Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A High School Memory

For several years, following my request, O'Dea High School, the Seattle Catholic boys school from which I graduated, dropped me from their solicitation list. In the last year or so, they have started including me to the extent I periodically receive a newsletter from the alumni office.

The newsletter that just arrived included memorial acknowledgement of the deaths of 40 alumni or their relatives. Three of them were in my class year. One, Russ Ferrelli, who did not actually graduate with our class of 76 boys, is the only one with whom I had experience. In Sophomore year, he and I developed the "Hit Parade", where we both kept a count of the number of times our home room teacher, Brother Popish, rapped each student on the head with his knuckles, a typical Irish Christian Brother teaching technique of the time. Our "Hit Parade" was named after a TV show, "Your Hit Parade", which performed the top ten songs of the week and went off the air the year I graduated from High School, a vicitm of older mainstream singers feebly trying to deliver the new rock 'n roll songs.

One day, as Ferrelli and I were comparing scores across the classroom after a rapping incident, Popish noticed our communication and asked what we were up to. He came and stood over me and I explained to him what we were doing and showed him the class list with the tic marks after the names. Instinctively he showed his displeasure by rapping me on the head four times with his knuckles, affording me an excellent opportunity to show him how I then entered four more tics after my name.

Brother Popish irately grabbed and destroyed my score sheet and as I recall probably did the same with Ferrelli's, but I felt we got our point across, that routinely knuckle rapping the heads of high school students was a practice deserving of ridicule. If Popish got the point, he did not heed it, and knuckle rapping heads continued.

I don't know if knuckle rapping played a part in Ferrelli not finishing up at O'Dea. However, knuckle rapping was one of many O'Dea memories that made me a non-contributing alumnus who never considered sending any of his three sons there.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Better Late or Never

Almost 140 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the US Senate has finally passed a Resolution apologizing for its failure to enact anti-lyching legislation. When I heard the Resolution was passed by a voice vote, I immediately understood there were some Senators who actually did not want to be on record as having voted for the apology. I figured these would be people like Trent Lott of Mississippi, who wanted to be free to say to their white racist cronies that they did not vote for the Resolution and remain "true" to their race, like when Lott praised Strom Thurmond and lamented the end of segregation.

The "better late" club eventually included 89 Senators, of whom 39 originally sponsored the Resolution and the others later signed it at various stages, right up to the time of its passage. Some Senators prevailed on Senate Majority Leader Frist to deny the Resolution one of those "up or down" recorded votes he is always calling for. Frist even postponed the voice vote until very late in the day to allow some of the "nevers" time to disappear from the Senate floor. The "nevers" at one time included both Senators from four of the five States where most of the lynchings occurred. The Northest Mississippi Daily Journal carried an interesting opinion piece condemning the two Mississippi Senators for their no-show.

Trying to track down the final "never" votes is like trying to determine who was in a lynch mob. Some who started as "nevers" have gradually dropped by the wayside and signed the Resolution. Here is a list of the 88 co-sponsors, with the date of their signing. Senator Landrieu of Louisiana was the initial sponsor, which should leave 11 "nevers", though I have only been able to come up with these 10 [if you can help with the one that got away, let us know]:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Michael Enzi (R-WY)
Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Trent Lott (R-MS)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
John Sununu (R-NH)
Craig Thomas (R-WY)

I doubt there were many lynchings in New Hampshire, yet its two Senators are "nevers". Must have something to do with the State motto: "Live Free or Die". I suspect the Senate vote may reflect how Americans in general feel about the apology, with a similar percentage of Americans unwilling to recognize the wrong that was done by the United States Senate in failing to enact anti-lynching legislation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Vietnam Plus Thirty

Thirty Years after the last American troops were pulled from Vietnam and that nation was united under a Communist government, and ten years after the normalization of relations between Vietnam and the US, a Prime Minister of the united Vietnam for the first time has made at visit to the US. The purpose of the visit is to seek support for Vietnamese membership in the WTO.

