Friday, January 21, 2005


Oklahoma pumped-up judge is popped

Donald Thompson, the Oklahoma judge of penis-pump fame, has been indicted. The Smoking Gun has a copy of the affidavit for the warrant.

After Thompson resigned, the Oklahoma State Attorney assigned a special prosecutor to investigate his behavior on the bench. It is safe to say that Judge Thompson will go down in the annals of jurisprudence.

Previous post
What's that whooshing sound? (7/2/04)


Bev Harris: The Carrie Nation of Blackbox Voting

If you've stayed current with the patter on the internet, you're probably aware that the Democratic Underground banned Bev Harris, the doyenne of voting reform, from their bulletin board in early December. She had a spat with Keith Olbermann previously and some sort of brouhaha with Markos of Daily Kos.

My view of her is nicely summarized by commentor "aquart" on the DU bulletin board.

Bev is the name out front.

Are there other people working on this? Quietly and with deep devotion to this cause? Yes.

But Bev is the name out front.

I've done a quick scan here. You're all right. Okay?

But the tactless showman, the Carrie Nation with the hatchet, is the name that goes in the history books. Were others working on prohibition? Yeah. But Carrie had the hatchet. DAMNED offensive, that hatchet. Woman had no tact and didn't know her place.

The name out front MUST take the extreme position. Why? Because no one reasons with the reasonable. Why not? They're so reasonable. Because you don't have to. Because a reasonable person can be talked out of anything. Look at Gore in 2000. Look at Bush. Bush was unreasonable and took office. Gore was reasonable and didn't.

The name out front must set the boundary and it needs to be far out. THEN the hard-working anonymous heroes step in and reason with the panicked other side. God, have NONE of you ever gone on strike?

The name out front HAS to be seen. HAS to upset people. HAS to cause uproar and ranting. Frothing at the mouth ranting. ONLY then will the other side begin to negotiate.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, won't get credit for the work they've done, but Bev and her irritating descent on LePore's undeserved party WILL be noted.1 It HAS been noted.

The FIRST obstruction to any change is the injunction to behave nicely. Don't rock the boat. Be polite. Don't upset people. Bev isn't behaving nicely.

From where I sit, that means she's doing her job.

The sad thing is that it's OUR mouths that are frothing, WE who are demanding she behave nicely. We're acting like the DLC. Like the RNC.

If we want this job done, we NEED her and her name out there, pissing people off. Bev is the target. Bev is, obviously, taking the hits.

She isn't harming the cause. The ones screaming "PLAY NICE!" are the ones who don't recognize that we NEED someone out there on the far edge.

I understand completely the Mods' position. The attack here the past few days was stunning and, I thought, well-orchestrated. It consumed the place. Bev is now out of DU.

My school history book had a cartoonist's illustration of wild-eyed Carrie Nation and her hatchet. I still remember it.

If John Kerry had had a tenth of her fire, we would have been watching his inauguration yesterday. Red-staters love that sort of thing. And let me add that if the rest of us had a tenth of her fire, this problem with election mechanics would be well on its way to resolution.

I realize that we all come to politics with the personalities we've developed. And most of us are not going to experience a personality makeover, so we can't all be Dr. Martin Luther Kings or Bev Harrises. But we damned sure need them!

Previous post
Bev Harris vs. Keith Olbermann (12/3/04)


1As posted on the Charlie Rose bulletin board—

Black Box Voting files Public Records lawsuit against Palm Beach County

NOV 30 2004: Today's lawsuit was filed naming Theresa LePore as defendant, citing her for failure to comply with the Black Box Voting public records request of Nov. 2, 2004.

Black Box Voting filed the lawsuit this morning in Palm Beach County, served it per Florida law on LePore's attorney. Black Box Voting then made a surprise visit to the podium at the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections meeting held today in Orlando, where LePore was scheduled to make a speech on records retention.

We went in through the kitchen, using a reconassaince map provided by a colleague, led by Kathleen Wynne dressed as hired help. Black Box Voting investigator Kathleen Wynne, in black jeans and a white polo shirt had earlier traveled through the route to the back entrance to the supervisor's meeting, nodding to the waiters.

"Very nice, very nice," Wynne said authoritatively.

Wynne led Bev Harris and Andy Stephenson through the back way without raising so much as an eyebrow, since she looked like hotel staff.

Harris went onto the podium and introduced herself to the crowd. "I know I'm interrupting. This will only take a minute." She turned to LePore, "Since we can't get your attention any other way, I'm serving you with a courtesy copy of the lawsuit we served on your office this morning."

LePore glared, turned her back on Harris, and refused to take the lawsuit, so Harris set it on the table in front of LePore.

Stephenson stood up in front of the crowd of perhaps 200 Florida elections officials.

"This was a courtesy call on Ms. LePore for failing to produce public records," he said. "For any of you who have not complied, we have more of these coming."

It's enough to give election officials the pip. [back]

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Prescient, don't you think?

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

— e.e. cummings (1926)


Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Just when you thought it was safe to have sex ...

