Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Now That's What I Call Bipartisanship

"We should have freed the slaves and then fired on Fort Sumter."

Lt. Gen. James Longstreet (Tom Berenger) - Gettysburg:

Monday, May 30, 2005

Remembering The Fallen

(Reprinted from last year's Memorial Day post)

Revolutionary War (1775-1783)
Wars on the Barbary Pirates (1801-1805, 1815)
War of 1812 (1812-1815)
War Between the States (1861-1865)
Mexican-American War(1846-1848)
Spanish-American War (1898)
China Relief Expedition (1900-1901)
Pacification of Nicaragua (1912-1913)
Interventions in Mexico (1914-1917)
World War I (1914-1918)
Pacification of Haiti and Dominican Republic (1915-1918)
Allied Intervention in Russian Civil War (1918-1920)
World War II (1939-1945)
Korean War (1950-1953)
Vietnam War (1964-1973)
Hostage rescue mission in Iran (1980)
Lebanon peacekeeping mission (1982-1984)
Counterinsurgency mission in El Salvador (1980-?)
Liberation of Grenada (1983)
Invasion of Panama (1989)
Iraq War (1990-1991, 2002-present)
Somalia peacekeeping mission (1992-1994)
Attack on USS Cole (2000)
Afghanistan War (2001-present)

The Veterans Museum has information on many of these conflicts. Information on Allied activity during the Bolshevik Revolution is here. See Wikipedia entry on Manuel Noriega for details on the Panama conflict. This site tells of American pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain.

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I'm Eating A Croissant In Honor Of The French Voting Majority

France votes overwhelmingly against EU membership. Instapundit has beaucoup links. PowerLine has an electoral map.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Judge Bars Divorced Couple From Wiccan Upbringing Of Son this story:

An Indianapolis father is appealing a Marion County judge's unusual order that prohibits him and his ex-wife from exposing their child to "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals."

The parents practice Wicca, a contemporary pagan religion that emphasizes a balance in nature and reverence for the earth.

So what's the judge's excuse?

The parents' Wiccan beliefs came to Bradford's attention in a confidential report prepared by the Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau, which provides recommendations to the court on child custody and visitation rights. Jones' son attends a local Catholic school.

"There is a discrepancy between Ms. Jones and Mr. Jones' lifestyle and the belief system adhered to by the parochial school. . . . Ms. Jones and Mr. Jones display little insight into the confusion these divergent belief systems will have upon (the boy) as he ages," the bureau said in its report.

Some observations:

  • In divorce proceedings, judges typically don't (or shouldn't) intervene in upbringing issues over which both parents have no disagreement - except if the upbringing environment involves criminal conduct. In the comments to his own post at In The Agora, Ed Brayton says:

    The question at issue is whether the judge has the authority to determine that a given religion is bad for a child solely on the basis of it causing "confusion" with the more dominant religions in his social contexts. Clearly, no such authority could be justified without a very compelling interest. The exceptions to the free exercise clause should be drawn very narrowly. To make an exception solely on the basis of such alleged confusion would justify all sorts of intrusions into the private religious decisions of parents. Given that both parents are of the same religion, that it is entirely legal to be wiccan, and that parents are rightly given enormous leeway to raise their children in the religion they choose with only very narrowly tailored exceptions involving a direct harm to the child, I have a hard time imagining even a hypothetical justification for such a ruling in this case. Unless there is something truly crazy going on that hasn't been noted in the press - naked orgies in front of the children, or something like that - it seems obvious to me that the judge is going far past his authority in this case.

    Captain Ed offers the same argument:

    The important and relevant fact is that government has no business telling people how to practice religion unless the rites themselves break the criminal code (i.e., if someone practiced human sacrifice, etc). The child's attendance at a Catholic school has no relevance to the parents' practice, or even that of the child.

  • Note that Judge Bradford didn't rule that the Joneses had to choose between Wicca and the Catholic school.
  • The judge is right about one thing: the conflict between parental and school doctrine does present a dysfunctional environment. But the same situation exists when socially conservative parents, especially Christian ones, send their children to public schools infested with Political Correctness. Is the kid who has to balance between the Catechism and the Wiccan Rede worse off than the evangelical who has to balance between real history and revisionist PC history, between sexual discipline and PC sexual permissiveness, between real tolerance and the mindless conformity that PC masquerades as tolerance? Hey, maybe the ruling could serve as a precedent for making government schools unconstitutional...
  • The parents are clearly not offering Catholicism and Wicca as equally viable worldviews. That would be cruel - but not the criminal sort of cruelty described above.
  • If this sort of ruling isn't nipped in the bud, it won't stop with real fringe religions. Keep in mind that a lot of people think of "Christian fundamentalism" as "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals."

Friday, May 27, 2005

Crushing Of Dissent - Italian Edition

Oriana Fallaci is facing criminal charges in Italy for defaming Islam in her recent book La Forza Della Ragione (The Force of Reason). Dagger in Hand has an English translation of the offending sections of her book.

Clayton Cramer brings this news story home:

If this reeks of the college speech codes that leftists love so much, yes, exactly.

He also contrasts how the religiously defamed respond in two different societies:

I guess one of the most startling aspects of Islamic fanaticism is the extent to which the fanatics can't tolerate criticism. One of the tipoffs of how radically different our worldviews are is this demonstration by followers of an Iraqi cleric whose turban is wound too tight:

NAJAF, Iraq (AP) - Thousands of Shiites, many waving Islam's holy book over their heads, protested the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq on Friday, setting off clashes in at least one southern city as they answered a call by an anti-American Shiite cleric to paint Israeli and American flags on the ground and stomp on them.

Am I happy to see these idiots insulting our flag? No. It stirs strong feelings in me, so much so that I just have to...laugh. Clearly, this flag stomping was designed to enrage U.S. forces and American public opinion so that they would overreact--in the same way that Newsweek's bogus claims of Koran desecration caused Muslims to start rioting--and killed other Muslims.

In the U.S., liberals were just thrilled at having the government fund art intended to offend Catholics (the crucifix in urine, the Madonna in elephant dung). These are about the same level of offensiveness as the supposed flushing of the Koran. These art exhibits made Catholics upset--so much so that these narrow-minded sorts wanted the government to stop taxing them to fund insults. I must have missed the Catholics who, incensed over these insults, started riots that left scores dead.

There's more. Joe Bob says check it out.

Read my old post on another such contrast. Here is a summary:

  • American theaters show The Last Temptation of Christ: deaths - 0, injuries - 0, buildings destroyed - 0
  • A Nigerian columnist remarks that Mohammad would approve of beauty pageants: deaths - 50, injuries - 200, buildings destroyed - at least 11 (ten churches, distribution office of the paper that published the column)

Read also this old post that, among other things, explains the problems with "hate speech" criminalization.

No word on whether the Fallaci case is spurring anti-Italian violence.

Update: Gee, would Salman Rushdie be facing similar charges if he were an Italian citizen?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Real Terrorist Good, Accused But Unproven Terrorist Bad

At NewsMax, Humberto Fontova contrasts the media treatment of a Cuban exile twice acquitted of terrorism charges...

From the New York Times to USA Today to the Miami Herald, all the big guns of the mainstream media want this anti-Castro "terrorist," who was recently arrested for illegal entry into the U.S., immediately deported.

