Riba Rambles:
Musings of a Mental Magpie

About the author: Elisabeth in early 2007, photo by Todd Belf
Elisabeth "Lis" Riba is an infovore with an MLS. This is her place to share whatever's on her mind, on topics both personal and political. [more]
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Friday, February 03, 2006
Hey, you guys!
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:50 PM

Coming out this week on DVD: The Best of The Electric Company

Looking over the bonus features, Disk 3 caught my eye:

No, not the Tom Lehrer "Silent E" Kareoke. The other feature:

The Creative Team Remembers: Executive producer Sam Gibbon and head writer Tom Whedon reminisce.

That last name sounds familiar...

Sure enough, looked it up -- it's Joss's father.

That explains so much...

Added later: a trailer for the DVD set (Quicktime format)

Friday Cat Blogging: Poetry in Motion
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:30 PM

A quick entry to say 'I'm not dead, yet!"

This morning's Writers' Almanac by Garrison Keillor featured a poem by Jennifer Gresham titled "Explaining Relativity to the Cat."

Read it or, if you have RealPlayer, you can listen to Garrison Keillor's rendition.
Then, for a rather different tone, scroll down to tomorrow's poem, "Airport Security" by David Ray.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006
What does God need with a starship?
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:30 PM

Saw a story on Pandagon last night, which is just too weird not to share. This comes courtesy of the loons on WorldNetDaily, a conservative site not known for reliability:

Is new AOL IM slogan marketing blasphemy?
'I AM' pitch takes God's name in vain, say some shocked critics

When Ian Millar opened up his AOL Instant Messenger program yesterday and linked to the new AIM Triton site, he wasn't prepared for what he saw.

"I have been an AIM customer for many years, and although I do not use AOL for my mail client, I have recommended it for relatives and friends," he said in a letter to top executives of the company. "In general, I appreciate AOL and your business savvy."

But when Millar saw the company's new slogan, he was shocked and disgusted. He was not alone.

America Online is now acting like God - using what some consider to be His very name in a marketing pitch for e-mail, voice chat, video chat, instant messaging, text messaging and other forms of communication.

AIM's new slogan is "I AM."

Millar wonders if any of AOL's marketing and planning directors ever went to Christian Sunday school or attended Jewish services.

He points out to AOL executives that "I AM" is the English translation of YaHWeH, the self-proclaimed name of God.

"He is the Creator and Savior of the world," explains Millar. "He alone is to be worshipped. To take His name in vain, or use as a common thing is blasphemy, a vulgar sin of offense. Perhaps you have not read the Third Commandment, since they have removed it from so many public monuments in the last decade. But breaking it as a means of marketing your products offends the mind of everyone who worships Him."

[snipping several paragraphs of scripture quotes, all relying upon English translations.]

"You must immediately change the name of your program," he told Jonathan Miller, the chief executive officer of America Online, and John Buckley, corporate communications officer for the company, in a pointed letter. I can assure you that you will lose business over this marketing tactic from people who worship the Almighty. But worse, you have offended Him by your actions; whether they are deliberate or ignorant. To treat as common the name of God is wicked. God is patient, but mankind is today making an error of epic proportions by the deliberate actions of mocking the Almighty; particularly in the technologically advanced society. His patience with the mockery of mankind will come to an end."

Next up, complaint letters against Popeye, Edie Brickell and Neil Diamond.

Followed by an all-out assault on Man of La Mancha, the Beatles, Herman's Hermits, a major pet food manufacturer, and Descartes. In short, consider anyone who has improper first-person conjugal relations with the verb TO BE a possible target.

But, this raises a more fundamental question: Does Gd really need His followers to file complaints on His behalf like this? Can't He defend Himself?

I mean, if Gd truly objects to something and wants it to stop, Gd has far more direct means of expressing displeasure, as this Baltimore Sun story from last June demonstrates:

[L]ast Flag Day. What a day that was.

Phones were ringing steadily on six lines, [Marcia Thompson] Eldreth said, when a thunderstorm rolled in over the house.

"I turned on the prayer and worship music because it started to feel like a spiritual attack," Eldreth said. She recalled stepping to the front door in time to see lightning strike a utility pole across the road: "I saw a ball of blue fire come off that telephone pole."

The bolt knocked out the phones until the next morning. Eldreth understood it as a sign.

"I took it as spiritual warfare," Eldreth said. "I grinned when the fire come off the pole." She said she thought, "Thanks for the affirmation, Satan."

Satan? Satan? Since when has lightning been in his arsenal of weaponry?

Okay, so some people are unclear on the concept.

What sin, you may be asking, has this misguided woman committed?

Marcia Thompson Eldreth sees in the United States a Christian nation, inspired by Scripture and dedicated to propositions conveyed in biblical prophesy. She asks: Why not a U.S. national Christian flag?

