Friday, May 30, 2008

Rachael Ray, threat to America!

I had never heard of Michelle Malkin until the other day, but I now believe she might be one of America's biggest butt-wipes. Malkin, who is described in a recent AP story as a conservative commentator, is among the critics who pressured Dunkin' Donuts into pulling an online advertisement featuring Rachael Ray. The AP said there had been complaints that a black-and-white scarf the celebrity chef was wearing offered "symbolic support for Muslim extremism and terrorism." Malkin and other wingnuts said the scarf looked like a kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headdress popularized by Yasser Arafat and, according to Malkin, "a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos." As noted by Amahl Bishara, an anthropology lecturer at the University of Chicago and an expert in media matters related to the Middle East, "Kaffiyehs are worn every day on the street by Palestinians and other people in the Middle East - by people going to work, going to school, taking care of the their families, and just trying to keep warm." There's also the fact that, based on the photos above, what Rachael Ray is wearning around her neck, other than being black and white, looks NOTHING LIKE A KAFFIYEH! Malkin is clearly an idiot, but some condemnation also should be directed at Dunkin' Donuts for putting its corporate tail between its legs and bowing down to Malkin and her ilk. Malkin, I have learned, also was one of the leading critics of the design for the Flight 93 memorial that incorporated a crescent shape, because the symbol is common in the Islamic world and used in the flags of some primarily Muslim nations. So, just to be on the safe side, and to keep Malkin and her brain-dead gang from getting their panties in a twist, I think it's best that we throw out our crescent wrenches, swear off crescent rolls and avoid looking at the sky when there's a crescent moon, just on the off chance that our exposure to these insidious shapes could cause us to launch a jihad.


Some jail time would be nice

Two brothers from Chartiers Township now face charges, including cruelty to animals, after one hunting dog was shot to death and two others severely wounded on their property in early May. Charles William Habe, 38, and Daniel R. Habe, 60, live on Plum Run Road, where the incident occurred. Three men had their Walker coonhounds on neighboring property, where they had the owner's permission to be, but the dogs, as they are trained to do, followed a raccoon onto the Habes' property and treed the raccoon. The hunters, who were training their animals, said they heard someone yell for another person to "shoot those dogs!" The dog owners yelled that they would retrieve their animals but heard several shots. Charles Habe allegedly fired five rounds at the dogs with a .357-caliber Magnum, as directed by his brother. I just want to commend the Chartiers Township police, township animal control officer Kym Secreet, the state Game Commission and anyone else who was involved in bringing charges against the Habes. People certainly have a right to protect their well-being and their property, but who in their right mind, with any sense of decency, would shoot defenseless animals who posed no threat to them whatsoever? As anyone who owns a dog knows, despite owners' best efforts to train their animals, they will sometimes stray beyond property lines. In the vast majority of these incidents, the animals mean no harm to anyone and come back quickly when called. Of course, when you have lunatics with guns on the other side of the property line, the dogs don't have a chance.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Watching his sex drive "fly" away

Americans aren't the only ones who file frivilous lawsuits at the drop of a hat. Reuters reports from Ottawa that the Canadian Supreme Court recently tossed the case of a man who claimed he had no further interest in sex after seeing two dead flies in an unopened bottle of drinking water. The really insane thing is that a lower court had awarded $343,000 to Waddah Mustapha, who sued a bottling company for psychological harm. In addition to being off his feed when it came to making the beast with two backs, Mustapha said he found it difficult to force himself to bathe (Bugs coming out of the shower head?) and was troubled by visions of flies walking over, um, poop. But the high court opined, "Mr. Mustapha must show that it was foreseeable that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer serious injuries from seeing the flies in the bottle of water he was about to (drink). This he failed to do." The key phrase here is "a person of ordinary fortitude." In other words, the court was telling Mustapha, "Quit being such a pansy and get on with your life." But the best part of the whole ruling is that Mustapha, while not only losing his lower-court award, must pay the costs of the case. A little more of that kind of justice here in America, and we might have fewer baseless lawsuits.


Taking it to the people?

USA Today is praising Sen. John McCain's proposal that he and the Democratic presidential nominee, presumably Sen. Barack Obama, take part in joint town-hall meetings or debates with no moderators. The editorial said Obama has called it "a great idea," and I'm inclined to agree. No one who saw the seemingly endless string of debates featuring the Democratic presidential candidates was moved to recall the great Lincoln-Douglas debates of the 1850s, and it just seems more Democratic for the two major-party nominees to take their cases straight to the American people, on the same stages, without media middlemen and women. Some of the moderators of the primary season debates seemed to think they were the stars of the show, and rather than get into substantive discussions, they seemed to delight in hitting the candidates with "gotcha" questions. It's hard to imagine that John Q. and Jane Q. Public could do a worse job.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Who's a hero to you?

