Friday, February 24, 2006

Dubai Company Takes Our Ports!

This will be a rare post where I kind of agree with President Bush. By now, you all no doubt know that a state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates is set to take over operations of 6 U.S. shipping ports on the eastern seaboard. Politically, I'm amused that Bush apparently didn't know this until somebody read him a story from a newspaper. I'm also very amused that nobody in his administration, which has specialized in framing just about any company or government from the Middle East in terms of terrorism, didn't think that having a company run by the government of the UAE taking over key US Ports would become an issue that would grab the public's interest.

It is funny, to say the least, that our current White House will argue on one hand that they need the right to spy on the phone calls and e-mails of American citizens because of the threat from Islamofascists in the Middle East, but that they'll also assume that having a government from that same region take over our ports, a prime target for a terrorist, won't rouse any public scrutiny.

That said, and given the hypocrisy and political ineptitude of the Bush administration, this corporate merger is really far less of a story than the media has led the public to believe. Like I said, I'm with Bush on this one. Let the merger go through. Here's why:

1) Those ports were being run by a British company before this merger. The Dubai company is actually buying the British one, that's why they'll have operational control when the merger is complete. So, you see, the ports weren't being run by some American company in the first place.

2) This will be cold comfort, post-Katrina, but the job of securing these ports was never laid on the hands of the company that operated it. That's for the Coast Guard and for the Department of Homeland Security to handle. The company that operates the ports is responsible for receiving cargo and passing it on, nothing else. No matter where the operating company is based, the job of security is, rightly, a government job. That our current government is being run by unqualified cronies is the fault of the White House, not the companies who deal with cargo at the ports.

3) Remember point one, about the British company. For decades and across administrations, the US has used its influence in the UN, the World Bank and the IMF to force other countries to accept the notion that international investors might own parts of key industries within their borders. One complaint about globalization has been that it's rigged to favor the U.S. and Western Europe. If we don't object to the British running ports in the U.S. but do object to the U.A.E. doing it, how are we not giving credence to those anti-globalization complaints?

4) Evidence that the U.A.E. supports terrorism seems to be based on the fact that 3 of the 9-11 hijackers are from there and that other 9-11 hijackers used banks based there. By that standard, how is Oklahoma, home to Timothy McVeigh, not also a state that sponsors terrorism?

I'm somewhat surprised that this story has such legs. Most of the reason is that the White House handled the politics so badly. But, much as I hate to agree with the White House, when it comes to substance, there's really nothing to get riled up about here.

Coup In the Philippines?

I won't even pretend to know much about the Philippines. I know that the name of the country is biblical, deriving from the name Philippi, and I know it's harder to spell than Misissipi (er, Mississippi) and I know that, back when I was a kid, our country offered shelter to its deposed dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.

I also know, though I won't go into detail because, I don't know the details, that the U.S. has been interfering in that country's development for 2 centuries, starting when we wanted Spain not to have it, continuing to when we wanted Japan not to have it, continuing to when we didn't want it to turn communist and right through to this day, where we continue to treat it as a dependable ally in the Pacific Region.

And, these days, on the it's undergoing a coup attempt against its elected government, on the 20th anniversary of the coup against Marcos.

To reiterate, I don't know a whole lot about this country. But I know that we've, for a long time, interfered in its internal affairs, and that twice in my still brief lifetime, coups have been attempted. One succeeded. This one, is seems, failed, though we don't know yet how far it will go.

We've tried and tried and tried to make the Philippines to our likings and it seems we've failed to guide them towards a government that its people like enough that they can deal with it without resorting to force. It's a country that's been, for far too long, our project, and right now, it seems like a too-little-noted example of how we tend to fail when we try to force other societies into the mold we want them to form. There's a lot about the Philippines in the news right now, but too little about how it's an example of how our current "nation building" efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan could fail.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Bush Appoints a Crony To the Federal Reserve

I am, by profession, a monetary policy geek. Still, I didn't notice, until Daniel Greenbaum (I think his last name is Greenbaum) posted on TPMCafe that Bush appointed an unqualified crony to a spot on the Board of Governors for the Federal Reserve Bank. You can read a detailed account of the appointee and appointment here.

This appointment has not received much scrutiny, even though the Federal Reserve can dramatically influence our economy by controlling short term interest rates. Actually, though it makes decisions about interest rates, what it really does is control the money supply. In it's most basic sense, less dollars available means that they're worth more but are harder to get and that tends to slow economic growth. More available means they're worth less but are easy to come by, which spurs economic growth as people and businesses spend the plentiful greenbacks, but also causes inflation as people selling products demand more of those dollars because, well, there's just so many of them.

The Fed, especially under former chairman Alan Greenspan, tries to control the money supply in such a way as to allow for growth but to keep prices stable. The new chairman, Ed Bernanke, seems to be of the same mold. The Fed chairman, as the person ultimately responsible for the policy, tends to get the majority of attention. But the Federal Reserve isn't a one-man show. The Fed has a board of governors, who advise the chairman, debate with the chairman and can, though they rarely do it, overrule the chairman.

Greenspan ran the Fed for so long and was such a celebrity and, though I don't agree with him at all politically, is such a smart guy, that he really made the governors underneath him seem irrelevant. He was an imperial chairman of sorts.

Bernanke might be the same type of guy. By all accounts, he's an expert in monetary policy with a long academic track record behind him. He knows his stuff. But, unlike the imperial Greenspan that we all got to know, especially during his heyday in the 1990s, Bernanke doesn't have a track record behind him. It seems at least possible that, being so new to the job, that the governors of tghe Federal Reserve will have more influence over the neophyte chairman than they did over the veteran Greenspan who had been christened "The Maestro" by both the markets and the press.

So, it makes no sense that Bush appointed 35-year-old Kevin Warsh, a White House aide and married into the Republican-backing Lauder (of Estee Lauder) family to a board where he'll be one of only two members without a doctorate in economics and alone in having never published even a single paper about monetary policy. I'm not saying Warsh can't rise to the job, since I don't know him (maybe he can) but this seems like a "Michael Brown" appointment that we'll only know was bad well after things go wrong.

And, with the Fed, I mean, well, well, after. Brown's shortcomings were evident just hours after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The Federal Reserve, though its members are appointed by the President, is not a political institution that only shares information about how it makes its decisions weeks and months after those decisions are not only made but implemented. One of the reasons that people don't tend to know anything about the Fed aside from its basic function and the name (and maybe, after a long time, the inclinations of) the chairman is that the Fed basically operates outside of the public's view. It's meant to be free from the influence of public sentiment and, like the Supreme Court, it basically is.