"Our nation was based on Judeo-Christian principles," Eldreth said. "Blessed is the country whose God is Lord."


A flag. A Christian flag. The notion struck Eldreth, not least because she has done quite a bit of painting and drawing over the years. She said she thought to herself: "Well, that's got your name on it, Marcia."

And what does this Judeo-Christian flag look like?

[The flag] shows an American bald eagle in flight, holding in its beak a quote from the New Testament, in its talons a bloody crucifix.

Need I point out that I can't find the slightest Judaic element in her design? Everything there is Christian, so she should stop claiming false inclusivity.

Maybe that hubris is what tempted Somebody upstairs to loose a couple bolts on her call center...

As for whichever AOL executive received Millar's complaint, I think he should belt a little Billy Joel:

I ammmmmmm an innocent ma-a-an!
Oh yes, I am -- an innocent man.
All the news? That's fit.
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:20 PM

While Google can often be a lazy reporting tool, and a misleading one if done poorly, Jim Lindgren of Volokh discovered something interesting in the Sheehan coverage:

On my local Chicago TV news last night, the anchors reported that Cindy Sheehan was ejected from the State of the Union Address for wearing an anti-war T-shirt. They didn't say what the words on the T-shirt actually were, but I assumed from their failure to mention them that they must be crude or unsuitable for repeating to a general audience.

Then I read today that her T-shirt simply read: "2,245 - How many more?" That certainly seems like a sensible question to raise: the serious human cost in US lives lost in the Iraqi War and whether that cost (along with many others) is worth the expected benefits. (Whether any time, place, and manner restrictions that Congress might have are Constitutional is, of course, another question.)

Interestingly, most news stories omitted quoting the words on the shirt. A search of Google News yielded 579 hits for the search 'Sheehan t-shirt state union' and only 131 for the search with the phrase "how many more" added to the search.

Also most of the 579 Google News stories about Sheehan's T-shirt omitted a mention that Beverly Young, the wife of Congressman Bill Young, was ejected for wearing a pro-war shirt. It read: "Support the Troops - Defending Our Freedom!" Only 167 of the 579 Sheehan t-shirt stories mentioned 'Beverly Young.'

Mainstream news outlets aren't giving people all the facts they need to make sense of the story?

You don't say.

Maybe I should send a letter to Romensko, where the media folk hang out... like this fella did.

No charge
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:45 PM

And back yet again to Glenn Greenwald for the latest on the Cindy Sheehan arrest:

The Capitol Police are dropping all charges against Sheehan because, as they admit, they never should have removed or arrested her because she broke no laws or rules:

WASHINGTON - Charges against antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan, who was arrested after an incident involving a T-shirt she wore to the State of the Union address, will be dropped, officials told NBC News Wednesday. . . .

But Capitol Police will ask the U.S. attorney's office to drop the charges, NBC News' Mike Viqueira reported Wednesday.

"We screwed up," a top Capitol Police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said Sheehan didn't violate any rules or laws.

It also appears that they removed Congressman Young's wife only because they were aware that if they failed to, they would be accused of unequal treatment:

Beverly Young was sitting about six rows from first lady Laura Bush and was asked to leave. She argued with police in the hallway outside the House chamber.

"They said I was protesting," she told the St. Petersburg Times. "I said, 'Read my shirt, it is not a protest.' They said, 'We consider that a protest.' I said, 'Then you are an idiot."'

They told her she was being treated the same as Sheehan, who was ejected before the speech. Sheehan had wrote in her blog Wednesday that she intended to file a First Amendment lawsuit.

I still find the whole episode rather disturbing and suspicious. It is crystal clear that the law does not and cannot prohibit the wearing of t-shirts with political messages in the Capitol because t-shirts do not constitute a "protest" or a "demonstration." The Capitol Police's own rules say that expressly and a federal district court has held that the First Amendment does not permit the law to be applied so as to bar non-disruptive conduct.

The Capitol Police officers who removed and arrested Sheehan had to have known that. An after-the-fact apology and admission of wrongdoing, while nice, does not really remedy the misconduct, which still seems vaguely intentional and motivated both by the identity of the person arrested and her message.

And it is still unclear, to put it generously, why Sheehan -- who apparently complied with the request to leave -- was arrested and detained for four hours, while Young, who argued bitterly with the Police and even called the officers "idiots," was simply asked to leave and not arrested. All of this is such a significant story primarily because there is a long line of events under the Bush Administration where people with dissenting opinions are thrown out of public events and divergent views are kept far away from the Commander-in-Chief. This incident grew out of that climate and is clearly a part of it.

Now that we've gotten to the "Oops. My bad." I hope this doesn't end the matter. I want to know why and how it happened (under whose orders; if the law isn't part of their policybooks/training, I want to know when it was removed) and see steps taken to prevent it from happening again (training, etc.)