We often hear people speak of sports heroes, and in the broadest sense of the word, I guess that's OK, but when I speak of heroes, sports figures aren't the first people who come to mind. However, former baseball player and venerable announcer Jerry Coleman, who was on one of the ESPN morning shows today, certainly fits the bill. Coleman is a decorated Marine veteran of World War II and the Korean War, and he spoke about heroism. Coleman doesn't consider himself a hero. In his eyes, the heroes are the ones who didn't come back from the wars. In its strictest definition, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, a hero is "a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who risked or sacrificed his or her life." I am an Army veteran, but I was never called upon to put my life on the line. In short, I'm no hero. Obviously, the young man from Western Pennsylvania who recently was honored posthumously with the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on a hand grenade to save his comrades in Iraq qualifies as a hero, but in my opinion, just serving somewhere in a war zone, by itself, doesn't make one a hero. To some people, the word "hero" doesn't have only a military connotation. A hero to some might be the person who gives of themselves to help the less fortunate, or a single mother who works two jobs to give her children a better life. What do you think?


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is this justice?

Two Pittsburgh women whose blatant disregard for common sense and their responsibilities as parents will spend one to two years behind bars on involuntary manslaughter charges stemming from the deaths of five of their children, who perished last June in a fire that broke out while the mothers went drinking. Let's see, five children dead, and these women could be out of jail in time for a cookout on Memorial Day 2009. As best as I can tell from limited research materials, Furaha Love and Shakita Mangham, who left two 8-year-olds in charge of the five younger children while they went out for a drink, could have received a maximum of 10 years on each involuntary manslaughter charge. Why didn't they get it? The women initially lied to police, telling them an older babysitter had been left with the five young children, who ranged in age from 3 to 7. And it apparently caused them no concern that one of the younger children had been known to play with matches. Police say a kid playing with matches most likely sparked the deadly fire. The 8-year-olds escaped the blaze. During the legal process, the women's lawyers made statements that would be laughable were they not so infuriating. Mangham's attorney, Jim Ecker, shown with his client in the top photo, said, "Everybody sometimes screws up in life." Are you kidding me? Screwing up in life is causing a fender-bender at the Giant Eagle or forgetting to send out the monthly mortgage payment. These women, who at 26 are old enough to know better, are responsible for the deaths of five children while they were at a bar. Attorney Ernest Sharif, who represented Love, shown in the other photo, said, "It wasn't a party thing." He noted that Love had only one beer and was away from the house for just 15 or 20 minutes. Of course, in that 15 or 20 minutes, the house caught fire and five kids died horrible deaths. But if it wasn't a "party thing," doesn't that make all the difference? Since the gas chamber isn't an option, I would have sentenced these women to the maximum on each count, and made the sentences run consecutively. And they should have been ordered to have their "tubes tied" so they couldn't reproduce again.


Does anyone smell a white elephant?

Things are going from bad to worse at the Route 19 shopping development know as The Foundry. "The Founder-y" is more like it. In the past couple of days, two of the few retailers at the site - Ross-Dress-for-Less and Bed, Bath & Beyond - have closed their doors over concerns about unstable ground under their stores. This comes on the heels of growing indications that the company developing the site, Premier Properties USA, is in such financial straits that it can't now, and might never be able, to fully develop the complex and bring in the businesses that have signed leases to set up shop there. There was great joy among my circle of friends when it was announced that Books A Million planned to come to The Foundry. Finally, a decent bookstore in Little Washington. But now I have my doubts we'll ever see it, or the Buffalo Wild Wings or Chipotle or Circuit City, etc., etc. Our business editor, Mike Bradwell, reported last month that Premier is dealing with serious financial problems, at least in part because of the national credit crunch. A couple of months ago, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Wachovia Bank filed an $80 million foreclosure lawsuit againt Premier in connection with its Bridgewater Falls shopping center in suburban Cincinnati. The completed shopping center was later placed in receivership. In all, 20 retailers have signed leases for the South Strabane location, but only four have opened. Now two of those are temporarily closed. The are no subsidence problems that we know of at J.C. Penney's and Max & Erma's, the last two businesses currently operating at the site, but they still must feel like the ground is crumbling beneath them. More stores means more traffic for all the retailers in a shopping center. Fewer stores means less traffic. Guess what Penney's and Max & Erma's are getting now. The O-R would like to tell you more about the prospects for further development at The Foundry, but the guy who runs Premier won't return our calls. No news is probably bad news.


