Archive for May, 2005

The good news: the French have rejected the proposed EU constitution.

The bad news: the defeat was caused by the perception that the EU constitution was too free-market. The hard right rejected it because they feared the increased labor mobility would let foreigners come into France and take jobs. The hard left rejected it because they thought it was an attempt to impose Anglo-Saxon ‘hypercapitalism’ on the Glory That Is France.

The good news: this indicates that the whackos are a decisive majority in French politics, so France can continue socializing itself into utter global irrelevance. So long, guys, and may you get exactly the kind of rulers you’re asking for. Get back to me when Sabine Herold’s government is running the country.

This is our new lovebird, Helga. Helga is a peach-faced dutch blue lovebird. He (we think it is a he and not a she) likes to do this for reasons not well understood. I think if my mouth were big enough, he’d climb in.

For the inquisitive, the pictures were taken with my LG VX7000 phone. It does quite well at close-up objects, but anything more than about 10 feet away comes out very blurry with poor color saturation.

My Sobe peach tea bottle has become his new favorite toy:


No sooner do I toss out a few thoughts on judicial filibusters than the Senate comes to a deal. Looks like a variation on the “explicit compromise” option. So now the question is whether this is a good thing.

I think what the Democrats have been doing with filibusters was abusive. In its scope and scale it was an unprecedented escalation of the judicial confirmation wars. I wanted it stopped. But at the same time I didn’t particularly like the so-called “constitutional option”. It felt like yet another escalation, when what I really hoped for was that both sides would find a way to stand down.

The hard-core partisan part of me — the one that wanted the Democrats punished for their abuse of the filibuster, to see them driven before me and to listen to the lamentations of their women — sorry, let me start over. Part of me wanted to see the Democrats crushed for their abusive behavior. The deal doesn’t do that, and that made me angry. But on reflection this changed a bit.

A lot hinges on what happens next. What I’d really like to see is a return to the status quo ante, in which the filibuster is available for truly extraordinary circumstances but essentially never invoked. (The Abe Fortas case is the paradigm. Fortas lacked majority support, a fact which the bipartisan filibuster of his appointment made clear.) It is possible that the current deal provides a face-saving way for the Democrats to return to that status. If so, I’d consider the deal a good thing overall. The key question is how the Democrats will define “extraordinary circumstances” going forward. Frist needs to move appointees through the confirmation process as rapidly as possible to get the answer to that question. If the Democrats view this as “we confirm Owens, Brown and Pryor and keep filibustering everybody else” then we’re basically back where we started.

I’m not particularly happy about having to depend on the honor or good sense of the Democratic party, since their behavior over the last several years strongly suggests they don’t have much. But time will tell. The fact that hard-core partisans on both sides are angry about the deal suggests it’s at least potentially a reasonable compromise.

Also, anything that makes it less likely that John McCain will ever be president is a strong silver lining.

I grew up in a 4-person family, in a house with one bathroom. Today, my wife and I have a house with two and a half bathrooms. That means I’ve increased my per-capita bathroom supply by a factor of five. Go me!

That is all.

Well, maybe a few random filibuster-related thoughts.

It seems to me that the Senate filibuster is really a consensual arrangement; the majority grants a certain amount of power to the minority in the knowledge that at some point in the future their positions may be reversed. This prospect of future minority influence has a certain present-time value to the current majority, which is balanced against the present-time cost of the current minority exercising that power. If the minority uses that power in a way that imposes a greater present-time cost on the majority than the present-time value of prospective future minority influence, the current majority will seek to reduce or eliminate the filibuster because it’s no longer a net-positive arrangement. In other words, from the minority perspective, the filibuster should be treated as a last-resort measure, because if you abuse it you’re likely to lose it.

That seems to be what is going on right now. The Democrats have used the filibuster against Republican judicial nominees to an unprecedented degree, and it’s imposed a high-enough present-time cost on the GOP majority that they’ve decided it’s better to forgo the potential future value of being able to use the filibuster in an equivalent way themselves at some later time.

