Trimming The Tree

My sister flew into town on her way from New York to California for a couple of days, so we spent the day doing Christmas decorating with the Little Admiral. I put together the Christmas tree, always a frustrating business and more so today since the built-in lights didn’t work. I started to inspect each of the bulbs to see if I could find the problem, but then I realized I could fix it with $5 at Walgreens tomorrow with a couple of new strings instead of spending the next three hours figuring it out.
I took a few pictures of the action, and here’s my granddaughter with a new ornament from her aunt:

We only got part of the way through the tree-trimming, though, because we decided to watch our collection of Christmas television specials, which we got on DVD last year. These still have plenty of charm for younger viewers and nostalgia for us, but they definitely come from another era. At more than one point, the adults all remarked about the ways in which the shows struck us as odd.
No matter. We enjoyed the rituals and the fun of decorating, something we didn’t do to any extent last year because of the First Mate’s illnesses. We’re aiming for festive this year, and we’re off to a good start. Hope you are as well!

Northern Alliance Radio Today

Mitch and I will be on the air at 1 pm CT for the Northern Alliance Radio Network. We’ll be discussing the remarkable reform efforts of the Democrats as they prepare for their new majority status in Congress, the Flying Imams, Keith Ellison’s use of the Qur’an for his oath of office, and perhaps even the cultural implications of the Britney-Lindsay-Paris Axis of Beavil. Be sure to tune into AM 1280 The Patriot, or listen to the Internet stream from the station if you’re outside the Twin Cities. Call us to join the conversation at 651-289-4488.

Postponing The Immaterial

The Boston Globe reports that John Kerry has decided to postpone the decision on his expected run for the presidency in 2008. Sources claim that the fallout of calling servicemen lazy idiots has stunned him:

Senator John F. Kerry’s election-eve “botched joke” about the war in Iraq — and the fierce denunciations his comments drew from fellow Democrats — has led him to reevaluate whether to mount a run for the presidency in 2008 and has led him to delay an announcement about his decision, according to Kerry associates.
The Massachusetts Democrat is now leaning toward waiting until late spring before declaring his intentions, even as other candidates jump into the race and begin building organizing and fund-raising teams in early-primary states. Before the joke derailed his comeback, Kerry had signaled that he would decide whether to run by the end of January.
Kerry — who had methodically resurrected his political standing after a tough loss to President Bush in 2004 — was stunned by the swift, angry reaction to his Oct. 30 statement that underachieving students would end up “stuck in Iraq.” Aides and friends say the senator was particularly stung by the fact that so many Democrats had joined Republicans in rebuking him.
The incident laid bare to the senator the lingering skepticism and resentment of him two years after he failed to unseat Bush, according to Kerry advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Oh, please. This is just more spin from Kerry’s crew. What the incident revealed wasn’t “lingering skepticism and resentment” from his incompetent campaign against Bush in 2004. Fellow Democrats hardly bother to hide both even to this day. What got the Democrats angry, except for Charles Rangel, is that it fed into the image of Democrats as elitist snobs that sneer at the military and the men and women that comprise it. He tried to pass it off as a joke about George Bush, which didn’t make any sense since (a) Bush has an MBA and obviously pursued his education, (b) he got slightly better grades than John Kerry did as an undergraduate, and (c) both of them volunteered for the service.
And thanks to Rangel, the damage isn’t done yet. Rangel insisted on extending the damage during his Fox News appearance last week, in which he claimed that anyone with any potential for a career wouldn’t dream of enlisting in the armed forces. Democrats reacted in milder tones to Rangel’s statement, probably because Rangel isn’t running for president.
Besides, the entire idea of another Kerry run at the White House is its own botched joke. Kerry, who got selected in the aftermath of Howard Dean’s primary meltdown because of his supposed electability, turned out to be an absolutely atrocious candidate. He never reconciled his Winter Soldier days of accusing American troops of being the equivalent of the soldiers in the army of Genghis Khan, the testimony that launched his political career. Kerry tried making Bush’s Air National Guard service an issue in the campaign, and then screeched like an old woman when his own service record came under scrutiny. That he came within 4 points of Bush only demonstrated the opportunity the Democrats had to retake the White House, had they nominated someone even marginally competent at campaigning.
Kerry only postpones the immaterial in this delay. The Democratic Party wouldn’t nominate him again even if he was the last Democrat in the nation. The longer he pretends otherwise, the more pathetic he becomes.

