Saturday, December 31, 2005
On this day:

Happy 2006!

If you plan to ring in the New Year with the assistance of adult beverages, you might consider taking these during the course of the night. I tried them out myself recently, and it seemed like they worked pretty well; however, a bit more testing will be necessary before I become entirely convinced.

Friday, December 30, 2005
On this day:

Looking for something to do this New Year's?

Why not get an army together and invade Canada? It's not like we don't have plenty of reasons to do it.

Friday, December 23, 2005
On this day:

A Savior is Born

The Christmas Story

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

-Luke 2:1-20

Thursday, December 22, 2005
On this day:

Moore wanted Riley to intervene to protect Ten Commandments monument

The Mobile Register fills in some of the details of how state officials reacted to the federal court order for Roy Moore to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the State Judicial Building.

MONTGOMERY -- During the peak of public protests over removal of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore sent an emissary who asked Gov. Bob Riley to call out Alabama National Guard troops to protect the 5,280-pound rock, according to the governor.

"That's where Roy and I parted ways," Riley told the Mobile Register of his chief opponent in the upcoming 2006 Republican primary for governor. ...

Recalling his part in the events, Riley said Moore wanted troops to be posted at the Judicial Building, the idea being that the guardsmen would block federal marshals from removing the monument should [U.S. District Court Judge Myron] Thompson have ordered them to do so.

"[Former Alabama Supreme Court] Justice [Terry] Butts came here one night on Roy's behalf and asked me to call out the Guard," Riley said. "Basically, they wanted us to issue an executive order -- and that doesn't even carry the force of law -- and then have to enforce that order with the National Guard."

Riley added, "The consequences of that would have been severe." He predicted such an action would have forced President Bush to override him, nationalizing the Alabama troops. ...

"We supported Roy all the way down the line, writing briefs and making public statements," Riley said, "but that was just something I was not willing to do."

New rings, moons discovered around Uranus

One astronomer says, "Sometimes you find things you aren't looking for. No one thought this region of Uranus was very interesting."

Since I've never viewed Uranus through a telescope, I really can't comment much. There are pictures all over the internet, but that's really not the same, you know?

Do a little digging, though, and you can find all sorts of interesting stuff. According to this site, Uranus may appear to be a "dull, unexciting place" at first glance, but in reality it has "many interesting features." For instance, did you know that - unlike the other planets - Uranus is tilted completely on its side? Wow(!)

Uranus is often known as a "gas giant," and it can be a very turbulent place. In 1999, NASA reported that "waves of massive storms" hit Uranus from time to time. Its fastest winds, measured in 2003, clocked in at close to 250 miles per hour. Scientists believe that the clouds of Uranus are made of methane, which rise and condense as warm bubbles of gas well up from deep inside.

As you might guess, astronomers look forward to further exploration of Uranus, but all of them agree that it would be impossible to live there.

The latest images of Uranus are at the Hubble Site here, and the full story from NASA is here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005
On this day:

Humorless diversocrats

The worst thing about this is that the guy apologized.

"If you're calling Aunt Sadie in Paris, we're probably not really interested."

That was Vice President Cheney, seeking to quell the press hysteria over NSA spying.

Say hello to Dr. Frankenstein


The Siegelman indictment and federalism

Don Siegelman and his cohorts are being prosecuted under the federal Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The indictment alleges that while Don Siegelman was Governor, the entire executive branch of Alabama's government constituted an "enterprise," as defined by the RICO statute, that was engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity.

Ever since I read the indictment, one thing has bothered me. Why is the federal government involved in prosecuting the corrupt practices of state and local government officials? I am all for eliminating public corruption, but I'm not convinced that it's the job of the federal government to prosecute it when its impact is limited to a particular state.

The U.S. Constitution gives the federal government the power to "regulate interstate commerce." Congress enacted the RICO statute in order to combat organized crime, which is often national or regional in scope. I don't doubt that Don Siegelman, et. al. engaged in corrupt practices, but it seems to me that any relation of their activities to interstate commerce is only incidental.

That leads me to a few questions: How do the feds claim jurisdiction here? More specifically, how have the courts viewed the application of RICO to corrupt state and local government officials, as opposed to organized crime bosses, the Mafia, etc.? Even if the case against Siegelman is notoriously difficult to prove a conspiracy of any type. Why do the prosecutors think that this will be any different?

Siegelman: Indictments come at an inconvenient time

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former Gov. Don Siegelman said he's worried that a new indictment against him and a new arraignment next week will make it impossible to get a trial in time to run an effective campaign for governor.

"The charges are bogus and will not hold up. I'm not worried about the charges, but I am concerned about the timing," he said in an interview. ...

Siegelman argues that the new indictment is another example of Republican prosecutors trying to scuttle his re-election bid.

Republican prosecutors, huh? Well, the lead prosecutor in the case against Siegelman is Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin. It just so happens that the Montgomery Advertiser ran a story earlier this month on Mr. Franklin. It sounds highly unlikely that his case against Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy is motivated by partisan politics:

In nearly 14 years as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Montgomery, Louis Franklin has earned a reputation for being hard working, well prepared and apolitical.

To those who have worked with him, prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers alike, the notion he would lead a political witch hunt against former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman is preposterous.

"Louis doesn't have an axe to grind," said Terry Moorer, an assistant U.S. attorney who works frequently with Franklin. "I look at the newspaper and these allegations that there are political motivations for this, that or the other ... I can't think of a more apolitical guy than Louis Franklin."

