October 30, 2009

Ray Comfort smackdown

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's ‘On the Origin of Species’, an evangelical xtian ministry has published a butchered version of the book, inserting a marvelously ridiculous introduction using worn out and debunked creationist garbage, all in an almost laughable attempt to rebut Darwin's theory and make the case for ‘intelligent design’.

Creationist and certifiable lunatic Ray Comfort and his Living Waters ministry plan to distribute tens of thousands of free copies on the nation’s college campuses next month.

Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, received an evaluation copy in advance of its release, and does a fine job critiquing the vandalized tome. The NCSE is the leading group promoting and defending the teaching of evolution in public schools. Her remarks are published today in U.S. News & World Report’s online edition. Dr. Scott appears not too worried about the effects, closing her review with these words:

I have faith that college students are sharp enough to realize that Comfort's take on Darwin and evolution is simply bananas.”

Let us hope Dr. Scott is correct in her praise of the average college student. Please find her full article HERE.

October 28, 2009


NC insurer says timing of mailings unfortunate

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The News&Observer of Raleigh, N.C. —

Even Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina acknowledges that its timing on two recent mailings was unfortunate.

Customers first learned their rates will rise by an average of 11 percent next year. Then they got a flier urging them to send an enclosed preprinted, postage-paid note to Sen. Kay Hagan denouncing what the company says is unfair competition that would be imposed by a government-backed insurance plan. Congress is likely to consider that public option as it debates the health care overhaul.

"No matter what you call it, if the federal government intervenes in the private health insurance market, it's a slippery slope to a single-payer system," the BCBS flier read. "Who wants that?"

Indignant Blue Cross customers, complaining that their premium dollars are funding the campaign, have called Hagan's office to voice support for a public option. They've marked through the Blue Cross message on their postcards and changed it to show they support the public option, then mailed the cards.

"I hope it backfires," said Mark Barroso, a documentary film maker in Chatham County who is a Blue Cross customer and recipient of the mailings. "I'm doing everything I can to make sure it does."

Beth Silberman of Durham said she "went sort of bonkers" about the mailing. "You're hostage to them, and then they pull this," she said. "My new premiums are funding lobbying against competition. It's pretty disgusting."

A sample of the postcards being sent to Senator Hagan's compliments of BCBS paid postage

A spokesman in Hagan's office, David Hoffman, said the postcards have not yet begun arriving in the senator's office because of the mail screening process, but he said lots of people have called, angry about the insurer's tactics.

Blue Cross spokesman Lew Borman said the mailing relied on voter registration records, not a customer list. Since the company controls more than half of the state's health insurance market, the names on the lists overlapped. He declined to reveal how much money the insurer paid for the mailing. He acknowledged the timing was unfortunate but said it was coincidental since one mailing was tied to current events in Washington and the other to when the insurer typically sends its annual notices about rate increases.

"We said from the beginning we were going to be involved and would tell North Carolinians what kind of impact the health care proposals would have, and that's what we've been doing," Borman said.

Yep, and you're doing such a wonderful job of it too...

October 25, 2009

Point / Counterpoint


The preacher is David Grice, of the Lighthouse Baptist Church, just down the road from me in Grand Prairie, Texas. This sermon was videoed a little over a year ago.


The video by Edward Current was posted to You Tube at about the same time as preacher Grices’, but there is no apparent connection between the two.




October 23, 2009

Link offered without comment

Gentle reader. Please visit the following link at your own risk. At the least I would advise not attempting to imbibe while reading. Your keyboard and monitor will thank you.

It may be farcical, but this isn't a joke. See the PDF at Freed v Haynes.

H/T... VIA

Big on beer

A barrel of beer is 31 gallons, which will pour, give or take some 400 beers. Those aluminum kegs you buy for that big party are half-barrels (unless you’re a wuss and buy the quarter-barrel), so a keg will generally produce roughly 200 draughts.

We drink a good bit of beer in this country; 180,396,198 barrels in 2006, according to the most recent statistics available from the Beer Institute. That’s a lot of beer, most of of which is produced by major breweries, such as Budweiser and Miller-Coors. 96% of the beer sold in this country is produced by one of these big boys. However, the small brewers are gaining a toe-hold, and craft beer sales rose by 5.9 percent in 2008, while other domestic beer sales were flat at 0.6 percent, and import beer sales fell by 3.4 percent.