While hosting "Nightline," Ted Koppel outdid himself on the [Posada] Carriles case, interviewing Â? along with the usual Castro parrots like Anna Louise Bardach and Peter Kornbluh Â? the highly reliable and impartial legal expert, Ricardo Alarcon, also known as Castro's "President of the Cuban National Assembly."

Ted Koppel habitually sneers and snorts when interviewing a Republican senator. He was a veritable Vishinsky when interrogating Swiftvet John O'Neill. But Koppel's demeanor was markedly different as he addressed the propagandist for a mass-murdering Stalinist government, who broadcast from Havana demanding Posada Carriles' immediate extradition. Koppel mutated into a purring little puddycat.

...and a South African convicted of terrorism:

When Nelson Mandela first visited the U.S. in 1990, Accuracy in Media termed the tumultuous and laudatory media coverage as "Mandela Mania." The hero of oppressed people everywhere!" (ABC); "A larger-than-life figure!" (CNN); "A virtual symbol of freedom!" ( CBS). "His name has a mystical quality!" gushed Dan Rather. "A worldwide hero!" continued Gunga Dan, who went on to compare Mandela to Mother Teresa.

Other reports compared Mandela to the pope, Jesus Christ and Moses. The New York Times devoted 23 pages for laudatory articles on Saint Mandela in one single week. Ted Koppel hosted an ABC "Town Meeting" with Mandela where every question was sugar and spice and everything nice.

Not all were fooled by Mandela Mania:

Here's Amnesty International (again, no Klan of rabid right-wingers) in 1985 explaining why it refused to list the media's hero-saint as a political prisoner: "Nelson Mandela had participated in planning acts of sabotage and inciting violence, so that he could no longer fulfill the criteria for the classification of political prisoners."

Read the whole thing.

Fat Chance?

Does obesity kill? Sure - but the risk is not as great as the conventional wisdom suggests.

Greeting Cards For Adulterers

Read the whole sordid thing.

Update: A WBAP listener called the Gary McNamara Show and suggested that the cards are a good thing - they provide evidence to make it easier for the perps to get caught.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The New York Times Is Not Like A Box Of Chocolates - You Always Know What You'll Get

Forrest Gump author Winston Groom responds to the NYT's latest dose of leftism, a review of his book 1942: The Year That Tried Men’s Souls:

Groom wrote the book in light of the Sept. 11 attacks – offering Americans today the perspective of a time after we had been struck at Pearl Harbor – and bounced back.

But in the upcoming May 29 issue of the New York Times Book Review, already made available to the publishing industry, critic Patricia Cohen actually derides the book for its parallels to the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks.

She accuses Groom, a noted military historian, of conducting "a portable pep rally designed to fire up the home team for the next epic showdown. The 'Great Democracy' versus the evil Axis – or more recently, the axis of evil."

There's more. Read the whole thing.

Enterprise Season Four - Archer Through The Looking Glass

(Season Four episode list here)

The next episode begins with that fateful scene in Star Trek: First Contact when the Earthlings meet the Vulcans for the first time. But wait - Zefram Cochrane just shot the Vulcan captain! The Earthlings are stealing the ship! Welcome to the mirror universe, first introduced in the TOS episode "Mirror, Mirror" and featured in several episodes of DS9. The two parts of "In a Mirror, Darkly" features an altered opening credits sequence, which illustrates achievements not in exploration but in war.

In the mirror universe, Maximilian Forrest is the Enterprise captain and not an admiral. Archer is first officer, Mayweather is a MACO officer (Military Assault Command Operation, the commando team that joined the crew on the Xindi expedition), Sato is the captain's woman, Porthos is a large black ill-tempered dog, T'Pol is...there, and Reed, Tucker, and Phlox are in their usual roles. The women sport midriff-baring jumpsuits, a style that will remain in the minidress uniforms of Kirk's time. The agonizer booth has just been invented. Tucker has radiation burns on his face, working in an engineering environment that evidently has less protective shielding than its counterpart in the "normal" universe; one suspects that the Terran Empire is cutting corners wherever it can get away with it, and slapping together warships as fast as it can.

Archer has learned through mysterious contacts that a Tholian installation has opened some sort of space-time portal and captured from an alternate universe a ship from 150 years into the future. He can't talk his captain into going, so he stages a mutiny. He gives Mayweather a promotion to personal bodyguard; Mayweather has the rigid personality of a military cadet forever standing at attention. Archer orders Tucker and T'Pol to install a captured Suliban cloaking device. Their work is sabotaged, and the evidence points to Tucker, who is subjected to hours of the agonizer booth. The real saboteur is T'Pol, who made Tucker do the deed via a mind meld. She frees Forrest, and the mutiny is quelled. But the ship continues toward Tholian space, as Admiral Gardner, having received Archer's findings on the Tholian project, orders Enterprise to investigate.

Enterprise finds the Tholian installation, with a little help from a Tholian pilot who had been captured earlier, and tortured for information while held in decon. (The Tholian's appearance is quite faithful to that of what little we see of the TOS original.) There they find the Federation starship Defiant, which had vanished (and almost took Kirk with it) in "The Tholian Web." Archer leads an away team, which includes T'Pol, who has orders to assassinate Archer. But the Tholian has a hidden transceiver and is sending distress signals. Phlox kills it, but not before Tholian vessels descend on the ship. Enterprise is held in a spherical web, and si destroyed; all but Forrest get to the escape pods.

Archer gets Defiant up and running, blows away the Tholians, retrieves the crew, puts on a TOS uniforms, and inherits Sato from his deceased captain. Some of Defiant's parts had been cannibalized by the Tholians; others critical to reconfiguring the warp drive have been stolen by an intruder. A work crew of aliens captured by the Tholians is on board, and they are questioned. The saboteur is a Gorn, which Archer eventually tracks down and kills with his new TOS phaser.

Memo to the Star Trek crew: STOP REDESIGNING THE ALIENS! A Gorn is a slow-moving, bulky, tailless Tyrannosaurus Rex, not an agile man-sized Velociraptor. Didn't you people learn anything from the Fraudzilla debacle?

Defiant arrives at a battle between the ISS Avenger, commanded by Admiral Black, and a Vulcan/Andorian force. Archer defeats the rebels, and in a meeting with Black he insists on a field promotion to captain with Defiant as his command. The admiral refuses, and Archer kills him. He sends a message to Admiral Gardner and demands Starfleet's surrender - make Archer emperor, or face the wrath of Defiant.

Archer also intends to rid Defiant of all its nonhuman crew except for Phlox; apparently the Denobulans aren't part of the rebellion. T'Pol organizes an effort to stop Archer by sabotaging Defiant, and even manages to get Phlox's help. The plan is thwarted, and Archer destroys Avenger in the process. He celebrates over champagne, but something has been slipped into his drink. He sees Sato embracing Mayweather and realizes his fate. Sato is now in command, and as she approaches Earth she announces herself as the empress of the Terran Empire. Whether the drink was lethal or not is uncertain; if Sato is really cruel, she will let Archer live many long years to witness the reign that could have been his.

Diehard Trekkies will note two incongruities. First and foremost is the amazing speed that the Mirror Tholians were able to cast web. It is possible that their counterparts had the same web technology but that it was greatly hampered by the dimensional rift. Or maybe the Mirror Tholians had better web technology all along. Or maybe they were able to vastly improve it with some of the parts they cannibalized off of Defiant, gadgetry their counterparts didn't have.

