Thursday, March 31, 2005

More disillusioned conservatives

Missouri Republican John Danforth (onetime US senator and then UN ambassador) laments the state of our national leadership.
The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement.
Republican pachydermIndeed.

(via Body and Soul)

Question of the day

From Jeanne at Body and Soul:

I know we're living in George Bush's America, but words do still retain some sort of conventional meaning, don't they?

(It's about the word games being played about who moves detainees where, and with what goals, and under what possible principles . . .)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Glimpses of spring

I thought the other day, How we enjoy a warm and pleasant day at this season! We dance like gnats in the sun.
Henry David Thoreau
journal entry, 25 March, 1859
(via Thoreau Blog)

It's worth visiting this poem by kurt on the same theme...

Yelling into the wind

A large number of former diplomats have officially gone on record as opposing Bolton's nomination as Ambassador to the UN. Best of luck with that...

If Nobel laureates can't win an argument for real facts, and a heap of decorated generals are ignored when they say Gonzales is a bad choice for State, why would anybody think that our leaders care about the opinions of diplomats? Don't these folks know that diplomacy is quaint, outdated stuff? Note that the response to this letter is the remark "we look forward to his getting to New York to do the nation's business." Because, you know, the U.N. is all about America's business . . .

A blog for our (financial) times

money mattersVia several sources, an interesting new blog on personal credit issues in the news (or under the radar). Worth checking in on from time to time, to share the author's self-education process.

A glimpse inside the black box

Here's a little daliance for anybody with an interest in psychology and neuroscience: Cognitive Daily, a website that presents a few articles per week on recent news, tailored for the interested layman. It manages to be both educational and fun. I recommend the article on why Mona Lisa's eyes seem to follow you around the room, but really any one of them is a satisfying pursuit of basic curiosity.

(via NowThis)

Blowin' in the wind

Civil liberties and even the rule of law appear to be increasingly under attack these days. Paul Krugman does a good job of pulling together a number of disparate examples and showing the ways that they show the increasing power of extremism in our society -- the rest of us seem to scuttle out of its way, motivated by either misguided tolerance or simple fear. But as he points out,
nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself.
And this is increasingly what we see, as the President's aides declare him above the law, the legislature expresses scorn for our constitutional balance of powers, religious leaders condone assassination, and judges, lawyers, and citizens who find themselves in the news suddenly need professional security protection. I wish I were seeing more outrage from the silent moderate majority...

(via Medley)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Who's the pinko now?

medicine!At some point (maybe after the Schiavo case fades from the news; maybe because of it), Americans are going to have to discuss health care again. Medicaid is now looking considerably less healthy than Social Security, and the state of private insurance is, if anything, worse than when Clinton campaigned on fixing things. Insurance agencies have a vested interest in getting wider business for their current structure, but a number of things indicate that there might be better ways. A recent article at Slate argues that we have empirical evidence that socialized medicine works, in the example of the long-running Veterans Health Administration.
The superiority of VA hospitals is so obvious that by now it ought to be common knowledge. But it isn't, because an insane political consensus that firmly opposes turning health care over to the government—because the government is presumed incapable of doing anything well—doesn't want to hear that government hospitals are outperforming private hospitals.
Surprisingly, much of the success results not from the patients (who are a more at-risk cohort than the Medicare patients they were compared to), nor to simple efficiencies of scale (although those control costs dramatically), but from the fact that patients are tracked over the long term, meaning that health care decisions are (a) made with more complete medical records at hand, and (b) made in the interest of long-term outcomes, not just quick turnaround. Investing in technology to follow up on chronic patients, for example, will only benefit organizations that can be fairly certain of having those patients in the future; what is the benefit to a private company whose more healthy patient may be a gift to a different health plan in a year or two? Interesting things to mull...


Winners and losers in the world of law

Two random recent stories from the legal realm caught my notice:
  • An appeals court granted visitation rights to a lesbian co-mom, denying the effect of tensions between the separated women. (Anybody ever divorce without them?)

  • A federal judge in Alabama has decided not to take any more clerks from Yale because he's upset with the Yale Law School's restrictions on campus military recruitment. Somehow, I think those students will struggle their way to success, despite his, um, courageous stand...
Ya' win some, ya' lose some.

(via How Appealing)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Quote of the day

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.
-- Noam Chomsky,
linguistics professor and political activist (1928- )
(via A.W.A.D.)

The log in our own eye...

Suburban guerilla provides a tragic story of a Rescue Mission in Charlotte so blinded by bigotry that it loses track of its own larger reason for existing . . . loaves and fishes
Your humanitarian efforts not welcome here.

Too much of a crappy thing

Apparently the TSA administrators have been sniffing a few too many jet fumes, because they (a) have been lying about their use of information, and (b) intend to roll out a new security screening system even though it hasn't yet measured up to the standards that they themselves set for it. I love the idea of lots of private data being thrown around in a half-assed system, especially given our respect for the civil rights of terror suspects these days...

Of course, plunging ahead with unsuccessful systems is a tried-and-true procedure for our current leaders.

