Thursday, March 30, 2006

Singing in the Rain


A terrific poll compilation on Bush , with nice moving graphics.



Lincoln was a smart man. The people just aren't fooled anymore, not after five years of incompetence, lies, and smears.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Very late breaking news

I'm a sucker for these kinds of things. The answer was yes.

War on Christians

A conference this week discussed the raging war against Christians.
White evangelicals make up about one-quarter of the U.S. population, and 85 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. But three-quarters of evangelicals believe they are a minority under siege and nearly half believe they are looked down upon by most of their fellow citizens, according to a 2004 poll.
Nothing personal. I only look down on them because they can't open and read an atlas: Christianity is the dominant religious bloc, but only about a third of the globe believes in it. Christians are a minority, they're just used to being the majority in their little section of the U.S. The evangelicals running this conference probably do feel like they're under siege.

More importantly, what does "Christianity" mean, anyway? Are Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses going to join hands and sing Kumbaya in an all-Christian world? No, large majorities in both of those groups thinks the others are going straight to hell. These people at the conference were just taking on the victim role, without ever being willing to grapple with the complexities, probably not so unusual for a born-again crowd. (And of course, folks like Tom Delay are there looking for the only buddies he has left in a vicious world hell-bent on harassing him).

One of the striking things about the popular Left Behind series is that when the millennium comes, only "true" Christians are taken to heaven in the first rapture. They're defining "true Christians" only as Evangelicals, or born-agains. All those Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, etc., are left behind to duke it out with the Anti-Christ for the next seven years. Gee, I can't imagine why the Left Behind series has not sold so well in Europe.

Luckily, though, not everyone takes it so seriously.

Flying techno dogs



This is beautiful and ridiculous: flying slow motion dogs, set to techno music, with a little morphing thrown in. My day was kind of like this...

3 minute Quicktime video made by pleix.net, a collective of French artists.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Andrew Card is out

Andrew Card is suddenly deciding to spend more time with the family. Hey, I called it! I don't know a damned thing about Bolten, other than he's recently pushed for the line-item veto, and he occasionally is called upon to bleat the right things about the latest, horrific Bush budget.

It is interesting to speculate on what's going on during the blame-fests at the White House. We know now Rove was scheming in 2004 to heave Cheney off the ticket (it would give them 3 points in the polls, apparently), and he has never stopped scheming: he was caught actively ratting out Cheney/Libby secrets to Fitzgerald. I wonder who he thinks would make an acceptable VP?

There is a crisis, though. The poll results can't be bluffed any longer: Bush's got a 20-30 point negative gap in his approval ratings. Worse, there are multiple disasters looming. It's not like we're suddenly going to win in Iraq, or stop shredding the constitution with the NSA/FISA wiretapping of American citizens. We do know the GOP is going to try to change the subject, but I don't believe that will work, since it is a strategy predicated on trust, which an unpopular party does not have. Also, the strategy that works for the racist branch of Republican party (slamming immigrants) will alienate many of the swing voters. They're in a pickle.

If the White Bouse brain trust now blames Andrew Card for some of these massive, impeachable mistakes that Bush made himself, great. Internecine warfare in the Bush administration will be an enjoyable spectacle, and it will stop them from ruining more of America and the world. The thing I love best: they've so internalized the idea that Bush is popular, that they just can't stop using Bush to shore up his popularity, propping this dummy up in front of an hostile, unscreened crowd in Cleveland, then immediately putting him in front of a loving, hand-picked crowd in Cleveland. It's unclear if Rove thinks that those clips of an adulating crowd would actually persuade anyone, or if he knew that the Boy King would need a pep-me-up rally after all his hard work. Hopefully they will never figure out that Bush's public presence is like nails on a chalkboard for a large number of people.

Finally, Will Durst columns usually only rate a gentle smile, but watertiger found a gem:
This morning's laugh-out-loud moment, from the print edition of the April edition of The Progressive:
"[President Bush's] claim that during wartime he possesses special powers really gets me. Special powers? He can't even ride a bicycle without falling off. How come reason isn't one of his special powers? If he's got special powers, what's his Kryptonite: logic?"

Monday, March 27, 2006

What she said

Jane Smiley skewers Bush and his supporters who are now starting to pull away. Fantastic stuff.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ars longa vita brevis

I sent what I thought was a hilarious, jaw-dropping web site to a good friend, a real statue of a fully naked Britney Spears allegedly created as a monument to the pro-life movement (work-safe, barely) Apparently, it's a real statue, but the chances of this being a scam in the week before April Fools are quite high. Note that the gallery (not the links here) will try to install spyware when you visit, so either don't google for it, or be fully patched and ready if you do visit.

One friend who usually replies to hilarious, jaw-dropping web-sites emails did not reply. I would have sulked about this, but it's been a busy week.

When he finally did reply, he mentioned that he hadn't see my message for a few days, because it was in his spam folder: mentioning Britney Spears in email is enough to get it banned.

This made me sad, because it meant my friend also never saw my other email, with the subject "Seven Sonnets to Viagra". By convention, the titles are taken from the first lines of each poem.
  1. O Vibrant, lyrical priapism!
  2. My Zeus-like phallus thrums its mighty song
  3. Hey, got any nails you need hammering?
  4. How can you possibly say you're tired, now?
  5. No, seriously, doctor, I must get to work soon
  6. On being permanently banned from Safeway premises
  7. My mama always said: if it ain't broke, don't fix it
Remember, accept no substitutes and always use the real viagra. (work safe video, 30 seconds)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tossing around hellfire like a sparkler

I care a great deal about politics: I think public policy is where the rubber meets the road in terms of our humanity. If people suffer due to lack of health care, poverty, war, that's something that we as a people should do something about. Our collective will is shown by the government. These should be relatively uncontroversial opinions — we should disagree about the how and the why.

Ben Domenech is a plagiarist who also writes right-wing commentary. He was paid, for about two days, by the Washington Post, before he was forced to resign.

I was really struck by this fierce comment in Ben's non-apologetic and frankly unbelievable explanation for his actions on redstate.org.

For the record By: Thomas
I repeat: Should the entire American Left fall over dead tomorrow, I would rejoice, and order pizza to celebrate. They are not my countrymen; they are animals who happen to walk upright and make noises that approximate speech. They are below human. I look forward to seeing each and every one in Hell.

To those conservatives who couldn't wait to find wrongdoing where none existed: Gee, funny you didn't get all hyped up about this with Bob Bork. Or Sam Alito. I guess maybe your common sense detector -- or decency reserve -- only kicks in when it gets you something you want?

You're all dead to me, as well. Too bad: One lady in particular was a favorite writer of mine. Ah, well.


Ok, I care about politics a lot, too, but this is sheer, unmitigated insanity. Why do they tolerate this type of all-encompassing hatred? (The reaction at redstate was mild to this homicidal comment.) For the record, I don't want anyone who disagrees with me to die. I do wish that some people would shut up and go far, far away; and I've certainly wished that some people would be punished severely — for their actions. In particular, I've hoped that Bush would live a long life, ridiculed and deeply ashamed of all the harm he has caused in the entire world.

But to want millions, at least half the country to die because of sheer disagreement with their politics? Who died and made this guy Beelzebub?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

NinJew is coming for you!

This is the problem with vanity presses and the web. They let deranged people reach the whole world, instead of writing their fantasies in their own personal diaries, bothering only their neighbors. (And yes, that applies to me as well. Fortunately, no one reads this blog, so all my secrets are safe!)

Richard Walters, a fitness trainer in Pittsburgh, has a book out called The NinJew. Here's how he describes it:
In this exciting half-biography, half-fictional account, he spins a compelling tale of foiling a complex plan of terrorist actions in his native Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and neighboring Youngstown, Ohio, with his strength-training and clean-living sidekick and student, Barry.
Thank goodness the terrorist cells of Youngstown, Ohio are simply a distant blot on our memory. He cleaned up the terrorists in Pittsburgh? Dayenu! But Youngstown, Ohio, too? What a mensch!

Judaism.com is marketing this book as a young teen book, probably appropriate for clean-living martial fantasies that only run to 92 pages. Amazon has it as a book for adults, with a suspiciously Pittsburgh-focused group of highly laudatory reviews.

The key words I was looking for, but did not find, on his web site: Krav Maga. That's the real stuff, either that or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. All you have to do is watch one Mixed Martial Arts tournament, and you'll be convinced.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tom Cruise won't come out of the closet

Here's the complete episode of South Park that Comedy Central refused to air after Tom Cruise said he wouldn't promote Mission Impossible III. 22 minutes, no commercials, and funny.