Siegelman and his attorneys charged prosecutors with targeting the 1999-2003 governor for political reasons and trying to thwart his chances at another term in office, something Franklin emphatically denies. ...

Siegelman routed media inquiries to his attorney, Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama. Jones did not return a phone call seeking comment but has said the indictment is flawed factually and looks as if it's "scripted."

But to those who know Franklin, who was rehired in the U.S. Attorney's Office in 1996 by former U.S. Attorney Redding Pitt, one of Siegelman's attorneys, those claims are weightless.

The Advertiser story doesn't mention what Mr. Franklin's political leanings are, but he has served under both Democrat and Republican-appointed U.S. Attorneys. You may remember that Redding Pitt, who rehired Franklin to serve in the U.S. Attorney's office back in 1996, recently resigned his position as chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party. Prior to that, Pitt served as U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama from 1994 to 2001. Pitt was appointed to that position by President Bill Clinton.

The upshot of all of that is this: If Siegelman wants to continue to allege that the charges against him stem from a Republican conspiracy to impede his campaign for Governor, he is going to have to try a lot harder. There is no evidence whatsoever that the U.S. Attorneys who are prosecuting the case against him are motivated by anything other than a desire to enforce the law.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005
On this day:

If you are really bored

And I do mean really bored...then try this.

Troubleshooting for beer-drinkers

Just thought I'd link to something useful for a change. (Haha...these guys even have a fridge cam.)

Monday, December 19, 2005
On this day:

Ayers: The clock has been rewound in Iraq

In his most recent column, Anniston (Red) Star editor and publisher H. Brandt Ayers sounds surprisingly upbeat about the situation in Iraq. Though he takes a few gratuitous jabs at the administration, Ayers notes a few facts that have been either ignored or altogether rejected by the defeatist Left.

"Regardless of your views on the Iraq war, the clock restarted with parliamentary elections Thursday. The United States may be able to leave behind a country that could recover, after years of rehabilitation."

"Pairing Vietnam and Iraq is a false comparison...The core difference between the two conflicts is that in Iraq we are fighting on behalf of the overwhelming majority against a deadly minority insurgency. In Vietnam, we supported a corrupt minority government against the majority."

"A phased stand-down, as suggested by [former Kennedy advisors Ted] Sorensen and [Arthur] Schlesinger, could start in the 14 provinces where the insurgents are less menacing, and over time transfer to trained Iraqi troops the four most troublesome provinces."

Funny thing about that last point - a "phased stand-down" may very well have been "suggested by Sorensen and Schlesinger" (see this reprint of their original New York Times piece) - but, a similar strategy is in fact already being pursued and implemented by the administration. If Mr. Ayers doesn't want to give credit where it is due, though, I don't see it as a very big deal. It's just nice to see that a few liberals have begun to offer solutions that do not involve surrender and defeat.

Cover your cough

...just not with your hands.

FLORENCE (AP) — The impulse to cover a cough or sneeze with a hand is ingrained in many from childhood.

These days, though, the instructions go a bit further. The focus is now on covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, if available, then discarding the tissue and thoroughly washing your hands. No tissue?

Use the inside of your elbow to block those germs.

It's all part of the Centers for Disease Control's "Cover your Cough" campaign, which highlights the importance of good hygiene in preventing the spread of colds and flu.

Better yet...just lock yourself inside your house and avoid all human contact.

I just ate

...what is possibly the most unhealthy meal known to man - a Krystal burger, Krystal Chik, a Chili Cheese Pup, and a small bowl of chili (substituted for fries). If that's not enough to whet your appetite, you can see all that and more here.

The road back into tort hell

From the Mobile Register:
The American Tort Reform Foundation's fourth annual "Judicial Hellholes" list was released last week, and the organization put eastern Alabama on its watch list, according to a news release from Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse.

"Isn't this a fine mess," said AVALA Director Lewis Fuller in the release. "This dubious distinction returns the national spotlight to our out-of-whack court system that is happy host to so much lawsuit abuse. Just when we start to make headway by our governor getting some automobile manufacturing here, we shoot ourselves in the head."

The nation's largest verdicts in 2003 and 2004 were awarded in Alabama, according to the release. In 2002, the state received a "dishonorable mention" from the foundation.

Cases cited in the report, available at, were heard in Montgomery, Macon, Bullock and Calhoun counties.
The Birmingham News has more, and today, the Huntsville Times editorial board notes that "excessive jury awards are still a problem in Alabama's civil courts."

What were they thinking?

Every city has at least one road that makes people ask that question. Here in Huntsville, that road is Memorial Parkway, which turns 50 years old this month.

Cecil Ashburn, the man whose construction company built the Parkway, says, "No place in the world is built like the Parkway with all those slip-offs and slip-ons. It's bad."

Friday, December 16, 2005
On this day:

Alabama posts lowest unemployment rate since 1976

3.6% in November. It doesn't get much lower than that. The national average for November was 5.0%.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005
On this day:

Morality and civilization

"Everybody has sex, and instead of cowering behind this morality, lets talk about it and get it out in the open."

What annoyed me about that statement by the University of Alabama's aspiring Dr. Ruth (which I quoted on Tuesday) is not the idea that we should talk about sex more openly. That's a matter that's open to debate.

