31 / January
31 / January
2006 State of the Union

Due to travel plans, I'll be unable to watch the president's state of the union address. But many political-junky readers, I'm sure, will be glued to their television sets. Fill me in, by grading the style and substance, on how the president's speech went.

Senate Confirms Alito

The Senate, despite the efforts of Ted Kennedy and allies, has confirmed Samuel Alito as the 110th justice of the United States Supreme Court. The final tally was 58 for, 42 against. Conservatives have wondered "What might have been?" with Earl Warren, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, and numerous other liberal jurists appointed by Republican presidents. They won't be wondering "What might have been?" with Justice Harriet Miers. My sense is they won't be wondering "What might have been?" with Justice Samuel Alito either. It took a while, but it looks like the Right has finally learned to trust principles rather than presidents when it comes to Supreme Court nominees.

Postcard From Prague

I write from Prague, which if not the most beautiful city in the world, is the most beautiful city I have ever been to. As my trip winds down, I begin to miss home. I forsake goulash for a hamburger, and deliberately stack a local jukebox with the most American sounding rock that it contains (Lynyrd Skynard, Freebird; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, American Girl; Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fortunate Son; Tom Waits, Downbound Train; Bruce Springsteen, Devils & Dust; and ZZ Top, La Grange). At the same time, I appreciate where I am and know I may not return for many years. I walk across Charles Bridge, read beneath Our Lady of Tyn Church, and visit Prague Castle, for what I hope, is not the last time. Intended as a writing trip, the vacation has been more of a reading trip. I brought three books. I will be leaving with six, dispensing with several clothing items to fit them in my pack. These acquisitions include two volumes of letters, speeches, and articles by Vaclav Havel, in whose one-time jail-cell I am currently residing. Havel is one of the most amazing human beings still breathing, and I'm a little awed to be reading his essays from a cell in which the Czechoslovakian secret police once confined him. That inmate Havel later became President Havel (and one of his jail cells became sleeping quarters for Western tourists) is one of history's welcome ironies. If you've never been to Prague, put it on your "to do" list. For a third time, I've put "return to Prague" on my "to do" list.

30 / January
30 / January
Postcard From Krakow

Brrrrrr, it's cold. I blog from Krakow, where an annual arctic weather invasion keeps all of the tourists away in January...all of the tourists...except...me. In the hostel that serves as my base of operations, I occupy one bed in an eighteen-bed dormitory, which leaves seventeen empty beds. For $15 a night, I got my own room, a locker, use of the computer, breakfast, and laundry. I don't feel ripped off. The frigid air responsible for keeping away the tourists that packed the city when I visited in August is also responsible for the deaths of about 40 Poles in the last week. Weather may have also played a role in the tragic roof-collapse in Katowice that killed at least 60 people.

For me, the dangerous weather resulted in one of the most noble and heroic pub crawls in the annals of pub crawls: the Survival Pub Crawl. I ventured into Kazimierz, Krakow's artsy Jewish district, to eat, drink, read, and write. As merriment distracted, the mercury snuck below two-degrees fahrenheit. That's International Falls-cold! I attempted to make my way back to Krakow's main square. Slowly, my hair, my skin, my bones began to freeze. Must...get...inside. The glow of Zywiec signs led me to safe harbor. I ventured below into dimly-lit, subterranean watering holes. At each stop, a kindly Pole poured an elixir that gave me added protection against the cold. Courage, waning in the face of numbing blasts off the steppes of Poland, returned with each sip. The booming sounds of the industrial/metal band Rammstein, whose discography seems to be the official soundtrack of Polish bars, answers my question: "Should I stay or should I go?" I trudge through the night, stopping on my journey from Kazimierz to the main square at bars only to ensure my survival, and the survival of Flynns not yet born. It is as if the sole purpose of each pub is to support me in my trek. It's Donner Party desparation. The cold has affected my brain. I dream of lighting myself afire to keep warm, dismissing any other consequence besides warmth as unimportant. In the distance, I spot Cloth Hall, the clock on the Town Hall Tower, and a steeple of Kosciol Mariacki. The Survival Pub Crawl ends, thankfully, in my survival.

27 / January
27 / January
Open Thread

From Poland, I can hear the cries of the readership: "Open thread!" And so it is. Say anything about anything in the comments section below.

Postcard From Brno

I write from Brno, the second city of the Czech Republic. Although I have been staying in dives and hostels during my working vacation, I opt to get a real hotel in Brno. You never know what you'll find in a group-accomodation setting, and the crapshoot seems even more so in an out-of-the-way place with a name that starts--Would you like to buy a vowel?--B-R-N. Bedbugs? A man staring inches from my face when I awake? A 300-pound Eastern European woman having a night-terror at 3:51 a.m.? I avoid all of these discommodious possibilities by securing a room in the Grand Hotel, Brno, which is, as its name implies, quite grand. So grand, in fact, that they leave apples at their reception that I help myself to. Perhaps in response, the reception helps itself to claiming that I made a long-distance call to a number, and a nation, that I have never heard of. I decline to pay, and all is well. Although Brno is not the tourist magnet that Vienna or Prague is (which are not the tourist magnets that London or Paris is), it offers a castle atop a hill and a church atop a bigger hill. Spilberk Castle has been overrun by Habsburg, Jacobin, and Nazi armies, and has protected the locals from Swedes, Hungarians, and Prussians. More stunning, and taxing on the legs to get to, is the Catheral of St. Peter and Paul. Like Spilberk Castle, it dates to the 13th century. Then, it was a castle in its own right--Brno Castle. Now, it's a tall church on a tall hill. My Brno sojourn has ended. I am off to Krakow.