The other is Defiant's aft torpedo launcher. Every Trekkie knows that during Kirk's five-year mission the Constitution class had only four forward-firing torpedoes. But just because that was the standard compliment doesn't mean that certain ships didn't get special refits.

I have a theory: that mirror-universe humans are more prone to paranoid schizophrenia, and perhaps to other psychological disorders rooted in brain chemistry. Mirror Archer exhibits two classic symptoms: paranoia (duh) and voices in his head. Perhaps Cochrane is another example; if his story is not mere propaganda to discredit the Vulcans, he believed that the unarmed Vulcan emissary was leading an invasion. Mirror humans in general are far less cooperative than their counterparts; inherent psychological imbalance coudl offer an explanation.

One of the best scenes is Tucker's torture at the hands of Reed. I have to wonder if there's an outtake where Connor Trineer drags Dominic Keating into the agonizer booth.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Blogroll Expansion - Former Iron Curtain Edition

@rgumente Romanian blogger Dragos Novac runs Krogos Software, a small software firm in Bucharest. This is mainly a techblog, delving into such topics as software parks (no, not some mutant Disney-Microsoft venture) and software industry developments in Romania and abroad.

Draxblog Next stop: Split, Croatia. Bloghost Dragan Antulov muses over Balkan politics and Croatian reality shows.

The Glory of Carniola Bloghost Michael has a FAQ page here. The name of the site is explained here. This post addresses media accuracy (heh). Here is a design for Slovenia's Euro coin; I suspect that the EU commissioners are not so enlightened to accept this proposal.

Neeka's Backlog Veronica Khokhlova is the blogosphere's chief correspondant in Ukraine. She has photos of traditional Ukrainian folk here, here, and here. Recently she marked the 61st anniversary of Stalin's deportation of the Crimean Tatars

Ostracised from Österreich From behind the old Iron Curtain to its front doorstep. Österreich - Austria - is the land that gave us Mozart and Schwarzenegger - and this blog. Georg Niklfeld lives in Vienna - see bio here. Georg comments on the prospects of an independent Kosovo, and in this post he ties the 50th anniversary of the Austrian State Treaty (see Wikipedia entry for background info) to some current political issues.

Update: The blogroll map has been updated.

Not Exactly Veggie Tales

This is cool. (Via Oxblog)

Friday, May 20, 2005

Enterprise Season Four - Exotic Dancers Take Over The Ship

(Season Four episode list here)

This is my ship! You can't take...uh, could you do that again?

Enterprise encounters an Orion vessel, whose captain Harrad-Sar has an offer the Earthlings can't refuse. Archer and Reed go on board to hear the proposal: Harrad-Sar will give the coordinates to a planet rich in magnacite for Earth to exploit, and in return he will get a cut of the mining and processing operations. During the meeting he calls out three slave girls to dance for the guests (their worse-than-amateurish choreography offset by beauty and hyperactive pheromones - more on that in a bit), and the Orion captain offers them as a gift.

Archer takes them on board, intending to release them from their slavery when he finishes his current mission. The women prove to be a major distraction. The women - except for T'Pol - are suffering headaches; the men - except for Tucker (who is staying aboard to oversee repairs) and Phlox - are unusually antagonistic and delusional. Phlox himself is fighting an early triggering of his hibernation cycle. The doctor finds the culprit: potent pheromones inherent in Orion females. (I don't even wanna know what Augment medical technology would do to those pheromones...) Vulcans are evidently immune to the effect, and T'Pol theorizes that a quasi-psychic bond that had developed between herself and Tucker is passing on that immunity to him somehow.

The ship reaches the magnacite planet, and is fired upon by a craft less advanced than Enterprise. Archer orders its destruction, Reed disobeys, and the ship moves off before Archer can fire on it himself. Kelby, Enterprise's new chief engineer, sabotages the warp engines after a liaison with one of the Orion women. Archer discovers that the women had been in contact with Harrad-Sar, and has them held in decontamination.

The Orion ship arrives. The deal regarding the magnacite planet was a ruse to get the women on Enterprise so they could use their hormonal powers of persuasion to arrange for crippling it. The Orion has a price on Archer's head for his previous encounter with them in the Augments three-parter, and Harrad-Sar intends to collect. He also reveals that he is under the womens' spell as much as most of Enterprise's crew. In Orion society, the women are the real rulers - which makes sense, considering their innate powers of suggestion.

Harrad-Sar attaches a grappling cable to the defenseless ship, but T'Pol and Tucker have a plan, just as the women arrive at the bridge after having escaped from decon. After stunning several of their crewmates with phase pistols, the two send an energy pulse through the cable and disable the Orion ship. The alien women are sent back to the Orion ship as the crew's pheromone high gradually tapers off. T'Pol admits to Tucker that she wants him back on board, and Tucker says he'd already put in for a transfer three days ago with Captain Hernandez to return to Enterprise.

In the two-part episode set in the mirror universe, an Orion woman is seen among the crew of a Terran Empire ship. One suspects that the Empire woudl require her kind to take regular pheromone-suppressing medication - but it wouldn't surprise me if the Empire went to the extreme of having their pheromone-producing glands completely removed.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Long-Negelected Task

I have finally updated the "Salute to Estonia" hyperlink (see icon near top of sidebar) so that it leads to this year's Index of Economic Freedom report.

My Own PhotoShop Contest

My submissions really don't catch the spirit of Patrick Ruffini's PhotoShop contest (see earlier post), so I've decided to host a contest of my own. Send me your PhotoShop/Paint Shop Pro/whatever creations depicting bloggers as Star Wars characters. Here are the rules:

  • Image width must be no larger than 400 pixels, the standard width of most of the images I put on this site.
  • No nudity.
  • No vulgar language in any images that contain text.
  • Remember that this is about bloggers AS Star Wars character, not WITH them. If you depict Glenn Reynolds blending an Ewok, he must be PhotoShopped as one of the characters.

Deadline is whenever I feel like it. I'm making this up as I go along.

Enterprise Season Four - Klingons Discover Industrial-Strength Botox

(Season Four episode list here)

The episodes "Afflicton" and "Divergence" reveal the origin of the smooth-headed Klingons seen in TOS. The Roddenberrians could have simply pretended that the Klingons had the cranial ridges all along, they way they pretend that Andorian antennae always protruded from the forehead, but the DS9 episode "Trials and Tribble-ations" committed the Star Trek canon to the change in Klingon appearance.

Our adventure begins when aliens kidnap Phlox and deliver him to a Klingon research facility, where he is pressed into finding a cure for an illness that threatens millions of Klingon lives. He traces the illness to a mutated flu virus, and recognizes traces of human Augment DNA. The Klingons had recovered some of the embryos from the wreckage of the ship captured by Augments earlier in the season, and used them to conduct their own Augment research. One of the rersearch subjects had the flu, and the Augment treatment turned the flu into a lethal plague.

Back at Earth, T'Pol performs a mind meld on Sato, who was with Phlox at the time of the attack. Sato recalls that the captors spoke Rigelian. Enterprise tracks down the ship that took off with Phlox but finds it destroyed; no trace of Denobulan DNA is present. A Klingon vessel attacks and beams aboard several Klingon Augments who sabotage the warp matrix. During a firefight all escape by transporter, except for one who is stunned by a phase pistol. The crew is confused when it discovers that the human-appearing saboteur is Klingon.

