Thursday, December 30, 2004

Um, yeah, what he said

A great comprehensive article by Rand Simberg about science as not only a set of facts but a philosophy about how to approach the world (and how the misunderstanding of approach versus conclusions leads to useless discussions of evolution and other hot topics):

More on Intelligent Design

(via the Daou Report)

The sound of a saw

pinecone_smallAm gaining ever more appreciation of Thoreau's use of language by way of the Thoreau blog, for which today's excerpt records the felling of a giant pine tree. Thoreau greets the sight with both acceptance and sorrow for the loss of the great trees from his woods. This passage particularly struck me:
How slowly and majestic it starts! as it were only swayed by a summer breeze, and would return without a sigh to its location in the air. And now it fans the hillside with its fall, and it lies down to its bed in the valley, from which it is never to rise, as softly as a feather, folding its green mantle about it like a warrior, as if, tired of standing, it embraced the earth with silent joy, returning its elements to the dust again. But hark! there you only saw, but did not hear. There now comes up a deafening crash to these rocks, advertising you that even trees do not die without a groan.

On the margins of the big story

Smaller side-bits getting lost in the main tsunami news:
  1. Apparently no wildlife has been found killed by the disaster, leading experts to wonder whether the animals could sense the disturbance in advance and thus seek higher ground in time...

  2. In contrast, several aboriginal island tribes, some of whom already numbered only in the 100s, may have been effectively wiped out.
(via boing boing)

Also in the heartening news department

medicineLooks like it will be some time before we manage to widen health insurance to cover most of the working poor, but meantime one doctor in New Mexico is running a clinic for precisely those uninsured folks. He provides most services at cost, saving the patients from the 10-fold higher fees that the emergency room would charge (and/or saving the rest of us the insurance increases that come from use of the emergency room as a doctor of last resort).

An outpouring of generosity

It's heartening to see that the American people are proportionally more generous than their government makes them look: Amazon's collection for the Red Cross Disaster Relief efforts is closing in on $4.5 million as of this writing (not including donations made directly to that and many other organizations). That's approaching the outpourings after 9/11. I hope that the image of this widespread sympathy and desire to help carry as loudly as Bush's choice to stay at his ranch to ride a bike and clear brush...

Update: I wanted this quote, but only now found it at "In this day and age, our government is not worthy of its people, and I'm proud of us for that."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Words fail...

...but Kurt does a good job of bridging the gap between the heart/home and the incomprehensible tragedy elsewhere:


"We live always on the edge of loss."
How true.

Balance, what balance?

life is jugglingIt will come as news to few readers that many folks find themselves subject to constant distraction, whether from incoming emails, temptations to websurf, phonecalls, or just having too much to do. The technical term is "cognitive overload," and this article demonstrates the need to keep fighting for focus and sanity.
In fact, multitasking — a computing term that involves doing, or trying to do, more than one thing at once — has cemented itself into our daily lives and is intensely studied. Research has shown it to be consistently counterproductive, often foolish, unhealthy in the long run, and in the case of gabbing on the cell phone while driving, relatively dangerous. Yet it is also expected, encouraged and basically essential.
This guy (David Levy) organized a conference called "Information, Silence and Sanctuary," and is setting up a "Center for Information and the Quality of Life" to study sources of overload and strategies to fight it. Or really, even to measure success in doing so (is it productivity? lack of heart-attacks? longer marriages??)...
"We have so many options, reward centers that we never had before," says John Ratey, who teaches at Harvard and is a psychiatrist specializing in attention deficit disorder. "I think that's why we're seeing more of this. There are more demands on our attention and less training for us to stop and take it all in. We seem to be amazing ourselves to death."
Um, back to work now, I suppose. ;)

(via Medley's furlings)

A sad view toward the year's turning

One view that the year behind us augers difficult days in the year(s) to come:
Only five years ago, the uncharted future was spread before us. We were an optimistic and confident people. Our firm membership in the global community was as clear as the televised sequence of midnight celebrations -- Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Delhi, Johannesburg, Paris -- that circled the earth at the glorious millennium. Watching that rotation on an axis of joy, the only "homeland" we wanted was the very planet, and our "security" was everyone's. The human family was never more aware of itself than that night, and we Americans were never more a part of it.

But this year, what a lonely nation we have become. And to how many fewer peoples are we the tribune of hope. How like exile is our "homeland," and what is "security" if it depends on suspicion of those who are unlike us?
So, there's work to be done. Let us get it underway, then!

(via the Daou Report)

Update: for more on one place to start, see this take on how things might be handled differently in the Islamic world.

What do we mean by "liberal" or "conservative"?

The answer may depend on the speaker, but one of the most balanced and thoughtful explications that I have seen is in this post by Keith Burgess-Jackson (also known for his less balanced blog, AnalPhilosopher). I really like the whole thing, but perhaps a representative pullquote would be this:
Liberals look forward, believing that peace, justice, and happiness are just around the corner, if only we let reason be our guide. Conservatives look backward, believing that if we tinker with tradition, even with the best of intentions, we are as likely to get war, injustice, and misery as their opposites.
Not a bad crystallization of how people with good intentions can differ so markedly in their sense of where to go next. But the longer descriptions are better. Worth a read.

On a lighter note...

The Onion has it's moments of pure brilliance, as with this week's piece poking fun at archaeology...