You know, when I was chatting about this over lunch, a coworker said Young's ouster "must have been meant to counter balance the Sheehan arrest. Weak." I didn't quite believe it; it almost seemed too obvious.
I still want to find photos of the gallery to see if there were any other t-shirt wearers present.

This is only the beginning, because this is only the most recent and most public example of a growing trend by this president's handlers to stifle free speech and first amendment rights.

PS (added later): Another Balloon Juice comment gets right to the point:

Of course there will be no charges against Young or Sheehan, there never was going to be any charges because the cases are unwinnable. What we have here is the use of arrest to achieve a short-term political goal, namely the removal of protesters from a public event.

And that's why this needs to be investigated thoroughly -- because they've already achieved their aims.

Posted by Lis Riba at 7:30 PM

I don't know why, but when I stood up to leave work, I started feeling dizzy. Drove myself home okay, but now I'm lying in bed and even sitting up to drink something is hitting me with huge waves of dizziness.

It's probably nothing serious, but thank goodness for laptop computers. :)

Shirt Tales
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:15 PM

Took a quick check of the news over lunch.

Turns out Cindy Sheehan wasn't the only victim of a misguided notion that t-shirts == protest.

According to Shakespeare's Sister, Capitol Police also evicted the wife of a Republican Congressman.

Today's St. Pete Times has the story:

Beverly Young, wife of Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores, said she was ejected from the House gallery during Tuesday night's State of the Union address because she was wearing a T-shirt that said "Support the Troops - Defending Our Freedom."

Young said she was sitting in the gallery's front row, about six seats from first lady Laura Bush, when she was approached by someone from the Capitol Police or sergeant-at-arms office who told her she needed to leave the gallery.

She reluctantly agreed but argued with several officers in the hallway outside the House chamber.

"They said I was protesting," she said in a telephone interview late Tuesday. "I said, "Read my shirt, it is not a protest.' They said, "We consider that a protest.' I said, "Then you are an idiot."'

She said she was so angry that "I got real colorful with them."

They told her she was being treated the same as Cindy Sheehan, an antiwar protester who was ejected before the speech Tuesday night for wearing a T-shirt with an antiwar slogan and refusing to cover it up.

Young, 50, said her shirt was not a protest but a message of support for U.S. soldiers and Marines fighting for their country. She often wears the T-shirts when visiting her husband at the Capitol and during her visits to see the wounded at military hospitals.

Important distinction to note:

  • Cindy Sheehan says she fully cooperated with officers, but was arrested and charged and spent several hours in jail.
  • Beverly Young says she argued and got "real colorful" with the officers, yet was merely evicted: no arrest, no charges filed, no jailtime.

Does anybody have photos of the galleries during the SOTU?

I'd like to check who else chose to dress casual for the event.
Were police evicting everybody they thought underdressed, or can we find some other t-shirt-wearers who were able to attend the speech unmolested, thus proving (or disproving) viewpoint-based discrimination?

Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald's got the legal aspects covered. I already mentioned the 1971 Cohen v. California ruling, but Greenwald found an even better precedent, more recent and more relevant:

In Bynum v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd. (Dist. D.C. 1997) (.pdf), the District Court found the regulations applying 140 U.S.C. § 193 -- the section of the U.S. code restricting activities inside the Capitol -- to be unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Bynum involved a Reverend who was threatened with arrest by Capitol Police while leading a small group in prayer inside the Capitol. The Capitol Police issued that threat on the ground that the praying constituted a "demonstration."

That action was taken pursuant to the U.S. Code, in which Congress decreed as follows: "It shall be unlawful for any person or group of persons wilfully and knowingly . . . to parade, demonstrate or picket within any Capitol Building." 140 U.S.C. § 193(f)(b)(7).

As the Bynum court explained: "Believing that the Capitol Police needed guidance in determining what behavior constitutes a 'demonstration,' the United States Capitol Police Board issued a regulation that interprets 'demonstration activity,'" and that regulation specifically provides that it "does not include merely wearing Tee shirts, buttons or other similar articles of apparel that convey a message. Traffic Regulations for the Capitol Grounds, § 158" (emphasis added).

Hopefully, I'll be able to find time tonight to read through the court decisions for myself.

Now, lunch is over and it's back to work.
If you come across any links you think I should see (including photos of the gallery), please post them to my comments.

Freedom's just another word
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:15 AM

Cindy Sheehan has written up her account of last night's events.

Makes for an interesting juxtaposition. The rhetoric vs. reality:

“I was having second thoughts about going to the SOTU at the Capitol. I didn't feel comfortable going. I knew George Bush would say things that would hurt me and anger me and I knew that I couldn't disrupt the address because Lynn had given me the ticket and I didn't want to be disruptive out of respect for her. I, in fact, had given the ticket to John Bruhns who is in Iraq Veterans Against the War. However, Lynn's office had already called the media and everyone knew I was going to be there so I sucked it up and went.”