They also learn that the black box recovered from the Rigelian ship was erased. Investigation traces the act to Reed. Archer has him thrown in the brig, and unsuccessfully tries to pry his tactical officer for information. Reed withholds (for now) the fact that he is working for the Section 31. Reed had been in subspace contact with Harris, his control at Section 31, but had erased his communications logs. T'Pol is able to reconstruct a portion that turns up Harris' name.

The sabotage threatens to blow the injectors, but this can be alleviated by maintaining high warp. (Sound familiar?) Columbia comes to the rescue. In a great visual, the two ships fly within 50 meters of each other, and Tucker travels along a tether to get to his old ship to perform an emergency cold start to the warp engines. (Inconsistency alert: in the TOS episode "The Naked Time" Kirk says that such a cold start had never been done before.) He saves the day, and the two ships proceed into Klingon space to rescue Phlox.

Archer learns from Reed of the existence of a medical research facility where Phlox is likely being held, and from the Klingon prisoner (with some effort) the facility's location.

At the facility, General K'Vagh orders Phlox to perfect the Augment process; Phlox refuses, wishing on no one a repeat of the Eugenics Wars. He and the lead Klingon physician Antaak (played by an engaging John Schuck) trick K'Vagh, pretending to comply with his order while actually seeking a cure for the plague. Enterprise arrives, and Archer beams down. Phlox has a cure, but needs a host to produce antibodies. Under duress, he agrees to allow the captain to fill that role.

But there's a deadline to meet. The Klingon authorities had decided to contain the plague by sending Fleet Admiral Krell to destroy the research installation. As Enterprise and Columbia battle the Klingons as the base is bombarded, Phlox comes up with a plan that his evil twin in the mirror universe might admire. He beams a container of the contagion over to Krell's ship, infecting the entire crew, giving Krell a powerful incentive not to destroy the base that houses its cure. The sterilization program is cancelled, Reed gets back into Archer's graces as he severs ties with Section 31, and Antaak ponders a career in cranial plastic surgery.

This two-parter answers one question and raises others. Note that the softening of the cranial ridges was a result not of the Augment treatments but of the mutated virus. So, instead of two sets of Klingons you've got three: the original stock, non-Augments like Antaak and Krell who contracted the virus, and Augments, all of whom were also infected. What kind of jolt to Klingon history does this bring? It wouldn't be surprising if the two sets of infected Klingons were branded with some sort of dishonor (or worse), and this event would eventually trigger a civil war that the smooth-heads would win, explaining their predominance in the TOS-era Klingon fleet. It also wouldn't surprise me if Krell were to seek revenge against the Denobulan who intentionally infected him and his crew. I smell some movie plots.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

May The Force Be With Your PhotoShop/Paint Shop Pro Skills

Patrick Ruffini is sponsoring a PhotoShop contest. He is looking for pictoral depictions of Republicans as Star Wars characters. Go to his site for the details.

I'm not sure if these guys are Republicans, but I submitted these:

Joshua Claybourn and Vader photo Josh-Vader.jpg

Josh Claybourn (and friend)

Darth Lileks photo DarthLileks.jpg

James Lileks

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Milestone In Kuwait

Women now have the right to vote. (Link via the Rottweiler)

Tim Blair also has the story.

Cause vs. Influence

Damian Penny makes a point about the Newsweek scandal:

The Newsweek story probably doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Theo van Gogh's Submission, but the story did not cause these 15 deaths any more than van Gogh's movie caused his own murder. Those who acted on their murderous impulses, ultimately, bear all the responsibility. All of it. Anything less seems like our own version of the "American policy was the root cause of 9/11" argument.

We must distinguish between cause and influence, as Damian demonstrates. Let me raise another issue: distinguishing between weak and strong influences. An influence is strong only if a) it is relevant to the subject's chief motivations, and b) if it is not counteracted by other strong influences that draw the subject into a different direction.

There's a reason why the old predictions of massive anti-Muslim rioting in America didn't come to pass: America by and large lacks the cultural elements that breeds such thuggery - unlike, say, Afghanistan. Note that our country's Muslims aren't killing people in the wake of the Newsweek article. Our Muslims don't live in a society dominated by thugs and a state-controlled press that severely curtails their knowledge of the rest of the world (and even their own corner of it). And they don't see Americans killing each other over allegedly antisemitic or anti-Jesus religious films. They don't see anyone bombing the National Endowment of the Arts for its taxpayer funding of sacrilege. I'll say it again - we have the most peaceful ideological discord in the world.

I am deeply concerned about the message of the Koran as it relates to common civility. But if eternal violent jihad against the infidels is its true context, certain Western influences - and alternate Koranic interpretations - are serving as countermeasures in this country. I hope it can last.

Enterprise Season Four - Andorians And Tellarites And Romulans, Oh My!

(Season Four episode list here)

The Enterprise has its hand full, escorting a delegation of Tellarties to a meeting with Andorian diplomats to settle a trade dispute, and picking up survivors of an attack that destroyed an Andorian ship - Shran's ship - apparently at the hands of a Tellarite vessel. Enterprise is later attacked by an Andorian ship, and Archer orders pursuit.

They eventually spot a derelict ship with no life signs aboard. Reed and Tucker lead an away team, clad in environmental suits. The "derelict" powers up; all but Reed and Tucker are beamed back on board before the ship starts attacking Enterprise. T'Pol learns that it is a Romulan vessel, operated by remote control and housing an elaborate holographic array that allows it to masquerade as other ship classes. The Romulans evidently want to start a war between Andoria and Tellar.

Shran and his mate Talas get past a guard and seeks revenge in a confrontation with the Tellarites. Archer intervenes, but not without phase pistol fire, and Talas is gravely injured by one of the aides, Naarg. Archer presents evidence that the Romulans were behind the attacks. After receiving word that a Rigelian freighter is attacked by what appears to the the Enterprise, Archer begins to assemble ships to hunt down the marauder. He can't get enough without Andorian and Tellarite support, an encounters an obstacle as Talas dies and Shran challenges Naarg to a duel. Archer finds loopholes in the Andorian honor code to take Naarg's place and to win the match without killing Shrans - he cuts off an antenna, which will eventually grow back, and which incapacitates the Andorian long enough to end the duel. Shran later thanks Archer for honoring Andorian custom. The fleet action can now commence.

Meanwhile, Reed and Tucker are battling the Romulans. By the end of the first episode, the two managed to get to the bridge despite the Romulans' knocking them around with wild piloting maneuvers - and no inertial dampers online to counter the effects. Tucker disables the warp matrix, but is coerced into undoing the damage by the remote Romulans. They manage to escape from the ship during a battle with Enterprise. The marauder makes it back to Romulan space.

Archer learns that the rogue ship is being controlled by technology that requires a powerful telepath to operate, and that the pilot is part of an Andorian subspecies known as the Aenar. Archer and Shran locate an Aenar settlement, and learn that Gareb, one of their people, had vanished some time back. His sister Jhamel accompanies Enterprise on its mission, but not without initial resistance by her pacifist leaders who want no part in the inevitable conflict.

