican propaganda, but also because of Democratic obsession with contentious issue positions).

The most irritating aspect of our party's "blue conceit" is a paralyzing conviction of angry, bewildered, self-serving righteousness that blinds us to historical reality and impedes corrective action for our future.

Browder promises to address "what to do" next Sunday. Howard Dean would do well to pay attention...but I know what his reaction will be.

Limited Home Rule Coming to Alabama

Under a bill passed on the last day of the regular session, Alabama's county commissions will be able to go directly to their constituents for the authority to pass nuisance ordinances, rather than having to go through the state legislature. The new powers extend to weed abatement, animal control, litter control and garbage collection, junkyard control, noise abatement, unsanitary sewage, and pollution that creates a public nuisance. The bill does not give commissions the authority to pass zoning laws or taxes.

It's Down to Bo and Carrie

I like 'em both, but I guess I gotta root for the hometown boy.

Hear their performances online here.

Some Alabama Felons May Retain Right to Vote - From Prison

Don Siegelman may have a ready-made constitutency, should he decide to run for Governor.

From the AP:
Many state prisoners convicted of drug and alcohol felonies may be eligible to vote, even while incarcerated, though they probably don't know it.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles announced Wednesday that under a 1996 amendment to the Alabama constitution, inmates convicted of DUIs or drug possession alone never lose their voting rights — despite common belief that felons are prohibited from casting ballots.

...The board received a March 18 advisory opinion from Attorney General Troy King, who said only those felonies involving "moral turpitude" — meaning the crimes are inherently immoral — disqualify a convict from voting...

Maine and Vermont are the only two states that don't revoke voting rights upon conviction.

A Bad Track Record

Amtrak's Sunset Limited line, which runs through Mobile, lost $466 per passenger last year, more than any other Amtrak route. The Crescent line, which runs through Birmingham, lost $252 per passenger. Taken together, the two lines lost a total of almost $110 million in the past year.

Over the rail service's lifetime, those kinds of losses have taken a quite toll, with taxpayers footing the bill with federal subsidies totalling approximately $29 billion.

Given this record of persistent mismanagement, President Bush has proposed eliminating Amtrak's federal operating subsidies beginning next year. As former Amtrak official Joseph Vranich says in this NRO article, this is something that should have been done years ago. Real reform will only come when Amtrak is forced to survive on its own. It's time to quit throwing good money after bad.

(Other NRO articles on mismanagement at Amtrak and what to do about it are here, here, and here.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005
On this day:


Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Emperor of France on this day in 1804. 201 years later, one thing still unites the people of Europe: hatred of the French.

Language, history, cooking and support for rival football teams still divide Europe. But when everything else fails, one glue binds the continent together: hatred of the French.

Typically, the French refuse to accept what arrogant, overbearing monsters they are...

Britons described them as "chauvinists, stubborn, nannied and humourless".

For the Germans, the French are "pretentious, offhand and frivolous". The Dutch describe them as "agitated, talkative and shallow." The Spanish see them as "cold, distant, vain and impolite" and the Portuguese as "preaching". In Italy they comes across as "snobs, arrogant, flesh-loving, righteous and self-obsessed" and the Greeks find them "not very with it, egocentric bons vivants".

Interestingly, the Swedes consider them "disobedient, immoral, disorganised, neo-colonialist and dirty".

Did anyone mention lazy? From the New York Times Tuesday,
A well-meaning government initiative to sacrifice a paid holiday to raise money for the country's elderly threw France into confusion on Monday as employers and workers, government officials and teachers decided on their own whether to obey the call to work.
There's one good thing, though...the latest polls show that French voters may very well vote "non" to the EU Constitution - although one of their main reasons for doing so is questionable, to say the least.
Many French trade unions fear the constitution enshrines an "ultra-liberal" Anglo-Saxon style economic model rather than the French "social" model.
That, folks, is why France will never again be anything more than the second-rate power it is today.

Tea Time

Apparently, it's losing its popularity in England these days. According to the Telegraph:
The nation's love affair with tea is in sharp decline, according to research out today.
Some 165 million cups of tea may be drunk every day but the market is rapidly shrinking with sales of tea bags falling by 16 per cent and sales of loose tea by nine per cent in two years.

In 1999 the tea market was worth £707 million but last year that figure fell to £623 million.

The cause of the decline is the competition from high street coffee shops and the popularity of bottled water.

Environmentalists to Advocate Volcano Regulations?

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano is the nation's top producer of sulfur dioxide.
Since it began erupting on Jan. 3, 1983, the volcano has been sending an average of 1,000 metric tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere each day, according to the Hawaii chapter of the American Lung Association.

This is 6,000 times the amount emitted by a major industrial polluter on the mainland, making Kilauea the nation's top producer of sulfur dioxide.

2005 Regular Session is Over

Monday was the last day of the legislature's regular session this year. But, the fun's not over. Since the legislature adjourned without passing a General Fund budget, Gov. Riley will likely call a special session later in the year, probably this summer.

The Birmingham News has a roundup of bills approved by the legislature this year. This AP report lists some of the bills that died.

