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December, 2002:

Polls closed

I’ve taken the “Who Is Atrios” poll down. Thanks to everyone who voted. Here are the results. I’ll be sure to drop a line to Kaus and let him know.

Name                Votes    Pct
Mahir!                 56  26.8%
Sidney Blumenthal      37  17.7%
Bob Shrum              23  11.0%
Norah Vincent          21  10.0%
Mickey Kaus            19   9.1%
Christopher Hitchens   19   9.1%
Mark V. Shaney         18   8.6%
Jennifer Liberto       16   7.7%

UPDATE: Apparently, some people have never heard of Mahir! How soon they forget. Read up on one of the biggest net.celebrities of 1999.

I’m moderately surprised that no one asked who Mark V. Shaney is. Read about him here and here. Finally, Jennifer Liberto was the writer of a much ridiculed piece that attempted to unmask the woman who runs Media Whores Online. One of the people she emailed with questions while researching that article was…Atrios. Coincidence? I report, you decide.

Cloned baby arrives in US

Yeah, I know, “allegedly cloned”, at least until DNA tests can be performed. In any event, the baby and her mother arrived in Florida yesterday and were transported to a secure undisclosed location. Testing will be done later, at which point we’ll know for sure if these folks are as fradulent as they are nutty.

Meanwhile, it’s a good thing that they didn’t arrive in Texas, where a bill has been filed to outlaw human cloning.

It’s the second attempt by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, to make cloning humans a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison and $10 million in civil penalties.

We sure know how to git tuff on crime around here, let me tell you. Hey, Jane, why not get together with Warren Chisum and see if you can join your bill with his? After all, why should Texas be forced to recognize anyone who was cloned in one of those decadent liberal states like Vermont if we don’t want to?

Some days, everything’s a song cue

A couple of headlines in the Chron today have me in a musical mood. First, there’s this story, about the 50th anniversary of the death of the great Hank Williams:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Just before sunrise on New Year’s Day 50 years ago, a sleek baby-blue Cadillac roared up to the rural Oak Hill, W.Va., hospital in the cold Appalachian darkness. The driver was just 17, exhausted and scared. The passenger was barely 29 and dead.

At the wheel was Charles Carr, a college freshman on Christmas break from Auburn. The man in the back seat was singer-songwriter Hank Williams Sr.

“I ran in and explained my situation to the two interns who were in the hospital,” said Carr, now a 67-year-old Montgomery businessman. “They came out and looked at Hank and said, ‘He’s dead.’

“I asked ’em, ‘Can’t you do something to revive him?’ One of them looked at me and said, ‘No, he’s just dead.’ ”

It was a last ride that would help define American music and pop culture for decades to come.


The last hours of his troubled life long ago passed from reality to myth. Biographers have speculated about what really happened. Officials have issued sketchy reports that only increased the mystery. Songwriters and playwrights still rhapsodize about it. A Web site dedicated to Williams estimates that more than 700 songs have been written about the singer, whose own recording career lasted only five years.

One of those songs, naturally enough, was written by the Austin Lounge Lizards. Here’s a clip from The Car Hank Died In (requires RealPlayer).

Then there’s this story about an actual smoke-filled room where Houston politicians meet and greet each other:

Many Houston politicians prefer to do business over a single-malt scotch and an imported stogie.

The place of choice? Downing Street, a River Oaks cigar bar.

Walk in on any given weeknight, and a cadre of elected officials and political operatives is packed into the lavish mahogany and leather booths.

“Politicians gravitate toward smoke-filled rooms,” said political consultant Dave Walden, who used to be a regular. “That place has more smoke than any place in town.”

Well, it’s scotch and cigars instead of martinis and cigars, but I think the Asylum Street Spankers‘ song Smells Like Thirty-Something still applies. (You can get the whole song from this page if you’re MP3-compatible.)

Taxpayers to bear cost: Film at 11

A two-Claude headline in the Chron today: Taxpayers may feel brunt of Kmart sting. Who’d have ever thought of that?

Actually, we’re not even talking about potential lawsuit costs, but the costs of cleaning up all the arrest records:

City Council will consider a contract today to hire the law firm of Winstead, Sechrest & Minick to help expunge the arrests from the records of nearly 300 people arrested during an ill-fated August sting on drag racing.

Charges already have been dropped against those arrested, but the arrests remain on their police records. Because the city’s legal department will represent the city in several lawsuits stemming from the arrests, it cannot represent those arrested in getting their records expunged.

As a result, the city will consider hiring outside counsel.

“We are trying to rectify a wrong,” said Robert Cambrice, a senior assistant city attorney. “We are trying to help out people who are trying to get into school or apply for jobs and are denied that opportunity because they have an arrest record.”

Cambrice said that, if the contract is approved, those arrested will be notified of the service by mail. If the city’s offer is accepted, arrest records will be expunged at a cost to the city of $484 each.

$484 each? I admit to not knowing much about the procedure here, but that sure sounds like a lot to me. Why is this so hard?

Halftime controversy

The Continental Tire Bowl, one of those bowl games you’ve never heard of (in this case, because it’s new this year), has produced some controversy. Seems the governor of West Virginia has his panties in a bunch because the UVa pep band made fun of West Virginians in their show.

During the Cavaliers-Mountaineers matchup at Charlotte, N.C., Virginia’s independent pep band staged a parody of “The Bachelor,” with a male Virginia student choosing between two female contestants.

