Saturday, March 31, 2007

Working for the Man -- Part II

Okay, so I admit I had never heard of St. Mary's College in South Bend, Indiana, before I traveled there in May 1989 to interview for a teaching job in the political science department. By then, I had interviewed at three other schools -- University of Kentucky, University of Central Florida and American University -- and received offers at all three places. I had ruled out Kentucky within fifteen minutes into my dinner with my prospective colleagues. Having flown in late that afternoon after a close encounter with near-death on the flight into Lexington from Atlanta -- we had to turn around 15 minutes into the flight after the captain announced "some problems" with the cabin's air pressure so that we could land and de-board to another plane -- I was in the mood for a stiff, cold and exceptionally bracing Martini and some lighthearted conversation, perhaps about NCAA basketball, why they called Kentucky the "blue grass" state when all the grass appeared to be green or why, at the restaurant I had been taken for dinner, the hostess deemed it necessary to practice her kick-boxing routine between seating customers. Instead, I was asked by one person after another -- ten, in all -- about the "dependent variable" in my dissertation, and whether, given my research design, I was confident that I could avoid a "confounding" effect among my independent variables should I decide not to "tweak" my model.

Well, this was all news to me. I knew what my dependent variable was because my dissertation committee had made sure to tell me before I defended by dissertation. Before I left for my interview, I had written my dependent variable down on a small piece of paper that I could pull out of my pocket just in case I needed a quick refresher. But "confounding effects" among my independent variables? Tweaking my "model?" All right, then! Who was I to argue, especially since I didn't know what any of them were? But I just couldn't see spending the first five or six years of my career before I was denied tenure -- an inevitability in this department, which took its variables, independent and dependent, very seriously -- with these people. No sooner had my ginger ale with a lime twist arrived -- liquor was not served at this restaurant, another major blow in the interview process -- than I decided that the University of Kentucky was not the place for me.

My visits to Central Florida and American were uneventful . . . in a good way. Each visit required me to teach a class and that was fun. There was little, if any, discussion of my independent or dependent variables, and someone at Central Florida had done enough homework on me to extol the advantages of living so close to so many baseball spring training sites and high-quality public golf courses. I had just been to Orlando six weeks before with my dad to watch baseball, and we had eaten at a phenomenal Chinese restaurant. I mentioned this place to one of my hosts, whose eyes lit up with almost sexually-charged excitement. "Off the menu!" he exclaimed. "Order off the menu! They'll do it for you. First-rate people. Tell them I sent you!" Baseball, golf, warm weather and good Chinese food . . . I had found Jewish heaven. Teach for 25 years or so, find a nice condominium in Phase III of Grassy Pines, an early-bird special, a little shuffleboard, a pool with complimentary afternoon cocktails . . . could this be too good to be true?

As it turned out, it was. Unfortunately, the Florida legislature was unaware that a sub-minimum wage salary was not going to buy greens fees, high-quality Chinese food, baseball tickets or place settings and window treatments, much less all the things that my about-to-be-wife was planning to buy for the new house that, since we didn't know where we were going to live, we hadn't picked out and, until I had an actual job, couldn't afford. On the upside, I escaped being governed by a Bush.

So that left my trip to St. Mary's. I knew all about Notre Dame, for no other reason than I had grown up a college sports fan, and at that point in my life I still followed college basketball. The job for which I was interviewing was a "joint appointment" with Notre Dame, which meant I would teach two courses each year that students from Notre Dame could take with St. Mary's students. In 1989, the only way to learn more about a school you had never heard of was to go to the library and read the Barron's Guide to Colleges and Universities. Paging ahead to the S entries, I was struck first by just how many St. Mary's Colleges there were. Was this like interviewing for a job with I.B.M., where I would start in South Bend and then get transferred to Connecticut, settle in, only to be transferred again to some place like Maryville, Ohio? That wasn't the case, as it turned out. A little more research showed that St. Mary's was an all-girl, Catholic liberal arts college with a "strong" and "historic relationship" to Notre Dame, which didn't admit women until 1972.

Okay, then! I could just see the headline in the Atlanta Jewish Week: "Jewish Ph.D Not Good Enough to Teach at Brandeis Gets Job Teaching Shiksas at Catholic Women's School." But, dammit, Delta flew to South Bend, and I needed the frequent flyer miles to help offset the travel costs I would incur settling into my new job, wherever that might be.

So off to South Bend I went, eager to see just what an all-girls Catholic college looked like. I went to graduate school at Emory, which, rooted in the Methodist Church, was really the southern most tip of Long Island or the last exit south on the New Jersey turnpike. This would be, if nothing else, an interesting lesson in life.

My hosts did not disappoint. I was met at the South Bend airport by a male Notre Dame undergraduate and a female St. Mary's undergraduate. They were unfailingly polite and interested in my material comfort, so much so that the driver told me to reach "into the cooler for a brewski" if I needed some refreshment from my flight, which required two changes of planes. I demurred, unsure if this was some kind of set-up or just genuine Midwestern hospitality. We then arrived in downtown South Bend, which did not appear to have the shopping and amenities that would please my about-to-be wife, who made it clear to me that I was doing this interview for the "experience." Silly me. I thought I was doing it for the frequent flyer miles.

After a brief tour of South Bend -- there really isn't any other kind -- my driver took me over to the St. Mary's campus. "Another tour?" I asked.

"No. You'll be staying here tonight, on campus, in the guest suite in one of the dorms."

This was no joke. We pulled up to a dorm that looks exactly like you would imagine a dorm at an all-girls Catholic school looking -- sort of a cross between a medieval nunnery and early 20th century maximum security British prison. My male host carried my bags, and my female host handed me a schedule of my agenda the following day. As soon as we walked into the dorm, all eyes immediately turned to me for no other reason than I was a man -- sort of -- with a suitcase entering a woman's residence at 11.30 at night. We checked in with the front desk and, yes, there was no mistake: I was staying in a college dorm to interview for a job as a professor. No matter what happened next, no one I knew could top this in their job interviewing experience.

And it got even better. After my hosts took my suitcase to my "room" and wished me a good night, I headed to the bathroom to take a shower and decompress after a long day -- except there was no shower . . . bath only! A quick mental calculation on my part concluded that I had last taken a bath, to the best of my recollection, about 22 years before, when I was five. I was a shower guy; my sister, a bath girl. That's how you could always tell us apart. That, and we were anatomically distinct . . .

So I managed to get about four or five hours of sleep before waking up at 6 a.m. to dunk my head under the bath faucet and put myself together for what would become my last job interview.

The day started innocently enough. I met with five bright-eyed, perky St. Mary's students for breakfast in the university cafeteria. The "chair" of the student search committee volunteered lots of useful information about the school and the ambition of St. Mary's women, all of which I would have found no doubt as interesting as she did if not for the fact that one of her search committee peers insisted on playing "footsies" with me under the table while another one discreetly elbowed me so I would take the note she had written me. "Did you get my note last night?" read a small piece of paper slipped under my door. I shook my head, even though, yes, I had gotten A note the previous evening that simply read, "Come to room 424."

This was weird and getting weirder, for no other reason than I had never had this kind of interest from women when I was in college, much less getting ready to start teaching college. Breakfast adjourned right at 8 a.m., just as my schedule said it would, and I was then handed over to another student guide, who walked me over to the main administration building, where, for the first time since I arrived, I would speak with someone who was not enrolled at either St. Mary's or Notre Dame. According to the schedule, the woman with whom I would be meeting was the Dean of Students. None of the other three schools where I interviewed had a Dean of Students. They all had Deans, and plenty of them, but not a Dean of Students in the Dean Wurmer mold from "Animal House."

After being greeted by a receptionist, who assured me that I was "in the right place," I took a seat and waited for this Dean of Students to appear. And waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, thirty-five minutes after my scheduled appointment time, a large, unsmiling woman walked over to the bench where I was sitting, icily stuck out her hand and introduced herself to me as the Dean of Students. She did not say, "I'm Mary Ellen McKenzie, the Dean of Students," just "I am the Dean of Students."

I followed her into her large, oak-paneled office, which, for an academic, was mysteriously lacking in books. I noticed lots of glass angels and other figurines, but nothing that suggested an informed and reflective life. After 2o seconds of her opening line of questioning, I came to doubt whether any printed material in her office included an update on civil rights law or post-Miranda interrogation techniques.

"So, Mr. Ivers, when do you plan on becoming Dr. Ivers?" she oooomphed. This was her way of asking me when I was going to defend my dissertation.

"I defended a month ago," I responded, uncertain as to whether this was the answer she was looking for, since it was the answer that any other academic with hiring authority wanted to hear. "I'm glad that's over."

She studied me for about ten seconds, and I began to wonder if I had said something wrong by admitting I was happy that I had finished my dissertation.