Our nation is grateful to the fallen who live in the memory of our country. We are grateful to all who volunteer to wear our nation's uniform. And, as we honor our brave troops, let us never forget the sacrifices of America's military families.

“I had just sat down and I was warm from climbing 3 flights of stairs back up from the bathroom so I unzipped my jacket. I turned to the right to take my left arm out, when the same officer saw my shirt and yelled; "Protester." He then ran over to me, hauled me out of my seat and roughly (with my hands behind my back) shoved me up the stairs. I said something like "I'm going, do you have to be so rough?"”

But they have miscalculated. We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it.

“The officer ran with me to the elevators yelling at everyone to move out of the way. When we got to the elevators, he cuffed me and took me outside to await a squad car. On the way out, someone behind me said, "That's Cindy Sheehan." At which point the officer who arrested me said: "Take these steps slowly." I said, "You didn't care about being careful when you were dragging me up the other steps." He said, "That's because you were protesting." Wow, I get hauled out of the People's House because I was, "Protesting."”

No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it.

“I was never told that I couldn't wear that shirt into the Congress. I was never asked to take it off or zip my jacket back up. If I had been asked to do any of those things...I would have, and written about the suppression of my freedom of speech later. I was immediately, and roughly (I have the bruises and muscle spasms to prove it) hauled off and arrested for "unlawful conduct."”

America is a great force for freedom and prosperity. Yet our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another. So we strive to be a compassionate, decent, hopeful society.

“I don't want to live in a country that prohibits any person, whether he/she has paid the ulitmate price for that country, from wearing, saying, writing, or telephoning any negative statements about the government. That's why I am going to take my freedoms and liberties back. That's why I am not going to let Bushco take anything else away from me...or you.”

Sometimes it can seem that history is turning in a wide arc, toward an unknown shore.

Yet the destination of history is determined by human action, and every great movement of history comes to a point of choosing.

Lincoln could have accepted peace at the cost of disunity and continued slavery. Martin Luther King could have stopped at Birmingham or at Selma and achieved only half a victory over segregation. The United States could have accepted the permanent division of Europe and been complicit in the oppression of others.

Today, having come far in our own historical journey, we must decide: Will we turn back or finish well?

Before history is written down in books, it is written in courage.

Like Americans before us, we will show that courage and we will finish well.

We will lead freedom's advance.

I don't agree with everything Cindy Sheehan says, but she still has the right to say it.

One final quote; you might remember this one:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

PS: The ever-insightful Arthur Silber pointed out how Bush's rhetoric condemns dissent. [Glenn Greenwald noticed the same thing.] As we've seen it put into action last night.

Well, that's one way to liven up a dull speech
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:05 AM

You know, I always scoffed at invitations which said "dress code strictly enforced" thinking the worst that might happen is that I wouldn't be admitted.

Cindy Sheehan, who was invited to attend the State of the Union by a California Congresswoman, was arrested and charged with "unlawful conduct" for wearing a t-shirt that said "2,245 Dead - How Many More??"

Well, that certainly takes the focus away from the President's lies this evening.

BradBlog is posting regular updates as new details emerge. Democrats.com is doing the same.

Will Bunch provides the precedents:

Did you know that in 1971, the Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional to arrest a man who wore a "F--- the Draft" T-shirt into the courthouse? (Cohen v. California, you can look it up.) So now Alito's on the court for 45 minutes and your civil liberties are already going down the toilet. You were warned.

MSNBC.com is holding a poll:

Do you agree with the decision by Capitol Police to remove activist Cindy Sheehan from the gallery at the president's State of the Union speech because she was wearing a T-shirt with an antiwar slogan?

  • Yes, such behavior is not allowed in that setting and is inappropriate.
  • No, she was a legitimately invited guest and deserves to have her right to free speech honored.

[Current tally, at 18854 responses is 48% Yes, 52% No.]

And generally-rational conservative blogger John Cole (who can't stand Sheehan and regularly mocks her political posturing) is agog by the law enforcement overreaction. I guess he hasn't heard all the news stories of people evicted from presidential speeches for bumper stickers on their car, or political operatives dressing like Secret Service, or limited free speech zones that are only required for one point of view...

I'm particularly amused by this statement by a commenter:

Wearing an anti-war tee-shirt to the State of the Union address is a slap in the face to our leaders and to our nation. It's the kind of thing that makes us look weak and divided to our enemies.

In my eyes, being able to handle dissent gracefully is a sign one is... secure in one's democracy. Inability to cope with those who disagree is a sign of weakness.

