Monday, February 28, 2005

Like an infection

Looks like Der Gropenfuhrer has taken a move right from the Administration handbook, taping a political ad that looked like news.
This advertisement is filmed to look like a real news report. It’s narrated by an actual former TV reporter who, no longer a journalist, now works for the state. The ad pushes a new, government-backed, corporation-friendly proposal which would kill mandatory lunch hours. California workers - construction workers, waitresses, nurses, farm workers and a forklift operator - are shown in “interviews,” extolling the benefits of the proposal.
You'd think this would be transparent, but history shows we don't like to have to fact-check the evening news. Anchors for these stories even used the promo points provided with the footage...

A collection of quotes for grey days

"My heart is afraid it will have to suffer," the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.

"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity."
--Paulo Coelho,
The Alchemist
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.
--Clarissa Pinkola Estes
stenciled flowerDo not wait to strike
till the iron is hot;
but make it hot
by striking.
--William Butler Yeats
I like Lech Walesa's answer to the question "How did Solidarity start?"
"By talking loud at the bus stop."
(first three via A Mindful Life; last from a comment at Body and Soul)

Matters of conscience

Jeanne at Body and Soul has a good piece on words and actions and how we recognize moral clarity. It is not always clear which actions are "brave" versus "cowardly" when we speak of abstractions (and I am reminded of the great scene in Tim O'Brian's The Things They Carried in which he sits on a boat just off the Canadian coast and faces up to what it would mean to go to war or to refuse to go to war). We all have to keep our eyes open for moments when principle and reality meet in the flesh.

She can take it

A great story over at XOverboard about this year's Razzies -- awards for the worst movies and performances of the year. Top prize this year went to Halle Barry for Catwoman, and she actually turned up and showed herself to be a good sport.
She thanked everyone involved in "Catwoman," a film she said took her from the top of her profession to the bottom.
Tee hee. Read the rest.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Repressed intelligence?

A bit of a grim post by Hunter at dailyKos about more invisible maneouverings with regard to the flow of intelligence information to and within the Administration, the tendency to condone torture, and the muzzling of the CIA (and any other source of dissent). The pattern is getting harder and harder to ignore.
[I]ntelligence information originating from the CIA is now going to be filtered, before reaching the President, by not one but two deeply questionable Bush appointments. Porter Goss, who has sought to "purge" the intelligence agency of undesirable opinions, and Iran-Contra figure John Negroponte, who has an explicit previous record of ignoring intelligence on horrific human rights abuses in order to further administration goals. It's a safe bet that Bush will hear only what he wishes to hear, and that CIA analyses contradicting neocon "beliefs" will either be silently ignored (by Negroponte), or actively punished (by Goss).
yeaargh!If this doesn't worry you, it should. Far from being appalled at the increasing evidence of poor intelligence and systemic abuses, the Bush folk are seeking to make those problems permanent. Choosing to make important decisions in a fact vacuum can be nothing but foolhardy for the long term.
The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none.
-- Thomas Carlyle, writer
(quote via A Word A Day)

Who gets access?

For the most part I haven't covered the blogger-frenzy or media cold-shoulder that are the Jeff Gannon scandal (uh, fake reporter for a fake news agency getting hard-to-come-by daily access to Whitehouse briefings, and using that access to lob softball propaganda-push questions). But I do find the story disturbing, less for its circus-like collapse than for what it further reveals about the Administration's ongoing interest in misleading the public. Echidne does a good job of summarizing some related news and also getting at my underlying discomfort in her post on Eberle and Gannon.
I believe that there is a clear ethical problem in letting political activists infiltrate the press corps for the purpose of asking planted questions or steering the questioning into a safer direction. This makes the White House press conferences into total farces. It is also an attempt to manipulate public opinion in ways that are at least sneaky if not outright nasty.

Other problems with careless screening of journalists should be obvious to even the White House. For example, a terrorist could get in on a day-pass.
Yes. These are the two parts of the real story. Lascivious photos lead to a snarky feeling of triumphalism, but in the end they distract from the real meat. Is this a government that belongs to its citizens or not?

Chipper Iraq update

Jeanne over at Body and soul sums up the latest bad news from Iraq, including the rumor that Chalabi withdrew from candidacy for President because he was offered more lucrative pastures as head of oil, finance, and other trade...

The Fascist Eye

By which I mean, the eye into every woman's bedroom and life, as demanded by Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline -- he wants the complete medical files of all women who've had late-term abortions, so that he can track down possible criminal cases that need prosecuting.
Mr. Kline emphasized statutory rape at a news conference here but also spoke obliquely of other crimes that court documents suggest could include doctors' providing illegal late-term abortions and health professionals' failing to heed a state law that requires the reporting of suspected child sexual abuse.
Heck, why doesn't he just demand access to all medical records in the state, so that he's aware of every possible abuse, gunshot, or other crime that needs a bloodhound? Confidentiality, anyone? Oh, do you think this could be related to his anti-abortion pogrom? hmmm...
[M]any here on both sides of the abortion debate said they suspected that his real target was doctors who provide late-term abortions.
Bingo. And there's even some political payback blended in:
Kansas has become a national magnet for late-term abortions because of a doctor in Wichita who performs hundreds of them each year. The doctor, George Tiller, funneled at least $150,000 through political action committees to Mr. Kline's opponent in the attorney general's race in 2002, and his clinic, Women's Health Care Services, is one of the two whose records are being subpoenaed.
This whole idea is unacceptable on many levels, but enhancing your job security at the expense of your citizens' privacy is a really stomach-turning spectacle.