(via LBH, at work)

Stop hurting America

Well, that was Jon Stewart's charge to the punditocracy when he went on Crossfire -- that favoring theater over debate of the issues was a disservice to the nation. And it clearly is, a national media epidemic.
a schematic newspaper
But a few people have noticed. Much to my surprise, there was a big story in last week's Baltimore Sun headlined "Compliant news media have failed the American people". Well yes! yes they have.
Journalists have allowed political operatives to successfully control what is discussed and how it is discussed. TV programs that pit an extremist on the left against an extremist on the right have made it clear there is no room for moderate voices. Walter Cronkite used to be the most trusted journalist in America. Now Jon Stewart - a comedian with a "fake news" show - may be.

President Bush invaded Iraq on false pretenses, and many in the news media not only didn't question his assertions but served to legitimize them. The Patriot Act, which authorizes serious abridgments of civil liberties, was enacted and allowed to continue with hardly a whimper from the institutions that depend on the First Amendment for their existence. The story of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib all but died with no high-level official held responsible.

Pursuing these kinds of stories takes time, energy and sources. It is fueled by a healthy skepticism from reporters and courage on the part of editors. And it requires that government be sufficiently in awe of the power of the press so that it provide answers and access.

Instead, we have too many reporters who believe it is their job simply to quote what people tell them - who think being "investigative" is getting a conflicting quote.
I hardly know where to stop quoting, so excited am I to see this in actual print. But a diagnosis is not a cure. Who will make a show of spine first? Helen Thomas, a pressroom institution for her blunt questions, was banned by the Bush whitehouse. Where will the wave of opposition begin?

(via La Di Da)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

On the subjectivity of time

Kevin Drum has some interesting speculations about how we think about decades -- i.e., that they're not really defined by the actual calendar years, but about eras that are somehow definitive of that decade (but may be considerably longer or shorter). To take some noncontroversial divisions that seem somehow right to me,
30s: 1929-1941 (Great Depression)

40s: 1941-1946 (WWII)
Of course, he's using almost exclusively political dividers (with the exception perhaps of the Civil Rights movement), and the commenters suggest some other possible criteria. A fun thought exercise, even when more recent decades are harder to crystallize just yet...

Quote of the day

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
- George Orwell,
writer (1903-1950)
(via A.W.A.D.)

Update: a heap of quotes on the same theme collected by galiel over at dKos...

A voice we still needed to hear

a photo of SontagSusan Sontag, intellectual, author, journalist, commentator, sometimes national conscience, has just passed away from leukemia at the age of 71. I am very sorry to hear it. She was an absorber of life, and a challenger to complacency.
"I love to read the way people love to watch television," she told Rolling Stone. For her, culture was a vast smorgasbord, a movable feast. The point, she often said, quoting Goethe, was "to know everything."
People have not always wanted to hear what she has to say, not only for its overt intellectual construction, but also because of her unwavering dedication to principle (and not always to principles embraced by either the left or the right).
An early and passionate opponent of the Vietnam War, Sontag was both admired and reviled for her political convictions. In a 1967 Partisan Review symposium, she wrote that "America was founded on a genocide, on the unquestioned assumption of the right of white Europeans to exterminate a resident, technologically backward, colored population in order to take over the continent."
I appreciated her voice in print and radio commentaries, but perhaps never more so than when she was the first to get beyond shock and self-pity in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and to call America to account for decades of policies that replaced our image as the light of democracy with one of craven capitalism and imperialist hubris that attracted hatred and resentment around the world.
Sontag offered a bold and singular perspective in the New Yorker. "Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?" She added, "In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): Whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards."
This was not a popular viewpoint (although 3 years later it has become acceptable to ask, if not to pursue), but it needed to be said, we needed to be snapped out of our national fetal position and made to think again. We needed more than to "be strong," and she called us to give that some serious thought.

While the "cowards" line above brought her all the grief, it buried this paragraph, which continues to have relevance today:
Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let's by all means grieve together. But let's not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our country is strong," we are told again and again. I for one don't find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that's not all America has to be.
Indeed it isn't. And I'm sorry that we won't continue to have her input to poke us where we most need poking as we continue to stumble our way toward determining who we are in this new era and where to go from here.

Some other links:(news via LaDiDa)

They keep telling us we're improving...

The economy is supposed to be looking better and better, but it's hard not to notice the trend in the valuation of the dollar. Hmmm, what other event spans the 18 months in which the dollar has lost a third of its value?

Matters of scale . . .

A day late in returning, due to the snowstorm in Boston, which grounded a lot of flights. A little irritant in my schedule, but nothing compared to the weekend's earthquake/tidal wave, which has displaced a million people and killed something like 45,000 (as of today). In fact, this quake appears to have been strong enough to redraw the map of Asia and make the Earth wobble on its axis.

Send your prayers (and donations!) to those far parts of the world this week.
And hold tight to those you love.

Update: Atrios painfully demonstrates the paltryness of the US offering for this huge disaster. This Administration sure makes us proud, over and over...

Update 2: Follow Me Here provides a pretty exhaustive list of organizations accepting donations to help with the tsunami aftermath. Pitch in what you can...

Thursday, December 23, 2004

I'll be back on Monday

closed sign

A toast to our fellow-travelers

Thoreau really waxes philosophical in this amazing reflection on encountering one of his country neighbors:
What an institution, what a revelation is a man! We are wont foolishly to think that the creed which a man professes is more significant than the fact he is.
Go, read the whole thing. (It's just a fat paragraph.) Sometimes we can almost understand one another...

