Monday, July 31, 2006

Bushwacker Festival '06


A lot of people have been emailing to ask us about this, so here is what we know:

Jubilee Restaurant is still closed, but the Pensacola Beach Bushwacker Festival will go on this weekend (Aug. 4-6) as usual. At least, so says the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce.

Sorry, we can't find any lineup of the musical groups. The claimed 'headquarters' for this increasingly dispersed, beach-wide drink-and-music festival supposedly is at Cap't Fun on Quietwater Boardwalk. (The actual lineage and the real inventor of the Bushwacker is a vastly more complicated story, about which you do not want to know.)

For reasons which escape us entirely, the August calendar on the Capt'n Fun web site is blank and the old Jubilee web site seemingly has become an orphan. Historians will find last year's schedule still visible. Futurists can wait 11 more years and it will be right, again.

Now, back to our regularly-scheduled blogging.


Barbara Bush's Ill-Mannered Son

"[H]e curls his lips into a simian oval and flaps his entire mouth open and shut... open and shut..."
International journalists and bloggers alike whooped it up early last week over George W. Bush's groping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and, later, an accidentally "open mike" and video showing Tony Blair pleading with an insouciant George W. Bush about the unfolding tragedy in Lebanon and the West Bank.

What lit a fire under everyone was how Merkel recoiled from Bush's overt sexism and the latter's rather too-familiar, offhand use of a common English epithet for merde. (A BBC news reader tells you the word (with inflection) and shows the video here.)

Much ado about nothing. That's what we say. It can't be news to anyone that Bush is a pig when it comes to women or that he swears.

Far more loathsome is the proof that he chews with his mouth wide open. Crooks and Liars has the video.

Indifferent to Blair's begging and pleading, Mr. Bush tears off a hunk of roll and pops it onto his thick, protruding tongue. The tongue snakes back inside his mouth and Bush's jaws begin to masticate exaggeratedly while he curls his lips into a simian oval and flaps his entire mouth open and shut... open and shut ... open and shut in lip-smacking syncopation, sending flecks of dinner roll and spittle shooting out in all directions.

Now, that is disgusting. Our hearts go out to Barbara Bush. No doubt, she's feeling the humiliation any mother would if she discovers, too late in life, that she has raised an uncouth lout for a son.

Discounted Tour

Hurry! This exciting tour is now available at a discount. Probably the most exciting vacation you could ask for.

Gratuities, guns, and bullet-proof vests are extra.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

He Told Us So; Others Didn't

Aren't you impressed when some analyst turns out to have been spot-on reliable, and for the right reasons? Take this example from 2002, a year before the invasion of Iraq:
In sum, there seems to be little question that a war against Iraq will consume political energy, decision-making bandwidth, and military and economic resources that might otherwise be devoted to the war against Al Qaeda and to the strengthening of homeland defense. Indeed, one can see this happening even in the current run up to war. Further, friction with other parties and the substantial isolation of the United States on many issues related to the war raises a serious possibility that it will under-mine the international cooperation thought essential to effectively combat terrorism. And if in the course of using force to remove Saddam from power, the United States enrages significant elements of the population in the Arab and Muslim worlds, the long-term terrorism problem may actually be made worse by the proposed war. It is because of these considerations that many American critics of the Bush policy are animated especially by fear that the war against Al Qaeda will be hampered by an attack against Iraq.
-- Steven E. Miller, "Gambling on War" in
War With Iraq: Costs, Consequences,
and Alternatives
(2002) published by
Committee on International Security Studies,
American Academy of Arts & Sciences
at 28 ([pdf version] [txt version]

But what about those who didn't get it right? Glenn Greenwald nails them after four years, 2,700 U.S. dead, 19,000 wounded, between 40,000 and 100,000 civilians killed, and $300 billion (and counting):
[T]he proponents of the destruction of Iraq have single-handedly done more damage to American national security than all other groups combined. And having insisted for years that the fate of the free world and American security hangs in the balance in Iraq, they now just want to forget about the whole thing, pretend it never happened, and shut their eyes to the disaster they created and which they so plainly cannot control.

* * *
They used their militaristic posture in Iraq -- and the "appeasing weakness" of opponents of the invasion -- to win two consecutive national elections. And now that the extent of the damage they created is too glaring to be denied, they want to walk away from it all, insist that it's unfair to hold them accountable for it, and hope that the media moves on to more interesting and exciting adventures than the plodding, depressing collapse of Iraq.
There's more, much more.

New 'Big Easy' Blog

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we passed along to readers a couple of fascinating reports here and here from Gulf Breeze evacuee... French Quarter resident... jazz buff... author... and radio personality Tom Morgan.

At long last, Tom's jumped into the blogosphere with his very own blog --T Morgan's New Orleans. Three articles inaugurate the blog: For what's up (and down) in New Orleans, the local music scene, street crime, politics, and the daily struggles of Tom Morgan, family and friends to survive in a major American city still struggling to its feet, be sure to bookmark T Morgan's New Orleans and visit regularly.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Crisis Group Proposals

Crisis Group, a reliable and often thought-provoking cross-continental assemblage of more than a hundred international experts, shows the way to Climbing Out of the Abyss in Lebanon and Gaza.

Our English Cousins

From the British press, on-line:
"It seems we and Uncle Sam think that shooting people is a good idea. I think it is quite monstrous and I think many of my [former] colleagues share that view. The idea you can't have a ceasefire until you have a full agreement is the tearing up of the way in which conflicts have been resolved since the Old Testament. It is a coded way of saying we hope that Israel will win."

“The press conference just added insult to injury. Blair and Bush are now alone in their own theatre of the absurd. It is like a plan to offer counselling after a hanging — the corpse is not too interested in what they have to offer.”
"If we have influence, we should be using it to help Israel from falling into a pit of its own making. If we have no influence, what are we all doing?"

"There have been times on trade issues when the PM should have told Bush to get his tanks off our lawn. * * * . There are still times when ... we should speak up about the irresponsibility of the White House."
"What is it with the Americans and Prestwick airport? It was the only bit of UK territory that Elvis Presley blessed with his sainted feet and, as if that act somehow marked the Tarmac as American territory, Washington now seems to treat the place as home turf.

"First there were those rendition flights. Now it emerges that Prestwick is being used to transport "bunker-buster" bombs to Israel."

"It was a cock-up. It goes to the heart of the idea that the Prime Minister is Bush's poodle."
"It seems as if No 10 consistently ignores the advice and trenchant criticism from the Foreign Office. * * * I don't think the British government approach to this has been helpful or encouraging. * * * It is clear that action is not working. It is a deeply flawed approach by the British."