Update: Atrios weighs in with some additional good points about the hypocrisy in this story. If the subpoenas were all about catching statutory rape crimes, then the net should widen to maternity wards and STD clinics (where any underage boy showing up would be an automatic crime victim). Yeah, right. Your privacy is of course sacrosanct unless you are making a decision of which Mr. Kline disapproves.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The best of the left

The year's funniest post by a lefty blogger went to Poker with Dick Cheney, an inspired one-act play at The Poor Man. Go have a giggle if you missed it the first time (in June).
trophy cup
For those in need of more excuses for high-brow procrastination, you can see the whole array of 2004 Koufax Award winners, from Best Blog to Most Deserving of More Recognition. Congrats to all.

More secret agendas

The renomination of unreasonable judges and the frontal assault on Social Security may have something in common: a theory called "The Constitution in Exile," which is based on a belief that The New Deal (and much social-protection legislation right down to minimum wages) survives because of a judicial "revolution" in 1937. This is another quiet and creepy motivating philosophy for right-wingers of various stripes, and is well described in this essay. All of this is part of a radical agenda that the right is foisting on most of America while they're not looking...
The economic role of the federal government is now deeply in question, and the Constitution in Exile judges, just like the Social Security privatizers, want to roll back the clock a lot futher than 1973 or 1961.
Wake up, wake up!

A cartoon worth some large number of words

About the recent move by Bush to renominate a bunch of judicial prospects previously rejected: Hats off to Tom Toles for this pithy take. (Washington Post; registration probably required)

(via The Return of Ignatz)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Modern-day cecession

Apparently many GOP wackos think that another way to help take over the nation (what, three branches of government aren't enough?) is to subdivide battleground states such as Washington so that narrowly blue states could be changed into one each red and blue state (with ta da! two new red-state senators). Subtle stuff, modern-day politics!

A pip if ever there was one

Happy birthday to my grandmother Eloise,
who turns 99 today.

birthday cupcake!

May I take from life even half the joy she's found,
and give back to those around me
a fraction of what she shares every day.

My last post about The Gates

I saw them live, but missed the further opportunity to see them in the black-and-white setting of Central Park after snow. Bare trees in fresh snowfall are already a photographer's dream, but they make the orange apparitions all the more surreal. Thanks, Internet, for vicarious experience!

Life in Iraq

Lots of rather dismal reading out there about how life has changed in Iraq in the new post-Saddam era. The consensus seems to be that life for women is much worse than before. Barry at Alas has a good summary with related links in two posts here and here.
Of course women suffered under Saddam. I fled his cruel regime. I personally witnessed much brutality but the subjugation of women was never a Baath Party goal. What we are seeing is deeply worrying: a reviled occupation and an openly reactionary Islamic armed insurrection taking Iraq into a new dark age.
(secondary pull-quote from Media Girl)
A little chilling to hit his summary rumination: female symbol
Increasingly, when I hear people saying we’ve “liberated the people of Iraq,” I have to wonder if by people they mean men.
It makes me shiver.

Very thematic

This is a very interesting site, especially for Just Between Strangers communication: PostSecret, a collection of secrets (and confessions) shared anonymously -- I guess it's an ongoing performance art project, as well as a fascinating blog. They distribute the postcards all over the place and people can send in their secrets anytime...

(via coworker L)

Playing to the folks at home

I did wonder, when I heard clips from Bush's victory lap diplomatic tour of Europe, whether anybody was being convinced. I mean, when a reporter asked whether he would be inviting Chirac to his ranch soon, his laugh almost made the hair stand up on the back of my neck -- no disguising the "I'm playing nice for mom, but I wouldn't let that guy touch my toys" tone there. Apparently, nobody in the EU is being fooled either.
Javier Solana [EU foreign policy chief] disputed the American view that last month's elections in Iraq had vindicated the U.S. decision to invade and questioned whether the Bush administration's promises of a new era in relations with Europe meant anything.
He's not so dumb, I guess. I also liked this Rumsfieldian jab:
Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, said European leaders realize that Mr. Bush "is the president Europe has to deal with, rather than the one it might want to deal with."
Yeah, I know how you feel.

(via Sisyphus Shrugged)

Update: apparently a classic-Bush-style "town hall meeting" with German citizens has been cancelled because die Deutscher are unwilling to play to a script (or sign loyalty oaths, who knows which).

