One pumpkin was harmed in the making of this post

Here is the pumpkin David Sedaris drew in my book at a book signing Danielle and I went to last Halloween. He drew this moments after I told him, in response to his question, that I usually spend Halloween with the lights off, pretending that I’m not at home.

Tonight, as we arrived home, the neighborhood kids were out trick-or-treating. True to form, I pretended that I wasn’t home, even though they saw us. It’s easy, really. Walk inside, lock the door, turn all lights off, pull the blinds shut. Works like a charm. The only thing showing is the pumpkin I carved.

I might be a little off in the head.

Nitpicking my own semantics

When I implied that Judge Alito is an “originalist” in my earlier post, I meant to imply that he’s a strict constructionist, which is the term of choice President Bush and his fellow conservatives like to run up the flag pole. The terms can get a little muddled. I didn’t help that, but it was apparent what I meant, i.e. not legislating from the bench. Specifically, Judge Alito’s ruling in Doe v. Groody doesn’t appear to mesh with the idea of reading only what’s in the text of the Fourth Amendment.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I don’t see any word resembling “affidavit” in there, but I’m sure this is an oversight on my part and not a former prosecutor’s defense of state power at the expense of Constitutional rights.

The potholes will lead to the sinkhole

Major League Baseball’s return to D.C. in 2005 made me happy. I saw the Phillies live seven times at RFK Stadium this year and couldn’t have been happier. (I could’ve been if we’d won one of the two we lost when I saw them, because then we could’ve played the Astros for the Wild Card, but such is life for a Phillies phan.) Area residents rallied behind the Nationals, showing an exuberance for the team many suspected would develop more slowly over the next few seasons. Major League Baseball made the correct decision, but it was the inevitable decision. D.C. could not be logically excluded over Las Vegas or Portland, and everyone but the D.C. City Council knew it. They were the group that Major League Baseball held hostage negotiated with, though, which is why the District now faces this mess:

The District government filed court papers yesterday to seize $84 million worth of property from 16 owners in Southeast, giving them 90 days to leave and make way for a baseball stadium.

By invoking eminent domain, city officials said last week, they hope to keep construction of the Washington Nationals’ ballpark on schedule to open in March 2008. The city exercised its “quick take” authority, in which it takes immediate control of the titles to the properties.

Under law, the property owners and their tenants must vacate the land within three months unless a judge declares the seizure unconstitutional.

In papers filed in D.C. Superior Court, city attorneys said: “The Properties subject of this action . . . are taken for an authorized municipal use, namely the construction and operation of a publicly owned baseball stadium complex.”

This is crap, of course, because authorized doesn’t mean legitimate, but when was the last time that stopped a government from invoking eminent domain? I hope the property owners have good negotiators to achieve a reasonable price. And attorneys when this ends up in court because the city won’t pay a reasonable price. That’s just me thinking government should serve the public. I could be wrong.

I’m not, naturally, so I’ll move on to this:

Some activists have argued that the stadium is a private project for Major League Baseball, but District leaders say the $535 million project will create significant tax revenue [sic]. Developers have snatched up land just outside the stadium plot in anticipation of a waterfront revival, and the city is planning to create a “ballpark district” featuring restaurants and retail.

Their goal as a Major League Baseball franchise is to win baseball games, but that’s only one goal. The Nationals are a business. Their most important goal is to make a profit. (The owners of the Phillies ran the team for years to not lose money. Big difference. But I digress.)

One way they do earn a profit is by enticing fans to pay money to come to the ballpark. As a business the team controls its expenses for wages, overhead, maintenance, and whatever other expenses a baseball team encounters. How is acquiring use of a ballpark not inherent in their business? What makes the local government better at managing the ballpark than the team that plays there (or a separate private entity)?

It’s inappropriate for the city government to build a stadium solely to generate tax receipts. That isn’t the government’s purpose. It’s not why citizens entrust the government to issue debt, which is what D.C. will do to finance the stadium. Government’s purpose in this case is to provide functioning infrastructure, law enforcement, and tax policies. The team should take care of the rest. Until the city gets the revenue from the stadium, it shouldn’t pay the costs.

This should be obvious to the city, but its eyes are too glued to the golden calf of tax receipts. But how golden is it? Tax receipts generated by the Nationals arrival in D.C. fell short of expectations this year.

The District government appears likely to fall short of its goal of earning $10.5 million in tax revenue [sic] from sales at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium for Washington Nationals games, even as the team is on pace to earn larger profits than estimated just four months ago.

The city’s potential tax shortfall from revenue generated by sales of tickets, parking, concessions and merchandise could be more than $500,000, according to financial officials, who expect to have final numbers at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the Nationals, still owned by Major League Baseball, exceeded expectations by selling 2.7 million tickets in their inaugural season and will earn a $25 million profit, about $5 million more than the team projected at midseason, team officials said.

Why should anyone who pays taxes to the D.C. government believe the District’s projected tax receipts for the new ballpark district?

