Friday, February 29, 2008

Don't Touch 'Em!

First, Michigan freelance writer Nancy Nall stumbled on evidence of plagiarism by Tim Goeglein -- who is the "the White House's point man with evangelical Christians" -- in the pages of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.

Then, spurred by Atrios' observation that "people rarely plagiarize just once," someone named Kenosha Kid found more writer crimes by Mr. Goeglein. Meanwhile, Goeglein apologized for the one plagiarism but didn't mention he had the habit.

Soon, everyone started getting into the act. Now, News-Sentinel editors have responded by saying, "We will not publish writings by Goeglein in the future."

It really does seem that if you scratch just about anybody in the Bush administration, your fingernails will comeback filthy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

War of the Words

We were away the other day and so didn't get to watch the war launched Sunday by the nation of Pakistan against the web site of YouTube. The war lasted two hours, far shorter than an Island Authority board meeting on Pensacola Beach.

If you're into such things as stealth jets zipping through the skies, exploding bombs, gut-wrenching screams of agony from someone who looks like the child of your enemy, and all the other thrills that war offers to lizard brains, you will be disappointed to learn that this war was silently conducted by software and digital coding, and no one died. has the gritty technical details. Here's a summary:
Network providers -- called autonomous systems, or ASs -- broadcast the ranges of IP addresses to which they'll provide access. One of the functions of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is managing the master list of AS numbers, which it does by allocating large blocks of 1,000 or so at a time to regional address registries.
* * *
If the address information provided by AS is reliable, all is well. But if an AS makes a false broadcast, because of a configuration mistake or for malicious reasons, all hell can break loose.

This is what happened with YouTube, which Pakistan's government ordered blocked because of offensive material, apparently a video depicting cartoons about Muhammad that had been posted in a Danish newspaper. Some reports have said the video featured several minutes of a film made by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, an outspoken critic of Islam.

A spokesman for the Pakistani embassy said on Monday that the order to block access to YouTube came from the highest levels of the government. It would have been passed along to Pakistan's Electronic Media Regulatory Authority and then to Pakistan's telecom authority, the spokesman said, which in turn would have issued the formal order to the Internet providers.

Pakistan Telecom responded by broadcasting the false claim that it was the correct route for 256 addresses in YouTube's network space. Because that was a more specific destination than the true broadcast from YouTube saying it was home to 1,024 computers, within a few minutes traffic started flowing to the wrong place.
More interestingly, CNN explores the strategic interests at stake. It turns out that this isn't the first time a nation-state has begun a war against YouTube. At one or another time a number of other countries have attacked the same video site:
The countries acted after concluding that YouTube videos were subversive (China), immoral (Iran), embarrassing to well-known figures (Brazil) or critical of a country's king (Thailand), the group said.

Governments also have sought to regulate user-supplied Internet content to stymie allegations that they abuse human rights, the group said
Furthermore, videos aren't the only web content under attack by governments, according to the BBC. A new study by the Open Net Initiative concludes, "The level of state-led censorship of the net is growing around the world... ." At least 25 of 41 countries surveyed "showed evidence of content filtering" or government controlled censorship of web sites including the Internet telephone service known as Skype and Google Maps.

Don't imagine for a moment the U.S. Government isn't starting its own "wars of choice" against Internet sites it doesn't like, too. The White House has tried for years to forbid web site photos of the flag-draped coffins of our own soldiers coming home. Last year the Pentagon prohibited our troops overseas from accessing

Even a U.S. court got into the swing last week by shutting down the U.S. hosted "whistle-blower" web site called Wikileaks. To see the Wkileaks site these days, embarrassingly enough for a nation that supposedly reveres the Constitution of our Founding Fathers, you have to navigate to an overseas mirror site.

As the Open Net Initiative points out, technically speaking the Wikileak censorship wasn't sought by the government but by "a bank registered in the Cayman islands." However --
The whole event seems to encapsulate the constant criticism of governance in the United States: that the government has been captured by corporate interests, and that the world-leading rule of law and technocratic mechanisms in place can be hijacked to serve as tools for narrow, wealthy interests.
It's not really web sites like YouTube or Google Maps or even Wikileaks that U.S. corporate interests and dictatorial governments elsewhere want to bring to an end. It's the Age of Enlightenment, and in particular those once-upon-a-time American, quaint notions of freedom of expression and thought.

Monday, February 25, 2008

First Congressional District Race '08

In some quarters, attention is turning at last to the biennial congressional races for Congress. Today, Peter Flom offers at Daily Kos a helpful run-down on all the Florida congressional races in 2008.