The thing that got me is how it belittles traditional morality, portraying it as a repressive and irrelevant relic of a bygone era. Now, if this viewpoint were held exclusively by a lone sex columnist at the University of Alabama, I wouldn't have made such a big deal of it. Sadly, though, that's not the case. What once was an idea associated with the rebels of the counterculture is now the prevailing orthodoxy on our college campuses and among the "cultural elite."

The cultural left says that the rejection of antiquated notions of morality will mean liberation for the masses, but nothing could be further from the truth. A commonly-accepted code of morality is the glue that holds society together. Traditional morality is "traditional" for a reason; it represents the collected wisdom of the ages. In the words of Edmund Burke, society is "a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born." The moral code we have inherited is an essential element in that partnership, and to destroy it would destroy the principal foundation of civilized society. For a society like ours - which is both civilized and free - the consequences would be devastating, as Russell Kirk stated eloquently in The Conservative Mind:

When faith in a transcendent moral order, duty to family, hope of advancement, and satisfaction with one's task have vanished from the routine of life, Big Brother appears to show the donkey the stick instead of the carrot. A powerful new element in society hopes to play the role of Big Brother, to manage all human concerns. ...

Such a New Society will require a New Morality...But moral systems are not constructed readily by social engineers. The old religious and ethical imperatives demolished, compulsion must take their place if the great wheel of circulation is to be kept turning. When the inner order of the soul is decayed, the outer order of the state must be maintained by merciless severity, extending even to the most private relationships.

"Liberation," indeed. When individuals in a society lose confidence that their decisions - and those of their fellow citizens - will be honored so long as they follow a moral code that is commonly acknowledged and respected, then someone has to step in to fill the void. In a modern, secular society, that "someone" will inevitably be the government.

I'm gonna finish up this post with a passage from British author C.S. Lewis, who seems to be on everyone's minds these days for some reason. Lewis's insights on the subject of morality - what it is and why it is needed - are pretty convincing. The following is from Book III, Chapter 1 of Mere Christianity.

There is a story about a schoolboy who was asked what he thought God was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was "The sort of person who is always snooping round to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it." And I am afraid that is the sort of idea that the word Morality raises in a good many people's minds: something that interferes, something that stops you having a good time. In reality, moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine. That is why rules at first seem to be constantly interfering with our natural inclinations. When you are being taught how to use any machine, the instructor keeps on saying, "No, don't do it like that," because, of course, there are all sorts of things that look all right and seem to you the natural way of treating the machine, but do not really work.

Some people prefer to talk about moral "ideals" rather than moral rules and about moral "idealism" rather than moral obedience. Now it is, of course, quite true that moral perfection is an "ideal" in the sense that we cannot achieve it. In that sense every kind of perfection is, for us humans, an ideal; we cannot succeed in being perfect car drivers or perfect tennis players or in drawing perfectly straight lines. But there is another sense in which it is very misleading to call moral perfection an ideal. When a man says that a certain woman, or house, or ship, or garden is "his ideal" he does not mean (unless he is rather a fool) that everyone else ought to have the same ideal. In such matters we are entitled to have different tastes and, therefore, different ideals. But it is dangerous to describe a man who tries very hard to keep the moral law as a "man of high ideals," because this might lead you to think that moral perfection was a private taste of his own and that the rest of us were not called on to share it. This would be a disastrous mistake. Perfect behaviour may be as unattainable as perfect gear-changing when we drive; but it is a necessary ideal prescribed for all men by the very nature of the human machine just as perfect gear-changing is an ideal prescribed for all drivers by the very nature of cars.

Happy Birthday Bama

Alabama is 186 years old today.
On December 14, 1819, President James Monroe signed Alabama into statehood making it the 22nd state to enter the Union. The growing region to be known as Alabama was declared a territory in 1817, separate from the old Mississippi Territory. Two years later, the U.S. Congress passed an act allowing the inhabitants to create a state constitution. Delegates to the Alabama Constitutional Convention met in the temporary capitol of Huntsville in the summer of 1819 to draft a constitution. That November, Territorial Governor William W. Bibb, newly elected as the state’s first Governor, took the oath of office and, on December 14th of that year, Alabama officially became a state. This date, known as “Alabama Day,” was first celebrated statewide in 1903 and adopted by resolution of the Alabama Legislature in 1923.

Riley: Give surplus $$ back to the people

The Governor hasn't provided many details as of yet, but he says that any surplus in the Education Trust Fund next year should go back to the taxpayers - presumably in the form of a tax cut or a tax rebate. Maybe he looks at this as penance for supporting Amendment One a few years ago - I dunno.

If the Governor is serious, and I hope that he is, then he should focus his attention on increasing the threshold for paying state income taxes and indexing it to inflation. Alabama families currently pay income tax on every dollar they earn above $4,600. That is the lowest income tax threshold in the nation. If it were raised, then every family in Alabama would get a tax cut; percentage-wise, those with the lowest incomes would benefit the most. What's not to like?

A similar reform was actually proposed as part of Amendment One back in 2003, but it was coupled with huge tax increases that were overwhelmingly rejected by the voters. Now, with the rapid growth of state revenues fueled by a resurgent economy, it is possible to enact it without the need for offsetting tax increases. This is one tax reform that liberals and conservatives can agree on. So, get it done, guys - we've got shopping to do.

