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March 31, 2006

working for a paper called the “christian science monitor” probably wasn’t a real plus either

Jill Carroll, the freelance journalist working as a stringer for the Christian Science Monitor and who had been abducted this past January was released unharmed yesterday by her captors.

Shortly after she was dropped off at a branch office of the Iraqi Islamic Party, Carroll said, "I was treated very well. That's important people know that.” One person who will not have the opportunity to know that is Allan Enwiya, her interpreter. He was treated in a manner that could be described as "less well” having been brutally shot and killed during Carroll’s abduction.

But otherwise she said that she had been provided with plenty of food and was able to take showers when she wanted but had limited access to outside news and was largely confined within the building where she was held. Of course, that just made the whole experience not unlike a trip on Royal Caribbean cruise lines (only without the gastrointestinal distress).

Now some might be hasty and question the remarks she made that the war in Iraq is illegal and the American army cannot possibly win but those were made while she was still being held captive by her interrogators and we should give them no more weight than we would any remarks made under similar circumstances. We’re thinking Supreme Court nomination hearings as only one example. Also, anything Scooter Libby says. (Not to mention my occasional explanations as to why I “smell like a brewery” which often entail an unlikely series of events involving a farm tractor hauling a stack of barley, a fire truck, and an adorable little mutt of a dog everyone just calls “Scrappy.”)

Shortly before her release, Carroll was threatened with death if she cooperated with the Americans.  This was, of course, a totally outrageous demand.  She's an American journalist.  Of course she won't cooperate with the Americans. 

Carroll is scheduled to head back to the United States within a day or two where she is expected to get professional help and undergo treatment and counseling by which we mean sign with a top agent, negotiate a lucrative book deal, and appear on Oprah.


March 31, 2006 at 01:18 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 30, 2006

at first we thought it was a paper on brazilian monetary policy

Sure, it was risky, but when the stakes are high you’ve got to be willing to take some risks. And so with much fanfare the Democratic Party introduced yesterday a plan that has been years in the making, their own blueprint to ensure the safety of America. A set of proposals they call, “Real Security.”

In addressing the needs of a “21st Century Military,” the Democratic plan starts off with what everyone was already thinking but were too afraid to say out loud: We need a “state-of-the-art military,” that guarantees that our troops “receive the pay, health care, mental health services, and other benefits they have earned and deserve.”

This kind of bold talk has caused some nervousness in the party. “I don’t know,” commented one Democratic Congressman facing a tough reelection battle in a swing district. “You can take chances with this high-minded stuff when you’re in a safe seat but they're calling for things like ensuring that the National Guard ‘is fully manned, equipped and available to meet missions at home and abroad.’ I run on that and I risk being labeled as some kind of extremist.”

“I've got to either come out against gay marriage or start going to church more to counteract this.”

Possibly the most innovative part of the document is the section that addresses the “War on Terror.” With calls to “eliminate Osama Bin Laden” and “destroy terrorist networks like al Qaeda,” the Democrats have challenged conventional thinking, catching Republicans completely off guard.

“Look at this,” observed a GOP strategist, “they propose to ‘redouble’ efforts to halt nuclear proliferation. We thought about increasing our efforts by maybe 50% but no one thought to go for actually redoubling them. They’ve really raised the bar with this.”

Regarding Iraq, Democrats take a multi-pronged approach but in no way suggest that we should “withdraw” our troops as has been maliciously claimed by Republicans. Instead, Democrats seek a “redeployment” of our troops. Yes, redeployment does share some characteristics with withdrawal but it is important to point out that it is pronounced completely differently. Further, Democrats seek to not just encourage our allies and other nations to help out, but to “strongly” encourage them. Sure, that’s tough talk, but these are tough times.

And of course we must be careful that we don’t stray too far from addressing our greatest national security threats: Halliburton and “big oil interests.”

Finally, Democrats propose that we strive towards energy independence. Remember disco? Remember bell bottoms? Laverne and Shirley? Well then you remember The Carter Energy Plan too. And so do Democrats. With calls for “conservation incentives,” “enhanced energy efficiency” and “increased production of alternative fuels” (anything but actually drilling for, say “oil”) you can almost here Abba in the background… “Dancing queen, long and lean only seventeen…”

Republicans are scrambling to react, with some calling to “quadruple” efforts to stop nuclear proliferation and still others proposing to provide our troops with pay and benefits that are in fact “more than they deserve.”

But really there is only one thing they can do, the one thing that has worked reliably in times of political peril.

Can you say, “Threat Level?”


