Monday, November 28, 2005

Supreme Court Losing Its Marble

The highest hall of justice in our land is crumbling. The most likely cause: a lack of structural integrity.

Today a sizeable piece of marble fell from the fa├žade of the Supreme Court building and landed on the spot where visitors typically wait before admittance to the chambers. Fortunately, no one was standing there at the time.

The exact reason why the 70-year-old piece of marble fell will soon be assessed by a structural engineer; an errant M&M’s parade balloon has already been ruled out, however.

I hope the symbolism of this occurrence isn’t lost on those who are set to confirm or deny Sammy “The Italian Rapscallion” Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court in January. Indeed, this incident is an omen that reads like a great literary device.

The integrity of the Supreme Court was severely compromised when questionable, radical figures such as Antonin “Dan Hedaya Clone” Scalia and Clarence “They Call Me Mr. Silver!” Thomas were confirmed as justices.

It won't get any better once Alito, who is anti-equality and anti-privacy (for starters), gets inside and takes a jackhammer to our rights, either.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Libby In A Turkey Suit?

Keeping with a nearly 60-year-old tradition, President Bush today pardoned one Thanksgiving turkey, “Marshmallow.” This fortunate fowl will now live out her days at Disneyland instead of ending up as someone’s T-Day dinner.

I have but one question about today’s ceremony: Before Marshmallow was pardoned, did anyone check to see if she might really be Libby in a turkey suit?

Castration Should Have Been Considered For Debra Lafave

The trial of former middle school teacher Debra Lafave, scheduled to begin December 5, 2005, is never to be. Sorry, tabloids, you’ll have to find another story to heat up the holiday season.

Lafave became a household name after she was arrested for having sex with a 14-year-old boy – one of her students – on several occasions. These include one tryst in a classroom, another in her own marriage bed and another in the back of a truck while it was being driven by the victim’s cousin.

Lafave does not deny these incidents occurred. But she did initially deny culpability; her defense team was planning a risky insanity defense.

Today, wearing the crucifix that has been with her since she was arrested, Lafave copped a plea in a Tampa, Florida courtroom which will allow her to avoid prison altogether. Instead, she will serve three years of house arrest, followed by seven years probation. She must also stay away from children, go through counseling, and must not profit from her story.

Lafave’s sentence isn’t so much a slap on the wrist as it is a disapproving glance. It certainly could have gone much worse for her she had gone to trial – she was facing up to 60 years in prison.

My question is, why wasn’t castration considered as a sentence?

I refer to the practice of “female circumcision,” where the most sensitive female parts are removed – often without anesthesia – so the subject is never able to enjoy sex. “Female castration” is the more accurate term for this senseless, cruel procedure which is still performed on girls in some African and Middle Eastern countries.

Those horrified by the notion of this happening to Lafave should remember that the equivalent has been done to men in this country for committing the same acts she committed on her victim.

I use the word victim here to counter the misconceptions Lafave’s defenders (apart from her legal team, that is) have about the magnitude of this crime.

The, er, thrust of their argument is that the boy was a willing participant who had a great time, so where’s the crime?

The boy may well have enjoyed the experience. Lafave is an attractive, young blonde who used to model bikinis. Indeed, many of us dreamed of getting to do exactly what this boy did when we were in middle school. However…

The criteria for establishing whether a crime has been committed in a case like this is not the quality of the sexual experience!

The boy’s level of enjoyment of the acts he performed with Lafave is irrelevant. Adults aren’t allowed to have sex with children, even if the sex is “good.”

The boy certainly wasn’t raped in the traditional sense. But statutory rape is a crime nonetheless.

And any lasting effects from the crime may not be evident for some time. The boy’s still young. He may grow up with a mistrust of adults or of authority figures in general. He may never have a normal sex life.

Many of the people who brush off this crime are the same people who’d be lining up to castrate an adult male teacher who had sex with a 14-year-old female student.

Imagine the outrage the multitudes would express were someone to suggest that the girl agreed to the sex and enjoyed it! This case has brought out the hypocrites in droves.

If the genders here were reversed, people would be howling for the teacher’s testes on a lance:

“If I were that girl’s father I’d ask the judge for 10 minutes alone with that guy. He’d never touch another girl again!”

No equivalent outrage seems to exist in this case.