(TSA story via Rebecca's Pocket)

Civil war, law enforcement-style

Not getting coverage amidst the circus is some scary action in the Schiavo case:
Hours after a judge ordered that Terri Schiavo was not to be removed from her hospice, a team of state agents were en route to seize her and have her feeding tube reinserted -- but they stopped short when local police told them they would enforce the judge's order, The Herald has learned.
Jeez, things are pretty bad when it's not just crazed citizens threatening to storm the citadel, but an actual show-down over who's willing to uphold the legal system. Shades of George Wallace over this kind of thing, but here the local police (in a tiny and beleagured town) appear to have been the heroes.

(via Talking Points Memo)

Heh (gender-wars installment)

this door for women onlyAtrios has a couple of pointed remarks about the look of the punditocracy these days... (Don't miss his caption suggestion down at the bottom of that first piece!)

(p.s.) Blogger is having a bad couple of weeks. Many potential posts getting eaten or clogged in the works. We hope they will work it out...

Stretching for material

In addition to the recent discovery that Cheney can't get support for the Administration's Social Security scam even among hand-picked loyalists, it now seems that the only way that they can show support among the general populace is by taking quotes out of context. Guess these guys just don't know a dead horse when they see one...

(via Atrios)

Scientists get snarky

A great editorial (excerpted extensively here) from the Scientific American editors, in response to criticism of their "unfair biases" in reporting, you know, facts.
We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong.
Wow, that must have been building for a long time. Go, read the rest of it -- it's all that good! Whew!science!

(via Alas, a blog)

Friday, March 25, 2005

What those pictures are saying

Check out this fascinating site, called BagNewsNotes. They take vivid images from the news -- usually the paradigmatic image of a major story, but sometimes minor pictures from the edges of coverage -- and dissect them in meaningful ways: what is the subtext? what imagery is being chosen, and whose agenda does it implicitly advance? who or what is absent from these images, and what can we tell from things at the margins of the shot? They do a good job, and give readers a lot to think about. Don't be surprised if you find yourself wandering the archives and learning new things about past news stories...

(via fellow Philly blogger, A Tattered Coat)

Sinking like a stone

Apparently Vice President Cheney has taken over from Bush and Santorum on the Social Security schmooze tour. But, despite all the prescreening of "town hall" participants, these meetings aren't going very well. In fact, so badly that the transcripts aren't showing up on the Whitehouse website. hmmm...

(via Atrios)

On the nose

A long but excellent article from Digby today on the culture wars by way of a series of telling examples. He makes a bunch of good points along the way, but probably the take-home message for anybody who wants to push the pendulum the other way is this:
It's just this simple: The Republican party wants to tell you how to live your personal life while they systematically remove all government cooperation in ameliorating the risks this fast paced world creates. The Democrats want the government to leave you to make your own personal decisions while having it help you mitigate the social and economic risk our fast paced world creates.knocking heads It is a stark choice. There is no reason we cannot begin to make the affirmative case for ourselves on this basis.
Make the time to read the entire piece.

Who will save the children?

Alabama is next in the stupidity parade: the state legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit gays from adopting children. It's likely to pass, but I suppose also likely not to pass muster with the courts.

What bothers me is that children in Alabama already wait an average of almost two years to be adopted -- why would anyone want to make that situation worse? Adoption is about finding loving parents for children, not about placing a societal stamp on couples or fulfilling their family dreams. The right-wing is so busy rushing to judgement of people they don't like that their principles are bouncing out of their pockets.

(via Atrios)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Thought for the day

The conventional thinking we are taught (and conditioned to think) employs what Edward de Bono calls 'rock logic'. Rocks being solid, hard, permanent, inert and unchanging. Like bricks, rocks can be added on top of one another to build structures. However there is also 'water logic'. This is fluid and flows according to gradient (context), and assumes form according to space (circumstance).enso If you add one rock to another, you get two; if you add water to water, it changes shape. Rocks analogous to a page of accounts and water to a piece of poetry. The former has units which add up to a conclusion, the latter has images which conjure up a perception.
-- Alan Fletcher
(via whiskey river)

Whom will we hold responsible?

Jeanne at Body and Soul has an excellent post about the deaths of detainees in Afghanistan. Not gruesome, but unforgiving in its insistance that we look at the facts. I find the way that our country increasingly sanctions inhumanity leaves me feeling like an open wound, or I might write about this more often. But we can't just sigh and move on; there is no evidence that our policies have changed, and we need to continue to protest what is done in our name.

Whew, I needed that!

You might enjoy it too, if you really enjoy randomness (and nobody does randomness quite as enthusiastically as Fafblog!)...neon puzzle piece


Don't say I never sent you anywhere you didn't understand.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Money really can't buy happiness

Or at least, not a much as love can -- now there's science to prove it. Always good to think about why we drive ourselves so hard at work, given what we do and don't get out of it...

(via PSoTD)

A little distraction

I have no idea why this is so satisfying, but it is:

You can enter the URL of your favorite (or most hated) website and then inflict any of a variety of destructions upon it. I even subjected this blog to a meteor attack...

(via coworker L.)

Plenty of voices and no microphones

A good piece by Katha Pollitt over at the Washington Monthly about the absence of prominent women in major media outlets.femsign She points out bunches of outstanding writers who have yet to be made permanent staff, and speculates about the mindset that justifies the ridiculous statistics with the claim that women just don't want wider exposure...