The odds that Trey Parker and Matt Stone will leave scientology alone after this brouhaha: zero.

Just stop having sex

At Alas, A Blog, Ampersand posts a fantastic chart showing the ways in which anti-abortionists are primarily motivated by sex, and not concern for the lives involved. Truly outstanding reasoning.

Abortion is part of the key to getting back all branches of the government. The most important thing politically for the coalition of the moralizing, the libertarian, and the economic branches of the GOP is that the moralists never get what they want in terms of abortion. As long as abortion is legal, they can all fund-raise endlessly and even elect nincompoops like Bush solely because he promised he would put some anti-choice justices in places. The other parts of the GOP coalition profits from the fanaticism of the anti-abortion crowd with guaranteed votes and consistent donations. Now they're the dog who has caught the car.

Once they get the anti-abortion laws in place, those politicians will have to pay in the coin they hate the most: with their jobs.

Bush faces hostile crowd in Cleveland

I am now officially less intelligent than I was earlier in the evening, because I read the transcript of Bush's latest speech and the follow-up questions from the audience.

I can easily summarize Bush's speech: Progress! Tal Afar! It won't convince anyone who doesn't already worship him as the emperor.

Strikingly, no major Ohio politician appeared with Bush onstage. Their excuses were ludicrous:
When a president's popularity plummets as Bush's has, other politicians often avoid public appearances with them. Prominent Ohio Republicans including Sen. Mike DeWine, Sen. George Voinovich and Rep. Steve LaTourette say they're skipping Bush's speech because of prior commitments. DeWine is visiting his convalescing father in Florida and accompanying him to spring training baseball games. LaTourette previously scheduled a staff retreat in Washington. Voinovich has meetings in Washington that he couldn't reschedule. Gov. Bob Taft, whose popularity is even lower than Bush's, isn't expected to attend, either. Taft noted that he attended Bush's speech last month outside Columbus, as did Voinovich. Today's event isn't on the schedules of either Jim Petro or Ken Blackwell, the GOP candidates to replace Taft, their spokesmen said.
Unfortunately, no excuses like "I will be washing my hair that evening" were proffered. Still, you can't mistake these signs. When folks ranging from the opportunistic Ken Blackwell to the nearly catatonic Jessica Simpson do not want to hang out with the president, we must diagnose a major case of Presidential Cooties.

It is not just the professionals who have had it with Bush. The questions from the audience were striking. They were phrased in superficially respectful ways, yet there was a deep undercurrent of distrust and even hatred in the questions.

Despite the hostile atmosphere, Bush did an excellent job of running out the clock, with long, meandering answers even to straightforward, yes-or-no questions. He managed to limit the damage to just seven questions —— the boy has some tap-dancing skills still (if only every ex-junky alcoholic could bring their A-game like Bush does).

Here is how I would paraphrase each question:
  1. Are Iraq and terrorism signs of the apocalypse?
  2. You lied about reasons for the Iraq war. Will you ever tell the truth?
  3. We love you. How can we help you promote freedom?
  4. My son's a Marine. Is Iraq like a honeycomb where we can draw in al Qaida?
  5. This war is so expensive, how can this generation afford college?
  6. How can you possibly deal with terrorist-harboring countries like Pakistan?
  7. How is Iran different from Iraq?
Questions 1, 2, 5, 6 are openly negative: superficially polite, but with an undercurrent of "you lying son-of-a-bitch."

Questions 7 is probably hostile. However, he was friendly before the meat of the question, and there are no guide words in his neutral-sounding question.

Question 3 & 4 are relatively friendly, although both questioners seemed mildly demented. #3 rambled on about his private charity connections, and #4 volunteered before her actual question that she did not raise her son, an enlisted Marine, to be a terrorist. Ok! You go, girl!

These numbers (28% supportive) loosely match his standing in the national polls. Mere coincidence? Or was it science?

Monday, March 20, 2006

South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds has stepped on a rake

Signing the abortion bill was a massive mistake for Gov. Mike Rounds. As a result, he has gained only 3 points with the pro-life crowd, but plunged 35 points in the pro-choice crowd. He has losses in popularity from all groups: Republicans, Independents and Democrats , 13 points, 14 points, and 24 points, respectively. Unless he finds a way to distract a lot of voters (look, something shiny!), he's going to lose his next election.

This is exactly what I warned about earlier: you can fool pro-choice voters for a long time, right up until you take dramatic steps against abortion. No successful politician will put obstacles between the middle-class and their entitlements — it's safer to stand between a bunch of cops and some doughnuts. You simply can't sign a bill that would put some doctors in jail for five years, and not pay a price.

Rounds had no choice. The anti-abortion fanatics would have accepted nothing else, and he himself is personally pro-life. But now he will pay by losing his office. The South Dakota economy will also suffer: tourism is its second largest industry, and people are already calling for boycotts.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Leave me alone

One of my spring-cleaning chores is "paperwork reduction". So I've been busy tearing the back pages off of catalogs, opting out of mailings, and signing up for emailed notifications instead of paper ones from my assorted financial institutions.

It's a good feeling to reduce email and phone calls, although each step is a bit tedious. If you're getting too much garbage in your mailbox, especially the dangerous credit card solicitations, then consider following some of these steps:
  • Calling 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) to get a five-year ban on credit-card solicitations. NB: don't answer the computer until it has completely finished saying each question.
  • Go to www.donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222 (from the phone you want off the list) for a five-year ban on phone solicitations. This does not apply to political phone solicitations, but you can stop them with the Magic Words.
  • Go to the Direct Mail Association and request opt-outs on all new catalogs for five years. This really works.
  • If you have a "relationship" with a company, then they can still send you anything they like. Hence, I'm suddenly getting American Girl catalogs due to a Christmas gift I bought for a child last year. Every one of those companies has to get a written letter, with a copy of the mailing label they used.
  • If you have a "relationship" with a company, they can also call you anytime between 8am and 9pm. Interrupt them mid-speech with the Magic Words, "I want to be on your do not call list." They will screech to a halt, because violations of this law is penalized per offense, $500 that their company would pay directly to you. In many cases, you'll be transferred to a supervisor to confirm your wishes.
  • The DMA also has an opt-out list for email solicitations; but I would never use it, since the ban is only for one year, and you've given a working email out in public.
  • If you own any stocks, go to your brokerage and get all the proxy statements, quarterly, and annual reports sent to you online instead of wasting all that paper.
  • Go to annualcreditreport.com to get free credit reports. You can get one per year per credit-reporting agency, so you could do it all at once, or get one report every four months from each agency. These reports do NOT list your FICO score. This is worthwhile. You can dispute obvious mistakes, but also more subtle errors that could affect your scores.
Each of these has a big pay off for relatively little effort. Do it!

I love Doonesbury


It's hard to imagine that I've been reading Doonesbury for over 30 years. He celebrated his 35th year of writing the comic strip last October. Gary Trudeau has accumulated an awe-inspiring body of work: funny, thoughtful, and, where appropriate, junkyard-dog mean. In addition, it should be common knowledge, but he and President Bush were classmates at Yale together. I do hope that president bubble-boy is reminded of this from time to time.

I was reminded of all this by a recent reference in firedoglake. Here's an interview with Trudeau from October that is just about to disappear from the AP caches.
AP: What role do you think Doonesbury serves for readers?

Garry Trudeau: Well, it's a humor strip, so my first responsibility has always been to entertain the reader. But if, in addition, I can help move readers to thought and judgment about issues that concern me, so much the better.

AP: Is it still relevant in the political discussion 35 years later?

Trudeau: That's for readers to adjudge, but I will say that in general, public commentators have nowhere near the clout that we enjoyed 35 years ago, the age of four TV channels and no Internet. There's simply far too much competition for any one voice to prevail above others. Even media stars that people think of as indispensable, like Jon Stewart or Bill O'Reilly, are reaching less than 2 percent of the viewing public. As far as I'm concerned, it's all good. You can't have too many voices in a democracy. Talented people will find their audiences.

AP: Has the public's reaction to political satire changed?

Trudeau: There now seems to be an insatiable appetite for political satire, which was not in great evidence when I started out. Those were very self-serious times, and there was only a handful of little outposts - "Pogo," "Second City," "The Smothers Bothers" show - where you could reliably find political humor. The end of the Vietnam War changed all that. The nation exhaled, "Saturday Night Live" hit big, and satire really took off.