The appointment of a governor with questional qualifications also comes at an odd time for the U.S. Forgive me, but I'm about to get really geeky here -- you may or may not have heard this but we've been, for a few months now, in a situation where the yield curve of the bond markets is "inverted."

Don't fall asleep. An inverted yield curve means this: The interest charged for borrowing money on a short term basis (3 months or 3 years, for example) is actually higher than the interest charged for taking a loan of a longer duration (say, 10 or 30 years). Usually, because the longer you let a loan go unpaid the more risk you take, longer loans charge higher interest. When shorter loans charge higher interest than longer loans, it implies that traders and managers in the bond market are more afraid of the immediate economic prospects than long-term prospects.

At the moment, though short rates are higher than long, they're not higher by much. It's almost a wash. It basically costs the same to borrow money for a year that it does to borrow for 30. So rather than signalling disaster, since the rates are, though tilted towards the short side, perhaps a wash, it might just signal confusion on the part of bond traders.

The bond market has tended to be a good prognosticator of the economy, though, so confusion isn't entirely comforting.

Also, this kind of screws up the way banks make money. Why should a bank take a 30 year risk on a loan right now by extending credit so far into the future that even the smartest banker has no idea what will happen, when they can make the same amount of money on a loan due to be paid in 3 months, which is such a short amount of time that even the dumbest banker can make the easy bet that economic conditions won't be so different than they are the moment?

We have a new Fed chairman, and a slightly inverted yield curve that is an oddity, and NOW, of all times, Bush appoints an unproven rookie to the board of the Federal Reserve? It deserves far more scrutiny.

The UN Human Rights Commission and Gitmo

As Jon points out, there are reasons to criticize the UN's Human Rights Commission, chief among them that it contains nations that are, themselves, human rights abusers.

But the existence of Gitmo, our Cuban base where we house captured, accused terrorists in an attempt to keep the prisoners outside of the US criminal justice system, undermines our ability to criticize those very human rights abusers. It's when we refuse, under any circumstances, to resort to torture that we can most loudly condemn torturers. If Gitmo is undermining out ability to shout down the worst abusers, then Gitmo's a liability in the long term.

The Commission's flaws must be addressed, since those flaws certainly undermine the cause of defining and respecting human rights on a global scale. However, the fact that our human rights record is far better than Libya's shouldn't make us immune to criticism.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Bush to people who get shot: "Tragic!"

Sayeth Bush: I thought the vice president handled the issue just fine. He went through - and I thought his explanation yesterday was a powerful explanation. This is a man who likes the outdoors and he likes to hunt. And he heard a bird flush and he turned and pulled the trigger and saw his friend get wounded. And it was a deeply traumatic moment for him, and obviously for the - it was a tragic moment for Harry Whittington.

No Mo Gitmo

Just close Guantanamo already. It's a disgrace. The UN Human Rights Commission just issued a report recommending that it should be closed. A lot of people in the Bush adminstration don't trust the UN Human Rights Commission; they think it's politically motivated (possible), that it includes major human rights abusers (true), and that it's out to embarrass Bush (possible). But the UN Human Rights Commission isn't the issue.

The issue is Guantanamo. The issue is that it's a detention facility specifically designed to hold people never charged with any crime and to hold them beyond the reach of ANY law--US law, international law, the laws of the countries from which the prisoners were taken. That's what it was designed to be; that's what it is. And that means that "detention facility" is a euphemism. The correct term is "dungeon."

There's just no way to defend a dungeon. How can any nation that values human rights set up a prison designed to deprive people of their human rights without even investigating whether the prisoners had actually, say, done something wrong? It can't. Either we value human rights or we don't. If we do, we should act like it.

I heard some plummy-voiced English pocket fascist on the BBC World Service this morning insisting that security is more important than rights and that the UNHRC report is worthless because the UNHRC never visited Guantanamo. But the UNHRC never sent investigators to Guantanamo because the US military refused in advance to let its investigators interview the prisoners privately. Any visit would've been a waste of time. If the prince sends his retainer to the dungeon to investigate accusations of torture, do you really think the prisoner is going to say, "Oh, yeah, they torture me all the time" when the torturers are sitting right there? No way.

Maybe all the soliders at Guantanamo are models of respectful treatment and would never even think of abusing prisoners. Maybe private interviews would have made that clear. But we'll never know because Guantanamo is designed to keep us from ever knowing. And that's reason enough to tear the damn thing down and start over with a facility that helps us protect our way of life rather than taint it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cheney's Fox interview... but with Jules from Pulp Fiction...

(All answers preserved intact. Brit Hume's questions turned Jules from Pulp Fiction.) Brit Hume... take notes...

Q. Mr. Vice President, how is the sucka that gotcho' shotgun facial?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the good news is he's doing very well today. I talked to him yesterday after they discovered the heart problem, but it appears now to have been pretty well resolved and the reporting today is very good.

Q. And whattsa motherfucka ta say about dat?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's a great relief. But I won't be, obviously, totally at ease until he's home. He's going to be in the hospital, apparently, for a few more days, and the problem, obviously, is that there's always the possibility of complications in somebody who is 78-79 years old. But he's a great man, he's in great shape, good friend, and our thoughts and prayers go out to he and his family.

Q. You really know this cat, or you just frontin' familiarity in the face of disaster?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I first met him in Vail, Colorado, when I worked for Gerry Ford about 30 years ago, and it was the first time I'd ever hunted with him.

Q. I said "did you know him!" You either saw him around the Safeway every now and then or you hooked up for a J and a night of The Chappelle Show. Which is it?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, an acquaintance.

