Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I never heard of me

... but you can bet I'm going to look myself up in a big hurry! Thanks to Sunni Maravillosa, who got the link from Scott Bieser. OK, Mr. Google, what do ya got? Holy smokes, I'm an SFWA Grand Master? How did I live this long without knowing about me?!?!?

I am:
Hal Clement (Harry C. Stubbs)
A quiet and underrated master of "hard science" fiction who, among other things, foresaw integrated circuits back in the 1940s.

Which science fiction writer are you?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bumpy ride ahead

As someone who came to libertarian principles from the Republican side of the aisle, it's been a long time since I trusted Democrats to do anything right, and the parade of neosocialist legislation that's been pouring out of Washington this month has done little to change my mind.

If nothing else, the past 14 years have helped me to understand that the political class is all about using the force of government to micromanage our lives as much as is practical, and of course technology has advanced the practicality of micromanagement to levels that would have left the architects of Germany's late, unlamented National Socialist Party speechless in awestruck admiration.

Just when one might have thought the advent of a Republican president with a Republican Congress would lead us away from intrusive megagovernment, the party of Goldwater and Reagan brought us unprecedented totalitarianism designed to protect us from bogeyman terrorists. Piled on top of the Democrats' totalitarianism designed to protect us from ourselves, rob from the rich and give to the poor (and for all of their protestations, the GOP never repealed any of those totalitarian measures), and glory be, we live in an Orwellian nightmare.

There's some feeling among blind partisan Republicans that two years under Democrat rule will give voters a taste for freedom. After a decade and a half of Clinton and then Bush, I kind of doubt if voters even remember the concept of freedom. In fact ...

In the concluding paragraph of his latest column, Vin Suprynowicz notes: "... upstart works preaching smaller-government, pre-1912 republicanism can easily be nipped in the bud before they ever BECOME best-sellers, because bookstore owners can't very well order books they've never heard of."

Those who write today about free America are really talking about a land that existed before almost all of us were born - "pre-1912." In theory we may even be talking about 1781-89, those years when the Articles of Confederation were the law of the land. And looking around at what so many accept as the Land Of The Free nowadays, we likely are writing about a utopia that never quite existed the way we envision it. If we are said to be living in freedom, what was life really like for those "free" people of pre-1912?

I make these observations not to be discouraging, but to remind you, dear reader, that freedom is an individual thing, not a government or corporate or collective thing, and you may not look to others to defend your liberty. Democrats and Republicans are about wielding power in ways that shape our lives into a mold of their choosing - a mold they believe makes us better people and a better nation, no doubt, but it's a mold created by force, because that's all government is: A force, given power by consent of the governed. And, by the way, silence means consent to these people.

It is important that folks like Suprynowicz - and you - and me - speak up. We need to choose our battles carefully, and it often appears we are losing the war for freedom, and badly. No doubt our bumpy ride will continue for a long time, probably beyond our lifetimes, because the siren song of the tyrant ("I will make you safe and free") will always have an appeal. But the goal is a place where each of us has an inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and I can't speak for you, but that's a goal I personally don't mind spending the rest of my life defending and promoting.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sheriff Andy vs. USAPATRIOT Act

Once upon a time ... in a land far, far from the Department of Homeland Security ...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Anyone for frog legs?

Sometimes you have to wonder if today's adults were ever young.

The College of New Jersey has banned alcohol on campus during three days of Senior Week when the graduates-to-be (almost all now 21 or older) traditionally return to their freshman dormitories and, among other activities, drink legally if they wish.

The ban is just a peachy idea - now the young people bent on drinking a snootful to celebrate their rite of passage will have to pile into cars and drive to off-campus locations, drink their snootful and endanger public safety when they drive home.

Not outraged yet? After all, alcohol is banned in dorms 362 days a year and all the new policy does is extend that policy to the other three days. (This argument is known as the boiling frog approach to the issue.)

To be fair, the article talks about a student who died in one of the dorms (not during Senior Week) after a night of drinking and partying - he fell down a trash chute. The college's legal geniuses probably figured that a policy condoning alcohol, every for three days, opened up liability issues.

