Sunday, April 30, 2006

I'd rather not

A Michigan State University scientist on female hyenas' unusual genitalia: "Imagine giving birth through a penis."

Finally, a reason to watch C-SPAN

The White House Correspondents' Association's annual dinner is usually a hoot, but press reports make Saturday's edition sound even better than normal.

First came the dual President Bushes, with the fake one speaking perfect English and the real one lampooning his frequent malapropisms, including a promise to promote his policies "globally and around the world, as well as internationally."

Then came comedian Stephen Colbert's tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Bush administration, including advice for the Beltway press: "Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions; he's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know -- fiction."

I must see this.

At this rate, it may not even be interesting

Gov. Bob Riley is stomping a mudhole in all of his challengers, according to recent polling by the (Mobile) Press-Register. In addition to the 44-point lead he's opened up over former Chief Justice Roy Moore in the Republican primary, Riley is well ahead of both major Democratic contenders, leading Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley by 16 points and former Gov. Don Siegelman by 33 points.

Poll director Keith Nicholls noted that Riley didn't quite cross the 50 percent threshold versus Baxley and that no one knows how Siegelman will fare until his impending federal corruption trial unfolds. But the results bode well for neither candidate, especially Siegelman, with party primaries about a month away.

Your dreams have come true

I know you've been pining away for a list of Alabama's major political action committees, including frequent cross-references to other such PACs, so here you are. For added fun, try to play connect the dots with this quarterly list of gubernatorial campaign contributions. Warning: Long and just a tad bit disheartening if you actually want to try to follow the money.

Well, that and the million or so other voters

Former Gov. Don Siegelman on the jurors in his federal corruption trial, set to begin Monday: "This case is about the race. The most important vote is going to be the vote of those 12 people. That's going to decide the 2006 governor's race."

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Objects of their affection

Former Gov. Don Siegelman already has shown his love for bingo paraphernalia and garden shears. Now you can add buses that run on homegrown biodiesel fuel to that list.

Siegelman touted his alternative-energy ideas, and lots of others, Friday during a three-day bus tour of Alabama that included a stop in Tuscaloosa to mourn his old college fraternity house, slated for demolition next month. The 30-city bus tour will last only three days, because Siegelman will have some continuing daily federal obligations in Montgomery beginning Monday.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Riley had some travel plans of his own this week: a trip to Gadsden to strap on a bulletproof vest and join in a drug bust. I trust your mind to develop the appropriate visual.

Break out the confetti

Justice Tom Parker has written another opinion for the Alabama Supreme Court. For those of you playing along at home, that makes for a grand total of two since January 2005.

I've mentioned that Parker wants to be chief justice, haven't I?

Goodbye, Nellie

Even though he's leaving the booth after 53 years, Keith Jackson remains the voice of college football, and as a fan of the game, I'll be sad to see him go. Fittingly, the last game he called was 1) the Granddaddy of Them All, 2) played for the national championship, and 3) one of the greatest I've ever seen.

Don't worry about Jackson, though. He has great retirement plans: "I aspire to be the shop steward of the international porch sitters union. I think that would be a noble profession and a timely one."

Friday, April 28, 2006

Another horse by committee

A U.S. Senate panel investigating Hurricane Katrina's aftermath thinks we should abolish FEMA, which reports to the Department of Homeland Security and is supposed to respond to domestic disasters, and replace it with the National Preparedness and Response Authority, which would report to the Department of Homeland Security and respond to domestic disasters.

Thanks for that, guys.

Pay attention, East Carolina fans

Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid on the Birmingham Bowl, a Dec. 23 game between mid-level Big East and Conference USA teams that received NCAA clearance Thursday: "It has the potential to bring back 'The Football Capital of the South.'"

Not with a generic name like that. Let's look at other possibilities:

Vulcan Bowl: A fitting tip of the hat to the city's giant iron mountaintop friend, but rife for abuse by overeager sports pundits who can't wait to unload with lame Star Trek jokes.