I can’t wait to hear the Eagles scream

Virginia Tech battles Boston College tonight on ESPN. I’ll watch from my sofa because I don’t have tickets, but if I did, I’d invoke this logic:

Some colleges have been reluctant to play on Thursday night because administrators feel the midweek games put too much of a burden on fans who travel from far away to attend the games. There are a limited number of hotel rooms in Blacksburg, and many fans have to take Friday off work.

“The special thing about it is it’s a prime-time game,” guard Will Montgomery said. “You get so many vacation days, so you might as well use one on this game. It’s as good of a reason as any.”

“I think with our fans, taking that next day off is the least of their worries,” Beamer said. “They’re loyal fans, and they’ll be ready for Thursday night.”

The forecast is for cold, clear skies. There are fans who would let an “inconvenience” like that stop them from going, but Hokies aren’t like that. I know this for a fact because even my grandmother stood in Lane Stadium for more than three hours during this:

Hokies fans proved how rabid and loyal they were when Virginia Tech beat Texas A&M, 35-19, on a Thursday night in September 2003. With Hurricane Isabel knocking out electricity to more than 1 million people in Virginia, a crowd of 65,115 still showed up at Lane Stadium and withstood a downpour and 37-mph winds. “The atmosphere is just wild and crazy on Thursday nights,” Lewis said. “It’s hard for the quarterback to make audibles and calls. You’ll see him walk up to the line and get in everybody’s ears because they can’t hear him. I think the crowd makes it a bigger game. That’s why Thursday night games are so big here because the stadium gets so loud.”

Game on.

Can Children’s Services invoke Eminent Domain?

You’re going to be shocked, but I have an opinion on this story:

A Roman Catholic high school has ordered its students to remove their online diaries from the Internet, citing a threat from cyberpredators.

Students at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta appear to be heeding a directive from the principal, the Rev. Kieran McHugh.

Officials with the Diocese of Paterson say the directive is a matter of safety, not censorship. No one has been disciplined yet, said Marianna Thompson, a diocesan spokeswoman.

It’s a private school, so no civil rights are being abused. That doesn’t make it right. It’s not even the most appropriate response a learning institution could pursue. Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation offered this, which is too logical and obvious for the school, I suppose:

“But this is the first time we’ve heard of such an overreaction,” he said. “It would be better if they taught students what they should and shouldn’t do online rather than take away the primary communication tool of their generation.”

The real issue for me in this is the likely reason the school believes this is within its bounds. The parents who enroll their kids in Pope John XXIII Regional High School probably signed something giving the school the ability to make this decision for their children. But why do parents feel this is good parenting? Better to learn early that parents own children.

This is a high school, where the “kids” are within a few years of adulthood. Sooner rather than later they’ll be making decisions on their own, involving themselves in relationships and activities with the same potential consequences that the school aims to protect with this policy. Shielding them from the world before turning them loose is an abdication of a basic purpose of education. Parents signing this away is worse.

I’d say I’m surprised, but I’ve written enough about that concept to know that it shocks only the foolish.

When Constitutional Rights Become Whimsical Privileges

There is a time for law-and-order government, but it should be within the law. It’s shameful that the case of Jose Padilla has gotten this far:

“Dirty bomb” suspect Jose Padilla has asked the Supreme Court to limit the government’s power to hold him and other U.S. terror suspects indefinitely and without charges.

The case of Padilla, who has been in custody more than three years, presents a major test of the Bush administration’s wartime authority. The former gang member is accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive device.

Justices refused on a 5-4 vote last year to resolve Padilla’s rights, ruling that he contested his detention in the wrong court. Donna Newman of New York, one of Padilla’s attorneys, said the new case, which was being processed at the court Thursday, asks when and for how long the government can jail people in military prisons.

“Their position is not only can we do it, we can do it forever. In my opinion, that’s very problematic and something we should all be very concerned about,” she said.

Maybe he’s guilty, maybe not, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s an American citizen being jailed without charges. Three years is not a reasonable length of time to hold someone. If the government can’t figure out what he might have done, all involved are incompetent. If they’ve formed an opinion, but don’t feel obligated to share that with anyone, Padilla included, because they believe national security is more important than the Constitution, they don’t believe in the Constitution. They might as well declare the Constitution null and void. The Supreme Court is trying to do that, but it hasn’t gotten there yet. Until it does, the courts need to force the Justice Dept. to charge or release Padilla.

There’s hope that principles will prevail, as evidenced by this piece of logic:

“I think the court is going to have to take it,” said Scott Silliman, a former Air Force attorney and Duke University law professor. “This is a vital case on the principle of an American citizen captured in the United States, and what constitutional rights does he have.”

Of course, I believed that we’d already decided that issue through more than two hundred years of legal proceedings. That’s also why the next Supreme Court nominee is so vital. Better to have someone who understands that the Constitution exists than to have someone who will offer complete deference to the whims of the president. (This is where lackeys for President Bush like to add “in war time”. Until someone can offer a tangible definition of how we’ll know when the war is over and the presidency can revert to peace time rules, I’m leaving it out.)