Show her the money

It's becoming apparent that Barack Obama's biggest challenge right now - bigger even than charting a course for the November election - is finding a way to get Hillary Clinton to just go away. With all plausible paths to the Democratic nomination cut off, Clinton has been reduced to clutching at crazy scenarios or hoping that Obama gets hit by a UPS truck. But she's no quitter, and she'll be the first to tell you that as she downs a shot, shoots a squirrel or does whatever else is necessary to appeal to the lowest common denominator in the American electorate. And now, the word on the political street is that Clinton just might want to be Obama's running mate. In fact, Karen Tumulty reports on that Bill Clinton thinks his wife deserves the spot and, according to a Clinton friend, "is pushing real hard for this to happen." If Obama is smart - and he appears to be a bright fellow - he will run as far away from Clinton as possible when it comes time to pick a partner for the Democratic ticket. The central problem is that Hillary Clinton's negatives outweigh her positives. She might very well attract more female voters and rural white voters to the Democratic ticket, but polls show that a great many people, Democrats included, just don't like her and don't trust her. Just the kind of person you want as a running mate. Plus, you get Bill as part of the package. Talk about baggage. He's the Marley's ghost of modern American politics. Clinton seems to suggest that only she can deliver the type of blue-collar voters Obama will need in November. That's false on its face, but it also avoids the fact that with or without Hillary, the Democrats have little hope of winning in places like West Virginia and Kentucky, where racism helped Clinton roll up huge margins in recent primaries. Those folks might like Hillary, but Obama will still be black in November. And when Hillary recently touted her support among "hard-working Americans, white Americans," that should have been the death knell for any consideration of her for the vice presidential slot. Some names suggested as running mates for Obama include Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Clinton backer who could deliver an important state come November, and former Sen. Sam Nunn, shown above, who once ran the Armed Services Committee and could prop up the ticket on national security issues. Obama is going to win the key Democratic states with or without Clinton. That includes her "home" state of New York. And there are signs that he will be at least competitive in a number of states where Democrats haven't done well in years. It all boils down to Clinton most likely being more of a drag on the ticket than a benefit. There are rumblings that the Clinton camp might want Obama to help her pay off her campaign debts. The Clintons have put $11 million of their own money into the race and reportedly are $20 million in the hole. If that's all it takes for Obama to be rid of the Clintons, he should agree immediately, even if he has to take out a personal loan.


Hard to see the sense in this

In this age, when everyone is entitled to everything, it was hardly surprising to see the other day that a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the Treasury Department is discriminating against blind people because they can't tell the difference between a $1 bill and a $20 bill. Not suprising, perhaps, but stupid. The argument from the government, according to the Associated Press, is that while the current currency causes problems for blind people, they have adapted. The American Council of the Blind, which brought the lawsuit, wants the Treasury Department to spend God knows how much money to print bills of different sizes, or give the various paper money raised markings or other "distinguishing features." Yeah, and while we're at it, why don't we, the taxpayers, fork over the money necessary to give each blind person in the country a valet who can make sure that when they're dressing, they don't mix stripes and plaids. C'mon. According to the AP report, the court said that the government "might as well argue that there's no need to make buildings accessible to wheelchairs because handicapped people can crawl on all fours or ask passersby for help." That's a load of steaming crap. There's a big difference between someone having to say to a clerk or a fellow customer, "Hey, is this a one or five?" and having to crawl up three flights of stairs. The government is correct in that blind people have found ways to deal with the currency problem. It's just one of many challenges they face and, in comparison, probably one of the smaller ones. There's also the question of what would happen to vending or change machines if this currency overhaul is forced upon us. Some of them take various denominations, and changing the size or other attributes of paper money might require a total retooling of those machines. We're talking billions of dollars to switch them over. And not all blind people are clamoring for this. The National Federation of the Blind said, basically, that "we're OK" with the current money and sided with the government. If this ruling stands, I think I'm going to file a lawsuit seeking damages because, as a slow, fat person standing a shade under 6 feet tall, I was never able to achieve my dream of playing professional basketball. I think I should have had an accommodation to change the height of the rim from 10 feet to 8 feet so that I could dunk like Shaq. Now I just have to decide how many millions of dollars in damages to ask for in my lawsuit.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Thank you, officer

It's as predictable as the sun rising every morning. Police shoot some low-life scumbag, and it's the officers, not the criminal, who catch all the flak. That was the case again recently when Pittsburgh police officers shot and killed 19-year-old Justin Jackson in a case that got even more media play because Jackson fatally shot a city police dog. Jackson was black, and the officer who fatally shot him, I believe, is white. Let the whining and wailing begin. As it did. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the source of my information for this posting, at Jackson's funeral, Bishop Otis L. Carswell said, "We don't feel like this was a justified shooting." Let's recap the situation for the good bishop's benefit. We have a 19-year-old guy who was housed in juvenile custody for the better part of his high school years and was convicted just last year for assaulting a neighbor. The juvenile charges included aggravated assault and weapons possession when he was only 14. Shortly after he got out of juvenile custody for those crimes, he committed a robbery and was sent back to detention. He was released in June 2006, and less than a year later, he's attacking a neighhbor. Then, a few days ago, he pulls a stolen .357 Magnum on police officers and opens fire, killing a police dog in the process. But in Bishop Carswell's opinion, that was no reason for officers to fire at Jackson. Bullcrap. He got what was coming to him. Does Bishop Carswell think the police officers should have waited until they were actually hit by Jackson's gunfire before they responded? I feel sorry for Jackson's family members, but they sound equally ridiculous in their comments about the shooting. First, they expressed doubt that Jackson was carrying a gun (Yeah, right) and suggested that perhaps police officers shot both Jackson and the police dog. Forensic tests proved that last claim wrong. And then, family members said that even if Jackson had been carrying a gun, it didn't give police the right to fatally shoot him. Sure. The police officers should have thought, "Let's just wing him and hope that he stops firing at us." I'm still waiting for the first person connected with Jackson to say, "You know what? When you open fire on a police officer, you get what you're asking for." Family members also trotted out the old chestnut that Jackson was "trying to turn his life around." Guess what? People who are trying to turn their lives around don't carry stolen .357 Magnums and try to shoot police officers. And I would be willing to guess, based on Jackson's track record and the fact that he was packing a weapon, that it was just a matter of time before he killed someone. The person I feel sorry for in this whole mess is the policeman who fired the fatal shots. He's the one who has to live with the knowledge that he took another human life. I hope he realizes that he did what he had to do, and I just want to thank the officer for making it safer for me to walk the streets the next time I'm in Pittsburgh.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Flick picks