Debra Lafave is young and misguided. While her criminal acts are inexcusable, neither her life – nor any part of her body – should be destroyed. But she should be suitably punished, meaning, as any pedophile would be.

Equal justice under the law is a concept our legitimate courts and our armchair judges should embrace. Anything less is hypocrisy.

WMDs Finally Found In Iraq

Afghanistan is known for its poppies, which are used to make opium and heroin. Iraq is now making news over the white stuff, but it’s hardly candy to anyone’s nose.

Recent investigations have brought to light evidence that the chemical agent white phosphorus (WP), a weapon of mass destruction, has been used by US forces in Iraq.

So that’s where those WMDs were! They were in our own arsenals the whole time. Boy, don’t we feel silly!

When fired into the air, a WP shell bursts like a firework and rains burning chemicals and thick smoke down on everyone below – whether they’re an enemy or ally. It’s difficult to extinguish WP, which usually ceases to burn only when the chemical is spent.

It’s not your father’s napalm.

Strangely, while the chemical burns through the victim’s skin and muscles, it typically leaves their clothes intact. How incredibly considerate of the military brass to take Muslim modesty into account when choosing a weapon to use against insurgents!

The Pentagon at first denied WP has been used in Iraq. Then they said it was used, but only to illuminate the battlefield. (This is the “I Read Playboy For The Articles” Defense.)

In the face of indisputable evidence – including interviews with participants and graphic film footage – the Pentagon finally admitted to using WP against insurgents in limited situations.

But, according to Pentagon, using WP is not illegal. Well, not for US anyway. The international body Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons banned its use in civilian areas, but we refused to agree to that provision.

Between our use of WMDs, our implementation of torture and secret detentions, the US is now leading the competition for the “Indefensible Behavior Most Resembling Saddam’s” Award.

Shame on us.,,7374-1875728,00.html

Monday, November 21, 2005

Merry Christmas, Or Else

Jerry Falwell stopped short of distributing Orwellian “Inform On Your Friends” posters to his minions. But just barely.

For his latest feat, Falwell has put public schools, retailers and other institutions on notice that, if they try to take the X out of Xmas this year, they’ll have to answer to a higher power: the American judicial system.

In other words, he’ll sue their asses.

On Falwell’s command, public schools, retail stores and government offices are now under surveillance. Falwell appealed to his flock to keep their eyes and ears open for what they don’t see and hear. “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” won’t do.

Falwell has become a signatory to a new Liberty Counsel endeavor, which, in the spirit of the season, has been given the heartwarming name of the “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign.” Another neocon lawyer group is running a similar crusade, the “Christmas Project.”

Falwell joined these efforts, in his words, to “resist bullying tactics of the ACLU and others who intimidate school and government officials by spreading misinformation about Christmas.”

Apparently, the ACLU is the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and Jerry’s not gonna take it anymore. He’s got lawyers, and he’s not afraid to use them.

Oddly, megastore Target, which has been under fire for allowing its pharmacists to opt out of filling prescriptions for the controversial Plan B contraceptive, is one of Falwell’s, er, targets. You’d think he’d be lauding them over that, but instead he’s got them in his sights over their alleged ban of the words “Merry Christmas” this year.

Falwell has received indirect support from screeching media figures like Bill O’Reilly, who recently blacklisted stores failing to use that phrase in their holiday promotions, and Ann Coulter, who’s made it known she says those words to everyone she meets just to piss off liberals.

It’s ironic that the neocon set, who earlier this year largely supported legislation by Congress against “frivolous” lawsuits, would wage or support campaigns like this. Left a scalpel inside someone’s head? Frivolous! Forgot to say “Merry Christmas?” See you in court!

Perhaps “hypocritical” is a better adjective.

Watch for the battle over holiday observance to begin soon in a courtroom near you. In the so-called culture war, there can be no peace on earth – even at Christmas.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Cell Phones Are The New Cigarettes

There seem to be almost no circumstances under which some people won’t use a cell phone – while watching a movie at the theater, while seated on a public commode, or over a romantic dinner, for examples.

Now one enterprising young woman has introduced a creative new variant: talking on the phone while robbing banks. I certainly hope they’re important calls.

One reason for the ubiquity of cell phones is that, like cigarettes, they are an addiction.