(via Atrios)

Welcome to the club

Mainstream conservatives claim shock at disregard for the rules:
"My party is demonstrating that they are for states' rights unless they don't like what states are doing," said Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut, one of five House Republicans who voted against the [Schiavo] bill. "This couldn't be a more classic case of a state responsibility."
Good morning, sane Republicans. Your party has lost its mind and doesn't believe in any law, theory, or other restriction whenever it leads to outcomes they disagree with. Guess you just noticed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Required to do their job?

Was interested to read a piece about a question currently before the Supreme Court: can police be held accountable for failure to enforce an injunction? The arguments are quite striking -- on the one hand, if police can decide not to enforce a restraining order, then there's no use in getting one (and where does the discretion end?); on the other hand, it's not at all clear whether there are explicit precedents for insisting that the police must intervene in specific circumstances where the possible harm derives from another individual (as opposed to a threat from the state). I didn't realize that our protections were so tenuous!scales of justice

(via How Appealing)

Finding the dark lining inside every ray of hope

[ahem. Forgive that metaphor slaughter, there.]

But the new mercury regulations, being hailed as an environmental victory by the Bush administration, are only the "best obtainable" if you ignore conflicting data (or, as usual, the scientific consensus, and heck, the EPA's own study).
"They are saying if they fail to regulate mercury from power plants at all, it really wouldn't make a difference," said John Walke, clean air director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. "To acknowledge the real benefits would be to raise the next question: Why didn't you go further?"
For example, the administration's figures chose to ignore the mercury contributions from consumption of salt-water fish (such as tuna), even though that's a source of something like 2/3 of most folks' exposure. You woudn't want to use data in setting policy, or at least not data that weights public health above corporate profits...

(via pandagon)

Update: as usual, The Onion nails this one exactly: EPA to drop 'E,' 'P' from name

Tiny acts of defiance

An amusing piece on how people fight the frustration of their daily lives via small acts of defiance, be it sending weighty response envelopes to junk mailers or insisting on ordering a "small" coffee when Starbucks offers only "medium" and up. I know the feeling! Fun to see creativity being an outlet for stress; seems like a survival mechanism for everyone.

(via Rebecca's Pocket)

About right!

tee hee!Extrapolating from recent trends, Unconfirmed Sources predicts the next forward-looking appointment of the Bush Administration. Digby has a little imagined reaction to the news from prominent legislators here.

The devil is in the details

Is this right? That this crazy legislation about the Schiavo case was passed at a time of night when only a handful of legislators were actually present? The question is raised of whether such legislation is even legitimate -- the Constitution rather likes a quorum, presumably to prevent revolutions staged by a couple of busybodies...

I get through the day in hopes that someday all of this Gogol-worthy craziness will be fodder for humor and wonderment. Please let it be so.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Pretty much whatever we can get away with

On the lying front that is. The Bush Administration is trying to tar the North Koreans with aiding rogue states, but they're doing it with, per usual, misinformation:
In an effort to increase pressure on North Korea, the Bush administration told its Asian allies in briefings earlier this year that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. That was a significant new charge, the first allegation that North Korea was helping to create a new nuclear weapons state.

But that is not what U.S. intelligence reported, according to two officials with detailed knowledge of the transaction. North Korea, according to the intelligence, had supplied uranium hexafluoride -- which can be enriched to weapons-grade uranium -- to Pakistan. It was Pakistan, a key U.S. ally with its own nuclear arsenal, that sold the material to Libya. The U.S. government had no evidence, the officials said, that North Korea knew of the second transaction.
Of course, this group is clad in teflon, so probably nobody will even notice this increase in the bs pile...

Another chipper parallel

Recent news has added rapidly to the count of detainees who have died while under U.S. custody -- we don't seem to be such good custodians. More importantly, our statistic are starting to make us look as bad as our onetime villians...

(via Atrios)

Have they no shame?

I find myself sickened by the circus being made around the end-of-life decisions of the Schiavo family, however internally divided -- it reminds me of the hunger of a gladiatorial crowd more than of an ethical debate. But XOverboard really finds the grim politically craven heart of the matter with his excerpts here... Get a grip, guys!

full Republican talking points on the issue here.

Update 2: and it looks like they've misjudged the whole issue badly!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Perhaps yet...

Got my first taste of spring last weekend while in St. Louis, where the season has advanced a bit farther than is evident around home. The shock of actual crocuses! The sharpness of a birdsong! I find myself on a wavelength with Thoreau:
Each new year is a surprise to us. We find that we had virtually forgotten the note of each bird, and when we hear it again it is remembered like a dream, reminding us of a previous state of existence. How happens it that the associations it awakens are always pleasing, never saddening; reminiscences of our sanest hours? The voice of nature is always encouraging.milkweed pod
Thoreau's Journal: March 18, 1858
Thanks, as ever, to Thoreau blog to these transhistoric tidbits...

A little Hullabaloo

Two good posts from Digby yesterday:
  • Why on earth is Congress focused on baseball, with all the real issues out there?
    This is America's pastime, not the tobacco industry. It is highly unpleasant to watch a bunch of politicians browbeat famous players and then grill baseball owners as if they are a mafia family --- while we are at war, the treasury is being bankrupted and unprecedented government corruption is happening right before their eyes. Listening to them sanctimoniously lecture baseball about its ethics and practices is just mind boggling.
    It certainly boggles my mind!

