Monday, February 28, 2005

Blogging Forecast

The Blogging Forecast is looking very dismal this week, folks. My apologies in advance. It's not likely I'll get anything posted, but something may slip out.

In the meantime, go amuse yourselves with Dinosaur Comics.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Confiscate! Confiscate!

We haven't been home owners that long, so I don't know how unusual this is. But we just got a notice in the mail that, if I'm reading it correctly, states that we have been assessed nearly $4,000 in street repairs. Yes, our street needs it badly, but where does the city think that we and all our neighbors are going to get $4,000 each? This ain't a ritzy neighborhood.

Friday, February 25, 2005

"Tammy Faye with a law degree"

Peggy Noonan says this is how you know Hillary is running for Presient.

Ten days ago a reporter interviewed her in the halls of the Senate . . . and asked if she planned to run for president. She did not say, "I'm too busy serving the people of New York to think about the future." She did not say, "Oh, I already have a heckuva lot on my plate." She said, "I have more than I can say grace over right now."

I have more than I can say grace over right now. What a wonderfully premeditated ad lib for the Age of Red State Dominance. I suggested a few weeks ago that Mrs. Clinton was about to get very, very religious. But her words came across as pious and smarmy, like Tammy Faye with a law degree. Maybe she still thinks in stereotypes; maybe she thinks that's what little Christian ladies talk like while they stay home baking cookies. Whatever, it was almost as good as her saying, "I'm running, is this not obvious to even the slowest of you?"

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Menards vs. Wisconsin DNR

Owen over at Boots and Sabers recently criticized the Wisconsin DNR for forcing Eau Claire-based Menards, Inc. to move jobs out of the state. Not only has Menards announced that it would seek to build in Belgrade, MN, but it also announced plans to expand a plant in Plano, IL, rather than in Eau Claire.

Menards' side of the story is that the DNR made several requests regarding a building project, and that every time Menards agreed to one of the requests, the DNR added more stipulations. So the company announced that it would simply stop trying to adhere to DNR rules and move its business out of the state.

The DNR, on the other hand, seems taken aback by this sudden obstinance by Menards, saying that working with Menards had been going smoothly. They insist that they did not kill the building plan, but suggested a relocation to a different part of the parcel of land that would not affect the wetlands area. The DNR says that Menards didn't even bother to research that possibility.

Lots of stuff in the local paper regarding this conflict. Aside from the article linked above, here is a two-part series on the dispute, and an editorial calling for some sort of compromise with the goal of keeping jobs here.

I'll let you read those articles on your own. I wish I could find the Menards Press Release that's mentioned in these articles.

DNR officials insisted they were working with Menards on the project and were stunned when the company issued the press release. It’s common for companies to rework plans after getting guidance from the DNR, said Scott Humrickhouse, director of the DNR’s west-central region.

The DNR ultimately ends up approving 80 percent of applications for wetlands fills, he said.

“We thought we were working with them toward a mutually agreeable solution,” Humrickhouse said. “It’s pretty typical on a project this big that you’re going to have some give and take.”

The DNR said the Truax Prairie watershed drains into a series of connected wetlands, including two under the footprint of the proposed building.

A couple things that may be a factor in this dispute -- which I believe is nothing more than a power play by Menards. They probably figure if they make noise and threaten to move business elsewhere, the county will urge the DNR to let them destroy this wetland.

I'll tell you about this area. In the spring these fields flood, and are a magnet for a wide variety of migrant ducks, geese, swans and shorebirds. When birding, this is one of my most frequently-visited places in the spring and summer. I have witnessed over 1,000 Tundra Swans here at one time. I've spotted all kinds of shorebirds. While birding here, I have also run into people from all across the state -- and even from other states -- parked along the county road, checking out the fields with their spotting scopes. It's a well-known hot spot. Because of this, it also brings money into the area. Birders travel. And they travel long distances by car. And they spend money in the areas they visit. The Chippewa Valley should be promoting its birding hot-spots -- and this is one of the area's hottest. (Yes, there is a little bit of the "environmentalist wacko" in this conservative. But environmentalism and conservatism are not mutually exclusive concepts -- particularly in Wisconsin.)

But is there any reason to believe that Menards would actually comply with DNR regulations? Consider that Menards has had run-ins with the DNR in the past. And is in the middle of a dispute right now over improper disposal of hazardous waste.

Menards has been prosecuted by the DNR for violating environmental laws, including a case hotly contested by Menards scheduled for trial this spring. Last fall the company was charged in Eau Claire County Court after authorities said Menards employees flushed hazardous materials down a drain in a maintenance shop at its Eau Claire distribution center.

The distribution center in question is right there next to the wetlands.

Because of their regulatory powers, the DNR is an easy target in this state. However, in this case I'm certain the DNR wants to work with Menards. I'm not certain at all that Menards ever intended to work with the DNR.

As I said over at Boots and Sabers, the county should call Menards' bluff, let 'em go ahead and leave, and then work to bring in a Home Depot. I understand they've been wanting to build a store here for many years.

UPDATE: Dave at Less Lethal takes Menards' side, understandably wishing to support private businesses in their conflicts with state regulatory agencies. As I said above, the DNR is an easy target in Wisconsin, because they tend to get in the way of development. If you have a home on a lake in Wisconsin (as most Illinois and Minnesota residents do), you'll probably run afoul of DNR regulations. And heaven help you if you have a wetland on your property.

The thing is, when it comes to trying to choose whether to trust an obstructionist regulatory agency like the DNR or a corporation like Menards, I will choose the DNR. This should give you some idea of where I rank Menards on the grand scale of things.

NBC claims episode not based on Sawyer County incident

File this one under "How Stupid Do They Think We Are?"

Last night, the NBC series "Law and Order" aired an episode with a plot eerily similar to the massacre in Sawyer County last November. (See my earlier entries here and here.)

Yesterday an NBC spokesperson claimed that the episode had no connection at all with the incident.

A “Law & Order” episode airing tonight might hit a nerve for people in northwestern Wisconsin, but an NBC spokeswoman said it’s not based on the Sawyer County tragedy.

“ ‘Law & Order’ is totally fictional,” spokeswoman Jeannette Ketoen said. “It’s ripped from the headlines, but it’s not based on what has happened in your area.”

If it's "ripped from the headlines," I'd like to see the headlines to which she's referring.

Let's compare:

In Sawyer County, one hunter assaulted a hunting party after he was discovered in their tree stand. He killed 5 men and 1 woman and injured two others. Law enforcement officials describing the scene said that the killer "chased them down." The killer used a semi-automatic rifle, and there has been some discussion as to whether such a rifle is even fit for deer-hunting. The hunting party was a group of friends and family that hunted in that area every year.

In the Law and Order episode, one hunter assaulted a hunting party, in an apparent dispute over a tree stand. He killed 4 men and one woman. He is described as having chased them down. The killed used a semi-automatic rifle, and at the hearing a character comments that it's not suitable for deer-hunting. The hunting party was a group of friends and family that were said to have hunted in that area every year.

So again, what headlines is she referring to, if not the local headlines regarding last November's hunting massacre?

Barron County Sheriff Thomas Richie said the episode hits too close to home.

. . .

Richie said it made him sick to see previews for tonight’s hauntingly familiar “Law & Order” episode.

“This isn’t TV material, this is real life for the people up here,” he said.

But Ketoen said the plot has nothing to do with the shootings in Sawyer County.

“If you watch the show you’ll see it’s totally fictional,” Ketoen said. “Perhaps the same thing has happened somewhere else.”

Hey, you're the one who says it's "ripped from the headlines." Show us the headlines and you can dispense with the "perhaps."

I was going to give NBC a pass because, although I figured people from the area would find the episode too unsettling (particularly the scenes of blaze orange-clad bodies sprawled on the snow in the woods), at least the episode didn't toss in the racial angle of the actual incident or try to paint hunters as racist northwoods hillbillies with guns as many media commentators did.

But for them to make this startling claim that there's no connection just boggles the mind. I'd be more impressed if they admitted it and apologized for the effect the episode would have on people who live up here. But they'd rather play CYA and dive for the bunker. (A common media theme these days.)

The Leader-Telegram article linked above also mentions this aspect of the episode that I hadn't thought of.

Eau Claire attorney Harry Hertel said potential jurors in Sawyer County who see the episode might wonder about the facts of the real case and be tainted.

“You certainly hope that people will decipher that,” Hertel said. “A substantial risk in airing the show is that they will lose potential jurors in Sawyer County if that is where the case is held.”

