Sunday, December 31, 2006

Shit



U.S. death toll in Iraq reaches 3,000

AP - The death of a Texas soldier, announced Sunday by the Pentagon, raised the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq to at least 3,000 since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.

The grim milestone was crossed on the final day of 2006 and at the end of the deadliest month for the American military in Iraq in the past 12 months. At least 111 U.S. service members were reported to have died in December.

Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas, was killed Thursday by small arms fire in Baghdad, the Defense Department said. Donica was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

His death was not announced by U.S. military authorities in Baghdad.

At least 820 U.S. military personnel died in Iraq in 2006, according to the AP count.

What a grim way to end 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Another Quiz

I had to throw this one in:

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Midland
The Northeast
Philadelphia
The South
The West
Boston
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes


Um, yeah, because I'm from Chicago. Eerie.

Quizzes

Oh no!

Your 'Do You Want the Terrorists to Win' Score: 100%

You are a terrorist-loving, Bush-bashing, "blame America first"-crowd traitor. You are in league with evil-doers who hate our freedoms. By all counts you are a liberal, and as such cleary desire the terrorists to succeed and impose their harsh theocratic restrictions on us all. You are fit to be hung for treason! Luckily George Bush is tapping your internet connection and is now aware of your thought-crime. Have a nice day.... in Guantanamo!

Do You Want the Terrorists to Win?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz



How could I want such a thing? Why am I so un-'Murkin?

You Drink Republican Kool-Aid 0% of the Time!

Congratulations, you do not drink the Republican Kool-Aid. You haven't been brainwashed and are able to think for yourself rather than get your daily marching orders from the right-wing media. Mindless submission to our leader has no place in America. You, sir or ma'am, are a patriot.

Do You Drink Republican Kool-Aid?



Ohhhh... Well. I wonder why I don't?

You paid attention during 100% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Create a Quiz



Okay. That 'splains that.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Second Draft of History?

The Columbia Journalism Review's series, "Into the Abyss," an oral history of the reporters who've been covering Iraq is a fascinating read.

Two years ago, I wrote this after watching Reporters at War 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.

I still wonder that, but this piece did make me realize that there is a danger inherent in simply telling the story in dangerous places where, in this case, an American is an American is an American. Doesn't matter if you're a soldier or a reporter or a diplomat, you're simply seen as someone who doesn't belong.

For example, from Chapter 6 - Turning Points:
Alissa Rubin
Los Angeles Times


[In March 2004], people in Fallujah had been laying IEDs [improvised explosive devices], and we knew that a serious assault was coming. We had someone with the Marines, writing about the Marines, and some civilians in Fallujah were killed, and so I felt that we needed to tell the story also from the point of view of the civilian Fallujans. So I went out there to talk to them. And I was in a hospital and a relative of someone who had just been killed came in and he was very angry that there was a foreigner there, although I was properly dressed in an abaya and a hijab, but he became furious and he pulled out a gun. An Iraqi translator I was working with was there and [the angry man] basically held the gun far closer to his head or my head than either of us ever want to see again.

And Suhail [Rubin’s translator] told him, “Calm down, stop it. We didn’t mean any harm.” That sort of thing. And he told him that we were trying to explain what had happened to his relative who had been killed. No one offered to help us or pull the man away, and we walked out of the hospital and survived. Although we were very afraid as we walked out that we’d be shot in the back.

In an age when you don't know who has access to satellite television or the internet, you don't know who is going to end up seeing or reading your story, you don't have the assurance that you once did that only the people back home are going to see what you're showing. I still think that there is some deceitfulness, and I think that our newsrooms are beholden to delivering eyeballs to advertisers over serving the public trust, but I have less of a gripe with the reporters themselves than I might have before.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bush in 'Nam

I think these paragraphs sum it up well:
On Saturday, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, conceded that the president had not come into direct contact with ordinary Vietnamese, but said that they connected anyway.

“If you’d been part of the president’s motorcade as we’ve shuttled back and forth,” he said, reporters would have seen that “the president has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles.”

He continued: “I think he’s gotten a real sense of the warmth of the Vietnamese people and their willingness to put a very difficult period for both the United States and Vietnam behind them.”

Perhaps, but the Vietnamese have barely seen or heard from Mr. Bush. He spoke at his first stop, Singapore, promising that “America will remain engaged in Asia.” But the response was tepid — the invited audience somehow missed several of built-in applause lines — and one senior Singaporean diplomat, declining to be quoted by name, said there was little in the speech “that his father didn’t say to us 15 years ago.”


