Goodbye 2005, Hello 2006
Christmas day crowd
The mariachi players
Here are some shots from Christmas day taken at my sister-in-law's aunt's house where the extended family celebrates any holiday. There are lots of musicians in the family, and you can see pictured in this last shot my sister-in-law's little brothers and stepfather along with her cousin (the little girl). It's always a sublime pleasure for me to listen to live music. That's the aunt and hostess introducing the players.
I'm pretty much exhausted from running around nonstop, entertaining my mother who was here from Florida for two weeks. Tomorrow is my first day back to work in nine days, so I've elected to stay in this NYE. It's been raining all day which was very conducive to my plans of staying home, watching videos, reading, and napping. A day of unstructured time is always my happiest anyway.
I wish you all a happy 2006!
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
My new favorite movie. I thought I was going to have a heart attack from laughing so hard.
Jake of the Week
It's Monday, let's start the week out right!
My Christmas wish for you, me, and ours is peace on Earth.
Gypsy Den - December 2005
This is what great music looks like.
left to right: Kurtis Gentile, Roger Gillespie, Joe Ongie; hidden from view: Barry Hovis
Joe Show, December 2005
At last, a judge with ethics!
WASHINGTON (Dec. 21) -- A federal judge has resigned from a special court set up to oversee government surveillance, apparently in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program on people with suspected terrorist ties.
U.S. District Judge James Robertson would not comment Wednesday on his resignation, but The Washington Post reported that it stemmed from deep concern that the surveillance program Bush authorized was legally questionable and may have tainted the work of the court. The Post quoted two associates of the judge.
An aide to Robertson said the resignation letter submitted to Chief Justice John Roberts was not being released. Robertson did not step down from his district judgeship in Washington.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan would not comment on Robertson's reported resignation or the reasons cited for his departure. "Judge Robertson did not comment on the matter and I don't see any reason why we need to," McClellan said.
Robertson was one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees government applications for secret surveillance or searches of foreigners and U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism or espionage.
The court was established by Congress in 1978 and its members, appointed by the chief justice, do their work in private.
Quoting colleagues of Robertson, the Post said the judge had indicated he was concerned that information gained from the warrantless surveillance under Bush's program subsequently could have been used to obtain warrants under the FISA program.
Robertson was appointed a federal judge by President Clinton in 1994. Chief Justice William Rehnquist later appointed Robertson to the FISA court as well.
Robertson has been critical of the Bush administration's treatment of detainees at the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, most memorably in a decision that sidetracked the president's system of military tribunals to put some detainees on trial.
Robertson's resignation was reported hours after Vice President Dick Cheney strongly defended the surveillance program and called for "strong and robust" presidential powers.
Cheney -- a former member of congress, defense secretary and White House chief of staff under President Ford -- said executive authority has been eroding since the Watergate and Vietnam eras.
"I believe in a strong, robust executive authority and I think that the world we live in demands it," Cheney said.
"I would argue that the actions that we've taken there are totally appropriate and consistent with the constitutional authority of the president. ... You know, it's not an accident that we haven't been hit in four years," the vice president said, speaking with reporters Tuesday on Air Force Two en route from Pakistan to Oman.
Republicans said Congress must investigate whether Bush was within the law to allow the super-secret National Security Agency to eavesdrop -- without warrants -- on international calls and e-mails of Americans and others inside the United States with suspected ties to al-Qaida.
"I believe the Congress -- as a coequal branch of government -- must immediately and expeditiously review the use of this practice," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
Snowe joined three other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, in calling for a joint inquiry by the Senate judiciary and intelligence committees.
Bush and his top advisers have suggested senior congressional leaders vetted the program in more than a dozen highly classified briefings. Several Democrats agreed said they were told of the program, but did not know the full details and had concerns.
West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, on Monday released a letter he wrote to Cheney in July 2003 that, given the program's secrecy, he was "unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities."
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., pushed back Tuesday, saying that if Rockefeller had concerns about the program, he could have used the tools he has to wield influence, such as requesting committee or legislative action. "Feigning helplessness is not one of those tools," Roberts said.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press
"What's the most remarkable fact is that we have yet to see any al-Qaida terror cell uncovered in the United States."
-- David Cole, Georgetown University law professor
Bitch thinks she's above the law
Notice the city from the byline. This was on the AP wire today:
HOUSTON (Dec. 20) - The wife of the pastor of the nation's largest church was asked to leave a plane after she failed to comply with a flight attendant's instructions, the FBI said Tuesday.
