By reading this page, you're living in the past — which is fine; I'm a sentimentalist myself. But here's the latest at derekbaker.com.

#27 :: May 24, 2005

Upperdown: For a Nation Asleep

Suddenly, I'm not so afraid of the 2008 elections and this continuing Republican hegemony. Of course, we have midterm elections, too, so there's a reason to hope, as well. But listening to Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) endlessly repeating the phrase "up-or-down vote" as if it's actually part of our national heritage, the same way phrases like "advise and consent" and "establishment of religion" are, you see that he's not that all that compelling a speaker. (Not that Harry Reid is either, but at least he's less scripted.) Bill Frist may take the country by storm in the same way Bob Graham did during the 2004 primaries. Except Frist is, at the moment, the front-runner. He used the phrase "up-or-down" so many times in so many speeches and remarks in the last month, it sounds like one word: upperdown. Which sounds like something that goes into your finer pillows, not a constitutional, separation-of-powers issue.

Or perhaps I should be very afraid, given how appealing to the selfish (tax cuts) and the stupid (Saddam-and-9/11) works better than anything else in politics these days.

Speaking of Grahams, I have never been a fan of the senior senator of South Carolina. He's among the more junior members of the Senate, actually, except for the other senator from that state, Jim DeMint; he got elected to fill Strom Thurmond's seat on a pledge to support Bush's war on terror. He made a name for himself nationally during his eight prior years in the House by being one of the managers of the impeachment of Bill Clinton — an issue which these days seems quaint next to all the really bold and breath-taking lying of the current president.

However, Lindsey Graham is actually coming out to be one of the few conservative senators (he's still against abortion, gun control, the environment and balanced budgets, after all) who is at least willing to do his job and not merely play a minor role in the chorus of "GOP: The Musical" — unlike some majority leaders we could name.

John McCain certainly has the reputation as a maverick, but given the power and influence an individual senator can wield in this country, it's downright bizarre that he's the only one who has that reputation, at least among Republicans. Though we are starting to see glimmers of independence in a few other members of that body, which may be waking up to the fact that, unlike Cabinet secretaries, they don't serve at the pleasure of the President and, in fact, will serve longer if they were elected or re-elected last year. After several years in office, many if not most senators seem to develop a sense of themselves — okay, an overinflated sense of themselves, usually — that is distinct from their party. They still face the voters every six years, and with Republican party controlling the White House, both houses of Congress, the judiciary, and increasing number of media outlets, it's not an easy thing to buck your party's positions or even — in Graham's case, particularly — your party's talking points.

His were the only remarks on C-Span from Republicans that sounded like an actually cogent analysis of the situation, which is that it represents a victory for neither side but certainly a victory for the Senate overall and, by extension, for the American people. As an end result to this whole "nuclear option" mess, Graham says he thinks it will force the White House to talk to "us" more — meaning, most notably, the Senate, not just the members of his own party. Which could result in judicial nominees — particularly Supreme Court nominees — acceptable to a wider number of U.S. Senators than just Frist's slim majority.

Bush, of course, has never once shown any understanding that acting presidential and acting political can be mutually exclusive. And he's arrogant enough not to care how history judges him, anyway.

Graham, however, is turning out to be an interesting Republican, at least. Which is to say, among a cast of people looking to shape every issue in the context of us versus them, up versus down, Graham is starting to look like a something from the days when a U.S. Senator saw himself (and it was almost always him's then) as something other than a party apparatchik. Consider that, to create legislation that would extend health care to National Guard members and their families, Senator Graham reached across the aisle to partner with none other than Sen. Hillary Clinton. Isn't that the kind of larger-minded collaboration we send these people to Congress for in the first place?


