Friday, July 26, 2002

Live from Tucson…

The Associated Press reports that noted political maverick and campaign finance reform advocate Sen. John McCain is signed up to guest host Saturday Night Live this Fall. Could NBC executives trying to jump start an Independent run for President in 2004? Could there be a more wrongheaded political pipe-dream? Based on his alleged appeal to young people, formerly disaffected from politics, McCain seems to be turning into the thinking college student’s Jesse Ventura. Which is to say a media-created phenomenon that represents no substantive political program or cohesive group of followers. Maybe if the show goes well, he'll be able to retire from the Senate with a career in TV comedy ahead of him.


Tuesday, July 23, 2002

The Details of an Open Secret

Secretary Rumsfeld is clearly in a state of high agitation over the leak of U.S. invasion plans of Iraq, declaring that the leaking party ought to be imprisoned for his or her loose lips. It’s a justifiable reaction, certainly, to a Defense Department official publicizing battle plans, but it still seems strange considering that the U.S. has been very public about its intention to invade Iraq and overthrow their government for some time. Not since Medieval warfare required battles to be held only in spring and summer months have nations given their enemies almost entire year’s notice that they’re about to be attacked. Assumably the Administration has hoped to spur a coup to overthrow Saddam and thus avoid a land invasion. Unfortunately all they’ve gotten out of it is the stiffened resolve of most of the Arab League and facile schemes like the plan for Saddam to eventually turn over power to his son Uday, who no doubt would prove just as enlightened a leader as his father.

Watch Your Summer Interns

While seasonal student assistants can be of great value to the nation’s offices and laboratories, it doesn’t do to give them too free a hand. Officials at NASA would doubtless agree, given the recent theft of “priceless moon rocks” from the Johnson Space Center in Houston by three students. It seems that the lunar larcenists had intended to sell them online for as much as $5,000 a gram. One hopes they’re in slightly less trouble than other entrepreneurs who sell rare granular substances by the same unit of measure. NASA has vowed to increase security.


Friday, July 19, 2002

The Last Angry Congressman

The process has been followed, the papers filed, and now we’ve come down to the finale we all expected but never wanted to witness. James A. Traficant, Jr., the working man’s hero and the voice of the people, is about to be expelled from the House of Representatives. Despite his inspiring history of fending off federal prosecutors, this April his luck finally ran out when he was convicted on nine of ten federal charges, including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. The Honorable Gentleman from Ohio has vowed to fight on, pursue the appeals process, and conduct a vigorous campaign for re-election as an Independent.

Defiant is the word everyone seems to be using for his reaction, a state of mind illustrated by the following quote, delivered to the House Ethics subcommittee that soon after voted to recommend his expulsion: “I will take with me a file, a chisel, a knife, I will try and get some major explosives, try to fight my way out," Traficant said of the possibility of his incarceration. "And then when I get out I will grab a sword like Maximus Meridius Demidius [the Russell Crowe character from Galdiator] and as a Gladiator I will stab people in the crotch." He has suggested that if the House votes to expel him and his convictions are overturned on appeal, the members would look like fools. Indeed they would – I advise them to hold off until his appeals are exhausted or he is vindicated.

To weigh in on Traficant’s behalf, feel free to contact his friend and colleague Steve LaTourette (R-OH) at his Washington, D.C. office, 202-255-5731, or drop by in person at Room 2453 of the Rayburn House Office Building.


Monday, July 15, 2002

From Marin to Alexandria, via Yemen

John Walker Lindh, or “Jihad Johnny” as he is know on Fox News, has struck a plea bargain with federal prosecutors that would result in a maximum of 20 years in prison, on two charges. The deal rests on Lindh’s promise to cooperate with federal prosecutors and U.S. intelligence gathering efforts. Of course, given that he was not a particularly key part of the al Qaeda leadership it’s possible that he doesn’t have much to tell us. He certainly would have been a useful propaganda tool for bin Laden if he hadn’t been captured, but having only been with al Qaeda for about four months (and being an American) it seems unlikely that he was brought discussions of any high level plans. Considering he got his indictment knocked down from 10 counts - three of which carried possible life sentences - to a maximum of twenty years, I’d say he’s made out remarkably well. With this generous bargain struck, we might have only Zacarias Moussaoui left on which to vent the nation’s collective thirst for righteous vengeance.


Tuesday, July 09, 2002

A Spoilt Special Relationship?

Dateline: York, England. After spending a month in the United Kingdom, I really wonder how special the "Special Relationship" is between among the peoples of the UK. I have found the British people to be particularly unsympathetic to America. Out in the country or in the city, the milk of human kindness seems to sour once my American accent has passed my lips. For the Fourth of July the Daily Mirror ran a front page calling America the biggest "Rouge Nation" in the world. Commentators on the BBC seem bent on challenging the use of standing together with the Americans with politicians. I must distinguished the British politicians from the people at large: I watched Tony Blair give a rather bracing defense of American policies and the "Special Relationship" he steadfastly sustains. Perhaps Britian's loss of empire and resulting loss of world prestige has made them bitter or uncomfortable with a power that is not wholly directed from London. I'm not sure, but it is clear that Britain has soured on America. However well our governments may function together along official channels, it is disappointing that the feeling isn't mutual between the English speaking peoples.