"All right, young man, let me be direct with you," she said. "I know why men your age interview at my school, and if you think you're going to come here and treat these girls like your personal sex toys you've got another thing coming. Are you listening? It wasn't my idea to bring you in here, but since you are here and you'll have to deal with me on academic matters, if not other things," she said, raising her one eyebrow with a look that implied the word "things" involved sex acts then, if not still, illegal in Indiana and perhaps all the former Confederate states, "let's get the do's and don'ts real clear right from the start. These girls are students and you are here to teach them -- nothing more. Is that clear?"

I was tempted to say, "Well, what am I supposed to tell the student representative on the search committee who invited me to her room last night and the other one who was playing footsie with me for breakfast? That I'm just some big tease? Is that really fair to them?" But I didn't. "I understand the professional line between student and teacher. I'm getting married in six weeks, so I think we'll be okay."

"Let's just hope you stay married, because if you come here to screw around you'll lose your job and your wife. Capiche?"

I capiched all right. I don't remember what the rest of the conversation was about, and even after I left my interview with the Dean of Students I don't remember much about the rest of the day, other than the constant presence of crucifixes in campus buildings and in classrooms. Just like the "dependent variable" discussion sank my future at Kentucky, the thought of this nameless Dean of Students, who resembled a disgraced ex-javelin thrower from the East German Olympic Team, following me around campus sealed my decision to pursue a career as an oil lube technician at my local Goodyear should I not get an academic job offer. What could possibly happen next in my visit to South Bend?

Plenty, as it turns out. The same student representative who invited me to Room 424 the night before was driving me to the airport. Our conversation turned to more mundane matters -- the cold winters, the lack of anything to do in South Bend except drink beer, which was encouraged by the low beer prices and near around-the-clock happy hours at most local drinking holes. I thought our little episode had run its course until I leaned in the window to thank her for the ride and the hospitality.

"424. I'll be there," she said, putting her hand around the lapel of my suit jacket. "Don't forget me."

I had no plans to return to St. Mary's, so the Temptress of Room 424 didn't concern me too much. But as the clouds lowered and the sky began to darken, giving way to fog and rain, returning to South Bend was less a concern than being able to leave. After a half-hour delay in boarding, our flight attendant announced that we would begin to fill the plane -- all 15 seats -- for the "short" flight to Cincinnati, where I would transfer to a nice big jet and fly home to Atlanta. Our little delay resulted in some seating changes on the flight, and those changes resulted in the most memorable 45 minute flight of my life. But that is a story that will have to wait for the next installment in the chronicle of my adventures in the job market.

Friday, March 30, 2007

"Gonzales Defends His Role in Firings"

. . . so reads this afternoon's headline in the Washington Post on-line edition.

Of course he does. You expected that he would say something like this:

"I am here to acknowledge that I really fucked-up this whole US attorney firing thing. Rather than stand up to my bosses on principle, I have built a very successful career placating people with the power to advance my ambition. Yes, it is true I have never had a serious idea about anything related to the law in my entire life, and that I would do anything to appease George Bush or Karl Rove, even though their, 'Let Al handle his own demise. We have complete confidence in him' defense makes it clear that, like Scooter, they would throw me overboard in a heartbeat to save their own asses. And while there is part of me that wants to throttle this little-shit, pasty-faced white boy Kyle Sampson, I have made it this far by not challenging anything that anyone in a position to help me has ever said or done."

"I never thought I would end up in this position because people like me who never express an independent thought usually stay out of trouble. When I worked in the White House, I wrote memos justifying torture and "extraordinary rendition." They wanted an executive branch unaccountable to the public and Congress and I came up with some crock of shit they could tell the press. The truth? It wasn't really me because I don't think that much or that hard. But I picked nut cases like John Yoo to think the big thoughts. I just signed off on them, just like I signed off on the Gonzales Eight."

"Or did I? I don't recall. As I said in a statement this afternoon, I don't recall being in a meeting with Kyle, my deputy Paul McNulty or anyone else to discuss this, even though they say that I was and I have email documenting that, even if I wasn't there, which I might have been, at least I knew about it. How can Kyle recall that? He said in his testimony yesterday 122 times that he couldn't recall people, places, meetings, events, etc. involving these insufficiently partisan -- oops, I mean incompetent -- US attorneys. So if Kyle can't recall whether he could recall whether I could recall that I might not be able to recall a meeting that I don't recall recalling, how can I be expected to recall my role in this patriotic measure to restore prosecutorial competence to these eight judicial districts?"

"Look, I want the truth as much as anyone. I want my memory back from the Martians living in Roswell, New Mexico, which, not coincidentally, is the state where this whole overblown US attorney thing started. Had David Iglesias, the US attorney in Mexico, not been so lax in prosecuting these Martians -- all Democrats, by the way -- they would never have stolen my memory and I would be able not to recall more than just one incident in which I took part. I agreed to let Kyle fire Mr. Iglesias, even though I can't recall whether I agreed to or not. Kyle said 122 times that he couldn't recall things I'm sure he can recall if he just thought about it. I am only unable to recall one thing I should be able to recall. Once I get my memory back -- something the president supports as long as it doesn't undermine the troops or the Global War on Terror -- I will clear my good name."

"Simply because I am the Attorney General of the United States does not mean I should be expected to know what goes on in the 93 judicial districts served by US attorneys I helped vet when I worked in the White House. Please remember that I took an oath to uphold and defend George W. Bush, not the Constitution, when I began my service, just like every other political appointee of this administration. Being able not to recall significant personnel matters on which I signed off and approved is something that reasonable people can agree is in the best tradition of the Department of Justice under this administration. I hope that President Bush will continue to support me, and I hope he makes good on the inevitable recommendation of the Washington Post that he appoint a bi-partisan commission headed by Bob Dole and Joe Lieberman to find out what is wrong with me. No one looks forward more than me to returning to the normal state of incompetence that defined my leadership before I was invaded by space aliens."

He should say that. But he won't. Sigh.

Executive privilege defined

Last week I taught executive privilege in my constitutional law class. I could have saved myself a lot of effort and done my students a better service had I simply waited and played them Jon Stewart's interview with special correspondent John Hodgman on executive privilege from this past Wednesday night.

The $500 Adoption Plan

A Texas state legislator has proposed a measure that would offer $500 to pregnant women to place their children up for adoption within 30 days of giving birth. "If this incentive would give pause and change the mind of 5 percent" of women considering an abortion," philosophized Republican State Senator Dan Patrick, "that's 3,000 lives. That's almost as many people as we've lost in Iraq."

Patrick also hosts his own conservative radio talk show. People listen. To him. About things like accepting $500 to have a baby so that someone else can adopt it.

Chocolate Jesus

For real.

Wes Montgomery

Few musicians, regardless of style or genre, fundamentally alter the way that people hear and sometimes visually relate to music. Over the course of their professional lifetime, most musicians hope to add just some small contribution -- a memorable composition, an identifiable playing style . . . anything, really -- to what is, simply because of the economics of the profession, a labor of love. Feeling that "it" factor from a certain musician is much rarer than music lovers like to acknowledge. You can be like me and have thousands of recordings, and yet, if forced to take 25 albums to a desert island, you can pick those 25 out pretty quickly. As you get older, you return those favorite old recordings more and more often because they always seem to offer something new when you listen to them or simply because a melody, riff, lick or rhythm is so powerful that it gets in your head and never leaves.

Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, I had one of those moments the other night when, just for the hell of it, I searched for a Wes Montgomery video, not terribly optimistic that I would find anything from a jazz guitarist who passed on almost thirty years ago. But damn if I didn't get lucky and turn up a guitar-bass-drums-piano quartet performance from 1965! I began listening to Wes Montgomery when I was about 15 years old, and really fell hook, line and sinker into him when I was in college. Even though I have just about everything he ever recorded prior to his "commercial period" during the last couple of years of his life, I had never seen him play.

Like, oh, my God!

There was Wes, sitting on a chair, smiling and playing perfectly chosen chords, impossible octaves and stunningly melodious solos on "Twisted Blues," a piece he had composed and played for the better part of his professional career. Not a wasted or bum note . . . just Wes letting his guitar sing and dance over the understated rhythms of his group. And then . . . the thumb! What is this? Like all Wes Montgomery aficionados, I had always known that Wes played with a thumb and not a pick. But to see him play what he plays with just his thumb? C'mon! He never used his fingers for anything! How could he play those lines with just a thumb?