"One way of ensuring restraint on the part of Israel would be to cut off the supply of arms and equipment."
"We should not be an accessory to the escalation of violence in the Middle East. Instead of being a client state of a US administration who are failing to live up to their global responsibilities, the UK should be joining the rest of the world in bringing about such a ceasefire."

"What I do want is to tell Israel, 'Your tactics are wrong' and tell America, 'Don't ever use us as a bargaining chip'."

"What [the UK] means by proportionality is a similar response. What the US and Israel mean is that you can use the minimum force required to achieve your war objectives."

"If they're chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation."

Friday, July 28, 2006

Poodle Love, Actually

"I love that word "relationship." Covers all manner of sins, doesn't it?"
-- Hugh Grant in Love Actually (written by Richard Curtis)
Earlier Friday, BBC television's Washington Bureau reporter Matt Frei was perhaps consciously trying to build suspense for viewers about the upcoming visit between U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and George W. Bush. As we heard the reporter, he noted Blair --
has always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with George Bush, and I guess the question is, is he going to have his Love Actually moment? I'm sure you remember this is the film called Love Actually in which the British prime minister, played by British actor Hugh Grant, at a meeting at 10 Downing Street stood next to the American president and tells him where to get off.
It didn't happen. Not in real life. "Bush's poodle," as British journalists refer to the P.M., only "got scraps" and simply wagged his tail in return.

British Prime Minister Hugh Grant Tony Blair and U.S. President Billy Bob Thornton George W. Bush jointly decided to let the killing continue. As the Daily Telegraph reported this afternoon:
Tony Blair and George W Bush agreed on the need to send a multinational force to halt violence in Lebanon "quickly" but failed to set out how or when troops could be deployed.

The two leaders avoided demanding an immediate end to hostilities, an omission which the Israelis have previously interpreted as tacit backing for their campaign.
Is it clear enough yet that the United States' diplomatic policy is to encourage continued killing, not to try stopping it? We can only hope, at least, that Blair picked up a copy today's Washington Post while he was in town. Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher today wrote an op-ed explaining why the Bush administration's diplomacy ignores history and spells disaster:
Twice during my four years as secretary of state we faced situations similar to the one that confronts us today. Twice, at the request of the Israelis, we helped bring the bloodshed to an end.

* * *
What do these episodes teach us?

First, as in 1996, an immediate cease-fire must take priority, with negotiations on longer-term arrangements to follow. Achieving a cease-fire will be difficult enough without overloading the initial negotiations with a search for permanent solutions.

Second, if a cease-fire is the goal, the United States has an indispensable role to play. A succession of Israeli leaders has turned to us, and only us, when they have concluded that retaliation for Hezbollah attacks has become counterproductive. Israel plainly trusts no one else to negotiate on its behalf and will accept no settlement in which we are not deeply involved. Further, based upon my experience in helping bring an end to the fighting in the Balkans, the Europeans are unlikely to participate in a multinational enforcement action until the United States commits to putting its own troops on the ground.

Finally, Syria may well be a critical participant in any cease-fire arrangement, just as it was in 1993 and 1996. Although Syria no longer has troops in Lebanon, Hezbollah's supply routes pass through the heart of Syria, and some Hezbollah leaders may reside in Damascus, giving the Syrians more leverage over Hezbollah's actions than any other country save Iran. Syria has invited a direct dialogue with the United States, and although our relations with Syria have seriously deteriorated in recent years (we have not had an ambassador in Damascus for more than a year), we do not have the luxury of continuing to treat it with diplomatic disdain. As the situations with North Korea and Iran confirm, refusing to speak with those we dislike is a recipe for frustration and failure.

It's too much to hope that Bush will read the same article or, if he did, that understanding would dawn.

Josh Marshall, who was live-blogging the joint press conference in a way, ran this headline -- BREAKING: President Bush Really Big Doofus. He reported that Bush was asked "in so many words... 'You said Iraq was going to bring about new Middle East but now the Middle East is a complete disaster.'" Bush's answer, Marshall wrote, "quite a lengthy one actually, showed in a really frightening detail how President Bush seems to be basically brain dead on this issue."

Marshall must be referring to this exchange, taken from the WaPo transcript:
Mr. President, three years ago, you argued that an invasion of Iraq would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. And yet today there is an Iraqi prime minister who has been sharply critical of Israel.

Arab governments, despite your arguments, who first criticized Hezbollah, have now changed their tune. Now they're sharply critical of Israel.

And despite from both of you warnings to Syria and Iran to back off support from Hezbollah, effectively, Mr. President, your words are being ignored.

So what has happened to America's clout in this region that you've committed yourself to transform?
George W. Bush's incoherent answer rambled so far afield from the question that eventually the reporter had to repeat it:
But I asked about the loss of American influence, and are you worried about that?
On a second try, Bush's answer was no better. Just shorter:
Well, we went to the G-8 and worked with our allies and got a remarkable statement on what took place. We're working to get a United Nations resolution on Iran. We're working to have a Palestinian state.

But the reason why you asked the question is because terrorists are trying to stop that progress. And we'll ultimately prevail, because their -- they have -- their ideology is so dark and so dismal that when people really think about it, it'll be rejected.

They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you.

And my attitude is that now's the time to be firm. And we've got a great weapon on our side, and that is freedom and liberty. And it's got -- those two concepts have got the capacity to defeat ideologies of hate.
Yep. We're armed to the teeth. With freedom, liberty. And one hundred 4,500 lb. bunker-busting bombs which Israel had the foresight to purchase just three months ago.

Further Amplification Dept.

Josh Marshall now has a videotape of George W. Bush's attempt to answer the press question. He adds, "[I]f you watch this passage I think you see something different. Namely, that pretty much everything that's happened over the last three years, and certainly over the last three months, has just gone in one presidential ear and out the other. He is, in both the deepest and most superficial sense, out of it."

Middle East Prisms

A very nice, normally mild-mannered and peaceable friend has written us privately to say about the ongoing war in Lebanon and the West Bank:
I see Israel as, above all, a tolerant, live-let-live society, desperately wanting to survive -- yes, to keep its own hard-won little piece of the world -- but otherwise simply to be left alone to go about its own business peacefully. Seems to me they've shown their intentions in this regard in myriad ways. In recent years they've compromised and withdrawn and compromised and withdrawn and turned cheek after cheek, and all it's earned them is more treachery and terrorism, and support for same, from those who would wish Israel and all its people dead and gone, and who don't hesitate to say so loudly at virtually every turn.