Outflanking your opponents

Planned Parenthood has come up with a clever way to use the arrival of picketers to their own advantage -- they let supporters pledge a certain amount per protester that shows up.
Once a week, PPCT puts a sign outside its clinic that says, "Even Our Protesters Support Planned Parenthood." To date, the Pledge-a-Picket program has raised $18,000 for PPCT.
Must frustrate the heck out of the True Believers...

How paranoid are *you* today?

Here are a couple of different takes on the terror alert color chart of Tom Ridge fame:

1) Sesame Street characters (*love* this!)

2) cynical quotes (perhaps more on point, but less fun)

(via bitter shack of resentment)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Solar gets serious

The center-Green coalition in Germany has paid its first dividend, as the nation brings online its first solar power production facility in a region of Bavarian farmland.
For the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the Muhlhausen solar farm represents a gamble that Germany, the world's third biggest economy, can replace its principal energy sources -- coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear power -- with clean, safe and renewable alternatives.
. . .
PowerLight's three Bavarian solar parks, consisting of 57,600 silicon-and- aluminum panels, will generate 10 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power 9,000 German homes. The amount of electricity produced is much less than power plants fueled by coal or natural gas, but with very low operating costs, the solar project is expected quickly to turn a profit while emitting zero pollution.

(click to expand)

The country is now the No. 1 world producer of wind energy, with more than 16,000 windmills generating 39 percent of the world total, and it is fast closing in on Japan for the lead in solar power. Wind and solar energy together provide more than 10 percent of the nation's electricity, a rate that is expected to double by 2020.
Right now solar is backed by some substantial financial incentives; only time will tell how well citizen commitment holds up once those supports relax...

(via boing boing)

On the lighter side

An author at Slate suggests a new punctuation mark for our times: the Sarcasm Point.

(via LaDiDa)

There are theories and there are theories

I've been following the story of the Dover, PA, schoolboard's insistence that Intelligent Design be taught alongside evolution in classrooms. There are now a couple of court cases in the works challenging this weak cloaking of Creationism, but ID was pretty specifically designed to leverage ambiguities in the original court rulings that made mandatory Creationism curricula illegal.

Anyway, here's an interesting examination of why the teaching of Intelligent Design should be considered unconstitutional. It points out the challenges and suggests some solutions for putting this issue to bed once and for all; in a nutshell, (1) ID is a thin veil for a religious viewpoint, and (2) it's really a label more than an actual theory. I particularly appreciated the well-considered arguments made for point (2).
In both biology and physics, in other words, supernatural phenomena may be conceivable. But for an account of such phenomena to qualify as science, it must do more than simply posit an intervention from outside the ordinary natural order. It must also explain how the intervening agent interacts with the natural world. Otherwise, it is simply an article of faith rather than a scientific explanation.
test tubes mean science!Who knows whether any justices will have the nerve to set standards of good science...

(via How Appealing)


The Forest Service is just another impediment to Administration plans, and yet another outlet for its clear preference for loyalists over facts. The agency's mandate is being quietly shifted from preservation and custodial care to pillage and deception.
Scientists are routinely pressured to not do their jobs: to not stand up for the resource they were hired to protect so that timber, the old cultural icon of the agency, can continue to fall for the benefit of industry.
. . .
"The whole apparatus of the Bush administration is a revolving door and then some with industry. What they're doing [in changing scientists' reports and opinions] is so egregious. I don't see any explanation other than to intentionally mislead the public," says Robert S. Devine, author of the 2004 book "Bush Versus the Environment." "If environmental policies are not guided by science and are instead guided by this corporate-oriented administration, the environment will be in trouble for a long time beyond this second term."
Long after Saddam's ambitions are forgotten, we'll be reaping the benefits of this short-sighted treatment of our national resources and the ecosystem that we are a part of. Those who voted for Bush had better be praying that the Rapture really comes soon...

I know you are, but what am I?

Yes, we've reached the level of playground antics in our national constitutional debates, as evidenced by this Alabama judge who has had the Ten Commandments embroidered onto his judicial robe. Oh please.
scales of justice
I'm gonna get me a hoodie with the Code of Hammurabi -- I got your foundations of written law right here!!

(via Q Daily News)

Generation debt

The Village Voice has a sobering article on the difficulty that today's younger generations have in surpassing (or even working up to) their parents' standard of living. The stories here won't sound like news to most folks in their 20s and 30s, but the whole notion that you could be well educated and still not get ahead continues to amaze their parents (and grandparents).

(via LaDiDa)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Come over *here* and say that...

Kameron, a new poster over at Alas a Blog, is off to a strong start. I recommend this piece arguing that all claims that women are weaker than men should be dismissed (based on a book called The Frailty Myth):femsign

This takes the argument farther than I've ever seen before, and appears to be based on solid evidence...

I love mimi smartypants!

Because she can be cranky and sentimental and frisky and in-your-face all in one ramble, and OH THE WAY WITH WORDS!

December 15th entry

Just go. Prepare to giggle.
(Yeah, her daughter Nora is just under 2 years old...)

In whose image?

This is the model that Bush would like his next judicial appointee to follow:

Ten Things President Bush Doesn't Want You To Know About Scalia and Thomas

(via "a blog doesn't need a clever name")

A haiku for the arrival of winter

ice moon —
the cat grooms away
my touch
Linda Jeannette Ward

Time to take your "bad apples" theory...

...and make applesauce out of it. The ACLU has been asking for all sorts of documents under the Freedom of Information Act, and they just hit some pretty damning ones:
A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. Also released by the ACLU today are a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that characterizes methods used by the Defense Department as "torture" and a June 2004 "Urgent Report" to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.