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Because it explains nothing, that's why

microbesWell, that's not the author's argument, really, but this New York Times Magizine article does one of the best jobs I've seen of succinctly explaining why Intelligent Design fails as a scientific explanation and offers nothing substantive to a theist either.
From a scientific perspective, one of the most frustrating things about intelligent design is that (unlike Darwinism) it is virtually impossible to test. Old-fashioned biblical creationism at least risked making some hard factual claims -- that the earth was created before the sun, for example. Intelligent design, by contrast, leaves the purposes of the designer wholly mysterious.
. . .
But if we can't infer anything about the design from the designer, maybe we can go the other way. What can we tell about the designer from the design? While there is much that is marvelous in nature, there is also much that is flawed, sloppy and downright bizarre. Some nonfunctional oddities, like the peacock's tail or the human male's nipples, might be attributed to a sense of whimsy on the part of the designer. Others just seem grossly inefficient. ... If this is evidence of design, it would seem to be of the unintelligent variety.
Stephen J. Gould did a pretty good job of explaining how many "mistakes" and other design oddities fit well into evolutionary theory, provide evidence for it rather than undermining it (see The Panda's Thumb, for instance). A bit of humor is found in the current article from the notion that an intelligent agent would sow similar chaos...

(apologies to my referer; flu grogginess caught up with me just in time to erase all traces of who you were...)

Thought for the day

Can one know one's self? Is one ever somebody? I don't know anything about it any more. It now seems to me that one changes from day to day and that every few years one becomes a new being.
ripples in raked sand
-- George Sand

The Intimate Journal of George Sand
September 1868 entry

(via whiskey river)

You gotta' be kidding!

Just when you think that the uber-secretiveness (and carefully crafted misinformation) of the Bush Administration can't get any thicker, new heights of the absurd:
ATTORNEYS FOR the Justice Department appeared before a federal judge in Washington this month and asked him to dismiss a lawsuit over the detention of a U.S. citizen, basing their request not merely on secret evidence but also on secret legal arguments. The government contends that the legal theory by which it would defend its behavior should be immune from debate in court. This position is alien to the history and premise of Anglo-American jurisprudence, which assumes that opposing lawyers will challenge one another's arguments.
They're no longer content with keeping all of their "facts" secret (because, you know, by the light of day they might not look so great), but now even their lines of reasoning are too much for the public to handle. Kafka has nothing on these guys.

It should be noted that the case in question here involves a U.S. citizen. None of us can afford to be complacent about these antics!

(via kos)

If it's good enough for Syria...

Yes, unsurprisingly if tragically, there's now evidence of torture taking place here at home...
ACK!Defense attorneys call it Brooklyn's Abu Ghraib. On the ninth floor of the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, terrorism suspects swept off the streets after the Sept. 11 attacks were repeatedly stripped naked and frequently were physically abused, the Justice Department's inspector general has found.
I'm with Rafe, whose response to this was "Can the shame go much deeper?"

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Artistic visions

Ok, I really liked the Christo gates, but that makes these parodies all the more amusing:
  1. The Somerville Gates, a miniature version running "around the house"...
  2. The Crackers, more of an in situ reflection...
(via boing boing)

Friday, February 18, 2005

Well said

Peggy Noonon exactly describes the blogosphere as I experience it -- sometimes hyper, mostly self-correcting, and driven by a commerce in reliable facts and insightful thinking. So much coverage of blogging either is fawning or completely misses the point. This does neither. I recommend the whole thing.

(via The Daou Report)

The magic of everyday things

Via wood s lot, as ever, another wonderful collection of photographs, this time by Anita Rust at the aptly named "weeds, weeds, weeds." She has many months of work there, each a little trip into the backyard or down a city street...

In the company of thieves, part next

Continuing the tradition of promoting thugs, Bush names as the first national intelligence czar none other than John Negroponte. Jeesh, they really love these appointments via disinterrment.
I really can't add any comment better stated than this response by The Rittenhouse Review. I mean, the mind reels...

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Funny with that familiar pang

Another brilliant bit of randomness from McSweeney's:

Things I'd Probably Say If the Bush Administration Were Just a Weekly TV Show and I Were a Regular Viewer.

(Jeez, I couldn't even keep watching beloved West Wing when Sorkin left; you think I'd still be watching this mess if I weren't transfixed with horror? sigh.)

Tangible results

Here's an online actuarial calculator that lets you forecast your Social Security benefits under the current plan versus Bush's plan. The difference for me? About -$3700 per month. Try it for yourself. I'm sure this won't be the last of these that appears...calculator

(via Talking Points Memo)


A father describes the torment of watching his son struggle with methamphetamine addiction (NYT link; registration required). It's hard to read, leaves little room for optimism. There are people who can try a drug once and then steer clear of it, a rarer few who can maintain a "recreational" relationship to heavy drugs over time, and all too many who quickly become a statistic, like the high percentage of meth users who relapse after quitting. Reading a story like this, I think I'd rather it were me than one of my children -- I'm too susceptible to heartbreak on behalf of those I love.
Drug-and-alcohol counselors, most of them former addicts, tell fathers like me it's not our fault. They preach ''the Three C's'': ''You didn't cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it.'' But who among us doesn't believe that we could have done something differently that would have helped?
(via Follow Me Here)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Another blessing from Thoreau

What we call wildness is a civilization other than our own. The hen-hawk shuns the farmer, but it seeks the friendly shelter and support of the pine. It will not consent to walk in the barn-yard, but it loves to soar above the clouds. It has its own way and is beautiful, when we would fain subject it to our will. So any surpassing work of art is strange and wild to the mass of men, as genius itself. No hawk that soars and steals our poultry is wilder than genius, and none is more persecuted or above persecution.
--Henry David Thoreau,

The more I read, the more I wish I'd known ya', man.