AP: Has the nature of how writers and artists employ satire changed? How so?

Trudeau: The most obvious change is in the tone - it's become far coarser. Satirists are stooping lower and lower to get their laughs. "South Park," which is often brilliant, couldn't exist without fart jokes. "Opus" is almost exclusively bathroom humor now. On the other hand, there's a ton of really sharp writing that didn't used to exist in pop culture, particularly in television: "Seinfeld," "Will and Grace," "The Daily Show" - the list goes on and on. Our best and brightest are no longer going into journalism and fiction - they all want to write for Letterman. It's also true in comic strips - the best strip of the last decade is "Dilbert," and it sure isn't because of the drawing. That's my greatest influence, by the way: By emphasizing writing, I made the comics page safe for bad art.

AP: How do you think Doonesbury has influenced how comic strip artists include political and social commentary in their work now?

Trudeau: Anyone who stretches the prevailing boundaries, and gets away with it, is bound to have an influence. Walt Kelly and (Jules) Feiffer were the trailblazers for topical humor in comic strips, and I just built on what they had accomplished by introducing the preoccupations of my generation. Doonesbury in turn freed up options for cartoonists that followed. We're all part of a continuum.

AP: Many of your targets have been Republicans. How do you respond to critics who say you're simply anti-Republican?

Trudeau: I think it would surprise them that the first political strips I ever drew attacked campus radicals. In fact, right after I was syndicated, TIME magazine called the strip "reactionary." And some years later, "The Wall Street Journal" reprinted two weeks of strips on the op-ed page. The truth is my politics aren't particularly exotic - I'm a stone dull moderate - a little to the left on social issues, a little to the right on cultural. Personal responsibility is a constant theme in my work. I've actually supported some Republicans through the years, and intend to vote for one in a few weeks. But they're thoughtful centrists, not mindless ideologues like the ones who've had a stranglehold on power the past five years. The damage that's being done to the country, on multiple levels, is so massive that it's a real struggle to wrangle my outrage into something that isn't too toxic to read.

AP: Doonesbury was opposed to the Vietnam War as it is to the current war in Iraq. How have your responses to these two conflicts differed and how have they been the same?

Trudeau: The strip today is a good deal more realistic than it was in the early '70s. For instance, I'm not likely to create a lovable Islamic terrorist character comparable to Phred, the (Viet Cong) who befriended B.D. during his tour of duty. It was a hippieish fantasy (Can't we all just get along?) unencumbered by any real understanding of the grunt experience in Vietnam. Anyone who doesn't know generally what soldiers in Iraq are enduring is averting his eyes. It's available in real time in excruciating detail in a multitude of media - from CNN to milblogs. So both writer and audience today have a far more sophisticated understanding of the conflict.

AP: Does it surprise you to see the outpouring you've received for B.D.?

Trudeau: No, but I do think it would surprise B.D., who, it's fair to say, didn't seek it. About the characters in general, I would say that if they weren't at least a little ingratiating, I'd be out of the business. As with storytelling generally, the more strongly readers identify, the deeper the bond.

AP: What is your daily media diet?

Trudeau: About what you'd expect - New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today every morning. newsweeklies. Lots of Web surfing - Slate, Salon, milblogs - and cable news, primarily CNN. I've been following mainstream outlets for years, long before I knew they were all liberal. Someone should tell that to Clinton, by the way - he was crucified by all of them.

AP: Ever look at media that may be on the opposite side of the fence?

Trudeau: Wall Street Journal, except editorial page. David Brook and John Tierney at Times. Sometimes Andrew Sullivan. Occasionally National Review. Fox, for a laugh. I think it's wild that the government has its own network now - never thought it'd happen here.

AP: In a country where people get a lot of their political and social news through entertainment channels, if at all, does that make it tougher to write a strip that depends on a well-versed audience?

Trudeau: It's a challenge, but with a general audience, a certain amount of exposition is always a good idea. I try to get in as much as possible without becoming didactic or slowing the story down.

AP: How do you feel about papers that may pull or edit a strip?

Trudeau: When a strip is pulled, it isn't always for the most substantive or honorable of reasons, but it is an editorial prerogative, against which I don't really have recourse. With 700 different sets of community standards at issue, being pulled from time to time is an occupational hazard. As to physically editing a strip, we do everything we can to discourage it. It's like editing haiku - almost impossible to do without damage to art or intent or both.

AP: How will you know when it's time to retire?

Trudeau: Like everyone else, I probably won't. It's possible the deadline grind will take me out, but it's a great privilege to do what I do.
.

A Cock And Bull Story

The word "regret" is not big enough to cover situations like this one: recently a deranged Chicago man threw knives, and, eventually, his own severed penis at the police officers who came to arrest him. Apparently, his brand-new physical problems can be dealt with relatively easily, according to the urologist they consulted. There no word on what mental disorders made him believe that his severed penis was an effective weapon in close-quarters combat, nor was the officer assailed with the flying member quoted on the experience of having one bounce off of his bulletproof vest.

In other penis-related news, I just saw Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story, a new comedy by director Michael Winterbottom and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce. (The two have apparently had some kind of falling out, and so the film is credited to the pseudonym Martin Hardy. ) It's an extremely enjoyable movie-within-a-movie, and no, I wasn't kidding about the penises, which are ever-present in the story. Every review of this movie appears to include the phrase "famously unfilmable novel", undoubtedly because the book itself has no plot. Boyce has gotten around the problem by not taking the novel at all seriously, exactly as the original author did.

The movie stars Steve Coogan, who was also fantastic in Winterbottom's 2002 movie, 24 Hour Party People, which is about the Manchester music scene over two decades, from punk to the rave scene. It's required viewing for Joy Division or New Order fans. Party People is a similarly open and inventive movie like Tristram Shandy, in the sense that the actors frequently broke the fourth wall to tell the audience something relevant. For instance, some of the punk rockers who had actually been there will sometimes confide after a filmed scene that they had no memory of that scene actually happening in their lives.

In Tristram, the open feeling works to give a sense of how a midlevel actor might experience his life while making a movie: showing the demands on him as well as his generosity, his selfishness, and his frequent ridiculousness. In Party People, the effect works to give the audience more information about the era and the people, more perspective on the plot, and sometimes more naked enthusiasm, since the movie makers themselves were keen fans and proud Mancunians.

It's like viewing hypertext, or — I hesitate to say it — a blog.

In short: good stuff. Check it out.

(news story via Blonde Justice)

Eleanor Clift thinks Democrats should be spayed

Eleanor Clift mistakenly concludes that Senator Feingold's motion to censure President Bush for his law-breaking in the NSA FISA Wiretapping scandal is a political disaster for the democrats.

She writes:
The broader public sees [Feingold's censure motion] as political extremism. Just when the Republicans looked like they were coming unhinged, the Democrats serve up a refresher course on why they can’t be trusted with the keys to the country.
Ok, this brings a couple of questions to mind.
  1. She cites no evidence for her first claim. The poll out Friday by the American Research Group is very clear: in two separate questions, 48% were in favor of censure, and 43% are in favor of impeachment. Right or wrong, Feingold is not being extreme, he is being prescient.
  2. Why in the world is this idiot considered liberal? She spends this entire column spitting out Republican talking points about the censure motion, and treating Democrats with open contempt.
She also writes:
Nor could it have come at a better time for a Republican Party still battered by bad news in the polls. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC survey, released earlier this week, shows that Bush’s job approval rating at its lowest ever—37 percent—as a majority of Americans lose confidence that the Iraq war will end successfully. The same poll shows a significant uptick in the country’s willingness to accept a Democratic Congress, with 50 percent of those questioned saying they would prefer the party to control Congress. Thirty-seven percent say they want it controlled by Republicans.
Her argument is just too meta-meta for me, too inside baseball to make any sense whatsoever. After listing multiple reasons why the GOP and the Bush administration is in trouble, She concludes, without evidence, that Feingold's resolution will serve as a boost to the Republican Party.

Well, why? Why not attack? Why not convene Congress to insist that President Bush obey the laws they write. Why would it be a liability to point out that Bush's administration has repeatedly, flagrantly, and unabashedly decided what laws they would and would not follow, on torture and on wiretapping? Isn't this Carville's proverbial anchor?