But try this: "Alonso said that choice is no longer up to students because their bags will be searched before entering the dormitories and they will be kicked out of the event if caught with alcohol in the residence halls."

Yep, the authorities will be violating young people's private belongings to make sure they're not intending to partake in a legal activity. Not only are they banning alcohol, not only are they not going to look the other way, but they will rifle through the personal belongings of anyone entering the "party" to make sure they don't plan to party too hardy.

And the geniuses will at one point come to the conclusion that - since the death occurred in March, not during Senior Week in May - it might be wise to have search-and-seizure stations year-round. We don't need no steenking Fourth Amendment, we're in charge here, lemme see yer bag, punk.

What the hell. When the new graduates step out into the real world, they'll be asked to pee in a bottle before their wage-slave job offer becomes effective, relinquish the privacy of their bodies and bags before they board an airplane, snuff out their cigarettes before they leave the house (if smoking in their homes is still legal) ... they may as well get used to their personal behavior being policed. Just shut up, hand over the booze, and have fun, kids.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dueling e-mails

Once again the sharp Veronica Mars proves to be one of the best-written pot-boilers on television, as a murder mystery turns on what appeared to be a throw-away line about good scotch that was tossed out long before there was any inkling a murder was going to happen this season.

Meanwhile on the other channels, a political hack was calling on Congress to "achieve big things for the American people" - continuing to try to generate the illusion that our rulers consider themselves public servants, loading up the plate with new government programs to solve the problems caused by old government programs, all of them not what the U.S. of A. was supposed to be about.

I got a dueling pair of junk e-mails overnight. One signed by the top two officials of the national Republican Party gave me my own personal copy of the hack's speech, as if I had any interest in reading his latest pile of hooey. They wrote:

From his strong focus on making health care more affordable, to developing viable alternative energy sources, to explaining how our actions in the world will make our nation safer and more secure, President Bush is confronting the challenges of our time with an agenda that will improve American's daily lives.

I was underwhelmed. And I still didn't read the speech. I figured I knew what was in it. Then I got the other junk e-mail, this one billed as a statement by Richard Viguerie, and it confirmed what I suspected:

“I was struck more by what I didn’t hear than by what I heard.

“What he did say was mostly big-government economic, energy, and education schemes that could have just as easily come from President Clinton or President Carter. What he did not deliver were any Reaganesque calls for reducing the size of government, or getting the government off our backs - a core conservative goal since the 1950s.

“The underlying message in this State of the Union Address was directed toward the Democrats: In effect, we can work together - let’s make a deal. The underlying message directed toward the conservatives was: You have no place else to go.

“Among the other omissions in the President’s speech:

- He did not acknowledge any mistake in pursuing the liberal, big government policies that have driven the Republican Party from power on Capitol Hill.

- He did not announce any changes in personnel in a conservative direction.

- He did not announce that he will veto any increase in discretionary spending.

- He did not call for the downsizing or elimination of any government programs.

- He did not call for eliminating the corporate welfare shelled out to big business.

- He did not announce that he will veto any legislation that contains ‘earmarks.’

- He did not launch a serious war on the institutionalized government corruption between big business, their lobbies, Congress, and the Administration.

- He did not announce any significant initiatives to protect traditional moral values ...”

Except for the "traditional moral values" thing - the conservative code word for "what big government should be doing to micromanage people's lives" - Viguerie spoke to where I am. He went on to say "conservatives" should become a third force in American politics, yada yada yada, and I'm sure he (like the Republicans) wouldn't mind if I tossed a few bucks in his organization's direction.

In a story headlined "Hatch on Bush speech: 'How can you disagree?'" the Salt Lake Tribune reports that Bush "got applause 57 times - a dozen times from the Republican side only." Turn that around: The "divided" government is in such complete agreement that the whole room applauded the guy 45 times in a 49-minute speech.

Yep, turns out that watching Kristen Bell work on a make-believe mystery was a lot more fun (and easier on the eyes) than watching the real-life mystery play out - the mystery of why hundreds of millions of supposedly free people continue to support the charade being played that our rulers exist to serve us and protect our liberty.

Anybody know what I'm doing wrong?