Another highpoint

Yes, the world officially watches the Kyoto treaty take effect today, pledging all the major economies (well, except its biggest) to reducing green-house gasses gradually over the coming decades.
``The Kyoto Protocol is an urgently needed first step on a long path to reach climate stability,'' said Germany's Environment Minister Juergen Trittin in an e-mailed statement today. Germany, whose target set by Kyoto is an 8 percent emissions cut, has set itself a national target of reducing greenhouse gases by 21 percent by 2012, the highest reduction target of all industrialized nations. It has already cut emissions by about 18 percent from 1990 levels.
It's good to see that somebody is taking the lead in these matters. I guess the moral highground no longer interests the US.

(referring link lost -- sorry!)

More disillusioned conservatives

Many from the organizations and government agencies that had hoped to benefit from Bush's "values" emphasis are now facing the sad reality that the President often speaks with good intentions, but lets his evil minions set actual policy priorities (as well as disperse or withold promised funds). The latest victim of credulousness? David Kuo, former deputy director of the President’s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who moans
From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants. It never really wanted the ‘poor people stuff.’
A Whitehouse spokesman counters that the President has mentioned his anti-poverty initiative in every State of the Union Address. Clearly poor Kuo just missed the key lesson of the first Bush Administration: that Words Speak Louder Than Actions.

Why should we care about Bush's crazy judges?

Well, if the issues that they're bound to rule on don't convince you, maybe you'll look askance at the folks doing the blind supporting...
Asked during an appearance at the National Press Club to name his top three moral issues, [Pat] Robertson said, "Judges, judges, judges."
Robertson is threatening any Democratic opponents with a backlash during the next elections.
Robertson said the re-election loss in November by former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota senator who led the earlier fight against Bush's nominees, should serve as a warning.
Well, they're already after Reid, so no surprises there. Still, always good to know that these Christian Conservatives can produce a good froth on demand.

(via Craig's BookNotes)

Sometimes it feels good to let go

Kat at Breaching the Web finds herself unexpectedly caught up in a military homecoming and maybe reminds us all a little about letting go of cynicism and remembering our connections to one another. Thanks.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

An invention of color

Despite the fact that I've felt entirely under the weather for more than a week, my spouse and I made the train trip to New York to (see some old friends and) take in the installation "The Gates" by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Central Park (there for only another two weeks). It's thousands of saffron-colored gates, each supporting a billowing orange curtain, winding their way along the paths and byways of the park, putting a torch to the winter-dark trees and dead grass. Amazing in many ways. We were lucky to have such a sun-filled day Sunday for our visit, as the fabric really comes most to life as the light comes through it from behind...

click the photo for a short slideshow of the spectacle...

For some "before" pictures of the stanchions in piles and the curtains still furled, along with some philosophical reflections on the project, see The Gates -- but only until the actual installation ends, as the author of the blog wishes to respect the transience of the project...

Also, don't miss this great arial shot, credited to the New York Times, which makes the whole display look like a molten river...

War on bipartisanship

Well, Bush has decided that you can never have too many battles: he's renominated a dozen+ failed judicial nominees from his first term. Reid clarifies matters thusly:
Last year, the Senate worked to confirm 204 of the President's judicial nominees and rejected only the 10 most extreme. This confirmation record is better than that achieved by President Clinton, President George H.W. Bush and President Reagan. Despite our unprecedented effort to work with the President in discharging our constitutional duty to advise and consent to his nominees, today he renominated 7 of the 10 rejected nominees.
There's no way this will increase Senate harmony -- at best, they refilibuster the most unacceptable of the batch; at worst, the Republicans exercise the "nuclear option," and nothing more will get done this year and for a long time...

For more on the battle and on the more controversial of the renominees, see this kos story.

Update: Apparently one of these "highly qualified" candidates actually practiced law without a license for several years before being nominated the first time. Who could oppose such a rose?

Some conservatives appear peeved

Paul Craig Roberts is the former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, former Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and a Contributing Editor of the National Review -- pretty sound conservative credentials. And yet, when you hear him seething at the Bush Administration's unwillingness to take responsibility for its failures in Iraq, he sounds like a self-righteous lefty blogger:
Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Cheney and Bush blame Syria and Iran for the troubles that they brought upon themselves. The Iraqi insurgency, say the Five Morons, is the fault of Syria and Iran.
. . .
It does not serve America for Bush to impose Ariel Sharon's agenda on the Middle East. Bush's insane policy is producing rising anger that endangers Israel and America's puppet governments in Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan along with the Saudi regime. Ironically, this is recognized by Egypt's Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah, who was unable to refrain from pointing out that Bush has managed to create a Shi'ite crescent from Iran to Lebanon.
Wow. I mean, when insiders finally pick up what the outcast intelligentsia has been trying to tell them for a few years, the shit must be getting mighty close to that fan . . .
[and these are just a couple of high-points; go read the rest to see how angry this guy really is]

(via Follow Me Here)

Another splash

That is, the splash of an unintercepted test missle hitting the ocean, during a failed test of our Star Wars missle nondefense program. This time, the interceptor rocket didn't even launch -- I sort of imagine it looking innocently around at the scientists like, "what? can't a guy sleep around here?!"
Mr. Lehner said it was too soon to speculate on when another test might be held, because it takes about 60 days to build a target missile. He said the latest failure was similar to one on Dec. 15, when an interceptor also failed to launch from the Marshall Islands to chase a target sent up from Kodiak, although that misfire was linked to a problem in the interceptor itself.