Hark: Finally, a photo of the elusive shirt, courtesy of a commenter on AMERICAblog

Sheehan in a black shirt with large white lettering; the numbers 224 are visible

And now, I've got to get some sleep... Pleasant dreams, fellow Americans.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Alito post-mortem: a long and rambling road
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:15 PM

Though I started writing several times last night and early this morning, I didn't have time to put my thoughts into coherent shape. But I do have several issues I wish to mention (most of this written before the actual confirmation vote, so verb tenses may be inconsistent):

First of all, before the vote, I noticed an online C-Span poll which asked:

Will a filibuster of the Alito nomination help or hurt the Democrats?

Unfortunately, it was multiple choice (yes or no) and they didn't offer my answer, which was Mu.

You know something, I never really cared. That thought rarely entered my consciousness as I thought about filibustering.

The real question in my mind has always been: "Will giving Alito a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court help or hurt the United States?"

And I think Alito's judicial philosophy is harmful for many reasons (I'll explain why at the end of this post), which is why I support any legal* means of keeping him off the court.

*I'm no Coulter. I won't advocate harm against those with whom I disagree.

Second, I think some of our colleagues need a quick math lesson:

  • Number of Democrats in the Senate: 45
  • Number of votes to sustain a filibuster: 41
  • Number of Senators promising to vote against Alito: 41
  • Number of votes for yesterday's filibuster: 25

[Some folks have a real problem with Senators who intend to vote against Alito but won't support the filibuster which could actually stop him. Makes it seem like they're voting against Alito purely for the symbolism, rather than actually doing anything effective to keep him off the bench.]

Kos replied to the filibuster results by saying we need to "channel that energy into doing something that would've improved our chances to stop Alito -- getting more Democrats elected to the Senate." But looking at the numbers above, we had enough people; it's just that they didn't bother to stop Alito.

So just promoting more of the same isn't going to cut it. Which leads to my third point:

There's a saying I keep hearing more and more frequently about a variety of liberal issues: “I haven't left the party, the party's left me.” [Which is, scarily enough, similar rhetoric to the Nader voters in 2000 which put Bush in office in the first place.]

So-called DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) keep causing problems for the Democratic party. How many times have Zell Miller or Joe Lieberman stabbed other Democrats in the back through injudicious public statements, or by signing onto Republican initiatives to give them a faux-bipartisan gloss? The way they let themselves be used by the Republicans cause more trouble for the party than if we were just facing an honest opponent.

So the notion that we should just blindly assume that candidates who adopt the party label are our allies does not old up, as yesterday's vote tally demonstrates. Which is an important lesson going into the 2006 (and later 2008) elections. Is it any wonder Molly Ivins essay on Hillary Clinton was passed around so widely?

The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority (66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.

The majority (77 percent) thinks we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment. The majority (87 percent) thinks big oil companies are gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax. That is the center, you fools.

It was a lack of enthusiasm from his base that helped doom George Bush's 1996 reelection campaign. The Democratic base doesn't support Hillary. If she wins in the primaries, Democrats will work for her out of duty and to defeat the Republicans, but not with the same passion as if we actually believed she was with us on more of the issues. [Slate ran an interesting series on how much of the pro-Hillary rhetoric actually comes from the GOP, who view her as beatable, or at least a good fundraising angle. "Republicans for Hillary" Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. Considering a Republican pollster specifically polled me on her candidacy, that seems entirely likely.]

My fourth point relates this to the candidacy of Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania.

In yesterday's post-filibuster entry, Kos finally acknowledged that Casey is "running to the Right of Attila the Hun," but still insists that we need to support him to ensure Democratic numbers in the Senate.

Last week Kos wrote:

And no, his two primary challengers aren't viable alternatives. PA Dems will have to do better than them if they want a serious challenger to Casey who can also win in November. Like it or not, Casey has the clearest path to victory of any Dem Senate challenger this cycle.

Unfortunately for Kos' efforts as a political mover and shaker, the a recent Zogby poll reveals exactly the opposite (emphasis mine):

When people find out about candidate positions on key issues, Casey plummets from a twelve point lead to a dead heat, with a non-significant two point lead.

Santorum loses when matched with any of the democratic candidates. Both of the self identified progressive democratic candidates draw higher percentages than Casey, with Pennacchio having the largest percentage of votes against Santorum, at a not quite significant 4.4 points higher than Casey. Casey, at non-significant levels, actually gets MORE votes from Republicans once they find out more about him and Santorum.

Casey refused to respond, so we constructed his positions from media and speeches.

OpEdNews.com's conclusion on this race -- Santorum wants Casey as his opponent because he wins the demographic game. Casey loses massively in some categories, when voters find out about Casey, which Santorum will sure insure. For example, Casey's support among 18-24 year olds drops from 63% to 40%, with Protestants, it drops from 47.3% to 30%, with liberals, from 95.4% to 68%, with moderates, from 64% to 53%, but Casey actually gains support from conservates, going from 3.9% to 5%, a non-significant, but interesting finding.