Muslims Want Prayer Room At Minneapolis Airport

The fallout from the US Air decision to bar six Muslims from a flight last week continues. Now local Muslims want Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to provide them with a room for their prayers in order to keep other passengers from seeing them as a security threat. MSP officials might agree to a non-denominational “meditation space” as a compromise:

Area Muslim religious leaders have asked for a prayer room at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after six Muslim leaders were escorted off a plane last week because of security concerns.
The local imams, who prayed on the mezzanine level before meeting with airport officials Friday afternoon, said a prayer room is essential because of the need to pray several times a day. The act itself is nonintrusive, they said.
“We as Muslims, we are part of this country,” said Abdulrehman Hersi, a Minneapolis imam. “You have to pray wherever you are. Our prayer … we believe that we talk to our lord. It does not make harm to anyone.”
Airport director Steve Wareham said it would be possible to accommodate their needs, possibly in the form of a “meditation room” like those available at other airports. Such a room would be interfaith, he said.

This is another attempt to obfuscate the events that occured in Minneapolis last week and to paint the incident as bigotry run amuck. The passengers and flight crew did not remove the imams for merely offering sunset prayers, as implied in this statement. They carried on loud political conversations about their opposition to the war on terror, they took seats which were not assigned to them, they interfered with boarding of other passengers, and they requested seatbelt extensions for their supposed girth. I outweigh all of these men, and I’ve never had a problem using a standard belt.
Now they want to continue their victim act by demanding that the airport commission grant them their own secluded space for the practice of their religion. Bunk. All travelers have the same accommodations in airports, regardless of religion or race, and that’s the way it should stay. Catholics and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists have prayed in MSP over the years and suffered no problems for it, and I daresay so have Muslims before these acts of deliberate provocation.
I pray every time I get on a plane, and usually at least once during the flight. I somehow manage to constrain myself to praying silently and doing a sign of the Cross. I don’t insist on being disruptive, calling attention to myself, or conducting deliberate provocations. I don’t get out of my seat during the boarding process to confer with other Catholics about the war on terror. Given the nature of my prayers, I don’t loudly pray to Jesus that he keep the plane from crashing in the gate area of the airport.
If I did those things, I would also expect the airport to set aside a special room for me. It would be called a holding cell, and I’d deserve it. Maybe the local Muslims ought to consider that when they make this request.


The latest story on Mitt Romney has the appearance of an early opposition attack on his presidential hopes, and in this case a rather silly attack. Echoing the travails of Kimba Wood, Bill Clinton’s first nominee for Attorney General, the Boston Globe reported yesterday that Romney employed illigal immigrants as landscaping workers:

As Governor Mitt Romney explores a presidential bid, he has grown outspoken in his criticism of illegal immigration. But, for a decade, the governor has used a landscaping company that relies heavily on workers like these, illegal Guatemalan immigrants, to maintain the grounds surrounding his pink Colonial house on Marsh Street in Belmont.
The Globe recently interviewed four current and former employees of Community Lawn Service with a Heart, the tiny Chelsea-based company that provides upkeep of Romney’s property. All but one said they were in the United States illegally.

Wood had to withdraw her nomination when reporters discovered that she had not paid her nanny’s Social Security taxes as required by law. Now the Globe somehow stumbles across information that Romney, who opposes illegal immigration, dodged the law in favor of his lawn. However, the two aren’t the same, and Romney’s response points that out:

Responding to a report in Friday’s Boston Globe, the governor’s communications director said Friday that Romney was unaware that several of the landscapers who kept up his suburban Belmont property were in this country illegally.
“Gov. Romney has no information or knowledge to corroborate the Globe’s allegations,” Eric Fehrnstrom said Friday. “He hired a legitimate lawn service company and he knows the owner as a decent, hardworking person who is a legal resident.”