One female, purported to be from West Virginia, had blue overalls, pigtails, a talent for square dancing and a dream to move to Beverly Hills, Calif. — a reference to “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Virginia officials said they plan to address the issue Tuesday. A West Virginia spokesman said school President David C. Hardesty would wait for Virginia’s statement before issuing his own.

Leonard Sandridge, Virginia’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, declined to say what, if any, sanctions could be imposed on the pep band. In previous years, officials barred the band from marching at halftime of home games.

“I wouldn’t rule out any possible outcome, as we look more carefully at what has occurred and the reactions,” Sandridge said. “The performance of the band was perceived as offensive by a number of persons — Virginia fans as well as West Virginia fans. A performance that causes that kind of reaction is inappropriate.”

Boy, you’d think that given the UVa band’s reputation for naughtiness, that someone might’ve demanded script approval beforehand, right? Well, they did:

Ken Haines, the Tire Bowl’s executive director, said he approved a five-paragraph script presented by band officials before the game but decried the performance as “childish.”

“Their performance was more embellished,” Haines said Monday from Charlotte. “The execution by the pep band was not in the same tone that we were led to believe. We were dismayed at the halftime performance of the pep band.”

He said the pep band is not welcome at future Tire Bowls.

“We’d be happy to have a Virginia marching band, if they should have one,” Haines said. “Apparently, (the pep band) has a reputation for being rather unconventional.”

The pep band also lampooned West Virginia at halftime of a 1985 game in Charlottesville, Va. That performance, a parody of “Family Feud,” included derogatory references to indoor plumbing and birth control in West Virginia.

School officials later apologized. Saturday’s Tire Bowl, a 48-22 Virginia win, was the first football meeting between the two schools since that game.

Darn those embellishments! So what was this nasty, horrible, insulting show? Judge for yourself. Here’s the script, as approved by the UVa Athletic Department and apparently this Tire Bowl guy:

Continential Tire Bowl Show (exactly as approved):

intro: ladies and gentlemen- welcome to the final episode of the
continental tire bowl’s “the bachelor”. and please welcome our
bachelor to the field, DUDE{insert real name here}! [guy walks out
onto the 50] DUDE has a great sense of humor, likes candlelight
dinners, and enjoys long walks on the beach. he’s also a member of
the finest scramble band in the acc, The Award Winning Virginia Fighting Cavalier Precision Marching Pep Band!!!

ann: we have just two bachelorettes left, GIRL_1[insert real name
here], a sociology major from wvu [girl walks out, wearing blue and
yellow]… and GIRL_2[insert real name here], a biology major from
uva [another girl walks out, wearing blue and orange]. so who will
it be? stay tuned to the continental tire bowl’s “the bachelor” to
find out.

[the three dance during the song, with each girl pulling him away
from the other, vying for his attention]

ann: well, it’s going to be a tough choice for our bachelor,
deciding between these two bachelorettes. GIRL_2, from uva, will be
attending medical school next fall and plans to be a pediatrician.
After she leaves wvu, GIRL_1 will be heading to california, out to
beverly. hills, that is. swimming pools, movie stars!

ann: now the moment you’ve all been waiting for- who will get the
continental tire and who will go home with a broken heart? will it
be GIRL_1 from wvu? [guy walks over to where GIRL_1]… or will it
be GIRL_2 from uva? [guy walks over to GIRL_2] who will it be?!?!

[guys goes back and forth between the two girls, and during
the “singing” part of song, he runs over to GIRL_2, drops to one
kness, gives her the tire, she shrieks in joy, they hug and he
carries her off the field toward the front sidelines]

Boy, they should sure be ashamed of themselves for befouling the honored traditions of the Tire Bowl. It’s an outrage, I tell you.

UPDATE: Here’s what I think the apology should be, as I suggested to the Rice MOB mailing list:

“The UVa Pep Band would like to apologize to any West Virginians who may
have misinterpreted our show as being disrespectful to their heritage. We
have the utmost respect for pigtails, overalls, and square dancing, and
never meant to imply that they were in any way less than honorable. We’re
sorry for the confusion.”

Will someone please tell Trent Lott that I’m available for his next gaffe?

Internet privacy

From today’s Chron, via the AP wire:

In the days after his stepdaughter’s murder, Tim Remsburg funneled his fury into phone calls to anyone he thought might help explain her death.

“At two o’clock in the morning, I was trying to get President Clinton’s number. I couldn’t sleep. I just wanted to rattle everyone’s cages and get some answers,” he said.

His stepdaughter, Amy Boyer, was 20 when she was shot to death Oct. 15, 1999, by a former high school classmate, Liam Youens, who had paid an Internet information broker to track her down.

For the three years since the murder, her parents have fought to protect other potential victims, most recently by suing the broker for negligence and invasion of privacy.

I’m always a little nervous when I tune in to a story about people who claim their privacy has been violated by “the Internet”. I know there’s plenty of data out there about all of us that we’d prefer didn’t exist in any organized fashion, but blaming “the Internet” is often an exercise in misdirected blame, just as is blaming “pornography” for serial killers.

Generally speaking, the sort of information about you that is freely available on the Internet was freely available long before the Internet entered the public consciousness. I can find all sorts of useful information at the Harris County Tax Assessor web page, for example, but it’s all stuff that’s public record. I could also get it by taking a trip downtown, or calling them on the phone, and asking for it. The Internet makes it easy for me to get this information, but it didn’t make it possible for me to get it.