The Brewers Association, a craft brewing trade group, defines craft brewing as being “small, independent and traditional” – that is, brewers that make fewer than 2 million barrels a year; microbreweries which make fewer than 15,000 barrels annually; brewpubs which make beer for sale on their own premises; and contract brewers which either produce craft brews for sale by another company or buy such brews for sale under their own labels. The brewery must not be owned or controlled by a company that is not itself a craft brewer; and they must brew in traditional styles, generally using only hops, malted barley and water.

The resurrection of the craft brewing trade goes back to the 1970s, but didn’t catch full wind until the 1990s. Texas caught on to this trend rapidly, but growth has been in spurts and lurches. For many years now Texas law has hampered the growth of the trade. It seems like you could make all you wanted, but you must jump through many hoops to be able to sell the stuff. As a result, the Texas craft brewing scene is littered with vanished labels and shuttered brewpubs.

After the repeal of Prohibition, most states, including Texas, adopted some form of a “three-tier” regulatory system for alcohol, which firmly separates the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages. The scheme was intended to prevent the formation of monopolies, simplify tax collections and ensure fair and orderly markets.

While other states have seen the light and have allowed both wineries and small brewers exceptions to regulation, only in recent years has Texas allowed any exception at all. Texas wineries, for instance, are allowed to sell wine directly to visiting customers. For many small wineries, such sales have made the difference between profit and bankruptcy.

Texas craft brewers have been allowed no similar exception. They are able to offer brewery tours (complete with free samples), but visitors may not purchase the products they’ve seen being made. Brewpubs may sell beer to the public, but only in their establishment and they cannot sell it "to go", or distribute to other establishments. This puts Texas brewers at considerable disadvantage.

In spite of it all, some Texas brewers are succeeding and the market is looking rather favorable. Those that have survived the regulatory burden remain fairly healthy. The more people who learn to appreciate craft brews, the better the outlook, and Texans, me included, are learning to love craft brews.

I keep keg beer at my house, and since my outfit is a two-kegger, Coors, before the merger, was always on one side while the other sported some craft brew or another. Budweiser will never darken my door, and Miller has only one brew (MGD) that I would consider. I used to consider Coors to be a good beer, and push-come-to-shove, I guess I’ll still drink it. Coors pretty much lost me when they merged with Miller. The thought of Coors brewed in Fort Worth with water from the Trinity is more than I can bear.

So I’ve turned almost entirely to the craft brews. Texas has about 40 of these small brewers, with several more in the planning stages. The state ranked fifth in the nation for craft beer production in 2008, behind California, Ohio, Colorado and Oregon. Texas’ craft brewers produced nearly 456,000 barrels in 2008, about 8.5 percent more than 2007’s 420,000 barrels.

Craft beer production is on the rise worldwide, and Texas has jumped on the bandwagon in a big way. The Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner is the oldest in Texas, and the nation’s fourth-largest craft brewer; 10th-largest brewer overall in terms of sales.

Shiner produces a variety of lagers and ales, but their most popular brew by far is Shiner Bock. I’ve found that lovely, dark brew on tap in airports from Seattle to Boston, and in convenience stores in Little Rock, Arkansas and Longmont, Colorado.

I’ve developed a taste for the beer, too. These days, at my home, you will find a Shiner Bock tap handle where once you would have found only Coors. The other side still sports whatever experiment I've found lately.

In a few weeks we’ll be having our state EMS conference. On the closing day of the conference several friends have been invited to visit the mule barn. That evening they’ll be offered some typical Texas fare; steak and beans… maybe cornbread if I have time to get it in the oven...

… and Shiner Bock.

[Edited to fix typos and grammar]

October 21, 2009

Morons on the march

Nation's Morons March On Washington State

OCTOBER 21, 2009


A pack of certified imbeciles makes its feelings known three time zones from the nation's capital.

OLYMPIA, WA—With random cries of "Enough is enough," "Do something now," and "Huh?" thousands of the nation's biggest morons descended on Washington State this week, some 3,000 miles from their intended destination of the nation's capital.

The march, which had no discernable goal or message, and no official organizers, began at approximately 8:45 a.m. in front of what the morons called the National Mall, but was actually the courtyard outside the Olympia Public Library.

"More government accountability, and transparency, and accountability!" shouted grade-A moron Tammy Caldwell, 37, addressing no one in particular. "On behalf of me, and all the [morons] who came here today, listen up, greedy Washington fat cats: We're not going anywhere until each and every one of our voices is heard."