"These documents raise grave questions about where the blame for widespread detainee abuse ultimately rests," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "Top government officials can no longer hide from public scrutiny by pointing the finger at a few low-ranking soldiers."
There are even some reports of Defense agents claiming to be FBI agents while using torture in interrogations, so that any leaks will be laid at the wrong feet. Eesh.

So glad that we decided to keep these arrogant bastards high-minded leaders in office.bad apples

(via Tom Tomorrow)

All in how you look at things...

An interesting post by Digby over at Hullabaloo about the consistency between being anti-death-penalty and pro-choice. The "life"-focused people (like the Catholic church) like to say that both abortion and the DP are issues of protecting or disregarding human life. But Digby does a good job (via excerpts from other folks too) of capturing my sense that the linkage for many progressives is one of the individual's rights versus the mechanisms of government.
The question of abortion, like that of execution, can be put in practical terms: How confident are you of the state's ability to comprehend and resolve the morality of each individual case? If you have misgivings about both the death penalty and broad restrictions on abortion, are you inconsistent in your respect for life? Or are you consistent in your respect for life's complexity? At its core, this perspective isn't about saving lives or fighting for women's freedom. It's about the limits of our ability to apply rigid principles. It's about humility.
(The pullquote is actually from William Saletan)
I recommend the whole piece.

Sid blogging!

In honor of my return to normal life, as well as of the cancellation of racquetball between now and Christmas, I give you a photo of Sid in prime sporty regalia. Do that little court-dance!

Because every week is better with a little Sid.
(click for a larger view)

Monday, December 20, 2004

Rummy on the run

In addition to other criticism of his callous treatment of the troops, Rumsfeld has been attacked for sending condolence letters to military families which are signed by a machine. (What, too busy to note the casualties, Mr. Defense Secretary?) In response to numerous angry letters from those very families, and probably because of generally eroding support among conservatives, Rummy will now be taking pen in hand...

Boy, he sure is doing a spectacular job!

Driving away the choir?

It's pretty clear that many folks on the left find today's "religious right" quite scary. However, it appears that some long-term fundamentalists find it scary as well.
Beyond that, the Religious Right is actively assisting those who would destroy our freedoms. On the whole, the Religious Right comports with those within the Bush administration and within the Republican Party who, in the name of "fighting terrorism," are actually terrorizing constitutional protections of our liberties.
. . .
Another disconcerting feature of today's Religious Right is its attempt to Christianize political entities which it supports and to demonize political entities which it opposes. This trend is especially scary.
. . .
I used to believe that liberals were paranoid for being fearful of conservative Christians gaining political power. Now, I share their trepidation.
All this from a guy whose pedigree is pure Moral Majority blueblood. Gives me hope that there will be opposing voices from directions that might get an ear. Only time will tell.

(via Medley)

Historical holiday trivia

Tom Tomorrow, alert to concerns about the banishment of Christmas by multiculturalism (see Bill O'Reilly for this new rightwing conspiracy), digs up this tidbit from the entry at Wikipedia:
When Oliver Cromwell took over England in 1645, Christmas was cancelled as part of a Puritan effort to rid the country of decadence. This proved unpopular, and when Charles II was restored to the throne, he restored the celebration. The Pilgrims, a group of Puritanical English separatists who came to North America in 1620, also disapproved of Christmas, and as a result it was not a holiday in early America. The celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed from 1659 to 1681 in Boston, a prohibition enforced with a fine of five shillings. The people of the Jamestown settlement, on the other hand, celebrated the occasion freely. Christmas fell out of favor again after the American Revolution, as it was considered an "English custom",a sprig of holly and it was not declared a federal holiday in the United States until June 26, 1870.
Huh. Kind of like the Founding Fathers -- not always as Christian as some would have you believe...

Ah, the moral example of outspoken religious leaders...

It appears that Rev. Dobson thinks it's reasonable to have beaten his daschund into obedience with a belt. Sick.

(via Medley)

Inner beauty

Via LaDiDa, this alternative idea of a reality make-over show:
I want the next “reality show” to be about having an “emotional makeover.” Each week, producers would take a woman who feels badly about herself, looks or otherwise. They’d pay for her friends and family to fly in and lavish her with praise – like the surgeons did to the Swans, but without the painful and expensive surgery. They’d tell her she’s beautiful and smart, point out her accomplishments in her life and remind her how she’s made a difference.

Instead of the tens of thousands spent on surgery, the show’s producers would pay her car payment and her bills for several months, clean and paint her house the color she wants. And at the end, all the women would meet each other and instead of competing, would praise each other’s inherent beauty, intelligence and power.
Sadly, I think such a suggestion would barely register a guffaw. We wouldn't want people coming up with their own definitions of beauty, would we?


the scales of justiceWell, my one day of jury duty turned into seven, and since I was Juror #13, I had to stay for everything up through the judge's explanation of the law, but not for the deliberation. Great.

Anyway, am trying to salvage a book project at work that can't afford the extra delay, but have a few things I'd like to post here, so expect things to return to normal by this evening, at the latest, with only a day's loss to Christmas...

Friday, December 17, 2004

Senate Dems: bark or bite?

A sign of life from the Democrats in the Senate:
New Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Monday his party will launch investigative hearings next year in response to what he said was the reluctance of Republicans to look into problems in the Bush administration.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who heads the Democratic Policy Committee, said the first hearing will be at the end of January and he suggested it might focus on contract abuse in Iraq. He said the policy committee, which has held occasional investigative hearings in the past, planned to convene at least one such hearing a month.
Only time will tell what this means...
What next -- media fact-checking? Be still my beating heart!