(Cross-posted to Badger Blog Alliance)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

"Law and Order" followup

I just got done watching that "Law and Order" episode featuring an incident based on last November's hunting massacre in Sawyer County near my home town. While the situation in the episode was eerily similar to the Sawyer County killings, the episode focused more on the actions of another hunter who pursued the killer. There was no attempt to explain the motives for the killings in the episode, except for the suggestion that it might be a disagreement over a tree stand. Nor was there any racial aspect to the incident as depicted.

I guess I'm glad that "Law and Order" used the incident only as a backdrop to a different sort of story, but I can imagine that family members of those killed in Sawyer County would have found the depiction of the scene of the crime quie unsettling. I hope they didn't watch.

Though the episode set the murders in upstate New York, Door County, Wisconsin, was mentioned by one of the characters as a place where he used to go hunting.

I leave it to the gun experts to comment on the rifle shown in the episode -- which was called both an "automatic" and a "semi-automatic."

By the way, this is the first episode of "Law and Order" I've ever seen. Didn't care much for it. Is Sam Waterson's character always that annoying?

Sanctity of Life

Greg over at "What Attitude Problem" passes along this list from Chuck Colson, outlining what Colson feels are the top ten moral issues facing America today. It should come as no surprise that Colson puts "Sanctity of Life" at #1. Colson doesn't limit this to mean only abortion, but defines this as "preserving sanctity of life by resisting the encroachment of abortion, euthanasia, cloning, and embryonic stem cell research."

One might also add: defending the disabled from those who seek their destruction. Terri Schiavo, for example. Stand in the Trenches is one of many blogs that has been following her story closely.

Today on his "Breakpoint" radio program, Chuck Colson highlights a sneaky bill going through the Washington State legislature that purports to outlaw human cloning. In fact, the bill doesn't do that at all. It merely outlaws bringing a cloned human to full term.

[The bill] takes advantage of the public’s confusion about cloning to sell the moral equivalent of snake oil. To understand why this is the case, we need to understand cloning. It’s a process known as “somatic cell nuclear transfer,” or SCNT.

In SCNT, a “biotechnologist removes the nucleus from a mature human egg.” He replaces that nucleus with “nucleus of a body cell from [a] DNA donor. . . . A little shot of electricity comes next, and if all goes well, a new human cloned embryo comes into being.”

While all of this is much easier said than done, the important part is that “there is no more cloning to be done since a new human organism now exists.”

The Washington bill, like similar legislation in New Jersey , does nothing to prevent SCNT. All it would do is prohibit implanting the cloned embryo “with the purpose of producing a human being.” But since a human being has already been produced, when they use the words producing a human being, what the sponsors mean is bringing the cloned embryo to birth. Anything short of that is permissible under this bill.

You could clone human embryos and harvest stem cells, or you could grow fetuses for medical experiments, or let embryos gestate for nine months, abort them, and harvest the organs. [Wesley Smith, writing in National Review] gives these moral horrors a fitting name: “fetal farming.” People in the state of Washington have been misled into thinking that the bill would prevent the advent of a “Brave New World.” Instead, as Smith says, it ushers it in.

In other news, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Bush Administration's challenge of Oregon's assisted-suicide law -- the only law of its kind in the country.

Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, the administration's target, was approved twice by the state's voters and took effect in November 1997. According to the state, in a brief filed last month, 171 patients have used the law to administer lethal doses of federally regulated drugs that their doctors prescribed for them.

In the administration's view, suicide is not a "legitimate medical purpose" under regulations that carry out the federal Controlled Substances Act. Consequently, the administration will argue before the Supreme Court, as it did unsuccessfully in the lower federal courts, that doctors who prescribe drugs for committing suicide violate the federal law and are subject to revocation of their federal prescription license. The license applies to broad categories of medications and is necessary, as a practical matter, for a doctor to remain in practice.

What the heck does "heteronormative" mean?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Lileks is Podcasting!

Battlestar Galactica offers a surprising faith challenge

Yesterday I mentioned the blog maintained by Battlestar Galactica producer Ron Moore. On it, he'll respond to fan questions about the show. Moore used to do this on AOL's "Star Trek" forum back when he was one of the producers on "Deep Space Nine," so I'm not surprised to see him doing it again.

Here's one question posed to Moore that I find rather curious.

"The question I would really like to see addressed is how to reconcile the underlying quest of Battlestar Galactica with actual scientific plausiability. The quest of Battlestar Galactica is to find Earth, the 13th Colony. However, it is a basic and well-substantiated tenet of science that human life here on Earth evolved slowly from a primate ancestor. Attempts to deny evolution based on the notion that human kind deserves a far more worthy origin than what evolution details, are a diservice to the pursuit of scientific truth and endeavors in our own world. There was always that reactionary sense to the original series, which drove it away from a secure standing as *science* fiction. How will the new series avoid this pitfall?"

(Here's where William Shatner steps in and says "Get a life!")

Okay, since Battlestar Galactica suggests that the origin of life on earth is found in outer space, not only does it run counter to evolutionary theory, but it runs counter to the Christian teachings on the origins of life. So neither of the competing theories is supported by the show.

But as a Christian I'm not offended at all.

Maybe it's because I'm used to the way science fiction assumes that God is a myth. Maybe it's because I've heard Captain Picard announce once too often that humanity has outgrown the need for God, or I'm no longer surprised when Q whisks us back in time to watch life spring up from the primordial ooze.

And maybe it doesn't bother me because . . . it's fiction!

But I find it interesting that someone is seriously bothered that a fictional television show might not support the theory of evolution. Every day I encounter challenges to my faith in the entertainment industry. Yet my faith suffers not. How strong is this viewer's faith in evolution if a fictional television show causes such a crisis?

Moore's response should cheer him:

I don't have a direct answer for this question yet. There are a couple of notions rolling around in my head as to how we reconcile the very real fact of evolution with the Galactica mythos, but I haven't decided which approach to take. However, it was a fundamental element of the orginal Galactica mythos that "Life here began out there..." and I decided early on that it was crucial to maintain it.

"The very real fact of evolution."

Don't worry, little fanboy. The producer is on your side.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

The Importance of Homeland Security in Flyover Country

When homeland security emerged as a major issue in the election -- and a major reason George Bush was re-elected -- New Yorkers whined that red staters have no right to declare homeland security their issue because the red states weren't attacked by terrorists. Al-Qaeda, they argued, targeted New York and Washington, not the Amana Colonies.

Today in the Wall Street Journal, Brendan Miniter explains why homeland security spending is just as important for New York as it is for New Ulm, and consequently, why homeland defense is a nationwide issue, not just an issue for blue-state cities on the east and west coast.

From New York City much of America may look like a collection of cow towns. But rural Homeland Security spending is here to stay, and we are lucky it is. Just because al Qaeda targets big cities doesn't mean that's their operatives aren't living in the heartland awaiting the opportunity to strike. To catch them, we have to go on the offensive by giving first responders around the nation the equipment and the training necessary to spot and kill or capture terrorists. We also must imbue in them a sense that in this war, we are all on the front lines. Thwarting the next attack likely depends on the actions of an alert sheriff's deputy or border agent well outside of Los Angeles or New York.

We saw this in late 1999, when an alert border agent in Port Angeles, Wash. -- population 18,000 -- unraveled the so-called Millennium Plot. Ahmed Ressam tried to cross the border from Canada with more than 100 pounds of explosives in his car. Likewise, Zacarias Moussaoui -- now on trial for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 plot -- was picked up not in Los Angleles or New York, but in Minnesota, where he was taking flight lessons.

Many Americans probably don't realize that the North Star State's large Muslim refugee population and its proximity to Canada make it an attractive place for militant Islamists. That's one reason why Coleen Rowley, chief legal advisor in the FBI's field office there at the time, was alert enough in August 2001 to realize Moussaoui might be part of a larger plot to attack the United States after he was discovered taking flight lessons in Eagan, Minn.

Monday, February 21, 2005

And I suppose I'll be rooting for the polytheists

After watching last Friday's episode of Battlestar Galactica (a series I've praised here), I didn't quite know how to react. The Cylon Sex-bot character has talked about God in previous episodes, but never quite so . . . "evangelically" as she did in this latest episode.

I remembered reading on producer Ron Moore's blog that he decided to make the Cylons monotheistic and play up the religion angle to go along with the "Cylons as Al-Qaeda" theme. But he's made the good guys polytheistic and the bad guys monotheistic. Given that my sympathies weigh heavily toward the monotheistic point of view, this is an odd thing to wrap my brain around.

