29 May 2005

French Vote No! EU Constitution Doomed!

Not that I care, although actually I do. Feel free to ask me why, but expect a 10 to 20 day turnaround and about a 10,000 word essay in response.

I do think it's very interesting that just two months ago I read in Foreign Affairs that the consequences of a British no vote might tear the EU asunder. At that point I guess nobody thought the French would actually vote no. Next to vote are the Dutch, where polling has shown very similar numbers to the French numbers in the week prior to the vote. The Dutch "No" campaign, emboldened by a French no, is almost certain to succeed next week. The UK doesn't even vote until next year; by that time there will probably have been three or four additional no votes, probably including Denmark and Poland.

Anyway, just news.

Part II

Um, Part II of the This I Believe blog has posted here.

Highway Patrol

This afternoon while driving back across the bay from St. Petersburg I saw a state trooper driving a Ford Excursion. This is the largest of Ford’s three “Ex” vehicles (otherwise known as the Exploder, the Exploitation, and the Excretion), and the one related to the ultra-lux Lincoln Navigator.

Now I’m wondering, what on Earth was that guy doing? Why do they need a Ford Excursion? Are they carpooling in it, because you can put like 12 people in one of those things. Is the trooper actually expecting to pick up 10 people and take them to jail? I’d guess there might be dogs in the back, but the truck didn’t say K-9 on it, which I’m told is required by law.

I don’t know, but it seems to me that with gas prices the way they are, the state Highway Patrol ought to be spending their money on something other than a gas-guzzling luxury SUV.

28 May 2005

This I Believe

NPR has recently restarted an old program called “This I Believe.” In this program, people of note and, often, people of no note at all, submit 500 word essays to NPR for consideration to be read aloud on air.

As soon as I heard about it I wanted to do it. But condensing it down into something so small… well, obviously you can’t cover everything you believe in that space. You have to focus on something, one significant thing. I’ve thought about what this is, what one thing I believe that should be published to the public radio masses, few though they are. And I can’t decide. I have no idea what that one key thing is. But I still… I like the idea so much.

I’ve reached a point in my life where my considerations of what I believe are beginning to weigh heavily on my mind. I used to believe that medicating a psychological problem was a bad idea… but I’m doing exactly that, and I don’t know anymore whether I believe that. I certainly used to believe that I was a conservative. Maybe I still am, but I don’t believe I can call myself a conservative, and I don’t believe the majority of people who would call themselves conservative would have me be one of their number.

I think sometimes about what I used to believe as compared to what I believe now, and I know that it has changed, at least depending on how far back into history I wish to go. 2000? College? High school? Certainly my beliefs have changed in some areas since then. I prefer to think of it, though, not so much as changing as refining. I’ve refined some of my beliefs, through experience and time and age.

We all go through that process. Still, the situation in which I find myself, standing at some sort of precipice and unable to jump, but knowing someone is coming up behind to push me off (I just don’t know when), causes me to want to sit down and really give honest consideration to just what it is that I believe, about life and living, religion, politics, and what it means to be a man. We’ll call this an occasional series; maybe in the midst of it all I’ll come up with something for NPR.

I’ve already written one or two. They are exceedingly long, each approaching 3000 words. Because of this, I’ve decided to post them in another place and link to them from here. This space will continue to be my not-quite-daily digest of things that are on my mind.

With that, here you will find Part I.

24 May 2005

Baseless speculation

I read an interesting column in the Washington Times today about... well about Supreme Court nominations and other things. It's worth a read but I disagree with much of what the author has to say. He starts off by claiming--without literally making the claim--that he is privy to knowledge no one else has, namely that there are going to be two Supreme Court vacancies at the end of this term.

So, for starters, I take issue with the fact that our columnist Mr. Lindberg actually knows anything like this. He doesn't. He's speculating. Even the current SCOTUS law clerks don't know whether any of the current justices are planning to retire at the end of this term, and I'm fairly sure that Lindberg--who is no Linda Greenhouse and certainly has no special privilege with the sitting Justices--doesn't, either. To set himself up as having such knowledge is pretty cheap.

Lindberg is looking for a reason why Bush has been "adrift" lately, and being a Bush supporter I suppose he can be forgiven for doing so. I'd argue the administration is adrift because nothing they're doing seems to work right now. Since his re-election Bush has been a reverse King Midas: everything he touches turns to crap. In similar circumstances I think we'd all be pretty much adrift.

Anyway, Lindberg does not say who the second retirment he expects would be, but says the first will be (no surprise) Chief Justice Rehnquist. Lindberg then goes on to offer advice as to who to put forward for that seat. From a political perspective, I think his advice is wrong on both counts, but then right-wingers see the world differently from me.

Since Lindberg is just speculating here, I think I'll do the same. The following is a completely baseless speculation, which if it turns out to be true will of course not have been baseless at all but rather brilliant prescience on my part. Ahem.

Rehnquist will not retire from the bench at the end of this term as expected.

Why not? Well, Rehnquist's first full term on the Supreme Court was the 1972 term, during which Roe v. Wade was argued and decided. Rehnquist joined in a dissent to the Court's opinion with Justice Byron White; many court watchers believe Rehnquist has been waiting 33 years for a chance to overturn Roe.

Well, this week the Court granted cert (law latin for "agreed to review") a case that comes as close as any other case has to allowing for an overturn of Roe. At issue in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of New Hampshire is the power of states to enforce their own abortion laws. Many people probably don't know (I didn't) that the various abortion regulations passed in the last few years by states, such as parental notification and partial-birth bans, have not been enforced. As soon as these laws are passed, they are enjoined in court by pro-choice groups who claim they are unconstitutional on their face. In Ayotte, the Court will decide whether those prima facie claims are valid.

This will not actually overturn Roe. But should the Court decide that the laws are in fact enforceable, it will send a big signal to pro-life groups that the Court is ready to hear a challenge to Roe, and it won't take long for such a case to reach the Supreme Court. The players are already making plans for the day when this happens.

It is my belief that as long as Chief Justice Rehnquist is physically able to do so, he will stay on the Court to participate in the Ayotte decision. He may step down as soon as the Justices have reached a decision, or he may wait for the end of the session if his health allows it. But I imagine he really wants to hear this case, and he'll do so if he's able.

So, you heard it here first. And if I turn out to be wrong, hey, it's just baseless speculation. Tod Lindberg got paid big bucks for baseless speculation. Where's my money?