Houston Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen, his wife, Victoria, and their two children boarded a Continental Airlines flight from Houston to Vail, Colo., Monday. The plane's door had been closed when Victoria Osteen and a flight attendant had a disagreement.
"She failed to comply with the flight attendant's instructions, and they were asked to leave the flight," FBI spokeswoman Luz Garcia said without elaborating on the disagreement.
The FBI reviewed a report from Continental after the incident, Garcia said. No charges will be filed, she said.
The flight was delayed more than an hour while the Osteens' luggage was retrieved, Garcia said. The family took another flight to Colorado, where church spokesman Don Iloff said they were skiing Tuesday.
Iloff called the disagreement with the flight attendant "minor" but would not say what happened.
"In semantics, they might have been asked to be removed," he said. "Really, it was more of a mutual thing."
Continental spokeswoman Julie King would not discuss the disagreement but said in a statement that the situation was resolved.
Osteen's sermons are broadcast across the country and his book "Your Best Life Now" has become a best seller. His church has more than 30,000 worshippers weekly and meets in a renovated arena where the Houston Rockets once played.
Finally, a Victory for us Good Guys!
Judge Bars 'Intelligent Design' From Classrooms
By MARTHA RAFFAELE, AP
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Dec. 20) -- "Intelligent design" cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, a federal judge said Tuesday, ruling in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.
Dover Area School Board members violated the Constitution when they ordered that its biology curriculum include the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said. Several members repeatedly lied to cover their motives, he said.
The ruling will not likely be appealed by the slate of new board members, who in the November election ousted the group that installed intelligent design, the new board president said Tuesday.
The school board policy, adopted in October 2004, was believed to have been the first of its kind in the nation.
"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy," Jones wrote, calling the board's decision "breathtaking inanity."
"The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources," he wrote.
The board's attorneys had said members were seeking to improve science education by exposing students to alternatives to Charles Darwin's theory that evolution develops through natural selection. Intelligent-design proponents argue that the theory cannot fully explain the existence of complex life forms.
The plaintiffs challenging the policy argued that intelligent design amounts to a secular repackaging of biblical creationism, which the courts have already ruled cannot be taught in public schools.
The judge agreed.
"We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom," he wrote in his 139-page opinion.
The Dover policy required students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The statement said Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps." It refers students to an intelligent design textbook, "Of Pandas and People," for more information.
Jones wrote that he wasn't saying the intelligent design concept shouldn't be studied and discussed, saying its advocates "have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors."
However, he wrote, "our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."
The controversy divided the borough of Dover and surrounding Dover Township, a rural area of nearly 20,000 residents about 20 miles south of Harrisburg. It galvanized voters to oust eight incumbent school board members who supported the policy in the Nov. 8 school board election. The ninth board member was not up for re-election.
Said the judge: "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."
The board members were replaced by a slate of eight opponents who pledged to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum.
They also will likely drop the old plan now that the judge has ruled, new board president Bernadette Reinking said. "As far as I can tell you, there is no intent to appeal," she said.
Reinking said the new board will likely move the subject of intelligent design into some undetermined elective social studies class. She said the board will need to talk to its attorney before determining specific actions.
Eric Rothschild, lead attorney for the families who challenged the policy, called the ruling "a real vindication for the parents who had the courage to stand up and say there was something wrong in their school district."
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said he would like to appeal the decision, but it was up to the school board.
"What this really looks like is an ad hominem attack on scientists who happen to believe in God," Thompson said of Jones' ruling.
It was the latest chapter in a debate over the teaching of evolution dating back to the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which Tennessee biology teacher John T. Scopes was fined $100 for violating a state law that forbade teaching evolution. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed his conviction on a technicality, and the law was repealed in 1967.
Jones heard arguments in the fall during a six-week trial in which expert witnesses for each side debated intelligent design's scientific merits. Other witnesses, including current and former school board members, disagreed over whether creationism was discussed in board meetings months before the curriculum change was adopted.
It is among at least a handful of cases that have focused new attention on the teaching of evolution in the nation's schools.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in Georgia heard arguments over evolution disclaimer stickers placed in a biology textbooks. A federal judge in January had ordered Cobb County school officials to immediately remove the stickers, which called evolution a theory, not a fact.
In November, state education officials in Kansas adopted new classroom science standards that call the theory of evolution into question.