March 30, 2006 at 01:00 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 29, 2006

the more things stay the same, the more they stay the same

Bowing to mounting pressure to make some big changes at the White House, President Bush finally relented with a sweeping restructuring of his staff that consisted  of not only accepting the resignation of long-time White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card, but even further, naming Joshua B. Bolten to take his place.

As one clearly shaken White House staffer observed, “It feels like when one of those Iraqi insurgents sets off a car bomb in a crowded market in Baghdad, only there’s just one person in the market. And nothing else gets damaged. It’s just like that. I feel shell-shocked.”

It is hoped that Joshua Bolton, seen as a real “outsider,” is just what is needed to shake things up. Sure, He’s worked for the President since he was governor of Texas and was employed in the White House early in the President’s first term, but he has spent the last several years as director of the Office of Management and Budget which is not only a different department, but is in a whole other building.

“Look, we know Andy extremely well,” commented one West Wing employee, “but this Bolton guy they have coming in, we only know him very well. So you can just imagine how nervous we all are. Is he a half-n-half guy? Full cream? Decaf? We have this whole coffee thing down pat in the break room, have for years, you know? Everyone knows what to do and where everything goes and now that just gets blown all to hell.”

Democrats responded swiftly with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid commenting from the steps of the Capitol building, “This is just another example of the ‘culture of corruption.’ And incompetence. And why can’t they find a six-foot tall guy with kidney problems in Pakistan… Katrina… what was the question again?”

What kind of upheavals can we expect in the coming months? Among them:

  • Far-reaching changes in stationary and envelopes.
  • Extensive retraining of the staff to ensure that when they refer to Joshua Bolten, they use the name, “Joshua Bolten.” (A transition period may be put in place during which employees may refer to him as “TCOSFKAAD,” The Chief Of Staff Formerly Known As Andrew Card.)
  • Two office chairs and an old credenza are said to be on the short list for “removal.”
  • While some wall hangings will be replaced, pictures of Andrew Card’s wife and kids will be kept on the office desk so as to “minimize disruption.”

When organizations undergo these kinds of sudden staff reductions, “survivor’s guilt” often sets in among those who remain. (In this case, everyone other than Andrew Card.) It is common to ask, “Why wasn’t it me? He has a wife and kids to support!” But don’t feel badly. A man like Andrew Card knows that with some pluck, a dash of drive, and a little something we like to call vast personal wealth, he’ll eventually find a way to land on his feet.


March 29, 2006 at 01:11 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 28, 2006

oh, sure, it seems obvious now but that’s only because you know the result

In yet another piece of scholarly work sure to turn conventional wisdom on its head, a study published last week suggests that attractive young college students have more sex than those who aren’t so attractive.

Which really explains a lot personally but that is a subject best left to my other blog, “All About Me and Cats And People Who Are, Like, Mean for No Reason,” voted “Most Whiny Personal Diary Blog” of 2005. (Thanks everyone!)

Dr. Eva S. Lefkowitz of the Pennsylvania State University conducted the study under a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD) which already this year published groundbreaking research that found that binge drinking, the use of tobacco and illicit drugs, and sexual activity are all greater for adults than they are for children. ("These trends are quite stunning," principal investigator Kathleen Mullan Harris observed.)

Dr. Lefkowitz’s study focused on the role of “body image” which is a relatively new area of social research. Earlier in human history body image issues certainly existed but were centered on more pedestrian concerns such as being impaled on a sword or finding yourself covered in painful oozing sores. Sure, these events could easily result in the development of a body dysmorphic disorder or other depressive syndrome but in the prioritizing triage of the day, those considerations were placed below “not dying.”

But body image is only one of Dr. Lefkowitz’s many pursuits. She also notes that, "I am interested in the development and interrelationships of sexual attitudes and behaviors, gendered attitudes, romantic relationships, conversations with friends, involvement in campus activities, religious beliefs, and ethnic identity.” Also, long walks on the beach, quiet dinners at home and a special someone to share them with.

But we digress.

Dr. Lefkowitz did find a difference between men and women in that men with a positive body image tended to engage in more sexually risky behaviors such as having a higher number of lifetime partners, more limited condom use, and a greater likelihood of experimenting with trapeze equipment and dessert toppings (although that last set may be more our own inference than anything else).

Dr. Lefkowitz concludes from these findings that parents sending sons off to college may want to consider "really emphasizing not just go forth and feel good about yourself, but also within those messages emphasizing the importance of protecting yourself and respect for women." One suspects that Dr. Lefkowitz always adds “respect for women” to whatever advice she happens to be giving regardless of its relevance. “It’s going to be a cold one so make sure you bring a hat and your respect for women,” or, “you’ll want to go two blocks, take a left, respect women for another three blocks, and then take a right at the Exxon.”