ABC Official: USSC Wine Ruling Probably Won't Affect Alabama

The general counsel for Alabama's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board confirms that the Supreme Court's ruling regarding interstate wine sales isn't likely to affect anything here in Alabama. From the Mobile Register:
...because Alabama's law...bars wine sales directly from in-state vineyards, a state official said Monday that he doesn't think the ruling will immediately apply to Alabama residents. "It also is my understanding that many states, like Alabama, do not allow direct shipment to consumers by either in-state or out-of-state wineries," Robert S. Hill III, general counsel for the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, said in a written statement. "I believe that the Court's decision may focus on the unequal treatment of in-state vis--vis out-of-state wineries and therefore may not be directed at states like Alabama."

Why Alabama Legislators Have Shiny Shoes

From the Tuscaloosa News:

While the state General Fund suffered last year, pay supplements of more than $717,000 were paid by the Senate to employees, including $5,000 to a shoeshine man...

Some of those receiving taxpayers’ money in addition to a shoeshine man were drivers, private secretaries of senators in their home districts, legislative assistants and press release writers, records show...

The shoeshine man is not among those receiving state money so far this year, according to the state comptroller’s office. No one in [Senate President Pro Tem Lowell] Barron’s office or anyone else’s office last week seemed to know who authorized the shoeshine man to be paid with state dollars or why he was paid.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005
On this day:


Kudzu may help curb binge-drinking.

According to the AP:

A group of 20-something drinkers seemed to lose the urge to binge-drink when they took pills made from kudzu, that ubiquitous vine that blankets the South, researchers reported.
It could also make consuming alcohol more economical.

[Researchers are] not certain why, but speculated that kudzu increases blood-alcohol levels and speeds up its effects. In other words, the drinkers needed fewer beers to feel drunk.
Good thing it's so plentiful in the South, huh?

Sign Me Up

Money for bloggers.

My Message to Filmmakers

Can it.
The dark underside of the United States has taken center stage in several films at Cannes this year, capped on Monday with a scathing attack of past and present racism in America by Danish director Lars von Trier.

"Manderlay," about a fictional Alabama plantation where people are living in 1933 as if slavery were never abolished, staggered festival-goers with a disturbing portrayal of America that fails, even today, to come to terms with its racist past. (Reuters)

Tuscaloosa News Opposes Death Tax Repeal

On Monday's editorial page, the Tuscaloosa News criticized Sen. Jeff Sessions' bill to end the estate tax, appropriately known as the "death tax," saying that "Sessions' bill for rich to get richer is misguided."

Republicans, demonstrating their gift for politically useful language, call what little is left of the tax after several years of cuts the “death tax."

And now Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions is joining the fray, which is about much, much more than linguistics, with a bill that would make complete repeal of the estate/death tax retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year. That is much sooner than a similar bill introduced by other GOP senators that would repeal the tax, which now applies only to inheritances of more than $1.5 million, in 2010.

Last year the government, which has racked up record amounts of deficit spending under President George W. Bush, collected $24.1 billion in much-needed cash from the tax on inheritances, which in many cases simply fattened some dubious accounts.
"Dubious accounts?" How is leaving wealth to one's heirs more "dubious" than having it confiscated by the federal government? When someone dies, their accumulated wealth above $1.5 million is subject to an estate tax exceeding 45%. As the Heritage Foundation's William W. Beach has noted, that level of taxation results in several detrimental effects to the economy:
  • It discourages savings and investment
  • It undermines job creation and wage growth
  • It prevents the economy from achieving investment potential
  • It contradicts central promise of American life: wealth creation.
Here's a suggestion - the editors of the T-News should go see their lawyers this week, and make an addition to their wills: "Effective upon my death, I hereby bequeath 50% of the value of my estate to the federal government, to be used for whatever purpose that the politicians in Washington, D.C. see fit." Then, they should encourage their elitist pals to do the same. Maybe the liberals have a chance to save Social Security after all.

Alabama to Restrict Sale of Decongestants

One of the most important bills passed by the legislature this session would place restrictions on the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine (contained in OTC medications such as Sudafed), key ingredients in the production of methamphetamine. Governor Riley has indicated that he will sign the bill into law.

Other states have passed similar laws over the past year, including Oklahoma. That state's apparent success gives reason for optimism. According to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, meth lab seizures have dropped more than 70 percent since the law was enacted in April, 2004. This chart tells the story.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma made its law even tougher. According to the Governor Brad Henry's web site, the state will "establish a statewide online database that will link pharmacies to augment an existing law restricting sales of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamine."

According to Henry, "By creating an electronic network of pharmacies, we will make exceedingly difficult for meth manufacturers to skirt the law. Connecting pharmacies across our state means that a pharmacist will be able to check if a customer has already purchased the maximum amount of pseudoephedrine allowed by law.” (Hat tip: OK Blawg.)

The big question is whether these gains will be permanent, or if domestic meth producers will be clever enough to adapt to their new environment. There's only one way to find out, though, and that's to make their jobs more difficult. Alabama's new law is a good first step.

