Battlepanda: February 2006


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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

In praise of Indie Bands

Indie musicians, who likely aren't rolling around in dough, are nevertheless turning down $50,000 checks for using their music in Hummer commercials. Good for them, although I don't know what I would do in their position. I don't like Hummers, but I don't think I would be hurting sales significantly by turning down the deal since they would simply offer the same deal to another band with similar qualities -- I don't think it will take long before somebody takes their $50,000.

It's curious though -- are the Hummer people seriously trying to go after the Indie-music crowd? It seems so incongrous, frankly it smacks of desperation.

(HT Dymaxion World)

Well observed...

Brilliant. Reminiscent of middle-school, but brilliant nevertheless.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Better late than never

Andrew Sullivan begins to see the light:
My confidence that there was no deliberate misleading of the American people after 9/11 just slipped a notch.

Portrait of the philosopher as a kid

Lindsay Beyerstein regales us with tales of growing up in an academic family.
I remember the day in kindergarden when one little boy announced that he had a baby brother. How did that happen, someone asked. The kid said something about God. Other kids were floating theories about angel-storks. I felt I had to set the record straight. Many children cried. My mom was called in for a parent-teacher conference. The teacher was very upset.

"Did she tell the truth?" Mom asked.
"Oh, yes," the teacher said, "In great detail."
"I don't think we have a problem, then," Mom said.

And family trips bordered on the surreal:
Another early philosophical memory is from a long car trip. My mom sent my dad to the library to get some books on tape to amuse me 10, and my brother 6. He came back with "The Death of Socrates" and "On The Road." By the time we reached southern Washington my brother and I were sobbing inconsolably and mom looked about ready to kill dad. The mood brightened after we popped in "On the Road" and mocked the dated sex scenes as a family.

Blog: The power of typing without thinking

Sorry. I tried to resist the title and failed.

Malcolm Gladwell now has a blog. More writers with blogs is a good thing. If nothing else, their blogs are well-written because they have a reputation to uphold. Perhaps in the not-so-distant future it would cause more of a raised eyebrow if an author did not have a blog.

Monday Book Blogging: Under the Banner of Heaven

The eagle-eyed among you would have noticed that there was no Monday Book blogging last week. What can I say. I slipped up. I'm still struggling through the book I was reading, a career self-help book called "High Tech Careers for Low Tech people" by William A. Schaffer. I saw it in a used book shop, flipped through the first couple of pages and thought "This book is tailor-made for me!" and took it home. Only later do I realize that, though it seems to be well-written and undoubtedly contain some wisdom I can use, most of it seemed irrationally exuberant (published 1999) and it seems to address those who want to get into a startup, work a bajillion hours and start climbing the ladder, which is really not me. I'm kind of in trench warfare mode with that book now, chipping away five pages here, ten pages there as I feel the strength.

I had no such trouble with "Under the Banner of Heaven" by John Krakauer. Everything that man writes holds my attention in a vice grip, and "Under the Banner of Heaven" is classic Krakauer. The book is nominally about the brutal murder of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter at the hands of her brother in laws, Ron and Dan Lafferty, all members of a polygamist offshoot of the Mormon church. The background, motivation and execution of the murders are all described in Krakauer's meticulous and unflinching prose. Onto this main narrative he delves into the origin and early of the Morman church, a background that yields many compelling stories of its own. It's all stuff that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

I have a friend who is mormon. And she is very vehement about drawing the line between the mainline Mormon church which has renounced polygamy and (more recently) racism and those who still practise polygamy. Krakauer makes the distinction between the mainline LDS church and the radical FLDS, but he sees them as sects under the same umbrella religion and treats them as such in the book. This would probably upset many mainline Mormans, but then again, I don't think the takeaway message from Krakauer is that Mormanism is Bad anyhow. I think he is more interested in the question of Faith in general -- Mormanism simply provides an uniquely accessible subject because it is such a young religion, yet so well-established (and well-documented). If there is anything that Krakauer think is bad, I think it is the abdication of reason and our ethical responsibilities to a higher power unquestioningly. Dan Lafferty, the man who actually committed the physical murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby (though Ron was the mastermind) did not falter or experience any guilt because he is convinced that he is doing the Lord's will. The perpetrators of the Mountain Meadow massacre did not flinch in killing more than a hundred men, women and children (except those below the age of five) because they thought that "gentiles" were the enemy. On a less alarming note, defrauding the government is common in Utah because many Mormons believe that defrauding the government of Man is no crime, but a righteous way to "bleed the beast". There are certainly many examples from other religions of Bad Shit going down in the name of a righteous cause.

Movie Review: Grizzly Man

There is something stupendously incongruous about watching Timothy Treadwell hamming it up for the camera with the pristine Alaskan wilderness of Katmai National Park as his backdrop. He looks like his natural environment should be the Santa Monica Pier, with his floppy blond hair and surfer dude stylings. And Timothy Treadwell is in fact an actor from L.A., but his passion is grizzly bears, and he spent 13 summers in Alaska in their midst before his luck ran out and he, along with his girlfriend, got eaten by one.

I've known (usually) guys like Treadwell. I think he definitly is of a 'type' -- incredibly narcissistic and self-centered, yet shot through with emotionality and sentimentality. Childlike, in their craving for attention, approbation, and love. I generally cannot stand their presence, but find it hard to think ill of them nevertheless. Treadwell for instance. His love of the bears and rampant anthromorphization of them is patently ridiculous, but I disagree with Majikthise's dismissal of it as a shallow love because he has "no apparent scientific curiosity" about them, that he is not sufficiently "detached", that he is no "real bear biologist". I think those criticisms probably speaks volumes about Lindsay's worldview, in which reasoned, scientific analysis trumps. I would call Treadwell's love for animals many things -- misguided and destructive comes to mind, but what it is not is shallow. One bear pretty much looks like another to me. But he knows them all by name. When a drought threatens the survival of the bears, he inveighs "Jesus-boy", "Christ-man", Allah and the "Hindu floaty-thing" to make it rain already!
That is not enough. We're gonna
need more rain. We need more rain!

Downey is hungry!
Tabitha's hungry!

Melissa is eating her babies.

I'm like a fucking nut.
We've got to have some rain.
When he comes upon a dead baby fox, he gently strokes its fur, and his voice whittled down to a simultaneously hoarse and whiny whisper: "Oh, God! I love you...I love you and I don't understand...It's a painful world." Call it what you will, but Treadwell's love was not shallow. True, his animal "friends" did not love him back, but since when did lack of recipriocation invalidate love?

After the baby-fox episode, Werner Herzog's terse yet volumous, relentlessly Germanic commentary continued: "He seemed to ignore the fact that in nature there are predators. I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder." Werner Herzog's favorite theme is the futile hubris of humanity, and in Timothy Treadwell I think he found both a muse and a foil. In a way, Treadwell is a permatanned, bear-obsessed Aguirre. Again, I disagree with Lindsay -- she finds Treadwell's narcissistic self-delusion undercutting Herzog's theme while I would say that Hertzog's whole point about the human condition is that we are ultimately and magnificently narcissistic and self-deluded.

I think my view of Treadwell is also colored by the extended segment Werner filmed after the release of "Grizzly Man" and tacked onto the end of the version Discovery screened. It is almost as if he felt guilty for the extent to which he caricaturized Treadwell's absurdities in the film itself -- his aim was to point out Man's follies, not to show that Treadwell is a kook. Timothy's loyal friends (and those who know him all seem to be fiercely loyal to him) wanted the world to know that there was more to Timothy than the film had shown -- his unpaid and highly appreciated work with kids (telling them about bears, natch), his wonderful photography, the fact that his presence probably did deter poachers at the National Park. I have no transcript of this portion of the program, but I believe that Hertzog wanted to reiterate that he though Timothy Treadwell had a life that was meaningful, and that he personally respected Treadwell, despite their very different worldviews.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Don't feed the trolls: campus edition

Remember the admonition offered more often than followed in comment boards: "don't feed the trolls"? This is what I feel about those affirmative action bake sales which are apparently becoming a recurring tactic for right-wing idiots on campus. Follow Morbo's advice instead:

The Allentown Morning Call reported that 100 protestors held a march on campus and demanded that Kutztown President F. Javier Cevallos take action. Cevallos met with the protestors but pointed out that the principle of free speech means campus groups have the right to do offensive things. Reported the Call:

He asserted students' rights to freedom of speech on both sides of the issue, even if some find it offensive. Cavallos promised to have a forum on the issue next week.