So I'm all registered at Technorati and I registered and followed all of their instructions. So why, when I ping the system, does it not hear me? According to it, I haven't updated this blog for 522 days or some such.

Please leave a comment or send me an e-mail if you have any thoughts. E-mailing their tech support hasn't reaped any answers.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Idiot box dilemmas

Monday night: 24 and Heroes were on at the same time. I still don't know why I like 24; I get the distinct feeling that the characters who point out very valid arguments about the U.S. government's assault on liberty are being set up to look like fools in light of CTU's noble fight. Heroes, on the other hand, is pretty much the best new thing coming out of the glowing box this year. I saw one online poll that asked a question that's been obsolete for 20 years: "Which show will you watch tonight?" We watched one "live," then watched the tape of the other.

Tuesday night: The State of the Union address is on at the same time as the first new episode of Veronica Mars in six weeks. This time the choice is a no-brainer. Both are works of fiction, but only one will be entertaining.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Stay on guard

Over the waning years of the Clinton regime and the first few weeks of the Bush regime, a commission chaired by former senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart (one Republican, one Democrat) published a report that proposed, among many other Draconian measures, a Department of Homeland Security that would wage the domestic war against terrorists by reshaping the United States of America as a police state rather than the land of the free. Of course I'm paraphrasing. The group's third of three reports - "Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change" is dated Feb. 15, 2001, and carried as its top recommendation:

We therefore recommend the creation of an independent National Homeland Security
Agency (NHSA) with responsibility for planning, coordinating, and integrating various U.S.
government activities involved in homeland security. NHSA would be built upon the Federal
Emergency Management Agency, with the three organizations currently on the front line of
border security—the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, and the Border Patrol—transferred to it.
NHSA would not only protect American lives, but also assume responsibility for overseeing the
protection of the nation’s critical infrastructure, including information technology.

The various provisions of this plan went largely unnoticed by Americans and untouched by Congress for the next seven months. Like those of many presidential commissions, the report went up on the shelf and began its inevitable collecting of dust.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001. By the end of October, most of the Hart-Rudman report - with lip service to its insistence that "The legal foundation for the National Homeland Security Agency would rest firmly within the array of Constitutional guarantees for civil liberties" - had been encoded into law, along with every other bad idea for keeping an eye on us pesky citizens - as the USAPATRIOT Act. I remember one talk show host who in 2000 successfully got his listeners enraged enough about one proposal (the "Know Your Customers Act" would require banks to alert the feds anytime someone transferred more than $10,000) who in late '01 was OK with the idea as a way to prevent terrorists from funding their operations.

I also remember cheering when the New Hampshire legislature banned implementation of the "Real ID Paperss Pleeze Act" only to watch in horror as those same lawmakers were bought out.

The reason I bring this up is because of the relief that Congress has "seen the light" and pulled back the Free Speech Registration Act that horrified everyone from Richard Viguerie to the American Civil Liberties Union, the one that "would require grassroots causes, even bloggers, who communicate to 500 or more members of the public on policy matters, to register and report quarterly to Congress."

By a 55-43 vote, the Senate passed an amendment that, for now, takes that language out of Senate Bill 1. Key words: "for now." Past experience shows that when an attack on freedom can't walk in the front door, it walks around to the back door or climbs in a window.

Make no mistake: These people intend to muzzle Americans. They will try again, probably while a slack-jawed Washington press corps oohs and aahhs over the announcements of who's running for president. While they place bets on the horse race, Congress is quietly going about its work of dismantling everything this country once stood for.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The smoking gestapo marches on

They won't stop until it's illegal to smoke anywhere.

A bill to prohibit smoking in a car in which a minor is present will be introduced in the state Senate next week.

Sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), the proposed bill would amend the current statute regarding child endangerment to prescribe criminal penalties for smoking in a motor vehicle in which there is a child, defined in the legislation as anyone under the age of 16.

"We know for a fact that second-hand smoke contributes to heart disease, respiratory illness, and cancer, and responsible parents should try to limit their kids' exposure, even if they themselves aren't ready to quit," Lesniak said.