Monday, May 16, 2005
On this day:

Legislature Overrides Riley's Veto of Education Budget

The budget, which Governor Riley has labeled as "fiscally irresponsible," will increase education expenditures by 13% over this year, and it includes a 6% pay raise for teachers.

Riley argued that the raise and spending plan can't be sustained with anticipated tax revenue, and public schools could go into proration, with across-the-board cuts in programs like the Alabama Reading Initiative.

"We have made these mistakes before where we have an unaffordable pay raise, and ultimately it puts us into proration," Riley said at a news conference.

Alabama law requires across-the-board cuts, excluding employee salaries, if revenues fail to meet budgeted expenditures.

Economic growth in Alabama has fueled large increases in the state's education trust fund over the past year, but the legislature has taken an unnecessary risk in betting that revenue growth will keep up that rapid pace.

The better alternative would have been to restrain spending this year, pay back the rainy day fund, and spread out salary increases over the coming years. But, sensible solutions like that are often hard to come by in a town where Paul Hubbert's AEA rules the roost.

Source: AP

Jacko Takes the Stand

"I Never Copped a Feel."


In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that state regulations governing direct shipments of wine (and presumably other alcoholic beverages) to consumers can't discriminate against out-of-state producers.

Stephen Bainbridge has an excellent analysis of the Court's decision here, and also provides links to each of the opinions.

From what I've been able to glean from the 'net, Alabama's rules for direct-to-consumer shipments are equally cumbersome for both in-state and out-of-state shipments, so the case is unlikely to have much impact in Alabama. As Bainbridge says:
...it's not at all certain that consumers in the 24 states that had banned direct to consumer sales will soon be able to buy wine on the internet and have it shipped to their home or office. If the states chose to change their laws so as to ban direct-to-consumer sales by both out-of-state and in-state wineries, those laws almost certainly would be upheld as within the states' powers under the 21st Amendment.

PC World Magazine: Sober Worm Spawns German Spam

This explains the barrage of trash e-mails I found in my inbox at work today.

Stormy Weather Ahead

NOAA is predicting another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season.

"NOAA's prediction for the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season is for 12 to 15 tropical storms, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, of which three to five could become major hurricanes," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator at a news conference today in Bay St. Louis, Miss. "Forecaster confidence that this will be an active hurricane season is very high."
The 2005 storm names will be:



To the person who did a Google search on "Lebanese bong," thereby being directed to my little blog - listed in 6th place for that particular search - I extend my deepest apologies if you didn't find what you were looking for. (In case you didn't, you might want to put quotes around the search phrase next time to narrow down the results.)

Also, if you came here looking for inflatable monkeys...please check here instead.

Religion and Tolerance

Last week, Newsweek printed allegations that U.S. soldiers at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Koran - setting off violent protests and calls for holy war against the U.S. that spread from Afghanistan across the Middle East.

Now, Newsweek is backing away from its original story, and editor Mark Whitaker has said, "We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst."

Newsweek certainly deserves every bit of the grief that it is getting over this latest episode of shoddy journalism. But, it seems to me that a great deal of criticism ought to be reserved for those who led and participated in the protests - first, for failing to question the veracity of the allegations, and second, for failing to put them into proper perspective.

On the first point...ummm...it's Newsweek - enough said.

On the second point - the failure of protesters to put things into perspective - I thought that this column by TechCentralStation's Lee Harris was interesting. He said,

Yesterday that recently vanquished cliché, the Arab street, returned to remind us that there are some things that even the most enlightened Westerners don't get about Muslims -- their fanaticism about the Koran...

The Koran has always been the great stumbling block to any Western understanding of Islam. The Koran means so little to us, and so vastly much to them. We cannot, to be frank about it, comprehend their admiration, not to mention, their abject adoration of the Koran understood as a book. Compare it to Homer or the book of Genesis, or the Gospels, or the great Hindu epochs, and you will be bowled over by the difference. Thomas Carlyle once made the comment that only a high sense of duty could carry a Western reader from the first Surah to the last.

But it is not as a book that Muslims regard the Koran -- that is our first misconception. It is in itself a holy and sacred object, like the cross to the Christians or the American flag to the patriotic and red-blooded among us: you don't mess with it. It is not to be trampled on, or stuck in a toilet. It is the great visceral connector that makes all Muslims feel that there is a community between them.
That made me wonder how Christians might react to similar allegations of desecration of the Bible. To most Christians, a Bible is not valued so much for the book itself as for what it reveals. Its words are more important and hold more meaning when written on a heart than on a page.

In most "Christian" nations, including the United States, desecration or blasphemy would not even be punishable by a fine, much less be viewed as a cause for holy war. Since most of these nations guarantee religious freedom, the numerous religions and sects have had to learn to tolerate one another.

Granted, it took a long time to reach this stage - there were all those nasty little Inquisitions, Reformations, and Crusades along the way - but the outcome has proven far preferable to the alternative of violence and holy war that still finds its voice among radical Islamists in the Middle East.

Sunday, May 15, 2005
On this day:

Democrats: States, not D.C., helping Americans

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson says that "most people don't see the Republican-led federal government doing anything to give you, your business or your family a helping hand."