So… given that the Democrats have provoked the majority to this extent, what should they do now? I can see several possibilities:

  • Go down in flames. Push the GOP into restricting the filibuster, and hope to use that action as a campaign issue to reclaim the majority in 2006 or 2008. Then make the GOP eat the consequences of their reduction of minority influence. Emotionally satisfying for the Democrats, but it isn’t clear that the public cares enough about this issue to swing control of the Senate over it.
  • Hope the GOP doesn’t have the votes to sustain the filibuster rule change. This is the double-or-nothing approach; if it works, the Democrats can keep filibustering to their hearts content, but if the GOP does have the votes then this really reduces to the option above.
  • Make an explicit compromise. Agree not to abuse the filibuster in this way, thus reducing the present-time cost enough to make retaining the filibuster worthwhile to the majority. This is difficult because given their prior obstructionist actions the GOP is not in a mood to accept future promises of good behavior from the Democrats. We’ve seen attempts at compromise founder already on the problem of the Democrats wanting to retain the right to filibuster ‘extreme’ nominees, with the Republicans being unwilling to subject themselves to the Democratic assessment of who is and is not ‘extreme’.
  • Implicit compromise. The technique the GOP is deploying to restrict the filibuster requires a failed cloture vote on a judicial nominee. The Democrats could simply vote for cloture on individual appellate court nominees, denying the Republicans the opportunity to restrict the filibuster. They could then retain the filibuster for use where it’s most important to them — nominations for Supreme Court seats — and they wouldn’t have to make any kind of explicit deal with the GOP to do so. The hope then would be that the public would be more sympathetic to a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee, which at least has some precedent in Senate history.

I think the implicit compromise option would be the politically smart thing for the Democrats to do. It would entail a perceived rolling-over on appellate court nominations, though, which would anger their base, so it may not be possible for them to do anything other than go down fighting. Plus, as far as I know the Democratic party doesn’t give a damn about my opinion on what would or would not be politically smart for them to do.

Fox News today includes these pictures on their front page:

Photo Credit: AP

They accompany a news story about some Shiites in Iraq protesting the U.S. presence in the wake of the detention of a radical Muslim cleric.

What strikes me about these pictures is the cultural gap revealed in them. According to Arab custom, it is extremely vulgar to display the bottoms of your feet to someone (such as when you are sitting down, or cross-legged in a chair), and shoes are sometimes used as a form of insult. When Saddam’s statue was pulled down in Baghdad, many local Iraqis threw shoes at it:

Iraqis use their shoes to hit the remains of a statue of Saddam Hussein in downtown Bagdhad, Iraq Wednesday April 9, 2003. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Thus, the people in these photographs are making a statement, one intended to be very offensive to Americans and Jews. They look quite proud to be doing so, as for them it is a defiant gesture.

The average American’s reaction may be considerably more muted than they hoped for. Although we show respect for our flag by custom, drawing a picture of one on the ground is not the same thing as an actual flag (especially if the drawing is inaccurate, as is the one in the pictures. Deliberately making the drawing incorrect is one way to avoid defiling the symbol). So “desecration” of such an image generally doesn’t draw much anger from us. In fact, I can easily visualize a flag being painted on the ground at a school or college as part of a patriotic celebration. Some people might refrain from walking on it, but it simply doesn’t have the same connotation in our culture.

Such a culture gap also explains the Arab world’s reaction to this cartoon that originally printed in the Washington Times:


The cartoonist, Bill Garner, had this somewhat amusing backpedal explanation:

Cartoonist Bill Garner told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper that he never intended to offend the Pakistani nation.

“It is a cultural gap, a cultural misunderstanding that caused the uproar.

“The symbol to me was that of friendship,” he was reported as saying. “There is a saying in English that a dog is a man’s best friend.”

“There has always been a great friendship with animals, especially dogs, in America”.

Mr Garner said that the cartoon was meant to depict “the spirit of goodwill and friendship that exists between the two countries”.