Getting back to the story, I see that “the Internet” is not really the focus of this lawsuit:

Youens paid Docusearch Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., about $150 to get Boyer’s Social Security number and other information, including her work address.

“Docusearch pulled through (amazingly) it’s like a dream,” Youens wrote on his Web site.

A few weeks later, Youens pulled alongside Boyer’s car after she left her job at a dental office and shot her 11 times before killing himself.


The Remsburgs filed a federal lawsuit against Docusearch in April 2000. The case is on hold while the state Supreme Court clears up several legal questions, including whether private investigators or information brokers have any legal obligations to the people whose information they sell.

The Remsburgs argue Docusearch should have notified Boyer that Youens was requesting the information, and made sure he had a legitimate reason.

But a Docusearch lawyer said the company has such a duty only if it knows the sale would significantly increase the risk of a violent attack. In this case, Youens already knew Boyer’s home address and didn’t need her work address to kill her, Andrew Schulman said at a hearing last month.

The court also is deciding whether someone whose Social Security number was obtained without permission can argue invasion of privacy, and whether the same argument can be made about a work address.

The facts of the case are pretty horrible, but I’m not sure why the private investigator is liable. Again, unless they obtained non-public information by illicit means, all they did was facilitate. Liam Youens could have found that information on his own had he chosen to. And what constitutes a “legitimate” reason to find out someone’s work address? What if he’d said he was an old friend who wanted to send her flowers for her birthday? What if he said he’d met her at a convention and wanted to send her a resume? Seems to me this is a pretty low hurdle to clear.

Schulman did not immediately return calls seeking comment, but at the hearing, he argued that none of the information Docusearch provided was private. Docusearch had hired a woman who called Boyer and her family to get her work address without revealing why she was calling, a technique known as “pretexting.”

In hacker circles, this is known as social engineering, though that usually refers to getting information that’s supposed to be secret, such as passwords. This may sound sleazy, but let’s face it: Once they know where she works, all it takes is a phone book for the rest.

My heart goes out to Amy Boyer’s family and friends, but I don’t think they have a legal leg to stand on. I certainly favor efforts to keep private data private, but only if those efforts focus on availability. I fear they are casting too broad a net, and I don’t think any good law will result from it.

What holiday?

You know how it’s supposed to be calm and quiet at the office during the holiday weeks? People are on vacation, no one’s really thinking about work, not much gets done, etc etc etc?

Well, bugger that. I’m up to my clavicle in two projects that are due this week, and one of them is going through a change approval process from hell. So much for my usual end-of-year in-cube sabbatical. Good thing I hadn’t planned on taking vacation at this time, I would’ve had to cancel it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to crawl under my desk and suck my thumb. I’ll be back later when the coast is clear.

Where they come from

In case you’re wondering what Ann Coulter might have been like in college, here’s a taste. Of the many sad things about this person, I think the saddest is that she’s an English major. But hey, she’s kinda cute and she’s not deterred by the finer points of logic, so look for her on Fox News any day now.

BTW, Alex, I can just about guarantee that you were a better writer than that when you were in college.

Off the Kuff retrospective: Referrers

Here’s how people have found me for the past three months, according to the canned CGI referrer script that my domain host provides. They only keep two months’ worth of data at a time, and I only bothered to think about this in November, so that’s all I’ve got.

There’s quite a bit of data here, so I’ve just put the tops here, and the full report under the More link.

For October:

Aggregators, collections, indices, etc:

Weblog referrers:
498: Atrios
416: The Daily Kos

Top search terms:
#reqs: search term
-----: -----------
372: women of enron
175: madelyne toogood
162: bush upside down book

For November:

Aggregators, collections, indices, etc:

Weblog referrers:
359: The Daily Kos
332: Atrios

Top search terms:

#reqs: search term
-----: -----------
368: ron kirk
321: kermit washington
278: women of enron

For December:

Aggregators, collections, indices, etc:

Weblog referrers:
1481: Atrios
578:  Ted Barlow
423:  TAPPED

Top search terms:

#reqs: search term
-----: -----------
153: women of enron
93: trent lott racist
82: marnie rose


Off the Kuff retrospective: Traffic report

I suppose everyone wonders, when they start a blog, if anyone will actually read it. I told family and friends about it, so I knew I had at least a few readers from the beginning. Some of these friends were already blogging or about to begin, so I also had a few referrals from the beginning as well. Still, the first time I heard from a stranger was a kick, as was the first time I heard from a fellow blogger who’d added me to his blogroll. (That would be Brian Linse, by the way.)

My traffic has increased more or less steadily over the year. I can point to a few discrete events that helped. First was a referral from Matt Welch to this post. (Welch had in turn spotted a link to that post on Matthew Yglesias‘s old Blogspot blog.) I had just installed a hit counter a few days before, and was amazed to see over 200 visits on the day that Welch cited me. It was a long time before I had a day that good again.

I got another boost, both in terms of traffic and getting onto blogrolls, from Tony Adragna back when he and Will Vehrs ran a popular BlogWatch. (It’s kinda funny to me that blogwatching was a big deal back the days when I had a 20-link blogroll and plenty of time to read everything I wanted to in a given day. Ah, well.) Tony and Will did a nice job of highlighting new voices, and I considered it an honor to be in their rotation.