Oh, if only.

On the contrary, domestic spending under George W. Bush and the Republican Congress has skyrocketed over the past 5 years. Just take a look around - there is more federal money going into education today than ever, federal funding for the arts is up substantially, seniors have been given a new and costly prescription drug benefit, and federal highway dollars continue to flow unabated into pet projects that often have nothing to do with transportation. Industries continue to win protection against foreign (and, in some cases, even domestic) competition, pension plans get government bailouts, and farmers continue to benefit from massive subsidies and price supports.

It seems that wherever you look, the federal government is there - all too willing extend a "helping hand." I don't know what world Gov. Richardson is living in, but it might be nice to check it out sometime.

Friday, May 13, 2005
On this day:

Tabarrok: The Canary is Dead

Now that that United Airlines is terminating its employee pension plans, Marginal Revolution's Alex Tabarrok says:
Now, let's review. A large organization counts on its younger workers and continuing high revenues to fund the pensions and medical care of its retired workers but finds that rising health care costs, longer life-expectancy, and its own inability to control spending force it to cut pension benefits and switch to personal accounts.

Kinda makes you go hmmm...doesn't it?
Yup...sure does.

Time for the Nukes

Bill Pryor has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Log Cabin Republicans and the Republican Majority for Choice are going all-out to oppose his nomination in the full Senate, saying he is unsuitable for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.
Two mainstream Republican groups are launching a grassroots effort to defeat the nomination of William Pryor to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. “Log Cabin Republicans and the Republican Majority for Choice are activating our nationwide grassroots memberships to put pressure on Republican Senators to oppose William Pryor’s nomination,” said Log Cabin Republicans President Patrick Guerriero. “William Pryor’s words and actions make him unsuitable for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench,” said Jennifer Blei Stockman, National Co-Chair of the Republican Majority for Choice.

"We support the confirmation of all fair-minded jurists, however, Mr. Pryor's record is so out of step with mainstream Republican values and contemporary jurisprudence that our organizations are compelled to forcefully oppose his nomination," continued Guerriero.

Ummmm...since when were either of these two groups "mainstream"?

Southern Culture - On the Skids

General Forrest Middle School in Gadsden will get a new name...largely due to a 42-year old desegregation lawsuit. (More here - registration required.)

Thursday, May 12, 2005
On this day:

Condi Supports Right to Bear Arms

...the latest reason to be thankful that Condi is our Secretary of State.

In an interview with Larry King last night, Condoleezza Rice said, "The Second Amendment is as important as the First Amendment," as she reflected on how essential the right to keep and bear arms was for her own family while she was growing up in Birmingham during the '50's and '60's.

New NRO Blog: Bench Memos - All Eyes on the Courts

National Review Online has introduced a new blog that, according to K-Lo, will be "dedicated to judicial news, analysis, and hopefully scoop."

Should definitely be worth watching.

Transparently Corrupt

Don Siegelman says that he will release his income tax returns should he decide to run for Governor.
David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama, said Siegelman's announcement "is a wise move given his situation."

He said Siegelman's credibility was damaged last year when he was indicted on charges accusing him of rigging bids on state Medicaid contracts, and even though the charges were dropped, he still must rebuild his credibility.

"One way to deal with that is to be as open and transparent as possible," Lanoue said. (AP)

Kill Some Zombies

Here's a game called De-Animator...based on the stories by H. P. Lovecraft.

(Link via Jonah Goldberg at the Corner - an endless source of timewasters.)

Taco Bell Chihuahua Joke

Just remember - there's no need to thank me for this one - it's free.
The Taco Bell Chihuahua, a Doberman and a Bulldog are in a doggie bar having a drink when a good-looking female Collie comes up to them and says, "Whoever can say liver and cheese in a sentence can have me."

So the Doberman says, "I love liver and cheese." The Collie says, "That's not good enough.

The Bulldog says, "I hate liver and cheese." She says, "That's not creative."

Finally, with his Mexican accent, the Chihuahua says, "Liver alone cheese mine."
- Strange Cosmos

Looking for a Pet Present?

For the dog who has everything - pamper your pet with a new bed made just down the road in Cullman, Alabama.

Don't laugh - even Paris Hilton's chihuahua, Tinkerbell, has one. At first, Tink thought her new bed was just arful. But, now that Paris's prized pooch is raking in profits from her new book, she's much happier, and is rumored to have found herself a new pal.

LSU Economist: Alabama to Lead the Southeast in Job Growth

LSU economist Loren Scott predicts that Alabama will lead the southeast in employment growth over the next two years.

New Hank Williams Museum

Coming to the service station in Oak Hill, West Virginia, where Hank's chauffeur found him dead.

AG Troy King - Too Close to Trial Lawyers?

At least one person seems to think so.

Congress Honors the Tuskegee Airmen

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution honoring the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first group of black combat pilots. These World War II heroes received their training in Tuskegee, Alabama, where today, the nation honors their memory at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R.-Anniston) sponsored the resolution in the House, which passed it back in February. Each of Alabama's other six U.S. Representatives served as co-sponsors. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-Mobile) was the sponsor in the Senate, with Sen. Richard Shelby (R.-Tuscaloosa) listed as a co-sponsor.