The Dec. 15 event was a major disappointment, because it was the first full test of the defense system since Dec. 12, 2002, when an interceptor failed to separate from its booster rocket, missed its target by hundreds of miles and burned up in the atmosphere.
Of course, supporters urge that we plunge ahead, arguing that "it is better to field even a limited system sooner rather than later, especially with North Korea's formidable missile arsenal and its embrace of nuclear weaponry." Hey, I could fix you up something out of plastic for a billionth of the cost that would meet these standards!

I'm kind of with Eliot at Follow Me Here in feeling a sense of relief when these tests don't work. time bomb It's another reprieve from our overt scoffing at international treaties, not to mention the temptation to develop a sense of inpenetrability by spending a few hundred billion on more of these things (that barely work in theory, let alone in practice)...

Monday, February 14, 2005

Inside every dark cloud...

It appears that a new, more virulent strain of HIV has emerged, which is resistant to common anti-retroviral treatments and which progresses to AIDS very quickly. Unarguably bad news. However, its one upside is that it may prod Americans, and especially adolescents, to take HIV more seriously than their current tendency to dismiss it as just another controllable disease...

(via Follow Me Here)

And the winner is....

...not the Bush administration, at least not the way things look after the Iraqi election. Two slates got some 70% of the votes, and both are closely aligned with Iran. Thus, the new showcase government is not only unlikely to be a shining example of pro-American democracies but is likely to undermine the balance of power previously represented by the competing Iraq and Iran sectors in favor of a united Islamic region. Nice work.

Update: I just love this pithy (if depressing) summary by kos:
The neocon pipedream was an Israel-friendly Iraqi government, something even their Chosen One (Chalabi) refused to promise. Now, instead, we get a marginalized but still powerful Sunni minority enraged at their marginalization, and a ruling majority that have more in common with the Taliban than a secular Democracy.
On to the next conquest...

Friday, February 11, 2005

Fall in, fall in!

This is one of the most wonderful poems I've come across in a long time, thanks once again to whiskey river (and, more importantly, to Mary Oliver) -- the whole thing is too long to paste here, but go and read it all, maybe twice!
Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches
of other lives -
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey,
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning,
feel like?
blades of grass
Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over
the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Go already! [are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?]

Who's in charge around here, anyway?

I haven't really been following the fluff-up about Ward Churchill and Hamilton College, but I greatly enjoyed this essay about the exchange of ideas, meaning of tenure, and who gets the blame for bad academic hiring decisions (hint: the subtitle of the essay is "Why is Bill O'Reilly chairing our faculty meetings?"). Read it through to the end; it makes some great general points.

I am reminded of the following quote from Ursula LeGuin: "Good ideas are like grass; they thrive from being walked upon." Indeed.

(via Rebecca's Pocket)

All together, now

Well, our antics concerning Iran are starting to have effects. Not necessarily those the Bush folk hoped for, but clearly those that anybody outside the Sanctum could have predicted.
Iran, facing mounting U.S. pressure over its nuclear program, promised yesterday a "scorching hell" for any aggressor as tens of thousands marched to mark the 26th anniversary of its Islamic revolution.
. . .
Khatami is widely recognized as a leader of a moderate faction in Iran. Indeed, Khatami himself indicated in his speech that the talk of a possible U.S. invasion was pushing him into a united camp with Iran's hard-liners against foreign meddling.
Well, as Rafe at rc3 put it, nobody can claim that Bush isn't a uniter...

Hiding our light

Digby has a very unnerving screed about the degree to which we (the populace and the legal community) are becoming ok with the end of "innocent until proven guilty" -- from the dehumanization of detainees to the notion that the President can make or overrule laws as he sees fit.
We are disappearing people, rendering them to friendly governments that aren't afraid to put the electrode to genitals and threaten with dog rape. And we are building our own infrastructure of torture and extra legal imprisonment. It is a law of human nature that if you build it, they will come. This infrastructure will be expanded and bureaucratized. It's already happening. And when they decide, as Professor Yoo has already decided, that an election is a sanctioning of anything the President chooses to do in the War on Terror, it is only a matter of time before internal political enemies become a threat.

And then it will be us.
I certainly share his fears, especially given the increase in eliminationist rhetoric lately. Surely the American public can be wakened and made to care about the nation's onetime core values -- can we do it in time?

Update: This Tom Tomorrow cartoon feels all too accurate to me in the way we lower the bar for dismay ever further...

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Return of Sid-blogging!

Am feeling a little under the weather, so posting is light. Naturally my response is to turn to that reliable source of sunshine, Sid! We continue with the popular Sid-in-Action series, this time giving you our hero in the midst of contemplating his killer play at bridge. (sorry, no glimpse of gruff-but-lovable partner H.)