Under the bill, a person would be charged with a petty disorderly persons offense, punishable by a jail term of up to 30 days, or a fine of up to $500, or both, for a first offense. A person would be charged with a disorderly persons offense for subsequent offenses, with penalties including a jail term of up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Lesniak said he got the idea for the bill while driving recently. He noticed a car in the next lane with a mother and two children, with the windows rolled up and a thick cloud of smoke in the car.

"When we were stopped at a red light, I could actually see how thick the smoke was in this car, and how dangerous it was for these kids to be in that environment," he said.

The bill will be introduced during the Senate session Monday.

According to the story, also advancing through the Politburo of the New Jersey Soviet Socialist Republic are bills requiring retailers that advertise an "after-rebate price" to charge the lower price at the time of purchase rather than make buyers send in coupons or log on to manufacturers' Web sites ... requiring the clear disclosure of all terms, conditions and limitations on prepaid telephone calling cards ... requiring clear labeling of meat treated with coloring agents or other processes meant to enhance appearance ... and authorizing counties to operate publicly accessible Wi-Fi networks.

I can sleep at night knowing my legislators are taking care of every little detail of my life. I know I can't trust myself to make my own decisions about smoking; it's such a hassle sending in those rebate coupons so they should be illegal; et cetera et cetera ...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Brass tacks

George Potter said this here. Awe-inspiring in its simplicity and, well, getting-down-to-brass-tacks thoroughness:

Rights: Not granted or protected by any state, God or magical hoodoo monster. What we call rights are reciprocal agreements negotiated on the fly between individuals. They are not granted, but claimed and defended. Otherwise they do not exist.

Constitution: quaint late 18th century idea that never worked.

Minarchy: A little bit pregnant.

Anarchy: the actual state of the world. The non-system we all live in.

Government: criminal syndicate extorting protection money from and interfering with the anarchic process of individuals claiming and defending their rights.

Law: a once noble idea of codifying the most basic of rights', now perverted into a system of social control.

Outlaw: the only path left open to moral human beings with a backbone and a desire to be left alone.


I didn't even make it past the Musical Maunderings page of the brand-new Sunni's Salon before my memory was jogged in a delightful fashion. It's been a long time since I broke out the Steppenwolf albums. Playing right now: "Monster."

I was a little nervous bringing Steppenwolf into our conservative household when I was an impressionable teen - not so much for the political lyrics, my folks were tolerant of other views even if they thought those other views were idiotic - it was the language! What would they think if they heard, emerging from my room, "God damn, I say God damn the pusher man"? (This was the sixties.)

But I was willing to risk it - hey, your record collection's not complete unless you own "Born To Be Wild." And, as Sunni well notes, there was a lot more to this band than "Get yer motor runnin' - head out on the highway!"

While my personal preference is the music of "Steppenwolf 7," in most ways "Monster" is John Kay and the boys' masterpiece - especially for those of us who wonder where the bejeebers this land has gone.

I began, just now, to write "where the bejeebers this land is going," but revisiting these profound (and catchy) rock tunes from the late 1960s has caught me upside the head and made me realize: We're not "going" anywhere, we've "been there" for a long time.

The opening track of "Monster" is an epic, nine-minute odyssey through the history of America.

Once the religious, the hunted and weary
Chasing the promise of freedom and hope
Came to this country to build a new vision
Far from the reaches of kingdom and pope ...

... though the past has its share of injustice,

Kind was the spirit in many a way,
But its protectors and friends have been sleeping -
Now it's a monster and will not obey.

The spirit was freedom and justice,
And its keepers seem generous and kind.
Its leaders were supposed to serve the country,
But now they won't pay it no mind,
'Cause the people grew fat and got lazy,
And now their vote is a meaningless joke.
They babble about law and order,
But it's all just an echo of what they've been told.
Yeah, there's a monster on the loose -
It's got our heads into a noose,
And it just sits there watchin' ...

We don't know how to mind our own business
'Cause the whole world's got to be just like us.
Now we are fighting a war over there;
No matter who's the winner
We can't pay the cost.