The text of the resolution is as follows:

Honoring the Tuskegee Airmen for their bravery in fighting for our freedom in World War II, and for their contribution in creating an integrated United States Air Force.

Whereas the United States is currently combating terrorism around the world and is highly dependent on the global reach and presence provided by the Air Force;

Whereas these operations require the highest skill and devotion to duty from all Air Force personnel involved;

Whereas the Tuskegee Airmen proved that such skill and devotion, and not skin color, are the determining factors in aviation;

Whereas the Tuskegee Airmen served honorably in the Second World War struggle against global fascism; and

Whereas the example of the Tuskegee Airmen has encouraged millions of Americans of every race to pursue careers in air and space technology: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that the United States Air Force should continue to honor and learn from the example provided by the Tuskegee Airmen as it faces the challenges of the 21st century and the war on terror.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005
On this day:

Speaking of Whiskey...

Here's a little fact I learned while playing NTN trivia tonight: Many of Pennsylvania's Scotch-Irish distillers moved west into Kentucky following the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. Apparently, it was easier to evade the tax laws in Kentucky, as few people were willing to be tax collectors there.

Another whiskey fact: "Whisky" is the spelling for Scotch whisky, while "whiskey" is the spelling for Irish, and also the US spelling. One Scotsman was so intent to make sure people understood the distinction that he wrote a poem about it.

Wet-Dry Votes in Alabama

"Dry" towns and counties across the state have grown accustomed to the almost-annual referenda on whether to allow alcohol sales. JSU History Professor Harvey Jackson talked about the subject in Wednesday's Anniston Star. (Hmmm...so, when is the last time someone voted to go dry, I wonder?)

Of all the issues that church-going Southerners get worked up over, none is more divisive than whether or not to sell strong drink.

Abortion. Gay marriage. Displaying the Ten Commandments. Even the lottery. The furor they create pales in comparison.

Put a wet/dry vote on the ballot and communities go crazy. Denominations divide. Families fall out. Friends quit speaking to each other. Rumors fly.

It’s nasty.

...most folks, at least those I know, are like Sen. Wyre “Cyclone” Pickett, the Southern sage who, when asked his position on the sale and consumption of liquor reportedly told an audience:

“You have asked me how I stand on whiskey. Well, brother, here’s how I stand.

“If when you say whiskey, you mean the devil’s brew, the poison source, the bloody monster that defiles innocence and dethrones reason and creates misery and poverty and, yes, literally takes bread out of the mouths of babes ... if you mean the evil drink that topples God-fearing men and women from the pinnacle of rapturous and gracious living into the bottomless pit of despair and degradation and shame and helplessness, I am against it with all that is within my power . . .

But ...

If when you say whiskey, you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine and ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and a glow of contentment in their eyes . . . if you mean Christmas cheer, if you mean that stimulating drink that puts a spring into an old man’s step on a frosty morning, if you mean the drink that enables a man to magnify his glory and happiness and forget, if only for a moment, life’s great tragedies and heartaches and sorrows . . . if you mean that drink the sale of which pours into our treasury untold millions of dollars that are used to provide tender loving care for our crippled children and our deaf and our dumb and our pitifully aged and infirmed, which builds highways and hospitals and schools, then brother I am for that ...

“That is my stand . . . I shall not recede . . . I shall not compromise.”

And I suspect that he never did.

Sounds like that Senator was a pretty wise man. (Although, I wonder if Prof. Jackson may have attributed the quote to the wrong Senator...all the sources I've found on the net, including this one and this one, attribute the "whiskey speech" to Judge Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat Jr., a state senator from Mississippi who delivered the speech in the Mississippi House in 1952.)

Upcoming Cheney Speech at AU "Worries Some"

Vice President Cheney is scheduled to speak at Auburn's graduation ceremony this Friday, and it appears that some faculty members are upset. From the Opelika-Auburn News:
In a county that resoundingly voted to keep Cheney and George W. Bush in the White House for a second term, many are ecstatic to see the vice president travel through the Plains. But AU Provost John Heilman has already addressed the possibility that Cheney’s visit may cause controversy among faculty, some of whom strongly oppose Cheney’s policies. At last week’s AU Senate meeting, Heilman cited an e-mail from a faculty member which noted “how divisive this visit will be.” The e-mail urged Heilman to clearly set parameters for oppositional speech at the graduation ceremony.

“I don’t think the provost should be in the business of deciding what are and are not in the limits of expression,” Heilman said. “Those matters are for us to decide individually ...“I think civility is something that matters even, or especially, in the company of those with whom we strongly disagree.”
According to the News, Cheney will be Auburn's first commencement speaker in 34 years.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005
On this day:

Gold Stars

Newsweek Magazine has ranked the Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School in Irondale, Alabama #1 among U.S. public high schools.

Other Alabama high schools making the list were the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham (#61), Auburn(#211), Mountain Brook (#248), the Loveless Academic Magnet Program in Montgomery (#434), and Grissom in Huntsville (#631).