Morons Demand

The morons demand a drawdown of troops in Iraq in front of what they believe to be a monument to fallen soldiers.

"To the Lincoln Memorial!" added Caldwell, pointing to a nearby monument dedicated to the memory of Washington State governor John Rankin Rogers.

Following a stop at what the morons believed to be Arlington National Cemetery, protestors reportedly marched east on State Avenue, south along Plum Street, paused bewilderedly when they failed to see the Reflecting Pool at the intersection of Union and Plum, and then found their way back to State to begin their march over again.

While authorities maintained that the gathering was largely peaceful and most of the fires were set purely by accident, demonstrators appeared visibly angry about a range of topics, including war, peace, food, music, money, baseball, cars, the people following them around as if this were some kind of rally, siblings, animals, plants, colors, and movies.

"Come on out of that precious little palace of yours, Mr. President. We're right here waiting," Pennsylvania resident Kip Callahan yelled toward the marble-columned State Insurance Building. "I didn't come all this way to be ignored. I got kids!"

"No Social Security for Medicare!" Michigan idiot Kevin Liston added. "Not in my backyard!"

Throughout the day, the number of protesters grew to include not just morons, but more than 6,000 nimrods, 3,500 dunderheads, and approximately 12,000 of the biggest fucking dipshits known to man.

In all, 75,000 of the simpletons turned out, though dozens were killed after walking out into traffic, and hundreds more were lost after wandering into nearby Trillium Park.

"I'm against things," longtime North Carolina resident Pam Beucher said. "I'm for things."

"America!" she added.

"I didn't know Washington, D.C. had Seattle in it," said Connecticut resident Kyle Hinton, an idiot. "Anyway, stop the war! No more hate! Swine flu! Iran! Pharmaceutical companies! Illegal immigrants! Never again!"

At press time the morons had been walking for 10 minutes into a concrete wall in Kennewick, WA, where they eventually stopped to pay their respects to those who lost their lives during the Vietnam War.

"This is—," NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams said Wednesday while broadcasting video footage of protesters shouting "four more years" at the base of Mount Rainier. "Actually, I don't know what this is."

Clearly moved by the marchers' plight, both houses of the United States Congress announced Wednesday they had begun work on a $3 trillion piece of legislation that would completely overhaul the nation's education system.

October 16, 2009

The essential American story

This is the story of a genuinely American company. Conceived in a 10’ by 12” wooden shed, sired by a 21-year-old kid with a penchant for speed and a talent for mechanics.

It was in 1901 when William S. (Bill) Harley penciled out a drawing for a small engine intended to be mounted onto a bicycle frame. He showed his drawing to school chums Arthur and Walter Davidson. Together these men built the first American motorcycle. Two years later they sold their first to another school chum. The Harley-Davidson Motor Company was open for business, and Bill shepherded the company from upstart, through war, into legend.

In 1943, at the age of 66, the kid with the dream died. Bill Harley's concept had become a great success, built a great company, and made the American motorcycle king. It would reign for several more years, but the beginning of the end came in 1965. With all of the original founders now dead, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, privately held for over 60 years, became a publicly traded company.

Many would consider this to be the pinnacle of success, but historically similar stories have not always had dream-like ends, and Harley-Davidson would be no exception. In 1969, only a few years after going public, Harley-Davidson announced a “merger” with the American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF). The die was cast.

The next ten or so years would prove nearly fatal for Harley-Davidson. Under AMF management, the original American motorcycle company sacrificed quality for expediency, innovation for mass marketing, and reputation for short term profit. Investors made big bucks for a time, but as both sales and reputation plummeted, the profit takers cut and ran. Shares were sold in volume and the company’s value sank nearly as low as employee morale. The company product, once the envy of every hairy-legged country boy, became all but reviled in the American marketplace. As Harley slid to near oblivion, innovative new Japanese bikes took over the bulk of the market share. The imports bikes would never look back.

As anyone even the least bit interested knows, the Harley story did not end there. They were down, but old-time Harley management knew they were not out. In 1981, a group of 13 employees purchased the company from AMF in a leveraged buy-out, and began an undertaking that has surprised even die hard skeptics like me.

The next five or so years of Harley history saw renewed focus on quality and technology. Outsourced, low bid parts purchasing and mass marketing policies were replaced by improved, in-house manufacturing techniques, strict quality control, and targeted marketing. Many of Harley’s new processes were learned from the Japanese, their greatest competitors. As product quality improved, sales and employee morale followed. Today the Harley-Davidson is again the Great American Motorcycle.