The thing could have been written yesterday. I might caution Mr. Kay not to confuse "us" with the imperial government - "we" know how to mind our own business; the government doesn't - but otherwise "Monster" nails contemporary America in remarkably relevant terms. And the album's importance doesn't stop with the opening track - "Power Play," for example, is an address warning the nanny state to back off:

What gives you the right - hey you -
To stand there and tell me what to do?
Tell me, who gave you the power
To stop me from livin' like I do?
Remember if you plan to stay,
Those who give can take away -
Don't bite the hand that feeds you ...

Those in the dark, you know they're no longer blind -
They're breakin' from your strangle hold on their minds.
Those that can see don't need no one to cross the street;
Be careful who you're pushin' round,
They just might find you obsolete.
Remember if you plan to stay,
Those who give can take away -
Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

Miraculously, "Monster" is still in print on CD. I heartily recommend it to anyone who loves freedom and rock 'n' roll.
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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The return of American hemp?

AP reports:

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — State legislator David Monson began pushing the idea of growing industrial hemp in the United States a decade ago. Now his goal may be within reach — but first he needs to be fingerprinted.

Monson turned in an application Monday to the state Agriculture Department to become the nation's first licensed industrial hemp farmer. State Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said Monson provided fingerprints with his application, which will be used for a background check to prove he is not a criminal.

A couple of thoughts.

Doesn't it just figure that a politician-farmer is the first person allowed to get this far along in the process? Once again the principles of Animal Farm are implemented (thanks for the reminder, Dr. Lenny): "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Doesn't it just figure that "the federal Drug Enforcement Administration still must give its permission before Monson, or anyone else, may grow industrial hemp," even though industrial hemp is described as "a cousin of marijuana that does not have the drug's hallucinogenic properties"? The demonization of a plant that Thomas Paine described as one of America's most important natural resources is nothing if not thorough.

But I am encouraged that "North Dakota is one of seven states that have authorized industrial hemp farming," even if it's discouraging that a valuable cash crop is banned in 43 states. It's also illustrative that "In 2005, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, introduced legislation to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana in federal drug laws. It never came to a vote."

Oh, and one more thought: How do you think hemp farmer George Washington would react to the suggestion that he needed to buy a license and submit to fingerprinting before he could plant his crop?


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Monday, January 15, 2007

New look, new approach, same old characters

Out of my mopey whine of the other day has emerged a new place to go when you type in and a sense of renewal. We'll see how quickly I can deliver useful copy to Mr. Bluhm for him to narrate. He does predict his new computer will allow him to produce a slicker, smoother podcast version of my efforts - not that I have major complaints about his previous production - so he's chomping at the bit to get restarted. Who am I to disappoint him?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Whispers of Orwell everywhere

Sunni is selling Valentine's truffles now, and don't forget - as I am likely to - that the deadline for orders is this Wednesday, Jan. 17. Information on how to buy these delectable treats is right here.

But I confess my main reason for bringing it up is the notice Sunni posted on top of the order form: "Doubleplus important item." Not that the truffles aren't of doubleplus importance, but the use of the adjective "doubleplus" is an homage to the novel that scared the bejeebers out of me as a teenager and continues to toss a tingle of fear through me to this day: Eric "George Orwell" Blair's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

My God, what a great book that is. And it is such a frightening depiction of the runaway rogue state that he has been honored with an adjective of his own: We live in an Orwellian world. Every so often you'll see a word from 1984 turn up in the mainstream: Someone will point out that calling it a "troop surge" rather than an "escalation of the war" is newspeak, for example.

Twenty-three years after the year came and went, it's still doubleplus important that Orwell's work not be forgotten or ignored, because the warnings he gave are still valid. As are his insights.

If there is hope [wrote Winston] It lies with the proles ... Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.

It's Monday ... and the clocks will be striking 13 soon.


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Saturday, January 13, 2007

The good news-bad news about Ron Paul's candidacy

Over at Independent Country, James Leroy Wilson does a nice job of analyzing Ron Paul's imminent presidential candidacy. As buoyant as this news is, Wilson rightfully points out that mainstream pundits will either have a field day pointing out Paul's "extremism" or they will ignore him, discouraging friends of liberty to no end. On the other hand:

Why not Ron Paul? Why not now? If pro-liberty politicians never run for President, we’ll never have a pro-liberty President. If the small-government wing of the GOP never asserts itself, the GOP will never support small government. And no libertarian or constitutionalist has the credentials Ron Paul has to lead this fight.