Sid! playing bridge!
(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

This is just funny

football trophyXOverboard has an amusing take on recent (and future) Superbowl frenzy, based around the increasing ridiculousness of the Roman numerals to come...

A couple of choice tidbits

Steve Clemons over at The Washington Note has two particularly interesting pieces from the last few days:
  1. a look at upcoming Supreme Court openings from a strategic point of view -- not who might be appointed, but what Bush will have to consider and what response the Democrats should make to nominees (depending on what camp they come from)

  2. a program that represents a rare bipartisan effort to give real people a stake in real "ownership" in this country (as opposed to the illusion of private SS accounts). I hadn't heard of this, and the sponsors are quite strange bedfellows...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

More on the battle for language

Apparently the latest front in the War on Language abortion battles is the handling of "leftover" embryos at fertility clinics. Many couples just abandon these bunches of cells to indefinite time in liquid nitrogen; others donate them to use by scientists for research; still others may give them away to couples or women who would like to have a baby. This last option is one that apparently most couples don't know about, but the HHS would like to encourage. It's also the focus of new linguistical maneouverings, as the HHS (and some of its supporting agencies) push to call the process "embryo adoption" rather than "embryo donorship" -- note the shift from an analogy with "tissue donor" to treatment of the fertilized ovum as a child.
Currently, only eight states have enacted statutes that govern parental rights in embryo-donation arrangements: All but one use the term "donation" and state that an embryo donor is not a parent. Only Louisiana identifies embryos as "juridical persons" that are subject to "adoption." (Specifically, if fertility patients in that state terminate their rights to an embryo, the embryo cannot be destroyed or otherwise donated; it must be made available for "adoptive implantation" -- but only to married couples.)
One conservative writer in this article even uses the term "microscopic Americans." Thus they manage to finesse the issue of when personhood begins, while simultaneously making the notion of stem-cell production (a possible use of discarded embryos) seem unthinkable. Clever. Creepy. Likely to lead to even more embryos being left in the freezer until they're no longer viable...

Effectiveness is in the eye of the beholder

Markos calls Bush to task for his hypocrasy in slashing so many programs while raising funding for abstinence education, a proven failure. As kos says,
Abortions are up during Bush's term. Divorces are up during Bush's term. And, thanks to abstinence-only education, it looks like teen sex is also up during Bush's term.
Go, mindless application of "values"!

Am I the only one

...who doesn't want to read the stories about Bill Cosby? They're getting a lot of play around Philly because he was from here. And a second person came forward to support the first complaintant and say that the same thing had happened to her. And I believe them, but it just, you know, makes me sad too. I don't tend to have heroes, but I feel like I'm hearing bad things about an old school friend whose memory I would prefer to have left in the box with my yearbook...

Monday, February 07, 2005

Quote for the day (and for our era)

flowersDo not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.
-- Phillips Brooks

(via A Mindful Life)

If he's *drinking* the Kool-aid, then who's brewing?

Digby at Hullabaloo has an interesting post about the recent (and somewhat surprising) Bush push on Social Security. He draws a convincing parallel between this move and the last time that Bush broke free of his handlers to insist on the same issue, and opines that Bush perhaps learned the wrong lesson from how that other initiative played out.
During the 2000 campaign, then-Texas Gov. Bush overruled his horrified political handlers and insisted on pressing for Social Security privatization - particularly when speaking to Florida's millions of geriatric voters.
. . .
"He still thinks it helped him then," a senior Bush political adviser remembered. "We all still think he's crazy."
This makes some sense; Bush thinks he has a mandate from his reelection, and he thinks (in his fact-immune way; see the striking recent poll results that Digby cites) that Americans want this.
I suspect strongly that putting social security at the top of the agenda was Bush's call. He really believes that he "won" on the issue and interprets that to mean that he has the support of the American people no matter what the polls, the experts or even other Republicans say.

Both Napoleon and Hitler thought they could invade Russia in the winter, too.
Let it snow, man!

When you run the numbers...

...the Bush plan on Social Security is really jaw-dropping. Even in theory it shows huge cuts in the benefits of the average worker, let alone if you were to use less rosy predictions than those the Administration cherry-picks. We're talking up to half. Check out the table over on Atrios site, taken from the Congressional Budget Office.

The way these things work is really surreal. According to the sketch in yesterday's Inquirer (can't find a decent link online), they're essentially set up as loans that the government gives you against your taxes (or something like that) and you have to repay them with interest -- thus it's even possible that you could end up owing the government money, after paying into "your own" account for decades, if you don't earn enough to beat the loan percentage rates. Some security!

Update: Pandagon skewers the proposal here, pointing out that in addition to screwing the little guy, the Bush plan actually increases the financial shortfall in the program. Yes, more!

Also in the late-Friday news

...a New York state court ruled that denying gays the right to marry was an unconstitutional infringement of their equal rights.
scales of justiceState Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan said the law violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitutions.

She also compared the law to ones that once prohibited interracial marriages.
Those better placed than I to judge such matters have suggested that this decision was written in a way that's likely to survive the inevitable appeals (the logic closely parallels that used in MA). All language referring to gender (bride, husband, etc.) would have to be removed from NYC marriage licenses when this ruling goes into effect. I particularly liked this quote from the judge:
"Similar to opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples are entitled to the same fundamental right to follow their hearts and publicly commit to a lifetime partnership with the person of their choosing," the judge said in her unprecedented ruling. "The recognition that this fundamental right applies equally to same-sex couples cannot legitimately be said to harm anyone."
Well, yes, that's always seemed obvious to me...