That's a rhetorical question, because the some of the greatest guitarists of the modern era don't know and haven't even bothered to copy him, so revered are their feelings towards Wes. Guitarists as superb as John Scofield, Derek Trucks, Pat Metheny, Pat Martino, Steve Howe, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Steve Hackett, Steve Khan and Mike Stern either spent their careers trying to figure out how Wes did what he did or are still trying. No jazz guitarist has had the kind of impact on the instrument that Wes Montgomery did, and the only one who equals his influence is Charlie Christian, who introduced the electric guitar into jazz in the 1930s and first explored the possibilities of the jazz guitar as a solo instrument, twenty years before Wes came on the scene.

Wes wasn't "discovered" until 1958, when, as legend has it, the great saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderly saw him play in an after-hours club in his hometown of Indianapolis, called Orrin Keepnews, who headed the Riverside jazz label in New York, and held out the phone and told he had to see Wes play to believe it. Wes recorded his first album shortly after that, but didn't really turn people's heads until 1959, when he released, "The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery." Incredible it was, and the rest is history.

Wes Montgomery died in June 1968 at 43, having made music far richer than it ever made him. My personal collection of his greatest recordings can be found here. (you'll need to scroll down until you get to Wes)

One fish, Gonzales fish

Mark Fiore illustrates in this little cartoon short the true nature of Congress's current "partisan fishing expedition" on Gonzales, Iraq, etc. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Chuckle-chuckle

Man, is the Decider the funniest guy going or what?

War power for Republican presidents? Why yes!

Republican outrage at the challenge posed by congressional Democrats to President Bush's once-unilateral exercise of executive power on behalf his misadventures in Iraq was missing during the Clinton years. Read Glenn Greenwald's take, in their own words, on how prominent Republicans, including Mr. Straight Talk himself, felt about President Clinton's use of executive power to promote American foreign policy objectives in Somalia, the Balkans and elsewhere. Click here and here to see how constitutional imperative depends on who holds power.

The petulant president

The Decider was at his most petulant and immature yesterday after learning that the Senate, with support of two Republicans, Chuck Hegel (R- Neb.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, planned to pass legilsation endorsing the House measure calling for a timetable for American military forces to leave Iraq. "We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we've got a troop in harm's way, we expect that troop to be fully funded," bellowed the Decider, "and we got commanders making tough decisions on the ground, we expect there to be no strings on our commanders."

Besides the obvious question of what president or prime minister of a First World nation talks like this -- "we got commanders . . ." -- standing with members of his party and speaking to before a national audience, just who is responsible for putting "a troop in harm's way?"

You are, Mr. President.

The Decider also insisted that "the American people will know who to hold responsible" if our troops find themselves without the materials and support they need because they have no money. The Iraq funding measure authorizes $102 billion for the war, and adds $20 billion more for domestic needs, including -- can you believe it? -- constituent-centered pork projects. Bottom line, though: the president has his money. What he objects to is the timetable linked to the authorization of funds. The Decider has decided that, despite the electorate's rejection of his Iraq policy in November 2006, he intends to stay and have our troops fight a war that was lost a long time ago. Sending young men and women to their death for no other reason than your own inability to admit error -- and then refusing to take care of them in our military hospitals and rehabilitation facilities once they return injured and maimed -- undermines the troops more than anything the Democratic-sponsored legislation could ever do.

Update: The Senate passed an Iraq war funding bill this morning. It includes a timetable calling for a phase-out of American troops to begin within 120 days of the president's signature.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Working for The Man

Late March and early April is the time of year that students come to me with the most difficult questions they could ever hope to ask. And those are . . .

"Professor Ivers, what do you think I should do with my political science degree? What are my options? I mean, now that the 'end' is here I don't know what I'm doing to do. Do you have any advice for me?"

Let's be real, here. Asking your college professor for job advice has to rank right up there with asking a virgin for help on how to improve your sex life or getting into a conversation with the shopping cart guy near the Bethesda metro who squats with a cardboard sign reading, "Aliens took my brain from me/Please help" and feigning shock that he is, well, nuts.

The last time I "looked" for a job was in April 1989. I had just finished my Ph.D and, for the previous three or four months, had been on the academic job market. Finishing my doctoral program was the day I had not been waiting for. Sure, my friends and relatives would hear the news that I was "finally" finishing my degree and offer hearty handshakes and hugs and air-kisses of congratulations.

"You must be SO happy," some older uncle or aunt or someone would say. "You're done! No longer a professional student! You're going out in the world! Good for you!!"

"Absolutely," I'd respond. "Time to start getting paid to go to school rather than pay to go to school. Enough already!"

"I know what you mean," they'd say. "By the time I was senior I was ready to get the hell out of school. I mean, working isn't always great, but at least you're not stuck in the library when you could be out chasing women and raising hell."

Actually, I couldn't relate at all to my friends or anyone else for that matter who had been working since graduating from college. Since leaving school, I had put together a meticulous scheme to stay in school until I ran out of money or ran out of degrees. I had never held a full-time job for more than three months prior to beginning my Ph.D program. And these were not career-oriented jobs. I had worked in fast-food and prepared sandwiches in delis, packed make-up, lotions and shampoo for my neighbor's start-up cosmetics company, taken odd, in every sense of the word, jobs in college and worked in my father's store. But I had never gone to an office, sat in a cubicle, stared at an empty desk or hung out at a water cooler until I decided to take some time off from my Ph.D program to work at a law firm to decide whether I should bag my prospective career as a distinguished academic and reconsider my decision not to attend law school.

Suffice it to say that I did not find the life of an associate in a large law firm something I was meant to do.

"Pssst," I would hear, walking down the lovely carpeted halls of my firm. "Aren't you the one deciding between a Ph.D in political science and going to law school?"

Turning around, I'd respond, "Uh-yes . . . thinking about it."

"Come here!" and some newly minted lawyer, maybe 27 or 28, would pull me into his office, poke his head out to make sure no one was looking, close the door and start in with a whole routine about how if he wasn't $75,000 in debt he would junk this job in a minute and get his Ph.D in medieval history, or open a used bookstore, or . . . anything other than the life he had chosen. This happened so many times that I decided that I wasn't cut out for a life in organized crime, which, as one associate told me, was no different than working in a law firm.

For a year and a half, I'd get up at roughly the same time every day, get ready for work, walk to the bus stop, catch the 23 bus to the train, and take the train into the office, which was located in downtown Atlanta. Sometimes, if I was particularly flush with cash, I'd stop at Dunkin' Donuts and treat myself to coffee and an apple fritter. Lunch was something I cobbled together from home or a trip to the all-you-could-eat Chinese place a couple of blocks from my office. The firm provided my afternoon pick-me-up coffee for free, something I thought was a great perk. I had never worked anywhere that gave you anything for free. By 5 p.m., I was gone . . . only to return at 8.45 a.m. the next day. Every so often, on the way out the door, I'd hear some particularly ambitious associate say to me, "Hey, professor, take some of this shit to read on the train," handing me some file of his that was utterly incomprehensible. "You can bill the time just by carrying this shit with you! How the fuck do you think I jack up my billables? Of course, I can't leave at five like you do. Nope. I'll be here 'till 10 . . . minimum. So while you're out with the babes or slamming down some brewskis with your buddies, I'll be going through this boring-ass file on some fucking big deal that the partner I'm working for put together. Shit, I might even have to sleep here . . . and it wouldn't be the first time. Are you sure you want to do this? 'cause I'll tell you what . . . if I hadn't just bought a house I would walk away from here in a heartbeat, no shit. I mean, do you like any of the stuff you have to do here? This shit has just got to bore you to tears. Really, if I won the lottery I am so gone. Gone. Out of here. See ya!"

These out-the-door conversations always left me with mixed feelings. My first feeling was simply being pissed off. I had my exit down to an art. Out the door at 5; at the train station by 5.10; on the bus by 5.30 and home by 5.45. Plus, there was some amazingly cool-looking girl who always rode the train home at the same time I did, and getting stuck playing psychologist to some 30 year-old venting about his job meant that I might miss what were then the 15 best minutes of my day. My second feeling was one of indifference. Frankly, I had no idea how this guy "jacked up" his billables because I never thought about it. I didn't think about my job from the moment I left until the minute I walked in the office the next morning. My co-workers, including the attorneys, were certainly nice enough, and went out of their way to make me feel welcome, since they knew I was simply there to get a feel for the life of a lawyer before returning to school. But the most striking part of my time there was that not one single lawyer said to me, "If you do nothing else before you die, go to law school and practice law." The associates, with one exception, the man who hired me, all hated their jobs. And this was a big firm that was considered, by big firm standards, to be one of the more humane places for lawyers wanting that type of career to work.