At the suggestion of regular contributor Priguy, we're going to have a little lighthearted weekend exercise in the world of film. All of us have movies that we like, but that most other people find horrible, or films that we have in our personal collections that we would be ashamed to tell anyone about. So let's hear what your guilty pleasures are when it comes to film. I'll start off with mine, and I'd also like you to tell me your favorite all-time film. Also, if you, like Priguy, ever have an idea for a discussion topic on the blog, feel free to e-mail me at I can't promise anything, but I'll certainly consider your proposals. Now, to my list of shame:
1) "Ode to Billy Joe" (Yes, it's a sappy movie, but back in the day when we were still changing TV channels by hand, Glynnis O'Connor was "the bomb," at least in my book.
2) "Rich in Love" (Another sappy, sentimental movie, but it's got great South Carolina Lowcountry locales, and in my mind I'm always goin' to (South) Carolina. My wife hates this movie so much that she threatened to divorce me if I ever watch it in her presence again.)
3) "Milo and Otis" (A cute kids movie about the adventures of a dog and cat. Thanks to my now-grown daughter, I've seen it, oh, 376 times. But I like it. Go figure.)
4) "The Sandlot" (See above, just substitute my now-grown son for my now-grown daughter)
5) "Red Dawn" (An almost unintentionally funny film about a bunch of kids counterattacking against Soviet invaders in the rural U.S. But Patrick Swayze (say a prayer for the guy) kicked some Soviet ass. Can you say "Wolverines!"?)
6) "Bachelor Party" (A rude, crude, senseless film featuring one of the earliest movie appearances by Tom Hanks. And what's your answer to this question? - "Debbie or the car?")
7) "License to Drive" (You get both Coreys - Feldman and Haim - and teenage hijinks. Yeah, it's stupid, but the scene with the drunken driver singing Sinatra, by itself, makes the movie worth watching.)
And on the opposite side of the ledger, a movie I'm not ashamed to say is my all-time favorite: "Sideways" - You get sex, wine and golf. 'Nuff said.


Friday, May 16, 2008

No losers here

Despite the best efforts of Washington Area Humane Society and its supporters, the local shelter was not among the three finalists selected to compete for the $1 million shelter makeover. Although the humane society finished "in the money" as one of 20 semifinalists, one gets the feeling that our area may have gotten "jobbed" in the competition. Zootoo founder Richard Thompson considered three criteria: online voting, community support and need. The Washington area shelter swamped the competition in online voting, the community went above and beyond with its support of the operation when Thompson visited last month, and it's hard to imagine a shelter that could use the makeover more than ours. But sour grapes aside, the humane society has reaped great benefits just through the publicity created by the competition, and one would hope that even though the contest is over, the support will continue and even grow. It's a great cause.

Another animal-related item:
Just as people don't always agree with the things I write on this blog, I don't always agree with the items that appear on the O-R editorial pages. Case in point: the editorial that very nearly denigrated those who turned out for the funeral of Aulf, the Pittsburgh police dog who was shot to death recently by a gunman who subsequently was fatally shot by human officers. The editorial noted that, in addition to the police officers who attended, some of Aulf's fellow police dogs stood at attention during the funeral, and it mockingly said that "we could not discern from the picture if they had flag pins on their collars." The editorial stated that Aulf was doing only what he was trained to do and didn't understand he was putting his life on the line. That may be the case, but it's also true that Aulf's taking a bullet might have saved the lives of the human officers who were with him, and I certainly don't think it's wrong to honor his memory. And based on the letters to the editor we are seeing, I'm not the only one who thinks that editorial was among the most callous items ever to run in the O-R.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

This just in: Being a "stoner" can be bad for you

You'll be glad to know that the federal government has just completed another useless study that wasted our tax dollars. According to Reuters, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, has conducted a study finding that heavy marijuana use could possibly raise a person's stroke or heart attack risk by increasing the blood levels of a protein known as apolipoprotein CIII. The researchers didn't actually check whether the subjects had heart disease, and when they're talking about heavy marijuana use, they're not kidding. The marijuana users involved in the study smoked anywhere from 78 to 350 joints per week. That's an average of at least 11 joints a day. Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for Marijuana Policy Project, which favors legal sales and regulation of the drug, had this to say: "We're talking about people who are stoned all the time. We're talking about the marijuana equivalent of the guy in the alley clutching a bottle of cheap wine. If you do anything to that level of excess, it might well have some untoward effects, whether it's marijuana or wine or broccoli." I could have saved the National Institute on Drug Abuse a lot of time and money by telling them that sucking hot smoke into your body, whether via a cigarette, joint or rolled-up cornsilk, is not good for you. But, of course, we will continue to squander billions and billions of dollars every year on a failed "War on Drugs." How about a war on government waste and stupidity?