When Newt Gingrich started his bomb-throwing campaign of extreme conservatism in the House, it was the mid-1980s. It took him a long time to build up the financial and personal networks that led him to become speaker. He started as one of the most irresponsible and extreme Representatives in office. By the early 90s, he had used his fund-raising skills to become essential to a large group of present and future congressional reps, and they pissed and moaned about every little thing that Clinton had done for eight years. They spoke of Clinton as some kind of demonic presence: every misstep he took was the cause of endless hearings and interminable, pointless investigations. Some commentators, like Rush Limbaugh, accused Clinton of murdering Vincent Foster and raping of his underlyings. Military actions he took were roundly criticized, always on political grounds. There was never any proof of anything except Clinton was a bad husband. There were never any consequences to these attacks on a sitting President.

These events did not occur during the Edwardian era, this was just six fucking years ago. And now, even as Clift cedes Bush's unpopularity, she claims that an attack on him will not succeed, because... why? Because he's popular? No, all polls have him in the 33-38% bracket. Because attacks on him will make him more popular? No, it's no political misstep to remind the public, which has concluded on its own that Bush is an obvious boob and twit, that the Bush administration has openly broken the law. Because he has broken the law. He admits it.

Her conclusions are of someone so deep inside the Washington beltway that she has forgotten how ordinary people think and react. Bush is an incompetent and incurious man, who cannot do his job. This is becoming a hardened belief among a majority of Americans; but Clift acts like we secretly love the guy. We don't. An attack on Bush will not necessarily rebound on the attacker, no matter how much the Republicans go into their Br'er Rabbit routine, and no matter how craven the Democrats are in not taking up Feingold's motion as their own.

In her most maddening paragraph yet, Clift ends her essay with this fart in the elevator:
Brzezinski, a hawk during the Carter administration, has emerged as a hero among progressives frustrated by their party’s unwillingness to take a stand. Democrats have been "silent or evasive" on the war, he said, offering no alternative, which is "a form of political desertion." If Democrats don’t want to talk about censure, they could change the topic in an instant with a credible exit plan from Iraq.
This is simply imbecilic. When Representative John Murtha (D-PA) gave a speech in November with a credible exit plan from Iraq, this brave man, with decades of service, was openly and immediately attacked as a coward and a traitor. I obviously wish the Democrats would take on Bush in a more direct way, but it is clear there is an instant cost to doing so. You would never know this episode had happened from the way Clift ended her essay.

The Republicans have inmeshed the country in an unwinnable war that will forever sully our national honor, the Republicans have spent us into a 9 trillion deficit after an orgy of spending combined with tax cuts for rich people, and the Republicans are now conspiring with the Bush administration to overlook admitted crimes. As the polls show, people are starting to notice.

More torture

The big news story by Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall covers the torture practices of Task Force 6-26, a special ops group targeted with finding Zarqawi in Iraq. The abuses occured long before and long after the abuses at Abu Ghraib were uncovered.

It's very simple. As a child, I would watch movies about World War II and glower at the tactics used by the enemy, the Germans and the Japanese.

We are now the enemy. American soldiers now torture people, criminal acts that used to be completely beyond the pale. Not a rogue authorization, there was no official reprisal once it was uncovered.

This is real life, not an episode of "24", and these acts will be remembered for decades by the people who were tortured. We are all morally responsible for this until it stops.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Things I do that perplex me

Recipe:
Step 1 - try to do something with one hand that requires two hands.

Step 2 - become irrationally enraged when it doesn't work.
I do this about once a month, and it never makes any sense. I must meditate on this further.

But now it's a beautiful day, and I'm heading outside.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Dutch immigrants required to watch gay men kissing

Holland is trying something different.

The camera focuses on two gay men kissing in a park. Later, a topless woman emerges from the sea and walks onto a crowded beach. For would-be immigrants to the Netherlands, this film is a test of their readiness to participate in the liberal Dutch culture.

If they can't stomach it, no need to apply.

Despite whether they find the film offensive, applicants must buy a copy and watch it if they hope to pass the Netherlands' new entrance examination.

The test - the first of its kind in the world - became compulsory Wednesday, and was made available at 138 Dutch embassies.

I love this. A while back, I saw comments on a SF Bay Area forum where people have moved into the South Bay near the NASA Ames facility. They were upset that NASA tested jet engines there: the noise was phenomenal. They were trying to get a petition drive to stop it. To my delight, the response was unanimously in favor of NASA, and strongly against people who moved to a place only so that they could change it to their liking (and not so incidently, make many people in the area unemployed).

The video is offensive to many, as others in the article comment. That's fine: parts of liberal society are offensive to many parts of the world. There's no Disney song you could sing that would make everyone ok with everything. Better get this out in the open first.

There's no requirement in Holland that men kiss men, or that women go topless; but there is an strong implicit requirement that you not freak the fuck out when this happens in front of you.

They're making the implicit explicit. Good for them. Now if we can only control our own hysterical religious fanatics, who don't want any poor people to have sex. Ideally, of course, they'd like to stop you and everyone you know from having sex, but they're ok with starting with poor people. It reads better in the papers.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

No Privacy

Here is a great essay "The Future of Privacy" by Bruce Schneier. Here's the newsletter it came from, which has back issues and translations.
Over the past 20 years, there's been a sea change in the battle for personal privacy.

The pervasiveness of computers has resulted in the almost constant surveillance of everyone, with profound implications for our society and our freedoms. Corporations and the police are both using this new trove of surveillance data. We as a society need to understand the technological trends and discuss their implications. If we ignore the problem and leave it to the "market," we'll all find that we have almost no privacy left.

Most people think of surveillance in terms of police procedure: Follow that car, watch that person, listen in on his phone conversations. This kind of surveillance still occurs. But today's surveillance is more like the NSA's model, recently turned against Americans: Eavesdrop on every phone call, listening for certain keywords. It's still surveillance, but it's wholesale surveillance.

Wholesale surveillance is a whole new world. It's not "follow that car," it's "follow every car." The National Security Agency can eavesdrop on every phone call, looking for patterns of communication or keywords that might indicate a conversation between terrorists. Many airports collect the license plates of every car in their parking lots, and can use that database to locate suspicious or abandoned cars. Several cities have stationary or car-mounted license-plate scanners that keep records of every car that passes, and save that data for later analysis.

More and more, we leave a trail of electronic footprints as we go through our daily lives. We used to walk into a bookstore, browse, and buy a book with cash. Now we visit Amazon, and all of our browsing and purchases are recorded. We used to throw a quarter in a toll booth; now EZ Pass records the date and time our car passed through the booth. Data about us are collected when we make a phone call, send an e-mail message, make a purchase with our credit card, or visit a website.

Much has been written about RFID chips and how they can be used to track people. People can also be tracked by their cell phones, their Bluetooth devices, and their WiFi-enabled computers. In some cities, video cameras capture our image hundreds of times a day.

The common thread here is computers. Computers are involved more and more in our transactions, and data are byproducts of these transactions. As computer memory becomes cheaper, more and more of these electronic footprints are being saved. And as processing becomes cheaper, more and more of it is being cross-indexed and correlated, and then used for secondary purposes.

Information about us has value. It has value to the police, but it also has value to corporations. The Justice Department wants details of Google searches, so they can look for patterns that might help find child pornographers. Google uses that same data so it can deliver context-sensitive advertising messages. The city of Baltimore uses aerial photography to surveil every house, looking for building permit violations. A national lawn-care company uses the same data to better market its services. The phone company keeps detailed call records for billing purposes; the police use them to catch bad guys.

In the dot-com bust, the customer database was often the only salable asset a company had. Companies like Experian and Acxiom are in the business of buying and reselling this sort of data, and their customers are both corporate and government.

Computers are getting smaller and cheaper every year, and these trends will continue. Here's just one example of the digital footprints we leave:

It would take about 100 megabytes of storage to record everything the fastest typist input to his computer in a year. That's a single flash memory chip today, and one could imagine computer manufacturers offering this as a reliability feature. Recording everything the average user does on the Internet requires more memory: 4 to 8 gigabytes a year. That's a lot, but "record everything" is GMail's model, and it's probably only a few years before ISPs offer this service.

The typical person uses 500 cell phone minutes a month; that translates to 5 gigabytes a year to save it all. My iPod can store 12 times that data. A "life recorder" you can wear on your lapel that constantly records is still a few generations off: 200 gigabytes/year for audio and 700 gigabytes/year for video. It'll be sold as a security device, so that no one can attack you without being recorded. When that happens, will not wearing a life recorder be used as evidence that someone is up to no good, just as prosecutors today use the fact that someone left his cell phone at home as evidence that he didn't want to be tracked?