Me? Not a chance. There were two things working against me in this experience. The first was having to go to the same place and do pretty much the same thing day after day. Some people like routine and structure. Not me. I found it monotonous and suffocating. The second was simply the work itself. It was work; there was nothing fun or interesting about it. As boring as some of the books and articles I had to read my first year in graduate school were, I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. By the time I started my Ph.D, everything I did was interesting . . . I mean, really, it needed to be since an academic career is fundamentally entrepreneurial in nature. No one hands you a file and says, "Work on this. And don't forget to take something to the bathroom with you to read so you can bill that time to the client." You have to come up with your own ideas and find something interesting to say about them. And teaching is an open book. You are assigned certain classes to teach; beyond that, the rest is a blank canvas. And once you start teaching, you have the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives, to help students figure out how to follow their strengths and to make some sort of positive social contribution to the world. Working in a job that was fundamentally about helping well-to-do people maintain their advantages was not something I found terribly appealing. And the same-place-everyday routine? I can't remember the last time I went to my office five days in a row for nine hours a day. I shudder just thinking about it.

So what CAN you do with a bachelor's degree in political science? You can frame it, hang it on the wall and look at it and think to yourself, "Did I really party that much and still manage to finish? Wow!" And that is really about it. Degrees do not determine anyone's future. At some point, you have to listen to that inner-voice in your head -- not the one telling you to kill a string of 7-11 clerks, sodomize them and leave them for dead on the side of the road -- that encourages you to follow a hope or a dream.

I don't know the first thing about going out and finding a job. But I do know that, if given the choice between spending my working life helping someone else make more money or doing something that is interesting, fun and getting paid for it, the decision isn't even close.

New Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Communication breakdown

Problems with my internet connection through my laptop have kept me off-line for a couple of days. I should be back later this afternoon.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

College sex

When I was in college, women knew that they could save money on the Pill by relying on me for cheap contraception -- my looks, charm and personality saved them hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Today's undergraduate women aren't so lucky. Not only is tuition going up next year, so is the cost of sex -- for straight women, at least.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Liar, liar, pants on fire

So we learn this morning that Alberto Gonzales knew more about the firings of the seven U.S. attorneys fired last December that he has previously admitted. Gonzales said he wasn't involved in any discussion of their firings; records released last night show that he was. Does that mean he's lying? Or is this just the Democrats, as the Decider accused them this morning in his weekly radio address, playing "partisan politics?"

And we also learn that the former No. 2 ranking official at the Department of Interior has just pled guilty to lying about his relationship with convicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Just what the hell is the deal with Robert Novak? After Valerie Plame Wilson testified that she was a covert CIA officer, Novak writes a column saying that she was not. Huh? Timothy Noah at Slate reminds Novak that (1) Wilson was a covert CIA officer and (2) he blew her identity when he reported that status in July 2003 column.

Bad, and getting worse . . . or better, depending upon your view.

Baseball meets hockey

From afar, baseball and hockey might appear to be very different games. But a closer look tells us that they're really not.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Democrats with backbone? Why, yes

The House voted this afternoon, 218-212, to set a timetable on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. President Bush has already denounced the bill as "political theater" and promised he will veto it, and House Republicans, all but two of whom voted against the bill, have offered their predictable "the Democrats don't support the troops" criticism.

The president is apparently concerned that the legislation somehow "undermines" the progress that we've made in Iraq.

Oh.

FAQ -- answered

Since I went to large schools when I was an undergraduate, I didn't get to know my professors very well and almost never saw them outside of class. For those reasons, and because I spent most of my spare time trying unsuccessfully to bring down the Reagan administration and, equally as unsuccessfully, find an occasional date, it never occurred to me to ask my professors any of the personal, and sometimes, weird questions I get on a regular basis. So I will take a slow Friday afternoon to unravel a bit of the mystery, a mystery I don't find terribly interesting.

What were you like in college?

Like I am now with even less money.

Did you ever go out during the week or did you study all the time?

I studied first, and then I went out, usually on Thursdays. I didn't have enough money to go out more than one night per week (not including weekends).

Did you have a serious girlfriend?

Unless you count six dates with four different girls a "serious girlfriend" . . . no.

Why not?

Ask them.

Were you active in politics?

Not at all. I attended college in fairly small towns, and no one was really active in politics. College towns are pretty self-enclosed environments. I knew a lot of people with very strong opinions who were also interested in ideas. But it wasn't at all like the undergraduate student body at American. The intellectual quotient was far higher; the ambition meter much lower.

Did you have a job in college?

Several. I worked for the athletic department at the University of Missouri tutoring Division I football and basketball players. One of my "students" was Steve Stiponovich, who went on to play in the NBA for a few years. My experience with big-time Division I athletics in college really soured me on college sports forever. Unless you have been a cog in that machine or had an inside view of how it really operates (I have had both views), you cannot imagine how dishonest and corrupt the big programs really are.

I also worked as a dishwasher and waiter in various food service establishments. The funnest job I ever had was as a part-time waiter at the Delta Gamma sorority house, right across the street from where I lived.

I did not, though, have a serious pre-professional job or internship in college. I have always thought that college is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to explore ideas and interests simply because you find them interesting. I took classes because they sounded interesting, not because I thought I they might prepare me for something else or give me an advantage in the job market.

So what do you think of the emphasis that your university places on the internship?

I think it is effective marketing. I think maybe one experience is a good thing; beyond that, I think college is for reading, thinking and learning. From a professor's perspective, the emphasis on the practical dimension of the undergraduate experience takes away from classroom learning.

Do you care what people think of your opinions?

No. If I can get people to think and talk about topics of interest to me, how can that be bad?

To be continued . . .

Flying the flag at Justice


A great cartoon from The Politico.

Surprise, surprise

The Washington Post reports this morning that White House and Department of Justice officials began setting in motion a plan to replace at least one U.S. Attorney with a friend of Karl Rove at least five months before that attorney, Bud Cummins, who ran an office in Arkansas, was fired.

On the front page of the New York Times, we learn that new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates argued for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison shortly after taking the position last November, but was rebuffed, at the urging of Vice President Dick Cheney, by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

On Fox Morning News, White House press secretary and former Fox "journalist" Tony Snow tells an "interviewer" that, despite what every high school student learns in civics class, "Congress doesn't have any legitimate oversight responsibility on the White House."

More to come . . .

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A snowjob on executive privilege

In 1791, President George Washington told a congressional committee investigating a botched military operation by Major General Arthur St. Clair in the Northwest Territories that he could withhold sensitive material that "would injure the public." In that particular case, he chose to released the requested documents anyway. But five years later, Washington refused to release administration documents detailing negotiations of the Jay Treaty with France, claiming that Congress lacked constitutional authority to compel him to turn over the documents. Both decisions are considered the first invocation of executive privilege. For the record, executive privilege did not receive its formal name until 1958, when Supreme Court Justice Stanley Reed, acting in his role as a circuit judge, used the phrase to describe the executive branch's refusal to turn over documents requested by a private corporation.

Executive privilege received its most complete definition in United States v. Nixon (1974), the Watergate tapes case. A unanimous Court rejected the administration's argument that executive privilege permitted it to withhold tapes and documents subpoenaed by the Senate as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. You can read the whole opinion if you want; but here is the best part:

"The President's need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers calls for great deference from the court. However, when the privilege depends solely on the broad, undifferentiated claim of public interest in the confidentiality of such conversations, a confrontation with other values arises. Absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets, we find it difficult to accept the argument that even the very important interest in confidentiality of Presidential communications is significantly diminished by production of such material for in camera inspection with all the protection that a district court will be obliged to provide."

Learning more from Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, and Harriet Miers, a White House attorney whose portfolio was limited to personnel matters, about why political appointees in Alberto Gonzales's Department of Justice decided to fire eight U.S. attorneys and their reasons for lying about it ever since the story broke certainly does not enter the realm of national security.

Remember the pre-impeachment gamesmanship between the Clinton White House and the Republican Congress over President Clinton's decision to invoke executive privilege to prevent two key aides and his wife from appearing before Ken Starr to further illuminate the details behind the world's most famous blow job? Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, rejected Clinton's executive privilege argument that permitting his aides to cooperate with Starr would jeopardize the "candid" nature of presidential conversations. Judge Johnson had no problem with Democrats behaving badly -- she was the federal judge who sentenced Representative Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) to prison for siphoning off campaign funds.

Judge Johnson got it right. Don't believe me? Just ask Tony Snow, President Bush's current press secretary who, in 1998, was a Fox News "journalist" and syndicated columnist:

"Evidently, Mr. Clinton wants to shield virtually any communications that take place within the White House compound on the theory that all such talk contributes in some way, shape or form to the continuing success and harmony of an administration. Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold a chief executive accountable for anything. He would have a constitutional right to cover up. Chances are that the courts will hurl such a claim out, but it will take time."

"One gets the impression that Team Clinton values its survival more than most people want justice and thus will delay without qualm. But as the clock ticks, the public's faith in Mr. Clinton will ebb away for a simple reason: Most of us want no part of a president who is cynical enough to use the majesty of his office to evade the one thing he is sworn to uphold -- the rule of law."