Sandy's got more at the new MAWB Squad blog. She points out that not only are the Cylons monotheistic, but they use the sort of lingo common to Christianity, and detects a hint of the oft-heard refrain that Christian fundamentalists are no different than Islamic jihadists.

Like Sandy, I've grown accustomed to the often negative way Christianity is depicted in science fiction, but this a new twist.

I wonder why this car got pulled over?

P.S. I Loathe You

Offered without comment.

Pfc. Rob Jacobs of New Jersey said he was initially ecstatic to get a package of letters from sixth-graders at JHS 51 in Park Slope last month at his base 10 miles from the North Korea border.

That changed when he opened the envelope and found missives strewn with politically charged rhetoric, vicious accusations and demoralizing predictions that only a handful of soldiers would leave the Iraq war alive.

"It's hard enough for soldiers to deal with being away from their families, they don't need to be getting letters like this," Jacobs, 20, said in a phone interview from his base at Camp Casey.

(Hat tip: Betsy's Page)

Okay, one brief question: Where do you suppose these sixth graders acquired their political opinions?

Music Meme

Found at "Hill Country Views" . . . so I'll play this game, because I'm always willing to share.

10 Random Albums: (I simply grabbed 10 CDs off the top of the stack on my desk.)

Jon Shirley (formerly of "Nickel and Dime") - Hallelujah
Carolyn Arends - Travelers
Shawn McDonald - Simply Nothing
Jason Morant - Abandon
Derek Webb - The House Show
MxPx - Before and Everything After
Bleach - Again For the First Time
Strange Celebrity - Remedy
Robbie Seay Band - Better Days
The Choir - Speckled Bird

Number of music files on my computer: I can't find 'em all, but it's well over 1,000

Last CD bought: Smalltown Poets - It's Later Than it's Ever Been

Last song listened to before this post: "Hey Gene" by The Choir

Five songs you listen to often or mean a lot to you:

Off the top of my head . . .

1) "Independence Day," by Ramsie Shick
2) "Hard to Get," by Rich Mullins
3) "Psalm 51" by Charlie Peacock
4) "You Are My Hope" by Skillet
5) "Everything" by The Normals

. . . because if I really gave this some deep thought, I'm sure I'd pick different songs.

"Law and Order" features hunting massacre

While we were visiting family up North this past weekend, we heard that this week's episode of NBC's "Law and Order" would feature a storyline based on the massacre of 6 hunters in Sawyer County last November. As you might imagine, there is some concern about how this incident will be depicted. The folks up there assume that a fictionalized version of the events will be slanted to make the murdered hunters look like the aggressors.

The "Law and Order" website describes the upcoming episode as follows.

After a wild car chase through Manhattan's streets leaves one man dead and a teen injured, Detectives Fontana (Dennis Farina) and Green (Jesse L. Martin) connect some dots and discover that the chase began in upstate New York after a hunting party was massacred by the now deceased driver -- but finding the man who chased the murderer puts prosecutors in a bind. As the reluctant hero (as Stoller, guest star Mike Pniewski) is publicly lauded for his efforts, A.D.A.s McCoy (Sam Waterston) and Borgia (Annie Parisse) carefully make their case that his poor decisions only endangered other lives.

It appears that the hunting part of the plot may only be a small part of the story. But there's a video I can't access with the phrase "Hunting mistake or massacre? Ripped from the headlines!" Er . . . hmmm. "Law and Order" is famous for getting its plots from real-life incidents, so this wouldn't be an exception. I don't watch "Law and Order," but I might have to tune in for this one just to see how it's handled.

And I know that the folks who live up there will be watching closely, . . . and critically.

American Idol . . . as if I cared

I'm not a huge fan of American Idol, but if it's on when I'm in the vicinity of a television, I'll tune in. This evening, for example, I happened to have positioned myself on the couch with a sleepy toddler on my lap, and . . . American Idol was on. (That's my excuse.)

I enjoy a good vocal performance. Most of these people bore me, though. They all sing the same kinds of songs, and they sing them the same way. They try to outdo each other with vocal gymnastics, which to me sounds like they're just having difficulty finding the proper pitch.

So when someone different shows up on stage, it's refreshing. And if I cared enough to call in a vote tonight -- and I don't -- I'd vote for Bo Bice. The boy can sing, and he eschews the whole boy-band vibe. Which means he hasn't got a chance, even though I think he was the only one who actually stayed on pitch this evening.

And I can't believe I actually wasted bandwidth commenting on American Idol.

Why aren't we outraged over these "wannabee" scandals?

I missed this on Friday, and in case I wasn't the only one, I pass it along now. Leonard Pitts wonders why we aren't more outraged by Jeff Gannon's/James Guckert's presence at a presidential press conference because (gasp!) he's not a "journalist!"

Three weeks later, I'm still waiting for a good explanation of what Jeff Gannon was doing in the White House. And for you to be upset about it.

I haven't commented on the Gannon/Guckert scandal-wannabee because, really, . . . where's the scandal? Lefties think it's terrible that someone who they don't consider a "journalist" was allowed to ask a question that was "partisan." "Partisan" in this case mans that the question was a twist of the knife into the Democrats. Here's an example of a press conference featuring people Pitts would consider "real journalists." Do you think Pitts would consider their line of questioning "partisan"? Revoke your passport to the reality-based community if you answered 'yes.'

Here's how Pitts describes a "journalist."

If an individual reports for a recognized media outlet that observes customary standards of journalistic integrity -- even if it tends to view the world through a conservative or liberal editorial prism -- that person is a reporter. But if the person works for an outlet that simply promotes, or advocates for, one political party or another, then the line between reporter and shill has been well and truly crossed.

Pitts considers Guckert a "shill" because his site links to a GOP news site. Guilt by association. I have linked to John Kerry's website. That makes me a shill for the Democrats. Oops, I have also linked to the official White House website. That makes me a shill for the Bush administration. I just can't win.

So if advocating for a particular political party makes one a "shill," I'd like to know how many "journalists" at the New York Times or the LA Times are, in fact, shills. Please, Mr. Pitts, can you get to the bottom of this?

The fact is, Pitts want to have it both ways. He wants to be free to view the world through his chosen political prism, but wants to be free to declare anyone else who does it a "shill."

But mostly he wants more outrage.

So where is our outrage?

Frankly, the only thing more galling than the brazenness with which the White House abrogates the public's right to know is the sheep-like docility with which we accept it.

When the history of this era is written, people will wonder why we didn't challenge its excesses, why we didn't know the things we should have. If you're still around, remember the uproar you do not hear right this moment and tell them the truth.

Sorry, Leonard. I can't muster any outrage over this non-scandal. How about boredom? I've got plenty of that.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Service Learning Update

It's been awhile since I wrote about the service learning issue at UW-Eau Claire. Briefly, UW-EC is one of a handful of public universities that requires students to complete a certain number of hours of volunteer community service as part of their graduation requirements. Academia thinks this is wonderful. I think it's a terrible idea for reasons I outlined here. But once these additional "feel good" requirements are put in place, they're rarely removed.

Last fall the service learning program came under fire because students who wished to fulfill this requirement by volunteering in religious settings were finding their proposals rejected. The service learning office had decided that teaching Sunday School (for example) would not count, while walking dogs (for another example) would.

Never mind that teaching Sunday School requires preparing lesson plans and trying to keep a dozen kids on task while walking dogs involves . . . well, walking, . . . dog-walking was considered to have value in the eyes of the university, while teaching was not.

I'm simplifying it, of course. The issue is much more complex than that, as all church-and-state separation issues are. Advocates of the religious service learning ban argue that for the school to give credit for a religious project is a violation of the establishment clause. Opponents say that because the projects are entirely student-directed and designed, what is at issue is a matter of personal freedom.

I blogged a lot about this last fall. Here, here, here, and here are some starting points. See also, this website here.

The reason the issue arose last fall is because it was discovered that language forbidding religious service learning was added to the guidelines without being approved by the proper academic committees. So earlier this year, a Chancellor-appointed committee went to work on the service learning program, rethinking its mission. Unfortunately they didn't decide to scrap it.

All this to say that they still haven't decided what to do about religious service learning projects. But that issue is to be taken up today.

I'm told that a number of first-amendment advocacy groups are closely watching what UW-EC decides. While the issue did get some national attention last fall, depending on how they decide, this issue may get a lot more national attention than the university would like.

How to get paid for being a slacker

I'm not at work today. If I kept this up for more than a week, I suspect my employer would stop paying me. Wouldn't it be great if I was a member of Congress? Then, like John Kerry, I could skip almost 150 days of work and still get paid.

