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Friday, December 30, 2005

I thought protection rackets were illegal, but don't tell the Washington Federation of State Employees.

According to this report from The Olympian and other news sources, over 300 Washington state employees may lose their job because of their failure or refusal to pay a fee to the union. These union dues are compulsory, regardless of actual union membership status, though a lower fee is being extorted, er, required of those who choose not to join the union. My first thought when I heard about this was that Al Capone and other mafiosi have done this in the past and probably still do this sort of thing. It's called a "protection racket". I find it shamefully predictable that a Democrat governor would sign a collective bargaining agreement that ended up such a sweet deal for the union leadership, and such a bane for the workers. For the remainder of this issue, I defer to Sound Politics, a blog that has covered this issue in greater depth and is far better versed in current events and politics in Seattle and Washington state.

I found another interesting website belonging to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a group whose stated purpose is "Defending America's working men and women against the injustices of forced unionism since 1968." I first feel the need to clarify that I am not against unions in abstract. I think that, as long as they genuinely work to better protect their members, and said membership is not compulsory, they can, and occasionally do, have a salutary effect on a workplace. However, like large organizations are often wont to do, the case history is becoming increasingly compelling to the contrary.

Thus endeth the rant. To all, I wish you a happy and safe New Year's holiday, and if you feel the need to consume a bit of alcoholic holiday cheer, please, for everyone's sakes, stay off the roads. Actually, staying off the roads is probably a good idea for anyone insofar as it is possible.

Monday, December 26, 2005

I don't think I've been this disgusted in a long time.

I'm sure we've all heard by now about the tours of Hurricane Katrina-ravaged areas of New Orleans. People are charging $30 a head to view the devastation left in that monster storm's wake. Let's dissect this a bit. People are charging $30 a head to see where peoples lives were ruined and where people died horrible deaths. People are "earning" $30 per person to take people on a tour of a hell the likes of which our nation has never seen. This is my 87th post here, and but one of hundreds of comments I've left across the blogosphere. I mention this because the only word I know to describe this is one I have never used before in my forays in blogspace: abomination. It is an abomination to profit from the dead. It is an abomination to give funds to those who profit from the dead. It is an abomination to pay to tour a place of so much suffering for the sole reason that it is a place of suffering. If someone wants to aid the recovery efforts, fine. There are numerous legitimate web sites for organizations involved in the relief effort. Also, if anyone is willing to contribute their time, their energy, to aiding the relief efforts, there's plenty of work to be done in Louisiana, and Mississippi, and to a somewhat lesser though, in areas, no less dire extent, in coastal Alabama. If you're interested, contact a relief agency or church group and ask them where they need you.

While I'm ranting about the hurricane, the experts have backtracked on their initial reports that Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 storm, and now say that she hit land as a 3. Who cares? Who honestly gives a flying fuck? Her winds may have been a 3, though I find a 4 more believable based on the damage and the sheer size of the storm. However, she came with a Category 5 storm surge. That close to land, with the waves that storm generated, with the water that had pushed around, where exactly was the water going to go, except into land, and with terrible force and result? If you own a house that's been hit by a tornado, do you care if it was an F3 or an F5? Either way, your house is rubble. The figures may be of interest to scientists, but the people who are on the ground and dealing with the effects of nature either don't give a damn or are insulted by what some may perceive as an attempt at trivializing what occurred.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Osama bin Laden's Niece Poses for GQ.

I guess that's marginally interesting, and I suppose it would be more significant if her father were one of Osama's brothers instead of one of his half-brothers. It isn't unsurprising that Osama, being one of 50+ children borne of his father's four wives, would hold some dramatically different views from some, or more probably many, of his siblings and half-siblings. That being said, I feel that this story is far from insignificant. Specifically, this story is significant for showing the diversity of opinion and belief within the various Muslim communities throughout the world.

Wafah Dufour is a California-born musician and law school graduate who currently resides in New York. Her father, Yeslam Binladen, has intentionally changed the spelling of his surname to distance himself from his half-brother, and he gained Swiss citizenship in 2001. He has been but one of Osama's siblings to condemn the actions of world's most wanted terrorist. Wafah Dufour changed her surname to her mother's maiden name to further distance herself from her uncle.