More Scott Maddox bashing

I didn't use to hate Scott Maddox, and in truth, I'm not sure I'd characterize my attitude toward as hatred. But he does some to be... an idiot. At the very least.

Some of the party faithful are losing faith in Maddox, and I suspect it’s going to be his downfall. In just the week since he officially joined the campaign for governor, he’s had nothing but bad press.

Last week, he was criticized for acting as an unregistered lobbyist for a developer in Leon County while serving as Democratic Party chairman, lobbying for a development reviled by environmental advocates who’ll play a major role in the upcoming primary.

Then today news comes that in the last two weeks of his tenure as Democratic party chairman he gave a sweetheart contract to a friend of his for $100,000 worth of party planning services, without asking for bids.

The friend of his has been caught in a classic lie and, like so many people in public life, is incapable of recognizing when she’s full of shit. The company’s owner, Allie Merzer, sent an email to friends last week that has become public in which she said that her company is a “subsidiary” of a business owned by Maddox. Yesterday, after the email came to light, Merzer said that had been a bad choice of words and the two companies were independent.

Let’s be frank. Allie Merzer is a liar. Nobody says “subsidiary” when they mean “independent.” Nobody is that stupid, certainly not anybody capable of owning a subsidiary business and getting sweetheart deals from powerful friends. It takes some amount of guile to get a deal like Ms. Merzer did, and guile requires intelligence, and if you are even remotely intelligent you know damn well what the word “subsidiary” means, and it sure doesn’t mean independent.

Have you ever noticed how often this happens? An idiot says something he or she clearly meant to say, but three days later upon realizing people don’t like it the idiot claims he misspoke or his words were twisted. This is just plain lying, that’s all it is; I’d like to see more reporters say so.

So add to the unethical sweetheart deal the fact that Maddox is friends with a liar. (No surprise there; he is a politician.)

And now there are signs that Maddox abrogated almost all his duties in the last three months of his tenure as party chairman. In the first quarter of this year, when Maddox was thinking about running for governor, the party raised just a quarter of a million dollars, 1/12 of what the state GOP raised and the worst quarter in the last several years. When Maddox stepped down to make his vanity run for governor, he left his party with only $3,100 in the bank and over $12,000 in debts.

Of course Maddox’s biggest supporters all say he reinvigorated the party’s base and brought its fundraising apparatus back from the dead. But how can one of the two major parties in a state with 16 million people be called “reinvigorated” while almost nine grand in the hole?

It looks the Democrats are going to figure out that Scott Maddox is more concerned with Scott Maddox than anything else. Good for them.

What on Earth is wrong with North Carolina

More wackiness out of North Carolina churches this week. You already know how I feel about it, but here is a link to the article so you can read it and just imagine me foaming at the mouth.

I like North Carolina. My parents own a cabin up there and I like it very much. But exactly what is it in the water up there that causes pastors to lose their minds? I just don't understand it. I suppose I never will.

23 May 2005

Howard Dean speaks

And he does it without screaming or saying anything embarassing. I want to highlight this one comment he made toward the end of his interview with Tim Russert on Meet The Press. Many people were somewhat shocked when Dean was elected to head the Democratic party (said Newt Gingrich, "The Democrats must have a death wish."), but as long as he keeps sounding as smart as he is, rather than as dumb as Joe Trippi wants him to be, I think he'll be very good for the party.

I don't really have any comments to add to this quote, other than that I quite agree with the good doctor.

"I don't go to church all that much. I consider myself a deeply religious person. I consider myself a Christian. And I don't--you know, some of the other Christians would dare to say that I'm not a Christian. Frankly, it's what gets my ire up. We get back to the Rush Limbaugh stuff. I am sick of being told what I and what I'm not by other people. I'll tell you what I am. I'm a committed Christian. And the fact of whether I go to church or not, people can say whether I should or shouldn't, I worship in my own way. It came out in the campaign that I pray every night. That's my business. That's not the business of the pharisees who are going to preach to me about what I do and then do something else.

"You know, I care about values a lot. And one of the reasons that I care a lot is because of my upbringing. And it was a--I grew up in a Christian household. Now, because I grew up--I'm a congregationalist. People say, 'Well, those are liberals.' Well, since when do Christians get tagged liberal or conservative? You either believe in the teachings of Jesus or you don't. I do. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. But I don't go around wearing it on my sleeve. And I think that's a private matter. And I'm happy to talk about it. I've been through a political campaign. There are a lot of folks to whom, you know, that's very important. I respect that. But I'm not going to be lectured to about my own private morality and my own private business by people who don't have the moat taken out of their own eye."

22 May 2005

Watch this space

I'm watching Meet The Press right now, with Howard Dean on as Tim Russert's guest. He's said some extremely fascinating and intelligent things especially about religion, and as soon as the transcript for this show appears on the Meet The Press website I'll be putting some quotes here.

In brief, though, I'd like to know exactly where it is that Dean is from that he uses the word "idears." Idears. Who uses that word? Is that Jersey? I'm not sure I've ever seen anybody on the national stage actually use that word.

19 May 2005

Mel Martinez Discusses Real ID

Although I didn't bring it up on the blog, I recently had some discussions about the passage of the so-called "Real ID" act by Congress last week. The President signed the bill into law. ArsTechnica had a lot of coverage of this issue (see articles here and here).

In brief, as part of a larger military appropriations bill, Congress passed a small provision that will require national ID cards by 2008, and also another provision that authorizes the INS to build a security fence from the Pacific Ocean south of San Diego 14 miles west into the desert. The fence provision is of great concern because it appears to permit the INS to use any means necessary to build the fence and to recuse the act and the INS both from any form of prosecution for anything that may happen during construction. This is very bad. The Real ID on its own was pretty bad, too--by 2008 all states will have to have the same drivers license, and it will have to have a chip in it that can be read by a standard card reader and that will contain far too muh of your personal information. This info will of course be kept by the government in a location that will immediately become ground zero for black hats and other nefarious types seeking to steal the identities of every single person in the U.S. at once. Brilliant.

I'm a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and People For The American Way, and both groups were very strongly against these proposals--though hidden as they were neither group even became aware of their imminent passage until less than a week before the Senate vote. Through either PFAW or EFF, I don't recall which, I sent letters to Mel Martinez and Bill Nelson urging them to vote against the measures.