26 / January
26 / January
This Is What Democracy Looks Like

If only the Middle East had democracy, terrorism would evaporate. That's the argument, in simplistic form, made by Natan Sharansky in The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, and made by President George Bush in justifying his nation-building project in Iraq. Well, the Palestinians voted--at higher percentage than Americans vote--and...the terrorists won. The Palestinian prime minister announced his resignation today, leaving Hamas to form a government. Does Sharansky wish to rethink his proclamation, "the democracy that hates you is less dangerous than the dictator who loves you"? Does Bush wish to rethink the $350 million in foreign aid he sought for the Palestinian Authority in his most recent state of the union address? Who you vote for, not that you vote, matters most. Palestinians voted to turn their government over to a terrorist outfit. This is what democracy looks like?

Postcard from Salzburg

My time in Salzburg has ended. Salzburg is the beneficiary of magnificent architecture from the hands of man and from the hands of God. Its castle, called Fortress Salzburg, best represents the cooperation between God and man. The awesome man-made structure lies atop a beautiful God-made mountain overlooking the city. The local bishop broke ground in the 11th century (His boss broke ground at some earlier date). Its purpose was to protect church from state. In 1786, the bishop decided to dispense with the armaments that protected Salzburg and open up the Fortress to visitors. Bad move. A visitor from France, Napoleon, seized Fortress Salzburg in 1800. It was the first time a foreigner had taken the complex over until my arrival. Well beneath the castle is Augustiner Bräu, a beerhall which serves the beverage that local monks have brewed for more than 400 years. I drank two giant beers at the giant beerhall. No joke, the beer is divine. Again, God played a hand in one of Salzburg's great attractions. I'm off to Brno, Czech Republic.

25 / January
25 / January
GI Joel

A few years ago, I overheard a demonstrator at a Washington, DC rally remark to his associates that saying one is "pro-troops but anti-war is like saying one is anti-rape but pro-rapist." It's not shocking to hear such utterances at a gathering of droolers who view a sandwich-board as an essential article of clothing. It is shocking to read them in the pages of America's 4th most-widely read newspaper. Joel Stein concedes that he doesn't support America's troops. "An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient," VH1 celebrity-show commentator and Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein writes, "but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying." "I object!" "Couldn't we just settle this with a soccer game instead?" "Let's debate this." "Sir, the men voted on your order, and a majority just don't think it's safe to go into battle today." That's Joel Stein's army. I don't support the troops in Joel Stein's army. We're even.

Just Google It: 'Censorship in China'

Increased trade, investment, and capitalism in closed societies can help open up those societies. But let's not kid ourselves: the fact that Coca-Cola, Levis, and King Kong are popular in totalitarian societies today, doesn't mean the principles laid out in the Bill of Rights will be triumph in totalitarian societies tomorrow. Google's decision to adhere to Chinese censorship restrictions in the search engines that they offer to the inhabitants of the world's fourth largest economy shows that--duh!--corporations value great private profits more than great public principles.

An Ugly American in Salzburg

Austria is much colder than it is on television with the Crocodile Hunter. I don't know how the Aborigines survived half-naked amid all the snow. Perhaps the Aborigines just summer there, as I have yet to spot a single one. I blog from Salzburg, which is home to one of the oldest salt-mining operations in the world. When I point out the coincidence that the city's name and "salt" are so similar, I elicit blank stares. It's frustrating.

Salzburg is celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth later this week. If you don't know about music history, Mozart was made famous by Falco's '80s classic, "Rock Me Amadeus." Unfortunately, the folks in Salzburg have turned their backs on the past. They have completely excluded the reason for Mozart's renown, Falco, from the festivities. Instead, they are focusing on this Mozart guy who was a complete nobody until the song "Rock Me Amadeus" came around. Mozart celebrations even have a dress code, ostensibly to keep out the riff-raff but in reality to exclude the motorcycling, leather-clad followers of Falco who are certain to be furious at this outrageous snub.

Motion pictures, specifically Clark Griswold's rendition of "The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Griswold" from European Vacation, stands as a second reason for the Salzburg area's fame. The local secenry displayed when Rusty, Clark, Ellen, and Audrey dance in the green hills brought an influx of tourists to the area. Again, Salzburg has played down what put them on the map. Instead of European Vacation, the locals tend to highlight some Julie Andrews movie that clearly ripped off European Vacation. Ingrates!

The trip has not been without anthroplogical benefits. The Austrinians have a habit of dropping the whole "g'day mate" routine around foreigners. Whenever I attempt to start a conversation or ask directions, the locals immediately pretend to speak German. How rude! A few answered me, but did so by adopting a Colonel Klink/Klaus Meine accent. I got tired of this treatment, and finally implored my hosts: "Learn the language! Aren't you Austrinians? Speak American!"

Tourists from the United States get the "the ugly American" label thrown at them for alleged cultural insensitivity, ignorance, and bad manners. My two days in Salzburg have turned this stereotype on its head, as events compelled me to educate the Austrinian people on their history, culture, and language. Here's hoping that they show their appreciation by remembering me before they dare label another one of my countrymen an "ugly American."

