Monday, April 21, 2008


Dude! I mean, Your Holiness!

"Thank you, Your Holiness. Awesome speech." —President George W. Bush to the Pope at the White House, April 16, 2008.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008


My call is important!

A message to all customer service telephone operations everywhere: Your recorded assurance, played every two minutes while I'm on hold for two hours waiting to speak with a support person, that "Your call is very important to us" impresses me not at all. If it was that important to you, you wouldn't have me waiting two hours to speak with someone. Besides that, I'm less concerned about the importance of my call to you than I am about its importance to me, and the latter is what it would be really nice for you to acknowledge, and it would be even nicer if you acted accordingly.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Russian flag at North Pole—so?

Using a robotic arm, a Russian submarine planted a flag in the seabed at the North Pole last week. Under ordinary international law, because the North Pole is under the open sea, Russia would have no more claim over that area than the US would have on the Pacific Ocean between the Aleutian Islands and Hawaii. And in 1969, the US planted a flag on the moon. Did people flip out then? It didn't mean the US has a territorial claim to the moon or any part of it.

But this is different. There is a UN convention on the exploitation of buried resources in the Arctic by the nations from which the continental shelf extends into the Arctic Ocean. Canada's upset because Russia's way ahead of them. It's there own fault, though, if they haven't gotten the technology together that they need to press their own claims.

Meanwhile, I wonder if Russian MTV is sporting a new signature photo.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006


House snubs marriage amendment

Another attempt to amend the US Constitution to ban same-sex marriage has failed, in the House, this afternoon. Thank goodness. Didn't anyone read it? It says,

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither the Constitution, nor the constitution of any state, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.

Can you find the inanity? This pronouncement has the humorous consequence that even if a state's legislature and people voted to add a provision their state constitution reading "Marriage shall be legal between two persons of the same sex and shall be subject to all the terms, rights, privileges, and obligations associated by law with marriage between two persons of the opposite sex," courts would not be allow to construe this provision to say what it says. Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado wrote this, and she isn't very bright so it's understandable, but it speaks to the rabidness of the the amendment's supporters that they ignored anyone who pointed out the problematic nature of the language (not to mention the fact that it goes further than even the President wanted it to go, though of course the President has no role in the process of amending the Constitution), concerned that any alteration, even in the name of commonsense, would be read among their core voters as a capitulation to the enemy.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Measuring our love for our national parks

From time to time some periodical or other reports that we are overrunning our national parks. As resorts and cities become more expensive as tourist destinations, and as it becomes easier, thanks to electronics and miniaturization, to carry along the comforts of home, more people are throwing the kids in the SUV and trekking to our wilderness areas to be with nature. This level of traffic is stressing animal and plant life, crumbling roads and eroding trails, straining maintenance resources, and detracting from the pristine beauty that draws visitors in the first place.

So Juliet Eilperin's piece, "'Videophilia' Keeps America Indoors" in today's Washington Post, came as a surprise. According to Eilperin, attendance at America's national parks has been shrinking since 1987! And she relates the findings of two researchers that the popular obsession with at-home movies, the Internet, and video games is responsible for perhaps 97.5% of the drop in park tourism.

Oh, come on. Staying in to see The Day After Tomorrow for the 80th time is what one does instead of weeding the yard, not instead of taking a Yellowstone vacation. That the researchers' conclusion is implausible becomes clear when they observe that "[i]n 2003, the average American devoted 327 more hours than in 1987 watching movies, playing video games and using the Internet" as though it were not only an explanation but a revelation. In 1987 the average American devoted no hours to Internet use! If the average American now spends at least an hour each day on-line, that more than accounts for 327 hours spent on the Internet alone. Of course we now spend at least that much time on the Internet, movies, and video games together. And since most Internet use is for work, shopping, correspondence, and entertainment after school or work—in other words, activities in which people have always engaged in—it certainly is not displacing trips to national parks.

Returning to the question of whether park use is declining, I wonder whether all the previous articles I've read on the subject were wrong. I also wonder how alarmed I should be about the fears, noted in the article, that dwindling public exposure to national parks will lead to reduced public concern for the environment and conservation. So on the one hand the parks are being trampled to death by unrelenting swarms of tourists, and on the other hand they are at dire risk of neglect owing to plummeting attendance. Whichever way visitor statistics are actually headed, it's bad!