(via Hullabaloo)

The feminization of AIDS

The demographics of the international AIDS epidemic are gradually shifting:
The most striking news is that AIDS is fast becoming a disease that strikes younger women disproportionately. Ignorance is part of the problem, but the laws and social customs that keep women powerless and poor - and subject to sexual exploitation - are far more insidious.
This comes with a quite sobering account of the common state of women worldwide in terms of education and personal power . . .

(via Follow Me Here)

We live in strange times

Um... pet strollers.
what next?!

(via GirlHacker)

Quote for the day

flower spray When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life in such a way so that when you die,
the world cries and you rejoice.
- Indian Proverb

Thursday, December 16, 2004

More shining success!

oh wait, no, it's another failure. of the missile-defense system (because, um, it's missiles not box-cutters that we're worrying about these days . . . or not).


Update: Bob has a great send-up of this test and a number of other recent absurdities here.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Pretending to get it doesn't count

The political parties and other "insiders" love to crow about the power and utility of the bloggers, how the internet has revolutionized grassroots organizing, blah, blah... but apparently the DNC felt that bloggers should be kicked out of their public Q&A with chair candidates.
There's praise for the internet here, rejoicing over the small donor, and they're using new-fangled words like netroots and blogosphere, but dem' bloggers that drive the leading edge of the battle, that raised millions for candidates and the DNC? Don't come, you're not really welcome.
Nice work there.

(via Atrios)

No free speech for freedom fighters...

In this Sunday's paper I read an LA Times report that the US currently restricts the publication of imported/translated books by political dissidents from precisely the nations that we tend to worry about -- Iran, Sudan, Cuba, and North Korea, among others. Since when are we barring the publication of books, especially by those who are fighting tyranny??

When does the Mad Hatter show up?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Letting go of biases isn't always the hardest thing

Ampersand over at "Alas, a Blog" has a thought-provoking pair of posts about extreme obesity (and its resistance to the sorts of "willpower" intervention that most people presume lacking) and, more intriguingly, makes the argument that obesity and homosexuality may have in common their fundamentality to the person in question.
So in theory, every fat person and every queer person could choose "not to be." Just choose to eat as little as an anorexic, and exercise four hours every day, for your entire life. Just choose to repress your core sexual identity. Whatever it takes.

But in practice, some choices are so difficult that they can't reasonably be called choices at all.
It raises some interesting questions about what "choices" really are...

Part I
Part II

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Of my peers

Jury duty tomorrow (Friday). Hope it's quick!
Have a good weekend, y'all.

Looks like I'll be on a jury most, if not all, of next week. Expect sporadic evening posts...

20 years of string theory...

an example graph from string theory...and scientists are still perplexed by it. String theory keeps offering seeming new ways to analyze different aspects of physics and cosmology, but its predictions are difficult if not impossible to prove (or disprove). Something about the elegance of the mathematics keeps drawing new researchers to it, and yet the controversy rages on -- is it a theory of everything, or just a black hole for good minds?

(via Follow Me Here)

Why stop with dismantling the New Deal?

The Administration has announced plans to undo 30 years of progress in environmental protection too. They may not have actively campaigned on this stuff, but anybody with an eye open knew it was coming. Nice values ya' got there!

(via the Daou Report)

Update: Not wanting to be left behind, the EPA (already under the control of its opponents) may allow release of partly treated sewage into rivers, etc. Cholera, anyone? Sigh.

Joe and the Volcano?

volcanoThere's a very satisfying rant over in a kos diary about the need for progressives to put some pressure on the accomodationists in the Democratic party, perhaps by selecting the most rightward-leaning among them for targeted opposition, or "sacrifice to the volcano." Lieberman pretty much stands out from the field...

Quote of the day

When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?
-- Eleanor Roosevelt,
diplomat and writer (1884-1962)
(via A Word A Day)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Traffic ecology

A Dutch engineer named Monderman is revolutionizing the way that city planners and other engineers around the world think about streets and traffic, and the result may be safer roads and more humanized cities.
The old ways of traffic engineering - build it bigger, wider, faster - aren't going to disappear overnight. But one look at West Palm Beach suggests an evolution is under way. When the city of 82,000 went ahead with its plan to convert several wide thoroughfares into narrow two-way streets, traffic slowed so much that people felt it was safe to walk there.The increase in pedestrian traffic attracted new shops and apartment buildings. Property values along Clematis Street, one of the town's main drags, have more than doubled since it was reconfigured.
Fascinating. Roundabouts with no signs or lights turn out to be safer than intersections with high-tech regulation. It's about the eye-contact between individuals negotiating the intersection instead -- I can certainly say that that's the only thing that keeps pedestrians in Philly alive!

(via Medley)

And they're cutting veterens benefits too...

Apparently there are already a significant number of Iraq-war veterans showing up in homeless shelters, mainly because they were just cut loose after their service ended, often with insufficient support. I hope we aren't creating another generation of lost souls...

(via jillian's diary at dailyKos)

Getting to the heart of things...

    See yourself in others,
    Then whom can you hurt?
    What harm can you do?

    - Buddha
(via whisky river)

Made-up uniforms for big little boys

toy soldierFirst it was Rehnquist, adding stripes to his robe to make sure everybody knew he was Chief Justice. Now Dubya appears to have a new casual jacket/uniform for exhorting the troops, complete with his name and "Commander in Chief" on it, along with an unidentifiable seal of some sort . . .
(Comparisons have been made with this one, heh.)