Now, I have said a lot of bad things about Senator Mel Martinez in the past (idiot, brainless, incapable of independent thought, unethical, demagogue, unworthy of the Senate, you name it). I will undoubtedly continue to say similar or worse things about him in the future ("Elect me!" he said. "I will be George Bush's slave!"). But never let me say that he does not at least have a staff person read and respond to his emails. Many, many Senators and Congressmen do not take the time to do this. If it doesn't come via post or the telephone, rarely will you get a response from anyone in Washington. Mel, however, took the time to respond to my letter and I think that's worthy of praise. I certainly appreciate it and my respect for him has gone up at least an iota. Maybe even a theta.

Forthwith, his response:
Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you for contacting me. I appreciate hearing from you regarding minimum standards for state drivers' licenses and personal identification cards and would like to respond to your concerns.

In the aftermath of the tragic terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, Congress has worked diligently to address the weaknesses in our nation's ability to identify and react to intelligence information regarding potential terrorist threats. On December 17, 2004, the president signed into law S. 2845, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458). This bill was a critical first step in enhancing our intelligence infrastructure and capabilities as we continue fighting the global war on terror.

For example, in response to the rising problem of identification fraud, the Senate included in the Intelligence Reform bill various provisions to establish minimum national standards for driver's licenses and personal identification cards. These provisions require that each driver's license or identification card include specific individual information, contain physical security features to prevent fraud, and have common machine-readable technology.

Since that time, both Congress and the Administration have looked at ways to continue to strengthen our borders and secure our families at home. On February 10, 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 418, the REAL ID Act of 2005, legislation that would tighten national standards for State driver's licenses, make it more difficult for foreign nationals to claim asylum, and authorize the completion of a security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Recently, I joined my colleagues to unanimously pass the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2005 for Defense, the Global War on Terrorism, and Tsunami Relief (H.R. 1268). The REAL ID Act was added as an amendment to H.R. 1268 by the House of Representatives and was included in the conference report passed by the Senate on May 10, 2005. While I agree that we need to look at ways to strengthen our borders, I do not believe that the Emergency Supplemental was the appropriate vehicle for that debate.

Our immigration policies need to show a balance between securing our borders and being open to individuals who come to this country seeking freedom and a better way of life. I am hopeful that in the future we will have a more comprehensive debate on immigration reform. However, it was imperative to get funding to our troops as quickly as possible, and I therefore voted with my colleagues to unanuimously pass the Emergency Supplemental.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. If you have any additional questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Mel Martinez
United States Senator

I would like to say one more time that I'm very pleased that the Senator responded at all. I didn't vote for him. I won't vote for him in 2010. But I did vote for Bill Nelson and I will do so again this year, and Nelson never responded. So foo on him.

However, I disagree not only with almost everything Martinez said, but also with the way he said and with all the things he didn't say as well. This may not actually be possible, but I strongly dislike the Senator and so whether it's possible or not, it's how I feel.

Anyway, the Senator does at least point out that he did not think it was appropriate to put the Real ID act on the military supplemental bill. Of course it wasn't. The sole purpose for doing so was to get the thing passed without debate, which is precisely what happened. However, I think the Senator does me and all his constituents and the entire country a deep disservice by leaving his complaints there and not considering further the inherent weaknesses of the Act itself.

1. Where is the Senator's mention of the vast negative implications for identity fraud? Putting all Americans' information in a single storage location is quite possible the most idiotic thing to come out of Washington since Marion Berry. Do they honestly think they can keep this thing secure? And if so, can we get them thrown out of office for mental incompetence? I would have liked the Senator to speak to this issue.

2. The Senator casually references the security fence along the border without mentioning that it's only 14 miles long or that, as the Act is written, the government can bulldoze your house with you in it and kill your whole family and you'll have no legal recourse through the courts. There is a line in the U.S. Constitution (this is covered in greater detail in the ArsTechnica links above) that may be interpreted as allowing Congress to declare certain things outside the realm of the courts. The Act is written, I believe, specifically to test that interpretation against public opinion. If it works with a 14-mile security fence, it might work again with something bigger, and then a third time with something even bigger, until finally Congress gets the balls to declare everything they do uncontestable in the courts. The Senator makes no mention whatsoever of this concern, acting as if the concern did not exist and was not mentioned in the letter I sent him. Very interesting.

3. These two onerous acts were developed and supported by Republicans. Republicans used to believe in federalism, in shrinking the federal government, and in returning power to the states. Now they want the federal government to decide what information has to be on your drivers license and which side of the card your picture should go on. Where did they get this power from? Why do GOPers complain so heartily about "activisit liberal judges" who "legislate from the bench" and "create rights not found in the Constitution," and then turn right around the next day and develop this plan to creat powers not found in the Constitution? How two-faced can one group of people possibly be? And how damned stupid can we as Americans be to let this shit go on?

Mel, if you're reading, I'd love a response...

John Bolton at the UN

This John Bolton issue has been interesting. Aside from the fact that he looks shabby (as, frequently, do I), I have no particular feelings about the man one way or the other, except that regardless of whether he’s a jerk or not, he’s certainly been jerked around more than is really fair. That he’s hung in there this long is testament to… well, to something. Possibly to inordinate stubbornness, which may or may not be a good thing.

But today I read an interesting article that, based on everything else I’ve heard and read so far, seems to put the whole issue of his nomination to the UN in perspective. The Washington Post today has an article about the dueling committee reports that will follow Bolton to the Senate Floor. The minority report says a host of dreadful things about him, including that he “repeatedly sought the removal of intelligence analysts, tried to stretch intelligence to fit his views, exhibited abusive behavior to subordinates and gave misleading testimony to the committee.” Concludes the report, “It is not in the interests of the United States to have Mr. Bolton represent our country at the United Nations.”

Indeed. But what else would we expect from the minority? The majority report paints a largely different picture. Its author said that “most of the allegations turned out to be groundless or overstated, and that Bolton had proved to be a hard-working policymaker.” Hooray for hardworking policymakers! What could possibly be the cause of the wide variance in the two reports? Mere politics?

Probably. But a comment by Sen. Richard Lugar, chair of the committee that heard Bolton’s confirmation and normally a very level-headed individual, gives me pause. Lugar said that Bolton had “strong views and a blunt style that, frankly, sometimes rubbed people the wrong way.”

In other words, it’s a shame when you don’t get along with your boss, but that’s no reason not to give the guy a job. And certainly Bolton’s tactless personal style is no reason to deny him continued employment in this administration, which is not always known for hiring the best people around when there’s somebody else available who isn’t as good but holds the right opinions. Bolton certainly fits that description.