I thank and applaud Ms. Dufour for her courage and her willingness to show another side of Western Islam, one with which many of us may not be as familiar. Also, I offer my most sincere condolences to her. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain that she has faced knowing that she's related in any way, no matter how distantly, to that monster. It's bad enough when someone commits an act of evil, but it's so much worse when it's a member of your family, even an estranged family member.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Why I feel sorry for David Letterman

Some clearly delusional woman in Santa Fe, NM, has been granted a temporary restraining order against the late night talk show host for allegedly using code words to communicate with her and sending her mental messages or some such shit. I fully agree that a temporary restraining order should have been granted in this case, but I think it should have been granted AGAINST Colleen Nestler, not FOR her, and that she should have also been forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. As a result of one fan with some obvious and serious mental issues, Mr. Letterman is having to expend his money and his time to deal with something he shouldn't. It could always be worse, though. He could reside in the same state as her.

More holiday cheer. Merry f***ing Christmas.

You Are Broccoli Casserole Soda

Vegetarians taste better!

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Your Hidden Talent

You have the natural talent of rocking the boat, thwarting the system.
And while this may not seem big, it can be.
It's people like you who serve as the catalysts to major cultural changes.
You're just a bit behind the scenes, so no one really notices.

Things that make you go "Duh!"

You are Agnostic

You're not sure if God exists, and you don't care.
For you, there's no true way to figure out the divine.
You rather focus on what you can control - your own life.
And you tend to resent when others "sell" religion to you.

Some Christmas inanity

You Are Blitzen

Always in good spirits, you're the reindeer who loves to party down with Santa.

Why You're Naughty: You're always blitzed on Christmas Eve, while flying!

Why You're Nice: You mix up a mean eggnog martini.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bush has admitted to spying on a number of American citizens.

I'm sure we've all read the news about it, seen it on Meet the Press, Fox News, CNN, other major network news programs, and a handful of people even saw it in MSNBC. I find this disturbing on a couple of levels.

First, from everything I've read, the Judiciary branch of the federal government was not involved. I have very little problem with this, as long as it meets the typical standards to get a search warrant, which, by definition, requires the intercession of a judge. I'm not even particularly bothered by the fact that such surveillance was done without the notification of the parties involved. This is nothing new, as evidenced by RICO cases and the investigation of various organized crime syndicates. Furthermore, the resources needed to track the communications of even one individual and those they contact, while remaining covert, necessitate the expenditure of more money and resources than would make this feasible for wide-scale use. This, combined with the involvement of the Judiciary, would provide a reasonable and, more importantly, legal means to do so while affording minuscule interference with the civil rights of the public at large, if not outright preserving them.

Second, I am deeply disturbed by the national security consequences of the revelation of some of the means with which intelligence data are gathered. This is something I find troublesome at best, as it affords those who would do the nation harm the information to counteract legitimate intelligence-gathering and anti-organized crime operations. Furthermore, I have serious concerns that the benefits of the revelation of this program will not outweigh the cost in future intelligence-gathering and anti-organized crime capabilities. Intelligence and counterintelligence operations have been part and parcel of statecraft for millennia and will likely continue to remain so.

On a completely unrelated note, there is a very interesting RICO case currently working its way through the courts: a countersuit filed in response to Atlantic v. Anderson against the RIAA. If substantiated, I join at least some of the commenters on that thread in hoping that criminal charges are filed against the companies involved.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A site that will put you in a diabetic coma

I was reading Yahoo, and saw a reference to a site that specializes in nothing but happy news. If it's in the least bit negative, they won't publish it. It's called As of now, the weather report is that it's quite pleasant in Austin, TX. However, most of the country is cold, and my bad knee is aching. Integrity tops web dictionarys' lookups, but that's because no one knows what it means anymore. Breast cancer patients may get less chemo, but I wonder if that's because HMO's are getting ever cheaper. Experts urge less focus on antioxidants, possibly because Americans don't eat all that many vegetables that aren't fried and/or coated in thick gravy or grease. Scientists deciphered the DNA of dogs, but still can't get them to stop sniffing everyone's asses. Garth Brooks and Trish Yearwood have wed, promising yet another generation of redneck celebrities. Fans mark the anniversary of John Lennon's murder, but they wouldn't be if he hadn't been shot in the first place.