(via Medley)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Via boing boing, this amazing new electric mini-car for short jaunts and commutes: The Tango seats two (one behind the other), takes up only half a lane, and . . . get this . . . can park facing the curb, in the cracks between other cars!!
Move over, Mini; the new second car for commuter families may have just arrived!

Interesting things brewing...

...for those with an eye on the Democratic Party and/or progressive politics in general. While new Majority Leader Reid admires Scalia and makes nice with the Republican leadership, Howard Dean is preparing a major speech for tomorrow that may declare a new campaign to make the Dems stand for something again -- and may also be his way of announcing an interest in the DNC chairmanship.
He'll argue that the Democratic Party should be rebuilt from the grass roots up, that it should be driven by millions of Americans who make small contributions rather than by a handful of moneyed interests, and that the party should focus not just on presidential politics in swing states like Ohio and Florida but also on down-ballot races even in the reddest of states. On matters of substance, Dean may not resurrect his borrowed line about representing the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," but you can count on him to make it clear he isn't joining the "go along to get along" wing of the party, either.

"If you want to win, you have to fight, and you have to stand for something," Dean wrote in a Web column a few days after the election. While centrist Democrats like Reid were scrambling to find common ground with the president and the red state voters who elected him, Dean used his first sustained election postmortem to proclaim his disagreement with Bush "on almost every direction he takes us in."
I'd rather see somebody taking the offense than trying to race rightward after the other party! Will be interested to see what comes of this... (check Kos for updates, as he has a couple favorite horses in the race)

(via Ghost in the Machine)

kos gives the transcript of Dean's speech here.

Bummer (via 9/11 legislation)

I'd been hoping that the 9/11 Commission's report would lead to the injection of some good ideas into a crazed and crony-ridden security apparatus. No such luck. From a damning synopsis of the current state of the legislation (over at Talk Left):
It's filled with huge expanded law enforcement powers that the 9/11 Commission did not recommend. The 9/11 Commission report asked for changes in intelligence and national security. It did not want a new anti-crime bill. It warned against combining the two. ...

It calls for a counter-narcotics office. More wiretaps. Greater deportation. Expedited removal. Increased alien detention bed space. No bail for suspected terrorists. Drivers' license controls. Greater passenger screening. Implementing of biometric screening. Provisions for combating biased foreign media coverage of the U.S.ack It's disgusting.
(?? Run that last one by me again?)


A good example of reframing

Via Medley, an interesting discussion about Wal-Mart and its evil ways. A commenter says that protesters need to get away from focusing on the use of sweat-shop labor as a point of criticism of Wal-Mart:
Face it, locals don't give a rats ass about conditions in India and the like.We need to stress the fact that when you walk into Wal-Mart and save .10 on an item, that .10 savings now costs you 1.00 in higher local taxes, because Wal-Mart does not provide health care coverage at a reasonable rate to their employees, nor do they pay a living wage for them. Which means when those employees get sick, having no health issurance coverage means that they have to go the the local hospital emergency rooms, and each and everyone of us taxpayers pick up the cost in the added surcharge to our own bills and in local taxes needed to cover medicare.

So we in reality are subsidizing the Walton Family to the tune of billions, all so we can "save" a few bucks.
Personally, I think the degraded work conditions are disgusting enough to keep me from shopping there, but this is another excellent way to view the problem (and the problem of underinsurance throughout our economy).

A shell game

In a short NYT editorial, Paul Krugman does an excellent job of explaining the Social Security non-crisis -- that is, the people who want to dismantle the program are having to invent a crisis to justify their initiatives, rather than the cuts being required by an actual problem with the program.
But never mind: the same people who claim that Social Security isn't an independent entity when it runs surpluses also insist that late next decade, when the benefit payments start to exceed the payroll tax receipts, this will represent a crisis - you see, Social Security has its own dedicated financing, and therefore must stand on its game

There's no honest way anyone can hold both these positions, but very little about the privatizers' position is honest. They come to bury Social Security, not to save it. They aren't sincerely concerned about the possibility that the system will someday fail; they're disturbed by the system's historic success.
Personally, I'd go further and say that this gang would like to undo everything accomplished by the New Deal (and motivated by real experiences of widespread deprivation), but I don't have to answer to the whole NYT readership for my rants...

(via Talking Points Memo)

Just for the joy of it.

colorful thoughtsIt has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought -- that is to be educated.
--Edith Hamilton
(via A Mindful Life)

What am I doing here?

Via Craig's Booknotes, a pointer to an excellent short video over at Take Back the Media -- antiwar, in favor of action not passivity.

Same As It Ever Was

If nothing else, an excellent use of the Talking Heads tune...

Monday, December 06, 2004

Who'd have imagined!

The admission, that is, not the facts...
THE Pentagon has admitted that the war on terror and the invasion and occupation of Iraq have increased support for al-Qaeda, made ordinary Muslims hate the US and caused a global backlash against America because of the “self-serving hypocrisy” of George W Bush’s administration over the Middle East. . . .

On “the war of ideas or the struggle for hearts and minds”, the report says, “American efforts have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended”.
I'm with WTF, who called this a report from the Duh Institute.
[Bangs head on desk]

Things aren't always as they seem...

Despite the Conventional Wisdom that values (and possibly religion) drove the recent election, the population at large may not be in favor of a more theocratic state. A CBS/NYT poll that asked,
"What worries you more: public officials who don't pay enough attention to religion and religious leaders, or public officials who are too close to religion and religious leaders?"
came up with a shift of concerns that wasn't in the direction that the conservatives would have you believe...
a bar graph

Outing the back-door draft

The war in Iraq (and recently announced plans to commit another 10k troops) have strained the personnel resources of the Armed Forces to their limits. In bending over backward to avoid a draft, the leadership strategy has been to call up retired soldiers, but even more to enlongate the service requirements of those already in action, via a policy called "stop-loss" orders that keep individual soldiers in the field as long as their unit remains active.

Yeah, morale is great over there. Soldiers are working the wires from their bunkers trying to call the government to task for this game, and finally eight are bringing suit against the Army to challenge the stop-loss policy.
These soldiers' public objections are only the latest signs of rising tension within the ranks. In October, members of an Army Reserve unit refused a mission, saying it was too dangerous. And in recent months, some members of the Individual Ready Reserve, many of whom say they thought they had finished their military careers, have objected to being called back to war and requested exemptions.
Most of the plaintiffs refused to have their names listed, for fear of retribution such as more dangerous assignments in the field. Eesh!

(via DavidNYC at dailyKos)

Update: Via a coworker (and it's also at Kos), the troops are complaining directly to Rumsfeld too about long tours and insufficient armaments, although his response was pretty much, "Do the best you can"...

More of the US as a shining example...

Once again taking the moral high ground, the Bush Administration refuses to join an anti-landmine treaty already signed by 144 other countries.
However, the United States complies with many of the treaty's provisions and publicly supports its spirit, and is a generous donor to programs helping landmine survivors.
I'm sure that this will be great comfort to those who are blown to bits...

(via Follow Me Here)

Vengence against voters?

We know that the Bush Administration works with a strict system of reward and punishment for loyalty among government officials and the press. But are they willing to go beyond rewarding their supporters through their legislative agenda?

Apparently so; they are proposing to get rid of the federal tax break for state and local taxes, which will result in substantial tax increases for those in the blue states (even though they're already carrying more of the federal tax burden). Said one prominant conservative:
"Yes, we talked about this. The fact that it hits blue states is not something that's been missed among Republicans."
(via djsavant at dailyKos)

Those pesky Texans and their penchant for execution

In recent years the Supreme Court has overruled several death penalty sentences arising from Texas, and they are becoming increasingly annoyed at that state court's apparent defiance of their rulings and guidelines. Quite a smack-down was given in the latest couple decisions:
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in June that the Fifth Circuit was "paying lip service to principles" of appellate law in issuing death penalty rulings with "no foundation in the decisions of this court."

In an unsigned decision in another case last month, the Supreme Court said the Court of Criminal Appeals "relied on a test we never countenanced and now have unequivocally rejected." The decision was made without hearing argument, a move that ordinarily signals that the error in the decision under review was glaring.
Apparently death cases in TX are heard by an unusual sort of appeals court that handles only criminal cases and is made up largely of prosecutors. They appear to be willing to have some of their cases thrown out in order to get as many folks executed as possible... The Fifth Circuit claims to be overwhelmed with case volume but also directly ignores many directives given to it from above.
the scales of justice
Will be interesting to see whether the Supremes' charge of impudence will produce any change, and/or whether the Justices will do something more dire in the case that they are hearing starting today.

(via Follow Me Here)

The universality of fundamentalism

A fascinating article by Digby at Hullaballoo about how similar fundamentalist movements look across cultures. He traces it to a kind of basic biological tribalism (absolute control by the alpha males) and makes the point that this kind of social strategy is poorly adapted to today's more complex (and much larger) societies. He goes on from there to discuss how to fight back against fundamentalism (and fascism, which is just another side of the same coin) by invoking the basic tribal values (e.g., the Bible or the Consitution) in a different way that might provide a lever for the reemergence of liberalism.

Anyway, fascinating enough for the short list of shared characteristics of fundamentalism, but I recommend the whole thing...

Friday, December 03, 2004

Tragic humor

Lots of posts today, but I can't pass up this fantastic satirization (or really, a couple dozen such) of a textbook warning sticker recently adopted in Cobb County, GA.
(This all made less humorous by the recent adoption of an Intelligent Design curriculum in Dover, PA. Sighhhhh.)

(via Q Daily News)

Enviro-friendly log options

A pretty spiffy alternative type of log is now available, which is largely composed of recycled coffee grounds. Much better than other artificial logs (especially in terms of what you breathe in), and maybe even better than regular wood fires.

Java-Log is the only product of its kind composed of 100 per cent natural ingredients (wood, coffee and vegetable by-products). It is seven times cleaner burning, emits 96 per cent less residue, 85 per cent less carbon monoxide, and 86% less creosote deposits and than regular wood, while releasing no chemical scent. Java-Log also produces 25 per cent more energy and over three times the flame capacity compared to wood (per unit of wood).
We tend to use real wood rather than single artificial logs, but I've still ordered us a case. Will let you know how they seem.


Quote for the day/weekend

I feel a little alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.fall tree I would fain forget all my morning’s occupation, my obligations to society. But sometimes it happens that I cannot easily shake off the village; the thought of some work, some surveying, will run in my head, and I am not where my body is, I am out of my senses like a bird or beast. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?
Henry David Thoreau

More cronies against civil liberties

old elephantI can't say that I really know what Tom Ridge's job was, especially since the 9/11 Commission seemed to say that we needed somebody doing what I thought was his assignment, but I'm never excited to see more evidence that the Bushies are rewarding jack-booted loyalists.