Schools were ranked based on the number of students taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests, divided by the number of graduating seniors. Private schools and public schools with strict academic admission standards were excluded from the rankings.

Sounds like a hokey way of judging academic excellence to me, but hey...it's Newsweek...what do you expect? (Newsweek has provided a FAQ about the rankings here.)

Anniston Star: Judicial Activism is "Fiction"

The Anniston "Red" Star had an editorial last week entitled "The Fiction of 'Activist Judges'". The Star's editors would do well to read Tom Parker's opinion (link in the last post) to learn what is meant by judicial restraint.

Justice Parker: Court Should Sometimes Defer to Legislature in Constitutional Interpretation

Todd Zywicki at the Volokh Conspiracy comments on "an interesting concurring opinion by Justice Parker from the Alabama Supreme Court:"

Justice Parker's opinion begins as follows:

It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 177 (1803). In these words, which enshrined the principle of judicial review, Chief Justice John Marshall noted that constitutional interpretation is emphatically the responsibility of the judiciary. He did not say that constitutional interpretation is exclusively the responsibility of the judiciary.

...Interesting opinion that invokes, among other sources, Andrew Jackson's veto of the Bank of the United States on the ground that it was unconstitutional, notwithstanding the Supreme Court's holding in McCullough.

The case was Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Authority v. City of Birmingham. New World Man has posted a link to the text of Parker's opinion here.

Parker's point is one that is often forgotten. Today, it seems that the prevailing assumption is that the judiciary reigns supreme when it comes to constitutional interpretation. Thus, the legislature and executive have gotten in the habit of deferring many questions of constitutionality to the judiciary. That's exactly what the President and Congress did with campaign finance reform, for example. President Bush even said that he believed that parts of that bill were unconstitutional, but he signed it into law anyway. That is a habit that needs to be broken - as Tom Parker's opinion implies.

MIT Time-Travellers Convention a "Mixed Success"

MIT hosted a Time-Travellers Convention last weekend. But, no confirmed time travelers showed up.

Event organizers couldn't have been too disappointed, though. "The odds of a time traveler showing up are between one in a million and one in a trillion," said Amal Dorai, who conceived the convention.

Number of the Beast - Subtract 50

Newly decipherable manuscripts seem to confirm that the "number of the beast" is 616, not 666. See also here (National Geographic), here (MTV), and here (Ace of Spades blog).

Funny. I remember that while visiting the NYC back in junior high (around 1986 or so), I saw where some nut had written graffiti equating President Reagan to the beast of Revelation - in a UN restroom, of all places. It said something like this, in big bold letters:

Ronald Wilson Reagan
--- 6 ------ 6 ------- 6 ---

Apparently, the bathroom "artist" isn't the only loser to find hidden meaning in Reagan's name...check out the results of a Google search on "Ronald Wilson Reagan" and "666." Guess they'll all have to reevaluate things now, huh.

And, we think George W. has it bad.

Finebaum Interviews Former Bama Coach DuBose

Paul Finebaum talked to former Crimson Tide football coach Mike Dubose last week about the current state of Bama's football program.

The biggest problem at Alabama, DuBose said, is that "...there are too many people trying to run that program." DuBose also said he believes that Gene Stallings was pushed out of the head coaching position before he was ready to go, and that the situation hasn't changed much since: "...there are people who are trying to influence the program who have their own agendas rather than what's best for the athletic program and especially the football program."

Coach Dubose has just taken another job as defensive coordinator for Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., and sees no chance of ever returning to the SEC. He has coached high school football at Luverne High School for the last two years.

Another Siegelman Scandal Update

The federal grand jury investigating Siegelman-era corruption got back to work last week.

Siegelman Pal Pleads Guilty - Pledges Cooperation w/ Feds

Last week, Siegelman crony Lanny Young pleaded guilty to a new bribery charge.

Former lobbyist and landfill developer Lanny Young, who has already admitted guilt once in Alabama's government corruption investigation, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a new charge involving a northeast Alabama landfill and agreed to resume his cooperation after nine months of silence.

In a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Young acknowledged paying $65,000 in bribes to Phillip Jordan when Jordan was probate judge and county commission chairman in Cherokee County. The bribes were in return for Jordan's help in getting the county commission to approve decisions that financially benefited Young and his landfill...

In 2003, Young pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery by providing more than $100,000 in cash and gifts to Nick Bailey, Siegelman's executive secretary, for his help with issues in Montgomery. He also admitted underreporting his 1999 income to the Internal Revenue Service by $500,000. (AP)

See here for more background on Young's dealings with Bailey.

It's also kinda interesting that Young is represented by Stephen Glassroth, of Glassroth v. Moore infamy.

Monday, May 09, 2005
On this day:

N. Bama Gas Stations Could Face Trouble for Selling Gas Too Cheap

There's been a gas war going on in the town of the town of Rogersville in northwest Alabama. Several stations there recently cut gas prices to as low as $1.88 per gallon, well below the regional average.