All of the above are real headlines on this site. The happy bits are theirs, while the festering cynicism is all mine. Visit that site, sing "Happy Happy, Joy Joy" if you must, and stay away from the sweets. That site will put you in a coma if you try reading under the influence of cinnabuns.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Musings on Miami, Tookie Williams, and Spanish in School

I guess by now, anyone with access to a radio or television knows about the crazed lunatic who claimed to have a bomb on an airplane and was later killed by Air Marshalls. What I find utterly astonishing is that there's any type of debate possible over whether or not the law enforcement officers did the right thing. He claimed to have a bomb in his carry-on, he repeatedly refused to obey the orders of the officers, he resisted arrest, and then he reached into his carry-on. Ten out of ten times, when faced with that situation, law enforcement anywhere is going to react with deadly force, and if there are instances where one might not, then that law enforcement officer should be fired. The man's widow claimed that he was bipolar and had not taken his medication. If that were the case, she should be arrested for criminally-negligent homicide or any other similar statute that may apply in her case. Whenever you're travelling with someone, especially someone you care about, you check to see if they've taken any medication they may need in the course of the day at the proper time. I don't care if you're discussing hormones, cholesterol-lowering medication, blood pressure medication, antihistamines, motion-sickness medication or whatever, and that's doubly true of medicines to treat psychiatric conditions. You. Make. Sure. Debate Iraq. Debate our nation's domestic policy. Debate the relevance of France in international politics. Hell, debate the relative strength of the conferences, divisions, and/or teams in sports. This is clearly a case that's a no-brainer. My condolences go out to the agents who had to deal with this guy. I have absolutely no sympathy for his widow.

Tookie Williams founded one of the largest street gangs in the nation, glorified that lifestyle for years, and has been convicted of murdering four people in the process of two robberies that netted, if memory serves, around $200 in 1979 dollars, roughly equivalent to $500-600 today unless I'm way off. If he has changed his life around, as he and his supporters have alleged, good. If he has prevented even one kid from joining a gang, good. However, how much blood is on his hands, not only from his victims, but also from that which he created? If there is to be capital punishment, it should be applied in especially egregious cases, where the guilty are responsible for multiple and/or particularly heinous murders, and the exceptions to this should be few and rare, such as mental defect or spousal/domestic abuse. With the former, the argument is quite convincing in the opposite, and for the latter, the facts of the cases definitively exclude that from the realm of possibility. The only argument in this case should be one of whether or not the death penalty is moral, and I haven't been shy about my stance on that issue.

A Kansas City school showed that the Midwest will stoop to lows even the most backwoods part of the South refuse to approach when a kid was suspended for a day and a half for speaking Spanish in the hallway. The kid was responding to a fellow Spanish-speaking student who had asked to borrow a dollar, and responded in their native tongue a phrase even I, a nonspeaker of the Spanish language, knew: "No problema." Was the kid being disruptive? No, they were in the hallway between classes. Was he being ugly to a fellow student? No, he was exhibiting the kind of behavior any parent would like to see from their kids, in this case, thoughtfulness, kindness, and generosity. Did the school have a policy against speaking Spanish in a public school? No, and if such a policy were to be written, it would most likely be challenged heavily in the courts, and rightfully so. His father challenged the suspension all the way up to the superintendent of that school system, and the school quickly relented. He has since retained a lawyer to pursue a civil case against that school and that school board. I wish him well, and my advice to that school system is to bend over and grab your ankles.

As a bonus to this blog, I have a comment about the latest antics of one of my least-favorite people: Ann Coulter. At issue is not whether or not what she said qualified as hate speech. After all, there's plenty of that to go around, too much to be honest, and it comes from all corners of the political spectrum. What is at issue is her statement to the students, "I love to engage in repartee with people who are stupider than I am." Oh? I guess there are people less intelligent than Ann Coulter, somewhere, though I'd estimate the world population of such people at under 1,000. She equates reasoned dissent with treason and wrote a book defending Senator McCarthy. She's a superbitch who hasn't found a far-right cause she didn't like, and frankly, the only reason anyone pretends to listen to her is to stare at her tits and her legs. So, Ms. Coulter, my advice to you is to sit down, shut up, look pretty, and whatever you do, DON'T REPRODUCE! Most women have far more than that to contribute to society and are valuable as individuals and as women, but you do not.