Blacknell.net

Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Month: January 2007 (Page 2 of 3)

Meanwhile, in Georgia

So, you can’t buy alcohol on Sunday in Georgia. Not just this Sunday. Any Sunday. As you can imagine, this is sort of annoying. More than one Sunday afternoon has been marred by the inability to crack open a cold one on your deck, because you hadn’t quite planned ahead for that moment of desire for a beer. Now the Georgia legislature wants to put the matter up for a referendum. Which, as you might imagine, would almost certainly do away with this antiquity of a law. So, what does Gov. Sonny Purdue think? The AJC tells us:

Gov. Sonny Perdue said Wednesday he does not support letting Georgians vote on the question of allowing Sunday beer and wine sales at grocery and convenience stores.

“Think of it this way,” the governor added in the radio interview. “It really helps you plan ahead for the rest of your life — buying on Saturday, rather than Sunday. Time management.” [emphasis supplied]
Perdue did not elaborate on why he does not support Sunday sales, and his aides declined to clarify the matter. A religious conservative who does not drink, Perdue has vetoed several alcohol bills in the past.

God knows best, you see. And Sonny’s just his messenger. And his time management guru, it seems.

Random Flickrness


It’s funny how some rather plain pictures posted on flickr get quite a bit of attention, and other – very impressive works – don’t get nearly the attention they deserve.

I quite like the picture above, but it’s nothing particularly special. I just happened to be in a plane with a relatively unscratched window on a clear day. Within a day of posting it, however, I had a few hundred views and dozens of people had labeled it a favorite. This, while some of my favorite pictures slip into obscurity.

Del. Frank Hargrove, another VA GOP Shining Star

While debating a proposed resolution apologizing for Virginia’s role in slavery, we encounter another of the Virginia GOP’s best and brightest:

“I personally think that our black citizens should get over it,” [Del. Frank] Hargrove said of slavery, which existed in Virginia from 1619 until the Civil War. “By golly, we’re living in 2007.”

But wait, it gets better!

“Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?” Hargrove wondered. “Nobody living today had anything to do with it.”

Must be seeking the GOP nomination for the Senate, or something . . .

Updated to add:  Really, to hear so many objections from a conservative population that otherwise fetishizes empty gestures (One nation under God, In God We Trust) should be surprising. But, of course, it isn’t. Because if there’s anything more predictable about many of today’s “conservatives” than pointless public proclamations of faith, it’s their steadfast devotion to racism.

Battening Down the Hatches

Josh Marshall & Co are on what I suspect is a very important story:

Okay, so we already know that the White House has now taken the unprecedented step of firing at least four and likely seven US Attorneys in the middle of their terms of office — at least some of whom are in the midst of corruption investigations of Bush administration officials and key Republican lawmakers. We also know that they’re taking advantage of a handy provision of the USA Patriot Act that allows the White House to replace these fired USAs with appointees who don’t need to be approved by the senate.

Now go look at the qualifications of one of the replacements.  Really, there isn’t anything these people won’t do.

You know what you *can* do by committee?

So it seems Dick Cheney is upset that Congress is actually acting like a co-equal branch of government:

Congressional opposition will not influence President George W. Bush’s plans to send more troops to Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday, dismissing any effort to “run a war by committee.””The president is the commander in chief. He’s the one who has to make these tough decisions,” Cheney said.

“He’s the guy who’s got to decide how to use the force and where to deploy the force,” Cheney said. “And Congress obviously has to support the effort through the power of the purse. So they’ve got a role to play, and we certainly recognize that. But you also cannot run a war by committee.”

Well, if that’s the way you want to play it, let’s remind Congress what CAN be done by committee – impeachment.
Update: And George has Dick’s back:

Asked if he believes that he, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, has the authority to order troops to Iraq in the face of congressional opposition, Bush said, “In this situation, I do, yeah.”“I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it,” he said. “But I made my decision, and we’re going forward.”

This is insane.

Saturday Afternoon

There’s been some light buzz about National Review contributor Rod Dreher’s recently broadcast NPR audio essay.  In short, the scales have fallen from his eyes.  I can’t say that I’m particularly moved by it, but it has generated some interesting analysis.

~

Bet you didn’t know that, in addition to the prying eyes of the FBI, the NSA, and the TSA, you’ve now got to contend with . . . the United States military:

The Pentagon has been using a little-known power to obtain banking and credit records of hundreds of Americans and others suspected of terrorism or espionage inside the United States, part of an aggressive expansion by the military into domestic intelligence gathering.