Q. So, how'd the shit go down with yo' "acquaintance?"

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, basically, we were hunting quail late in the day –

Q. Slow down, motherfucka! Most folks don't go motherfuckin' quail huntin' as a hobby. Tell the people how it was!

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's in south Texas, wide-open spaces, a lot of brush cover, fairly shallow. But it's wild quail. It's some of the best quail hunting anyplace in the country. I've gone there, to the Armstrong ranch, for years. The Armstrongs have been friends for over 30 years. And a group of us had hunted all day on Saturday –

Q. What's the sizadat crew?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, probably 10 people. We weren't all together, but about 10 guests at the ranch. There were three of us who had gotten out of the vehicle and walked up on a covey of quail that had been pointed by the dogs. Covey is flushed, we've shot, and each of us got a bird. Harry couldn't find his, it had gone down in some deep cover, and so he went off to look for it. The other hunter and I then turned and walked about a hundred yards in another direction –

Q. So yo' "acquaintance" can't find his bird and ya'all just amble off inta da brush, leavin' him ta face da badlands by his own bad self--

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Away from him – where another covey had been spotted by an outrider. I was on the far right –

Q. So, waitaminute, ya went off with some other dude, just you and him, right?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Just two of us at that point. The guide or outrider between us, and of course, there's this entourage behind us, all the cars and so forth that follow me around when I'm out there – but bird flushed and went to my right, off to the west. I turned and shot at the bird, and at that second, saw Harry standing there. Didn't know he was there –

Q. Ya capped the bitch when he showed up?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I saw him fall, basically. It had happened so fast.

Q. What kinda threads he have on? He dressed in feathers, struttin' around, actin' all quail-like or what?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: He was dressed in orange, he was dressed properly, but he was also – there was a little bit of a gully there, so he was down a little ways before land level, although I could see the upper part of his body when – I didn't see it at the time I shot, until after I'd fired. And the sun was directly behind him – that affected the vision, too, I'm sure.

But the image of him falling is something I'll never be able to get out of my mind. I fired, and there's Harry falling. And it was, I'd have to say, one of the worst days of my life, at that moment.

Q. Worse then whenya took a job workin' for the alcoholic son of the dude who ya used ta be pals with, or worse then when ya started a war for reasons that turned out jive? How worse, bitch?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we went over to him, obviously, right away –

Q. What we he... miles away? Ya shot the man with a motherfuckin shotgun, the spray only goes so far!

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm guessing about 30 yards, which was a good thing. If he'd been closer, obviously, the damage from the shot would have been greater.

Q. Yeah, that sucka been like, in the backseat of a car you was drivin' it woulda been way worse, trust me.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: – part of the shot. He was struck in the right side of his face, his neck and his upper torso on the right side of his body.

Q. And ya'all like, "that ain't not motherfuckin' bird, damn!"

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I have no idea. I mean, you focused on the bird, but as soon as I fired and saw Harry there, everything else went out of my mind. I don't know whether the bird went down, or didn't.

Q. You at least do some CPR and shit?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ran over to him and –

Q. And ya see ya shot a cracka...

THE VICE PRESIDENT: He was laying there on his back, obviously bleeding. You could see where the shot had struck him. And one of the fortunate things was that I've always got a medical team, in effect, covering me wherever I go. I had a physician's assistant with me that day. Within a minute or two he was on the scene administering first-aid. And –

Q. And Cracka be all unconscious and shit, like Wilson on the Jeffersons...

THE VICE PRESIDENT: He was conscious –

Q. Say what? One tough cracka, belie' dat.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I said, "Harry, I had no idea you were there." And –

Q. Bet he called ya all kindsa names.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: He didn't respond. He was – he was breathing, conscious at that point, but he didn't – he was, I'm sure, stunned, obviously, still trying to figure out what had happened to him. The doc was fantastic –

Q. Were you all like, "I blew this po' cracka's face off!" or what?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I had no idea how serious it was going to be. I mean, it could have been extraordinarily serious. You just don't know at that moment. You know he's been struck, that there's a lot of shot that had hit him. But you don't know – you think about his eyes. Fortunately, he was wearing hunting glasses, and that protected his eyes. You – you just don't know. And the key thing, as I say, initially, was that the physician's assistant was right there. We also had an ambulance at the ranch, because one always follows me around wherever I go. And they were able to get the ambulance there, and within about 30 minutes we had him on his way to the hospital.

Q. So that's when ya called "The Wolf" and had things taken care of, right?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I had – I told my physician's assistant to go with him, but the ambulance is crowded and they didn't need another body in there. And so we loaded up and went back to ranch headquarters, basically. By then, it's about 7:00 p.m. at night. And Harry –

Q. Were ya'all, "You breathin' bitch? Breathe!"

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we're getting reports, but they were confusing. Early reports are always wrong. The initial reports that came back from the ambulance were that he was doing well, his eyes were open. They got him into the emergency room at Kingsville –

Q. Now, that guy ya shot fo' no reason looked yo' heart-disease ass right in the eyes, didn't he?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. One eye was open. But they got him in the emergency room in the small hospital at Kingsville, checked him out further there, then lifted him by helicopter from there into Corpus Christi, which has a big city hospital and all of the equipment.

Q. And where you gotta be next? You a big swingin' dick, after all. You ain't got time fo' this shit!

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't have an exact time line, although he got there sometime that evening, 8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m.

Q. So where was he while you bribin' Saudis and shit?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I would say he was in Kingsville in the emergency room probably within, oh, less than an hour after they left the ranch.

Q. Now, you hunt quail enough ta know that a quail don't look like no Texas lawyer--

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I am, well, for the last 12, 15 years.

Q. So if you so good an huntin' how is it ya shootta guy and not a bird? I could understand mistakin' a person fo' a deer... a deer's got personality...

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry. And you can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line. And there's no – it was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. And I say that is something I'll never forget.

Q. Friend? Fucka, ya just called him an "acquaintance!" This ain't how ya make friends. Didja plan on shootin' the sucka this weekend o' what?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, the way – this is a big ranch, about 50,000 acres. You cover a lot of territory on a quail hunt. Birds are oftentimes – you're looking for coveys. And these are wild quail, they're not pen-raised. And you hunt them – basically, you have people out on horseback, what we call outriders, who are looking for the quail. And when they spot them, they've got radios, you'll go over, and say, get down and flush the quail. So you need –

Q. So you so bad at killin' a quail with a shotgun that you got guys on horses who like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid ta chase the suckas away?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, usually you'll be, you know, maybe a few hundred yards. Might be farther than that; could be a quarter of a mile.

Q. So, ya at least hike, right? Just ta give the birds a damned chance?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, you always – in that part of the country, you always are on vehicles, until you get up to where the covey is. Then you get off – there will be dogs down, put down; the dogs will point to covey. And then you walk up on the covey. And as the covey flushes, that's when you shoot.