In a sense, we're living in a unique time in history. Identification checks are common, but they still require us to whip out our ID. Soon it'll happen automatically, either through an RFID chip in our wallet or face-recognition from cameras. And those cameras, now visible, will shrink to the point where we won't even see them.

We're never going to stop the march of technology, but we can enact legislation to protect our privacy: comprehensive laws regulating what can be done with personal information about us, and more privacy protection from the police. Today, personal information about you is not yours; it's owned by the collector. There are laws protecting specific pieces of personal data -- videotape rental records, health care information -- but nothing like the broad privacy protection laws you find in European countries. That's really the only solution; leaving the market to sort this out will result in even more invasive wholesale surveillance.

Most of us are happy to give out personal information in exchange for specific services. What we object to is the surreptitious collection of personal information, and the secondary use of information once it's collected: the buying and selling of our information behind our back.

In some ways, this tidal wave of data is the pollution problem of the information age. All information processes produce it. If we ignore the problem, it will stay around forever. And the only way to successfully deal with it is to pass laws regulating its generation, use and eventual disposal.

This essay was originally published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
In 1999, Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun famously told reporters: "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it." Without agreeing with him, it's hard not to see his point that the genie will be hard to put back in the bottle. Hundreds of entities have information about me, some of them reporting realtime, such as my cell phone reporting my position.

My skilled friend Ed recently put up a nifty web site (at orizer.com) where I can see his personal movements around the Bay Area graphed on a google map from these kinds of reports. The entries are timestamped, so I can get his average speed for each reported segment. What if I was an employer: maybe I'd want to know when he stopped at a liquor store or casino. His partner, also technically skilled, might automatically flag any stop in the vicinity of an ex's house. CompUSA might want to know if he stopped by Fry's before their store.

Then again, I have a geographically-disabled partner of my own. Some percentage of our phone calls with her in the car involve me trying to figure out where she is. How nice if I could just refer to some map and give her directions, or she could do it on her own. What if I slump over in the car, in the beginnings of a diabetic coma? How nice if she could find me without me answering my phone.

I have nothing conclusive to offer here except free-floating dread combined with a deep sense of amazement that all these things are possible, and so easy to accomplish by combining existing technology.

When Gods were with us

They shook the ground:

BILL BONNICHSEN: Volcanoes will spew ash for a few tens or maybe a few hundreds of miles. This ash, and it's like two metres thick, in Nebraska is 1600 kilometres or more away from its potential source, so that's an amazing thing. There really had been no previous documentation, to my knowledge, of phenomenon like that.
...

NARRATOR: Bonnichsen's hunch had proved correct. Bruneau Jarbridge was responsible for the catastrophe at Orchard. An eruption covering half of North America with two metres of ash was hundreds of times more powerful than any normal volcano. It seemed almost unbelievable, but then Bruneau Jarbridge was that rarest of phenomena which scientists barely understand and the public knows nothing about: a supervolcano.

They killed the first-born of the unbelievers in their homes:
The double-selectiveness of the last plague - only the first born dying - does not have an obvious naturalistic explanation. However, there is a hypothesis that food left in storage was polluted by the vast amount of excrement of the plague of locusts, as well as Cladosporium, or black mould, growing in the crops. Because, traditionally, the first-born son received a double portion, they would have taken in more mildew and pollution than others. In effect, the first-born being more susceptible to allergies, toxins, and disease present in the crops, than others. On an outbreak of some dangerous toxin or disease, the first-born is thus more likely to receive fatal exposure than any others, and consequently there will be a significantly higher number of first-born deaths. An alternative interpretation of "firstborn" has come to mean the cream of the crop of Egyptian society instead of literal firstborns in every household, their victim status being caused by the same reason - they are the ones who are likely to greater consumption of a toxic food supply.
And they appeared in the sky:
The brilliance of this supernova explosion would have rivaled the quarter moon. According to an article in Science Digest, defects in the human cornea would have given this explosion the appearance of a dancing fire, hung low in the heavens if viewed from a location near the Mediterranean, shooting sparks of intense color in every direction like a fountain about the size of the full moon. The landscape would have been flooded with bands of shadows and pulsing illumination. It would have both awed and terrified any observer in antiquity.
remnants of former angry god


(Pictures are by Loke Kun Tan.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Slow-burn civil war

Make no mistake: the news out of Iraq is awful, with 86 execution style killings of Sunnis:
The day's high toll -- of execution-style killings involving large numbers of victims, rather than the bombing deaths that have characterized insurgent attacks and dominated violence in Iraq for more than two years -- appeared linked to escalating cycles of sectarian slaughter since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra. The toll since the bombing is nearing 1,000, according to government figures; four Iraqi and international officials tracking the toll say it topped that figure in the first week after the Samarra bombing.
But this is not chaos, this is not full-blown civil war. This sounds like the killing fields of Central America, not like a country about to split into unequal, squabbling thirds. Most importantly, no one is in charge in Iraq:
Although young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for peace and lack of reprisals, clearly a lot of furious Shiites are paying no attention to him. When people are really angry, the clerics lose a lot of their influence. If people in Lebanon had listened to their clerics, there never would have been a civil war there. At some point, political resentments go so far that the sermons themselves become helpless.
No one being in charge is good, relatively speaking. No overt intervention from Iran, despite Bush's recent lies to this effect. No large numbers of deaths. No unforgivable massacres (whole cities). Vietnam recovered from worse than this. So did Nicaragua.

Susie Bright is very angry

The perenially feisty Susie Bright offers this suggested letter to Chuck Baldwin, the editor of a South Dakota paper who said he would not be writing any editorials on abortion. They wouldn't change anyone's minds, and people might conceive the notion that people at the paper had the wrong opinion on the subject.

Dear Mr. Baldwin:

So you aren't running any editorials on the South Dakota abortion ban!

Are you high? — or do you just not care about being the laughingstock of your entire profession?

If you do not cover the pressing news and opinions of of the day, you can just turn in your "reporter" badge to the little clown car people who would be happy to outfit you with a diaper and a party hat.

What is your paper's record?

When did an editorial ban come up before? Iraq, Vietnam, perhaps? Gee, those were touchy issues too. And civil rights made so many people upset. I don't know how you get the nerve to discuss something as hot as presidential elections, either. Even the fluoride debate might be a little too steamy for the Argus (gulp) Leader!

I've been a working journalist more than thirty years, like you. I'm a freelancer now, but I've worked for small-town and big city dailies. I've been the plaintiff in landmark 1st Amendment cases defending the right to publish editorial without prior restraint. (See Bright vs. Los Angeles Board of Education).

Gee, I guess I shouldn't have BOTHERED, because gutless wonderments like the Board of the Argus Leakypants don't need to publish anything that might get under someone's skin.

Have a nice weather section, Chuck. But watch out... you know, Bill Napoli might think your meteorology isn't in God's plan. He might have another one of his wicked fantasies you wouldn't want to touch with a ten-foot abortion exception.

I see from your biography that you take special interest in "race and refugee issues." Can you imagine not speaking out on Kosovo because it was a "hot button issue"?

Like Grandma always said, it's time to grow a spine. It's the only way out of this hell. Your problem isn't lack of opinion. This is the biggest thing that has happened in South Dakota since the stand-off with the FBI at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Did the Argus Leader cover THAT on their editorial page?

Redemption could be yours, at least professionally. Send out announcements when you find gravity.

Susie Bright

Chuck Baldwin is probably on to something. Let's look at similar editorials throughout history

Kristallnacht

"Who wants to make a fuss? If the Germans want to smash some glass, who am I to offend any potential readers who might agree with the National Socialists? I'm a friend of the Jews, and a friend to the Nazis. As a journalist, if I make both sides angry, I must be doing something right!"
1963 Birmingham Church Bombing
"Look, the right to free expression is fully enshrined in the constitution, and this is simply an extreme expression that our paper doesn't need to comment on. It was just a tragic accident that the bomber happened to kill four little girls. We wouldn't want to offend any readers who agree with the bomber, and we certainly wouldn't be able to change their mind, so we will not begin to try."
U.S. Civil War
"Now, we are aware that we have some readers who believe that negroes are farm animals that can be bought and sold, and other readers who believe that negroes are actual human beings. We might possibly have an opinion on the subject, but how could we tell anyone else what to think?"
Suffragette movement
"Should the gentler sex vote in America? The last thing to do, we believe, would be to write editorials that might incite our readers into thinking that we had a different opinion on this important topic than they do."