23 / January
23 / January
When in Bohemia

"When in Rome," the saying goes, "do as the Romans." I have a better saying: "When doing as the Romans, go to Rome." I've been doing as the Bohemians lately. I haven't gotten a haircut since late September. With no 9 to 5 job, I get up when I want and wear what I want, which certainly does not exclude the sweat pants that I wore yesterday. I'm big on water conservation lately. I do a great deal of reading, writing, and thinking, which makes me, in one sense--please no!--an intellectual. All of this puts me firmly in the Bohemian camp. When doing as the Bohemians, go to Bohemia.

I have been in Bohemia, Prague to be exact, for several days. I figured I would fit in better amongst the Bohemians than I do amongst the power-ties, Blackberries, and business-card swapping atmosphere of Washington, DC. I'm writing a book, and there's only so much I can get done in the too-familiar environment of my office/living room/dining room. So, I decided to return to Prague, and Krakow, and to have new adventures in Salzburg (it's Mozart's 250th birthday, you know) and the Czech Republic's second city, Brno. A Prague jail cell in a former interrogation center of the communist secret police, in which the Czech Republic's poet/president Vaclav Havel was once imprisoned, has been my place of residence. That's certainly a change of scenery from my office/living room/dining room.

This is a working vacation, so I'll be doing a lot of reading and writing, and, since I'm in Bohemia, partaking in the beverages they're famous for. All of this, as you may have guessed, leaves little time for blogging. So expect posts to be light for the next couple of weeks. I will be sure to send postcards to the readership from stops along my journey. To save on the postage, I'll post them here, instead of send them individually, for all to read. But as for posts on current events and other FlynnFiles fare? Cut me some slack as I indulge my inner-Bohemian.

NFL Playoff Pool Winner Announcement

The Seahawks and Steelers have emerged as conference champions. Yours truly and Potato Man have emerged as FlynnFiles pool champions. The co-champs beat the pack by going 4-0, correctly selecting the Steelers and Seahawks and the "over" for both games. The early line has Pittsburgh favored by 3.5 over Seattle. You have about a week to ponder how the NFC's number one seed is the underdog to the AFC's sixth seed before I post the official Super Bowl pool. Right now, give respect (the respect the betting public is apparently not giving Seattle) to your conference-championship round pool winners.

20 / January
20 / January
Ronald Reagan Inaugurated President 25 Years Ago

"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem," Ronald Reagan announced upon his inauguration 25 years ago today. In the midst of 70 percent tax rates, and during the aftermath of the New Deal and the Great Society, this was a much more courageous statement in 1981 than it is in 2006. Ronald Reagan restored pride in America, presided over the longest period of peacetime growth in U.S. history (since eclipsed), and won the Cold War without firing a shot. He was called the Great Communicator for his gentle, reassuring manner, for his affability, for his charisma, and for his mere presence. But just by reading the words he spoke on January 20, 1981, one understands why the media dubbed Reagan "the Great Communicator." Does it get any clearer, or simpler, than this? "From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?"

19 / January
19 / January
You Dropped a Bomb on Me

Apparently, we got some of the evil doers. The U.S. airstrike in Pakistan last Friday, which led to "Death to America" chants in Islamabad and condemnation by the Pakistani government, killed at least four al Qaeda members. The manner in which al Qaeda members generally strike (primitive, suicide bombs), and the manner in which we struck them (unmanned, remote-controlled drone), speaks volumes about the clash of the two civilizations.

NFL Conference-Championships Pool

Home teams in caps. All picks are against the spread. Select the team that will cover the spread, and select an "over" or an "under" for each game's point total. Here are my picks:

Steelers +3.5 over BRONCOS; Over 41.
SEAHAWKS -4 over Panthers; Over 43.5.

Best of luck to all participants. Make your selections in the comments section below.

18 / January
18 / January
Miss Hillary's Plantation

Sometimes a picture can tell a thousand words. At least this cartoon, ridiculing Hillary Clinton's remark that the House of Representatives "has been run like a plantation," does.

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

"The political tactic of playing up the soldiers on the battlefield while tearing down the reputations of veterans who oppose them could eventually cost the Republicans dearly," Reagan-era Secretary of the Navy James Webb writes in today's New York Times. That the well-wishers of a president who avoided wartime service would besmirch the reputations of men who actually served--John Murtha is the latest Vietnam vet to come under attack--is in bad taste. It's also bad politics.

Veterans shouldn't be immune from criticism, particularly ones who make their service the issue. But something as sacred as combat experience shouldn't be fodder for spin doctors--particularly ones seeking to aid men who avoided combat. Even Bill Clinton--who once expressed sympathy for "so many fine people...loathing the military"--had the good sense as president to avoid attacking the military records of men who at least had them. Perhaps Bush has that good sense too, which is why party stalwarts have waged these smears on his behalf.

Webb writes: "A young American now serving in Iraq might rightly wonder whether his or her service will be deliberately misconstrued 20 years from now, in the next rendition of politically motivated spinmeisters who never had the courage to step forward and put their own lives on the line." Webb's article is definitely worth reading, but his point about politicians (and the public) discarding soldiers once they come home as veterans has been made before--in Rudyard Kipling's Tommy, in Eric Bogle's And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, in John Fogerty's Fortunate Son.

Whither House Republicans?