The Romulans send two of the experimental craft after Enterprise. Destabilizing the region is vital to their plans to reunify with Vulcan, and those pesky Earthlings are getting in the way. As the battle gets underway, Jhamel operates a makeshift telepresence unit built in sickbay and manages to contact her brother. Gareb makes one of the ships destroy the other and leaves the survivor defenseless against Enterprise. Valdore, the project's commander, shoots Gareb. Jhamel is comforted in his heroism and in that, via the telepresence unit, he didn't die alone.

As the last episode of the three-parter closes, Tucker puts in for a transfer to the NX-02 Columbia, believing that his feelings for T'Pol are interfering with his work.

One of the more enjoyable elements was Archer's adaptation to the brutal honesty of the Tellarites. Trek Nation's review of Part 1 agrees:

What's not to enjoy about hearing a Starfleet captain say "You people are even uglier than I remember" as a negotiating ploy? That whole scene, really - Gral announcing that Enterprise is small and unimpressive, and Archer noting, "I was about to say the same thing about you." Whee, Scotty should have tried that on the Klingons when they said his Enterprise should be hauled away as garbage! I'm with Tucker: it's very refreshing to hear people speak their minds without having to hear them making speeches.

This is the series' last appearance by the Romulans. We know that they want reunification with Vulcan. But is that an end in itself, or does Romulus have much larger goals to which reunification is just a step? In the Trek timeline, the Romulan War is just a few years away; perhaps in a future film we will be given that answer. Hopefully without the overused superweapon plot device (scroll to bottom of post for reference).

Monday, May 16, 2005

I Am The Walrus

Andrew Sullivan makes a startling discovery.

This Is Not Ceaucescu's Romania

Michael Radu has a fascinating FrontPage Magazine article on Romania's response to the kidnapping of three of its journalists in Iraq, and its significance in the War on Terror.

Sign Of The Apocalypse #527

John McCain says good things about religious conservatives.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Enterprise Season Four - Mad Scientists And Non-Corporeal Aliens

(Season Four episode list here)

In "Daedalus" the Enterprise takes a break from space combat and takes Emory Erickson, the inventor of the transporter, out to a region known as The Barrens to test an experimental transporter technology that theoretically has a range of light-years. An apparition is sighted on the ship. In one instance it comes in contact with a crewman, who dies later in sick bay. Later, Archer sees it in the shuttlepod bay, and it touches a power coupling or something and causes some relatively minor damage. T'Pol comes into slight contact and manages to get some tricorder scans.

Archer learns that Erickson lied, that he's really out to undo the damage of an earlier experiment of some years back. The apparition is Erickson's son Quinn, who was sent into sub-quantum limbo as a result of that earlier experiment. Erickson has figured out how to (hopefully) bring him back, but he needs a lot of power to pull it off. Tucker is enraged over the recklessness that cost a life and threatens the ship's very existence - frying a minor power system is one thing, the warp engine is another. Archer okays the attempt to bring back Quinn. Tucker hot-wires the warp engines to give the transporters the extra power, but it's not enough for Erickson to fully materialize Quinn and keep his cellular integrity intact at the same time. As it becomes obvious that the attempt will fail, Erickson materializes his son anyway to bring closure to the situation.

It's off to another strange new world to seek out new life - and become infected by it. "Observer Effect" has Sato and Tucker shuttlepoding down to a planet to examine some wreckage and coming down with a silicon-based virus, and Phlox must boldly cure what no man has cured before. But the microbes aren't the only extraterrestrials on board - Reed and Mayweather are possessed by non-corporeal beings.

The aliens have been doing this gig for a long time. Every time a ship comes by, they observe crew response to the inevitable infection. Sometimes the entire crew perishes, sometimes a select few. A Klingon vessel, for instance, had shot down its own away team's shuttle rather than take the infected crewmembers aboard. (Does that count as dying honorably in battle?)

Sato goes delirious and temporarily breaks out of decon, but Tucker retrieves her and the rest of the ship is saved from infection. Phlox sedates them, but shortly he looks at his video monitor of decon and sees the two talking. The aliens had picked a private place to talk, but quickly realize they're under surveillance. They confront Phlox while inhabiting T'Pol and Archer, and reveal not only their mission but the fact that they have the power to cure the infection - which they will not do because of their people's own version of the Prime Directive. Phlox the hypocrite is shocked, shocked that they would refuse to treat Sato and Tucker because of some non-interference philosophy - not too far removed from what Phlox did in the first-season episode "Dear Doctor". The aliens also have the power to rewire short-term memory in corporeal species; they do so to Phlox as they'd done to their various hosts.

Archer and Phlox don environmental suits and bring the two to sickbay for an experimental radiation treatment. (I assume all Phlox's animals are in a separate room.) Sato soon goes into cardiac arrest. Enviro suit gloves being too bulky for operating defibrilators, Archer does the heroic thing and takes his off to try to save Sato, but to no avail. Tucker is given the radiation treatment, but it doesn't work. Archer places T'Pol in command, and Phlox leaves sickbay while the captain stays behind. Tucker dies, but is immediately inhabited by one of the aliens. The one inhabiting Mayweather had been having second thoughts about their non-interference directive. The other shortly inhabits Sato. They identify themselves as Organians (they appear in the TOS episode "Errand of Mercy") and state the nature of their observer mission. Archer resents that they didn't consider face-to-face contact, and lectures them on the compassion that Phlox talked him out of in "Dear Doctor".

Soon the crew finds that the virus is inexplicably cured, and no one has memory of the Organians, who now face the prospect of having to deal with the humans up front in as little as 500 years. It'll be sooner than that - and another Enterprise will be involved.

Trek Nation is annoyed with these two episodes for recycling old plots from several past shows. See the reviews here and here. I can live with plot recycling if the same plot isn't recycled too often. That was a problem I had with Star Trek: Nemesis. They had Picard setting out to destroy a superweapon in three out of the four movies he appears in. If Archer's Enterprise ever hits the big screen, I hope the Roddenberrians come up with a little more plot variety.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

From Fake Documents To Fake Statements

In a CBS Evening News interview by Gloria Borger, Ken Starr said that he opposed the "nuclear option" that would eliminate the use of Senate filibusters to obstruct voting on judicial nominees.

Or did he?

Here's the CBS News website's original reporting of the interview:

Many conservatives consider the fight over judges their political Armageddon, but conservative icon and former federal judge Ken Starr says it has gotten out of control, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger.

"The confirmation process has not only become ugly and has become a shouting match," he said. "This is a radical, radical departure from our history and our traditions and it amounts to an assault on the judicial branch of government."

Starr, who prosecuted the Monica Lewinsky case against President Clinton, said the Republican plan to end the filibuster may be unwise.

"It may prove to have the kind of long term boomerang effect damage on the institution of the Senate that thoughtful senators may come to regret," he said.