~

Oh, I really want to go here.  The New York Times, despite its other journalistic failings, has a reliably excellent travel section (I particularly like their 36 Hours in ____ feature).  How could they make it better?  Well, I might find a way to make myself available for an assignment or four . . .

~

I love the Gmap Pedometer.   The link is to my ride this afternoon.  It was, because of the trip (and feeling really awful after it), the first ride of the year.  Final road bike mileage for last year was 1,961 miles, which was a fair bit less than what I’d hoped.  I started to kick myself for not heading out for a long ride before the trip so I could at least claim at 2k, but then I decided I could count my mountain biking mileage towards the total (I don’t know what it is, but it’s certainly more than 39 miles . . .).   Goal for this year?  At least 6,500km.  I’d originally written – “At least 4,000 miles.”, but then, inspired by this thread at Slashdot, I’ve decided to at least try to get a better feel for a kilometer.  So now the Flight Deck is set to kilometers, instead of miles.

Celebrating the un-American

Jim Hoeft, at Bearing Drift, ably takes on official Virginia’s celebration of Lee-Jackson Day. I find Lee-Jackson Day even more offensive than I did the Confederate Memorial holiday that always surprised me with a day off when I lived in Georgia . . .

~

And speaking of celebrating un-American values, why is this man still working at the Defense Department? Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (for detainee affairs) Cully Stimson, is a former federal attorney and Navy lawyer. And yet he had the . . . I don’t even know what to call it . . to say this on Federal News Radio:

“It’s shocking. The major law firms in this country . . . are out there representing detainees.”

[ . . . ]

”I think quite honestly when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists that hit their bottom line in 2001,” he said, “those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms.”

When I heard that on the radio this morning, my jaw dropped.  It’s a subject for a much longer post, but if there is one thing I can point to that gives me hope for the profession as a whole, it’s the willingness of such firms to step in and do exactly what they’re doing – devoting enormous amounts of resources to very unpopular causes and clients, pro bono.  Karen Mathis, president of the ABA, put it well:

‘Lawyers represent people in criminal cases to fulfill a core American value: the treatment of all people equally before the law.  To impugn those who are doing this critical work — and doing it on a volunteer basis — is deeply offensive to members of the legal profession, and we hope to all Americans.”

More on Stimson’s appalling contribution to the public conversation here.

Istanbul, Part I

As mentioned yesterday, I capped off what turned out to be quite the year of travel earlier this week. This final trip was the result of wanting to join a close friend in his hometown to celebrate his recent wedding. His hometown? Karachi. Not exactly a weekend in upstate New York. After consulting the combined crystal balls of the internet, work requirements, and my own hope to one day touch down in every country on the planet, the trip was broken into three parts: a long Christmas weekend in Istanbul on the way there, a week in Pakistan itself, and then a few recovery days in Athens on the way out.

As is my usual habit, this wasn’t a terribly well planned trip. In fact, I didn’t even have my visa to Pakistan until the day before I left (thank you, visa fairy!). In any event, Lonely Planet – as it unfailingly has for years – served me well. Based on an LP recommendation, I’d booked a hotel (via email the night before, natch) that sent a driver to the airport. Thus, on a Friday morning I found myself slightly wedged into to the front seat of a Fiat*, heading from Ataturk International Airport to the neighborhood of Sultanahmet, where I would be staying.

The route took us mostly along the water’s edge. The water being the Sea of Marmara (new to me!). Not very talkative at first, the taxi driver started pointing out the best seafood joints along the way. This vegetarian just smiled, nodded, and thanked him. With a “thanks.” See, I hadn’t yet sorted out how to pronounce “teşekkürler“, yet. In fact, I should admit it here – I never did manage to wrap my head around much of the Turkish language. I found, however, that I rarely had a problem with any of the English I spoke between “merhaba” (hello) and “teşekkürler” (thanks). Tis an ugly way to travel, but it’s reliable in a pinch.

Since it was a midday arrival, and I’d not really slept on the way over, I didn’t have any ambitious plans for the afternoon. However, the very nice location of the Hotel Turkoman means that very little ambition is required to secure great reward – this is a view from the balcony:

Blue Mosque - Istanbul

That’s the Sultanahmet Mosque, more famously known as the Blue Mosque. While I generally seek boutique hotels well off the beaten path, this turned out to be the perfect location for this trip. Situated on the original Hippodrome of Constantinople, it’s easy walking distance to the most famous of Istanbul’s historical sights, and an easy tram ride away from modern Istanbul.

