Over at Wampum, Dwight Meredith has an excellent pair of posts debunking the scare tactics that the tort reform lobby -- along with a lazy, so-called "liberal" media -- has used to create an irrational fear of frivolous lawsuits in the mind of the American public.
Fester's Place has a good summary of Juan Cole's five sensible goals for achieving real progress in the War on Terror in 2004. Assessing whether the Bush Administration embraces these goals -- or is likely to enjoy success if so -- is left as an exercise for the reader.
Joshua Marshall thinks the Washington Post is inexplicably soft-pedaling its recent coverage of the Valerie Plame scandal, and beleives the Administration's public utterances hint that it knows who blew the covert agent's cover.
[L]et's stop the charade. They're guilty as sin. It's now crystal clear that from the very beginning the folks at the White House have known who did it. And pretty clearly the president didn't see anything wrong with it, or didn't care, because he didn't try to do anything about it.
[T]he basic facts of the matter have been in plain sight from the beginning. And whether an aide to the president is indicted or goes to prison is largely an issue for that particular person.
The issue here -- from the beginning, and now to the end -- is whether the president accepts such behavior and what the standard operating procedure in the Bush White House is: Do you punish a political opponent by attacking his family if it means exposing one of the country's covert intelligence operatives and breaking the law?
That's a pretty straightforward standard. And by all the available evidence this White House considers it acceptable behavior.
Quite so. The real shame of the Plame scandal is that it was never confusing or ambiguous, and that the President's defenders are reduced to the kind of shameful parsing and technicality they vocally derided during the Clinton Administration. Having run on a promise to restore "honor and integrity" to the White House, Bush's obvious indifference to the presence of two felons among his close advisers is especially reprehensible.
The President of the United States, charged Constitutionally with the duty to make sure that the laws are faithfully executed, could demand from his immediate subordinates sworn statements as to their knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of who said what to whom and when. His failure to do so, in the face of his Constitutional responsibility and his stated desire to have the truth come out, seems to me the greatest scandal of the Plame affair, and one little commented on.
Kleiman also offers a scathing criticism of a certain prominent but intellectual-honesty-bereft blogger's stance on the Plame scandal.
My family and I enjoyed a lovely New Year's Eve and Day. We got a babysitter for The Girls, and my lovely wife and I began with coffee and desser at The Abbey coffee house, and then enjoyed a couple of parties, ringing in the New Year at the home of our friend Onye.
New Year's Day we spent mostly cleaning the garage in preparation for putting away the Xmas decorations. I also prepared my traditional New Year's Day meal of black-eyed peas. On the spur of the moment, we invited our friends the andersons over for dinner, and enjoyed a pleasant meal.
We also enjoyed a visit by my high-school chum Marc Tolbert (an occasional commentor here), whom I haven't seen in more than a decade. He and his family stopped in on their way through town, and we reminisced about the old days. It was an altogether pleasant evening.
I hope to have another couple of posts up today, and get back into the swing of things -- inasmuch as is possibvile under the new situation -- next week.
CNN brings us the informative news that the crew of the International Space Station, composed of a Russian and an American, will celebrate the arrival of 2004 at midnight Greenwhich Mean Time, since the station's clocks are set to that standard.
This may be the last post of 2003. My lovely wife and I are planning a modest New Year's celebration. May Planet Swank's loyal readership enjoy safe and happy New Year's festivities as well.
I know Bush's defenders would like to think that the Valerie Plame scandal has gone away, but it got new life with the announcement that Attorney General John Ashcroft has recused himself from the investigation.
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft recused himself yesterday from a politically charged investigation into the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity, and his deputy announced the appointment of a special prosecutor in the case.
The probe into the disclosure of Valerie Plame's CIA affiliation to a newspaper columnist will be overseen by U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald of Chicago, who will act as a de facto attorney general on the case and will not be required to consult Ashcroft or other senior Justice Department officials while conducting the investigation, officials said.
Ashcroft's decision came abruptly after months of complaints from Democrats that the former Missouri senator's close ties to senior White House aides should disqualify him from overseeing the investigation, which has included FBI interviews of presidential adviser Karl Rove and other senior White House aides.
Justice Department officials declined to elaborate yesterday on what specifically prompted the change in course, and Ashcroft made no public comments.
Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey Jr., who announced the decisions at a news conference, said: "The issue surrounding the attorney general's recusal is not one of actual conflict of interest that arises normally when someone has a financial interest or something. The issue that he was concerned about was one of appearance. . . . That's the reason he decided, really in an abundance of caution, that he ought to step aside."
First off, props to Ashcroft for his recusal. At last! It'd have been nice if he had done so when the possibility of conflict of interest in his running an investigation likely to involve his political cronies and benefactors was first raised.
But make no mistake about it -- Novak's original column makes fairly plain that two "senior Administration officials" committed a felony -- and one that Bush's father, among many others, consider a particularly vile and loathsome one at that -- in blowing Plame's cover. The Washington Post's ongoing coverage has only fuirthered this impression.