There's a problem here. What Starr called a "radical departure" was NOT the "nuclear option." Rush Limbaugh has the scoop (emphasis added):

I am in receipt of an e-mail written by Ken Starr in which he clarifies this, because they've been inundated at his office from people all over the place who are perplexed, curious, outraged. They don't understand. "Why in the world would you say this about the nuclear option?" Starr said, "I didn't say that about the nuclear option. I was talking about something else." Let me share with you some details. This is an excerpt of the Starr e-mail: "I have now seen the CBS report. Attached is an exchange with Steve Engle, who alerted me earlier today to the other dimensions of the wild misconstruction of what I said in the Gloria Borger interview. Here's a brief background. I sat on Saturday with Gloria Borger for 20 minutes approximately, had a wide ranging, on-camera discussion. In the piece that I have now seen, and which I gather has been lavishly quoted, CBS employed two snippets. The 'radical departure from our history' snippet was specifically addressed to the practice of invoking judicial philosophy as a grounds for voting against a qualified nominee of integrity and experience. I said in sharp language that that practice was wrong. I contrasted the current practice and that employed viciously against your father with what occurred..."

Update: PowerLine Blog also has the story.

Update: Glib & Superficial warns us not to blame the interviewer - someone other than Gloria Borger did the editing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Yalta Roundup

Read Joe Conason's original article blasting Bush for calling the Yalta conference a bad deal for eastern Europe. Who agrees with Bush? Professor Bainbridge finds some Eastern Europeans. Pej finds some Latvians and Anne Applebaum. Reason's Matt Welch finds some Clinton Democrats, including Clinton himself. PowerLine Blog finds, well, itself - in a 2003 post.

Enterprise Season Four - The Vulcan Reformation

(Update: Season Four episode list here)

In my season premiere post, I stated my impression (based on hints from Star that the Enterprise crew would be facing two sets of terrorists early in the season - the Augments and whatever is afoot on Vulcan. As it would turn out, the bombing of the Earth embassy on Vulcan would be the work of something else entirely. The attack leaves 43 dead, including Admiral Forrest, who dies pushing Soval out of the path of the explosion. Archer is called to lead the investigation.

Found on bits of shrapnel are fingerprints of T'Pau, leader of a dissident group known as the Syrannites. Upon this revelation, the High Command's Administrator V'Las takes over the investigation. Phlox discovers the DNA evidence was forged, and Soval - reluctantly - performs a mind meld (the practice was then taboo among Vulcans) on a comatose survivor, and learns that the bomb was planted by High Command security chief Stel.

Meanwhile, Archer and T'Pol are seeking out the Syrannites in a region known as "The Forge," whose unique features interfere with communications and sensors. Earlier in the show, T'Pol had learned from her husband Koss that her mother T'Les is a Syrannite, and was given a pendant that contains a holographic map of the Forge. She and Archer find a Vulcan named Arev, who is wary of the two - until he recognizes the pendant. His true name is Syrran, the sect's founder, and he carries the katra of the great Vulcan philosopher Surak. Their travel is interrupted by a sandfire, a weather phenomenon that crosses desert sandstorms with ball lightning. They take refuge in a cave, but an explosion near the entrance mortally wounds Arev, who instigates a mind meld with Archer before his death - transferring the katra to the unwitting captain.

They find the Syrannite encampment, where they are greeted with an unfriendly welcome, but the tone changes when they learn of Syrran's death. Where's the katra of the founder of our philosophy? The human? Nooooooooooooooooo! (Good thing the Vulcans have all that emotional training, otherwise Archer would be witnessing the mother of all conniption fits.) Their new leader is a young woman named T'Pau, who will later gain a British accent and officiate over Spock's wedding in the TOS episode "Amok Time".

V'Las has decided to bombard the Forge, ignoring Soval's evidence (and is quite disgusted by his means). Enterprise is ordered to leave orbit so that its crew will not witness the atrocity. Tucker, in command, refuses. Vulcan ships drive back an attempted shuttlepod rescue. On the surface, Surak's katra guides Archer to locate a mysterious artifact known as the Kir'Shara. The Syrannites, including T'Les, are wiped out in the attack, but Archer, T'Pol, and T'Pau escape on foot.

The truth finally comes out. The High Command plans a preemptive strike against Andoria, based on intelligence that the Andorians are building a WMD based on Xindi technical data. The Syrannites are pacifists, and would have obstructed such plans. V'Les staged the embassy bombing to provide a legal excuse for liquidating the sect. Soval informs Enterprise. The ship leaves for Andoria with the ambassador aboard.

Tucker arranges a meeting with Shran, who is leery of Soval's claims. Shran clandestinely beams Soval aboard his ship, and has him strapped to a torture device that inflicts no physical pain but short-circuits a part of the
Vulcan brain that regulates emotion. On a sufficiently high setting, this can be lethal. (Recall a TOS episode - "Plato's Stepchildren", I think - where McCoy warns that forcing emotions on Spock could kill him.) The interchange between these two patriots is one of the great moments in Trek. Shran is convinced of Soval's honesty, and the Andorian fleet readies for the invading Vulcan fleet.

V'Las sends out men to track down Archer and company, They capture T'Pol and bring her to the High Command. Archer and T'Pau arrive there just in time for the start of the fleet battle, with Enterprise fighting on the side of the Andorians. Slow down our warp program, huh? Keep us from exploring the galaxy, huh? Eat hot photons, you pointy-eared weasels! With prodding from Surak's katra, Archer activates the Kir'Shara, and it displays a holographic record of Surak's original writings. These originals had been lost, and were eventually distorted over time. The High Command are informed of V'Las' duplicity. V'Las is stripped of office, and the attack is called off. In a final scene, viewers learn that the deposed leader is working secretly with the Romulans toward reunification.

Regarding the title of this post, there are two significant differences between these events and Earth's Reformation. First, there is no parallel to the Kir'Shara - the Protestants didn't produce a lost Scripture but disagreed on the interpretation of that already in existence. (And they rejected the canonicity of a few apocryphal books.) Second, the persecution on Vulcan is one-sided, whereas on Earth it came from both Catholics and Protestants.

We are given no hint as to how Surak differed from the watered-down version of his teachings as instituted by the Vulcan High Command, except that modern society had rejected mind-melding whereas Surak did not. There is brief mention of the Vulcan government cracking down on dissidents other than the Syrannites; it does seem illogical that a pacifist philosophy would support the government use of force to regulate culture. On Earth, the Enlightenment (or certain parts of it) would serve as the driving force eroding government regulation of religion and micromanagement of general culture. The Vulcan counterpart will be left to our imaginations.

Update: I forgot to mention that at the end Koss salvages some of his honor by telling T'Pol that he will annul the marriage. T'Pol didn't want it; and she went through with it only for the sake of her mother, whose death makes her reasons for agreeing to the marriage moot.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Public Service Announcement

Emperor Misha has the goods on Starforce, a software company that takes copy protection to such extremes that employ computer-performance-wrecking malware. UbiSoft products use Starforce's copy protection. Read the whole thing, and spread the word.

Enterpise Season Four - The War Is Over, But There's Another Master Race To Fight

I'll be doing some Trek bloggage over the next few days, starting with a string of reviews of Season Four. My post on the season opener is here.'s Season Four episode list is here.

After the Xindi War and unexpected participation in the Temporal Cold War, the Enterprise finally gets back home. The episode "Home" gives a hint of the (not surprising) undercurrent of xenophonia, a topic which will return with a vengeance in the three-part finale. A lot of Earthlings are understandably worried about the genuine military threats that come hand-in-hand with interstellar exploration. I'll delve into that topic at a later date.

It also introduces two of the major characters in ab upcoming storyline set on Vulcan - T'Pol's mom T'Les (no explanation as to why her dad is deceased) and old "flame" Koss. T'Les had been fired from her scientific post for political reasons, in retaliation for T'Pol's involvement in the destruction of the P'Jem monastery. Koss says he can pull strings to have T'Les reinstated, but demands her hand in marriage in return. After much consternation, T'Pol relinquishes.