  • A recent Iranian case in which a pedophile (I think) was flogged and hung elicited a disturbing level of approval from conservative commentators (and one prominent legal scholar) in this country.
    How long has it been since we were talking about torture for the alleged higher purpose of obtaining information a suspect may or may not have? A couple of months? Yesterday? And now the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment has entered the dialog as well.
    He asks some other good questions -- is this what comes from our increasing attention to the needs of victims? from our comfort with the death penalty (which in the end seems largely to be about revenge)? Certainly hard to argue with this:
    When influential conservative constitutional law professors start giving the Bill of Rights only tepid support then we have to just say no. The Bill of Rights may not be a sacred writ, but it’s the best thing this misbegotten country ever did and it’s the single thing that makes the American system worth a damn.
    There is an increasing feeling of the primal in much current "debate." Kind of makes me want to keep looking over my shoulder...
There's a reason that Digby got a Koufax award for Best Writing in a blog this past year. Always worth catching his latest.

Exactly what scares me

oh ack!As I've been listening to more and more complaints from conservative students that their liberal professors are trying to indoctrinate them (all that reality and factual stuff, don't you know), I've been reminded again and again of scenes from another time and place. Apparently I'm not alone, to judge by this brilliant (and chilling) series of juxtaposed quotes over at Billmon's Whiskey Bar. Somehow, being in good company isn't as reassuring as I might have hoped...


Thursday, March 17, 2005

A little geek humor

Man, there's nothing like a really well done geek parody, such as this Periodic Table of Dessert -- the entries even fall into natural types in vertical rows, like the elements... Beautiful.

(via Rebecca's Pocket)

It's not the position, it's the disrespect

Lots of liberals and bloggers have been railing against Joe Lieberman for regularly voting with the Republicans in the Senate and providing the cover of "bipartisan support" for legislation that the rest of the Democrats clearly oppose. He appears either to think he's immune from consequences or to be planning a move across the aisle.

Supporters say, why pick on Joe? There are other conservative Dems, many of whom have even more positions in common with the Republicans, and yet you pick on this nice guy from CT. Hmmm, I wonder why that could be? Perhaps because he keeps slamming his own leadership in public, and continues to be a public relations drag on a the attempts of Democrats to mount a meaningful Opposition... ?
Dem donkey
Update: Another show of blatant symbolic disloyalty.

The funny heart of the DeLay travesty

The best summary of the Tom DeLay story that I've seen, capturing the seediness of the scandal with the cravenness of the attempt to change House ethics rules to cover it up, is captured here (largely via excerpts from the classic Rude Pundit) in a story about what you'd do if Tom Delay were your dog...

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The best and the worst of ourselves

Science, ever a mirror reflecting what we bring to it, offers two intriguing tidbits:(via boing boing)

Bad news for Alaskan wilderness

The current budget in the Senate includes a measure to open the ANWR to drilling -- and the vote to remove that provision was defeated this afternoon. Lorax (nice alias!) at dailyKos offers some alternative routes of action here. This is probably one of the larger environmental issues of this decade, so we shouldn't give up without more of a fight.

From the department of Pictures Worth a Thousand Words

This is a beaut, from the Public Campaign Action Fund (for Tom Delay):

(via kos)

I'll take wide-eyed irony for $200, Alex...

The first line of this article really says it all:
Dillard's has asked the Mississippi Supreme Court today to block a black trial judge from presiding over racial-profiling lawsuits against the department store chain.
Not that we mean anything by it, of course.

(via How Appealing)

Sometimes the best defense...

Senate Democrats aren't sitting around waiting to find out whether Frist will follow through with his threat to eliminate the filibuster (in order to force through the handful of judicial nominees that the minority has blocked in this way). Instead, they're putting the GOP on notice that exercise of the so-called nuclear option will bring an end to Senate business.
Reid and his fellow Democrats, in effect, called Frist's bluff on Tuesday by issuing a preemptive strike, saying that Democrats would respond to any Frist action by continuing to work with Republicans only on matters that affected U.S. troops or that ensured the continuity of government operations.

"Beyond that, we will be reluctant to enter into any consent agreement that facilitates Senate activities, even on routine matters," Reid said in a letter to Frist. Nearly all Senate business requires unanimous consent; for example, one senator can prevent committee meetings from taking place simply by objecting.
Frist's response? "To shut down the Senate would be irresponsible and partisan." Well, yes. Think twice before making it happen.ticking bomb

(via How Appealing)

Side note: There is a strange secondary dynamic at work here. Senate Republicans are in a bit of a panic over the President's hugely unpopular Social Security proposal, which most of them oppose but would prefer not to have to openly vote down. If Senate business grinds to a halt, it ironically lets them off the hook. Both the SS plan and the possibility of ending legislative progress are likely to make the GOP look bad, so this is some high-stakes calculation...

Amazing (and yet, so unsurprising)

As though it's not enough that we give Haliburton choice opportunities in Iraq with no competition, and then look the other way as they and their subsidiaries squander billions to up their profits, now we're apparently trying to help them hide their mistakes from an audit by the UN board charged with oversight of Iraqi reconstruction. It's downright embarrassing.

