Monday, December 31, 2007


Click image for full Mike Luckovich cartoon.

May we all have a healthy and prosperous new year. A few things I'm hoping for in 2008:

  • Categorical rejection of Bushism at the polls
  • Return to Constitutional government
  • Some serious damn accountability that starts to put Republican criminals in jail
  • Resolution of the debt crisis without a depression
I'd wish for a return from Iraq, but I know that's not possible without impeachment.

Most important personally, I hope for my daughter to get into the college of her dreams.

Oh, and no hangover tomorrow!

Tin ear?

Let's move political news to the Style section, how 'bout it? That's what we're getting, anyway. I guess the New York Times feels it has to keep up with Robin Givhan's vacuous pieces in the Washington Post. It's a race to the bottom all right, but who's bottom?

I suppose it's possible that Mark Leibovich has a pitch-perfect ear for politics and that everything he writes about the atmospheres of the Democrats' rallies provides us with deep insight into their meaning. I suppose it's possible that the Beltway conventional wisdom reflected by his story is 100% spot on.

Possible, but not likely. Here's the last paragraph, in regard to a conversation with Pervez Musharraf:

“We also talked about the importance of the upcoming elections,” Mr. Edwards said, meaning, presumably, in Pakistan, not Iowa.
Why would anyone presume that? Wouldn't it make more sense to think that Edwards was talking about both elections, that he was talking about change coming and telling Musharraf that he had better be on the democratic side of that change?

Or is that just too damn complicated?

What if Adam Nagourney has to suffer New Hampshire?

Seriously, Iowa and its unrepresentative process should not settle anything. But the national press corps loves to get it over with so they can go home.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sunday comics blogging

Click for full Matt Bors comic strip.

Sunday comics blogging

Click image to go to Mark Fiore's site to see the entire cartoon.

Tread marks everywhere

What is it about their motorized, climate-controlled 4WD sofas that makes people want to run over everything? I'm not opposed to fun, even fun whose appeal I don't understand, but why do we allow them to destroy what we hold in common for our descendants?

News reporters, come on down

Do news reporters ego-surf? Do they Google themselves like the rest of us? Or are they jaded to having their names in print? Nope, nothing like that - they just couldn't possibly find a low-volume blog.

I make a habit of keywording their names, but they get far too many hits to come here. The question is how they get feedback from their readers. Occasionally, there's a controversy, and their defensiveness as a rule seems complete. Their outlets' ombudsmen, if they have them, exist mainly to defend them - or, now and then, to softly critique them.

I've seen a reporter or two show up on Editor and Publisher to defend themselves. But mainly, they seem almost as insulated from public dissatisfaction as Duhbya himself.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bushist facts

There is no real controversy about whether waterboarding is torture. It is now when Americans do it, and it was when the Nazis, the communist Chinese, the Viet Cong, and the Soviets did it. It even was during the Inquisition, but the New York Times still says:

To the already fierce controversy over whether the Bush administration authorized torture has been added the specter of a cover-up.
Duhbya and Rummy (with Darth Cheney in the dark shadows) authorized waterboarding, among other tortures. There's no doubt about it. They had everyone ask mother-may-I from Rummy. They even had Gonzo and John Yoo write down their transparently bullshit rationales that add up to two giggle-provoking assertions newer before imagined to be plausible in American law:
  1. The President can do whatever he wants, especially in wartime, but really anytime.
  2. Every restraint of law, domestic or international, is quaint - after all, al Qaeda is so much more scary than the Soviets and their ICBMs that we should all wet ourselves.
The rest of the story is such good work that the sentence I quote above was probably added by a chickenshit editor.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Future of newspapers

O.k., as everyone knows, newspapers have no future, not in their present form (nor in their present numbers, but that's another topic). Young people don't read them, despite decades of editorial attempts to pander to them.

Even the middle-aged don't read them as much as we once did. I still do, but I don't represent any group large enough to base a business model on.

Though I've been reading a daily paper for forty years - yeah, I started at age eight - see how weird I am - lately I prefer reading on line. Gray type on gray newsprint not only gets all over my fingers, it's also much harder to read than an LCD display. For the increasingly weak-eyed, middle-aged demographic that newspapers still serve, that matters.

The one thing I still like about reading a dead tree edition is that I know when I'm done. I start at the back, dispose of the soft news sections, usually including sports after I read Tank McNamara. I find the jumps that interest me, flip to their beginnings, and wind up back at the jump, where I continue with back-to-front reading. Yeah, sure, weird, but it's an algorithm that works for me.

I can't do that on line. On line, reading is never done. When I start the weekly recycling, though, and browse the unopened papers, I almost always find stories I missed on line. If I represented a large demographic, they would be looking for a way to help me, but alas, when newsprint is no more, I'll miss the ability to finish reading the day's news.

Update: Last sentence clarified.

Stamping out anonymity

The FBI's getting into biometrics in a big way. Using technology tested in Iraq, they'll be creating dossiers on us, storing and comparing. DNA from birth is only a matter of time.

And, get this, if your employer - or maybe even just a prospective employer - wants a background check on you, it can ask the FBI to hang onto your fingerprints, your palm print, your facial geometry, and your iris scan so that the FBI can notify your boss if you ever run into a little trouble.

The only privacy left is inside your head, and maybe that's enough. Yeah, sure.

Apologizing for daughters

Catching up on the dead tree edition of the Boston Globe...

This story on sex selection abortion gladdens my heart. Fingers crossed, it's a start on avoiding the military diaspora of Asian males that a lack of prospects for marriage and family that might otherwise be caused by the foolishly chosen scarcity of females.

One line half-way down the column buried the lead:

[M]others would often apologize for giving birth to a girl.
I think of the day my daughter was born, and I wonder how anyone could possibly apologize or expect an apology about such an event.

Of course, before I get too happy about the news from South Korea, there on the facing page is the Globalist Quiz, which has far worse news about India's cultural and institutional discrimination against women.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pretzel logic

The EEOC is permitting corporations to put their retirees into two classes - never mind the equal in their very name. The two classes are the people the companies will continue to insure and the ones in Medicare. They're doing this because the companies really, really need it, or they'll have to dump health care for all their retirees. Or, even worse, they might join the lobbying war for national health care.

Single payer makes all this nonsense go away.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


The Bushists are enforcing immigration laws against the poor. The rich? Not so much.

Too polite by half

Newtie Gingrich has written a book, and in it - get this - he's claiming to be an ardent environmentalist. What's next? A syndicated column giving marital advice?

Juliet Eilperin gives Newt's book a "balanced" review, rather than a fair one or an objective one. Maybe derisive laughter wouldn't translate well into print in the Washington Post. But I suspect journamalism at work. Bending over backward to conservatives is so expected by the handmaidens to power. Here, some bon mots, starting with the headline (not Eilperin's responsibility):

Green Republicans
Newt Gingrich gets tough on the U.S. role in the environment
There's this cherry-picked statistic:
[T]hey question the wisdom of imposing a mandatory, nationwide cap on carbon emissions on the grounds that Europe's carbon dioxide emissions rose faster than America's between 2000 and 2004.
Here's a graph that can put that captious crap into context. Surely even the WaPo has access to Google so that they could find a source not printed by the competition.

The most gaping "balance" comes at the end:
Gingrich and Maple contend that the private sector, not government, holds the answers to the globe's biggest problems.
This is the most patent bullshit, but Eilperin's comment is the vacuous:
The question is whether people in places such as Bangladesh can afford to wait and see if they're right.
If the private sector could have solved environmental problems, why haven't we seen any progress so far? The private sector is built to exploit externalities. It's like trying to solve peonage with Ebenezer Scrooge.

Eilperin does object to the specious equation of Duhbya's record with Bill Clinton's. Newt and his coauthor "compare the environmental records of Bush and ... Clinton in a way that strains credulity". This is a half-measure but welcome nonetheless. Newt the environmentalist is the fundamental strain on credulity.

Still, it would bode much better for our future if people with large platforms in our national conversation could recognize bullshit and call it what it is, even in less scatological terms.

Comics blogging, bulldoo-doo edition

Just now opened the Boston Globe dead tree edition from Sunday, and since this is in my core subject area, it has to go up, even late. Hey, would putting the word bullshit in a mission statement render it buzzword non-compliant? Omitting it would be insincere, so no mission statement for me...

Click image for complete strip.

Reagan defense policy

When a Republican says, "I don't recall," he's almost always hiding something.

(Click the cel to visit Salon for the whole strip. Hat tip Crooks & Liars.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Agriculture is an industry

How many Americans know this? I didn't.

In the United States, where almost all crops are now genetically modified, the debate is largely closed.
For that matter, what does this sentence actually mean? Are nearly all harvested individual plants GMO? Or merely some individual plants in each commercial species?

The Times is correct that the debate is largely closed here, but they neglect to recall that the debate was largely closed even when it was nominally open. Agribusiness and its lobbying checkbook were by far the dominant voice.

I do know this about corn: Not long after Monsanto sold one of its GM corn varieties (Roundup-resistant, IIRC) to the world, even ancestral corn stocks high in the Sierra Madre had been cross-pollinated with it, whether by butterfly migration or wind or a combination.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Two sides to every story

Every story has two sides. But there's so much to say about this story that makes me sick that I have to say that sometimes those sides are good and evil.

Here in the Christmas season, I'm supposed to be finishing up the regular work of disappointing my family, near and far, and myself and trying to finish my "joyful" shopping. Instead, I'm morose that anyone can defend keeping people in penury this close to bondage.

I'm outraged that anyone like Reggie Brown of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange can utter so much bullshit in support of craven desire to exploit the poor:

  • It's "un-American" to form anything that looks like a union.
  • It's illegal to try to pressure buyers to force their suppliers to pay a fairer wage, yet it's fine for the Exchange to fine growers who agree.
  • The pickers already get $12.50 an hour. (Oh, bullshit!)
  • Readers should consider the free transportation to the fields from their American favela.
The quote that encapsulates the whole depravity of Reggie Brown and his tomato cartel, though, is this:
If we weren’t paying a very competitive wage and giving these workers enough money to send to their families in Mexico and Central America, we wouldn’t be able to attract a labor force...
He wants to pay third-world wages. It's his business model.

This is our economy. Brown is competing with Mexican and Brazilian tomatoes, which are picked under third world conditions. If his competitors held slaves, he would want to do so as well.

Can we stop claiming now that we live in a class-free society? Classless, sure...

Update: Now, this is rich. The Exchange has a website, where they claim:
The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange is an agricultural cooperative of Florida tomato growers who operate as socially accountable farm employers by participating in comprehensive programs that certify employment, health, housing and safety practices. The industry is strongly committed to supporting long-term solutions that improve the lives of their employees.
I love tomatoes. Now I know what they're fertilizing them with.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

CIA cooperation

CIA: You didn't ask for the tapes.

Commission: We asked for everything. You didn't tell us the tapes existed.

CIA: We were very cooperative with your requests. We preserved the tapes in case you guessed they existed.

Commission: John McLaughlin said you gave us everything responsive. You don't think a videotape is a document?

CIA: A videotape might be documentation, but only something on paper is a document. Or maybe email. At least for now.

Commission: So no one in the agency ever wrote a memo on the existence of the tapes?

CIA: See, that's one of those times when when the tapeness of a memo turns it from a document into something tapey, and since you didn't ask specifically for documentation related to videotapes, there's no way you could expect us to hand it over. But we were very cooperative. You couldn't have written your narrative without our information.

Commission: Which is why we needed all of it.

CIA: We gave you everything you asked for.

Commission: Is there anything else you have that we supposedly didn't ask for?

CIA: We always cooperate with commissions while they are active.

Giuliani's MRI

So now Giuliani's hospitalization was due to a "massive headache" instead of flu-like symptoms. If he really had "every test imaginable," he must have had an MRI to eliminate or confirm several of the possible diagnoses that I'm aware of for massive headache:

  • stroke
  • AVM
  • brain tumor
  • meningitis
  • migraine
  • sinusitis
Yet the reporter doesn't report on any of this. Instead, she fritters away column inches on therapeutic aspirin, which practically every man Giuliani's age is taking anyway.

Personally, I think the cabin pressure story put out by the campaign is bullshit. Rudy's campaign is hiding something. The question is what?

More Sunday comics blogging

The problem with trying to handicap the Republican field is that they're all so handicapped already. For example, before Fred Thompson dithered away his buzz, I thought he would be the perfect empty vessel into which Republicans could pour their shake 'n' bake cult of personality. He could play another vacuous character on the national stage and quench the silly wingnut thirst for another Ronald Reagan.

But, no, he couldn't even remember his best line from The Hunt for Red October, "Your average Russkie, son, don't take a dump without a plan." Turned out even Jeri didn't have much of a plan to prop up her man without his unmistakable lassitude showing through.

So, the national press corps is back to searching for the dark horse who has the legs to pass Romney and Giuliani. This week it's Huckabee, which really shows how far the lunacy has spread.

Who can unite the plutocrats, the authoritarians, and the theocons? Draft Dick Cheney!

Sunday comics blogging

Wouldn't John McCain and Joe Lieberman really like to spend more time with their families?

(Click the image to see the full comic.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Key to Mitt Romney

There is only one thing you need to remember about Mitt Romney: His every public act is about brand positioning, not anything that would imply real commitment.

Politics is just another form of business for him, and that requires the ability to discard his past like the cheap suit he has never had.

The end is near

From where I sit at the tail end of the post-war baby boom, things look pretty good. Every time I have to spend some more precious and increasingly expensive gasoline, there are a dozen classic hits stations to choose from on the radio. Let's do the time warp again!

The last time I was in Tennessee, I learned something that should have been obvious. There are actually classic country stations, playing the music I grew up avoiding like the plague.

Why is this? Why should a bunch of middle-aged fossils like me dominate the dial? No, it's not the fact that we're still so uncool that we actually buy music instead of finding it on some file-sharing server in what we still quaintly think of as the Warsaw Pact. It's for the same reason Social Security needed to be (and was) rescued in 1983 - we're the biggest demographic ... ever. That's why every business sector in the economy has always catered to our every whim.

Or, anyway, we have been the biggest demo. But our days are numbered. For one thing, we've started to die off. For another, we don't spend money the way people who don't have much stuff do. The kids upgrade cell phones every year or so; I, for example, still have a five- or six-year-old, scratched up cell phone. I don't need to watch low-res concert video just because Verizon wants me to.

Soon - way too soon for me - Gen Y is going to slam our music into a wheelchair (where, thankfully, our clothing fashions long ago disappeared) and try to force it into a home. The "classic" radio will play rap, giving us all headaches, and cars won't even come with CD players any more. If we have MP3 players, if, they won't integrate with anything, since MP8 players will be the latest thing, and we won't be able to make the retinal scan interface play anything but Barry Manilow - and how the hell did that crap get TiVoed on there?

The jig is going to be up, and we're really going to miss it. We're finally going to understand how the WWII generation felt when we cavalierly abandoned their nightclub torch song Sinatra-ville.

It isn't going to sit well with us. There are far too many narcissists among us who won't be able to deal with the world not telling them every five minutes that they are the most important people on earth. Or at least the most important wallets.

At least we'll still dominate the nursing home market.

Thinking for yourself

Originally a comment at Philosoraptor.

If you don't get children thinking as they learn from as early an age as possible, they'll never shake off the rote regurgitation of factoids or, at best, the ability to solve exactly the class of problem that you've taught them. They'll never grasp the meaning in the equation.

Teachers matter, but for the most part parents are decisive. If they permit their children to follow the truth, their children may try to understand how things work instead of how their parents and teachers want them to work. The academically free approach is perfectly encapsulated in Richard Feynman's title, What Do You Care What Other People Think?. I was blessed with a mom who introduced me to Darwin at age eleven (me, not her!). (She was a public school educator and also an exceptional mentor.)

None of my teachers were going to do this. They were too conservative (in the South a long time ago), too unable themselves to question their social conditioning.

I went to college with a botanist who told me that in no case could a blackberry be considered a berry because botany classified blackberries as drupes (actually, an aggregate of drupelets, but nevermind). No amount of lexicography could move her off that dogma to a more open-minded view that words have different and still legitimate senses. She teaches high school science now, hopefully with a little more perspective.

Since I knew this botanist at Harvard, for chrissake, my result matches jimbales's for elite institutions. Critical thinking appears to be as damn rare in them as everywhere else.

Props to Harry Reid

Keeping the Senate in pro forma session to block Duhbya's typically invidious recess appointments is the one thing Harry Reid is doing right, and I have to give him credit for it a second time.

Now, why can't he generalize the anger he feels about this to the whole goddamn Bushist apparatus?

The light that comes again

The sun is still low in the sky, and there's a lot of darkness yet to come this winter. A metaphor for American politics...

Image from Wikimedia used under Creative Commons, rights owned by Jailbird.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Congress is Bush-whipped

Is there anything the Bushists could do that would piss Congress off enough to get them to start saying NO? I'm no fan of earmarks, but Duhbya's firm and unvarying willingness to screw all of the gentleman's agreements that previously made the government work ought to have dawned over the marbleheads in Congress. Maybe, just maybe, Duhbya hitting the gravy train will awaken them from their craven, self-interested slumbers.

Update: Thought we needed some variation from all the spousal abuse metaphors...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Odd language of faith

I love stories of survival. They've moved me for more than 40 years. There are not many books I recall from elementary school, but I remember a compendium of survival stories published by Reader's Digest that I read in second grade.

That the Dominguez family survived in the snow is conventionally a miracle, but everyone in the CNN story is apportioning credit and blame bassackwards. The snow was an act of God; the rescue was human.

The definition of miracle seems to be something good that one had given up expecting.

Candidates and cancer

Two Republican candidates have cancer. The spouse of one Democratic candidate has cancer. Which has gotten the most pundit and press attention?

Elizabeth Edwards's recurrence of cancer was conventionally supposed to spell the end of her husband's candidacy, but the Edwardses decided to live the rest of her life to the fullest and hopefully for years, rather than settling down to wait for her to die.

Fred Thompson has non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but the press has basically said ho-hum. I happened to channel-surf past "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" last night, and the contrast between his appearance there - playing himself only with better lines - and his skeletal appearance now was a hell of a lot more than better make-up.

Rudy spent the night in the hospital with those ubiquitous "flu-like symptoms". His spokeswoman said afterward (my emphasis):

After precautionary tests the doctors found nothing of concern at this time...
Will the press herd question this? My bet: nope.

Update: I had forgotten (blame the media for not reminding me incessantly) that John McCain had enough skin cancer on the left side of his face that Joan Rivers would have been jealous of the opportunity to pull the jowls back in.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Texans determined to remain stupid

Can creationists really teach science that they actively disbelieve despite the evidence? Of course not, but they fervently want to get their fundie soldiers into position to poison the minds of children against reality.

For cryin' out loud, the ICR is a young earth creationist outfit. They've been purveying captious lies for more than thirty years in my own experience. They not only disbelieve biology, paleontology, and geology but also physics, cosmology, and astronomy. Maybe they believe chemistry. Maybe. They are lunatics.

(Not all Texans, mind you, just the ones in charge. Y'know, Duhbya's successors.)

Lessons of Watergate

Can anyone still believe that the White House was not involved in destruction of recordings of torture? No one who isn't in the middle of a do-it-yourself colonscopy.

Basically, this story describes Bandini, Lambert, & Locke negotiating with the CIA. Addington, Gonzales, and Miers were all involved. You know which direction the orders were travelling, even if they might have been in the form of nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Update: Really from the New York Times, which finally lays out the prisoners' legal rationale for including these non-Guantánamo interrogation tapes in the order about Gitmo prisoners: al Zubaydah may have implicated them during torture.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Globe endorsements

The Boston Globe's twin endorsements on Sunday are probably more influential than my own by dint of vastly more readers, but they're still not very important in the modern political world.

Endorsing Obama is a slight departure from the conventional. Hillary of course is the safe candidate. The problem I have with Obama is his very lack of a confrontational approach to our completely broken political culture. It's not his fault that he can't risk visibly acting on his true outsider status to speak to that; maybe if he gets elected he will prove to have more steel than I've seen so far.

Hill has plenty of steel, but she's thoroughly compromised and utterly pro-establishment. Her collegial cozying up to Lindsey Graham after the impeachment fiasco is akin to John McCain's willingness to kiss Duhbya's exceedingly hairy ass after what Rove did to McCain in South Carolina in 2000.

The Globe's endorsement of McCain is of course completely soft-headed and conventional. They don't agree with him about anything, but he has a reputation - ill-deserved - as a straight talker. Oh, and he's mythically bipartisan, not toxic.

Please, what we need is not to transcend partisanship, but to severely punish the party that screwed us. A real stand from the Globe for something other than the conventional narrative would have gone like this:

We're willing to endorse the lesser of evils. That's the way politics is. But we're not willing to endorse anyone from the Republican Party, even in a primary. The GOP has seriously damaged this country, and no one bearing its standard deserves election to any nationally significant position.
Yeah, never happen. Too partisan.

'Cause I'm left-handed

Transparency is a core value of open societies, but it isn't to the sort of Ayn Rand price-on-everything universe that the Bushists (and Alan Greenspan) profess to love as long as it doesn't hurt their cronies.

Corporations, of course, may use Rand-like laissez-faire rhetoric, but they really just want the playing field tilted in their favor. That's why all copyright law for the past at least twenty years has been destructive of public rights and fair use. Digital rights management, enabled by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, gives them everything and the rest of us, whatever's left.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Finally, I get it

Commenting here, I finally realized the truth of Fox News's slogan. It's really:

We report (a biased view of the controversy). You decide (based on your prejudices).
See, they even trim their own quotes to match their ideology.


To start with, the U.S. blew the U.K.'s investigation of a 2006 terrorist plot by pushing Pakistan to arrest Rashid Rauf immediately.

This left the Pakistanis claiming they didn't have enough evidence against him in the plot.

Also, the Pakistani interrogation was untrustworthy because it may have included torture.

But the British still wanted Rauf in connection with a 2002 murder.

Then, the Pakistanis let Rauf slip through their fingers, and we're supposed to believe that (a) this was an accident and (b) they really, really want to recapture him.

Did I leave anything out? The Keystone Kops, maybe.

Not indistinguishable

Of course, the hot skin cells reprogrammed as stem cells are different from fetal stem cells. How will that affect research results? We can't tell yet.

Need to know basis

... and Americans don't need to know. That's the Bushist rationale. There's nothing they won't cover up.

I'm sure they'll appeal the decision to classify White House visitor logs as public records. The records won't be available before Jan. 2009, I would bet.

Yet when Bill Clinton was President, the Republicans argued that everything the Secret Service did should be public, the better to find stains related to Monica Lewinsky. Sure, the public really, really needed to know about the oral sex. But policy? No way.

Another craven capitulation

As I told the office of one of the good guys, John Kerry, "The Congress needs new leadership."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Speak intel

What Republicans care about

It's not debt or the deficit. It's low taxes for the wealthy.

January 2009

I once offended a local Democrat by deriding Joe Lieberman, and I haven't seen her at a meeting since. I wonder how she feels about Lieberman's endorsement of John McCain. I feel completely vindicated, much as when I pushed a racist voter away from my Congressional candidate in 1974.

My fervent hope is that the Senate Majority Leader who defeats Harry Reid in January of 2009 will drum Lieberman out of the Democratic Party caucus. Could it be more clear that he's not a Democrat? You have to wonder about Connecticut Democrats who voted for him.

He knows if you've been bad or good

Another quaint Constitutional right that the Bushists are shitting on:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Let me get this straight: Telecom amnesty is required because one or two phone companies declined an illegal Bushist surveillance program at some point? Telecom amnesty furthers the government's goal of spying on all of us in violation of the Fourth Amendment? And that's the reason I should support telecom amnesty?

They obviously think we're idiots.

Update: See Glenn Greenwald, who is brilliant as always. A sample quote:
The very nature of our country and our government fundamentally transforms step by step, with little opposition. We all were inculcated with the notion that what distinguished our free country from those horrendous authoritarian tyrannies, both right and left, of the Soviet bloc, Latin America and the Middle East were things like executive detentions, torture, secret prisons, spying on their own citizens, unprovoked invasions of sovereign countries, and exemptions from the law for the most powerful -- precisely the abuses which increasingly characterize our government and shape our political values.

Lady liberty

Your hooded masses yearning to breathe free...

(Click on the image.)

Love the extended pinky, too.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Non-binding preamble

The world may think the Bushists just gave in on global warming and emissions targets. Huh-uh.

Those targets remain in the agreement — including a possible cut in emissions of up to 40 percent below 1990 levels by rich countries by 2020, and a 50 percent cut in emissions globally by 2050 — but they are now a footnote to the nonbinding preamble, not a main feature of the plan.
"Put Hans back on, Ellis. You have no idea what kind of man you're dealing with, but I do."

Selling Skittles

Based on a week's longevity on CNN's front page, this is the most important story facing America today:

This alone is enough to prove that the media prefers inconsequential froth. If it bleeds, it leads, but to really last someone's gotta get nekkid. It's just too bad it was men, not a bevy of Hollywood Barbies.

Update: December 18th and this is still on CNN's front page.

Update 2: December 20th and finally CNN has found some naked women. This story will probably be up until the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition comes out sometime after the Super Bowl.

Democrats want to count actual votes

Republicans don't care as long as the answer's "right". They're more likely to say, "HEY, look over there."

No power too great

The Bushists will go to any length to accrete power to themselves. Wherever dissent occurs in the executive branch, they will move to crush it. It's the kind of people they are.

Of course, they will dress it up in legalese and apply the wrong legal principle to cover their power grab. Here, they claim they are pursuing civilian control of the military, which is clearly not at issue, when in fact they seek to destroy two things that vex them politically:

  • Real defense advocacy for soldiers - oops, another civil right gone
  • The independence of the JAG corps to question the legality of little Bushist niceties such as torture
Two conclusions:
  • No one who has worked for or in concert with Dick Cheney should ever be permitted to hold a responsible government post again.
  • John Yoo is a war criminal. I look forward to his prosecution. Let his attorney advocate for him; the written record is already completely damning.
Thank goodness for Charlie Savage. We need more real journalists.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Failing upward

Not sure this guy is as "qualified" as Duhbya, but he's on the gravy train.

For those who still believe the sainted market corrects executive compensation to its actual value, bullshit!

Stress positions

Maybe I've missed it, but I haven't seen much written about stress positions. If the New York Times won't call waterboarding torture, you know they probably would liken stress positions to having a hangnail. (I just found Slate.)

So, how do you think our interrogators get their victims into those stress positions? You think they use sweet reason?

Digging Digby

What she said. Be sure to read this source of hers.

As a youth, I had heard all about the banality of evil, but I persisted in denial. There must have been something particular and defective in the German character, for instance, that permitted Hitler to coarsen ordinary morality out of his people. First, jealousy and fear, then petty cruelty and thuggery, then aggressive war and torture, and then holocaust.

By now, I know that the moral and judgemental defects that lead from fear to mass murder infect the entire human race. Russians, Chinese, Cambodians, Hutu, Turks, Arabs, Israelis, and of course Americans. I should have known this earlier; what we did to Africans that caused the Civil War should have been enough. Before that, we committed genocide on native Americans. Even before that, my people in the British Isles brutalized and killed each other for the slimmest mindfuck reasons like divine right of kings or "Christian" sectarianism.

The yawning abyss between humane and human might be more obvious, I guess, though only in the way that a runaway train is more obvious when you're standing on the tracks than when you're momentarily safe on the platform. Atrocities come naturally to us. They are our cultural and genetic heritage, and we live in a period when the Bushists have largely rendered law impotent to restrain them.

The Bushist excuses for torture committed by Americans continue their - and our - lapse from the hope that liberty and democracy could ameliorate our brutal human nature. Now, having abandoned our higher principles for base and bloody violence, we Americans are simply another senescent empire on the verge of self-destruction.

The same goes for the redemptive hope that Christianity sometimes gives. Those in power call themselves Christians, but they have rationalized the same expedience as Pontius Pilate. Their excuses for torture would permit crucifixion so long as we cut down and revived Jesus before he died from blood loss and exposure.

As for me, I have to work hard to restrain myself from advocating the gallows and instead to suggest that we may need a new Spandau - perhaps Guantánamo - not for terrorists but for our own home-grown war criminals.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dispatch from Bushworld

The hardcore Bushists will view this acquittal and mistrial as proof that they were right to say that law cannot handle domestic terror. They will argue that only suspension of habeas corpus can work with "those people". Who needs evidence when they have their overwhelming suspicion?

The Bushists are anti-American; they don't believe in our founding principle of due process.

Republicans pro-torture

House Republicans are still carrying water for the Bushists, in this case carrying it over to the waterboard. The New York Times and the AP still can't bear to call it torture, but anyone whose head is not up his (or her!) ass knows it is.

At least half of Washington has gone drooling, gibbering, Freddy Krueger insane. When will the media notice?

Bugs we really need

I'd like to see a microbe make natural gas out of the air. Fuel and a solution to global warming. Then maybe oxygen would become a pollutant!

Who says there's no good news?

Turns out James Watson is an octoroon! And if you know that old word with the bigoted one-drop heritage, you're either reading too much Faulkner or what? Bigots themselves aren't literate enough to remember it. Unless maybe they're James Watson.

(Hat-tip to onegoodmove.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Casualties of war

Do "honor" killings count as casualties of the Iraq war?

Burying the lead

If you read deep in the Boston Globe today, you'll find this:

Yesterday, Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said that a delegation from China, one of the biggest producers of the gases linked to global warming, told him at the international climate-change conference that it was ready to cut greenhouse gas emissions if the United States first set mandatory reductions of its own - a plan the Bush administration has consistently rejected.
Duhbya will be gone in 13 months and 8 days. China will still be there spewing out carbon dioxide, while Duhbya out to pasture will release only relatively small amounts of methane spiced with sulfur compounds.

If the Chinese aren't faking - which they could be - maybe there is a solution that governments could contribute to.

Torture vs. tourism

A month old but still potent.

Fire Robin Givhan

The morally bankrupt Washington Post has Robin Givhan assigned to snark the clothing of every Presidential candidate. They'll claim they're balanced, but Givhan is carefully inserting the Beltway consensus narrative into every piece of crap she writes. Here's the latest installment.

Of course, the person who most deserves to be fired is the editor who decided that Givhan could make a useful contribution to American political discourse.

Politics 101

Harry Reid has not been as big a disappointment as Nancy Pelosi, simply because I didn't expect much from him. I had great hopes that she would bring some liberal sanity to Washington and, more important, that she would have the guts to make some things stick. Reid, I hoped, would at least tame the Bushist penchant for appointing extremists to Federal offices. Even with those low expectations, he has been underwhelming, though I was thrilled at his pro forma sessions.

Now, Mitch McConnell is dictating budget terms to the Senate Democratic majority! McConnell says:

I think we are being consistent here against higher taxes, consistently against greater regulation, consistently against creating new causes of action in bill after bill after bill...
Consistently against democracy, I'd say. Doesn't he remember who lost in 2006? Doesn't he remember his own anti-filibuster rhetoric in the previous years. Of course he does. His principle is winning, not consistency. He's playing hardball, while the Democrats play blind man's bluff.

The proper response to McConnell is not quite a Cheneyism, "Mitch, we're going to let you f--- yourself on C-SPAN every evening until you're too sore to go on. Have at it."

Then Reid has to do something besides sending tallies to the press about how many things the big bad mean Republicans have filibustered. He and the Democrats have to provide the media with pictures and sound bites. Make the smug and doughy face of McConnell represent the GOP's intransigence. Make them vote against cloture on TV every damn day. Put together a cogent video press release about it every day. The media are about as lazy as Duhbya - you've got to give them something that goes down easy.

Have a Democrat make a reasonable but obviously frustrated speech every day. Make the Presidential candidates do some of them. Tell them all to keep it short so you can control the message that winds up in the news. Podcast and Youtube the speeches. Tell the American public that the Democrats have a bill ready to negotiate but that the Republicans' position is that they'll hold their breath until they turn blue unless they get everything they want, even after losing in 2006.

If you have to twist some arms in your own caucus, do it. Tell Joe Lieberman his fucking furniture will be out on Constitution Ave. if he defects.

What's amazing is that the Democratic "leadership" has spent their adult lives in politics and yet have managed not to learn even the most basic facts about it. When your opponent is playing a vicious game, you have to show the electorate that in colorful, memorable, and sometimes vicious ways.

Let the Republicans shut down the government again. Just make sure the voters know who's doing the shutting. What you want is for Duhbya to veto the omnibus spending bill because it has something in it he doesn't like. That's what McConnell is protecting him from. So, tie the two of them together and pin the blame on them. They deserve it.

Shit, this is politics, not needlepoint.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Too late

Whenever someone claims I was just as blind to Bill Clinton's faults as they want to be to Duhbya's lack of virtues, I can answer with one word, "Rwanda." He was a President who refused to call obvious genocide by its name, lest he then be obligated to do something about it, obligated morally and by the UN Charter, to which the U.S. is a signatory confirmed by the Senate. Now, we have a President who refuses to call obvious torture what it is.

There is a small difference in favor of each: Clinton did not order the genocide, where Duhbya ordered the torture. But the genocide did kill half a million people, while torture has killed at most a few dozen.

I wonder, will Duhbya repent after he has pardoned all those who executed his unlawful orders?

Show me the money

Dan Froomkin labors away at the benighted Washington Post trying to shed a little light into all their smug Beltway denial. A vital challenge for anything that backs up the Bushist propaganda - even if it comes from a refreshing exponent of reality - is, "Prove it."

Update: Looking at the ABC videos of Kiriakou (hmm, the feminine form of a Greek name), I'm a bit skeptical of him. He's such a boy scout, and he's confirming so much without demurring from any question, that he seems more like an actor than a spy.

The Beltway strikes back!

The Washington Post despises John Edwards, and that's a good enough recommendation for me!

LDS history

Mitt Romney's speech, which I didn't bother to watch, has opened the floodgates for the journalistic deconstruction of Mormonism. Everyone who had an article in development is trying to get it published before Mitt vanishes after Iowa and New Hampshire choose Huckabee and who-the-hell-knows-who.

This piece makes the LDS (say "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" and you'll know why the abbreviation is popular) sound similar to Scientology when someone crosses over the line into saying what really happened with Joseph Smith/L. Ron Hubbard. Sure, LDS is not as imperialistic with nonbelievers, nor as likely to sue, but both want to keep the curtain closed on the Wizard.

I would really like to read a secular explanation of how a cult grows large enough to graduate to mainstream religion. Paul had something really powerful going on inside him. What was it? How did he pull in other people as fervent believers? The official line of the Catholic Church and indeed of its Protestant sects is that Christianity is the one true religion. That's explanatory for a believer but loses its probative power in light of all the other cases from other religions. What did Muhammad have that Mitt Romney would love to have a little of?

What gives a person the charisma to attract disciples, not just fellows? Sure, most people have a desire to believe, and many of them want to retreat to childhood's refuge in a dominating parent, but this is not just a few quirky personalities. This is practically everyone, leaving unbelievers like me to be the quirky ones.

I'd really like for some astute psycho-socio-histo-genius to explain it to me because I haven't met an explanation that satisfies me. Of course, I'm not going to become the genius's disciple; I just don't have the personality for that.

What struck me most about the article was way down in p. 3:

But these books and articles also worried conservatives within the church. In 1981, Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer, a leading conservative, famously cautioned: "Some things that are true are not very useful." Mormon historians who do their work "regardless of how they may injure the Church or destroy the faith of those not ready for 'advanced history,' " he said, may find themselves in "great spiritual jeopardy."
There's a critical conflict inherent in this that I've noticed for a long time, though I'm just recently beginning to appreciate its central importance.

When my sixth grade teacher, a sweet pious woman no bigger than I even though I was just eleven, said to me, "You can believe evolution if you want, but I just don't think it's nice," I didn't understand at all what nice had to do with anything. Yet here a Mormon elder is dressing up essentially the same ordering of the universe, albeit in more threatening terms.

For me, what's actually true about the world takes precedence over what I want to be true about the world. The fact that one girl or another didn't actually love me mattered much more than my fervent crushes on them. Even if I would be happier as a Christian, I can't believe myths about the universe to sustain the faith. It's not just ridiculous Genesis-literal creationism I can't believe. The myth of Jesus's uniqueness in the vastness of the visible heavens is too much to swallow, too, now that we know what the firmament of stars really is.

I was thinking along these lines recently about the First Amendment, which guarantees our free exercise of religion and our free speech. These two rights can coexist only if those who freely exercise their faiths do not as part of that exercise arrogate the right to suppress speech on the ground that their religion is more important. To say the least, their coexistence has been uneasy.

Of course, Boyd Packer is not bound by the First Amendment inside LDS. But I have to wonder just how eternal a religion can be if it requires suppression of the unkempt and inconvenient truth. Aren't we adults? Shouldn't the first assumption in all cases be that we can handle the truth?

That's what I think even on the face of it. Never mind that the consistent pattern throughout history has been that the suppression of evidence is a matter of self-interest, often lamely rationalized as the common good, but nonetheless dressed up in a raiment of lies. What I want to know is how the charismatics get away with it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hair of a thousand cuts

Now it's Mitt Romney's hair the Washington Post wants us to hear about. Would someone please send Robin Givhan back to middle school.

Sun-, oops, Monday comics blogging

Hey, if it's good enough for Ted Williams, it's good enough for the likes of you.

Scooter scoots

Scooter Libby helped out Valerie Plame to aid a craven political smear in a way that damaged American national security. She did after all work on WMDs. For this "service", Scooter got:

  • his sentence commuted
  • a legal defense trust - Hey, did he pay his fine out of it? Who gets to keep the balance?
Scooter's web site says, "We are confident that at the end of this process, Scooter Libby will be fully exonerated." Oops, I guess not! They've apparently taken down the donate page.

I still think Duhbya will pardon this shitheel. Republicans take care of their accessories.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

One mo' 'gin

"No recollection," when uttered by a Bushist of any stripe, means "if I told you I wasn't involved, that would be perjury."

Finding nuggets of policy

There is actually some policy coverage in this story:

[Giuliani] focused on economic issues, particularly his plans to cut the federal corporate tax rate, ease regulatory restraints, and provide generous tax incentives for individuals to buy their own health insurance. More than four months after sketching the outlines of a healthcare plan, Giuliani has provided no details on its impact on the US Treasury.
It's not the topic of the story, which starts out as another poll-driven, horse race story, but at least it's in there in paragraph 9. And the rest of the story after the jump covers Giuliani's stump speech with actual context and a critique founded in reality. Bravo!

So, let's look at Rudy's nostrums:
  • Lower the corporate tax rate - the Republican target is 0%, maybe less
  • Ease regulatory restraints - sure, let's have more corporations writing the rules that govern them; that'll help consumers and anyone who breathes or drinks water or wants safe (lead-free) products
  • Provide tax incentives to buy health insurance - in other words, give money back to people who already have enough money to have health insurance

Acquiescence to torture

Is there anything the Washington Democrats won't allow the Bushists to do?

Nancy: You're not tough if you cave every time someone questions your toughness.

It is possible that the Bushists are claiming consent by silence when in fact there was none. That's a completely consistent pattern, too.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


As in we've got ours. When the studios claim they want "reasonable compromises that are in the best interests of our entire industry," keep your hand on your wallet.

The quotes from the press releases show exactly who is interested in negotiating. The studios just want to steal.

Call it by its name

So, if racist Chicago cops do it, it's torture, but if the CIA does it, it's enhanced interrogation. At least, that's what the New York Times tells me.

Friday, December 7, 2007

They don't care

The Bushists will do whatever they want to do. They will accept no legal or practical restraint from democracy. The Congress has three powers that matter:

  • Impeachment
  • Impeachment
  • and impeachment
There has never in my lifetime been an administration as corrupted by its own lust for power as the Bush administration. Ollie North was not this corrupted by power. The Bushists all belong in jail.

If we Americans actually gave a shit about self-government, we wouldn't stand for this.

Oh, and by the way, if Dana Perino says that Duhbya has "no recollection", then he ordered the destruction of the video evidence of torture.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thin cover-up

Someone might identify a torturer, and we can't have that! What would that do for the torturers' morale?

True Republican colors

How is it that the Republicans can oppose a responsible, revenue-neutral fix for AMT and expect the voters not to punish them for it? It's been working for years.

When push comes to not even shove but excuse-me, the GOP puts the richest of the rich - a few hedge fund managers and their even better-heeled clients - ahead of millions of middle class wage earners, not to mention fiscal sanity. They know the press won't call them on it.

Really, is there anything that comes out of Mitch McConnell's mouth that's not flavored with bullshit? When he says "a lot of other Americans", he means a very small number of overpaid financial manipulators - many of the same people who gave us the credit crisis.

The Democrats, if they had a lick of sense, would make the Republicans filibuster this openly and visibly and for a long time. Have the Democratic Senators who are running for President come back to D.C. every few days for another cloture vote and issue a zillion press releases about what's at stake.

Update: Of course, the Democrats have already caved again (and the Times has changed the story under my original link).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The future of journalists

I've been thinking about some wild speculation on the future of journalism, but meanwhile I just noticed something about the future of journalists. I had previously noticed that Mac Daniel, once of the Globe, is now spokesman for the Turnpike Authority. Today, I was reading along about the sheer brazen gall of a man who put his 4-year-old son on the Massport payroll. When the story got to the testimonials to the guilty man's character, my attention was flagging, but I skimmed down to the bottom and found a familiar name, Matthew Brelis, speaking for Massport.

Brelis used to report for the Globe, too. I knew him when he worked in the western suburbs. My memory is that he worked for a different paper, but I could be wrong. While I wasn't a fan at the time, he moved up, and eventually started reporting on aviation, including the 9/11 attacks.

Who knows, this may be one reason reporters are no longer eager to dig. Their industry is shrinking, and they never know when they'll need a job.

Patriots have become the Yankees

Everybody hates 'em.

The Eagles showed the three things you have to do to compete with the Pats, and the Ravens did them even better:

  1. Use holding and take-downs to blunt the New England pass rush.
  2. Hold New England receivers on every down.
  3. Put immediate pressure on Tom Brady. Forget delayed blitzes. Double-overload one side to get a speed guy one-on-one with an offensive lineman.
One and two are about daring the zebras to throw their flags. Sure, there's holding on every play in the NFL, but this is a whole other level of clutch and grab. Get as much incidental contact as you can downfield. Grab jersey whenever you can screen the ref with your body.

To all the Raven DBs who think they got jobbed: Your coaches prepped you all week with a game plan that told you to hold. Now you object to being called for it?

What's Belichick, the evil genius, going to do about it? Well, he's good with video; maybe he'll put together a film about all the fingernail marks on his players. But he'll also adjust on both sides of the ball. More tight end plays, more passes to running backs, more pass routes that will expose holding. On defense, stunts and blitzes and more holding by the Pats themselves. Oh, and all the many things he knows that no one else knows.

Undefeated, though? I don't know about that.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

More transparent bullshit

The deputy commander of Guantánamo tells us that "four to six" prisoners harmed themselves in the past month or two. He doesn't have a precise number? No, he just won't give it.

He also tells us that the suicide attempts are about public relations, despite the fact that they happen in secret and the inmates have no access to any information confirming for them that anyone knows about it.

And he tell us that, despite substantial blood loss from a self-inflicted wound to the throat, the prisoner was never in danger of dying. Riiight.

Well, isn't that just ... bullshit from start to finish.

It's pretty hard to cast any sympathetic light on those prisoners at Guantánamo who really are terrorists, but the Bushists have managed even that with their attempt to carve out a lawless enclave.

Transparent bullshit

Anyone older than about six should be able to see through Samuel Bodman's lame "It is wrong to single out an industry, the oil industry or any industry" for new taxes. So, it's perfectly fine to single out the oil industry for sweetheart tax breaks but immoral to repeal them?

The Bushists still count on Americans to be idiots. For a long time, they got away with it.

I'm not a fan of ethanol, however...

Rehashing the bullshit

Will Peter Canellos use the death of every old Republican hypocrite (redundant?) to "raise questions" about the Clintons? (You'll notice there's no mention of Hyde's own "youthful" indiscretion - when he was 41.) Well, Whitewater nostalgia is easy crap to write when you're on deadline, so unless the Globe rips him outside the Beltway, I'd guess yes. Then, he'd just audition for Fox.

Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

Seriously, how do I get a job like the sinecure Canellos has?

Price of freedom

I have no problem with vigilance, nor with continuing international pressure. But, seriously, it's a warning sign that Iran suspended its nuclear program? You'd think Duhbya was the first one ever to recognize that proliferation is a bad thing. I suppose I should stop complaining and just be glad he has finally come to understand that.

So, Iran has/has no nuclear weapons program, and "nothing's changed". Yep, that's about right. No facts could ever make a dent. Of course, Condi still justifies going into Iraq because of decades-old behavior. Any day now, I'm expecting Duhbya to rescue the Tutsis in Rwanda.

Of course, Iran, like Iraq before it, wanted its adversaries (including us) to think it has WMD, especially nukes. They're trying to take on protective coloration so the price of attacking appears too high. Then again, even without their having WMD, attacking Iraq proved too expensive in blood and treasure. Hey, how about Sudan! Ha.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Forty years of phosphorus

I can't believe we're still not clean on phosphorus. Of course, I'm guilty, too. I only recently switched to a green dishwasher detergent, which I supplement with a small amount of Cascade if I need a little phosphorus and chlorine to get the dishes clean. But nearly 40 years ago, eutrophication was a known problem due to phosphorus run-off. Those radicals at National Geographic reported on it.

The Globe story is not very good. First, there's the nonsensical mention that phosphorus is a "natural element". True, but it's the artificial phosphorus that matters. The reporter at least mentions that later, but he never gives any sense of the relative magnitudes of the human sources.

Then, the story meanders back and forth. Its narrative is so confused that it's hard to imagine any remedy other than starting over from scratch.

Ah, so it was a photo op

Duhbya's trying to have a legacy in the Middle East that's not about the sandy quagmire in Iraq. He certainly doesn't have anything to burnish. Of course, it was just a photo op. That's what these guys do.

Of course, Bill Clinton tried pretty much the same thing, the difference being that he actually had paid attention to peace before the last year.

Venezuela chooses

... against strongman rule - by a hair. Chávez says, "For now, we could not do it." (emphasis added)

My guess: He'll be back with another proposal that includes provisions intended to mollify just enough of the opposition coalition. All he needs is 50% plus 1, after all.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Carnage in perspective

The Boston Globe has a Google mash-up of homicide data for Boston. With a month to go in 2007, there have been 63 homicides in Boston, which is arithmetically convenient for a city of about 630,000 (metro Boston is much bigger). That's a risk of 1 in 10,0000.

More than 40,000 Americans will die in car accidents this year. Thus the risk to all 300 million of us in America of dying in a car accident is substantially greater than 1 in 10,000, more like 1 in 7,000.

No one I know avoids car travel because of this, but the last time I went to Dorchester people who were supposed to go decided it was too risky to spend one day working on a Habitat for Humanity project.

We as a society can't tolerate murder. But unreasoning fear is not going to help us eliminate it.

The future grows out of today

MIT's curriculum is on line. There are big changes coming for higher education. They won't all be good, but they're coming.

Education is labor intensive. American colleges and universities deliver it via very highly trained and hence very expensive professors. They have already responded to this expense by adding an exploited middle tier of Ph.D. instructors who have no chance at tenure, no job security, and low pay for arduous hours - pretty much the condition of the rest of the American labor market in these days when every worker is expected to tolerate a much greater degree of risk than was true in the four decades after WWII.

Information delivery is a critical part of education. Those nostalgic for the allegedly golden age of McGuffey's Reader may think that's all there is to it, but there's also the more important aspect of learning how to use that information. Even in the humanities, it's not enough to memorize what the dead white guys said and wrote. It's also important to reason about that, to assess other voices, to compare and contrast, and then to generate the next set of questions and proposed answers.

Both these rough categories are communication, and telepresence technology more and more permits them to be done without sharing physical space. Most large corporations use telepresence every day, even if they do try to accomplish it on the cheap with commodity facilities such as phone conferences, video conferences, and desktop sharing.

Here are some possibilities:

  • Many more low-residency programs - What's good for MFA programs in writing will work for the sciences as network bandwidth permits better sharing of virtual spaces.
  • Exploitation of economies of scale - A lot more people can go to elite institutions if they don't need dorms or classrooms. This of course would mean a brutal shakeout of lesser institutions and the usual attendant reduction of variety.
  • The further mean marketization of the academic life - If you want a career in education that can't be done remotely, and you're not sure you're among the intellectual elite, I'd recommend K-12 teaching or college tutoring that fills the gaps left by distance learning.
  • More Internet instruction with an Indian accent - Phoenix University is working out the paradigm domestically, but there's no reason it can't be extended overseas. A population of a billion produces a lot of smart people, even if my experience with engineers educated in India suggests over-reliance on memorization and authority to the detriment of some aspects of critical thinking.
  • Narrowly targeted training - Republican and business interests will try to exploit the economics to kill the independence and freedom of the academy.

One percent doctrine

Under Darth Cheney's one percent doctrine, America should invade any country that has a 1% chance of conveying nuclear weapons to terrorists. So why aren't we in Pakistan? Good question.

A sane one percent doctrine would prepare for 1% chances, war game them, create mitigation plans and scenarios, build infrastructure, keep some resources ready for rapid deployment, etc. The war gaming at least appears to be what the Pentagon is doing without any White House sponsorship (though it is possible the White House just couldn't acknowledge it), and I say good for the Pentagon.

One of the bonuses of being in Afghanistan is that we're right next door to the single most likely source of nuclear weapons for Islamic terrorists. I hope that we have a go team standing by at all times for possible interdiction or rescue. That would be a hell of a thing to try to put together on the fly. I'd rotate the duty, too. No team can stay sharp if it's sitting around the base yawning about alerts that always stand down.

Further, if we're not directing all the best of our satellite and electronic intel into Pakistan, we're idiots. Which is yet another reason to fear the results of having such incompetent morons in the White House.

Sunday comics blogging

Too many laughs not to embed this, and belly laughs, not just small chuckles!

The whole Tom Tomorrow comic is here, and Tom's take on Keith Olbermann's hilarious segment is here, where I saw this in the first place.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Good manners - feh!

What's wrong with Democrats? Even after what the Bushists and especially Karl Rove did to him, Tom Daschle still says:

Rove either has "a very faulty memory, or he's not telling the truth"
When the hell would Daschle ever bluntly state the obvious truth, "Karl Rove is a liar, has always been a liar, and will always be a liar. There's no point in anyone listening to a single word he says."

Would that be too goddamn impolite? And David Broder can shut the hell up on that subject.

When the news doesn't make sense

So, the AP has a White House document that indicates Duhbya's last budget (hallelujah!) will/might/plans to slash the parts of the homeland security appropriation that actually protects the homeland. Why?

Well, port security mainly helps blue states. That couldn't be it, could it?

Congressional Republicans do have a huge need to separate themselves from Duhbya. Could this be a gift to them, a painless way for them to distance themselves from an unpopular president?

Of course, the Republican reflex is to cut any budget, no matter how useful the expenditure, so long as it can't be directed to a crony. Probably, the reason this appropriation is in the Bushists' sights is that the funding is directed by other people.

Wouldn't a new attack help the Republicans at all levels? Surely that's too farfetched even for this bunch of criminals. Even our lazy press would notice if al Qaeda exploited the elimination of port security funding.

Once the best in the world

More on how we got here...

We Americans, like any people, have a history of believing in falsehoods. Every people has its founding myths, for one thing. We want to believe the stories we learned in childhood about George Washington - the cherry tree and the silver dollar (before dollars existed). We're not so keen to hear that Washington brewed small beer or adopted military tactics he learned from Indians.

Similarly, we cherish Thomas Jefferson's lovely, high-flown words in the Declaration about the natural rights of all men. But we're not so interested in Sally Hemings and her descendants, who are now known to be related to TJ and possibly to be his direct descendants. Most of us white people had already chosen to ignore Jefferson's ignoble failure to observe his own principles and free his slaves from unconscionable bondage.

Further, at least when I was in school in the South, we glossed over the devil's bargain of the "Great Compromise". My teachers framed it in terms of federal representation in the Senate and the Electoral College, not also in the House of Representatives, where slaves were "represented" at a discounted, subhuman rate by the same white landowners who enslaved them.

Americans in the late twentieth century, however, started having trouble distinguishing truth from fiction about subjects that were less abstract and historical. The media abdicated any attempt to referee any fact that either side deemed "controversial".

I recall throwing out Time magazine for the last time in the early 1980s. Every story was balanced in the way of too-young Ivy League grads who thought themselves worldly for their experience putting the Harvard Crimson or the Yale Daily News to bed. The writers wrote he-said-she-said stories with a little verbal shrug at the end as if news were all just an in joke and we the readers could only be cool if we agreed to find it as funny as they so knowingly did.

As a young Ivy grad myself, I preferred the hard facts of some old, fat, bald guy in a polyester suit who chewed on cheap cigars and drank too much young whiskey, but who couldn't be fooled by a large vocabulary or common club membership. That old reporter might not even have gone to college, but he could write strong subject-verb sentences, and he was loyal to his readers' desire to know what actually had happened.

Other readers must not have noticed. They were probably busy watching TV news, and they didn't notice that the factual, responsible old school journalists epitomized by CBS were being replaced. Roger Mudd had a face for radio, and the culture was turning to superficial values that would reign supreme when Connie Chung did her turn as Dan Rather's co-anchor. (Rather himself pretended to be old school, but he was really a blow-dried blowhard, even if his desire was to report legitimate news.)

In any case, Americans lost their frontier skepticism in the face of the boggling beauty of TV productions and personalities. Marshall McLuhan's famous aphorism that "the medium is the message" may not have been true in the infancy of television, but it had certainly become true.

In the face of anchors like Brian Williams and Katie Couric and celebrity, helicopter journalism even outside the studio, viewers lost track of facts among all the flash. And at every turn, Brent Bozell and his pressure groups were there to flay anyone who got off script into distinguishing lies from truth. Most Americans didn't notice, apparently, since most came to believe that the media was in fact biased in favor of liberals. The truth of course was that TV was biased in favor of good pictures.

But we were learning to enjoy being spoon fed. It was so much easier than getting up from the comfy chair.

Once our bullshit detectors were the best in the world. No longer. The world changed, and most of us didn't keep up.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Rudy Giuliani, cheating on YOUR taxes

Part of the DailyKos name-that-scandal contest.

When it's ripe

Poll: Bullshit Is Most Important Issue For 2008 Voters

After all, bullshit is important to me.

(Hat tip Philosoraptor.)

NYTimes off the reservation

The New York Times treads right up to the line and, though it doesn't quite say openly that Rudy Giuliani is a compulsive liar, cheat, and bullshitter, nowadays, that's close enough for plaudits.

Here's the clearest of many illustrations:

In a recent radio advertisement by the campaign about his health care proposal, Mr. Giuliani repeated another false statement that he had been using on the campaign trail.
Frank Luntz's take on the Republican attitude toward bullshit is also instructive:
“When he talks about New York, people see it,” Mr. Luntz said of Mr. Giuliani, “and they feel it, and if a number isn’t quite right, or is off by a small amount, nobody will care, because it rings true to them.”
Whether something's true or not doesn't matter. Only fooling the people with their feelings matters.

There's also some compulsive reportorial "balance". Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama get dinged. (I bet John Edwards wishes he were in the story, too, even to get corrected!)

Obama exaggerated the degree of increase in the public debt. He said "doubled". The Times should have served its readers better by noting the facts: From Jan. 20, 2001 to today, the national debt has increased from $5.7 trillion to $9.1 trillion, an increase of a mere 60%.

No time at the moment to check Hillary's NIH statement.

Update: Hard to be sure what Hillary said or meant to say without context, but it is true that NIH funding has increased in every area under Duhbya.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ten bucks on the Washington Spectator

OK, I have plenty to read, and I usually toss all the offers right into the recycle bin. But the Washington Spectator started its offer letter this way:

I won't mince words. Our government is run by criminals and liars, the opposition party lacks a backbone, and the corporate-controlled media gave up reporting most real news a long time ago.

So, I'm going to have a first hand look. Sadly, I can't help Molly Ivins, but at least I can send a check in the direction of Lou Dubose.

Middle school

Mike Huckabee wants to be a political Jackie Gleason, "Boom, Hillary, to Mars." Personally, I'd prefer to have grown-ups in charge, after eight years of the Bushist faux grown-ups. But Huckabee correctly assesses the maturity of the core Republican voters, many of whom never graduated emotionally from middle school.

And, of course, CNN calls Huckabee's juvenile taunt "witty". Not just a quip, but witty! I can't believe how debased our national conversation is.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Perfect illustration

Hillary is toying with asking Colin Powell to help restore America's reputation. Huh? He had his chance, and he completely blew it. This is the perfect illustration why I don't like Hillary. For cryin' out loud, can we please have a goddamn change!

Boltin' from Bolten

Tattered remnants of Josh Bolten's Labor Day deadline to follow the rest of the Norway rats (Rove, Gonzo, ...). The AP lives Memento every day but doesn't take notes. Or maybe it doesn't read them. Whatever.

Al Hubbard worked on Social Security, SCHIP, global warming, and a proposal I had not previously heard about to tax health insurance benefits. Yeah, that's good for the middle and working classes. Good riddance!

One popular idea

On the Republican platform.

Republicans love tax cuts. They especially love cuts that help what Duhbya lovingly called his base when he appeared in black tie before a very wealthy donor group in 2000.

It's ironic that only when Duhbya is joking are his words true. It's inexplicable that the Democrats have not played that clip over and over again. Someday I'll hunt it up and link to it. But I digress.

Of course, the GOP loves tax cuts. Who doesn't? Even liberals like me would prefer to pay less - fairly, of course - if only all other things would remain equal. Opposition to taxes is the policy position where the Republicans are best aligned with Americans at large.

The Republicans love tax cuts so much that they live in a universe where two plus two may not equal four. Their rhetoric frequently changes the plain meaning of numbers, not just words. In their lexicon, a vote not to raise taxes is a tax cut. On the other hand, a Democrat's vote not to cut taxes is a tax increase. Then, the GOPers count these instances up, including all the procedural votes as if they were distinct proposals. Ordinary people would call this sleight of tongue lying, but the press plays along.

I can't wait for the Republicans to take this one step further. I don't see why they would scruple against saying that a tax that continues in force from a previous year is not a tax increase this year. After all, they seem to think that the only legitimate tax rate is vanishingly above 0%. I once played poker with a seemingly good guy who proposed in all seriousness that even a flat tax was unfair to the rich - that each person should be assessed the same dollar amount regardless of income, much less wealth. Of course, he worked in the rarefied world of private finance, where the only poor people he ever saw were beggars on the streets of Boston.

I suppose the government should live off nothing like an air fern. Well, except for the military-industrial complex - they can't be expected to survive without public funding.

The Republicans are not satisfied to distribute their tax cuts evenly. That's not what they're about. They want to change the tax burden of the wealthy, and you just can't do that if all you're rebating to them is $300. Those greedheads need five figures at least to notice.

What the GOP has found, however, is that your average middle class American can be bought off for $300. Normal people do notice a couple of days wages.

Best of all, this chicken feed is hardly noticeable to the Treasury, which is under dramatically more duress from the self-entitled wealthy.

It's shocking that the American middle class acquiesces to this bad bargain. Even capuchin monkeys show outrage at unfair treatment - if one gets a grape, they all want grapes, not some lesser treat. Yet we Homo sapiens accept a few crumbs from the floor around our betters' table!

The press does notice this, especially conscientious stalwarts like Paul Krugman. It's hard to imagine that anyone who is paying attention could miss the brute, incontrovertible fact that the Bushist tax cuts tilted overwhelmingly to the rich - and overwhelmingly again to the very rich. But that's just the problem: Americans are not paying attention. If they were, they'd be in the streets with pitchforks.

In any case, the press doesn't let a few numbers interfere with the tax cut narrative of something for everyone. Reporters never call bullshit on their captiously deceitful source of Republican spin. They seem to think that spin is valuable to them and that the spinners wouldn't bless them with it if they were to evaluate it as semi-numerate adults. Or maybe it's those exclusive cocktail parties again that the reporters are just dying to be invited to, like uncool teenagers who want the jocks and cheerleaders to like them. As if!

If the Republicans really wanted to help everyone, they wouldn't have started with the inheritance tax. Grover Norquist labelled it the death tax, and the Democrats didn't respond by calling it the Paris Hilton tax or the billionaire playboy tax. Allowing the tax-free passage of estates worth more than $3 million to heirs who didn't earn them and making that a pseudo-populist issue is a dramatic accomplishment of wool-pulling. Oh, those poor, poor trust fund babies, how they have suffered!

Sincere broad-based tax cutting would start with FICA and Medicare, the slightly regressive, mostly flat payroll taxes that fund Social Security and health care. Instead, Republicans tell us that all those trillions we've paid since Social Security taxes were responsibly raised in 1983 to anticipate the demographic bulge of the baby boomers went to fund the rest of the government and we won't pay them back. That stance is the only rationale for claiming that SSA is in financial trouble.

Sincere broad-based tax cutting would have long since relieved the middle class from inflating into the sights of the alternative minimum tax. But the Republicans haven't done that, have they? They prefer that middle class taxpayers feel the bite of a tax intended to make sure the wealthy pay fairly, in hope that they'll stay in the bad bargain that delivers those tiny crumbs.