Q. Was you poundin' foties' o' what?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. You don't hunt with people who drink. That's not a good idea. We had –

Q. Someone hadta ta have pounded a damn fotie' o' we wouldn't be talkin'.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Correct. We'd taken a break at lunch – go down under an old – ancient oak tree there on the place, and have a barbecue. I had a beer at lunch. After lunch we take a break, go back to ranch headquarters. Then we took about an hour-long tour of ranch, with a ranch hand driving the vehicle, looking at game. We didn't go back into the field to hunt quail until about, oh, sometime after 3:00 p.m.

The five of us who were in that party were together all afternoon. Nobody was drinking, nobody was under the influence.

Q. I betcho' ass was all preoccupied with the New York Times and shit afta ya capped a man.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, my first reaction, Brit, was not to think: I need to call the press. My first reaction is: My friend, Harry, has been shot and we've got to take care of him. That evening there were other considerations. We wanted to make sure his family was taken care of. His wife was on the ranch. She wasn't with us when it happened, but we got her hooked up with the ambulance on the way to the hospital with Harry. He has grown children; we wanted to make sure they were notified, so they didn't hear on television that their father had been shot. And that was important, too.

But we also didn't know what the outcome here was going to be. We didn't know for sure what kind of shape Harry was in. We had preliminary reports, but they wanted to do a CAT scan, for example, to see how – whether or not there was any internal damage, whether or not any vital organ had been penetrated by any of the shot. We did not know until Sunday morning that we could be confident that everything was probably going to be okay.

Q. Didja tell his family upfront o' didja not wanna mess with dat shit. A widow'll capya, after all.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, his wife – his wife knew as he was leaving the ranch –

Q. Aw yeah, "leavin'." Bet she thought it was in the limo that brung him. And you betta had steer clear of the kids.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I didn't make the calls to his children, so I don't know exactly when those contacts were made. One of his daughters had made it to the hospital by the next day when I visited. But one of the things I'd learned over the years was first reports are often wrong and you need to really wait and nail it down. And there was enough variation in the reports we were getting from the hospital, and so forth – a couple of people who had been guests at the ranch went up to the hospital that evening; one of them was a doctor, so he obviously had some professional capabilities in terms of being able to relay messages. But we really didn't know until Sunday morning that Harry was probably going to be okay, that it looked like there hadn't been any serious damage to any vital organ. And that's when we began the process of notifying the press.

Q. And you tellin' me that even after you tried spyin' on Americans, and it turned inta a story, and ya tried lettin' CEF'inOs of every companies write policy and it became a fuckin' story, that you didn't think shootin' a man in the motherfuckin' face would be a motherfuckin' story? C'mon!

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, true, it was unprecedented. I've been in the business for a long time and never seen a situation quite like this. We've had experiences where the President has been shot; we've never had a situation where the Vice President shot somebody.

Q. Ya got all "Aaron Burr" on that sucka's ass.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not since Aaron Burr –

Q. But it ain't like the honky you shot tried ta form the first national bank that would eventually become our Federal Reserve, was it?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Different circumstances.

Q. Didn't yo' mama ever tell ya ta fess up quick when ya do wrong?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, if it's accurate. If it's accurate. And this is a complicated story.

Q. But there it's not as if ya doubted ya'd shot the guy. Do ya not know whetha you fucked a bitch or not? Then why you treatin' this lawyer you shot like a bitch?


Q. But, what, you though people would keep "The Vice President Just Shot a Guy" a secret?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: As we saw, if we'd put out a report Saturday night on what we heard then – one report came in that said, superficial injuries. If we'd gone with a statement at that point, we'd have been wrong. And it was also important, I thought, to get the story out as accurately as possible, and this is a complicated story that, frankly, most reporters would never have dealt with before, so –

Q. But you told the Prez, right?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I did not. The White House was notified, but I did not discuss it directly, myself. I talked to Andy Card, I guess it was Sunday morning.

Q. So, what? You was hopin' the Prez don't watch the news?


Q. AButcha got Karl Rove onnit, right? That's the man with the plan.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, Karl talks to – I don't recall talking to Karl. Karl did talk with Katherine Armstrong, who is a good mutual friend to both of us. Karl hunts at the Armstrong, as well –

Q. Say what?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I said Karl has hunted at the Armstrong, as well, and we're both good friends of the Armstrongs and of Katherine Armstrong. And Katherine suggested, and I agreed, that she would go make the announcement, that is that she'd put the story out. And I thought that made good sense for several reasons. First of all, she was an eyewitness. She'd seen the whole thing. Secondly, she'd grown up on the ranch, she'd hunted there all of her life. Third, she was the immediate past head of the Texas Wildlife and Parks Department, the game control commission in the state of Texas, an acknowledged expert in all of this.

And she wanted to go to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, which is the local newspaper, covers that area, to reporters she knew. And I thought that made good sense because you can get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting. And then it would immediately go up to the wires and be posted on the website, which is the way it went out. And I thought that was the right call.

Q. You musta felt likea dumbass.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I still do. I still think that the accuracy was enormously important. I had no press person with me, I didn't have any press people with me. I was there on a private weekend with friends on a private ranch. In terms of who I would contact to have somebody who would understand what we're even talking about, the first person that we talked with at one point, when Katherine first called the desk to get hold of a reporter didn't know the difference between a bullet and a shotgun – a rifle bullet and a shotgun. And there are a lot of basic important parts of the story that required some degree of understanding. And so we were confident that Katherine was the right one, especially because she was an eyewitness and she could speak authoritatively on it. She probably knew better than I did what had happened since I'd only seen one piece of it.

Q. So, next day, ya called the sucka you capped, right?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: The next morning I talked to his wife. And then I went to the hospital in Corpus Christi and visited with him.

Q. You get up early ta make the call, at least?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, it was shortly after noon on Sunday.

Q. And you be sweatin' the press! They get wind?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I believe it had. I can't remember what time Katherine actually talked to the reporter. She had trouble that morning actually finding a reporter. But they finally got connected with the reporter, and that's when the story then went out.