The last time GOP backbenchers revolted against the GOP establishment, the Republicans took back the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years and kept the growth of government in check. Now, twelve years after the Contract With America, the Republicans need another house cleaning. Plagued by corruption scandals and a failure to hold the line on spending, the GOP could use new blood. The race to replace Tom DeLay as House majority leader features a DeLay crony in Roy Blunt against Ohio's John Boehner, whose reputation as a good-government conservative has taken a beating as of late. It also features a dark-horse candidate in John Shadegg. Shadegg has a clean image, which will be important to retaining the House for the post-Abramoff GOP, and is more articulate and charismatic than the other candidates. Of greater importance, he voted against No Child Left Behind, the prescription-drug bill, the illegal-alien amnesty plan, and other monstrosities of the Bush II years. For reasons concerning policy and politics, John Shadegg is the right man for majority leader. He makes sense for conservatives disillusioned with the big-government direction of the GOP. He makes sense for Republicans worried about the party's hold on power in the legislative branch. Alas, Shadegg makes too much sense and trails, at the moment, the other two candidates. Republicans aren't called the stupid party for nothing.

17 / January
17 / January
Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin

Ben Franklin, the oldest of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, would be even older--300 to be exact--if he were alive today. The fifteenth of seventeen children, Ben Franklin was a character in a Horatio Alger story before any had been written. He ran away from Boston at seventeen with the pittance he had made from selling his books, only to leave the city $5,000 upon his death. Nearly alone among the founders in attaining the admiration of Europeans, Franklin's experiments with electricity provoked Immanuel Kant into labeling him "the new Prometheus who had stolen fire from heaven." But he did so much more than fly a kite in a lightning storm. He was a pioneer colonial-era printer, publishing Poor Richard's Almanack. He started the first volunteer fire-fighting outfit in the colonies. He founded the University of Pennsylvania. He invented bifocals, the Franklin stove, and the lightning rod. He also invented a phonetic alphabet, but not all ideas catch on. He is the only man to affix his signature to the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris, and the Constitution, and penned an "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union" that served as a rough draft to the document later enacted. He also wrote one of the truly great American autobiographies. Ben Franklin, renaissance man of the Enlightenment, happy 300th birthday!

Celluloid Zeroes

I've never watched the Golden Globes, but it's apparently an awards show that honors the contributions of homosexuals in film. Or maybe it honors films about homosexuals. Anyhow, it definitely has something to do with gay people and it was on last night. Felicity Huffman won best actress for playing a transsexual in Transamerica, a movie that has grossed $506,000 (yes, $506,000, I didn't omit any zeroes) after 46 days in theaters. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was excellent as a gay man in Boogie Nights, won best actor for playing gay author Truman Capote in the biopic Capote. After more than 100 days in the theaters, Capote has grossed $13,266,000. Brokeback Mountain, a film about gay cowboys, won best drama and earned Ang Lee the best director nod. Despite free publicity on par with The Passion of the Christ, Brokeback Mountain has not broken the bank. It's taken in $32,088,000 after 39 days. The rest of the world might think we're all gay from watching our movies. They would discover that we're not if they saw all the empty seats.

Is White Chocolate Welcome in a 'Chocolate New Orleans'?

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin blamed Hurricane Katrina on God's wrath and constructed an imaginary conversation with Martin Luther King, who has been dead for almost 38 years. And that was the milquetoast, under-the-rader, staid part of the speech. "It's time for us to come together," the mayor said in his Martin Luther King Day speech. Coming together, according to Mr. Nagin, means rebuilding a "chocolate New Orleans." But should Special Dark or traditional Hershey's rule "chocolate New Orleans"? Where do mixed bars such as Snickers and Milky Way stand? Mocha chocolate? And Mr. Mayor, what about white chocolate? Is white chocolate welcome in "chocolate New Orleans"? Or are some chocolates more equal than others? The mayor quickly answered such questions, settling the mass confusion that ensued over his use of such a terribly subtle "code word" as "chocolate." By "chocolate," the mayor meant--psssst--black people. "This city will be a majority African American city," Nagin declared. "It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans." There are people who believe God wants their city, or trailerpark, to be majority white. Sometimes they wear hoods.

NFL Playoff Pool Winner Announcement

Morris and Wm. Clement are the co-champs of the NFL Divisional Round Playoff Pool. The victors went 6-2, with Clement winning on all but the Colts and on the under of Panthers-Bears and Morris winning on all but the Pats and on the over of Seahawks-Redskins. Home teams-visitors and favorites-underdogs split on the week, and the under went 3-1. Champs: testify. Chumps: recognize.

16 / January
16 / January
Will the Real Martin Luther King Please Stand Up?

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Along with Christopher Columbus, Jesus Christ, and George Washington (What's obscenely called "Presidents' Day" is still technically recognized by the federal government as "Washington's Birthday."), King is one of four historical figures whose name graces a federal holiday. King belongs to the American nation as few men do. Thus, it is unsurprising, if still annoying, that the martyred civil-rights activist has become all things to all people.

Conservative bloggers are aghast that leftists have appropriated King for their own political purposes.

