Monday, December 20, 2004

Christmas Is Magic

Christmas Is Magic

I went in to Blockbuster this past weekend to rent a couple of movies ("Elf" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," if you must know) and, as is my wont, browsed through the used DVDs. I'm far more willing to buy a used DVD than I was to buy a used VHS tape, even though I did do that once in a while. (Do you know a better way to get Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc" for $7? I didn't think so.) It's a computer reading a data file, essentially, so the condition of the disc, while it matters, doesn't matter as much as it does when the tape is actually physically running over the heads of the VCR.

Anyway, I found "Angels in America, Parts I and II," and "American Splendor." That was going to be it, but then I found "The Station Agent." At $12.99 each, this was getting expensive, even for used discs. So I put "Angels" back and headed to the counter with my rentals and purchases. The clerk then let me know that they had a sale: 3 for $25. Did I want to look for another movie to buy? I had completely missed the signs, which were literally posted all over the store. (So much for my powers of observation, huh?) I ran back and grabbed, of all things, "Mayor of the Sunset Strip," since the thought had crossed my mind when I first saw it of giving it as a Christmas present to a co-worker as a kind of inside joke.

Saturday night, after watching "Elf," I started to think that I should have gotten "Angels in America," too. At $25 for those two discs plus another movie, I'd be making a really good deal. So after we went to dinner on Sunday night, we returned "Elf" (we still have "Eternal Sunshine" until next Sunday) and I went back to see if I could still find them. I did, and wondered what else I was going to get to complete the troika, when Marisa said, "Hey, look," and held up a DVD.

It was "Topsy-Turvy."

Do you know how hard it is to find that, even when it's NEW? And I got it for, essentially, $8.33.

Christmas IS magic.

(P.S. - I just checked on Amazon; "Topsy-Turvy" is only available used...starting at $59.95.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

King/Drew Medical Center Woes

Really, really good pieces in the L.A. Times about the drama at the King/Drew Medical Center:

Part 1: Deadly errors and politics betray a hospital's promise
Part 2: Underfunding Is a Myth, but the Squandering Is Real
Part 3: One doctor's long trail of dangerous mistakes
Part 4: How Whole Departments Fail A Hospital's Patients
Part 5: Why Supervisors Let Deadly Problems Slide

These will all probably disappear behind the veil of registration shortly, but while they're up they make for fascinating -- and frightening -- reading.

It's tempting to interpret these stories into something else, like the problem of health care in America writ large; or the intransigence of an institution that has been allowed to creep into deadly habits, concerned more about self-preservation than doing the job it's been charged with doing; or even into a parallel with the Iraq War, wondering if it's possible to fix something that is impossibly corrupted but vitally important at the same time. That's probably not a safe thing to do. Every story has analogies, but sometimes it's necessary to focus on the crisis at hand.

What's especially fascinating, and only barely touched upon in the first piece, is how the community -- "The Community" -- is in a real bind. If they complain about the quality of care, the most likely action by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors would be to close the whole thing down, but by faithfully standing by it they help to perpetuate a system that doesn't do them any real service.

Also, I'm sure many people are reading these pieces and saying, "This just proves the incompetence of governmnet-run medical programs. Privatize it! Let a health care company run it and the market will force it to become better!" Except that there's no reason why a private hospital couldn't set up shop and compete...but that they don't want to. A corporation's duty is not to its customers -- or in this case its patients -- but to its shareholders, and there's not a lot of money to be made in servicing the community that King/Drew services. The Board of Supervisors, duly elected and accountable to the citizenry, must provide a service. That's not the case for any large health care corporation, who can declare, "There's a market, but no money. No profit means that we close up and move somewhere that has money, regardless of whether or not we're needed."

[Edited 12/9/2004: Added link to Part 5 of the series.]

Monday, November 22, 2004

16 Tons, What do you get?...

Fascinating, yet all-too-often-heard story in the New York Times: The Plastic Trap: Soaring Interest Compounds Credit Card Pain for Millions. Perhaps one of the most interesting tidbits:
In the 1990's, Mr. Strachan traveled frequently from his home on the West Coast to Amsterdam and other foreign cities to meet with suppliers of tulips and exotic flower varieties that he distributed to domestic florists and wholesalers. He obtained a WorldPerks Visa card that rewarded him with seat upgrades through Northwest Airline's frequent-flier program.

"I used that card whenever I possibly could because of the travel benefits," he recalled, sitting in his living room before stacks of credit card bills, change-of-terms notices and other correspondence between him and several lenders. "Never paid a penny of interest."

He was such a valued customer then, he said, that US Bank, which issued the card, had extended him a high credit limit of $54,000 even though the card rate was just one percentage point above the prime rate. When the economy wilted after the collapse of the stock market in early 2000, so did Mr. Strachan's business. He began using his credit lines on that Visa card and a few others to stay afloat, paying smaller portions of his growing balances.

Then, in May of last year, US Bank sent Mr. Strachan a letter telling him that it planned to raise the card's rate to 20.21 percent, nearly quadrupling the existing rate of 5.25 percent.

"I wasn't late, and I didn't go over the credit limit, and I didn't write bad checks," Mr. Strachan said. A representative of US Bank told him he was using too much of his available credit, he said.

A US Bank spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Strachan's account.

The monthly interest charge on his $50,000 balance jumped from $209 in June to $756 in July and $808 in August. He eventually persuaded the bank to restore the original rate, but the bank closed the account, shutting off a key source of credit.

By then, Bank One, another creditor, had compounded Mr. Strachan's woes. He was carrying a balance of about $70,000 on one account when the bank started raising his rates, first to 19.99 percent in April 2003, then to 22.99 percent the next month, then to 24.99 percent in June. By October of last year, he was incurring a monthly finance charge of about $1,500 on a $77,000 balance.

"It was like they almost all had a little meeting in the back room and said, 'Let's get Strachan,' " he said of his creditors. "How does it serve them to treat people like that? Are they trying to force them into bankruptcy?"

Lawyers he consulted advised Mr. Strachan to take the easy - and increasingly popular - way out by filing for bankruptcy protection, but he refused. He is struggling to make good on his debts "because I have principles and ethics."

But the battle to dig out of a deepening hole has taken a toll. Mr. Strachan said he had lost 30 pounds and described himself as a "broken man."

Lately, he said, Bank One has periodically reduced his credit limit to a level just above his remaining balance, leaving him little margin for error. Some months, he said, if he were to pay only the minimum due, the ensuing finance charge would put his balance over the limit, triggering a penalty fee.

By doing that, he said, "They create their own little monster."


He was using too much of his credit? You gave him the credit! Why would you possibly give someone more of something than you wanted him to use?

Oh...right.

This article compliments an episode of "Frontline" that's supposed to air this week about the same subject.

Don't get me wrong, I don't encourage people to take on debt this way, and I do think that there has to be some sort of consequence for people who thought that they could get free money with no strings attached. The credit card companies are exploitative, but that's their nature, and people should expect to get burned in some fashion if they aren't careful. It's like Las Vegas: The house always wins.

But that's not to say that there aren't people like the gentleman in the story above, who played by what they thought were the rules and got a raw deal.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Desire for Consistency is SO Petty

Ah, yes. It's time for "Blame the Red Staters!" They're a bunch of ignorant fuckers who don't know what they really need. It's not because, say, the Democrats had no way of appealing to the Red States, other than "You're unemployed, and the unemployed always vote for the Democrats, so let's keep that going, shall we?" Kerry had a plan for family farms, but never once discussed it during the debates. If you don't talk to these people, why would you expect them to vote for you?

* * *

Fuck the Red States? Fuck the Blue States. Fuck you, Jane Smiley, and Janet Sullivan, and Bill Maher who completely overreacted to some criticism by a man who knew what he was talking about, and to the bloggers and commentators who have never once lived in a Red State, have maybe flown over a couple, but suddenly knew just what these people think and believe, and it's all Jesus, all the time. This is not how we win. You're just wasting our time.


I have to admit, the notion of Jessa Crispin of Bookslut being upset by the arrogance of anyone is a situation so rich with irony that I don't dare to contemplate it for a prolonged period of time.

For someone who started out in Kansas (Red State), moved to Texas (Red State), and has ended up in Illinois (Blue State), I find it hard to get her point. If Red States aren't bad, then why did she leave? Hell, her posts about Texas in the days before she headed north make it sound like she couldn't get out of there fast enough. Her blog entry review of Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas?" includes the line, "We would just like to make a statement. 'We're not all that bad.'" She then goes on to say that Kansas is full of enlightened people, like the doctor who runs the abortion clinic that was firebombed who, despite being shot at in an assassination attempt, still showed up for work the next day.

OK, Jessa, let me explain what it is about that that horrifies those of us born and raised and currently residing in Blue States: HE WAS SHOT AT! Sure, people get shot at in Blue States, but usually not for participating in legal activities.

Lead by example. Move back and show us how its done. Otherwise shut up and accept that it was bad enough to make you want to leave.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Thursday, November 04, 2004

2008...And Beyond

Maureen Dowd hints at the overreaching that has already begun in the Bush administration, mark two.

The thing to keep in mind when contemplating the kind of thoughtful influence that we blue-staters think that the Congress will exert on the executive branch is that Cheney says he isn't running in 2008. I don't believe him, but it means that there are going to be a lot of people jockeying for the chance to run, giving the current administration the chance to be the kingmakers. They'll hint at the idea of promising to bless the run of every Republican member of both houses, if only to see who'll work hardest at putting through a crazy-ass agenda so that the Bushies don't have to.

And if there's anything Bush knows, its about not working hard when you don't have to.

Vive La Resistance!

So yesterday, Leander Kahney at Cult of Mac posted his not-so-happy thoughts concerning the outcome of the election. Today, he posts some of the replies he received. I only skimmed through them, since I knew what was coming. Lots of support, quite a few saying 'Stick to writing about Apple/Macs"*, and the inevitable disagreements. This one caught my eye and then got under my skin:
"Peter Jennings described the core of the problem well: there is a cultural rift between the Liberal and Conservative states much like that between India and Pakistan. Neither side understands the other, and there are few in the middle. California and New York are out of touch with America. "


No, numb nuts, California and New York ARE America, just as much as any red state. More so, even, if you move away from that damned red-state/blue-state map. Let's put it this way: Wyoming looks huge, but only has 3 electoral votes. Know why? Because not a lot of people live in Wyoming! So while it looks like these little tiny enclaves of blue states are out of touch with these wide swaths of red that cut through the continent, those blue states make up 48% of the population. America is the people that make it, not the dirt on which it resides. You don't like it? Then YOU move. Meanwhile, we're going to try and drag your medieval ass into the 21st century.

And is it any wonder that those red states are clustered in the center of the country, cut off from the coasts, insulated from any influx of new people and ideas, locked in a little echo chamber and devoid of any of the vitality that makes this country great? You know, the kinds of places where it seems like a good idea to marry your first-cousin?

Look, even FOX News operates out of New York. For all their goings on and on about simple heartland values (which exist mainly in the form of pork-barrel projects that take tax revenue from the more affluent and prosperous blue-states and redistribute it to the red-states; free-market my ass), most of them wouldn't be caught dead in a red-state if they weren't paid to do it. And even then, only for a couple of days. Go ahead, write to Roger Ailes and tell him to relocate to Omaha. I'm sure he'll get right on it, you dumb bastard.
_______________________

* - Why is it that the same people who keep imploring left-leaning individuals stop talking/writing politics and get back to whatever it is that they're supposed to do (as though we aren't all supposed to be politically informed and involved citizens) never quite feel the need to restrain themselves from political discussion?

Oh, right. Because they're all a bunch of hypocritical fucktards. Tough shit for them.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Go, Hot Dog, Go!

Gordon Cooper, Astronaut, Is Dead at 77

Yahoo! News - Rumsfeld Says He Was Misunderstood on Iraq-Al Qaeda

It's a Yahoo! News link, which means that it will go away shortly, but here's the story:
Rumsfeld Says He Was Misunderstood on Iraq-Al Qaeda

2 hours, 9 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday he was misunderstood when he stated hours earlier that he knew of no "strong, hard evidence" linking Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda.

"I have acknowledged since September 2002 that there were ties between al Qaeda and Iraq," Rumsfeld said in a Web site statement issued following remarks he made to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Monday.

"Today at the Council, I even noted that 'when I'm in Washington, I pull out a piece of paper and say "I don't know, because I'm not in that business, but I'll tell you what the CIA thinks" and I read it'."

In the new statement, issued on the Pentagon Web site, Rumsfeld listed what he said were arguments for suggesting links between al Qaeda and Iraq under Saddam, including what the CIA regarded as "credible evidence" that al Qaeda leaders had sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Rumsfeld, during a question-and-answer session before the Council on Foreign Relations, had been asked to explain the connection between Saddam and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network -- one of the U.S. arguments for launching a war on Iraq.

He replied: "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two."


Why, what ever could have prompted such a swift "correction"? Oh yeah, this:

Edwards, Cheney Set to Meet in Only Debate

Dick's never been shy about flogging that horse, has he? And I'm sure he'll do it again tonight. And Rummy had to be taken to the shed and reminded that he's not supposed to steal Big Dick's thunder.

What I'd really like John Edwards to do is to sit back and say, "I'd really like to hear the vice-president explain -- in detail -- the information he has that links Saddam Hussein and Osma bin Laden. I'll gladly hand over some of my alotted time for him to do it." And then, every time Cheney says, "We know [such and such]," for Edward to interrupt with, "Who is 'we' and how do they know it? You're not answering the question, Mr. Vice-President. Do you know the answer?"

Yes, it's a risk. No, it won't happen, even though it could. For whatever reason, people feel protective towards Bush. They don't feel the same way about Cheney. Edwards can get away with pushing him a lot harder. The only problem is that Cheney leans in over the table and starts talking to the host/moderator/reporter as though he's sharing deep information, and only when you pay attention and listen to the words do you realize that he's lying through his teeth. Not hedging his bets or putting a pretty spin on things, flat out lying, old-school Ari Fleischer style.

It could be an intersting confrontation tonight, but the thing to remember is that Cheney is going in knowing that he's got to restore the lustre of the administration after Bush's disastrous performance at last week's debate. The press, too, want to restore some gleam, and they'll favorably spin Big Dick's bullshit as "straight shooting". Bush was prickly because he's come to expect deference. Cheney's a thug who's not afraid to draw blood. In fact, he's probably hoping for it.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Richard Avedon 1923 - 2004

Photographer Richard Avedon has died. In Texas, of all places, while on assignment for the New Yorker.

Herb Ritts and Helmut Newton passed recently, as well. Oh, and Henri-Cartier Bresson. Not that any of these have anything to do with the others. Just interesting.

Scenarios

Some thoughts this morning following the debates last night:

1.) This one would be a lot easier if Peggy Noonan hadn't jumped onto the campaign in an official capacity and instead could sell herself out as an "independent analyst," but whatever. Despite the utter lack of any evidence to support it, everyone goes out and spins that Bush is actually a wonderful orator, one of the best in American history, second only to Ronald Reagan (at which point Peggy would make the sign of the cross -- inappropriately); that even the best can have an off night; and that for the best, an off night is still pretty good. The president, in his steadfastness and resolve(?), actually did a phenomenal job.

2.) Bush sucked, but he was supposed to. He'll be marginally better in debate number two and profoundly better in debate number three. Kerry will be uniformly good in all of them. This, the spinmeisters will put forth, proves that while Kerry just plods on and on, unable to revise his strategy (um, because it's working?), Bush constantly learns and adjusts and improves, honing his rhetoric to a razor sharp edge. He's like Ralph Macchio in "The Karate Kid" -- the only reason his victory is sweet is because he got beat down in the first place. Now GWB's the underdog.

3.) A variation on number 2: Bush sucked, because he was supposed to IN THIS FORMAT. When they get to the "Town Hall" version, when "real" people get to ask "real" questions (pre-conceived, pre-submitted, pre-approved, and pre-answered by Andy Card, Karl Rove, and Karen Hughes on behalf of the "very busy" President), he'll shine. This, the spinmeisters will opine, is because Kerry is an elitist who can only interact with other elites, like Jim Lehrer. Bush is a man of the people (as long as they keep their distance and don't approach on horseback) and "likes them more than John Kerry does, who went to Yale." (Um, what was that weird little thing about where Bush said that he could even forgive Kerry for having gone to Yale? Bush went to Yale. Does he not remember this? Or is this supposed to be a dig, forgiving him for sullying his alma mater? Is he aware that Bill Clinton, Howard Dean, and Garry Trudeau also went to Yale?)

It's nice that things went well for Kerry last night. NOW FORGET IT! Next debate next week: Hit him even harder with more of the same. Bush's worst moments were when he froze, when he sputtered, when he couldn't get his thoughts (if he had any) out of his mouth, and when Kerry just stood patiently by and waited for an answer.

Oh, and I saw Rudolph Giuliani on "The Daily Show" last night. I don't know what he's been promised in the next administration -- a cabinet post, an ambasadorship, a juicy government contract, backing in his run for the Senate -- but judging by the reaction he got from the audience, he's coming across much less the maverick mayor and more the blubbering sycophant. Tool.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

What Apple Needs to Do to Keep Me as a Customer

I can't take it anymore!

(Italics mean it's been satirized for your protection)

What Apple needs to do is to find a way to put a G5 processor into a PowerBook. I don't know if they realize this, but a lot of people want it. Phil Schiller, are you reading this? If you are, I want you to print it out and bring it over to Jonathan Ive and make sure he knows about it, too! G5 in a PowerBook: Just do it! I don't need to be paid for this advice, maybe just be mentioned at the keynote address when it's unveiled. Being brought up onstage and thanked personally by Steve Jobs for saving his company would be nice. I'm willing to fly business class, if necessary (paid for by Apple, of course).

Oh, but while the G5 needs to go into the PowerBook, it needs to be cool. I have a 12-inch PowerBook with a 1.33GHz G4 processor, and it gets hot. So the G5 not only has to go into the PowerBook, but it needs to run significantly cooler than the G4 does now. In fact, it should run so cold that when the fan comes on, it's to supply me with a gentle and refreshing breeze on a hot summer day. With a hint of lemon scent. Except for the winter, when it should be cinnammon. Oh, and on Christmas, when it should be like a candy cane. And Halloween should be candy, like carmel corn. Easter, too, except it should be Peeps. There's a clock and a calendar running all the time, and Apple should take advantage of it. Perhaps tie things into iCal. Special occasions can be set to emit special scents. Like on your birthday, your 9" G5 PowerBook with a 23" display can smell like birthday cake! And you can be sitting there, typing away, and people next to you can ask, "Do you smell cake?" And you can say, "Why, yes! It's my computer! It's doing it for my birthday!" And maybe that person will be so impressed that they'll offer to take you to lunch for your birthday and the chance to ask you to tell them more about your computer. Think of the opportunities to get people to switch!

Which is why this 9" G5 PowerBook with a 23" display and scent emitters (iSmell? Just throwing it out there, Phil. Feel free to call it whatever you boys in marketing think will work!) should sell for under $300. That's right, $300! At that price, Apple will sell millions of them! Oh, I almost forgot! In addition to running cooler with no diminishment in speed or performance, the battery life needs to be much better than it is now. 10 hours, at least. And it shouldn't be hard to make it run longer when using the DVD player. When I drive, the wheels on my car spin and help to recharge the battery -- why can't the DVD spinning do they same thing? (I know what you're going to say, but it's NOT a perpetual motion machine -- it would stop EVENTUALLY.)


There. I feel better now.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Mission (Kinda Sorta) Accomplished

Once in a while, it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who thinks things like this:
And anyway, doesn't it seem a bit, well...girlie-manish...for our swaggering Crusdader Codpiece to be tremulously waving his hands and shushing his opponents because it might make the nasty terrorists even bolder than they already are? Surely, superheroes such as he are much too strong and manly to care whether the bad guys are emboldened by talk of any kind. Real men say "bring it on," right?

Clearly, people who are willing to blow themselves up aren't suffering from a lack of physical courage. That is not the problem. Indeed, until we create a corps of suicide bombers they have the advantage in willing human cannon fodder material. Our military superiority isn't supposed to be our "courage" and "boldness" it is our international leadership, advanced technology and smart strategy, none of which Junior has employed worth a busted fuck.

This has been part of the fallacy driving Junior's misbegotten strategy from day one. While it's obvious that a fair amount of his ridiculous Hopalong Cassidy bullshit was calculated to thrill the rubes here at home, there is ample evidence that many of the starry-eyed neocons truly believed that a thrilling show of Big American Power would snap some of those Ay-rabs out of their little dreamworld and bring them around right quick to the knowledge that they can never win against us, the Ubermenschen.

Clap harder, everybody! Clap harder!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Lots o' Links

Fafblog: Supply-Side Christmas
"Don't be afraid little Fafnir! It's not ordinary Santa - it's me, Supply-Side Santa, come to fill your home with Christmas cheer!"

"Oh wow!" says me. "But Supply-Side Santa it is not Christmas yet, it is only September."

"Oh ho ho, but Fafnir, every day is Christmas for Supply-Side Santa!" says Supply-Side Santa. "Now, have you been a rich little boy this year?"

"I have saved an saved," says me, "an I have three dollars sixty-two cents an a rice krispie treat! Do I get a present?"

"Actually, Fafnir, I'm here to take your old presents!" says Supply-Side Santa. "Supply-Side Santa gave all his presents away to super-rich children, and that didn't come cheap! Now Supply-Side Santa has to take your model airplane and your teddy bear to finance future Christmases."

"Awwwww," says me. "Supply-Side Christmas is ruined."

"Why, that's not true at all!" says Supply-Side Santa. "Because eventually those super-rich children will pass down their presents to less-rich children, who will pass them down to you, thus growing the Christmas spirit!"

"Wow! Everybody wins!" says me. "It's a Christmas miracle!"

"Almost as much of a miracle as Social Security privatization!" says Supply-Side Santa.


Jesse Taylor at Pandagon: "Your Terror Doesn't Count. Sorry!"
I want Bush to go say this at a train station in Madrid, or a schoolhouse in Russia. Go stand in front of them and tell them that you've stopped terrorist attacks in their countries by invading and occupying Iraq.

Bush keeps knocking Kerry for saying that coalition where one country bears 90% of the cost and 29 countries bear 10% of it isn't a real coalition, that it's "insulting to our allies". How insulting is it to our allies to hear that the sole point of the war is to prevent attacks on American soil, and, you know, maybe other countries, but if anything happens there, better Madrid than Manhattan, Beslan than Birmingham. When it's terrorism on your soil, it's progress. When it's here, it's a tragedy.


In a similar vein, Juan Cole wonders What if America was like Iraq? (Via Steve Gilliard.)
What would America look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? The population of the US is over 11 times that of Iraq, so a lot of statistics would have to be multiplied by that number.

Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll.

And what if those deaths occurred all over the country, including in the capital of Washington, DC, but mainly above the Mason Dixon line, in Boston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco?

What if the grounds of the White House and the government buildings near the Mall were constantly taking mortar fire? What if almost nobody in the State Department at Foggy Bottom, the White House, or the Pentagon dared venture out of their buildings, and considered it dangerous to go over to Crystal City or Alexandria?

What if all the reporters for all the major television and print media were trapped in five-star hotels in Washington, DC and New York, unable to move more than a few blocks safely, and dependent on stringers to know what was happening in Oklahoma City and St. Louis? What if the only time they ventured into the Midwest was if they could be embedded in Army or National Guard units?


Three really good posts at Slacktivist:
Reality Matters, Part 1
Reality Matters, Part 2
Prayin' in vain for a savior to rise from these streets

Josh Marshall finds a reporter actually doing some research. Imagine such a thing. If this behavior should begin spreading, who knows where we'll end up!? (It's okay, if it starts to spread, the bean counters will put an end to it. God bless 'em.)

Oh, and Marshall also seems to think that Bush might not understand what the National Intelligence Estimate is trying to tell him.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Well, Do They?

From James Wolcott:

Now at this point a certain type of liberal will quote Joseph Welch's famous question to Joe McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Liberals of a certain age love quoting that stirring heroic retort. When Anthony Lewis was a Times columnist, he used to quote it every other week it seemed, and I saw Richard Cohen pull a Joseph Welch a few columns ago.

But I won't. The question is no longer worth raising, even rhetorically. Because we know the answer.

They have no decency. Not a sliver, not a shred. Look at how Max Cleland has been treated, look at how George Soros has been smeared as some sort of Jewish intriguer who oozed his way out of Nazi Germany by Tony Blankley and a drug kingpin by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, look at--oh, we know what the examples are.

Yup.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Fun With Dick

Desperately Seeking Dick Cheney
Rebecca Dixen, a St. Paul reference librarian and a Kerry supporter, said she had come to the fair hoping to get into the vice president's town hall event and ask him a question, unaware that it was by invitation only and there are never, ever any rude or discomfiting questions. "You can't even get in unless you already support him," she said. "I don't know what kind of democracy that is. To tell you the truth, it's a little bit disappointing."

I don't know what kind of democracy that is, either. Makes me wonder what we think we're imposing on Iraq.

It'd be nice if this piece were an indication that the press was starting to turn, to seriously question what it is that the Bush/Cheney administration is all about. It's not. It's a New York Times reporter bemoaning his lack of a seat on Air Force Two while engaging in some self-agrandizement for his nominally heroic attempts to still cover the campaign. If he ever does get a seat, he'll know not to bite the hand that fed it to him. No, he's not teaching them a lesson about how the press will persevere, no matter what. The administration is teaching other reporters a lesson about what fate awaits them if the Vice-President is displeased with their coverage.

Flying cross-country on a commercial aircraft.

In coach.

Oh God, the horror!

Although I'll give him this much credit, he does seem to know just how minimal his heroics are: "While we stood on the hot patio watching the Cheneys dispose of a cup of custard, a reporter from the Air Force Two pool sidled up to me and said, 'I really admire what you're doing,' as though I was marching from Selma."

I Need A Few Minutes Here

I have felt compelled for the last few days to assiduously avoid political blogs. They've been having an unpleasant effect on my mood and my general disposition. I need to stop, step back, gain some perspective, and then carefully wade back in. It's not that the blogs aren't important or useful, it's just that as we head into these last six weeks before the election, I expect a lot of things to get very, very nasty. Because of that, I'm getting defensive, and not always for a good reason, or even any reason at all. I still have friends and family and co-workers that, while I may or may not agree with them politically, are relationships decidedly based on things that are not political.

I keep deriding the Republican party for turning everything into a Manichean black-or-white issue -- you're for us or you're against us, all or nothing -- and yet I'm finding myself tensing up whenever someone brings up a vaguely political issue because I start projecting all sorts of ugly stereotypes onto the people around me. So I'm going to try and chill out, at least through the weekend, and see what happens next week.

Friday, September 17, 2004

The More Things Change...The More F-ed Up They Become

I kind of took Fred Clark at Slacktivist to task yesterday (although not really him per se) but he's got a really good post up today outlining the various pessimistic predicitions concerning Iraq.

What struck me the other day, when President Bush yet again said that things in Iraq were "getting better," is that I don't recall him ever admitting that they were bad in the first place. How can things be getting better when they, supposedly, were never that bad to begin with? Does that mean, oh, I don't know, that you've been lying to us all this time? Or just to yourself?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

World Wide Web of Strangeness

Okay, this is really freakin' weird.

While looking at this blog (which has a whole Flickr story behind it) I came to this, which links to the weirdness. Somebody put a story on his blog about going to see the Maury Povich show. A very short story with no real moral behind it, just a little blooper moment when Maury mistook a man in the audience for a woman. Big whoop. Ha ha.

But then, somehow, his comments were overwhelmed with people asking for Maury's e-mail address because only he could help them, posting heart-breaking stories about their horrible lives and their sick kids, even though the poor guy kept telling them that he had nothing to do with Maury Povich or his show and that he couldn't get in touch with them if he wanted to.

Good Mac Site

Found this:3650 and a 12-inch

Interestingly enough, through A9.

Wishful Thinking

From Slacktivist:

"When John Kerry takes office in January he will inherit a series of extremely difficult tasks. Undoing the damage George W. Bush has done to America will demand exceptional skill, wisdom and good fortune. The man is going to have to work miracles just to keep the downward spirals Bush has set in motion from getting even worse."

Except that we'll have to endure a lot of fucknozzles insisting that any recovery -- in either economic terms or in world standing -- is due to the steadfastness of George W. Bush. His "More Money For The Rich" scheme finally kicked in and he was never properly credited for it! People love America again because George W. Bush had been stubborn -- I'm sorry, steadfast and resolute -- and respect and honor our Purity of Essence.

Kind of the same way that some people (you know, those Fox News "some people") say that Bill Clinton wasn't responsible for the economic boom of the 1990s, but that it was a carry-over from the presidency of George H. W. Bush. Of course, to truly believe in the carry-over effect, you'd have to assume that the economic downturn in the late '80s and early '90s was due to the failed policies of...Ronald Reagan! Blaspheme!!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Yay!

Dilligent dental care, while being its own reward, also deserves some perks.

I'm basically bribing myself to go to the dentist.

Which makes my Mac buying history:

Performa 6290CD

iMac (Early 2001)*

iPod

and soon

12-inch PowerBook

* - Technically, the iMac was from this revision, but the link above gives a better idea of the specs of the one I bought, not to mention that the picture is more accurate.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Oh, Please.

Conservatives Cry Foul in Publishing Scrum
Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Dick Morris, conservatives all, have produced some of this year's most popular books. Big publishing houses are practically falling over themselves to bring new conservative titles to market. President Bush is moving up in the polls, and the Republicans have at least an even chance of holding on to control of the House and the Senate come November.

So why are conservative authors feeling so beleaguered?

At a forum in Manhattan this week sponsored by American Compass, a direct-mail book club specializing in conservative viewpoints, authors and commentators deplored the lack of attention being paid to their point of view. Alleging a sort of liberal conspiracy to keep conservative authors from getting their books to the reading public, conservative authors said they had been forced to turn to scrappy, little-known alternative publishers.

"I find it disturbing personally as well as professionally that there is a need for a conservative alternative," said Cal Thomas, the syndicated columnist and talk-show host.

And yet, when something like Air America comes along, they scoff because the marketplace has proven that there's no market for a liberal point-of-view on the airwaves, otherwise there would be a million liberal imitators of Rush Limbaugh saturating the dial. But when the free market is applied to them...
The notion that conservative authors cannot gain access to publishers, bookstores or the best-seller lists seems to crumble under close scrutiny, however. Although the best-seller lists have been dominated this year by more left-leaning books, like "Against All Enemies," by Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism chief for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, a look further back reveals a different picture.

Since the beginning of the Bush administration, 18 of the 30 best-selling political hardcover books - among them "The O'Reilly Factor" by Bill O'Reilly, "Treason" by Ann Coulter and "Let Freedom Ring" by Mr. Hannity - have promoted conservative themes.

Ten of those 18 books were brought to market by divisions of big publishing houses, including Broadway Books and Crown, imprints of Random House; Warner Books, part of Time Warner; and ReganBooks, a division of HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and which has published, among other conservative authors, Mr. Thomas.

"It's a little bit facile of our author friends to suggest that they've been ignored or dissuaded,'' Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, said in an interview. Among Random House's authors is Ms. Coulter, whose forthcoming book is "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must).'' "I don't think there's any great conspiracy'' against conservatives, he said.

Going further back only adds to a picture of strength among conservative authors. On Election Day 1996, the top-selling political book was "Slouching Toward Gomorrah" by Robert H. Bork (ReganBooks).

So there's not a conspiracy? Maybe they're just bad writers? Nah...
"There has been a bias," said L. Brent Bozell III, a commentator and syndicated columnist, whose new book, "Weapons of Mass Distortion: The Coming Meltdown of the Liberal Media," was published in July by Crown Forum, a new imprint of Random House geared toward conservative readers. [Doesn't the fact that he's being published by one of the "big boy" houses disprove his theory? Why do I hear an echo of Bill O'Reilly yelling "Shut up!" somewhere in the back of my head? -ed.]

"For years and years and years it was really just one publisher of conservative books, Regnery," he said of the publishing house, which began in 1947. "Others had gotten into it on a smaller scale, but the big boys didn't find it, for whatever reason, acceptable or didn't find it noteworthy or just didn't see the commercial value in conservative books."

Oh. I get it. That's what this is all about.

Translation: Regnery pays shit. We want more money.

When a conservative tells you about an inherent "bias," in something, he wants more money. It doesn't matter whether he deserves it or not. If he did, he'd probably get it.

I love it, though. People say that there should be an increase in the minimum wage and they're called socialists, communists, anti-capitalists, and destroyers of the American way of life. Overpaid hack writers want more money than their publisher wants to pay and suddenly they're seeing conspiracies everywhere.

When the facts are stacked against you, make up shit.

Fuck 'em.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

One of the "Pretty Girls" Ann Coulter Said Was Missing at the DNC

One of the

Ah, making fun of wounded veterans -- always a good time. I'm sure she's done her part, though. Probably shoved aside a small Japanese-American boy in line ahead of her at the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Sizzler a couple of years ago and told him that it was "for Vietnam," much to his bewilderment, since he was born in Houston. Then she muttered "gook" under her breath and took the whole steam tray back to her table.

Friday, August 27, 2004

You've Been Warned

HA! I love it. "We're going to have our convention in New York, but we don't trust New Yorkers. They're all a bunch of liars and soddomites, mouse carriers and AIDS givers, thieves and charlatans. The only reason we're going there is because we've adopted their civic tragedy as our national tragedy, even though we told them to go [Cheney-esque expletive] themselves when it came time to clean-up."

One has to wonder, why didn't they hold the convention in a Red State? Oh yeah, because while everyone wants to come FROM a Red State, no one wants to GO to one. "Hey, I live in Wyoming, so let's go to Nebraska for a convention! That'll be a nice change! Yee haw!"

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Livin' in the Heartland -- The Soul of America

War in Iraq, Viewed Through the Blurred Lens of Rural America

It is really, really, REALLY easy to point to something like this and say that it's an example of something else writ large. Too easy, and immensely unfair. And yet...and yet....

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Ginsburg Quits

Bush Campaign's Top Outside Lawyer Resigns

Geesh. It'd be fun to compare this to Nixon, but it's not quite the same. Nixon was a boob because the Democratic party was disintegrating int 1972; he didn't have anything to fear. Bush does. Kerry's a good candidate and could probably make a good president. Nothing for W. has quite gone the way he hoped it would -- Iraq and the economy especially. But because they're afraid, they're getting sloppy.

This is getting interesting, but I also think it's only bound to get a lot nastier in the next couple of months. Bushes don't go down easy, and W. is an especially vicious breed of the species.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

But wait, there's more!

"Don Quixote" Too!

Oooh, pretty.

A Gallery of Bible Illustrations by Gustave Dore

Swiftvets for the Artful Dodger

Good discussion in Slate between William Saletan and Jacob Weisberg about the Swift Boat ads.


What I don’t understand about the vets who hate Kerry is this: Okay, you don’t like that he turned against the war after he came back. Fair enough, I guess, but it seems that some of you are pissed that he told tales out of school, not that he made anything up. The crap that others perpetrated and that you knew nothing about has been used to taint you. You have every right to be angry about that, but I happen to think that you’d be better served by being pissed at the ones who committed war crimes. Yes, the Vietnamese committed crimes, too. It was a shitty situation that a bunch of kids who only wanted to do the right thing were thrown into for the greater glory of a bunch of officers who should have known better. That’s what I always thought Kerry’s point was. Vietnam was a folly that was beneath the United States. Still, it’s your right to not vote for Kerry.

What I don’t get it is why you’re supporting Bush. You were, as far as he was concerned, saps. You were dopes who couldn’t figure out how to be born into a well-connected family and stay the hell out of Vietnam. He played you for fools then and he’s playing you for fools now. He’s proud of you and your service, not because of what you did for your country but for what you did for him, namely keeping him for getting shot at.

If you think he gives a damn about the military and the grunts, he doesn’t. He’s clueless. He’s talking about missile defense again. MISSILE DEFENSE! It’s the same crap he was spouting before 9/11/2001. A missile defense shield wouldn’t have kept us safe then, and it won’t work now. In case he hasn’t noticed, they aren’t using ICBMs in Najaf.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Ugh. Just ugh.

An amusing piece about the folly of libertarianism: His Own Private Kingdom

Monday, August 16, 2004

Washingtonienne Won't Die

Steve Gilliard has a post up about Jessica Cutler, a.k.a. Washingtonienne, How to be sad and pathetic without even trying, that isn't very useful. I tried to post this in his comments, but Blogger's not being helpful this morning:

In order to be punished, you have to have some sort of sense of right and wrong, of fairness and unfairness. She doesn’t. She’s not being punished, because there’s nothing that she’s getting that she doesn’t want and that she hasn’t wanted all along. Her tenure in the offices on Capitol Hill is a footnote. She never had political ambitions, or at least not serious ones:

"I HAVE A 'GLAMOUR JOB' ON THE HILL. That is, I could not care less about gov or politics, but working for a Senator looks good on my resume. And these marble hallways are such great places for meeting boys and showing off my outfits."

This is Jessica's very first blog entry, posted at 5:32 p.m. on Wednesday, May 5.
She wanted attention and presents. She got them. And she wasn’t slapped down for wanting them, she was slapped down for not being sufficiently discreet about it.
As for herself, she tries to look on the bright side. "I was only blogging for, what, less than two weeks?" she says. "Some people with blogs are never going to get famous, and they've been doing it for, like, over a year. I feel bad for them."


Now she’s got reporters following her around, asking her for interviews. Publishers are offering book contracts. Playboy is taking her picture. She’s become infamous, but all that matters is the “famous” part. Some of us may cluck our tongues and shake our heads, but what registers for her is that still more people are telling her how pretty she is and offering her bigger and better things than political wonks ever could. She’s enjoying the fifteen minutes, and we’ll be treated to many attempts to extend them into something more substantial.

She’ll show up on TV, probably participating in some reality series, maybe even hosting one, and when people ask why they should know her, they’ll just be told that she had some affair with some politician or something. (Monica Lewinsky hosted one of those things, for God’s sake.) She’ll even become a feminist icon in some small circles, celebrated as a martyr for being punished by the patriarchy for embracing her sexuality for her own pleasure and purposes. The thing is, you can say anything you want about her, but she’s pure Teflon; nothing sticks.
There are certain shades of limelight that can ruin a girl's complexion," she says, quoting the book she read in high school. [Breakfast at Tiffany’s] "That's how I feel. Can't get a job. Can't get a boyfriend. And this did ruin my complexion because I'm dehydrated."

While Jessica was on a recent stroll with girlfriends, some guy recognized her and yelled, "Hey, Washingtonienne." That was kind of cool. In bars, men ask her if she's Jessica Cutler, then give her their business cards and tell her to call.

Jessica has an agent. She's busy writing her novel. "It's kind of 'The Devil Wears Prada,' only set in Washington," she says. "I can't say how it turns out because my agent would kill me.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

I Know It's Not What He Meant, But Still

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

President George W. Bush
August 5, 2004

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Would Adding A Picture Destroy The Illusion?

I don't even remember where I found this. The LA Public Library site, I think. I'll assume that it's in the public domain.
Brand Blvd 1925
Originally uploaded by G Collins.

What's It Good For? Huh?

I started flipping channels when I got home from work last night and got sucked into watching a couple of hours of this on the Discovery-Times channel: Reporters at War

It was fascinating and frustrating. There were some amazing stories told, and some candid ones that didn't always show the tellers in the best light, but I still sat and wondered why so much of this doesn't make its way to our TV screens every night. Is it because we'd become inured to it? They won't show it to us because they want it to really mean something when they show it...like when they tell us that we have no idea what the toll is really like...because they won't show us the images on TV.

I also can't help but wonder, and I really had this question nagging at me all through the drive towards Baghdad in March of 2003: How much are the reporters holding back so that they can put the really juicy stuff in their books. You know, the ones they plan on writing when they come back.

There was a segment about the frustration that some reporters do face when they try to file complex or graphic or grisly stories and the editors back in New York or London or Washington or wherever sanitize it, saying that the boundaries of good taste keep them from showing such a thing during the dinner hour, or that they don't want to be accused of undermining support for the war. But I also had to wonder, in this glorious age of personal technology feeding into global audiences, if those reporters whose stories get axed because they don't fit the ongoing narrative of the mighty heroics of our brave men, then why can't these people go to someplace like Blogger and post those stories on their own sites? I mean, sure, you've been sent by ABC or CNN or BBC or one of the many Timeses to cover the story, but if they don't want what you've filed, does it go into a big dead story file, or do you get to keep the rights to what they've rejected? I don't suppose that it will win you any points in your next performance review, since these are all dutiful corporate employees, but if you believe that you serve some higher or nobler purpose, then who cares? It's about telling the story that needs to be told, right?

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

It Takes Some Getting Used To

In the midst of a long post about going to a comic convention in San Diego with a stop in Los Angeles, Kip Manley writes this (I didn't even attempt to preserve all of his links. If you want them, go and read the whole post.):
You’ve got to understand: I was always a New York City kind of guy. LA? Please. —It wasn’t just the Woody Allen movies, though those didn’t help: New York City is a goddamn city, with skyscrapers and subways and yellow cabs and Central Park and all the other signs that say you aren’t on the farm anymore. LA is hellish, sunsoaked, shallow sprawl. Wake me when there’s a there there.

This is why John and Lori’s ability to make the place seem downright hospitable is spooky. They’ve got a great apartment in Silver Lake, which doesn’t hurt; from the corner on Sunset you can look one way and see skyscrapers; look the other way, and you’ll see the Hollywood sign, when the weather’s clear. We walked to breakfast both mornings, and that’s sinfully decadent in LA.

It also doesn’t hurt that when we visit Lori and John in LA, we see things like Soapy Smith’s only honest roulette table and the First American Transcendental Exhibition. We go shopping for inflatable furniture in an art gallery full of Taschen books and pieces by Kaz and Baseman and some creepy Struwwelpeter pen-and-inks (pause for a lengthy confab via cell phone with Scott, and Jenn isn’t kidding when she says she can give him the Pantone color of the chair we’re looking at, to match the ones he’s bought). We eat bubbling hot soon tofu and some incredible conveyor-belt sushi.

When Patrick and Tammy roll in we squeeze everybody into the living room on an inflatable mattress and a cot and a sleeping bag and even with the two squirming cats it all works out, even if it does take Patrick and Scott a couple of hours longer to arrange the computers than we’d banked on. —We’ve already been over the corpses, which were ambiguous for different reasons before we saw them, and are ambiguous for other reasons now that I know where some of those bodies might have been found: but there’s more—there’s the glorious Babel of billboards as we tool from one neighborhood to another, Korean and Vietnamese and Spanish, there’s the startling palm trees, there’s the never-ending sprawl of it, and even, God help me, the heat, and the murderous sunlight. Forget the movies, forget the TV shows, forget the skyscrapers and subways and yellow cabs: the first city I was ever actually in, I mean living in a world-class hold-up-your-hands-just-so-and-look-real earnest city, was Tehran; the second was Caracas. And so there’s also the suite of city-signs I’ve built up from places I’ve actually been: cheap 1970’s HoJo concrete construction, and the tang of smog-heavy air lowering over a big bowl full of buildings and people, that sense of being just one among many, with messages flying over and about you meant for other people: why is that guy on the lottery billboard wearing a Viking helmet? If I could read Spanish, I’d maybe know. And it’s not like New York doesn’t have this, it does, if not quite so pervasively, but what it doesn’t have is the light, the heavy, brassy light soaking into everything, baking your bones, the light that shone on thirty-year-old cheap concrete and deliriously unreadable billboards in Iran and Venezuela.

So LA is very much a city, after all.

I mean, it’s the sort of city where you go into a bar (the door is too hot to touch outside and the inside is conditioned to an admirably arctic degree) and as you’re drinking the Mai Tais that the bartender agreed to make despite not having the the recipe, Lori asks you who does the voice of Spongebob Squarepants, because maybe it’s that guy there at the bar, the one from Mr. Show.

But still.


Add this to my ever-growing list of reasons why L.A. is, indeed, a city, but one that's increasingly complex. It's not that there's nothing here, it's that what is here isn't readily apparent. People who think they understand L.A., including it's residents (and I am one of them) really need to go beyond their usual haunts in order to discover that there's a lot -- A LOT -- more than they thought.

It's just that we're all so pressed for time, rushing to get from A to B right alongside everyone else stuck on the freeway with us, waiting to be discovered, that we don't see some of the really cool stuff right around us.

It's not "Blade Runner" all of the time.

Why Bother?

Kevin Drum makes an interesting observation:
Bottom line: the new director heads no agency, doesn't have cabinet rank, doesn't work in the White House, has no budget authority, and apparently has no reporting authority. In other words, he's just a figurehead.

This is a sham. If Bush doesn't like the 9/11 Commission's recommendations he should have the guts to say so. Instead, he and Rumsfeld have cooked up a transparent con: to the public at large it looks like he's acting decisively to take up the commission's recommendations, but anyone who knows how Washington works understands that he's really just giving them the finger.

They're not even trying anymore, are they?

Nope. Howard Dean must be crazy. Absolutely no politicization of intelligence here. The grown-ups are in charge, don't you know.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

But Why Would A Terrorist Want To Lie To Us?

High Qaeda Aide Retracted Claim of Link With Iraq

In the paranoid ravings within Karl Rove's mind, Al Qaeda exists solely to see John Kerry elected president. Personally, I don't think they give a damn who the president is -- they attacked US embassies in Africa during Bill Clinton's administration, planned portions of the September 11th attack during the same, and yet carried them out under George W. Bush because they were unbowed and undeterred even though there was a new sheriff in town. Whether Bush is re-elected or Kerry wins, they will try to strike again. Al Qaeda seeks destruction for the sake of chaos, not towards a determined end, despite what they might say. And there is no surer way of creating chaos than by playing competing factions within the infrastructure of your enemy against one another.

Why would you take the word of a high-ranking Al Qaeda operative? Why would you decide that this person, now in your custody, would choose to tell you exactly what you want to hear when what you want to hear provides them with a tactical advantage? "Yeah, we're all over Iraq. Saddam and Osama are tennis partners." Aha! We knew it! Pull the troops out of Afghanistan and send them to Iraq, we're hot on the trail of the evildoers! Meanwhile, this guy is thinking, "Suckers," while Al Qaeda has a chance to retrench in Afghanistan, unmolested, and even pick up and move operations elsewhere.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

I'm Not Worried Now

Oh, well, if they're going to let Jerry Falwell give the opening prayer at the Republican National Convention, then I'm not going to worry about anything they might have to say about the Democrats letting Sharpton speak.
God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.

Hell, I don't think even Noam Chomsky or Susan Sontag said anything like that.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Oh, So True

The Apple Product Cycle

I Hate To Say It, But...

Al Sharpton just gave an amazing speech.

He's a repugnant person in a lot of ways -- I don't think I could ever vote for him -- but damn. That was good. A lot better than I would have expected. And the segue into Ray Charles singing "America The Beautiful" was perfect. I was worried, but I'm glad they invited him. The Dems are going to take some hits tomorrow, but it's worth it.

I really hope that Edwards and Kerry don't get blown off the stage.

Um, Right...

I found this via Boing Boing: "Fear of Hell Might Fire Up the Economy". The "theory" seems to be that a well-developed belief in -- and therefore a fear of -- hell staves off corruption and promotes honesty. Oooookaaaaayy. Now, I'm no economist, but that "Corruption and Fear of Hell" chart at the bottom of the page doesn't seem to show a correlation between anything. The "GDP per capita and Corruption" does, but the other chart would seem to suggest that fear of hell, or a lack of it, has absolutely no bearing. In fact, I would think that a large, healthy economy is better suited to weather the corruption within it, where a smaller, less evenly distributed one would be held in the thrall of the small number of people who control it.

The question that's begging to be asked is: What Federal funds were used to produce this piece of crap? And at whose directive was the "conclusion" drawn in advance?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Good Speeches Tonight

Remarks by former and shoulda-been presidents:

Bill Clinton: "Strength and wisdom are not conflicting values—they go hand in hand."

Jimmy Carter:"Without truth—without  trust—America cannot flourish. Trust is at the very heart of our democracy, the sacred covenant between the president and the people."

Al Gore: "I prefer to focus on the future because I know from my own experience that America is a land of opportunity, where every little boy and girl has a chance to grow up and win the popular vote."

Tour d'Ennui

Am I the only person who doesn't really care that much about Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France?

I mean, it's great for him, and it's certainly an accomplishment to win it six times, but it's not like it's news. He's won it five times before and he was the favorite going in. And in other news, this morning, the sun rose in the east...

What I also find puzzling are the people who are beating the "Go, Lance, Go!" drums so loudly are the ones whom I would normally suspect of treating a sport that involved a lot of men in spandex taking bike rides through the scenic French countryside with heaping helpings of derision. They're praising Armstrong in one moment, then mocking John Kerry for wearing the same get up and pedaling around Boston the next because no real American would go in for such a sport. You're never going to give a boost to the expensive racing bike manufacturers with that kind of an attitude.

Of course I know the reason why they're happy: The French. Somehow, we've defeated the Frecnh. Even though a German was the nearest competitor, we've triumphed over the French. Hooray for us! And now, diligent researchers are scouring the countryside, looking for someone, anyone, to berate and belittle the massive achievement of Lance Armstrong -- JUST LET THEM TRY! And they'll finally content themselves with finding some poor drunken sop, probably a Belgian on holiday, to say something mildly inflammatory after considerable prompting and the promise to buy the next round, as proof conclusive that the French are not to be trusted.

Like I said, am I the only one who doesn't really care?

They're So Busy, They Don't Have Time To Look For Osama

But at least a blow has been struck against fanboy tyranny.

Boing Boing: Stargate fan-site operator busted under anti-terrorism law

A New Kind of Left Behind

Fred Clark takes issue with one of the authors of the "Left Behind" series vision of The Great Hereafter: "LaHaye portrays heaven as a (pearly) gated community in Orange County."

If only I could remember where I read something last week about how most religions have elaborately constructed hells, but only sketchy notions of heaven. Those just rewards always come across like: "Yeah...it's a lot like...um...where you already live. Just...more so." Which undermines the idea of death as a transformative event -- especially so if you truly believe in an afterlife -- and completely neuters paradise into a vague promise that being good means that things won't change very much, even if you're dead.

How sad is that?

A Little Bit o' History

I'll stop picking on the Tribune long enough to link to this: A History of the Loop.

(Previously: Unauthorized Chicago and Unauthorized Suburbia)

As Long As They're Covering The IMPORTANT Stuff

From the Chicago Tribune "Daywatch" e-mail this morning:
BLOGGING FROM BOSTON.
Charlie Madigan on the return of Bill: MORE »
Ellen Warren on Kerry's whitened teeth: MORE »
Eric Zorn: Can voters trust the presidency to "a man who can't throw a baseball all the way from the mound to the catcher behind the plate?" MORE »

Policies? Platforms? Anyone?

Okay, I'm going to check these out, but Eric Zorn had better be careful. When you work for the same company that owns the Chicago Cubs, you'd better be willing to go out to Wrigley Field and throw a pitch yourself, just to see how "easy" it is. And to do it in front of thousands of spectators would be even better. Do you think he'd -- naaahhh.

UPDATE: Madigan's piece is all right. He writes about the tradition of front-loading a lot of ex-presidents and former candidates at the convention as a measure of respect, but also to get them out of the way and to make room for the new nominee.

Ellen Warren takes a chance to dredge up the Botox rumors again. Worthless. And if Kerry hadn't whitened his teeth, something would have been made of that.

Eric Zorn does about what I'd expected:
CONVENTION BOUNCE

Can America trust with the presidency a man who can't throw a baseball all the way from the mound to the catcher behind the plate?

I groaned and swore last night when Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) bounced the ceremonial first pitch of the Red Sox vs. Yankees game at Fenway Park, part of a surprise early appearance here in the convention city where he will be nominated Wednesday night..

With the nation watching on ESPN, Kerry, whose major message this week will be what a tough, strong president he'd make, short armed it .

His sissified toss died in the dirt in front of ceremonial first catcher, Massachusetts National Guardsman Will Pumyea, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Weak throws do sometimes afflict strong people. Earlier this year at Wrigley Field, on the day of Mark Prior's first post-injury start, new Bears coach Lovie Smith bounced the ceremonial first pitch well before home plate.

But, fellas, how hard could it be?[Emphasis mine. -G]

A week ago, before the Cubs vs. Cardinals Monday night game, a little boy with one leg got out on the mound and threw a strike.

Even now, I'm envisioning the GOP campaign commercials using footage from Sunday night:

John Kerry...Can a man who throws like a girl keep us safe from terrorism?

John Kerry...Coming up short in so many ways for America.

George Bush...America should keep its starting pitcher.

I don't know, Eric, how hard could it be? Like I said, I think you need to show us. Then, when your pitch bounces in the dirt, we can use it as an analogy for your lame blog: "Zorn started promising as he stepped up to the mound, but his post -- much like his pitch -- quickly went nowhere."

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Lawrence Lessig Takes On Bill "Splotchy" O'Reilly

Oh, it's a thing to behold.

(Found via Boing Boing.)

Also good: After O'Reilly claimed that the French economy was suffering untold horrors after the American boycott of its exports for refusing to support the Iraq War, citing "The Paris Business Review," some people pointed out that no such publication exists. Or at least it didn't, until someone threw this together.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Where I'm Calling From

A piece by Rebecca Solnit in the London Review of Books, "Check Out The Parking Lot". Ostensibly it's a book review, but it seems more of an ambivalent meditation about life in L.A.

Is there any other kind?

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Here We Go Again

This perceptive and perhaps prescient post by Dave Johnson at the american street: "Berger - Missing the Point!" is worth keeping in mind. It's not the act that has everyone in an uproar, it's the nefarious motivations that everyone can ascribe to it. All one talking head needs to ask another talking head is, "What could he have been thinking?" or "What possible reason could he have had?", and they're off and running. No need for facts, it's pure speculation.

Fred Kaplan at Slate (can't get the link right now; I'll post it later) says that at most, Berger has destroyed any chance he had of being appointed anything in a Kerry administration. It's the way the story keeps getting inflated and more ridiculous that is baffling, except as political fodder. Berger stuck documents in his socks? Really? And no one thought to stop him? Just wait 10 months and then tell Fox News? Or that Berger swiped the documents to pass them on to Kerry's campaign. Except that Kerry had access to the documents himself as a Senator:
This makes no sense. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry could obtain the documents -- which had also been supplied to the 9/11 commission -- of his own accord. More than that, Kerry's chief national security adviser, Rand Beers, was a staff member of the National Security Council, working on terrorism, under Presidents Clinton and Bush. He saw these documents, probably helped write some of them; he could certainly tell Kerry about them.

It's back to the Days of Clinton, when the slightest misstep (and believe me, it was a serious misstep. Berger shouldn't get an appointment after this. It was sloppy and inexcusable, and just because nothing happened didn't mean that something couldn't have happened.) launches a thousand conspiracy theories, and perception trumps reality.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

True Believers

I can't quite get through this. I think I'm going to have to keep coming back for small doses over the rest of the afternoon. Taking it all at once isn't a good idea.
The Village Voice: The Church of Bush by Rick Perlstein

Found via TBogg.

Connections

David Brooks wrote a column today bemoaning the lack of engaging teachers in favor of specialization. (It pains me to do this, but here's a link.)

Ezra Klein at Pandagon chimes in with his perspective.

Which is all interesting in light of this account of the MLA convetion in the Believer.

Click-click-click, it all comes together.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Jeebus

Yahoo! News - Man Sought for Photographing Texas City Refineries

Mon Jul 19, 2:59 PM ET

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Law enforcement officials said on Monday they are looking for a man seen taking pictures of two refineries in Texas City, Texas.

Texas City, located on the Texas Gulf coast about 30 miles south of Houston, has three refineries including the largest U.S. plant operated by BP Plc., which is the third-largest U.S. refinery, processing 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

The man, described as white with dark hair, was seen taking pictures outside the refineries, all located on the same highway, at about 5 p.m. CDT on Saturday, said Bruce Clawson, emergency management and homeland security director for Texas City.

While it is not illegal to take pictures of a refinery from a highway or street, officials would like to talk to the man to find out his reason for taking the photographs.

"This is based on the idea that al Qaeda does its homework," Clawson said. "That's not to say we don't have enough home-grown idiots already who might want to do something."

The man was seen driving a white van.

Valero Energy Corp. operates a 243,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery in Texas City. Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC, a joint venture between Marathon Oil Corp., and Ashland Inc., operates a 76,000 bpd refinery in Texas City.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has repeatedly warned refiners that they are possible targets for would-be terrorists. U.S. refinery security officials say their security guards regularly report people observing or taking pictures of refineries.

During the Independence Day holiday, ExxonMobil Corp. tightened security at the largest U.S. refinery, the 538,000 bpd plant in Baytown, Texas, 30 miles east of Houston, because of general warnings about possible terrorist activity.

A guy took pictures of a place that it is legal to take pictures of, from a place that it is legal to take pictures from, and that is readily viewable from any freakin' spot along the highway, and yet there's something suspicious about a white guy with dark hair in a white van taking pictures of it?

At least there's mention of "home-grown idiots" this time around. Still, as someone with an amateur interest in photography, it's troubling that anyone who just wants to quietly pursue a hobby is going to be harassed like this.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

slacktivist: The Vision Thing

What I think I like best about Fred Clark is the way he cuts to the heart of the matter:
If a candidate has a clear vision and a clear agenda, and if that candidate has a plan for the policies to make that vision and that agenda a reality, then the candidate will want to spend as much time as possible talking to the American people. That's how one builds support for one's agenda. That's how one creates a mandate for leadership in a democracy.

If, on the other hand, a candidate desires power but has no clue what he would use that power for other than to preserve it for himself, then the less the people are told about his agenda, the better.

[snip]

When George W. Bush appeared on Meet the Press back in February, Tim Russert asked him to explain why he thought he deserved a second term. The president dodged the question, saying only that he "looked forward" to having the opportunity in the months ahead to talk to the American people about his plans for a second term. This was a bit odd -- here he was speaking directly to the American people on network television, but all he told them was that he looked forward to having the chance to tell them something later. Since then spring has come and gone and it is now high summer and still we hear little more than chants of "four more years" and the continued assurance that President Bush looks forward, someday, sometime in the future, to explaining his vision.

This is not how someone behaves if he actually has a vision for the future. Bush doesn't. He's still just stalling for time while his advisers and aides work to cobble together something that could pass for an agenda for a second term, provided no one looks too closely.

"The bad news is we're lost and we don't know where we're going," the captain says. "The good news is we're making excellent time."

Saturday, July 17, 2004

The Burgundization of Network News

Frank Rich's new column in the Times. Nothing all that new, but still interesting, in his comparison of the new Will Ferrell movie "Anchorman" to the current pathetic state of television news.

This Crap Bugs Me


Yahoo! News - Questioning of Photo Student Challenged


Fri Jul 16, 2:49 AM ET

By ELIZABETH M. GILLESPIE, Associated Press Writer

SEATTLE - Ian Spiers had just hours to finish an assignment for his photography class. He was taking shots of a railroad bridge near the Ballard Locks when an officer with a German shepherd approached him, asked him what he was doing and requested some ID.

Later, he was questioned and photographed by a Homeland Security agent.

It was the second time in less than two months that Spiers had been questioned about taking pictures of a landmark that attracts hundreds of tourists a day, many of whom snap photos of the ships passing between Lake Union and Elliott Bay.

A growing number of photographers around the country have been similarly rousted in recent years as they've tried to take pictures of federal buildings and other major public works, said Donald Winslow, editor of the National Press Photographers Association's magazine.

"We've seen the constant erosion of our civil liberties amid this cry for homeland security by doing things that have an appearance of making us safe, but in reality it's a sham," Winslow said. "No one showed up at the World Trade Center and took photographs from nine different angles before they flew planes into it."

The morning of May 26, Spiers explained he was a photography student at a community college, showed a copy of his assignment, then asked the officer if he was legally obligated to show his ID.

The officer said no and walked away. But soon after, several armed officers approached him, including three from the Seattle Police Department and three from the federal Homeland Security Department.

"I was trying to be calm, but the truth was I was scared out of my mind," Spiers said.

This time, Spiers said, a Seattle police officer told him he had no choice but to show his ID. A Homeland Security agent who flashed his badge told him he had broken a law by taking pictures of a federal facility.

"We've never seen such a law," said Doug Honig, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) in Seattle.

Spiers said he complied, spent half an hour answering questions and let a Homeland Security agent photograph him — after being told he had no choice.

The ACLU has written the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and runs the locks, asking for the agency's assurance that Spiers will not be arrested if he returns there.

Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said her agency had no involvement in the incident and questioned an order Spiers said a homeland security agent gave him — that he could not return to the locks with his camera without getting permission in advance.

"Everyone — all members of the public — are welcome on the locks property, and photographs are allowed, and there's no need to get prior permission," she said.

Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said the department has a duty to respond to reports of suspicious activity.

Calls to the Homeland Security Department were not immediately returned.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Spiers kept his distance from the spot where he was questioned, and wore a button on his camera bag that said: "Annoying but harmless photography student. Do not bend." He made it in early April, after two police officers showed up at his door, saying they were responding to a report about a suspicious man taking pictures at the locks.

Spiers said he'd like to hear one of the officers who questioned him say if they hassled him because his mocha-colored skin and short black hair made him look like a terrorist.

"I'm trying to figure out how not to attract attention," said Spiers, 36. "So far the only thing I can think of is that I can never ever pick up a camera."

In early June, about 100 photographers crowded onto New York City subway trains and snapped pictures of each other in protest of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's proposed ban on photography in subways and other public transit.

And Brian Fitzgerald, the chief photographer at the Yakima Herald-Republic, said a uniformed security officer tried to prevent him from taking a picture of an immigration office, citing a "law," then calling it a "directive" that gave the officer the right to confiscate any film with pictures of a federal facility.

An officer in charge eventually let him take his photos, and he's since been told there's no reason he can't take them.

"It's frustrating mostly," Fitzgerald said. "I'm not outraged because I didn't get to the point where I didn't get my photos. It just reminds me again how much disinformation there is, even in these agencies that are supposed to know."

National Press Photographers Association

Spiers' Web Site

Post at Margaret Cho's website about similar things.

And an article by Daniel H. Pink in Wired magazine, "Little Brother Is Watching," that seems convinced that the photographs of Abu Ghraib is proof that the system does work, even though he seems to conveniently avoid the fact that certain people were outraged less at the horrific abuse and more at the ability to take photos at all.

Failure Is Their Only Option

Via Ezra Klein at Pandagon, there's an interestingop-ed piece by Thomas Frank in the New York Times. How much more cynical can we get when politicians start picking hot-button issues to exploit, fully knowing that they're going to fail, but in their failure will so rile up the masses that they'll win elections and get to push through the stuff that's really important to them, like getting cushy government contracts for their friends and campaign contributors?

Does anyone actually stand for anything anymore? I mean really, truly stand for something, declare their belief in it, and vow to fight for it until the bitter end?

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

'Doonesbury' Artist Trudeau Skewers Bush

Huh, I didn't know that Garry Trudeau and GWB had crossed paths in the past.

Yahoo! News - 'Doonesbury' Artist Trudeau Skewers Bush

NEW YORK - Cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who has skewered politicians for decades in his comic strip "Doonesbury," tells Rolling Stone magazine he remembers Yale classmate George W. Bush as "just another sarcastic preppy who gave people nicknames and arranged for keg deliveries."

Trudeau attended Yale University with Bush in the late 1960s and served with him on a dormitory social committee.

"Even then he had clearly awesome social skills," Trudeau said. "He could also make you feel extremely uncomfortable ... He was extremely skilled at controlling people and outcomes in that way. Little bits of perfectly placed humiliation."

Trudeau said he penned his very first cartoon to illustrate an article in the Yale Daily News on Bush and allegations that his fraternity, DKE, had hazed incoming pledges by branding them with an iron.

The article in the campus paper prompted The New York Times to interview Bush, who was a senior that year. Trudeau recalled that Bush told the Times "it was just a coat hanger, and ... it didn't hurt any more than a cigarette burn."

"It does put one in mind of what his views on torture might be today," Trudeau said.

Having mocked presidents of both parties in the "Doonesbury" strip since 1971, Trudeau said Bush has been, "tragically, the best target" he's worked with yet.

"Bush has created more harm to this country's standing and security than any president in history," Trudeau said. "What a shame the world has to suffer the consequences of Dubya not getting enough approval from Dad."

Rolling Stone was publishing the interview Friday.

And this guy has been at it since Nixon.

(Here's the link to the Rolling Stone piece.)

Update: Shoot, he knew Howard Dean, too:
You were two years behind Bush at Yale?

And four years behind Kerry. Joe Lieberman was also at Yale, and Howard Dean was in my class. My feeling is, there should have been a cap this year on Yale graduates running for president [laughs]. Howard Dean I knew quite well from boyhood. We'd gone to a summer camp together. When Howard became governor, he told some reporter that he'd gotten his sense of humor from me. I wrote him and said, "That's utter bullshit. When you knew me as a teenager, I didn't have a sense of humor. Life was much too grim."

I think Howard did an astonishing thing with his campaign. When people look back at 2004, it'll be obvious just how much he turned an election that Bush could have walked away with into a real competition. He forced everybody to take on the war issue. And his fine, righteous anger got the base motivated, in a way that might not otherwise have happened.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Oh, The Mistakes That Have Been Made

In the Columbia Journalism Review: How Chalabi Played the Press by Douglas McCollam.

(I originally posted this without crediting it to Joshua Marshall at Talking Points Memo. Apologies.)

How Often Has He Been Right About Anything?

DVDs will be obsolete in 10 years: Bill Gates

Tue Jul 13, 1:23 PM ET

FRANKFURT (AFP) - DVDs will be obsolete in 10 years at the latest, Microsoft boss and founder Bill Gates (news - web sites) predicted.

Asked what home entertainment would like in the future, Gates said that DVD technology would be "obsolete in 10 years at the latest. If you consider that nowadays we have to carry around film and music on little silver discs and stick them in the computer, it's ridiculous," Gates said in comments reproduced in German in the mass-circulation daily Bild.

"These things can scratch or simply get lost."

Gates' vision of television of the future was: "TV that will simply show what we want to see, when we want to see it. When we get home, the home computer will know who we are from our voice or our face. It will know what we want to watch, our favourite programmes, or what the kids shouldn't be allowed to see."

Gee, Billy, don't forget to mention that while you can buy a DVD today and watch it over and over and over again for years to come, having only paid for it once, in your scenario, we'd all have to pay you $5 every time we wanted to watch "Kangaroo Jack." And while I can get that super-special DVD of that movie that I and no one else liked, in the Gatesian future, I'd be out of luck since I'd have to hope that someone somewhere wanted to devote the server space to store it and the bandwidth to transmit it. Who'd bother? Especially when you can make money hand over fist from "Kangaroo Jack."

Perhaps I'm being unfair. Billy-Boy's prediction is awfully vague -- will the TV content be streaming or stored? Could I conceivably buy a movie the way I can buy an album off of iTunes today? I own the file, despite its future availability or unavailability. (I assume that the music I've bought from iTunes is mine for as long as I care to keep it. I don't have to relinquish any of it if, say, the estate of Ray Charles decides that "What'd I Say?" shall no longer be available.)

Billy's been smart about two things, and they've made him rich. While I'm no fan of Windows, I think he was right to make the operating system separate from the computer. I'm a die-hard Apple user, but it does suck sometimes when you're stuck with the hardware you're stuck with. That's one. The other is Microsoft Office. And with that, it's less that they came up with a revolutionary word processor or spreadsheet, but that everything got locked into a proprietary format that required everyone else to have Microsoft Office to open it. Sure, there are ways around it. Most interoffice memos really don't need to be much more that a plain-text file, but the default setting is to save it as a Word document, and that's money in Billy's pocket. Just about everything else has been either vague or off the mark. MS was late to the internet because they were convinced that the future lay in CD-ROMs. (Ironic, when you consider that now the guy is saying that those little silver discs are archaic.) Sure they made up for lost ground, but by trampling everyone else and getting sued by the US government in the meantime. Smart Tags, .Net, Passport -- who needs 'em?

More to read about nobody reading

Everybody's got an opinion. Here's Kevin Drum's concerning Harold Bloom's. ("So get thee to an internet cafe, Harold Bloom! It is a rich and exciting world that awaits you.")

And here is Rivka at Respectful of Otters with hers. (Short version: If no one is reading, why are there so many bookstores and how come they're always filled with people? And what do they mean by "literature," anyway? If you read a book but it didn't fit the NEA's definition, did it not count?)

I think I'm going to have to read the actual report -- everyone is getting their pantaloons in a bunch, but they're all referring to news accounts of the study and not the study itself. These questions of definitions and parameters may very well be answered within the pages of the final report -- that nobody is reading!