Also, I’m not sure about other parents, but “go forth and feel good about yourself” were not among the parting words my own mother and father left me with as I started college. If memory serves it was more along the lines of, “get good grades and try to stay out of jail” (which suggests a possible new study topic ripe for an NICHHD grant: “Staying out of Jail and Good Grades -- Demonstrable Correlation or Just Crazy Coincidence?”)

This is surely not the last we've heard of Dr.Lefkowitz as she is hard at work on a five-year study looking at “how adults and their parents communicate and examining the extent to which parents dominate conversations.”

Our guess? “A lot.”


March 28, 2006 at 02:27 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 27, 2006

cont’d - a lawn care guide for political partisans

A few more additions to yesterday’s list to further help get you on your way to a rich, healthy lawn:

Dick Cheney Guide to Lawn Care:
It’s always important to target the right weed with the right tool. For instance some people will mistakenly try to eradicate red deadnettle with no. 9 birdshot and a modified choke when that is clearly more suitable for getting rid of henbit, buckhorn plantain and irritating lawyers. (If you’ve got some heavy brush to clear, or, say, the White Press corps you’ll want to go with some 00 buckshot.)

Ted Kennedy Guide to Lawn Care:
Rather than try to address your weed problem directly, just call them something else. You have a dandelion problem? Not anymore. That’s your new flower garden. Ground ivy? Nope, that’s just “landscaping!”

Pat Buchanan Guide to Lawn Care:
Any grass that isn’t American grass is a weed. Bermuda grass? Too foreign, get rid of it. Zoysia? Too Jewish-sounding, get rid of it. Buffalo grass? Kentucky bluegrass? Okay, now we’re back on track.

Al Gore Guide to Lawn Care:
Because of their naturally accelerated rate of growth, weeds can actually be a useful carbon sink and so serve to remove substantial amounts of C02 from the air. I have a slideshow if you’d like to see it which we can follow up with a detailed review of my 173-point plan for proper aeration... Hey, where are you going?

US Border Patrol Guide to Lawn Care:
Weeds? What weeds? There are weeds here? Here? These are weeds you say? But the bag said it was bentgrass. So you’re saying the bag is wrong and these are weeds. I don’t know about this…


March 27, 2006 at 11:29 PM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 26, 2006

a lawn care guide for political partisans

Now that spring is upon us it is time once again to start thinking about the care and feeding of your lawn. To help our readers cut through all the confusion and complexities that are often involved in choosing a lawn-care strategy, we have prepared an easy-to-follow guide that sidesteps difficult questions regarding climate and soil conditions and instead concentrates on what is really important: Your particular political persuasion:

President Bush Guide to Lawn Care:
Douse your neighbor’s lawn with Roundup based on rumors you heard from the guy down the street that he had kudzu. When no kudzu is found, note that you were only trying to establish a lawn from which fescue could spread and flourish throughout the neighborhood.

Senator John Kerry Guide to Lawn Care:
Point out all the mistakes your neighbor is making in lawn care including his choice of seed, weed killer, and his watering and mowing schedule all the while taking care not to offer anything that could be mistaken for being a specific suggestion on how to do it better.

Donald Rumsfeld Guide to Lawn Care:
No matter what it says on the bag of grass seed, use half as much as recommended. Repeat as necessary.

Representative John Murtha Guide to Lawn Care:
Pull out all your remaining grass and just let the weeds fight it out among themselves.

Paul Wolfowitz Guide to Lawn Care:
Encourage your neighbors to take dramatic action on weed control no matter what the risks or costs. Then move away.

Senator Russ Feingold Guide to Lawn Care:
Who cares about the lawn, sue the lawn care company!

Russian Guide to Lawn Care:
Tip the weeds off to when ChemLawn is arriving, how many sprayers they have, and what chemicals they are using.

Iraqi Insurgent Guide to Lawn Care:
Attack the infidel chickweed with righteous fervor until the soil runs green with its chlorophyll leaving the land purified for the chosen hairy bittercress.

French Student Guide to Lawn Care:
Complain bitterly about the poor shape of your lawn but whenever anyone in the family suggests making changes in the way you take care of it, refuse to go to school and set your garage on fire instead.

Planet Moron Guide to Lawn Care:
You ever hear about how Guinness is actually a great lawn fertilizer? Neither have we. So instead, just liberally pour down throat until you stop caring about the lawn. 

Repeat as necessary.