The Hippodrome itself is now paved, better suited to tour buses carrying tourists than chariots carrying racers. Obelisk of TheodosiusBut it really was fun to stand in the middle of the street, late at night, and imagine the chariots thundering down the very road on which you were standing. And if you need some help to go back in time, all you need do is look to the center median of the southwestern end of the Hippodrome. Standing there are some rather impressive survivors of war, development, and time. There is the Walled Obelsik (10th century, AD), the Serpentine Column (5th Cent, BC), and the Obelisk of Theodosius. It was a bit boggling to realize that it was erected in 390 AD. It was mindblowing when I understood that the obelisk itself (carted off from its original home in Egypt) dates from ~1500 BC.

So it was from this base that my exploration of Istanbul took place over the next few days. The Haiga Sophia was the first stop. Or was that the Ayasofya? Like so many other places in Istanbul, there’s the Byzantine name, and then the Ottoman name. (Go ahead, get it out of the way.) It was first built in the 4th century, but most of the present form was constructed in 537. Look at it. 537.

Ayasofya

It was originally built as an Eastern Orthodox church. It then served as a Roman Catholic Church for a bit. By 1453, it had been converted to a mosque. It owes its present form, a museum, to a 1935 order by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (founder of Turkey and generally very smart man, when it came to handling cultural sore points). Between my years living in Europe, and my travels in general, I’ve wandered through no small number of cathedrals. But I’ve never been through one so . . . big.This article (see the Construction section) does a fair job of explaining how the architects achieved the illusion of a largely unsupported dome, but you really have to see it.

Aya Sophia - IconAya Sophia - Interior DetailAya Sophia - Half DomeAya Sophia - Mirhab

Exploration of the Ayasofya was ably assisted by 80 year old Mustafa, a tour guide picked up at the entrance. Until recently, you couldn’t have forced me to use a tour guide, even at gunpoint. I mean, what could I possibly need them for? I’ve always got a good guidebook, and I can the read the signs as well as anyone, right? Well, I’ve come to appreciate tour guides, for a number of reasons. First and foremost – they will always have something that your guidebook doesn’t (now, it may not necessarily be true . . . but hey, we all love a good story, right?). Second, a good guide is able to adapt to your interests (e.g., Icons? Not all that interesting to me. The politics behind the designation of the Ayasofya as a museum, instead of a mosque? Very interesting to me). Finally, I’ve come to see it as my way of contributing to the local economy, since I don’t really buy much when I travel. I find it far more satisfying to put €20 into the hand of a man who has worked at the Ayasofya since the 1930s than blow it on some naff shelf thing that will end up in a box somewhere. In any event, I recommend that you consider using these folks on your next trip. Getting the right one may take a bit of practice, but if you go with your gut assessment of someone in the initial selection, and remember that they are there to guide you (and not you there to pay them), you’ll usually be fine.

Next up: the bazaars of Istanbul, the Bosphorus, and (consensual!) assault & battery.
*Actually, it was a Tofaş Şahin – described on the web as a “Fiat with a facelift.” Ahem. Sure.

A Year in Travel

2006 Travel

So that’s a map of my travel in the last year – January to January. My best travel year yet, really. Slightly over 86,000 km. Noteworthy trips included:

  • A very rewarding journey through India, Dubai, and South Africa (write up of first half of that trip here, pictures from each section linked through the country name)
  • A quick jaunt to Bermuda – who knew such waters were so close to DC?
  • A multipurpose trip out west – a wedding in San Francisco, some hiking in the Grand Canyon, and the DailyKos convention in Vegas.
  • Mexico City and Tepoztlan, for a wedding – I can’t recall the last time I’d traveled with so many friends.
  • My year end voyage – Istanbul, Dubai, Karachi, Lahore, and Athens (where, as we drove by the American Embassy – you know, the one just hit by a rocket – the cab driver pointed it out as the safest building in Greece . . . ).

I am very lucky, indeed. Want a similar map for yourself? Check out the Great Circle Mapper. Nifty tool.