The dichotomy that is Harley-Davidson is well illustrated by comparing the 75th Anniversary bikes, produced in 1978, against the fine fine craftsmanship and high quality of 2003’s 100th anniversary bikes. It has taken a long time for Harley to rise from the ashes, but the company has restored not only their reputation, but some small faith in American innovation. We must hope that Harley-Davidson sets an example, and that this is not too little, too late.

Though a tale of great rebound, this story begs a question. Where has American innovation gone? Harley-Davidson did not hold an exclusive to the profits over quality story. Looking around it seems that as America becomes more a culture of consumption and less a culture of innovation, all the great success stories are crumbling. Look at big names like General Motors and General Electric, or products such as Master padlocks, Black & Decker power tools and Hoover vacuums.

American companies are being sold off to foreign interests or taken over by managers with a decidedly low-tech mass-market mentality. The philosophy seems to be "Make them faster and cheaper, then advertise the hell out of them so everyone will want one." This is a dead end philosophy that will eventually bankrupt any business... if it doesn't bankrupt this country first. Harley-Davidson's rebound may represent the rare exception to the rule, but only because a handful of employees were more interested in quality than short-term profit.

More products manufactured overseas are imported and sold in stores such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot, and more American factories are shuttered. Americans demand low prices, and quality goods no longer sell well because they are more expensive. American companies responded by cutting quality and out-sourcing production. This shored it up for a time, but not long. There are very few Made in America products left. The American automobile manufacturers seemed solid enough at first, but even those are threatened by this most recent recession. Cash for Clunkers sold more imports than Chevrolets, Chryslers and Fords.

Look to the boardrooms to understand this phenomenon. The heads of most major American manufacturing and technology companies are salesmen and bean counters, with no knowledge of, or interest in the quality or technological innovation required to make a product of quality. Instead they rely on the often-told-lie and slick, weasel-worded advertising to maximize profits, moving cheaper products in shorter time.

Discussing Microsoft and the technology sector in general, Badtux offers an interesting corollary to this over on his blog.

“…this is true of most big companies today in the United States. They're run by salesmen, cronies of the oligarchs who control half the wealth of the US, and salesmen are not by nature reflective souls and are chosen for loyalty, not for intelligence. They arrogantly believe it is not necessary to understand technical details of what they're selling in order to make proper judgments about its content and scope, all they have to do is sell, sell, sell and it all works out in the end. The problem is that since they don't understand the technology and worse yet have no desire to understand the technology, they're ill equipped to make critical decisions about product direction and feasibility. They fall prey to yes men, fads, and scams, and pour company resources into directions that are not productive.”

The roots of the tree of greed are beginning to grow large under the foundation of our country, and the cracks are showing. If it all falls down around our ears, I wonder where the bankers will run. You can't eat money.

[I have a friend with one of those AMF Harley's, which sits in my shop waiting for parts more frequently than it spends time between his legs. That was the reason for this piece, which has been sitting unfinished and idle in my drafts folder for a couple of months. The penguin's piece prodded my writer-blocked muse off the couch... Thanks Tux.]


October 15, 2009

Interesting 1A case

From an article in the Dallas Morning News, October 15, 2009, a lawyer in a test of First Amendment protections for free speech, is challenging a Dallas-based organization that endorses military chaplains, alleging that the leaders of the organization have used prayer to incite violence against him and his family.

The lawyer, Michael Weinstein, is a veteran of the Reagan Administration and once worked as general counsel for Ross Perot. In the suit, Weinstein v. Ammerman, et al, Mr. Weinstein alleges that respondent Gordon Klingenschmitt, acting on behalf of The Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches and its founder, Elmer Harmon "Jim" Ammerman, issued a "fatwah" against Weinstein in April.

The Weinsteins are alleging that retaliatory actions against them started at some point in the past, then increased in 2005 after Weinstein founded the non-profit Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), and began questioning the Chaplaincy's right to be an official endorser, or approver, of chaplains.

In the petition, filed Sept. 23 in Dallas' 68th District Court, Weinstein alleges, "… Klingenschmitt called upon his followers to commit violence against, or even kill, Michael Weinstein, and even his family." Weinstein's wife Bonnie joined her husband in filing the suit.

Dallas attorney Randal Mathis, who represents the couple, says the Weinsteins' suit tests whether threats made in prayer are constitutionally protected. "Of course, we think the answer to that is 'no,' " says Mathis. "We think these things called prayers cause violence." Mathis says people have fired shots at the Weinsteins' home in Albuquerque, N.M., set fire to their lawn and left animal carcasses on their porch.