Given these figures, I'd like to see Kos reconsider his support for Casey, since his so-called pragmatic reasons aren't holding up under scrutiny.

Next, because sometimes you need a laugh, particularly after such dry wonky policy arguments, let me share this response from a DailyKos commenter:

That's some mighty fine dry powder they've got there. Yup, never have I seen such dehumidified and gloriously dessicated powder. No sirree, I aint never seen a batch of supremely arid powder like that pile right there. It's drier than a summer solstice noon in the Sahara. Hmmm. Remind me of what it's for?

Finally, even though it's too late to make a difference now, somebody asked Ian to "lay down exactly what you do find objectionable about Alito, particularly in the context of right-wing/left-wing?" I gave my answer, and think it's worth sharing, just to put it on the record:

First of all, not ideological, there's the fact that Alito has repeatedly shown a willingness to lie during job applications. Or to later dismiss statements/promises he made while applying for a job: source from my journal. So, given that history, I don't trust anything he says in confirmation hearings and can't see why anybody else would.

According to an article in yesterday's NY Times, "Judge Alito's confirmation is also the culmination of a disciplined campaign begun by the Reagan administration to seed the lower federal judiciary with like-minded jurists who could reorient the federal courts." So, the right-wingers are already confident that Alito and Roberts are on their side.

Aside from abortion, the main issue for me is his expansive view of government powers, particularly over law enforcement. "A Knight Ridder analysis of more than 300 written opinions by Alito, for example, reveals that he has almost never found a government search unconstitutional and that he has argued to relax warrant requirements and to broaden the kinds of searches that warrants permit." (my journal again) He allows the executive branch and law-enforcement incredible leeway -- and given current issues with Bush administration overreach and lawbreaking (Valerie Plame, warrantless domestic eavesdropping) those are major issues.

Furthermore, Alito is one of the "brains" behind the notion of presidential signing statements. [The Constitution says: "Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections..." I see no notion of a third option allowing the president to reinterpret it.] More on this from Dahlia Lithwick. And that's not the original intent of the founders

In short, many legal experts and professional journalists have described him as a threat to our current balance-of-power and traditional checks and balances among the branches. Again, given that we're currently dealing with an executive branch trying to steamroller over Congress and the courts, that's a major problem. Dahlia Lithwick again.

Finally, as people have pointed out, Alito tends to apply the law purely as an intellectual exercise with no notion of the human component. No recognition that a real flesh-and-blood ten year old was strip-searched and what she went through. Same thing holds true for other victims of overzealous law enforcement or discrimination. He never *quite* reached the Dukakis death-penalty debate-question in his committee hearing, but some of his answers came close, such as the issue of possible innocents on death row. He's the Tin Man: entirely lacking a heart.

Damn, and just after I finish writing all that out, I see Robert Gordon's "Basic Case Against Alito" which puts it together much better: In two broad areas especially, Alito promises to be a dangerous servant of the agenda: Executive Power and Protections of the Vulnerable.

Oh, and here's an essay on why the policies being pushed by Bush's pet lawyers are not "strict constructionist" or "originalist" but in fact run against the Framers' and Founders' intent. [Further takedown of this argument in reviews of John Yoo's book by Cass Sunstein in The New Republic and David Cole in New York Review of Books.]

Whew! I realize this was long, but I feel better for actually managing to get it all out of my system.

Monday, January 30, 2006
Book Larnin'
Posted by Lis Riba at 6:45 PM

I finally finished Her Majesty's spymaster over the weekend. Another excerpt:

Most of the burden of local rule in Elizabeth's England fell to unpaid Justices of the Peace, local gentry charged with everything from ensuring church attendance to having vagrants whipped and enforcing the laws against football-playing, swearing, and abducting heiresses. The justices were magnficently amateurish, ridiculously overburdened. London printers, sensing a lucrative market, came out with a whole series of quick-study guides that promised to turn a not always too-bright country gentleman into something that could at least pass for a judge. For other help the J.P. could turn to that other magnificently amateurish and unpaid local official, the constable, whose major contribution to Elizabethan society was to provide the butt of rough humor on the stage for Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights.

Any historians have more details on these books? I want! (just a facsimile or Project Gutenberg-style text; I'm not a collector)

And it just goes to show, For Dummies books have been around for a long time. In fact, this would put them among the earliest mass-produced titles.

I have to say, though, on the whole I've really enjoyed Stephen Budiansky's writing style.

Take, for example, this description of Mary Queen of Scots' second husband: “Darnley, a young and none-too-bright Adonis, was not the stuff great things are made of. He was easily manipulated by a group of resentful Scottish lords -- there was always a group of resentful Scottish lords...”

Or mention of “London's unassailable claim to be England's only city worth a fart.”

Both sentiments true enough, but it's the way he says it...