The editors of the Unalienable Right contend that "it's striking how in tune with modern conservative principles" Martin Luther King's civil-rights writings are. With unintended irony, they continue: "Sadly, many today wish to appropriate Dr. King’s memory for their own political aims." Specifically, the Unalienable Right points to "left-wing" and "anti-Bush" events that commemorate Martin Luther King's birthday. As if Martin Luther King would not approve? In 1964, King demagogically exclaimed: "We see dangerous signs of Hitlerism in the Goldwater campaign." Gateway Pundit chronicles numerous MLK Day gatherings of the far-Left. Of a Sunday rally on the Mall in Washington, DC, the Gateway Pundit writes: "Seen among the crowd were various pro-Palestinian banners and others denigrating America, one calling it 'The greatest purveyor of violence in the world.'" Certainly the people holding such a banner concur with that sentiment, but they're not calling America the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world." They're quoting Martin Luther King. He said that.

Who, really, are abusing the memory of Martin Luther King?

To be troubled by contemporary crackpots, who rail against America as a force for violence or compare to Hitler whomever leads the Republican Party, is to be troubled by parts of Martin Luther King's legacy. The extremists making such ridiculous charges, after all, are merely repackaging for today things that King said yesterday.

Martin Luther King exhibited many admirable qualities and promoted many laudable ideas. This is particularly true if one looks at the big picture. A society that judges a person by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin is better than a society that automatically disqualifies a person because of an irrelevant issue such as skin color. The latter ethos reigned in much of America for most of its history. That it doesn't today is in no small part due to the efforts of Martin Luther King. Recognizing this does not require us to overturn the lesser, disconcerting aspects of King's legacy.

Conservatives look at Martin Luther King and imagine a reflection of themselves in the mirror. To see King as he was and not as we want him to be is no crime against King. To do otherwise is a crime against history.

13 / January
13 / January
Judging the Judge

Samuel Alito's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee is over. Samuel Alito won. Chuck Schumer, Ted Kennedy, Dianne Feinstein, and company lost. While the Republicans on the committee represent a fair cross-section of the GOP, moderate Democrats are nowhere to be found (conservative Democrats, at least in the Senate, have gone extinct). One can't help but wonder if the liberal composition of the Democratic caucus on the Senate Judiciary Committee is by design. If so, the plan has backfired. Sure, Leahy, Kennedy, Biden, Feinstein, Kohl, Feingold, Durbin, and Schumer will stand guard against conservative nominees in a way that, say, Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson, Robert Byrd, Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Tim Johnson, Harry Reid, and Joe Lieberman never would. But they're also more likely to appear more obnoxiously partisan, and liberal, than nearly every other compilation of eight Senate Democrats. They're not fairminded, and when one is demanding fairmindedness in a judge it helps to exibit that trait oneself. In a popularity contest with the American people, everyone (excluding Scott Peterson, Omarossa, and Jack Abramoff) wins standing between Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer. When you stand before and below the likes of Kennedy and Biden, as they sit in judgment, you'll almost always come out on top. That's what happened this week. Samuel Alito's moral and intellectual inferiors sat in judgment upon him, and the judged naturally came off better than his judges.

Government Grows, Deficit Shrinks

The good news is that in December, for the first time in three years, the government ran a monthly surplus--$11 billion to be exact. The bad news is that December also witnessed the largest amount of money ever spent by the federal government in a single month--$231 billion to be exact. In other words, the surplus came exclusively as a result of the government seizing more tax money. Hopefully, this puts to rest the falsehood championed by some conservatives that high deficits necessarily mean smaller government. Bruce Bartlett (whose book, Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, comes out next month), for instance, once argued that conservatives had "discovered that if deficits became large enough, liberals would finally be forced to cut spending." But we discovered no such thing. Deficits have been large during George W. Bush's presidency--as the subtitle to Bartlett's forthcoming book suggests--and government continues to grow, not shrink. Liberals, alas, haven't cut government in the face of a ballooning debt. While there's nothing inherently wrong with running deficits from time to time (individuals run deficits through mortgages, car loans, credit cards, etc.), justifying them by claiming that they contribute to smaller government doesn't ring true.

12 / January
12 / January
Big Girls Don't Cry

What images are more apt to win your sympathy? The scowling faces of vain men with hair plugs, finger-pointing multimillionaires, and an angry, bloated drunk all essentially accusing a man they don't know of being a bigot? Or, Mrs. Alito, leaving the Senate hearings in tears? Big girls don't cry. But it really helps when they do.

Princeton Alumni Have Much To Be Concerned About

Princeton University, despite what you might hear from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, isn't just for white rich men. There are quite a few women and minorities on the faculty, in the administration, and in the student body. I've seen them with my own eyes. One minority is notoriously underrepresented at New Jersey's Ivy: Republicans. For my booklet Deep Blue Campuses, I combed through computerized Federal Election Commission records and found that Princeton employees gave 114 donations to John Kerry in the 2004 election cycle but just one donation to George W. Bush. For every $302 that Princeton employees donated to Kerry, they gave $1 to Bush. So Princeton does have a diversity problem. It's just not the kind that Joe Biden would ever care about. Concerned Alumni of Princeton, the group Samuel Alito apparently was a member of, went defunct almost two decades ago. But Princeton alumni still have much to be concerned about.

NFL Divisional Round Playoff Pool

Week two of the NFL playoffs is here. Here's how the pool works. Home teams are in caps. There are two types of picks you need to make to participate. First, select the four teams you think will cover the spread in the four weekend games. For instance, in the Seahawks-Redskins game, Seattle is favored by nine. That means nine is the "spread," sometimes called the "line." If you pick Seattle, you win if Seattle wins by more than nine. If they win by eight, you lose. If it's nine, it's a push. If you pick the Redskins, you win if the Redskins do better than lose by nine points. Thus, underdog picks can still cover without winning the game outright and favorite picks can still lose against the spread but win the game outright.