Kansas Board of Education Chairman Steve Abrams, who supported that state's new standards, said the circumstances in Kansas and Pennsylvania are much different, given that the Dover board mandated intelligent design in its curriculum.
"We're not doing that," he said. "It's about teaching good critical thinking skills."
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
A bumper sticker you'd only see during a Bush administration...
Recently while driving in my car, I found myself behind a large SUV sporting a bumper sticker that read "Truth NOT Tolerance." I felt the hair follicles on the back of my neck rise instinctively; but not really knowing what it meant, I jotted the unsavory words down for later internet research. Sure enough, I found nonsense like this
and crap like this
. Only during a Bush administration.
I'm A Freak, I Know
What would I do without computers? Here's
a new time-waster I found.
Holiday Cheer and a Pop Culture Challenge
I don't have much by way of holiday gifts to offer you, but I can at least share one from Eugene Edwards
(in the red shirt). I'm a big fan of his and John Hoskinson
, second from left. Anyway, go to Gene's website
and download his free Christmas single
. You'll love it. Also go to John's website
and listen to his song of the day. If you love great music like I do, you'll want both John and Eugene's albums. One other thing I'm listening to this holiday season is Christmas Card from a Hooker
by Tom Waits, courtesy of Michael K. It's all good.
One million kissy points to anyone who can identify the gentleman at the far right, playing bass, in the photo above (you can click the picture for a larger version of it). In his childhood, he was a pop culture icon. It's okay if you don't know his real name, as long as you can identify him by how everyone knows him and loves him. He's grown up to be a kick-ass musician, but you know him from the television character he played. Good luck, and enjoy Eugene's song.
I went to one of those "white elephant" Christmas parties last night. The invitation was from an in-law of my brother's, so it was rather unexpected but very nice of her to include my sister and me. Of course, the challenge was to find the appropriate white elephant gift for the gift exchange. Having never attended this now 8th annual party before, I wasn't quite sure how far I could push it. The hostess is my sister-in-law's aunt who is also my age. She's a pleasant woman, somewhat reserved and quiet, and I've never met her friends before save her male roommate. My sister works at a local university and found a good generic gag gift at the student store. I'm not a big fan of shopping in public this time of year and was really drawing a blank until I remembered the horrendous golf sweater set of years past.
Once upon a time, I was a yuppie, and therefore, a golfer. I still have my clubs, although sadly enough, they are collecting dust in the back of a closet somewhere. But when I was in the heat of my golfing rage, a friend of mine, a friend who has known me for many, many years and should certainly know better, bought me the most hideous golf-themed sweater set as a birthday present. I accepted the gift with as much grace as I could muster, stuck it in the closet, eventually gave up golf, and here we are today. It occurred to me that the sweater set from hell was the perfect white elephant gift if
, and it was a big if, I hadn't thrown it away or donated it to the Salvation Army. So I rummaged around my closet, and lo and behold, there it was, awaiting it's first stop in what is likely to be a long life of white elephant gift swaps.
Even though I put it in a giant red bag, it wasn't chosen until somewhere mid exchange. We were at the point where a few "good" gifts had been opened and were being stolen. There was one man who was kind of big, doughy and good humored. Someone had just stolen his third or fourth gift when he went back to the tree and finally chose the big red bag. He had to pull about 15 sheets of tissue paper off the top when he reached in and grasped the hanger. Before he got any of it out of bag, he could see what it was and visibly began groaning. Everyone started yelling, "let's see it!," and I was quite pleased with myself when it was finally revealed in all it's glorious kitschosity
. The whole party completely erupted. In fact, the sweater-set-gone-horribly-wrong literally brought the festivities to a complete standstill for 10-15 minutes while all the men tried it on and posed in it. (Tragically enough, I had left my camera at home... these pictures were taken before I wrapped it.) I feigned modesty while everyone congratulated me on my successful rookie gift.
Which of course brings me to this. What the hell am I going to take next year?
Very Nice, Dubya
Before I present this piece taken from the AP, I remind you of this post
, which appeared a couple weeks ago on this blog.
Lawmakers Want Probe of Domestic Spying
New York Times Reports Bush Bypasses Courts With Wiretaps
By JENNIFER LOVEN, AP
WASHINGTON (Dec. 16) - A key Republican committee chairman put the Bush administration on notice Friday that his panel would hold hearings into a report that the National Security Agency eavesdropped without warrants on people inside the United States.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he would make oversight hearings by his panel next year "a very, very high priority."