Moore and the Apocalypse

If you think Roy Moore is a nut, what about some of his opponents?
A Christian talk show host from Mobile who sued to reinstate Roy Moore after he was ousted as Alabama's chief justice has decided not to support Moore's run for governor. ...

McGinley said that although she loves Moore and his family and has spent a lot of time with them, she fears his election could set in motion cataclysmic events.

It would set up a showdown between the state and federal government, leading to an invasion by the feds and resistance by Alabamians, McGinley said. The conflict would serve as the pretext for a government imposition of a manmade version of Biblical law, McGinley believes.

She links Moore, the Republican Party, the Council for National Policy, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Masons in a conspiratorial web.

"It is too extreme for the likes of me," McGinley said. "It is pretty interesting that our primary is on 6/6/06."

A word of advice: stay away from whatever it is that this gal is drinking.

Santa Claus is coming to town

The North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) will be tracking his every move. See the sorta-cool promo video here.

"Yes, I'm very happy because this is a day I like for my country"

Iraqi expatriates are voting just up I-65 in Nashville. Here's something I didn't know: "Nashville is home to the nation's largest community of expatriate Kurds, estimated to number about 8,000."

A profile in courage

Gao Zhisheng is "founder and star litigator" of one of China's most prestigious law firms. He is also a hunted man. Today's New York Times tells his fascinating story here. Here's a taste:

BEIJING, Dec. 12 - One November morning, the Beijing Judicial Bureau convened a hearing on its decree that one of China's best-known law firms must shut down for a year because it failed to file a change of address form when it moved offices.

The same morning, Gao Zhisheng, the firm's founder and star litigator, was 1,800 miles away in Xinjiang, in the remote west. He skipped what he called the "absurd and corrupt" hearing so he could rally members of an underground Christian church to sue China's secret police.

"I can't guarantee that you will win the lawsuit - in fact you will almost certainly lose," Mr. Gao told one church member who had been detained in a raid. "But I warn you that if you are too timid to confront their barbaric behavior, you will be completely defeated."

The advice could well summarize Mr. Gao's own fateful clash with the authorities. Bold, brusque and often roused to fiery indignation, Mr. Gao, 41, is one of a handful of self-proclaimed legal "rights defenders."

He travels the country filing lawsuits over corruption, land seizures, police abuses and religious freedom. His opponent is usually the same: the ruling Communist Party. ...

His fevered assaults have a messianic ring. But although he became a Christian this fall and began attending services in an underground church, the motivation to pursue the most sensitive cases - and put his practice and possibly his freedom at risk - began a couple of years earlier. It was then that his idealistic beginnings as a peasant boy turned big-city lawyer gave way to simmering rage. ...

"I'm not sure how much time I have left to conduct my work," Mr. Gao said. "But I will use every minute to expose the barbaric tactics of our leadership."

There is great hope that one day, the Chinese people - all of them - will finally be able to breathe the air of freedom; it is the courage and inspiration of people like Mr. Gao that will make that happen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005
On this day:

Helms still alive

Last month, I mistakenly referred to Jesse Helms as the "late" Senator from North Carolina. I should have said "former," as Senator Helms is very much alive and hanging out with rock stars.

Hmmmm...I hear the GOP is taking applications for a presidential nominee.

Parachute game

Help Daffy hit the target.

Speaking of parachutes, here's an amazing story.

Mobile Register: Crimson with embarrassment

The Register's editors provide some constructive criticism for the Crimson White:

COLLEGE SHOULD be a place where students develop not merely erudition but also character -- and two facets of character that merit development are judgment and good taste.

Editors at the partially-taxpayer-funded Crimson White, the student-run newspaper at the University of Alabama, demonstrate neither judgment nor taste in publishing a graphic weekly sex column.

In this case, the word "trashy" could substitute for "graphic." And the editors should cease publishing such trash.

Some of the columns read almost like clinical "how-to" guides. Some of them read like slightly raunchier versions of Bridget Jones' diary. Some of them are just plain gross. All of them are vulgar.

Before publishing such junk, editors ought to remember several things: First, their own reputations. Second, the fact that the university -- and therefore, in part, taxpayers -- pays about 20 percent of the paper's budget. Third, that their publication reflects not just on themselves but on the state and the school whose name adorns their masthead. Fourth, that more than just college students will read it.

According to The Associated Press, editor Chris Otts "said the column fits in with the mission of the paper, which is to inform and entertain students," but he dismissed concerns about the papers free availability off campus:

"It would disturb me very much that it got into the hands of a 9-year-old, but, at the same time, I would be abandoning our mission if I took that into account," he said.

Mr. Otts has a strange idea of the paper's mission -- and a poorly developed sense of responsibility. The question here isn't whether university authorities should censor the column. The question is why the editors don't restrain themselves.

Sex at the Capstone

That Crimson White sex column I posted about last week is getting quite a bit of attention this week.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Elizabeth Stierwalt didn't ask for the hate mail calling her names and questioning her beliefs. But it came just the same.

The University of Alabama senior created a buzz on campus earlier this semester with the debut of her weekly sex column in The Crimson White, the student-run newspaper, and it hasn't always been positive.

"I just wanted to write my little column and that be that," she said. "It's a little uncomfortable getting all this attention, and it's just really weird because I'm such a private person."

So, since when does a "private person" write crap like this, this, and this? Just because you like to talk about a person's privates doesn't make you a private person, Ms. Stierwalt.