I'd love to share this utterly delightful anecdote about the Spanish ambassador, Genoese bankers and Burghley over a matter of some off-course Spanish ships, but as entertaining as I found it, it's rather long for this entry. [It begins on the bottom of page 69 in the hardcover, midway through Chapter 5, if you wish to look for yourself.]

Instead, I'll share his revelation of the motto on commemorative medal minted for the post-Armada thanksgiving celebrations: Veni, vidi, fugit.

As usual with more popular histories, I wish the book had a bit more documentation of sources -- even endnotes (which I've griped about in the past: 1,2) would be better than a few general paragraphs at the end of the book about each chapter.

PS for anyone writing in the period: Budiansky makes the point (and seems to support it throughout the book through the sources he quotes) that after his appointment to the Privy Council, Walsingham was almost always addressed and referred to as Mr. Secretary, rather than Sir Francis. Not something most modern readers may pick up on, but if you want to get picayune, it may be a matter to check.

Who's sheepish now?
Posted by Lis Riba at 6:24 PM

Back in December[1&2] I noticed a number of critics who predicted Brokeback Mountain would bomb, because the actors' female fans wouldn't be interested in seeing them play gay.

Not only has the box office proven them wrong, but a major part of their marketing and distribution strategy depended on female audiences:

From The Wall Street Journal

Focus has been marketing "Brokeback" as an epic romance aimed at women. The movie's poster advertises that "Love is a Force of Nature," and the movie's trailer shows seven shots of tender romantic and happy moments between Mr. Ledger's and Jake Gyllenhaal's characters and their respective wives and families. By comparison, only three shots in the trailer show husband-wife confrontations over the gay affair. (Focus executives say the marketing materials are the same nationwide.)

The studio also carefully selected the movies to which it attached the promotional trailer for "Brokeback," with the idea of targeting female viewers, Mr. Brooks says. One was "Flightplan," with Jodie Foster, whose fan base is heavily female. Another was the Charlize Theron drama "North Country," since its theme -- women confronting bias at a Minnesota mine -- had a strong female appeal.

And as the weeks pass, the demographics of the "Brokeback" audience have shifted. Gays turned out for the first weekend, with 60% of the audience male and 40% female. But in the next three weeks, women responded to marketing and the audience flipped to 60% female and 40% male. Now, as the media attention intensifies in the wake of the film's wins at the Golden Globes, heterosexual men are going to the film on their own and the women are sliding back down to the mid-50 percentile, Mr. Brooks says.

That's not to say they're ignoring gay audiences, but their goal was to turn this potentially niche film into a mainstream hit. And it looks like they've succeeded, as the WSJ's box office numbers demonstrate.

I wonder how this will affect future films with female target audiences and possible gay themes. Several TV producers (I know of Joss Whedon and the House team, maybe others) are aware of the audience of slashers and every so often throw in some innuendo for the fans. Maybe BBM will be a (dollar)sign to moviemakers about untapped audience interest.

I guess we'll just have to see...

Via Daily Kos.

Supporting the troops
Posted by Lis Riba at 6:05 PM

Attention bargain hunters: Support the troops yellow ribbon magnets for cars and SUVs are now on sale for 19 cents apiece at Building 19 (wikipedia).

Insert your own comments about what it says about those who think these magnets are somehow meaningful...

Once more, Into the Breach!
Posted by Lis Riba at 5:59 PM

Alas, I shall be unable to attend, but for those of you more local to London, I received the following announcement:

400 years ago, the Rose, one of London's finest and most innovative theatres finally closed its doors. As part of the Rose Theatre Trust's ongoing development programme, Into the Breach Theatre has created "A Devilish Exercise": a 75 minute production which explores the work of Christopher Marlowe. The script has been designed by Dr. Robert Lindsey, co-editor of Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Plays (Penguin Classics).

Taking advantage of the site's subterranean energy, the production celebrates the Rose as it exists today without forgetting what it once was. "A Devilish Exercise" seeks to conjure Marlowe's plays to reveal a strikingly modern man, possessed by the destructive forces of his own imagination.

"A Devilish Exercise" will be performed on the site of the Rose Theatre, Bankside on Wednesday 8th February at 7:30pm.

The doors will open at 6:30pm, when attendees will have the opportunity to view the Rose Theatre Exhibition and enjoy a glass of Champagne or wine before the start of the performance.

Further performances will run through Saturday, February 11. More details in the flyer below:

'A Devilish Exercise: conjuring Marlowe at the Rose'

If you do attend, tell them I sent you. [Hey, a bunch of bloggers just got an all-expenses paid trip to Holland. If anybody's offering free trips to London, I want in!] Better yet, tell me all about it!

Once in a Blue Moon
Posted by Lis Riba at 5:54 PM

Over the weekend, I saw a banner ad that Moonlighting Season 3 will be out on DVD next week.