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 29, 1998.

Ouch!

In the coming days, weeks and months -- however long this game of, "fuck me? no, fuck you?" between Democrats (and a few Republicans) in Congress and the White House lasts -- you can guaran-damn-tee it that Bush apologists in the broadcast and print media will fall over themselves to justify the executive privilege claim. Just as Clinton had no basis whatsoever to refuse Starr's (unfortunate, petty, politically motivated but completely legal) request for his aides to appear before him, neither does the current administration have a constitutional basis to resist a congressionally-issued subpoena. It doesn't help that President Bush has already "offered" Rove and Miers for private "interviews" with members of Congress. He undermines his executive privilege claim right there by saying he's fine with having his aides talk "informally" about the U.S. attorneys flap, but will "fight to the mat" to prevent them from testifying under oath.

Tony Snow doesn't even want to make transcripts available of these "interviews," wondering "[w]hat do you gain from -- what do you gain from the transcript? And the answer is: Not much."

Please, please . . . pretty please . . . can someone find evidence that Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, Paul McNulty, Kyle Sampson . . . anyone, received a blow job from a White House intern? That would get the Republicans moving.

It's not bong hits 4 Jesus, but . . .

A federal court in Philadelphia this morning struck down the Child Online Protection Act of 1998, a sequel to the 1996 anti-porn law struck down by the Supreme Court. Wrote Senior U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed: "Perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection."

The Court, with one exception, has struck down every law passed by Congress intended to regulate sexually-explicit material on the Internet. In 2003, the Court ruled that a federal law requiring public libraries to use "blocking software" did not violate the First Amendment.

Congratulations Josh Glenn!


Over the weekend, Josh Glenn, a 197 lb.-class wrestler at American University, became the first athlete to win a national championship on behalf of the university in 40 years. I do not know nor have I ever taught Josh; but congratulations to him on a truly great achievement.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rosemary Woods redux?

Wherever she is right now, Rosemary Woods must be smiling.

Documents released by the Department of Justice
detailing the decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys last fall and winter have a 16 day gap between November 15, 2006, when Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales, began an email discussion with Harriet Miers, a White House legal advisor (and failed Supreme Court nominee) and December 2, 2006. The Justice Department has said there is no "lull" in communication between the two dates.

Sure.

In August 1973, the tension between the Senate committee investigating the Watergate break-in and cover-up and the Nixon White House reached the first of many heads. The Senate committee ordered the White House to release tapes of President Nixon's conversations relevant to the investigation. Nixon refused, and went on television that month to explain to the American public why "executive privilege" permitted him to withhold information from Congress. This confrontation came just over a week after Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield had revealed in testimony before Congress that President Nixon had a secret taping system in the White House. In mid-October, after a great deal of wrangling, a federal court ordered the subpoenaed tapes released to the Senate.

The White House claimed that some of the subpoenaed tapes did not exist. But the most dramatic moment came when one tape suddenly went blank for 18 1/2 minutes. Nixon's secretary of 23 years (to that point), Rosemary Woods, said that she "inadvertently" erased the tapes by pressing a hand and foot device at the same time (later dubbed "the Rosemary stretch"). Her demonstration for reporters was met with skepticism, and the Senate, nor Judge John Sirica, the federal judge who presided over the Senate's battle with President Nixon, ever got a clear accounting of what was on that missing tape.

Does all this sound familiar today? Email gaps, "executive privilege," accusations by the White House of political grandstanding, White House refusal to have key aides testify under oath, congressional Republicans slowly starting to take issue with the president and his inner-circle . . .

There has got to be someone -- a John Dean, an Elliot Richardson, a William Ruckelhaus, a Mark Felt -- that feels some tinge of conscience and is ready to come clean on this White House's escapades.

This just keeps getting better and better. To paraphrase Deep Throat, keep following the email.

Four years and counting

The Decider has asked, again, for patience on the Iraq War. How much longer do we have to be patient with a president who has no clue what his decision to invade that country has wrought for the United States and the Iraqi people for whom this war was supposed to benefit? Listen to this:

"As Iraqis work to keep their commitments, we have important commitments of our own. Members of Congress are now considering an emergency war spending bill. They have a responsibility to ensure that this bill provides the funds and the flexibility that our troops need to accomplish their mission. They have a responsibility to pass a clean bill that does not use funding for our troops as leverage to get special interest spending for their districts. And they (read: Democrats) have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay."

"It could be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home. That may be satisfying in the short run, but I believe the consequences for American security would be devastating. If American forces were to step back from Baghdad before it is more secure, a contagion of violence could spill out across the entire country. In time, this violence could engulf the region."

"The terrorists could emerge from the chaos with a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they had in Afghanistan, which they used to plan the attacks of September 11, 2001. For the safety of the American people, we cannot allow this to happen. . . ."

"The United States military is the most capable and courageous fighting force in the world. And whatever our differences in Washington, our troops and their families deserve the appreciation and the support of our entire nation." (Read: if you don't support the war, you don't support the troops)

Could . . . could . . . could?

The future tense isn't appropriate here. At this point, the "consequences for American security" are devastating if the United States remains in Iraq. Violence has engulfed the region. And terrorists have "emerge[d] from the chaos with a safe haven in Iraq . . ." And most offensive of all is the false relationship between the Iraq war and the September 11 attacks.

Patience? This country has been far too patient with W. If anything, it is time that the public begins to make its voices heard on the war. But until this war affects the lives of people other than those who have chosen to gfight and their families, Bush will be able, sadly enough, to ride this out on his terms.

Ringo Starr

Few drummers, regardless of age, who have played the instrument long enough to appreciate the musicians who have developed the instrument's language blink when they hear Ringo Starr mentioned as one of the all-time greats to ever sit in front of a drum set. But just the other day I had to explain to a relatively young and inexperienced drummer why Ringo is so great. Here is what I told him:

1. Ringo was the drummer for The Beatles. The two greatest pop/rock songwriters ever, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, could have picked anyone to play their songs. They picked Ringo.
2. Ringo was the first pure rock drummer. Most drummers that played on pop, rock, rockabilly tunes before Ringo were trained in jazz, big-band and other kinds of traditional music. Ringo was the first real drummer to hit clean and hard, use a matched grip and really push a band. He also brought the "rim shot" into rock drumming so you could hear the snare drum above the amplified instruments. Remember, Ringo's drums were not miked in the early days of The Beatles' live performances.
3. Ringo was the first rock drummer to play a "swishy" hi-hat. Drummer before Ringo played the hi-hat tight. Ringo opened it halfway and filled up the sound. Listen to "She Loves You" and you'll get the point.
4. Ringo had perfect time while keeping a loose feel. Listen to "A Hard Day's Night," "Rain," "Drive My Car." "Tomorrow Never Knows," and "Fixing a Hole" just for starters. And he had an unmatched knack for choosing the right tempo.
5. Imagine what "A Day in the Life," would sound like with any other drummer. You can't. No one can play like that. I can play Steve Gadd's solo in "Aja" note for note. I cannot play "A Day in the Life."


6. Ringo was the first drummer to close-mike the bass drum. Listen to how the bass (kick) drum sounded before "Sgt. Peppers." Listen to it on the that recording and on most rock recordings after "Sgt. Peppers." The standard boom-snare-boom-boom-snare" definition you hear? All Ringo -- his idea. He also "standardized" much of the muffling and tuning techniques that are now the norm in rock drumming.
7. Ringo picked perfect patterns for every song. He never overplayed or felt the need to show off. Take all the instruments away and you would still know it was Ringo.
8. The backwards roll with that hi-hat "clatch." Drummers will know what I'm talking about.
9. The drum solo on "The End," one of the few quotable rock drum solos ever.
10. Finally, and most important, you know who Ringo is after the first bar -- not first few bars, even. There are dozens and dozens of rock drummers (and jazz drummers) with amazing technical proficiency but no stamp of individuality. Nobody plays like Ringo, and no one ever will.

Enough said.

4 bong spam

Five people asked me this morning if I would send them the link to my post on the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case argued Monday in the Supreme Court. Five times this morning I received a message on my email account informing me that my account's spam firewall had blocked the link.

I guess the spam program did not think the phrase, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," made any sense. For the record, that's the first time that has ever happened to me when I have sent an outgoing message.

Hmmm . . . .

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Bong hits 4 Jesus? How about a bong hit 4 the justices!