Just yesterday the Spanish Bishops Conference approved the use of condoms to help stem the spread of AIDS. This was a "groundbreaking" decision, and word spread like wildfire. Condom machines were empty everywhere I looked. But the decision was a little too groundbreaking for the Vatican, I'm afraid. According to the Canadian Press,
The Catholic Church in Spain backtracked late Wednesday from a leading bishop's groundbreaking statement in support of condom use to fight the spread of AIDS, saying instead the church still believes artificial contraception is immoral.

Pity the poor Catholic heterosexual. Pity the poor baby. The Church has a very strong position about any kind of artificial contraception, so it is the moral judgment of the Church that it is better to have an HIV-positive baby born than to prevent that conception. The baby will go to Paradise anyway after leaving this Vale of Tears.

I don't agree, but I can at least understand the logic of the dictate since I am somewhat used to following the thought of madmen.

But what about gay people? Gay people are not using condoms as contraception, artificial or otherwise. So is it the position of the Catholic Church that gay people should not use condoms? Or in the simplest terms—if the Catholic Church had the power, would it forbid the manufacture and distribution of condoms because they would be protecting against the consequence of sin, or some such rationale?

Of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins, Pride is always said to be the fundamental sin, and after observing George Bush for four years, I can be easily brought to that view. But I'm not aware of any preference for, say, Gluttony over Lust.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, for instance, says of Gluttony—

Gluttony is in general a venial sin in so far forth as it is an undue indulgence in a thing which is in itself neither good nor bad. Of course it is obvious that a different estimate would have to be given of one so wedded to the pleasures of the table as to absolutely and without qualification live merely to eat and drink, so minded as to be of the number of those, described by the Apostle St. Paul, "whose god is their belly" (Phil., iii, 19). Such a one would be guilty of mortal sin. Likewise a person who, by excesses in eating and drinking, would have greatly impaired his health, or unfitted himself for duties for the performance of which he has a grave obligation, would be justly chargeable with mortal sin.1

So while the gluttonous person might be "justly chargeable with mortal sin," should he or she also die of it? Would stomach stapling be prohibited, requiring instead abstinence from food? While no doctor recommends gorging oneself after this surgery, there's no denying that stomach reduction is an enabler of vice, perhaps even more than the condom. In fact, this surgery has no other use so far as I'm aware. And it is certainly no cure for Gluttony.

I wonder who will be responsible for the greater number of deaths over the next four years—George Bush or the Holy Roman See?


1 A mortal sin is, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a sin that "averts us from our true ultimate end." In other words, you won't get to be with God. Mortal sins must be distinguished from venial sins "in as much as venial sin is in a manner contrary to the Divine law, although not averting us from our last end." [back]


Where's the warning to the viewer?

Robert Fisk writing in the Independent makes an interesting point about our news from Iraq—
"Hotel journalism" is the only way to describe it. More and more, Western reporters in Baghdad are reporting from their hotels rather than the streets of Iraq's towns and cities.

Rarely, if ever, has a war been covered by reporters in so distant and restricted a way. Several Western journalists simply do not leave their rooms while on station in Baghdad.

So grave are the threats to Western journalists that some television stations are talking of withdrawing their reporters and crews altogether.1 Amid an insurgency where Westerners - and many Arabs as well as other foreigners - are kidnapped and killed, reporting on this war is becoming close to impossible.

Not many British and American papers still cover stories in Baghdad in person, moving with trepidation through the streets of a city slowly being taken over by insurgents.

So questions are being asked. What is a reporter's life worth?

Is the story worth the risk?

And, much more seriously from an ethical point of view, why don't more journalists report on the restrictions under which they operate?

During the 2003 US-British invasion, editors often insisted on prefacing journalist's dispatches from Saddam Hussein's Iraq by talking abut the restrictions under which they were operating. But today - when our movements are much more circumscribed - no such "health warning" accompanies their reports. In many cases, viewers and readers are left with the impression that the journalist is free to travel around Iraq. Not so.

"The US military couldn't be happier with this situation," a longtime American correspondent in Baghdad says. "They know that if they bomb a house of innocent people, they can claim it was a 'terrorist' base and get away with it. They don't want us roaming around Iraq, and so the 'terrorist' threat is great news for them. They can claim they've shot 600 or 1 000 insurgents and we have no way of checking because we can't go to the cemetery or visit the hospitals - because we don't want to get kidnapped and have our throats cut." [emphasis added]


1 Two weeks ago French President Jacques Chirac issued a warning to French journalists—

"I want to reiterate that the French authorities have formally advised against sending journalists" to Iraq, the president said.
After the government secured the release of two French reporters held for months, another reporter has disappeared. It's more than the French government wants to deal with. [back]

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Jerry Springer hits the airwaves

Jerry Springer launched his liberal talk radio show in Cincinnati on Monday. It's a 3-hour call-in deal. According to,
Springer promised to provide unabashed liberal views to counter the positions of President Bush in the first airing Monday of his radio show in Cincinnati, where he once served as mayor.

Springer, who will continue to host his TV show, called the war in Iraq immoral, saying it appeared to be focused on determining whether Iraq's Shiite majority or Sunni minority will be in charge as the country tries to grow into independence.