Addendum: for legal geeks or those wanting to know more about this decision and how well it will hold up, here's an interesting article by Yale law professor James Balkin about possible legal bases for supporting the right to same-sex marraige, along with their differing strengths and weaknesses... (via How Appealing)

Friday, February 04, 2005


newspaperWashington insiders consider any news released on a Friday to be "the trash," because almost nobody will read it on Friday/Saturday, and other news will have come along by Sunday (and all the more so on Superbowl weekend!!). Thus, these stories are born buried. What's up this week in this category? Apparently turn-out in Iraq wasn't quite as rosy as initially reported -- on-the-ground folks are now calling it something on the order of 10%, not the 60% we were hearing on Monday (when everybody in the press was apparently too relieved to ask what those numbers meant and what the sources were).

Poem for the day/weekend

The Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

-- Mary Oliver

(via whiskey river)

A poor prognosis

Despite the frequency with which sociologists bemoan American irresponsibility with credit cards, it's not voluntary spending that gets most people into the most serious trouble: half of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills, and the majority of those who go under started out with insurance but fell through the loopholes. Another large percentage result from divorce. Only around 1% of bankruptcies are due to credit card-related debt
The President assures us that "these are different times" from the 1930s -- sure, insofar as we haven't just seen for ourselves what happens when there's no safety net and something bad happens to a lot of people at once. Why learn from past experience?

(via Rebecca's Pocket)

A rolling blackout gathers no...

Oops! Enron is back in the news, as a tape surfaces showing that they intentionally took a power plant offline in 2001, leading to the shortages and then rolling blackouts throughout the West.
Snohomish Public Utility District in Everett, Washington, released the tapes as part of its effort to void a $122 million lawsuit Enron has filed against it seeking payment for electricity it was contracted to provide.
I guess that people in glass houses should be very, very friendly with their neighbors...

(via This Modern World)

Score one for Reid

When Harry Reid became Senate minority leader, many progressives and activists were dismayed at the mild-mannered and uninspiring leader that they had been given. But he has proven himself better for his time than his detractors ever imagined, and been a credit to the colleagues who elected him. First, he put together a war room to enable quick responses to Republican maneouvers (and it proved its merits with flashy counter-moves on several recent issues and the introduction of some excellent framing, such as a debt-derived "birth tax" introduced after the State of the Union), and now he's made a touching and pointed speech at the close of the Gonzales confirmation hearings yesterday.
If we fail to oppose an evil as obvious as torture -- it is an evil and it is obvious it is wrong--then as President Thomas Jefferson said, I will "tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."
To the 36 Democrats who stood up for their principles and our national reputation, kudos. And to those like Joe Lieberman who couldn't be bothered, beware the volcano . . .

Thursday, February 03, 2005

In a nutshell

Tony Auth captures my feeling about the SotU (which I didn't watch) and the new Bush policy priority in this cartoon.

Oh and... for those who need it, fine-grained fact-checking of the President's speech can be had by the thorough folks at Think Progress.

Our ports may not be safe...

...from terrorist infiltration, but no fake NFL gear is getting through!
whew! glad somebody's keeping their priorities in order!

A cool (r)esource for aspiring cooks

Anybody who ever feels inept in the kitchen (or has knives they don't know what do with) should check out this remarkable site explaining the best cutting technique for a variety of foods -- chopping demofrom how to hold the knife, or peel, to the most efficient way to end up with pieces of the appropriate size for your purpose, taking into account the texture of the thing being chopped. Most amazing to me are the graphical illustrations, which demonstrate the angles and techniques, as well as how the food in question will look at each stage of the process. Somebody invested some serious time there.

(via Rebecca's Pocket)

More on liberalism, strategy, and faith in America

lightbulbJeanne has a pair of lengthy but interesting posts over at Body and Soul right now that muse about liberal values, the conservative dexterity at spin, and the need to change people's minds. I recommend the first one, at least.
Once we stop ranting about the unfairness, and the Orwellian distortion of language, some of us start asking ourselves how we get in on this game. Where's the money for our p.r. machine? How do we create the mechanism to make our mindless drivel as much a part of the common wisdom as theirs? How do we learn to do this propaganda thing?

Which is not an unreasonable reaction, but it's based on the disturbing -- and conservative -- notion that most people are so deeply stupid, or at least so uninterested in the world, that they can only be reached in the dishonest and patronizing ways conservatives have been reaching them.
. . .
I know that's the game conservatives play, and it has worked for them. But it won't work for us, because you can't save a democracy except by democratic means, and running a manipulative propaganda machine is profoundly anti-democratic.

Anything that encourages irrationality makes conservatism stronger.
Her definitions of conservative and progressive (and the lines between them) aren't those that you usually hear, and you may or may not agree with them, but this point about the "two can play at that game" approach resonates with me. I do think we need to change the way that many issues are discussed, but less by coming up with equally manipulative sound-bites and more by getting down to the basics where most of America actually agrees with the left -- making the real distinctions clear rather than drawing false cartoons, giving people the fodder for real informed choices. (Sounds like education, rather than sales; how radical!)