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Friday, June 30, 2006


Conservatives react to HPV vaccine recommendation

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that a new human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine be given to all girls and women from age 11 to age 26 (New York Times). The US Department of Health and Human Services is likely to accept the recommendation. One outcome will be the obligation to launch a program to make these immunizations available to poor girls ages 11–18 at no cost to them.

One reaction:

"You can't catch the virus, you have to go out and get it with sexual behavior," said Linda Klepacki of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group based in Colorado Springs. "We can prevent it by having the best public health method, and that's not having sex before marriage."

Ms. Klepacki's group opposes mandating Gardasil vaccinations.

This response is representative of the position that such right-wing groups usually have about any health or safety issue connected with what they see as a moral issue. Compare their opposition to making condoms available to teenagers and needle exchanges for intravenous drug users. Their observation that abstinence from sex or illegal drug use is the only sure way to avoid STDs, HIV, and so on. Nevertheless, they obstinately refuse to validate any other approach. They don't believe in Plan B (no pun with the emergency birth control pill by that name intended): it's their way or the highway. In their view, the government should only help the "moral", and the rest of us can fend for ourselves. It's the philosophy of government for the few.

I'm pleased to see that this shortsightedness isn't universal among these groups. The Washington Post shares this note about another conservative group:

"The Family Research Council continues to endorse both the distribution and the widespread availability of the vaccine," said Moira Gaul, the coordinator of the organization's Abstinence Project.

She said the council would oppose making the vaccine compulsory. That is because, unlike measles and many childhood infections, HPV is not transmitted casually or through indirect contact in public places such as schools.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006


The right not to be offended?

The fervor with which some Americans bellow for a law to criminalize the burning of the U.S. flag embodies a principle that should chill to the core any genuine believer in personal liberties: that there should be a right not to be offended. Essential to understanding our Constitutional rights is the comprehension that a right not to be offended would annihilate them. A person who sees nothing disturbing in an Animal Farm-style interpretation of the Bill of Rights,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion unless I am offended, or prohibit the free exercise thereof unless I am offended; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press unless I am offended; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble unless I am offended ....

is a person who lacks the most fundamental grasp of the significance of the rights that have been bestowed on us and of the meaning of their inalienability.

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Bush on signing statements: pseudo-legislative mumbo-jumbo

From the Washington Post's June 27 article on presidential signing statements:

The bill-signing statements say Bush reserves a right to revise, interpret or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds.

You can't reserve a right you don't have. The courts will interpret law based on Congressional intent, not Presidential intent, because laws, after all, aren't written by the President. The President can signal how he will interpret the law, but if his interpretation differs from the words or intent of the legislation, then he won't be changing the law, he'll be putting us on notice about how he intends to violate it. As for the matter of constitutionality, that's what the Supreme Court is for. When the Administration disputes the constitutionality of a law, it requests an opinion from the Supreme Court. That's the way it's always worked, and that's they way it should work.

Maybe Bush will tell us next that if he crosses his fingers while signing a bill, it doesn't count.


Bush push for line item veto

Today's Washington Post article about the pending line-item veto bill:

Bush complained that many earmarks do not comport with budgetary priorities and result in "unnecessary spending." Often, he said, "earmarks are inserted into bills at the last minute, which leaves no time or little time for debate."

If Congress wanted a solution to this problem, they could change the houses' respective rules to prohibit introduction of unvetted last-minute amendments, right? This is addressed:

[Bush] said this procedure would "shine the light of day on spending items that get passed in the dark of the night," sending "a healthy signal to the people that we're going to be wise about how we spend their money."

It would also create a situation where fiscally abusive congressmen continue to get credit among their targeted constituents for having inserted the earmarks (just as they get credit now for introducing apple-pie bills year after year that are guaranteed to fail) while the President gets to take the fall when he infuriates the same constituents by vetoing the pork provisions. Why would the President expose himself like that? Conversely, if the President does exercise the line-item veto because the admiration they generate for him outweighs the resulting disgruntlement among the would-be beneficiaries of the special spending, then why wouldn't members of Congress rather have that credit directed toward themselves instead of the lower level of credit evoked by the earmarks?

Why can't Congress just learn to control itself? It has the means. It just lacks the will.