But the UN Ambassador is, as the title implies, an ambassadorial position. It’s diplomacy. It’s about making nice with people you don’t really like because that’s what it takes to get things done. You don’t hire an ambassador to go off to a foreign country and be rude, disrespect the culture, and get up in peoples’ faces. That’s not how diplomacy works. If he rubs people the wrong way, his effectiveness is going to be greatly diminished.

It’s not about his politics, really (although one could question the wisdom of hiring as UN Ambassador a person who has said the U.S. should pull out of the UN). It’s about his style. Diplomatic posts have always been more about style than substance—why else would presidents give the plum diplomatic posts to friendly, easy-going types who happen to be major campaign donors? If it mattered how experienced they were (Bolton is certainly experienced) the Senate would never stand for such patronage. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is how willing the individual is to absorb and respect the culture of the place he or she (or both, since the spouse is an equal player in any ambassadorial household) is being sent to, and how polite and easy-going he or she can be when relating U.S. desires to the leadership of that other country.

Bolton may be experienced, and he may (certainly does) have the right politics by this administration’s yardstick. But it’s one thing to “rub people the wrong way” as the undersecretary of state, and another thing entirely (a much worse thing) to do so when trying to negotiate for the U.S. in a body already hostile to our positions. For that reason alone, Bolton is not suited to this post.

17 May 2005

Blogroll II

Two more blogs of note! I think I'll do this every time I expand the blogroll. Upp Words is, as its author says, either an exciting look at a normal life, or a normal look at an exciting life. Given that the creator of Upp Words has a significant other and I remain blissfully single, I'll argue that it's his life that exciting.

And Lately, No Donkeys (get it?) is the blog of another fellow who has figured out that government jobs are pretty damn swell, even if it means working for The Man.

Both recommended, of course. But why would I link something that isn't?

Twilight of the Dictators?

Events in Uzbekistan are beginning to grow out of control. I won't report on the thing blow-by-blow, since there are plenty of other places where you can get that. I suggest Google News or the BBC.

But it's set my mind to pondering. Could this be the twilight of the dictators? I've heard as much from plenty of sources--the Christian Science Monitor, the NY Times Review of Books, even Foreign Affairs have all had articles in the last year asking this question.

I wondered whether this has ever happened before--has there ever been another twilight of the dictators?
Well, aside from another NYTRoB article with the exact same phrase that I found from 1999, I couldn't find another direct reference.

But I do remember the late 1980's and early 1990's. You know? That whole collapse-of-communism thing? Moscow Spring? Yeah, all that stuff. Not but about two years after the wall fell, democracy swept Central America, too. If you recall, that was somewhat prompted by the first Bush administration's removal of Manual Noriega from Panama.
And around the same time-frame and a little earlier, many long-serving dictators fell in South America as well--Pinochet, Stroessner, Alvarado, etc.

Whether or not anyone actually used the phrase "twilight of the dictators" I don't know, but it has a certain ring to it and so probably was.

The current rash of dictator-removal seems quite positive, as all such things are. I wouldn't wish to claim otherwise. But it seems to me like this sort of thing is cyclical. Every so many years, a host of dictators are overthrown and replaced with... well, with something else. Often with another dictator (Saddam Hussein, after all, came to power by overthrowing a ruthless monarchical dictatorship), but one never knows.

Unfortunately, the past history of these things is a mixed bag. Certainly the overthrow of Ceaucescu in Romania was positive; Romania is now negotiating to enter the EU, the economy is creaking toward modernity, and the country has managed 16 years of relatively democratic governance. That's certainly progress.

But El Salvador threw off the yoke of dictatorship and civil war around the same time Romania did, and since then they've fought a border war with Honduras over a soccer game, seen their real per capita income decline almost each year, and watched their country slowly be taken over by violent youth gangs populated largely by convicts deported from the U.S. Romania isn't exactly paradise, but El Salvador is just bad.

The current round of democratization has taken some fairly nice places by storm: Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia... so obviously we all root for them and want them to succeed. And we feel the same way about the less nice places, like Iraq and Ukraine. Uzbekistan quite definitely falls into the latter category, but we don't know yet whether Karimov will actually be forced from power or not.

But this is still a pretty small trend. There are a lot of dictators left in the world unlikely to give up power without a fight. A handful being overthrown here and there, while surely positive, is not quite "the twilight of the dictators."

Let's see. We have... Cuba, Venezuela, 9/10s of Africa, the entire Arabian peninsula save Yemen, Iran, Syria, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, China, North Korea, Burma, Laos, Vietnam, and... that's all I can think of off hand. You could argue that Russia might belong in that group, probably several others. Anyway, let's see some more of those countries hold revolutions before we start talking trend and Pax Bushia.

The Count

I recently read The Count of Monte Cristo. Like several other things I've read recently (Frankenstein, The Martian Chronicles) I read it mostly because I felt it was something I needed to have read or I'd just be lying when I claimed I was well-read.

Unfortunately, like many things you do because you assume you should, and not because you really want to, some of these books have been disappointing. Frankenstein was... well, as a product of its era it was terrific. In comparison to any working decent writer, though, Shelley's ear for dialogue was made of something harder than tin. But as I said, as a product of its time, it's great--and you should read Frankenstein if for no other reason than to have actually read it. In almost every room you'll ever be in, you'll be the only person to have done so.

The Martian Chronicles was... well, typical of Bradbury it was rather more depressing at the end than I really needed.

But the Count of Monte Cristo, on the other hand, totally ruled. I read the abridged version, which I'd recommend to anyone who would be daunted by a book of over 1000 pages. In the post-Harry Potter world, that may be fewer people than before. But even for an abridged version, this book was great. Occasionally you could see where parts had been excised, and certainly much of the prison time was cut out. Still, the book was a terrific read.

If you're looking for something a little different from the standard summer thrillers to read at the beach this year, you could do much worse than Monte Cristo.

16 May 2005

The Wine Cases

Oenophiles (and wine lovers who think the term "oenophile" sounds disgusting) rejoiced today at the 5-4 decision handed down by the Supreme Court on the three cases collectively known as the Wine Cases.

To wit: Many states (over half) charge hefty fees or otherwise find ways to prevent out-of-state small wineries from shipping wine directly to customers. Michigan and New York were two of these states, and wine lovers and vintners teamed up against the state liquor wholesalers in three cases that were combined at the Supreme Court. The cases were heard in November.