The Weinsteins, who are Jewish, allege in their petition that the MRFF is devoted to protecting and preserving constitutional religious freedom for American military personnel. According to the petition, the majority of the MRFF's work deals with the problems of individual members of the armed forces and their families who have been discriminated against in the military.

Klingenschmitt, who served as a U.S. Navy chaplain from 2002 until 2007, says, "My prayers never use the words 'death' or 'violence.' Those are his [Michael Weinstein's] embellishments of my words. My words were simply to quote Psalm 109 verbatim." Klingenschmitt says specifically he quoted from the psalm: "Let his days be few" and "Let his posterity be cut off."

"My prayer to God is a prayer to God -- nothing more," says Klingenschmitt, who declined further comment and refers other questions to Austin, Texas attorney, Stephen Casey. When questioned, Casey said, "I'm very, very certain the courts are going to recognize the protected nature of Mr. Klingenschmitt's speech."

The Chaplaincy refused a request for an official statement, stating that "Rev. Dr. Jim Ammerman and CFCG, upon advice of counsel, cannot comment on specific allegations raised in the suit against him filed by Mr. Michael Weinstein. Dr. Ammerman believes the allegations are unfounded."

John Whitehead, president and founder of The Rutherford Institute, says his Virginia-based civil liberties organization is representing The Chaplaincy and Ammerman but plans to use Texas lawyers for the case. Whitehead says Weinstein involves an important free-speech issue. "If you can stop people quoting Bible verses, you're going to shut down half the churches, synagogues and mosques in this country," Whitehead says.

Whitehead also says, "When Martin Luther King spoke, violence erupted in many places. He wasn't inciting violence. Free speech is the last bastion we have in this country. You can't shut down speech based on speculation."

Mathis says the Weinsteins filed their suit in state court because, "I think we'll have a quicker route to discovery," but adds that his goal is to take the case to SCOTUS. He wants to find out whether a person enjoys 1A protection when cloaking threats in prayer.

This will be a tough one to win. As Doug Laycock, a religious liberty scholar and former professor at the University of Texas School of Law says, "If the claim is they [the defendants] are praying for God to punish these people, that's not a cause of action. They can pray for whatever they want." Laycock says a court is going to be skeptical that someone will act on a prayer. "I think it's going to be hard to prove," he says.


October 14, 2009

The Treason of the Senate

There is a great deal of uncertainty in what we can expect from our lawmakers in D.C., but there is one thing we can probably count on; a pretty bad healthcare reform bill.

We will have healthcare reform signed into law pretty soon. The right is fighting it, but there are sufficient votes to shove some sort of bill down our throats. It won’t be a bill any of us will like; not even those most fervently supporting reform.

Why do you suppose that is? When polls indicate an overwhelming number of Americans support reform, why is there so much contention in Congress? The left is divided and the right simply opposes anything. Their constituents want it, so why can’t we get a good, bipartisan effort and produce a bill that would benefit the most people for the least cost?

The answer is simple: Greed.

Bill Moyers is a commentator of pretty good repute. Fact checking a Moyer story is most always an effort in futility. Bill protects his reputation by knowing what he reports to be the truth before a program airs. So when Bill Moyers asks why, when both the public and the President want a public option, such an option is absent from the bill that just passed out of the Senate Finance Committee. Bill answers his own question:

“Because, the medicine has been poisoned from day one, in part because of that same revolving door that Congresswoman Kaptur and Simon Johnson were just talking about. Movers and shakers rotate between government and the lucrative private sector at a speed so dizzying they forget who they're working for.”

Here is where I disagree with Bill. These crooks know exactly where the butter is for their bread, and it isn’t the voters who sent them to office.

"Take a close look at that woman sitting behind Montana Senator Max Baucus. He's the Democrat who's the Chairman of the Finance Committee. Liz Fowler is her name. And now get this. She used to work for WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the country. She was Vice President of Public Policy. And now she's working for the very committee with the most power to give her old company and the entire industry exactly what they want: higher profits, and no competition from alternative non-profit coverage that could lower costs and premiums.”

The fox has been left to guard the henhouse.

“I'm not making this up. Here's another little eye-opener. The woman who was Baucus' top health advisor before he hired Liz Fowler? Her name is Michelle Easton. Why did she leave the Committee? To go to work -- where else? -- at a firm representing the same company Liz Fowler worked for WellPoint. As a lobbyist.”

