28 September 2007

Gettin' Wet and Dirty

Tomorrow I'm participating in StreamSearch with the River Raisin Watershed Council. The Raisin is allegedly the windiest river in the world, and its upper stretches go through some amazingly undeveloped country (amazing considering we're smack in the middle of farm country). It also may be threatened by the waste from some local CAFOs, and other sources of agricultural runoff.

So tomorrow I'll be donning waders and wielding a net as we search for insects, in an effort to determine the health of the river. Insect counts have been down in the past few years, but there's no obvious reason why they should be, and the Watershed Council Director, Adrian College Biologist Jim Martin suspects it may just be the human variable in past StreamSearches.

Hopefully we'll collect lots of bugs, providing evidence the Raisin is still healthy.

On a side note, during training, my 10 year old daughter and I found a bloodworm. Dr. Martin said they actually have hemoglobin. I'm a Political Scientist, not a Biologist, so the idea of a worm having hemoglobin is really bizarre to me. It shows once again that it pays to hang out with people of different specialties--you'll learn all kinds of wild stuff.

Death Threats for Cartoonist Just Aren't Funny

You'd think anytime a cartoonist is involved, it ought to be funny. But Abu Omar al-Baghdadi's offer of a reward for the death of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks isn't funny at all.

Neither are Vilks's cartoons showing Mohammed as a dog. Gratuitously insulting a whole community of people, the vast majority of whom have never done anything to offend you, just isn't funny.

But the consequence of an unjustified insult should not be death. Of course it often is, when pride is at stake, or the offended person is a drunken idiot. But neither pride, nor drunkeness, nor religious beliefs justify putting a price on someone's head.

When I was 14, I got upset when people insulted me. Now I'm 42--if someone insults me it just makes me laugh. Like the guy a few years ago who called me un-American for opposing the war (which may be the last time someone's directly insulted me). Immediately after calling me un-American and a chicken, he ran out of the room without waiting for a response. I'm going to bother to get angry and call for his head? Seriously, I've got better things to do.

But that's the problem with fanatics--they don't have anything better to do than try to kill anyone who mocks them. The concept of live and let live--the true golden rule--is anathema to them.

27 September 2007

Naked Hiking on a Godly Mountain

The Associated Press reports that people are getting nekkid on Mt. Everest, offending the local Nepalis who worshipo the mountain as a god. The president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association says "There should be strict regulations to discourage such attempts by climbers."

Well, I'm always hesitant when someone says "there should be strict regulations." And, really, if Everest is a god, isn't all the pi**ing and sh***ing on it more of a problem than some yahoo stripping down at 29,000 feet?

Federal Judge Defends the 4th Amendment.

Ed Brayton has sent out another good dispatch from the culture wars, alerting us civil libertarians that another portion of the USA PATRIOT Act has been struck down as unconstitutional.

The decision came in a lawsuit filed by Brandon Mayfield, the attorney from Portland, Oregon,--and a muslim--who was falsely and foolishly suspected by the FBI of being a conspirator in the Madrid train bombings 2004. Using a portion of the PATRIOT Act, they got a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court without having probable cause, and planted bugs in his house while doing a "sneek and peek" search.

No problem, except that a search without probable cause is an explicit violation of the 4th Amendment, which reads "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." The judge explained it clearly.

Now, for the first time in our Nation's history, the government can conduct surveillance to gather evidence for use in a criminal case without a traditional warrant...For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law - with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill advised.

Hey, all you conservatives out there who think the Constitution means exactly what it says! Are you cheering right now? If you mean what you say, then you should be. But if you throw up some jibber-jabber about security and the war on terror, then you're admitting that you don't take the Constitution nearly as literally as you claim to.

The problem stems from the way the Patriot Act was passed. Playing on the fear generated by 9/11, Republican leaders in the House and Senate jammed through the bill with no debate, and without letting anyone read the contents. Rushig to pass ill-conceived legislation is exactly the kind of thing the House tends to do, but the Senate nearly always slows things down, acting, as George Washington is alleged to have said to Jefferson, as a "cooling chamber for legislation." The Balanced Budget Amendment, the Flag Burning Amendment, the Gay Marriage Amendment, and the Contract with America are just some recent examples of the Senate blocking silly legislation passed by the House. But with the Patriot Act they forgot their proper role in the U.S. system.

And while it was Republicans who pushed it through, the Democrats are no less guilty. After all, they voted blind on major legislation, like the cowards they generally are. Anytime the Republicans murmer, "Un-American," the Dems rush to out-fascist the fascists just to prove their patriotism.

As if gutting the Bill of Rights is by any stretch of the imagination patriotic.

25 September 2007

What doesn't George Bush manage to misunderstand?

George Bush criticized Democrats last week for "deciding to pass a bill they know will be vetoed. Well, yes, Mr. President, that's they way it works under our Constitution. Congress has authority to pass legislation, and you have the authority to veto it, but you don't have the authority to prevent them from passing a bill.