Akeesha Washington, one of the students organizing the protest, insisted that more be done. "College Republicans and other conservative groups have held these bake sales all over the country and other schools have shut them down," Washington said. "We won't stop until the university takes some action on this."

It's frustrating to read stories like this. The College Republicans set a trap, and the protestors walked right into it. Now the College Republicans can scream and whine that their free-speech rights are being violated, which is what they wanted to do all along. I can guarantee you the bake sale idea came from the playbook of a national conservative group. The fact that these sales have taken place at colleges all over the country proves it.

If I could say one thing to the students at Kutztown, it would be this: I don't blame you for being offended. But there is a better way to respond. Ignore the stupid bake sale and deny the College Republicans the free publicity they seek. Better yet, hold a counter-event debunking right-wing claims about affirmative action. Use the event to expose the hypocrisy of the GOP, which seeks black votes yet tolerates these subtle forms of racism. Do something positive, proactive. In other words, stop letting the right-wing set the agenda and forcing you to react to it.

Be creative. Setting up a table a few yards away offering free cookies along with fliers about affirmative action and/or Black History Month would have been a nifty way to put the College Republicans on the defensive.

The proper response to stupid speech is not to shut it down. It's to offer better speech. Right-wing groups are great at using cheap stunts to provoke confrontations. Progressives don't always have to take the bait — even when it comes in the form of a tasty cookie.

The gluttonous Panda

I made jelly doughnuts today. The dense, yeasty kind called "sufganiyot" in Hebrew, according to Martha Stewart.
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They were delicious, and surprisingly easy to make. I think that eating eight in a day might have been excessive, but in my defense they are only about half the size of regular doughnuts.

In addition to the doughnuts, I also had pizza, pasta with meatballs, pot roast, and chocolate cake with peanut frosting today. Not a good day for the ol' waistline.

Tennessee Senate candidates pander to xenophobes

That's how today's headline in the Commercial Appeal should have read. Instead, it read

Senate race casts border issue as local

(Registration or BugMeNot required.)

Yes, believe it or not, here in Tennessee, certain candidates for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Senator Frist have determined that what Tennesseans are really worried about is not national security, or health care, or the war in Iraq. It's those damn dirty Mexicans sneaking in the U.S. without permission.
"It's the No. 1 issue," said former congressman Ed Bryant, one of three major candidates for the GOP nomination. "Illegal immigration and the impact it's having on counties large and small."

"I agree with the President [who favors a guest worker program for illegal immigrants already in the country] on a lot of issues but this is one that I just don't agree with him on," said candidate Bob Corker, a businessman and former mayor of Chattanooga. "We're too lenient on the people who are already here."

[Van] Hilleary, another candidate for the Senate, wants to build the barrier [on the U.S.-Mexico border], deputize local law enforcement officials on the border and use satellites and reconnaissance drones to track migrants.

"It's a right and wrong issue," said Hilleary. "We're supposed to live by the rule of law. There are millions of people here who are flouting our laws."

Of course it's absurd to think of illegal immigration as a problem for Tennessee, as the story points out.
The state is hardly a hotbed of illegal immigrants. There were between 100,000 and 150,000 in Tennessee in 2004, the Pew Hispanic center estimated, far fewer than in states like California (2.4 million), Texas (1.4 million) or Florida (850,000).
That's 100 to 150 thousand out of a total population of 5.7 million.

But the paragraph that follows is the real kicker:
Overall, Hispanics in Tennessee -- legal and otherwise -- made up 2.9 percent of the population in 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But in small towns, a tiny population of Mexicans can loom large.
"This used to be such a nice little town, until those Mexicans moved in."

Nip it!

Don Knotts, "Barney Fife" from the Andy Griffith Show, RIP.

It was a simpler show from a simpler time. The last time I tuned in the whole plot was the police station getting inundated with dogs. That was it!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

I take my validation where I can get them

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 9/10 correct!

Click here to see what I got wrong
Question 2: -7 is an integer, but not a whole number, which are always positive. Doh!

The straw that broke the camel's back

Those who read this blog regularly know that I think this port deal thing is just one big red herring. Quite amazingly, to me, it seems that this is one red herring that's got legs, (how's that for a mixed metaphor). What to think...exasperated that the American people are finally getting it for the wrong reasons? Or just relieved that they're starting to get it at all? In a way, this reminds me of the Killian Memos -- another story that really broke through because it carried elements that picked up and confirmed a lot of themes that's been bubbling under the surface for a while. Of course, unlike the Killian memos, the facts of this case is not in dispute. But I still feel like of all the stories of scandal that could have been the turning point where the American people woke up to the fact that the Republican party is making us less safe, this is a pretty weak case.

Dan Froomkin gives a pretty good rundown of the raw ner.ves that this story touch. This I do not deny. I just can't shake the feeling of regret that we're finally beating the Republicans on the issue of National Security, but only by serving their own Alpo of demagoguery right back at them.

The first rule about shortering... that the shortering cannot be longer than the original prose that the shorterer is seeking to mock. In addition to the first rule, it is also customary for the shortering to be funny and to convey the ideas contained in the original long-winded prose, albeit in an exaggerated form. If you find yourself breaking any of these rules, but especially the third one, then what you are doing is not shortering at all but indulging in the time-honored playground ritual -- "this is you...this is you".

Oh well...

Remember the one lone battalion that was capable of operating alone in Iraq? Nevermind. They just got downgraded to a level 2.

Kevin Drum have some astute observations -- we seem to have a heck of a lot of level two battalions. Is it too cynical to note that level two is the top level you can "achieve" without being expected to operate independently?
I suspect it's fairly easy to fudge the difference between level 2 and level 3. But you can't do that with level 1. A battalion can either operate on its own or it can't. The fact that not one single level 2 battalion has made it to level 1 in the past year suggests that perhaps games are being played with the level 2 designation.

So basically, take any boasting about how many level two battalions we've trained with a pinch of salt -- like any boasting about how many #3s of Al Qaida we've killed.

Of course, I guess this is becoming increasingly moot with the prospects of all-out civil war in Iraq. As Drum also observed, the armies are mostly loyal to local theocrats anyhoo.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday Fat Cat Blogging

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Yep. You got it. Two weeks of Fat Cat blogging in a row. Last week I went to visit friends in DC and this is my friend Chris' roommate's giant cat, Drake. With the liberal use of antihistamines, I was able to get through the weekend OK, and even enjoy the company of the cats. I think Drake probably gives even Panther a run for her money.

For those who need their fix of schnauzer, note that the mouseover under the battlepanda logo has been changed to one of the vicious Miss Dodo tearing into her Dandylion toy.

Surely it has not come to this yet...

...or has it?

I don't know how this post makes me feel. Freaked out for sure, but also oddly empowered. The instructions are well-written and, intelligently applied, would at least ensure that we don't go back to the nightmare of the coathanger days. I understand those like Dada who are justifiably horrified by the idea of *shudder* DIY abortions. But given the inherent risks and costs of a pregnancy brought to term, it seems inevitable that women are going to turn to underground abortions in the absence of a safe and legal option to terminate their unwanted pregnancies. Better that this information is out there than not.

Ice Ice baby

Every four years, people all over the world come together in front of their televisions and briefly care about speed skating -- I was determined not to be among their number. That is, until I visited my friend Quyen and got sucked in by the Shani Davis-Chad Hedrick minivendetta. Yea, I am a malleable soul. Personally, I take Shani Davis' side. He has handled the media very badly, but I don't think he's a bad dude. I find Hedrick's way of keeping that rigid, toothy grin while he says bitchy things under his breath much more objectionable. Quyen puts it best: "Apparently, [Davis] is well-liked in the Netherlands, as is Joey Cheek, but the Dutch dislike Chad Hedrick (it's the "brash Texan" thing, I guess). And who would know speed skating better than the Dutch?" Who indeed.

I watched the skiing and bobsled-type events out of inertia, but I guess the other events I really followed are figure skating and ice dancing. Yes, I'm such a girl. Elaine of Culture of Life News correctly predicted the implosion of poor Sasha Cohen, and also have some very good analysis of what good skating is all about. Frankly, I can't tell a lutz from a salchow from a toe loop from a flip. I just like watching skating from a less technical and more of a "ooh! pretty..." point of view. I find it mildly disturbing that both the silver and bronze medalists in the most prestigious contest in the world of ladies figure skating fell on their butts during their important routine though. The winner, Shizuka Arakawa of Japan, was slightly disparaged by the commenters choosing a less difficult jump combination -- so? Ice skating is about aesthetics as well as athleticism, and it kinds of gets in the way of the ol' illusion of graceful ease when skaters are coming a cropper left and right.
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Begging the baby

The best, most succinct response to the old "if your mother aborted you I bet you wouldn't be pro-choice" canard:

Yes, if my grandmother had ended that pregnancy, I wouldn't be here. But I wouldn't be able to resent my non-existence, and the rest of the world wouldn't be aware of what it was missing; it's hard to say that anyone would have been worse off. In any case, I clearly am here, so speculating about what if I wasn't is a purely philosophical matter with no practical bearing.

