Saturday, December 31, 2005

And be careful with the firecrackers

Have a wonderful 2006, everyone. I'll check back in next year.

The free post that I can edit

A little-known fact about Wikipedia is that it's the brainchild of Huntsville native Jimmy Wales, who holds degrees from both the University of Alabama and Auburn University. Seeing as the latest degree was from the Capstone, I'll claim him for the Tide's side.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Sadly, Dick Clark is not included

Times Square can keep the Waterford crystal ball for its New Year's Eve festivities. Wetumpka has an asteroid all its own.

Guess I'm behind the times

I've never understood the celebration of a new year with random gunfire. But then, I've never quite understood random gunfire in other contexts either.

Surely you jest

What do you mean a rural Alabama county might not need to spend $7,000 annually to insure its public property against foreign terrorism after all?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Will I do it anyway? Yes

Did two University of Alabama professors predict that Pentagon officials will slice troop levels in Iraq next year? Yes.

Does one of them think the move will help Republicans retain Congress in an otherwise good election cycle for Democrats? Yes.

Is there any particular reason I'm asking and answering my own questions a la Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld? No.

Gambling: Like the Black Death, only worse

Alabama Attorney General Troy King and state Christian Coalition President John Giles have had a very public falling-out over gambling in the last week, with Giles griping that King, who has gone after gambling fairly aggressively throughout his tenure, somehow still hasn't done enough to stop the spread of "a cancerous plague of gambling expansion in our state."

Anyway, after reading The Associated Press' story, I came away with an impression of King as the comparative voice of reason in the dispute. Seriously, I did.

The hominids strike back

After a nearly yearlong armistice, some unknown humans have resumed fire in the never-ending war with the beavers, taking the third round of the fight, along with a $1,000 brass beaver statue from a Shelby County subdivision.

Neighborhood residents are holding out hope for a reversal and the swift return of their furry (brassy?) friend, though. In the words of the homeowners association president: "We'll never find another beaver like this."

Not a good day for Hoover

The Birmingham suburb of Hoover is being sued by a Mexican woman who asserts that the city's new Department of Homeland Security and Immigration exists "solely to police the Hispanic population" and that it has engaged in "a scheme that would force the migration of Hispanics out of Hoover" by means of "racial profiling, illegal searches, and unlawful incarceration."

The plaintiff wants to pursue the suit as a class action. Hoover's mayor, meanwhile, had no comment on the filing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

That's a relief

Public property in Alabama's rural Clarke County, population 27,422, will be insured against foreign terrorism next year.

Again, not all crimes are created equal

The Legislature updated Alabama's three-strikes law in 2000 to permit paroles of nonviolent offenders in an effort to ease the state's long-running prison crunch. But with the prison population soaring, many felons convicted of drug trafficking or burglary still serve mandatory life sentences while killers often don't.

Gov. Bob Riley's legal adviser plans to ask state lawmakers for additional reforms next year, and he looks to be thinking in quite practical terms: "We're angry at that person for stealing the bike, the lawnmower, but they're not gonna hurt anybody. We need to save those beds for people who commit murder. Everyone wanted the war on drugs and to 'get tough on crime,' and while everyone still wants to protect society, they realize that didn't work. We're not protecting society like we thought we would. There are better ways to do it."

Repeat offenders naturally should face stiffer sentences than first-time offenders. But it's a foolish waste of resources to put a small-time drug dealer behind bars until he dies while convicted murderers and rapists roam the streets.

Still not as good as a wall

Jefferson County's sheriff, who made headlines last week for paying a moving company to haul off hundreds of sweepstakes machines from Birmingham's dog track, now plans to institute a computer database to track illegal immigrants' identities, homes, and activities. It will include "legally obtained information" about the county's noncitizens, which will be shared with federal immigration agents, who have been known to have noncitizens deported from time to time.

If you're an otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrant in the Birmingham area who wants a database entry all your own, simply fall victim to a crime and report it to your friendly neighborhood deputy. With your help, Alabama can secure its foreign borders.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

That's Mr. Bean to you

I could write about the latest legislator found to have directed state money toward a group run by his relatives, but I'd really rather write about Butterbean. Fortunately, The Birmingham News made that possible today with a lengthy profile of the charismatic Alabama boxer legally known as Eric Esch.