You may now feel copious amounts of envy.

Now that VH1 is back with I Love the 80s 3-D, I’m once again glued to the television. Pop culture memory lane is tremendous fun. Yet, I can’t watch the Modern Humorist segments without feeling I’ve slipped into a bizarre fourth dimension. Seeing a childhood friend on television, especially in a cool show, is still weird. Every time.

I can’t wait to see who’s next.

This is the meat of President Bush’s statement accepting Harriet Miers’s nomination withdrawal:

I understand and share her concern, however, about the current state of the Supreme Court confirmation process. It is clear that Senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House – disclosures that would undermine a President’s ability to receive candid counsel. Harriet Miers’ decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the Constitutional separation of powers – and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her.

I’ll just reiterate what most people are saying about that. Duh. What did President Bush expect to happen when he nominated his White House Counsel as a stealth candidate? With little other indication of her thinking, that’s what the Senate must fall back upon. He can’t pretend that this is the Senate’s fault. He wants the Senate to abdicate its responsibility, which I find as disturbing as the original nomination.

But this concerns me more:

I am grateful for Harriet Miers’ friendship and devotion to our country. And I am honored that she will continue to serve our Nation as White House Counsel.

Am I the only one concerned that she’s staying on as White House Counsel, providing legal advice on the Constitution when we now know enough about her grasp of Constitutional principles to make a decision?

Success isn’t always good?

Rather than go too deeply into explaining why this drivel is condescending, ignorant, and offensive, I’ll just highlight paragraphs and counter the writer’s non-arguments.

Like a lot of African Americans, I’ve long wondered what the deal was with Condoleezza Rice and the issue of race. How does she work so loyally for George W. Bush, whose approval rating among blacks was measured in a recent poll at a negligible 2 percent? How did she come to a worldview so radically different from that of most black Americans? Is she blind, is she in denial, is she confused — or what?

If President Bush has a 2 percent approval rating among blacks, some people need to be in that 2 percent. Given that there are what, 40 to 50 million black Americans, I don’t find it hard to believe that Ms. Rice is one of the 900,000 or so who supports the President. Or is the implication that those two percent are race traitors?

Rice’s parents tried their best to shelter their only daughter from Jim Crow racism, and they succeeded. Forty years later, Rice shows no bitterness when she recalls her childhood in a town whose streets were ruled by the segregationist police chief Bull Connor. “I’ve always said about Birmingham that because race was everything, race was nothing,” she said in an interview on the flight home.

Or maybe she found a smarter way to deal with the situation as it existed. Dealing with what is makes more sense than whining about what is. But that’s only a recipe for success. I could be wrong.

She doesn’t deny that race makes a difference. “We all look forward to the day when this country is race-blind, but it isn’t yet,” she told reporters in Birmingham. Later she added, “The fact that our society is not colorblind is a statement of fact.”

Or maybe she found a smarter way to deal with the situation as it existed. Dealing with what is makes more sense than whining about what is. But that’s only a recipe for success. I could be wrong.

But then why are the top echelons of her State Department almost entirely white? “That’s an artifact of foreign policy,” she said in the interview. “It’s not been a very diverse profession.” In other words, there aren’t enough qualified minority candidates. I wondered how many times those words have been used as a lame excuse.

Are there qualified minority candidates being passed over for lesser-qualified white candidates? I have no idea, but this provides me no evidence to support what the author expects me to conclude, that racism is the only reason the State Department is almost entirely white.

One of the things she somehow missed was that in Titusville and other black middle-class enclaves, a guiding principle was that as you climbed, you were obliged to reach back and bring others along. Rice has been a foreign policy heavyweight for nearly two decades; she spent four years in the White House as the president’s national security adviser. In the interview, she mentioned just one black professional she has brought with her from the National Security Council to State.

That speaks for itself.

As we were flying to Alabama, Rice said an interesting thing. She was talking about the history of the civil rights movement, and she said, “If you read Frederick Douglass, he was not petitioning from outside of the institutions but rather demanding that the institutions live up to what they said they were. If you read Martin Luther King, he was not petitioning from outside, he was petitioning from inside the principles and the institutions, and challenging America to be what America said that it was.”

The civil rights movement came from the inside? I always thought the Edmund Pettus Bridge was outside.

I know very few black Americans who think of themselves fully as insiders in this society. No matter how high we rise, there’s always that reality that Rice acknowledges: The society isn’t colorblind, not yet. It’s not always in the front of your mind, but it’s there. We talk about it, we overcome it, but it’s there.

Secretary Rice implies that she always considered herself “inside”. She expected to be considered “inside” and behaved accordingly. Seeing where she is today, the institutions seem to recognize what she believed. Is it possible the institutions would recognize her feeling of being “outside”, if that’s what she’d chosen to believe?

Consider what Sec. Rice said (“The fact that our society is not colorblind is a statement of fact.”) and what the writer said (“The society isn’t colorblind, not yet.”). Two different worldviews exist in those similar but quite distinct statements. Which is more cynical and self-perpetuating?