* * *
[T]he way I see it, Hezbollah is like the bully on the playground when we were kids -- let him win, cower before him, and he keeps coming back to dish out more. But fight back, punch him hard in the nose, knock him over a time or two, and his stupid, cowardly self goes away, or at least thinks twice before trying it again.

* * *
We can take the moral high road all we want; it doesn't earn us one mote of respect or forbearance from those radical factions, because such doesn't suit their own purposes. And I most certainly can't blame Israel, a country that lives every single day with the prospect of unpredictable doses of death and mayhem at the hands of its neighbors and beyond, for taking big time action in the interest of finally making a "Look, buster, don't try it here again!" type of statement in the form of an aggressive military response.
In another part of her message she concludes --
I'm about ready to say let 'em all rot, let all the bullies of the world and their associates and their cities and towns go to hell. I know this is heartless and cruel to the innocent; it's truly destructive, and it won't work in our favor. But diplomacy apparently won't work, either, and we have tried that, over and over and over again.

* * *
[R]ight about now I want to kill 'em all, because their very existence forestalls even the dimmest hope of world peace. Diplomacy? Feh! It's useless. Useless! I have to believe the entire world laughs now every time there's a Middle East treaty. Everyone sits around his version of the pub or bar and guffaws. Big joke. Yeah, yeah, peace - sure, sure, treaty. Ha ha ha.
The frustration, anger, hopelessness, fear -- always these days there is the fear -- and even the murderous emotions with which our friend views the current violence in the Middle East are palpable. Although she barely, by the thinnest of whiskers, shys away from saying it outright, the sense of her message is unmistakable: she's ready to obliterate every last Muslim and let someone else sort the innocent dead from the guilty.

Our friend freely (and with excessive modesty) admits she's not deeply conversant with "history, international politics, or much of anything else." But as she asserts, and recent polls confirm, her opinions are "probably about on a par with much of your average American thought today."

A few days earlier, almost exactly the opposite opinion was expressed in the pages of Israel's daily newspaper Haartez by Tel Aviv University professor Ze'ev Maoz. He wrote:
There's practically a holy consensus right now that the war in the North is a just war and that morality is on our [the Israeli] side. The bitter truth must be said: this holy consensus is based on short-range selective memory, an introverted worldview, and double standards.

This war is not a just war. Israel is using excessive force without distinguishing between civilian population and enemy, whose sole purpose is extortion. That is not to say that morality and justice are on Hezbollah's side. Most certainly not. But the fact that Hezbollah "started it" when it kidnapped soldiers from across an international border does not even begin to tilt the scales of justice toward our side.

Let's start with a few facts. We invaded a sovereign state, and occupied its capital in 1982. In the process of this occupation, we dropped several tons of bombs from the air, ground and sea, while wounding and killing thousands of civilians. Approximately 14,000 civilians were killed between June and September of 1982, according to a conservative estimate. The majority of these civilians had nothing to do with the PLO, which provided the official pretext for the war.

In Operations Accountability and Grapes of Wrath, we caused the mass flight of about 500,000 refugees from southern Lebanon on each occasion. There are no exact data on the number of casualties in these operations, but one can recall that in Operation Grapes of Wrath, we bombed a shelter in the village of Kafr Kana which killed 103 civilians. The bombing may have been accidental, but that did not make the operation any more moral.

On July 28, 1989, we kidnapped Sheikh Obeid, and on May 12, 1994, we kidnapped Mustafa Dirani, who had captured Ron Arad. Israel held these two people and another 20-odd Lebanese detainees without trial, as "negotiating chips." That which is permissible to us is, of course, forbidden to Hezbollah.
He might have mentioned, too, the matter of Israel's continued occupation of other people's lands since 1967, including Palestinian territory and the Syrian border areas and the still-disputed Lebanese territory of the Sha'ba Farms. (Presumbly, these are not among the territories from which our own friend mentions Israel "has withdrawn.") Nor does he acknowledge the unceasing years of targeted assassinations by the Israel military and Mossad.

Prof. Moaz' views are not that far removed from the incomparable Billmon, who wrote the other day in an essay that attracted considerable attention:
The military and political leaders of the Jewish state are doing and saying things that go way beyond the blustering arrogance of a powerful nation at war. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are behaving like a gang of miltaristic thugs -- whose reply to any criticism or reproach is an expletive deleted and the smash of an iron fist.
So, who's really the bully? More to the point, how could three such mild-mannered, peaceable people with such diverse backgrounds -- Pensacola Beach housewife, Israeli political science professor, Wall Street analyst -- come to hold such varied views?

One answer was the subject of a panel discussion aired yesterday on Jim Lehrer's News Hour. As panel member Lawrence Pintak, formerly of CBS and now Director of TV journalism at American University in Cairo, put it:
[I]n the American media, we're seeing another version of the story. We're seeing it through a different prism and, in part, a very simplified prism. So, again, we have a situation where Americans are looking at a conflict saying, "Bad guys, good guys, white hats, black hats." And Arabs are looking at a conflict and seeing a different set of hats. And that has big implications for U.S. policy yet again.

* * *
American television is sanitized. We don't see the real blood and gore of war. Now, it's a cultural thing, sure, but you turn on the television in the Arab world, you are seeing the disemboweled babies, you are seeing the burned children, you are seeing the pieces of flesh in the streets. And that has a visceral impact.

Americans, we talk about this plethora of prisms now in the Arab world with this media revolution, but Americans in many ways still live in an information ghetto, because we are not seeing the images coming out of the Arab world.
To again use the word that repeatedly popped up during the News Hour discussion, the broader opinions we Americans hold are largely formed in the "prism" light of modern media through which we learn about events. In the U.S., that prism is predominantly commercial television, which has an exceedingly short historical memory, something of a strong religious and xenophobic bias, and a shallow appreciation for the many repeated, albeit never permanent, diplomatic successes the U.S. engineered as an "honest broker" in the years before George W. Bush took office in 2001.

Diplomacy doesn't make for exciting television. Ever heard of a reporter asking to be truly "embedded" with a diplomatic team? American commercial television, in particular, is a prism built for audience entertainment rather than information, the easier to schlepp dogfood, deodorant, and prescription anti-depressants.