Romney hired a firm to maintain his landscaping, by all accounts a legitimate firm that also does business with public agencies in Massachussetts. Romney had no input on their hiring decisionsm, and he had no obligation — and no right — to demand “papers” from the employees of the firm when they arrived on his property. He naturally assumed that Community Lawn Service with a Heart had followed the law when it hired its workers, given their references.
Let’s think about the reverse for a moment. Had Romney demanded that the workers present proof of eligibility to work before allowing them on his property, how would the Boston Globe have reported that? Would they have hailed him as a paragon of steadfastness against illegal immigration? Or would they have reported him as a racist who just assumes all Hispanics must be in the country illegally? Instead of interviewing the three or four illegals in the firm, the Globe would have found three or four proper citizens just trying to make a living that felt Romney’s supposed racism.
Romney has no reason to apologize. He relied on his contractor to follow the law. If people want to hold Romney accountable for that, then I suggest that the Boston Herald start interviewing the Boston Globe’s janitorial staff and landscaping services to determine whether their contractors have the same issue. After that, some enterprising blogger could follow the executives of the Boston Globe (owned by the New York Times) to see at which restaurants they eat and at which golf courses they play to determine whether they have carefully scrutinized all of these places to ensure no illegals work there.

Movie Review: The Nativity Story

One of the more anticipated films for us this season has been The Nativity Story, which the First Mate had first known from listening to Relevant Radio. New Line Cinema, which produced Lord of the Rings, goes for another epic story, but in this case they focus less on the epic nature of the Nativity and more on the human story behind it.
The story starts with Herod’s order to slay every firstborn male child in Bethlehem, and the images are grim, chaotic, and dark. Herod, played with some ferocity by the outstanding Ciaran Hinds (Rome‘s Julius Caesar), makes it clear with almost every syllable that he will not brook a rival to his power, prophecy or no. He intends on ruling his adopted people — Herod was an Arab, not born a Jew — until his final breath, as his son Antipas notes.
After that, the film returns us to one year prior to the genocidal command of Herod, where Mary lived as a poor girl helping to keep her family afloat while Herod collects more taxes, and more callously. One of her friends gets carted off by the Roman soldiers for a tax debt of the girl’s family, which points out the grim times in which Mary lived. When her father arranges her marriage, she does not erupt with happiness, but she will shortly get a holy vision that instructs her of her future. The movie then gradually catches up to the beginning, walking us through the lives of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and the three Wise Men who begin their journey to Judea when they realize the meaning of the sign that they have been given.
Catherine Hardwicke takes a different approach to the material, although she does stick fairly close to the Gospel in the relevant facts. Her focus on the hardships of life under Roman oppression give real urgency to the hope of the Israelis for a Messiah. She also does not shy away from the hardships of the social life in the poor village. Mary at one time had everyone for a friend, but when she returns to Nazareth from visiting Elizabeth notably pregnant before the consummation of her marriage to Joseph, she gets shunned by almost everyone except Joseph and her family. When the call for the census comes, it almost seems like a relief — so much so that Joseph jokes with Mary as they leave Nazareth about how much they’ll be missed.
Nativity succeeds in its mission, which is to make the Nativity real and human enough to make it accessible to all of us. It’s brilliant, and really only has one minor flaw, and that’s Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary. She seems too passive, too quiet to hold anyone’s interest. Castle-Hughes does a fairly good job otherwise, but given Hardwicke’s efforts to humanize everyone else, Castle-Hughes gives us an ethereal Mary that doesn’t ever seem all that affected by the events unfolding around her. It’s the same complaint I have with Robert Powell as Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth. However, Castle-Hughes does have a genuine quality and a charm that will help audiences overlook this one slightly flat note in a masterpiece.
The movie gets lots of help with that from the rest of the cast. Oscar Isaac is a revelation as Joseph, giving a brilliant portrayal of a man whom the Nativity sometimes shortchanges. It’s probably the best and most well-rounded portrayal of the courage and dignity of an ordinary man whose sainthood comes not so much from his visions but from his innate goodness and mercy. Shoreh Aghdashloo as Elizabeth is also outstanding, as is Stanley Townsend as Zecharia. The three Wise Men give the movie a little bit of comedic relief at times, but the laughs grow out of the bonds of deep friendship and respect that shine through the dialogue. Star Trek alum Alexander Siddig makes brief but memorable appearances as an approachable archangel Gabriel, the kind of apparition that one could believe would give comfort to Mary and Joseph. Hinds comes close to stealing the movie away from Isaac in his portrayal of Herod.
One notable decision made by Hardwicke is to underscore the sense of place by hiring Arabic looking actors for all of the parts, including Mary. No one in the movie looks out of place; we see no blond-haired, blue-eyed Mary. Many of the actors are Arab or Persian, in fact. The places look authentic and the hardscrabble scenery lends credibility to the movie.
We left the theater highly impressed by The Nativity Story. It will make a perfect movie for the family this Christmas season, although I would caution people to leave the younger children at home, especially for the scenes of the Bethlehem slaughter (which is not graphic but disturbing nonetheless) and a number of crucified bodies throughout the movie that remind us of the turbulent era in which this story takes place. Eventually, this will grace family shelves alongside copies of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ten Commandments, and other well-made films based on the Bible.