March 26, 2006 at 12:59 PM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 24, 2006

you know what they say, “don’t get messed up in texas”

Many people bemoan the inefficiencies of the American justice system, wishing that more could be done to trim such time-consuming requirements as conducting investigations and holding trials.

Texas has gone a step further and has not only done away with those bothersome chores, but has cut right to the chase by eliminating all the wasteful time police used to spend waiting around for actual crimes to be committed.

As we reported last fall, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has begun sending undercover agents into bars to arrest patrons for public intoxication, the stated intent being to stop them before they drive drunk.

As B.J. Hassell, with the Texas MADD chapter (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) observed, "Can you imagine if TABC had not stopped those people from leaving the bar, how many more drunk drivers we might have had on the road?"

We’d have to imagine because, you know, they hadn’t actually committed that crime.

The issue received renewed attention this week as the program has been scaled up, resulting in over 2200 arrests since its inception. That’s 2200 potential crimes stopped before they were committed by potential criminals. Now that’s good police work. Potentially.

And Texas isn’t the only state to engage in this kind of innovative approach to law pre-enforcement. Police in Fairfax County, Virginia have made similar sweeps including this past January when they arrested Mike Heidig who was dressed in a Santa Claus suit singing Jingle Bell Rock on karaoke night inside a local bar. Perhaps the arresting officer had watched a bit too much American Idol lately. (“It’s all about song choice and that did not suit you at all. It was just dreadful, I feel like I’m at a high school talent show. You have the right to remain silent and for the love of God, you should exercise it…”)

Like in Texas, the stated intention of this program is to prevent drunk driving. The problem was that Mr. Heidig had left his car at work and made arrangements to sleep at a friend’s house. Similar situations have arisen n Texas where authorities have hit hotel bars and arrested people whose only intent was to get drunk, double-check to make sure they were not going to have sex with the barmaid (they weren’t), and grab the elevator.

This does not seem to bother the TABC’s Carolyn Beck who points out, “There are a lot of dangerous and stupid things people do when they're intoxicated. People walk out into traffic and get run over, people jump off of balconies trying to reach a swimming pool and miss,” which, we should point out, is the heart and soul, in fact the very lifeblood, of the short-form Internet video industry. Take that away and all they’ve got left are Brokeback Mountain trailer spoofs and pirated Family Guy clips.

In Texas, intoxication is defined as "not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties" because of alcohol or other drugs. It is not clear that authorities fully appreciate the potential ramifications that could result if this law is strictly enforced. Number one, you can pretty much kiss goodbye the possibility of any Kennedy family reunions coming to town. It also might jeopardize the upcoming Vans Warped Tour show in Houston. And perhaps most disturbing of all, calls into serious question the legality of convening the Texas state legislature.

As for you, the reader, your choice is clear.

Don’t potentially do the crime, if you can’t pontentially do the time.


March 24, 2006 at 12:51 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 23, 2006

peace is the answer! unless maybe “help!” is the question.

According to a statement from the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) of which they are a part, captured peace activists Harmeet Singh Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember “have been safely released,” sort of in the same way France had been “safely released” from occupation by the Nazis in World War II. (Some things just “happen.”)

The CPT statement further said of the captives, “They knew that their only protection was in the power of the love of God and of their Iraqi and international co-workers.” Oh, and also a couple dozen heavily armed American and British soldiers who came to their rescue. Those guys too. The CPT probably meant to say something about that but you know how the editing process is, some stuff is just going to get left out of these statements. It’s always rush rush rush with the deadlines.

The CPT further believes that “the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping,” suggesting a longing for the kind of security that existed prior to the illegal occupation such as that provided under the enlightened leadership of Uday Hussein. Now that was security. Unless you were a Shiite. Or an attractive woman.  Or perhaps an underachieving Olympic athlete (let's just say Sasha Cohen would have gotten a one-way trip to the wood chipper). But beyond that, it was pretty much a Mennonite-like paradise in Iraq.

Doug Pritchard, co-director of the organization, told reporters he believed the hostages had survived their ordeal because of their "commitment to peace and justice,” implying that fellow CPT activist Tom Fox, captured with the others and riddled full of “root causes” before his body was dumped by a Baghdad railway line might not have had the same commitment to peace and justice. Either that, or there just may be something to the whole armed commando rescue thing and weeks of diligent work on the part of coalition forces willing to risk their lives. (Probably something they should look into. Maybe after they get the Jews out of Palestine. That would free up some time.)

As Jim Loney, one of the rescued, er, we mean “released” captives once wrote:

"With God’s abiding kindness, we will love even our enemies.”

