Quote of the Week — Friedman on slaying the system


Via The New York Times:

    The standard answer is that we need better leaders. The real answer is that we need better citizens.

    —Thomas L. Friedman

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Ginger bashing


Ah, the caprices of youth. Or, according to the Associated Press:

Authorities say a 12-year-old boy assaulted by a group of middle-school classmates in Southern California may have been targeted after an Internet posting that urged students to beat up redheads.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Richard Erickson says the boy, who is redheaded, was kicked and hit in two incidents Friday at A.E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas. As many as 14 students participated in the attacks.

Erickson says the attackers may have been motivated by a Facebook message announcing that Friday was “Kick a Ginger Day.” The posting may have been inspired by an episode of the TV show “South Park.”

The upshot is that the victim wasn’t seriously injured, but what the hell is wrong with these morons?

No, seriously. Say what you will about society’s ills, or bad parenting, or whatever. But how bored and stupid do you have to be that this sounds like a good idea?

So long, and thanks for all the news


Mark Memmott brings us the news:

Carl Kasell, who has been on the air with NPR since 1975 and has brought listeners the news of joyous events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and tragedies such as the 9/11 attacks in 2001, is planning to give his final newscast on Dec. 30.

In case you can tune in, it’s scheduled for 11 a.m. ET that day.

We should not be heartbroken, though; Mr. Kassell will continue in his position as judge and scorekeeper—and, presumably, prize—on NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.

Thanks, Carl. It’s been a good run.

Justice, freedom, and necessity


One to keep an eye on. Peter Daniels explains:

A three-judge panel of a US federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of outspoken civil liberties lawyer Lynne Stewart, convicted in 2005 of assisting terrorism by transmitting the contents of a press statement by her client, the blind Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, in 2000. Also convicted at that time were Ahmed Abdel Sattar, who is presently serving a 24-year term for assisting the cleric, and Mohamed Yousry, a translator who was sentenced originally to 20 months.

The appellate court also ordered the revocation of Stewart’s bond, and she surrendered to prison authorities on November 19 to begin serving a 28-month sentence.

The latest decision was not unexpected considering the present political and civil liberties climate. An additional ominous note was injected, however, by the judges from the Second Circuit of the US Court of Appeals; they ordered the trial judge, John Koeltl of the Federal District Court, to hold another hearing on December 2 to consider resentencing Stewart to a longer term on the grounds that she had lied at the trial.

Koeltl had shocked the authorities in October 2006 when he sentenced Stewart to a term less than 10 percent as long as the 30 years called for the prosecution. At the time, Koeltl, in part voicing a broad and widespread sympathy for Stewart, especially in New York, called her “a dedicated public servant who had, throughout her career, represented the poor, the disadvantaged and the unpopular” ….

…. A further indication of the mood of the higher court judges was the partial dissent of Judge John M. Walker, who called the sentence “breathtakingly low.” Walker was not satisfied with the majority decision merely sending the case back for resentencing, claiming that it “trivializes Stewart’s extremely serious conduct with a ‘slap on the wrist.'”

Stewart denounced the appellate decision, pointing in particular to the recent decision to try some of the Guantanamo defendants at criminal trials in New York. She said that the timing of the decision in her case, “coming as it does on the eve of the arrival of the tortured men from offshore prison in Guantanamo,” was intended to intimidate lawyers who would be defending these men.

“If you’re going to lawyer for these people, you’d better toe very close to the line that the government has set out,” said Ms. Stewart. Otherwise, she added, you “will end up like Lynne Stewart …. This is a case that is bigger than just me personally.” Stewart’s attorney, Joshua Dratel, said that an appeal to the Supreme Court was possible.

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Faithless


I had a curious discussion the other day about church and state. In recent years, it seems a tendency to demand very narrow definitions has become more prevalent, with the result that you start wondering where people have been that they are unfamiliar with the common context of words and phrases. In this case, the discussion had to do with church and state, and the assertion that there is still some crossover taking place. A person of faith wondered what century an associate was living in, so I gave a twenty-first century example of the Bush administration appointing a woman named Pam Stenzel to a task force within the Department of Health and Human Services to promote and implement guidelines for an abstinence education program.

The thing is that abstinence education doesn’t work, and Stenzel knows it. According to Michelle Goldberg, Stenzel addressed the 2003 Reclaiming America for Christ conference, and told them a story about a man she met on an airplane, who asked about how well the program works:

At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she’d had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education’s success rate, a question she regarded as risible.

“What he’s asking,” she said, “is ‘does it work?’ You know what? Doesn’t matter. ‘Cause guess what? My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public school’s job should not be to keep teens from having sex.”

Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, “Our job should be to tell kids the truth!” And I should say that up ’til then, I agreed with her. But here’s what she means by the truth:

“People of God,” she cried, “can I beg you to commit yourself to truth? Not what works, to truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day, I’m not answering to you. I’m answering to God.

“Let me tell you something, People of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy! I will not teach my child that they can sin safely!”

My associate asked what church that was promoting. The answer, obviously, is Christianity in general. But he wanted something more specific.

These aren’t the old days of the Maryland colony; indeed, if you look at the First Amendment and the judicial history thereof, everything pertains to religion as opposed to sects or denominations. The idea of one promoting specifically a Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, or other such agenda always comes back to the root faith: Christianity. It’s not simply about denominations, branches, or sects, but also—and perhaps fundamentally—the broader religious paradigm. One need not be a constitutional scholar to recognize this; the legal layman can certainly do something like examine judicial decisions and compile a list; Torcaso v. Watkins, for instance, pertained not to sects or even religions, but a question of theism and atheism—the state cannot compel a person to swear belief in God as a prerequisite for holding public office.

Questions of church and state in the twenty-first century have a slightly more subtle context, and this isn’t really anything new. In the twentieth century, we still fought over whether to adopt a faith-based definition (life begins at conception), faith-based “science” (creationism/intelligent design), faith-based civil rights (homosexuality), and so on. The Oregon Citizens’ Alliance and its decade-long crusade against gays wasn’t a sectarian issue, but rather a Christian-values issue.

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Sertraline dreams and stranger things


It is going to be an interesting time. Perhaps that’s proverbial, or maybe not.

    D-bombs: If you’re going to declare war on your brain, why not throw in some overdoses of Vitamin D? One a week for twelve weeks, and no wonder. While the International Unit a completely arbitrary measurement, it still provides some entertainment. Apparently, one can overdose on Vitamin D at about 10,000 IU. Naturally, the pills containing 50,000 IU are available only by prescription. In the war on my brain, this is the equivalent of periodic MOAB air strikes to soften up the enemy.

    Varenicline: Better known by its brand name, Chantix, this is the ground invasion as such. I need to quit smoking, and sometimes when you’re depressed, it’s enough to just get a handle on one aspect of your life. Nicotine addiction seems a pretty good candidate.

    Sertraline: Zoloft has long been on my list of psych drugs to avoid. It probably has more to do with the fact that they ran cartoons for advertisements than anything else. But sertraline will be the counterinsurgency plan as I re-occupy my own brain and begin to attempt some useful influence. Unlike fluoxetine, I don’t know anyone who has attempted the flying leap into oblivion while taking sertraline. I’ve probably known plenty of people to take this drug, but only a couple who ever acknowledged it, and they were … how to put it … all over the map. We’ll see how this goes.

How strange, to call my brain the enemy. I’ll have to figure something out, because that’s not a notion I really want enduring through this process. I may be looking at popping some sort of candy like this for the rest of my life, and if Marsha Norman’s ‘night Mother comes to mind, it’s only as a rally cry. The point, obviously, is to live through this.

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Note to self: Health and nutrition


Often, I eat only one meal a day, but that equals approximately 1860 calories and 103% of my daily recommended fat intake. If I snack on top of that? Well, let’s see … the bag of Cheetos brand cheese puffs right next to me has 560 calories, over half my daily sodium intake, and will add 45 points to my daily fat intake, bringing the total to 148%. (Right, as if I’m ever going to eat only one “serving” out of the bag.)

What’s interesting is that my friends and family say I’m looking healthier these days. Yet, coincidentally, I had a physical yesterday, and not only am I 12-17 lbs. over my personal target weight, my cholesterol level is stratospheric and the low:high ratio completely out of balance. Solutions? Quit smoking, stop eating so much restaurant food. My doctor? If I do those two things, he’s not going to worry about the numbers. My blood pressure is just fine, I’ve dropped 10-15 lbs. from the last time I tried to quit smoking, and my glucose is where it should be, and my triglycerides are dandy.

(This is more a post for me than anything else. You know, history, reflection, that sort of thing. Maybe I want one of those, Holy shit! moments in which I look back and wonder what the hell I was thinking. Like the whole weight thing; I’m the only person I know who cares how much I weigh, and everyone else wonders why it’s an issue. Of course, when you wake up one day in your mid-30s and find your belly bouncing for the first time as you walk down the stairs, it’s alarming. When you respond by resolving to take up jogging again, and literally can’t because of those pounds, it’s distressing.)