(via Atrios at Eschaton)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Today's post at Paula's House of Toast is a photographic (and linguistic) poem about trembling anticipation of spring, which is just out of sight around the corner.dry grassheads
It's the dun calm before the greenstorm.
Yes, quite.

Round and round we go...

...but I focus on the good news as it comes by. A California judge has just ruled the state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
Judge Richard Kramer of San Francisco County's trial-level Superior Court likened the ban to laws requiring racial segregation in schools, and said there appears to be "no rational purpose" for denying marriage to gay couples.
It's interesting to note that the judge cited Brown v. Board of Education for his ruling, in effect saying that civil unions were an unacceptable attempt to make a type of second-class public rights.
"The idea that marriage-like rights without marriage is adequate smacks of a concept long rejected by the courts — separate but equal," the judge wrote.
Of course, there will be appeals, and in fact there is a marriage amendment to the CA constitution in the pipeline, but still, a moment of thoughtfulness amidst the storm.

(via Fables of the Reconstruction)

This Modern World

Tom Tomorrow has a typically pithy take on the bankrupcy bill and, you know, the state of things generally...

Moral Bankruptcy

(thanks to Working Assets for making these cartoons freely available)

Anagram of the week (year?)

Arnold Schwarzenegger = He's grown large 'n' crazed

(via Drinking Liberally)

Quip of the week

My favorite take on the self-ironizing nomination of John Bolton as UN Ambassador came from this week's installment of the NPR program "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me":
After hearing about all the undiplomatic qualities of John Bolton, it occurred to us that maybe the President just got confused, as he sometimes does; maybe he meant to nominate Michael Bolton...
(They even compare some, uh, quotes from the two Boltons.)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Periscope up!

Coldblue Steele over at dailyKos has a useful list of upcoming Senate bills that should concern progressives, so that we can avoid a replay of the useless last-minute-frenzy about the bankruptcy bill (that should have been crushed by public opinion, if the public had known anything about it). All across the spectrum of topics, as the GOP flexes its legislative muscles...

A tiny glint...

...into the murky land that is the Battle for the Soul of Christianity, comes via this article at the Utne Reader. He crystallizes the division of the Christian community in a way that seems very truthful and perhaps even useful:
Jesus woodcutAmericans who consider themselves Christian tend to think about the New Testament's central character in one of two distinct ways. For many, what matters most is that Jesus was a divine spirit who died for their sins. To accept him as your savior is to be saved, and the pursuit of that salvation is paramount. For a smaller percentage of believers, Jesus is a peasant revolutionary who lived by example and died for it. To model your behavior after his is to bring earth closer to heaven.
Yes, this feels right to me, and you can see the outlines there of the separation between fundamentalists who focus on salvation (and on condemning those who might lead them farther from it) and those who focus on, say, the Beatitudes (and thus on serving the poorest and welcoming the unwelcome, whether they be sinners or "saved"). This is a formulation that could almost bring the two groups to grounds for discussion, as is apparent in the author's experience of an interview on Christian radio.
I went on to explain that while I appreciated his preoccupation with salvation, my main concern was good works. That the Jesus I met in the Bible would be more concerned about curing AIDs than outlawing homosexual marriage, more troubled by world hunger and violence than an erosion of "family values."
I don't know what to do with this new insight right now, but I think it can be powerful, especially as progressives increasingly try to make themselves understood to groups who don't see what could be the broad common ground...

(furled by Medley)

First they came for the smokers...

I'm not usually a defender of cigarette smoking -- I think and feel better in a smoke-free environment, and I generally choose my haunts accordingly. But I am downright creeped out by the degree to which societal scorn for smoking and its health effects has led to a willingness to treat smokers as somehow lesser citizens. First it was private employers firing smokers who wouldn't quit (smoking on their own time, mind you). And academic employers were close behind. And now a county government is considering eliminating smokers from their payroll.

Two things creep me here. First, aren't there other ways to handle the costs and risks inherent in having employees with risky behaviors? Insurance companies charge them higher premiums; if these workers are willing to pay more into their company plans, aren't they already covering those costs? (Or is this a secret campaign against excessive smoking breaks?) And second, does anybody really think that if these policies survive court challenge, policies regarding weight won't be close behind? Some of these companies have openly stated that intent. What will be next after that? Eeesh!

You gotta start 'em young

This is a pretty creepy profile of a college-age conservative prodigy, which reveals a lot about how the up and coming right wing is trained -- not by discussing ideas but by drilling on talking points. Made me shiver.
new elephant
The Message Machine

(via Follow Me Here)

If you can't control your dogs...

...then don't be suprised when the neighbors intervene. Or rather, if your CIA agents appear to be kidnapping foreign nationals and shipping them off to nations that practice torture, you perhaps shouldn't be surprised when other governments start to investigate the practice.
The Italian probe is one of three official investigations that have surfaced in the past year into renditions believed to have taken place in Western Europe. Although the CIA usually carries out the operations with the help or blessing of friendly local intelligence agencies, law enforcement authorities in Italy, Germany and Sweden are examining whether U.S. agents may have broken local laws by detaining terrorist suspects on European soil and subjecting them to abuse or maltreatment.
As more and more accounts are confirmed of their citizens being detained, tortured, and then cleared, European leaders are withdrawing their willing cooperation. Score another one for our reputation as international bully.

(via Follow Me Here)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Chewy thoughts for a long (for me) weekend

a little bit of ZenTo be what you are is in itself very arduous without trying to become something, which is not difficult. You can always pretend, put on a mask, but to be what you are is an extremely complex affair; because you are always changing; you are never the same and each moment reveals a new facet, a new depth, a new surface. You can't be all this at one moment for each moment brings its own change. So if you are intelligent, you give up being anything.
-- J. Krishnamurti

The hardest state to be in is one in which you keep your heart open to the suffering that exists around you, and simultaneously keep your discriminative wisdom. It's far easier to do one or the other; to keep your heart open and get lost in pity, empathetic suffering, righteous indignation, etc.; or remain remotely detached as a witness to it all. Once you understand that true compassion is the blending of the open heart and the quiet mind, it is still difficult to find the balance. Most often we start out doing these things sequentially. We open our hearts and get lost in the melodramas, then we meditate and regain our quiet center by pulling back in from so much openness. Then we once again open and get sucked back into the dance. So it goes cycle after cycle. It takes a good while to get the balance. For at first the discriminative awareness part of the cycle makes you feel rather like a cold fish. You feel as if you have lost your tenderness and caring. And yet each time you open again to the tender emotions, you get lost in the drama and see your predicament: if you really want to help others who are suffering, you just have to develop the balance between heart and mind such that you remain soft and flowing yet simultaneously clear and spacious. You have to stay right on the edge of that balance. It seems impossible, but you do it. At first, when you achieve this balance, it is self-consciously maintained. Ultimately, however, you merely become the statement of the amalgam of the open heart and quiet mind. Then there is no more struggle; it's just the way you are.
-- Ram Dass
(via whiskey river)

Excuse me?!?

In their next foray into Orwellian space, the Department of Homeland Security is trying out a new system in which immigrants and asylum-seekers are given electronic monitoring ankle bracelets to wear 24 hours per day, like convicts under house arrest. I guess we want to make sure they think twice about their desire to stay...

(via WTF)

Update: In related news, foreign applications to US graduate schools continues decline...

(via Liberal Malcontents)

Reading the tea leaves in murky times

First you have this news, which has Republican triumphalism at new heights and liberals full of ambivalence and self-doubt. Then, after we've barely adapted, we get this. Not the stuff of liberal triumpalism, but perhaps some Republicans can discover the merits of self-examination . . .

Strange bedfellows

Well, well, this bankruptcy bill isn't really looking good to anybody these days -- even the Instapundit has qualms (along with many conservative commenters there), and nobody seems to be able to figure out what the arguments in support of this legislation might be. It's easy to see that the credit card companies hope to profit, and that any number of regular folks with decent money sense will get burned, but where's the drive coming from?

(via kos)

Terri Schiavo and "medical experts"

A great post by Ampersand today (at Alas, a Blog), dissecting the medical testimony in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case and really getting at what it means to claim "expert consensus" (or a lack thereof). Basically, all of the doctors testifying for the parents' claims simply don't address the fundamental issues and arguments of their opponents. You can't claim to be winning an argument in which you're not actually participating.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Very very busy!

That seems to be my constant state these days, and it's partly true, partly the illusion created by the myriad ways in which I can waste time (on seemingly substantive pursuits). All the more reason to value the occasional reality-check, such as this one from the inestimable Bill Watterson:

Calvin and Hobbes cartoon at

(click to enlarge)

Update: Sorry! they just changed their policy such that you can't look back more than two weeks. You'll have to squint at my shrunken version, since the blow-up is no longer available...

Once-in-a-lifetime in the true sense

There have been record rains in the last two months in California, causing any number of problems and grousing. But meantime Death Valley is abloom with flowers and other life forms that may flourish here only once a century...

(via Suburban Guerilla)

Apropos of nothing

It turns out that those "low-low" Walmart prices are just an illusion. In fact, they offer cut prices on a handful of things that people buy frequently enough that they know a discount when they see it, and then the rest of the stuff they sell at average or higher prices (and you just extrapolate from, say, the cheap milk to the assumption that "everything is cheap here"). So it's not just the employees getting screwed...

Monday, March 07, 2005

Sure, why not...

Via The Rittenhouse Review, this latest installment of lunacy:
President Bush has chosen Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, a longtime critic of the United Nations and a hard-liner on arms control, to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, according to government officials.
glazed disbelief(emphasis mine)
We don't even try to hide our scorn for the rest of the world anymore...

Update: MyDD has more on the absurdity here, including some anti-UN Bolton quotes.

Because it didn't explain anything then either

Via R, a short Inquirer opinion piece pointing out that the tenets of Intelligent Design (very trendy in, say, York, PA just now) were debunked a couple of centuries ago by none other than David Hume.

(Of course, this requires that you be interested in Enlightenment philosophy and its logic of rationality. Not much evidence for that these days.)

Bankruptcy bill play-by-play

Hunter at dailyKos provides an excellent summary of the tragic bankruptcy bill that seems on its way to approval in Congress -- no only of what the bill itself does (stripping away protections offered by consumer bankrupcty filings while exempting corporate bankruptcy), but of the host of very reasonable-seeming amendments proposed and rejected (complete with notes on Democrats who voted with the Republican bloc on thse matters). Among these squelched amendments were protections for people whose problems were caused by identity theft, as well as those crushed by medical bills, and others to discourage predatory lending practices or help elderly people keep their homes.

How inhumane does a result have to be before it elicits sympathy from these Values Republicans?? And yet most of this seems to be below the national radar . . .

Update: Hunter further suggests viewing this legislation in the context of a larger GOP legislative war on the middle class. He's brainstorming ideas for how to make this point to the American public.

Just how easy is it to get a press pass?

newspaper. Bad dog!Fishbowl DC spent a frustrating week (see links to each day's story) trying to get a pass but never even getting their calls returned. It appears now that they have actually been cleared for a one-day visit to the pressroom today (nothing like Gannon/Guckert's multi-year daily wavers, but hey). After that, actually getting to ask a question would almost be anticlimactic. Good luck, guys!

Hah! anticlimactic was exactly their description, as well as "meta," as he found himself being interviewed about being the first blogger in the pressroom (almost more than he was interviewing the others there). Too silly. The day's experience is summarized in several posts there.

Santorum goes after the working stiff

Santorum is pushing some new legislation on minimum wage, which appears to raise the base rate substantially, but actually radically decreases the number of companies who are required to pay their workers at minimum wage, and also loosens workplace protections and requirements for overtime pay.
The upshot: while 1.2 million workers could qualify for a minimum wage increase, another 6.8 million workers, who work in companies with revenues between $500,000 and $1,000,000 per year, would lose their current minimum wage protection.

And an even larger number of businesses, those with revenues under $7 million, would be exempt from fines under a range of other safety, health, pension and other labor laws. Essentially, the realm of unregulated sweatshops would be expanded and legalized under Santorum's bill. . . .
Amazing. PA is one of the states considering raising its minimum wage above the federal minimum, something Santorum's bill would also disallow. I hope that this will be another prime weapon to turn back against him in 2006! He may be winning love in DC, but I don't think he's warming hearts at home...

(via dailyKos)

Friday, March 04, 2005


It's no-rhetorical-holds-barred as former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy writes an open letter to Condoleeza Rice about her recent tantrum-related decisions cancelling visits to Canada (and then rescheduling them later, etc.):
I know it seems improbable to your divinely guided master in the White House that mere mortals might disagree with participating in a missile-defence system that has failed in its last three tests, even though the tests themselves were carefully rigged to show results.Canadian flag

But, gosh, we folks above the 49th parallel are somewhat cautious types who can't quite see laying down billions of dollars in a three-dud poker game.
Coming to Ottawa might also expose you to a parliamentary system that has a thing called question period every day, where those in the executive are held accountable by an opposition for their actions, and where demands for public debate on important topics such as missile defence can be made openly.
Wow! I don't think there are even many wacky tabloid editorialists in this country who would sling the verbiage that freely. Could it be that our peace-loving northern friends are self-righteously pissed?!

(It does calm down as it goes along, but is making no bones about the need to "speak truth to power." If only power were interested!)

(via boing boing, of all places)

No really, looks are just a side benefit

Apparently nutter Senator Tom Coburn is up to more wacky fun, this time opining on the health benefits of breast implants. I'll just let fellow Philly-blogger Noblesse Oblog give you the highlights...

More from Reid, the unexpected bulldog

This time it's a slam on Alan Greenspan, who looks less an less like a wise nonpartisan financial czar and more and more like a politician with every passing cycle.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan generally gets accolades for his public pronouncements. Yesterday he got a brickbat from Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who blasted Greenspan as "one of the biggest political hacks we have here in Washington."

Reid ripped Greenspan during an interview on CNN's "Inside Politics." He said the Fed chairman has given President Bush a pass on deficits that have built up in the past four years and should be challenging Republicans on their fiscal policies, rather than promoting Bush's plan to introduce personal accounts into Social Security.
About right. For more on Greenspan's hackery, see this bit from Krugman.
. . . Until the 1970's conservatives tended to be open about their disdain for Social Security and Medicare. But honesty was bad politics, because voters value those programs. So conservative intellectuals proposed a bait-and-switch strategy: First, advocate tax cuts, using whatever tactics you think may work - supply-side economics, inflated budget projections, whatever. Then use the resulting deficits to argue for slashing government

And that's the story of the last four years. In 2001, President Bush and Mr. Greenspan justified tax cuts with sunny predictions that the budget would remain comfortably in surplus. But Mr. Bush's advisers knew that the tax cuts would probably cause budget problems, and welcomed the prospect. In fact, Mr. Bush celebrated the budget's initial slide into deficit. In the summer of 2001 he called plunging federal revenue "incredibly positive news" because it would "put a straitjacket" on federal spending.

To keep that straitjacket on, however, those who sold tax cuts with the assurance that they were easily affordable must convince the public that the cuts can't be reversed now that those assurances have proved false. And Mr. Greenspan has once again tried to come to the president's aid, insisting this week that we should deal with deficits "primarily, if not wholly," by slashing Social Security and Medicare because tax increases would "pose significant risks to economic growth." Really?
Keep tellin' it, boys!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

More signs of the witch-hunt

In addition to a generally crazy cultural misunderstanding of academic freedom (exchange of ideas, anyone?), there are increasing signs of efforts by the right to muzzle liberal professors or subject them to some sort of standard of what can and can't be taught (or required of students; see the rantings at SAF). The latest development is a series of threats based on accusations of communism.
The way this was done, with stealth at first and with the star so prominent, was very much in the brownshirt tradition of the last century. A lot of things come to mind when walking down a corridor of academic offices and seeing 'stigma' postings on individual doors identifying Heretics.
Yeah, and most of them make my skin crawl . . .

Who's calling the shots?

The New York Times is reporting new poll numbers that indicate that a significant majority of Americans no longer think that Bush shares their priorities, either domestically or in foreign policy. Strangely, these sentiments have yet to change his approval rating -- I guess that "he's our President, so we have to support him" thing must have real legs.

For just the highlights of this story (or to avoid NYT registration), see the excerpts over at dailyKos. But there are all kinds of interesting tidbits throughout the original piece.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

For now I see in a glass darkly

Kermit the Blog points up an intriguing essay about American "self-certainty" and the real message of Christianity. It is a good call to self-re-examination, particularly for people of faith (and even more particularly for Christians)...Christian fish
When the Bible is viewed primarily as a collection of devotional thoughts, its status as the most devastating work of social criticism in history is forgotten. Once we've taken it off its pedestal long enough to actually read what it says, how does the principality called America interpret the gospel? In an age when many churchgoing Americans appear to view the purposes of the coming kingdom of God and the perceived self-interests of the United States as indistinguishable, what does faithful witness look like?
I recommend the original essay (which is a longish exerpt from a book called The Gospel of America) to anybody who wrestles with these issues. It has a kind of rhetorical earnestness that will probably put off those with no background in the pews, but it's the voice of the liberal church trying to be heard in the storm.
As Karl Barth noted, applying the gospel to our vision of the worlds unfolding before us will involve a yes and a no. Yes to the hope of a new day coming and the watchfulness required to see it. No to the suggestion, sometimes only dimly hinted at even to ourselves, that our own good intentions or pure hearts will hasten its coming or that we are knowers (rather than learners) of the Creator's good purposes.
(via the Daou Report)

A little mid-week randomness

cackle faceVia boing boing, this delightful tale of a wiseacre who bent the brains of some state employees by testing the limits of what he could pass off in place of normal payment for his $1 toll (say, two pictures of rapper Fifty Cent. or an array of not-explicitly-banned foreign currency). tee hee

Update: also worth checking out are his experiments with varying his signature on credit card slips -- not just the style, but the language (pictographs?), the name, and more . . .

Another reminder that hate often wears our faces

Not all terrorists are from overseas -- you'd think Oklahoma City would be demonstration enough of that, but I think it's too easy to forget our homegrown brand of crazies. Not so easy for Joan Lefkow, who became a target of white supremacists when she (a federal judge) was assigned a case having to do with a lawsuit against them. First one of them plotted to kill her (but was caught first), and now her husband and mother were shot to death in her home. Terrible.

Original story at the Times (registration required) here, or read the summary over at dailyKos.

via mimi smartypants, we find that somebody else killed the judge's family. A different brand of crazy, but no less terrorizing...

Hanging on hints of spring

Between the weather and the flu, February felt like it was sucking the life out of me, and I take the arrival of March as a sign of hope. This is perhaps a universal sentiment...

We talk about spring as at hand before the end of February, and yet it will be two good months, one sixth part of the whole year, before we can go a-maying. There may be a month of solid and uninterrupted winter yet, plenty of ice and good sleighing. We may not even see the bare ground, and hardly the water, and yet we sit down and warm our spirits annually with distant prospect of spring. As if a man were to warm his hands by stretching them toward the rising sun and rubbing them.
-- Henry David Thoreau
March 2, 1859
(from The Thoreau Blog)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

No more youths on death row

The Supreme Court has just abolished the death penalty for those under 18, ending a practice in 19 states.scales of justice
The ruling continues the court's practice of narrowing the scope of the death penalty, which justices reinstated in 1976. Executions for those 15 and younger when they committed their crimes were outlawed in 1988. Three years ago justices banned death sentences for the mentally retarded.

Tuesday's ruling prevents states from making 16- and 17-year-olds eligible for execution.
Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision (which differs from the ruling 16 years ago that juvenile capital punishment was *not* cruel and unusual punishment).
Juvenile offenders have been put to death in recent years in only a few other countries, including Iran, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia. Kennedy cited international opposition to the practice.

"It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime," he wrote.
The dissenters deny the presence of a trend in public opinion, and say that the issue should be left to the states. Victims rights decry the limitation of their options for revenge justice. I think that's everybody.

Except me. This seems like a blow in favor of civilization to me. I feel for the prosecutors (and victims) faced with seeming child psychopaths, but I'm not convinced that killing them is really getting to the root of the problem. (For that matter, I'm not convinced that killing anybody improves any measurable outcome, except perhaps the size of the stick that prosecutors bring to plea bargains. There are just too many examples of the wrong person ending up on death row for me to sleep well supporting our government's putting a permanent end to their appeals...)