Here's the contact info, if you're feeling like offering some feedback:
Chuck Baldwin's email.
Argus Leader
P.O. Box 5034,
Sioux Falls, SD 57117-5034.
Fax: (605) 331-2294.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Live recordings from ancient Pompeii - April Fool's

This is so great as to border on the magical. A Belgian archeologist recently realized that the spiral patterns on certain Pompeiian pottery were effectively, very low-resolution recordings of the sounds in the pottery workshop at the instant each pot was being made. Picture it: a thin stylus was held and drawn steadily downwards on the rotating pot, drawing a single line into the soft clay. The stylus vibrated according to the ambient sounds and effectively traced out the local sounds. You can play it back.

The archeologist has indeed played back the recording, and there are sounds of speech and recognizable laughter. The link is to a 3-minute QuickTime video, all in French, with a regrettably short playback of the Pompeiian speech.

I am inexpressibly happy to hear this news. Conceivably, this story is an elaboration of wishful thinking: perhaps the playback process was so complex that the sound is merely an artifact.

For the moment, though, I'm clapping my hands, and I believe.

Update: And dang, Tinkerbell choked on a hairball just a few hours later. Now the little pixie is dead. The video is an April fool's joke. If I had a cat, he'd be hiding under the couch about now. Notice above how I did consider that this wasn't real, but I never considered that it was fake.

Feh. I am embarrassed and annoyed. In the hierarchy of practical jokes, I'm much more in favor of jokes that have people perplexed or alarmed, instead of jokes that initially delight people. Also, as it happens, I'm significantly in favor of practical jokes that I don't fall for.

Sigh. Here's some famous hacks at MIT. However, it looks like they've removed all record of the one where they turned building 10, the large, rounded building, into a giant breast by adding an appropriately sized nipple and a latin phrase on it saying "the great tit of knowledge." I wasn't there, of course, but I don't think I'm imagining this.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Someone's painting a bulls-eye on Andrew Card's back

Count Rugen: Are you coming down into the pit? Wesley's got his strength back. I'm starting him on the machine tonight.
Prince Humperdinck: Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I've got my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it. I'm swamped!
Count Rugen: Get some rest. If you haven't got your health, then you haven't got anything.
Mindful of the long life they will have to live after this misbegotten administration ends, some White House aides are starting to whimper to reporters about how hard they've got it. Short version: please don't blame me for anything, since I am so very tired. Better interpretation: someone there hates Andrew Card, blames him for a variety of bad decisions, thinks he should abruptly decide to spend more time with his family.

Rove isn't mentioned in the article, so I'm thinking he's got the paintbrush.

Boy King faces censure for NSA/FISA scandal


Glenn Greenwald discusses Russ Feingold's motion to censure the president for breaking the law in the NSA/FISA wiretapping scandal. Here's Feingold's press release.
All that was necessary from the beginning was to make three very simple and clear points, just as Feingold made them today:

(1) We all want eavesdropping on Al Qaeda and the law allows that;

(2) The problem isn't that the President eavesdropped; it's that he did it in a way that broke the law by eavesdropping without judicial oversight and approval, which Americans required in 1978 in order to prevent abuse of the eavesdropping power; and,

(3) We cannot maintain our constitutional republican form of government if the Congress stands by meekly and silently and allows the President to break the law, no matter what his intentions are. We did not declare martial law on 9/11. We are still a nation of laws and it is intolerable for the President to act illegally.
I've always thought that censure is as far as Congress will go in terms of challenging the Boy King in terms of his explicit violation of the law, and even that is a significant stretch, given that Bush manages to keep bubbleheads like Frist defending him, no matter what. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, there's no shortage of people driving around with "Impeach Bush" bumperstickers on their cars. Rock on, let's keep up the heat on Bush — but if you think he is going to be impeached, then you should also wish for me to get a ride on a unicorn as well.

Not that impeachment doesn't make legal and moral sense. It absolutely amazes me that in 1998 our Congress was eagerly willing to impeach President Clinton on the basis of what he and his wicked, wicked penis had done; but they now they sit like meek, frightened children when Bush violates the law and brags about it, and when he lies to get us into a war, but then changes the subject.

Bush is an unpopular, incompetent president, and come the congressional elections later in the year, many anti-incumbent ads will simply list fuck-ups by category: Social Security, Iraq, Medicare Prescription plans, you name it:
"Bush was in favor of it. Congressman X was in favor of it. Do you want President Bush to be able to do whatever he wants? We didn't think so. Congressman X sucks, just like Bush does. Vote for Congresswoman Y!"
I'm just so sick of these guys: their incompetence, venality, and arrogance. Even if I agreed with their politics, I would hate them for their sheer inability to do anything except run campaigns. As I said before, I never thought I would miss the measured competence and wisdom of President Reagan. All those wasted years spent hating Reagan, and now he seems like King Solomon compared to our current president.

Interstellar Cheese Explosion

If you think that you have the strength, then go watch David Hasselhoff in a 5-minute cover of B.J. Thomas's "Hooked on a feeling." However, even if you think you're ready, you're probably not ready.

I was surprised to see that this song from was not in the running for WFMU's authoritative "worst song ever" contest.


(via Kelley Bell's blog.)

And now I'm gone


Yesterday morning, I was unexpectedly blocked from changing lanes on the highway by a beautiful black Maserati that was moving even faster than I was. In the early morning traffic, it whipped past me at 85. I quickly sped up to follow it more closely so I could see it better.

Then, in the rear-view mirror, I saw something else unexpected. Ordinarily, moving at 85 on this stretch of highway will leave other drivers far behind. This time, there was a flock of cars with me, all moving at the same speed, all clustered behind the Maserati. We moved through the traffic as an ever-changing group, just so that we could see this lovely car move down the road. We passed around and through the slow-moving cars on the road like children running through a crowd of standing adults.

Ultimately, I had to leave the pursuit of the GranSport to the other cars. I had an important errand to complete. I was on my way to FedEx in order to pick up the job offer that will let me leave the company I've worked for these past four years. And now I'm gone, down the road.

Donate Your Computer Time and cure Alzheimer's Disease



Since 1997 or so, I have been using my spare computer time to either search for intelligent life in the universe, or to search for a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. SETI @ Home was the first project I joined. They have an attractive screen saver that downloads radio telescope data, then analyzes it exhaustively, taking the better part of a day to examine no more than a minute's worth of data. As with all screen savers, when you're using the computer, SETI@Home waits patiently. It only works when the computer is idle.

After a couple of years of searching for ETI, I changed my mind and switched over to the Folding @ Home project, which does basic research into protein folding, which is a key research problem to understand for several diseases: Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, and "Mad Cow" disease (more properly called BSE and nvCJD). Folding@Home has screen savers that work in an identical way, and also low-level computing programs that run constantly.

Now, I still am eager to find intelligent life in the universe. When I was 13, I sent a hand-written letter to President Ford, asking him what exactly preparations had been made for communicating with aliens when they land. (I received several glossy photographs of Ford "in action" at the White House. Hopefully, they didn't pin my letter up on the bulletin board to chuckle over.) I do believe intelligent life is out there, somewhere, even though it might be centuries before humans find a way to discover this for certain. In any case, we have serious diseases now, and there's no urgency about finding the ETs.

If the protein research seems dull, there are many other group projects that could use your computer
In summary, get one of these programs on your computer(s) as soon as possible. Unless you're an out-of-control maniac, your computer is not in use much more than 50% of the time. By installing a screen saver like this, you could be donating 6-9 months of your computer time each year. Do it!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Your body is ours

It is 2009, and President Hilary Clinton has worked with the new Democratic majority in Congress to pass two startling new laws.

First, forced sterilization will be required of everyone who has the gene for Huntington's Disease. Huntington's Disease is passed on through a dominant gene, so every child from a parent with this gene has a 50% chance of acquiring the illness. Sterilization will mean the swift eradication of this disease in America, since it is uniformly fatal: : most patients are dead by 40 most patients are dead 10 to 25 years after it is first diagnosed, which is typically from ages 30 to 40.

Second, national registration of organ donors will be required of every adult U.S. Citizen. Further, if a six-point match can be made between potential kidney recipients and donors, then the donors who meet certain health criteria will be required to donate one of their kidneys.

These laws are somewhat arbitrary, but they serve clear state interests. People afflicted by Huntington's Disease have greatly shortened lives, and they require extensive medical care in their final years. A society without Huntington's would be more productive by any economic measure you choose, and families would not suffer the emotional devastation of seeing their afflicted members suffer. Sterilization isn't murder: they just won't reproduce.

As to the second law, in 2006, there were 65,626 people in need of kidneys, by far the largest group of people needing new organs. There simply aren't enough potential donors from accidents and natural deaths. However, there are only a few complications from living with one kidney, so the vast majority of donors would be only slightly inconvenienced. This law would restore health to tens of thousands of kidney patients, reducing national costs from dialysis and from the early death of recipients who never obtain a match. This law would inconvenience only 65,000 people at first, then it would quickly reach maintenance levels. Economically, it's a no-brainer.

You may object to these laws. You might believe that the government has no right to reach into your body and snip the tubes that would permit you to have children, or to take one of your kidneys. And perhaps you don't want Hilary Clinton's octopus-like government to be allowed to even pass these kinds of laws. You might even bring up that word: unconstitutional.

But, did you protest, back in 2006, when Roe v. Wade was starting to be overturned? Did you not see then that if a government could require a 13-year-old girl to have a child despite the wishes of her and her parents, if it could require a mother to give birth to an anencephalic fetus, if it could define that life begins at conception, then the government was actually claiming a much more expansive right than just control over abortion? If the right of privacy doesn't extend to the body, if it can be sneeringly referred to as an indefensible argument, an imaginary right of privacy found nowhere in a constitution that has clause after clause implicitly referring to the right to be left alone, then the state will do whatever it feels like doing with your body.

People need to stand up for Roe, now. It's being attacked in several states right now:
  • Mississippi — complete ban of abortion advanced to law, awaits Governor's signature.
  • Iowa — murder definition extended to include "any stage of human development"
  • Indiana — bans abortion, few exemptions
  • Kentucky — bans abortion, only health of mother exemption
  • Oklahoma — bans abortion, only health of mother exemption
  • West Virginia — total ban of abortion, no exemptions at all
  • Georgia — total ban of abortion and most contraceptives, no exemptions at all.
  • Tennessee — total ban of abortion and most contraceptives, no exemptions at all.
(NB: see Alan Guttmacher Institute for swell stats and charts on abortion.) Some of these bills, especially in TN are old, so that would dial down the chicken-little factor somewhat.

South Dakota was just the first state. Every single politician who acts against Roe needs to be voted out of office. Every single one. If you live in one of these states, you must know exactly how your state representative will vote, and you must kick their ass soonest if they are not pro-choice.

There is a thoughtful essay on pregnancy and abortion at the Bioethics forum, and the good people at Lawyers, Guns and Money have posted several articles on abortion recently.

(For the counterfactually impaired, I would be wildly against both laws, and, while Senator Clinton is not my favorite person in the Democratic party, by far, she would get my vote for President.)

Updated: for clarity.
Updated: to correct incorrect statement that Huntington's Disease patients die by age 40.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Fuck you. Strong letter to follow.

Capital Hill Blue has made a variety of outrageous assertions about the Bush administration over the last few years: Bush is drinking again, Secret Service agents say that Cheney was drunk when he shot his friend, etc.

Often, there is no confirmation, and they're such wild stories that they're easy to doubt. Sometimes, there is swift confirmation of the bad news:

Despite what the naysayers claim, we get it first and get it right. We reported on Bush's temper tantrums a full year before it appeared in Newsweek. We revealed Bush's executive order allowing the National Security Agency to spy on Americans on June 7, 2004 -- 18 months before the New York Times printed the story. Last week we revealed President Bush ordered Vice President Cheney to go public about his hunting "accident." Time got around to it a few days later.

However, these stories, true or not, obviously got under someone's skin:

Just how widespread, and uncontrolled, this latest government assault has become hit close to home last week when one of the FBI's National Security Letters arrived at the company that hosts the servers for this web site, Capitol Hill Blue.

The letter demanded traffic data, payment records and other information about the web site along with information on me, the publisher.

Now that's a problem. I own the company that hosts Capitol Hill Blue. So, in effect, the feds want me to turn over information on myself and not tell myself that I'm doing it. You'd think they'd know better.

I turned the letter over to my lawyer and told him to send the following message to the feds:

Fuck you. Strong letter to follow.

Outstanding.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Immature thought


Nothing says, "I would like to see my sweetie soil her pants" more than exploding flower displays.

Just go to the florist like a normal person.

You're welcome.


(via boingboing.net)

Unfrozen Caveman Blogger

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm just a caveman. I fell on some ice and later got thawed out by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me! Sometimes I read a story like this
Tribal chiefs in Iraq's western Anbar province and in an area near the northern city of Kirkuk, two regions teeming with insurgents, are vowing to strike back at al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni Arab-led group that is waging war against Sunni tribal leaders who are cooperating with the Iraqi government and the U.S. military. Anbar tribes have formed a militia that has killed 20 insurgents from al-Qaeda in Iraq, leaders said.

Separately, more than 300 tribal chiefs, politicians, clerics, security officials and other community leaders met last week in Hawijah, about 35 miles southwest of Kirkuk, and "declared war" on al-Qaeda in Iraq. In a communique, the participants vowed "the shedding of blood" of anyone involved in "sabotage, killings, kidnappings, targeting police and army, attacking the oil and gas pipelines and their transporters, assassinating the religious and tribal figures, technicians, and doctors."
And I think, Could this reporter not understand that tribal warfare is what my people used to do, when we lived in caves and ate bugs? Isn't there, I don't know, some kind of a centrally organized group of armed individuals that could be used to stop these bad people? Does he think the tribal warfare will stop with foreigners?

This thought frightened and confused me. Then I used your time's frightening gu-gul device to talk to the demons inside of it. The demons told me that there was no such loyal fighting group in Iraq, that this is Hobbesian civil war, where all sides fight all sides, and no one's safety is assured. I wasn't sure what that meant, but it sure sounded bad. I wanted to run into the hills, or something.

Then other demons inside the box told me that there was no civil war, that Iraq is a raging success, and that Bush is a genius for all time. I didn't know who this Bush person was. Then I saw a picture of him: Hey, Bush is my cousin!


He must have been unfrozen, too. Man, what are the odds? We've got to catch up.

Microsoft Word Sucks

Latest non-feature: it informs me that it can't compare changes longer than 750 characters. I have to merge two 60 page documents, and nearly every single one of the changes are longer than the 750 characters. 750 characters?! Microsoft takes 750 bytes to format a fucking quotation mark, but I can't see that difference in a comparison? I have never heard of such a primitive limitation on any comparison program ever in my entire life, and son, I started with punchcards and assembler on a computer that weighed more than a SUV.

I know this isn't important. The war in Iraq is important, the blight of world-wide poverty is important, the continuing influence of religion in politics around the globe is deadly important. South Dakota's ban on abortion: important. President Bush's head being made of solid granite? Important.

But, goddamn, this is annoying! Microsoft employs mostly talented programmers who are given detailed specifications that get scrubbed down to meaningless subsets of useful behavior, only so that they can meet their deadlines that no one except the stock analysts care about. But now, woo hoo, there's a "feature" where you can compare documents, and their myrmidon marketing people can put this "feature" as the hundred and fifteenth bullet point in their desperate meetings with law firms to make them please, please, please stop using Word Perfect!

Microsoft Word sucks! Someone please, please make it stop sucking!

Rant over. Hey, I feel better now. Man, this blogging stuff: better than prozac.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Increased Debit Card fraud

Something appears to be going on nationally with debit cards.

Boing Boing is claiming specifically Citibank is under attack.

FraudWar links to this to a pattern of attacks, with some scary timeline charts from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

And there does appear to be a pattern of debit card fraud in the news lately.

Sure wish I didn't have a citibank debit card right now...

Firewalled media

Anonymous Liberal, now posting at Glenn Greenwald does a nice job of deconstructing the willful blindness of the media. By presenting "separate" stories like the NSA/FISA wiretapping scandal and the attempt to renew the Patriot Act as separate stories, the larger goals and values of the Bush Administration are left unrevealed.

Why is this happening? I'll take a stab at it.

First, reporters want separate credit for stories. If you're covering one beat, you're reporting in only that area, and mooching is greatly discouraged. Perhaps that sounds trivial to you, but it's as trivial as your paycheck.