At issue were various interpretations of both the commerce clause and the 21st Amendment. States felt that the 21st Amendment (the one that repealed prohibition) gave them unlimited control over the flow of alcohol within their borders. In the decision handed down today, the court found that while states have a great deal of control over alcohol, the Commerce Clause is not invalidated regarding alcohol because of the 21st Amendment.

Wine lovers, as I said, rejoiced. I myself am planning to start a "50 wines from 50 states" buying spree sometime fairly soon.
But we must not rejoice too much. The decision did not force states to allow out-of-state wineries to ship products to customers within their borders. Instead, it forced states that allow in-state wineries to ship direct to also now allow out-of-state wineries to ship direct.
But not all states allow in-state wineries to ship direct. Some states ban any form of direct shipping of alcohol whatsoever (Utah, for example). The decision provides no relief to residents of those states.

Furthermore, states that currently allow in-state wineries to ship directly to customers, such as New York and Michigan, now have a choice. They can lower the fees they charge to out-of-state wineries, the can raise the fees they charge in-state wineries (which would pretty much force a lot of them to forgo direct shipping and internet sales), or they can ban the practice altogether.

It remains to be seen what will actually happen. In theory, at least, until the legislature comes back into session to revise the laws, those states that had convoluted direct-sales laws (like Michigan, New York, and Florida) have seen those statutes completely invalidated. Perhaps it's possible, therefore, to order wine over the internet and have it shipped to your home in Florida without having to pay any fees whatsoever. Or, perhaps it means nothing has changed until the legislature reviews the matter. At the very least, states will be forced to reexamine their internet-sales laws (at least as regards alcohol), and that gives us a chance to lobby them. Now if only I could afford a lobbyist...

Here's a nice little website with some info about where you can order out-of-state wine on the internet. The map shows which states prohibit it, but in fact most of those states don't prohibit it; they simply make it so onerous for out-of-staters to ship that in practice they ban it. I imagine this site will have lots of updates over the coming weeks.

The BRAC Post

Well, the Base Realignment and Closure report came out on Friday. If you live in a military town, you have by now learned what will happen at your local base. Some cities and states will make out like bandits; some will get taken by the same bandits. Maine and Connecticut, in particular, will be hard-hit; Maryland is crowned king.

Of course, much still remains unknown here. This is merely the DOD's recommendations. If they had their way, this is what they'd do. But we now embark on a four-month process whereby the BRAC commission will visit all the bases that are to be closed or substantially realigned and decide whether they think the DOD's recommendations are any good.

I don't know about this. As little respect as I have for the military's ability to differentiate good from bad, I have even less respect for the ability of a politically selected group of people who don't know anything about the military to do so.
(Readers may make whatever logical leaps they wish from that statement and rest assured that I probably intended them.)

Folks from Maine and Connecticut can rest assured that there will be quite a fight to save their bases. And the true cynics among us can argue that BRAC may not even happen at all if Congress has any say in it. Which they do, in a round about sort of way.

As a public service for those not aware, I'll close this post with the actual order of events for the BRAC process. But first, I would like to note that the Air Force, on their discussion of BRAC, has managed to turn the word "robust" into a verb. I'm not a linguist, but, even if this isn't the first time this usage has ever occured, it is a stupid usage and should be discontinued.

Anyway. Forthwith, the way forward:
July 1: the Comptroller General sends a cost/benefit analysis of the DOD's BRAC list to Congress for their... review.
September 8: the BRAC Commission sends a report to the prez detailing how the DOD's BRAC list makes them feel and what the president should do about it.
September 23: The president gives a thumbs up or thumbs down on the Commission's version of the BRAC report.
45 days later: The BRAC findings become legally binding, and work begins.
Of course, if the Prez gives the thumbs down, then nothing happens. And, if he says yes, then the Congress can enact a joint resolution in the next 45 days saying they disagree.

12 May 2005

Church v. State redux

The not-even-remotely reverend Chan Chandler of the East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina, has resigned. Good for him. One might hope he'd never get another church, but jerks who make it into the public spotlight rarely go away so quietly. I imagine in a few weeks we'll hear that ol' Channy has bought an empty warehouse and begun using it as the First Church of Christ The Republican.

The story doesn't end here, of course. Congressman Walter Jones, of (surprise!) North Carolina, has for the past four sessions submitted a bill relaxing restriction on political speech in churches. Currently, to maintain their tax-exempt status, churches are not permitted to engage in blatantly political activity. Jones, because he was dropped on his head repeatedly as a child, thinks this is a bad idea and wants to change it.

Fortunately, the majority in Congress have thus far seen fit not to pass Jones' bill, possibly because they aren't idiots. This is a theory I'm testing out... but given other recent activities of Congress I'm not sure the theory is going to hold. We can hope, at least, that a majority of Congresspersons will continue to smile politely and walk briskly away whenever they see Jones and his bill coming their way, but just knowing that a person like this is actually in office frightening enough.

Three things I don't understand

1. How come, when they open up a new line at the grocery store, the people who have been waiting the least amount of time are the first ones to go through?

2. Why is the Air Force pushing people who don't want to leave the flying community out the door as part of "force shaping," but they won't let me change jobs and I'd actually like to?

3. Why don't they sell bagged salad in smaller packages, like single serving size? As soon as I open the bag the salad starts to rot; at best I can eat salad for two days, but I always throw a third of the bag away.

11 May 2005

People who are stupid

A group has produced a study of which Congressmen are most deeply in Tom Delay's pocket. Unsurprisingly, Rep. Tom Feeney of Florida, the former state House speaker who threatened to send the 2001 redistricting plan to a judge unless the state senate agreed to create a new house district just for him, ranks number one on this list. Feeney was just one in a long list of brain-dead demagogic Florida state house speakers that began with John Thrasher in 1999 and has continued unabated until Allen Bense took over this year.

The Orlando Sentinel has an article about it today. The following quote from the article is telling:

"From the way I reckon, Tom [DeLay] is right 97.5 percent of the time, and I vote with him whenever he's right," said Feeney, an Oviedo Republican with aspirations to climb in the House GOP leadership. "Bottom line is, I'm a big Tom DeLay supporter."

Aside from being pathetically craven, this remark also fails to note the fact that Feeney received significant funding from DeLay's PAC (despite never having a tough race) and gave quite a lot of money to DeLay's legal defense fund (actually it's a criminal defense fund; we should call things what they are). I guess Tom would prefer we not think about that.