This week, for example, Chris Matthews and Fox News both showcased a biblical prophesy charlatan as a "Middle East expert." ABC's "Good Morning, America" program featured Biblical end-times fiction writers Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins to share their "insights" (host Robin Roberts' word) into how current events supposedly resemble Armaggedon. CNN anchors Kyra Phillips and Paula Zahn twice featured Biblical "Rapture" proponents Jerry Jenkins and Joel C. Rosenberg. The anchor and her "experts" among other things treated viewers to this exchange, according to media monitor David Brock:
At one point in the discussion, Phillips asked Rosenberg whether she needed "to start taking care of unfinished business and telling people that I love them and I'm sorry for all the evil things I've done," to which Rosenberg replied: "Well, that would be a good start." Throughout the segment, the onscreen text read: "Apocalypse Now?"
Is it little wonder the judgment of so many Americans continues to be overrruled by their fears?

Another panel member, former New York Times and CBS correspondent Donatella Lorch, said, thanks to our domestic media, "We see everything in good and bad here, in black and white." To correct for that skewed prism, she made a valiant effort to share a few good bias-testing tips for American television news viewers:
[L]et's see what appears first on the news broadcast. Is it going to be news about Israel or the news about Lebanon? How do they place it? The length of the pieces, how they're cut, how much do they show of the killings on the Lebanon side, particularly of the civilian killings on the Lebanon side. I think this is all very telling, in terms of analysis of the bias that is going on right now in the American media.
All sound and good. But there are more ideas, too.
Above all, bear in mind that few things seen through a prism are monochromatic or as simple as they may appear.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


"Deserta faciunt et pacem appellant."
("They make a foresaken desert and call it peace.")
-- Tacitus, Agricola 30

A bombing campaign deliberately aimed at persuading Lebanese civilians to shut down Hezbollah is a "wild throw of the dice," Phillip Gordon argued the other day in the Washington Post. This week in Rome, the U.S. Secretary of State threw those dice and succeeded in her aim of preventing the assembled leaders of Europe, Arabia, the United Nations, and the European Union from calling for a cease fire and using their condiderable diplomatic leverage to bring it about.

Israel's influential Justice minister, Haim Ramon, immediately re-interpreted this as "permission from the world" to continue waging war.

It wasn't from "the world." It was from us, via Condoleeza Rice: Go ahead, we told Israel, make a desert and we'll call it peace.

There is -- or, at least, there was -- an alternative. Instead of unilaterally barring the assembled world leaders represented in Rome from attempting to broker a cease-fire, we might have taken the lead in "a deliberate peace effort led by the United States," as Zbigniew Brzezinski thoughtfully proposed last week at a private session sponsored by the New America Foundation.

What is at stake in the events in Lebanon and the West Bank, in his view, is "the fundamental test of American ability to lead... . If we do not do well, we will lose our capacity to lead... ."

Brzezinki had more to say. A lot more, and all of it worth reading.

But if you're rushed, Steve Clemons, who presided over the event, provides a useful summary here.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sold into Slavery

Washington Post:
President Bush said yesterday that he will send more U.S. forces and equipment to Baghdad as part of a fresh strategy to put down rising sectarian violence, abandoning a six-week-old operation that failed to pacify the strife-torn Iraqi capital and opening what aides called an unexpected new phase of the war.

* * *
The additional U.S. forces for Baghdad, which could total in the thousands, would come from elsewhere in Iraq, but the deteriorating security situation seemed to all but doom the prospect for significant troop withdrawals before the November congressional elections. The Pentagon had drawn up scenarios that envisioned pulling out as many as 30,000 troops this year, but military officials said yesterday that those now appear implausible and that U.S. forces will probably remain at the current level of 127,000 for several months at least.
T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom:
Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances. For years we lived anyhow with one another in the naked desert, under the indifferent heaven. By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were dizzied by the beating wind. At night we were stained by dew, and shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silences of stars. We were a self-centred army without parade or gesture, devoted to freedom, the second of man’s creeds, a purpose so ravenous that it devoured all our strength, a hope so transcendent that our earlier ambitions faded in its glare.

As time went by our need to fight for the ideal increased to an unquestioning possession, riding with spur and rein over our doubts. Willy-nilly it became a faith. We had sold ourselves into its slavery, manacled ourselves together in its chain-gang, bowed ourselves to serve its holiness with all our good and ill content. The mentality of ordinary human slaves is terrible—they have lost the world—and we had surrendered, not body alone, but soul to the overmastering greed of victory. By our own act we were drained of morality, of volition, of responsibility, like dead leaves in the wind.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Wunderkind of the Beach

Well, maybe not a kind but definitely a wunder of Pensacola Beach is Barrier Island Girl. She keeps knocking them dead at Weather with prize-winning photos like "Matchless Earth" (above), the third of her photographs to be designated "Approver's Choice."

To see all three photos -- and more -- click over to Barrier's Island Girl's web site and be sure to click again on any photo to enlarge it.

Unburning Books

A nos no se permite visitar Cuba, pero por lo menos podemos leer sobre él.

La opinión del juez está aquí: American Civil Liberties Union vs. Miami-Dade School Board (pdf)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Loo Poll

"'The Life of St. Gregory' (1296-1359) recommends the isolated retreat of the medieval fortress toilet — located high up in towers, close to heaven, so as to offset the perceived baseness of the act being committed — as a place for uninterrupted reading."
-- Chamber Plots, New York Times, July 23

What do you read in the bathroom?
Top-secret Defense Memos
Comic books
Toilet paper
Other (explain that, please)
Nothing (justify that, please)
Free polls from

Sunday, July 23, 2006

King of the Beach?

In today's Pensacola News Journal, Derek Pivnik offers a vision of the near-term future of Pensacola Beach, while Troy Moon, you might say, makes manifest who may be the "new king of the beach." Along the way, Moon rather oddly makes it seem as if the Bahá’u’llá was little more than a glorified desk clerk instead of what his followers suppose.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Two Wrecks Explained

1. The Case

Defense attorney Jerry Allred said he was disappointed -- but not surprised -- for Bird, who will have to register as a sex offender.