There was a time when Americans lit up cigarettes whenever and wherever they pleased. It was normal to encounter smoking in a hospital, a plane, a restaurant or a coworker’s cubicle.

Eventually Americans started to clear the haze out of their heads and realize that unfettered puffing was not such a good idea. Bans on smoking at work and in public places soon began.

Is it coincidental that cell phone use went on the rise at around the same time smoking went into decline?

Probably. I certainly can’t prove any correlation.

But, that said, Americans have lamentably replaced one inconsiderate and unhealthy vice with another.

Just watch how people go right for their cell phones the moment they get off a plane, and compare that to how people used to go right for a cigarette when they got off the plane (before smoking was banned not just in planes but in airports, too).

Notice also how a person’s trusty flip-phone is always at arm’s reach, either on their body or conveniently placed on the table before them, in the same spot that used to be reserved for their pack of nico-sticks.

You don’t have to smoke to get lung cancer. And you don’t have to use a cell phone to suffer from its effects either. Many a motorist has been involved in a car accident as the result of someone else’s stupidity; let’s call this secondhand cell.

Some say hands-free driving cell phone laws, like smoking bans, are unnecessarily “intrusive.” But they would never have been necessary had “addicts“ exercised common sense and common courtesy. Cigarettes were a nail in the coffins of those two virtues. Now cell phones are vying for the honor.

And cell phones have claimed another casualty cigarettes did not: our undivided attention.

Today people will continue to talk on a cell phone – loudly – while having lunch with a friend, checking out groceries or conducting a bank transaction (legal or otherwise). The real, flesh-and-blood people they’re ostensibly interacting with seem superfluous.

It’s worrisome that people growing up now never knew a time without cell phones. I imagine I might come off like an old curmudgeon giving an “In my day…” speech when criticizing a cell phone user for being rude. That’s unfortunate.

Distinguished news anchors once read the top stories with a lit cigarette in their hand, or one burning in an ashtray. Today we look with a mixture of amusement and shock at vintage television and movies in which characters smoke freely. That’s progress.

Cigarette companies used to sponsor many a popular television show. Now the TV tobacco ad is an anachronism. We never see The Salem 100’s Survivor Reunion Special or Lucky Strikes Presents Dangerous Housewives.

While I don’t anticipate a ban on TV cell phone ads, perhaps one day we’ll at least shake our heads at rude cell phone-using characters in 90s sitcoms.

Let’s get some momentum going on this social stigma.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Unintelligent Decision Part II: The Problem With ID In Public Schools

On Tuesday the Kansas Board of Education, after a 6-4 vote, implemented new policies regarding the teaching of evolution in that state’s public schools. The policies call into question previously accepted evolution curricula and pave the way for the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID), a sort of “not your mother’s creationism” creationism, in science classes.

The new Kansas public school plan allows Darwin’s theories on evolution to be called into doubt. I’m ok with this, as critical analysis and debate should be part of any educational experience.

Furthermore, it’s everyone’s right to believe in whatever version of the origin of man and the earth he or she wishes.

However, allowing ID to be taught in public schools is a whole different matter.

ID flies in the face of science. That’s reason enough to suggest it has no place being taught in a science class. Not that it couldn’t be discussed. For example, if a student brought up a question about it.

Certainly the intermingling of evolution and creationism approaches a breach of church-state separation. Which is where the problem of ID in public schools lies.

Public schools are so named because they’re ostensibly “free” (we pay indirectly, through taxes) and open to all citizens. But the more germane aspect of public schools is that they are attended by a diverse sampling of American society – many religions and races are represented.

An average public school has people of monotheistic and polytheistic faiths, as well as humanists, agnostics, pagans and atheists. As one size does not fit all – meaning there is no one faith-oriented practice that suits everyone – things like ID, morning prayers and other related matters are best avoided there.

Contrary to what some have stated, this does not take away anyone’s right to worship. It merely limits, to a degree, where one can do so overtly, and as a group.

No student would be prohibited from saying a silent prayer in the morning, at lunch or before a football game – all instances where some would like to see prayers spoken collectively, and aloud. In fact, it probably wouldn’t be possible:

“Billy, are you talking to God? The look on your face tells me you might be praying. You’d better cut it out now, mister, or I’ll refer you so fast it’ll make your head spin!”