Feeney is a jackass.

Right next door to Feeney's district, Rep. Dave Weldon ranked 4th on the list. That's 4th out of 435 Congressmen. Central Florida, in other words, is deep into DeLay's pocket. Weldon had an even more intelligent remark when confronted with his slavish devotion to the human well of feces that is Tom Delay:

"Once again, we see billionaire George Soros skirting McCain-Feingold campaign laws and pumping tens of millions of dollars to hire former Democrat staffers to run Democrat front groups parading as unbiased watchdog groups who declare to all who will listen that Tom DeLay is, heaven forbid, a conservative!" Weldon said.

Um... if you go to the web site and look at the rankings, you'll note that nowhere on the site is there a discussion of DeLay's politics. In fact, the site doesn't even state DeLay's political party. It simply says that DeLay is "scandal-plagued," notes that he has been a "sugar-daddy" to many people in Congress, and follows from there that average Americans might want to know how close are the ties between this unethical asspuddle and their own little junior asspuddles. Weldon, then, is assuming that any website that details a person's ethical lapses ipso facto implies that said ethically challenged person is a conservative. Thus all ethically challenged people are conservative. Way to go, Dave!

09 May 2005

The Solomon Amendment case

I’m in the military. I’m trying to go to law school. So this whole Solomon Amendment case that the Supreme Court agreed to hear during the next term is of interest to me. Here’s an article about it from the Durham Herald Sun.

Some background: In 1994, a year after Don’t ask, don’t tell became law, the Congress passed some piece of legislation to which had been added the Solomon Amendment, which declared that any school receiving federal funding had to allow the military to recruit on campus. The consequence of course is that a school that does not allow military recruiters on campus is barred from receiving federal funding.

Few schools batted an eyelash at this. Many schools that receive federal funding also have ROTC on campus already, which implies having recruiters, and allowing military recruiters to stand alongside recruiters from private companies hasn’t caused an uproar on any university’s main campus in the 10 years since Bill Clinton signed Solomon into law.

But law schools are a different matter. I’m not entirely sure why. All college campuses have some form of anti-discrimination policy. Law schools often have their own separate policy that folds into the parent university’s policy. And law schools by and large claim to adhere to a strict anti-discrimination code, Supreme Court cases favoring race-based admissions notwithstanding.

Where this starts to matter is, as you might have already guessed, with the LGBT crowd. While 50 years ago the military was way ahead of the rest of the country on civil rights and racial equality (it wasn’t perfect, no, but it was a fair sight better than any other organization in the country), today we lag well behind most of the rest of the country when it comes to sexual orientation.

There are several institutional reasons for this, none of which I’ll go into because I don’t care about them. I tend to think Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a ridiculous policy, especially when one considers that in 2003 the military threw out seven Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi linguists because they didn’t want to live in the closet. This at a time when the military freely admits we don’t have enough Arabic, Urdu, or Farsi linguists.

Anyway, student groups at several law schools around the country (the usual suspects in many cases, Harvard and Yale and Michigan, but also less likely suspects like Duke) have protested the Solomon Amendment’s requirement to allow military recruiters on their campuses.

Now, the anti-Solomon crowd wants to frame the debate this way: Do law schools have a First Amendment right to avoid associating with groups that don't share their non-discrimination views? Obviously, stated that way, it’s hard to argue against it. After all, freedom of association is right there in the Big C, plain as day.

The government of course prefers to point out that the law schools are entirely free not to associate with the military if they don’t want to. And the government is free not to give them money. There is after all no inverse Solomon Amendment saying that the government must give funding to law schools.

Duke Law student Jeffrey Filipink says that “Our opinion essentially is asking the military to overturn the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy if they wish to recruit. It isn't an anti-military standpoint. It's an anti-discrimination standpoint."

Filipink should be the group’s spokesman. Of course, what he forgets to say is that Congress alone has the authority to change that law, and while they may have passed it on the basis of military advice, they can change it if they want. Congress also gets to say who gets money and who doesn’t, and it’s plainly true that even if the Supreme Court strikes down Solomon, Congress is free to exclude any school that won’t allow military recruiters from its appropriations bills. Actually, I think it would be rather a terrific show of force if they did so. Nobody reads the damn approp bills anyway because they’re 2000 pages long, so until the thing had already been passed nobody would have a chance to complain.

Duke professor Erwin Chemerensky takes what in my view is a less defensible position (but then I don’t have the advantage of 3 years of Chemerensky’s instruction). "I think it's about law schools having the First Amendment right ... to not be compelled to convey the military's message," Chemerinsky said.

I’m not a lawyer, but even after I become a lawyer (assuming that happens), I still think I’ll believe it’s a rather tortured form of logic to say that having a recruiter on your campus is the same as conveying the military’s message. Of… discrimination? So, what he’s saying is that, despite the school’s strong anti-discrimination policy, allowing a recruiter on campus will tell everyone that the school actually agrees with the military’s idiot policy on LBGT rights. I don’t follow you. Believe me, I’ve read argument transcripts where precisely this logic is followed, and I don’t follow it. But maybe that’s because I’m insane. Or… maybe it’s the other way around.

In any event, I think Chemerinsky’s argument is self defeating. The Solomon Amendment does not compel a law school to “convey the military’s message.” If Chemerinsky doesn’t want Duke to convey said message, he’s free to encourage the school to ban recruiters. The school would give up federal funds but, as I assume the solicitor general will point out when this case is argued, there’s no legal requirement for Congress to give Duke money in the first place. Solomon would be inherently illegal if schools were required to receive funding OR if the government was required to give schools funding. Neither of these things is true.

I don’t care whether you want to ban military recruiters from your campus or not. None of the law schools I’m planning to apply to have taken part in this debate (they are in the South, after all), and I’m not gay, so really, I don’t much care about how it comes out one way or the other. But I don’t understand why it’s even an issue.

07 May 2005


As promised, I have sifted through my 168 pictures from the Utah trip, and here present a handful of the best, not in any particular order.

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Here we have the Book Cliffs, on the way from Salt Lake to Moab. Not a part of a park, but I like them, and they were the first really cool rock things we'd seen. Well, aside from the Wasatch.

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This is Devils Garden, looking north(?) from the Pine Tree Arch in Arches National Park. Just look at all those sandstone fins, Johnny!

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Here is the White Rim Canyon, part of Canyonlands National Park. It was very grey and dreary the day we were there, but this canyon is still something else. There's a jeep trail along the rim that I'd love to take some day.