Over the weekend, I saw what was either a 13 or 14 year-old boy walk into the lobby of a public skating rink wearing a T-shirt that said, "Budweiser, King of Beers." I saw another boy in the same age range wearing a T-shirt that advertised a California winery. A third boy emerged from the hallway leading to the dressing rooms wearing a hat that said "Duff Beer." For the uninitiated, Duff is The Simpson's take-off on Anheuser-Busch, which makes Budweiser. I know these boys are all 13 or 14 because they were playing in a hockey game where every boy is 13 or 14.

I also saw a girl who appeared to be 13 or 14 wearing a T-shirt that said, "Handle With Care" right across her breasts. I saw another girl who could not have been older than 15 wearing a spaghetti-strapped tank top with the phrase, "Danger Zone" across her breasts. No snickers, please -- both girls were standing next to me in the snack bar line.

I am assuming that all five teenagers are enrolled in local private or public schools. For the sake of argument, let's say that they are. Are the three boys endorsing underage drinking by wearing clothing that features beer and wine? Is the boy wearing the Duff cap endorsing anything at all, since there is no such thing as Duff beer? And the girls . . . are they soliciting sex by wearing shirts with sexually suggestive themes? Or are they just attempting to attract attention that, if reciprocated to the fullest, would probably be unwelcome and perhaps frightening?

Now, imagine that the Montgomery County Public School system (which serves my community and in which both my children are enrolled) has given its students the day off to honor returning Iraqi soldiers and other support staff (health professionals, technicians, contractors, etc.). Let's imagine that our neighborhood has organized a parade that will pass in front of our middle school. And let's say that a handful of students are standing across the street from the school holding the following banners, which are, oh, I don't know, about 12-14 long with two-foot letters:

"U.S. Out of Iraq"
"Legalize Marijuana"
"Stop Torture"

A local television has sent a reporter to cover the parade. The cameras turn to the three banners, and the reporter remarks that students from North Bethesda Middle School are holding them. The school principal sees a five-second shot of the banners on TV, calls the school superintendent's office and asks whether he has the power to suspend the students. You are the lawyer charged with giving the principal advice. What do you do?

The answer is: nothing. These are students in their private capacity, and they have the right to say what they want in a public place as long as they do so peacefully.

Easy case? Yes, it is. But the Supreme Court heard a case yesterday that might well give school administrators near-limitless discretion to punish students for speech considered inappropriate or disruptive to the "educational mission" of a public school. Worse, the speech in question is so nonsensical that it defies a specific meaning. Years ago, Alaska high school student Joseph Frederick unfurled a banner during a 2002 parade honoring the passing of the Olympic torch through his hometown of Juneau that read, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." Frederick did this for no other reason than to get on TV. Right on. No student in my children's cluster of public schools would dream of doing something like this unless it involved AP credit or helped move him off the waiting list at Swarthmore. Frederick's behavior, however, is easily something I could have seen myself or a number of my friends doing in high school for no other reason than we thought it was funny.

So again, easy case? Yes, it is. Frederick was suspended for 10 days, with the school's principal, Deborah Morse claiming that his little stunt was not protected student speech. A trial court ruled in the school's favor, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. And now the justices will decide what schools can and cannot do to their students who express thoughts they do not like. The justices should say that Frederick's speech is precisely what the First Amendment is designed to protect. Although many commentators have linked Frederick's case to the landmark student speech case, Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), in which the Court held that a public school could not punish two high school students who wore black armbands with peace signs to symbolize their opposition to the Vietnam War, I think a more proper analogy is Falwell v. Flynt (1988). In that case, the Court ruled that Jerry Falwell was not libeled when Larry Flynt's Hustler magazine published a cartoon lampooning the Moral Majority founder's "first time" with his mother in an outhouse. The cartoon included offensive sexual commentary and profane language. Nonetheless, a unanimous Court ruled that the cartoon was political satire, an art form with a long history in the United States. Controversial public figures and public officials who believe they can escape the clever pen of an editorial cartoonist should never have entered public life. And this was Chief Justice William Rehnquist, certainly no ACLU-er, writing for the Court. In Cohen v. California (1971), another Vietnam-era case, the Court ruled that a person wearing a denim jacket that said “Fuck the Draft” had a free speech right to express view in a public courthouse. Another Republican appointee, John Marshall Harlan, wrote for the Court in that case. "One man's vulgarity is another man's lyric," wrote Harlan. Indeed. Exactly what did Paul Cohen mean anyway? Did "Fuck the Draft" really mean, you know, "Fuck the draft," as in, "Hey guys, I don't know about you, but I'd love to fuck the draft. I'd even trade my Creedence albums for a shot at the Selective Service Act." Or did he mean, "Fuck the Draft" as in, "Get that draft the fuck out of here," sort of like, "Fuck it!" but not like "If I don't fuck the draft by the end of the weekend I'm gonna go nuts!" Probably more like, "Who the fuck needs the draft?" Perhaps no other word in the English language has so many uses yet means so little.

No one can take the phrase, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" seriously because it doesn't mean anything. Say it backwards, recite it slowly while watching “The Yellow Submarine” or listening to “Any Colour You Like” from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon and the result is the same: nothing.

Remarkably, several justices appear to have completely missed the point at yesterday’s oral argument. Perhaps that is because Ken Starr – yes, him! – who argued the case on behalf of the school board, stressed during oral argument that the real issue was the school’s power to contain messages promoting the use of illegal drugs.

Say what?

Again, the phrase “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” does not promote illegal drug use or discredit an historic figure. Switch the wording around: “Belly Shots 4 Jesus,” or “Jesus Gone Wild” or simply “4 Jesus.” And what do you get? The first makes no sense at all; the second could be interpreted a number of ways; but the third sends the clearest message of all. My guess is that if Frederick had simply displayed a banner that read “4 Jesus” nothing would have ever happened, even though that short statement carries a clear meaning. So here is a question for the Court: if you can treat Frederick as a student even though he was off-campus to watch a parade on a day in which school was cancelled, then wouldn’t a “4 Jesus” banner put the school in the position of endorsing religion? And if a school punished a student for expressing a religious conviction, wouldn’t that raise a free speech question of another sort?

Ken Starr said school officials must be given the authority to interpret the meaning of the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner. He also pointed out schools have had the historic responsibilities of teaching “habits and manners of civility” and the “values of citizenship.” That might have been true as one point; schools now primarily spend their time teaching to the standardized tests that students take far more often than they work on their manners. But that is different issue.

I wonder what Ken Starr would have thought about students protesting racial segregation in the South during the pre-civil rights era, when even advocating integration was considered a “breach of peace” and punishable by criminal law. Or take that example back to the 1850s, when teaching slaves to read and write was a criminal offense under the slave codes. Or the 1840s and 1830s, when state law prohibited women from holding certain jobs, voting and pursuing a public education. Does Starr believe that the pre-Civil War South and all those other states across the land had it right in denying fundamental social, economic and political rights to women, slaves and others not considered citizens the right to advocate for their freedom? The Dean of the Pepperdine Law School should read Michael Kent Curtis's, "Free Speech: The People's Darling Privilege,'" for absolutely the best explanation going on the relationship between free speech and equality.

Joseph Frederick’s behavior was absolutely juvenile. Then again, he was a high school student at the time, a juvenile under the law and certainly acting in an age-appropriate fashion. The justices need to put the needless invocation of the “drug culture” aside and stick to the free speech issues. Let the reporters covering the case make all the har-de-har-I-know-what-a-blacklight-is jokes they want. Bongs, pot, papers, lava lamps, Bob Marley and dated pop culture references to "one toke over the line (Sweet Jesus," appropriately enough) betray an age and maturity gap on the whole marijuana legalization issue. Plenty of people use marijuana as responsibly as some people use alcohol. In fact, plenty of people who smoke marijuana do not own a black light, like Hostess Cream Filled Cupcakes, struggle with paranoia, hold their hand up to a bright light and think they see their bones, believe that John Lennon said that "I buried Paul" at the end of "I am the Walrus" (he said "cranberry sauce," if that matters) or watch one episode of "Star Trek" after another. Some of the justice's questions not withstanding, this is not a drug case.

Numerous Christian organizations filed briefs on behalf of Joseph Frederick in this case. They understand that if a public school can punish a student for holding a banner that says “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” off school property, then they can punish another student for holding a banner that says simply, “4 Jesus.”

And praise the Lord, what a bummer that would be.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Donald on The Decider

Say what you want about Donald Trump; but this is a man who does NOT vote his pocketbook. The Donald calls W "probably the worst president in the history of the United States." And that's not the best of it.

Watch The Donald's interview here.