Q. And you gotta belie' dat when suckas talk, other suckas talk. This shit be like a sewing circle.


Q. So ya coulda come clean, quick, right?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, who is going to do that? Are they going to take my word for what happened? There is obviously –

Q. Wait, you the Vice President and ta think folks won't believe ya? That some sad shit. So you got some otha folk ta tell it, huh?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Exactly. That's what we did. We went with Mrs. Armstrong. We had – she's the one who put out the statement. And she was the most credible one to do it because she was a witness. It wasn't me in terms of saying, here's what happened, it was –

Q. Makes it seem like you was tryin' ta make it look like you hadn't just shotta dude in the face.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: There wasn't any way this was going to be minimized, Brit; but it was important that it be accurate. I do think what I've experienced over the years here in Washington is as the media outlets have proliferated, speed has become sort of a driving force, lots of time at the expense of accuracy. And I wanted to make sure we got it as accurate as possible, and I think Katherine was an excellent choice. I don't know who you could get better as the basic source for the story than the witness who saw the whole thing.

Q. And so, ya call Andy Card, right? When? Rove in the shitter or somethin'?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sometime Sunday morning.

Q. And then you gotta tell Big E Tallz, right? The Prez?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I talked to him about it yesterday, or Monday – first on Monday, and then on Tuesday, too.

Q. And you let that honky Scott Mclellan take the heat. Hey, that's what a honky fo'!

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, Scott does a great job and it's a tough job. It's especially a tough job under these conditions and circumstances. I had a bit of the feeling that the press corps was upset because, to some extent, it was about them – they didn't like the idea that we called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times instead of The New York Times. But it strikes me that the Corpus Christi Caller-Times is just as valid a news outlet as The New York Times is, especially for covering a major story in south Texas.

Q. Aww, yeah, it just South Texas. Ain't Iraq or nothin'.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I had no press person with me, no coverage with me, no White House reporters with me. I'm comfortable with the way we did it, obviously. You can disagree with that, and some of the White House press corps clearly do. But, no, I've got nothing but good things to say about Scott McClellan and Dan Bartlett. They've got a tough job to do and they do it well. They urged us to get the story out. The decision about how it got out, basically, was my responsibility.

Q. Butchudiddat?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That was my call.

Q. All on you, bro.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: All the way. It was recommended to me – Katherine Armstrong wanted to do it, as she said, and I concurred in that; I thought it made good sense.

Q. Now, you talkin' ta me. Today. Much later then what ya popped da bitch.


Q. What about two days ago? Ya had some ho over?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, part of it obviously has to do with the status of Harry Whittington. And it's a difficult subject to talk about, frankly, Brit. But most especially I've been very concerned about him and focused on him and feel more comfortable coming out today because of the fact that his circumstances have improved, he's gotten by what was a potential crisis yesterday, with respect to the developments concerning his heart. I think this decision we made, that this was the right way to do it.

Q. He musta slapped yo' pasty face.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: He's been fantastic. He's a gentleman in every respect. He oftentimes expressed more concern about me than about himself. He's been in good spirits, unfailingly cheerful –

Q. He didn't dropya like it's hot?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, when I first saw him in the hospital, for example, he said, look, he said, I don't want this to create problems for you. He literally was more concerned about me and the impact on me than he was on the fact that he'd been shot. He's a – I guess I'd describe him as a true Texas gentleman, a very successful attorney, successful businessman in Austin; a gentleman in every respect of the word. And he's been superb.

Q. You say this a bad day. Seriously?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: What happened to my friend as a result of my actions, it's part of this sudden, you know, in less than a second, less time than it takes to tell, going from what is a very happy, pleasant day with great friends in a beautiful part of the country, doing something I love – to, my gosh, I've shot my friend. I've never experienced anything quite like that before.

Q. You learn the difference between a bird and a person at least?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can't say that. You know, we canceled the Sunday hunt. I said, look I'm not – we were scheduled to go out again on Sunday and I said I'm not going to go on Sunday, I want to focus on Harry. I'll have to think about it.

Q. Some folks say you less a hazzard playin' dominos. The pizza.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's brought me great pleasure over the years. I love the people that I've hunted with and do hunt with; love the outdoors, it's part of my heritage, growing up in Wyoming. It's part of who I am. But as I say, the season is ending, I'm going to let some time pass over it and think about the future.

Q. Hey, while I gotcha... you spyin' on my hood or what?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's nothing I can talk about, Jules. This is an issue that's been under investigation for a couple of years. I've cooperated fully, including being interviewed, as well, by a special prosecutor. All of it is now going to trial. Scooter is entitled to the presumption of innocence. He's a great guy. I've worked with him for a long time, have enormous regard for him. I may well be called as a witness at some point in the case and it's, therefore, inappropriate for me to comment on any facet of the case.

Q. And you get ta say what getsd said about what?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: There is an executive order to that effect.

Q. Dumb cracka letchu do dat?


Q. And you done it?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I've certainly advocated declassification and participated in declassification decisions. The executive order –

Q. You ever done it unilaterally? I done it bilaterally once with these two hot shorties...

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't want to get into that. There is an executive order that specifies who has classification authority, and obviously focuses first and foremost on the President, but also includes the Vice President.

Q. Seems ta me dat when ya want it, yo' ship be leaky as the Titannic.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: There clearly has been damage done.

Q. Where you gone wrong?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't want to get into just sort of ranking them, then you get into why is one more damaging than the other. One of the problems we have as a government is our inability to keep secrets. And it costs us, in terms of our relationship with other governments, in terms of the willingness of other intelligence services to work with us, in terms of revealing sources and methods. And all of those elements enter into some of these leaks.

Q. Mr. Vice President, I gotta say, in closing...

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Brit.

Q. Ezekial...

One more bit about Politicians and Guns

After Cheney, while trying to shoot penned quail, shot a guy, I couldn't help but remember the 2004 Presidential campaign, when John Kerry went duck hunting in front of the cameras.

As this article shows, Kerry's trip was met with derision, not just from the right, but from the mass media. It was just an example of the latte-sipping, opera-watching, soon-t0-be Brokeback Mountain ticket-buyer posing as a man.

Because, ya'all, hunting is a man's game. Maybe the last man's game we got left! A man, a gun, dangerous game (or, quails raised to be retarded, as Cheney was hunting) -- it's one of the last man vs. nature survival games a real man can play, unless he can afford some adventure travel (which, as a general rule, usually involves observing rather than killing the wild life, so is for fairies).

And... after all the shit poor Kerry got for going duck hunting (okay, I gave him shit, too, but that's because I get MY duck in NYC's chinatown... so roasty!) it turned out that Cheney's the guy that can't handle a firearm the way a man does.