The National Taxpayer's Union reminds us that this is illegal, but no one enforces it.

According to a study released today by the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU), an obscure federal statute still on the books requires Congressional absentees to forfeit their pay unless they or a family member are ill; but leaders have failed to enforce the law while rank-and-file lawmakers seem reluctant to voluntarily comply.

. . .

According to 2 U.S. Code 39, “The Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Administrative Officer of the House of Representatives, respectively, shall deduct from the monthly payments (or other periodic payments authorized by law) of each Member or Delegate the amount of his salary for each day that he has been absent from the Senate or House, respectively, unless such Member or Delegate assigns as the reason for such absence the sickness of himself or of some member of his family.” Under 2 U.S. Code 48, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House are responsible for certifying the salary accounts of their respective chambers, and so must make an inquiry into whether Section 39 deductions are in order.

The NTU press release lists some of the chief offenders.

  • The chronically absent list is filled with Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, including John Kerry (D-MA), John Edwards (D-NC), Bob Graham (D-FL), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Richard Gephardt (D-MO), and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). But House Members bidding for Senate seats were also prominent on the list, including Brad Carson (D-OK), Mac Collins (R-GA), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Pete Deutsch (D-FL), Joseph Hoeffel (D-PA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chris John (D-LA), Denise Majette (D-GA), George Nethercutt (R-WA), and Patrick Toomey (R-PA).

  • From January 2003 to the October 2004 recess, John Kerry missed 146 days of votes without being granted leave. Total salary overpayment: $90,932.68. His running mate, John Edwards, compiled 102 days of unexcused absences during that period, for an overpayment of $63,543.16. Both Senators missed every vote during the months of July, September, and October.

  • On the House side, Dick Gephardt’s failed bid for the Presidency cost taxpayers $81,362.53 in excessive pay. Gephardt was absent for 85 of the 109 days the House cast votes in the year 2003 alone. Combined with 2004, Gephardt had the highest unexcused absence rate in the House, at 131 days – still short of Kerry’s record total.

  • Then-Rep. Jim DeMint’s successful 2004 bid for South Carolina’s Senate seat could help to explain some or all of his 37 unexcused absences, and an apparent $23,305.56 salary overpayment. In 2003, now Kentucky Governor and former Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) missed 27 session days, for a total salary overpayment of $16,640.91. Three Georgia lawmakers who were locked in tight contests – Collins, Isakson, and Majette – racked up 55 days of unexcused absences and $34,643.40 of potentially illegal salary among them during 2004.

Now, I can hear the arguments that many of these members of Congress, John Kerry and John Edwards in particular, were campaigning, and therefore couldn't be expected to be present for every vote.

Even if you're doing a great job in Washington and have never missed a vote, you still need to campaign in order to keep serving your constituents.

But what if you're campaigning for a position other than the one your currently hold? Should that count? Aren't you essentially saying that you no longer wish to hold your current job?

Should I expect my employer to keep me on if I was publicly searching for a new job? Isn't that what John Kerry was doing? Some states require you to resign your office if you plan to seek a new elected office. Some do not -- which is why John Kerry remains in the Senate today and John Edwards does not.

Perhaps we need a law at the federal level that requires anyone seeking an office other than the one currently held to resign immediately. That way we taxpayers wouldn't be paying Senator Slacker for flying around the country making a few stump speeches between wind-surfing and snowboarding excursions. Instead we'd actually have someone in Washington doing some work. (I know that's a difficult concept.)

Musing Minds

The blog formerly known as "Kim's Thoughts and Observations" is no longer restricted to just Kim's thoughts.

The Post's Poison Pen

I don't get the appeal of gossip columns. I don't understand why they're necessary. What purpose do they serve? None that I can see.

This past weekend, my wife and I saw the recent movie "Hitch." One of the main characters is a gossip columnist, and we're supposed to care when she misses a gossipy scoop about who appears with whom at glitzy New York parties. Sorry, I don't care. I can't. I found it difficult to have any sympathy for a character whose career choice involved revealing personal things about people whose only crime is that they accidently crossed her path. (That is, when they weren't being stalked by her.)

As if to confirm my impressions that gossip columnists are among the lowest form of life found in the world of journalism, The New York Post's "Page Six" gossip column recently unleashed its poison pen on former Post copy editor, Dawn Eden. (See here and here.)

Eden was fired from the Post, officially for blogging on company time, but unofficially for inserting her "extremist pro-life views" into an article by Susan Edelman.

Last week the New York Observer did a flattering profile on Eden (no longer available on their website . . . I'm searching for a cached version) which presented her side of the firing. In apparent retaliation, the Post decided to run this gossip piece on Eden and the writer of the Observer profile. For what purpose? None, except to further smear a former employee.

Oddly, the smear appears only in the online version of the Post. However, it does confirm the true reason Eden got fired -- not for the "official" reason, but for the unofficial one. To quote the Post piece: ". . . she was fired from The Post for improperly rewriting a news story to reflect her rabid anti-abortion views."

Time to call the lawyers, Ms. Eden.

Compare and Contrast

Eloise at Spitbull points out this catty piece of "journalism" about Harvard President Larry Summers who has come under fire for suggesting there are innate differences between men and women, accounting for the fewer number of women in the highest levels of math and sciences.

The overweight Summers is socially inept, with sloppy eating habits and poor grooming. Colleagues speculate Summers' lack of social skills might indicate he has the neurobiological disease Asperger's Syndrome.

Has Ward Churchill been similarly excoriated for his "Little Eichmanns" statement and similar rantings? I sure can't find anything even remotely similar in the mainstream press.

Guess who's more in danger of losing his position in academia?


I'm taking a long overdue day off today -- call it a "mental health" day.

My back's been killing me all week, but today it's much better. Yesterday one of my co-workers suggested that it might be related to on-the-job stress. I grabbed him by the lapels, shook him really hard, and shouted OH, DO YOU THINK SO!?!?!

Well, no, I didn't. But the thought did cross my mind. And that's all I'll say about work because to say anything else is outside the boundaries of my personal blogging ethics.

But today the back pain is minimal, and the connection can't be ignored.

Now, time to do something else I can't do at work -- read the news!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

"Little Ward Churchills" could become a reality!

Ward Churchill may or may not be Native American, but there's one group that proudly claims him: the Raelians.

The Raelians, you may recall, are a UFO cult that believes humans were created by extraterrestrials. They are also the founders of Clonaid, a company that alleges to offer "therapeutic" or reproductive cloning services.

The Raelians recently bestowed the title of Honorary Priest on Ward Churchill.

"Mr. Churchill is exactly right in what he wrote!," said Ricky Roehr, leader of the U.S. Raelian Movement, in a statement issued February 10. "If we are to have peace, we must take responsibility for our part in the violence and stop handing out blame as if we have done nothing. Quite the contrary, we have done terrible things to countless people. Churchill addressed the cause of the 9/11 attacks, and people want to shoot the messenger. Fox News and the right wing would have him thrown out of the U.S. for being unpatriotic and insensitive to the innocent people killed in the 9/11 attacks. It is precisely Churchill's compassion for loss of innocent life that prompted his essay."

Roehr sent Churchill a copy of the release along with a personal note, but so far the Raelian hasn't heard back from the besieged professor.

Oh, I'm sure he's just been busy. But so has Rael, who's been handing out honorary priesthoods like Chick Tracts. Other recent recipients include Bill Gates, Linda Ronstadt and George Michael.

Gates was so honored because of the $3 billion he donated, a Rael spokesperson said, to “charitable trusts which are promoting greater equality in global health and learning.”

For Rael, it’s a quick leap from Gates’ philanthropy to the evil of Catholicism, which teaches that “money is bad” and should be “donated to the Vatican, which will only add this money from poor people to its outrageous wealth and use this money for converting more people to a religion which, among many other crimes, promotes AIDS by lying about the effectiveness of condoms, has always been against medical developments such as vaccines or surgery and was a supporter of slavery and money laundering.”

. . .

Rael bestowed Honorary Priest status on Linda Ronstadt, the singer who gave us the gutsy version of “When Will I Be Loved.” Ronstadt’s shining moment, however, came when she praised Michael Moore, maker of the anti-Bush documentary, during a Las Vegas concert.

Rael used the controversial Ronstadt moment to launch a diatribe against the president, the Iraq war, WMDs, neglect of the Palestinian cause, Bush’s hypocrisy as a Christian and the practice of flossing your teeth.

And even Eminem gets to be an honorary Raelian priest!