Valerie Wilson footnotes

Some footnotes to yesterday's testimony of Valerie Plame Wilson before Congress:

1. Only 2 of the House Government Oversight Committee's 17 Republicans showed up.
2. Wilson testified that she had covert status at the time her identity was blown. Her boss, CIA Director (Gen.) Michael Hayden, acknowledged prior to her appearance yesterday that she had covert status. But don't tell that to ranking Republican Tom Davis, who spent his time disputing Wilson's (and, by default, Hayden's) understanding of her status.
3. The White House still will not acknowledge the roles of Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and other high-level intimates of the president in setting aflame the Wilson scandal. Scooter Libby's conviction on multiple obstruction of justice and perjury charges holds at least one person accountable. And Libby's lawyer, Ted Wells, offered a Nuremburg trial defense on behalf of his client -- that Scooter Libby was simply carrying out orders from Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, and ended up becoming the "fall guy."
4. Scooter Libby is not the "fall guy" in the Wilson case. He was an active participant in the effort to discredit Joe Wilson and undermine Valerie Wilson. Libby was also a central figure in the cover-up effort after the story went public. Do not feel sorry for a man who betrayed the public trust.
5. Libby got caught; the others haven't -- yet.
6. Question: why does the Washington Post continue to carry Robert Novak's column?

More later.

Friday, March 16, 2007

So, Ms. Wilson, what do you do for a living?

Well, well . . . it turns out that Valerie Plame Wilson was telling the truth when she said that she was a convert CIA officer. This, after years of hearing from Republicans and their right-wing media sycophants that Ms. Wilson had overstated her job status within the CIA.

"While I helped to manage and run secret worldwide operations against this WMD target from CIA headquarters in Washington, I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence.I loved my career, because I love my country. I was proud of the serious responsibilities entrusted to me as a CIA covert operations officer. And I was dedicated to this work.It was not common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit that everyone knew where I worked. But all of my efforts on behalf of the national security of the United States, all of my training, all the value of my years of service, were abruptly ended when my name and identity were exposed irresponsibly."

Wilson's testimony before Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) this morning revealed a number of interesting facts:

1. Ms. Wilson was a covert CIA officer. Even her boss, an appointee of President Bush, said so.
2. Ms. Wilson did not send her husband, Joe Wilson, to Niger to investigate the veracity of the Iraq-Niger "yellowcake" uranium connection.
3. The decision of White House officials -- most notably Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby -- to discredit her husband by exposing her covert status was revenge-driven, petty and unprecedented in the annals of American national security. Wilson said she could not recall if another administration had ever leaked the name of an American covert CIA officer.
4. The White House officials involved in this matter, as well as Richard Armitage at State, have no regret about their actions.

See the hearings here.

Remember when the Decider said he was going to get to bottom of the Wilson leak? Almost four years later, has the White House ever investigated this breach of national security?

Nope.

Remember what George Bush I said
about persons who leak classified information to the press, especially the names of covert CIA agents (don't forget that Langley headquarters are named for Senior, who served as CIA director during the 1970s): "I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who expose the names of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors."

Oops.

I'm listening to Tom Davis (R-Va.), who represents Northern Virginia suburbs right outside D.C., question Valerie Wilson. His line of interrogation is really pathetic . . . did anyone in the CIA reveal your identity? Did the CIA do enough to protect you? Did the White House officials have any way of knowing your status? Blah, blah, blah. His questions have no relationship to the gravity of the White House's behavior . . . he's trying to split hairs on the federal statutes that could punish persons who revealed her identity . . . he's trying to minimize the damage done to her career by pointing out that she could still move from a GS-14, step 6, position to a GS-15.

Pathetic.

This is a bad week for Bush apologists. I don't see how they can spin their way out of today's hearings, the coming shit-storm over Gonzales and God knows what else.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau


Pat Metheny is the most influential guitar player in jazz of the last 30 years. The only person who comes close is John Scofield. Like Sco, Metheny's sound is instantly recognizable -- no guitarist has taken so many different influences and honed them into such a personal identity. In the late 1970s, when Metheny first came on the jazz scene, he carried his Wes Montgomery-Jim Hall influences on his sleeve; what set him apart then was the gorgeous lyricism of his playing. His solos were imaginative and original; yet you could hum them as if they were a song within a song. And watching him play in his original group context with pianist Lyle Mays, drummer Danny Gottlieb and Jaco Pastorious protege Mark Egan (still his best PMG configuration, for my taste) was to witness sheer joy in improvisational music-making. In the early 1980s, Metheny's curiosity encouraged him to incorporate the Synclavier guitar into his playing with spectacular results; later in the decade, he integrated Brazilian music into his group sound. Some of the earlier results were superb. He decision to continue down that path won him many new fans and left old ones, like me, less thrilled with what I thought was a turn to blandness.

But, Metheny being Metheny, he began taking up "side projects" -- rare for a musician of his stature -- even as he cemented his status as a world-wide jazz guitar God. His fascinating experiment with Ornette Coleman in 1985, "Song X," scared me to death when I first heard it. After a few months, I got hooked into it, and the collaboration demonstrated Metheny's musical adventurousness had not abated. Projects all through the 1990s with Michael Brecker, Larry Goldings, Roy Haynes, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette kept his jazz roots fertile. And he celebrated Y2K with a tremendous recording -- his best as a leader in fifteen years -- called Trio 99-00, with drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Larry Grenadier. The tour, which I saw with a friend with whom I started listening to Metheny 30 years ago in high school, saw Pat smiling and bouncing, utterly thrilled to be playing in a straight-ahead jazz trio. How many times did I think to myself, "Could you imagine how he would sound teamed up with Brad Mehldau?"

Well, wonder no more.

Last week, Metheny and Mehldau released their second recording together in the last year. The first, "Metheny Mehldau," was released last year and featured these two giants in duo form, with a couple of tracks featuring bass and drums. This newest recording, "Quartet," is mostly quartet pieces with a couple of duos as changes of pace. Larry Grenadier, Mehldau's regular bassist in his own long-standing trio, is outstanding, as is Jeff Ballard, who plays with Grenadier in Mehldau's trio, holds down the drum chair with soul, fire and imagination. These two musicians were born to play together. Although Mehldau hates the comparison, he really does reach deep into Bill Evans for his basic approach to the piano. His chords float rather than land, and his right hand is at once introspective, hopeful and full of life. Rarely do musicians make their instruments sing. Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau manage to take their deeply personal styles and combine them into a multi-layered harmony of perfectly pitched voices. Run, do not walk, to get these records.

True confessions?

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed "mastermind" of the 9/11 attacks, apparently is responsible for planning over 30 terrorist operations over the last 15 years or so, at least according to the transcript of his confession to American military interrogators just released to the public. In addition to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, Mohammed claimed credit for planning the botched 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the U.S.S. Cole bombing, the attempt by Richard Reid to blow up an airliner by igniting a bomb in his shoe and, most grotesquely, the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was taken hostage in Pakistan in January 2002.

There isn't much news value in Mohammed's confession -- at this point, it hardly matters who did what to whom. The whole point of a global campaign against terrorism is to prevent future such attacks through police work and intelligence gathering.

What is far more troubling than Mohammed's post-hoc admission of guilt in worldwide terrorism is whether we should even believe what he says. Given what we know about U.S. interrogation methods -- which include the full gamut of torture as a method to extract information from "enemy combatants -- it is alternately frustrating, sad and pathetic that we might never know who did what, and who else might be out there that fruitful interrogation could help us discover.

Mohammed will only remain alive as long as he is perceived as useful to the United States. Certainly, he knows this better than anyone, which is why he has every incentive to lie and exaggerate his role in al-Queda sponsored terrorism. No doubt that Mohammed wants to be remembered as a comic book super-villain. That, more so than any other motive, is what will keep him talking, not some twisted desire to make things right with his conscience.

Politics, power and law

Was the clumsy, politically-amateurish, nakedly partisan and unprofessional behavior of the Bush administration in dismissing eight U.S. attorneys last December ("the Gonzales Eight") some kind of unprecedented effort by the executive branch to promote its policy preferences through the Department of Justice?

Yes and no.

Despite the effort of some legal commentators to romanticize the Justice Department as an institution insulated from politics and devoted to the mysterious mistress of The Law, the truth is that the department is no more apolitical than any other executive branch organ. Attorney Generals have always reflected the policy preferences of the administration in power, as have political appointees at various levels within the department. True, most Americans don't vote for the Attorney General, the Solicitor General or the Assistant Attorney Generals who head the civil, criminal, civil rights and other important divisions within the Justice Department. For the kind of voters whose blood boils when they read about the current adventures of the Gonzales-led Justice Department, who will head the Justice Department often matters in their internal voting calculus, and matters a lot. Few things in life are certain other than death, taxes and annual futility of the Chicago Cubs; one thing you can add to that list is that perhaps no one contemplating whether to vote for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards is keeping their fingers crossed that the winner will keep Alberto Gonzales on (assuming he is still AG next week) or bring John Ashcroft out of retirement. Presidents have the right to appoint persons to fill political positions in the executive branch with people who reflect their policy preferences. And that right extends to the president's power, through the Attorney General, to fire the sitting 93 U.S. attorneys that will remain in office when the next president takes office in January 2009.