My grandfather (on my step-dad's side) was a cop who went through an entire career only pointing a gun at a man once. My step-dad owned guns and taught me to shoot them. We never shot a living thing (though, if I'm every attacked by an empty soda can sitting on a desert bluff, I can so waste that thing, from a surprising distance)!

What's funny to me is that though my step dad and I still always make time for a visit to a target shooting range whenever I get home to visit, is that he really taught me two things about guns: 1) They're cool, get a big one, they make a louder noise and bigger hole in the target. 2) They're freaking weapons. A man, a real man, doesn't carry around a weapon he can't control.

Especially when we lived in a little town called Bernalillo in the years before the booming economies of neighboring cities and the growth of Native American Casinos made the place more populace, the guns our family owned even had a very minor home defense purpose. If something happened there, the cops really might have been too far away to help, after all.

But, when it came to guns and other people, I remember being taught a good lesson: "Don't point a gun at a person unless you're prepared to fire it. And... seriously... there's probably no reason for you to ever point a gun at another person."

My step-dad and I used to go out for afternoons of target shooting where we'd, as they say in the gun world, "use" a number of "rounds" that would make you think we were out "fighting a motherfucking war."

But we never freaked out and say... shot another mother fucking human being!

One more Cheney Shooting Bit... can accidentally injure somebody, especially if you're acting in a reckless manner, and still get in trouble for it, right?

Folks who've braved being in a car with me, for example, know that I sometimes like to drive above the poster speed limits. Now, if I'd wiped out doing something like that and hurt somebody, you all might not be too shocked if I faced some sort of criminal penalty for doing so.

That principle either doesn't apply to hunters or Vice Presidents, it seems.

CNN and other outlets report local authorities saying that Cheney would only be subject to a criminal investigation if the lawyer he shot actually dies.

Sure, it was an accident and not Cheney following Shakespeare's advice about tort reform, but I wager that every day, ordinary Americans who are neither hunters or Vice Presidents accidentally injure their fellow Americans and face criminal prosecution for it. I'm not even necessarily suggesting jail time or anything of the sort, but a blemish on the record, a fine, community service -- people with intentions as innocent as Cheney had (actually, people with more innocent intentions, as they're usually not out to kill poor little birds in pens) suffer consequences for accidents all of the time, even if nobody's killed and even if the victim doesn't want to press charges.

Some Texas judge with an eye towards preserving the second ammendment should demand an investigation and if it turns out that Cheney acted like an idiot, the Veep should be sentenced to a hefty fine (to be paid in Halliburton stock) and 1,000 hours of community service, teaching gun safety to the children attending the schools that our nation is building in Baghdad.


As my post directly below points out, a trigger-happy and inattentive Dick Cheney shooting a friend instead of a bird is just too easy a target for satire. Almost as easy a target as an old friend standing at point-blank range. (See how easy that was?) And, since nobody's died, the shooting is a lot less depressing subject than the war that it symbolizes.

But, unless somebody who was there claims that Cheney did it deliberately or negligently, it's not really important. It's just an accident, albeit an embarrassing and illustrative one.

On the other hand, Scooter Libby's claim that Cheney instructed him to reveal classified military information in order to discredit critics of the administration's handling of pre-war weapons intelligence IS important. Very important. If Libby's telling the truth, the Vice President of the United States jeopardized national security to run a political smear campaign. That's not only illegal and indictable, it's impeachable.

Monday, February 13, 2006

If (You Think) It Walks Like a Quail and (You Think) it Coos Like a Quail...

Dick Cheney just shot a man. He seriously injured fellow quail-hunter Harry Whittington by spraying him with shotgun pellets after spinning around to shoot at a flushed covey. Cheney says that he hadn't known that Whittington was there.

It has since been discovered that Whittington was carrying no WMDs. Initial reports indicate that the shooting has not yet brought democracy to Whittington.

Friday, February 10, 2006

More on Danish Cartoons

I almost didn't want to get into this, but...

It's weird to see hardline Islamists who would laugh at political cartoons depicting greedy Jews but who freak out when their own oxes are gored freak out, but...

A friend who knows (because he's studied and visited the region, including a visit to post-war Iraq) that in the dictatorships of the Middle East, the only non-governmental civic society that's allowed to exist is the society of the mosque.

I don't want to single out Islam when I say this, because Christianity, Judaism and even the Heaven's Gate cult are guilty of this too: Religion is a problem.

It is. It's a problem.

I'm a skeptical atheist but I still value religion. I value the symbolic stories about life on Earth and I'm willing to look past my own prejudice towards a random universe that's allowed life to think about it, in order to find the truths about living that life within religious writings. Heck, I even regret that I'm sometimes not open enough to find those truths. Even as an atheist, I see the value in the stories of religion and not just from the stories of the modern world's "Big Three" but from the religions that are long instinct and from the beliefs of people who are members of what most of us would call cults. When you think big, and when you write about or talk about the big questions of life and when you're sincere about the writing or talking, you're bound to stumble upon some ideas that, even if they fall short of being universal, still have resonant meaning.

But, to me, if you've thought hard, spoken hard, written hard, debated hard, on a position that's based in any sort of faith, from the faith of belief in some divine order to the faith of human emergence from chaos -- you haven't gotten anywhere if you can't take a joke.

I'll even say that the sign of true faith, a faith earned through a lifetime of asking questions and dealing with uncomfortable answers, is the ability to take a joke. Even, in the case of a the lame Danish cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammed with a bomb weaved into his turban, the thoughtfully faithful should be able to... take a joke.

Seriously... WWJLA? What Would Jesus Laugh At? WWMLA? What Would Muhammed Laugh At? WWYLA? What Would Yahweh Laugh At?


WWVLA? What Would Vishnu Laugh At?

WWZLA? What Would Zeus Laugh At?

WWOLA? What Would Odin Laugh At?

WWCLA? What Would Coyote Laugh At?

Coyote would laugh at almost anything, the prankster he is. So that's a good place to stop with my acronymns.

Any fervent religious believer should be fervent enough, sure enough, should have answered questions about their faith enough, to deal with any joke, no matter how crass.

A key strength in life, after all, is the strength to be yourself and to deal with the world on your terms, in spite of what you're told, in spite of what you're cajoled to say or do and, most certainly, in spite of the names you're called.

So, back to the Middle East and the cartoon riots: We should remember, when watching footage from there, that in the US, fundamentalist religious types have tried to defeat the teaching of evolution to public school students, to deny women the right to have an abortion and to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.