Friday, July 05, 2002

Goat Udders + Hamster Kidneys = BioSteel

The pharmaceutical company Nexia Biotechnologies Inc. will soon start selling products made from “the Holy Grail of performance fibers” – spider silk. After decades of failure by everyone from the U.S. Army to DuPont Chemical, Nexia is introducing BioSteel, a fiber spun from spider silk proteins that have been generated in the milk of genetically engineered dairy goats. It seems efforts were made many years ago to “farm” spiders in the same way as silkworms, but they wouldn’t produce any silk until they had eaten all the other spider in their same enclosure, so those projects were scrapped.

Nexia hopes to use BioSteel for a wide array of applications, including in surgery and on the battlefield (and then, presumable, back in surgery again). Not only do they expect their new product to “find application in the wound closure industry,” they even think it can replace Kevlar in bulletproof vests and body armor. I’m sure there will be the usual bleatings of protest from animal rights and anti-biotechnology activists, but I doubt they’ll be able to slow down the commercialization of such an important discovery.

Forbes was on the ball back in February of 2001 with a story titled “Charlotte’s Goat” when they predicted that Nexia’s artificial silk would be no more than two years away.

Honorable Treason

D.C. statehood activists took treasonously to the streets yesterday, petitioning the government of the United Kingdom to take them back as subjects. Objecting to their inability to vote in federal elections, the activists decided to flip the meaning of Independence Day in order to get some attention for their cause. There was no word from Her Majesty on whether she would be willing to accept the nation’s capital back into the empire. The District already has license plates that bear the phrase “Taxation without Representation,” and there is a campaign afoot to officially add the same words to the city’s flag.

He Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea

Normally local politicians are suckers for any excuse to draw media attention to their town and its distinguishing features. City Commissioners in Tarpon Springs, Florida are playing against type, however, in their reticence to embrace a tie-in with one of today’s most popular TV characters: SpongeBob SquarePants. Some of the local leaders of the town, famed for its natural sponge industry, object to the fact that SpongBob appears to be an artificial sponge, but most of them just seem confused. Clearly they are unaware of the legions of fans that the show has inspired.


Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Celebrating Nevada’s Little BM

The somewhat-Official Armpit of America is celebrating its status as the least desirable U.S. town in which to live. The arid hamlet of Battle Mountain, Nevada was declared to be the nation’s Armpit after an extensive contest conducted by the Washington Post Magazine’s Gene Weingarten. The town is hoping to capitalize on its newfound notoriety by staging its “Party in the Pit” event. Being an armpit isn’t all block parties and novelty wire stories, though. You may remember that agreeing with the WP Magazine’s assessment got the editor of the town’s newspaper fired after local residents who resented the designation read Weingarten’s initial story.


Tuesday, July 02, 2002

The Death of Outrage?

Could it be possible that the condescending scolds of the cultural Right have finally gotten tired or looking down their noses at pop culture? David Segal of the Washington Post assesses the lack of sputtering outrage over the latest round of explicit albums, including Slim Shady’s latest LP, The Eminem Show. Even William Bennett, King of the Uninvited Moralists, has surrendered: "They've won... They get to say and do anything and make billions and castigate us in the process." Here’s to the twin liberties of American life – the freedom to castigate sermonizing gasbags and the freedom to make billions of dollars in the process. God Bless America.

Smugglers of the World, Unite!

If it were federal legislation, it could be titled the Mafia Restoration Act of 2002. New York City is raising the per-pack tax on cigarettes to $1.50 (on top of the $1.50 levied by the state), bringing the cost of the average pack to somewhere around $7.50. With taxes significantly lower in nearby states and even outside the city, the new tax creates a massive incentive for entrepreneurs with a relaxed attitude toward the law to provide untaxed cigarettes to the smokers of New York. The new tax is expected to raise over $100 million this year alone for the city; I wonder if they’ve estimated how much of that will be spent trying to interdict menthol-laden trucks from out of state.


Monday, July 01, 2002

He’s Still No Marion Barry

London is still buzzing over accusations that the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, tossed a man over a stairway railing during the course of a drunken argument at a late night party last week. The Mayor, historically known as “Red Ken” for his socialist leanings, has denied causing the man’s fall or “manhandling” his pregnant girlfriend Emma Beal. In response, Livingstone has gone on the offensive against the editor of the Evening Standard, which has been devoting a large amount on ink to the accusations.

The Rainbow Narrows

Representative J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the only black Republican in Congress, has officially declined to seek re-election this year. With Republicans more worried about picking up Hispanic support in key Western states, he may end up being the last black Republican for some time. With about 90% of blacks voting for Gore in 2000, it seems unlikely that many will be motivated to change parties or that the Republicans will bother expending any resources to entice them.