A Long Chat With Peter

Normally I like to do the interviewing, but last week during my vacation I spent a little time with Peter at Hi-Wired …. actually, a lot of time, close to an hour. Peter had asked me some time ago to get together for an interview for the blog, and I took the opportunity to do it while the First Mate was in dialysis. Originally it was supposed to last about 20 minutes, but I think both of us had too much fun to shut it down that quickly.
We covered a wide range of topics in this interview, and I have to say it was one of the most interesting I’ve done. Peter has it posted on his site, as well as through iTunes. He also lifted a picture of me from the first month I was blogging, when I went as Zorro to work on Halloween. Hope you enjoy the talk as much as I did.

Why Haven’t We Done This Yet?

We have long since understood that heightened security is a requirement in the post-9/11 world. What we want, however, is effective security, especially at airports, not just silly procedures that do nothing to reveal real threats. Instead of time-consuming and random patdowns, we would want something more efficient that will check everyone for contraband in an efficient manner. According to USA Today, we have had this capability for almost four years now, but have not deployed it because of privacy concerns:

The federal government plans this month to launch the nation’s first airport screening system that takes potentially revealing X-ray photos of travelers in an effort to find bombs and other weapons.
Transportation Security Administration screeners at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport will test a “backscatter” machine that could vastly improve weapons detection but has been labeled a “virtual strip search” by the American Civil Liberties Union. Backscatter can show clear images of nude bodies.
At Phoenix and another yet-to-be-decided test airport, the machines will blur or shade images to obscure body parts and medical devices. The TSA also will look at using the machines in subways.
“It’s time to get them out and get feedback from [screeners] and the traveling public,” said Randy Null, TSA assistant administrator. The TSA has been considering the machines since 2002 while struggling with privacy issues.

The backscatter systems can detect weapons that would not set off the metal detectors in use today. Ceramic knives and explosive materials can be hidden under clothing and brought undetected onto airplanes, and would only be caught if the TSA suspected the individual enough to pat them down. Rather than wait for this opening to get exploited by terrorists, we should have been working to provide better and more comprehensive security checks.
In fact, we have them, but we seem to be more concerned that the outline of our bodies will be visible on a security monitor than we are about terrorist attacks. In less critical circumstances this would be funny, but it’s no laughing matter for a nation at war. The ACLU, predictably, has led the charge against backscatter systems claiming that they violate the privacy of travelers. They get hysterical about the propogation of backscatter images on the Internet, raising the spectre of unsuspecting travelers appearing on porn sites.
This is ridiculous. The images might have titillation value to anyone who for some reason can’t access the Victoria’s Secret catalog, but that’s about it. They aren’t recognizable as individuals, and the only image one can see is a ghostly outline that can be recognized as a male or female, but that’s about all the definition of soft tissue that one can get. (If CQ readers want an idea what one can see, this site has a couple of examples.) The notion that these will become the prurient hit of the Internet in an age of Britney Spears crotch-flashing and the wide variety of much more well-defined porn is simply hilarious.
People complain that the government has not asked us to sacrifice much for the war effort, and so have not built wartime morale in the populace. Maybe that’s because when the government does ask us to support common-sense solutions to provide more complete security, we start obsessing about becoming unwilling porn stars. Let’s not wait until the next disaster to adopt the security processes that could save lives for a minimal amount of effort on our part as individuals.

Another Example Of Democrats Reforming Congress?