#26 :: May 20, 2005

The Nucular Option

Chris Dodd (D-CT) has made a good point. Bush's judicial nominees have no right to an up-and-down vote, despite what the Republican senators are claiming. Where is that right in the Constitution? On the other hand, Senators do have several rights: they are a self-governing body — there's no recourse to the Supreme Court here, this is it; they have the right to advise and consent (e.g., debate and vote) on Presidential nominees. And, by their own rules, they have the right to continue that debate for as long as they want, unless at least 60 percent of their colleagues disagree.

He also pointed out the gross illogic of allowing unlimited Senate debate for junior level administration nominees, who serve for a few years and then are gone when a new president comes into office, but can't engage in the same debate — and, yes, if a Senator deems necessary, engage in a filibuster — for judicial nominees who will be serving for life.

John Cornyn (R-TX...or is that redundant nowadays?), following him, is completely disingenuous. He says Priscilla Owen deserves the same "right" as Richard Paez. He was the Clinton judicial nominee under debate at the time Sen. Bill Frist voted not to end the Republican filibuster, but that filibuster could not gain support of 39 other senators, so the nomination went through. But Cornyn ignores the fact that there was a filibuster underway, according to the rules, and it received a vote of cloture, according to the rules. He just sees that the Paez nomination was ultimately voted on and so Priscilla Owen should be voted on. Which, at least, is consistent for his party these days: the ends justify the means.

Cornyn asks: "What are we to do" when a "partisan minority" (also redundant) engages in such action? He asserts that the partisan minority has "politicized the judiciary" by filibustering these seven nominees. The obvious truth, however, is that they want to approve life appointees by a simple majority — in other words, to win on all votes purely along party lines — which amounts to the actual politicization of the judiciary. By contrast, if the White House were to nominate judges who can receive support from at least 60 percent of the Senate would, then we would likely have better judges for life and less politics involved in their confirmation. Absent that, there is only the recourse to balance, provided by the Constitution that protects the Senate's rights as a check on executive power and the Senate's own rules as a check on majority power within that body.

These checks and balances are the basis of our federal government, for better or worse. Given that a majority of the U.S. Senate currently represents a minority of Americans, Senate Rule Number 22 is one of the few levers of government that continue to ensure our republic remains a democracy.

In looking at the whole issue of the Senate's role vis a vis the president's role in shaping the judiciary, it makes me wonder how much better would our government work if the founders had required a two-thirds majority to consent to any nomination to any position with a term longer than eight years, that being the maximum years in office for any president doing the nominating. The president would then likely have to confer with senators from both parties to find nominees acceptable to enough senators to receive confirmation. We'd likely avoid these kinds of partisan battles and end up with a judiciary that reflects the country's actual views on law and jurisprudence. You may call it the lowest common denominator, but I'd call it "consensus" — which is actually how our government is supposed to get things done.

Anyone want to hold a constitutional convention if this nuclear option takes place?


#25 :: May 20, 2005

Notes and Asides

Observation #1: Arlen Specter looks like hell. I understand he recently announced he has Hodgkin's Disease — cancer of the lymph system. He's apparently started receiving chemo on Friday afternoons, resting over the weekend, then returning to work on Mondays. That's a tough hand to be dealt. Admittedly, he had a craggy face to begin with — he is, after all, 75 years old — and it's mostly the loss of hair from the chemo that is so startling.

Here's a Reuter's picture of him from February 24, a few days after he announced he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease:

Arlen Specter, Feb 24, 2005
REUTERS/Jason Reed
And here's a picture of him from just the other day, meeting with Joan Rivers on the issue of osteoporis, which Joan has:

Arlen Specter and Joan Rivers, May 11, 2005
REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine

He can at least take comfort that, after three months of chemo, he's still looking better than Joan. His oncologist, by the way, says he has an excellent chance of being completely cured.