Butterbean still resides in bucolic Walker County, where he runs a barbecue restaurant. (No, it doesn't serve butterbeans. You might think it should, but he doesn't like them anymore, and he's bigger than you, so you probably should drop it.) The Bean, a bruising, rotund 38-year-old, said he plans to fight until 2007 before retiring from the ring. One of his goals by then is to have taken on Mike Tyson in a match that you know would pop a huge buy rate.

Championships aren't exactly Butterbean's obsession, though: "I've held three of them. They honestly don't mean anything. It's a ploy promoters use to make a fight a world title fight."

Monday, December 26, 2005

The contingency plan

State Democratic leaders remember what happened the last time they handpicked a candidate for governor, which is why they want former Gov. Don Siegelman's trial over before the June primary. If Siegelman won the primary and later was convicted of a felony, he would be ineligible to hold office in Alabama, leaving the party in the uncomfortable position of staging another expensive primary or picking a nominee by itself.

The last statewide poll I saw on the Democratic primary had Siegelman up by 30 points on Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, but it was conducted before his indictments were handed down, so it's unclear what effect they've had on the race. For his part, a University of Alabama political scientist predicts that Baxley ultimately will eke out a narrow win over Siegelman, only to tap out to Gov. Bob Riley in the general election after he casts aside former state Chief Justice Roy Moore's primary challenge. As outcomes go, it sounds probable enough.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

So this is Christmas

Not a creature is stirring, which means it's finally bedtime. Merry Christmas, everyone. May you and your loved ones enjoy nothing but the best on this day. Posting will resume Monday.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

No warrant necessary to read this post

Seeing as it's the most wonderful time of the year, I haven't had time to offer much analysis of the recent revelations about the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying programs.

PoliBlog has been on top of the situation for several days, though. Here's a thoughtful post about warrantless searches of private homes for radiation, and here's another about the general need to prevent any branch from wielding limitless power.

The balance between executive powers and national security needs is often a difficult one to strike, especially in circumstances like the fight against terrorism, which potentially has no endpoint. But to quote the latter PoliBlog post: "[I]f the current rules, procedures, and institutions are inadequate, then let's have the proper debate and then alter them as needed, within the proper constraints of the system."

Neon moon

Astronomy professors at the University of Alabama and Samford University are upset about light pollution, which is to be expected given that it keeps them from seeing many of the objects that are the raisons d'être for their jobs. "Full cutoff" and "shoebox" lights would cut down on the glare by blocking the light from flooding toward the sky, which might enhance nighttime visibility for the two-thirds of Americans who can't see the Milky Way.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Gambling: Public enemy No. 1

The Jefferson County sheriff thinks the new machines at the Birmingham dog track might be gambling and had some of them hauled away Thursday. The track's owner disagrees, asserting that they're part of a legal sweepstakes operation. A court will decide.

In other news, I've now given up on the Alabama gambling guide.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Insert puerile joke here

The Hubble Space Telescope discovered additional rings and moons around Uranus, but only after it looked really hard.

Good for them

It looks like University of Alabama administrators are ready to institute several needed reforms proposed by a task force to improve and clarify the student election rules there. Many of Alabama's elected officials cut their political teeth at the Capstone, so any move that emphasizes the importance of ethical campaigning to future politicians early in their careers is a valuable one. Kudos to school administrators for taking the task force's recommendations to heart.

Rock redux

Today's Birmingham News follows up on Wednesday's Mobile Register account of the talks between Gov. Bob Riley and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's lawyer in the days before Moore's granite friend was removed from the state judicial building by federal court order in 2003.

Riley spoke Wednesday on the reasons he wisely decided not to call out National Guardsmen to protect the monument: "Every scenario has a negative outcome. If the National Guard is there and federal marshals come to remove the monument, how far do you tell them to go? Do you restrain them? Do you fire on them?"