What's more, there are any number of choices that had to be made the way they were in order for me to exist. If either of my parents had chosen a different university, they would never have met and I could never have been conceived, but university choices aren't subject to the same debate that abortion is. That doesn't prove, in itself, that the debate isn't justified, but it does go some way towards demonstrating that "What if your mother was pro-choice?" is a red herring as far as the debate is concerned.

The combinations and permutations forming potential human beings are overwhelming, nigh infinite. Like snowflakes, we're all unique and beautiful but, en masse, utterly interchangeable. We don't mourn for the sperm and eggs who don't make it, so I don't know why we should be awfully shook up that some embryos don't make it. I'm not self-centered enough to think that a world without my particular genetic combination would be more miserable than one with. However, I do think that a world where women are forced to bear unwanted children is more miserable than a world where they are not.

"Aid and comfort to the enemy" -- the new red meat

Chew over this:

If the furor over the port deal should go on, Mr. England said, it would give enemies of the United States aid and comfort: “They want us to become distrustful, they want us to become paranoid and isolationist.”

So, reporting news from Iraq about IEDs might help the enemy. Criticizing the administration gives aid and comfort to the enemy. I guess letting the American people know anything unflattering about the Bush administration would be playing right into the hands of "They".


If you want to be "poetic" about it, our country has been at war with terrorism since 9/11/2001.

If you want to be more specific, we put boots on the ground in Afghanistan on 10/7/2001.

It is now 2/24/2006, and there is no end in sight in the War on Terrorism.

And this is why I find the following very disturbing:
This week I killed a story about the battle against Improvised Explosive Devices after a senior military officer told me it contained information that would be helpful to the enemy. I didn’t find his argument about how it would help the enemy very persuasive, but because there’s a war on I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. I’ve done that a number of times over the years, and each time it’s turned out that going with the story wouldn’t have caused any harm. It’s always a difficult decision, made more difficult by the fact that it always seems to happen late in the day when you’re under deadline pressure. When I killed the story on Thursday, it was 5:30 – an hour to air – and I left the Evening News broadcast without a lead story which they had been counting on all day. Not a good career move.

So how do you decide that a story contains sensitive information that shouldn’t see the light of day? In war, you can make an extreme case that almost any accurate information about the U.S. military is news the enemy can use. A story about the Army being “stretched too thin” or even “broken” by the pace of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could be said to encourage the enemy to fight on. A story I did this week about new pictures of abuse from Abu Ghraib could be said to increase the likelihood of violence against American soldiers in Iraq. Indeed, the Pentagon made exactly that case when it went to court to try to prevent the photos from being released under the Freedom of Information Act. But that’s too hypothetical for me. The story I killed dealt with specific techniques and how well they were or weren’t working against IEDs. It wasn’t as simple as “you report this and American soldiers will die,” but I could see how it might conceivably be news the enemy could use to make their IEDs more effective. It wasn’t clear cut, but it was close enough.

Effectively, we're talking about self-imposed self-censorship on a lot of important shit that we as Americans need to know about stretching effectively from now until the end of time that eye can see. Shouldn't that be a scandal and a huge story in and of itself? Or would that provide aid and comfort to the enemy too?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Question of the day

Sifu Tweety asks:
If Faction A destroys the fourth-most holy site (built 11 centuries ago) of Faction B with a gigantic bomb in the middle of the day, inciting dozens of retaliatory attacks, is it maybe a little late to ask if this will start a civil war?

Anti-Americanism everywhere

It seems that just about half of South Korea's youths would back North Korea in the conflict if the U.S. unilaterally decided to attack the North's nuclear facilities, if this poll is to be believed.

It seems to me that there are three ways to interpret this rather disheartening piece of news...

(1) "It seems that just about half of South Korea's youths would back North Korea in the conflict if the U.S. unilaterally decided to attack the North's nuclear facilities, if this poll is to be believed."
Ergo, nationalism trumps. Even if your compatriot is a giant asshat like Kim Jong-il.

(2) "It seems that just about half of South Korea's youths would back North Korea in the conflict if the U.S. unilaterally decided to attack the North's nuclear facilities, if this poll is to be believed."
Everybody hates us. Even the populace of one of our staunchest allies.

(3) "It seems that just about half of South Korea's youths would back North Korea in the conflict if the U.S. unilaterally decided to attack the North's nuclear facilities, if this poll is to be believed."
Or maybe people just really, really don't like it when we go it alone instead of working within the international community.

I don't know which is more depressing, really.


Worse than Apartheid

I suppose it is hard to work up too much outrage over taxes when both sides of the conflict are lobbing bombs at each other (the delivery device is different), but this is a good illustration of the power (im)balance in the Israeli-Palestinian region:
In the Los Angeles Times today, Amira Hass points out that Palestinians are currently being robbed of their rightful tax revenue by the Israeli Cabinet:
At the ports, Palestinian importers are required to pay the Israeli authorities the value-added tax of 17%, as well as whatever custom taxes are due on goods that come in on their way to the West Bank or Gaza. These transactions (along with direct Palestinian transactions with Israeli firms and merchants) last year yielded revenues of $711 million.

But whose revenues are they?

To judge by the actions of the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday, the money belongs to Israel. The Cabinet announced that it was going to withhold Palestinian tax and customs revenues, at least for the moment, as a response to Hamas' electoral victory. Until the money is released — if it is released — the Israeli treasury will earn the interest.
It's a real problem; under the Oslo Accords, the revenue belongs to the Palestinian Authority—it's not Israel's money to withhold. But as it happens, I don't think Hass goes anywhere near far enough. Without getting into too much finger-pointing, it seems fairly straightforward the tax and tariff system set up by Israel has always been inherently devastating to the Palestinians, regardless of whether the Israel Cabinet is withholding funds or not. The entire system's a travesty.
Hey, since even the neocon wonk's neocon wonk, Francis Fukuyama, is doing it, why shouldn't I indulge in a spot of materialist analysis on this issue? Let me quote Fukuyama here:
What is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern — that is, technologically advanced and prosperous — society, which, if satisfied, tends to drive demands for political participation. Liberal democracy is one of the byproducts of this modernization process[.]
I'm not asking Israelis to shower their enemy with the milk of human kindness here. Well, maybe I am. But I am asking them to do it out of self-interest, properly understood. They should be doing everything within their power to keep the Palestinian people Fat and Happy. In general, a Fat and Happy people does not risk their necks for ideology. Marx's revolution failed to take root in the west because the proletariat in western countries were too Fat and Happy. The autocratic regime in China is toeing a fine line -- it knows that a Fat and Happy people would eventually demand democracy, but that forment might come now if it doesn't work on getting its people Fatter and Happier all the time.

So why are the Israelis working doubletime against their own interests to keep the Palestinian people as lean and poor as possible?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Is our children learning?

(HT Dadahead)
U.S. citizens must understand the United States' history of empiricism in order to speak out against and stop the war in Iraq, said historian, author and political activist Howard Zinn Friday....

He went on to say the United States has had a long history of civilizing people, or at least claiming to.

"The United States is behaving like all the empirical powers have in the past," Zinn said.
As Gene quipped, "we live in a country where most of the population believe that the world was created in six days. Empiricism is the least of our problems."

I am such a nerd

When I read about this conference on Mereology, Topology, and Location being held in October, my first thought was, "If I ever hit the Powerball jackpot, I'll get to travel to all sorts of cool philosophy conferences."

Yes, I know it's an oxymoron.

(Via Brian Weatherson.)

In praise of the Drumstir

This is the kind of post that makes the Drumstir great. The whole post's good. Here's a few snips:

Matt Yglesias notes that "Giving Bush the benefit of the doubt is not a sound policy as a general matter." That's an excellent point. And causing Bush some political pain is a worthy goal.

But there are limits, and encouraging the xenophobic jingoism that's driving this controversy is a little too much for me. Unless there are serious substantive reasons to oppose this deal, I'm not willing to jump on the bandwagon solely because it's an opportunity for some righteous Bush bashing.[snip]

In the end, there's nothing left to this controversy except the raw question of whether the government of the United Arab Emirates is sympathetic to international terrorism and therefore likely to implement policies that would make it easier for al-Qaeda to infiltrate ports in the U.S. — something most analysts seem to think is pretty far-fetched. God knows I wouldn't mind some congressional oversight on this question, especially if it prompted some serious action on actual port security, but if turns out that the UAE is really untrustworthy then I'd like to find someplace else for the Navy to park their ships too. The port of Dubai is the busiest port of call for the United States Navy outside the continental United States.

In the absence of serious evidence of untrustworthiness, though, I'd prefer to walk the liberal internationalism walk instead of jumping ship for short term political gain. I've said before that engaging seriously with the Arab world is the best way of fighting terrorism, and I meant it. This is a chance to do exactly that.[snip]

[T]he whole thing feeds on a mindless anti-Arab jingoism that's genuinely dangerous, and that's why I'm not joining the fun unless I hear some really good reasons for doing so. As liberals, we're either serious about engaging with the Muslim world in a sensible, non-hysterical way or we're not. Which is it?

"Level-headed" and "sensible" are not usually high praises. But I think it is in the arena of political commentary. The temptation to hyperbolize to strengthen your case is great, yet what is much more valuable is an ability to cut through the morass. This is why the best Kevin Drum posts often ends with a either/or scenario followed by "Which is it?" as in the quote above.

Despite his occasional inexplicable lapses in judgement, Kevin Drum remains my favorite of the "A-list" bloggers. In fact, I would go as far to say that he is the guy that inspired me to start blogging and whose style I try hardest to emulate.

What does he get in return from me? A stealth campaign to get the nickname "the Drumstir" to stick in the internets. What can I say. Pandas are not grateful creatures.


Check out my latest post at Ezra's regarding the whole Portgate bruha.

Basically, I think that it is ridiculous to get all uptight about a UAE-run company managing the ports when it is only taking over from another foreign company. For once, Bush is right. But politically, he has stepped in a big doodoo and can expect to get raked over the coals for this.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

We need selective Omerta

My post remarking on the unfortunate decision by one of Hackett's staffers/consultants to go public with the opposition research they did on Sherrod Brown after Hackett withdrew generated quite a lot of discussion at Ezra's. It's all interesting, and might be worth a gander. I am quite appalled by people who think that Hackett got shafted and Sherrod Brown had it coming. It seemed quite lost on them that an internecine battle between two Democrats is exactly what we don't need as the election looms -- our real opponent is across the aisle.

Nick Beaudrot of Electoral Maths
What mechanisms do the Republican Party have for preventing this from happening? Because it doesn't. There were bitter contested primaries in Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Florida and there wasn't any post-mortem leaking of anything.

Clearly something about the culture prohibits speaking out after the campaign. But what?
Commenter Michael answered in one word: Omerta, that is, the old mafia code of loyalty that made speaking out against the family punishable by death. We can argue that "omerta" is a bad thing in politics as it stifles dissent and concentrate power into fewer and fewer large blocks. But what is clear is, if power is already concentrated in two large factions, the faction that commands absolute loyalty is going to kick the crap out of the faction that does not. Now, I really don't want the Democrats (as if, haha) to achieve Republican levels of cohesion and lockstep. On an ideological level I find that to be distasteful. The question is, how do we fight a machine if we are much better at organizing into circular firing squads?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Meme of fours

I have been tagged.

Four Jobs I've Had
1. PA for entrepreneur guy
2. Field Canvasser for the DNC
3. Briefly and disasterously, property manager for my mom
4. ?

Four Movies I can watch over and over
1. Groundhog day (natch)
2. A Clockwork Orange
3. Silence of the Lambs
4. Raise the Red Lantern

Four Places I've lived
1. Taipei, Taiwan
2. Melbourne, Australia
3. London, England
4. Amherst, Massachusetts

Four TV shows I love:
1.Battlestar Galactica
2: Father Ted (British Sitcom featuring three priests and their housekeeper on a remote island off the coast of Ireland.)
3. Good Eats (cooking show with Alton Brown)
4. The Daily Show/Colbert Report (so similar in content/style that I really consider TCR an extension of TDS, like Karen.)

Four highly regarded and recommended TV shows I haven’t seen (much of):
1. The West Wing (also like Karen)
2. The Gilmore Girls (Friends of mine are obsessed by this show. So far I remain uninfected.)
3. 24 (also like Karen)
4. Just about all of those highly-regarded HBO series

Four places I’ve vacationed:
1. All over Italy
2. The Lake District in England
3. China, including Guilin
4. Florida

Four of my favorite dishes:
1. Sushi
2. Creme caramel
3. Pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup)
4. Dim Sum (cheating, because it is a bunch of different foods. But don't make me pick...)

Four sites I visit daily:
1. Dadahead
2. Ezra Klein
3. Washington Monthly
4. Dymaxion World

Four places I'd rather be right now:
1. Taipei, Taiwan
2. Ho Chi Ming city, Vietnam
3. Any stupid package hotel as long as it is located in a sunny clime with a beach and a pool with a swim-up bar. It's the time of year getting to me.
4. Lucca, Italy

Four new bloggers I'm tagging:
1. Mark of Doubting to Shuo
2. Rob Farley of LGM
3. The Kn@ppster
4. Issac from the Armchair Economist, because he really should be blogging more.

Loners of the world, unite!

We don't come with manuals, so here's one if you don't know how to care for your introvert. Though if you are reading this, who knows, maybe you are one yourself.

I resisted the "introvert" label for a long time, because I do actually like people, I just find it hard to interact with them in groups unless I know them very well. Sometimes I try to fit in better by trying to "turn up the volume" on my chit-chat game. Hilarity ensues. Not. Lately I have come to terms with the fact that I am a bit of a lost cause when it comes to being gregarious around strangers (something that is pseudoscientifically proven). Ironically, I think this improves my schmooze-fu somewhat because I'm not trying so hard all the time.

Jonathan Rauch is talking about his own condition here, but he might as well be giving me my diagnosis. Kevin Drum too, felt a chord was struck. Emphasis mine:
It's chit-chat. I have no gift for that. I have to think about what to say next, and sometimes I can't think fast enough and end up saying something stupid. Or sometimes I just come up dry and the conversation kind of ends for while until I can think of another topic. This is why it's work for me. It takes positive cognition on my part. I think that's probably a core introvert characteristic that you and I have in common and which can probably be distinguished from shyness per se—that small talk takes conscious effort and is very hard work. There's nothing small about small talk if you're an introvert.
Rauch is ready to rumble. Albeit jokingly, he is talking about a Introverts' rights movement. I wish him and other fellow introverts luck in making the world a more introvert-friendly place.


I have a feeling that this is the kind of coverage that the Dutch tourism board is looking for...young, good-looking people partying down in Amsterdam and liveblogging it. (Be sure to check out the digs they give this blogger). Ezra Klein have chosen the guestblogging route, but he's holding up he's end of the bargain with lots of priceless pictures.
I guess they're trying to get away from this kind of image...
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Meanwhile, we co-bloggers are running wild at Ezra's. In particular, I would recommend this post in which Ezra is revealed as Matt LeBlanc's twin.


Sign outside Stamey's barbeque in Greensboro:
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So, thinking about holding up the joint? Think again, punk. Have yourself some delicious Stamey's lexington-style chopped barbeque instead. It's what I did.

In other Greensboro signage "news", I did a double take when I saw a billboard of Oliver North beaming down at me from on high. "Breakfast with Col. Oliver North", the sign said, "[sponsored by] Boy Scouts of America".

I did a double-take. Did I really just see that? Because, pardon me, but when I think Ollie North, I don't generally think "boy scout". But lo, I came home and googled, and it was true! A good discussion of this controversial choice can be found here.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Panda graffiti

Lindsay Beyerstein took this cool pic of panda graffiti in Amsterdam.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

It would sure keep me away...

Reuters reports that Australian scientists have synthesized a potent pest-repellant from tiger excrement.
Researchers at the University of Queensland said on Friday they had successfully trailed a tiger poo repellant, warding off wild goats for at least three days.

"Goats wouldn't have seen a tiger from an evolutionary point of view for at least 15 generations but they recognize the smell of the predator," repellent creator Peter Murray said in a statement.

"If we can show this lasts weeks ... we've just tapped into probably a billion-dollar market. It's enormous," he said.

And if they ever find a way to make a useful product from bullshit, Glenn Reynolds will be a very rich man. *Rimshot*

Friday, February 17, 2006

Orin Kerr joins Maye defense team

Radley Balko reports that Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy has joined Cory Maye's defense team.

Cool blog names

My former co-blogger Chris Lawrence of Signifying Nothing, on learning of my move from Dark Bilious Vapors to Battlepanda, wrote that I'm "continuing [my] streak of moving to blogs with ever-cooler names."

I've always been disappointed that none of the various blog awards have a category for "coolest blog name."

So I put the question to the readers of Battlepanda: Which blogs have the coolest names? And which ones have the lamest?

Friday catblogging

The Panther in her natural habitat: lounging on a rug.

Fraternity Pranks

Rush Limbaugh on the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, May 4, 2004:
CALLER: It was like a college fraternity prank that stacked up naked men.

LIMBAUGH: Exactly. Exactly my point! This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?
New Abu Ghraib photos released by, February 16, 2006.

I cannot stay away

I just said that I was going to be mostly gone over the next week and I'm posting again already. I'm fickle like that. This snippet from Mark's experiences teaching English in Taiwan is not wonky posting-at-Ezra material, but it's too funny not to share with you all:

Naturally enough, a lot of the “English” names they pick aren’t very English at all. I don’t think I ever met or heard of a single Coco before I came to Taiwan (though I did know a dog named Cocoa), but I must have taught or met at least 30 Cocos since coming here. The same goes for Kiki, Yoyo, Mimi, and several other popular “English” names here. I’m not really a big fan of these names, since they AREN’T going to familiarize the kids with commonly used English names. But, hey. If it makes them happy, then why not?

There is one kind of “English” name, though, that I can’t stand. It’s the mis-spelt name given by Taiwanese teachers from the public schools. My new students of this type have included an Anterny, a Cynphia, an Avy, a Jesper, a Weever, a San, and a Weanston. The problem with these “English” names, beyond the fact that they aren’t English, is that English speakers (including myself) always think that the kids are mispronouncing real names. I already have a lot of names to remember, and it really sucks trying to remember if Jesper is the one who insists that is name is pronounced as “Jeesper” or if it was Cynphia that insists she’s “Seenvia”. Worse yet, after practicing with each other for a few years, the kids will have the exact same problems with real English names. I don’t really want to be some sort of “cultural imperialist”, but there is a point at which I can’t take the Engrish. I sat the parents down and explained that their kids’ names were the result of letting non-natives with really screwed up phonics try to remember real names. At first they were incredulous. “Are you sure Weanston’s not a popular English name?” Fortunately, by the end, I got Cynphia to become Cynthia, Avy to become Amy, Jesper to become Jasper, Weever to become Webber, San to become Sam, and Weanston to become Winston. Anterny isn’t budging, though.

My mom supposedly picked "Angelica" randomly out of an English name book. It's unusual. Sometimes people like to pronounce it "ahn-jeh-LEEK-ah", which sounds funny, but I can deal. I'm glad Mom did her research as opposed to trying to remember this Engrish name she heard once...

At Ezra's

Hey Folks.

I'm going to be guest-blogging at Ezra Klein's while he spends a week in Amsterdam on the Dutch Tourism Board's dime, that lucky duck. Don't worry, you won't be neglected as Brock and Gene will keep you entertained. I'll also be reporting back with what I've been up to once in a while.

A little cartoon jujitsu

As I'm sure all you folks know, the consistently batshit-crazy Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadenijad has sponsored a Holocaust cartoon contest in response to the Danish cartoons. It's a loathesome response to an offensive incident, but it seems that Ahmadenijad's challenge of free speech is backfiring on him somewhat. An Israeli cartoonist is sponsoring an anti-Semitic cartoon contest, with the stipulation that all entrants must themselves be Jewish.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Two Foody pieces

I'm kicking back with my good friend Quyen, who is a food fanatic. She points me to two articles that surely document the fall of our civilization. First, the Crunch Pak -- apples pre-sliced and dipped in "sealant" to prevent them from browning so that they can be stocked on shelves and ready to go.
Crunch Pak was one of the first companies that labored to bring the new
apple on line. Each found early on that what can be done casually at home —
slicing an apple and squeezing lemon juice on it — is maddeningly difficult to
pull off in a factory. The anti-browning bath is only one movement in a grand
symphony of technologies at work. For nearly two decades, teams of food
scientists, engineers and can-do businessmen struggled to pin down the apple,
while the apple skirted and ducked them at every turn. They zigged, the apple
zagged. Clearing one hurdle only brought more into view, and even now the
particulars of production must be reassessed and rejiggered daily. The apple,
Freytag told me when we first met, "is a moving target."

Secondly, we have the sad (but not wholly unexpected) case of the organic product that is hardly any better than conventional. Shame on you, Horizon farms.
In recent weeks, as revelations of Horizon's farming practices have come to light, a collection of consumer groups and organic dairy farmers have erupted in protest. Horizon and similar dairies are capitalizing on the boom in organic foods, they say, but diluting the true meaning of the term. Contrary to genuine organic practices, which entail raising cows on open pastures, where the animals feed on grass, experts say that a substantial percentage of cows at farms like Horizon's are confined to pens, fed a diet of proteins and grains, and produce milk that, while free of hormones, is not as healthy as it could be.

The radical empiricist fringe

OMG! The scientists are rioting!

OK, not really.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The best thing I've read on the Danish Mohammed cartoons

The best thing I've read on the Danish Mohammed cartoons and the wave of violence in the Muslim world that they precipitated is this pair of posts at Left2Right by Prof. Jamie Tappenden at the University of Michigan.

I'm not sure whether Prof. Tappenden is a Dane himself, but he does speak Danish, and so has been able to follow this story from a perspective that no one else in the English-speaking blogosphere has been able to. In particular, he makes a couple of points that way too many of my fellow liberals have missed.

His first point is that the outrage and riots are not primarily directed toward the actual Jyllands-Posten cartoons, but toward the three fakes that circulated in the Middle East along with them.
One more thing should be said, and should not be forgotten as embassies burn: by the standards of a secular society committed to robust, free and open debate about ideas and beliefs, including religious ideas and beliefs, even the harshest of these caricatures is very mild.

The mildness of the cartoons was implicitly acknowledged by the radical Danish Muslim group led by Imam Akkari that toured the Middle East this fall to stir up outrage. The tabloid Ekstra Bladet documented that in addition to the twelve original cartoons, they mixed in three appalling and hateful ones, depicting in a harsh and amateurish way an imam with a pig snout (the recently discovered original turned out to be an AP wire photo of a costumed performer in a French pig-calling festival), a man sodomized by a dog, and a bloodthirsty pedophile.
His second point is that the prohibition in Islam of depictions of Mohammed has nothing to do with the outrage and riots.
The basis for the objections is often cited to be at least in part the religious injunction against depictions of Mohammed. The reason given for this injunction is that such depictions potentially foster idolatry. But if that is the basis, then cartoons 1 and 3 are much more serious violators. Insulting caricatures incorporating aggressive messages are unlikely to induce idolatry, and if anything would discourage it! I doubt that anyone will be worshiping the representation in cartoon 11 anytime soon. All this indicates what I think is also independently obvious: the religious taboo isn’t really what is at issue here, and invoking it is beside the point. What is at issue is the "insult" to the prophet taken to be incorporated into cartoon 11 but not into the much-ignored, more-potentially-idolatry-prompting cartoon 1.
(Prof. Tappenden refers to the cartoons by numbers, based on their positions in this image.)

In short, the cartoonists and editors of Jyllands Posten did nothing wrong or questionable here. The sole parties to blame are the radical Danish Muslims who stoked the outrage in the Middle East.

Prof. Tappenden's third point is that the Jyllands Posten cartoons are not deserving of the quick dismissal that many have made. Prof. Tappenden examines each cartoon, explaining the allusions in several that non-Danes would not be familiar with, and concludes
All in all, I think we are making a mistake to approach these cartoons as if they were of no intrinsic worth, to be published only as an exercise in facing down thugs who would use violence to chip away at the commitments of a free society. In fact, as a bunch, they’re pretty good, and they stand in their own right as a nice testament to the variety and richness of opinion that free societies make possible.

Is David Hockney right?

Are the Old Masters' paintings so, well, masterful because artists of yore "cheated" with optics? Occam's razor says "no" -- David Hockney claims that he detects the use of optics in the work of artists from Van Eyck to Ingres. For this practice to persist so widely over so many years yet remain completely undocumented and unrecognized simply beggars belief.

Then again, it also seems to beggar belief in a way that, if this technology was available, generations upon generations of artists who made it their life's work to create lifelike representations and obsessive verisimiltitude would spurn this undoubtedly powerful shortcut. Remember, the advent of photography made realistic depictions cheap, but back in the days of the old masters, a lifelike image is of great value in and of itself. Even the two-dimensional images obtained using any optical equipment is upside down and impermanent. Unlike a photograph, a projected image is not something you could hold and own. It seemed to me that given the tremendously high value placed on realistic images, artists would take advantage of this technology with impunity, though they might prefer to keep mum about it in front of their patrons, the same way they keep other aspects of their craft hidden, such as the grid structure that they use to painstaking ensure details and patterns are correct.

So, I think both Hockney and his distractors are wrong. The real answer probably lie somewhere in the middle -- I've no doubt that the old masters would explore any technique or avenue that gives them more insight or facilitate the painting process, but the use of optics is surely not the key to their mastery. After all, there are plenty of artists who paint from photographs now, and while many create fascinating works, nobody is recreating old-master type paintings. Whether or not this is A Bad Thing is up for debate. I certainly find Hockney's theories fascinating, and whether or not he is ultimately right, he has given me a new avenue into looking at the work of Old Masters and he has added a lot more of interest to the discussion than his reactionary adversaries, who frankly seem to have an ideological need to believe that Hockney is wrong.

Do the Duffel

Yes, I realize that this is the sort of thing my craft blog is for. But heck, I just can't help myself. The world needs to behold the duffel bag I just completed.
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Instructions here for the crafty.

Who else was unromantic for Valentine's day

My husband's big Valentine's day present to me was walking the dog. Since he walks the dog anyhow, I guess Valentine's day wasn't as much celebrated as noted and passed over in the Gauvin-Oung household. Lest you think that he is neglecting his new wife, let me assure you that this is quite normal -- Gene never got me anything for Valentine's day, and frankly, I don't miss the roses wrapped in cellophane, overpriced chocos and hallmark card. Glad to know that we're not the only unromantic ones though. According to Lindsay, on Valentine's day:
Thad woke me early this morning to confirm that Paul Hackett threw in the towel in Ohio.

Another thing I don't understand

Is it really still called a "heart attack" when you have heart failure that is based on a foreign object piercing (or in this case, I guess "migrating into") heart tissue? I mean, someone shot in the head is not described as dying from "massive brain haemorrage" even though that is what it technically would be. (HT Elaine for the analogy)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A few observations, is all...

Why is it that a president's expert advisor on any given subject is called a "czar"? Isn't it more appropriate to call somebody in that kind of role a "vizier" or something? Or am I unclear on what a "czar" is supposed to do?

Lance Mannion probably has the best and most comprehensive take on the withdrawal of Paul Hackett. I hope Hackett gets over the pique that is evident in his farewell missive, for the Democrat's sake.

Boy getting peppered good by Cheney sure is funny. Especially all that lead shot migrating to the heart business -- Hi-larious. That is, if administration officials makes the cracks, such as Jeb Bush slapping an orange sticker on his chest and quipping "I'm a little concerned that Dick Cheney is going to walk in." Badabing! However, if Dana Milbank does the same joke, then it is outrageous stunt deserving of an uproar.

And speaking of double-standards, I agree completely with Glenn Reynolds that he should not be held accountable as Ann Coulter's keeper. Let's make a deal, Instapundit. If you leave off assuming that the lack constant, self-flagellating condemnation of Ward Churchill and his ilk implies agreement to his odious views by commentators on the left, then maybe we'll stop demanding that your explicit disavowal of Ann Coulter's latest idiotic and bigoted comments. Until then, just saying "You can't assume that everyone is keeping up with everything, and I tend mostly to ignore Coulter" really isn't going to cut it. Turn around is fair play and all that.

He didn't get out of this world alive

There are enough hipster Johnny Cash fans to line around the block in the blogisphere (not that there's anything wrong with that -- I'm one my self, the Johnny Cash fan part, not the hipster part), but it's a rare thing indeed to find another blogger with a good appreciation of Hank Williams. He's too twangy. Too Honky. Too embarrasingly lacking in crossover appeal.

I agree with Publius' take on Hank Williams' songs. (At least, I think I do. I'm never sure what people mean once they start doing things like referencing the Nietzchean idea of human emotion.) While there is nothing wrong with them and some of them are classics of their kind, I don't think they have enough intrinsic poeticism to merit the title "the Hillbilly Shakespeare" for Hank. If anything, I think Hank Williams is more like the Hillbilly Billy Holliday -- the soulfulness and the art in both performers come more in the delivery than the song than is contained in the song itself. Both have unconventional, "flawed" voices that are paradoxically more expressive than the kind of smooth delivery we associate with the "perfect" voice. Both artists transcend their material.

Exhibit A for my theory: Norah Jones' anodyne delivery of "Cold, cold heart". It is possible to do great covers of Hank William songs. But you must do more than just sing the song -- you need to take a little bit of Hank with you when you do it. Norah Jones, who does have a great voice, does a pretty straight-up smooth Jazz version that sounds tailor-made for Adult contemporary radio. I think comparing her version and Hank's of "Cold, cold heart" is pretty good evidence that Hank William's songs, even the best ones, are simply the blank canvas rather than poetry in and of themselves.

Exhibit B: Kaw-Liga, one of my favorite Hank Williams Songs of all time --

Kaw-Liga was a wooden indian standing by the door
He fell in love with the Indian maid over by the antique store
Kaw-Liga ---- Just stood there and never let it show, so she could never answer yes or no

You get the idea. Musically, the song is an effective but simplistic one-chord approximation of "Indian" music. Lyrically, it's nowhere as hokey as a song about song about a lovelorn cigar store indian would be expected to be. It's got a nice wistfulness that reminds me of Hans Anderson's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier". But it's hardly anything special either. No. What elevates "Kaw-Liga" into the realm of the extraordinary is that crackly, nasal delivery. It's the way Williams break into falsetto for the final syllable of "kaw-li-JAH...." that infuses the song with the necessary dose of lonesome.

Let's stop talking dirty and get empirical

I guess the end of my previous post on the male/female housework differential kind of touched on the tangent the discussion has developed into:
I have a feeling that both the Stepford Housewife who is more like a high-priestess to the shrine of her immaculate home and the frat-boy who has so many dead pizza boxes in his room that his floor is no longer visible are victims of gendered expectations of behavior.
Both Ezra and Scott of LGM rightly complain that Amanda, Belle (and I) have not addressed the flip side of the coin -- to some degree, the (we agree) troubling phenomenon of women still doing the bulk of the housework in two-salary households is due to the male part of the sketch not pulling his weight, but on the other hand, to some degree, the problem is caused by unreasonably high standards in house cleanliness that is rooted in the sexist assumption that there is a woman at home whose full-time job it is to uphold that standard. It seems rather hard to blame the man for being more immune/oblivious to those assumptions because they weren't inculcated from childhood that their worth would be judged by the picked-upedness of their kitchens.

I do think that this discussion has gotten to the point where it is getting to be more and more of an empirical matter. Like a lot of things. For instance, Americans as a group certainly tend to have more of an obesity problem. But it is also true that unreasonable standards of slenderness accounts for a lot of the negative self-image problems that plague women in particular in this country. Sometimes, it could be a little bit of both. And it's awfully hard to draw the line.

So, with this in mind, here is my personal perception of what's dirty, what's neat, and what's freak-neat. Guys should be frowned upon for not doing their part to keep the household neat, or at least out of the dirty zone. But not for not keeping it spotless. Of course, all this is very personal, and this is just my 2 cents:

Dirty: not cleaning the kitchen floor for more than once a week
Neat: sweeping the floor every couple of days
Neat-freak: Keeping it washed every day

Dirty: Not breaking out the vacuum for weeks on end
Neat: vacuuming every week or so
Neat-freak: vacuuming every day

Dirty: Dishes piled up in the sink overnight, or (gulp) longer
Neat: Dishes piled up in the sink, mostly cleaned up before bed
Neat-freak: No dishes piled up in the sink, ev-ar

Dirty: 75% (non-furnished) floorspace non-visible
Neat: 75% floorspace visible
Neat-freak: <95% floorspace visible.

Dirty: Ceiling fans, hard-to-reach ledges etc. never dusted
Neat: all surfaces gotten to at least during yearly spring cleaning
Neat-freak: White glove treatment

Dirty: Don't remember last time sheets were changed. What's the point of making the bed
Neat: Sheets changed weekly, most of the time. Bed made at some point most days.
Neat-freak: Sheets changed more often than weekly. Bed made right after waking up every day.

I have to say, judging by my own criteria, Gene and I sometimes fall into the 'dirty' catagory. We are especially bad when it comes to vacuuming. But we aspire to neatness, and I think I would be well within my rights to haranguing him into doing more housework to achieve neatness. But I don't, because that would be hypocritical when I am so lazy around the house. We do tend to separate tasks into "specialities" which I think is sensible. He's the bedmaker. When I make the bed, he complains that I do it all wrong. He's also the laundry folder. But I do more in terms of general picking up, I like to think.

This is just lame

WASHINGTON - They enter the massage parlors as undercover detectives. They leave as satisfied customers.

In Spotsylvania County, as part of a campaign by the sheriff's office to root out prostitution in the massage parlor business, detectives have been receiving sexual services from "masseuses." During several visits to Moon Spa on Plank Road last month, detectives allowed women to perform sexual acts on them on four occasions and once left a $350 tip, according to court papers.

Spotsylvania Sheriff Howard D. Smith said that the practice is not new and that only unmarried detectives are assigned to such cases. Most prostitutes are careful not to say anything incriminating, so sexual contact is necessary, he said.

"If I thought we could get the conviction without that, we wouldn't allow it," Smith said. "If you want to make them, this has to be done."

Talking about eating your cake and having it. This is having your whore and then screwing her. And don't get me started on the $350 tip. Via the Agitator.

Hackett's out

(Via Dadahead)

I know quite a few progressive blogger's hearts would be broker over this, but after reading the quotes Dadahead pulled over the circumstances and manner of Hackett's departure, I can't help but feel it's all for the best, really.

However, I still have a lot of respect for Hackett. I think he's a good guy, just not the right guy for this particular race at this particular time. He said his decision not to run for Congress instead of the Senate (which I initially attributed to pique) was due to having already made prior promises to candidates in that field not to run, and I see no reason to doubt his word. I hope that Hackett can stay active and keep his eye on the ball in the long run instead of dropping out of politics all together. It would be a shame for our side to lose him.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Monday Book Blogging: Watching the English

Watching the English by Kate Fox

This book is probably going to be unfamiliar to most of you, but it sold quite briskly in England, for obvious reasons. Kate Fox does a delightful job of putting English quirks and habits under the microscope in a cheerfully self-deprecating manner that is, if I may say so, quite English. Frankly, I would love it if more anthropologists quite bothering remote tribes and turn their attention to their own cultures. I certainly wish somebody would write such a book about Americans.

The take-away message from Fox's book seems to be that the England is an island full of dysfunctional, socially inept, rules-obsessed class-obsessed people who are perpetually joking to cover up how mortified they are. I don't think many English people would dispute that. Talking to one of my friends today, I found out that my pre-review snippet of Watching the English made so much of an impression on her that she tried to find the book while she was at the bookstore yesterday. I'll give her my copy when I see her this weekend. If any of you happen to be similarly inspired, I'd be tickled pink if you purchase your copy through my Amazon Affiliates.

Wyld Stallyans Rule!

A group of Finnish scientists have made a breakthrough in air guitar technology.
You simply put on a pair of orange gloves, stand in front of a camera which is attached to a computer and the software reads your hand movements to create music, of a sort.

Simply by frantically waggling your hands in a vague imitation of playing a guitar you can do a passable impression of a guitar soloist.
Party on, Finland!

Hello, World!

Many thanks to Angelica and Gene for inviting me to co-blog with them.

For those of you who don't know me from my former blog-homes, Dark Bilious Vapors and Signifying Nothing, I'm Brock.

A bit about me:

I live in Midtown Memphis, TN. The best thing about Memphis is WYPL, which plays Memphis music nightly from 8 to midnight.

I'm a professional all-purpose computer geek (Unix/Linux sysadmin, Informix/MySQL database administrator, and perl programmer).

I attended Rhodes College as an undergrad, and the University of Rochester as a grad student. I dropped out of a PhD program in philosophy when the funding ran out. A bit of my philosophical genealogy: W.V. Quine->David Lewis->Philip Bricker->Ted Sider->me. That's a pretty respectible pedigree.

My politics: liberal (of course), pro-trade, pro-immigration, pro-choice, and pro-vice.

I'm currently reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger and Philosophies of Mathematics by Alexander George and Daniel Velleman.

My latest hobby is postcard collecting via Postcrossing. I've started a postcard blog, Postlude, with scans of the postcards I've received.

What to expect from me here: snarky liberal politics, occasional philosophical musings, and stuff that strikes my fancy. And maybe some cat pictures.

But first, in keeping with the panda theme, here's a picture of Le Le from the Memphis Zoo, munching on some bamboo. (I'm not sure whether my wife took this one or I did.)

Introducing Brock

Hey Y'all. It's official. Brock is now a member of the Battlepanda team, joining me and my co-blogger (and husband) Gene. Brock used to be part of Dark Bilious Vapors, which is sadly no more, and you might know him as a commenter here. So make him feel welcome when he gets going, OK?

Crazy little country called Iran

I guess pride over native-son done good trumps anti-gay bigotry. Or maybe the mullahs just have no clue. I don't know:
Rock band Queen, fronted by gay icon Freddie Mercury, has become the first rock act to receive an official seal of approval in Iran.

Western music is strictly censored in the Islamic republic, where homosexuality is considered a crime.

But an album of Queen's greatest hits was released in Iran on Monday.

Mercury, who died in 1991, was proud of his Iranian ancestry, and illegal bootleg albums and singles made Queen one of the most popular bands in Iran.

The album contains hits such as Bohemian Rhapsody, The Miracle and I Want to Break Free, but reportedly omits a number of Queen's love songs.

The cassette, costing less than $1 (55 pence), comes complete with translated lyrics and an explanatory leaflet.

It tells Queen fans that Bohemian Rhapsody is about a young man who has accidentally killed someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil.

On the night before his execution he calls God in Arabic, "Bismillah", and so regains his soul from Satan.

Expandable post blues: Testing...

Click to see if I did it

Belated BSG Blogging

John Holbo's BSG blogging reminds me that I meant to blog about this Friday's BSG episode. Those of you who have not watched yet avert your eyes to the comments, as usual.

Oh, and I'm really going to try and stop being so lame with this already and just learn how to do post summaries sometime soon. But unfortunately, blogger help is of no use at all. It only outlines how to do post summaries if you want all your post to have the exerpt/summary format, which is useless if you only want jumps for the occasional post, and blithely smooth over this oversight by saying "Modifying this feature is left as an exercise for the reader." Cheeky! If I wanted puzzles, I'll buy the frickin NY Times for the crossword. What I want in my help section is the information I need to know!

The Chief Swivelling Freeper

Talking about yer swivelling freepers, take a gander at this quote and try to guess who said this about which president (lifted wholesale from Volokh via Drum):
President ____ exercised the powers of the imperial presidency to the utmost in the area in which those powers are already at their height — in our dealings with foreign nations. Unfortunately, the record of the administration has not been a happy one, in light of its costs to the Constitution and the American legal system. On a series of different international relations matters, such as war, international institutions, and treaties, President ____ has accelerated the disturbing trends in foreign policy that undermine notions of democratic accountability and respect for the rule of law.
I'm sure after my last post everybody guessed Clinton was the Commander in Chief in question. Very good, class. But it's the identity of the speaker that is really going to blow your mind -- John Yoo. Yes. John "what Geneva Convention" Yoo. The go-to guy for the figleaf of plausable legal propriety when it comes to torture for this administration.

They have no shame, and they think the rest of us have no memories extending back before 9/11/2001.

Executive privilege watch

"As quietly as possible (although it sometimes breaks out into the open, usually with the sound of gunfire and the death of innocents), a "shadow government" has been set up all around us my friend. It's foundation is not the constitution, but Executive Orders, Presidential Procalamations, Secret Acts, and Emergency Powers."

"... there are no checks and balances anymore. This is exactly the SORT of thing I've been protesting all along."

"This is one of those ideas that has a valid purpose behind it, but is wide open to terrible abuse. And there's no way to check to see if it is abused.

"Like all things that don't have the light of day shining on them, you can be sure that it is being twisted to suit the purposes of those who hold the power."

"Wonder how many terrorist plots they have stopped? Sounds like despite trampling Constitutional rights, this was ineffective."

"There is a certain element in law enforcement that truly deserves the descriptive term, "jack-booted thugs." They love kicking down doors and shoving loaded guns in the faces of startled people in their pajamas. Their newest excuse for continuing the steady destruction of the Fourth Amendment will be the War On Terrorism."

Are the quotes above decrying the Bush's latest oversteps in executive privilege in the NSA wiretapping scandal? They could be, couldn't they. But no, these are quotes pulled from the comment thread of an old post at the Free Republic blasting the Clinton Whitehouse's expansion of the FISA courts.

So now you know. Circumventing the FISA court is just a part of doing your job as a commander in chief if your name is G.W. Bush. But going through the FISA courts instead of getting a warrant in open court is a jaw-droppingly Kafkaesque abuse of executive privileges if you happen to be Bill Clinton. Got that? I wonder how many of those keyboard warriors who blasted Clinton's dark disregard for civil liberties are out there right now being good little conservatives and carrying water for G.W. over his right to do whatever the hell he wants from torture to illegal wiretapping to extraordinary renditions to ordering hits within the United States.

I look forward to a Democratic presidency for many reasons in '08. But I have to admit that perhaps the part I anticipate with the most purest child-like glee is watching the wingnuts swivel on the issue of executive privilege so fast as to give themselves whiplash.

(HT Matt Y)

What it takes to be a Conservative nowdays

This is read-the-whole-thing material:
It used to be the case that in order to be considered a "liberal" or someone "of the Left," one had to actually ascribe to liberal views on the important policy issues of the day – social spending, abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, immigration, "judicial activism," hate speech laws, gay rights, utopian foreign policies, etc. etc. These days, to be a "liberal," such views are no longer necessary.

Now, in order to be considered a "liberal," only one thing is required – a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush. The minute one criticizes him is the minute that one becomes a "liberal," regardless of the ground on which the criticism is based. And the more one criticizes him, by definition, the more "liberal" one is. Whether one is a "liberal" -- or, for that matter, a "conservative" -- is now no longer a function of one’s actual political views, but is a function purely of one’s personal loyalty to George Bush.
Thus people like Andrew Sullivan, Bob Barr are now considered "liberals" by the Bush loyalists.

Bucks for Bandwidth

As Matt Singer points out, if the telecom companies get their way, we'll still have the internet, but not as we know it:
Broadband companies are talking about charging for preferred bandwidth access to content providers. In other words, if you can’t pony up the bucks, people won’t be able to access your content. For independent content providers like myself, that can spell trouble.

The real problem in all of this is that it would fundamentally take away from what the Internet is, which is a consumer-driven wonderland. Consumers pay for access and have complete discretion about where to go. And whether Skype or iTunes or Left in the West is faster has absolutely nothing to do with whether Skype is buying off the internet company.

Expect for this to be a huge fight as America’s corporations look to claim control over the Internet.
In other words, the broadband providers are seeking to move from an all-you-can-eat to an a la carte model. Almost certainly at the expense of reducing consumer surplus and generally curbing the exuberent activity level of the internet. From the point of view of the broadband providers, doing this would be perfectly justified, Stephen Gorden of the Hammer of Truth articulates this view:
When my wife and I go out to eat, she often eats the Caesar salad while I order the thickest steak in the house. I don’t know anyone who would argue that my tab shouldn’t be higher than hers, as I’m the one consuming more resources. I also know that I can surf for porn all day and not even begin to approach the bandwidth of one VoIP line going 24/7. To some degree, it is fair for people to charge more if greater resources are exhausted in the effort.
(I should add here that Stephen is not a corporate shill -- I'm not sure what his solution would be, but it involves getting "the government out of the picture altogether.")

A few hypotheticals for how this scenario might play out. Ask yourself, which one would you prefer?

1) Legislate to enforce the continuation of the status quo.
2) Let the ISPs charge what their want, but ensure that there is enough competition between ISPs to prevent rampant rent-seeking.
3) Broadband to be treated as an infrastructure, which the government will ensure availability to all, much like the highway.
4) Just let the ISPs charge what they want.

I think that 1) is the easiest solution, 2) is the best, but difficult. 3) is desirable on many levels, and would be my choice except for the fact that it would kill innovation in terms of finding new technology to access the net and 4) is perhaps the fairest, but a disaster from a utilitarian point of view.

Cheap shots that don't miss

I know that the left side of the blogisphere have turned into one big snarking party following Dick Cheney little accident. Well, it's nothing the other side would not have done to us times ten if it happened to be a Democrat, probably complete with some insinuation about how by not shooting straight that Democrat has teh ghey.

But Mark Kleiman's anonymous friend has decided to stop with the snarking and put some facts out there instead. Drumroll please...the facts about the Cheney boo-boo that the MSM is not telling you...
* The Attorney General claims that the Vice President was granted the
power to shoot lawyers under the resolution allowing use of force in

* Cheney is refusing to cooperate with local investigators but has
briefed four senior members of Congress.

* The Pentagon claims that there are already sufficient supplies of body
armor for wealthy Texas lawyers but will be expediting existing

* Based on a report from an Iraqi exile group, a special White House intelligence group had advised the Vice President that the lawyer was Osama bin Laden in disguise.

* Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld agrees that it would have been better if
the Vice President had shot Osama bin Laden. However, he added, "You can't always shoot what you choose to shoot; sometimes you have to shoot what's there to be shot."

* The White House released a statement that the administration will
benefit from having at least one member with experience in a live-fire

* President Bush commented, "You're a helluva shot, Dicky!"

* The Vice President's standing and reputation have been removed under
Secret Service protection to an undisclosed location.

Oh, and here's the scoop on the first picture of the victim...

Chickenhawks at play

So we all heard about Cheney's bad aim. Of course that's good for a yuk or three, but PZ Myers at Pharyngula points out the really revealing aspect of this incident. Here's the Humane Society Statement he quotes:
Monday's hunting trip to Pennsylvania by Vice President Dick Cheney in which he reportedly shot more than 70 stocked pheasants and an unknown number of mallard ducks at an exclusive private club places a spotlight on an increasingly popular and deplorable form of hunting, in which birds are pen-reared and released to be shot in large numbers by patrons. The ethics of these hunts are called into question by rank-and-file sportsmen, who hunt animals in their native habitat and do not shoot confined or pen-raised animals that cannot escape.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today that 500 farm-raised pheasants were released yesterday morning at the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township for the benefit of Cheney's 10-person hunting party. The group killed at least 417 of the birds, illustrating the unsporting nature of canned hunts. The party also shot an unknown number of captive mallards in the afternoon.
I guess the old boy just doesn't feel right if he goes too long without killing something. But you don't expect him to actually hunt his game, do you? I wonder what Bill "Cat killer" Frist does nowdays to get his kicks.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"Dark Bilious Vapors" is no more?

Len over at Dark Bilious Vapors seems to be making a sudden and clean break from blogging. Seems like a classic case of burnout, and I'm hoping that he'll be back after a refreshing break.

Meanwhile, he's making a 'blorphan' out of his co-blogger Brock, who is a valued commenter here. So, Brock, if you need electronic hangout perchance, my blog is your blog.

Happy Darwin Day, Everybody!

"Win one more for the Gipper"

Media Matters have a long memory.

Further, Limbaugh -- who accused the Democrats of "crash[ing] funerals ... to pick up votes" -- used the Reagan funeral to attack Bill and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). On the day of the National Cathedral event, web gossip Matt Drudge published a frame from C-SPAN's broadcast of the funeral in which the Clintons' eyes were closed, accompanied by the headline "CLINTONS REST EYES DURING REAGAN EULOGY." On his June 11 show, Limbaugh informed his audience that the Clintons had simultaneously fallen asleep during the funeral, as Media Matters for America noted.

Conservatives media figures supported politicization of Reagan's death

The same conservatives outraged over Carter and Lowery's remarks, as well as those media figures who questioned the propriety of the comments at the King funeral, found nothing to criticize in the politicization of Reagan's passing. In the days following Reagan's death on June 5, 2004, it was reported that Republican strategists intended to capitalize on parallels between Reagan and Bush in the hopes of bolstering his re-election campaign. The New York Times noted that Bush aides had claimed that Reagan "was the role model for this president, and ... talked of a campaign in which Mr. Reagan would be at least an inspirational presence." A Los Angeles Times article with the headline "Reagan nostalgia may aid Bush" cited Republican strategists as saying that "the nation's outpouring of nostalgia and respect for Reagan may have offered Bush an opportunity to improve his flagging popularity -- if he can find a way to don the mantle of his well-loved predecessor."

KRISTOL: And the president should say, at some point, someone should say this -- the president can't say this -- someone should say at the Republican convention, "Win one more for the Gipper. Win one more for the Gipper."

Now this is how you politicize a funeral.