moldybluecheesecurds 2

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A constitutional crisis or a legitimate search?

For those who have missed the big to-do, the FBI search of a Congressman's office last week has kicked up a duststorm between the legislative and executive branches. The Congressman is under investigation for various crimes, including bribery, and the FBI sought and obtained a warrant to search his Capitol Hill office. Legislators are displeased, to say the least.

The controversy comes down to a constitutional clause (Article I, Section VI): members of Congress "shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place."” The Supreme Court has affirmed that this clause protects a member's documents and files from search and seizure. And in the 219 years under this Constitution, there has never been a search of a member's office.

There's also the fact that the Congressman has not actually been indicted. I'm not a lawyer, but I can seen how that makes the issue a little more sensitive (the FBI still has a court-authorized warrant, however).

But the deeper analysis seems to support the FBI search as legitimate. First, many members of Congress, including Randy "Duke" Cunningham have been arrested and convicted of crimes while sitting in Congress. And the courts have upheld that the constitutional clause above does not shield legislators from criminal prosecution - it's supposed to protect their speech and votes on behalf of their constituents. The real danger in this instance is not the protection of Congressional privilege, but the potential for collateral damage when the representative's files are sifted by FBI agents, potentially imperiling the privacy of innocent third parties.

Ultimately, it seems that the search of the Congressman's office, however unprecedented, is simply the reasonable, court-sanctioned extension of a criminal investigation into a new area. However, as Akhil Reed Amar notes in his Slate article, " even if William Jefferson and his congressional colleagues do not have a winning constitutional argument, the president and his men might do well to tread lightly." Sage advice for the sake of constituent privacy and the peril of waking the sleeping giant in Congress.

Friday, May 26, 2006

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

I'm off to visit family and cabins this Memorial Day, for only the second time in several years. I have typically tried to use my social coordinating skills to get a group of friends to spend a day at my family cabin or barbecuing at a local lake. Unfortunately, these efforts were frequently frustrated by people with other plans (although I certainly don't begrudge them their time).

Anyway, this year it's a new tactic - make my own family plans. Kloumr and I are off to see family with our new kitten on board. There will hopefully be some sailing (swimming might be a little cold), some frisbee throwing, and with any luck, some wiffle ball playing. The weather forecast looks great, for a change, so hopefully it turns out for the best.

Happy Memorial Day weekend to all my faithful (read: two) readers!

Friday, May 19, 2006

A commitment to truth in exercise

I know I grew up being told that my muscles got sore because of lactic acid, which supposedly built up in muscles because you exercised anaerobically or just exercised beyond your body's ability to supply oxygen to your muscles. However, one scientist questioned this 100-year-old finding and spent his entire life trying to discover if that was true. It's not. It turns out lactic acid is actually the fuel for muscles to burn while in use. George Brooks had discovered several years ago that lactic acid is absorbed by muscles within an hour of exercising, so wasn't likely the source of muscle soreness, which shows up hours or days later. Let's hear it for his persistence!

Now get off the computer and go groove your body.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hair net saves transit system several thousand

Conventional wisdom suggests that government tends to react to problems with specialty solutions, all too often re-inventing the wheel. Well, not in Boston. An innovative technician for the T (the metro area transit system) discovered that a 5-cent hairnet and some duct tape worked better than any previous solution for keeping snow and ice out of T-engine intakes. In fact, the use of the hair net has now become standard policy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Want pop? How about a diet?

In case you missed it, the United States made a huge step toward reducing its expansive waistline with the removal of soda pop from school vending machines. Thanks to negotiations by the William J. Clinton Foundation, the only beverages offered to elementary students will be fruit juices, low-fat milk and water. High school kids will still be able to buy "sports drinks" and diet pop.

For those skeptics out there, "Soda pop provides the average 12- to 19-year-old boy with about 15 teaspoons [about 1/3 cup] of refined sugars a day and the average girl with about 10 teaspoons a day." The same study on "liquid candy" (as they call pop) notes that 25 years ago, boys consumed twice as much milk as soft drinks, but that ratio has reversed. It's not just the sugar that's harmful, but the complete lack of nutritional value in soft drinks means every pop that replaces a healthy beverage reduces nutritional intake.

Good work, Mr. Clinton. We're missing you right now.