Rael, leader of the International Raelian Movement ( has just named Eminem an Honorary priest of the Raelian Movement for his latest song “Mosh”. This title is not given often, and only given to public figures not afraid of jeopardizing their careers for their standing up for peace – especially in this time where the Bush administration calls all anti-war comments as “unpatriotic”.

Man, becoming an honorary priest of Rael is what all the cool kids are doing.

But hey, if Ward Churchill does get fired, at least he'll have a job offering homilies to a bunch of clones.

Come to think of it, . . . do we really want some company with cloning technology anywhere near Ward Churchill? Isn't one enough?

Dispatches from Glass Houses

James Taranto's "Best of the Web" today points to blogger David M's piece pondering the identity of the person who wrote Monday's Wall Street Journal editorial on the Eason Jordan "kerfuffle." (The word "kerfuffle" being a big clue, apparently.)

I've made no secret about being freaked out lately by the power of the blogosphere, particularly as it pertains to the Eason Jordan incident, but Taranto responds in such a dismissive, condescending manner that . . . well, it wouldn't surprise me to see Taranto in the blogosphere's crosshairs soon (if he's not already.)

David forwarded us his blog entry, asking if we did indeed write the editorial. That is a question we cannot answer, for Journal policy is to keep the authorship of editorials confidential. An exception is made when editorial writers are nominated for prizes--which means that bloggers who wish to learn who wrote this editorial should be rooting for the author to win a Pulitzer.

Isn't this a perfect example of how bloggers are amateurs (amateur: "one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession")? If David enjoys puzzling over the authorship of newspaper editorials, more power to him--but it's hard to imagine anyone making a living that way.

There's also something sweet in how the bloggers have taken such offense at the editorial. Rather than bask in their victory, they are focused on letting the world know how much they crave the approval of the big boys at the Journal.

Perhaps Taranto hasn't noticed, but his "Best of the Web" is essentially a blog, pointing out newsbits from across the web and commenting on them. The only difference is that Taranto gets paid to write his blog while the "amateurs" he sniffs at do not.

WSJ's Peggy Noonan, on the other hand, gets it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The blogger scorecard

Okay, one more link before I collapse into bed.

Here's a "blogswarming scoreboard" courtesy of Eloise at Spitbull. She compares five recent blogswarms and their fallout. I have been intending to compare how the media covered Larry Summers with how they covered Ward Churchill, but haven't yet got around to it. Anyone care to search it out?

Sorry fer not writin'. Been busy.

Apologies, readers. This is turning out to be the busy week that I thought last week was going to be. Not only am I not finding time to blog, I'm not finding time to even read the news, so I have no idea what's going on in the world. Such is the life of a busy dad with a busy toddler.

Lid is adding a few more teeth, and it's making her exceptionally whiny. She wants to be picked up and held all the time.

And my back is killing me.

I am taking Friday off, however, and might make it through the slush pile. So even if I manage to get a few entries in between now and then, I expect that Friday will feature a blogburst. But that should keep you happy for the weekend, right?

In the meantime, here's a link.

Doug LeBlanc at GetReligion points to this fascinating article at GQ. (Really? GQ?) (Yes, GQ!) In it, the writer makes a trip to Creation festival -- one of the largest and oldest Christian music festivals in the nation -- and comes face to face with the faith of his youth. It's funny, irreverent, and quite moving. It also inspired me to write something I've been kicking around for awhile, although mine's only partly done, so you'll just have to wait.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

But is it really "glaringly obvious to all"?

I also agree with Lileks:

Asked if Easongate was over, I thought it was, possibly because . . . what else can be done to the man? Send nasty mails to the Waterloo, IA TV station that hires him to revamp thier high school sports coverage? . . . But then I did think of something else I'm sure is glaringly obvious to all. I think the Eason Jordon case is less important than the Dan Rather case, for obvious reasons. But it seems to have produced the same amount of enthusiasm. At some point this amount of glee is going to be applied towards someone who might actually turn out to be innocent. What then? Well, it'll kill the credibilty of those who led the charge, and help the reps of those who turn it away. It'll be a big self-correcting moment, but the self-correcting won't be the story; the story will be the mistake. Ah HAH!

Of course, Lileks gets perfectly Lileks-y at this point:

And so forth, until open war is declared and the New York Times deploys its hunter-killer bots to go back in time and terminate the guy who invents the WWW. I'm beginning to think they would if they could.

Now that would be a movie script!

(Hat tip What Attitude Problem?)

Monday, February 14, 2005

Craft Corner

Full disclosure -- I know the seller of this eBay item. But I thought it was amusing enough to pass along anyway.

Directly from your favorite liberal's secret collection, this Barbara Streisand record novelty is a bowl pressed from her actual LP, Lazy Afternoon. Well, we can't prove it was actually from Barbara herself, but this bowl would make a nice chip or snack bowl at your next Anti-Bush, Anti-War, hate America rally.

I don't know what I find more surprising. That someone actually spent time and effort to create a snack bowl out of an LP, or that a person I know quite well actually owns one.

Kick 'em when they're up; Kick 'em when they're down

I agree with Sean.

The blogosphere has a symbiotic relationship to the MSM. By commenting and arguing with the stories they put out, webloggers feed off of the MSM's output. The MSM reads what webloggers are pumping out, and it inspires more stories, which further feeds the blogosphere. This isn't a zero-sum game. Both entities gain.

I'm not saying the MSM doesn't have oodles of faults. They do. They have liberal biases they don't admit to. They've become sloppy. They've allowed their political views to color and shape the news. In the context of all Eason Jordan has done and said he doesn't deserve to be running CNN. What I worry about is some webloggers tossing around reckless accusations destroying their credibility and hurting undeserving people in the process.

Going MSM

The phrase "going postal" is so 1990s. The phrase for the new millennium, is "going MSM."

(Hat tip: Dummocrats)

How "transformed" are we?

This book caught my eye this past week:

Ten years ago, Mark Noll wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, asserting that "notwithstanding all their other virtues, . . . American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking." Now comes Ron Sider's The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, which asserts that we evangelicals aren't exemplary for our virtues, either.

In the latest issue of Christianity Today's Books and Culture (a fantastic bi-monthy that should appeal to any thinking Christian) Ron Sider writes what must be a sort of condensation of the conclusions of his book. It's loaded with statistics, but if these statistics are reflective of the truth about Evangelical Christians, then we must face up to a sobering truth -- we do not live like people whose lives have been transformed by Christ. In fact, on the whole we're not much different than those whose lives we would say need transforming.

The findings in numerous national polls conducted by highly respected pollsters like The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking. "Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general." Divorce is more common among "born-again" Christians than in the general American population. Only 6 percent of evangelicals tithe. White evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race. Josh McDowell has pointed out that the sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their nonevangelical peers.

Alan Wolfe, famous contemporary scholar and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, has just published a penetrating study of American religious life. Evangelicals figure prominently in his book. His evaluation? Today's evangelicalism, Wolfe says, exhibits "so strong a desire to copy the culture of hotel chains and popular music that it loses what religious distinctiveness it once had." Wolfe argues, "The truth is there is increasingly little difference between an essentially secular activity like the popular entertainment industry and the bring-'em-in-at-any-cost efforts of evangelical megachurches." It is not surprising that George Barna concludes, "Every day, the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change." We have very little time, he believes, to reverse these trends. African Christian and famous missions scholar Professor Lamin Sanneh told Christianity Today recently that "the cultural captivity of Christianity in the West is nearly complete, and with the religion tamed, it is open season on the West's Christian heritage. I worry about a West without a moral center facing a politically resurgent Islam."

Sider quickly points out that our first concern "must be internal integrity, not external danger." (Although, to phrase that last statement another way, there should be some concern whether an America with no moral foundation can face an enemy with a strong foundation of anti-Americanism.)

In the article, Sider cites a series of statistics that should be cause for self-examination in the church, if not a call for outright reform.

In a 1999 national survey, George Barna found that the percentage of born-again Christians who had experienced divorce was slightly higher (26 percent) than that of non-Christians (22 percent). In Barna's polls since the mid-1990s, that number has remained about the same. In August 2001, a new poll found that the divorce rate was about the same for born-again Christians and the population as a whole; 33 percent of all born-again Christians had been divorced compared with 34 percent of non-born-again Americans — a statistically insignificant difference. Barna also found in one study that 90 percent of all divorced born-again folk divorced after they accepted Christ.

. . .