Observation #2: The difference in debate and speaking style between senators who have been in the Senate for many years, compared to those who are more recent to the chamber, is so apparent it's actually humorous. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), is in her second term, having become the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. in 1998. She's extremely earnest; she's also reading her remarks word for word. She sounds much more like the House member she was before she became a senator. John Cornyn, who became a U.S. senator in 2002, was pretty stiff, too. Whereas longer-timers, such as Arlen Specter, tend to speak extemporanously, with a lot more confidence and appearing a lot more comfortable in doing so. After enough terms in office, a senator starts to figure out that their six-year terms of office are three times as long as their colleagues in the House and even two years longer than the president's. The more junior senators can't seem to get used to the idea that not every set of remarks needs to sound like a stump speech.


#24 :: May 17, 2005

I Blog Madly

So a collection of random posts here, which explains the headline. And, if you take the initials it forms, explains the last one especially.

#1 My cousin, She-Who-Knits ("Ka-Wah-Shoshoneelanee-ladidah" in the original Shawnee), who will otherwise go nameless because she does so on her own site, is the best. She's making me a scarf and in my alma mater colors — this despite the fact that she despises my alma mater, or at least hates our fight song. Which is a rip-off of Yale's "Boola boola," anyway. But that is true family for you. In honor of her and her efforts, I have created the left-hand border to this day's post based on the yarn she bought to make this scarf. Which she conveniently scanned and put on her own blog.

#2 One of the best, most simple and profound things I've seen written about the current administration's approach to interrogation and how the Abu Ghraib scandal was allowed to happen was written by the Rev. Barbara Crafton, one of my favorite writers today on spiritual matters (the other being Anne Lamott). You can read it online at her site, Geranium Farm.

#3 So, this week, my employer released guidelines for Employees Who Blog. They're not saying don't do it. In fact, at some level, they're saying to do it. And I should say, at this point, that (a) I work for International Business Machines Corporation, and (b) I work in Corporate Communications, which department was directly involved in developing and publishing these guidelines. I didn't personally have anything to do with them, but many people I work closely with, or with whom I have worked closely in the past, did.

Overall, I think they're excellent guidelines. They were created in a collaborative environment, using an internal wiki, and certainly read like something a human would write and could understand, which I like to think is a hallmark of IBM's communications at its best (not that I'm unbiased in that regard, of course).

I just have some qualms about a few of the points in the guidelines. I am probably unnecessarily concerned but — to use a favorite construction you may have noticed — (a) my job as an IBM employee is to be concerned with the words and messages IBM produces, and (b) these are words and messages IBM has produced about the words and messages employees might produce. Perhaps you see the cause for my attention to these issues....

"If you are blogging about your work for IBM, we encourage you to use your real name, be clear who you are, and identify that you work for IBM." Well, okay, that makes sense. And I don't usually blog about my work for IBM, except in this case, so I have so identified. No problem there.

"At a minimum in your own blog, you should include the following standard legal disclaimer language: The postings on this site solely reflect the personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views, positions, strategies or opinions of IBM or IBM management." Well, I just did that, obviously, but just in case that wasn't clear because it was in quotes, here it is again: The postings on this site solely reflect the personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views, positions, strategies or opinions of IBM or IBM management.

However, I'm not sure I want to keep a permanent statement to that effect on every page of my site, if only because it brings up my employment relationship with IBM, which isn't the point of what I write on this site, anyway. If it were hosted on an IBM site, that would make sense. But since I'm rarely going to blog about work matters here, I think perhaps we'll find another way to satisfy this requirement. Perhaps this posting will suffice. I'll have to think about it.

"Managers and executives take note: This standard disclaimer does not by itself exempt IBM managers and executives from a special responsibility when blogging. By virtue of their position, they must consider whether personal thoughts they publish may be misunderstood as expressing IBM positions. And a manager should assume that his or her team will read what is written. A blog is not the place to communicate IBM policies to IBM employees." So let me myself clear: do not misunderstand anything I write here as expressing IBM positions. And, if you report to me (and, since there's only one person at IBM who reports to me, you know who you are) don't construe anything I tell you here as communication of IBM policy.