Well, how about this one, too:
But Mr. Bush is not staying overnight in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, which Washington has portrayed as a critical test in the struggle to promote moderate, democratic Islamic states. The Secret Service said it was too dangerous, so he will spend the night in Hawaii.


Yeah. Makin' friends everywhere he goes. That's our Boy Prince.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Movie Greats

Cinemax has been showing the Star Wars movies -- all six of them -- all day long and in order.


Episodes 1, 2, and 3 still make me mad. They were horrible, but they didn't have to be. I've been griping to my wife all day about what went wrong.

Episodes 4, 5, and 6 are still fun.

But what it all really made me want to do is watch this: Hardware Wars!



After that, try Closet Cases of the Nerd Kind.

Here's Part I:



And Part II:



Finally, wash it all down with Porklips Now.

Part I:



Part II:



Part III:



You don't want to know how many times I watched a VHS copy of this that I borrowed from the public library when I was a kid. Lots. Lots and lots and lots.

It also included this:

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Pioneer of Cinema Passes On

Sid Davis, 90, a Filmmaker of Cautionary Tales for Youth, Dies

I love this obituary, if only for the last line:
Also surviving is Mr. Davis’s daughter, Jill Davis, who as a child was shown being impaled by an errant pair of scissors in “Live and Learn.”

Some of Davis's work is available for viewing at The Internet Archive, including:

Alcohol Is Dynamite

Keep Off the Grass

Moment of Decision

Gossip

Big Man on Campus

Girls Beware

and the infamous Boys Beware

Ah, good times...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Steely eyed

Steadfast and resolute...

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 — With less than a week before the election, President Bush sought to rally Republican voters on Wednesday with a vigorous defense of the war in Iraq and a vow to keep Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in office until the end of Mr. Bush’s term.


Or not...

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the hard-driving and super-confident Pentagon boss who came to symbolize President Bush’s controversial Iraq policy, is resigning, President Bush announced today.

Mr. Bush, appearing at the White House the day after the Republican Party suffered sweeping defeats in Tuesday’s midterm Congressional elections, said he and Mr. Rumsfeld had “a series of thoughtful conversations” and agreed that “the time is right for new leadership at the Pentagon.”


It all seems so familiar, somehow.




Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Oh Geez...

Flu Shot Program Is Ended After G.O.P. Cries Politics
HOUSTON, Nov. 2 (AP) — The city has stopped offering free flu shots at early voting sites after Republicans alleged it was a ploy by the mayor to lure more Democrats to the polls.

The vaccinations, for people 50 and older, had been offered at early voting sites in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Health officials said they had singled out medically underserved areas, not Democratic neighborhoods.

“There was no political motive whatsoever to do it,” said Mayor Bill White, the former head of the Texas Democratic Party.

Mr. White said he had ended the program Wednesday, after it had provided 1,300 flu shots over three days, because he did not want “to spend more money in defending a baseless lawsuit than we’re giving away in vaccine or allow anybody to question the integrity of the political process.”

Republicans accused Mr. White of using the program to increase Democrats’ election prospects. The Harris County Republican chairman, Jared Woodfill, said the offer violated a state law barring people from accepting anything in exchange for a vote.

“I think the program was completely motivated by a plan to turn out Democratic voters,” Mr. Woodfill said.

A $320,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation financed the “Vote and Vax” flu shot drives in Houston and 24 other American cities, according to the foundation, a health advocacy organization. The 10-year-old program singles out areas where relatively few people get flu shots.

Foundation officials say the program is a convenient way for older people, who are especially vulnerable to the flu, to get vaccinated for a disease that kills 32,000 people over 65 every year. Polls provide access to many people who need the vaccine.

Stop and think about this for a second. The government provided a public health service to people who are vulnerable and under served, and it had to stop because the Republican party charged that it was being done solely for political purposes.

I'm going to write that last bit again and italicize it: The government had to stop because the Republican party charged that it was being done solely for political purposes.

Remember Hurricane Katrina? Remember New Orleans? That was not a failure of government by the measurements of the modern Republican party. Government worked exactly in the way it was supposed to work -- it provided nothing to anyone who actually needed something.

Tax cuts? No bid contracts? Tort "reform"? No problem! Vaccinations for poor people? That's just playing politics!

The government exists to serve the people. Period. The Republican party, apparently, does not. That is truly reprehensible.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Perspective



One of my all-time favorite Hubble pictures: The Hubble Ultra Deep Field
The Ultra Deep Field observations, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, represent a narrow, deep view of the cosmos. Peering into the Ultra Deep Field is like looking through a 2.5 metre-long soda straw.

In ground-based photographs, the patch of sky in which the galaxies reside (just one-tenth the diameter of the full Moon) is largely empty. Located in the constellation Fornax, the region is so empty that only a handful of stars within the Milky Way galaxy can be seen in the image.

In this image, blue and green correspond to colours that can be seen by the human eye, such as hot, young, blue stars and the glow of Sun-like stars in the disks of galaxies. Red represents near-infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, such as the red glow of dust-enshrouded galaxies.

The image required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around Earth. The total amount of exposure time was 11.3 days, taken between Sept. 24, 2003 and Jan. 16, 2004.

Pick the highest resolution image you can download and make it fill your screen. Print it out and put your nose right up against it if you have to. It's really amazing when you consider what they are pictures of.

(I forgot to add that the reason I posted this is because NASA has posted the Top 100 Hubble Images of All Time.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

How the Liberal Press Gets Labeled As Such

Glen Greenwald's observation about Mark Halperin's pleadings with Hugh Hewitt.

Giving Halperin the benefit of the doubt, and that may be generous, I assume that he is doing on this little book tour jaunt of his is reassuring these partisan hosts that he'll try really, really hard to be neutral. He'll try to give air to the legitimate concerns that conservatives have without making them out to be a bunch of backward kooks and crazies.

If he's paying attention, what he should be learning is that it doesn't matter.

Hewitt declares Halperin liberal because it suits Hewitt's cause. If Halperin on his own is this willing to bend over backwards, then how much further will he bend when he the people to whom he is trying to appeal, the people for whom he believes he already speaks for, declare that he is One of Them?

I have no idea what drives this, if it's neo-conservatism, or if it should be properly termed Republicanism, since it derives more from a loyalty to a party and it's leadership than to any particular ideology, but it's pretty irrational, and Halperin is trying to reason with it.

(See also: Wolf Blitzer's shock over Lynne Cheney's attack

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Paul Burgess Hates Me. (Who's Paul Burgess?)

So Paul Burgess hates me. He hates everyone on "The Left." We're all a bunch of lying haters and hating liars, and we just don't understand anything. Hmph! So there.

Paul Burgess is, apparently, the former director of foreign-policy speechwriting at the White House from October 2003 to July 2005.

What I want to know is this: Why does anyone think that he knows anything?

The assumption is that because he wrote speeches, that he must know something about the administration's policies and about its policy-making process. Except that he doesn't. He may have been witness to some corner of the decision making from time to time -- he may have even felt free to throw in his two cents when he was there -- but for the most part, he was told what the policy was and instructed to construct some prose poetry to make it palatable to the public.

If I ran a news organization, I'd find myself a former speechwriter who had no interest in ever working for any administration ever again and put him in charge of deconstruction. Every time some politico made a speech, I'd put him on the air or give him a blog to pull back the curtain and show how the tricks were done. How he pointed out this, this, and this, but failed to metion these, that, and those. How he used language in a tricky way to distract from gaping holes in logic. Or how every time he mentioned Iraq he mentioned 9/11, and every time he mentioned 9/11 he mentioned Iraq, so that even though there was no real connection between the two, he created one in the backs of the minds of the people listening.

But instead, we get lickspittles like Peggy Noonan, Pat Buchanan, Ben Stein, David "Axis Of" Frum, and now Paul Burgess, all of whom will say, without fail, that President Bush gave a brilliant speech, and that the Democratic responses are full of dangerous thoughts that they dare not repeat, lest they gain purchase. Suffice to say that they're dangerous. DANGEROUS!

Speechwriters are copywriters. That's all. Their job is to sell something. Part of that process may be to convince themselves of the value of what they're pushing, to find the approach that works on themselves first, but that doesn't mean that they know anything. I wouldn't buy a car based on the recommendation of the person who wrote the brochure with the logic that he MUST know what he's talking about, they hired him to write the brochure! (I also wouldn't NOT buy a car based on his supposed insider knowledge, either, without knowing the whys and wherefores. I wouldn't want to pass up a good buy, thinking that it was a lemon, only to find that his animus was towards the executive who kept making him change his copy.)

All I can tell is that Burgess drank his own Kool-Aid. The selective representation of the facts that made up his speeches became its own kind of reality, and he doesn't want to part from it. Of course all "the left" does is hate the president, assuming that you're living inside the echo chamber of the west wing and Fox News. Look what happened when the president's television viewing was left unattended for one evening: He watched a Cousteau documentary and then created a huge wildlife preserve off the coast of Hawaii! No, the only possible explanation for anything is that "the left" hates the president, and irrationally so. (Probably because he's so strong. And steadfast. And resolute. Who else could possibly protect us?) Don't even try to find another explanation elsewhere, or you'll be tainted! It certainly isn't that the conservative protectors of the status quo have become reactionary zealots, dismantling the framework of the country. ("Heh, you don't need all of these here supports. Trust me. Your methodology is flawed!")


(Found, among other places, here.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Great, One More Thing For Me to Listen To

This American Life is going to start podcasting the show for free for one week after the original air date. After that, it will be archived and available for purchase for 95 cents via iTunes or Audible.com.

(Found via *sigh* BoingBoing.)

iTunes link

Thursday, October 12, 2006

An Analogy

I was listening to the Randi Rhodes show yesterday, and someone from Nashville called in with the fakest fake accent I've ever heard. (Really. He'd maybe heard of Nahsville, and that was about it. I'm no linguist or even an amateur connoiseur of regional dialects, but it was an agonizingly bad imitation of a southern accent.) His "question" was the old chestnut: "Why do you keep criticizing the president and the war? Do you think Iraqis were better off under Saddam Hussein? Huh? Huh? Do you?" (Sorry, that should probably be "Do ya?," since he was from "Nashville" and all. You know, folksy and shit.)

I started thinking about that, and about how that question is always thrown out as the trump card that will end all arguements, because everyone has to agree that of course Saddam was bad, and having him in power was bad. But the real question is, Have we replaced life in Iraq under Saddam with anything better? And I came up with this analogy:

Imagine that for the last several decades, you've been regularly poked in the eye with a sharp stick. Poke. Ow! Poke. Ow! Poke. Ow! And so it goes, year after year after year. You hate it, you hate the guy who's doing it to you, you hate the society that lets it be done, but you muddle on.

One day, someone arrives to say that you're free! You will no longer be poked in the eye with a sharp stick! Hooray!

Instead, your knuckles will be struck by a ball-peen hammer.

Bang. Ow! Bang. Ow! Bang. Ow!

After this goes on for a while, you say, "I don't think that I like being hit with a hammer."

"Oh," comes the reply in a sarcastic tone, "'I don't think that I like being hit with a hammer.' I suppose that you think you were better off with the other guy poking you in the eye?"

At this point, wouldn't you think that there have to be more options than that? Something other than the Sharp Stick of Repression and the Ball-peen Hammer of Freedom? How about a Backrub of Liberty? A Footrub of Independence? How about a Just Leave Me the Fuck Alone, Period?

The pundits -- safely ensconced in TV studios elsewhere -- go on and on about how by any measure, this person's eye is getting better, which justifies our intervention and removal of the wielder of the sharp stick. What about the hammer blows?, someone timidly asks. Bah. People accidentally hit themselves with hammers all of the time. It's not that big of a deal. Exaggerations by the liberal media, that's all. Besides, the only other option would have been to leave the wielder of the sharp stick alone to poke away.

Bang. Ow! Bang. Ow! Bang. Ow!

The sweet sounds of a mission accomplished.

* * *

It isn't that Saddam Hussein wasn't a bad man, or that Iraqis don't deserve freedom and security, or that nothing should have been done. It's that what was done was stupid. It was ill-conceived and poorly planned, and has been and continues to be a waste of money, time, and most importantly human life. I don't know how to fix it. I don't know that it can be fixed. All I can do is look at what has been done and wonder if we couldn't have come up with a better plan than simply hitting a different body part with a different implement.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

They Don't Get It

The last paragraph in the LA Times story, "Foley Case Shakes GOP," about the resignation of Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) last Friday amid accusations of inappropriate sexual advances made towards Congressional pages:
The statement [from The Arlington Group, a coalition of leading social conservative groups] asserted that House Republicans may have failed to sufficiently investigate Foley because they feared "a backlash from the radical gay rights movement."

Huh? What backlash? The "radical gay rights movement," if such a thing exists, would already have hated the conservative members of Congress who are nominally "in charge". What possible repercussions could they release upon the poor legislators who have made careers by declaring how hated they are by the radical homosexuals? Was Foley juiced? Could he have had them whacked?

What they're really saying is that when faced with a so-called degenerate within their own body, within their own party, they did nothing. The party of morality couldn't even be bothered to deal with someone who actually HAD crossed a moral and ethical line! Not when *gasp* politics were involved!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cheap Music

I'm trying out emusic.com as an alternative to buying everything from iTunes. Not that there's really anything wrong with the iTS (formerly the iTMS), but at $10 for 40 tracks a month, that translates to 25¢ per song versus 99¢ at iTunes. It's a great way to justify trying some stuff without breaking the bank, PLUS they come as MP3s with no DRM, so they play on my Macs, in iTunes, and on my iPod. And while there is no advantage to buying a whole album over individual tracks like iTunes, on some albums...well, look at how this one broke down:

The Album: Jazz in Paris: Lionel Hampton & His French New Sound, Vol. 1. This album happens to have only 4 songs on it.
Amazon.com price (CD): $13.49
iTunes price: $9.99
emusic price: 4 tracks @ 25¢ = $1*

The drawback (and you knew there had to be one) is that the selection is primarily independent labels, which means that the latest and "greatest" pop music isn't available.

Oh. Darn.

* - Technically, it didn't cost me anything; I'm still on my 25 free trial tracks. Woo hoo!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Changes Are Afoot

I just signed up for the Blogger Beta. Apparently, the first ones who are allowed to sign up are the ones who have the least complicated blogs around, so I qualified rather easily.

The most exciting part is the addition of categories (or, as Blogger is calling them, "Labels"), which you will notice have appeared at the bottom of new (and selected old) posts, as well as in a column to the right.

I also changed the template bcause I had to -- the deeper changes wouldn't take effect unless I did. I could have kept the same basic look, but figured it might be a good chance for some cleaning up. I also have to admit that while I liked the dark blue look of the old template, the light text on a dark background bugs me and my aging eyes on other sites, so I should lead by example and fix that.

On top of all that, should I even make a promise to post more often? Time, time, time; we are surrounded by it by never have enough of it. Alas.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Oh no!

WASHINGTON, Sept. 6 – President Bush said today that 14 suspected terrorists held in secret locations by the C.I.A., including some who were deeply involved in the Sept. 11 attacks and other notorious assaults on Americans, have been transferred to the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba to stand trial.

[snip]

His comments marked the first time he that he had acknowledged the secret program run by the Central Intelligence Agency to hold and question “high value” terrorist suspects overseas, though allusions to it have surfaced in court documents.

The president gave it away! Now everyone is going to know about the secret prisons! I thought that keeping them secret was the only thing preventing the terr'ists from attacking us, and now they're going to get us all!

I'll have to cry myself to sleep, until Rush and Bill and Sean and all the rest of them tell me tomorrow that the president was bold and brave and leadery, and the newspapers that divulged the same information are still traitorous and bad and smelly.

But seriously, we are witnessing first hand the destruction of the United States, in every possible sense.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Travel Tip


(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)



Don't fly on the same day that the Terror Level is raised.

Unfortunately, we were already on the way to the airport when we heard about it. We aren't in the picture, by the way. This isn't "Where's Waldo." But it does a pretty good job of showing how it felt.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Recommended Listening

I'm an agnostic on the best of days. I have an aversion to organized religion that stems from my distrust crowds, and a belief that while they can be inspired to greatness they are more often and more readily tapped to be a seething mob that lashes out under cover of relative anonymity.

But I can still find talk about questions of belief interesting, and some of those with the deepest faiths also nurse the deepest doubts, which makes them the ones worth listening to. In that vein, I heartily recommend Bill Moyer's new PBS series, On Faith and Reason. (I don't know how long that link will last; it may just take you to whatever his latest project is.) Streaming video is available (in Real and Windows Media formats) on the website, but audio-only podcasts are also available, and highly listenable. (The format is a straightforward sit-down interview, so the visuals are obtional.) You can subscribe through iTunes, but if you have an aversion to things Apple, you can get the RSS feed here.

There's a wealth of material there. PBS is one of the best networks for pulling together a lot of media and providing a lot of information. No wonder radical fundamentalist Republicans want to kill it. But I've said it before and I'll say it again, if PBS puts their programs up for sale in the iTunes Music Store, I'll buy a season pass to "Frontline" in a heartbeat.

I Wonder What the Radical Cleric Pat Robertson Thinks About This?

From the New York Times: Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing — and the church’s — to conservative political candidates and causes.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul — packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals — was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

What was a crucial turning point for Mr. Boyd?
Mr. Boyd said he never intended his sermons to be taken as merely a critique of the Republican Party or the religious right. He refuses to share his party affiliation, or whether he has one, for that reason. He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into “idolatry.”

He said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.

So what are they going to do about the loss of congregants?

Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church’s Sunday school.

“They said, ‘You’re not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way,’ ” she said. “It was some of my best volunteers.”

The Rev. Paul Eddy, a theology professor at Bethel College and the teaching pastor at Woodland Hills, said: “Greg is an anomaly in the megachurch world. He didn’t give a whit about church leadership, never read a book about church growth. His biggest fear is that people will think that all church is is a weekend carnival, with people liking the worship, the music, his speaking, and that’s it.”

In the end, those who left tended to be white, middle-class suburbanites, church staff members said. In their place, the church has added more members who live in the surrounding community — African-Americans, Hispanics and Hmong immigrants from Laos. [Emphasis mine.]

This suits Mr. Boyd. His vision for his church is an ethnically and economically diverse congregation that exemplifies Jesus’ teachings by its members’ actions. He, his wife and three other families from the church moved from the suburbs three years ago to a predominantly black neighborhood in St. Paul.

Oh, I get it. It's not about right and wrong, good and evil, the will of God versus the temptations of Satan, it's about a bunch of pampered and privileged white folks who want to be told that their prejudices are proof that God loves them best.

No wonder they all love W. so damn much. He's just like them.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Rent-a-Friend

This may be one of the most pathetic things I've read in a while:

Ms. Luardo, after all, is 34 years old. And she had come to be among this sea of dewy-faced high schoolers not as a chaperone or older sister, but because Will is her personal unpaid intern and, in her words, B.F.F., best friend forever. She met him when he came to see her band play in Philadelphia last winter. They subsequently got to know each other through MySpace and instant messaging, and when Ms. Luardo needed to channel the voice of a teenager for a marketing project, she enlisted Will’s help.

Since then he has been her point man for keeping up with all things young. In turn she has been spending many a weekend shuttling him from his home in Moorestown, N.J., to parties, concerts and the occasional summer blockbuster.

At one time there was no way to better broadcast one’s failure to thrive as an adult than to hang around high school kids. It meant that the world beyond senior prom had shut its doors, forcing a return to a place in which your value was determined solely by your ability to drive a car and procure beer. But now, according to young professionals working in fields in which fluency in the dialects and habits of teenagers is paramount, hanging out with high schoolers is cool, and sometimes even professionally advantageous.

Often these teenagers are known as “the intern.” They are working for little or nothing at clothing labels, guerrilla marketing firms and one-person event-planning operations, making coffee, opening mail and tagging along with their employers in environments they deem interesting. While they get college-résumé-boosting work experience, not to mention entree into clubs and parties, their employers get around-the-clock muses and ambassadors to youth culture.

Paying high school students to be your "BFF" so that you may continue to believe yourself to be young and hip. Because that cushy job you got right out of college because you were young and hip isn't going to last forever as long as time keeps having its way with you.

Of course, time isn't the only one having its way:

One exception is 16-year-old Cory Kennedy, who since last fall has been working as an unpaid intern for the Los Angeles party photographer Mark Hunter, 21. Since her job began, she has become both his girlfriend and something of an Internet phenomenon thanks to Mr. Hunter’s Web site, www.thecobrasnake.com, which is dominated by pictures of her with her signature unbrushed hair and improbable outfits.

While Cory said that her internship with Mr. Hunter involved its share of drudgery, she is also getting credit at her charter high school, where she was able to label her work an independent study in photojournalism. Most enticing, though, it gave her an entree to hip fashion and entertainment industry parties. “I was just leading this crazy exciting new life,” she said. (Her mother, Jinx, said she was keeping a close eye on Cory, but in general thought Mr. Hunter was a good influence.)

She's getting school credit for dating her boss.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Saturday, July 22, 2006

High Times for the Mellow Kitty

Musical Follies

Over at Engadget, they've posted a list of known, speculated, and disproved features of Microsoft's new Zune media player, meant to take on Apple's iPod head on this Christmas season.

Of particular interest were these two bullet points under "What we know for sure":
• The Zune brand is intended to be an entirely vertically integrated end-to-end solution, not unlike the iPod / iTunes / iTunes Music Store triumvirate.

The service and device will not be PlaysForSure compliant, meaning you will not be able to use your Zune player with Napster or Vongo, for example. This will be an entirely new system. Microsoft will continue to support and develop for their PlaysForSure initiative, but all things PlaysForSure are handled by two entirely separate division that will not have any crossover. [Emphasis mine.]

Isn't one of the greatest complaints about Apple and the iTunes Music Store it's exclusivity? Leaving aside the ability to burn a CD that plays in any standard CD player (and so many people do), the iPod won't play Windows Media files at all, much less those with DRM from Napster and Vongo, and Apple won't license its Fairplay DRM to anyone else, so those iTMS files work only in iTunes or on an iPod. Exactly what is Microsoft promising that's going to fix that problem? The music you buy from the Zune store will only work on the Zune player, not on any PlaysForSure device, just like iTMS and the iPod. It won't play files from any other download service, just like the iPod.

But it will have WiFi, which stikes me as being interesting, but much like Malibu Stacy's new hat. Otherwise, Microsoft has taken the iPod and iTMS, copied it completely, and changed only the DRM scheme by adding yet another hurdle that users have to jump through. Oh, and while the rumors swirl that MS will offer to buy exact copies of all of your iTMS songs from the Zune store, no such rumors seem to abound for purchases from Napster, Yahoo!, or anybody else.

But no matter what, it won't work with a Mac.

Allow me, as an unabashed and diehard Mac user, to complain that Microsoft is missing something important about Mac users. The joke has long been that Redmond needed Apple to stay in business for two reasons: 1) To prove to the government that there was another commercially available operating system out there, and 2) For research and development. Tracing the history of the iPod, it's important to remember that it was initally an Mac-only device. It did well, Windows users clambored to get them to work with their PCs, and Apple relented and made it possible. The iTunes Music Store was initially Mac-only, started strongly, and Apple quickly released iTunes for Windows and made all of those Fairplay protected AAC files available to everyone.

Much has been written about the "Halo Effect," and Apple's hope that as people buy, use, and fall in love with their iPods, that that love will extend to other Apple products, especially Macintosh computers. There is debate over whether that is a failed strategy, given the Mac's relatively small uptick in market share, or whether it is a long-term game plan that is starting to show real results. Either way, Apple understands that it isn't the only OS in town and makes the iPod and the iTunes software OS agnostic, more or less. (I know, it ignores Linux and older OSes, but bear with me.)

Cupertino would love it if everyone who owned an iPod switched to a Mac, but they know it isn't likely, so they don't require it. MS in Redmond, however, seems to believe that I should be sufficiently motivated to move to their music player that I should ditch my Mac and buy a PC. (Full disclosure: I do own an Intel iMac, and could run Boot Camp or Parallels, but I also own a Power PC PowerBook that won't run either, so for the sake of argument, bear with me.)

What Microsoft is missing is something that John Gruber wrote in a recent post at his blog, Daring Fireball:
Many — not most, just many — Mac users occupy a slot in the computer user spectrum that is often overlooked: that of the non-technical enthusiast. These are people who don’t really understand how a computer works from a computer science perspective, but who do understand quite a bit about how a Macintosh works, from the perspective of the Mac OS UI metaphors. I.e. they’re Mac nerds but not computer nerds.

Back in 2002, responding to a Joel Spolsky piece regarding whether or not the Mac is a big enough market for commercial software developers, I wrote about this:

Sure, some Macs are used in corporate settings, and some are used at home by the “I just use the web and email” crowd. But Macs are much more likely to be used by computer enthusiasts. You pretty much have to go out of your way to end up with a Mac on your desk (or lap). If you walk into CompUSA and say, “I’d like to buy a computer”, you’re probably going to walk out with a Wintel box. If you do that at Wal-mart, you definitely will.

Let’s divide computer users into two groups — people who think computers are fun, and people who just happen to use a computer. Which group do you think buys more software (even including all the Linux nerds in the first group)? Which group do you think most Mac users are in?

Mac users may only constitute four percent of the total number of computer users; but they constitute a significantly higher percentage of the total number of users who do things like install and purchase third-party application software.

If Microsoft could convince Mac users -- "Apple Lovers," for God's sake -- that they were making a product superior to the iPod and providing a service more comprehensive than the iTunes Music Store, then the battle would be half won right there. But they won't, and the product and service that they are planning to offer are in no way discernable from what Apple is already offering, so why would anyone be all that interested in engaging in a long, complicated, pitfall laden process of moving all of my stuff from one device that I know works to another that, well, comes from the makers of the BSoD.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

For Whose Benefit Was This Done?


They had time to matte, mount, and frame the pictures? Was that really necessary? Am I the only one who thinks that it's a little...odd?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

TV That Won't Die (And Shouldn't)

Added to the iTunes "Music" Store: "Brilliant, But Cancelled"

Including "Johnny Staccato", starring John Cassavetes as a jazz musician-slash-private eye, and TWO episodes of "EZ Streets"!

It ain't much, but I'll take what I can get. (And isn't this what downloadable video should be doing more of?)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Everything You Thought You Knew is [REDACTED]

Sheesh, it just keeps getting worse and worse, scarier and scarier.