It's still a fluid picture. As Dr. Flom says, the "filing deadline is May 2, primary is Aug 26."

As for our little corner of the state, this is Flom's assessment of the current state of affairs:
District: FL-01
Location The westernmost part of the panhandle, bordering AL, the Gulf of Mexico and including Pensacola.
Incumbent:] Representative Jeff Miller (R)
First elected 2001
2006 margin 69-31
2004 margin 77-22
Bush margin 2004 72-29
Notes on opponents: Neither recent opponent raised $50K
Current opponents:
Joe Roberts
Bryan James (no web site) [sic -- His name actually is "James E. Bryan." See here]
Demographics: Most veterans of any district (21.7%), and the 13th most Republican district per Cook PVI
Assessment: Long shot
Flom got the Bryan James name wrong, and he doesn't mention this but it appears a third candidate has filed for the Democratic nomination to oppose Miller -- someone in Pensacola named Robert Crocket Peterman II. The mistakes and omissions are understandable, though. So far as we can tell both men appear to be nonentities. So long as he doesn't get over-confident, the nomination surely is Joe Roberts'.

On the Republican side no one has filed to oppose Jeff Miller. That's not surprising, even though there is widespread unhappiness over his lackluster performance among GOP stalwarts. It doesn't look like a good year for Republicans, even here in the Panhandle.

Besides, if Miller couldn't get anything serious done in past congresses when his own party was in absolute control, how effective would be some freshman who unseats him after an even larger Democratic majority takes office in January '09?

Jim Paul's Arrest: The Complete Video

Last week we called the video of Escambia County school superintendent Jim Paul's arrest "instructional." Now there actually is an instructional video (14 min.) of sorts, complete with chapters illustrating the major stages of a DUI arrest.

It's just like a training film (see below) without annoying commercials or the all-important breathalyzer test, which may have been administered off-camera.

Ah, but training for whom? New traffic police or chronic drunk drivers looking to prepare in advance for the field sobriety tests when they're pulled over?

No doubt the video is the kind of 'ugliness' the Pensacola News Journal editorialized about last week:
At a time when the School District faces growing challenges, the last thing we needed was a race for superintendent whose chief issue would be the superintendent's personal actions, not education.

It's too bad, but that is the reality of it. Paul made himself into a target — one hard to defend.
Those most in need of some training are the voters. They need to realize, as the PNJ says, that it makes no sense to have the Escambia County school board and its superintendent enjoying "independent power bases due to the political structure of the system."

As the newspaper points out, "Few, if any, elected superintendents enter office having managed anything as large and complicated as a school district." Furthermore, having an elected superintendent as well as an elected education board doesn't blur the "line of command." It erases that line.

What's worse, the political sirens of electoral politics inevitably seduce elected superintendents, sooner or later, into making decisions that are calculated to have voter appeal but do not help to improve the quality of our schools or the education of our children.

By referendum, local voters have had opportunities in the past to restructure the governance system of Escambia schools. Every time, a bare majority has blown the chance.

If Mr. Paul's troubles do nothing more than inspire the voters, at last, to rationalize the system and abolish the election requirement for superintendent then this tawdry business will have served a worthy end. And Jim Paul, by no design of his own, will have left a lasting legacy we can all be thankful for.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pentagon Prevarications

Scott Horton today has a medium long, verifiable, fact-filled, and compelling article on his Harper's blog -- supplemented by a personal experience he had as a lawyer in a recent case involving the Pentagon. The bottom line:
[N]ext time you see a report from Pentagon Public Affairs characterizing the reporting of a journalist or commenting on some question from a political debate, remember the source, and treat any words offered with suitable skepticism.

Hillary Heads Out With Class

“No matter what happens in this contest—and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored.”
We haven't had much to say about the Democratic primary race because we type too slowly. For some time, now, it seemed the moment something noteworthy happened before we could even finish digesting it something else would occur to make whatever had happened seem old and irrelevant. So, the Recyle Bin is full and our campaign year diary is nearly empty.

This on-line piece by Hendrik Herzberg of The New Yorker, however, strikes us as having a core truth that may well last right up to the Democratic Convention, or at the least through the Texas-Ohio primaries of March 4.