"Clients, partners or suppliers should not be cited or obviously referenced without their approval. On your blog, never identify a client, partner or supplier by name without permission and never discuss confidential details of a client engagement." Also: "Also, if you speak about a competitor, you must make sure that what you say is factual and that it does not disparage the competitor.. You should avoid arguments." Hmmm. I had a post in April that, among other issues, talked about Microsoft — which is both an IBM partner in some instances and a competitor in others. I was mentioning their flip-flop regarding support of Washington State House Bill 1515 — which, I should point out, they now support again. Perhaps I spoke disparaging of them in doing so. (In looking back at the April archive, I see that I included a pretty good disclaimer in that point, anyway.) So I probably won't talk about Microsoft anymore, or any other partner or competitor of IBM, just to avoid this issue. However, I won't be going back and deleting or excising that particular post, because...

"If you choose to modify an earlier post, make it clear that you have done so." I haven't made any major edits of earlier posts, but I have gone back and corrected a typo or grammatical error, or even rewritten a line that I felt wasn't clear the first time. That's part of the appeal of publishing content online: corrections are much easier and less painful than in the dead-tree variety of publishing, much as I love it. However, if I were to do a big excision, I suppose I should note that something was snipped, at least. Or added, if that's what I do. Makes sense. I just need to figure out an inobtrusive stylesheet way to indicate that content.

Here's my biggest concern, however: "Remember that IBM is a global organization whose employees and clients reflect a diverse set of customs, values and points of view. Don't be afraid to be yourself, but do so respectfully. This includes not only the obvious (no ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, etc.) but also proper consideration of privacy and of topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory -- such as politics and religion. If your blog is hosted on an IBM owned property, avoid these topics and focus on subjects that are business-related. If your blog is self-hosted, use your best judgment and be sure to make it clear that the views and opinions expressed are yours alone and do not represent the official views of IBM." [emphasis added]

I hope I've made it clear that the views and opinions expressed here are mine alone and do not represent the offical views of IBM. (If I've written about the official views of IBM, and I have, I've done it in places such as here or here, but not here.) However, I'm glad this site is self-hosted, because the vast, vast majority of what I'm writing about here is either concerned with politics, religion, or, particularly, the too-often-ugly, only-occasionally-grace-filled combination of the two. For example, see item #2 above. No way around that one. But I think I'm within the guideline, due to this being my self-hosted site before I joined IBM and will continue to be if I happen to leave IBM. I also have a blog of sorts on IBM's intranet, which we call w3, but (a) I don't update it nearly as often as I should, and (b) it only deals with work stuff.

However, I take some comfort in the fact that one of the people leading the effort to blogify this very large company is one of the best and most prolific bloggers I know, and he's never shied away from politics on his own external site, The Chronic Curmudgeon. At its core, this whole effort by IBM to encourage employees to blog, but not forget that they are still employees of IBM, is a very good thing, I think, and similar to the company's drive a decade or so ago to make sure employees used the Internet, rather than discouraged them from doing so. To paraphrase an old Saturday Night Live routine, the Internet has been veddy, veddy good to us, and I expect — after some inevitable hiccups — embracing the blogosphere will be as well.

If you like that kind of thing, of course.


#23 :: May 16, 2005

HTML, Lovingly Handcrafted

Back when I was a mere 31, the New York Times called me "a blond but balding ancient in New York's vibrant, volatile, if currently overhyped cyberworld" and "an old-timer in the new-media industry of New York." I'll cop to the balding, even then — it's no longer a process now, anyway, but a distant past event. However, only in a city with New York's ethnic make-up would I be even remotely close to "blond."