John and Sylvia Ronsvalle have been carefully analyzing the giving patterns of American Christians for well over a decade. Their annual The State of Christian Giving is the most accurate report for learning how much Christians in the richest nation in human history actually give. In their most recent edition, they provide detailed information about per-member giving patterns of U.S. church members from 1968 to 2001. Over those thirty-plus years, of course, the average income of U.S. Christians has increased enormously. But that did not carry over into their giving. The report showed that the richer we become, the less we give in proportion to our incomes. In 1968, the average church member gave 3.1 percent of their income—less than a third of a tithe. That figure dropped every year through 1990 and then recovered slightly to 2.66 percent—about one quarter of a tithe.

. . .

Popular evangelical speaker Josh McDowell has been observing and speaking to evangelical youth for several decades. I remember him saying years ago that evangelical youth are only about 10 percent less likely to engage in premarital sex than nonevangelicals.

True Love Waits, a program sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention, is one of the most famous evangelical efforts to reduce premarital sexual activity among our youth. Since 1993, about 2.4 million young people have signed a pledge to wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse. Are these young evangelicals keeping their pledges? In March 2004, researchers from Columbia University and Yale University reported on their findings. For seven years they studied 12 thousand teenagers who took the pledge. Sadly, they found that 88 percent of these pledgers reported having sexual intercourse before marriage; just 12 percent kept their promise. The researchers also found that the rates for having sexually transmitted diseases "were almost identical for the teenagers who took pledges and those who did not."

Read the whole article here.

Sider is the president and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and a professor of theology and culture at Eastern Baptist Theolgical Seminary. A lot of people would call Sider a "liberal," including Tony Campolo, perhaps the poster boy for liberal Christians. But I don't know if Sider is that easy to nail down.

Here's an article in Christianity Today on Sider -- from 1992, I'll grant you, and people certainly change over time -- but it may be a good starting point.

Here's an interview with Sider regarding the "Evangelical Agenda" for Bush's second term.

I haven't had the time to read either of these two articles yet, but plan to soon.

In the meantime, I think I'll pick up Sider's new book. If even half of what he says is true, then all of us need to pay attention.

Not extinct after all!

It's rare, but sometimes a species thought to be extinct manages to survive, hidden away in some remote valley where it continues to thrive.

To my amazement, I learned today that something once thought to be extinct survives in the valleys of western Virginia: Bible classes for public school students.

The Bible classes began in Virginia in 1929 after a majority of students failed a simple Bible test.

The lessons were conducted inside public school classrooms until 1948, when the Supreme Court ruled that the lessons violated the principle of separation of church and state. A few years later, the court revisited the issue and approved classes held away from school premises.

Most towns have done away with the classes, but the 20 school divisions that have kept the classes generally stretch along Interstate 81 in western Virginia, known to some as the state's "Bible Belt." In the Staunton area, more than 80 percent of first-, second- and third-graders participate.

These Bible classes are completely voluntary. Students are transported from public schools to nearby churches where they take part in what the CNN story quoted above calls "Christian lessons and activities."

Some parents object, arguing that children who opt out of the voluntary classes are stigmatized. I've never thought much of the "stigmatization" argument. The only way to avoid stigmatization is to eliminate diversity altogether, and we'd all be one big happy majority, rejoicing in our sameness.

Objections based on the establishment clause probably have more validity, although this has already been tried in the courts once. At the moment no lawsuits have been filed.

I'm sure modern courts will find a way to eliminate these classes. And I'm sure most students will get their religious education in other ways.

But not all students will. Think of it this way: a person cannot be culturally literate without a knowledge of Christianity. History and literature, to name only two courses, depend on a working knowledge of the Christian faith. For some students these courses may be their only exposure. I would have a hard time arguing that such knowledge is unimportant to a well-rounded education.

I'm sure these classes will be gone faster than you can say ACLU, but for now, let's marvel at the fact that they survived this long.

Kos and Dean and the Party of Hate

This will be my only link to the DailyKos. I don't link to Kos on principle. Friends don't let friends read Kos, and they surely shouldn't send total strangers that way. But everyone should read this, because this is a fine example of the sickness that festers in the left.

Doug pointed me to this link, and added some thoughts that leave me with nothing to add but an affirmative "What he said."

You cannot have a functioning civil society when half the members of that society have decided the other half seriously intends to institute the equivalent of a new Nazi regime.

This stuff started as simple hyperbole, and both sides were equally guilty of using it. There's even a cute little Internet custom that says the first side who resorts to a Nazi analogy loses the argument. Ha, ha. Yet at some point a scarey-large number of people missed the joke. And then a scarey-large political party told those same folks to come on in.

It's not like the left has always been this way. And I'm not even claiming this is a common belief even now. It's just too d*mn easily tolerated by those who should know better.

When a political ally says, "I think President Bush is trying to make the United States just like Nazi Germany, so I oppose him," the proper response is not, "Well, that's a bit of a stretch for me. But since we both agree we don't want him elected, let's join forces." The proper response is "Get away from me you freaking lunatic! I don't want anyone mistaking my rational opposition with your nutjob ravings!"

Like Doug, I've seen friends become seduced by the anti-Bush nutjob ravings, and I've given up trying to hold a civil political conversation with them, because such a thing is impossible.

The Republicans need a loyal opposition if only to keep them honest, but somewhere along the way, the Democrats forgot the "loyal" part, and settled on being simply the "opposition."

With Howard "I hate Republicans and everything they stand for" Dean in charge of the DNC, I doubt we'll see the Democrats regaining their sanity. The sooner a third party can gain enough support to replace the Democrats, the better.

Howard Dean was chosen partly for his ability to raise funds for the DNC, but funding alone won't put anyone in the White House. Michael Barone has a great column that touches on what the prominence of lefties like DailyKos and Howard Dean mean for the Democratic party. (Hat tip: Th' Anchoress.)

The Democratic Internet constituency was and is motivated by one thing more than anything else: hatred of George W. Bush. To see that you only have to take a look at, run by Democratic consultant Markos Moulitsas, which gets 400,000 page views a day--far more than any other political weblog--and which received funding from the Dean campaign (which Moulitsas disclosed). It seethes with hatred of Bush, constantly attacks Republicans, and excoriates Democrats who don't oppose Bush root and branch. When four American contractors were killed in Iraq in April 2004, wrote, "I feel nothing over the death of the mercenaries. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them." This repulsive comment produced no drop-off in page views. This was what the left blogosphere wanted. Kos was an early enthusiast for Dean's campaign for Democratic chairman and disparaged other candidates.

For 12 years, Democratic chairmen were chosen by Bill Clinton. He built a new generation of fundraisers who relished contact with the Clintons. Now the big money comes from the left blogosphere and Bush-hating billionaires like George Soros. Dean gives them what they want. As Dean says, "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for." Hate. But Bush hatred was not enough to beat Bush in 2004--while Democratic turnout was up, Republican turnout was up more--and doesn't seem likely to beat Republicans in 2006 and 2008. The left blogosphere has driven the Democrats into an electoral cul de sac.

We can only hope. Because the alternative is a party in power that's motivated solely by hatred for the "other." And that is one of the scariest things I can imagine happening to this country.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

After Eason Jordan

Following up on this post, here are a few more thoughts on the frightening power of blogs.

Jib says the blogosphere is becoming scary-strong.

The pack mentality is extremely effective in justifiable cases, like Rathergate. After all, Rather broadcast a fraudulent story and stonewalled efforts to get at the truth. This Eason story was a little bit more on the borderline. I know the intellectual argument that can be made against me on this, and I'm not saying that I disagree with it. Yes, it is important to know that the head of a major news organization holds such crazy, paranoid views about the military. But the pleasure with which some blogs went after Eason, and the fact they could bring him down without the help of the MSM opens the door to the possibility of using this influence unjustly in the future. I think we all need to respect the power we collectively hold with these little blogs.

Sean worries about the mob mentality.

The blogosphere will get burned. It's not a question of if but when.

I felt a bad twinge while reading Captain Ed's attack on Brett Stephens. It seemed to me Ed was taking seeing a conspiracy when none existed.

A mob mentality is the opposite of conservative political philosophy and temperment. I'm reading Edmund Burke right now, so I'm riveted on the damage mobs can do. A mob destroys. Rarely does it create. Is it the intention of some in the blogosphere to destroy the MSM? If so, they should be clear about their mission to their readers. Or do they want better, more accurate news?

Doug says the alternative is worse.

[W]hile respecting the power, don't divorce it from the question of justice. And I firmly believe justice was done here. And further, I believe the only reason justice was done in this case is because the blogosphere forced the issue.

. . .

It is true that it is easier for something scandalous to get out, destroying reputations and careers at staggering speed in this new age. But the media have been in that same business for ages. Since Watergate, a heck of a lot of journalists consider that their primary mission.