Good thinking and good reading.

Irrelevant P.S. - OK, I'm going to join the crowd and switch over to "the new Blogger" now. If everything looks messed up, don't say you didn't warn me ...

On hypocrisy, goals and imaginary lovers

Because I'm forced by circumstance to live in this skin, no one is more aware of its imperfections and contradictions than I.

I write cheery little bits and pieces about refusing to be afraid and smiling if you love freedom - but then I go off the deep end and write frightening little rants about how we're descending into a police state. Strike that, yer honor, make that frightening little rants about how we have descended into a police state. It is hard to refuse to be afraid, when the person encouraging you to do so seems discouraged.

I write cheery little condemnations about wage slavery and the hazards of big bureaucracies, but I take timid little steps toward freedom from the wage managers while toiling away in what might be described as one of the larger bureaucracies the private sector has to offer.

You may not be thinkin' it, but I sure am: Why should you listen to that hypocrite Richardson? He hasn't even delivered on his promise to entertain you with a book that was due last Sept. 1!

I write cheery little essays intended to help you cope, and then I divert to self-centered little whines about how I don't always cope so well.

What's a mother to do?

Well, lesson No. 1 is that your freedom and your happiness are up to you, because even the most optimistic encouraging souls are going to let you down from time to time. Mine such nuggets as you can from my essays and try to ignore my pratfalls. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and while I have my ups and downs I do aspire to be more reliable than a stopped clock (although now that I mention it, a slow clock is right less frequently than a stopped clock, because time catches up - oh please, B.W., you're off on a tangent again!).

And I'm in the process of learning lesson No. 2 - if you aspire to get out of wage slavery, you must treat your self-imposed deadlines seriously. The reason Sept. 1 got away from me is that I didn't treat it as a "real" deadline. At the wage slave job, certain tasks have to be done by a certain time, and I reached my lofty place in the pecking order by being good at meeting those deadlines. But I didn't take my personal deadline as seriously as I take my master's deadlines. So, dear reader - and self, I hope you're paying attention here - one of the secrets of emerging from wage slavery is to set a deadline and take it seriously. "One of these days I'd better finish the novel" doesn't cut it.

There! I launched into a self-flaggelating moan and emerged with the things you can learn by my bad example. I hope you've picked up some valuable tips from this, class - even if it's "boy, I'm never going to be that whiny when I start my Web site ..."

Friday, January 12, 2007

A shameful act of thuggery

The clueless police in Atlanta apparently don't care that they've embarrassed all Americans by tackling a British historian and holding him in the jail for eight hours - for the horrifying crime of jaywalking and then (gasp!) refusink to show the officer his papersss. Try reading this without cringing because you're also an American ...

Police in America tonight defended the actions of an officer who allegedly knocked a distinguished British historian to the ground after he crossed the road in the wrong place ...

The city’s police department launched an internal inquiry after the slight, bespectacled professor claimed Officer Kevin Leonpacher kicked his legs from under him, pinned him to the ground and then called several burly colleagues to help hold him there.

Tonight a spokesman said supervisors did not think excessive force had been used or that any rules had been broken.

“The officer asked the professor to comply several times but he refused,” Joe Cobb said.

“He tried to jerk away from the officer.

“The level of force was dictated by the professor, not by the officer.” ...

“This gentleman had his British driver's licence on him the entire time,” Mr Cobb said.

“All he had to do was provide that to the officer and the worst-case scenario is he would have been given a ticket.

“At this point we don’t see where any violation of policy or procedure occurred.

“We feel like the officer acted appropriately given the circumstances.”

I was appalled by the first reports to think this level of thuggery could be perpetrated in broad daylight on the streets of a supposedly enlightened American city. But I'm left speechless to see the attack strenuously defended by the police department's knuckle-dragging PR flak. In a perfect world all of the officers in this photograph would be under indictment for assault (or aiding and abetting) and tossed off the force - but apparently this is what passes for protecting and serving in contemporary America.