Justin Rood at TPM Muckraker asks whether Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats will have another corruption issue in caucus leadership. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) served as ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Science, State, Justice, Commerce and Related Agencies and under normal circumstances would take the chair from Frank Wolf, the current Republican chair. However, Rood points to an ugly conflict of interest that would immediately present itself if he does:

The FBI’s probing Mollohan for possible violations of the law arising from his sprawling network of favors and money which connects him to good friends via questionable charities, alarmingly successful real estate ventures, and hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarked funds.
The investigation appears to be active and ongoing. We’re told that the Feds continue to gather information on the guy. Yet the Democrats look poised to make Mollohan the chairman of the panel which controls the purse strings for the entire Justice Department — including the FBI. …
“Mollohan should definitely be recusing himself from all appropriations decisions regarding the Justice Department, including the FBI,” said Melanie Sloan, director of the left-leaning D.C. watchdog, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). For Mollohan, there is the danger of even appearing to manipulate the Justice Department’s budget in response to its probe. For the FBI, it creates possible charges of soft-pedaling their investigation in exchange for favorable funding, Sloan said.

Pelosi ran on the winning message that Democrats could clean up corruption in Congress better than the Republicans. Yet even before the new session of Congress begins, the Democrats have repeatedly demonstrated that reform takes a back seat to the acquisition of power. Pelosi herself has been the worst of the lot, backing porkmeister and Abscam-tainted John Murtha as Majority Leader, followed by her support for Alcee Hastings as Intelligence Committee chair despite his impeachment and removal from the federal bench for corruption.
It’s not as if Mollohan flew under the radar before the election. The FBI investigation has been widely reported, and the issues appear rather serious. It hasn’t received the kind of coverage that William Jefferson has, but then again, the FBI hasn’t found $90,000 in cash in Mollohan’s freezer. In any event, the appointment of Mollohan to any leadership position would show a distinct pattern of corruption in Democratic leadership.
If Mollohan is allowed to chair the subcommittee that handles the budget for the law-enforcement agencies that have him under investigation, that pattern will become breathtaking. Rood mentions the potential for mischief on both sides; Mollohan could act to choke off funds to the FBI to pressure them to drop the investigation, or the FBI could pressure Mollohan for budgetary favors in exchange for a lower priority on their investigation into his actions. The former seems much more likely than the latter, and the subcommittee should be concerned about the FBI’s ability to accuse them of malfeasance with every unfavorable ruling they deliver to the Department of Justice.
Mostly, though, the arrangement stinks, and everyone aware of the situation will realize that. Nothing would demonstrate the emptiness of the Democratic pledges of clean government than putting the target of a criminal investigation in charge of the budget of the Department of Justice. If the Democrats do not remove Mollohan from the panel entirely, they will have made a collosal political error. If they allow him to chair the subcommittee, they will show themselves complicit in corruption, and we will have to expect more of the same for the next two years.

Get A Piece Of The Rock

The British have a crisis in prison capacity, as their Treasury has refused to finance construction of badly-needed new facilities. Their prison population topped 80,000 in England and Wales, and they have no more cells in which to put new prisoners. Instead of levying new taxes to pay for new prisons, the Labour government has proposed an investment scheme for citizens looking to build a rental-property portfolio that has little risk of extended vacancies:

The public may be able to purchase shares in new prisons under a “buy to let” scheme being considered by the Home Office.
With the prison system in crisis and inmates being held in police stations as jails overflow, Home Office finance directors hope to persuade private investors to pay for the urgently needed cells. The new jails would then be rented out to private prison operators, providing a guaranteed return from the rental income. …
“We are looking at many means of funding”, a spokeswoman said. “We have not ruled in or ruled out Real Estate Investment Trusts and we are still evaluating many options.”
A Home Office source told Building magazine: “The public could buy a share in a prison REIT, taking advantage of the steady rental income.” The government and contractor could then sell on their stakes in the REIT to recover some of the costs of building the prison.

Perhaps for some Britons, it could be sold as a time-share. Stuck for a vacation idea? Instead of a B&B, take a week off in the Big House.
All kidding aside, the idea has some merit. Forming corporations to provide the funding for new prison construction could eliminate some of the NIMBY considerations that often delays such projects. Instead of being seen as a liability for communities, it could become a profit center. Private investment could also guarantee better civil oversight of prison management.
However, it does seem a little unsettling that rental rates could become a factor in how the public addresses crime and punishment. Would prison investors work harder to limit parole and for longer mandatory sentences, not for public benefit but to bolster their rental income? Would the public be more inclined to increase the reach of criminal law if the occupancy rates did not meet expectations? It would certainly introduce a profit motive to those aspects of incarceration that did not exist beforehand.
It’s an interesting proposal, one that merits some serious thought, and plenty of caution before it’s attempted.