What I consider a the more important lesson - and perhaps more important warning - is the removal of that power from the hands of a small elite, increasingly at odds with their fellow citizens' interests, and placing into the hands of everyone. Yes, such democratization carries danger. But in my opinion the alternative carries even more.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

After last November's elections, the Democrats began to wonder what they needed to do to reconnect with "red state" America. Did they need to get religion? Did they need to start supporting the military? Did they need to become country music fans or start following NASCAR?

Well, whatever it is they need to do to, I don't think this is the answer.

Democrats elected Howard Dean chairman of their national party on Saturday, casting their lot with a skilled fund-raiser and organizer whose sometimes caustic, blunt comments can lead to controversy.

If what they want is a caustic fund-raiser, they've got it. But they had a whole bunch of caustic fund-raisers in 2004. John Kerry even had a huge surplus when the election was over. But fund-raising won't win the White House.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, not always a Dean supporter, said Friday, "He has used the power of technology, the force of his personality and the depth of his ideals to bring new people into the party."

She's right. A lot of new people were brought into the party. A lot of MoveOns and Michael Moores and other angry lefties that drove the moderate middle right into the arms of the Republicans.

Keep it up, Dems.

Eason Jordan resigns and I don't feel so well myself

CNN chief news exec Eason Jordan resigned yesterday and the blogosphere is crowing about it. And I wonder if I'm the only one just a bit distrubed by this. If Rathergate wasn't proof enough of the power of blogs, this should do it.

There's no question that Eason Jordan made slanderous comments against our military. But the speed and ferocity of the blogswarm on this story is more than a little unsettling.

Since I started blogging, I have been occasionally startled to discover who has been reading my blog. A couple of times, the very people who figured into the news items I wrote about actually took time to respond here and/or correct something. It came as a shock to me. And those are just the ones I knew about.

I shouldn't have been surprised. I did a brief stint in the Tee Vee News Biz, so I'm familiar with the power of broadcast media, even if I've forgotten in the years since. I've spent more than a decade writing things that other people read. Blogging is just a hobby for me.

But it's a very powerful hobby. It's a hobby that has the potential to destroy anyone. I'm just a tiny low-traffic blog, but even I have that power.

Bloggers have been compared to the villagers with their torches and pitchforks storming the castles of the media aristocracy. Was this a "witch hunt"? A "high-tech lynching"? Those descriptions may be a bit extreme, but perhaps they're not all that off the mark. When the power of the blogosphere is unleashed on someone like Dan Rather, Trent Lott, or Ward Churchill, there is undoutedly a mob mentality that sets in, and the blogswarm is sustained by its own energy.

The Eason Jordan incident should not be a time to celebrate the power of blogs over the dreaded "MSM" -- there shouldn't be any question about that now -- it should a time for sober reflection on what blogs have done and what blogs can do.

This time it was Eason Jordan. Next time it could be me. Or you.

If you have a blog -- even a very small one -- you have tapped into an awful source of power. And if you're looking at the Eason Jordan incident, rubbing your hands with glee, and picking out your next target, you worry me.

More commentary this way.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Promises, promises!

My apologies for a poor week of blogging. I've got a huge slush pile of topics to dive into, and no time to climb onto the diving board. I promise make it up to you over the weekend.

For now, why don't you check out these. (Tip o' th' hat to The Anchoress.)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Eden Cast Out

The New York Observer has the full story [no longer available at their website . . . link removed until I can find a cached version] of Dawn Eden's firing from the New York Post, officially for blogging on company time, but coming right after an incident where she was criticized for "inserting a pro-life viewpoint" into an article she was copyediting. Dawn corrects a few of the story's errors at her own blog, but otherwise says

"But overall, I'm elated. Gurley set out to draw a portrait that would--as with all his work--go deeper than the average personality profile, and he's unquestionably succeeded."

So what happened? Here's an excerpt from the Observer piece.

Ms. Eden was given a story by Post reporter Susan Edelman to copy-edit. The story was about women with terminal cancer who want to have babies: Through in-vitro fertilization, multiple embryos are fertilized and implanted one at a time until as many as 12 survive.

According to Ms. Eden, she was repelled by what she interpreted as a "cavalier" attitude about the embryos in Ms. Edelman’s story: "Treating them as a manufactured commodity that don’t have significance as human life," Ms. Eden said. (Ms. Edelman declined to comment when reached by The Observer.)

"I got choked up," Ms. Eden said. "How are people going to ever understand the complex issues involved here, if the story they’re reading reduces it to ‘Oh, isn’t this nice? We can just make lots of embryos and not worry about whether they live or die.’"

Ms. Eden read a line in the draft of the story: "Experts have ethical qualms about this ‘Russian roulette’ path to parenthood." She saw her opportunity: She added a phrase: " … which, when in-vitro fertilization is involved, routinely results in the destruction of embryos." And where Ms. Edelman had written that one woman had three embryos implanted "and two took," Ms. Eden changed that to read: "One died. Two took."

Ms. Eden said she thought she was performing a service for the reader, since she believed that the Post had been "notoriously oblivious" to the nuances involving embryonic life.

After publication of the article, Eden wrote to Susan Edelman, apologizing for what she'd done, and calling her actions "unwarranted and wrong." Edelman wrote back, using the word "sabotage" to describe the editing, and calling Eden "unprofessional" and "a disgrace."

Then the Post editors discovered Ms. Eden's blog, and found it "very disturbing." Officially, Eden was fired for blogging on company time. Unofficially? . . .

The Post hired her full time in 2003. She loved editing and writing punning headlines. But she landed in hot water after giving an interview to Gilbert, a G.K Chesterton magazine, in which she talked about her faith and working at the Post.

She said her boss, chief copy editor Barry Gross, chided her, telling her, "Some people already think the Post is conservative, and we don’t need New York readers also thinking it’s a Christian paper and that there are Christians working there."

"I don’t recall saying that," said Mr. Gross. "But I can’t swear that I didn’t. I mean, there’s no question people think we’re conservative." He added that he did caution her to cool it a bit in the future.

There was another chat with Mr. Gross after Ms. Eden resisted working on an article about a murdered porn star. She’d made it clear that she was disgusted with the cheerful, lurid commentary.

So according to Eden, the Post found her viewpoint problematic prior to this latest incident.

We may never know the true motives behind her firing -- whether it was merely for blogging on company time, or for holding a viewpoint that the editors found incompatible with their own.

But the profile of Ms. Eden is, indeed, a good look at a modern Christian who shatters the usual stereotypes.

(Hat tip: GetReligion)

Doyle's ponzi scheme

J.J. Blonien, of Americans for Prosperity - Wisconsin, has a great editorial on Gov. Doyle's budget in the Wisconsin Conservative Digest.

Doyle’s plan does provide for temporary property tax relief, but he does this by increasing shared revenues to school districts and local governments by more than an estimated $1.5 billion. While Doyle espoused the miracle cure that his snake-oil tax freeze would bring property taxpayers, he never mentioned the debilitating side effects — increased government spending. Doyle’s slight-of-hand is nothing more than a shell game that shifts money from one funding source to another.

A genuine tax freeze would hold the line on government spending, while Doyle’s scheme increases state spending by nearly 10 percent. Rather than funding this spending increase at the local level through property taxes, Doyle is proposing to fund the tax shift by increasing fees such as hunting licenses by more than 50 percent and by Enron-style accounting tricks.

The bottom line is that while local property taxes may not increase this year, overall spending by school districts and local governments is likely to increase at a rate that exceeds inflation and growth. The true fiscal impact of government is measured in how much it spends, not in how much it taxes. And as we know, government spending increases are usually followed by tax increases.

Doyle’s one-time con job of robbing Peter to pay Paul is nothing but a desperate attempt to co-opt the genuine tax freeze plan currently working its way through the legislature. Doyle knows that property taxes will be the number one issue in next year’s race for governor and he doesn't want to be remembered as the governor who vetoed the property tax freeze.

Read the whole thing.

Little "Ward Churchills"

This morning I heard a bit of Bill Bennett's radio program while driving to work. He and his guest were discussing the controversy over Ward Churchill, and the guest (I wasn't in the car long enough to find out who it was) mentioned that at UC-Santa Cruz, they have someone even worse than Churchill -- Angela Davis.

Who's Angela Davis? Until this week I admit that I've never heard of her before. But a couple days ago a reader noted that she spoke at our local university, UW-Eau Claire, earlier this week.