Judging from the latest debate with Barack Obama, he says, Hillary Clinton "has recognized that there are no magic formulas that can win this for her, and she has decided that if go out she must she intends to go out with class."
Clinton will continue to talk about her differences with Obama on questions like an individual mandate for health insurance, the proper balance between conciliation and confrontation with Republicans, and the conditions under which a President should meet with nasty foreign leaders. She’ll talk about her experience and her diligence.
* * *
This kind of thing hasn’t “worked” for her, but at least it is her. She’ll give it her best shot, not her worst shot, and let the chips fall where it looks like they’re falling.

“Going negative” has been a bust. It could never be anything but a bust, because there is no audience for it in the Democratic Party. Her supporters (almost all of them) like him; his supporters (most of them) like her. The finger-pointing has already begun: she spent too much money on fancy hotel rooms, her husband made too many blunders, she never settled on a theme, and so on ad infinitum. But all that may be beside the point—the point being that Barack Obama is a phenomenon that comes along once in a lifetime. Unfortunately for Hillary, it’s her lifetime; fortunately for the rest of us, it’s ours.
Hillary Clinton is a very classy act, when left to her own devices, and always has been. One hopes that she will stay, at least formally, in the race right up to the Convention even if she comes up short on March 4 and Obama looks like a shoe-in.

Too much that was unpredictable at the start of the year has happened already. More is likely. This isn't 1968, thank god, but the passions and confusions and hatreds of our time are running at least as high. As Glenn Greenwald wrote this week, after Bill O'Reilly entertained talk of "lynching" Michelle Obama and the equally vile Lisa Schiffren seized on Obama's racial heritage as circumstantial evidence he's "probably" a communist:
It’s vitally important to remember that our political life is suffuse with lowlifes and hatemongers like this. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter — the heart and soul of the right-wing — aren’t going anywhere, nor are the media-connected, Swiftboat-spewing operatives who function in the shadows and the sewers.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Dog Blogging

The "Heritage Committee of Pensacola 450th Celebration" is having a poetry contest as part of next year's celebration of Tristan de Luna's disastrous landing in Northwest Florida. Locals are invited to submit "works of poetry" in three categories:
  1. Pensacola's heritage written by local people.
  2. Pensacola people's cultural and ethnic identities, also by local people.
  3. Published poems by celebrated poets from cultures represented in Pensacola's population.
That last category seems excessively expansive, given Pensacola's rich multi-ethnic heritage. Indeed, it would be hard to find among the "celebrated poets" of the world an ethnicity that hasn't been "represented in Pensacola's population" at one time or another.

Maybe Nils-Aslak Valkeapä; although with all the sailing ships that have put to port in Pensacola over the last five centuries, it's a good bet there were there were some Laplanders aboard, too.

With so many wonderful poets to choose from, we give up. Inspired by the ubiquitous "Friday Cat Blogging" craze, reliably exemplified at the end of every week by our feline friendly neighbor at Why Now?, we offer the poem below, primarily because it wasn't included in the Collected Works of Howard Nemerov.

It wasn't included because Nemerov kept on writing. Now, what good is it to call your book the "collected works" of someone if the poet is still alive and working?
Walking the Dog
By Howard Nemerov

Two universes mosey down the street
Connected by love and a leash and nothing else.
Mostly I look at lamplight through the leaves
While he mooches along with tail up and snout down,
Getting a secret knowledge through the nose
Almost entirely hidden from my sight.

We stand while he's enraptured by a bush
Till I can't stand our standing any more
And haul him off; for our relationship
Is patience balancing to this side tug
And that side drag; a pair of symbionts
Contented not to think each other's thoughts.

What else we have in common's what he taught,
Our interest in shit. We know its every state
From steaming fresh through stink to nature's way
Of sluicing it downstreet dissolved in rain
Or drying it to dust that blows away.
We move along the street inspecting shit.

His sense of it is keener far than mine,
And only when he finds the place precise
He signifies by sniffing urgently
And circles thrice about, and squats, and shits,
Whereon we both with dignity walk home
And just to show who's master I write the poem.
If you want to enter the contest, here are the instructions:
Deadline for submissions is May 22.
Send to Ora Wills, 4910 Lynell St., Pensacola, FL 32503
or e-mail

Thursday, February 21, 2008

School Super's Instructional Video


Pensacola TV station WEAR-TV last night aired a video of the January drunk driving arrest of Escambia County school superintendent Jim Paul. The edited version was taken from a longer 38-minute video of the entire episode released yesterday by the Pinellas County sheriff's office.