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A view of the Courthouse Towers area of Arches NP. Very alien.

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The Canyonlands NP area was once the shore of a great sea, millions and millions of years ago. Here we have some driftwood and sand left over from those days... Honestly, though, hiking through the area, especially along Mesa Arch Trail, a Floridian like me absolutely cannot shake the feeling that this IS a really big, dry, beach. It just feels that way.

All right, I've saved the best three for last.

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This is Park Avenue, in Arches NP, in the late evening around 6 pm. Speechless.

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Washer Woman Arch in Canyonlands NP. I'm in awe.

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And finally, here are our three intrepid explorers, me, Angela, and Kelly. You can feel free to ask of any us, we'll tell you: it was a great time. I can't wait for next year.


I have added a few blogs to my "good blogs" list over there to the right. I don't actually know any of those people but...

See, thing is, I'm sort of still on Mountain time. So last night I was up until after midnight because I wasn't tired. Normally I don't have a problem with jet lag at all--but then, when you're crossing sixteen time zones you don't really have a choice but to just fall into whatever daily schedule is operating wherever you've landed. So France, Kyrgyzstan, Japan, Hawaii--these are all easy. Utah? Not so much. Part of the problem is I've had no compelling reason to realign myself to EDT. Late for work? Nah, don't really care. Up to all hours? Nah, don't really care. The city looks nice at night anyway. So you see the problem.

Anyway, last night I happened upon the blog Sticks of Fire, which is a blog about things going on in Tampa. I live in Tampa. I liked the blog. And lo and behold, the blog's author had already discovered Smitty's World over here and given me a link as another Tampa blog. Tres cool. So I must reciprocate, but really, I'd do it anyway because it's a good blog. I mean, if you're from North Carolina it might not seem all that relevant, but you never know where the winds of employment may blow.

It turns out that Sticks of Fire links to other Tampa blogs quite frequently, so I wasted time going to these other Tampa blogs and reading them, and I've decided to link to the ones I'll likely continue reading when I have nothing to do. And isn't that what the blogosphere is about? (No, it's about redefining the entire notion of journalism, but I like rhetorical questions. Who doesn't?) Forthwith, a brief description:

Dot Bench is a rather witty individual who's job I've been unable to firmly divine. He looks an awful lot like a guy I accidentally cut off on 275 last week, so, dude, if a white Subaru cut you off on 275 last week, I really didn't mean it. The Edit Engine likes to run down underreported stories from the Tampa Bay area every day, so his site is worth a read, especially if your only paper around here is the Tribune. Sharp as a Marble is a fellow who works downtown here. I can probably see his office from my porch. He is a proud new father and possibly even prouder owner of a new kegerator, and you should definitely read about how he proposed to his wife. Maybe it's because I'm in the military, but none of my coworkers are remotely as witty as this guy. Or frankly, as any of my friends, either. Man, I hate my job. Anyway, the last link there is Steve Koppelman's Catalogue of Poorly Catalogued Things. Steve is actually from Fort Lauderdale, where I used to live and where the book I'm writing is set. I've read this blog off and on for a while now and I'm linking to it because I find it amusing. Whether you do or have lived in FTL or not you probably will, too.

And I guess it's only fair to describe the other blogs I have had on that list for a while, for those who may not know. Taegan Goddard's Political Wire is only the best nonpartisan political news blog in existence. I occasionally steal story ideas from there, as do most other political bloggers. The main news blog is great, but so are the Wingers and Southpaws lists of recent updates to prominent right- or left-wing blogs. Howard Bashman's How Appealing blog is an almost constantly updated string of news and analysis links to appellate court decisions, issues, and cases. In a similar vein, SCOTUSblog is a digest of all the news out of the U.S. Supreme Court and is the first place you'll hear about court decisions, and certainly the best place to find out about them because if you just get court news from Fox or CNN you're not getting actual news, you're getting spin. New Politics1 is another political news blog written by fans of the occasionally-but-never-quite-retired Ron Gunzberger, whose Politics1 was in its heyday the best political blog on the web but is now... well, the state info pages are still the best place to start researching candidates and races in your state. Bayciti is a catalogue of development news in the Tampa Bay area. It's a great blog and an outstanding concept, and other metro areas would be blessed to have such a blog of their own.

The other two blogs there are of people I've actually met and who are friends of mine. If any of my other friends would stop being so lazy and start their own blogs, I'd link to them. We have Des Petits Moments, which is written by a very dear college friend of mine. She claims to write mostly about her daughter, but she also works in journalism and thus can't not comment on some of the sillier things that go on in a day. Always worth a read. And finally we have The Scriptorium which is written by her dear hubby. If you don't care for thinking, I would advise not reading The Scriptorium, but if you do, it's one of the most literate and thoughtful blogs out there and I at least look forward to each update. I also look forward to sharing more Belgian ales with both of them.

Anyway. Just thought I'd give a shout out to my fellow bloggers, even if I don't know them from Adam.

Church v. State

I wonder if we’ll ever see a supreme court case with that title?
In any event I’'ve got an article here from the Raleigh News & Observer straight out of beautiful Waynesville, North Carolina. Waynesville is the seat of Haywood County and is about 30 miles west of Asheville on I-40. I'’m sure it’s a quite lovely place, but, well...
Here’s the link to the article on the N&O’s website, but I'’m going to reproduce the thing here. It'’s a short article.

"The minister of a Haywood County Baptist church is telling members of his congregation that if they're Democrats, they either need to find another place of worship or support President Bush.
Already, the Reverend Chan Chandler has ex-communicated nine members of East Waynesville Baptist Church. Another 40 members have left in protest.
During last Sunday's sermon, he acknowledged that church members were upset because he named people, and he says he'll do it again because he has to according to the word of God.
Chandler could not be reached for comment today, but says his actions weren’t politically motivated.
One former church member says Chandler told some of the members that if they didn't support George Bush, they needed to resign their positions and get out of the church, or go to the altar, repent and agree to vote for Bush.
A former church treasurer says she's at church to worship God and not the preacher."

Here'’s my take. First of all, as a Democrat who occasionally attends church, I knew this was coming. Even certain Methodists at certain churches here in Tampa have been known to telephone certain other Methodists (ahem) and beg them to switch party registration and vote for Bush because.. well, because of a lot of reasons. Among them, John Kerry is/was a sodomizer. This is the truth, folks; I may write fiction in my spare time but I'’m starting to think fact is actually less believable.