Read the Irish Examiner article carefully, Mr. Cobb, and take note: America in general is being judged as a crowd of brutal barbarians because of the actions you defend as appropriate. And given the circumstances, I don't blame them for thinking so. I'm ashamed at how a U.S. government assaulted Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, and the fact that you're not only unashamed but willing to defend the assault indicates you are no friend of truth, justice or the American way.

Oh yeah, and a side note to the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce: I wouldn't be caught dead in your city. This incident is a disgrace and embarrassment to the U.S. of A. Clean up your act.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Rest in peace, Yvonne

Kind of a shame that the obituary for Yvonne De Carlo is titled "Lady Munster Dies." But I suppose that's how she'll be remembered by the TV generation.

She has more than 100 appearances before the cameras listed on the Internet Movie Database - including movies as big as The Ten Commandments and as forgotten as Frontier Gal.

I don't have specific memories of De Carlo appearing in the movies, just a general memory that every time I saw her on the screen - yep, even as Lily Munster - I got that familiar tugging in the chest and gut that said, "Whoa! That is a Woman!"

Monday, January 08, 2007

The United States is not America

Now here is an interesting thought from Kevin Van Horn.

The mindset that equates these two is firmly established in our country. Ask the man on the street about the American space program, and he will think of NASA, but not of private enterprises such as Scaled Composites, Blue Origin, or Bigelow Aerospace. Ask about the American education system, and he will think of the government schools, but not of home schooling or private schools. Criticize the U.S. too strongly, and he'll respond with the non sequitur, "America -- love it or leave it." Oppose U.S. military action and foreign policy, and he'll denounce you as anti-American.

The American anti-war movement constantly shoots itself in the foot by confusing the United States with America. They write of what America is doing in Iraq, or what we are doing in Iraq, instead of what the United States is doing. Such language only plays into the hands of warmongers, who can then accuse war dissidents of "blaming America first."

Worst of all, even many libertarians can't seem to distinguish the United States from America.

This is worth mulling.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

In search of a civil execution

I have to admit it's a little baffling to read headlines like the ones where British bigwigs are falling all over themselves to say that the hanging of Saddam Hussein wasn't a very proper hanging.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair criticized the way in which Saddam was executed, his office said Sunday.

"He believes that the manner of the execution was completely wrong, but that should not lead us to forget the crimes that Saddam Hussein committed, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis," a spokeswoman for Blair's office said on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Blair's likely successor, Treasury chief Gordon Brown, said Saturday that the taunting of Saddam during his execution and the release of an illicitly recorded cell phone video was "deplorable" and "completely unacceptable."

If everyone in the audience had been quiet and folded their hands in their laps, would that have been an acceptable execution? How exactly does the state kill someone in a manner that is civilized and reasonable?

What a peculiar world we live in.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Yeah. This is me.

The experiment with the white background and serif type just didn't feel right for me. I guess I'm just a sans-serif kinda guy.

A bright outlook just doesn't go with the occasional peek at the encircling darkness like this one: "Marketers get fined over big fat ads":

Several diet pill marketers agreed to pay nearly $25 million to settle allegations of false and misleading advertising. Among the targets of the Federal Trade Commission action are several New Jersey companies that market some of the best-known diet pills ...

And what was the sin the companies committed to merit this shakedown?

The ads promised to "make the impossible possible" and "reshape your body and energize your life."

They promised their product would aid your efforts at weight loss.

And they had paid actors stand up and tell you that taking the pills worked. And the FTC thinks you're too stupid to realize it's a sales pitch, so they punish the companies for lying to you.

"Testimonials from individuals are not a substitute for science," Majoras added. "And that's what Americans need to understand."

Thank goodness the FTC is stepping in to protect me from snake-oil salesmen. I don't know what we Americans did before the government decided it needed to think for us. Now I hope it goes after the companies that suggest I may get a four-hour erection if I take their pills - come on over here Sweetie and let's check this out - and tell me how my life will change if I buy that car over there, and promise me I'll be surrounded by aroused women if I drink this beer or wear these clothes or soak in that cologne.