The next big traffic day I had was in early May when I criticized a post by Alex Rubalcava that claimed to show an embarrassing chain of emails involving Alex Michel of The Bachelor. InstaPundit had pointed to Rubalcava’s post, so when Rubalcava in turn pointed to my dissent, I got a second-degree Instalanche, which was about as much traffic as I’d gotten from Matt Welch in February. This remains the closest I’ve ever come to a cite from Glenn Reynolds, for what it’s worth. In the end, I was right to doubt this “scandal”, albeit for the wrong reasons.

In July I got my own domain and migrated from Blogger/Blogspot to Movable Type. (Note to all you Blogspot users who think you might want to migrate some day: Don’t wait until you have over six months’ worth of archives to import.) Here’s my monthly traffic stats before and after the move.

Since the move, I’ve gotten boosts from The Lefty Directory, from TAPPED, which was kind enough to put me on their blogroll when they went Movable Typing, from The Daily Kos and MyDD in the runup to the election, and of course from Atrios for pointing to my silly little poll about his Secret Identity. As noted before, that not only gave me my biggest day ever, it helped push me over 6000 visitors for December, making this my biggest month ever.

As things stand now, I’ve had about 45,000 visitors. I should get number 50,000 sometime in January, a bit before the one-year mark of my stat-tracking. An average weekday sees 220-270 hits. It’s a bit humbling to realize that. I’m very grateful to everyone who’s read my words, and especially to those who’ve made it a habit. I thank you all and I hope to continue to be worthy of your time in 2003 and beyond.

Let the year-end salutes begin

The Chron is doing its end of the year thing today, and I must say that their look at the silly side of 2002 was pretty darned funny. This first item is one I wish I’d known about earlier:

State representative candidate Martha Wong ran an ad in the Jewish Herald Voice citing her qualifications, including this one: “Martha’s sons have participated in their friends’ Bar Mitzvahs.”

Yes, this is the woman who replaced Debra Danburg. God help us all.

There’s also a more serious (and way more boring) retrospective, if you’re curious.

Seduction of the Innocent

Since we’re debating comics, I find it timely that Mark Evanier has a bit about Seduction of the Innocent, a 1954 book by Fredric Wertham which was about the allegedly pernicious influence of comic books on children. Wertham’s books led to Senate hearings, chaired by future Presidential candidate Estes Kefauver, and calls for censorship that eventually led to a “voluntary” industry-imposed Comics Code.

The parallels with TV/movies/music/video games/the Internet/whatever, as described here, are pathetically amusing. Seduction of the Innocent is long out of print and its methodology has been widely discredited, but that sort of trivia never bothers anyone.

You can download a copy of Seduction of the Innocent if you want to see for yourself the case that Wertham made.

An open letter to Rolling Stone

A rock musician named Maya rips Rolling Stone a new one for putting Britney Spears and two other pop queens whom I don’t even recognize on the cover of an issue entitled “Women In Rock”.

Jewel and Mandy friggin’ Moore have full page features as Rock Icons…Meanwhile Joan Jett gets one line. ONE LINE. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, who have never stopped touring, recently did 10 days in the Middle East playing for the troops stationed in Afghanistan. In AFGHANISTAN, Joan would come onstage wearing a birkha, which she ripped off and stomped on before blazing through the purest and nastiest rock show ANYWHERE. But even in the RS WOMEN IN ROCK issue, a story like that gets ONE SENTENCE on the bottom of the last page of Random Notes. Britney’s Rock credentials? Well, she butchers the song “I Love Rock’n’Roll” on her latest record, and when asked about it the genius replies “Well, I’ve always loved Pat Benatar.” And SHE is your Rock issue cover girl??
You should be REALLY embarrassed.

Amen. Via Thoughtcrimes, which I found via link to something else on The Sideshow.

Comics carping

On Monday, the Chron added two new comics, La Cucaracha, and The Boondocks. Some people don’t find them funny:

As a longtime student of comic strip culture, I am appalled by the two new comics the Chronicle has decided to include. I find them highly racist and offensive.

A “longtime student of comic strip culture”? Do you mean “Someone who’s read comics since I was a kid”? What a pompous bozo.

The Dec. 27 comic strip The Boondocks was nothing more than a mean-spirited and prejudicial attack on Southern Republicans. To intensify the smear, the language used was particularly offensive and inflammatory and unacceptable in contemporary discourse.

This strip is not funny and does not belong on the comic pages of a family newspaper.

Oh, cry me a river. I have to put up with Mallard Fillmore, B.C., and Marvin. Don’t read what you don’t like and quit whining.

I note, by the way, that the letter writers come from the suburbs (Sugar Land and Katy). Make of that what you will.

Houston cloning connection

Brigitte Boisselier, the scary-looking woman from the group that claims to have cloned human babies, was a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Houston. Her thesis advisor remembers her as a good student and a non-whacko.

Not anymore, and what’s more, she appears to be handing it down:

Boisselier has at least one child, a daughter who reportedly will be used as a surrogate mother in a cloning procedure.


McKellen to play Dumbledore

Sir Ian McKellen is set to take over the role of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies from the late Richard Harris. I’m glad to hear it.

The story goes on to note that the producers’ first choice was apparently still Richard Harris, using available footage and computer animation. After having seen the creepy effect of Nancy Marchand’s head grafted onto another woman’s body in Episode Two of Season Three of The Sopranos, I’m beside myself with relief that they’ve chosen a living replacement.
UPDATE: Or maybe he won’t. Durn British tabloids. Thanks to Greg Morrow, who pointed this out in the comments.