Unfortunately for consumers, though, the low prices are likely to be short-lived, as some competitors have complained that the price-cutters aren't playing fair. The local District Attorney has also taken notice, warning that the low prices may violate Alabama's Motor Fuel Marketing Act, which prohibits retailers from selling fuel below cost. (I've blogged on this previously here.)

Alabama isn't unique in keeping gas prices artificially high. Maryland regulators recently stepped in to enforce a similar law in their state. Todd Zywicki has more on Maryland's law over at the Volokh Conspiracy.

The chief argument for this law is that it is supposed to inhibit monopoly in the petroleum and convenience store business. That's hogwash. Many convenience store chains already sell gasoline at or just above cost, relying almost exclusively on in-store sales to generate profits. All the law does is to stifle competition, putting certain marketing strategies off limits and propping up retailers that fail to adapt to new market realities. With gas prices persistently high, now would be a perfect time to repeal this silly law.

Auburn's "Strategic Diversity Plan"

Auburn University is developing a strategic diversity plan. It is available online here.

You get a sense for what's in store from this excerpt:

This is a living document which will be reviewed annually. Revisions, updates and additions will be made as necessary to continue embedding diversity into the culture at Auburn University. The report is meant to be inclusive of all underrepresented and minority groups through the use of the terms "people of color/minorities," "women," "people with disabilities" and "other underrepresented groups."
Some of the tactics for implementing the plan are:
  • Establish and publish an annual Diversity Calendar of events, celebrations, historic dates and holidays, which reflects all elements of diversity.
  • Implement a career development program to allow women, people of color/minorities and members of other underrepresented groups the opportunity to position themselves for advancement within Auburn University.
  • Incorporate diversity as a performance dimension within the annual employee performance appraisal process for all faculty, administrative/professional and university staff.
  • Implement a mandatory supervisory training program for all employees with direct reports to include diversity sensitivity and affirmative action/equal employment opportunity.
  • Conduct diversity training for student leadership, i.e. SGA, IFC, Resident Hall
    Leaders, Pan Hellenic Council, etc.
  • Conduct diversity and multiculturalism training for faculty and staff. Participation is to be tracked and tied to performance appraisal.
  • Broaden the University curriculum to include multicultural studies such as Global
    Studies, Africana Studies, Hispanic-American studies, Asian-American studies and Women’s Studies.
  • Create a Diversity Education Course requirement and allow students to select from University approved diversity courses and study abroad options to meet the requirement.
  • Include a column entitled "Discussions on Diversity" authored by the President, Provost or their designees in regularly published documents as appropriate.

Mobile Chamber: CAFTA to provide "real benefits and opportunities for Alabama exporters"

This session, Congress is considering a free trade agreement with the Dominican Republic and several Central American nations. In Sunday's Mobile Register, Win Hallett, president of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, writes persuasively that the agreement, known as DR-CAFTA, will be good for Alabama.

According to Hallett, the agreement "is expected to tear down barriers and give Alabama companies a chance to compete on a level playing field."

There is already a substantial volume of trade between these countries and Alabama. Removal of trade barriers will only enhance that mutually beneficial relationship.
Central America countries and the Dominican Republic may be small, but they are big markets for Alabama and the United States. Last year, these six countries formed Alabama's ninth-largest export market in the world, accounting for more than $471 million of exports.

Between 2000 and 2004, Alabama has more than doubled its exports to this region.

The countries are also the largest fabric export market worldwide for the state. Some 75 percent of all exports last year were fabric-related.

Friday, May 06, 2005
On this day:

Only Had One Margarita

...one too many, that is. But, that Backyard Burger I had for lunch fixed things right up.

Thursday, May 05, 2005
On this day:

Tories Winning?

I just heard on Rush that Michael Howard's Conservative Party is substantially ahead of Tony Blair's Labour Party in early exit polling data. I'd be careful not to read too much into that, though, as I'm sure John Kerry supporters in the Democratic Underground would be all too happy to tell you.

But, if it pans out...whoa! I'll have to have one of these along with my Cinco de Mayo margarita.

Chirac: EU Constitution is "Essentially French-Inspired"

According to Chirac, the proposed EU Constitution is the "daughter" of the 1789 French Revolution. What better reason to vote NON?

Time for Russia to Acknowledge Soviet Transgressions

In June of 1940, the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as part of a non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It wasn't until 1990 and 1991 that these three "captive nations" regained their freedom, as the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of Communism.

Fast-forward to 2005. Today, President Bush will travel to Russia to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The leaders of Lithuania and Estonia will not be attending the celebration, due to Moscow's refusal to denounce the 1940 annexation. Not only that, but the Russians are in a stew over letters from President Bush to the Baltic Presidents, noting that the war's end meant anything but liberation in their countries. According to the New York Times:
On the eve of President Bush's trip to Moscow to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat, another skirmish broke out Wednesday between the United States and Russia over a letter Mr. Bush sent to the presidents of the Baltics calling the end of World War II the beginning of the unlawful Soviet annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Russian officials, who were already upset that Mr. Bush chose to bookend his trip to Moscow on Sunday and Monday with visits to the former Soviet republics of Latvia and Georgia, angrily responded that Mr. Bush was rewriting history.