"Would you be willing to have your son or daughter die for that?" Springer said. "If you are not, why in God's name is it OK to support this war when you're sending someone else's son or daughter to die?"

There's talk that he's considering running for governor of Ohio, which might pit him against Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. Now that would be a race to watch!

Monday, January 17, 2005


Quote of the Day

I was in charge of a group of soldiers that were in their late teens through their early twenties and I had to constantly tell them to keep their heads down because they thought that the war was like the video games that they played back at the barracks. War is not like that at all and until you have the misfortune to engage in it for yourself you cannot begin to understand how insane it all is. There are no restart buttons on reality and that is why I cannot figure out why now we are pursuing such a policy in this day and age. War should be relegated to the shelves of history, as was human sacrifice. If you stop to think about it you become aware that war is just human sacrifice. There is no honor in killing as many as you can as quickly as you can.
—Sgt. Kevin Benderman, in his letter explaining his reasons for refusing a second deployment to Iraq

A surreal election

From MSNBC's First Read
Somewhat surreally, elections that are considered not safe enough for the names of many candidates or the locations of many polling places to be announced in advance, or secure enough for international monitors to witness, are going to be touted as legitimate by the Bush Administration. Even Democrats who charged that long lines and too few voting machines in Ohio cast doubts on Bush's win have kept quiet about the far steeper obstacles Iraqis face in conducting a secure and valid vote.

If a tree falls in the forest and only one person is there.... (updated)

Last week the NY Times' Don van Natta, Jr. and Souad Mekhennet reported on the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen, who was kidnapped by the Macedonians at the border with Serbia and turned over to the Americans.

He said they flew him to a prison in Afghanistan, where he said he was shackled, beaten repeatedly, photographed nude, injected with drugs and questioned by interrogators about what they insisted were his ties to al-Qaeda.

Masri was released without ever being charged with a crime. The German police and prosecutors have been investigating Masri's allegations since he reported the matter to them last June, two weeks after his return to Germany. Martin Hofmann, the lead German prosecutor in Munich, who is in charge of the case, said they believe Masri's story.

Police and prosecutors said investigators interviewed him for 17 hours over two days, that his story was very detailed and that he recounted it consistently. In addition, the officials said they have verified specific elements of the case, including that Masri was forced off the bus at the border.

Nothing extraordinary here—criminal behavior by the American government that has been previously and repeatedly reported in one guise or another.

What is extraordinary is the next paragraph—

Still, much of Mr. Masri's story has not been corroborated. His assertion that he was held by Americans in Afghanistan, for example, is solely based on what he said he observed or was told after he was taken off the bus in Macedonia.

You know, there are enough Americans of foreign origin that it would be easy not to recognize an American. On the other hand, native-born Anglo Americans are pretty identifiable. You might confuse one with a Canadian, but so far there haven't been any reports of Canadians kidnapping foreign citizens. So absent any contrary evidence, I'm somewhat predisposed to believe that Mr. Masri's "Americans" were in fact Americans.

But the Times has conflated the question of whether Masri was in Afghanistan with the question of the nationality of his captors. This is convenient, because by conflating the two, the veracity of Mr. Masri can be thrown in doubt. It would, after all, be relatively easy to deceive him as to which country he was in.

So the NY Times finds the story "uncorroborated," which leads me to wonder just what are the standards for corroborating a crime of this magnitude. Of course, the Times reporters tried—

In a series of interviews, neither the CIA nor the FBI would deny or confirm Masri's allegations. A CIA spokeswoman said the agency would not comment at all.

So there. It's uncorroborated. Maybe just gossip. As George H.W. Bush would say, "Didn't happen!" No witnesses, no confirmation, just one man's account.

I don't mean to invade the hallowed halls of epistemology by asking anything so grand as "What is truth?" Nor to inquire what would be the requisite evidence in a court of law. But I would like to ask of the media just what are their standards for reporting an event as a fact—an event such as "The United States government has kidnapped a German citizen, held him incommunicado and tortured him."

This is an important question. If the government kidnaps you and you're finally released, what will you do? Tell it to the media? And will it matter whether you were in Oklahoma or Brooklyn?


According to International Relations and Security Network, "US officials had admitted, off the record, that an error had been made and had expressed regret at the case of mistaken identity." They also note that "Al-Masri’s attorney, Manfred Gnjidic, said his client was considering suing for damages in the US."

Related post
Infinite jeopardy



"The human cost of a fortnight in an embattled land"

The NY Times has gone graphic, displaying the location, cause of death and number of civilian and military bodies killed and wounded by the insurgents for the first 14 days of January.

Killings by the insurgents are said to be "indiscriminate," apparently because they include civilians, but killings of civilians by the "Coalition" are termed "accidental." Deaths of the insurgents, which presumably outnumber all these killings, are not shown.

The propaganda value of the "Coalition" is evident when you read the sentence "The map also does not include Iraqi civilians accidentally killed by coalition forces." The existence of the "coalition" allows the Times to write about the aggression without reminding its readers of the nationality of the perpetrators of that aggression.

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