For my birthday today, I want my very own retro-encabulator:
Dana Milbank, writing in the WaPo:
The Citizens Flag Alliance, a group pushing for the Senate this week to pass a flag-burning amendment to the Constitution, just reported an alarming, 33 percent increase in the number of flag-desecration incidents this year.
The number has increased to four, from three.
Yup, that's right. These conservatives want to -- for the first time in American history -- amend the Constitution to restrict the First Amendment, to put curbs on your rights of free expression and association, to tell you when, where, and how you can speak...and they are doing it to combat something that is such a mere blip, a nonentity, a nonexistent problem.
But Arlen Specter's on the case!
In pursuit of this urgent matter, floor leader Specter mustered all manner of argument: the military service of his brother, Morton; his brother-in-law's service in the Pacific; his father Harry's service in the Argonne; his mother's emigration from Ukraine; his own stateside service during the Korean War; a pickup-truck accident his father once had with his sister; bicycle rides he took as a 7-year-old in Kansas; the "treachery of Mussolini"; the light casualties sustained during the Persian Gulf War, and a trip he made to VA hospitals 15 years ago.
"I think it's important to focus on the basic fact that the text of the First Amendment, the text of the Constitution, the text of the Bill of Rights is not involved," Specter argued. The Judiciary Committee chairman did not explain how he could add 17 words to the Constitution without altering its text.
Read that last sentence again. (My emphasis.) You're going to change the Constitution, but not really change it? (And how, exactly, is abrogating the First Amendment not a material change?)
And, I'll refer you to what I wrote last year about this issue:
You know what? I bet that way more flags have been draped on the caskets of American troops killed in Iraq -- which would be 1,713, as of this writing -- than have been burned in protest in oh, the last twenty-five years.
So why is this such an urgent problem, for our elected representatives (they represent us, remember? Not the other way around) to go against the demonstrated will of the people and take such an extreme step as amending the United States Constitution?
See, the First Amendment is crystal-clear, to my reading. Let me emphasize:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
What part of "no law" don't they understand?
The important thing isn't the symbol here. True, symbols are important. But if you are so upset with the policies of this country that you feel the only way you can express that burning dissent is to burn such an honored symbol as the flag, you're expressing a powerful political point. And that is protected speech.
I stand by all of what I wrote last year, except, of course for the sad reminder that 2,527 US troops have died in Iraq.
I'm glad the amendment died today, on the wingnuts' eighth attempt. But it only lost by one vote, and I'm sure they'll try to restrict our freedoms once again. Because my relatives didn't fight for the flag, no matter what Bill Frist claims -- they died for the ideals upon which this country was founded.
Which, Sen. Specter, includes the freedom to make a political protest by burning the flag.
I went to go see a show on Thursday at Radio City -- more on my weekend later, when I have a chance -- but I wanted to write about this: just before the show, when everyone was standing around under the marquee, the NYPD scared the shit out of everybody with one of their "show-of-force" drills.
Basically, what they do is run about thirty cop cars screaming down the street, lights ablaze and sirens howling.
If it were a legitimate crisis, that'd be one thing, but this thing seems to happen pretty regularly in the evenings in Midtown, especially on Thursdays and Fridays. It disrupts traffic, frightens people unnecessarily, and I'm sure it's not too safe -- the cars are flying.
These "surge drills" absolutely reek of arrogance and smugness, and the cops' attitudes don't help either; the tourists on the sidewalk were obviously freaked out, and cops just smirked as they sailed by. The message they're sending is not "we're here, you're safe, we're working hard to respond effectively", but rather "this is OUR city, not yours -- we own it, not you -- and we can go anywhere and do anything we want to."
Is this really the best tactic? The NYPD is actually a pretty good police force -- I think it's run by people who are smart and who generally know what they're doing, and their Intelligence Division strikes me as one of the best uses possible of money, energy and manpower. But what does this accomplish? It isn't clear, because to me it just looks like a lot of in-your-face machismo and posturing to no real effect...something that, alas, the NYPD also does fairly well.
As auto critic for The Times, I've had my share of E-ticket rides — a Ferrari in the Alps, a Land Rover across Patagonia. I've gone over 200 mph in a jet-powered dragster, and not entirely on purpose either. But this — this quaint bit of blacksmithing and woodcraft, this spindly, oil-spitting cat's cradle — this is the coolest vehicle I've ever gotten hold of.
And not because it's fast. With a top speed of around 18 mph, the Motorwagen can't outrun a decently thrown bowling ball. Of course, it feels a lot faster when you're actually in the driver's seat, perched in the open air at the height of a stepladder.
No, it's cool because this is the real deal, the echt automobile, the genuine article (excepting the fact what I'm driving is actually a factory-built replica of the vehicle that's in the Deutsches Museum in Munich). And from this over-tall seat you can feel all the familiar tinglings, the infatuating sensations of the automobile, pared to their essences. Why did the automobile succeed? And why is it still succeeding, in places like China and India, where citizens are mortgaging their meager lives to get a car? Here truth is revealed: The pleasure of cars isn't about high-end audio systems and heated seats. It's about mechanically multiplied self-determination. Free will with leverage.
It sure beats walking.
Go read the whole thing.
So, how long do you give TextAmerica.com before they auger into the proverbial cornfield?
See, they're breaking the #1 Rule of the Internet: don't charge for something that was originally free. TA, a moblogging service, is starting to charge $99 a year for their formerly free service, and people are leaving in droves...not least because TA says they will delete the (again, formerly free) accounts of people who don't pay up.