There is one benefit (perhaps only one, I can imagine) to having seen this silly online world grow up [sic]. In my early days of Web sitery, I had the option as a senior Web site producer to have my associate producer code the sites we were creating for the company for which we worked. That worked for a couple of weeks, but I prefer to learn something about the environment in which I'm producing something, whether that's print publishing, Web sites, image editing, or even sound. It's sort of my downfall, in a way, because curious to find out how something works, I then end up doing it mostly myself. In that one instance, it turned out okay, because when the place went through massive layoffs, I was able to keep my job, having taught myself HTML and being able to use my editorial background to make content decisions. For some reason, there still aren't a lot of people who are interested in the one and also in the other; few HTMLers seem that interested in basic writing and editing skills, and few writers and editors seem to have much of a technical curiosity to learn the technical side of the medium in which they're working. Nowadays, HTML and CSS is what UNIX coders or Macromedia Flash producers do when they're slumming, and writers and editors still prefer their Microsoft Word, complete with its "smart" quotes and superscripted ordinals. Which is why we have the Web we do, in no small part...

Anyway, that was all about a year before the New York Times' gentle slander — by which point, I remember, I was in a job that required none of my HTML skills, but I found it impossible to do without being able to work on the actual QuarkXpress files myself, so... you see the pattern.

This downfall of being self-taught at everything on the computer from the hazy-mist days of desktop publishing and online media explains why I've never learned how to use any of the different Web-site-producing tools that are out there. I'm sure, because they're all designed to make the thing easier to do, they're also easily learnable. But having started rolling my own HTML back when there wasn't any choice, I still do. Futzing with layout tables (then) and stylesheet classes (now) at the same time you're writing and editing is a good way to take a quick mental break from one to address the other fresh, and vice versa.

This little reverie is apropos of almost nothing, except as a lead-up to the fact that I'm now going to include comments and trackbacks on this site. I didn't code any of this — this is actual programming, not just mark-up language stuff — but my friend Ethan pointed out to me that HaloScan provides free comment and trackback functionality. What made me think about all this is that they generated just a few bits of HTML I have to include here, and the rest is taken care of. I have some other options to play with, I notice, such as the stylesheets, etc. But this post is essentially to get the ball rolling with the commenting. I know almost no one, except an occasional family member or friend, is even finding this site.

Goes without saying: I'm not responsible for what gets posted in the comments, though I think I have the ability to go in and edit comments if I have to, if I'm aware of anything that needs excision. (And, yes, as an editor by trade, I do believe in some forms of censorship; that's part of what editors do.) And if need be, I'll turn it on "moderated" which will bore-ify it immediately (for commenters and for me) while whoever posts has to wait for it to be approved, but there it is. Because this site happens to be my first and last name, and therefore easily traceable to me, I suppose I need to keep at least one eye on what, if anything (which is doubtful) gets said here. Knowing how these things can work, several days could go by before I manage to get back to this site, and find some white separatist out of Idaho has set himself up a discussion thread on my site. Eeesh.


#22 :: May 10, 2005

Mr. Madison, Call Your Office

From "The Federalist Paper No. 10," by James Madison:

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true.

From "The Not-So-Secret History of Filibusters," in today's New York Times, by former Senator George Mitchell (a statesman in our times, who will probably deserve a Senate office building named after him someday as much as Dirksen or Russell ever did):

Since 1789, the Senate has rejected nearly 20 percent of all nominees to the Supreme Court, many without an up-or-down vote.
Between 1968 and 2001, both parties used filibusters to oppose judicial nominees. In 2000, the last year of Bill Clinton's presidency, Republican senators filibustered two of his nominees to be circuit judges. They also prevented Senate votes on more than 60 of Mr. Clinton's judicial nominees by other means.

So much for the assertion that filibustering to prevent votes on judicial nominees is a new tactic invented by Senate Democrats.

Senate rules can be changed, and they often have been. But Senate Republicans don't have the votes for a change within the rules. So they propose to go around them, to act unilaterally to get their way. It's what they call the "nuclear option."

They claim that their actions are justified because the filibuster is being used unfairly to stop the confirmation of President Bush's nominees. But 208 of the president's 218 judicial nominees have been approved. That's right: the Senate has confirmed 95 percent of Mr. Bush's judicial nominees. That's a higher percentage of approval than any of his three predecessors achieved.