Their friends? Not so much.


March 23, 2006 at 01:35 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 21, 2006

elevating the general baseline of oratory

Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security, has come under criticism of late for being little more than a technocrat, steeped in the jargon of the profession and overly wonkish when what is really needed is a true leader capable of inspiring those around him.

Others believe Chertoff is exactly what the department needs, lending a bureaucratic expertise to a complex labyrinth of dissimilar departments.

With that in mind, we have given the following selected excerpts of soaring political oratory “the Chertoff treatment” so you can draw your own conclusions.

Abraham Lincoln – Gettysburg Address

During a period eighty-seven years prior to today, those with command and control responsibilities introduced a political framework designed to create an equality-based adoption model.

Now we are engaged in a civil conflict that calls into question whether or not that framework will conclude with a satisfactory value-added progress dimension. We are here today to create situational awareness of the public and private stakeholders who sacrificed their lives towards this mission-critical endeavor.

It is therefore for us the living, to dedicate ourselves to the reintegration of a unified national command structure so that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall remain a viable vehicle for the administration of public affairs to the satisfaction of its constituents.

Martin Luther King – “I have a dream”

I have near-term visibility that one day black men and white men will affirm their co-dependent interrelation and rejoice in their optimized connectivity. I have near-term visibility of a period in which men are not judged by the color of their skin, but by a non-prejudicial review of progress as measured against stated performance objectives. I have near-term visibility.

So go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to the slums and ghettos knowing that a properly risk-managed systems approach to community structure can transform current hierarchical architectures to more horizontal social ecosystems in relation to existing baselines.

And when we let freedom ring from every standard metropolitan statistical area and every incorporated municipal entity, from every duly recognized state governing authority and every semi-autonomous ruling sovereignty, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children will be able to join hands and vocalize as in a melody, the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Released from subjugation at last! Released from subjugation at last! Thank God Almighty, we are released from subjugation at last!"

Winston Churchill – “We shall fight them on the beaches”

We shall engage in forward-theater force projection in France, we shall engage in forward-theater force projection on the seas and oceans, we shall engage in forward-theater force projection with growing confidence and growing strength. Even if, which I do not for a moment believe, our security envelope diminishes in size so as to encompass an area substantially smaller than this Island, then we shall implement deployable assets from jurisdictions external to our current  zone of conflict  until, in God's good time, a cessation of hostilities will commence with appropriately favorable terms.


March 21, 2006 at 09:47 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 20, 2006

they can just agree to disagree… forever

With the Republican Party in disarray and seemingly incapable of unifying behind a single message, Democratic hopes of winning back the House and Senate this fall have been dealt a severe blow. 

“Opposing Republican policies has always been one of our bread-and-butter issues,” observed one Democratic Party strategist. “If the GOP doesn’t get its act together soon and start coming up with things we can be opposed to, all we’ll have left is abortion and general condescension towards people who don’t live on the coasts. It’s like a three legged stool, remove one of the legs, and the stool becomes unstable. Kind of like Howard Dean.”

Republicans recognize the problem.  "That whole uniform bipartisan agreement in Congress over the Dubai ports deal?  Okay, that was just embarrasing for everyone involved," admitted one Republican media consultant.  "Sure, you could say we accomplished something but that's not what mobilizes the base."

Democrats are particularly dismayed over the diminishing impact of bashing the President.  As one senior party member noted, "Look, everybody’s against Bush now.  It’s like organizing a campaign around opposition to Ben Affleck. Outside of a few fanatical hardcore supporters, you’ve got everyone on your side already."

Republicans don't expect to reach agreement on a coherent set of policies any time soon. “We’ve got two factions within the party right now,” admitted one GOP insider. “One faction wants to run on our traditional principles of small government and fiscal responsibility while the other faction wants to actually implement those principles.”

“Frankly many of us regard that as just plain reckless."

With internal disagreements over immigration policy, deficit spending, and the war in Iraq, Republicans can at least rely on social issues to help rally supporters. “All I can say,” noted an aide close to Republican Senate leaders, “is thank God for the gay rights movement.”

While Democrats considered coming out strongly against Republicans being against gay marriage, they ultimately decided not to. “Yeah, we thought about that,” remarked a DNC staffer, “but that would be kind of a double-against which could be misinterpreted by some as actually being for something. And that wasn’t a risk we were willing to take.”

This leaves voters with a difficult choice to make:  Support the party that isn't for anything, or the party that isn't against anything.

Just try not to get the two confused.


March 20, 2006 at 11:12 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack