Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Yule Log

It is often difficult to find something new to say about Christmas, love it or hate it.

Well, El Caganer is awfully new to me! (there's a little more info on El Caganer at Wikipedia, our hive mind on disk.)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Surge to Dien Bien Phu

The U.S. Army generals have now conceded and completely surrendered their honor to the contemptible politicians who will blame them later, after the upcoming disaster. They are now planning the American Dien Bien Phu. Although it is taken out of context, here's a matching observation from 50 years ago.
In May 1953, French Premier Rene Mayer appointed Henri Navarre, a trusted colleague, to take command of French Forces in Indochina. Mayer had given Navarre a single order – to create military conditions that would lead to an "honorable political solution."[7] On arrival, Navarre was shocked by what he found. "There had been no long-range plan since de Lattre's departure. Everything was conducted on a day-to-day, reactive basis. Combat operations were undertaken only in response to enemy moves or threats. There was no comprehensive plan to develop the organization and build up the equipment of the Expeditionary force. Finally, Navarre, the intellectual, the cold and professional soldier, was shocked by the 'school's out' attitude of Salan and his senior commanders and staff officers. They were going home, not as victors or heroes, but then, not as clear losers either. To them the important thing was that they were getting out of Indochina with their reputations frayed, but intact. They gave little thought to, or concern for, the problems of their successors."
Sound familiar?

Our soldiers and our country are marching into the abyss. Because of the inability of our pig-headed president to admit defeat, because of goddamn presidential politics concerning the 2008 election, because of a national self-image that thinks of ourselves as inevitable winners no matter what, America will now stumble headlong into the most horrifying battles of the war. We need to get the fuck out, right now. Instead, because of surging, we will go from 3,000 dead soldiers to 4,000 soldiers in an eye-blink. We will escalate troop levels in Baghdad, and not a goddamn good thing will happen because of it. This is insane.

Kevin Drum correctly notes the political advantages of this move to our side:
If they don't get to play the game their way, they'll spend the next couple of decades trying to persuade the American public that there was nothing wrong with the idea of invading Iraq at all. We just never put the necessary resources into it.

Well, screw that. There's nothing we can do to stop them anyway, so give 'em the resources they want. Let 'em fight the war the way they want. If it works -- and after all, stranger things have happened -- then I'll eat some crow. But if it doesn't, there's a chance that the country will actually learn something from this.

I wish it were otherwise. But it isn't.
But it's not fucking worth it. We, the secular progressives, the leftists, the Kossacks, we are already going to be blamed for this war, irrespective of our near-unanimous rejection of it. I was spitting nails about this goddamn idiotic idea back in 2002, and now, now that it's a hideous, blood-stained bed of misery, I still know that we cannot change this situation and we will still be blamed for it. Because we already have been.

Digby and Atrios echoing the same points with more eloquence, less rage and despair.

Update: Indeed, as Talking Points Memo says, the generals must follow these orders from the civilian leadership, or a military coup has begun. Yet, there are alternatives, and not giving public cover for a disaster is one of them. Resigning with wide public notice of one's reasons is another. Josh Marshall speaks of resigning as if it were unacceptable. It is honorable alternative.

Call me picky

But if I were going to shove a cell-phone up my ass...

... this is probably not the model I'd go with.

San Francisco Chronicle best of year pictures are up.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mmm, thanks for the tip

Is there anything catholics will not believe?

One of my two readers has asked me: "why are you so down on religion now?" It's not the season, although the fake Fox "War on Christmas" definitely jumps on my last nerve.

No, it's just the endless Sunni-Shiite conflict. Islam is no more or less ridiculous than any other religion. Islam has some magnificent elements to it: an emphasis on equality, charity for the poor. What bothers me is that the Sunni and the Shia are both following the same religion, yet so many of them are hell-bent on killing each other. Same holy book, same prophet, essentially the same beliefs, but because of a failed ascension to power some fourteen centuries ago, they're willing to kill each other's babies, rape each other's wives, commit acts of hideous desecration and torture.

It's all for nothing, less than nothing. Their God doesn't exist, and He doesn't care how he is worshiped.

Kill the Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit!

The top 50 cartoons of all time, made available via all the usual suspects. Yippee!
(via boingboing.net)

Right-wing announcers taking flight

Joe Scarborough is one of the first talking heads to start talking tense. He's voted for Bush twice, he was always in favor of this war, but now he's talking about Bush's impeachment.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wherein I try to be mutually offensive to everyone

Santa Claus - Doesn't exist. Cruel hoax to kids.

Easter Bunny - Doesn't exist. Cruel hoax to kids.

Zeus - Didn't exist. Cruel hoax to ancient Greeks.

Jove - Didn't exist. Cruel hoax to ancient Romans.

Aphrodite - Didn't exist. Cruel hoax, but it is nice to blame a deity when you have a raging erection, or after you jumped the bones of someone you met at a bar.

Chaac - Didn't exist. Cruel hoax to ancient Maya, whose life-giving rain would come heedless of their sacrifices.

Quetzalcoatl - May have existed. Not God. Cruel hoax to ancient Aztecs.

Buddha - Did exist. Not deity. Founded influential school of psychology that is practiced as a religion.

Yahweh - Did not exist. Cruel hoax to Jews. Doesn't care if you spell his name out or not.

Jesus - Did exist. Not God. Romans nailed him up just like anyone else who annoyed them. Cruel hoax to Christians.

Mohammed - Did exist. Not prophet. Not a bad king, though. Cruel hoax to Muslims.

Ali (cousin of Mohammed) - Did exist. Killed instead of becoming 5th caliphate, which is admittedly harsh. Cruel hoax to Shia, who should really concentrate on events of the last twelve centuries.

Thor, Odin, et al. - Didn't exist, but man, what a great set of stories.

Trickster (Loki, Coyote, Br'er Rabbit) - Does exist -- as a parable showing an essential part of humanity. As real as any character in Aesop's fables.

Angel Moroni - Did not exist. Cruel hoax to Mormons, but a name that the rest of us can chuckle over.

Harvey (Pooka) - Didn't exist. Sweet story, highly recommended.


Your invisible friends? They don't exist, even though they're sometimes part of great stories.

You know this, just like you know that Zeus and the Easter Bunny do not exist. It's just us people down here. Let's love each other as much as we can.

Decider in Chief

I wonder if the United States has ever been this close to a military coup. Bush will not back down, and he cannot be persuaded. Leaving Iraq is losing. We will not leave. What will the military do? What will they say?
By yesterday, however, Bush indicated that he will not necessarily let military leaders decide, ducking a question about whether he would overrule them. "The opinion of my commanders is very important," he said. "They are bright, capable, smart people whose opinion matters to me a lot." He added: "I agree with them that there's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops before I agree on that strategy."

A senior aide said later that Bush would not let the military decide the matter. "He's never left the decision to commanders," said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so Bush's comments would be the only ones on the record. "He is the commander in chief. But he has said he will listen to those commanders when making these decisions. That hasn't changed."
I stand by my earlier prediction that the gloves are going to come off verbally. The people with power are starting to get alarmed. The people without power are already alarmed. Eventually, people stop deferentially responding to offensive non-answers like this:
Q: If you conclude that a surge in troop levels in Iraq is needed, would you overrule your military commanders if they felt it was not a good idea?

Bush: That's a dangerous hypothetical question. I'm not condemning you, you're allowed to ask anything you want. Let me weight and gather all the recommendations from Bob Gates, from our military, from diplomats on the ground, interested Iraqis point of view and then I'll report back to you as to whether or not I support a surge or not. Nice try.
And the new questions they ask will have an edge.
  • "Why shouldn't you be impeached?"
  • "Is there anyone's child you wouldn't have killed so that you wouldn't have to admit a mistake?"
  • "Why do you think you were elected king?"
But, hey thanks, Republican voters in 2004. I hope you feel proud that you were lured in to vote against gay marriage so that you could elect this irresponsible murderer. The blood is on your hands, too.

Doo-wop Christmas

Here's a well-done flash movie by Joshua Held, animating the Drifter's cover of "White Christmas". Check it out before the lawyers show up.

Baby Ocelot

Friends, I am fried to a crispy wisp. Over the past few days, I have had work issues coming out the yin-yang. That has involved multiple 14- and 16-hour days; being paged at 1am, 4am, and 6am; and working on systems with other people in such an ineffective way that I was honestly reminded of a troupe of monkeys trying to figure out a DVD player. On Monday, a mistake I made was instrumental in breaking a crucial system in a well-publicized, company-wide event.

Still, this cheered me up. What's a billion here or there, anyway? If I get fired, I may have more time to blog.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


23 November: Wow, thanks so much for bringing this lovely pumpkin pie! It's fantastic!
24 November: Mmmm, pie for lunch!
25 November: Mmmm, pie for breakfast!
01 December: Huh. I wonder what happened to that pie? I guess she threw it out.
14 December, ten minutes ago: Oh, sweet. holy. monkey. That's just not right.

We have to move into a new apartment now.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Let's say I wanted to mail your ass a letter

I have heard my share of telemarketer pranks, but this is truly outstanding.

3-minute flash video, safe for work. There's a moving transcript, but it's so much better when you hear their voices.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

President Bubble Boy

pray for us, sister

No one knows what's in the next act. We're in a losing war, as perceived by the professional military folks as the well as the American public at large. Republican senators like Gordon Smith (R-OR) and ruthless Bush family fixers like James Baker are saying that the situation is hopeless, using words that have not featured prominently in the public discourse thus far, like "criminal".

Yet, we're not leaving. Bush has repeatedly equated leaving with losing -- and he's not going to lose, dammit. Someone has recently been whispering into his ear that some presidents, like Truman, were bitterly hated during their presidency, yet were later seen to have been correct all along. This infantile, get-me-a-pony fantasy has worked. Bubble Boy recently repeated the insane story to visiting members from congress, apparently thinking that they were going to react with the same dazzled deference that he has grown to expect from the White House courtiers. He all but stamped his feet when Sen. Durbin didn't respond with awe.

Now, we have a growing narrative, repeatedly widely in the MSM, that Bush has lost touch with reality. Now no one knows what will come next. The official ways of flexing muscle concerning an on-going war are relatively few.

From Congress, there will be investigations. Certainly, Cheney has already said he will tell Congress to stuff any subpoenas up their collective asses, but we must still proceed as if there is a working Constitution. Congress can apply strong pressure through the budget: this is part of what ended the Vietnam War, and would have stopped U.S. support for the Sandinistas. (Instead, it started the Iran-Contra debacle, with many of the present players, including our new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.) They can work on impeachment, the hardest ball of all to throw. Note that a line will be crossed at some point in 2007 when the topic of impeachment comes up, and Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid don't smilingly go into talking-points about making progress and working together with the president, but instead they will coldly note to the interviewer that all options are on the table.

The military will continue its time-honored ways of publicly supporting the president, while leaking information to effectively stop the bat-shit insane plans that come out of his and the Vice-president's office, such as immediately going nuclear against Iran. They cannot do more, but we can count on intermittent cooperation with Congress in terms of testimony.

The Courts have been mostly waiting in the wings as this disaster has unfolded. They've handed the administration repeated setbacks, so this is, thank god, one area of the government where spin counts the least.

Officially, then, it's just not clear. The constitution was designed to stop overt tyrants from taking over. Yet there was a design flaw: no one ever considered a country of people that could be distracted from its responsibilities enough to reelect a man so stubborn that he literally doesn't mind if people die, as long as he doesn't have to admit that he lost, that he was wrong. There is not much that the three branches of Government can do that could have an immediate effect on stopping the Boy King. They will all try, and Bush will ignore any request that would mean he would have to admit error.

So what will the Bush dynasty and the Republican electoral machine do now to convince George that, like it or not, he must change course? I think it's safe to assume that they've done all the private remonstrations, and have gotten nowhere. Now they have to have a conversation in public. Suddenly, all the rumors are in play again. These people know where the bodies are buried -- they kept the maps, in fact. These are the people who know what really happened at TANG. They know if Bush actually crashed a National Guard plane while high, as rumored. They know if there was a girlfriend with an abortion, as rumored. They know if he was sentenced for cocaine-related crimes and forced to do community service, as rumored. They know if he's drinking now, as rumored. All the no-evidence rumors are back in the deck of cards, and they can leak with a finely tuned degree of specificity. Just do what we want, Georgie, and we'll make it so they don't hate you so much.

They're the people who can create news without appearing to. Baker can appear on Larry King, and suddenly, with a smile and a friendly head bob, say, "Well, I knew George well when he was in his mischievous period, and man! the things that stubborn boy got away with...". Larry King rouses from his coma to ask a question, and there are banner headlines the next morning.

Barbara Bush can license one of her Nazgul-like friends to leak that she's worried about George drinking -- or that he's banging that uppity darkie he's got working for him. It doesn't matter what they leak, exactly. Whatever they leak can be targeted to be the worst possible news to the tastes of the brain-dead 30% still backing Bush: abortion, miscegenation, homosexuality. Given Baker's decades of loyalty to the Bush family, it's likely that he will avoid story lines that put old H.W. in a bad light. In any case, there's a public message, and a private warning.

I have long awaited Bush to completely lose his shit on camera, screaming, ranting, coming off at the small-minded bully that he is. I know he has it in him. They can simply arrange for a public confrontation, perhaps try to force Bush into a petulant explosion. They know where his buttons are. Then come the rumors about him being drunk again.

If he can be made to be ridiculous, then more things are possible. If he can be made into a threat to the next GOP candidate for President, then more things are possible. The situation is deadlocked, which hides the immense pressures impinging on all sides. If Bush's girlfriend back in the early 1970s did have an abortion, he loses 15-20 points right then. If he has actually been having an affair with Condi Rice, he loses the other 15-20 points. I don't know or care about these things -- Bush might be getting it nightly from Barney for all I care. The only thing that really matters is ending this war in a way that the least number of people are injured. The road to do that is through George's rarely-used brain. He has to feel the pressure, and it has to be unrelenting and massive.

Nixon got down to 22%, I think, and that was after he left office. If Bush gets down below 20%, Congress may find they have the nerve to take us out of the war before any more damage is done. Then, God help us, we will have to listen to the right-wing piss and moan for 20 years about how the Dem's "lost Iraq", but let's lance the boil right now. Adults ignore whines. We do what we have to do.

Comics: Perry Bible Fellowship

The Perry Bible Fellowship is a series of extremely dark-humored comics by one person, Nicholas Gurewitch. There is no consistent theme or character in the Sunday-only comic, although one species, the Schlorffians, does return a few times. Interestingly, more than any other comic artist I have ever seen, Gurewitch usually doesn't repeat a style of art from one strip to the next: they range from thick-lined cartoons, to impressionist charcoals, to glossy Photoshop creations. His human figures are frequently round-figured with the minimum possible expression, but he's just as likely to draw a detailed picture that could be used in a police lineup. Also, Gurewitch doesn't care if you get it: some strips have to be re-read more than once to be understood.

There is no common thread that exists from one strip to the next: the plot, such as it is, exists only from the first panel to the fourth. However, there are recognizable common themes: dark variations on surprise: a man receives a passionate farewell from his girlfriend, but she's going down on someone before the train has left the station; an anime robot vanquishes its enemy at a significant cost; a sweet forest creature unexpectedly wreaks havoc.

Through the amusing mishaps of a kind familiar to every comic reader, any one strip will unexpectedly veer off to have relationships end, bodies shredded, the planet Earth blown into smithereens, or a dismayed Satan bobbing in a pool of water. If Sylvia Plath were still alive, this is the strip she'd like to find in her morning paper while she sipped her coffee. If you know someone who is a pleasant, good-natured fan of Disney cartoons, the reaction to these comics would be hard to predict. She may love the cheerful acidity present in nearly every panel; or she may just vomit uncontrollably and never speak to you again.

Only for grownups, in other words.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

A man, Pierre Abélard, a rock-star of his age.
A woman, Héloïse, beautiful and brilliant.
A secret romance.
A pregnancy out of wedlock.
A forcible castration, in revenge.
A ruined career.
A hiatus of years.
A bitter letter of remorse.
A loving letter of response, one of the most beautiful letters of romantic love ever written.

Smart women are the best. I'm a lucky guy.

to the moon, bitches!

NASA is planning on a permanent human base at the south pole of the moon. Why? It's sunny!
"Conditions at the south pole appear to be more moderate and safer," she said. The south pole is almost constantly bathed in light and would be an ideal place to set up solar-power collectors for an electrical system -- a precondition for achieving the kind of "living off the land" that NASA is aiming for.

Horowitz also said the polar sites are scientifically exciting because "we don't know as much about the lunar poles as we know about Mars." Officials said the area around the south pole has craters that probably hold volatile gases that could be collected for commercial purposes. Highest on the list of possible resources is helium-3, a form of the gas seldom found on Earth that could be well suited for nuclear power fuel.
Not every idea is a good one. Traveling to Mars is a likely death sentence for the first group of astronauts, for instance. It's a fun idea, I wish them all well; but, honestly, the tiniest problem and wham, they're completely SOL. It's just too goddamn far, for one thing. For another, they're going to have to find a crew of emotional mutants who can remain cheerful and cooperative while in close quarters for four years in a row, one way. As a former New Yorker, I think the odds of that are slim. What if they run out of coffee? Bedlam.

Look at what happened in Antarctica:
"Antarctic Life Proves Hard Even for Those Who Love Their Work"

... How boring is life in the Antarctic? People in one group wintering at the South Pole in the 1960s watched the film "Cat Ballou" 87 times. People in another, after tiring of the westerns, Disney features and pornographic films on hand, spliced the movies together into their own production and adopted a vocabulary based on their creation that was so strange that relief crews arriving in the spring could barely understand them.
-- Wall Street Journal, Dec. 10, 1985
Mars is out.

Traveling to the moon, on the other hand, our little lunar buddy just a skimpy 1.3 light-seconds away, is completely doable. Hell, we went there 40 years ago with computers less powerful than are in most cell phones today.

This is wonderful, superb, terrific news. It's not just me, a nerd who had a 10-foot-square map of the moon on his high-school bedroom, or who even now is rocking a nifty surfing/sailing watch that conspicuously shows the phase of the moon, who thinks that this is a good idea. Actual scientists think that this is a good idea!

Having arrays of telescopes on the dark side of the moon, with its lack of atmosphere and light pollution is a fantastic idea. (Of course, it's not always dark over there, Pink Floyd notwithstanding. One side of the moon constantly faces the earth, as its rotation slowed over the first billion years of its coexistence with the earth. A few billion years more, and the earth will also stop rotating, and one side will always face the moon.)

In summary, whee! This news makes me so happy. Also, you were probably hoping that I would link to a surreal play about moon bitches. Here ya go.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Holy Mackarel, Kingfish!

Air Force interviewer: What did you major in at college?
Interviewee: Chinese. Well, actually, my degree was in 'Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literature.'
Air Force interviewer: Oh, that's so cool. So, you speak Asian?
Interviewee: Um, yes.

Overheard at the Office

The Daily Show touches on Michael Richard's recent career-ending moment, as always, from a unique perspective. (Apologies in advance for what that freaking link is going to do to your browser. Nothing I can do about it.) And you may need this, too.

Here are all the n-bombs, in case you haven't seen it. (You will have to register to see this video, but you do you not have to give a working email address.)

The first problem, of course, is that Michael Richards has racist thoughts. It's not that he is racist in that, oh, he thumbs through the KKK "Livin' White" newsletter on the weekends. He doesn't think of himself as hating someone for their color. Instead, like everyone in this country or this world, he's been exposed to organized sets of ideas about race. He didn't realize how ingrained those ideas are, how steeped in this culture he has become, and how "sophistication" can mask ideas that are the most rudimentary and primitive that exist in our species. You have to actively work against racism. It is in everyone.

His apology the next day shows a man making the most harrowing personal discovery: he's not a nice guy, he's actually kind of an asshole. Now people hate him. Now, because this one moment, he will be tarred for the rest of his life as a bigot. It can never be undone. The infinitely more talented Elvis Costello discovered this in the 1980s when he used the n-word to refer to Ray Charles, in another private, drunken moment made indelibly public. Elvis said with admirable shame many years later, "I have also found that guilt is a burden without any statute of limitations."

The second problem is more of a professional nature: Michael Richards is not funny. Dealing with hecklers is a learned skill on the comedian circuit. The public, savage evisceration of a drunken idiot is par for the course, and would have been gleefully received by the crowd. It was a terrible reversal. You had an actor who was used to years of adulation for his comedic talents, but he discovered in a brake-screeching moment that he doesn't have what it takes for stand-up. He was able to convert his twitchy, physical gifts into TV history. Seinfeld was great, a classic; but Richards' movies suck, and, oopsie, he just flame-torched his stand-up future. The best he can hope for now is a VH1 "Behind the Fuck-up" TV special.

updated: for clarity

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Webb v. Bush, Round 1 of N

While I have definitely thought of Eleanor Clift as a nitwit in the past, she is a nitwit who parrots the conventional wisdom quite well, a gossip who says what the Heathers are saying in Washington. There is little to dislike, then, in her recounting of Bush's recent bullying of a worried father, Senator Jim Webb. It clearly but implicitly means that a larger fraction of Washington insiders are starting to see Bush's behavior for what it is: bullying and rude, just one measure of what a small man he really is, a man with a pathological inability to sympathize with others.

Key paragraph:
It’s justice long overdue for a president who has so abused the symbols of war to get his comeuppance from a battlefield hero who personifies real toughness as opposed to fake toughness. Bush struts around with this bullying frat-boy attitude, and he gets away with it because nobody stands up to him. Bush could have left Webb’s initial response stand, but no, he had to jab back—“That’s not what I asked you.” Webb is not one to be bullied. He knows what real toughness is, and it’s not lording it over people who are weaker than you, and if you’re president, everybody by definition is weaker.
Webb is an American hero. He was kicking ass in Vietnam, literally from the first night he arrived. Interestingly, the same article also mentions that he beat the hell out of Oliver North in a boxing match, although apparently North was given the win in a controversial decision. To have him forced to speak to his intellectual and moral inferior at this social event is a cosmic joke.

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