As for Moore, he twice told The News that he never urged Riley to call out the Guard to defend his rock, which is true in the literal sense that he never personally did so. (A spokesman emphasized that Moore "never directly encouraged the use of troops.") Moore's lawyer, meanwhile, told the governor that "calling out the National Guard to protect the monument would be the logical way for Riley to enforce his order" and that anything else would render an executive order "meaningless," according to The News.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why there was no stand in the courthouse door

Gov. Bob Riley says his Republican opponent, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, actually asked him to call out the National Guard to defend his granite friend a couple of years ago. One of Moore's attorneys said he only asked Riley to "hold a press conference and issue an executive order saying that as long as he were governor, the Ten Commandments monument would not be removed from the Alabama Judicial Building."

Fortunately, Riley declined to do either.

Never-ending lawsuits that never end

Speaking of never-ending litigation involving state agencies, Alabama's county jails are getting clogged up with state inmates again despite a court order that the state leave them there no longer than 30 days. Despite some recent help from an extra parole board, the state's prison rolls are growing wildly, often thanks to nonviolent drug offenders, even with most prisons already operating at twice their capacity.

So where has the Legislature been with prison construction funding and some much-needed sentencing reforms that could alleviate this growing problem? I wish I knew.

Not all crimes are created equal

Marijuana possession isn't murder.

It's common-sensical enough that there's an enormous moral difference between those two crimes, yet Alabama has been making people convicted of owning a few bags of weed get in line along with murderers to apply to the state parole board to regain their voting rights after their release. That's despite the fact that state law strips voting rights only from people convicted of felonies involving "moral turpitude," which logically couldn't include all felonies or else those words would be superfluous.

The NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund has sued the state, asserting a violation of the Alabama Constitution and presumably seeking clarification as to which crimes do not automatically trigger the reapplication requirement. If you're interested in the nitty-gritty details, Edward Still, a Birmingham attorney working on the plaintiffs' side, promises to post copies of the pleadings later today at his Votelaw site.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The spirit of the season

Atheists! Abortionists! Homosexuals! Secular Christmas haters!

None of them like Roy Moore. Shouldn't you, then, show your appreciation with a generous campaign contribution for Christmas? Whatever you do, please help the fight against the nebulous them and their efforts to make you forget that Christmas is all about selflessness and love for all.

From the helmet to the mortarboard

The University of Alabama has the fifth-worst graduation rate for football players in NCAA Division I-A football. Or at least it did for players who enrolled between 1995 and 1998, when the six-year rate was 39 percent according to the NCAA's new formula. A UA athletics official said coaching changes and NFL departures who graduated outside the window account for part of the low score and said the historical rate will improve next year.

Also notable, from The Birmingham News: "In football, six of the eight teams playing in next month's Bowl Championship Series games fell below the sport's 65 percent average."

Monday, December 19, 2005

A random amalgamation of stuff

Alabama's House delegation split 4-3 last week against the "ban on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody" sponsored by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, today's Mobile Register reports. Taking the correct stand (against prison abuse, of course) were U.S. Reps. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills; Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville; and Artur Davis, D-Birmingham.

Another notable newsbite from the Register's weekly "Political Skinny" column, which you really should start reading if you don't, reveals that Gov. Bob Riley's annual Christmastime press release this year is much more "overtly religious" than last year's version, but similar in religious content to a Christmastime editorial he wrote in 2003.

Finally, this recent question comes from The Hotline via the Register: "Seriously ... how many indictments does it take for [Don] Siegelman to stop running for AL GOV?"

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A place called vertigo

Bono as a Time magazine Person of the Year? Never thought I'd see that one. Can't say I object, though; he's been doing great work lately fighting international poverty, not to mention making some fine music at his day job.

Open to interpretation

Joe Reed, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference, speaking Saturday at his group's meeting in Montgomery: "I would love to run for governor if I thought I was electable, but I know better. Therefore, I don't run because I know I can't win. Why should I urge you to support another candidate who can't win?"

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Another myth out the window

With all of these illegal immigrants flooding into Alabama and taking jobs from hard-working native-born citizens, it's no wonder that the state's unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in almost three decades and that employers are struggling to find applicants for entry-level positions.

Oh, wait.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Submitted for your consideration

What do we think about renewing a law that has allowed our government secretly to gather loads of information on Americans not alleged to be spies or terrorists and forbids anyone ever to notify the investigations' targets? Let's talk about it.

What's our opinion on federal agents eavesdropping on American citizens' electronic and telephone communications without a warrant? Let's discuss this.

How do we feel about torturing prisoners? Let's dialogue.

The never-ending lawsuit

Alabama's child welfare system has been subject to a federal consent decree since 1991, and things will remain that way well into 2006 after U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent revealed Thursday that he will postpone his decision on whether to dismiss the case.

DeMent is set to receive a report by Feb. 28 on whether the Department of Human Resources now complies with the decree issued as a result of the R.C. litigation that began in 1988 and subsequently will rule on the dismissal motion. The decree, among other things, required DHR to offer better services to foster children and parents and to limit social workers' caseloads.

A decade and a half might seem like a long time for the state to face litigation seeking to get it to do its job correctly, but that's nothing compared to Knight v. Alabama, the college desegregation case that will celebrate its silver anniversary next year.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

On the purple fingers

I want today's Iraqi election to be the event that finally turns the country away from its increasing levels of insurgent violence and terrorism and sectarian strife.

I want this to be the day when Iraq begins at long last to become a stable, non-dictatorial, non-theocratic republic that serves as a role model and a trail blazer for the Middle East.

I want the heavy turnout among Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis to be the signal that Iraqi citizens once and for all will stop killing American troops and each other and start living together in peace.

I fear that after this election has passed, just as with the last Iraqi election and the one before that, we'll all still be left wanting.

Over his shoulder, a piano falls

Two things tell me that former U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill, D-Jasper, hasn't been calling people this week to solicit donations for the Republican Party, as a telephone recording allegedly claimed. The first thing is that D after his name. The other is the fact that he's been dead since March.

FYI, the first reader to get the painfully obvious song reference wins bragging rights and, well, nothing else. You should be quite familiar with the guide by now.

The state saves you from yourself again

An addendum to the August edition of the Alabama gambling guide: Sweepstakes machines are perfectly legal, too. Well, the kind at the Birmingham dog track are, anyway. Because, see, they involve access cards and computer time and recharge kiosks and, um, just read The Birmingham News' story, OK? All you need to know is that it's technically not gambling, so you can sleep easy tonight knowing that the place is "like a casino" but not quite.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Butting heads on Goat Hill

The 2006 round of Alabama's annual education budget battle, pitting Alabama Education Association executive secretary Paul Hubbert against anyone who dares to oppose anything he wants, already is shaping up on Goat Hill.

With the state looking at a prospective $300 million surplus in the Education Trust Fund, and with an election year looming prominently, Gov. Bob Riley has proposed returning the surplus to taxpayers, as his political hero Ronald Reagan did as governor of California in the late 1960s.

But Hubbert, who runs the show in Montgomery, desires no such thing. He plans to push for a 5 percent pay hike for education employees in an effort to get their salaries back in line with cost-of-living increases over the last decade. The Associated Press reports that Hubbert also concurred with the views of state Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, who wants the Legislature to use the surplus to replenish the state's education rainy day fund and to reinstate funding cuts incurred during Alabama's most recent round of proration a few years ago.

Regarding a teacher pay raise, Hubbert and Riley may not be all that far apart. Both men want the state to offer one, so if they disagree at all on that issue, it will be only over the amount. The key battleground will be the question of whether to return some or all of the surplus, and based on recent history, it'd be safe to bet that Hubbert will end up with most of what he wants.

Despite the likelihood that he won't get his way when it comes to returning the ETF surplus, and setting aside the probability that he honestly believes a rebate is the right thing to do with the money, Riley's position is wise from an electoral standpoint. The move allows him to wage a public battle for tax cuts and against the AEA and legislative Democrats, which surely will play well with the GOP base. It also helps him to remind a strongly anti-tax electorate that he was one of the nation's most anti-tax congressmen and to fend off attacks on his failed $1.3 billion tax plan in 2003.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Remember when it wasn't news when a sitting U.S. president took unscripted questions from the public?

Remember when a poll that showed that almost three-fifths of Americans disapprove of how their president is handling a major war wouldn't be seen as an improvement for that administration?

Remember when we actually were allowed to know what our laws and regulations said?

A mystery of the highest order

With Gov. Bob Riley suggesting that the state return hundreds of millions of dollars of school tax money to taxpayers next year, why would anyone even mention the words "election year"?

We couldn't have that

Inevitably, someone finally has pointed out publicly that Alabama's primary next year will be held on June 6. Get it? 6/6/06. The mark of the beast! Well, except for that extra zero. And except for the strong probability that the number actually is 616 and was mistranslated hundreds of years ago. But still.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, one of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's biggest supporters has withdrawn her backing from his gubernatorial run, predicting that his election would cause a federal-state showdown that would lead to government enforcement of a "dominionist" interpretation of Old Testament law that would permit executions of people who dared to be gay or to sass their parents. See, it'd all be part of a greater, cataclysmic conspiracy, but you'll have to piece that together for yourselves.


Former Gov. Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy have been indicted on a conspiracy charge, federal prosecutors announced Monday. This indictment comes about a month and a half after prosecutors unveiled an indictment of Siegelman on a racketeering count and of Scrushy on a bribery count. Both men vigorously deny all of the charges.

The last major polling I saw on the Democratic gubernatorial primary had Siegelman up by 30 points on Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, but it was done before the indictments hit, so it'll be interesting to see if Siegelman's legal battles help Baxley close or eliminate that gap. Of course, that would be contingent on Baxley jumpstarting her campaign, which appears, at least publicly, to have been idling since she became the first candidate to enter the race in May.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I am not making this up

Alabama Chief Justice Drayton Nabers talked about the importance of character during an address to the state's black Republican caucus last week. At one point during the speech, according to the Mobile Register, he noted that pretty much all humans have both virtues and vices and said those who lack vices are "saints." Then he asked if the audience contained any saints.

Associate Justice Tom Parker, Nabers' likely opponent in next year's GOP primary, raised his hand.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The messengers

It seems trite to say that Eugene McCarthy and Richard Pryor led very different lives.

McCarthy opted for the path of a college professor and maverick Minnesota politician who criticized everything from the 1950s communist witch hunts to campaign finance reform, while Pryor took the road of an actor and foul-mouthed stand-up comedian who struggled with cocaine addiction and multiple sclerosis. Only the circumstance that their deaths came within a few hours of each other Saturday brought them together in the public's mind.

In a way, though, the linkage is appropriate, because the main legacy of both men will be their roles as messengers who were in the right place at the right time. McCarthy's strong performance in the 1968 New Hampshire primary showed Vietnam-era politicians that they no longer could write off antiwar sentiment as the sole province of hippies and radicals, while Pryor's raw stand-up in the years after the civil rights movement let an entire generation of entertainers know that racially charged humor not only can get laughs but also can be a vehicle for profound social commentary.

Each blazed trails in his own right. Godspeed to both of them.

We've spent money on worse things

State House Majority Leader Ken Guin's legislation to move Alabama's presidential primary from June to the first Saturday after New Hampshire's vote died in the Senate last year, but that won't keep the Democrat from Carbon Hill from trying again. Guin will reintroduce the measure next year in an effort to attract more national media attention and to make Alabama a focal point in the presidential sweepstakes rather than an afterthought.

The move would come with its fair share of drawbacks. For example, the primary would cost about $3 million and would be held separately from later intraparty votes for congressional, state-level, and local-level candidates. That raises the questions of whether the expenditure is worth the extra attention the state would get and whether campaign fatigue would lead to depressed turnout in the subsequent primary.

On the plus side, the move would bring Alabama closer to major-player status in national politics. Right now, South Carolina, which votes in February, is the Southern primary, but Alabama's larger population would enable it to bypass that state on the influence list if their contests were held around the same time. The earlier primary also likely would pour millions of dollars in campaign-related spending into the state economy and would increase turnout among voters who feel they at last have a real say in who grabs their party's presidential nomination. (In addition, voting on Saturday would allow more people to cast a ballot without having to miss work.)

In the absence of any empirical data, the argument that an early presidential primary would do great harm to turnout in the June primary seems specious. Turnout in Alabama's primaries long has tended to be lower in non-gubernatorial years, and it's hard to believe that people's desire to select a presidential candidate is their main motivation to vote in the June primary under the current system, seeing as the Democratic and Republican contenders have sealed their nominations months before Alabamians make their voices heard. As is the case now, if the local and congressional races prove sufficiently intriguing, voters still would show up at the polls in June.

In a world where all other variables remained static, the pros would seem to outweigh the cons. But in this world, states across the country appear eager to join in the frontloading phenomenon, and if enough of the big states (especially Southern ones) move their primaries back to February and March, Alabama could lose much of its early-bird advantage.

So is it worth $3 million for Alabama to run an early-primary experiment? If ever we were going to try it, then 2008, a year in which the field of presidential contenders looks to be wide-open, would be the optimal time.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Your secretary of state at work

With the federal deadline for Alabama to have a new statewide voter registration system in place set to arrive in three weeks, Secretary of State Nancy Worley, a Democrat, still hasn't picked a company to implement the system. Well, to be fair, she did pick a company over the summer, but it wasn't the one that a bipartisan advisory committee recommended. Then, a couple of months later, she tossed out the deal entirely.

The frustration is growing on local levels. The state's probate judges are thinking about suing Worley, and a Madison County registrar said she doubts a new system could be operating by the June primaries. State Rep. Neal Morrison, D-Cullman, on the melancholy affair: "It's just a messed-up situation, to be candid."

Someone's ox was gored, anyway

Intuitively, you wouldn't think both U.S. senators from a state where about one-fifth of the residents are eligible for Medicaid benefits would vote against a measure that would reduce their state's Medicaid costs in the wake of a hurricane that pushed thousands of more Medicaid recipients into the state.

But that's just what Alabama's Republican senators, Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, did last month, citing a need to slash our domestic spending. (I'd point out here that recent GOP-backed tax cuts would more than negate the savings from those spending cuts, but that would be rude.)

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, has led a charge from across Capitol Hill to get the pair to change their minds, but he's had mixed results at best. Shelby said he "appreciate[d] Congressman Davis' interest," but Sessions went a step further, saying he "shared Davis' interest." Sessions still didn't explain his vote against last month's measure, though.

Nonetheless, the dispute appears to have fueled some bipartisan cooperation in Alabama's congressional delegation. Davis' proposal to reduce the Medicaid cuts, which didn't go anywhere, was co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills; Jo Bonner, R-Mobile; and Mike Rogers, R-Saks.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Sorry about that

Hey, kids, remember when we told you that your school was a big failure under the No Child Left Behind Act? Well, we might have been wrong. Our bad.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Can't sleep; clown will eat me

Read all about one woman's battle with coulrophobia here.

Some days are better than others

The first sentence of a story in today's Huntsville Times: "Segregation-era language will likely remain in the state's constitution until at least 2007 as legislators seek to avoid controversy during the 2006 elections."

Let's be clear on this

State Christian Coalition President John Giles says he's all for raising Alabama's income tax threshold, the nation's lowest, above $4,600 a year for a family of four. It's just that he doesn't want it to lead to a higher tax bill for anyone, anywhere, at all.

A few years later, panic sets in

Auburn University has had a "holiday tree lighting ceremony" since 2000, but apparently the event's name only became a crisis for social conservatives across the country this year. The school's SGA, probably bewildered by the sudden deluge of angry phone calls and e-mails, responded Monday by rejecting a resolution to rename the event a "Christmas tree lighting."

Across the state, the University of Alabama has decided on a basic artificial tree decorated with white lights. So what's its name? It doesn't have one, a university spokeswoman says: "If people want to refer to it as a 'Christmas tree' or as a 'holiday tree,' it's up to them." The school's international center contains exhibits honoring not only Christmas but Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Hindu, Muslim, and Shinto holidays as well.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Reindeer and elves are swing voters

Update: Yes, Virginia, there is a bipartisan Santa Claus.

It looks like Santa has picked sides in the Alabama governor's race.

Zeros and fives

Japan bombed Pearl Harbor 64 years ago today, but you won't hear as much about the anniversary this year as you did in 2001, or as you will next year. There's just something about base-10 that makes people treat multiples of zero and five as more important.

As for this year's anniversary, it finds most of the living Pearl Harbor survivors, 68 of whom are known to live in Alabama, in their 80s. One survivor's unfazed reaction to the dearth of observances today: "It's going to be just a gone day. ... But that's life. Maybe next year we'll kick up something big."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Concise and informative

Headline of the year honors go to the Montgomery Advertiser, which seals the deal with "State lawmakers divided over issue."

Sure, sure, it's part of a story package and is clear in context. But it's still funny, unless you reject humor as a controversial theory, in which case you can read about the aforementioned issue here.

Damn tree-hugging hippie Republicans

Gov. Bob Riley is a friend of PETA and "is being supported by liberal anti-gun extremists," according to former Gov. Don Siegelman, who surely is one of the first modern Democrats to use liberal as a pejorative toward a Republican opponent. As it turns out, Riley is so anti-gun that he recently went duck hunting.

Siegelman also did his best last week to link his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, to the Riley administration's decision to conduct annual property revaluations, an assertion that makes perfect sense except for the part where she had no say in the matter. Baxley's response: "The only thing I've ever had to do with taxes is paying my taxes."

On a more minor note, based on the Mobile Register's excerpts from his letter to supporters, someone really should make sure Siegelman knows the correct plural form of deer.

This post contains controversial words

Three states ask nothing about evolution on the science portions of their high school exit exams. Two are Ohio and South Dakota. Can you guess the third? Here's a hint: It's a place where fewer than half of the residents believe evolution, a scientific theory, should be taught in science classrooms.

Science and religion are not in conflict vis-à-vis evolution. I've explained that before, as did Pope John Paul II, who did it years earlier and far more eloquently. But that fact hasn't stopped biblical literalists from waging war on the very idea of evolution.

This news about the graduation exams, combined with Alabama's textbook disclaimers that falsely call evolution "a controversial theory," suggests that some people believe you can decide what counts as scientific via plebiscite rather than through observation and objective evidence. That's a dangerous attitude that could damage our children's education in every scientific discipline.

If natural phenomena were open to a popular vote, don't you think potato chips would cure cancer and every day would be 75 and sunny? The last I checked, though, they don't, and it's cold out.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Once, bowls weren't named for companies

OK, enough of this politics business. It's time to talk football.

Who do you have in the Rose Bowl? Are you as psyched as I am that Alabama is going to the Cotton Bowl? (It's still rightfully one of the Big Four bowls, no matter what anyone says.) What's the most intriguing non-BCS matchup? And so the NFL fans don't feel left out, can anyone stop the Indianapolis Colts this year?

Fire away.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The GOP's play for black voters

Several of Alabama's most prominent Republican leaders made an effort to reach out to black voters Saturday during an economic affairs summit in Montgomery.

Gov. Bob Riley and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., both focused on the GOP's economic policies, with Riley telling members of the black Republican caucus that "[t]here is not a place in Alabama you'll feel more at home, if you believe in entrepreneurship, than in the Republican Party." (The Libertarians might squabble with you on that point, but that's neither here nor there.)

Sessions also said he thinks the party's stated opposition to abortion and gay marriage could help to lure socially conservative blacks away from the Democratic Party. It's possible, but the raging public sentiment to ban gay marriage 20 or 30 times seems to have died down a bit after everyone took a deep breath and the national Republicans got what they wanted during the 2004 elections. As for abortion, it's been a contentious issue in America for decades, so most voters who would change their party affiliation one way or another based on that issue are already locked into their respective camps.

State GOP chairwoman Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, whose given name entertains me, decided Saturday's event was as good a time as any to castigate the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Thank you, good sir

Today's Birmingham News features a Baptist pastor bringing some much needed sanity and perspective to the tiresome debate over whether Christmas is under attack in a country where a large majority of citizens identify as Christians:

"Before Christians get too upset about 'Happy Holidays,' they need to remember 'holiday' is simply a derivative of the term 'Holy Day.' Saying 'Merry Christmas' is no more sacred than saying 'Happy Holiday.' It's a holy day. For Christians to get upset over whether we can say 'Merry Christmas' at Wal-Mart is silly. Christmas is not about what Wal-Mart says."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

I think I like this news too much

If Congress is going to spend time talking about steroids in Major League Baseball -- and it is, because it has -- then it's only fair to spend time talking about college football's broken postseason system, too. That's what a House subcommittee will do next week.

As long-time readers should know, I hate the Bowl Championship Series with a white-hot, unrelenting passion, so if a congressional hearing or two will hasten the arrival of a Division I-A football playoff, call the first witness.