America is the number one trade partner of Vietnam. On the way to meet with President Bush, the PM stopped here in the Seattle area to discuss business with Boeing and Bill Gates. The two governments and the majority of their citizens seem to accept the fact that the Vietnam War is now part of history and life goes on.

But the 2004 Presidential campaign showed how intensely some Americans still feel that “we should have finished the job” in Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans had their lives “finished” in that conflict. Iraq is not Vietnam, though there are unfortunate similarities. A big difference between the two is that thirty years from now, we could still have troops stationed in Iraq

Frist Flip Flop

Senate Majority Leader Frist today demonstrated his version of the flip flop, announcing that there would be no further vote taken on the Bolton nomination for UN Ambassador and saying, in effect, President Bush would have to decide whether to withdraw the nomination or make a “recess appointment” while Congress is on vacation. Two hours later, after being pressured by Bush, Frist changed his tune and said there will be another vote.

Senate Republicans have not been able to muster enough votes in the Senate to confirm Bolton, and the Administration has refused to supply further Bolton information the Democrats want to see as part of the confirmation process. A recess appointment would weaken Bolton’s credentials and be an embarrassment to the White House.

Frist has history to contend with in his bid for the Presidency in 2008. There has not been a member of the Senate elevated to the Presidency since JFK - and Frist is no John Kennedy. The addition of flip flopping to his resume won’t help his chances.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Who Knows What You Read?

One of the earliest complaints about the Patriot Act was that it allowed Federal Authorities to snoop into what people check out from libraries, without any notice to the people and that it prohibits the library from telling the people the government has been snooping. Every time this prospect is raised, the defenders of the Patriot Act are quick to say that the provision has never been used.. But they don’t go so far as to say it should be removed from the law, only that when it comes up for review maybe it should be changed a little - without saying exactly how.

I remember when my local library switched from the old card catalog to computer records. I asked once after that if they could access a record of what I had read, because I was trying to remember the name of a particular book. They told me the system could not do that, in order to protect my privacy. That was before 911, and I suppose the system has been changed since then.

In the days of the card catalog, many libraries had checkout cards that were kept in the book on the shelves. You could look at the card and see who had checked the book out, because each person had signed the card next to the date stamp for when the book was due. In those days, I liked to look at the card to see how many people had been checking out the book and whether anyone I knew had read it. Adding my name to the card made me feel a kinship with the other readers, like having my name engraved on a revolving trophy. The closest thing to that nowadays is at checkout when a librarian you know acknowledges having read a book you are checking out and shares a brief comment about it. Even those opportunities are fading now as more libraries shift to self-checkout.

What books would a snoop consider a significant sign of a security risk - books on Islam and Arabic, books critical of the Bush Administration, books about explosives? What nonsense. Books are in libraries for anyone to be able to read them. That is what makes libraries so wonderful. One of my less sexy fantasies is that some right winger reports me to Homeland Security which orders a snoop of my library record and is astounded to find I have read every single book in the library.

A terrorist does not need to check a book out from a library in order to read it. He could read it at the library or copy the relevant information without checking it out, or he could steal it from the library or a book store. He also could just buy it at a store or on the Internet. If one terrorist has the book he could scan it and e-mail copies to others.

In fairness, the Patriot Act does not specifically talk about libraries. There is a very general snoop provision of the Act that can be applied to books in general which causes the concern. The simplest thing for Congress to do is to clarify by amendment that the Act does not include the right to snoop at library records without notice to the patron and an opportunity to contest. An interesting case occurred here in Washington State when the FBI tried to obtain a record of all patrons who had read a particular book, without using the Patriot Act, and the library resisted because it said the FBI was engaged in an unconstitutionally broad fishing expedition. The FBI backed down.

In his lengthy published manifesto, the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, mentioned several “esoteric”books. The authorities had figured he was living in rural Montana and thought if they could find a library there which had a patron who had checked all those books out, he might be the Unabomber. A Grand Jury authorized a subpoena for records from five universities and one city library, a fact which is often cited in support of the “value” of the Patriot Act provision. But it was actually Kaczynski’s brother who recognized Ted’s writing in the Manifesto and reported him to the authorities that led to his apprehension.