The longer video would make a great instructional film for the classroom. It shows all the stages of a drunk driving arrest, from the moment two deputies spot Jim Paul's car weaving side-to-side in one lane of traffic along a straight highway, through the field sobriety tests which he flunked, to the frisking of the suspect and his ultimate handcuffing.

One positive thing may be said about all who were involved: both both the deputies and Mr. Paul were exceedingly polite throughout.

WEAR's edited broadcast tape can be seen here. The full 38-minute Pinellas County video is here.

Two brief moments in the longer video caught our attention. In one, the arrest video suddenly is interrupted by a clip of some football game. Somebody, somewhere, needs to buy some new blank videotapes.

In the other, before Jim Paul takes - and flunks -- the field sobriety tests, he's asked when he last had any sleep and how much he got. Check what he told the deputy -- and then compare it to the story Mr. Paul has been peddling back here at home:
Escambia County School Superintendent Jim Paul says he was trying to sleep off two glasses of wine in the parking lot of a Tampa casino before his arrest at 3:30 a.m. Thursday on a DUI charge.

Paul said he was dozing in his rental car in the Seminole Hard Rock Casino parking lot when a drunk knocked on his window, prompting the superintendent to drive away.
Well, okay. Maybe he misspoke to the deputy about when he last had any sleep. That's understandable. After all, he was probably drunk.

2-25 am

A more or less "complete" video of the arrest is now available for watching here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lunar Eclipse Wednesday

Wednesday evening there will be a "spectacular" full eclipse of the moon, visible over most of North America. Weather permitting, haul that telescope out around 9:00 pm Pensacola (CST) time.

It seems unlikely, but you just might get a bonus view of Mr. Bush's diplomatically problematical but adolescently "manly" Star Wars demonstration. The satellite obliteration actually is rumored for Thursday, but with this carload of clowns in the White House, you never know.

As the International Herald Tribune editorializes --
The administration would have more credibility if it wasn't planning to oppose the latest Russian-Chinese draft treaty to ban weapons in space. That proposed treaty would not cover ground- or sea-based weapons, but it should. The U.S. should be working to ban all anti-satellite weapons. That is the best way to protect America's security and its credibility.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Name Game

If you manage to slog through the entirety of Sara Rabb's front-page Sunday News Journal report on the failed 2,718 acre "Jubilee" housing development in nearby Pace -- an area distinguished primarily by an abundance of fundamentalist churches, chemical plants, and cows -- what you might be left with is the impression that a lot of grown men were playing kiddie poker using toothpicks for chips.

That didn't stop them from making 10, 20, and 30 million dollar bets with each other and dreaming of "a glorious new community with more than 500 homes valued at up to $1.5 million."

But this is Northwest Florida. They needed Other People's Money to make it seem like real life.

Enter Barney Ng, son of Walter Ng, founder of RE Loans, LLC. He claims to have invented "a new product, a six year first trust deed that could be used for both residential and commercial property alike."

Mr. Ng is no stranger to strange investments. One of his companies just unloaded the dry-docked Queen Mary which, weirdly, has been serving as a Long Beach "ghost hotel" while the California bankruptcy court sorts through the wreckage. He also recently foreclosed on the failed Olympian Brewery in Tacoma.

Now, there's a poker player everyone wants to see come to the table late in the evening! And, indeed, it seems that Mr. Ng has been left holding the bag -- again.
Ng said he never intended to be more than an investor in the project, and now, he realizes he has inherited a development that is many, many millions of dollars over budget, and now, he realizes he has inherited a development that is many, many millions of dollars over budget.
* * *
Ng said he is in the midst of sorting through the project's financing, trying to determine which bills have been paid and which are still owed.
Reporter Rabb has some fun ticking through the various names the home town boys gave to their game. They went from "Governor's Club" to "Arcadia Mills" to "Jubilee" and now, apparently, "Contrada Hills."

Gosh, being a developer must be fun! You get to think up neat names and make 'billboards featuring boys, rabbits and girls' and stuff like that while waiting for the money to roll in from ... well, from somewhere or another.

Ng is now hoping "to get approval to create a community development district for the project, which is the subject of a hearing to be held Feb. 28 at the Santa Rosa County Courthouse."

Clearly, it's time for another name change. How about Potemkin Village?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Missile Envy

The super-secret (or not-so-much) satellite designated "USA 193" originally was expected to re-enter the atmosphere "on March 18, plus or minus one week, if nothing was done to hasten the event." Now, the U.S. plans to obliterate it with an SM-3 interceptor missile as early as Wednesday this week.

The insulting part of this is that the Bush administration thinks we're dumb enough to buy their cover story.