It's currently up to the President's apologists -- including Novak himself, who has been desperately spinning as he's realized the trouble his column got the Administration got the Administration into -- to make a convincing case that what appears to be the deliberate outing of a covert agent by senior Administration officials is not so. So far, despite a rather pathetic flood of denial from conservative commentators, the weight of the evidence suggests that when the investigation concludes -- like the 9/11 panel's probe and the inquiry into Cheney's energy task force -- the information it breings to light will hadrly be flattering to Bush.
Mark Kleiman has been following the developing Plame scandal, and has lengthy comment. Joshua Marshall ponders the matter here and here.
By coincidence, I'm working on reviews of The Heroic Trio and the Mui/Cheung film The Moon Warriors for Destroy All Monsters. I'll redouble my efforts to complete them and post an update when they appear.
Brazil reports an increase in the number of pirahna attacks. Okay, they're up from basically none several years ago, but the attacks are blamed on the damming of certain Brazilian rivers, according to the BBC.
Dams slow the flow of rivers, and may cause an increase in piranha numbers because the fish favour gentle stretches of water for breeding.
Details of the outbreaks appear in the scientific journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.
One outbreak occurred in the town of Santa Cruz of Conceicao, whose main river is the Rio Mogi Guacu.
Dammed portions of the stream are popular with tourists and locals who go there to bathe and swim at weekends.
Piranhas belonging to the species Serrasalmus spilopleura - also known as the speckled piranha - had dwelled in the river and its tributaries in small numbers for many years.
No injuries had previously been recorded with bathers or swimmers, according to the authors of the latest report.
But four years ago, injuries due to piranha bites began to be recorded in the town. They reached a peak in the late summer of 2002. Over five weekends in 2002, 38 piranha attacks were recorded.
The rise in attacks has occurred since a dam was built on the river.
The screenplay practically writes itself. Now I'm even more sorry I never got around to renting Pirahna over Halloween...
This Grand Forks Herald feature casts a skeptical eye on tarot cards, but notes -- accurately -- that the Death card signifies change, not physical demise.
I own a deck of Tarot cards or three, although I've forgotten the meanings of most of the minor arcana. Personally, I figure that Tarot-style divination is more about presenting a random pattern for the subject to read meaning into and possibly perceive a larger pattern by imposing order on the chaos (a theory I first saw espoused in the pages of Alan Moore's Watchmen).
Unsolicited junk e-mail accounted for almost $20 billion in lost productivity over the past year, according to Basex, a New York management and consulting firm.
"It's gotten to the point where my mother was talking about it. And she doesn't even use e-mail," said Jonathan Spira, the firm's chief analyst. He says the cost is doubling each year and is about $600 to $1,000 per Internet user.
The cost can be attributed to the impact of managing, filtering, deleting and processing spam, along with trying to prevent viruses from infecting workplace computers.
Spira said he thinks efforts to fight spam are making headway, "but it's going to get worse before it gets better."
I do too; over the holdiay, more than 500 messages piled up in my spam quarantine (and I deleted them all without review, so if you sent me an email and I haven't responded, please try again). I don't get much spam at work, but others do, I'm told. I wouldn't be surprised if the problem gets so bad that we wind up just scrapping the current email system in favor of a new, more spam-proof model. What a shame.
My family and I enjoyed a very pleasant four-day holiday break. We began with an Xmas eve service in which my wife sang with the choir. As a result, The Girls were up until just past midnight (!) and slept until eight Xmas moring (!!!). After opening gifts under the tree, we drove down to Louisville to spend time with family and friends. We returned to Indy to meet up with my wife's parents, who were driving through on their way to Florida. Saturday and Sunday proved relatively low-key during which we basically just chilled out and played with out presents, but in a nice surprise, our friend Margaret dropped by on her way thru town.
2003 was definitely the Year of the DVD. For starters, I'd picked up several at a post-Thanksgiving sale. And let's face it, given my well-known love of movies, one could hardly go wrong with such a choice. As well, one of the gifts I got Crystal was the Indiana Jones boxed set, and The Girls got a movie or two themselves.
In addition, the Suncoast video chains in Louisville's malls are closing, and having a closeout sale, including many anime titles. I dropped by myself on the last day of the sale to find a single rack of anime (and practically nothing else left) at 80% off, and so picked up four DVDs for less than 25 bucks. Added to the titles I got for Xmas, the anime tally stands thus:
Martian Successor Nadesico vol. 2
Princess Nine vol. 3
Junkers Come Here
Some of the titles are DVD reissues of OAVs I'd rented on video; others I've never seen, but since they were so cheap I decided to pick up strictly on spec. And my lovely wife got me the live-action flick The Princess Blade from the DAM 2003 Xmas Wish List.
I also got the survival horror PS2 titles Silent Hill 2 (links at GameSpot and IGN.com) and Clock Tower 3. I'm currently playing Silent Hill 2, and it's a satisfyingly creepy experience so far. Watch for full reviews of the anime, movies and video games at Destroy All Monsters in the coming weeks.