Update 5/31: Unfortunately, this legislation does not restrict so-called "sports drinks," which are capable of delivering nearly as much sugar as soda pop (and according to teacher KMR, are drunk at astonishing rates by high school kids). So much for progress against obesity...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Laws are inevitable, but compliance is optional

In the United States, we hold that our leaders are still subordinate to our laws and our Constitution. It's why the President's oath of office reads:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
So it's interesting that our Presidents have, with some regularity, challenged laws enacted by Congress and used "executive discretion" to argue that they will not enforce or follow the law. What's not so remarkable is that President Bush as disproportionately resorted to this tactic, having challenged the authority of the law on no fewer than 750 occasions.

True, laws are different from constitutional articles, but one might argue that the law is the spirit of the Constitution. In his book The Future of Freedom, Fareed Zakaria notes that the difference between successful and failed democracies is not freedom, but rule of law. The illiberal democracies have leaders who amend constitutions or ignore laws they find inconvenient, frequently throwing the country into turmoil.

It's disappointing to see that in addition to providing poor leadership on issues of human rights and torture, we're doing the same when it comes to equal justice under law.

A Leader by Example

It's fairly depressing when the world leader in freedom and democracy gets berated in front of a UN panel on torture. By China.

But before your righteous and indignant retort about Chinese hypocrisy, read up on the allegations and the American response to allegations of torture.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Nature - a commercial break

When I went camping as a kid, it was always "car camping." (I didn't even realize that was a real phrase until last year, when I went backpacking in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for the first time). Anyway, on these childhood trips we brought along the station wagon, a Coleman stove, and a variety of games and books. We did at least leave behind things like TV, refrigerators, phones, etc. Particularly once we arrived at the various national parks and natural areas, we left everything technological behind except the camera and then went out to enjoy nature.

So why is it that today's campers can't seem to let technology go? Visitors to national parks come in RVs, unable to leave the toilet and TV behind. And now telecom companies are pressing for access to build mobile phone towers throughout Yellowstone National Park.

I certainly understand the benefits to safety - being in touch means being able to call for help. But it also means allowing people to talk to the office, to people at home, and anywhere else instead of appreciating the natural place they came to. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned and most Americans just want to do a little nature tourism, driving through Yellowstone, snapping a few photos (on camera phones, of course) and then getting to the next McDonald's.

But it seems to me that some natural areas should be experienced and not just viewed through a car window or as a brief commercial break. And to make sure there are still some of those areas, we can't put up cell phone towers or permit motorized vehicles to get everywhere. Because all it takes is one chatterbox on a cell phone to ruin the natural experience for anyone in earshot.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Conservative foreign policy has failed - so what does that leave us?

It's an interesting era in American foreign policy. Conservatives, long critical of liberal multilateralism, have finally had their time in the sun. Unfortunately, nobody was wearing sunscreen. The Iraq War has shown that unilateral nation building falls flat; Abu Ghraib has disgraced American principles of justice; and pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol has merely set us back years in tackling climate change. Perhaps it's unfair to mention that attempts to halt the nuclear amibitions of Iran and North Korea (remember them?) have gone nowhere.

But Peter Beinhart writes in the New York Times that "for all their practical failures, conservatives have at least told a coherent political story, with deep historical roots, about what keeps America safe and what makes it great."

Beinhart summarizes the conservative foreign policy as supreme confidence in American principles: "In a one-superpower world, [conservatives] argued, America no longer had to tailor its foreign policy to the wishes of others...[the] willingness to indulge governments that would not bend fully to American principles and American wishes was yet another sign that Americans did not truly believe in the righteousness of their cause."

Obviously, the belief that America can lead a benevolent empire has proven false, a promise fallen into the shadow of enormous hubris. But does America have an alternative vision?

Beinhart continues, "Liberals, by contrast, have offered adjectives drawn from focus groups and policy proposals linked by no larger theme...these disparate, worthy proposals are not grounded in an account of the world America faces, or the sources of American strength." In other words - no.

It wasn't always so. The post-World War II Marshall Plan was the pinnacle of liberal foreign policy, as was Cold War containment of Communists and the avoidance of nuclear war. So where are the liberals?

Get Sblounskched!

It's been a while since I've visited Strongbad, but during a nail-clipping episode this morning, I was looking for diversion. And there I found the "candy product" email, describing the chocolatey-covered, half-eaten pants bar.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Don't buy that hybrid just yet

Fuel efficiency doesn't have to mean hybrid. 7 of the 10 most fuel efficient cars are actuall driven by conventional gas engines.