There are only three explanations for why Bush made the "go-ahead decision" to blast the satellite to smithereens before reentry. One is he wants to let the Navy "test its missiles in an anti-satellite mode for the first time since the end of the Cold War." The second is, as the Moonie newspaper reports, to show "missile muscle" to China.

The third reason, John Pike says with tongue-in-cheek, is "they want to avoid the possibility that this stuff will show up on Ebay."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Jim Paul Falls


Escambia County school superintendent Jim Paul has announced he will not seek reelection this year, after all.
"So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."
Rick Outzen of The Independent News claims "Paul announced his withdrawal from the 2008 election because the PNJ was about to do another big story on him."

Could be. Likely there were more embarrassments to come. As Charlie Chaplin once said, "A man's true character comes out when he's drunk."

2-25 am

A 14-minute video of the Jim Paul arrest can be seen here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Florida's Bill Nelson Trashes the Constitution

There is so much to be said about yesterday's shameful Senate vote granting telecom immunity that one hardly knows where to begin. One excellent place is Russ Feingold's speech on the Senate floor, which neatly and accurately sums up the issue.

Another is Scott Horton, who writes today for Harper's Magazine:
[F]uture generations looking back and tracing the destruction of the grand design of our Constitution may settle on yesterday, February 12, 2008, as the date of the decisive breach. It hardly got a mention in the media, obsessed as it was with reports on the primary elections, the use of drugs in sporting events, and that unfailing topic, the weather. Yesterday the Senate voted down the resolution offered by Senator Dodd to block retroactive immunity for the telecoms and it voted for a measure which guts the Constitution’s ban on warrantless searches by extending blanket authority to the Executive to snoop on the nation’s citizens in a wide variety of circumstances, subject to no independent checks.
Given the predictable and routinely unanimous vote of "Republicans in the Senate [who] continued to function in lock-step, as they have on almost all significant issues for the last seven years," as Horton explains, passage of the bill can only be explained by the fact "Democrats fragmented." Horton again:
Their vote summed up everything that’s wrong with Washington politics today. Fear and hard campaign cash rule the roost, and the Constitution is regarded as a meaningless scrap of parchment, indeed, a nuisance.
And who, among others, voted to trash "the grand design" of our Constitution? Florida's own U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

There are many issues of importance that come before the Senate during the six-year term of a senator. In our time, these include such matters as the Iraq War, the declining economic health of the United States, global climate change, immigration reform, a woman's right to choose, and on and on. As with every elected official, some of Nelson's votes on these and other issues no doubt have pleased voters -- and some have not.

But none can be more important to our democracy, and to our nation, than supporting and defending the Constitution. Indeed, those words are in the very oath administered to every incoming senator.

Yesterday, Senator Nelson betrayed his oath of office. He has, in effect, endorsed criminal misbehavior by the telecom companies as well as the Bush administration. He no longer merits public office, whatever may be his views on other issues of the day.

Capitalism at Work

Isn't capitalism great?
Wall Street seems to be hoping that the federal government will simply take over its bad assets, much as we funded Countrywide; such ideas are floating around the Congress. The banks would doubtless garner big fees for helping the government manage its new financial garbage dump.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Happy Year of the Rat

Among many others, including 1.4 billion Chinese residents, our Florida neighboring blog Why Now? is celebrating Chinese New Year. It's a 15-day festival which, according to the Chinese calendar, heralds the coming of Spring.

Another way to celebrate is to visit Wenan Tu's web site. Mr. Wenan is a young, talented, and dynamic photographer making waves in both the fine arts and fashion photography. He recently published a 2-volume collection of photographs of his travels in Tibet. A traveling show of his art work was on display for the first time in the U.S., at an Ohio college and the Chicago Public Library.

If you're going to out-source your commercial photography needs in the Year of the Rat, you couldn't do better than to contact him at:

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Mardi Gras Parade Photos

Our favorite Pensacola Beach photographer, Barrier Island Girl, has begun posting images she snapped at last weekend's local Mardi Gras parades on the beach and downtown. More are on the way, so check back frequently.

From the looks of things, parade-watchers are a whole lot more entertaining to see than the parades themselves.
  • Pensacola Beach photos are here.
  • Downtown Pensacola parade photos are here.
  • Last Saturday night's Krewe of LaFitte night parade photos are here.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Patriots Win Super Bowl!!

It's so nice to be home again. Here in Pensacola, the New England Patriots actually won the Super Bowl -- according to today's local paper: