Battlepanda: December 2005


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

comedic justice

Laughter is represented in the transcript of the Supreme Court's oral arguments by the notation "[laughter]". But given the comedic standards of our supremes, I wonder if they also need notation for "[crickets chirping]".
That has now changed, and Jay D. Wexler, a law professor at Boston University, was quick to exploit the new data to analyze the relative funniness of the justices. His study, which covers the nine-month term that began that October, has just been published in a law journal called The Green Bag.

Justice Scalia was the funniest justice, at 77 "laughing episodes." On average, he was good for slightly more than one laugh - 1.027, to be precise - per argument.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer was next, at 45 laughs. Justice Ginsburg produced but four laughs. Justice Clarence Thomas, who rarely speaks during arguments, gave rise to no laughter at all.

Of course, what passes for humor at the Supreme Court would probably not kill at the local comedy club. Consider, for instance, the golden opportunity on Halloween this year when a light bulb in the courtroom's ceiling exploded during an argument.

It takes two justices, it turns out, to screw up a light bulb joke.

"It's a trick they play on new chief justices all the time," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who joined the court that month, said of the explosion.


"Happy Halloween," Justice Scalia retorted.


And then, the kicker. "We're even more in the dark now than before," Chief Justice Roberts said.


Greetings from Chicago

They say this is the Windy City, but I didn't know that it is rainy too.

It was good to see old friends, and eat lots of yummy food. I was not going to blog, but I got up earlier than everybody else for once, and just thought I'd check in. Today we will be going ice skating (weather permitting), to the zoo and the winter flower show and perhaps Michigan avenue for this chocolate store that sells chocolates with weird flavors (chili, smoked almond and seasalt) that my friends rave about.

And tonight, there will be vegetarian chilli, canadian ice-wine in lieu of champagne and games of Trivial Pursuit played well into the early hours of 2006 I'm sure.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

See you all in the New Year

I'll be off for to Chicago soon to see some old friends for a few days. The laptop is staying behind. To all the readers of this little blog: A slightly early "Happy New Year!"

(I should be back in action by the third, so see you all then.)

Blame Bloomberg

Sisyphus Shrugged puts up some compelling reasons not to blame the union, but mayor Bloomberg, for shutting down New York. Good job connecting the dots between Bloomberg's leveraging of his public position as bully pulpit, Bloomberg's control of the MTA board causing the strike, and Bloomberg's news services providing additional cover.

Economics in Action

I am following Thomas Schelling's recommendations -- increasing the stakes of my New Year's Resolution to forestall failure. In short, I'm enlisting y'all in keeping me honest in my 52 books in 52 weeks resolution (which I stole from Roxanne). Basically, excepting the very first Monday (which is the second), expect a capsule review on this very blog every Monday of the book I am supposed to have read the week before. I give you my permission to deride me freely in the comments if I don't follow through.

My first book of 2006 will be Robert D. Putnam's Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. I had gone looking in the used book store for Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point", but that book is apparently still to hot for them to have any copies in stock. The clerk told me first to look in the Business section, then the Sociology section, then the layman's science section, all to no avail (it seems to me that popular non-fiction books are getting harder and harder to file thesedays...) But they still got my money since I picked up "Bowling Alone" while I looked for "The Tipping Point" on the sociology shelves. This is why I don't mind disorganized used bookstores -- they encourage serendipitous book purchases.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Constitution in the middle

Alex Tabarrok can be an ass. But this is funny:
Liberals are claiming that President Bush has violated constitutional restrictions on torture and spying on Americans. Don't they understand that the constitution is a living document that must be reinterpreted in light of new events and understandings? An originalist reading of the constitution would throw us back into the primitive past when the minimum wage was unconstitutional. Fortunately, conservatives know that constitutional interpretation must change with the times and never more so than now. We live in a different world. The Founding Fathers may have been great in their time but they did not face the problems that we face today and we should not be bound by their 18th century ideas of liberty and executive tyranny.

I'm with Publius of Legal Fiction on this one. Originalism is insane and hypocritically applied by its practitioners. But the "living constitution" movement is based on a weak and unconvincing notion that you can interpret in a document beyond its writer's intentions. Both schools of thought arises out of a kind of magical thinking about the eternal validity of an 18th century document. The constitution is a remarkable, pivotal document that still holds the jurisprudence in this country together. But we cannot expect to find all our answers there, either through stubborn adherance (and, as we've seen, on this NSA thing, strategic abandonment) of Originalism or through creative tealeaf reading of the "Living Constitution" folks.

When you've lost Merle Haggard...

Listen to Rebuild America First by Merle Haggard (scroll down to find link after clickthru).

MERLE HAGGARD. Merle "Okie from Moskogee" Haggard.

(From Meredith Och of NPR's 2005 top 10 CD list. Worth checking out, although I just don't see what the fuss over The Decemberists is about.)

The Real Fashion Police

Women in search of fashionable clothes the world over have a similar problem: What do you do if you are not a size 6?

Some government leaders in Argentina have an answer. They have passed a controversial law designed to break what they see as the tyranny of tiny sizes. Starting Dec.21, Buenos Aires province, which includes the capital's glitzy suburbs but not the fashion-forward city itself, will require shops catering to adolescent girls to stock clothing in a minimum range of sizes roughly equivalent to sizes 6 to 16 in the U.S.

Provincial inspectors will scrutinize merchants' clothing racks, "tape measure in hand," says Ana Serrano, the province's director of commerce and designated sizing sheriff. Shops that don't have the prescribed sizes in stock will face fines of up to $170,000. Officials maintain that the small clothes put pressure on young women to take up extreme dieting. That in turn contributes to one of the highest rates of anorexia and bulimia in the world, they say.

In a nation where stylishness is a national religion, the sizes law is triggering a fevered debate...Argentina women who aren't extremely thin have an unusually tough time finding fashionable clothes.

Of course, there are serious questions over whether state power should be applied in this fashion (no pun intended, honest). But the underlying market failure is interesting, and very real. Clothes are not just objects to cover and warm one's body, they are status objects. When we buy a pair of jeans, we are not merely purchasing pants, but "style", "sexiness", "sophistication". Since those qualities are associated with extreme skinniness, stores are in a conundrum. Sure, stocking clothes in realistic sizes will see them flying off the shelves, but go too far and you become a "fat" store. And even overweight people would not want to shop at your store.

Taking away the ability of stores to signal their exclusivity by only producing very small sizes stops the game in its tracks. But using heavy fines is a very blunt instrument to achieve this. It would be far better for womens to realize the self-defeating futility of buying into an unrealistic body image. Vote with our wallets. We don't have to put up with quixotic, insulting behavior like this.

Beware bloggers bearing knives

They are to be considered armed and dangerous...primarily to themselves.

I have my own butterfingers=>severed finger story. (Stop reading now if you're squeamish). It all started when I was watching the old TeeVee and an infomercial for "miracle blades" (click to see the's hilarious) came on. It started with the obligatory black-and-white exposition shots of people with things to cut mired in despair over their dull, dull knives. "That's me!" I exlaimed. So, I continued to watch the infomercial, in which Chef Tony cut through everything from frozen cans of limeade to slippery, ripe tomatoes into whisperthin slices. For the first time in my life, I answered the clarion call of "...Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Pick up the phone in the next 15 minutes..."

And you know what, they were the sharpest, handiest knives I ever owned. But they were also thin and heftless, and when I tried to cut through chicken bone with a slicer, it bounced rather then cut and whiplashed through the air. I swear I heard a wobbley "woosh". When I looked down, the top of my left thumb was missing.

I joked that it's too bad we couldn't have worked this episode into the next generation of the miracle blade infomercials: "This miracle blade is so sharp I cut off the top of my thumb and didn't even know it! Thanks, Chef Tony!" *angelica give thumbs up with blood spurting*

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P.S. My thumb was flat on top for a while. But then the tip grew back.

P.P.S. We never found the top part.

Bush's overreaches

Maybe because of the way he came into power and the pliant way the press has treated him ever since, I think Bush really lost all sense of boundaries as to what an executive can and cannot demand of the courts and the press.

-- One can't expect the courts to be a rubber stamp, and bypass them entirely when they refuse to act like one, even when one is the president.

-- One can't strong-arm the press into not covering unflattering stories indefinitely, even when one is the president.

President-elect Dubya said "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier...just as long as I'm the dictator..." It certainly seems like he's tried his hand at acting like a dictator with unbounded power. The cable networks who made so much hay out of the "Dean scream" need to dust off their archives and play a truly newsworthy soundbite instead -- Bush telegraphing his desire for despotic powers before his term has even begun.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Pitfalls of Journalistic Integrity

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An enterprising photographer in Xiemen city
in China layed in wait in front of a pothole in order to capture this perfect Kodak moment.

People gave him shit for exploiting the poor schmuck's misery. But hey, the pothole got fixed when the photo came out.

So, readers. Is this photographer right, wrong, or just a bit of a douchebag for doing what he did?

And what am I for making a javascript mouseover of this man going "splat"?

(Look in the sidebar. Blogger won't let me put it in the post itself.)

(Via BoingBoing)

Panda epistemology, Moral bearings, and the lens of Current Events

Quite early on in my blog career, I waded into quite an epic left-blogispheric discussion over moral absolutism versus the dread accusation of relativism. Interestingly, that discussion both helped me cement my philosophical position as a utilitarian who does not believe in an absolute, universal morality and increased my appreciation for the importance of morality, often expressed through the language of rights. It is lazy to believe that one precludes the other. Or that moral absolutists are more likely to behave in a morally consistent manner than those who acknowledge that morality is a human construct.

The right-wingers love to wail about what a bunch of depraved relativists liberals are and congratulate themselves on their moral certainty. They espoused originalism -- the belief that laws must reflect only the original intent of the lawmakers, and that interpretations of the law cannot change with the passage of time, no matter how different society has become. Surely, one would think, here is a bunch that can be relied on to stick to their principles come hell or high water. Yet when their King was caught violating the tenets of one of their sacred documents, the constitution, out came the excuses and the equivacations, faster than you can say "strict constructionism". Even as they howl about the inviolable value of a human life as soon as the sperm wriggles into the ovum, they calmly advance improbable ticking bomb arguments that justify torture and the ruination of countless innocents inevitably swept up as terrorists wherever the GWoT is taking place. Even as they believe themselves to be agents of rightness and goodness unsullied by doubt, they don't hesitate to sell their cherished rights down the river for the cheapest, most short-sighted brand of utilitarianism -- fearmongering. I guess this moral certainty business is a lot easier if one is also a hypocrite. In fact, as Matt Yglesias demonstrates in this exercise, more often than not our morality and utilitarianism align if we take the proper frame of reference -- we know that violating people's civil rights is wrong, and surprise, surprise, doing so also ultimately begets a negative utilitarian outcome, even if that is not immediately obvious. The importance of morality and laws is precisely that it provides a guide in situations where the consequences may not be immediately obvious.

Acknowledging that our morality, our laws, our constitution, our rights are all fallible human constructs does not preclude respect and adherance, just as pretending they are absolute, universal and unviolable does not guarentee respect and adherance.

Top 10 Myths

Juan Cole puts forth what he considers to be the top 10 myths about Iraq in 2005. Worth reading.

Saddam's WMDs: Greatest Hits of the 80s edition

I was all set to write a snarky post linking to this amusing post by Running Scared (HT The Reaction) about how silent the Right Blogisphere has been about the simmering Sunni discontent over suspected election fraud in Iraq. But then I made the mistake of clicking on one of the conservatives he linked to. Then I compounded my mistake by starting to read the comment thread. Now I have no choice but to abandon my original post, post the comments, and look for the jaw I dropped on the floor somewhere.
Sane people who put country above politics know and understand that Iraq under Saddam was a threat to the world. On to Iran and Syria.
Posted by: Ned at December 24, 2005 08:23 AM

The entire "missing WMD in Iraq" story has got to be the biggest joke in the history of war time stories. How this story grew legs and became so powerful is beyond me.

I had a guy that served his apprenticeship at my firm; this man had just returned to civilian life after serving one term. Marc told us about his duty serving as part of the WMD inspection force in Iraq following Desert Storm; he was in a warehouse that contained stacked drums full of chemical weapons, he estimated over 500 drums in that warehouse; Marc also told us of other discoveries made regarding WMD in Iraq. We all saw pictures of stored WMD following Desert Storm. All Saddam had to do was to provide proof that these weapons had been destroyed, & or allow the UN inspectors to destroy the WMD; if Saddam had followed this path, he would still be in charge of Iraq today. Saddam refused any and all attempts made by the entire world to answer for the WMD we all knew he had; resolution after resolution after resolution; threat after threat after threat.

The entire missing WMD - Iraq story is just plain weak...... No question that he had them; what happened to them remains the question. If they were destroyed and Saddam lost his country because his pride or ego wouldn't allow him to provide the evidence, then I can live with that; however, if these weapons still exist today in some hidden location, we then remain in trouble of these weapons getting in the hands of the bad guys.
Posted by: Keemo at December 24, 2005 09:37 AM


He had them, and I believe that his ego prevented him from destroying them and admitting it. He also believed his partners, the French and Russians, when they told him that Bush wouldn't dare attack him without a specific blessing from the UN and they guaranteed Saddam they would veto any UN resolution of that nature. He gambled that Bush was a pushover just as every american president since Carter. He lost.
Posted by: Ed Poinsett at December 24, 2005 10:39 AM

There's more, oh, much much more chez Mon Capitain. People who think Saddam smuggled his WMDs to Syria. People who forget that we backed Saddam in the Iraq-Iran war despite the reports that he was using chemical weapons. You see, he was our SOB then.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Cookies makes me happy

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When I said that the reason for the season is cookies, I'm only half kidding.

I made eight different kinds this year --

-- Home made chocolate wafers covered in white chocolate
-- Pecan rolled buttercookies
-- Vanilla Vienna cookies
-- pretzel kisses
-- Merry Cheesecake slice
-- Snickerdoodles
-- m&m cookies
-- "White Trash"

I also made spritz cookies, but they were so difficult to pipe (I think the head I chose is too small) that they call came out misshapen and I decided that they were not fit for the holiday table (and consequently have no choice but to eat them all beforehand).

Sunday, December 25, 2005

"What a tool."

That's how Angelica reacted when I told her about this story.

Seriously, what's it going to take for Powell to put aside his misguided partisan loyalty and start biting back at these creeps?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A festivus for the rest of us

John Cole, you old Curmudgeon:
Partially inspired by this, and wholly inspired by Seinfeld, it is time for the First Annual Airing of Grievances at Balloon Juice:
The Airing of Grievances is the traditional time of the year when families gather together and tell one another how they have disappointed them in the past year. Thus begins my disappointments:

Maybe I'm a nazi and just don't know it

Matt Singer of Left in the West links somewhat approvingly to Mike at the Last Best Place. Now, I don't know Mike, and I haven't taken it upon myself to trace the blog exchanges that lead Mike to say this. But I disagree so violently with what he has said that I have to respond.
Over the past few months there is scarcely an insult or expletive that hasn't been hurled in my direction over my honest reporting concerning Israel's right to exist. Don't believe for a second that the cancer of anti-Semitism doesn't influence that debate to an increasing degree. The "palestinian" cause, among those ignorant of it's birth and zenith among the far-left wing, is absolutely wrapped in the cloak of anti-Semitic ideology and rhetoric. The plight of the "palestinians," among many incongruent political persuasions, is simply the modern outlet for virulent anti-Semitism. One need only view the websites of any number of neo-Nazi organizations in the United States, press releases from the Saudi Government, or radio programs (programmes for you Anglophiles) from the "palestinian" Broadcasting Authority to realize the veracity of my statements and the trinity of their brotherhood.

Let's ignore for the time being Mike's repeated use of quotation marks around "palestinian" or "the plight of the palestinians" as if casting doubt on their existence might be a good way to solve the problem. This statement is the perfect example of the sloppy equation between being against the conduct of the Israeli government with being anti-semitic. Yes, us left-progressive are famous our anti-semitism, right? Except when we're Jewish, in which case we're self-loathing I'm sure. As for the insinuation that since Neo-Nazis hate the Jewish state, those criticizing Israel's appalling and ultimately self-destructive treatment of the Palestinians must be in a "brotherhood" with the Neo-Nazis, that's about as lazy and absurd as saying that Hitler was a vegetarian and therefore all vegetarians are his fellow-travellers.

I'm not denying that anti-semitism is a problem in America, just as racism against blacks, chinese people, people from India and Mexicans are a problem. But when China's brutal policies against Tibet are being challenged, I don't hear any Chinese-Americans accusing Tibet's supporters of being anti-sinites. I don't want to be dismissive of any group's sufferings, but it needs to be pointed out that the constant use of "anti-semitism" charges as a cudgel to beat down criticism of Israeli's policies is baffling given the greater prevalence of anti-Islam sentiments in the United States. In fact, I would expect the average anti-semite in the United States to be the kind of bigot that hates brown-skinned muslims ten times than Jews.

I doubt anything I've said will convince Mike that my strong support of a free and independent Palestine is not somehow motivated by some extra-virulent strain of anti-semitism so insidious I don't even know about it. As opposed to, say, this sort of shit.


Little Red Book scandal a hoax

We have too much shit going on in this country right now for dumbass college students to be damaging the credibility of civil liberty violation stories with larks like this.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Now he's Wire-tap Sammy too

The attorney general should be immune from lawsuits over illegal wiretaps, Samuel A. Alito Jr., President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, wrote in a 1984 memorandum as a government lawyer in the Reagan administration.
He wrote the memo in 1984? I guess conservatives have a sense of humor after all.

Ha ha....ha.......

He he...

(Via Dark Bilious Vapors)

Friday Schnauzer Blogging: Almost Christmas Edition

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Season's greetings, all. Remember the reason for the season: Cookies!

The Irony...

Via Maxspeak. State of our Union.
Wal-Mart Turns in Student’s Anti-Bush Photo, Secret Service Investigates Him
By Matthew Rothschild
October 4, 2005

Selina Jarvis is the chair of the social studies department at Currituck County High School in North Carolina, and she is not used to having the Secret Service question her or one of her students.

But that’s what happened on September 20.

Jarvis had assigned her senior civics and economics class “to take photographs to illustrate their rights in the Bill of Rights,” she says. One student “had taken a photo of George Bush out of a magazine and tacked the picture to a wall with a red thumb tack through his head. Then he made a thumb’s down sign with his own hand next to the President’s picture, and he had a photo taken of that, and he pasted it on a poster.”

According to Jarvis, the student, who remains anonymous, was just doing his assignment, illustrating the right to dissent.

But over at the Kitty Hawk Wal-Mart, where the student took his film to be developed, this right is evidently suspect.

An employee in that Wal-Mart photo department called the Kitty Hawk police on the student. And the Kitty Hawk police turned the matter over to the Secret Service. . . .

But hey, the kid's done nothing wrong, so he's got nothing to hide, right?

The Law Versus Justice

It's funny how, at the same time the Bush administration is treating the law as this flexible Gumbi-like document to be wended to their will, the letter of the law is so uncompromising to the innocent prisoners we're holding at Guantanamo that we will not refused them after the federal court declared their imprisonment unlawful.

Or it would be funny if it wasn't so, you know, sickening.

Small vs. Far away -- humans can't really tell the difference

It's always kind of amusing when economists "discover" something the rest of us had known all along.
When making decisions with immediate consequences, economic actors typically display a high degree of impatience. Consumers choose immediate pleasures instead of waiting a few days for much larger rewards. Consumers want "instant gratification." However, people do not behave impatiently when they make decisions for the future. Few people plan to break their diets next week. Instead, people tend to splurge today and vow to exercise/diet/save tomorrow. From today's viewpoint, people prefer to act impatiently right now but to act patiently later.
No kidding :)

Seriously though, it's a cool article. They have brainscans that show our long-term decisions are decided by "analytic" brain circuits while the decision to put that bigscreen TV on credit are made using both "analytic" and "emotional" brain circuits. And as so happens when we have to make the choice, Americans goes with their heart rather than their head. Our inner Wooster ruling over our long-suffering inner Jeeves, if you will. Exactly how greedily impatient are we? "We find that consumers have a short-run discount rate of 30 percent and a long-run discount rate of 5 percent. In other words, delaying a reward by a year reduces its value by 30 percent, but delaying the same reward an additional year only generates an additional 5 percent devaluation." Still doesn't explain why anyone buys first-run DVDs instead of waiting to rent.

We can call this the "night Jerry/morning Jerry" problem, after that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry does this bit about how he would stay up too late at night and screw himself over the next morning. But he can't do anything about it because "night Jerry" likes to stay up -- the consequences? That's morning Jerry's issue. When we are faced with something abstract and far away, the self is continuous. But when it comes up to a choice between pleasures (or lack of pain) in the here and now and greater good in the future, we become biased because we only really ever exist in the present. This is why I ate half a batch of home-made spritz cookies yesterday (That, and the fact that they were "substandard" and thus unfit for the holiday table).

Anyhow, I can tell you right now, I am a famed procrastinator (forgetfulness + inability to delay gratification = I'll get it done later...oops!) My intentions, of course, are always good and there are no shortage of sound plans that suffer on the carry through. After years of struggle, I have come to the conclusion that self-control is an illusion. There are two ways of getting things done, and neither of them involves forgoing short-term pleasures for long-term utility.

1) The "tie thyself to the mast" approach
This is why people who rack up ruinous credit card debts can nevertheless save money through illiquid assets like a house. The immediate disutility of not paying your mortgage (getting turfed out of your castle) is so great that the minimum of discipline is required to pay it, assuming that one has the means. For a less serious example, consider the "reading 52 books in 52 weeks" New Year Resolution I'm stealing from Roxanne. Unlike previous resolutions, this is public. Expect a capsule book review every Monday. I'm counting on the shame I will feel at breaking my resolution in front of y'all to provide enough disutility to overcome my lazy desire to blog (or watch the TeeVee) more are read less.

2) The "nugget of immediate utility" approach
Economists used to wonder "why do people brush their teeth?" It seems like given the standard discount rate and the number of years it takes for the result of errant oral hygiene to become painful cavities, it would seem that the 3 minutes daily it takes to do this task should not be "worth it". I would posit that we would all be walking around with horrible teeth in a few year if this was a new problem and they just came up with the solution. But we were all taught to brush as kiddies, to make it a routine without which the day is not complete. I'd feel uncomfortable and unpleasantly stale if I missed a brushing. That minty burst of freshness after brushing is the "nugget of immediate utility". This, I posit, is also why many of us don't floss -- it's not really more of a pain than brushing, and the long-term benefits are significant. But there's no immediate payback we can look forward to keep it going on a day to day basis.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bodysnatchers 2005

This is astonishing morbid.
The family of Alistair Cooke voiced horror yesterday over allegations that body-snatchers illicitly carved bones from the venerated broadcaster immediately after his death from cancer almost two years ago and sold them for profit.

Mr Cooke's daughter, Susan Kittredge, said she learned last week that her father may have been one of the victims of a ghoulish body-parts-for-sale scam that has been under investigation by the District Attorney's office in Brooklyn for several months.

So far, investigators believe they have uncovered about 30 cases where bodies submitted for burial or cremation in New York were illicitly plundered in an illegal trade that could be worth billions of dollars. The parts were allegedly sold to companies that recycle human tissue for use in patients.

As the investigation progresses, investigators have already disinterred three bodies - bones were missing from each of them - and may eventually dig up all 30 for examination. His bones, police believe, netted the suspects about £4,000.

Apart from the 'yuk' factor, I must admit I am surprised that human bones are worth that much. Four thousand pounds is like $7000.

Speak for yourself, Kevin.

Just as I devote a whole post to Kevin Drum's wisdom, he goes ahead and write a dumbass post like this:

All political movements have both tacticians and theoreticians, so there's nothing odd that Kos is all about tactics and prefers to leave the ideology to others. But there's more to it than that. To a large extent, I think Kos is symbolic of nearly the entire political blogosphere, which tends to be far more a partisan wrecking crew than a genuine force for either progressive or conservative thought.

I'm honestly not sure what I think of that. Maybe it's just the nature of the medium, and we should be happy to leave the serious thinking to the think tanks. At the same time, I have a feeling that it's also a reflection of something that's been obscured by the ever shriller noise machines on both sides: the death of ideology. Partisanship may be at an all-time high in Washington DC, but when you cut through the chatter, ideology may be at an all-time low.

Yes, Kevin, blogs are partisan. But that is not neceassarily a bad thing when our mainstream press tend to pursue this kind of "he said-she said" puppet neutrality that is not so much objective as convenient for the evasion of the proper responsibilites of the press. Blogs step in to offer analysis in line with the political ideology of the blogger, but that is a far cry from being all about tactics or abandoning ideology in pursuit of partisanship. Applying what is a fair description of Kos to the entire blogisphere is nothing short of loopy. And as for "leaving the serious thinking to think tanks"...what is he smoking? Think tanks like Cato and Heritage are oasises of serious thinking unsullied by partisan hackery now, I suppose?

Kevin Drum: Great blogger. Not a great blogger about blogs.

Riot Bait

The good news keep on rolling in. While the FBI monitors the Gays and the Vegans for suspicious activities, good old coppers are dressing up as protesters to stir up trouble and facilitate a few arrests. No seriously.
The pictures of the undercover officers were culled from an unofficial archive of civilian and police videotapes by Eileen Clancy, a forensic video analyst who is critical of the tactics. She gave the tapes to The New York Times. Based on what the individuals said, the equipment they carried and their almost immediate release after they had been arrested amid protesters or bicycle riders, The Times concluded that at least 10 officers were incognito at the events. [snip]

In a tape made at the April 29 Critical Mass ride, a man in a football jersey is seen riding along West 19th Street with a group of bicycle riders to a police blockade at 10th Avenue. As the police begin to handcuff the bicyclists, the man in the jersey drops to one knee. He tells a uniformed officer, "I'm on the job." The officer in uniform calls to a colleague, "Louie - he's under." A second officer arrives and leads the man in the jersey - hands clasped behind his back - one block away, where the man gets back on his bicycle and rides off.

That videotape was made by a police officer and was recently turned over by prosecutors to Gideon Oliver, a lawyer representing bicycle riders arrested that night.

Another arrest that appeared to be a sham changed the dynamics of a demonstration. On Aug. 30, 2004, during the Republican National Convention, a man with vivid blond hair was filmed as he stood on 23rd Street, holding a sign at a march of homeless and poor people. A police lieutenant suddenly moved to arrest him. Onlookers protested, shouting, "Let him go." In response, police officers in helmets and with batons pushed against the crowd, and at least two other people were arrested.

The videotape shows the blond-haired man speaking calmly with the lieutenant. When the lieutenant unzipped the man's backpack, a two-way radio could be seen. Then the man was briskly escorted away, unlike others who were put on the ground, plastic restraints around their wrists. And while the blond-haired man kept his hands clasped behind his back, the tape shows that he was not handcuffed or restrained.

The same man was videotaped a day earlier, observing the actress Rosario Dawson as she and others were arrested on 35th Street and Eighth Avenue as they filmed "This Revolution," a movie that used actual street demonstrations as a backdrop. At one point, the blond-haired man seemed to try to rile bystanders.

After Ms. Dawson and another actress were placed into a police van, the blond-haired man can be seen peering in the window. According to Charles Maol, who was working on the film, the blond-haired man is the source of a voice that is heard calling: "Hey, that's my brother in there. What do you got my brother in there for?"
You think it's bad enough when news organization take a largely peaceful event and choose to show a few knuckleheads getting wrestled to the ground. Now we know that those knuckleheads just might be plants from the police department. How do we win?

The opposite of Anarchy in the U.K.

(Via the Agitator)

" From 2006 Britain will be the first country where every journey by every car will be monitored"

How are they going to do it? Through CC cameras that read license plates.

New Yorkers back Labor

Or so it would seem from radio call-ins and a SUSA poll. Of course, that's not the viewpoint you'd hear in most of the coverage of the strike. The strikers are back at work now, by the way. Stay tuned.

The Bubblesphere?

Nobody likes people who say "I told you so," Mark.

Still, dammit, he's right. The first wave on interest about the Maye case rippled through the blogisphere without percolating into concrete, nationwide spotlight on the case. This graph of number of posts mentioning Maye's case tells the story.
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Radley Balko remains Maye's first and best hope of getting him some of that justice business. Balko has been tireless on the case, and turning up more wrinkles and counterwrinkles all the time. He now has the court transcripts up. His blog has also been getting 8 and 11 thousand readers a day, nothing to sniff at. He has also been hitting the Talk Radio circuit, which is another step up the food chain.

But heck, I just want to say that I'm damned proud of all you kids. Look at this list -- red, blue and libertarian alike, we saw injustice and demanded a reversal. That call of reversal is not heard yet, but we won't forget about Cory Maye.

I am still updating the list (though, as usual, I am behind). In addition, I check back to the Agitator all the time to keep up with the details as it turns up. If nothing else, enough people on the blogisphere care that we should be able to furnish a legal defense fund for Cory. There's been murmurs about setting one from several sources, but what is needed is for someone to take the lead on this. We gotta have an official, or at least centralized, effort so that people can feel comfortable with giving and there is some sense of accumulation. Fingers crossed -- with a decent defense fund and the facts in his favor, Cory Maye should get off on appeal even as the rest of the country remains blissfully unaware of the egregious miscarriage of justice in their midst.

Of course, it is natural that Cory's fate should be the most pressing consideration, but we must not forget that spreading the word on this outrage is a good in and of itself. People in this country need to know how fucked up our judicial system, war on drugs and police procedures can be. This case, unfortunately for Maye, hit the trifecta.

The Spooks are spooked

Kevin Drum (see also downblog) rightly smacks down Max Boot for comparing the recent leakers that revealed the White House's spying activities to the Plame leakers -- " [F]or the record: yes, it's wrong for those in power to abuse their power by leaking the identity of a covert CIA operative, an act that's against the law. At the same time, it's a public service to reveal abuses of power, including illegal programs to engage in domestic surveillance. That ought to be pretty easy to understand."

But idiotic as Boot's comment was, it got me to thinking about the motivations of the respective leakers -- what were they trying to accomplish by going to the press? In the Plame case this is obvious -- the aim was to hurt a political foe and warn those who might oppose the White House in the future they are not shy about doling out more of the same. But what of those, likely in the intelligence community, who must have had to overcome years of training and conditioning to to contrary to go to the press? Simple civic duty? Or is what they're being asked to do so outside the bounds of acceptable behavior that intelligence officers are scrambling to cover their ass anyway they can, including putting the kibosh on the program by going public? Call it the CYA hypothesis.

I'm quoting a little more than I really need to to support my point from the exchange between Andrea Mitchell and Bob Baer (he who is played by George Clooney in "Syriana") on Hardball last night. But it's an amusing exchange, so I couldn't resist.
MITCHELL: Bob, would you have hesitated to follow a reporter if you thought the reporter would lead you to Osama bin Laden?

BAER: Well, we could have. John Miller from ABC went to Iraq. Peter Bergen did for CNN. They met bin Laden and we could have, you know, fired a hellfire down the signal and killed both the journalist and bin Laden. Of course you have to have ...

GAFFNEY: Would have waited till the journalist got out of the way.



BAER: Depends from what network.

MITCHELL: But Bob, seriously, do you really think—how do you think people in the field feel about all this because the “New York Times” reported that its initial sources of the James Risen story included intelligence officers who were very concerned about this program. They felt it went too far.

BAER: They‘re upset. There‘s a revolt in the intelligence community against torture, against tapping American citizens‘ phones.

MITCHELL: Now, wait a second. The White House says we don‘t torture.

BAER: Well, we outsource it to countries like Syria and Egypt. You know, call it what you will. Yes, people are upset. They‘re upset in the intelligence community. You see a lot of people leaving. I hear a lot of complaints myself, and people in the CIA that are involved in interrogations are, you know, running for their lawyers.

The Kevin-thon

Kevin Drum has been on a roll of late. I know that having little old me telling you go go read Kevin Drum is kind of like Tiny Tim giving turkee (or whatever inferior bird they had in ye-olde days) to Scrooge instead of the other way around, but there it is. What are you going to do? *shrug*

Kevin takes on Max Boot: Who was insane enough to write "I eagerly await the righteous indignation from the Plame Platoon about the spilling of secrets in wartime and its impassioned calls for an independent counsel to prosecute the leakers."

Kevin and our Potemkin Courts: The 4th circuit court is not amused by being treated as a disposable rubber stamp by the White House.

Kevin and our Potemkin Courts II:
The FISA court is not amused by being treated as a disposable rubber stamp by the White House.

Kevin and the the revolt of our intelligence officers:
Who are not amused. Period.

Kevin and our Potemkin Legislature: Who are presumably not amused, but prehaps too used to being trodden roughshod by the Republicans to make much of a fuss.

That Liberal Mainstream Media Bias

Via Digby, who got it from Firedoglake. Richard Morin, the pollster for the Washington Post, seriously has his panties in a twist when people asked him why he has not polled the public over whether Bush should be impeached. In fact, the very fact that people are asking the question makes him "mad".
[W]e do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion --witness the fact that no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates in '08 are calling for Bush's impeachment. When it is or they are, we will ask about it in our polls.
Erm, is this the same Morin that signed off on a poll asking "If this affair did happen and if Clinton did not resign, is this something for which Clinton should be impeached, or not?", mere days after the monicagate story first broke? Why I do believe it is. Let's see...President possibly getting schtupped by the White House Intern. That's A1 impeachment track stuff if I've ever seen it. President admitting on the teevee to violating the constitution and spying on American citizens without a warrent? Why for shame! What kind of scandalmongers do you think we are here at the WaPo? We can't ask the American people if he needs to be impeached. Doing so might put the idea into their heads that he does, and that would be b...b...b...bias.

So, do I think there is a conspiracy afoot between the press and the Republicans to stymie the Democrats? No. The press is not cozily in anyone's back pocket. What they are though, is craven, publicity driven and afraid. They knew that Monica meant a nation enthralled, hooked on the latest tabloid tidbits, and thus a big boost to their circulation/viewership. They hopped on that bandwagon like hobos onto a southbound train. This latest impeachment drive, however important, is deemed too esoteric and lacking in juicyness to engage the masses. Best leave it alone. Especially since taking the lead on this will incurr the wrath of the Republicans. The Democrats? We've got no wrath. We're very lacking in the wrath department. But since Morin, Howell et. al. does not relish admitting to the world (or themselves) that they're a bunch of impotent, sales-driven, muck-seeking, power-fearing tools, they seek to explain their silence by delegitimizing the issue at hand.
Naperville, Ill.: Why haven't you polled on public support for the impeachment of George W. Bush?

Richard Morin: This question makes me mad...

Seattle, Wash.: How come ABC News/Post poll has not yet polled on impeachment?

Richard Morin: Getting madder...

Haymarket, Va.: With all the recent scandals and illegal/unconstitutional actions of the President, why hasn't ABC News / Washington Post polled whether the President should be impeached?

Richard Morin: Madder still...
The gentleman doth project too much. Who are you really mad at, Mr. Morin? Your readers or your own spinelessness? The questions are not going to stop coming. Are you just going to sit there getting madder and madder and madder, or will you step up to the plate and do your job?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Not another intelligence agency

I thought one of the more legitimatesque aspects of the execrable Patriot act were the information sharing provisions by which the different arms of our intelligence community are able to consolidate what they know. So if fragmentation is the problem, why the hell are there intelligence agencies I've never heard of coming out of the woodwork?
CIFA is a three-year-old agency whose size and budget remain secret. It has grown from an agency that coordinated policy and oversaw the counterintelligence activities of units within the military services and Pentagon agencies to an analytic and operational organization with nine directorates and ever-widening authority.[snip]

A former senior Pentagon intelligence official, familiar with CIFA, said yesterday, "They started with force protection from terrorists, but when you go down that road, you soon are into everything . . . where terrorists get their money, who they see, who they deal with."

(Via Echidne)

Don't blame the union

I'm sure that if I had to walk across the Brooklyn bridge in NYC in the winter cold, I'd be cursing the strike too. The responsibility for the strike, however, hardly lies completely on the strikers. Majikthise has some good analysis.
Last night I posted about how the MTA precipitated the transit strike by springing an outrageous demand at the last minute. With only a few hours left on the clock, MTA chairman, Peter S. Kalikow demanded that new hires contribute 6% of their pre-tax income to their pension funds during their first decade of service, triple the annual contribution rate of current employees.

The net effect would have been to create a 4% net pay cut for new hires, relative to what they would have gotten if they'd been hired under the old contract.

Old hires would get 3% raise next year, but new hires would effectively suffer a 4% pay cut. Discrepancies like that undermine solidarity within unions, and the MTA knows it

The MTA's proposed demand would only save the company $20 million over three years, by shifting the burden onto new hires. The authority claims insists this small savings in the near future will ultimately create much larger savings over the life of the contract. This too, as Carl Ericson points out, is bogus. Yes, $20 million invested over the next 3 years would grow to $100 million over the next 30 years, but that's beside the point. The issue is who should cough up the $20 million now, new subway conductors or a company with a $1 billion surplus.

The proximate cause of the strike is the bait-and-switch tactic of the MTA, which lead directly to the breakdown in negotiations. Perhaps they felt safe in strongarming the union knowing that New Yorkers would associate their distress with the workers who did not show up rather than the contractual game-playing that caused them not to show up.

Of course, a strike causing NYC to grind to a halt in the runup to Christmas is just about the worst outcome for everybody. But let's be clear about where the responsibility should lie.

"Bleh" is right

Johnny Damon to go to the Yankees.

FISA Judge quits

He didn't offer a reason. Hmmm....

In other FISA news, I see Kevin Drum is putting up a post questioning the "well, we're in a time of war" rationale. First of all, wasn't FISA itself instituted during a time of war? And secondly, if we count both "cold" and "hot" wars, Drum points out that we have been at war for 50 out of the last 65 years, with no end in sight for the GWoT either. The distinction between wartime powers and regular presidential powers become a distinction without a difference.

Need more FISA-ey goodness?

Link dump at IM Kierkegaard

The Anonymous Liberal's take

Touch it up

(Via Clicked)

Everybody already know that the Cosmo cover girls are touched up to within an inch of their bone-skinny lives, right? This really cool project, apparently sponsored by the ministry of health and social affairs of some Scandanvanian country, give you a step-by-step interactive look at how eyes are brightened, boobs are boosted, shadows are added to flatter the face and hair is filled out. They were very clever in making the changes relatively subtle and starting with an attractive model. It is really quite startling how seemingly minor changes add up to make the poor girl look like shit compared with her photoshopped self.

Sigh, Scandavania and Scandavanians. Everything they are and do seem designed to make me feel inadequate. The copywriting on the retouch project is so good I didn't notice the writer was not American until I saw the web address. And I am so ignorant that I can't even figure out where it is from. "se" -- could it be Sweden? While their government is raising awareness about the unrealistic body image propagated by the mass media, our government is pushing dumbass shit like this.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

All in the wrist -- a bleg

Lately, my life has revolved around activities that requires intensive use of my right wrist in one way or another (painting a house, typing/surfing internet, playing guitar...) For the past few days now I've started noticing tingling sensations from within the wrist, building to a more uncomfortable feeling of inflammation today. No actual pain, but disconcerting. Is this tendonitis?

I know the wisdom of asking one's blogging audience for a diagnosis is probably questionable in general. But as I'm sure there are more than a few avid typists among youse, I thought I'd give it a try. Have any of you suffered from tendonitis, and how did you recover from it? Right now I'm trying to type as little as possible (with my wrists correctly elevated) and I've wrapped an ace bandage around my wrist to provide a little bit of support and to remind me to keep off it.

In non-wrist news, was Barbara Boxer kicking butt on Hardball tonight or what? Can't wait until transcript comes out.

A wiretap requires a court order...except when it doesn't

"[T]here are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."
We need to get the video of this, and do an ad cutting back and forth between this and his recent speech. The effect should be quite gratifying.

(HT Carpetbagger)

The Iraqi people have spoken

And they choose the anti-American theocrats. Freedom is on the march.


It's the Politics, Stupid.

As Mark Thomas remark of this oft-linked NY Times article titled "Universal Healthcare: Just a (big) step away" -- " While the economics may work, the same cannot be said about the politics".

The bottom line is, the amount of money we're losing by subsidizing health insurance is so huge that if we can pool it, we would have almost enough to institute a universal program that covers everyone. But we can't get from A to B because of the huge hump imposed by political barriers in the middle.

What we need is a catalyst, something to get the ball rolling and cut down the political barrier. I really believe action on the state level is what is going to eventually get us to universal healthcare. When people see that others in a neighboring state no longer have to worry about what happens to their healthcare if anything happened to their job, or if their employer won't provide it, they are going to clamor for the same in their own state. Of course, one can reasonably ask why Americans didn't look to the north or to Europe, saw that everybody's healthcare needs were taken care of for cheep and clamored for universal healthcare here. But we can only hope that state-based chauvanism is less deep-seated than nationalism -- America gotta be number one, so by extention our healthcare has gotta be number one. How would it look if we ever started learning anything from *gasp* Canada?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Connectin' the Dots

King Chimp speaks:

This new threat required us to think and act differently. And as the 9/11 Commission pointed out, to prevent this from happening again, we need to connect the dots before the enemy attacks, not after. And we need to recognize that dealing with al Qaeda is not simply a matter of law enforcement: It requires defending the country against an enemy that declared war against the United States of America.
Didn't any of you learn the real lesson of Vietnam? We have to destroy our freedom in order to save it.

As president and commander in chief, I have the constitutional responsibility and the constitutional authority to protect our country. Article 2 of the Constitution gives me that responsibility and the authority necessary to fulfill it.
What about the constitutional responsibility to protect the constitution?

And after September the 11th, the United States Congress also granted me additional authority to use military force against al Qaeda.

After September the 11th, one question my administration had to answer was, using the authorities I have, how do we effectively detect enemies hiding in our midst and prevent them from striking us again?
Kind of like what this guy was trying to do, right?

We know that a two-minute phone conversation between somebody linked to al Qaeda here and an operative overseas could lead directly to the loss of thousands of lives. To save American lives, we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks.
...of course, and, going through the proper channels would lead directly to the completion of many pages of paperwork with the attendent risk of papercuts rising with every page.

So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorize the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.
And we know they're only spying on people with known links to al Qaeda. The president is saying so, shouldn't that be enough?

This program is carefully reviewed approximately every 45 days to ensure it is being used properly. Leaders in the United States Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this program.
Whose lucky enough to be considered a leader? Is each leader briefed more than a dozen times or are they briefed a dozen times between them? And does this matter more than 'how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?' if the leaders in the congress in question were not allowed to disclose that they've been thus briefed anyhow?

My personal opinion is it was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war.
Yep. We need to keep foolin' those terrorists into thinkin' the government of this country still respect the consitutional rights of its citizens.

The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy.
Now they know that we know that they know that we're watching them!


But it is a shameful act by somebody who has got secrets of the United States government and feels like they need to disclose them publicly.
If George ever found anyone disclosing government secrets on his watch, boy is he ever going to rake them over the coals. Oh wait.

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Patrick Fitzgerald...he's so dreeaamy!

I know that everybody's swooning over our favorite special prosecutor, but this illustration for the National Law Journal takes some impeachable liberties with the truth.

Fitzgerald the golden boy
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What Fitzgerald really looks like

Good enough for his base

Bush's approval seems to have improved after the recent election in Iraq and his latest public relations blitz. It appears that he speeches and interviews sounded great to his base, but didn't do much for the rest of us.
Bush's pre-Christmas rebound was largely fueled by a sharp increase in support among his core supporters. In the past month, the proportion of Republicans approving of the president's performance increased by nine percentage points to 87 percent. And among conservatives, three in four said Bush was doing a good job, up 12 points from November. Among Democrats, independents and moderates, Bush's support remained unchanged or increased only modestly.
I think Ezra inadvertantly put his finger on it when he said of Von's approval of a speech he recently made -- "Man, Von and I live in different realities." In our reality, a bunch of bromides peppered with references to 9/11 is not all that comforting. But apparently, it's enough to quell the doubt that has been swelling even within the conservative demographic as to whether Bush is turning out to be the right man for the job after all.

By the way, the Prez might be dumb as a box of hammers, but his speechwriters aren't. After pundits started picking up his almost pavlovian use of "victory", he has toned down the number of mentions of "victory" to a mere four in this speech, just as he hurried to take a flurry of press activity, speeches and even, gasp, an unscreened Q+A session right after the Bush-in-a-bubble cover story on Newsweek. Everything else might be falling apart about his administration, but public relations is still on the ball.

Oh Snap!

This New York Times editorial sure is getting sassy:
President Bush defended the program yesterday, saying it was saving lives, hotly insisting that he was working within the Constitution and the law, and denouncing The Times for disclosing the program's existence. We don't know if he was right on the first count; this White House has cried wolf so many times on the urgency of national security threats that it has lost all credibility. But we have learned the hard way that Mr. Bush's team cannot be trusted to find the boundaries of the law, much less respect them.
Almost make me want to forgive them for taking a year to work up enough gumption to publish the story. (HT Talkleft)

Sweet Victory

Glenn Reynolds:
Bush went out of his way to take responsibility for the war. He repeatedly talked about "my decision to invade Iraq," even though, of course, it was also Congress's decision. He made very clear that, ultimately, this was his war, and the decisions were his. Why did he do that? Because he thinks we're winning, and he wants credit. (Quote H.T. Firedoglake)

Ah, yes. We're winning. That's definitely the message what with the purple fingers and the multiple helpings of the word "victory" we got with every Bush speech. The trickier matter as always is figuring out what the definition of Victory is:
Iraq's elections were dominated by Islamic clerics, and the new Parliament probably will include a large proportion of Islamist legislators, many of whom have ties to the mullahs of Iran. In recent elections across across Iraq and other countries in the region, Islamist parties have capitalized on new political freedoms to gain a clout and legitimacy unprecedented in the modern Middle East. Their growing strength is the single most unpredictable element in the Bush administration's grand vision to replace despots with democracy.
Whether it's the Shiite Muslim-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Palestinian group Hamas or Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Islamist parties have benefited from the administration's promotion of democracy in the Arab world. But the Islamists also have gained strength from widespread opposition to U.S. policy, which has convinced some Muslims that their religion is under attack.

Like the Kn@ppster said:
I have to pose the question: Why is "democracy" bad when it elects fundamentalist Shiite governments in Iran, and good when it elects fundamentalist Shiite governments in Iraq? More to the point, why is it worth more than 2,000 American lives to bring the same kind of elections to Iraq which some claim produce anti-freedom (and anti-America) results in Iran?

(P.S. -- I'm trying to make this blog more readable by changing the format of the quoted text from using the blockquote tabs to changing the color and making everything quoted in italics. Am I hurting or helping? Eventually there is a lot about the layout of the blog I want to change, but being a technology idiot, it will take some figuring out.)

Caption Contest Time

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UPDATE: Thanks to the Pentagon for providing us with the winning caption.
Soldier 1 to soldier 2: But we have to watch them. They present a credible threat of terrorism.

Via Richard, who got it from The Horse's Mouth.

We have our first caption entry, from John of Dymaxion World:

Soldier 1: Ugh. Frigging Dykes.

Soldier 2: Shut up man, that's hot!

Mao: I'm dead. Really, really dead.

Radley Balko on The Charles Goyette Show

If you've been following this online, there probably isn't anything new in the interview that you haven't heard already. Still, nice to see this story on the radio.

Liberauthoritarians goosestepping to Bush's Tune

My, my what a great variety libertarians come in. Some lean left, others lean right, and still others like Glenn Reynolds and Jeff Goldstein are walking oxymorons. Excellent post by Scott Lemieux. Shorter Scott: if you call yourself a libertarian, you should not be apologists for no-warrant searches on American citizens. Is this so hard to understand?

Pester Power

I am basically pro-kid, not just on an abstract level, but also cautiously bullish on the idea of one day bringing a minimum of one and a maximum of two sproglings to adulthood. But every once in a while I come across something that gives pause:

"Xmas power point

...They are employing their high-tech savvy to wow their parents into fulfilling their Christmas wish lists.

Take 11-year-old Katie Johnsen of the District, who wants a virtual snowboarding game and a chocolate fondue fountain. She turned her list into a PowerPoint presentation with red and green backgrounds, a picture of Santa and links to the Web sites where the items can be bought.

"They are big operators," said Ellen Yui of Takoma Park, who has two sons. "They know how to work the system. They know how to work us big time."

This is the generation that has never known a world without the Internet. They rush home from school to talk to their friends online and flirt over text messages. They have mastered the latest communication technologies and added them to their holiday arsenal.

"Kids have figured out what to do to . . . get what they need and want. That's nothing new," said William Strauss, co-author of the forthcoming book "Millennials and Pop Culture." "What's different is kids' capabilities, the tools they have and what will work with their parents."

Yui's kids, 11-year-old Yoshi and 13-year-old Zen, changed the screensaver on her computer one Christmas to read "I love you" over and over again -- and end with a request for a video game.

This year, Zen wants a cell phone -- specifically, the sleek Sony Ericsson V600i. But it isn't sold in the United States yet, so anything that works will make him happy. He has dragged his father to a phone store "just to browse" and can recite all the features of his favorite phone by heart. It's the only item on his list -- testimony to his dedication -- and he has honed a powerful argument.

"Mom, I hate it when I come home [late] and you're disappointed because I hate making you mad," Zen said, reprising the line he gives to his parents. "And then I say, 'Can I have a cell phone?' "

Ack! I don't want manipulative devil children who are basically acting as agents of the retailers, working me over on a day by day basis until I crack and give in to their emotional blackmail. I don't want to be frogmarched to the family computer terminal to enter my credit card details in order to purchase the latest craze. Dastardly.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

To impeach or to censure?

Oh, there is ground for impeachment alright. Boy, is there ever grounds for impeachment. I read Nick Beaudrot with disbelief when he said that "I think that the Clinton impeachment has raised the bar for what ought to be an impeachable offense. Politically, if the opposition party calls for every President's head, we will have turned what ought to have been a very solemn process into nothing more than a political tool." Whuuuut? It's not like we're trying to railroad Bush here. He did the crime. Now the only question is, whether it is possible to make him pay for it.

However, Nick did raise the very good point that further tarnishing the reputation of Team Bush is going to go into diminishing returns rather quickly -- this is already a lame-duck administration caught in one breakout of scandal after another. If we do go for impeachment based on one wrongdoing among many, we are taking away attention from a whole panoply of Republican malefeasance occuring at every level in favor of focusing the spotlight at the top. Even if the impeachment process itself (Nick is also right in pointing out that we do not have enough votes in the senate for the impeachment to be actually successful) drags Bush's name in the mud as deep as it will go, it will not be a good move if we are allowing other Republicans to escape censure -- they are the one's we will be running against in '06 and '08.

You know that seeing the woods for the trees concept?

Calculated Risk kicks some butts that needs kicking over the Social Security crisis. I can tell, curmudgeonly though he is, he does not actively enjoy shooting down earnest attempts to solve our problems on a non-partisan basis. He's merely pointing out, in his inimitably blunt manner, Um, buddy, you want that way. And by the by, you're holding the map upside down.

Two Feds a knocking

You remember how they can look at your library records now? I can't find the links now, but I remember when this issue first came up this was kind of like a "oh, by the way" thing. I even remember thinking something along the lines of "heck, if they're invading my privacy so much anyhow, what's one more thing?" You see dear readers, I thought of the library records access as being the mere cranberry jelly in the veritable Thanksgiving feast of right-violation that was the Patriot Act, an accompaniment to the meatier, more substantial evidence already gathered.

But now it looks like the Fed is perfectly capable of making a whole meal out of it. Watch what you read, because the Feds could be watching you..

(Via R of T)

UPDATE: More Jolly News for You! (Via Ezra Klein, the blog that keeps on giving)
The Post reported that the FBI has issued tens of thousands of national security letters, extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans. Most of the U.S. residents and citizens whose records were screened, the FBI acknowledged, were not suspected of wrongdoing.

So, if you're suspected of wrongdoing in this holiday season, or even if you're not, there just might be a Fed agent on the lookout just for you. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Score one for Wikipedia

Poor Wikipedia has taken it on the chin quite a bit in the past few days, so it's nice to see this. Basically, it's kind of amazing to me that something like wikipedia has taken off at all, so the odd story of inaccuracies does not shock me, and the report that it has been determined to be as accurate as the encyclopedia Britannica is positively impressive.

Inclusionism vs. Exceptionism

One of my favorite things about blogging is when several good writers independently converge on the same theme at slightly different angles. I've been having an interesting conversation over at Lawrence's about what Rick Perlstein calls "strategy of psychological innocence" for conservatives. How, Lawrence wonders, can so many conservatives think of themselves as the good guys after they have committed so many famous crimes? To quote Perlstein:
As the Internet's smartest liberal blogger, Digby, puts it, tongue only partially in cheek: "'Conservative' is a magic word that applies to those who are in other conservatives' good graces. Until they aren't. At which point they are liberals."

Tom Charles Huston often signed his memos to Richard Nixon "Cato the Younger," after the statesman of the late Roman Republic famous for both his stubborn inflexibility and incorruptibility.

What does it mean that the member of Nixon's staff who was closest to the conservative movement, who was best-versed in its literature and its habits, was not merely the most ruthless malefactor on Richard Nixon's staff but the one most convinced he was acting on principle?
And now, what serenpidity, Shakespeare's Sister, blogging at the Political Animal, and the Lance Mannion post she links to, continues the conversation. Lance quips that 'if Jesus were around today and a woman taken in adultery ran to him for protection and he said to the crowd, Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone, forty-six Republican adulterers would bean her with rocks," while Shakepeare's Sis ponders whether this psychology of innocent is made possible by the "born again" philosophy -- when you
are born again, your slate is wiped clean. Once you forgive yourself, you are once again worthy to condemn others for the same sins.

So what are we saying here? That conservatives are frequently hypocrites? The truth is more complex and interesting than that. I would posit that the very uncompromising moral clarity the conservatives are so proud of in their philosophy makes hypocrites out of them more often than not. As I said over at Lawrence's "When you have a worldview in which everything is either black and white, it must be really difficult to find a fault in yourself without coming to the conclusion that you are all bad. And since nobody ever want to believe that they are all bad, it is far easier to believe that they are all good despite their actions. Witness Ronald Reagan's incredulity when confronted with evidence of his own wrongdoing in the Iran Contra scandal: "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not."

Because real life is messy, exception-making is necessary to hold together the kind of strict, uncompromising conservative viewpoint.

Lawrence replies:
And the opposite of that is trying to find a model broad enough to explain all exceptions as part of an underlying rule. In science, in computer theory, in the law, we find these two approaches competing.

Among computer programmers (I know from personal experience) these two different mind sets lead to holy wars on big projects - one side says keep the core code small and fast and efficient, and then make exceptions for unusual situations the code might face. The other group says, no, find a method that is abstract enough that all the possible exceptions can be handled with the same code that handles the core problems that your code is suppose to solve. The second approach is more elegant but demands more processing time from the computer. Because computing power has grown cheaper over the last 50 years, the trend has been steadily favorable to the second group. The first approach, described above, is faster than the second, unless the number of exceptions builds up to the point where they become a major processing task on the computer.

Hmm. A lot to think about there.

Two Apes

Scientists have found distinctive differences between the learning styles of humans and chimps. Whereas one species tend to learn through slavish monkey-see-monkey-do imitation of procedure, the other focuses their actions on achieving the goal at hand. Which ape is the ape? The answer might surprise you...

I'm not a nutbar, really I'm not

It's just that this administration...It's making me act like one. I mean, most people have no idea what's going on, they're just sheeple on the treadmill of life, convinced that their government is keeping them safe. They don't want us to know, but the truth is out there, it's out there, and not just on the internets. The government, it's spying on us, man. I'm talking about the secret secret service nobody ever talks about listening to our phone conversations without a warrant. Nobody is safe...this shit is happening right now...hey...where're you going...

Conspiracy theory? Me? Well just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. This goes all the way to the top, and they're not even bothering to deny it anymore, for goodness' sakes. I'm telling you...keeping us safe from terrorists? OMG I can't believe you're falling for that. Well, riddle me this, why are they slipping statutes in the Patriot act so that they can go after 'narco-terrorists'? Today, it's Louie with the dime baggies, tomorrow it will be you and me, man.

It gets worse, I'm telling you. It gets worse. I think they've been slipping something in the water-coolers at all the major news organization or secretly fitted blackberries with memory erasure devices or something. Otherwise how do you explain the repeated bouts of collective amnesia suffered by the press? I used to think they were just cowardly syncophants for not calling the Bush administration on their bullshit, but then I realized that the level of incompetence just didn't make sense anymore...the truth is scarier...the only logical conclusion is that they just don't remember.

Oh hell! Is that a cellphone in your pocket? Shit. Now they know where we are. You didn't know that cellphones send tracking signals the police can tap into without probable cause? You gotta educate yourself, don't you ever listen to NPR?

Go, Russ, Go!

Of course, you would have heard already from blogs that are more on top of things than mine (or even, *gasp*, the mainstream media) that the motion for clouture did not pass in the senate. " that good or bad for us" I wondered. "Good, I think", Gene replied. "But what the hell does 'clouture' mean?" I asked. Such is the understanding of Senate procedures here chez Battlepanda. (By the way, I looked it up, so no need to enlighten me in the comments unless you really want to rub it in.)

There's a whole mess of posts from Russ "the buss" Feingold (D-WI) himself at TPM Cafe. And Jonathan Zasloff (blogging at Kleimans) outlines the correct political angle of attack on this:
Bill Frist, always one to take the high road, accused opponents of being soft on terrorism, and refused to consider a short-term extension until differences can be worked out. John Kyl warned that opponents of permanent reauthorization will face political consequences come next November.

It's pretty obvious what the GOP strategy is. It's just as obvious what the response should be.

Every day, Democrats should bring to the Senate floor a proposal for a three-month extension, and let the Republicans vote no. When Alito's hearings start, Deomcrats on the Judiciary Committee should refuse to move ahead and halt the proceedings in order to deal with "security issues surrounding the Patriot Act"--and once again, let the Republicans move NOT to consider it.

Let them vote no on an extension over and over again. Then hammer them with it.

Goldbuggery II

In this post, which generated some response, I linked to a few explanations of why the Gold Standard is a bad fit for our financial system. Of course, this leave the questions open as to whether our current financial system is really sound at all. A lot of people have been looking at the increase in our national debt burden and the cockeyed exchange rates and thinking "not", instead choosing to put their money in gold.

Alas, the ways for a small-investor to get screwed over is more than one:
Gold in New York plunged 2.8 percent, the biggest drop in a year, on speculation demand will slow from Japanese investors after the Tokyo Commodity Exchange increased the cost of trading the metal.
This is what in Chinese we call a "little movement" -- a seemingly innocuous change that is actually precipitated by a very definite goal in mind -- warning people off gold as a safe harbor for their money in this case.

As usual with news like this, Elaine Supkis is on the case, and she's just about the only one.

Ivy League Degrees as Elite Consumer Goods

Applying to colleges in the U.S. was a nightmare for me. But one part, at least, was easy: The extra-curricular section -- I had none. Being an anti-social, unathletic child, I edited no school newspapers, joined no hocky teams, did not debate or join the model United Nations. I left the extra-curricular sections completely blank, confident that it couldn't be of any possible importance.


What does it matter how well an entering student can throw a ball or run a mile anyhow? Me and my mom talked it over and decided that American Universities are excessively progressive. Which is why it's ironic to find out that the emphasis on "well-roundedness" actually began as a way to weed the Jews from the Gentiles in the application pool at Harvard.

Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker article
deserves to be read. It starts off as a standard critique on unfair admission practises, with a description of Gladwell's own 10-minute college application process in Canada and some mocking observation about how Harvard graduates tend to wear their degrees like some people wear designer cloths -- dying to show them off yet afraid of coming across as gauchely ostentatious. BUT WAIT...having explored the unpleasant history of "well-roundedness" and alumni-admissions as Jew-and-working-class-exclusion devices, Gladwell muses on whether they could be very effective at accomplishing the kind of selection that Harvard legitimately wants -- atheletes are driven, legacy families have lotsa dough, a life outside of academics suggest a student has social skills and thus likely to suceed. Maybe Harvard is simply ensuring that its brand remains burnished by admitting people who are most likely to turn out to be superstars, even if it means making admission decisons based on notes like the following:
“This young woman could be one of the brightest applicants in the pool but there are several references to shyness,” read one. Another comment reads, “Seems a tad frothy.” One application—and at this point you can almost hear it going to the bottom of the pile—was notated, “Short with big ears.”
So, Ivy-leagues schools don't exclude brighter students for those who are athletic, or have alumni connections, or otherwise seem to be a "good fit" to be mean about it. They are simply doing what furthers the interests of their institution. But does that make it O.K.? I don't think so. And I don't think Gladwell does either, in the final analysis.
In the nineteen-eighties, when Harvard was accused of enforcing a secret quota on Asian admissions, its defense was that once you adjusted for the preferences given to the children of alumni and for the preferences given to athletes, Asians really weren’t being discriminated against. But you could sense Harvard’s exasperation that the issue was being raised at all. If Harvard had too many Asians, it wouldn’t be Harvard, just as Harvard wouldn’t be Harvard with too many Jews or pansies or parlor pinks or shy types or short people with big ears.
By the way, I used to think that Gladwell was a flaky and superficial writer because I flipped through "Blink", and while it was entertaining enough, it seems to contradict itself constantly. When I actually read through it though, it was a different experience. I came to appreciate the mercurial way Gladwell switches from one point of view to another while his light, readable prose propelled you along, almost without realizing how many sharp corners Gladwell just dragged you around. He is a genious at sculpting a catchy concepts out of seemingly patternless events and data and anecdotes. Even if those catchy concepts doesn't really have any validity outside of his books, they provide great narrative drive within them (in "Blink" he basically says -- making snap judgements is good. Except when it's bad. If you can take just the right things into account, then making a decision quickly can very well yield a better result than if you took your time. Most people don't take the right things into account when making a decision quickly.") I look forward to reading "The Tipping Point" as the first book in my 52 books in 52 weeks resolution.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Best Blogs of the Year

And now, for the coveted Battlepanda nominations for the Koufax. Drumroll please...

Most people either leave out this catagory or nominate one of the big boys like Kos or Atrios, which I don't read often because I favor smaller blogs with manageable comment sections. It's hard to choose a favorite, but I think this year it's gotta be Ezra Klein -- great commentary with a passion for wonkery, and a whole posse of interesting guestbloggers.

Funnily enough, I don't really read many "pro" blogs. For instance, I love Matt Yglesias, but I don't read Tapped. Brad Plumer's own blog is a must-read, but I don't really remember the last time I read the MoJo blog. The exception to this rule is Kevin Drum of the Political Animal, but then, I've been stuck on Kevin since the old Calpundit days. His was the first blog I started to read, and more often than not the first blog I click on the ol' blogroll in the morning. Sensible and solid, Kevin will seldom steer you wrong.

(Well, except for that whole why-no-women-bloggers business. We'll just pretend that didn't really happen.)

Hands down TPM Cafe. With bloggers of note like Yglesias, Mark Schmitt, Nathan Newman and now Max Sawicky joining the Josh Marshall empire, as well as occasional posts by politicians, authors and other newsworthy figures in the non-blog community, it is a force to be reckoned with. However, I have to say I prefer reading all those fine writers on their home sites than on TPM somehow. I don't know why. I just don't like huge gallumping sites, that's all. I think it's because people feel compelled to de-personalize when they're blogging under somebody else's banner. Kevin Drum only recently felt comfortable enough to bring back the Catblogging, for instance.

Majikthise. I don't know whether her ability to write so clearly and incisively is due to or despite of her training in analytic philosophy.

Ask me this on ten different days and you'll probably get fifteen different answers. But I've been thinking about Mark Schmitt's post on Miss America Conservatives, and it is as good a choice as any.

It's gotta be Radley Balko of The Agitator and his on-going investigative series on Cory Maye. Not only is it noteworthy that a blogger is directly covering a news item rather than providing analysis, Balko is giving much-needed publicity to a case where an innocent man's life is hanging in the balance.

Brad Delong for Economics. No question. Before I started reading his blog I simultaneously ignorant and dismissive of the dismal science. Not a good combination. I have Prof. Delong to thank for sparking my interest in what is now a favorite subject for me.

Lawyer, Guns and Money. It is also the best-named blog, blog with the best rotating graphic and the best battleship blogging.


I've been a huge fan of Elaine Supkis at Culture of Life News for a long time. Her energy amazes me! In addition to being a handywoman and caring for a whole passel of animals, she blogs copiously just about every day, trawling far and wide for interesting news that often escapes the left-blogisphere echo chamber. She also somehow finds the time to illustrate her posts with amusing little cartoons. Incredible.

I'm going to go way out on a huge limb here and say Juan Cole.

John of Dymaxion World is one of my favorite bloggers. His interests are eclectic, but he is especially knowledgable when it comes to energy issues. Full disclosure: John guest-blogged here during the summer, raising the bar considerable here at the Battlepanda blog. I consider his guest-posts an ideal starting point to learning about peak oil issues and our renewable energy alternatives.

Lawrence Krubner, who blogs at What Is Liberalism, adds immensely to this blog with his always thoughtful and incredibly learned comments. I especially appreciate his knowledge of history as my own is so embarrasingly gappy. Conversations is what blogging at its best is all about, and a great commenter is worth his weight in gold. Thank you, Lawrence.