Campbell’s upgrades condensed soups

Campbell’s is making changes to its line of condensed soups in an effort to halt a slow decline in sales.

The alphabet soup, for example, now has 40 percent more letters, and the vegetable chunks are crisper.

Doug Conant, who became Campbell’s CEO nearly two years ago, said the company does not expect to revolutionize dinner tables.

“Our goal is to stabilize our condensed soup business,” he said.

Confession time: I have a mad jones for Campbell’s tomato soup. I could eat it for days on end if I had to. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it, in fact.

Hooters in the sky

The owner of the Hooters restaurant chain has finally succeeded in his quest to buy an airline.

In a news release, [Hooters of America Chairman Robert H.] Brooks said he plans to establish a charter air service called Hooters Air and would provide leisure travel service for the golf industry to Myrtle Beach, S.C. Brooks also has a home there.

In September, bankrupt Vanguard Airlines rejected Brooks’ offer to buy the assets of the failed Kansas City, Mo., company.

“While things did not work out with Vanguard, I learned through my due diligence efforts that the charter service segment is a healthier business arena and much better suited for extending the Hooters brand,” Brooks said.

I suppose going from hot wings to airplane wings is a brand extension. I’m just wondering if the flight attendants will be required to wear those orange short-shorts.

Aliens cloned my baby!

Or something like that, according to this story:

A member of a sect that believes life on Earth was created by extraterrestrials claimed Friday to have produced the world’s first human clone, a baby girl.

The 7-pound baby was born Thursday by Caesarean section, said Brigitte Boisselier, a chemist and head of a company that did the experiment. She wouldn’t say where the baby was born; she did say the birth was at 11:55 a.m. local time.

I’m not going to spend any time debating the merits (snort) of this claim. I’m just going to point you to the accompanying picture of Brigitte Boisselier and note that it does lend a certain air of credence to talk of cloned extraterrestrial alien babies. Nanoo nanoo!

RIP, Herb Ritts

Famed photographer Herb Ritts has died of pneumonia at the age of 50. Ritts was one of the best ever at photographing supermodels, but there was a lot more to his work than that.

It’s the end of the year as we know it

I don’t know about you, but my loins are fully girded for the inevitable onslaught of end of the year awards, retrospectives, Top N lists, and so on. Such awards are already showing up while others promise to soon.

I’m not one for award-giving, but it happens that January 1 will be my First Official Blog Anniversary. Couple that with the import and publishing of that last of my Blogspot archives, from February and January (still a work in progress), and I’m at least somewhat in the mood for looking back at The Year That Was. I hope you’ll indulge me as I do a few posts between now and Jan 1 on this topic.

The first thing I’d like to do is to salute the blogs that have been on my blogroll continuously since I started. They are as follows:

Ain’t No Bad Dude
Coffee Corner *, my blogfather
Page Fault Interrupt *
Amish Tech Support *
Garden Spot *
Rick Jones *
Karin Kross *
Little Green Footballs
Mark Evanier
Matt Welch
Matthew Yglesias, who should be pleased to note that I alphabetize by first name
Michael Croft *
Oliver Willis
War Liberal
Josh Marshall
Virginia Postrel

The ones with an asterisk are people I knew in Real Life first. The others were on just about all the other blogrolls that I encountered at the time. That’s 17 out of 105 total blogs on my blogroll, so obviously there’s quite a few excellent blogs that didn’t exist a year ago or didn’t come to my attention until a bit later. Sadly, there are also some excellent blogs that are no longer with us.

I’ll have more to say about my first year of blogging in the coming days.

Thank you, Midland

Remember Baby Jessica, the little girl who was rescued from a well in Midland in 1987? She’s sixteen years old now and hopes to live a normal life.

“I’ve always wanted to be a normal person,” McClure told Tyler television station KETK. “But I could never imagine my life without being Baby Jessica because it’s all I’ve ever been.”

McClure, now 16, said she doesn’t remember anything about the day that has defined her life.

But much of the world can still recall the 2 1/2 days of anxiously awaiting word from rescuers, who worked desperately to free the toddler from a pipe only 8 inches wide.

Her family, rescuers and a television audience of millions shared a collective sigh of relief when a paramedic rose from a rescue shaft with Jessica in his arms.

McClure said she hopes to go to college, get married and have four children.

I wish her luck. In the meantime, she’s in a select group of people who’ve had a song written about them by the Austin Lounge Lizards.

Is fish farming bad?

Argh. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about, now I have to worry about whether fish farms are a threat to the environment or not.

From the Northwest to New England, salmon farming’s critics contend the operations are a waterborne version of the terrestrial feed lot, contributing to ocean pollution, competing unfairly with wild fish and spreading disease.

Now a group called the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform is aiming a “Farmed and Dangerous” campaign directly at consumers, who can now get salmon year-round, often for as little as $3.99 a pound.

It’s the usual he-said/she-said argument, where Industry Officials say that they meet the strictest standards and Industry Critics say the standards either suck or aren’t being met at all. I don’t have enough feel for this yet to know who’s blowing more smoke.

In the end though, flavor might determine consumers’ choice more than anything.

“Wild salmon tastes better, in our opinion,” said Lane Hoss, a spokeswoman for Anthony’s Restaurants, which has 18 restaurants from Olympia to Bellingham.