What's really going on is that Bush doesn't want to have to veto this bill, because it means denying poor children health insurance, and he knows that position's not a political winner. If he can bully Congess into not passing the bill, he won't have to take such a high profile action. It's a perfectly rational position for him, but I still can't stand the terrible civics lesson he's giving Americans--"Congress should only pass bills when the President says they can."

He also claimed that Democrats were just trying to score political points. True enough, since they probably don't have the votes to override a veto (unless a lot of Republicans get scared away from voting against poor kids' health insurance), but scoring political points is a way parties sell themselves to voters. In other words, it's the democratic way! Not many things annoy me more than people complaining about politicians "just making political points." If they didn't, how would you know where they stood on the issues?

Go away, George. We're all getting tired of you. And, no, you're not a "huge asset" to your party's candidates. It's time to start your long slow walk into retirement.

23 September 2007

And we think it's a free country

The Wasington Post reports that the U.S. government is collecting excessive information on U.S. citizens who dare to travel abroad. The information recorded includes whom they plan to stay with overseas, the personal items carried, and even the books they take along. Ben Franklin called it so long ago--"Those who prefer a little temporary security to liberty deserve neither"

Why I'm glad to be at a small college...

My better half and I went to see Greg Brown at the Arc, a folk club in Ann Arbor, last night. Despite the metal folding chairs and lack of alchohol (you have to be a member to buy) Greg and Bo Ramsey put on a great show. The only real damper on the evening was the large presence of academic-type lefties in the crowd. I had more than enough of those while in grad school at Oregon, but of course they're legion at U.Mich, too. You may know the type: goatees, earrings, faces a mask of humorlous earnestness. Oh, hell, I usually have a goatee, too, and used to wear 6 earrings. It's the faces that distinguish them. That and their banal sophistication, like the two college-age girls standing in line behind us, "I just can't understand why some people like football." They're the types that put "No war for oil" bumper stickers on their hybrid SUVs. The type who think they're intelligent, but actually think in bumper-stickerese. The type that just banned former Harvard President Lawrence Summers from speaking at UC Davis because he isn't politically correct.

The couple in front of us were perfect examplars of the type. Despite never speaking to them, I know them. I went to grad school with them. Not them personally, but their type. The guy had the goatee, earring, and earnest look. He didn't smile the whole evening. The girl looked rich and incapable of smiling, but clapped enthusiastically at every anti-war comment Greg Brown made.

And that's what really irked me. This crowd of obviously educated people, hooting and hollering like Nascar fans every time Greg criticized the war. "War is bad! Yay us!" Yeah, I oppose the war, too. I argued publicly against going to war before it began, and was called unpatriotic and un-American by a yahoo in a cowboy hat and boots (in Michigan, folks, not Texas!). I'm comfortable with my anti-war credentials. But I didn't leave a wet spot on my seat just because a folksinger validated my political views. In fact I'd make a sizable wager that Greg's anti-war comment are the only thing that's ever gotten the rich girl excited.

And that's why I'm glad I'm at a small school. Sure, most of our faculty are liberal, very much so. But that type just isn't present in sizable numbers. I'm not sure whether they don't apply to small schools, whether they don't get hired, or whether they just don't stick around, but we're better off for their absence.

I've got to catch Greg Brown when he's not playing a college town.

22 September 2007

Happy Birthday Joan Jett

My newspaper says today is Joan Jett's birthday. Nick Cave's too. So, happy birthday to two of my favorite musicians. I hope you stay off the Mercy Seat, Nick. Joan, I still love rock 'n roll.

Just another day of violating his oath of office...

Yesterday Representative Peter King (R-NY), said there are too many mosques in the U.S., and we should infiltrate them so we can monitor them.

In case you didn't know, all elected officials take an oath of office in which they swear to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution. Apparently King thinks the oath makes an exception for the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

Isn't it just like a Republican--those small-government, keep-the-guv'mint-off-our-backs, it's-about-time we-started-following-the-Constitution-again types--to cavalierly dismiss the importance of civil liberties? King needs to do three things: 1) Fess up to being wrong, 2) apologize sincerely, and 3) shut the f**k up.

I was at a mosque in Perrysburg, OH, a few weeks ago, to listen to a friend talk about the Pew report on Muslims in America. He talked about a recent trip to England, where he met young Muslim men who truly were radical, mostly because England still doesn't allow them to fill a normal place in English society. If King really wants to infiltrate mosques, and keep Muslims under surveillance as second-class citizens, he'll have spun a self-fulfilling prophecy, because we will radicalize young Muslims. But at the mosque in Perrysburg, my friend was listened to with thoughtful concern by a distinctly non-radical group of Muslims. The potluck that was served after the talk reminded me vividly of the many Protestant church potlucks of my youth (without the fried chicken, however), and my lasting impression was that these folks weren't only American, they were downright Midwestern!

If Peter King would like to meet some American Muslims, I'll be happy to introduce him.

Oh, look, a new blogger

Just what the world needs, another blog. Hope to God somebody reads it.

I'll comment on politics, economics, and evolution. Check back later when I've actually got something to say.