"There was no legal defense," he said Friday after the verdict was read. * * *

"It was all a hope that the jury would exercise their inherent power to pardon Janelle," Allred said.
John Mortimer, Clinging to the Wreckage (1982):
The facts of the matter are dealt to the barrister, like a hand at cards, or a bundle of inherited or acquired characteristics. At first glance he can tell if it is a rotten case or a winner and, although in the course of the argument he may persuade himself that a different result is possible, most cases turn out exactly as you had thought they would in the first half hour after undoing the tape and opening the brief. Clearly cases and hands of bridge can be lost, just as lives can be thrown away, by carelessness, over-confidence, letting in unnecessary evidence, failing to lead out trumps or not noticing when the queen went. And the consequences of defeat can be mitigated. Skill and persuasion, in the vast majority of cases, can go no further: we are stuck with the cards we are dealt and have to act out, as well as we can, the lives which we have been allotted.
2. The Reporter

[PNJ, Saturday, July 22]
The former East Hill Christian School teacher admitted early on that she was guilty but testified Thursday that she loved the teen so much that she gave him her virginity. [emphasis added]
[PNJ, Friday, July 21]
Janelle Bird, 25, said she loved him so much that, despite a Pensacola Christian College education that preached against premarital sex, she gave him her virginity. [emphasis added]
Geneva Overholser, "What You Don't Know Will Hurt You: The Press and Public's Know-Nothing Pact"
Let's start with some of the reasons that the press holds its tongue and some of the things that you don't know because of this. We'll begin with squeamishness, prudishness, timidity and an overdeveloped fear of offending someone. The press is robbing you of a full understanding of what goes on around you because it is afraid to use certain words, afraid to tell it like it is in sex crimes, afraid to offend grieving loved ones.

It is precisely this sort of sensitivity that keeps us in the dark as a society, prevents our changing and precludes our addressing our problems adequately. * * * That sensitive editor is depriving you of an accurate picture of the world, and inhibiting our ability as a society to address our problems, and you shouldn't let him or her get away with it.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Indecent Trial Reporting

"Investigative reporters don't have a sense of humor. They can't afford one."
As we 'noted' the other day, after the latest round of reductions-in-force at the Pensacola News Journal, the unfortunates who remain in Gannett Corp.'s employ are being required to double-up, or worse, in journalism assignments. Increasingly, it seems, editors are sending them far afield from their usual beats to cover subjects about which the reporters couldn't care less -- or aren't competent to handle.

This doesn't make for an informed readership. But we have to admit, it is entertaining to watch.

Take two of today's front-page courtroom related stories. The first one was covered by Michael Stewart, one of the few left at the PNJ who justly might be considered a skilled investigative reporter. He was assigned to waste his talents reporting on the federal court prosecution of the "Christian" proselytizer Kent ("Dr. Dino") Hovind.

The second story was handed off to Nicole Lozare, who formerly malpracticed her trade on Pensacola Beach. This week, she was dispatched to the state courthouse to cover the trial of Janelle Bird, the 25 year-old school teacher who is accused of bedding a 15 year-old student of hers.

Time was when the Pensacola News Journal, aware of the rich veins of public policy -- not to mention local lunacy -- to be mined in the depths of local courthouses, hired actual trial-wise reporters for such stuff. No longer.

Neither of today's reporting assignments make much sense.

We've mentioned the Dr. Dino story before. Hovind and a fervent band of college students from Pensacola Christian College for some time, now, have been shaking down credulous simpletons by thumping on the Bible and telling them dinosaurs and mankind shared the earth together a few thousand years ago. Now, "Dr. Dino" and his wife have been charged in a 58-count indictment with failing to pay nearly half a million dollars in income taxes, employer Social Security withholding, and Medicare employment deductions.

Hovind raked in the money and stiffed the callow college kids at "Dinosaur Adventure Land," a pathetic backyard of a house he festooned with ridiculous-looking yard ornaments and playground equipment resembling cartoon dinosaurs. Then, he started charging money to see them and buy his propaganda books.

Now, "Dr. Dino" claims all that money really belongs to God and he is merely guarding it from the Darwin-loving grasp of the IRS.

The latest twist in this hilarious tale is that Hovind, based on various cockamamie constitutional arguments, is demanding that the federal court return his passport while he's out on bail so he can fly to South Africa next month. The trip was planned, as Stewart writes, so Dr. Dino could "'square off against several luminaries who hail from different scientific disciplines,' according to the Web site for Power Ministries."

He'll hurry back for the trial. Yeah, sure. As long as God buys him a return ticket.

Much as we appreciate his talents, this courtroom story doesn't deserve heavy artillery like Michael Stewart. It needs a comedy writer.

As is well known in the world of journalism, investigative reporters don't have a sense of humor. They can't afford one. Otherwise, they'd be giggling all the way through the interviews with crooked public officials, hypocritical politicians, and randy religious leaders caught with their hands in the till or up the skirts of parishioners.

As for the Nicole Lozare story, the inappropriateness of sending her to cover a court trial of any kind should be evident to anyone who knows her work. She lacks the substantive knowledge, listening skills, and critical thinking ability to report on anything more serious than a beach bathtub race.

But -- who'd a thunk it? -- Nicole does have a talent. As a steamy romance writer! Get this lede:
Tears rolling down her face, a former teacher who faces up to 60 years in prison testified there was nothing lewd and lascivious about her relationship with her 15-year-old student -- just love.

Janelle Bird, 25, said she loved him so much that, despite a Pensacola Christian College education that preached against premarital sex, she gave him her virginity.
"Gave him her virginity?" If that's a quote from the defendant's testimony, you'd think Nicole would have given her readers some sort of clue -- like quotation marks, for instance. Perhaps she feared that doing so would make it seem, to borrow Lynn Truss' words, like "a kind of linguisitic rubber glove, distancing [herself] from vulgar words [she] is too refined to use in a normal way."

Apart from the steamy prose, obscurantism, and the (yet another) example of Lozare's carelessness with quotations, she seems to have missed entirely the story-behind-the story. According to Lozare, the teacher --
didn't deny that she had sex with the teen nearly a dozen times in August and October. But she denied that it was lewd and lascivious.
Now, here is where a real trial reporter might have done some good. What on earth is the defense doing? Why would the accused teacher take the stand and testify so explicitly to her long-running affair with a 15 year-old male student? Why would the defense lawyer let her? Don't they watch Law & Order?

These are questions we imagine most readers are asking themselves today. They have to ask because these questions don't seem to have occurred to Nicole Lozare.

Could it be that the Florida Supreme Court has "reserved" approving a standard jury instruction for "lewd" and "lascivious" to share with juries? Might it be that the state's statutory definitions of those words are vague and even contradictory? Even on-line dictionaries offer what some could argue are incompatible definitions of lewd ("lustful" or "indecent") and "lascivious" ("expressing lust" or "salacious").