Garner must not be a very good cartoonist, since a message of friendship and equality is not what I take away from that cartoon. Garner fails to remind his audience (probably intentionally since he was talking to a Pakistani news service at the time) that dogs are also lapdogs — trained servants who happily obey their master’s every whim and lick his hand in gratitude.

That is clearly the message this cartoon intends. However, the Arab reaction to it is stronger than one might expect even with that insulting message.

The key is that dogs are considered unclean by many Arabs, on par with pigs. Many Arabs won’t even be in the same room with a dog, and to have a dog enter their home would be disgusting to them. To actually compare someone to a dog — to call Pakistan as a whole, a nation of dogs — is offensive on a whole new level.

Garner was probably not aware of this cultural trait. Many Westerners are not. But as Kyle pointed out to me when we discussed this, it is no longer safe to assume that such cartoons are only consumed by a Western audience. The internet has made the audience a global one, with many varying cultures and customs. Being a political cartoonist is very risky in such a theater.

The general lesson here is that one needs to be aware of the customs of one’s audience, and also one’s critics. Otherwise, you may offend without intending to, or fail to realize when you are being insulted. Both can severely inhibit any progress toward peaceful relations with others.

This just boggles my mind. (HT: Captain’s Quarters)

The closest analogy I can come up with would be if Joe Lieberman had an audiotape of Karl Rove offering Mrs. Lieberman an ambassadorship in exchange for the Senator switching his vote on the judicial filibuster issue. The media would still be flogging the story a year from now. And the Martin government in Canada did this in the face of a no-confidence vote over the issue of the government misappropriating public resources for political gain. Way to illustrate the point, guys.

I remember when Canadians considered their country an example of clean, effective government. Nowadays they’re looking more like a banana republic with each passing moment.

This IowaHawk parody of recent Newsweek-related events is a scream. I find it doubly amusing because my maternal grandparents owned a small vacation cabin at Lake Okoboji, which my family used to visit every summer. I’ve been to family reunions there many many times. I always thought of it as a pleasant getaway location with some surprisingly nice fishing; who knew all that Lutheran resentment was simmering underneath the surface?

In my own defense, I have to say that I am not and have never been an eater of lutefisk.

“Walt Disney’s ANIMAL FARM”.

I can’t decide whether I’d pay money to watch that or not. Luckily, I don’t expect it’s a decision I’ll ever face.

Clayton Cramer has been blogging a (to him) local tragedy in which a family was killed when their vehicle was hit by a (probably) drunk driver. His most recent post has an interesting idea for a long-term punishment for people with DUI:

I’ve long felt that a person convicted of drunk driving should be limited to motorcycles for a long, long time. A motorcycle can still do some damage in a traffic accident, but generally much less than a car or a truck–and if you drive a motorcycle while drunk with any regularity, this tends to be self-correcting.

I like this. For better or worse, in most parts of the country driving a car is a necessity for making a living. Suspending drivers’ licenses for DUI convictions just leads to people driving without licenses, and consequently without insurance. In many ways it exacerbates the problem. But forcing such people onto motorcycles would limit the damage they can do in accidents while still addressing their very real need for personal transportation.

And, as Cramer observes, continued drunk driving under such circumstances is likely to result in the death of the drunk. I consider this a feature.

In San Francisco, on top of the PG&E headquarters’ 33rd floor, a nest box has been placed for a mated pair of Peregrine falcons. You can watch their antics on the live nest cam. Recently some chicks hatched, and scientists from UC Santa Cruz placed bands on the babies’ legs to ID and track them when they leave the nest.

Baby falcons are commonly called eyases, meaning an unfledged (still in baby down feathers) nestling that is not able to prey on its own. These eyases look a bit cranky about being handled and unable to make the big, ugly, featherless animals go away. ๐Ÿ™‚

The birds are not harmed by this procedure. The tool being used looks like pliers but it’s really just a crimper that closes the open metal ID band around the bird’s leg. The band fits loosely so as not to compress skin or circulation.

Images Copyright 2005 Pacific Gas and Electric