"Hill" heads for the hills

Democratic voters in West Virginia are going to the polls today, and they will overwhelmingly support Hillary Clinton's crippled bid for her party's nomination. And shortly after the polls close, Clinton will declare that this major victory shows clearly that she, and only she, can cobble together the coalition of voters needed to reclaim the White House in November. Her opponent, Barack Obama, has essentially ignored the West Virginia primary and next week's vote in Kentucky, and with good reason. By most accounts, Obama almost certainly will be the Democratic nominee, and he is focusing on key states for the November election and on Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain. Also, Obama is wise not to waste his time in two states where he has no chance of winning. David Paleologos, who conducted a poll in West Virginia for Suffolk University, said, "There are people who for some reason won't vote for Obama." Yeah, and we all know what that reason is: He's black. He'll still be black in November, and the majority of the good folks in West Virginia and Kentucky just aren't going to vote for a black guy for president. After Clinton's pandering in the past few primary states, I've been surprised that she hasn't donned a miner's helmet in West Virginia. But maybe later this week, we'll see her in a coonskin cap in Kentucky, dining on possum down in some holler. She'll also conveniently ignore the fact that after West Virginia and Kentucky come votes in several states, most notably Oregon, where Obama is favored to win. Clinton has argued that only she can win states like Kentucky and West Virginia that she claims are critical to Democratic success in November. She points to the fact that her husband, the last Democratic president, was a winner in those states. But, again, she ignores some inconvenient truths. The last two Democratic nominees didn't carry either West Virginia or Kentucky, yet they would have been elected if they had just been able to win in Ohio. If Obama were to choose Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland as his running mate, it's pretty likely he could win in the Buckeye State. Also, while Obama is not going to win in places where Clinton could employ her "blue-collar appeal," he has the potential to make inroads in areas where Republicans have held sway in recent elections, places like Missouri, Virginia and the GOP's "solid South." The sad news for us is that it looks as if we'll have to listen to several more weeks of spin from both sides until this thing gets decided.


Talk is cheap ... and deadly

It's now been 10 days since a massive cyclone ravaged Myanmar, and millions of people are still waiting for the world to help. They sure shouldn't expect much from the generals running their country, who seem to be doing everything they can to make sure help doesn't reach the people. A trickle of aid is getting through, but the dictators in Myanmar continue to maintain a stranglehold on assistance and to block most relief workers from entering the country. A report today said the ruling junta seized and is warehousing high-energy biscuts shipped in by the World Food Program. In its place, the government is giving storm victims spoiled food. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moom, after having his phone calls ignored by Myanmar's top general, sent a letter imploring Than Shwe to allow a massive aid operation. Also, Adm. Timothy Keating, who oversees all U.S. military operations in the Pacific, was on board the first U.S. aid flight allowed into the country, and he delivered much the same message. But the situation has reached the point where mere words aren't accomplishing anything. The U.N. estimates the death toll at 62,000 to 100,000, and that number is going to soar unless there is quick intervention. And by that, I mean military intervention. The world can no longer stand by and allow the Myanmar dictators to stonewall while its country's people are suffering and dying by the thousands. The U.S. invaded Panama. The U.S. invaded Grenada, for God's sake. The U.S. ignored the views of most of the rest of the world and invaded Iraq, with horrifying consequences. Yet, for the starving in Myanmar, and likewise the victims of unimaginable suffering in Darfur, the "leaders" of the world have nothing but words. They talk and talk and talk, and while they talk, people are dying.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

America's shame

Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a column that appeared in Saturday's edition of the Observer-Reporter. It's about America's prison for "enemy combatants" and terror suspects in Guantanamo, and I highly recommend you read it. When you're finished, if you're not at least a little angry or sickened by what you've read, I would have to question your moral underpinnings. For those who might not have access to the hard copy of the paper, here is some of what Kristof had to say:

Reliable information is still scarce about Guantanamo, but increasingly we're gaining glimpses of life there - and they are painful to read.
Murat Kurnaz, a German citizen of Turkish descent, has just published a memoir of his nearly five years in Guantanamo. He describes prolonged torture that included interruptions by a doctor to ensure that he was well enough for the torture to continue.
Mahvish Rukhsana Khan, an American woman of Afghan descent who worked as an interpreter, has written a book to be published next month, "My Guantanamo Diary," that is wrenching to read. She describes a pediatrician who returned to Afghanistan in 2003 to help rebuild his country - and was then arrested by Americans, beaten, doused with icy water and paraded around naked. Finally, after three years, officials apparently decided he was innocent and sent him home.
A third powerful new book about Guantanamo, by an American lawyer named Steven Wax, is summed up by its title: "Kafka Comes to America."
The new material suggests two essential truths about Guantanamo:
First, most of the inmates were probably innocent all along, but Pakistanis or Afghans turned them over to America in exchange for large cash rewards. The moment we offered $25,000 rewards for Al Qaeda supporters, any Arab in the region risked being kidnapped and turned over as a terrorism suspect.
Second, torture was routine, especially early on. That's why more than 100 prisoners have died in American custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo.
One of the men still in Guantanamo is Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi. He is a Libyan who had been running a bakery in Afghanistan with his Afghan wife. Bounty hunters turned him over to the United States as a terrorism suspect, and he has been in custody for more than six years.
Mr. Ghizzawi was taken before a "combatant status review tribunal," which ruled unanimously in November 2004 that he was not an "enemy combatant." One member of the tribunal later scoffed that the supposed evidence against him was "garbage." But a later tribunal reversed the first one's finding, and Mr. Ghizzawi is being held indefinitely, though he is unlikely to face trial. ...
When I started writing about Guantanamo several years ago, I thought the inmates might be lying and the Pentagon telling the truth. No doubt some inmates lie, and some surely are terrorists. But over time - and it's painful to write this - I've found the inmates to be more credible than American officials. Both Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates have pushed to shut down Guantanamo because it undermines America's standing and influence. They have been overruled by Dick Cheney and other hard-liners. In reality, it would take an exceptional enemy to damage America's image and interests as much as President Bush and Mr. Cheney already have with Guantanamo.

That's a pretty powerful indictment of American policy and moral judgment, but I have to agree with Kristof. Certain people deserve to be, if not at Guantanamo, at least in custody, but they should not be tortured, and they should not be held interminably without trial, and I don't mean the kangaroo courts we're running now. We have gone from a country that valued liberty, justice, human rights and dignity to one that operates a veritable concentration camp that would make Hitler or Stalin proud. We have truly lost our way.


And just a hint of snobbery

I always get a kick out of people who are, or believe themselves to be, wine experts. They'll take a sip of wine and talk about the flavors of vanilla, black pepper, tobacco and blackberries that shine through. There's a line in the great movie "Sideways," after Miles (played by Paul Giamatti and shown above with Jack, played by Thomas Haden Church) takes a swig at a California winery. "There's just the faintest soupcon of, like, asparagus and just a flutter of, like, a nutty Edam cheese." Asparagus? Cheese? I've taken in a lot of red wine, and I'm obviously no expert, because all I ever taste is ... well, wine. We've been conditioned to believe that something that is more expensive, be it wine or food or cars, is inherently better than something with a lower price tag. Eric Asimov, in his New York Times blog "The Pour," recently wrote about a new book by food writer Robin Goldstein called "The Wine Trials." Goldstein gathered up 500 volunteers and had them try more than 500 unidentified wines ranging in price from $1.50 to $150 a bottle. Professional wine tasters in the group had different opinions, but the average Joes and Janes preferred a $10 bottle of champagne from Washington state over Dom Perignon, and they thought Two-Buck Chuck, the ultra-inexpensive cabernet from Charles Shaw in California, was more quaffable than a $55 cabernet from Napa Valley. I've had Two-Buck Chuck, and it's a very good wine. Of course, we can't get it at our Soviet-style state liquor stores. But that's another issue. Asimov also pointed to a study by the California Institute of Technology and Stanford Business School showing that the more expensive people think a wine is, the better they like it. The researchers gave their subjects the same wine twice but gave them two different prices for what they were drinking. They always preferred the "higher-priced" wine. I think what this tells us is that we're a bunch of sheep. The best advice I ever got about wine was to experiment and then drink what you like, label or price be damned. Some wines that I've enjoyed around the $10-a-bottle range are Barefoot merlot, Rosemount shiraz and Firestone gewurztraminer. Please feel free to share some of your favorites with me and readers of the blog. And, as always, "To your health."


You know, that place with all the lights

That Twanda Carlisle is one shameless woman. The Associated Press reports that the former Pittsburgh councilwoman, who is now living with the government for a while for taking more than $43,000 in kickbacks, apparently charged two personal plane tickets to Vegas on her city credit card after she had been indicted for corruption. City Controller Mike Lamb said he was shocked this week when he got the eight-month-old bill for the tickets. The funny part is that the invoice says Carlisle, who had used her ill-gotten gains to pay for, among other things, jewelry, a trip to Aruba, a laptop computer and a $4,494 mink coat, took her mother, Constance Parker, on the Vegas trip, but Parker can't seem to recall anything about it. It's conceivable that Carlisle, who has had a strained relationship with the truth, actually took someone else with her, but Parker didn't say she had never been to Vegas, or that she didn't go on this particular trip. It's "I don't recall." Wasn't that a favorite phrase of the Watergate crooks and Alberto Gonzalez? I can understand if someone said they didn't remember if they'd been to Nineveh or West Alexander in 1974, but Vegas?!?! Eight months ago?!?! Here's some free advice for Ms. Parker: Early intervention is important in dealing with Alzheimer's, but if you're just a regular old liar, like your daughter, all the pills in the world won't help.