President Clinton asked for the resignation of all 93 U.S. Attorneys when he took office, a common practice for incoming presidents looking to reshape the executive branch. Other presidents prior to Clinton, including Bush I, made similar decisions. No surprises there, nor should there be. But the decision of Gonzales, along, evidently, with higher-ups in the White House such as Harriet Miers and Karl Rove, and his inner-circle within the Justice Department, D. Kyle Sampson and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, to sack eight U.S. attorneys for reasons not related to performance during a presidential term is unprecedented. A study released last month by the Congressional Research Service found that only eight U.S. Attorneys in the last 25 years had been dismissed or resigned for reasons unrelated to taking new positions either in private practice, an Article III judgeship, a new political appointment or some other professional position. Two were dismissed for cause; three resigned for reasons associated with unfavorable publicity; the remaining three resignations have no clear explanation. What is clear in this case is that the current administration decided to fire these eight U.S. Attorneys either to make way for administration cronies or as punishment for prosecuting (or not prosecuting) cases important to key officials in the White House or Congress.

The Decider has already made the obligatory statements that he will stand by his attorney general in this case, calling reaction to Gonzales's cluelessness about his staff's shenanigans "overblown." Whatever. And Donald Rumsfeld was the best Secretary of Defense ever until someone, maybe even the Decider, asked for his resignation last October.

Politics and partisanship are not always the same thing. Presidents have the right to use the executive branch to advance the interests of the voters that elected them. And while far too many lawyers wax sanctimonious about "the rule of law" and fail to acknowledge that law is simply the outcome of political bargaining, they do have a point when they say that the law, once in place, should be enforced evenhandedly and with professionalism. A STOP sign is a STOP sign. Argue and debate whether we need one; but once in place, the rule applies to everyone.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

And what about the White House travel office?

"Bush Defends Gonzales in Firing of Prosecutors" reads this afternoon's headline from the New York Times website.

Of course it does. What else would it say?

"Bush Fires Gonzales Over U.S. Attorney Flap" -- mmm . . . no.
"Bush Calls Top Justice Department Official 'Incompetent'" -- and he would know incompetence, how?
"Justice Department Officials Quit Over Gonzales Leadership" -- whoa! Absolutely not . . . that would be "disloyal," and we all know that what matters most in Bushworld is loyalty.
"Senate Republicans Issue Statement of 'No Confidence' in Gonzales; Demand Resignation" -- yep, and the Washington Nationals will win the World Series this year.

Just a week ago, the headlines were filled with Scooter Libby's demise, and so was the chatter about the latest malfeasance come home to roost in the Bush administration (or, in this case, the underworld of Dick Cheney). But the U.S. Attorney's story has blown Libby's travails off the front page, and deservedly so. This is such a blatant abuse of power that it is hard to know how to even describe it without foaming and spitting at the mouth. And worse, for Gonzales to say that the "firings were not politically motivated" is such a spectacular lie that, again, how do you even offer a response?

Just for fun, I looked up Republican reaction to the first major "scandal" of the Clinton administration -- the decision of Hillary Clinton to fire seven people in the White House travel office to make way for some Arkansas political buddies.

Uh-huh . . . the travel office. As in, "Mr. President, would you like the vegetarian or kosher entree on your flight to Nashville?"

The decision to go after Hillary was simply too tempting for these Republican guardians of integrity. So, this major intrusion into the national security of the United States, this reckless disregard for border security, public corruption, criminal justice, drug trafficking, election fraud and so on, attracted a special prosecutor, cost the public (and the Clintons) millions of dollars in legal fees and ultimately concluded, via a special report released just in time for the 2000 election, when Hillary was running for the vacant New York senate seat, that she had provided "factually false testimony" during the earlier investigation that began almost seven years before.

Her opponent, Republican congressman Rick Lazio, had this to say about Hillary's behavior:

''We believe that character counts in public service. Because we believe that integrity needs to be restored to our public servants.''

Damn straight, especially for something as important as doling out patronage jobs in the White House travel office.

Some Republican lawmakers have made noises about showing Gonzales the door. New Hampshire Senator John Sununu, whose father was Bush I's hatchet man, called for Gonzales's firing this afternoon; Senate Judiciary minority leader Arlen Specter has spoken in code about setting Gonzales loose (friends of mine who work on the Hill have told me that Specter would just assume place a noose around Gonzales's neck and knock the step-stool out from underneath him); and a couple of more, speaking without attribution, have suggested that the Attorney General should resign. Even the Washington Post editorial page, which never calls for anything more than a Blue-Ribbon bi-partisan commission in response to the crisis or scandal of the moment, all but said this morning that Gonzales needs to go.

But will Bush fire Gonzales? Not a chance in hell. Perhaps someone with half a brain will "strongly encourage" Gonzales to resign. That would, however, be a sign of weakness in Bushworld, sort of like when Johnny "Sack" Sacrimoni cried at his daughter's wedding.

Day after day, the question remains the same: How can things get worse in Bushworld? And the answer remains the same as well: Just keeping watching.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fire Alberto Gonzales

Lawyers and political scientists who really believe that a clear distinction exists between law and politics are usually the first to express outrage over the bad behavior of political appointees who have some sort of high-level legal portfolio in the Department of Justice. The last 40 years or so have seen some pretty bad and in some cases spectacularly unqualified hacks serve as Attorney General, the most important position in the Department of Justice. Perhaps the worst of the lot was John Mitchell, President Richard Nixon's first Attorney General. For his role in the Watergate scandal and other matters he once called "the White House horrors," Mitchell went to jail for nineteen months, making him the first Attorney General to do time. The Reagan administration featured Ed Meese, who spent most of his time as Attorney General attempting to overturn Supreme Court precedent on abortion, affirmative action, civil rights law, church-state separation and much, much more in the name of a politically concocted theory of "original intent." To hear Meese tell it, the Framers envisioned a world that was pretty much consistent with . . . you guessed it, the Republican Party platform. He also had considerable ethical problems, getting caught up in the Iran-contra and Wedtech scandals. The former, of course, involved the famous "arms for hostages" deal with Iran, in which money secured from the sale of forbidden arms to Iran would be channeled to the contra rebels in Nicarauga, and hostages being held in Lebanon by a pro-Iranian terrorist group would be released. Just after Meese came under investigation for his role in that blatantly illegal transaction, he was investigated for helping rig a defense contract for Wedtech, a defense contractor the Army considered "unqualified" to bid an an Army helicopter project. Meese would resign with all these charges hanging over him, yet never admitted he did anything wrong, even though the special prosecutors hired to investigate his role in these matters concluded that he did.

And then there is John Ashcroft, who resurrected the Attorney General as a political point-man for the Bush administration after the relatively non-controversial tenures of his predecessors in the Clinton and Bush I administrations. The less said about him the better. Here was a man who fashioned himself as Eliot Ness acting on instructions from God, and instead came off as a poor imitation of a Leslie Nielsen's character from The Naked Gun movies.

But what does it say about Alberto Gonzales, a man criticized by conservatives as too liberal to serve on the Supreme Court, that he makes Ashcroft look absolutely tame by comparison. The New York Times March 11 editorial calling for his firing nailed Gonzales's failures since taking the nation's top law enforcement post two years ago. It is startling to read the laundry list of the truly abominable positions that he has taken and/or chosen to enforce. His record was bad enough prior to the recent disclosure that the White House leaned on the Justice Department, with Gonzales's full blessing, to fire eight fully qualified and accomplished United States attorneys for no other reason than they had not, in the administration's view, carried out overtly partisan tasks either quickly enough or had simply chosen not to do so. The news out of the Justice Department just gets worse and worse.

During Ed Meese's final days, William Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts who then served as head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, resigned in protest over his boss's ethical transgressions. Other career lawyers left the department in droves over the administration's policies and lack of ethics. But in Bushworld, no one leaves. They stay, and stay, and stay, and just make things worse and worse. Wait . . . this just in: Gonzales admits that "mistakes were made" in the handling of the personnel matters involving the targeted U.S. attorneys. So here we go -- the passive-voice admission of no-admission. This man has spent his career enabling George W. Bush. From his resume and his public speeches, he does not strike me as bright enough to come up with these outrageous ideas on his own. He is a career bag carrier, a Yes-Man who traded whatever exists of his political conscience a long time ago for access to powerful people.

For so many reasons, Bush should fire him. Gonzales was spectacularly unqualified to serve as Attorney General when he was nominated. But because Bush has no ethical compass he cannot see the problems that are now before him in the matter of the Gonzales 8. 678 days until these bastards are gone . . . but who is counting?