Despite the criticism, Stierwalt plans to continue with the column next semester, and UA administrators have no intention of asking or forcing the paper to drop its weekly sex column.

"I really believe in it," she said. "Everybody has sex, and instead of cowering behind this morality, lets talk about it and get it out in the open."

Think about that for a minute - morality as the refuge of cowards. Is there any idea that harbors more destructive potential for a free society than that? I can't think of one.

For a real example of "cowering," one needs to look no further than University of Alabama administrators. To them, all of this should be treated as a "learning experience" for the students - not as a time for giving advice or expressing disapproval.

The criticism has seemed to crescendo since Stierwalt's last column, published Dec. 1, because parents of high school students, on campus for a youth summit, saw the column.

Margaret King, vice president for student affairs, said a small number of the parents complained about the column and threatened to take action.

"That is something they tell me, but I have no idea if they've followed through with it," she said.

King said the university was not going to pressure the paper to remove the column, nor are there discussions to withhold money from the paper.

Each semester, $4 per student is allotted to The Crimson White, comprising about 20 percent of the paper's budget, said Editor Chris Otts.

"I don't pretend to have influence over The CW," King said. "The content of The CW is determined by the students. That's how it's done on college campuses."

King said she has directed complaints to Otts.

"It's a learning experience for those students," she said.

Your tax dollars...your university.

Another Siggy indictment

I'll bet Siggy doesn't care too much for federal gu'mint lawyers, either.

Monday, December 12, 2005
On this day:

Siegelman says "No" to Yankee campaign consultants

I mentioned last week that, in a recent fundraising letter, Don Siegelman had accused Gov. Riley of being supported by "liberal anti-gun extremists" and the PETA-people. Well, now it's getting serious. Sounds like Siegelman also accused unnamed opponents of getting advice from a bunch of damned carpetbagging Yankees. The "Political Skinny" in today's Mobile Register has the details:
In his recent Sportsmen for Siegelman fund-raising letter, former Gov. Don Siegelman, who is running for governor again as a Democrat, made an interesting claim.

"You will always know where I stand and you will know that unlike my opponent, I do not need northern consultants to tell me what the people of Alabama want," he wrote.

Siegelman's usual campaign team is anchored by a general consultant from Chicago and a Philadelphia-based advertising firm. But he said so far this time he's using all "local Alabama talent."

He declined to identify which opponent or opponents have hired northern consultants.

Alabama failing at science?

A new study conducted for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gives Alabama a failing grade for its K-12 science standards. The state's treatment of evolution was singled out as a major reason for the low score. (The study, entitled "The State of State Science Standards 2005," is available online here.)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's disclaimer on evolution in its science guidelines helped earn the state an "F" in a national study released Wednesday comparing school science standards for primary and secondary school students. ...

Alabama state schools chief Joe Morton discounted the study, saying if Alabama didn't use the disclaimer it probably would have received a "B." He pointed out that Georgia jumped from an "F" in 2000 to a "B" in 2005 after it decided to keep the term "evolution" in its standards and not replace it with "change over time."

"I believe the grades given to states were less about science and more about social/political issues," Morton said in a memo Wednesday.

Morton may have a point. For instance, the study notes that Kansas's standards would have received a "C" this year, but the grade was dropped to an "F" in light of that state's recently-adopted biology standards. Critics say that Kansas's new standards open the door for the teaching of alternate "theories" to evolution, such as intelligent design and creationism. According to the Fordham Institute study:

Kansas has adopted standards whose treatment of evolutionary material has been radically compromised. The effect transcends evolution, however. It now makes a mockery of the very definition of science.

Likewise, Alabama's treatment of evolution undoubtably played a prominent role in earning its failing grade. After noting that the standards for the physical sciences suffered from "carelessness or outright error" in some instances, the study went on to say:

Similar and more serious faults are to be found in the life science standards. Most distressing, however, is the long statement provided in the preface to this entire document [referring to the Alabama Course of Study: Science]:

The theory of evolution by natural selection, a theory included in this document, states that natural selection provides the basis for the modern scientific explanation for the diversity of living things. Since natural selection has been observed to play a role in influencing small changes in a population, it is assumed, based on the study of artifacts, that it produces large changes, even though this has not been directly observed. Because of its importance and implications, students should understand the nature of evolutionary theories. They should learn to make distinctions among the multiple meanings of evolution, to distinguish between observations and assumptions used to draw conclusions, and to wrestle with the unanswered questions and unresolved problems still faced by evolutionary theory.

Although this is focused on evolution, and it paraphrases the "critiques" of evolutionary biology currently advanced by "intelligent design" creationism, it quite effectively derogates every branch of science. (There are, for example, many basic, "unanswered questions" about the fundamental forces of nature. Do we, for this reason, warn students to be suspicious of, or to "wrestle with," the "unresolved problems" of physics?) The Alabama preface sows confusion and offers a distorted view of what science is and how it is pursued. The quoted paragraph is preceded by mention of Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein, all physicists or astronomers; it then launches into an attack by misdirection on (evolutionary) biology. The statement is obviously of political, rather than scientific inspiration, and it reinforces the grade of "F."