Oh, but they're killing people over there?

Doctors who have performed legal abortions have been killed here.

I said, in this post, that religion is the problem.

I take that back.

Extremism is the problem.

It doesn't matter what the issue is, either. An extreme Nazi will hurt innocents. An extreme Communist of Socialist will do the same. Even an extreme proponent of democracy will kill and maim to achieve that end. Extreme anarchists will, uh, wind up in a battle royal that will be won by the most powerful anarchist.

To laugh at yourself or your most cherished beliefs requires humility.

In the Middle East, people are ruled, to a degree that's unfathomable in the west, to the point where they can only find an outlet for their emotions in the mosque. The people of the Middle East, whether they be in totalitarian Iran or our friendly totalitarian state of the moment in Pakistan, are denied any outlet for personal expression, save the mosque.

No wonder the Middle East has so many religious extremists?

In the US, people have an almost unlimited variety of venues for self expression and yet, even we have our religious extremists -- of the type who try to ban evolution in schools, or who follow David Koresh or who, like Timothy McVeigh, strike at our government with deadly force.

Sure, if I ruled the Middle East, I'd direct its people to counter a crass Danish cartoon with jokes about Denmark, rather than violent protests. In the ideal world, every butt of a joke should respond with a new punchline.

I've wandered and meandered about this issue and haven't fully thought out the implications of my conclusion but, I think that in any society, whether you're thinking about the Middle East of the United States, that the real dannger is that people, as individuals rather than a collective, feel that they have no other way of getting through life than to fully devote themselves to some sort of dogma.

If we want a better world, where people feel free to make their own way in life and to define their own relationships with both reality and whatever they think underlies it, we need real freedom.

Real freedom.

We don't have that in the US. Here, we have political freedoms, but no economic freedom.

In the Middle East where despots try to guide so many.

Most people, whatever they face from their societies, are not extremists. There's a group of Christians in the U.S. who want evolution banned from the schools or taught alongside "Intelligent Design," theory, but they don't represent all U.S. Christians. Heck, most U.S. Christians seem to believe in evolutions.

Most Muslims won't burn flags or get into street fights over a political cartoon, either.

Extremists of any stripe command attention and influence based on their willingness to say or do what most people won't.

But, we have to ask what makes them lurch towards such extremes?

I think it's, in part, a lack of other outlets for personal expression.

Extremists in the Middle East are a great example of that, as they're ruled despotically by a fortunate few and forced to work for a global economy that tends to benefit cultures that they find alien.

Extremism, in any form, is at the root of the world's current problems. But the U.S., as a dominant global power by dint of our military and then our economy (both as a consumer and producer but, increasingly, mostly the former) has some responsibility for all of this. A lot of U.S. foreign policy is dictated simply by economic interest, and economics is a very cold science because it affects people and yet it is indifferent to the wills, hopes, dreams and aspirations of individuals.

Part of me wants to simply dismiss hypocritical Muslim extremists who'll kill over a cartoon or novel by Salman Rushdie and yet laugh at anti-Jewish jokes or stand by idly while their own rulers slaughter members of their own religion.

But, at the same time, while I find no common cause with people who will become irrationally fervent over a bad political cartoon in the Middle East, or Brokeback Mountain in America, I kind of sympathize... sometimes, I figure, individuals are manipulated, or hurt by governmental or corporate forces that are so vast as to be immune to revenge, and they just have to do something.

I said religion was the problem.

I clarified that extremism is the problem.

I think I nailed it the second time. But if extremism is the problem, both in the US and abroad, then we have to start addressing the question of why some people will go to such extremes that they can't even take a bad joke.

Feeling powerless.

That's the problem.

Forget religion. Forget extremism.

It's when people feel powerless that they violently test the limits of civic life.

That's the problem.

Being powerless.

Scooter's Super Strategy

Scooter Libby just told a federal grand jury that VP Dick Cheney and "White House superiors" authorized him to leak classified information to journalists--including, it appears, Valerie Plame's identity--in order to bolster the Administration's case for going to war.

I love that the new Bush administration defense for breaking the law is cheerfully admitting that they broke the law. After all, people don't cheerfully admit doing something wrong, so if you cheerfully admit that you broke the law, breaking the law can't be wrong, right? And since we all know that breaking the law is wrong, if what you did wasn't wrong, you couldn't have broken the law.

So, muggers, take note and try this defense: "(cheerfully) Yes, of course I took his walker and hit him with it until he gave me his wallet. (indignantly) And let me tell you something, Mr. High and Mighty D.A., I resent being accused of assault and battery."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

My First Job Goes Under

Crosswinds Weekly ceased publishing with its late January issue. I worked at Crosswinds for a year in 1998, serving as its arts and entertainment editor and pretty much its main writer for a year. That job led to the job I have now and Steve Lawrence, the editor and publisher of Crosswinds hired me when nobody else would, so I owe him, and Crosswinds, a lot.

It was one of two alternative news weeklies in Albuquerque and one of two in Santa Fe as well. It was progressive without apologizing for it and it was New Agey as well, though the New Age stuff was never quite as prevalent as people said. I'll never forget that Steve once had a very grizzled ad salesmen who seemed straight out of an audition for a production of Glengarry Glen Ross but who supplemented his income by selling "essential oils" with miraculous healing powers. Only in New Mexico.

Steve's wife and co-publisher, Vera, had her own herbal healing business and she wrote a column on the topic for the paper. But such notions hardly hurt the paper. There's a lot of people in New Mexico who like to see New Age stuff printed alongside some hard news analysis, after all. Nobody moves to New Mexico because they want to think like everybody else. If you're an accomplished experimental composer, the guy who discovered the freaking quark, or somebody who beat the stock market for years despite the machinations of the corporate raiders and bond traders of the 1980s AND you think you saw La Virgen in a tortilla... New Mexico is a good place to build a house in the foothills of one mountain or another.

Crosswinds did some great stories and had some great features. Sharon Kayne's humor column was very popular. Hal Rhodes wrote about New Mexico politics with the kind of insight and attention to detail that you'll never see from a nationally syndicated columnist writing about Washington, Steve's weekly column always challenged one bit of conventional wisdom or another and the movie ratings ranged from road-kill to howling coyote, instead of stars.