Archer is grilled over his more controversial decisions during the war. In the end, the captain faces no criminal charges, and manages to earn some increased respect from Soval, one of the best-developed characters in all of Trek. There's also some filler time with Archer camping out with Erika Hernandez, old flame and new captain of the NX-02 Columbia. We'll be seeing her again.

Adventure time starts once again, with one of the series' best storylines. At the conclusion of the Eugenics Wars of the early 21st century, the victors got hold of a cache of Augment embryos. To avoid an obvious ethical dilemma, the embryos remained in cryogenic storage and were eventually housed in a remote facility. A scientist named Arik Soong (ancestor of Data's creator, Noonian Soong) had stolen 19 of them and raised them in the Trialas System. The authorities eventually caught Soong, but not the Augments. These "children" have now captured a Klingon vessel, and Archer is ordered to track them down, with Soong furloughed from prison to assist.

Soong engineers an elaborate escape attempt involving an Orion slave market, but fails. Orion ships hevaily damage the Enterprise but are driven off by the Augment-captured Bird of Prey, which docks with Enterprise after the battle. Malik, the leader, catches Archer in a potentially lethal headlock by surprise and demands Soong's release.

Soong takes the ship to Cold Station 12 to retrieve 19 more embryos (Soong has only the original incubators he used the first time), and plans to build an Augment civilization somewhere out there. If there were 19 Augments to begin with, why only 17 on board? Their original leader Raakin was killed by Malik; Malik tells Soong that it was an accident during a scuffle instigated by Raakin, but the entire Augment crew knows Malik murdered him out of a belief that Raakin was "leading them astray" - that is, for not leading them directly into settling vendettas against inferior humans. The other, Smike, is discovered by the Enterprise crew at Trialas; he was left behind because he was "inferior" - he didn't have any of the Augmentations except for the heightened hearing.

Soong had long blinded himself to the emotional instability inherent in the Augments, and is horrified when confronted with the awful truth. Malik needlessly kills a scientist and Smike during the showdown at Cold Station 12, and has set the station to release a lethal pathogen after the Augments escape with the 19 embryos. Soong decides to work on the embryos to weed out the instability, and Malik sees this as a betrayal. He also objects to Soong's plans to colonize a world in the Briar Patch, an inhospitable region where starfaring races will not bother them. (During the argument, the name of Khan Noonian Singh comes up; Soong dismisses the rumors of the Botany Bay and her Augment crew as a fable.)

Malik has different plans. Along with the embryos, he had taken from Cold Station 12 a pathogen that he plans to release on a Klingon world in order to start a war between Klingons and humans, "which would keep Klingons and Starfleet embittered and embattled as the Augments rise to power" (source). Persis tells Soong the truth of Raakin's death and arranges for his escape from the BoP via escape pod. Malik discovers her role and kills her. Enterprise picks him up, and Soong eventually convinces Archer of Malik's plan.

In the final confrontation, Enterprise stops the pathogen-armed torpedo and cripples the BoP. Malik sets the ship to self-destruct and manages to get aboard Enterprise somehow, where he tries to kill Soong but is shot dead by Archer. The Klingons are satisfied (despite Enterprise's tresspassing), and Soong is on his way back to prison, wher he decides to research artificial lifeforms.

Seeing Brent Spiner again was enjoyable. The man can truly act; his four Trek characters (Arik and Noonian Soong, Data, Lore) are truly separate individuals and not personality clones of one another. His agony over Malik's atrocities is riveting. Another noteworthy performances is Dr. Phlox's battle of wills with Malik at Cold Sorage 12. Malik gives the viewer a glimpse into the mindset that got the Eugenics Wars started. Would like to have seen a bit more of the other Augments besides Persis and Smike, though. Best comic relief is when Archer bluffs his way past a Klingon patrol; Scott Bakula can ham it up pretty good.

Update: I forgot about Spiner's other android character: B-4 from Star Trek: Nemesis.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Wishful Thinking At MIT

The campus is sponsoring a convention for time travelers:

Why not, say some students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have organized what they call the first convention for time travelers.

Actually, they contend that theirs is the only time traveler convention the world needs, because people from the future can travel to it anytime they want.

"I would hope they would come with the idea of showing us that time travel is possible," said Amal Dorai, 22, the graduate student who thought up the convention, which is to be this Saturday on the M.I.T. campus. "Maybe they could leave something with us. It is possible they might look slightly different, the shape of the head, the body proportions."

The event is potluck and alcohol-free - present-day humans are bringing things like brownies. But Mr. Dorai's Web site asks that future-folk bring something to prove they are really ahead of our time: "Things like a cure for AIDS or cancer, a solution for global poverty or a cold fusion reactor would be particularly convincing as well as greatly appreciated."

This doesn't come without its practical benefits:

He would also welcome people from only a few days in the future, far enough to, say, give him a few stock market tips.

I'm not from the future, but I've got a tip: don't buy General Motors.

Time travel will never be invented if politicians and prominent figures can help it. The risk is too great that the technology will be used to get live video of their pasts. Just imagine what those SwiftVet ads could have been like.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Stifling Of Dissent, United States Senate Edition

In the wake of the FEC vs. blogs controversy, a lot of bloggers wrote Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold expressing outrage that the FEC could interpret the law bearing their names to infringe on the free speech rights of bloggers. I wrote Senator McCain, using the form letter on his site.

Well, by golly I got a response. I received a letter from his office yesterday. Here it is in its entirety. There is a serious problem with this letter; pay close attention and see if you can spot it.

Dear Mr. Henderson:

Thank you for contacting me regarding campaign finance reform and "527 groups". I appreciate you taking the time to share your views.

As you know, after seven years of sometimes fierce and vigorous debate on the issue, President Bush signed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) into law on March 27, 2002. On December 10, 2003, the Supreme Court, in McConnell v. FEC, upheld the constitutionality of key provisions of BCRA dealing with soft money and electioneering communications. This legislation ended the practice of the President, party leaders, and members of Congress soliciting huge donations from corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals. BCRA's overriding goal was to reduce the corrupting influence of unlimited soft money contributions to political parties, usually solicited by federal candidates and office holders. There can be no doubt that this new law has improved the system. Despite the predictions to the contrary, the parties have thrived, raising as much in limited donations from individuals in this cycle as they did in hard and soft money combined in 2000.

While BCRA has proven successful, the recent growth of political committees commonly known as "527" groups, referring to their tax-exempt status under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, having emerged as a new vehicle for raising and spending illegal soft money. 527 groups supporting both presidential candidates illegally raised and spent tens of millions of dollars in soft money on ads and partisan voter mobilization efforts to influence the presidential election. At the core of the financing of these 527 groups was a relatively small number of very wealthy individuals making very wealthy soft money contributions. Four individuals alone gave a combined total of $78 million to these groups! The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has shamefully failed to do it's [sic] job to require these obviously political groups to register as political committees, which would obligate them to comply with the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974.