This criticism is somewhat unwarranted, in my opinion. While the Board of Education's statement on evolution was almost certainly motivated more by political considerations than by a concern for scientific principle, it is still fair, objective, and truthful. It does not detract from the teaching of evolution, nor does it promote pseudoscientific "theories" like intelligent design. The notion that it "offers a distorted view of what science is and how it is pursued" just doesn't hold water.

Evolution is a topic that is admittedly (and unnecessarily) controversial, particularly among those who believe the biblical account of creation should be interpreted literally. Given the prevalence of that viewpoint here in Alabama, it has been very difficult to forge a consensus on how, and even whether, to teach evolution in the public schools. If it takes a moderate "disclaimer" like the one the Board of Education has adopted to do that, then what's the problem? It certainly gets a passing grade in my book.

Friedman: vouchers for New Orleans

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece (reprinted in Sunday's Birmingham News), economist Milton Friedman says that New Orleans has a great opportunity to try real education reform.

Transporting trailers

The state says no to wider loads.

A few interesting facts from that article: Alabama is #5 in the nation in the production of mobile homes, and it ranks #6 in the number of mobile homes used for housing. 80% of the mobile homes produced in Alabama are sold out of state.

Friday, December 09, 2005
On this day:

GOP: Retreat and defeat is not an option

Republicans have finally taken the gloves off with an extremely effective new ad.

Thursday, December 08, 2005
On this day:

Siegelman: Riley is a tool of "liberal anti-gun extremists"

I have to admit, Don Siegelman's got gall.
(Mobile Register) MONTGOMERY -- Don Siegelman, a former governor trying to recapture his old office, says, "My opponent [referring to Gov. Riley, not Lucy Baxley] is being supported by liberal anti-gun extremists" and a national animal rights group, according to a recent fund-raising letter. ...

The letter, addressed to fellow hunters, asks recipients to join an organization called Sportsmen for Siegelman. ...

Donors "will receive a membership card, Sportsmen for Siegelman bumper sticker, a certificate suitable for framing stating that you are a charter member," he wrote. ...

In one reference to Riley, Siegelman wrote that his opponent "is being supported by liberal anti-gun extremists who want to take away our Second Amendment rights." ...

In another passage, Siegelman wrote, "My opponent's friends at (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are trying to end or limit hunting seasons in Alabama and have even tried to ban fishing because the hooks hurt the fish's mouth."

Oh, good grief. No one's going to buy this. Trying to paint Bob Riley as an anti-gun extremist and a PETA-lover is over-the-top ridiculous. PoliSciZac has a bit of a different take.


Theta Nu Epsilon. "The Machine." If you've spent any time at the University of Alabama, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The Machine is "a select coalition of traditionally white fraternities and sororities designed to influence campus politics." Now, they have earned their very own Wikipedia article, and another at

Interesting note: According to Wednesday's Crimson White, "a list of suspected official Machine representatives was...posted to a article on the Machine earlier the semester, but was removed from the site shortly thereafter." Ahh...the wonders of the internet.

Name wizard

I've posted this before, but it's still pretty cool. Just type in a name at the prompt.

Update: link is fixed now.

I knew it

It was bound to happen. Arctic people are suing the U.S. over global warming.

Understanding engineers

Enginerds are oh so easy to make fun of. A friend e-mailed me these today. I had heard most of 'em before, but they're still worth repeating.

Understanding Engineers - Take One

Two engineering students were walking across campus when one said, "Where did you get such a great bike?" The second engineer replied, "Well, I was walking along yesterday minding my own business when a beautiful woman rode up on this bike. She threw the bike to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, "Take what you want." "The second engineer nodded approvingly, "Good choice. The clothes probably wouldn't have fit."
Understanding Engineers - Take Two
To the optimist, the glass is half full.
To the pessimist, the glass is half empty.
To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

Understanding Engineers - Take Three

A pastor, a doctor and an engineer were waiting one morning for a particularly slow group of golfers.

The engineer fumed, "What's with these guys? We must have been waiting for 15 minutes!"

The doctor chimed in, I don't know, but I've never seen such ineptitude!"

The pastor said, "Hey, here comes the greens keeper. Let's have a word with him." Hi George! Say, what's with that group ahead of us? They're rather slow, aren't they?"

The greens keeper replied, "Oh, yes, that's a group of blind firefighters. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free anytime."

The group was silent for a moment. The pastor said, "That's so sad. I think I'll say a special prayer for them tonight." The doctor said, "Good idea. And I'm going to contact my ophthalmologist buddy and see if there's anything he can do for them."

The engineer said, "Why can't these guys play at night?"
Understanding Engineers - Take Four
What is the difference between Mechanical Engineers and Civil Engineers?
Mechanical Engineers build weapons and Civil Engineers build targets.
Understanding Engineers - Take Five
The graduate with a Science degree asks, "Why does it work?"
The graduate with an Engineering degree asks, "How does it work?"
The graduate with an Accounting degree asks, "How much will it cost?"
The graduate with an Arts degree asks, "Do you want fries with that?"

Understanding Engineers - Take Six

Three engineering students were gathered together discussing the possible designers of the human body.

The first one said, "It was a mechanical engineer." Just look at all the joints."

Another said, "No, it was an electrical engineer. The nervous system has many thousands of electrical connections."

The last one said, "Actually it was a civil engineer. Who else would run a toxic waste pipeline through a recreational area?"
Understanding Engineers - Take Seven

Normal people believe that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Engineers believe that if it ain't broke, it doesn't have enough features yet.