Once again we sacrifice lambs at the altar of nanny government. Today the lambs are the people who might have been paid with that $25 million. No doubt another branch of government will be prepared to help them find new jobs.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The search for federal "rights"

This story struck me as an interesting illustration of how we've forgotten a basic tenet: Rights are "unalienable," bestowed by "the creator," not generated by a beneficent ruler. Read this and think of the assumptions regarding where rights come from (and notice the seamless use of the words "rights" and "benefits" as if they are synonyms:

Civil union benefits to end at state line

Many federal rights are still not granted

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts considers Stacey and Jessie Harris married. But every April, the Harrises get a reminder the legal recognition their state extends to same-sex couples like themselves goes only so far. Although they can file joint state tax returns, they must file their federal income taxes separately.

"It makes me more conscious that the federal government doesn't recognize my marriage," said Jessie, who lived with Stacey at the Jersey Shore for several years before they returned to their native Massachusetts in 2005.

Thousands of same-sex couples in New Jersey will soon learn what the Harrises already know. Although a law signed Dec. 21 by Gov. Jon Corzine promises same-sex couples who form civil unions "all of the same benefits, protections and responsibilities" that flow from marriage, it comes with a giant asterisk.

It really means all of the state benefits of marriage. Like Massachusetts, New Jersey is powerless to grant same-sex couples the benefits that federal law bestows on married heterosexuals. And federal law does not recognize same-sex partnerships, regardless of whether they are labeled "marriages" or "civil unions."

"There are a plethora of federal rights that are significant that remain denied," said Elizabeth Cooper, a professor at Fordham Law School.

Thomas Prol, a Lyndhurst lawyer who co-chairs the New Jersey State Bar Association's committee on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, said the U.S. General Accounting Office has tallied 1,138 sections of federal law in which benefits depend on whether a couple meets the federal definition of a marriage: one man and one woman. The most important affect federal taxation, immigration, bankruptcy, Social Security, veteran's benefits and federal workplace protections for pensions and family leave.

Stephen Hyland, a lawyer with offices in Princeton and Westmont, said same-sex couples who form civil unions will have "significantly less rights in total than heterosexual married couples."

I'm not really commenting on the substance of the issue, just intrigued by the shift we've experienced in where rights come from. A Bill of Rights was written to limit the extent to which the government may impose on our basic freedoms, but we have become so used to those impositions that we think of the government as the source of those rights. 'Tain't so.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Another film freedom lovers ought to see

Last April I mentioned my friend John Newman had tweaked my interest in a film called Sophie Scholl: The Last Days, a German-language film that covers the last days in the life of a key member of the group known as The White Rose. Click on that link for a great essay, "The White Rose: A Lesson in Dissent," by Jacob G. Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

I like the essay because it does one thing I wish the film - now available on DVD at last - had done better: Explain what the White Rose was and what it believed. It's a compelling film with a quietly spectacular performance by Julia Jentsch in the title role, but while it draws extensively from transcripts of the kangaroo court that condemned to death Scholl and two other members of the group, it's a little sparse about events prior to the day she and her brother, Hans, were arrested.

It's a minor flaw, if it is a flaw - my observation is reflective of how deeply the film makes us care about the Scholls and their fellow defendant, Christoph Probst. Maybe the whole idea was to get viewers to dig deeper and find out why The White Rose was and is so important.

You wouldn't think saying what you think out loud - and advocating a nonviolent solution - could get someone killed, but Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is a sobering reminder that dissent can be a dangerous thing when people willingly give their governments over to tyrants. Anyone who advocates silencing critics of government policy needs to see this film so they fully understand what they're asking for.

Friends of freedom need to get hold of this film - we found it via Netflix - to learn about some true heroes of free speech. It does not end happily, of course, but you'll find much to cheer along the way.

Another day off for our rulers

Well, make that a four-day weekend for federal government lackeys - or did they get Friday off, too, and it's five?

No mail Tuesday because they're shutting down federal agencies out of respect for the late President Ford. The rest of us shmucks must return to wage slavery. On the positive side, any day that the federal government is shut down is a day with more freedom in it.