Second, does anyone remember the establishment clause in the Constitution? Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof? I'’m going to be very bold here, but I don’t actually think this was done to protect government or people from religion. I think it was done to protect religion from government. And this is a perfect example. As soon as folks like Chan start forgetting the distinctions between the two things, you get jackassery of this sort, where a church (not the government!) starts restricting the free exercise of its own members’' religion on the basis of their beliefs about government.

I want to say a lot of things here but they all involve a great deal of foul language so I won'’t. After all, the article, and Chan’'s (sorry, I can'’t and won’'t call him Rev.) actions, pretty much speak for themselves.

This, of course, is nothing more than what the Republicans have done to themselves. They wanted all the Christians to vote for them. Now some pseudo-Christians (tell me what, if anything, is Christian about Chan’'s actions) are saying that you can’'t be Christian without being Republican. I'’m almost positive that'’s not anywhere in the Bible. I don'’t even think it'’s in the Book of Mormon.

In any event, if you can'’t be a Christian without being a Republican, how much farther is it to you can’'t be a Republican if you aren'’t a Christian? And a pretty wacky fundamentalist one at that. I think a lot of the Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and other types in this country are already nominal Democrats, but continued actions by the likes of Chan here will solidify that for... well, at least until I'’m dead anyway. Whether the country even makes it that long or not I don'’t know.

Of course two weeks ago many churches around the country presented a broadcast by Bill Frist among others (I think DeLay might have been involved, but all the lying, cheating, and stealing have got to be wearing thin with many actual Christians) talking about how the Democrats are against “people of faith” and are trying to prevent such people from sitting on the bench. So, in other words, the 204 judges nominated by Bush and approved by the whole Senate, including Democrats, must all be atheists. Only the 10 who have been filibustered are actually people of faith. Uh-huh.

And some churches actually agreed to play this pablum for their congregations. I studiously avoided church that weekend because I didn'’t want to know if the church I attend occasionally was going to play it or not. If they had, I never could have gone back there. I'’m happier just not knowing.

Am I the only person who thinks religion is no topic for a political speech, and politics should never be brought up in the church? Maybe I am.

"Go to the altar, repent, and agree to vote for Bush." Chan should take some of his own advice, go to the altar, repent, and agree to leave politics out of his pulpit or give up his “ministry.”

04 May 2005


I took a vacation! Yaay, vacation!
This is really just a holding spot. I want to post a couple of pictures here, but I haven't downloaded and looked through them all yet and may not before the weekend. But I did want to say, if you find yourself wondering where you should go, I highly recommend Arches National Park in eastern Utah.

We also visited Canyonlands National Park. I would like to go back there; unfortunately, it rained on us much of the day we spent there and I don't think we got to see the park at its best. There are many hikes I'd like to take, and I think renting a jeep and taking the White Rim Road around the park would be pretty damn cool. But even on a very good day, I think Canyonlands would take a back seat to Arches. Arches is just an absolutely incredible place.

As a Calvin & Hobbes fan I know that Bill Watterson based the scenery in Calvin's Spaceman Spiff adventures on southern Utah--in fact, ahem:
"Most of the alien landscapes come from the canyons and deserts of southern Utah, a place more weird and spectacular than anything I'd previously been able to make up."

Watterson, as is so often true, is absolutely right. You've seen the pictures, you've imagined it, but until you've been there you can't quite believe it's real. The Delicate Arch, the cowboy chaps of so many photographic exhibitions and Utah state license plates, really is as ridiculously beautiful as you've been led to believe, even from a mile off. The Fiery Furnace is a devilish maze of titanic proportions, where the way out is never the one you'd pick at first hand and every turn brings you to a new vista of incredible beauty. The Landscape Arch, so frail and yet so enormous, defies description even on a day without the blue skies and tinted sunsets of the picture books. It is a place that cannot be believed without being there, and cannot be understood even while in its midst.

There are a lot of things to see in the world, and never enough time or money to see them all. But Arches, like the Everglades and Ha Long Bay, is entirely unique in the world. If you have the means, you must go.


I was travelling when April turned into May, and since none of us were actually aware of what day it was (blessedly), I missed it. It was worth it, of course, for the vacation, which will be described on this blog shortly.
It's one of the monthly transitions that I usually notice. I'm not sure why.

April is my birthmonth. Easter is often in April, too. My allergies are always worst in April, so April is a month where I tend to spend most of my free time inside, though I would rather be out.
And then May comes along. It's not yet so awfully hot in Florida that you have to stay inside all day to avoid heat-related death, and the oak pollen has mostly washed down the gutters and out to sea. It's a great month for bike riding and kayaking, and just about anything else.

It's also the first month when I have to say how old I am without qualifying it by saying "I just turned..." (28, in this case, if anybody reading this blog isn't already aware). So May is the start of the new year. It's the Smitty New Year. And often enough, May is a month of transition. You graduate from High School in May. You graduate from college in May, too. And a lot of weddings are in May, I guess because of the graduations. (I'd rather get married in October because October rules.)

So anyway, it's May. Yaay! I have a month to study for the LSAT. It's my last month of not flying for right now, and it's also the last month when the reason for not flying is uncomplicated. After June 7 everything's up in the air. I think we're also going to fire the Japanese Anagama wood-fired kiln at St. Pete Clay so I need to ramp up my production out there. That should be fun.

And I get to start planning the NEXT vacation...

A new game

As the 2008 presidential election gets underway (I know, I know... I'm a little late with this), there will be plenty of small entertainments to go around. Right now we're in the "Great Mentioning" phase of the campaign, although in reality that started back in 2001. One of the names occasionally mentioned in the Great Mentioning is that of Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel.

So here's the first entry in our new game, called "Count the Qualifiers." People who take part in the Great Mentioning, both the mentioners and the mentioned, want the mentioned to display some level of coyness, or perhaps modesty, about the exact nature of their ambitions. You can't just come right out during the Great Mentioning and say, "I'm running for president!" That's so... hackneyed. It makes you seem like an overeager ten-year-old trying to get picked first for a team in P.E. Instead, you have to play it coy. Is he running? Who knows! This week, it's Senator Hagel's turn. Here's a quote from today's Lincoln Journal-Star.

"I hope to be in position to have the option of entertaining the possibility of running for president."

Hagel has set the bar pretty high with this one, but we'll see if any others of the mentioned can beat him.