Somehow the idea of this actually happening seems remote.

So, I think it’s safe to say: Pray away! Remember, God hears your silent prayers, too. And feel free to believe in creationism. But, outside of a private school or place of worship, don’t expect it to be taught.

No one has to check their faith at the door of a public institution. They must simply realize that once through that threshold they’ll be interacting among a group of people who do not all think and believe alike. And they must not impose their religious beliefs or practices on any of them.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Unintelligent Decision Part I: The Problem With ID In General

On Tuesday the Kansas Board of Education, after a 6-4 vote, implemented new policies regarding the teaching of evolution in that state’s public schools.

The new policies call into question previously accepted evolution curricula and pave the way for the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID), a sort of “not your mother’s creationism” creationism, in science classes.

While many scientific studies are incomplete, and many theories unproven, there are a few things we know for sure:

· ID = Creationism
· Creationism is based on the Bible
· From a strictly scientific point of view, the Bible is full of holes

Some of those Biblical holes are so big they could fill a museum – the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan for example, which is full of prehistoric creatures called “dinosaurs.”

The number of dinosaur species that have been unearthed is enormous. These creatures also seem to have lived over a very long period of time before going extinct as the result of some cataclysm.

Don’t bother looking for references to dinosaurs in the Bible, though, because they’re not there. That’s a, um, mammoth oversight for a book that’s supposed to cover life on earth from its creation through to its demise.

Then there are the many types of hominids that have been discovered, some of which look more like apes than man, and some of which look like something in between apes and modern man. No mention of this documented evolution of man is made in the Bible.

And while the Bible has its Great Flood, it makes no mention of the Ice Age.

Who’s editing this book, anyway?

If the Bible were ever made into a DVD (if it hasn’t already been), I’d hope the DVD extras would include the lost books/scenes, where dinos, homies and ice ages are covered. I hate feeling like I didn’t get the full version just because it was too long to be commercially viable or because it was too racy (there is a lot of “begating” in the Good Book).

Until we get that newly updated, expanded and remastered Bible, the book has no place replacing science as the basis for teaching the natural history of man and of life on earth.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I’d Classify This As Hypocrisy

Have neocons had a change of heart about leaks of classified information?

First, they downplayed the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name and/or contested her covert status.

This week, they’re hosting Ahmed Chalabi, the likely source of misinformation the US used to justify the invasion of Iraq, and also purported leaker of US secrets to Iran.

Suddenly, though, they’re concerned that leaking classified information could endanger American lives and policies both at home and abroad.

But it wasn’t the Plame or Chalabi cases that raised their concern.

On November 2, The Washington Post published an article stating that the CIA is operating a string of secret prisons in other countries. The purpose of these prisons, according to writer Dana Priest, is the “interrogation” of captured al Qaeda members.

In response to this story, Republican Congressmen Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert are seeking an investigation into whether or not someone leaked this previously classified information to Priest.

Imagine that – someone inside the government may have revealed classified information to a journalist!

Frist & Friends’ concern about the leak and its potential damage to the US is understandable, but it’s also quite an about-face. That’s the first notable point of hypocrisy to consider. That they don’t seem terribly concerned that the story might be true is the second.

If the story is accurate, they should be outraged that a country like ours would do such a dishonest thing as to keep secret detention centers. After all, the only purpose for facilities like that to exist is to allow their operators to do things they shouldn’t to people they don’t want anyone knowing about.

Why is this practice bad?

Just look at former Chilean dictator and current Alzheimer’s patient Augusto Pinochet and his practice of “disappearing” his enemies and critics. During his regime thousands were taken away and never seen again. Is this a practice we should take up?

Pinochet’s name, like Saddam’s, instantly and justifiably conjures up a vile tyrant in most informed minds. (It should be noted, though, that the US helped both of them solidify their power.)

The point? We are practicing policies we have always been “officially” against.

We are the country whose leader has just stated that “we do not torture,” even as his second in command has sought an exemption which will allow the CIA to "interrogate" as they see fit.

Remember the shock when we found Saddam’s torture chambers after the invasion of Iraq? Remember the shame when we later saw pictures of American-made torture chambers in Iraq?

Many of America’s detainees from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts are seemingly being held indefinitely, and without charges or trial. Too many regimes around the world to name have done the same thing, and for that we’ve historically called them human rights abusers. At least, when it has suited our interests.