Question for Readers: Libraries

What library or libraries are your favorites, both in the past and now?

Rossi Rolls Over

The trial Judge correctly decided Republican Dino Rossi failed to produce any reliable evidence to support the claim that the Washington Gubernatorial election should be overturned. The Judge found the proffered statistical evidence was so unreliable that it could be completely ignored. That a felon who illegally voted in a given precinct would vote the same as the legal voters in that precinct was not supported by any valid evidence, according to the ruling of the Judge. In fact he said, since the illegal felon voters were overwhelmingly male and since male voters tend to vote for a male rather than a female, it is more likely those illegal votes went to Rossi, rather than to Christine Gregoire or the Libertarian candidate who was also female.

With his sore loser whiner status now judicially confirmed, and with no realistic prospect of changing the outcome on appeal, Rossi has decided to throw in the towel on the Governor’s contest and is already trying to position himself for another run for statewide office, possibly challenging Senator Maria Cantwell. Rossi could be figuring that by the time he faces his next female opponent, some of the male felons who illegally voted for him in 2004 may have had their voting rights restored.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Mozilla Firefox

Tough I am definitely not a proponent of Microsoft, I have stuck with the Internet Explorer browser - until now that is. Finally, due to inherent security problems not properly addressed by Microsoft, and because of new and useful features in Mozilla Firefox, I have made the switch.

I was able to import my favorites from Internet Explorer and have quickly learned to take advantage of the improved features in Firefox. I like knowing that I am now using a browser designed by volunteers who are truly interested in making things work well for me, rather than one designed by a corporate behemoth who is always trying to figure new ways to use it to make money for itself while at the same time not being truthful to me about the ongoing security problems.

So far, I have not encountered any particular problems viewing web pages with Firefox, but I did note one problem with a page here at Sense. I noticed the Complete Topical Index that I created from the Google Blog template could not be viewed properly in Firefox, so I abandoned the complex template code and made a simplified version, which I am still keeping up-to-date, and which can be linked to from the Sense Home Page.

Judicial Incompetence

In its swiftly issued unanimous opinion reversing the conviction of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote for the US Supreme Court that the instructions given to the jury in Houston by Federal Court trial Judge Melinda Harmon were strikingly deficient. The instructions had been drafted by the Bush Justice Department and accepted by Judge Harmon.

How could the Federal prosecutors and the Federal trial Judge have gotten this so wrong? The current generation of cheating corporate executives, including the Enron villains for whom the Andersen firm worked, has developed the tactic of blaming corporate fraud on the accountants. If the tactic does not fully absolve the executives, it may at least spread the guilt and diffuse the public outrage against the corporate scoundrels.

Perhaps the inept prosecution of Andersen was a purposeful part of a plan to soften the punishment of the Bush friends and campaign contributors at Enron. It is not hard to see Attorney General Ashcroft having gone along with that one, but what about Judge Harmon - who is she? According to her brief background information reported by the Federal Judicial Conference, Judge Harmon was appointed to the Federal Court by Bush the first in 1989. Though she only had one year of experience as a trial court judge, and had served a two year stint as a clerk to a Federal court trial judge right after she graduated from law school, she did have an additional 13 years of experience practicing law - as a trial lawyer for the Exxon Company.

A contributing factor to the deficient instructions given by Judge Harmon may be that she is one of the lowest rated Federal Judges in Houston. According the the most recent Judicial Evaluation Poll by the Houston Bar Association, Judge Harmon is rated 7th out of the 9 Federal Judges in Houston, with one third of the lawyers giving her an overall rating of “poor”.

Ratings of judges by lawyers are the most accurate way to tell who is a competent judge. Attorney votes based on ideology tend to cancel each other out. Lawyers of all ideologies recognize and appreciate who the top judges are. With only one year of trial judge experience at the time of her appointment, Judge Harmon could not have been effectively rated as a judge in any lawyer poll. Surely there were Houston judges rated highly competent in 1989 that Bush the first could have appointed to the Federal bench, but he apparently decided an "energy friendly" corporate legal background was more important than proven judicial competency.