Her follow-up is here and amplifies some of these points, using talk radio as an example.
Liberalism depends upon people questioning authority and themselves, wondering if the the received wisdom is valid, looking for reasons for why things happen, acknowledging things that are painful to acknowledge. Asking talk radio to encourage that process is like asking people to browse for books in Best Buy. Thinking you can create progressive opinions without asking people to think uncomfortable thoughts -- the United States is sometimes the bad guy? -- is a fool's errand.
. . .
They don't need answers, they need places where they can find encouragement in the process of finding answers. And that, not propaganda, is the most important thing we need to offer them.
Whew, that's a much bigger assignment. But it sure feels like one that would not only benefit the recipients but allow the rest of us to retain our humanity. Please, yes.
purple America
(hat tip to for reminding me to visit here)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Pundit for hire

Feeling left out from the wave of conservative pundits hired to schill for government programs, this enterprising fellow just auctioned off his services on eBay.
Since the Bush Administration hasn’t called (yet), I’m dropping a not-so-subtle hint that I, too, have bills to pay. I’m making my services as a talk host, writer and pundit available quickly and easily right here on eBay. And, because I’m a true conservative capitalist, my services are available to the highest bidder!
Too beautiful.

(via Fables of the Reconstruction)

It's their courage, not ours

Atrios has a pointed post about a ludicrous attempt at triumphalism planned by congressional GOPsters for tonight. I can't top his combination of points.

Leave No Child Unwatched

Apparently topping the list of educational needs in New Jersey is surveillance of students and staff. That's the only possible explanation for a new pilot program advocated by acting Gov. Richard J. Codey to install "smart cameras" and mandate ID cards for teachers and students at a subset of the state's elementary schools. Is face-recognition software really about preventing terrorism (?! Columbine was kind of an inside job!) or about keeping an eye on our nation's future subversive intellectuals?

Maybe we can get the Homeland Security guys to help fund texbooks and lunch programs...

A small ray of sunshine in the AIDS wars

Apparently the US is on the verge of eliminating infant HIV, largely because of the effectiveness of AZT in preventing mother-to-child transmission and because of wider use of prenatal HIV testing of mothers.
n 1990, as many as 2,000 babies were born infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS; now, that number has been reduced to a bit more than 200 a year, according to health officials. In New York City, the center of the epidemic, there were 321 newborns infected with H.I.V. in 1990, the year the virus peaked among newborns in the city. In 2003, five babies were born with the virus.

Across the country, mother-to-child transmission of H.I.V. has dropped so sharply that public health officials now talk about wiping it out.
It's only a tiny victory, but one that means everything to those new lives . . .

(via Think Progress)

These United Soviet States

The Administration's war on the press continues unashamedly: apparently no press were allowed to wander freely at any inaugural events, but had to either stay in the media pen or be accompanied by an escort at all times.
Their real purpose only occurred to me after I had gone home for the night, when I remembered a brief conversation with a woman I was interviewing. During the middle of our otherwise innocuous encounter, she suddenly noticed the presence of my minder. She stopped for a moment, glanced past me, then resumed talking.

No, the minders weren't there to monitor me. They were there to let the guests, my sources on inaugural night, know that any complaint, any unguarded statement, any off-the-reservation political observation, might be noted. But maybe someday they'll be monitoring something more important than an inaugural ball, and the source could be you.
This is the experience of Iraqi scientists, not allowed to speak with the western press without government chaperones, or of Russian dissidents, always looking over their shoulders. newspaper
But apparently nowadays the thought police are us.

(via This Modern World)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A guilty pleasure, enabled

For anybody who has been or might yet be a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a show far far better than its name implies), the ultimate online resource has arrived:


Its key strength is summarized in its subtitle: "Every Buffy character, episode, cast member, writer and director and every word of every show, in a searchable database." Wow. I'm hardly a groupie, on the scale of what's out there, but being able to find a quote or scene when it's itching the back of my mind is a heady prospect.

(via boing boing)

A headline that speaks for itself

Veterans' Benefits "hurtful" to National Security, says Pentagon

(via Booknotes)


The Pentagon is walking a very fine line in its recent attempts to suss out Iran for possible intervention (if the European effort at negotiating nuclear containment, which is weakened by lack of American involvement, should fail):
The U.S. Air Force is playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Iran's ayatollahs, flying American combat aircraft into Iranian airspace in an attempt to lure Tehran into turning on air defense radars, thus allowing U.S. pilots to grid the system for use in future targeting data, administration officials said.
. . .
A serving U.S. intelligence official added: "You need to know what proportion of your initial air strikes are going to have to be devoted to air defense suppression."
Maybe this is all a show to force Iran to submit to international oversight, but we already know what kind of patience our Administration has for diplomatic avenues...

(via Follow Me Here)

looks like 42% of Americans would support an invasion of Iran, without the case's even having been made yet. I guess that the 81% who value international respect just don't understand cause & effect. We need a mandatory Junior Year Abroad program to open Americans' eyes to the dynamics of how we're perceived elsewhere...