Moyers goes on to point out that, over just the past few months, the healthcare industry has shelled out somewhere around $380 million in their efforts to either derail the reform effort, or at the very least, to ensure any legislation that makes it out of Congress will favor them.

This is so reminiscent of the effort 60 years ago to defeat Medicare. That drive was spearheaded by physicians and the AMA. The physicians are not being as resistant this time around, but we have the insurance and pharmaceutical industries with whom we must contend... and We the People are not in that league.

The interest of the great unwashed is not served when our legislators are stuffing their pockets with industry money. Reform and meaningful regulation of big pharma and big insurance is necessary, but when our Senators and Congress members are comfortably wallowing in sties with lobbyists, real reform is unlikely. But this will change.

It took 20 years and three Presidents before we achieved the imperfect system we call Medicare. I expect we will see improvement in reforming the rest of healthcare over the next few decades, and perhaps improvements in Medicare as well. The Baucus bill is terrible; a travesty, bought and paid for by special interests, but it is probably the best we can expect this time around.

As Bill Moyers says, this is outrageous.

October 10, 2009

October 9, 2009


In a response almost quicker than the news of American President, Barak Obama, receiving a Nobel Peace prize, came the not unexpected announcement from Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, that the terrorist organization condemns the award.

Shortly thereafter, Rush Limbaugh, spokesman for the Teabag Taliban, is appopletic; HubBlog calls the award, “… silly and irrelevant,” The National Post’s Jonathan Kaw calls the award ridiculous, and Mary, at Freedom Eden blog, has already turned the issue into a racial thing. One Limey blogger asks, “Are you frickin' kidding me?

Ross Chainey, writing for Reuters, asks if Obama deserves the award, and promptly interviews Hamas, while Scott at ScrappleFace uses the award to take a shot at the United Nations.

Simon Robinson, writing for Time Magazine, posits that winning the award could hurt Obama, and Stephen Medvic, posting on PolySigh, offers that the Peace Prize will be more of a headache to President Obama than an honor, recommending the President turn it down.

Geneva based correspondent, Ronald Sexton, writing for the right-of-center blog FiveThirtyEight, says “Perhaps the happiest people in the US on this one will be the centrists - and those who wanted Obama to reshape the US image abroad.” Writing for CQ’s Political Wire, Taegan Goddard offers a roundup of opinions, many of which confirm Sexton’s comments.

My blogger favorites are rather divided in their comments, with JayG intent upon pointing out Mr. Obama’s failures while crankylitprof calls it nauseating. Interestingly, TOTWTYTR has not yet revealed his views. Perhaps once his blood pressure stabilizes…

On the other side of the sphere, FDL, C&L, Stinque, EBMisfit, and BitchPHD all seem to love the award, but predicted the inevitable right wingnut explosions.

PZMeyers is unimpressed, but HufPo has gone ga-ga over the news, with writer Jacob Heilbrunn gushing, “It would be hard to think of a more electrifying and deserved recipient of this year's Nobel Peace prize than President Obama.”

Yours truly, a slightly left-of-center political observer, thinks all of this is much ado about not much of any consequence. Obama winning a Peace Prize was to be expected. The only surprise was how quickly it occurred, but considering the deadline for nominations was February 01, 2009, only 11 days into the Obama presidency, it appears obvious that the Committee did this rather off the cuff.

I’m not surprised, but neither am I impressed. Although pleased that an American is the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, in the end I find myself in some agreement with Simon Robinson and Steven Medvic. Although I see no reason for Mr. Obama to refuse the award, the timing is unfortunate and the Peace Prize may cause more trouble than it is worth.

At best this is just another distraction.


October 8, 2009

Salazar v. Buono

Way back in the 1930’s, several World War I veterans suffering from the effects of battlefield exposure to mustard gas, migrated to the desert seeking relief in the dry air. At some point they formed a VFW post. In 1934, Death Valley VFW Post 2284 hired a shade tree welder to construct a simple structure out of three pieces of 4” pipe, fashioning it into the shape of a Latin cross. This fabrication was erected atop a geologic formation in the California desert, known as Sunrise Rock. The VFW championed the now rusty cross, variously described as between four and 12 feet in height, as a memorial to the dead of World War I. Once there was a sign stating as much, but it has long since disappeared.