Add to that the fact that the whole of the "common law of England" -- we're talking over seven centuries of judicial decisions, now -- is expressly made part of Florida criminal law by the very first section (775.01) of the Florida Criminal Code, and you can begin to see there may be some method to the madness of having the defendant testify that, sure, she had an affair. So what?

At the least, there seems to be enough confusion in Florida law over what "lewd" and "lascivious" mean that even a linguist would have trouble reaching a reasoned judgment. Even if the jury eventually throws out whatever definitions the court may give it and concludes -- as Justice Potter Stewart once did about what constitutes obscenity -- that they know lewd and lascivious when they see them, it's a good bet there will be protracted appeals to higher courts.

Is that what the defense has in mind? We can't be sure. The reporter covering this trial isn't saying.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lightning Strike Makes Boy Smarter

The incident:
" Eddie Wilkenson of Cantonment was playing poker online Wednesday afternoon when * * * [t]he 17-year-old said he was struck by lightning that came through his home computer's mouse.

"I heard the lightning and I saw a flash," Eddie said. "I felt a jolt go up my right arm and through my whole body."
The aftermath:
Meanwhile, Eddie has a new plan for curing summer boredom.

"From now on, I am probably going to read a book."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Political Notes

Staff reductions at the Pensacola News Journal have been so severe the remaining skeletal crew has to double- and triple-up, when they're not looking for a better job. So, we fully anticipated the PNJ would send some hapless sports reporter out to cover the Pensacola rally for gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith and he'd write it up like a horse race, as is the custom of the media these days.

Not to worry. Culture reporter and occasional newspaper-blogger Troy Moon was assigned the story. The results appear below the fold of the local news section.

No 'closing the gap' or 'hitting his stride' or 'coming down the stretch' metaphors for Troy. Instead, we get a music review -- complete with play list and fourteen words summarizing candidate Smith's policy proposals:
"Smith, a youthful-looking 56, greeted about 100 supporters during the morning rally, and promised to improve education in Florida's public schools and stability in the insurance market, which has been rocked by hurricanes in recent years.
Well, it's an improvement. Maybe.

The 'Inconvenient Truth' For Free

The Pensacola chapter of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is giving away 105 free tickets to the movie "An Inconvenient Truth," now showing at Gulf Breeze Cinema 4. It's "first come, first serve."

According to the Pensacola News Journal:
"105 is symbolic of what the local average summer temperature could be unless significant action is taken, according to the group."
Can you guess how many tickets they'd have to give away based on the projected heat index? Try in-putting here 105 degrees and the average Pensacola summer humidity of 86%. Looks like there's a lot of room for local groups to use the movie as a membership event.

Michael O'Donovan is a spokesman and board member for the Southern Alliance. (He's also the author of popular Pensacola photography books, including Florida's Northwest: First Places, Wild Places, Favorite Places and The Island.) He told the PNJ:
" 'An Inconvenient Truth' is one of the most important movies to come to Pensacola in some time. The documentary does a great job of showing how human activity is changing our climate more rapidly than at any other time in human history."
The movie has been receiving rave reviews, even from one-time doubters about climate crisis.

It will be showing through August at The Gulf Breeze Cinema 4. Show times are 2:00, 4:30 and 7:00 pm.

See Also

Climate Crisis: Seeing Is Believing (June 25, 2006)
Earth on Fire (June 22, 2006)
Confronting Climate Change (June 20, 2006)
Opening: An Inconvenient Truth (May 24, 2006)
Arctic Irony (April 20, 2006)
Who Ate The Homework? (Sept. 14, 2005)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Trading Drilling Rigs For Jobs

Our neighbor, blogger Bryan over at Why Now?, has been theorizing about the Air Force's announced plan to move the 46th Test Wing from Eglin Air Force Base to Edwards AFB in New Mexico. If the move happens, nearly 3,500 jobs will be eliminated directly and many times that number indirectly.

That's a lot of jobs in this low-wage, high retirement area. The prospect has a lot of Florida Panhandlers upset -- starting with real estate interests who already are feeling the pinch of a stagnant housing market.

The potential move is being explained, according to the Ft. Walton Daily News, because of Edwards' advantage in having "the largest restricted airspace in the nation" and "no encroaching subdivisions."

Bryan reads that as meaning the Air Force doesn't like the idea of having oil rigs near its weapons ranges in the Gulf of Mexico. Six years ago, we were told by authoritative sources at the Naval Air Station that the Navy was deeply concerned about the high rises at Portofino, too. But when they were asked if they would take a public stand, the answer we got was "No, we'll just move our operations somewhere else."

Drilling rigs, high rise condos, and residential neighborhoods don't mix well with gunnery ranges -- any more than tar balls and beach water go together. It's a dark irony that Jeff Miller's oil rigs gamble may play a part in crippling the local economy by driving the 46th Test Wing away.

Bad as that would be, it's only one of a whole ocean of unintended consequences Miller's drilling rigs flip-flop could have for Northwest Florida. As Pensacola's Enid Siskin warned in her testimony before Miller's committee, "drilling, whether for oil or natural gas is a dirty, polluting business." She added --
"We cannot drill our way to energy independence. It’s only through conservation, increased efficiency, and use of a combination of alternative, renewable energy sources that we’ll ever be self sufficient."
So, you may ask, what has Mr. Miller done to promote "conservation, increased efficiency, and alternative fuels"?

Not much, according to the League of Conservation Voters. Based on 18 key votes in the current session of Congress, Miller earned only a 17% rating (out of a possible 100) from this very mainstream organization. In FCAT terms that would be an F-minus.

Notably, one of his votes came in April when he voted against a "proposed... amendment to raise the ... CAFE [mileage] standard for cars and light trucks to 33 miles per gallon by 2016... [which] would have saved 1 million barrels of oil a day by 2016... ."
"America’s cars and light trucks consume 8 million barrels of oil every day — more than 40 percent of total U.S. oil consumption. Raising the miles-per-gallon of these vehicles is the biggest single step the U.S. could take to cut both oil dependence and global warming emissions.

"Under current Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, cars are required to meet a 27.5 miles per gallon standard. By contrast, light trucks, including sport utility vehicles (SUVs), minivans and pickup trucks, must meet a standard of only 21.6 miles per gallon. * * * But with more and more gas-guzzling SUVs and other light trucks replacing cars on the nation’s highways, the fuel economy of new vehicles has sunk to its lowest level since the early 1980s.