The second type of pick you need to make is the "over-under" or "total" pick. Oddsmakers determine a number that both teams might combine to score near. In the Colts-Steelers contest, that number is 47.5. If you think the Colts and Steelers will combine for more than 47.5 points, then pick "over." If you think the Colts and Steelers will combine for less than 47.5 points, then pick "under." That's how the over-under works.

The spreads and the over-unders are set and non-negotiable, which means that you don't get to make up your own spreads and totals. You get to choose a team in each contest, and pick whether the game will go "over" or "under" the "total" that has been determined by the oddsmakers. It's pretty easy. Pick four teams and pick "over" or "under" for those four games. I hope that clears things up and makes the pool less intimidating for newcomers. Here are my picks:

SEAHAWKS -9 over Redskins. Under 41.
Patriots +3.5 over BRONCOS. Over 43.5.
COLTS -9.5 over Steelers. Under 47.5.
Panthers +3 over BEARS. Over 30.5.

Make your selections in the comments section below. Good luck.

11 / January
11 / January
Talk, Talk, Talk. Blah, Blah, Blah. Jabber, Jabber, Jabber.

The more Samuel Alito says, the greater the chance that he'll say something controversial. The more an individual senator says, the greater the time he'll appear on television. Several Democratic members of the judiciary committee have opted for grandstanding over defeating Alito. In other words, they're hogging the camera and allowing Alito to cruise through his confirmation hearings without saying much. Party objectives and member objectives clash, and several key Democrats have opted for--surprise!--their own personal interests.

AnkleBitingPundits analyzed the Tuesday word count of Alito and his judiciary committee interrogators. The senator who likes to hear the sound of his voice the most? Joe Biden, who asked a thirteen-minute opening question. Biden uttered 78 percent of the words in his exchanges with Alito, who got in 22 percent of the words spoken--despite being the questioned and not the questioner. Next in line was the verbose Chuck Schumer, who spoke three words to every one word that came out of Alito's mouth. No doubt Schumer, accostomed to 10-1 ratios, is now complaining about Alito hogging the conversation. Republican Mike DeWine said 72 percent of words to 28 percent for Alito in their discussion. Ted Kennedy landed fourth place on this ignominious list, saying 69 percent of the words to Alito's 31 percent.

All of this has made the hearings quite boring, and almost unwatchable. Alito, like John Roberts, is far more interesting and intelligent than his examiners, one of whom I actually heard refer to the Alien and Sedition Acts in World War I.

The Senate ain't called the world's greatest deliberative body for nothin'. Senators know how to deliberate, pontificate, and speculate; proclaim, propound, and profess; soliloquize, verbalize, and sermonize...

Acid Anniversary

Albert Hoffman, the Swiss chemist who invented LSD, turns 100 today. I'm going to celebrate his birthday by jumping out a window of the seventh-floor of my apartment building, and then running down the street for several miles with two broken legs as a tribe of ghost Indians in flying saucers chase me. How are you planning to celebrate this important date?

No Honor Among Thieves

"Indian gambling lords aren't exactly a sympathetic minority," George Neumayr writes on National Review Online. "Jack Abramoff scammed scammers." Aren't you glad somebody said it? "Why did those poor innocents in the Coushatta Tribe hire Abramoff?" Neumayr asks. "For the noble purpose of driving another Indian tribe's proposed casino into the ground. Abramoff did nothing for the tribe? Not true; he helped them mistreat fellow Indians." This doesn't make Abramoff any less guilty or the Native Americans who hired him any less the victims. It is to suggest that the Indian gaming interests who paid Abramoff were hardly innocent victims. When you pay someone to do something shady to someone else, don't be surprised when your hired help does something shady to you too.

10 / January
10 / January
The Government Is Spying on Americans--The Cuban Government, That Is

If you were Fidel Castro, from what profession in America would you recruit spies? A professor, Carlos Alvarez, who doubles as a diversity trainer, and his university administrator wife, Elsa, were arrested on Friday, and arraigned on Monday, for spying for Cuba. Both worked at Florida International University, a school with a sizable population of Cuban immigrants opposed to Castro, and attended a local Catholic Church known for its support of anti-Castro activists. The FBI charges that the Alverezes sent encrypted messages to Cuba via shortwave radio, and transported messages to and from Cuba on trips to the island prison. The Alvarezes travelled to Cuba several times under the guise of academic exchanges organized by FIU.

Three years ago, I spoke at FIU. Amidst an overflowing crowd, I encountered a hostile group of radical professors, students, and activists who shouted throughout my afternoon talk. I'm sure Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez fit in well in their FIU surroundings. Who knows? Perhaps they attended my speech on Why the Left Hates America with the heckling professors. What troubles me is that on that memorable FIU trip, I also met numerous Cuban Americans active in opposing Castro. The organizer of my FIU speech, as well as the talk-show host who interviewed me on one of Miami's Spanish language radio stations, were both Cubans vehemently opposed to Castro (A type of Cuban not hard to find in Miami--or in Havana for that matter.). The FBI alleges that the academic couple provided Castro with information on Cuban Americans in South Florida. Perhaps information on friends that I made at FIU? What was this information used for? Most anti-Castro activists in South Florida have relatives in the old country. Is the Communist state exacting retribution upon them? Harassing them? Making their lives hard?