I, for one, won't be very sad to see them implode, because they screwed me a year or two ago. (I first found out about them on BoingBoing, when Xeni recommended them as a good, free moblogging service. I signed up and was thrilled to have an easy way to publish my phonecam pictures.) Here's my story, as posted on the exTamerica Flickr group and excerpted on BoingBoing:
Why did I leave? Actually, TA left me.
I liked 'em at first, and uploaded tons of camphone shots, starting in 2003. My photoblog was a TA Editor's Pick three or four times.
But things seemed a little squirrelly -- the third time my site was an Editor's Pick, I mentioned it on my blog and said, self-deprecatingly, that "TextAmerica must not have too many members if they're choosing me a third time."
Within an hour or two, I got a freaked-out-sounding e-mail saying that the higher-ups at TA were upset about what I'd written on my blog, and I ended up explaining my tone and editing my blog post, so as not to cause offense...but it seemed strange that they couldn't deal with something some random schmoe wrote on his low-traffic Typepad site. Thin-skinned much?
Anyway, that whole thing blew over, and I kept using TA, and liking them.
When I discovered Flickr in 2004, I started posting [there], and still uploaded phonecam shots to my TA site. Eventually, I got a digital camera that I could carry with me, and my phonecam shots dried up.
One day, I made an image with my Flickr photostream's URL, took a picture of it, and uploaded it to TA, intending to "park" my TA site and archive my old camphone shots there. I intended nothing derogatory toward TA, just something along the lines of "My new pictures can now be found at this address." (Ed. Note: It's the image above, which I found by doing a tag search on TA's site.)
Within hours, my entire TA site was gone -- deleted, along with all of my old camphone shots that I'll never get back. Some of which I would have wanted to hang on to -- New York blackout shots, celebrity sightings, pictures of my girlfriend, and other shots I wanted to keep for sentimental reasons. No e-mail from TA, no warnings, nothing.
I actually thought about suing TA, as I'm pretty sure their Terms Of Service don't include permanent deletion of one's site for merely mentioning Flickr. But, I decided it wasn't worth the hassle or the money. I've never been shy about telling this story, though; TA screwed me -- a loyal customer who'd talked up their site quite a bit -- for no good reason.
And, it looks like they're at it again: as people mention on their TextAmerica sites that they're thinking of leaving, or post something expressing their displeasure with TextAmerica, TA is deleting their accounts.
Way to win friends, there: "Pay us $99! We won't tell you about any planned features or what added value you'll get for paying us a hundred bucks a year, but you should do it solely on our say-so and spotty track record! And if you don't, we'll delete your blog. And don't bother to grouse about it, because we'll delete you anyway. So pay us now!" (I note that a Flickr pro account costs a fourth of what TA is charging, and frankly, Flickr offers vastly better service, user interface, flexibility, convenience, and community than TextAmerica ever did.)
So let's sit back and watch 'em fall apart. I'll bring the popcorn.
The country that executed more than four times as many convicts as the rest of the world combined last year is slowly phasing out public executions by firing squad in favor of lethal injections. Unlike the United States and Singapore, the only two other countries where death is administered by injection, China metes out capital punishment from specially equipped "death vans" that shuttle from town to town.
Makers of the death vans say the vehicles and injections are a civilized alternative to the firing squad, ending the life of the condemned more quickly, clinically and safely. The switch from gunshots to injections is a sign that China "promotes human rights now," says Kang Zhongwen, who designed the Jinguan Automobile death van in which "Devil" Zhang took his final ride. . .
China's critics contend that the transition from firing squads to injections in death vans facilitates an illegal trade in prisoners' organs.
Injections leave the whole body intact and require participation of doctors. Organs can "be extracted in a speedier and more effective way than if the prisoner is shot," says Mark Allison, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. "We have gathered strong evidence suggesting the involvement of (Chinese) police, courts and hospitals in the organ trade."
Missed this little tidbit o' news from last week:
"I apologize for being an idiot," [White House Press Secretary Tony] Snow said Thursday during his daily briefing to the news media. "I misidentified Representative Sheila Jackson Lee as Cynthia McKinney.
Last week, Snow gave reporters a routine account of a meeting President Bush conducted with members of Congress on Iraq. In the retelling, Snow confused one African-American Democratic female lawmaker for another.
Did he later grumble about them being "uppity" for, well, being elected to Congress? How could they not have known their place?
Pretty good weekend, if low-key. Friday, Chico and I went out looking for a place to celebrate Bloomsday, and we settled on Swift. My friend Patty joined us there, but we discovered that, alas, there were no Bloomsday celebrations there, and it was the normal Friday-night meat market. (Who cares? They have Belgian beer.)
So we shoved off around the corner to KGB, but it didn't have any Bloomsday activity either. So we decided to stay put. We also ran into a friend and his girlfriend, who had just come from the premiere of "Wordplay", the new doc about the NYT's crossword puzzle and its masterly editor, Will Shortz. One highlight was running into the guy -- I forgot his name, alas, as we were on G&T #3 or so -- who constructed this Sunday's Times puzzle.
Saturday was pretty much a sports day, as B. went to Connecticut to see family. I watched World Cup matches, went out for a walk around the neighborhood, picked up some groceries, and then came home to watch Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Unfortunately, 'twas not the Hurricanes' night (did they even show up?) so hopefully home-ice advantage will outweigh momentum tonight in bringing Raleigh the Cup.
And yesterday was also lazy -- reading the paper in front of the A/C vent, planning to watch a movie but never getting around to it, and making strawberry yogurt milkshakes in our newly acquired blender. Not a bad way to spend a day off.