Friday, May 9, 2008

Get out of the way ... or else

More than 1 million homeless people are in desperate need of food, medical assistance and shelter after the devastating cyclone in Myanmar, and their own government, such as it is, is preventing them from getting the help they require to survive. The country's repressive, brutal military dictatorship seized United Nations World Food Program donations Friday, forcing the organization to suspend its assistance. The death toll already has surpassed 60,000, and aid groups are warning of a pending medical disaster, but the ruling junta is more concerned about keeping its iron grip on the country than the well-being of its countrymen. I think they're mainly concerned that if outsiders are allowed into the country and some sort of insurrection breaks out, they won't be able to employ their usual tactics: murder and false imprisonment. I'm not generally an advocate of military intervention to solve problems. We've seen how well that has worked out in Iraq (billions of our tax dollars wasted, thousands dead), but in this instance, with hundreds of thousands of lives at stake, the world at large should tell the Myanmar "leaders" that aid and aid workers are coming into their country, and if the only way the aid can be delivered is through the use of force, so be it. When you put it that way, people who are desperate to cling to power might be inclined to listen.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Choose wisely - It's a long trip

Let's suppose that you're chosen for a three-year mission to Mars and (hopefully) back. Space is tight. Alan Shepard couldn't even bring his golf club. But you are allowed to take along three CDs to entertain yourself on the long, long flight. You can pick a soundtrack album, a greatest hits package, a live album, even a CD of a Broadway show. The only restriction is that the album have no more than two CDs. In other words, no 200-song boxed set. Also, no homemade compilation CDs. So, out of the millions of CDs in circulation, you have to pick just three. Let's hear your choices, your thought process in choosing them and even some of the CDs that almost made the cut. My picks are "The Very Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 1977-86." It's the very best of Elvis Costello. Who could ask for anything more? You've got "Alison," "Oliver's Army," "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding," "Watch Your Step" and assorted other goodies. Choice No. 2 is "The Last Waltz," the live CD of The Band's last concert (It's the original two-CD version, not the bloated, four-disc reissue). You get The Band performing "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "The Weight," "Stagefright" and more, plus Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and others. My third pick is Neil Young's "Decade" album, featuring his work from 1966 to 1976, including his stints with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and, of course, Young. CDs that almost made the cut were Ryan Adams' "Easy Tiger" (think about downloading the songs "Two" and "Halloweenhead."), Bob Marley and the Wailers' "Gold" collection and Fountains of Wayne's "Welcome Interstate Managers." If you're lucky, your crewmates on the flight will share their music, expanding your listening options. Just hope they don't load up on Bangles CDs.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Nobody wants Melonhead? Aaaawwww

Poor, poor Barry Bonds. Major League Baseball's all-time home run king can't find a team that wants him. Anyone want to help me schedule the pity party? The players union has even gone so far as to raise "concerns" with the commissioner's office about the lack of offers to Barry, Barry Quite Contrary. What's not to like about Bonds? Well, he's a 43-year-old who is a shadow of his former self, especially in the field, where he has become a liability. So maybe he could be a designated hitter in the American League. But wait. He's also one of the bigger horse's asses ever to walk the face of the Earth. He was not exactly beloved by his teammates in San Francisco. Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated once said that when Bonds dies, the visitation for his friends to pay their respects could be held in a changing room. Then there's that whole steroids thing. Bonds' story is that he never "knowingly" took them. They just got slipped into him somehow. The government didn't buy that story. And that's another drawback for a team signing Bonds. He's up on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Maybe Barry should switch to football. He sounds like Al Davis' kind of guy.


When is enough enough?

The writing is on the wall. In fact, it's in 3-foot-high letters. But Hillary Clinton can't see it. Here's the deal: Unless Barack Obama gets caught having unnatural relations with a farm animal, he's the Democratic nominee for president. But Clinton is vowing to continue with her campaign, even though there's no reasonable way for her to come out on top. A lot of people were of the opinion heading into the North Carolina and Indiana primaries that there was no reason Clinton shouldn't continue. If she could pull off the upset in North Carolina and score a resounding victory in Indiana, she could continue making a case that she, not Obama, was the more electable candidate. But Clinton ran more poorly than expected in Indiana, barely squeeking out a victory in a state that set up well for her demographically. And she was crushed in North Carolina. It's over. There are a few small primaries left that she and Obama will most likely split. Her campaign is running on fumes. She just disclosed that she (or Bill) has lent her campaign another $6.4 million. The movement of superdelegates toward Obama continues and is likely to pick up steam. Former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, who once supported Clinton, has now thrown his support to Obama and suggests that Hillary quit the race. Clinton's next move is probably to press party leaders to seat the delegates from the disputed Florida and Michigan contests. She won both handily, but they were hardly exercises in American democracy. Nobody campaigned in Florida, and Clinton was the only candidate on the ballot in Michigan. And, it should be remembered, she was among those who once said those delegates should not be seated. Of course, she didn't think then that she would need those delegates. She planned to sweep everyone aside and schedule her coronation right around Super Tuesday. It didn't work out that way, and now she needs those delegates in order to make any sort of argument that she's been Obama's equal during the primary season. If Clinton continues with her scorched-earth approach, she will succeed only in tearing apart the party. And if she somehow persuaded the superdelegates to ignore the votes thus far and give her the nomination, she not only would destroy the party for 2008, but for many election cycles to come. The Republican Party has to be loving this, a lot.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Lots" of problems in the city