Legally, the couple faces lesser punishment because they allegedly spied on private citizens instead of the U.S. government. Morally, the accused may have committed a more horrific offense in spying on private citizens because of the track record Communist governments have compiled in punishing family members of defectors and dissidents.

The Alvarezes face ten years behind bars if found guilty. I know a prison ninety miles south of Florida that would be glad to have them.

Oakland Raiders

In Medina, Muslim religious police hassle Christians wearing crosses and arrest women not wearing masks. In Oakland, Muslim religious police have smashed up liquor stores, set one on fire, and kidnapped a store owner. While the 21st Amendment permits the sale of alcohol, the Koran apparently forbids it. A small sect of Oakland Muslims would rather live under Sharia law than Constitutional law, and they would rather their coreligionist fellow countrymen do so too. Who's next on their list? Sausage vendors? Girls in bikinis? The Muslim attackers are allegedly native-born Americans. The Muslim storeowner victims are immigrants. Presumably, the shopkeeps thought they left behind fundamentalist lunacy when they left their homelands behind. They didn't.

NFL Playoff Pool Winner Announcement

Morris is the winner of the wildcard-week NFL pool. Morris put up a 6-2 record. He split the over-under picks and, more impressively, his teams covered in all four of their games. Visitors won three of four, favorites and underdogs split, and "unders" bested "overs" three to one. Losers: bow before Morris. Winner: take a bow before the groveling mob of inferior handicappers.

09 / January
09 / January
Remember Sam Alito?

Senate confirmation hearings on the nomination of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court begin today. Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement three days before the Fourth of July. President Bush nominated Samuel Alito to replace her on Halloween. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day passed before Alito could get his hearing. Did this delay hurt or help Alito? Conventional wisdom holds that waiting several months before beginning the hearings killed Alito's momentum. But might conventional wisdom be wrong in that Americans have grown so used to the idea of Sam Alito on the Supreme Court that Borking him has become a more difficult prospect?

I'm Harry Belafonte, and I Approve This Message

Inflated rhetoric? Check. Anti-Americanism? Check. Craziness? Check. Singer turned professional lunatic Harry Belafonte showed all of the symptoms of Bush-hater disease in a speech in Venezuela this weekend. The disease, as it did to Janeane Garofalo, Woody Harrelson, and Susan Sarandon, made the once sweet-sounding Belafonte sound like a total crackpot. Belafonte on Sunday called George W. Bush "the greatest terrorist in the world," compared him to Adolf Hitler, and for good measure dubbed him "the greatest tyrant in the world." And Belafonte managed to say all of this on foreign soil, no less. Could he have done anything else to more closely resemble a parody of an unhinged Bush-hater? When George Bush kneels down to say his prayers at night, he would be wise to give thanks to God for blessing him with such enemies.

Leviathan's 'Hammer'

Tom DeLay this weekend abandoned his quest to regain his spot as the House majority leader. The federal budget in DeLay's first year as majority leader neared $2.2 trillion. It's now about $2.6 trillion. The last three year period when government grew at such an alarming rate, another Texan, Jim Wright, from another party, served as House majority leader. Conservatives helped drive Wright from Congress amidst ethics charges. Conservatives have fought to keep "the Hammer" as majority leader amidst ethics charges. Innocent until proven guilty, Tom DeLay deserves a fair hearing on legal charges that may prove dubious. On the charge of aiding and abetting the growth of big government, the verdict is in: DeLay is guilty. It is for that offense, working against the raison d'etre of the post-Goldwater Republican Party, that Republicans should have ousted Tom DeLay long before Democrats made the attempt.

07 / January
07 / January
Why Are Outsiders So Fanatical About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hopes that God will afflict Ariel Sharon's cohorts with similar maladies, and will send Sharon to hell because he was too harsh towards his Palestinian and Islamic enemies. Televangelist Pat Robertson implies that God may have given Ariel Sharon a stroke because he was too generous towards his Palestinian and Islamic enemies. When confronted with the opposing motivations for these disturbingly similar reactions, it's easy to see why peace in the Middle East is so difficult. That the dispute's spectators rather than its participants made these vile utterances demonstrates how passion has overriden reason among even those who have no land, no relatives, and no direct interest at risk in how Israelis and Palestinians come to peace. Manichaeism, fanaticism, and self-righteousness don't lend themselves well to finding common ground.

06 / January
06 / January
A Right to Cold Beer--It's In the Constitution

We are not Englishmen. We are Americans, and we drink our beer cold. But there's a Missouri lawmaker who wants to ban the sale of cold beer. "The only reason why beer would need to be cold is so that it can be consumed right away," theorizes state senator Bill Alter. He believes his legislation would reduce drunk driving if enacted. Like many bad ideas, including proposals to expand birthdays to 365 days a year and to make popsicles one of the four food groups, the proposed ban on store-bought cold beer came from a child--a fifth-grader to be exact. Most of the hardcore drunks that I know aren't too particular about the temperature of their drink. That the liquid has alcohol in it generally suffices. But fifth-graders don't pick up on such peculiarities of the alcohol culture. And what of this infantile notion of a law-breaker buying a twelve-pack cold at 7-11 so that he can drive around as he consumes it? The legislator sponsoring this bill claims to have served in law enforcement for two decades. Surely he knows that a drunk driver rarely drinks behind the wheel, beyond a beer or two, the alcohol that causes his inebriated condition? This bill is just stupid. But not nearly as stupid as what I'm about to write: Americans fought a war against the British because they like warm beer and we like cold beer. And, with the inspiration of our forebears, we will fight another war to protect our right to cold beer if we must.