That's the season with "Atomic Shakespeare" -- their Taming of the Shrew pastiche! [details]

I never really watched Moonlighting, but I really want this episode. I've only seen it the once (in my college meta-Shakespeare class); Ian's never seen it. But I have little interest in the rest of the series.

So I have to ask myself whether it's worth buying a whole season's worth of DVDs just for one hour...

What do you think? Should I buy it, or no? What's a valid price-point for a single episode.

I will note that we neither have nor have interest in a Netflix membership. We don't watch enough DVDs to make something like that worthwhile. So if we don't buy it, our options are local DVD rental stores or waiting for it to appear in the local libraries' lending collections.

[I pointed out to Ian that I have a few Buffy season DVDs that I haven't watched at all, so buying this for one episode would actually be a step up. He replied that I may be taking the wrong lesson from those purchases. On the other hand, he mentioned there are people who bought Buffy season 6 solely for the musical...]

Continuing Ed
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:30 PM

Ian and I were discussing my previous entry (and the L.A. Times article that inspired it) in the car as he drove me to work. A few further comments:

[Former board President Jose] Huizar said he was motivated by personal experience: He was a marginal student growing up in Boyle Heights but excelled in high school once a counselor placed him in a demanding curriculum that propelled him to college and a law degree.

In other words, he excelled because somebody in charge noticed him, paid attention to him, pulled him apart from the masses, believed in him, and made him a personal challenge. Holding everyone to the same demanding standards is not the same thing.

One of the earlier articles in this series had this discouraging observation:

During the 1950s, the buffet approach was ascendant: Schools tried to offer something for everyone, from Latin and calculus for the college-bound to vocational education and home economics for those considered unlikely or unable to continue their education.

But eventually, the tracking system went the way of bobby sox and bomb shelters.

Today, the operating philosophy is that every student should be prepared for college, and high schools have little room for courses that don't further that goal.

Ian and I were both glad to have benefitted from the older system. Because today's "operating philosophy" seems to be a load of BS. Little room for non-college-prep courses? What philosophy does that involve beyond an excuse to cut budgets?

One size does not fit all. And even when something can fit most, it often doesn't do so well or comfortably.

Besides, even as somebody who took the college track, I still need to cook, sew, and be handy around the house in my daily life. Shouldn't the schools play some role in training people how to cope with those?

Plus, the college-prep track is stressful stuff. Most of my fellow honors students took a variety of classes to forestall burnout. I think I shared AP Calculus with the leadership of our school's Future Homemakers of America. For my part, I spent one period my senior year as a library aide for class credit, and you see where that led me.

There, I've just shown how voc ed electives directly furthered the goal of preparing kids for college. Is that enough to justify providing these classes for all?

Finally, remember Henry Slesar's classic SF short story "Examination Day"? "No Child Left Behind" is beginning to feel uncomfortably much like that. After all, the only reason anyone could fall behind is if others are allowed to get ahead. So the budget for gifted programs gets cut, forcing all students to meet in the mushy middle.

[Oh yeah, and, statisticians have finally proven the obvious: when you control for things like income, race, home environment, and so forth, the performance of private schools actually turns out to be no better than that of public schools. So much for that claim.]

PS: I forgot to credit Susie Madrak for initially pointing me to this series of articles.

Learning the wrong lessons from personal experience?
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:14 AM

Today's L.A. Times has an article about how higher math standards in California schools are increasing the dropout rate.

Now the Los Angeles school board has raised the bar again. By the time today's second-graders graduate from high school in 2016, most will have to meet the University of California's entry requirements, which will mean passing a third year of advanced math, such as algebra II, and four years of English.

Former board President Jose Huizar introduced this latest round of requirements, which the board approved in a 6-1 vote last June.

Huizar said he was motivated by personal experience: He was a marginal student growing up in Boyle Heights but excelled in high school once a counselor placed him in a demanding curriculum that propelled him to college and a law degree.

"I think there are thousands of kids like me, but we're losing them because we don't give them that opportunity," said Huizar, who left the school board after he was elected to the Los Angeles City Council last fall. "Yes, there will be dropouts. But I'm looking at the glass half full."

Now, I had a similar experience to Huizar.

I did okay in math through middle-school in nontracked classes, but was often bored and unmotivated in the repetitive review of remedial basics.

When my family moved to Florida (during seventh grade) they decided to put me in the highest tracked class for my grade: pre-Algebra. I had to stay late to get the teacher to explain negative numbers to me (yes, my previous math education hadn't yet covered negative numbers; I distinctly remember my previous semester reviewing addition of four-digit integers), but I quickly excelled, becoming a straight-A math student for the rest of middle and high school, and seriously considering majoring in the subject for college.

For that reason, I do believe in tracking and offering different levels of classes.

But I don't believe that means forcing everybody into the college-bound track, just because it worked for me.



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