The new Ridge replacement at the Department of Homeland Security, Bernard Kerick, went on the record a year or so ago about our post-9/11 world with this spiffy line: "Political criticism is our enemies' best friend." Sigh.

(via bitter shack of resentment)

A little after-mourning

A thread on kos gave me a brief what-might-have-been twinge...
While our President was doing this, his onetime opponent made this rather different stop.

Where divorce is restrictive, abuses abound

Amp at Alas a Blog has an eye-opening post about the acceptability of wife-beating in Egypt -- where a majority of women seem to think it's an acceptable response to various domestic failings...

Thursday, December 02, 2004

New voting ideas from... Florida?

An idea approved in principle by the FL election supervisors would extend election day to an 11-day stretch and do away with precincts. Might mean folks could vote on their day off, rather than fight the lines on Tuesday, and/or could vote near work even if it's a bit distant from their registered address. Very intriguing.

Same crooks, new chapter

The ACLU is charging that the FBI has begun infiltrating political and religious protest organizations, essentially using the cover of anti-terrorism to persecute those who oppose Administration policies.
"The FBI is wasting its time and our tax dollars spying on groups that criticize the government, like the Quakers in Colorado or Catholic Peace Ministries in Iowa," said ACLU associate legal director Ann Beeson.

"Do Americans really want to return to the days when peaceful critics become the subject of government investigations?" she said.
an image of Spy versus SpyConveniently forgotten how this played out in the past? Here's a little reminder (and heck, even the CIA has gotten in on the act at times).

(via kos)

Federally funded misinformation

Here are two programs that seem to get to the heart of the "values" of current America:
  1. The military is using its press briefings to give out targeted misinformation (e.g., to see what the other side will do in response to a falsely announced attack).
    The Pentagon in 2002 was forced to shutter its controversial Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), which was opened shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, after reports that the office intended to plant false news stories in the international media. But officials say that much of OSI's mission — using information as a tool of war — has been assumed by other offices throughout the U.S. government.
    Of course, this PR-meets-Psy-ops activity undermines whatever credibility they (we?) may still have...
    (via Follow Me Here)

  2. Abstinence-promotion programs frequently mislead teens about a variety of facts -- some are told that touching a person's genitals can cause pregnancy, many are given false statistics about condom effectiveness and STD prevalence.
    The report concluded that two of the curricula were accurate but the 11 others, used by 69 organizations in 25 states, contain unproved claims, subjective conclusions or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits and when life begins.
    And this all under the guise of "education." My grandmother was told that you could get pregnant if you "hugged a person too hard" -- can we really not do any better than that today? Even more heartening is the stealthy misogynist strain:
    Some course materials cited in Waxman's report present as scientific fact notions about a man's need for "admiration" and "sexual fulfillment" compared with a woman's need for "financial support." One book in the "Choosing Best" series tells the story of a knight who married a village maiden instead of the princess because the princess offered so many tips on slaying the local dragon. "Moral of the story," notes the popular text: "Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man's confidence or even turn him away from his princess."
    This leaves me speechless.
    (via Atrios)

Beyond Seinfeld's cupboard

bright boxes of cerealCereal goes boutique with the opening of the new chain Cereality, where you can get brand-name hot and cold cereals in a variety of blends, as well as cereal bars and smoothies. The new alternative to the coffee bar, seems to be the marketing line, with a dose of nostalgia for childhood and maybe a thin veneer of Japanimation-style pop fad fun. It's aimed at students: their first store was at Arizona State, and the second just opened near the University of Pennsylvania campus, about two blocks from my workplace.

But who gets the little toys??

(via boing boing)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Exciting news for local geeks

Philadelphia will be undertaking a wide-ranging project to provide city-wide WiFi access:
The city of Philadelphia and Verizon Communications Inc. struck an agreement Tuesday that would allow the city to provide wireless Internet access as a municipal service even though Gov. Ed Rendell signed legislation giving Verizon the power to scuttle the project.

Philadelphia's plans are the most ambitious of any major U.S. city to provide free or cheap high-speed wireless to all residents.
Details not yet released, but this is very intriguing...

(via boing boing)

Caveat emptor: according to barkingmoose, the wording of this legislation sets a bad precedent for other cities that might like to implement a similar program...

Our pesky language

Bumped across an interesting post on an editor blog, about words that don't mean what we think they do:
a scattering of Scrabble tiles
There Oughtta Be a Word

In many instances, the words have taken on a new meaning to fill an empty niche, and in other instances just "sound like" they mean something else, until folks get used to using them in that (technically wrong) way.

Remind me who the good guys are again?

Apparently US troops used napalm on Fallujah. I would think that nobody who saw the pictures from Vietnam would have the stomach to even consider this, even overlooking the violation of international law -- but I guess Bush doesn't watch TV, so maybe it's all kill-numbers for him...

(via a comment at Eschaton)

This is getting less and less funny

Via Medley, this story about a new UCC (United Church of Christ, or Congregationalists for you old timers) TV ad, which promotes the denomination's inclusivity. a little retro TV set It's an old-fashioned "we welcome everybody message." But apparently it's too controversial for CBS or NBC:
"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [our] networks."
It is ridiculous that they would be concerned about the ruffle potential of a message of acceptance, given all the violence and mendacity that they broadcast happily every day. Is there any space at all between the press and the government anymore? It's hard not to think about the characteristics of fascism (note #6)...

more good analysis by Josh of TPM here, including dissection of the ridiculousness of the claimed bases for refusing this ad (given their presumed willingness to take political ads, public service ads, and others that "take one side on a controversial issue"). eesh.