While Hoss had not heard anything about the boycott, she said: “We’ve just always been committed to wild salmon.”

To each his own, [Washington State Sen. Dan] Swecker said; some people prefer the taste of farmed salmon.

“They are blander in taste because of what they’re fed. Typically Americans prefer white fish that are deep-fat fried. It’s a matter of preference.”

I weep for my country’s taste buds. No wonder the French sneer at us.

The Christmas story

Teresa posted from Luke 2:1-14 on Christmas Eve. I’ve always thought these were some of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. You’ll recognize the last three paragraphs as the explanation Linus gives for “what Christmas is all about” to Charlie Brown.

So when T and I attended church that night, what did we get for the Gospel reading? The first chapter of Matthew, which is mostly an enumeration of the lineage from Abraham to Jesus and which has all the charm and poetry as an annual report. The only interesting bit is Verse 17:

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.

So the answer to the question “How many generations are there in the lineage from Abraham to Jesus?” is: Forty-two. I wonder if this was Douglas Adams’ inspiration.

Dallas rail quandary: Too many riders

The light rail system built by Dallas 20 years ago now has more riders than they know what to do with. Areas that were not originally part of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) plan are now asking for access to the system.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Owen any minute now to explain why Dallas is nothing like Houston and all of the predictions of failure for light rail in Houston are nothing like all of the predictions of failure for light rail in Dallas.

The Tulia drug bust fiasco

Atrios points to this Bob Herbert column which gives an update on the situation in Tulia, Texas, site of one of the most botched drug-bust cases in recent memory. Atrios has some links to background information on the case, but here are a few more: the original Texas Observer story, a short followup from a few months later, and a story from this November by the same reporter.

That last link requires registration. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Beginning with a few arrests in the mid-nineties, building momentum with a school drug-testing policy passed in 1996, and culminating in the big busts of 1999, the drug war in Tulia coincided roughly with the razing of the Flats and the black community’s move across the tracks—essentially pushing black and white Tulia into the same space for the first time ever. Of course, the timing also corresponded with the arrival of crack in the tiny towns of the Panhandle but not with the arrival of drugs per se; Tulians black and white had always had access to them, though perhaps not in proportion to their counterparts in the bigger cities. So why now, and why black Tulia?

“Propaganda is a funny animal,” said Gary O. Gardner, a farmer who lives in the nearby village of Vigo Park. Few reporters on the Tulia beat have filed their stories without a visit to Gardner’s compound, where he holds court from a converted pool room piled high with transcripts, writs, and affidavits, along with the occasional box of ammo. If [Joe Moore, currently serving a 90-year sentence] is the mayor of black Tulia, then Gardner, who is white and hails from one of the area’s original farming clans, is the mayor of rural Swisher County. Critical of the busts from early on, he has now made it his personal crusade to get Moore and the others out of prison. He blames politicians like [District Attorney Terry] McEachern for creating the atmosphere in which the busts could happen. “If you’re gonna make your living off the backs of somebody that you want to convict, you have to make ’em the enemy,” he said. “And in Tulia, everything is blamed on the black drug dealers.”


WHAT BECAME OF THE OTHER players in the sting? Officer [Tom] Coleman—presented with an Outstanding Lawman of the Year award by [then-Attorny General John] Cornyn following the busts—has since been fired from two narcotics postings and has gone to ground in Waxahachie; his lawyer deflects the media inquiries that still regularly come, from Court TV to the London Independent. Thirteen of the defendants are still in prison and serving long sentences, despite the fact that the state legislature passed several reforms in 2001 in response to what one member termed the Tulia fiasco; a team of attorneys, led by Jeff Blackburn, of Amarillo, and Vanita Gupta, of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in Washington, D.C., has taken up their cases. The governor’s office has reorganized the grant program that funded the operation, putting agents like Coleman under the supervision of the Texas Department of Public Safety. An FBI investigation announced two years ago seems to have petered out. Local authorities, for their part, have refused to condemn McEachern and [Sheriff Larry] Stewart’s handling of the cases or to call for the release of those still incarcerated. “The lesson in all of this is that there is no political benefit to ruling for these defendants, and the judges saw that clearly,” one defense attorney said. “They asked themselves, ‘Am I going to give up my career for these people?’ And the answer was ‘No.'” Or as one person in the black community put it, more succinctly, “There are a lot of good, honest people in this community. They just don’t have any balls.”

Paul Holloway found that out the hard way. An attorney in nearby Plainview, Holloway took on several of the cases in the original sting as a court-appointed attorney, and it was he who discovered much of Coleman’s personal and professional history. The son of a well-known Texas Ranger, Coleman had, as deputy, skipped town on two different sheriff’s offices over the past five years; in Cochran County, he also left $7,000 in unpaid bills. In interviews and documents collected by Holloway and other defense attorneys, former co-workers and associates of Coleman’s in both towns referred to him as a pathological liar and a paranoid gun nut. Cochran County’s sheriff filed charges against him in an effort to collect restitution and placed a letter in his official file warning future employers not to hire him in law enforcement. Deep cover in Tulia was apparently his last chance to make good. Sheriff Stewart discovered the Cochran County warrant about six months into Coleman’s tenure but decided to continue the undercover operation anyway. (Stewart would not be interviewed for this story.)