Understanding Engineers - Take Eight

An architect, an artist and an engineer were discussing whether it was better to spend time with the wife or a mistress.

The architect said he enjoyed time with his wife, building a solid foundation for an enduring relationship.

The artist said he enjoyed time with his mistress, because the passion and mystery he found there.

The engineer said, "I like both." Both? "Yeah. If you have a wife and a mistress, they will each assume you are spending time with the other woman, and you can go to the garage and get some work done."
Understanding Engineers - Take Nine
An engineer was crossing a road one day when a frog called out to him and said, "If you kiss me, I'll turn into a beautiful princess." He bent over, picked up the frog and put it in his pocket.

The frog spoke up again and said, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I will stay with you for one week." The engineer took the frog out of his pocket, smiled at it and returned it to the pocket. The frog then cried out, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a princess, I'll stay with you and do ANYTHING you want."

Again the engineer took the frog out, smiled at it and put it back into his pocket. Finally, the frog asked, "What is the matter? I've told you I'm a beautiful princess and that I'll stay with you for a week and do anything you want. Why won't you kiss me?"

The engineer said, "Look, I'm an engineer. I don't have time for a girlfriend, but a talking frog, now that's cool."

Got a cough?

Nashville and Birmingham are among the nation's worst cities for respiratory infections. They rank #2 and #3, respectively.

UA says "name that tree"

Things are even sillier at the University of Alabama. At least Auburn had the gumption to give its tree a name.

As the sun sets on the Capstone, simple white lights shine from a tree in front of the Rose Administration Building as workers assemble the final branches. But there's a mystery about the tree - it has no name.

Across the nation, debates rage about whether trees on public property should be designated as Christmas trees or as "holiday" trees, incorporating other religious holidays into the meaning of the tree.

The UA tree hasn't been named and won't be, UA spokeswoman Cathy Andreen said.

"If people want to refer to it as a 'Christmas tree' or as a 'holiday tree,' it's up to them," she said.

Auburn holds "Holiday Tree" lighting ceremony

...and controversy has ensued. Many students and alumni had preferred to call the Christmas tree a "Christmas tree." Nonetheless, the Auburn Student Government Association refused to change the name. Auburn SGA President John Tatum explains (my emphasis):

Dear AU Community,

In 2000, Auburn University’s Student Government Association (SGA) began an official Holiday Tree Lighting tradition. Recently, false information spread that the Auburn University Student Government Association changed the name of this celebration from a Christmas Tree Lighting to a Holiday Tree Lighting and banned a Christmas tree on campus.

No such banning or name change has occurred since this tradition began. Furthermore, it is important to stress that Auburn originally chose to call its celebration a Holiday Tree Lighting not to deny the beliefs of anyone, but, instead, to be inclusive of all of its more than 23,000 students and their traditions and beliefs.

Now, because the facts of Auburn’s celebration have been misrepresented to certain well-intended individuals and organizations, Auburn finds itself in a controversy it did not seek. Fortunately, this controversy has caused Auburn's student leaders to begin to thoughtfully examine the annual celebration in hopes that it can continue in a way that is agreeable to all. This year's lighting has already taken place, so there is time for an examination that is not hasty, but is deliberate and intent on a lasting solution.

I can assure the Auburn family and others who have expressed their concern that this examination has begun. I believe student leadership at Auburn is intent on finding a way to hold a celebration and to call a Christmas tree what it is - a Christmas tree - but, at the same time embrace other faiths and belief systems.

I ask for patience in allowing the SGA to do its work. I believe that, when our work is complete, everyone will be pleased.

Here's another beaut of a quote, from the Auburn Plainsman.

"It was originally called the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony," [Auburn SGA officer Lydia] Knizley said. "A few years ago, the name was changed to the Holiday Tree Lighting to encompass more of the Auburn family."

Oh come on, it's a Christmas tree - a cultural symbol that has been adopted primarily by Christians to celebrate Christmas. No matter what you choose to call it, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Rastafarians, pagans, atheists, and Hindus will never view a lighted evergreen in the same way as those whose traditions are the product of predominantly-Christian cultures. The reason is obvious - non-Christians do not consider Christmas to be a "holy day" to begin with. Thus, using the term "holiday tree" is no more inclusive of them than using the more familiar "Christmas tree."

The unavoidable fact here is this: as a cultural symbol, the Christmas tree can never be inclusive of all the world's traditions and beliefs...but at least it has these. That's more than can be said of the student leaders at Auburn University.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005
On this day:

Tuesday Trivia

(See below for the answers.)

  1. Who was the first Hispanic to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
  2. In what country was the metric system first adopted?
  3. What event is pictured on the back of the 2-dollar bill?
  4. What two famous authors died on the same day as John F. Kennedy?
  5. Name the 5 actresses who starred in the original Beverly Hills 90210.
  6. How many wickets are used in a game of croquet?
  7. What is the little plastic or metal thingy at the end of a shoestring called?
  8. How many #1 hits did Johnny Cash have on the country music charts?
  9. In what year was the Dow Jones Transportation Index established?
  10. In what year was NASA created?
  11. The streets on a Monopoly board are based on actual streets in what U.S. city?
  12. What famous actress provided the voice of E.T.?
  13. Why is the Shockoe Confederate cemetery in Virginia notable?
  14. What item in a hospital recovery room contains the most germs?
  15. Name the 4 longest-running Broadway musicals.
  16. What SEC team did not have any players named as first team All-SEC this year?
  17. What animal has the largest eye?
  18. Who was the father of Queen Elizabeth II?
  19. What U.S. state has the lowest average elevation?
  20. Since 1910, who was the only U.S. President not to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball contest while he was in office?