Second, keeping stories separate lets reporters safely stay in the faux "objective" zone. If they combine stories like the wiretapping scandal and the Patriot act, then by the conventions of American journlism, it must be labeled "news analysis". If they further add issues on to the pile, such as Cheney's obsessive secrecy in contrast to the Bush administration's desire to deeply intrude into the personal lives, then the story would appear more like a full-on opinion piece. British journalism combines news reporting with acidulous commentary, and reporters are writing from well-known political points of view; that is simply not permitted on this side of the pond, not since the 1920s.

Third, actually combining stories into narratives is much harder than writing straight he-said, she-said stories. They require more shoe-leather work, they're harder to write, and it's easier to get the balance wrong.

Finally, reporters who report stories like this in a prominent newspaper are virtually guaranteed to be viciously attacked. Their jobs will be threatened. This is the second "paycheck" reason for skipping these stories. Most people don't risk their jobs for a casual reason. Snarky bloggers like myself are doing so anonymously in part so we can take a metaphorical bat to the head of various targets. If someone sends me a nasty letter, woo, trust me, I can cope. My job is safe.

These are all reasons why bloggers freak out the established journalists: we combine passionate advocacy with an ocean's depth worth of facts, and we do so from untouchable positions of safety. Worst of all, from the journalists's point of view, we remember when reporters are hacks, like Steno Sue at the Washington Post, and we're quick to point out sloppy work even from reporters we like.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oscar night

Top ten reasons why this was an extremely enjoyable Oscar night.
  1. Brokeback Mountain won best script and Ang Lee won best direction. Yay! It was a lovely, rewarding movie; Ang Lee deserves the highest praise for sensitively managing it to such a success.
  2. Philip Seymour Hoffman won best actor. He's simply an extraordinary actor. Now I suppose that I have to see Love, Liza, which didn't look like the peppiest number. But I don't have to see Mission Impossible III. No no no you can't make me go no no no I refuse.
  3. Rachel Weisz winning best supporting actress, which I'll choose to think of as the best lead actress award. I first saw her when I was in London in the early 90s. She played Gilda, the female third of a ménage à trois of three artists in Noel Coward's Design for Living. She was mesmerizing and beautiful, easily the best actress I saw that whole trip, and I was going through plays like gumdrops then. It's a shame that she's made such a long series of crummy movies, but it's certainly not because she has no talent. Reese Witherspoon winning the actual best actress spot was neutral news: she deserves it, but so did all the other nominees. I hope she also makes some real movies again soon. I first saw her in the independent Freeway, which was absolutely remarkable. Maybe she can have an alternating movie career like Clint Eastwood, where she'll make one for herself, and one for the studios.
  4. George Clooney won best supporting actor. The man is a mensch. Too bad he's never going to marry.
  5. I won the raffle at the party, with 15 picks correct, netting $60. Unfortunately, I lost the family raffle, because my brother-in-law has this event wired for sound. I was wrong about Crash winning Best Picture, like most people; but I did have it as my #2 choice at the party. It was a fine movie, with terrific acting and a nice, chewy plot. It just wasn't great art, like Brokeback Mountain was. However, the academy dearly loves those kind of mock-profound movies. I'm sure they felt they were giving enough awards to one movie, and so ballots were split.
  6. Munich didn't win anything. Woo hoo!
  7. The best song won, even though it has offensive lyrics and probably had audience members dialing down their hearing aids. Hustle & Flow is a very good movie that's easy to write off as yet another Hollywood fantasy about prostitution. In fact, I wouldn't have seen it without my brother-in-law's recommendation. It looked like a skeevy movie about pimps and hookers, and not what it was, which is a beautiful movie about trying to achieve redemption through art.
  8. By and large, the quality of the movies and performances was so high that I was relatively happy with any film winning (any film not named Munich, that is). All of the actresses, for instance, are fantastic, although I confess that I've never heard of Amy Adams before.
  9. Jon Stewart was good. Funny, a little edgy, good with the ad libs. I assume that most of the terrific mock-political ads were his idea, since it's similar to both The Daily Show and his latest book, America (the book).
  10. Someone who I was ever so slightly concerned about in terms of dating showed up with a really nice fella. And now she'll read this and brain me with a three-ring binder, but until that moment, I'm happy for them.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

This just in

The president is a stupid, incurious man who cannot do his job.

John Dickerson just got the memo this past week, when he saw the videotapes of President Bush listening mutely to an ever-more frightening list of warnings from the Army Corps of Engineers, from FEMA, and from the National Hurricane Center. Bush asked no questions. For me, that's really all I need to hear. Bush asked no questions. A category five hurricane is heading towards a major city, a national treasure of a city with 1.2 million people living in it, but he asked no questions. A meteorologist warns him in detail of massive loss of life, yet Bush asked no questions. FEMA director Michael Brown, rarely the brightest person in any room, tells Bush and the others that he has a bad feeling about this hurricane, but Bush asked no questions.

It was a remarkable thing to many people when Michael Moore's movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, showed President Bush on the morning of 9/11/2001. The details were not widely known before the movie was released. As the clip starts, Bush knows that a plane has crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. At that point, it appeared to be nothing more than an awful accident, and he continued his public appearance at the elementary school. As he sat there, listening to the teacher and the school children do their phonics lessons, the second plane crashed into World Trade Center. Andy Card, his chief of staff, walked over to him, and whispered into his ear, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack." Bush did nothing. He did nothing. For five minutes Bush did nothing. You can watch the video.

It was obvious to me in 1999 that George Bush was a boob. He knows as much about social policy and history and geopolitics as the drunken yahoo next to you on a bar stool who tells you he wants America to "fuck up that Saddam Hussein" and "get them lazy bastards off welfare". Bush was a useful front for very powerful forces in America, and he has served that role to an unimaginably perfect degree. His presidency has literally meant billions to different companies. Although the neconservative dream of making America the permanent international hegemon was a pipe dream, Bush did everything he was asked to do by the vulcans.

Bush is the ideal front man, because other than wanting to be popular, he simply doesn't care. People die, people live: he's ok. He runs on the treadmill, he makes a speech to a hand-picked, adoring crowd. Life is good. He is content to remain in his bubble. He's President Truman — President Truman Burbank, in a stomach-churning sequel to The Truman Show.

Who could have guessed, in the middle of 1999, that Bush would be able to fool so many in the press so thoroughly? Who could have dreamed that seemingly capable reporters like John Dickerson would buy into the president as CEO story, and ignore the plain evidence that should have been obvious to all? (Digby grumbles eloquently about this issue at greater length.)

From this column, Dickerson is not yet a member of the Ancient and Hermetic Order of the Shrill, and he will probably never be more than a junior member. But the press has a great deal to answer for in terms of Bush's popularity. Now that Bush has a 34% approval rating, the press feels it is safe to unleash videos like this, ones that they have had for six goddamn months without releasing. After two decades of endless, harass-the-umpire claims from the right-wing that the press is liberal, the press has completely internalized this abuse, to the extent that they do not release negative stories about Bush because it would seem, well, too negative of the press to mention, say, that the White House paid to have a gay hooker come into the White House so he could pretend to be a reporter and lob softball questions to the press secretary. The facts are biased, as The Daily Show first informed us.

How in the world did we reach this point? I didn't like the policies of Reagan, but when he had to, he fired people and changed his policies. Although a simpleton, he did read books and he talked to policy experts. Reagan's speeches read like Faulkner next to Bush's stammering explanations of what "evildoers" want. I didn't like George H.W. Bush, either; but he told Israel where to get off when the settlers got too aggressive, and he did actually coordinate a genuine international response to the Kuwait invasion.

What changed to make George W. Bush acceptable as a president? You, whoever you are (lecteur hypercritique, mon semblable?), you read more news than the President of the United States. You, whoever you are, would ask a question in any imaginable situation that threatened 1.2 million people's lives. You, whoever you are, would not sit quietly for five minutes listening to elementary school prattle after hearing of a terrorist attack from your top aide. Bush did nothing. He sat quietly and asked no questions in both instances, both times when American lives were at stake. He waited to be told what to do. The emperor has no clothes. Bush is surrounded by a highly capable group of people whose job is to make him look competent. He is not. He is a sad, dry drunk who preens in the middle of his bubble, while the world burns.



(Photos from CBS News and the Center for Cooperative Research.)

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