Contrary to the opinions of those opposed to campaign finance reform, the 527 issue as nothing to do with BCRA. It has everything to do with the original 1974 campaign finance law and the failure of the FEC to do its job to properly regulate the activities of these groups. The BCRA reforms continue to function, despite the presence of the 527 groups. It is significant that FEC-registered hard money contributions to the 2004 presidential campaign has outnumbered the 527 political groups spending by a factor of seven at the last count.

Because the FEC has failed to properly enforce federal law and require the 527 groups to register as political committees, I have introduced legislation along with Senator Feingold that would require all 527s to register as political committees unless they raise and spend money solely in connection with non-Federal candidate elections. It is unfortunate that the Congress must take legislative action requiring the FEC to properly enforce the law, but we cannot allow the obstinate acts of non-elected commissioners to obstruct the law and to dilute the influence that average Americans have in determining who will lead their country.

Again, thank you for contacting me regarding campaign finance reform. Please feel free to contact me on this or any other matter of concern.


John McCain
United States Senator


This is completely irrelevant to the letter I sent. I demanded that he fight to keep the FEC's hands off bloggers' First Amendment rights. I wrote nothing about 527 groups. Sadly, I didn't think to copy and save the original letter. Hey, I didn't get replies from Eddie Bernice Johnson, my own Congressional representative at one time, in response to a couple of letters I sent her. I didn't expect one from an Arizona Senator.

One can easily get the impression that the letter wasn't read at all, that McCain's staffers simply plucked the addresses from all recent emails with the "campaign finance" tag selected, and cranked out a letter on McCain's concerns rather than ours.

The letter has its share of fiskable points, including:

  • Claiming that 527s violate the 1974 FECA without citing at least a smidgen of chapter and verse (would love to see an analysis by a learned scholar).
  • The impropriety of quoting the sum of 527 donations from four individuals without quoting the sum garnered by all others.
  • The assumption that the FEC should place the same regulations on ALL 527s. A George Soros punditfest is not the same thing as a bunch of veterans getting on TV to tell people that they're being lied about by a presidential candidate. If the idea is to target the megarich few, then why target the vast majority of 527 donors?
  • The statistic that hard money outnumbers 527 money by 7 to 1 doesn't exactly make the 527 menace look all that alarming.

One more thing: a tax code with at least 527 sections needs to be carpet-bombed.

Update: I recall that in my original letter to Senator McCain I stated that BCRA should be amended to guard against the sort of FEC "mission creep" described in Declan McCullagh's The Coming Crackdown on Blogging. Interpret that not as an endorsement of BCRA but as a temporary measure. The long-term solution calls for replacing BCRA and FECA with election laws that, among other things, respect the difference between campaign finance and the free press.

Stifling Of Dissent, Iran Edition

Reporters Without Borders tells of the hazards of the online press in the city of Qom. Direct links added, not in original. Both linked blogs in Farsi, not English.

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a crackdown on cyber-journalists and bloggers in the southern city of Qom where Mojtaba Lotfi, who is serving a nearly four-year sentence for articles he posted on the Internet, is gravely ill in prison and where local courts are harassing two bloggers, Farid Farid Modaressi and Mohamad Reza Fathi.

"Writing about politics or even social issues is an act of bravery in Iran, especially as the local authorities are now taking over the role of gagging bloggers from the central government," the press freedom organization said.

"For this reason, we hail the human rights report which has just been adopted by the European parliament and which condemns Iran's 'abject policies' towards journalists and cyber-dissidents," the organization added.

A teacher, Fathi was first summoned on 26 March by Edareh Amaken (a police office who specializes in investigating vice) and interrogated about his blog,, in which he has criticized the provincial government and the mayor of Saveh, near Qom. In a letter to President Mohammad Khatami, he voiced exasperation at the "scant capacity of civil servants to accept criticism."

The local police arrested him nine days later in the street, in front of his students, and paraded him handcuffed through the city. He was held for three days and was questioned again in a secret session without his lawyer being present. On his release, he was resigned to closing down his blog, despite its local popularity. Nonetheless, he will have to appear before the local judicial authorities again on various charges including publishing false information, insult, and disturbing the peace.

Modaressi, a blogger who was already imprisoned for a month at the end of last year, has received a summons to appear before a court in Qom on 14 May on charges of "insulting regime officials" in comments about the president and others in his blog, He has also been summoned to appear before a Tehran court on 10 May on a charge of "attacking state security."

Reporters Without Borders has learned that the health of Lotfi, a cyber-journalist and Qom resident, has seriously deteriorated since he was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison in February. The conditions inside the prison have reportedly aggravated a lung ailment he has had since being exposed to chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq war.

In its report on human rights worldwide in 2004, that was approved on 28 April, the European parliament condemned Iran's "abject policies" as regards the arrest and imprisonment of journalists and cyber-dissidents and violations of press and media freedom.

Thanks to Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi for emailing the article.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Latest In Anti-Religious Paranoia

The Rottweiler and Captain's Quarters fisk a New York gathering of lefists whining about the political influence of the Religious Right. (If only such influence would allow Bush to confirm all his judician nominations within a single term.) Meanwhile, National Review's Stanley Kurtz reviews Harper's Magazine's series of articles collectively titled "The Christian Right's War On America." Kurtz puts this "war" in perspective (emphasis mine):

Traditional Christians are openly excoriated in the mainstream press as evil, fascist, segregationist bigots. Their political speech is placed under legislative threat. Their institutions of higher education are attacked and destroyed. Naturally, America’s traditional Christians are fighting back. They’ve turned to the political process in hopes of securing for themselves a space in which to exist. Weary of being the butt of hatred by those who proclaim tolerance, conservative Christians are complaining, with justice, about the all-too-successful attempts to exclude them from society.

Rush Limbaugh discussed the feature on his show today. One item that caught my attention was a Harper's author's claim that the Religious Right wants to bring back slavery. One could address the historical ignorance (few religious conservatives share the same cultural origins as Civil War-era Southern aristocrats), or the leftist refusal to accept that any great number of Christians who interpret the Bible according to original intent actually believe Jesus' exhortations to treat people of all classes with dignity, that the Good Samaritan parable and Jesus hanging out with tax collectors and sinners and lepers mean nothing. (That doesn't preclude fisking them when they're wrong; next time soneone tells you Jesus never condemned anyone, show 'em Matthew chapter 23.)

I'll hit on another false assumption: that slavery is economically beneficial, or is perceived to be by any great number of Christians. On paper it looks like a good deal - Mister Plantation Owner has a bunch of workers and his only expense is housing and food. But there are tradeoffs. The plantation must hire its equivalent of jailers. Its most crucial opportunity loss is a loss in productivity. Voluntary labor is simply more productive than involuntary labor.

If the plantation owner makes a profit (I've read that many went into debt in the long run - sorry, no links), he doesn't make as much as he would have had he hired a voluntary workforce. Getting rid of the jailers alone would decrease his labor costs, and the greater productivity would reduce his need for farmhands. Slavery may be a good deal for the special interests involved in slave commerce, but as the economic gap between the Confederacy and the Union illustrates, the benefits don't go far beyond that. If involuntary labor were such a boon, Cuba would be richer than Florida.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

May Day

Today marks the international holiday celebrated by the international labor and Communists movements. I will celebrate by patronizing at least one non-union capitalist establishment: Wal-Mart. I only need groceries today, so there won't be anything in the shopping bag with a "Made in China" sticker on it. But if I see anything labeled "Taiwan ROC"...

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