  1. Roberto Clemente, who was posthumously inducted in 1973.
  2. France. According to the French, no one else has quite "measured up" to them ever since.
  3. The signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Contrary to popular belief, the two-dollar bill has never been taken out of circulation.
  4. British authors C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley. Lewis, Huxley and Kennedy each died on November 22, 1963.
  5. Shannon Doherty (Brenda Walsh), Tori Spelling (Donna Martin), Jennie Garth (Kelly Taylor), Gabrielle Carteris (Andrea Zuckerman Vasquez), and Carol Potter (Cindy Walsh). And they say that conservatives love FOX. Pfui!
  6. Nine.
  7. The aglet, or aiglet.
  8. Fourteen. The official Johnny Cash web site is here. I saw Walk the Line Sunday night. Good movie, but a little overhyped, in my opinion. Joaquin Phoenix as Cash is hard to beat, though.
  9. 1884. It was established by Charles Dow and is the oldest U.S. stock market index.
  10. 1958. Dr. T. Keith Glennan became its first Administrator.
  11. Atlantic City, New Jersey.
  12. Debra Winger, although it sounds like Pat Welsh was the "final voice." This one needs some clarification.
  13. The Hebrew Confederate cemetery on Shockoe Hill in Richmond, Virginia, is the only Jewish military cemetery in the world outside the state of Israel.
  14. The T.V. remote control. No, it's not the patient's arse.
  15. Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, A Chorus Line.
  16. Kentucky.
  17. The giant squid.
  18. King George VI.
  19. Delaware, with a mean elevation of 60 feet above sea level.
  20. Wouldn't you know it? It was Jimmy Carter... spoiling all the fun, as usual.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005
On this day:

Blogger problems

Not problems with the blogger...but, with Blogger, the online utility I use to make blog posts. Apparently, the tech guys were doing maintenance last night, and I managed to fall asleep on the couch before they were finished. Just wanted to let y'all know before anyone called out the search parties.

Friday, December 02, 2005
On this day:

Alabama ranks 43rd in per capita income

According to 2003 Census figures, the median household income in Alabama was $36,131, ranking the state 43rd in the nation. There are at least a couple of things worth keeping in mind when considering that number, though:

1) A dollar in Alabama goes further than it does in other states, since the cost of living here is lower than it is in most other states.

2) Alabama has one of the lowest per-capita tax burdens in the nation. This is a factor that the Census figures do not account for, since they are based on gross income rather than take-home pay.

We have improved, by the way. In 1989, the state ranked 47th.

Another Republican candidate for Governor

Filling the "none of the above" slot...we have Senator Harri Anne Who?

Find the bombers

According to the Birmingham News, Alabama State Rep. Alvin Holmes (D-Montgomery) has "called for an investigation into 10 bombings in Montgomery in 1956 and 1957, during or shortly after the 381-day [Montgomery bus] boycott that was a key point in the civil rights movement." (More details in the AP report here.)

The courts may not be the proper place to pursue this, given the time that has elapsed, but otherwise, it sounds like a good idea to me. If it is still possible to conduct a thorough and objective investigation, then why not do it? If nothing else, it could help fill in some important historical details of that era.

Red lights at the Crimson White

I mentioned last month that the University of Alabama's student newspaper, the Crimson White, had added a weekly sex column - since, in the columnist's own words, "sex happens and will continue happening whether right-winged conservative Bible munchers want it to or not." Well, after a month, here's what that column has come to. How nice that the University has seen fit to endorse this kind of talent and originality.

Thursday, December 01, 2005
On this day:

Alabama's "bellwether" counties

PoliSciZac has an interesting analysis of 2002 statewide election results on his Alabama Elections blog. He looked at county-by-county results for the 2002 elections and found that only 6 counties - Butler, Covington, Crenshaw, Henry, Madison, and Tallapoosa - "voted for the winning candidate in each of the 7 constitutional offices (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, and Agriculture Commissioner)." He goes on to say:

One obvious observation is that 3 of the 6 (Butler, Covington, Crenshaw) are contiguous and a 4th (Henry) is just a couple counties east. Now I am not sure exactly what that indicates, but if any Alabamians can claim to represent "Alabama values" they should be from that neck of the woods.

Special attention should also be paid to Madison county and not just because of its size. Not only did Madison county select the winner in each race, but also its percentages nearly mirror the statewide margins. For example, Madison county voted for both Bob Riley and Nancy Worley by a margin of less than 1%. Across the board Madison county proved eerily representative of the statewide electorate.

It would be even more interesting to see whether the same 6 counties served as "bellwether" counties in previous elections. If so, then I propose that we save the state a lot money by holding the election in only these 6 counties next year....or better yet, just let Madison County (where I live) decide. Hey, why not? Can't you trust a bunch of geeky engineers and rocket scientists?

Scientists say food additive could ease global warming reducing cow farts.

French perform first face transplant

Story here. Reckon when they'll start fixing up their other one?

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

It officially began 50 years ago today, after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. There's tons of information on the boycott here, including biographies, timelines, and archived news articles.