Floyd Landis in Arlington

I’m not really a sports fan. I enjoy engaging in sports, to be sure, but I just can’t find it within myself to care all that much about the sports exploits of others. I know that Hank Aaron has the home run record, Nottingham Forest is a shadow of its former self, and that any decent person ought to hate the Yankees on general principle. And that’s about it. So I don’t follow any teams, I don’t know anyone’s stats, and I don’t really understand why anyone else would.

But Floyd Landis fascinates me. See, despite what I said above, I ended up watching the Tour de France this past summer. The whole thing, every day. And what Floyd Landis did on Stage 17 was something beyond sport, for me. Beautiful. Shocking. Inspiring. There aren’t enough superlatives, I think. And being a cyclist who has had to deal with some serious orthopedic issues, too (both descriptions being an order of magnitude less accurate for me than him, admittedly), I have to say that I found something very personally satisfying about witnessing his accomplishment.

Seeing that accomplishment thrown into question immediately after the Tour was extraordinarily disappointing. Enough so that I wanted to make sure that I understood exactly why I was being disappointed – had I just been drawn in by another doper, like countless other sports fans? So I followed the exact claims pretty closely, reinforced my belief that Dick Pound should be unemployed, and read Landis’ Wiki Defense with great interest. While I don’t think that Landis has a solid affirmative defense against the WADA charges, I don’t think he needs one. In fact, the WADA charges were bunk in the first place. If WADA is actually interested in controlling doping in cycling, and the Landis case is any indication of how seriously it takes that effort, cycling is screwed. And Floyd Landis, (un)fortunately, is one of the few in a position to really make that case, and push for change.

So, in short, I think Landis is doing important work in publicly pushing his case. Which brings me to last night. As CyclingNews put it:

[Last night,] Floyd Landis met cycling fans in an intimate, town-hall style gathering. His goals were to raise money for the recently launched Floyd Fairness Fund (FFF) and to enable local members of the cycling community to directly interact with him.

Landis spoke to an audience of about 130 people for less than ten minutes before he fielded questions from attendees, most of whom were members of the local cycling community. The event was not publicized to the media in advance, but word spread quickly through the cycling community.

I got a chance to ask him about the big picture – putting aside the details of his case, what does WADA need to do to be fair and effective in controlling doping in cycling? Landis said he didn’t really have an answer, but that he did think that WADA’s having absolutely no interest in the sport of cycling was a big part of the problem. He paired that with acknowledging that if WADA was too interconnected with cycling, we’d have a rubberstamp body that no one trusted. When I suggested that firing Dick Pound might be a start, he said, “Do you mean, have him killed?” :)

Other comments from Landis:

  • He “feels bad for the Tour” itself. He said that the organizers (who have not been kind to him, in the press) have just said what they needed to say, and that he’s got some sympathy – just as he didn’t get a proper victory celebration, they didn’t get one, either.
  • He’s still riding with Dave Z, who’s a great rider who has “no problem with the pedaling part – it’s just the staying on his bike that he’s got trouble with.”
  • Prefacing it with “Well, I don’t have any friends left anyway”, he tells us that he thinks Patrick Lefevere makes Pat “Beware the Mafia Nations!” McQuaid look like a genius. Now that’s saying something.
  • If he were a rider who wasn’t implicated, he’d be afraid to speak out on the doping control issue. He doesn’t think that anyone can take his side without putting himself at risk from retribution by a very closed system.
  • He didn’t know it would be that easy to scare Lance out of a race (referring to the Leadville 100). Maybe he should enter the next marathon, too? He might also be entering the Shenandoah Mountain 100, which I hope he’ll do (because that will make sure I train adequately for it, and don’t talk myself out of it a few weeks before it happens).
  • His current garage: one each of a road bike, time trial bike, and a mountain bike. (Which means that I’ve somehow convinced myself that I need more bikes than the Tour champ. Hmm.)

The evening itself was great, and if he comes to your town and you care at all about cycling, I suggest you try to make it. About 130 people showed (either $25 in advance, or $35 at the door). There was something of a silent auction (~$250 for a signed poster, $875 for a signed yellow jersey), and an auction of a signed bottle of Jack Daniels (which went for $375 – I dropped out sub $200). He also signed most anything that was presented to him, and was very accessible and chatty in general.

While this was a hastily organized affair (notice of it only went out to cyclists on Monday, and no media announcement), I get the impression that it might be the first of many. I imagine that any schedule would be announced on the Floyd Fairness Fund website. If you’re interested in reading more analysis of the underlying doping claims, Trust But Verify is a great resource.

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