"During consideration of H.R. 6, the House energy bill, Representatives Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Ed Markey (D-MA) proposed an amendment to raise the CAFE standard for cars and light trucks to 33 miles per gallon by 2016. If enacted, House Amendment 73 would have saved 1 million barrels of oil a day by 2016 — more than could be pumped from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at peak production — and would have prevented the annual release of 150 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."
As the graph at the top of this article shows, in the last ten years average fuel efficiency of American vehicles actually has declined, thanks mostly to the proliferating Hummers and SUVs. But industry experts, as was pointed out yesterday on National Public Radio, say the technology to make even SUV-type vehicles far more fuel-efficient has been within reach for some time. All that's needed is a push from the government.

Such an easily reachable standard as Miller voted against conceivably could have saved the 46th Test Wing as well as the beaches of Northwest Florida. Instead, it appears he traded it away in favor of letting drilling rigs creep closer to the coast.

FBI Investigating Harris

As if would-be senator Katherine Harris didn't have enough problems over making up fables about Canada... and trashing Joe Scarborogh's reputation.. and losing more campaign staff aides... who then compare her with the nightmarish 'Mommy Dearest'... and undergoing surgery... while suffering the nasty sniping of fellow Republicans ... and even scrounging in the cushions for coins so she can redecorate one of her houses ...

Now it seems the F.B.I. is investigating whether Harris engaged in illegal "dealings with a defense contractor at the center of a widening Capitol Hill corruption probe."

This is not the kind of news you want to discuss over dinner with Katherine.

It's no wonder the children left in charge of her campaign headquarters have been reduced to soliticiting on-line sympathy cards.

Amplification Dept.

July 19, 2006: Justice Requested Harris Campaign Docs - In May

Monday, July 17, 2006

Putin His Foot In Mouth

You may have heard about the barbed exchange at the weekend press conference between George W. Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin. The London Free Press reports --
Bush said he offered Putin some suggestions.

"I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion," Bush said at the news conference.

Putin, in reply, said: "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly." Bush's face reddened as he tried to laugh off the remark. "Just wait," he replied.
For Americans, it's humiliating enough to read about it. It's worse to see the entire room of reporters and diplomats erupting in laughter at Bush's stupidity.

Think Progress has the video.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Fumbling Over Insurance

As of today, Citizens Property Insurance has stopped writing builder's risk insurance (sometimes known as "under construction" insurance) against wind damage suffered during construction.
The company said the decision to stop writing builders risk policies came after the Office of Insurance Regulation asked it to justify its authority for doing so.

News that Citizens was discontinuing builders risk policies has developers and insurance agents scrambling for a solution, since many banks will not loan money to development projects without the insurance.

* * *
Yesterday, the Florida subsidiary of Allstate Insurance announced its 'good hands' will be canceling another 120,000 customer policies just as soon as it can. But as Paige St. John points out:
Taxpayers could lend a hand to the pullout.

Lobbyist and former lawmaker Locke Burt has asked for a $25 million taxpayer-backed loan to let his Royal Palm Insurance assume more of Allstate's business.

Burt is taking advantage of a program he helped create two months ago - the Jacksonville insurance executive wrote the first draft of the legislation setting up Florida's $250 million insurer loan program.
* * *
Meanwhile, lawyers for and against homeowners were arguing earlier this week over the Mierzwa doctrine in the First District Court of Appeals, as St. John reported in the Pensacola News Journal.
It's the second wind-versus-flood insurance case to reach Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal. A three-judge panel has yet to rule on a similar appeal made in May by lawyers for Florida Farm Bureau Casualty.

In both cases, lawyers for hurricane victims argue Florida law requires insurers to pay policy limits for a home destroyed by wind, even if floods caused some or most of the damage. Panhandle victims of Hurricane Ivan figure in both cases.
The case is important to some 300 Pensacola area homeowners who are still trying to settle old Ivan insurance claims. But it means nothing for the future, thanks to the shameful decision of the 2005 Florida state legislature that eliminated the century-old Value Policy Law for all losses after mid-2005.

A month ago, the St. Petersburg Times asked of the four major-party candidates for governor this year,"Where are the bold solutions to the homeowners' insurance crisis?" Two of them have begun to answer the call, as a July 3 report in the Orlando Sentinel suggests. Or, he might have added, fire and police protection. The intriguing feature of Smith's plan is he would have the state insurance agency sell homeowners "up to $100,000 of wind damage and then would obtain coverage for the additional value of their property from private insurance carriers."

As for the Republican candidates, they're still stuck on the sidelines. Charlie Crist is busy ducking scurrilous implications of his single-man life style. Tom Gallagher is being kept busy arguing with individual voters over his miserable performance as state CFO. And, as the Associated Press is reporting, both are consumed with sparring over who is more anti-abortion, anti-gay, and more "Christian."

When it comes to property insurance, one of Gallagher's problems is that he's been the man in charge for eight years. So with any and every one of the small reforms he has proposed the question naturally arises, "Why didn't you do this when you had the chance?"

Gallagher's other problem is the company he keeps. "Upset about Allstate's raising of your insurance rates or, worse, dropping your coverage?" asks Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell this week. "Well, Tom's intimately familiar with Allstate -- seeing as how one of his campaign leaders used to lobby for the company. You're in good hands with Tom."

Then there is the matter of Gallagher's ethics.

Charlie Crist is no better. His "boldest plan to date is a demand that insurers writing auto policies in Florida also provide homeowners' coverage," as the Sentinel reported several days ago. Even fellow Republicans deride the idea "as likely unconstitutional" and "ineffective."

None of the candidates has yet developed a compelling and comprehensive insurance reform plan, although Smith and Davis are farther along than their Republican counterparts. That, we think, largely can be attributed to the fact Smith and Davis are not glued to mindless ideologies that fly in the teeth of reality.

"Privatizing" hurricane insurance is no longer an option in Florida. As Allstate's scramble to leave the Florida catastrophe market illustrates, the private market simply doesn't want us. Even when some lesser company takes us on, they demand millions in taxpayer subsidies with no guarantee they'll be around when we need them.

That's not capitalism. That's a scam.

Rod Smith has the right idea. Hurricane insurance in Florida should be treated as a public utility or public safety service. What all the candidates need to do is figure out a way for the State of Florida to do what it's supposed to do: provide a public service not available at reasonable prices elsewhere.

One thing we haven't seen any candidate talk about is sharing the risk with the many other states that are in the same boat -- or soon will be. As Sentinel reporters wrote two weeks ago:
[O]ne of the few "solutions" all four candidates offer is a vow to lobby Congress for a national catastrophe fund, which could be used to help bail out states that suffer devastating natural disasters or terrorist attacks. But that's something every Florida governor has called for since Hurricane Andrew leveled much of Dade County in 1992, and it still hasn't happened.
If the current crop of Republicans in Republican-dominated Florida can't get the current crop of Republicans in Republican-dominated Washington D.C. to create a national solution, there's not much reason to pin our hopes on a new set of Republicans.

We need a solution now.

So, why not an Interstate Compact among all the coastal states, setting up a multi-state hurricane insurance pool? It works for the multi-state lottery (and a whole host of other, more serious cross-border problems).

It ought to be part of the solution as Allstate and other insurance companies continue to fumble us away.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Another Harris Train Wreck

Hard to believe, unless you agree with our long-standing prediction, but Katherine Harris is having another train wreck.

It's not her first. It won't be her last.

If you want to know who's quitting, check the last new-hire list.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Terrorist Targets

The Department of Homeland Security has been busy publicly identifying potential terrorist targets across America.

Among the endangered sites which would be protected by the Bush Administration's proposed $32.1 billion HSD appropriation for next year are:
  • The Amish Popcorn Factory
  • Nix Check Cashing Centers
  • A bait and tackle shop somewhere
  • A "Mall at Sears"
  • An "Ice Cream Parlor"
  • A "Donut Shop, and
  • An "Anti-Cruelty Society” somewhere.
Feel safer now?

A few of the listed "terrorist targets" Homeland Security wants to guard vigilantly have names unique enough that we can picture them in our minds -- mostly because the pictures are easily available on the web. We've mixed them up a bit -- just to fool any jihadist readers on Pensacola Beach, Yemen, or wherever.



Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Devilish Insurance Hikes

"The devil made me do it."

Flip Wilson's character, Geraldine, always had the same lame excuse for her hair-brained excesses. "The devil made me do it," she would cry.

As the audience knew, however, the devil lay in the details; and those details inevitably showed that Geraldine, herself, was responsible. Blaming it on someone else was just a laughable distraction.

Geraldine popped into our thoughts last week as we were reading "State Farm Wants More" by Paige St. John and Scott Blake in the Gannett paper Florida Today. In May, State Farm Insurance Co. of Florida asked regulators to approve a 79 percent increase in annual property insurance premiums for homeowners. Now, it has announced it will be upping the request even more, claiming "its costs have risen significantly since the original request was made... ."

Nationwide Insurance Company of Florida, with its home address in Columbus, Ohio, is following the very same template as it seeks comparably higher premiums. To be sure, Nationwide claims it "has paid more than $1 billion in claims in Florida since 2004." But in the same period it also recorded record-high profits.

As St. John and Blake remind us, "[T]he Florida subsidiary's parent company, reported profits of $612 million last year, up 15 percent from 2004."

The claims of these insurance companies that reinsurance rate hikes require even higher hikes in Florida homeowner insurance are almost as silly as Geraldine blaming the devil. As St. John and Blake point out --
Both State Farm and Nationwide attempt to protect themselves from hurricane losses in Florida by buying their own catastrophe coverage to protect it from huge storm claims.

* * *
However, both State Farm and Nationwide seek to buy most of their reinsurance from their parent companies, at rates triple what they paid in 2004. If the year is without major storms, the national companies keep that as profit.
In other words, the devil made them them do it. State Farm of Florida has to hike rates because its parent corporation, State Farm headquartered in Indiana, is charging more. Nationwide of Florida has to increase rates because its Columbus, Ohio, parent is doing the same.

Companies like State Farm and Nationwide are using the artifice of splitting themselves into multiple personalities, known in the business world as "parent" and "wholly owned subsidiary" corporations. Then, one "personality" claims that the other personality is charging too much.

And, according to Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, there's nothing Florida regulators can do about it. The state doesn't "have regulatory authority over what these reinsurers charge." Moreover, it's a certainty that if Florida were to try for that kind of jurisdiction, the corporate parents would be screaming that their constitutional rights as "persons" with a "citizenship" located in another state have been violated.

Behavior like this gives credence to the theory of Canadian law professor Joel Bakan, which is expounded upon in the fascinating documentary titled The Corporation. A synopsis of the documentary's thesis is available in review form within the pages of The Economist:
It begins with a ... history of the company's legal form in America, noting the key 19th-century legal innovation that led to treating companies as persons under law. By bestowing on them the rights and protections that people enjoy, this legal innovation gave the company the freedom to flourish. So if the corporation is a person, ask the film's three Canadian co-creators, Mark Achbar, Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott, what sort of person is it?

The answer, elicited over two-and-a-half hours of interviews with left-wing intellectuals, right-wing captains of industry, economists, psychologists and philosophers, is that the corporation is a psychopath.
Bakan argues, with considerable logic and ample examples to back it up, that the status of "personhood" conferred by law on corporations is at war with legally-imposed obligation of corporations to maximize profits without regard to any other social, economic, personal, environmental, or other costs. In any other "person" whose rights are protected by the Constitution, the goal of maximizing wealth without regard, whatsoever, for others would be considered amoral.

That would be a person who, as Balkan wrote in his path-breaking book with the same title, is "singularly self-interested and unable to feel genuine concern for others in any context." In other words, a sociopath.

We have no doubt that because of the last two hurricane seasons and mounting evidence of climate change the "parent" corporation of State Farm can come up with numbers justifying some sort of increase in the cost of reinsurance. But triple? And, why hide the data from Florida regulators? Why allow the retention of excess profits after a year "without major storms?"

Bakan's thesis goes well beyond the misbehavior of insurance companies, of course. But the prescriptions he offers are for the most part easily within the reach of state legislatures and the national Congress, if only they had the will.

Some may find it hard to swallow Bakan's notion that "through their psychopathic pursuit of profit" corporations "make good people do bad things." If you're among the doubters, just try spanking State Farm, Inc. -- or sending it to jail -- the next time it misbehaves.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Billmon on "Inconvenient Al"

What makes Billmon so special is on display today in a thoughtful, erudite, disturbing, provocative, and entertaining review that sweeps across 4 million years from the first signs of hominid bi-pedalism to the "Age of Oprah" as he reviews the popular documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."

One Year Anniversary

"State Farm House" courtesy of Douglas Keisling

Troy Moon remembers Hurricane Dennis today in the PNJ while local news sources are reporting that Mike Seidel of the Weather Channel will be broadcasting from Navarre Beach all day.

For those who want to relive the experience, check out "freelance storm-chasing photojournalist" Douglas Keisling's "Hurricane Dennis video blog page."