From the Financial Times, "Bush calls for simple vote on judges," by Holly Yeager

While it is unclear whether Mr Frist has the votes to enforce the change of rules, conservative activists are becoming impatient. They are eager to see their support for Republican candidates in the 2004 election rewarded with judges who share their views. “Our people are going to be very disappointed if there isn't a vote” this week on changing the rules, said Jim Backlin, a lobbyist for the Christian Coalition.

We'll give James Madison the final word here. Despite the fact that, at the time he was writing, there wasn't a Texas (from which both a George Bush and Tom DeLay could emerge), nor any fundamentalist view of Christianity prevalent on the scene (from which Jim Backlin and the Christian Coalition could arise), let's just hope to God ol' Jim proves to be right once again — despite current evidence to the contrary.

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.


#21 :: May 10, 2005

And From Viewers Like You

Eric Boehlert, in a piece on Salon.com entitled "Pushing PBS to the Right" points out several interesting facts, including these two:


#20 :: May 8, 2005

A Good Quote

Not mine; credit goes to Tom:

"Looking at PBS and seeing only a liberal bias is like looking at a statue of Lady Justice and seeing only a naked woman."


#19 :: May 4, 2005


I finally did it. Last Saturday, I mailed in a change to my voter registration, switching from "Republican" to "Democrat" in my party affiliation. This change was a slow burn over the last decade. I've usually split my votes in the past, focusing more on the person than the party, but I finally figured out that my party affiliation ought to reflect the majority of my choices, at least.

It probably started either with Al D'Amato or George Pataki. I couldn't vote for Pataki for governor, because he vowed to reinstate the death penalty in New York State (he did), and I didn't want to be part of that little blood lust. I voted for Rudy Giuliani in his first run for office, but by the time he was running for re-election, he'd pretty much annoyed me with his pointless harassment of cab drivers, pedestrians, and pushcart vendors. On the one hand, I'd voted for Pat Moynihan in both 1988 and 1994. But I never voted for Bill Clinton (and I didn't manage vote at all in 1996.) I did vote for Hillary Clinton — who's probably the best heir to Moynihan's legacy anyone could imagine — in 2000. I'm sure listeners of talk-radio reading this (which assumes a lot, I know) will say that that already shows my complete takeover by the libbruls, but that's just more of their ignorance. They base all of that Hillary hate on some caricature someone dreamed up back in Arkansas decades ago, when in fact she's one of the more pragmatic senators in the Senate, from what I can see.

For all of that, it was George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who finally drove me out of their party, however. I couldn't bring myself to vote for them the first time, even though I'd voted for the first President Bush (twice, in fact). I had to use a paper ballot that year, because I'd moved since the last time I'd voted, so I wrote in John McCain. (And, Lord, how things would have been so much better if he'd been president on September 11 and since. Or, for that matter, if Al Gore had been.) By the time the 2004 election rolled around, I'd gone from thinking W. an idiot to thinking him mendacious, from seeing him as a simple Methodist (with Episcopal parents, no less) to understanding that he's either an arrogant theocrat or else he's an arrogant fellow traveler of theocrats; it doesn't much matter, at that point.

Personally, I tend to agree with George Washington's view that party politics destroy government. However, we are in an era when one party controls the executive branch, a majority of the legislative branch, a majority of the judiciary, and an increasing number of very vocal media outlets — not to mention having an overly cozy relationship with a literalist sect that misappropriates Christianity for purposes of bigotry — and is using their hegemony to reshape the country in their own, increasingly ugly and selfish image, leaving only one option for anyone with any true patriotic feeling — which, someone should point out, doesn't mean pride in one's country, but in putting the interests of the country ahead of one's own gas-guzzling, tax-dodging self. In such an era, it therefore becomes necessary for a person to dissolve the political bands which have connected him with another, and a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that he should declare the causes which impel him to the separation...to paraphrase another declaration of independence.

Or, to paraphrase instead an ad campaign of another era: I'd rather switch then fight.