Holloway packaged up what he thought he had found and presented it to district judge Ed Self. He asked for money for expert witnesses, though he figured he wouldn’t need them. “I thought that if somebody knew about Tom, it would all be stopped,” Holloway said. Instead, Self sealed the information Holloway had spent weeks collecting and denied his request. “Do you know what this means, Judge?” Holloway asked to no avail.

“My kid is twelve years old,” Holloway told me as we rolled through the wide, quiet streets of Plainview in his gold Mercedes, “and we just watched To Kill a Mockingbird. I told him the difference between me and Atticus Finch is this: At the end of the trial—this complete railroading of an innocent man—Atticus turned to his client immediately and said, “Don’t worry. We’re going to appeal.'” But Holloway’s grasp of reality would not allow him to do that in Tulia. “I took an oath as a lawyer not to disgrace this system, but I knew in my heart they would win no appeals. If this will be stopped, it will be when the prosecutor puts a stop to it.”

Bob Herbert notes that there’s a new judge looking into the case, replacing Ed Self. That’s clearly a good thing, but unless that judge can free those that are already in jail, I think Paul Holloway is right. Look at the case of Roy Criner, for example. He wasn’t freed until the Montgomery County DA finally (and very reluctantly) asked for his freedom. The system likes closure. It doesn’t like overturning jury verdicts.

What’s in your garbage?

The Willamette Week, a weekly rag from Portland, OR, recently rifled through the garbage of some high-profile Portlanders and printed the results. They did so after Portland police had found evidence of drug use in the garbage of Portland police officer Gina Hoesly and used it to get a search warrant for inside her house:

Hoesly, a 13-year police officer who occasionally was an undercover decoy in police prostitution stings, became the subject of an investigation early this year, when she told police she’d been assaulted by her ex-boyfriend, Joshua David Rodriguez. Rodriguez has a history of drug arrests and convictions, and when officers booked him on assault charges, they found meth in his pocket.

Subsequently police began investigating Hoesly, hearing rumors from police informants that she had used drugs. On March 13 at 2:07 am, narcotics officers Jay Bates and Michael Krantz took her garbage. The order to do so came from Assistant Chief Andrew Kirkland, who dated Hoesly in the early ’90s.

Searching through her trash back at Central Precinct, they found traces of cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as drug paraphernalia. They also found a bloody tampon. They sent a piece of the tampon to the state crime lab, where forensics experts tested it for drugs, DNA and, for reasons that remain unclear, semen. The results of those tests have not been released.

The police didn’t seek a search warrant to take Hoesly’s trash because, as the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office conceded, officers didn’t at the time have sufficient evidence to convince a judge to issue a warrant. But once they had drug residue from Hoesly’s trash, officers were able to persuade Judge Dorothy Baker to issue a search warrant for Hoesly’s house. Inside, they found more paraphernalia and a diary that described apparent drug use. An indictment was issued in June.

Hoesly’s attorney successfully argued that this search was unconstitutional. City attorneys had argued that since the trash had been put out at the curb, it was public property. Willamette Week used that reasoning to search the trash of the mayor, the chief of police, and the district attorney. The mayor and police chief were not amused (the DA shrugged it off).

All in all, very interesting reading. Makes me want to rush out and buy a shredder, though I already have a pretty effective strategy for dealing with credit card receipts – I leave them in my pants pockets and let them run through the laundry before I throw them out. If you can pull a card number off them after that, my hat is off to you.

Via Alas, A Blog.

A true gift

Here’s a great Christmas story from the news:

A New York City police officer got a Christmas gift of $3,000 from homeless people who wanted to thank him for standing up for them.

Officer Eduardo Delacruz was suspended for 30 days without pay last month after he refused a sergeant’s order to arrest a homeless man found sleeping in a parking garage.

In gratitude, organizations for the homeless put together the fund for the 37-year-old officer, his wife and their five children. Homeless people also contributed change scrounged from passers-by, money earned from recycling cans and bottles, even a portion of their welfare checks.

“We just wanted to thank him by contributing however we could,” said Joe Bostic, one of 30 former and current homeless men and women who announced the gift. “And a lot of us gave quarters, nickels and dimes.”

According to police, Delacruz told his superiors in the police department’s Homeless Outreach Unit that he would not arrest a homeless man for trespassing on Nov. 22 because the man had nowhere else to go.

The man was arrested by another officer and pleaded guilty to trespassing.

In a statement Tuesday, the Police Department stood by the suspension and said Delacruz had been punished for failing to comply with a lawful order.

Homelessness has surged to record levels in New York in recent months, and advocates have filed a lawsuit claiming the city is trying to sweep the homeless off the streets by having police arrest them.

Arrests of the homeless are up, but police deny there is any concerted effort to push them off the streets.

The check was made out to Delacruz’s wife to avoid creating a personal conflict for the officer. The suspension cost him about $3,600 in net pay, said his lawyer, Norman Siegel.

Siegel said the officer was back at work Tuesday but was “very moved” by what the homeless did. The officer and his family “specifically asked me to say, ‘God bless everyone, especially the homeless,'” Siegel said.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

For those last minute gifts

It just isn’t Christmas any more without Dave Barry’s Gift Guide. I told Tiffany I plan on getting her one of the Duct Tape Purses next year (here’s a picture). She was duly impressed.

Merry Christmas, Mel Torme

Mark Evanier has one of the best Christmas stories I’ve ever read, about Mel Torme and a group of slightly clueless Christmas carolers. Read it and smile.