This was not necessarily a problem at first, as the original construction was on private land. But some years later the land became part of the 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve in southeastern California’s San Bernardino County, and therefore part of the National Park Service’s land holdings.

The cross has undergone four changes worthy of mention. #1, it was repeatedly reconstructed and maintained by private individuals. #2, the sign commemorating WW-I veterans is now gone. #3, Congress designated Sunrise Rock a federal preserve in 1994. And #4, although the National Park service allowed the display of the cross to continue, the area was closed to others wishing to erect monuments containing other, non-christian themes. That last one became a problem.

Buono I

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government from favoring specific religions, but in 1999 the NPS denied a petition to erect a memorial to Buddhist war dead. Not long afterward, in 2001, self-described practicing Catholic and retired National Park Service employee, Frank Buono, filed suit against the National Park Service [PDF] seeking removal of the cross. While the case was pending the NPS announced the intention to remove the cross. That would have settled the mess, but Congress interfered by passing a bill denying federal funds for the removal of the cross, designating the cross a national memorial, and providing funds for a memorial plaque.

Buono prevailed in district court, and the federal government appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Not unsurprisingly, the court upheld the injunction.

Buono II

Just as in Buono I, Congress attempted an end run. As Buono II was pending, our enlightened lawmakers transferred the land on which the cross sits to the VFW, trading roughly one acre for a nearby five acre parcel. The transfer was pressed through as a rider to a defense appropriations bill. The designation as a national memorial was preserved, and the legislation stipulated that the cross and the land could potentially revert back to the government.

That didn’t fly either. As the Ninth Circuit noted “a reasonable observer, even without knowing whether Sunrise Rock is federally owned, would believe — or at least suspect — that the cross rests on public land.” That did not stop the land exchange, however.

Buono III

Now we have Buono III, in which ACLU attorneys are arguing that the land transfer itself violated the Establishment Clause. The District Court again sided with Buono, writing that “the transfer of the Preserve land . . . is an attempt by the government to evade the permanent injunction enjoining the display of the Latin Cross atop Sunrise Rock.” This decision was upheld and Buono III now sits before SCOTUS.

While the wingnut sphere is ablaze with indignation, room for understanding may be found. The decision of NPS to remove the christian cross and deny religious-oriented memorials would have extinguished the controversy. It was the predominately christian component in Congress, disregarding the consequences of their actions on non-christian U.S. citizens, that fomented the uproar.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

In a joint brief filed in Salazar V. Buono, the Muslim Armed Forces and Veteran Affairs Counsel (yes, there are Muslims serving in the U.S. military) and the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America observe “by labeling the cross . . .[a] national memorial to veterans of World War I, Salazar ignores and denigrates the service of our non-Christian veterans of that war.” Furthermore, some former military officers appear to be concerned [PDF] that the perception of government promotion of Christianity over other faiths will prove divisive, and will impair recruitment of non-christians.

Decisions, decisions

SCOTUS has now limited itself two choices. The Justices could end the controversy simply by ruling that Buono, the only challenger to the cross, cannot prove direct harm and therefore has no standing. On the surface at least, that seems to be a simple, even mundane point of court procedure, but it could have powerful impact. Such a ruling would imply that opponents of government sponsored religious symbolism anywhere must prove direct harm before being allowed to seek a remedy in the courts.

Alternately the Court could decide this case based on the property transfer question. If allowed, such a decision could affect many other monuments sitting on government property. It could have effect on national cemeteries and national parks, and even the Kennedy Memorial. As the VFW has argued in this case, “… without action by this Court, countless veterans memorials will perish.” Perhaps a bit strong, but indeed there would be effect.

In the end SCOTUS will rule on a case that will define how we will interpret the 1A Establishment Clause in future court cases. Mr. Buono and the ACLU are arguing for fairness, and even the government’s lawyers state that Buono’s case is based upon an “ideological objection that public lands on which crosses are displayed should also be public fora on which other persons may display other symbols.”

Yes, an ideology based in our Constitution… and a belief that what is good for the goose should be good for the gander. Stuffing Christian symbolism down the throats of non-christians seems to be something of which our founders might not approve.


This one is for you, AD

It must be admitted ...

... bird-brain is (marginally) hotter than Pelosi ...

... but she'd have to figure something better to do with that mouth than spout garbage before I'd be interested. Insanity just isn't much of a turn-on, and the allegation that it is the left wanting women barefoot and pregnant is a gut-buster.

Gentle readers, before chapping my chauvinistic butt for that opening comment, please see my previous message on this dear lady, and read the comments. I'm merely responding ... really I am.