Sure, the hearing will be largely symbolic, but so was the Senate's examination a couple of years ago of whether the BCS unjustly put small-conference teams at a disadvantage. The spotlight worked, though; shortly thereafter, BCS officials adopted provisions that made it much easier for such teams to qualify for a big-time bowl.

Rationally, I should be offended that Congress is wasting time talking pigskin instead of, you know, actually governing. But not much is rational about college football fandom.

Fish aren't thermometers

Mercury and our flippered friends have never gone together well, and Alabama health officials rightly are about to adopt stricter regulations of that hurtful combination. Right now, the state still uses an FDA standard that (scarily) permits five times as much mercury as an EPA standard to which most other states' health agencies adhere when advising fishermen about which bodies of water are too contaminated to ensure that the fish are safe to eat.

Alabama will begin to follow the EPA guideline by March, when officials are scheduled to release the state's next round of fish consumption advisories. They predict that the new standard could lead them to issue warnings for virtually every stream in the state.

Today's fun fact: Ichthyophagy is the act of eating fish. Seriously.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Fear the Russian death squirrels

They've already shredded a stray dog. You don't want to be next.

'This was a movement of God'

Those were the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s daughter Bernice King on Thursday, as Montgomery observed the 50th anniversary of the start of its bus boycott, the catalyst for countless other instances of brave activism during the ensuing civil rights movement. It's a shame that Rosa Parks wasn't still around for the observation, but her place as one of history's heroines became secure long ago.

You can learn all you ever wanted to know about the bus boycott at the Montgomery Advertiser's special commemorative website, which includes a free, searchable archive of articles from the era.

So America wants a spanking?

MSNBC talk show host Tucker Carlson, speaking in Huntsville on Thursday, offered his theory on why Republicans will fare well in 2008: The GOP is the "sit up and eat your peas or we're going to spank you party. The Democrats are softer, more compassionate, like Mommy ... the kind of guy who cries at Meg Ryan movies."

Another Carlson observation: "The president is not entirely comfortable with language."

It's too important not to know

It makes sense for public high schools to teach about major world religions. Indeed, considering the profound effects, good and bad, that religion has had and will continue to have on history and culture, I'd support a mandatory course to teach high schoolers about the tenets of a host of faiths as a way to reduce conflict stemming from people's misunderstandings of each other's beliefs.

For those reasons and more, I'm OK in principle with the elective Bible literacy courses that are gaining popularity in Alabama schools lately. Ideally, the schools' religion electives would take a more holistic approach rather than focusing pretty much exclusively on Judeo-Christianity, but the narrow scope isn't necessarily a problem if the courses offer an impartial look at how the Bible has affected Western civilization and if middle-school and high-school social studies instruction continues to incorporate lessons about other religions as well.

A legitimate concern in an overwhelmingly Christian state is that devout teachers could place non-Christian students in an uncomfortable position by turning ostensibly academic classes into little more than daily sermons. Chances are, that'll happen somewhere. But the risk of biased instruction arguably would be just as great in a broader-scoping religious class, and the course's elective nature somewhat allays the fears of students being proselytized to against their will.

In the end, Christianity's prominent role in Western history, culture, and politics is too great for public schools to ignore. It's up to the schools' administrators to ensure that educators remain on the right side of the fine line between teaching and preaching.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Fumbling toward coherence

Sure, that stuff about establishing justice and ensursing domestic tranquility and providing for the common defense is nice. But Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore knows what the American government's real purpose is: to recognize God.

The First Amendment's Establishment Clause might appear to present a slight obstacle there, but as Moore explained Wednesday during a speech in Tuscaloosa, the concept of church-state separation dates to Old Testament days, when God pulled rulers and priests from different families. Besides, we get Thanksgiving off, so there.

One might wonder why it's so important to erect giant granite Ten Commandments monuments on public property, especially when you can put them all over private property to your heart's content. But as The Crimson White reports, Moore's motives are humanitarian: "Moore said government has to recognize God to avoid eventual chaos and the killing of innocent people."

In other words, God will allow thousands to die in chaos unless we hang enough crosses on the courthouse walls, even though He established church-state separation in the first place.

I stopped trying to make sense of Roy a long time ago.