Magic City Bowl: Nice idea, but Nashville already cornered the "name your bowl game for the city's nickname" market. Besides, Harry Potter jokes are even lamer than Star Trek jokes.

All-American Bowl: Meet the new bowl, same as the old bowl. What ever happened to that game, anyway?

Yellowhammer Bowl: Somewhat logical, given that Alabama is the Yellowhammer State. Unfortunately, no one outside Alabama knows what a yellowhammer is, and even fewer care.

[Mercedes/eBay/Wachovia] Bowl: The "insert corporate sponsor name here" option, and the likeliest outcome. Pro: Extra money for bowl organizers. Con: Except for the Outback Bowl, which sounds innocuous enough that I can pretend it's a tribute to Australians, I despise all such bowl names.

Legion Bowl: A good way to memorialize the name of a stadium that may have a date with a wrecking ball in a few years. A little too apocalyptic for my taste, though.

Iron Bowl: Heresy. Heresy! Burn the witch! Burn!

Add your own suggestions in the comments.

A question for the Auburn folks

How can it take a university more than two years just to appoint a committee to look for a permanent school president?

Unholy matrimony

The two recurring themes of Alabama governance -- lawsuits and pork-barrel spending -- are uniting once again. Check with your local lobbyist for shower information and affordable gift ideas.

Adventures in legal reasoning

Alabama locks up thousands of nonviolent drug offenders every year, sometimes for lengthy sentences. We have people serving mandatory life sentences for burglary or drug trafficking while some convicted killers can get paroled in under a decade.

As you might expect, these facts have resulted in wildly overcrowded state prisons with conditions that bring to mind words like dangerous and deplorable. Perhaps inevitably, the cramped conditions in Alabama's prisons have spilled over into the county jails that often serve as way stations for inmates on their way to the state corrections system. County sheriffs, unsurprisingly, aren't very happy about that, and they said as much in the form of a lawsuit.

But this isn't your garden-variety lawsuit. It's the kind that's still going strong after a decade and a half. It's the kind that gets a former state prison commissioner held in contempt. It's the kind that can leave lawyers wondering what exactly they saw in this "legal profession" in the first place.

It's also the kind that can lead to the advancement of some novel legal theories, like the ones Circuit Judge William Shashy heard Thursday as state officials unsuccessfully sought the case's dismissal. For example, new state prison commissioner Richard Allen argued that it's not so bad to keep almost 500 state inmates in county jails after the 30-day deadline to transfer them, because, after all, that's only about seven per county. (Besides, county jails aren't quite as jam-packed as state prisons, so shouldn't they just shut up and accept their fair share of overcrowding?)

Shashy also rejected several other dismissal arguments, including 1) "just leave it to the other branches of government," 2) "we're working on it," and 3) "it's just lasted so long, Your Honor." Shashy's response to No. 3: "You act like I like this thing going on. I don't know what you're saying there, but I find that bizarre."

He's not the only one.

In fairness, Gov. Bob Riley pushed several long-needed prison reforms through the Legislature this year, including voluntary sentencing guidelines aimed at restoring some sanity to the criminal justice process. Still, experts say it'll be years before we see any gains from those measures, and Alabama's prison system continues to be so overwhelmed that the state is outsourcing hundreds of inmates to out-of-state facilities. The picture may get prettier in a few years, but it won't stop being ugly any time soon.

So what's the long-term answer to Alabama's prison woes? Simple: Our leaders must stop overreacting and face reality. As The Huntsville Times editorialized last week: "Until the legislators muster the fortitude to stand up to the 'soft-on-crime' allegations by the demagogues who would ignore rationality and practicality for political purposes, not much is going to be accomplished."

Assuming, of course, that endlessly creative legal arguments and never-ending lawsuits count as "not much."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The power of oblivion

Scary: Twenty-five percent of respondents in a recent CNN poll said they have never heard of Karl Rove.

Scarier: Nine percent don't recognize Condoleezza Rice's name.

Scariest: Four percent of respondents claimed they don't know who Dick Cheney is, and some of them might not have been joking.

Even the Lions never did that

Today, in Montgomery, an entire football team was fired.