Football Is A Sucker’s Game

Just finished reading this NYT magazine story about the realities of bigtime college football today. It’s pretty gnarly. Read the whole thing, but be prepared to feel the need for a shower afterwards.

This bit here is the reason why I hate the Bowl Coalition Series and all of its privileged members:

”We are receiving letters and calls from conferences that want in,” Mike Tranghese, coordinator of the five-year-old B.C.S., told me. ”And we have formed a presidential oversight panel to form an answer.” But letting more members in would mean splitting up the money more ways. I asked Tranghese if I was missing something in assuming the B.C.S. had no incentive to cut more schools in. ”If you were missing something, I would let you know,” he said. ”The B.C.S. consists of the major teams as determined by the marketplace. Any other system is socialism. And if we’re going to have socialism, then why don’t we share our endowments?”

Let me suggest another word to you, Mike: oligarchy. “Cabal” also works. Whatever it is we’ve got today, it sure ain’t an unfettered free market.

There’s a third word that also applies: “Desperation”.

One reason B.C.S. members do not want to share is that college sports have become so immensely expensive that even some of the biggest of the big lose money. The University of Michigan, which averages more than 110,000 fans for home football games, lost an estimated $7 million on athletics over the course of two seasons, between 1998 and 2000. Ohio State had athletic revenues of $73 million in 1999-2000 and ”barely managed to break even,” according to the book ”Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports,” by Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economics professor. A state audit revealed that the University of Wisconsin lost $286,700 on its Rose Bowl appearance in 1998 because it took a small army, a traveling party of 832, to Pasadena.

If the Michigans and Ohio States of the world don’t make money, it can’t be done.

The USS Meredith Victory

I’ll be scaling back on posting for a day or two (there’s some kind of holiday coming up). In the spirit of that holiday, read about the USS Meredith Victory, which rescued 14,000 Korean War refugees on December 22, 1950. More information is here, including a page of photos. That page sadly lacks any captions, but you can see from this picture what it was like on board. I’d never heard anything about this great story before.

Thanks to my dad for the link.

Enron movie update

The Enron movie that I mentioned in August is set to air on CBS on January 5.

Whether the movies are any good remains to be seen, but the scandal certainly has the stuff of which a great movie can be made, said Jim Ragan, director of the University of Southern California’s professional writing program.

“Many of the great movies are about backdrop. Doctor Zhivago had the Russian Revolution. Gone with the Wind had the Civil War,” he said. “Enron has greed, deals in Washington, a company trying to show profits at all costs. That’s the approach I would take. That would be the backdrop.

Enron also has Shari Daugherty, though sadly the screenwriters appear to have overlooked her. If only HBO had made this movie.

(For no particularly good reason, I’m reminded here of what Yogi Berra said when someone asked him what he thought of Doctor Zhivago: “It sure was cold in Russia in those days.”)

It’s hard to know where to start with the snarkiness on this one. Christian Kane! Mister Blue! Little Kenny Lay flashbacks! Someone please get to work on the Enron Movie Drinking Game so we can all be properly prepared when it airs.

And what could be more fun than an Enron movie? Why, two Enron movies, of course:

FX plans on skirting satire to present a sobering take on Enron, said Gerard Bocaccio, senior vice president of entertainment.

Enron “almost rose to a mythical status, with Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and (Andrew) Fastow. It became the precursor of the meltdown of the Clinton, go-go 1990s,” he said. “We’re taking the issue of corporate excess very seriously.”


The Enron movie, Bocaccio said, will be loosely based on the still unreleased book Power Failure by local writer Mimi Swartz (who is married to a Chronicle assistant managing editor) and Sherron Watkins, who wrote a famous memo criticizing Enron’s accounting.

Shockingly, some people doubt that a second Enron movie would be a good thing:

Some Hollywood observers doubt that FX will make the movie. Only rarely will a network or cable channel decide to make a second made-for-TV movie on the same subject, said Barbara Corday, chair of USC’s television production division and former head of prime-time programming at CBS.

“They try to avoid it like the plague,” she said. “I don’t believe anybody will make a second movie.”

I’m sure she’s right. It’s not like this is the Amy Fisher story, after all.

WTC Stadium

Eric McErlain expands on a suggestion by Instapundit for what to do with the World Trade Center site. Instapundit had jokingly suggested a baseball stadium; McErlain seriously suggests a football stadium.

I like this idea. The Jets have never really had a home of their own – they used to play in Shea Stadium, now it’s Giants Stadium. It’s time they stepped out of the shadows and formed their own identity in their own stadium.

When I say “formed their own identity”, I mean this: Who’s the first person you think of when you think of the New York Jets? If it’s not Joe Namath, you’re either a true fan or really confused. Namath last played for the Jets in 1976. They’ve had a few good players since then, and they have an exciting young team now, but as long as they play in the Meadowlands, they’ll be the Giants’ kid brother.

(There’ll be another benefit to a Jets stadium in Manhattan: my dad will have to stop referring to the Buffalo Bills as “New York’s football team”. I don’t think that’ll help overcome any financing issues, but I figured I’d throw it out there anyway. You never know.)

Finally, it goes without saying that the Yankees need to stay in Yankee Stadium. Anything else is a sacrelige. If you want to argue otherwise, I’ll be sticking my fingers in my ears and singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” at the top of my voice. Some things just can’t be discussed maturely.