UPDATE: Michele is back with more on the dreaded school health clinics. She must have used Lynn Vincent as a ghostwriter.


October 6, 2009

Big Boy is Big News

Over on the west side of Charleston, W.Va., we find the well known figure of Big Boy, in a neat little park adjacent to a skilled nursing facility, standing atop a 14-foot pedestal. This is the city’s memorial to Alex Schoenbaum, founder of the Shoney’s restaurant chain.

Although the news articles do not identify where the Big Boy statue originated, the memorial is standing on the site where, in 1947, Schoenbaum opened a little burger joint called the Parkette Drive-in; later changed to Shoney’s, and still later, Shoney’s Big Boy.

Big Boy is a registered trademark, owned by the Warren, Mich. based Big Boy International. That firm is successor of the one that originally franchised the Big Boy name and mascot to Schoenbaum.

The Shoney’s chain was tremendously successful, eventually expanding to over 1,000 stores, but in 1976 they dropped the franchise, along with the Big Boy mascot. The chain was intent upon expanding into new markets and morphing into something other than a hamburger joint.

Now comes grist for controversy. For over 30 years Big Boy stood over the property where he now resides, welcoming all to sample the tasty fare served up by car hops on roller skates. But the drive-in closed down and moved, and the property was sold to the nursing facility. Shoney’s became a dine-in restaurant and let Big Boy go. As far as the Big Boy trademark owner was concerned, that ended the mascot's association with Shoney's, and they want their mascot removed from the memorial.<

"They're displaying a trademark that does not belong to them in a manner that causes confusion to the public regarding Big Boy's association with Shoney's," said Jennifer Bourgoin, vice president and general counsel of Big Boy International, which franchises more than 450 locations in the U.S. and Japan.

She added that Big Boy owns all the rights to the trademark statue and will take the issue to court if necessary.

Charleston residents grew up with the Big Boy, and they are up in arms. They fear losing a piece of their history, and they are fighting back. The city Mayor and even Mr. Schoenbaum’s widow are protesting and threatening to fight to the bitter end.

A story like this kind of makes you want to line up on the side of the citizens and fight the greedy, corporate types, doesn’t it? There is more to the story, actually.

Big Boy was franchised to more than just Shoney’s. In the Midwest and the mountain states you once could find Azar’s Big Boy, and there are still Bob’s Big Boy restaurants in California and some other states. Bob’s was the actual originator of the trademark, selling out to Marriott in 1967. Marriott sold the chain and the name to the Elias Brothers in 1987. In 2000 they went under, and the chain was sold to the current owners.

Shoney’s was the largest of the franchise holders, and because of their expansion, pretty much made the name famous. I loved the hamburgers, but detested the way they ran their company. Once Shoney’s dropped the Big Boy name and tried to transform the restaurant into a faux Denny’s, things started to slide. But it was even before that when I started refusing to eat there.

My distaste stemmed from the discriminatory practices, some of which apparently originated from Schoenbaum’s own biases.

Long before Shoney’s dropped the Big Boy trademark, the restaurant had policies barring certain segments of the population. Allegations of racial discrimination haunted the chain for years, and did not subside even after the signing of the Civil Rights act of 1964.

In the late 1960’s, Shoney’s enacted a corporate policy in which they denied service to men with long hair, and to motorcyclists. This policy continued throughout the “hippie” era. I was once presented with a menu on which a hamburger was priced at $100.00, because I entered with a longhaired, leather jacket wearing friend

There were employment discrimination policies as well. In 1989 the NAACP brought suit in Florida, charging that Shoney's systematically discriminated against African Americans by limiting employment opportunities and job selection, creating what it termed "a hostile, racist work environment.".

In a 1994 Missouri case, a pregnant woman was awarded over $400,000 when she proved that Shoney’s limited her hours and denied promotions based upon her status.

The final straw for me came in the 80’s when, while travelling, I stopped at a Shoney’s in Gatlinburg, Tenn. The restaurant was not at all clean, the service was slow and the waitress surly, the food on the breakfast buffet cold and unappetizing. When I complained about the temperature, I was told that there was a Denny’s just down the street. Needless to say, I will never darken the door of a Shoney’s again.

History is important and I can understand the citizen’s desire to maintain the Big Boy memorial, but for some reason I find it difficult to feel any real sympathy for Shoney’s or the legacy of its founder.
(AP Photo/Tom Breen)