"There is no doubt that this is inappropriate," said Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Other key bipartisan members of Congress also called on the administration to explain and said a congressional investigation may be necessary.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., appeared annoyed that the first he had heard of such a program was through a New York Times story published Friday. He said the report was troubling.
Neither Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice nor White House press secretary Scott McClellan, asked about the story earlier Friday, would confirm or deny that the super-secret NSA had spied on as many as 500 people at any given time since 2002.
That year, following the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush authorized the NSA to monitor the international phone calls and international e-mails of hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of people inside the United States, the Times reported.
Before the program began, the NSA typically limited its domestic surveillance to foreign embassies and missions and obtained court orders for such investigations. Overseas, 5,000 to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are monitored at one time.
"We need to look into that," McCain told reporters at the White House after a meeting on Iraq with President Bush. "Theoretically, I obviously wouldn't like it. But I don't know the extent of it and I don't know enough about it to really make an informed comment. Ask me again in about a week."
McCain said it's not clear whether a congressional probe is warranted. He said the topic had not come up in the meeting with Bush.
"We should be informed as to exactly what is going on and then find out whether an investigation is called for," he said.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., also said he needed more information.
"Of course I was concerned about the story," said Lieberman, who also attended the White House Iraq meeting. "I'm going to go back to the office and see if I can find out more about it."
Other Democrats were more harsh.
"This is Big Brother run amok," declared Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "We cannot protect our borders if we cannot protect our ideals." Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., called it a "shocking revelation" that he said "ought to send a chill down the spine of every senator and every American."
Administration officials reacted to the report by asserting that the president has respected the Constitution while striving to protect the American people.
Rice said Bush has "acted lawfully in every step that he has taken." And McClellan said Bush "is going to remain fully committed to upholding our Constitution and protect the civil liberties of the American people. And he has done both."
The report surfaced in an untimely fashion as the administration and its GOP allies on Capitol Hill were fighting to save provisions of the expiring USA Patriot Act that they believe are key tools in the fight against terrorism.
The Times said reporters interviewed nearly a dozen current and former administration officials about the program and granted them anonymity because of the classified nature of the program.
Government officials credited the new program with uncovering several terrorist plots, including one by Iyman Faris, an Ohio trucker who pleaded guilty in 2003 to supporting al-Qaida by planning to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, the report said.
Faris' lawyer, David B. Smith, said on Friday the news puzzled him because none of the evidence against Faris appeared to have come from surveillance, other than officials eavesdropping on his cell phone calls while he was in FBI custody.
Some NSA officials were so concerned about the legality of the program that they refused to participate, the Times said. Questions about the legality of the program led the administration to temporarily suspend it last year and impose new restrictions.
Asked about this on NBC's "Today" show, Rice said, "I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters."
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group's initial reaction to the NSA disclosure was "shock that the administration has gone so far in violating American civil liberties to the extent where it seems to be a violation of federal law."
Asked about the administration's contention that the eavesdropping has disrupted terrorist attacks, Fredrickson said the ACLU couldn't comment until it sees some evidence. "They've veiled these powers in secrecy so there's no way for Congress or any independent organizations to exercise any oversight."
Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it was reviewing its use of a classified database of information about suspicious people and activity inside the United States after a report by NBC News said the database listed activities of anti-war groups that were not a security threat to Pentagon property or personnel.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that while it appears that some information may have been left in the database longer than it should have been, it was not clear yet whether mistakes were made. A written statement issued by the department implied _ but did not explicitly acknowledge -- that some information had been handled improperly.
The administration had briefed congressional leaders about the NSA program and notified the judge in charge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret Washington court that handles national security issues.
Aides to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined to comment Thursday night.
The Times said it delayed publication of the report for a year because the White House said it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. The Times said it omitted information from the story that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists.
I went out tonight and shot some potential Christmas cards. I'm not really sure I'm that inspired, but here are a few possibilities. If you see anything you especially like or dislike, please leave a comment letting me know. The hormones are raging, and I'm having a hell of a time with lucidity right now. You'll have to click on the photos to enlarge them.
I like the sky and palm trees in this one, but as far as Christmas lights, it's a pretty boring section of the canal.
I think this one is a little too blurry, but I love the red tree!
It's pure kitsch, but this house wins a prize every year. I also think it's cool how Santa reflects in the canal.
I'm leaning towards this one.