F.B.I. Is Seeking to Search Papers of Dead Reporter

WASHINGTON, April 18 — The F.B.I. is seeking to go through the files of the late newspaper columnist Jack Anderson to remove classified material he may have accumulated in four decades of muckraking Washington journalism.

Mr. Anderson's family has refused to allow a search of 188 boxes, the files of a well-known reporter who had long feuded with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and had exposed plans by the Central Intelligence Agency to kill Fidel Castro, the machinations of the Iran-contra affair and the misdemeanors of generations of congressmen.
. . .

But the F.B.I.'s quest for secret material leaked years ago to a now-dead journalist, first reported Tuesday in the Chronicle of Higher Education, seems unprecedented, said several people with long experience in First Amendment law.
. . .

Kevin Anderson said said F.B.I. agents first approached his mother, Olivia, early this year.

"They talked about the Aipac case and that they thought Dad had some classified documents and they wanted to take fingerprints from them" to identify possible sources, he recalled. "But they said they wanted to look at all 200 boxes and if they found anything classified they'd be duty-bound to take them."

Both Kevin Anderson and Mr. Feldstein, the journalism professor, said they did not think the columnist ever wrote about Aipac.

Mr. Anderson said he thought the Aipac case was a pretext for a broader search, a conclusion shared by others, including Thomas S. Blanton, who oversees the National Security Archive, a collection of historic documents at George Washington.

"Recovery of leaked C.I.A. and White House documents that Jack Anderson got back in the 70's has been on the F.B.I.'s wanted list for decades," Mr. Blanton said.

Mr. Carter of the F.B.I. declined to comment on any connection to the Aipac case or to say how the bureau learned that classified documents were in the Anderson files.

I can't even think of a way to comment on this. It's just chilling. The horse is out of the barn, boys. You have bigger things to worry about today.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

God and Country

Garry Wills has an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today, "Christ Among the Partisans."
THERE is no such thing as a "Christian politics." If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian.

. . .

The Romans did not believe Jesus when he said he had no political ambitions. That is why the soldiers mocked him as a failed king, giving him a robe and scepter and bowing in fake obedience (John 19:1-3). Those who today say that they are creating or following a "Christian politics" continue the work of those soldiers, disregarding the words of Jesus that his reign is not of this order.

Some people want to display and honor the Ten Commandments as a political commitment enjoined by the religion of Jesus. That very act is a violation of the First and Second Commandments. By erecting a false religion — imposing a reign of Jesus in this order — they are worshiping a false god. They commit idolatry. They also take the Lord's name in vain.

It will, of course, be ignored by everyone on both sides.

Friday, April 07, 2006

It's Only A Matter of Time

So "Scooter" Libby says that President Bush authorized the release of classified information to reporters.

How much do you want to bet that next week, Libby retracts that statement and instead insists that, "Raymond Shaw George W. Bush is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."

Bonus questions: Who in the Libby family will Karl Rove have threatened to have hurt in order to clinch the retraction? What will he have threatened to have done?

The really big question, though, is this: If it wasn't a leak because the president authorized it, and it wasn't classified because the president has the authority to declassify any intelligence information he sees fit, then why have we spent close to three years hunting down "the leaker"?

I suppose it's because this is really a separate incident from the divulgence of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent that started the whole investigation. They are connected, though, and the current of classified information being passed from the White House to select reporters (and one has to wonder what pillow talk Jeff Gannon was privy to, and whose head was on the other pillow) means that the president is going to have a more difficult time distancing himself from the Plame affair. Indeed, the question may now be: What did the president know and when did he know it?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Aiiiieeee!!!


Wow! Who decided that that was the best picture for Andrea Mitchell to use for the cover of her book? Not the author photo in the little box on the inside flap, but the full on front cover?

I guess I'm a little late to this, considering that the book apparently came out last year, but I stumbled across it in a bookstore this afternoon and just had to marvel. It's either incredibly daring or immensely deluded.

I think it's the mouth. There's something unnatural about it.



(Joker image found here.)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Natasha


1995 - 2006

Bye, Tashi-Tash.

We'll miss you.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Line to Kiss His Ass Forms on the Right


Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Bush Thursday with present and former secretaries of state and defense. From left: Harold Brown, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, James A. Baker III, Colin L. Powell, James R. Schlesinger, Donald H. Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, George P. Shultz, Melvin R. Laird, Robert S. McNamara, Madeleine K. Albright, Alexander M. Haig Jr., Frank C. Carlucci, William J. Perry and William S. Cohen.


So the great meeting of minds was done solely for the benefit of the camera. What a shock.

What a farce.

Too bad about all the people dying.