Davis spoke out against the structure of the American legal system, explaining that punishment and democracy are mutually exclusive.

"The law is based on the assumption that every person that goes before it is the same as every other person," Davis said. "Can democracy exist if everyone is the same?"

Umm . . . isn't the notion that everyone's created equal one of the foundations of democracy?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Doyle's Budget

Owen at Boots and Sabers is all over Governor Doyle's proposed budget, and I'm beginning to see why some of my fellow Wisconsin Bloggers refer to Doyle as "a wholly-owned subsidiary of WEAC." An $850 million increase?

The most interesting part of the budget is Doyle's attempt to co-opt Republicans' proposed property tax freeze by calling a "freeze" something that is most definitely not.

Basically, he is saying that he will sign a “freeze” on local sending if the State spends more on the local governments. Note that this does not actually decrease spending. All it does is shift more of the burden on the state instead of on the local governments. To a Wisconsin taxpayer, it does not matter whether the tax bill says “State of Wisconsin” or “City of Waukesha.” It’s still the same spending.

It gets worse. In order to fund the increased spending by the state on local governments, he wants to raid the transportation fund. The transportation fund has all of the tax dollars generated by the fuel tax and other transportation related taxes. It is sequestered from the general fund and is supposed to be spent exclusively on transportation infrastructure. (This is part of how they justify the gas tax by saying that only people who buy gas - hence, are driving on the roads - pay for the roads.) If Doyle raids this fund, one has to ask the question, how will we pay for transportation infrastructure? Especially the rebuilding of the Marquette Interchange?

Doyle just wants to shift tax dollars from one pile to another. He isn’t actually doing anything about the exorbitant rate of government spending in Wisconsin. If we move dollars out of the transportation fund, we still have transportation spending to take care of. Will he raise transportation taxes or move money from yet another pile into the transportation fund? Or will he just not complete things like the Marquette Interchange?

Check out Boots and Sabers for good coverage of the budget.

Brad and Janet and Tire-slashing

James Rowen is yet another voice coming out against reform in Wisconsin's electoral process. Jib does a good job dissecting Rowen's arguments here, so I'll just interject that my jaw dropped open when I read this comparison:

The tire-slashings damaged a parking lot filled with vans rented by Republican election workers. It was stupid and criminal behavior, but let's also remember that it was a prank that got out of hand.

This is a good time to recall another high-profile prank that went awry last year in Milwaukee near UW-M, when a group of nerdy "Rocky Horror Picture Show" devotees knocked down and frightened a young woman.

The tire-slashing incident -- intended to prevent Republicans from getting voters to the polls -- is being compared to knocking down and frightening a young woman? A little perspective, please!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

That would buy a lot of cheese!

Yes, the Wisconsin "Cow & Cheese" quarter is ugly -- I would have preferred the proposed design that had fur traders -- but take a close look at that Cow quarter in your pocket. It might be worth a lot more than twenty-five cents.

Douglas County: No Line and No Power

If you've spent any time in northwestern Wisconsin over the last four or five years, you've probably noticed signs throughout the region that read "NO LINE" in bold letters. It's a reference to the plan by American Transmission Co. of Pewaukee to build a high-voltage power line linking Wausau with Duluth.

Those opposed to the power line are concerned about the environmental impact of the project, which would run for 210 miles through the northwoods, cutting through forests, and across rivers and wetlands. Those in the proposed path of the power line are also rightly concerned about property values in a region of the state where incomes are low, taxes are far too high, and the main industry involves drawing tourists to pristine lakes and woods. So it would be simplistic to assume that those opposed to the line are all lefty environmentalists. The livelihood of many residents of the region depends on the environment.

Last week the Douglas County board voted 15-11 to continue its opposition to the power line, in a move celebrated by environmentalists. But is it really a victory? ATC will be building the power line anyway. What the Douglas County board has done is effectively cut itself out of the decision-making process.

Our elected officials issued a clear, emphatic “no” when the votes were tallied, but they were not merely saying no to American Transmission Co. and the power line. It’s clear to us that the County Board also said no to a few other things — such as the power to negotiate with ATC leaders, the ability to reduce the potential impact of the power line on its constituents and the opportunity to reap a financial windfall that can help out our financially strapped county.

By saying no to the project, Douglas County essentially said yes to a loss of leverage on the issue altogether. The Public Service Commission has approved the project, many high-ranking political leaders know that the line is needed and the permits needed to grant ATC the access it needs to construct the line are being written and approved. The line will be built, the only variable is what route it takes, but our county leaders will no longer be a part of that process.

. . .

The potential exists for many more private landowners to be impacted now that the county has opted out of the project. Had Douglas County agreed to negotiate, only a handful of citizens would have been affected. Now somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 to 80 folks might have to worry about the power line becoming a part of their land. The county could have avoided this altogether.

The Superior Daily Telegram also had harsh words for members of the environmentalist group SOUL (Save Our Unique Lands).

It’s ironic that while SOUL (Save Our Unique Lands) members are no doubt celebrating what they perceive to be a victory, they’ve effectively lost a lot of power themselves. They could have been a part of the planning, making sure that the rights of property owners aren’t infringed and that their environmental concerns are addressed. Not anymore. The role of SOUL now drops from being that of a lobbyist to a run-of-the-mill protester.

In fact, SOUL members were criticized in a separate editorial for their behavior at the hearing.

I grew up in northwestern Wisconsin, in a family business that depended on tourism. I'm sympathetic to those who oppose the power line, but there's truth to the old adage that you can't fight city hall. Over the last five years, it should have become clear that ATC would not be altering its plans. In this case, the best thing to do is to get into a position where you can have a say in the matter. Washburn and Marathon Counties figured out that if you can't beat 'em, at least you can have a seat at the negotiating table. In saying 'no' to the power line, Douglas County said 'no' to any negotiating power it might have had.

Environmentalists' refusal to give an inch will result in ATC taking much more than a mile.

(Cross posted to Badger Blog Alliance)

"Bargaining" with terrorists

The Bush Administration's reward for the capture for bin Laden or Zarqawi stands at $25 million. Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, has an interesting perspective on these price tags. He thinks they should be marked down.

First, both of these guys are obviously megalomaniacs, who think the world is just hanging on their every word and waiting for their next video. All we are doing is feeding their egos, and telling them how incredibly important they are, when we not only put a $25 million bounty on their heads, but in the case of bin Laden, double the figure. We are just enhancing their status on the Arab street as the Muslim warriors standing up to America, and only encouraging other megalomaniacs out there who might have similar fantasies to follow suit. We should be doing just the opposite - letting these two losers know that we don't think they are worth more than a penny or a pistachio.

That's a great point. One thing certain to get these guys hoping mad is to pretend they don't matter.

Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are a curse on their civilization. Their capture will have meaning or real value to them, to us and to the world, only if it is done by Arabs and Muslims for the sole purpose of purging their civilization of these two cancer cells.

Also, if bin Laden's or Zarqawi's own neighbors turn them in for nothing, it will have a much greater deterrent effect on others. After all, what story would you rather read after bin Laden's capture?

"Osama bin Laden was apprehended this morning after villagers turned him in to local police. The villagers collected the $50 million reward and then fled their country in ski masks, not wanting anyone to know their identities." Or, "Osama bin Laden was captured this morning after villagers tipped off local police. One of the villagers, Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed, told reporters: 'This man sullied the name of Islam, a religion of mercy and compassion. There is a special place in hell for him. I will dance on his grave.'"

Friedman also adds this interesting twist.

What I would do with the $75 million we have budgeted as rewards for bin Laden and Zarqawi is use it instead to sponsor an essay contest for high school students in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Syria and Egypt. The contest entry form would say the following: "In 2,000 words, write an essay on one of these two topics: 1. Why do you believe the Arab-Muslim world is fully capable of achieving democratic, representative government and how do you envisage it coming about through peaceful changes inside your country, without any American or other outside help. 2. Write an essay about the lives of any of the great medieval Arab or Muslim mathematicians, scientists or philosophers and how their innovations helped to shape our world today."

The winners would be awarded visas and four-year scholarships to any accredited university in America to which they could gain acceptance. The winning essays would be posted on the Web in English, Arabic, Urdu, Farsi and French. What do you think would make America more secure? Rewarding one person for turning in bin Laden or putting thousands of young Arabs and Muslims through American schools?

I like it! Now, we'll have to make sure that these students attend a university where there aren't any Ward Churchills on the faculty -- and that may be difficult -- but the surest way to change the hearts and minds of these young people is to give them a taste of freedom, and let them bring it back home where it can begin to infect the populace like an ideological virus.