As most people are aware, the city of Washington has been drowning in red ink and recently had to impose a major property tax increase just to avoid fiscal collapse. Now comes the news that the Crossroads parking garage on Franklin Street, next to the LandAmerica building, is sorely underused, and unless that changes in a hurry, the city will be on the hook for a $218,000 bond payment next year. One would assume that a prior city council and mayor signed off on this sweet deal before the garage was built. Nice job, there. This is the same city government that totally botched the sale of the garage on Chestnut Street and recently decided not to accept $100,000 from Washington & Jefferson College for a piece of alley that's shorter than my driveway. But never fear. It's Councilwoman Virginia Ullom to the rescue, at least when it comes to the white elephant parking garage. In addition to the possibility of discounts or a month of free parking for new customers, she suggested at a meeting this week that the parking authority take the creative steps of throwing a party on the garage roof or giving tours of the facility. Hmmmm. How might that tour go? "OK, over there, you'll see a bunch of empty parking spaces. Any questions?" The bottom line here is that a lot of people are choosing to park for free at a nearby shopping complex and walk an extra block to their jobs. I don't think a soiree on the garage roof, even with fireworks or bobbleheads, is going to make them say, "The heck with that free parking. I think I'll throw away $40 a month." But never let it be said that I just complain without offering an idea to help out. My suggestion is this: Anyone who parks at the Crossroads garage gets a free cookie. Surely no one could resist that. And you could even throw in the tour for free.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Your "protection" isn't required

Our state lawmakers are considering a "protection of marriage" bill that is aimed at changing the state constitution to prohibit gay and lesbian marriage in Pennsylvania. As with all of these measures, which keep popping up across the country, I have to ask what threat two gay people getting hitched poses to my marriage or anyone else's. There is no threat. It's asinine to say there is. But we live in a country in which gay people are about the only group that it's OK to discriminate against. Heck, some people actively encourage it. On the long list of issues facing our state and nation, I wouldn't even try to find a spot for something as ridiculous as this "protection of marriage" bill. I'm still waiting to hear a valid argument as to why gay men and lesbians should be prevented from marrying. The "it's against the Bible" crap is just that, crap. We don't live in a theocracy, and marriage, along with the benefits stemming from it, is a civil procedure. Whether you're married by the mayor of Cokeburg or the pope, you have to get a license. The legislation making its way through the Capitol also would ban civil unions, and opponents of the bill fear that if it is ultimately approved, it could threaten decisions by some universities and businesses that already offer health and other benefits to same-sex partners of their employees. The bill still must be approved by both houses of the Legislature in the current term and in the 2009-10 session. Then it would go to a statewide referendum in November 2009. There's still time for common sense to prevail on this issue, but if it makes it to the ballot, I have no doubt that the "forward-thinking" voters of Pennsylvania will approve it by a wide margin. Sad.


Further punishment needed?

Every so often, we see stories about people who are found by the authorities decades after they escaped or walked away from prison or a halfway house. The latest figure in one of these cases is 53-year-old Susan LeFevre, shown above with her husband and two of her children, and in 1970s prison mug shots. There's no sugar-coating what landed LeFevre, now using the name Marie Walsh, in a Detroit prison in 1975. She was convicted and sentenced to 10 to 20 years behind bars as a key figure in a major heroin-distribution operation. LeFevre fled prison less than a year later and disappeared, only to be found recently living with her husband and three children in Southern California. It appears LeFevre left her criminal past behind when she escaped from prison, but authorities are now in the process of seeking her extradition to Michigan to face escape charges and, possibly, the rest of her drug sentence. The question is, should a law-abiding 53-year-old woman go back behind bars for something she did as a teenager? I think that perhaps 32 years of constantly looking over her shoulder, always worrying about behind found out, was punishment enough. Her husband, Alan Walsh, had this to say: "She has raised three beautiful children and worked hard to build a good life for them in this community. Surely society is better off having Marie contribute to the betterment of her community than having to cost Michigan taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to lock up a person who obviously poses no threat to anyone." That's a pretty good argument.


So classy, Barbara

I've never had much regard for Barbara Walters or her work. The words "overrated egomaniac" come to mind. I did have some level of respect for what she accomplished in a male-dominated field, but it's hard to have any respect for her now as she hawks her new book, "Bridging the Divide: My Life." Walters has chosen, in the book and in an appearance on the "Oprah Winfrey Show," to dish out the details of a long-ago relationship with then-U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke, shown above during his Senate years. It would be a pretty tasteless revelation to reveal the affair even if Brooke were dead, but he's not. So what Walters is doing is essentially dragging an ailing, 88-year-old man through the mud. Brooke was well known in Washington for having a rich and varied social life, but was it really necessary to bring up this information now? Of course it was. Barbara wants to sell books.