Great moments in education

For future reference: It's possible to teach about the Civil War without ordering black fifth-graders to sing an old Confederate marching tune during a history presentation.

The 'something new' I've learned today

Two states -- New Jersey and Oregon -- still have laws forbidding self-service gas stations. I was oblivious to this fact, despite having been to New Jersey before. Then again, I never had to fill up there, which probably explains things.

The Pulitzer quest has to start somewhere

I intend to pursue my own Rabbit of Approval. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Yeah, that's really not happening

Lee over at A Bama Blog has discovered even more reasons why Larry Darby, founder of the Atheist Law Center, won't win the Democratic nomination for Alabama attorney general.

In case it wasn't enough that Darby hosted a speech by a Holocaust denier last year, The Tuscaloosa News reported last month that he personally thinks the Nazis killed no more than 70,000 Jews. And in case that wasn't enough, Darby also thinks the Supreme Court had no right to order school desegregation.

In an indication that few people are aware of Darby's views yet, recent polls show that he trails Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, Jr., by a mere 9 points in the Democratic primary race. Fortunately, more than two-thirds of the voters are still undecided, which means Tyson should steamroll to victory once people start paying more attention to politics in a few weeks.

Bob + skeet = NRA endorsement

It looks like former Gov. Don Siegelman may have been slightly mistaken about that idea that Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, is a beloved figure among "liberal anti-gun extremists."

In related news, Riley's opponent in the GOP gubernatorial primary, Roy Moore, would like the world to know that he and his three sons are all armed.

When red is actually purple

For the first time, The Birmingham News reports today, a major statewide poll has found that a majority of Alabama's registered voters think the Iraq war "is not worth it." More than half also would vote President Bush out of office if given the chance.

I place limited stock in the survey, because its respondents' partisan breakdown is 46 percent Democrats and 43 percent Republicans. As a reflection of the whole state, that just doesn't ring true to me, nor does the suggestion that only 4 percent of voters identify as independents. If future surveys from a variety of pollsters show that lots of independent voters have moved to the Democratic camp, that'd be a different story, but it's not a story to accept as gospel based on one poll.

Still, other recent polling has shown that Bush's popularity is in freefall even in a state where he won re-election with 64 percent of the vote in 2004. The April installment of SurveyUSA's 50-state tracking poll shows Bush's approval rating down to 45 percent in Alabama, with 51 percent disapproving of his performance. That number is down 6 points from the previous month, and it's one more indicator of the fallacy of the idea that most voters can be painted immutably red or blue.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Hey, he said it...

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who has qualified for a May 20 mayoral runoff with 38 percent of the vote: "[I] never thought I'd have this kind of support after some of the crazy things I said."

So I won't even mention it

Yes, President Bush visited Tuskegee University last week. Yes, he talked about the need for Americans to lead the world in scientific research. And yes, my sardonic side could tack on the phrase, "Except for global warming or stem cells or evolution, of course." But what would be the point of that?

Another proud campaign trail moment

Tracy Birdsong, a GOP candidate for the Alabama Supreme Court, received cheers Saturday when she told a crowd in Huntsville that the electorate should vote Republican to rid itself of "liberal activist judges." It was a wise suggestion, considering that Alabama courts, where Republicans hold all nine spots on the Supreme Court and all but one seat on the intermediate appellate courts, are clogged with such hippie types.

The real fun came at the speech's start, though, when Birdsong accidentally moved Huntsville about 170 miles to the southeast.

It's hard out here for a judge

Tom Parker, who wants to be chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has written one original opinion for the court since he became a justice in January 2005. Yes, one.

To say the least, that number compares somewhat unfavorably to the output from the other new justices, Mike Bolin and Patty Smith, who have churned out 38 and 28 opinions, respectively. Parker's GOP primary opponent, Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, handled 24 cases in 2005, even though his caseload is halved due to his obligations as administrator of the state court system.

But Parker, who rode his buddy Roy Moore's Ten Commandments controversy to victory, can explain. You see, it took him a while to hire staffers and get this whole "judging" thing down pat, especially since he'd never been a judge before. Pay no attention to the fact that Justice Champ Lyons somehow wrote 33 opinions in his first year despite also never having been a judge before.

Unsurprisingly, Parker's fellow justices aren't pleased. One is known to have cursed him out this year, and the court is thinking of transferring some of his 73 cases to justices with a track record of writing more than one opinion a year.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sundays are for survey stories

A recent (Mobile) Press-Register poll shows Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley leading former Gov. Don Siegelman by a mere 5 percentage points in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. A few questions:

1) Exactly where has Baxley been, anyway? Has anyone told her that the primary is about a month away and that she might want to start talking about some of her positions, or at least telling the public to check her website for them?

2) Will Siegelman's corruption trial be over by election day? Would Democratic voters hand him the nomination with a federal sword of Damocles still hanging precariously over his head? Any ideas where Alabamians can get a good deal on garden shears?

3) Will Gov. Bob Riley's 44-point lead over former Chief Justice Roy Moore on the Republican side prompt Democrats who otherwise would have crossed over to return to the party fold? And if so, does Siegelman have any chance whatsoever of winning a Democratic primary without large-scale white flight?

4) Will I ever come to accept the (Mobile) Press-Register's name change? Furthermore, should I?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Political rule of thumb

When most people no longer like what you're doing, the best solution is to get someone new to talk in a slightly different way about the same old things they don't like.

In which the year's theme is reintroduced

A postmortem of this year's Alabama legislative session just wouldn't be complete without a look at the bills that passed (or didn't) due primarily or entirely to the fact that it's an election year. Here, now, are a few of those things, each rewarded with its own paragraph:

Nine measures targeting illegal immigration died, including one that rightly would punish employers who regularly hire undocumented workers and another that punitively would permit officials to seize the vehicles and personal property of otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants. The inaction leaves immigration available for lawmakers to use as a hot-button wedge issue in the fall, and even better for them, it allows them to blame the other side for not doing anything.

The state will issue "God Bless America" license plates beginning in October, giving people an alternative to the standard "Stars Fell on Alabama" and a way, at no extra cost, to sort the ultra-patriotic from the merely patriotic.

Alabama public schools won't teach a uniform elective Bible literacy class after the enabling legislation stalled. It might seem counterintuitive to chalk this one up to electoral mechinations, but the bill's failure protects incumbents on all fronts. Public schools still can offer Bible-related electives, the state can avoid a church-state lawsuit, and politicians can dodge the wrath of more conservative Christians who would have been mad that the bill didn't allow the teaching of the Bible as the literal truth.

And yes, in keeping with tradition, state employees got a pay raise in a year ending with an even number. The fact that the move was justifiable on policy grounds -- salaries have fallen behind the cost of living lately -- probably didn't hurt either, but history indicates it wasn't the dispositive factor.

Take a deep breath

Refreshing, isn't it? You can breathe freely now -- humidity and April temperatures in the 90s aside, of course -- secure in the knowledge that Alabama legislators completed another regular session early Tuesday morning, giving them plenty of time to subject you to months of glad-handing and grinning and pledging to do things they're pretty sure they either can't or won't do, followed for most of them by four more years of accruing credit toward a pretty sweet state-funded retirement.

And the advertising! If there exists a finer art form than the well-crafted television attack ad rooted in distortions and half-truths, then I have yet to see it, dear readers. But those who demand more of a back-to-basics approach should fear not: Your craving for a splash of color around every bend surely will be satisfied by the sundry campaign signs spreading across our beauteous roadsides like kudzu on steroids. By August, they actually should be in the roads, bestowing daily commutes with that special touch of Watkins Glen they've all been missing.

OK, back to the here and now. Legislators once again saved a lot of their work for the last minute -- the last day just wouldn't seem as special if they didn't -- and as always, bills running the gamut from great to bizarre wriggled their way out of Goat Hill.

Among the good: The Legislature will require children to ride in booster seats until they turn 6, a compromise version of a measure that originally extended to 12-year-olds. The state also will institute a statewide back-to-school tax holiday on the first weekend of every August, giving parents some needed relief on the costs of school clothes and supplies.

Among the bad: Legislators overrode Gov. Bob Riley's veto to create a new system of legislative pork allocations after the state Supreme Court struck down the old system as unconstitutional. They also failed to strike a deal on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban the use of eminent domain to benefit private owners, but being that Alabama already has a law barring such actions, the real-world legal fallout amounts to precisely zero.

Among the bizarre: Alabama now has an official state tree fruit. It's the peach, and it's not to be confused with the blackberry, which is the state's official non-tree fruit. The move is believed to be unrelated to the Legislature's designation of the black bear, which sometimes eats berries, as Alabama's official state mammal last month, though Stephen Colbert certainly should investigate.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

'Roy never had much interest in the law'

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Woodall verbally shredded the dynamic judicial duo of Roy Moore and Tom Parker in The Decatur Daily this week, and, well, you should read it all.

Bear in mind two things while reading these comments: 1) Moore, Parker, and Woodall are all Republicans, so the remarks aren't motivated by partisanship, and 2) Woodall isn't running directly against either of them in the primary, so he isn't just jockeying for electoral position. Without further adieu, here are copious excerpts to whet your appetite.

On Parker's newspaper column condemning the other justices for following a U.S. Supreme Court precedent that Parker didn't like: "I think I was the only (justice) who actually called Parker to cuss him out, but we were all mad. It was cowardly and deceitful, and a whole lot of other words that I guess I won't say here."

On Moore's approach to church-state issues: "Roy never had much interest in the law. I'd say he has an average legal mind. ... I sometimes think (Moore) has said it so much he's starting to believe it, but it's all gibberish."

On Parker's efficiency: "He doesn't handle his cases; he just lets them pile up. He's apparently so busy conspiring against the rest of the court that he doesn't have time to be a judge."

On Moore's gubernatorial run: "I think it would set the state back 40 or 50 years ... if Moore becomes governor."

On the changing definition of conservatism: "I had always thought following the law was conservative, but apparently not."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The price you pay to play the game

Barring a gubernatorial veto, the early presidential primaries are coming to Alabama in 2008, and I love it. Finally, our state will get to be inundated by power-hungry politicians and saturated with vitriolic attack ads and filled to the brim with stump speeches packed with infuriatingly transparent pandering and meaningless soundbites and hollow promises and... um...

There was a reason I liked this idea, right?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter, everyone

Here's hoping it was a great one. FYI, if ever you wondered how Easter festivities came to include a giant rabbit that delivers gifts and colorful eggs, here's an explanation.

(Roy) Moore is less

A lot less, according to a recent survey by the (Mobile) Press-Register. Gov. Bob Riley holds a 44-point lead over the (former) Alabama chief justice in the Republican gubernatorial primary race. A possible explanation from (poll) director Keith Nicholls: "Except for his claim that mad cow disease is a government conspiracy designed to compromise the privacy rights of our livestock, the Moore campaign has been rather quiet."

Yes, (out-of-state) readers, you read the previous sentence correctly. Nicholls (again) with a conclusion: "It's hard to imagine what might happen to bring Moore back to competitiveness. Bottom line is that the fat lady may not have sung for Roy Moore, but she's warming up."

And yes, this (probably) is the last Press-Register wisecrack.

Ah, the power of posterboard

Seen this weekend at a northern Alabama rally against illegal Hispanic immigration: a sign reading "Remember 9/11."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Bowled over

Legion Field. Birmingham. Christmas Eve Eve. Akron vs. Tulsa. Or maybe Ball State vs. East Carolina. Or, in the best-case scenario, West Virginia vs. Marshall in a mountaineer classic.

Don't worry; there'll be enough seats for everyone.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Now give me a talk show

Forget about the War on Christmas. It's time to hunker down in the trenches for the War on Biased Opinions.

Things I just don't get

In ascending order of incomprehensibility:

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

'Twas a fine time for some time off

So, aside from:

... what did I miss?