But, this post is more of a roast for Crosswinds. I'll never forget, back in that first weekly year, Steve putting a picture of a dripping faucet on the cover, with the ominous headline: "What's in your water?" Anyone who read the story would quickly be confronted by the blunt truth -- nothing too bad, really. It's pretty clean. I could see NBC's Dateline stealing that one some day.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

WTF Hamshahri?

Um, so in retaliation for European newspapers publishing and republishing cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed, Iranian newspaper Hamshahri has announced a contest in which it will award a gold coin to each of a dozen cartoonists who produce the best cartoon lampooning the Holocaust and/or American and Israeli "crimes of aggression." Hamshari editors are already daring European newspapers to republish the winning cartoons when they appear.


So, on the one hand, there is a kind of logic to this: you publish offensive cartoons, we publish offensive cartoons. As long as nobody's setting other peoples' buildings on fire or beating people up, the Hamshahri contest falls under the header of free speech.

But, like the original Danish cartoons, it also falls under the header of stupid speech. It's especially dumb because the "you" who published the offensive cartoons that started all this was a Danish newspaper--not a Jewish newspaper, not Israel, and not America. So instead of it being "you do this, we do that," it's actually "they do this, we blame you."

If this kind of stuff didn't tend to lead to violence, it would just be amusingly childish.

Monday, February 06, 2006

i now pod.

I have joined the masses. By dint of winning a workplace raffle, held as incentive to get us to attend a computer training seminar, I have a video iPod!

This thing is crack.

No, it's better than crack.

I'm addicted.

Says it was made in California. By way of Columbia, seriously.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Virtues of Giving Offense

For the past week or so, violent and nonviolent protests have broken out in response to a dozen provoking cartoons about Islam published in a Danish newspaper last Septemeber (and in response to recent reprintings of the cartoons in European and Middle Eastern newspapers). The cartoon that has the most hackles raised shows a picture of a guy identified as Mohammed with a bomb replacing most of a turban on his head. It's hard to overstate how offensive many Moslems find that cartoon. For Moslems, it's flat out blasphemous to pictorially depict the Prophet at all. Calling him a terrorist is just a cherry atop the sacrilige sundae.

This is just a small post to say that I think this sort of thing proves the beauty of the First Amendment--both its protection of speech and its separating church from state.

I think a lot of protests in the Moslem world are hypocritical or misguided. It's a bit suspicious that the same newspapers that run anti-Semitic cartoons have decided to run indignant editorials about the sin of "insulting religion." Further, these protests are taking place four months after the cartoons ran, so in many cases this isn't a case of spontaneous outrage but rather of local and international hardline groups stirring up resentment for their own purposes.

But I'm willing to acknowledge that a lot of the protests are sincere. It's pretty clear that the Danish newspaper set out to offend people and stir up controversy. The editors probably didn't anticipate the resultant violence and the boycotts, but they pretty clearly did anticipate the outrage because some of the cartoons are calculated to offend devout Moslems.

To a point, I'm sympathetic with the protesters. They feel ridculed and despised. And we all hate it when people ridicule our beliefs publicly; we hate it even more when the ridicule seems founded on the assumption that our beliefs mean nothing and our feelings don't matter.

But, well, so what? Who cares what we hate? Or what we love, or believe? Our friends do, but the six billion people on earth don't have any obligation to be our friends.

People should have the right to insult each other's religions. We should have the right to blaspheme, to mock one another's holiest of holies, and to say that the sacred mysteries of someone's faith sound like something dreamed up by a sugar-addled kindergartner.

I'm sick of true believers claiming that their right to belive whatever they want somehow obliges the rest of us to pretend that their beliefs make a lick of sense. Most of us think most other people are a little deluded about everything--and ten times as much when it comes to religion. At best, nonbelievers find religious beliefs and practices intriguing; more likely, nonbelievers find them goofy or hideous. ("Um, so why exactly do you think three gods are actually one god? why do you think extraterrestrials designed the human race? why do you think it's necessary to mutilate your daughter's clitoris? why do you avoid mixing meat and milk? why do you pray facing a city in Saudi Arabia? why do you treat that cow with reverence?")

Yes, religion inspires incredibly powerful actions and reactions. So, yes, if you respect someone, you should be polite about their beliefs. And, yes, if you've decided to disrespect those beliefs, you should be ready to endure a response of mockery and scorn, with maybe some shunning or economic retaliation thrown in.

But the violence as well as the calls we're hearing these days for governments to take a role in "defending religion"—for example, helping fight back against the "war on Christmas" or passing a UN resolution banning disrespectful treatment of a religious faith--show signs of hysteria. And they show exactly why we need the First Amendment. People don't try to ban speech or intimidate speakers that they don't care about. They only want to silence what infuriates them. But the speech that matters almost inevitably infuriates someone.

New and better ideas are, at first, unpopular ideas. And unpopular ideas almost inevitably offend at least one group. So, for our own sake, we need to give people the right to say things that offend us. It's often the only way things get better.

Of course, we don't have to listen when people say something we find offensive. I often keep my blood pressure down by tuning out the stupidest stuff. And if we going to listen, we can sacrifice our blood pressure and go out there and offend back--go out and say why a particular new idea isn't a better idea, is, in fact, a foolish and despicable one. That's what grown-ups do.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

You know... for kids!

The National Security Agency's Web Site for kids.

It's fun.

But... they know you've surfed there.

I'm all about the Foxxy Love cartoon character they've got. Her name is Rosetta Stone. Rosetta da bomb!

Did I say bomb? Leave me alone, NSA! I ain't got no bomb here. It's just a blog.

Seriously, nothing to see here. Keep moving...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Sheesh, Bush ALWAYS offends me!

Anyone who knows me well, or even a little, knows that I love mythology, especially Greek mythology. Heck, I have tattoos of Artemis, Athene, Dionysus, Apollo and Hermes.

So, I took special offense to Bush's call for a ban on "human/animal hybrids."

What about the Centaurs, Mr. Bush? The Mermaids? The racy, form-changing, animalistic sex that might Zeus enjoys with nymphs of loose morals?

I hope you never meet poor Medusa and her head of snakes, Mr. Bush, because she'll totally get you stoned!

Okay, this was a pointless post, but sometimes I can't keep my mythology jokes to myself.

Am on Forbes on Fox tomorrow, if you're up an watching Fox News on a Saturday. The topic is, "Give big oil companies a tax cut!" My position is... no.

My other position is... Equal rights for harpies!