"It's a distortion of facts, it's a complete distortion of the historic picture," said a senior official at the Russian Embassy in Washington who asked not be identified because he did not have authorization from Moscow.

Moscow's position has been that the Baltics were allies.
The President's letter to the Latvian President is posted on her web site here. It states, in part:
During this trip, I will mark the sacrifice of America and many other nations in defeating Nazism. In Western Europe, the end of World War II meant liberation. In Central and Eastern Europe, the war also marked the Soviet occupation and annexation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and the imposition of communism. Given this painful history, I understand the difficulty of your decision on whether to attend the May 9 commemoration in Moscow, and I respect the choices you and the other Baltic leaders have made. Thank you for sharing your views with me.
Russia should come out of denial. The collaboration between two evil empires resulted in the enslavement of three sovereign nations for half a century. President Bush (as well as some members of Congress) should be commended for ensuring that the world remembers that fact.

IBM to Lay Off Workers in High-Cost, Slow-Growth Markets

From the New York Times:
IBM announced yesterday that it would lay off 10,000 to 13,000 workers, mostly in Europe, as it struggles to keep up its profits at a time when global competition in the technology business spreads beyond selling computers to providing services.

The cutbacks come after I.B.M. reported disappointing quarterly earnings last month and the price of its shares dropped. But I.B.M. portrayed the move as mainly an evolution in its strategy of globalizing its operations by moving back-office work like accounting and procurement to low-cost locations and pruning operations in high-cost and slower-growth markets like France, Germany and Italy.
Unemployment in Germany reached 12.6% in February, the highest since the 1930's. In April, the French unemployment rate reached a 5-year high of 10.2%. Germany and France have a few things in common these days, aside from some interesting personal hygiene habits. Both countries are weighed down by excessive taxes, obtrusive government regulation, and a welfare-state mentality - all of which inhibit growth and stifle job-creation - and all of which are readily embraced by America's (and Alabama's) "progressives." Some progress.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005
On this day:

Time for Alabama Liberals Rethink their Economic Philosophy?

Higher taxes, bigger government, more regulation, additional funding for public education, and a new state constitution.

For years and years, Alabama's "progressives" have repeated the message that each of those things is essential for economic development, while staring down their noses at those who have disagreed. For example, see this article at the Alabama Citizens for Constitution Reform's web site. Nonetheless, Alabama has managed to make impressive gains economically, despite all the dire predictions and persistent negativism.

I certainly wouldn't say that the state's tax structure is perfect, that constitution reform shouldn't be seriously considered, or that there isn't ample room for improvement in our education system. All of those are issues that need to be addressed. But, in doing so, we should be wary of relying on discredited liberal assumptions about how jobs and wealth are created.

More Alabama Communities Recognized for Economic Development

In addition to its Competitiveness Award, Site Selection magazine also recognized the Top Economic Development Groups of 2004.

Two of the top ten were from Alabama - the Cullman Economic Development Agency and the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, honorable mentions went to the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance and the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

Wow...who would have thought that Cullman was becoming such an economic powerhouse? But, apparently it is. According to the article linked above:

...Cullman is small but mighty. Cullman County, halfway between Birmingham and Huntsville in northern Alabama, has only 78,000 residents, but its industrial base blows away communities much larger in size.

"The automotive industry has had a major impact on Cullman, not to mention the entire Southeast," says Peggy Smith, director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency. "The jobs the automotive industry offers are well-paying, quality jobs. The automotive industry has seen what type of work force Cullman and Alabama have to offer. Cullman has been chosen time and again because of our central location, which makes it perfect for the automotive industry's just-in-time delivery."

Cullman's strength in Alabama is reflected in the state's "2004 New and Expanding Industry Report," which ranked Cullman first statewide in new industry announcements; second in new announced jobs; third in new announced investment; first in existing industry expansions; and first in total company project announcements.

All that and still dry.

Business Journal Ranks Alabama #1 for Industrial Recruitment

Site Selection magazine has awarded its 2004 Competitiveness Award to the Alabama Development Office . The annual award recognizes the state with the greatest level of business expansion activity during the previous year, as judged under 10 criteria:
  • Total new and expanded facilities per one million population in 2004
  • Total capital investment in new and expanded facilities per one million population in 2004
  • Total new jobs created at new and expanded facilities per one million population in 2004
  • Total actual number of new and expanded facilities in 2004
  • Percentage growth in new and expanded facilities from 2003 to 2004
  • Three-year growth change (from 2001 to 2004) in new and expanded facilities
  • Ranking in Site Selection's annual business climate survey
  • Number of top 100 metros in the annual ranking of top metros
  • Number of top 100 small towns in the annual ranking of small towns
  • Number of 100-plus-job projects per one million population in 2004
Alabama's score of 123 put it in first place, followed by Michigan with 108 points, Georgia with 108, Kentucky with 106, and Indiana with 103. Rounding out the top 10 were Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, and Iowa.

This comes on top of a survey released last week finding that Alabama business leaders continue to have a positive outlook for Alabama's economic future. Results of that survey, called the Business Leaders Confidence Index, are summarized here.