Death By God?

Pat Robertson suggests that God may have struck Ariel Sharon down. I'm not sure if God took special interest in Ariel Sharon. I do know that Sharon is 77-years old, overweight, holds a stressful job, and has recently suffered from a series of health problems. Might any of these factors have played a larger role in Sharon's grim state than God's wrath?

05 / January
05 / January
Irreligious Intolerance

An Italian man is suing a Catholic priest for claiming in a parish newspaper that Jesus existed. Italy's version of Michael Newdow is basing his suit on laws against swindlers and impersonators. "I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow against the Church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression," Luigi Cascioli explained to Reuters. Exibit A, Exibit B, Exibit C, and Exibit D support the defendant's case. What evidence will exist 2,000 years from now of Mr. Cascioli's existence?

NFL Playoff Pool

The NFL playoffs are here! Home teams are in caps. All picks are against the spread. Because of the limited number of games the playoffs offer, I've added point totals. A "total," or "over-under," is the number of points oddsmakers estimate both teams should combine to score. If the total is, say, 50, and you believe both teams will combine for more points, then choose "Over." If you believe the teams will combine for less than 50, then choose "Under." The "totals" listed below, like the spreads, aren't negotiable. It's pretty simple: pick the four teams that will cover, and pick an "Over" or an "Under" for each contest. Here are my picks:

Redskins +2.5 over BUCS. Under 37.
PATRIOTS -8 over Jaguars. Over 37.
Panthers +2.5 over GIANTS. Under 43.5.
BENGALS +3 over Steelers. Under 46.

Make your selections in the comments section. May the force of Jimmy the Greek be with you.

04 / January
04 / January
Gays Sue To Stop Democracy

Gays in Massachusetts are suing to stop democracy. Groups such as VoteOnMarriage.org have compiled more than double the number of signatures required to place an amendment to the state constitution on the ballot. The initiative would define marriage as between one man and one woman. In other words, the amendment backers want to define marriage the way everyone within Western civilization has always defined marriage. Rather than allow Massachusetts voters to decide this issue, an outfit called Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders filed suit on Tuesday to block the amendment from appearing on 2006 ballots. Having established gay marriage in the Bay State by judicial fiat, the Left now seeks to entrench gay marriage through the courts. Homosexual activists have lost in every state where this issue has been placed before the electorate (PDF), so they are predictably running to judges and away from voters. But even in Massachusetts? If gay activists fear the majority will in a state whose people elected Barney Frank, Althea Garrison, Gerry Studds, and Elaine Noble, in what state do they feel confident of election-day victory? (Amsterdam and San Francisco don't count as states.)

The Bigger the Government, the Bigger the Corruption

If the federal government spent money just on what the Constitution authorizes, no one would have ever heard the name Jack Abramoff. But because the federal government will spend about $2.6 trillion this year, there are thousands of Jack Abramoffs running around Washington looking for their piece. They're not going to jail with him. Abramoff-style lobbyists manipulate officeholders through fair means and foul--campaign contributions, free trips, perks, outright bribes--to give subsidies, or tax breaks, to their clients. The client reaps a small fortune, the lobbyist gets rich, and the legislator receives a relative pittance. We get ripped off. A smaller, decentralized, less powerful government wouldn't eliminate corruption. It would be the best method of curtailing it.

03 / January
03 / January
Spy on Thee, But Not on Me

The same people who blast President Bush for covert domestic-surveillance programs blasted him after 9/11 for his lack of covert domestic-surveillance programs. The "Bush spying on Americans" mantra doesn't do anything for me. It's a slogan. What Americans are the Bush Administration spying on? For what reason? I'd feel a whole lot better if my government had spied on these Americans. In other words, there is nothing inherently wrong with the American government spying on certain Americans, and in some cases, there is something very proper about the American government spying on certain Americans. If the government prying is "unreasonable" or not based on "probable cause," then the Bush Administration likely has done something unconstitutional (Newsflash: it won't, unfortunately, be the first time). Prosecute. This gives the Bush Administration a potential legal problem. But the harping gives the Democratic Party a real political problem. The latter is more serious, politically speaking, than the former. When the next terrorist strike hits, who wants to be the guy who made it harder for intelligence agencies to prevent it?

Week 17 NFL Pool Winner Announcement

The NFL regular season is over, and I am the final AYRFSF champion. I posted a 9-5-2 record (Bucs-Saints & Giants-Raiders pushed) to edge out the competition. The homedog Browns and Niners, as well as the playoff-hungry favorites Steelers, Chiefs, and Redskins, put me over the top. Visitors and home teams, and favorites and underdogs, split at 7-7-2 on the week. The regular season is done, but look for a playoff pool featuring over-unders later this week.

01 / January
01 / January
Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, FlynnFiles readers! The year 2006 is upon us. The year 2005 is behind us. Trash 2005 in any way you care to. It is behind us and will never catch up to us. Make any bold prediction for 2006 that you dare to make. Use your imagination, but realize you may be disproved by events!