To put to rest a belabored notion about these policies at this point, liberals do not object to them out of any love for terrorists or hatred for America. We just realize that these things are morally wrong, un-American, and hypocritical for an ostensibly civilized country to carry out.

Frist and Company’s request for an investigation into the latest leak, while not wrong, is completely hypocritical. They’re asking the wrong question (“Who told you this?” vs. “Why are we doing this?”) for the wrong reason (trying to out-Fitz Patrick).

Until we get our priorities straight, we can never again claim moral superiority over any other country.

11/9 UPDATE: Trent Lott says the leaker was likely a Republican.

11/10 UPDATE: Frist confirms he doesn't care.,1280,-5406423,00.html

Florida: Your Place For Sun and Gun

"Our culture is on a death march." – Rep. Dennis Baxley

The lunatics are in control of the Sunshine State, and they're packing heat.

Earlier this year the “Shoot First, Ask Questions Later” Bill (aka “Stand Your Ground”), which allows you to shoot someone if you feel you are in danger, was signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush. That law went into effect October 1.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, a man who criticized efforts to allow Terry Schiavo to die as part of a dangerous “culture of death” in our country, was one of the architects and primary advocates of Stand Your Ground.

But with that law Baxley’s work had just begun.

He’s now working on a sequel to that law which would make it a felony for employers to prohibit employees from bringing guns to their workplace. The lone proviso is the guns have to stay locked in the car.

Let’s call this one the “Disgruntled Co-worker Killing Spree” Law.

Should this new law be ratified, it would practically make workplace killing sprees a constitutional right. It would certainly facilitate them, by ensuring that the guns remain handy should someone decide to “go off.”

Can anyone in their right mind justify such a law? I wouldn't ask Baxley this, because he obviously doesn’t meet the criteria.

There is a Second Amendment Disease (SAD), and it is very sad indeed. And Baxley, Jeb Bush and number of their NRA-influenced politicos in Florida are suffering from it this very minute. Their devotion to that long-misinterpreted and misused amendment clouds their reason and informs their every decision.

Before Floridians realize it, the state seal up in Tallahassee may one day be replaced by the ubiquitous NRA logo. Our state abbreviation would change from FLA to NRA. Or, if corporate lobbyists continue to wield increasing influence – another disconcerting trend – it could end up as something like “Clear Channel Presents the State of NRA.”

Regarding the new and proposed gun laws, Florida's real estate and tourism industries ought to ask Tallahassee straight out, “How the hell do we sell this to someone who wants to live or vacation here?”

Concerned citizens should contact public officials beholden to gun lobbies and corporate interests and express their displeasure. Often.

And, before they go to the polls next year, all voters should arm themselves with full knowledge of the candidates, their platforms and any reckless agendas they may be intent on championing.

It’s past time for sensible Floridians to kick the fanatics and other bad influences out of Tallahassee and regain our place in the sun.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Bush’s Flu Prevention Plan

President Bush has unveiled a comprehensive plan to battle both traditional flu and avian (bird) flu. These 15-points include measures he will be implementing, as well as everyday practices he recommends for all Americans.

1. Encourage the homeless to feed on pigeons, thereby decreasing the surplus population of both pigeons and the homeless.

2. Encourage pigeons to feed on the homeless, thereby decreasing the surplus population of both pigeons and the homeless.

3. Avoid intimate contact with anyone but your spouse.

4. Join Dick Cheney and Antonin Scalia for their annual Thanksgiving pheasant cull.

5. Test new flu vaccines using Guantanamo detainees as guinea pigs.

6. Eat more tasty, nutritious Texas beef.

7. Skip the Peeps next Easter.

8. At the first sign of flu symptoms, send a videotape of yourself to Bill Frist, a physician with the remarkable ability to diagnose health problems by looking at a television image.

9. Put Karl Rove in charge of America’s flu vaccine supply.

10. Move to Florida, which has a warm climate and Walt Disney World.

11. Destroy all doves, which are an anti-American symbol for peace.

12. If you must eat chicken, eat at Christian-owned Chick-Fil-A.

13. Cough! Confirm Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Cough!

14. Institute abstinence-only bird taming programs.

15. Pray real hard.