Battlepanda: March 2006


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

Friday, March 31, 2006

Saturday Crazy Cat blogging

I'm staying at the Taiwanmex Hostel in Taipei until I find accomodations. It's one of those super-economical places, but with a really good vibes and good people. The resident feline is, I shit you not, called "Battlecat", and for good reason. She loves to ambush people and sinking her teeth into you just gently enough not to break skin. Her claws are never fully retracted, even when she's purring on your lap.
Image hosting by Photobucket

I've made the Taiwanmex hostel a website. It's still mostly under construction, and look much better on my mac than on other machines, but you're welcome to take a look.

Not so good for you after all

I thought it was a fairly settled deal that a moderate amount of alcohol discouraged cardiovascular disease. Heck, my dearly-departed Chinese grandma used to take nips of port everyday just for that purpose (she actually didn't like the taste, or so she told me.) But according to Ezra, that link was disproved. Well, if you believe the disprover, and with the disproval of the power of prayer, this makes Grandma 0 for 2.

Friday catblogging

It's difficult to take a good close-up photograph of the Panther. Every time I get close to her with the camera, she wants to rub her face on it.

But I think this one turned out pretty well.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Eyeglasses with more EQ than you do

MIT nerd invents device that detects when you are boring people:
MIT Media Lab researchers are building a device to help autistic people determine if they're boring or annoying the person they're talking to. The "emotional social intelligence prosthetic device" is a camera that clips on eyeglasses and feeds images to a small computer that uses image recognition software to characterize emotions. If the listener doesn't seem to be engaged, the device vibrates to alert the wearer. Progress on the device will be presented at the International Workshop on Wearable and Implantable Body Sensor Networks next week at MIT. From New Scientist:
(Researcher Rana El Kaliouby's) program is based on a machine-learning algorithm that she trained by showing it more than 100 8-second video clips of actors expressing particular emotions. The software picks out movements of the eyebrows, lips and nose, and tracks head movements such as tilting, nodding and shaking, which it then associates with the emotion the actor was showing. When presented with fresh video clips, the software gets people's emotions right 90 per cent of the time when the clips are of actors, and 64 per cent of the time on footage of ordinary people...

Getting the software to work is only the first step, (researcher Rosalind) Picard warns. In its existing form it makes heavy demands on computing power, so it may need to be pared down to work on a standard hand-held computer. Other challenges include finding a high-resolution digital camera that can be worn comfortably, and training people with autism to look at the faces of those they are conversing with so that the camera picks up their expressions.

Now we wait until they invent a device to make us not bore people in the first place. Otherwise bores might be better off not knowing.

16 reasons why Lou Dobbs sucks

I try hard not to dislike Lou Dobbs. I really do. He seems like the kind of doughy, old-fashioned, well-meaning old dude who has his heart in the right place. But every time I turn on his program, he is either scaremongering over the issue of free trade or immigration. La Queen Sucia has a few things or 16 to say to Lou. Here's a taste:
3. The CNN analyst who said today "Keep in mind, Latino voters are LEGAL immigrants, not illegal immigrants" should be FIRED for sloppy thinking. MOST LATINOS ARE NOT IMMIGRANTS AT ALL, PINCHE CABRON.[snip]

8. The US has TWO international borders, not ONE. To date, not a single terrorist has gotten to the US through Mexico; to date, at least two suspected terrorists have arrived here through Canada. In fact, I would not be surprised if, while the media and xenophobes are focused on the Mexican border, terrorists figure out that it might be a good idea to walk over from Vancouver to Seattle for a latte. Oh, and all international anti-American terrorists who have come to the U.S. so far have been *smart* enough to come with passports and other documents supplied to them by the deep pockets of their organizations. Do you really think a terrorist from Saudi Arabia is going to think it's a good idea to swim over the border to Texas or Arizona with a bunch of Mexicans? How stupid is that?!?[snip]

14. Please remember that the least legal and least assimilable of American immigrants were...the English. And the only people who can claim to be true "Americans" are Native Americans.

15. Most Mexicans are Native Americans.

Pink Snow!

When I first heard of this story I thought that something terrible has happened -- meltdown at a chemical plant or somthing -- that caused the snow to turn pink. But apparently, it was just a fluke of weather conditions.

Creamy pink snow has covered the northern regions of Russia’s Maritime territory, news agencies reported Monday.

For some reason, the snow that fell in the densely populated northern regions after a powerful cyclone had acquired a pink color of varying tints.

Experts at the local meteorology centre said sand from neighboring Mongolia was to blame for this unusual natural phenomenon.

Our civilization in decline

ABD reports on the students she TAs at Decent U, many of whom are shocked to discovered that they let just anyone edit Wikipedia.
I think I've mentioned that I'm a TA for a freshman seminar this semester. The kids are all nice enough--your typical eager, bright-eyed first-years. But dear heavens, it's hard to get them out of "book report" mode and into "research paper" mode. I gave them a talk with suggestions for how to go about structuring their paper and so on. And then I spent a fair amount of time discussing what reference materials they might want to look at and which ones they should avoid. I clearly stated that encyclopedias (with the exception the music encyclopedias: New Grove and MGG) were not an acceptable source--I even threw in the "you're not in high school anymore" line.

And then I moved onto the evils of Wikipedia. "Anyone can add to it, so it's not a reliable reference," I said, which yielded wide eyes and a few incredulous "really?"s and "Are you serious?" Clearly, much of my class had availed themselves of Wikipedia in the past. I told them about a past experience grading papers: something odd jumped out at me, and when I looked at the citation, it was for Wikipedia. But it seemed wrong, so I went to Grove (written by actual music scholars), which directly contradicted what Wikipedia had said. So I of course asked the class: which source did I give more weight to in grading this paper?

Fast-forward to today: I was emailed a first rough draft from someone who's clearly on top of things (the paper's not due for another three weeks or so). Two-thirds of the citations are for three different Wikipedia articles and two encyclopedia articles (of the Britannica sort). Can I go bang my head on a wall now?
The kids these days...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How to pour ketchup

Practical science.
Are you one of those people who taps at the bottom of an inverted ketchup bottle, waiting in frustration for the sauce to pour? I am speaking of traditional ketchup bottles, not squeeze tubes, wide-mouth jars, or bottles designed to stand on their heads. Have you ever wondered if there is a right way to do it – a way that works, and makes scientific sense?

Yes, folks, there is a right way to do it, and it does make sense.

(HT: Cynical-C.)


I think John of Dymaxion world has put his finger on exactly what we have done with our legal gymnastics of defining "terrorists" (in quotes because, you know, most of the people we round up are nothing of the sort) as "enemy combatants".
As Gwynne Dyer has written, the fact that we're now worrying about terrorists who, on their best day, killed 3,000 people when we used to worry about total global nuclear annihilation should be cause for rejoicing. Instead, we're now undoing any number of moral, legal, and intellectual safeguards against abuse by the state. [snip]

There are too many problems with torture to identify "one" and say it's the worst. I feel dirty even having to argue against it on practical or moral grounds. But what Ignatieff is ignoring is the human ability to define people as outside the moral community. The same mentality that allowed Nazi technicians to massacre Jews as a day job and go home to their devoted wives and children at night is exactly the mentality that allows, and indeed encourages, torture.

The United States is - as we speak - torturing people in Gitmo, in Iraq, and Afghanistan. Not to mention the unfortunates like Maher Arar who are tortured by proxy. This is being done against "terrorists" (mostly innocent, it turns out) when it was not done systematically against Communists or Fascists because we have defined "terrorism" as a barbaric act, and the terrorists themselves are therefore not deserving of the same protections that we extend to other criminals or even enemy soldiers.

This isn't philosophy, of course - this is the stated policy of the US government. Terrorists are not criminals or soldiers, they are something else that is not protected by the Geneva conventions or the various domestic laws that supposedly bind the US government.

The point is that the US has, philosophically and legally, defined terrorists as subhuman, or at least non-human in the sense that they are not entitled to the same human rights that we all have.

Emphasis mine.


Watch out, here comes the Geocentrists.

Maybe we should put that in our physics textbooks. Teach the debate, you know.

(via Dada)

Non-Monday book blogging: Confederates in the Attic

Now, as you probably realized, dear readers, monday book blogging has been quite erratic lately. Moving to another continent would do that to ya!


GENE: Ugh! This water fountain only dispenses warm water.
ANGELICA: That's the way it's supposed to work. The Chinese believes that drinking cold water is bad for your constitution.
GENE: I've never heard of that before. That's crazy.
ANGELICA: Funnily enough, Stonewall Jackson believed the same thing. He would always drink tepid water.
GENE: Well, he's a loser.
ANGELICA: No he's not. Stonewall Jackson never lost a single battle.
GENE: He was a confederate, wasn't he? They lost the whole war.
ANGELICA: Ah, but Jackson was mortally wounded in Chancellorsville, a battle which he won. He died some months before the end of the war.
GENE: You traitor.

Do I even need to tell you that my husband is a yankee?

It's true, I've been going on a bit of a Civil War kick of late. It started when I read The Killer Angels a while back, followed by this book, Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz, and an audiobook of "Cold Mountain" to pass the time on my long flight to Taipei. I have to say that this is the kind of subject that can really suck one in. Luckily, as an Asian female, I don't see this interest metastasizing into full-blown period re-enactments and battlefield pilgrimages of the sort documented with gusto and ridicule in equal parts by Horwitz. A fact for which Gene is understandably grateful.*

Not that you need to be interested in the Civil War to enjoy Horwitz's book. In fact, I'd say that the opposite is almost true -- Horwitz's book is written for those who are completely clueless about the Civil war save for what they were taught in school, and is unaware of the extent that that conflict still hold the imagination of much of the nation in a thrall. Horwitz is a Blue-state man with a Red-state fetish -- a boyhood fascination with the Civil war that never really went away. As an adult, Horwitz has to hold his interest in tension with his liberal politics. In fact, he is almost like our undercover spy -- one of us passing as one of them:
"Our government is run by a foreign power -- Israel," Walt concluded. "The only way to escape that is a political dissolution of the United States. And the only hope for that I see is a revival of the Confederacy."

Walt returned to his vegetables while I pondered how to respond. "Have you ever met a Jew?" I asked him.

"I knew one in high school. He seemed normal. But that was before I knew anything."

"Well, you've just met your second."

Walt looked up from a pile of oyster mushrooms. "You're a Jew? You don't look Jewish." He studied me, searching for some telltale Semitic clue. "What's your last name again?"


"I should'a guessed." He cut another mushroom. "Well, you know exactly what I'm talking about then. Anyway, it's the big people I'm against, the one pulling strings." He reached for tofu. "Just because a race is bad doesn't mean everyone who belongs to it is." [p83]

Of course, the party line from the modern wavers of the confederate flag is that "the War of Northern Aggression" had nothing to do with racism and slavery, but with "state's rights" (of which the right to hold slaves is only one, I'm sure). Witness the scary "catechism" that the Children of the Cofederacy (an actual organization) are drilled on:
Q. What causes led to the War Between the States, from 1861 to 1865?
A. The disregard of those in power for the rights of the Southern states.
Q. Where was the first slave ship built and launched?
A. In Marble Head, Mass., in 1636.
Q. What was the feeling of the slaves towards their masters?
A. They were faithful and devoted and were always ready and willing to serve them.[p37]

The funny thing is, those are the same folks who will adamantly shun the label of racist, even as they espouse quite transparently racist beliefs. In battlefield terms, I guess they're trying avoiding an re-enactment of Pickett's charge against the face of public oppobrium by sneakily trying to outflank the charges of racism by simply going around it. Even if we accept their public facade of presenting the conflict as Southern Pride against Northern Aggression on its face falue, it is still frustrating race-myopic. We're all supposed to remember Sherman's March as an atrocity until the end of time because he burnt Atlanta (25% of Atlanta, actually) to the ground, but blacks are supposed to just "get over" the slavery thing already?

I don't want to make it sound like Horwitz's book is all about racism and exposing the ugly underbelly of the South. I'd say that the main pleasures afforded this book is Horwitz's knack for American gothic and his obvious and real passion for the war. His most steadfast companion for most the book is an Ohio art-school dropout named Rob who is into Hardcore re-enactment, meaning trying to experience every aspect of the soldier's life as authentically as possible, including starving oneself for that hollow-eyed gauntness and spooning with fellow soldiers for warmth at night. When Rob and other re-enactors are marching barefoot on fried sowbelly, I have no doubt that race relations cannot be further from their minds. When people are proud of their great-great granddaddies who fought for their homes, that's not racism. When people see Lee and Jackson and see larger-than-life heros, that's not a racist thing to do in and of itself. This is where I draw the line between those who are genuinely interested in the Civil war and those who are politicizing it. I have no problems with a confederate flag on a pickup truck. But a confederate flag on a state capitol or on a school would be wrong, just as a "black power" flag or a giant statue of Jesus on those institutions would be wrong.

As Horwitz carefully points out, there's nothing inevitable or history-driven about the current state of simmering discontent in the south. In fact, North-South relations have ebbed and flowed ever since the end of the war. 15 years after his infamous march, Sherman returned to Georgia, where he was cordially recieved by his erstwhile enemies. People seemed to be leaving the war behind and getting on with their lives. There was even a town in the Georgia established to accomodate civil war vets of both sides, old enemies settling as neighbors. The most recent 'hardening' in attitudes did not come until some time in the '80s. And now t-shirts featuring Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first imperial wizard of the Klan are outselling t-shirts featuring Robert E. Lee by something like five to one at the company Horwitz visited. I fine that frightening indeed.

*Just so that you know though, if I were to partake in re-enactments, I would undoubtedly wear blue. Just wouldn't feel right any other way. I'm not a complete traitor, and beside they can always use more Union soldiers at re-enactments, where Johnny Rebs typically outnumbers Yankees three to one.

BWG: Breeding While Godless

Even the Drumstir concedes, we atheists may be facing a problem...
Hey, remember that post last week where I suggested that we atheists "don't suffer much serious social ostracism"? Well, it turns out that was pretty stupid. Andrew Sullivan reports:

Eugene Volokh has just written a law article on how atheist fathers and mothers are routinely discriminated against in child custody cases. He cites over 70 recent cases across the country — and these were only the ones which were appealed, so they probably represent a fraction of the actual cases.

Ever the stiff-upper-lipped moderate, he maintains that this "isn't exactly a sign of the apocalypse (so to speak), but it's still pretty discouraging[.]"

I'd say, Kevin.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

An interesting business model

So, Gene and I are running around like headless chickens trying to find jobs and apartments. He got an interview lined up this afternoon, and needed a haircut badly to look presentable. So we wandered around the Taipei Station area until we saw a set of barber's poles. Thinking nothing of it, we entered and asked for the price of a haircut. An older woman with too much eyeliner hesitated, then said $500nt, which seemed reasonable to us as it's about $15 USD.

It wasn't until after Gene sat down and got aproned up that I realize that something about this placed seemed a little...unprofessional. There were many old barber chairs and women sitting around, but we were the only customers. Instead, one of the staff sat down and started primping herself furiously in one of the chairs. Gene's hair was falling straight onto...carpet. What kind of barber store have carpet? I watched the woman snipping Gene's hair gingerly, inexpertly. A slow, weird realization settled upon me: we were in one of those houses of ill-repute in Taipei that uses a barbarshop as a front.

As if on cue, several tired and skankily clad women wandered in and sat down in their own chair. One started taking long, weary drags from a cigarette. The older woman started counting off large bills and gave a wad to another girl. There was a monitor discreetly displaying security camera image from outside the door. I'm pretty sure those aren't standard issue in most hairdressing establishments.

Actually, Gene's "hairdresser" didn't do a bad job. He certainly didn't suspect a thing, except that the place seemed to be kind of run-down. I don't think that they'll be getting any repeat business from us though.

Himbos in Toyland

The action figues on the left are Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo, circa 1978. The ones on the right are Luke and Hans circa. 1998.

I guess Barry Bonds wasn't the only one who got juiced in that interim.

Full paper on the evolving ideal of men's bodies as seen through action figures, here (warning: PDF). Another article on muscle dysmorphia in males here.

(Via Fashion Incubator)

Soft Landing

Hey Gang,
Just a quick post to let y'all know that I've arrived in Taipei safe and sound, and that job-and-apartment-related-activities are in full swing. Great job, guestbloggers! Although I should be up and blogging, your passwords are yours to keep for whenever you need a soapbox.

Monday, March 27, 2006

my robot brain needs beer

Crap, I'm behind. Thanks to Katie and ABD for taking up the slack...

There's no particular reason for any of you to know that Daniel Schacter, a professor of cognitive psychology at Harvard, is joining Scooter Libby's defense team. (This hit the web a few weeks ago, but now that it's in the New Republic, we know it's for real.) It matters to me, of course, in part because Schacter's in my field and it angers me to see one of our luminaries try to shoehorn our work into the courtroom in the hopes of becoming the Alan Dershowitz of cognitive science, but also because it shows such blatant disregard, not for the facts, but for what's actually at issue in the case. It is not a secret or a revelation that human memory is fallible. None of Schacter's seven sins of memory is anything you haven't noticed already. It's not a secret, for that matter, that human reflexes are fallible; and if you spill someone's coffee out of clumsiness, of course, you're likely to be forgiven and absolved of what little responsibility the incident imposes. That's what Schacter's angle seems to be: "He forgot. You've forgotten things. Lighten up!" But if you spill your coffee on the original manuscript of the Genji Monogatari Emaki, it suddenly ceases to matter that everyone spills things. If your job is to handle rare books, you don't drink coffee at work; if it's to handle classified information, you take notes, take dictation, retain an aide or two -- you do what you can to avoid forgetting. This is not rocket science. It's not cognitive science either.

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that the forgetting defense cuts no ice for people who can't pay to retain a big-dog memory expert on their legal team. If you don't remember where you were on the night of the 15th between 10:30 and 11:15 -- well, you can forget trying to sell the judge on "transience". I don't mean to suggest that the model of human memory embodied in the expectations of the legal system is perfect... but even if Libby gets off on the forgetting defense, I don't expect to see a groundswell of similar successes in his wake. Not that I know, well, anything about this stuff.

Hmm. I'm beginning to understand why ABD is anonymous. Too late for me, I guess.

Other things on the day's radar include:

Stanislaw Lem dies at age 84

Sexy Losers dies at age 6. Sexy what now? (Advisory: Staggering filthiness)

Mozilla bug report: "This privacy flaw has caused my fiancé and I to break-up after having dated for 5 years."

Why there aren't many women in science (Note: I do not endorse the conclusions of this article)

First occurrence of the phrase "Cthulhu Rl'yeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" in a political cartoon

"Sri Lankan self-poisoners are not more keen to die--they simply have easier access to pesticides than do the residents of the UK."

OK. Maybe I'll have something better later.


Fitting in with Angelica's description of me as a Catholic and hater of bad music, here's an amusing link for all the Catholics, lapsed or otherwise, out there: Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Hass. According to the site, "Your are a de facto member of the Society if you gag or grit your teeth whenever you hear any of the following: 1. Come to the Feast 2. Gather Us In 3. Sing out, Earth and Skies" Count me in. The parodies on the site are quite amusing as well:

Gather us in, the disheartened faithful, force fed a watered-down liturgy.
Gone are the hymns that point us toward heaven- courtesy of the OCP.*

If I had pow'rs of telecombustion,the songbook I hold would burst into
flame. Judging by those around me - not singing, everyone else here feels just
the same.
I envy the deaf who can't hear this music; I envy the mute who don't have
to sing. I might "sing a new church into being" if I knew just what the hell
that means.
If I must hear this music much longer, I fear that I will surely puke. Two-thousand years of church music history, flushed down the john by Haas, Haugen, and Schutte.

And if you know Don Schutte's "City of God," you'll probably also enjoy the parody "Let Us Sing a Ditty to God." It seems as though most Catholic churches in the country use the same few sets of hymns because I remember spontaneous singing sessions with lapsed Catholic college friends (it was kind of amazing how many of the words they all remembered). Thomas Day's Why Catholics Can't Sing is also a recommended read if you're of the SMMMHDS persuasion; he points out, for instance, that parts of "Here I Am, Lord" have a remarkable similarity to the Brady Bunch theme song ...

I do find it depressing that so many Catholic churches use this drivel, when there is a history of beautiful music for the Catholic liturgy. Sadly, you're probably more likely to find Gregorian chant accompanying yoga than a Catholic mass.

*Oregon Catholic Press

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sasha Cohen does it again

This seems a fitting follow-up to Angelica's scary Al Gore as the Sasha Cohen of politics: even with the gold and bronze medalists from Turin gone, Cohen still managed to have a meltdown at the Figure Skating World Championships in Calgary:
As she'd done in Turin, Cohen on Saturday fumbled away a lead and a gold
medal. The 21-year-old from Corona del Mar fell once and botched the landings of
three other jumps in her long program, creating an opening that 16-year-old
Kimmie Meissner seized with the exuberance of an athlete who has no reason to
regard pressure as an enemy.

An omen for Al Gore? Sadly, though, I have no photoshopped image to offer you all.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Just bein' a guestblogger and adding silly snippets...

The best idea the New Yorker ever had was to allow readers to write cartoon captions. The weekly caption contest guarantees that at least one cartoon a week will be brilliant-- usually one of the three finalists' suggestions is better than any of the real cartoons.

Not relevant to anything at all, but every day is a good day for a picture of Earring Magic Ken:


And now for more cultural phenomena that bewilder me (i.e., Katie.) The Larry the Cable Guy movie is out this weekend. My dad's a huge fan of Larry (he hasn't seen the movie yet.) As for me, I'm not sure what to think. Does Larry represent the revenge of blue collar humor on an industry that barely acknowledges that the working class and the South exist, let alone treats them realistically? Or is he just an outdated stereotype rehashing racist humor? And what is the significance of his near-constant exhortations to his audience to "Git-R-Done" (the correct spelling, according to the website)?

I'm only half-joking-- I am really fascinated with Larry the Cable Guy. It's something about his ear for dialect and his unerring eye for what we in St. Louis call "hoosier" culture (which I grew up with, so don't hit me.) I don't find him funny, exactly, but he's onto something. But I don't think it would shock me if Larry were revealed to be a bouncer from a fashionable Southern California nightclub who thought he could parlay his hick impressions into a career.

Club Libby Lu-- what does it all mean?

Hi folks, Katie here. I've been thinking about the spookiness that is Libby Lu for ages. So it's good to see an article taking it seriously in the Washington Post:

Club Libby Lu sells fantasy in 83 locations across the country (including one in
Columbia), and that fantasy is pink and fluffy and smells like "Role Model," a
perfume 7-year-old Vicenza Belletti is right now spraying over and over into her
hair. Libby Lu sells T-shirts and tank tops that say things like "Local
Celebrity" and "My {heart} Belongs to Shopping." Mothers and daughters wander
the aisles, looking at the feather boas and the clip-on hair extensions, at the
sequined handbags, at the Super Smooch Lip Gloss and the Diva Du Shampoo.

Michelle Cox, accompanied by her 3-year-old daughter, Makayla, rolls her
infant son's stroller. She's not here for a party. They're buying Makayla a
purse, but Makayla keeps seeing more things she wants.

"You don't need any more lip gloss," her mom tells her.

It would be foolish to ignore a phenomenon like Libby Lu, whose target audience is disturbingly young-- the article mentions girls as young as 3 or 4, and I've never seen anyone remotely close to adolescence shop at the store. It's perhaps part of the same phenomenon as the infamous Bratz dolls, but for some reason it seems to have received less media attention.

Several years back (seven or eight, perhaps?), there was a mania among pre-teen/young teen girls for things like body glitter and navel piercings, and a lot of corresponding articles on "tween" culture and the overt sexualization of girls who hadn't yet reached puberty. At the time, the trend was unnerving enough, but it's gradually seeped down to an age group who knows nothing about chapter books, let alone sex. Stores like Libby Lu take advantage of the enthusiasm small children have for playing dress-up, providing items of a cultural significance that girls this young can't possibly grasp. I wonder where it will all lead.

(I mean, what's next, thongs for toddlers?

Wait, I've already seen that...)

Death to fleshy things

is your god now.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Guest non-bloggers

Hey ho, readers.

I don't know if you figured it out from various posts I've had up, but I'm moving to Taiwan. Tomorrow. Meep! Obviously there would be no posts from me this weekend, and perhaps lighter postings as I get over my jetlag etc.

To keep the volume cranked up on Battlepanda in the interim, my college buddies are coming through for me. None of them are bloggers, but they're all wonderfully thoughtful and intelligent and fun, so treat'em right, okay?

Here's some short bios of the ones who are onboard thusfar. More might join my posse. Mwahaha.

Katie -- Radical feminist girl-genious from St. Louis with a sharp eye for film and culture criticism. Thinks "Snake on a Plane" is the best movie evar.

Matt -- Appalling bastard disguised as mild-mannered and bespectacled grad student studying cognitive neuroscience.

ABD -- Devout Catholic. Uncompromisingly liberal. Zero-tolerance on bowdlerized classical music. Except for the Tacobell canon.

How we're really all going to die

Lest y'all become too placated by my optimistic assessment of how humanity can lick peak oil without too much pain, there's also, well, this:
Climate Model Predicts Greater Melting, Submerged Cities, Scientific American: Over the past 30 years, temperatures in the Arctic have been creeping up, rising half a degree Celsius with attendant increases in glacial melting and decreases in sea ice. Experts predict that at current levels of greenhouse gases ... the earth may warm by as much as five degrees Celsius, matching conditions roughly 130,000 years ago. Now a refined climate model is predicting, among other things, sea level rises of as much as 20 feet, according to research results published today in the journal Science...Such a sea level rise would permanently inundate low-lying lands like New Orleans, southern Florida, Bangladesh and the Netherlands. Already sea level rise has increased to an inch per decade... And evidence that the Arctic is exponentially warming continues to accumulate. ... "We need to start serious measures to reduce greenhouse gases within the next decade," ... "If we don't do something soon, we're committed to [13 to 20 feet] of sea level rise in the future."

Image hosting by Photobucket
(Via The Economist's View)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Godless heathens, and proud of it


That's the percentage of Americans who self-identify as atheist.

We also seem to be the last minority that everybody else feel good about dumping on.

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

....“Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.

Ever the advocate for moderation, the Drumstir suggests that we don't have all that hard a row to hoe "As for trends toward increasing social tolerance, though, I'm not sure atheists really count as a "glaring exception." It's true that we generally can't get elected to high political office, but aside from that I suspect we don't suffer much serious social ostracism as long we don't insist on making obnoxious nuisances of ourselves." Yes, yes, Kevin. Keep schtum. Don't make trouble. Then maybe the bullies will leave us alone. Or maybe not.

Kevin correctly notes that although the number of self-identified atheists are low in the population, there are many more who are agnostic or just not very religious (despite of their supposed belief in God). Kevin was blasted for lumping those areligious people in with the atheists. But why is it any more correct to say that the fencesitters are more in the God camp? Goodness knows that most religions are discriminating enough when it comes to deciding whose faith is pure enough to enter into heaven. Why do they suddenly get to become the Big Tent in the Sky party when it comes to this debate? They're even fond of trying to undercut atheists by such nonsensical rhetorical tactics as saying "When atheism is taken to extremes, it becomes a religion in and of itself" (hands up anyone whose been annoyed by that canard).

So, if you are among the three percent, I'd say, stand up and be counted. I'm not saying that you should go out of your way to be obnoxious, but don't let yourself become silenced by the fear of appearing obnoxious either. After all, the religious community isn't exactly walking on eggshells when it comes to us:
Sherman: What will you do to win the votes of the Americans who are atheists?

Bush: I guess I'm pretty weak in the atheist community. Faith in God is important to me.

Sherman: Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?

Bush: No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

Sherman (somewhat taken aback): Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church?

Bush: Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists.

Oops, wrong house!

Radley Balko is doing a fantastic job of collecting the now all-too-common stories of botched drug raids. The latest one happened just across the Tennessee-Mississippi border from Memphis, in Horn Lake, and the elderly couple whose home was mistakenly raided by a tactical unit have been hospitalized.

Thematic album for today: Lard's The Last Temptation of Reid.

World's tiniest panda painting

Chinese artist Jing Ying Hua has painted an image of a panda onto a single human hair.

The Libertarian case against Wal-Mart

Yes, there is one. More than one, actually. The Hammer of Truth has a nice round-up.

UPDATE: Garbled title corrected. Blogger does this sometimes.

Photobucket and flickr and picasa, oh my

Something has gotta be done about my collection of images, growing gradually out of control. Right now I use iPhoto to sort photos and keep everything on my computer and upload stuff to photobucket if I want to post to my blog, but I am starting to get dissatisfied.

More specifically, I'm tempted by the cool social-sharing aspects and easy viewing and caption options of flickr. The downside is, I would have to pay. Not a lot, though, and I'm starting to near the limit for my free account on photobucket anyhow. Maybe it's time for a move.

Then I read about Picasa -- google's picture-sorting software. It will greatly facilitate blogging and sharing, from what I understand. But the downside is that your pictures are not online. More manual backing-up and no online album funness -- you gotta email each person with the photos you want them to see.


More Cory Maye stuff

Radley Balko has been tireless on the case of Cory Maye. Just go to his blog to check out all the good work. I find this post documenting the heavy-handed practices of the local narcotics force particularly interesting -- Balko is finding more instances of injustice -- a man was held for the better part of a year after a raid that found nothing but an unused bong and a bottle of vodka and then released without charges (or explanations)..

I also found it quite affecting to read a letter Cory Maye wrote to his lawyer and pictures of his family -- his son and daughter are growing up quickly.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Peaked, but not pooped

My dear friend K. emailed me to ask me for my opinion on this Salon article about Peak Oil. This is the short answer:

1) Yes, peak oil is real.

2) No, society as we know it is not about to disintergrate. Don't start composting your own waste to grow vegetables and start raising goats. Unless that's what floats your boat.

For the long answer, I refer you to John of Dymaxion World, who coincidentally commented on the same article.

Between the panglossian peak-oil (and global warming) denialists of the right and the apocalyptic alarmists of the left, I really feel like I'm living in that Steeler Wheel song ("Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right..."). Sure, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding peak oil, and we can save ourselves a lot of pain later by acting more than we are now, but going around screaming "the sky is falling" is not the answer. In fact, I would say that that approach is counter productive on three counts:

1) All the measures advocated to ameliorate the coming crisis by the peak-oil nuts invariably involve more disengagement with our system at large rather than improving it and helping it to evolve. Instead of agitating for plug-in hybrids, they are seeking to live off the land in a mad-max fashion that is in fact very unsustainable if everybody tried to do it.

2) They ooze disgust for the mainstream American lifestyle. They hate the package -- the suburbs, the permagreen lawns, the corporate job, the coffee break at starbucks -- all in a visceral fashion. If you're obviously full of contempt for mainstream Americans, they're not going to listen to you, let alone change their behavior. It's as simple as that.

3) The belief that we are going to hell in a handbasket is paralyzing to most people. Unless you want to make it your life's obsession, it is hard to act in the face of the enormity of thinking we're all doomed. All the concrete steps people have the power to take all of a sudden seems like rearranging deckchairs on the titanic. Which would be a shame because we are actually in a position to do an awful lot.

By the way, John is really the go-to guy on peak oil issues, and if you liked what you saw, he has another takedown of the alarmist view of peak oil here. And lest you think that his relatively sanguine view comes from lack of though on the matter, consider his awesome series on peak oil when he guest-blogged for me over the summer.

Virtual gold mines

For some reason, I find the phenomenon of Chinese gold-farmers* oddly compelling. You can watch a video here that is exerpted from an upcoming documentary.

I can understand that game companies are in a quandary. Allowing the gold-farmers to sell their services apace ruins the dramatic integrity of the game. However, both buyers and sellers are happy, and the migration of the virtual into the actual through this trade practice is a really interesting way in which the game is being made more tangible to the players. Whether that's a good thing or not from a broader perspective is debatable. I have cousins (and an uncle) who spend most of their disposable time slaying beasts, casting spells, and on occasions making phonecalls to another continent so that they can team up with buddies to bushwhack unsuspecting neophytes. But hey, I blog, so it's not like I can do too much tut-tutting over people spending too much time on computers.

I understand that there is a game out there called "Second life" in which the blurring of real and virtual economies is actively encouraged. And the sword-and-sorcery aspect of most of the other games removed. That sounds both much more appealing to me and kind of pointless at the same time.

*That is, video game players who spend lots of time playing the boring parts of huge RPG games like "Everquest" to sell the power-ups** they obtain.

**Yes, I realize the use of the old-fashioned term "power-ups" places me squarely as someone who hasn't played video games since they got rid of the super nintendo.

Thank goodness we got rid of the Taliban

Don't you just hate it when you're trying to find an article that pissed you off royally a long time ago but you cannot find now that you've found the perfect riposte for it? So, for whichever rightwing fuckwad (I'm sure there's a whole bunch of them, actually) who wrote so condescendingly about how we needed to save the Afghans from the religious extremism of the Taliban and how the left just doesn't get it (never mind the fact that my leftist friends were protesting against the Taliban way before 9/11), this is for you.
WHEELING, West Virginia (Reuters) - President Bush said on Wednesday he was deeply troubled that an Afghan man could face the death penalty in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity from Islam.

An Afghan judge said this week a man named Abdur Rahman had been jailed for converting from Islam to Christianity and could face the death penalty if he refused to become a Muslim again.

Sharia, or Islamic law, stipulates death for apostasy. The Afghan legal system is based on a mix of civil and sharia law.

The case has raised alarm overseas and the United States.

"We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom," Bush said during a visit to Wheeling to talk about the war on terrorism.

Your tax info for sale

How is this possibly a good idea?
WASHINGTON -- Taxpayers not paying attention to the forms prepared for them by commercial tax preparers could soon find their personal financial information being sold more widely to data brokers and marketers.

The Internal Revenue Service is proposing to alter some privacy protections that consumer groups say would allow tax preparers greater leeway to sell personal financial information from the documents or even copies of the entire return itself.

You can't pigeonhole 'em too early

Great. Now those nincompoops in Floridas are asking kids to choose "majors" -- in high school. As freshmen.
Students...would get an education more tailored to their career plans under a proposal from Gov. Jeb Bush that education experts say would make Florida the first state to require incoming high school freshmen to declare a major, just like college students.

Bush said the plan would help prepare students better for the real world and reduce the dropout rate by making school more interesting. Last year, nearly 3 percent of Florida's 800,000 high school students dropped out.

“We don't want them to drop out of school or be unprepared to take on the challenges of the 21st century,” the governor said. “It's a really smart way to make high school more relevant and prepare young people for what college will hold.”[snip]
Under Florida's plan, high school students would be able to major in such subjects as humanities, English, communications, math, science, history, social studies, arts, foreign languages and vocational skills. They would also have to declare a minor.

Um, Jeb, didn't you get the memo about how the workforce of the 21st century is supposed to be nimble, flexible and quick to retrain? How does forcing kids to pick one academic area four years earlier accomplish that exactly?

I'm all for making classes in high school (and college, for that matter) more relevant to real-life careers and challenges. But at the high-school level, we should be encouraging our kids to branch rather than prune. Instead of making kids decide whether they're a science person or a humanities person or to go vocational, we should lets kids go from classes in basic personal finance to Shakespeare to auto repairs to chemistry as they please. They're not just learning concrete skills or facts, they're still expanding their minds and learning how to learn.

I hate bureaucracy

You probably won't want to read this. Really.

Here it is anyhow.

Kevin Carson, commenting on my experiences with MacService: "It sounds like, despite all the courteous, helpful people who do great jobs individually, there are too many of them to communicate effectively with each other and get the relevant information to the person who needs it. In other words, they're like about every other large corporation."

I'm thinking right now of all those courteous, helpful people I'm dealing with as I try and import my schnauzer into Taiwan. OK, many Taiwanese officials are neither of those things. But once I obtained the import permit from those monkies, I thought my problems were 90% over. That is, all I had to do was to obtain a health certificate from my courteous, helpful vet, get it mailed by the courteous, helpful assistant to the (undoubtedly) courteous, helpful USDA official in Raleigh and get it back in good time so that I can fly out on Saturday. (By the way, in case you wonder why I didn't obtain this document earlier, the Taiwanese people pretty much sprung this on me last-minute.)

Unfortunately, the USDA website seems to be out of date -- by three years. The assistance sent the certificate to the old building, now no longer in existence. The USDA official, who is indeed courteous and helpful, assured me that the carbon copy of the health certificate in my possession was good enough, and that if I make the drive to Raleigh with everything I would be OK. Until he talked to his (I'll bet courteous and helpful) college and told me this morning that -- oops! The carbon copy is not good enough after all. I have to go to my vet again, which I would have been glad to do yesterday, but completely leaves me in a bind today.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Second Chances?

Ezra is liking Gore for 2008 a lot. So much so that he wrote a whole article about it. Damn fine article it is too. But color me unconvinced. Lindsay is similarly skeptical, and she points to Gore's baggage. The ghosts of 2000 will sure to be resurrected for 2008. But that is surmountable. And by the time 2008 comes around, perhaps people would be so disenamoured with Bush that they'll welcome a symbolic do-over. Nick, meanwhile, wonders if Gore would get out of the primaries at all if he even runs.

I have a slightly different take. What I'm more concerned about is the night-and-day difference between Gore the effortlessly articulate spokesperson for the left and Gore the stiff-lipped, stuffed-shirt presidential candidate. Ezra has his heart set on one Gore, but who knows which one would show up if all the responsibilities, the crushing pressures, the sheer importance of it all falls upon his shoulders again?

I think that Gore knows this, which is why he is making no effort to position himself for 2008. The weight is off. He loosened up. He's finding his voice, becoming one of the most cogent and articulate spokesperson for the Dems. He makes it look so effortless.

Lets see...tremendously talented individual who breaks everybody's hearts by choking under pressure in a contest that comes every four years...omigod Gore is the Sasha Cohen of politics!

Another outrage

Shoot first, cover up later

And don't admit nothing until the videotape comes out.

"The Doolittles did a lot"

Josh Marshall dishes the dirt on
the Doolittles:
As the article, makes clear, Julie had no fundraising experience prior to starting her consultancy. She also didn't seem to do any actual fundraising. What this meant was that every time someone gave Doolittle money, Julie and John personally got a 15% taste of the cash.

So, for instance, the Wilkes crew gave Doolittle's campaigns $118,000. And according to the Union-Tribune's investigation, the Doolittle's got at least $14,400 of that personally.

Now, you might say, if Julie Doolittle was a professional fundraiser, and why should she be barred from working for her husband's campaigns. But then Julie Doolittle wasn't a fundraiser.

Julie Doolittle's Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions, launched in March 2001, right after Doolittle got his seat on the Appropriations Committee. In other words, right after he got in a position to hand out federal contracts in a big way. SDFS has no phone number, no website and no employees except for Julie Doolittle. Prior to opening the firm she seems to have had no experience doing fundraising.

But what of her other clients, you ask?

The Union-Tribune found three. What were they?

Well, one was Greenberg-Traurig, Jack Abramoff's lobbying firm. The second was Signatures, Jack Abramoff's restaurant. The third was the Korea-US Exchange Council, a front group run by erstwhile Abramoff associate Ed Buckham, Tom DeLay's former Chief of Staff and head of Alexander Strategy Group, which closed down recently so the principals can focus on their legal defenses.

So Julie Doolittle's 'fundraising consultancy' drew a cut for the Doolittles for every dollar of campaign money she claimed credit for raising. Her other clients were either Jack Abramoff or front groups related to Jack Abramoff.

This seem fishy to you?

Another corrupt Republican about to bit the dust?

Always look on the bright side of life...

...even though that might not be so easy right about now in Iraq:
ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper told CNN yesterday that he tried to do a good-news story. In fact, as a sign of the new freedoms enjoyed in Iraq, Tapper was going to do a feature on a new Iraqi sitcom. It didn't go well
Tapper: We wanted to do a story about the freedom of the press in Iraq, and we went to the set of a new Iraqi sitcom that they're filming, because there's been -there's all this entertainment now, and it's one of the things that the ambassador there has trumpeted.

Howard Kurtz: So what happened?

Tapper: We got there, and the guy who had set it up with us, we shot, we shot for a little while, and the guy who had helped us arrange it was assassinated the very morning while we were there on the set. And so our cameras were rolling while the director and the producer and the cast and crew found out that the guy that had green-lit the show and the guy that had set up our being there was killed. So no matter how hard we try to cover the positive, the violence has a way of rearing its head

Accentuating the positive is starting to sound more and more like whistling in the dark.

Born Republican?

Uh-oh, this one might be growing up Republican
Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.[snip]

In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it's unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.

A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.

The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.
Of course, the conservatives are crying foul.
"I found it to be biased, shoddy work, poor science at best," [Jeff Greenberg of University of Arizona] said of the Block study. He thinks insecure, defensive, rigid people can as easily gravitate to left-wing ideologies as right-wing ones. He suspects that in Communist China, those kinds of people would likely become fervid party members.
That's funny, because I think Greenberg's objection completely misses the most vulnerable aspect of Block's work -- that all his test subjects come from Berkley, an anomalously liberal part of the nation. I would think that if the correlation Block documents is real, the most likely hypothesis that disprove Block's is that the disaffected, whiny kids in any given group are likely to gravitate to an ideology that is opposite to the dominant culture. Since Block only studied Berkley where liberalism is dominant, there is a possiblity that whiny children in, say, Greensboro, North Carolina or Houston, Texas end up rejecting conservatism and end up liberals instead. I would invite conservative critics to do their own 20-year study in a conservative town to try and prove Block wrong.

Until then, the Party of Whiny Babies it is.

Monday, March 20, 2006

George makes a booboo

Uh oh! Dick's not going to be happy about this...
THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. (Applause.) First, just if I might correct a misperception. I don't think we ever said -- at least I know I didn't say that there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein. We did say that he was a state sponsor of terror -- by the way, not declared a state sponsor of terror by me, but declared by other administrations. We also did say that Zarqawi, the man who is now wreaking havoc and killing innocent life, was in Iraq. And so the state sponsor of terror was a declaration by a previous administration. But I don't want to be argumentative, but I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America.
GEORGE: I don't understand, Dick, what did I say wrong?

DICK: Haven't I always told you to be careful about Saddam and 9/11? Always imply, suggest, juxapose, then move on for goodness' sake.

GEORGE: But I didn't make a direct connection, Dick. [Proudly] I said the opposite.

DICK: But the point is not to let people know that you're implying a connection while being careful never to make it. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

GEORGE: Oh? Oh...[pause] I did a bad thing...


George: But why was it bad, Dick?

DICK: Go fuck yourself.

Should you play poker with your lawyer?

Mark Kleiman thinks so?
Statistical decision theory teaches us, when we face a tradeoff between two opposite errors, to set the ratio of the marginal error probabilities as the inverse of the ratio of the damages caused by the two kinds of error. That is, if saying "no" incorrectly costs me a dollar, and saying "yes" incorrectly costs me $99, then I should say "no" unless the probability that "yes" is the right decision is greater than 99%. The standard of "beyond reasonable doubt" suggests to my mind a ratio at least that high: since I can reasonably fear an outcome that is only 1% probable, I wouldn't consider an outcome that is 99% probable "certain beyond reasonable doubt." Thus the "reasonable doubt" standard, if interpreted literally, would appear to be consistent with Benjamin Franklin's famous "Better that a hundred guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer."

But Sasha Volokh's playful article "n Guilty Men" reports that American lawyers -- due, no doubt, to the failure of law schools to teach decision analysis -- more conventionally set the ratio at ten-to-one, which implies that they are willing to treat an event as "certain beyond reasonable doubt" as long as its probability is greater than 91%. If that seems right to you, please get in touch with me; I want you in my poker game.

I wouldn't, however, want you on my jury, or as my judge. Given how horrible American prisons are, and how many people they house, the extent of the injustice resulting if even a few percent of them are actually innocent is, or ought to be, intolerable. Much better to be more generous about what sort of evidence is admissible at trial -- in particular, evidence of prior similar acts, even when those acts did not result in conviction -- than to send people away when their odds of being innocent are no worse than the odds of filling an inside straight.
Of course, the alternative explanation to the hypothesis that lawyers can't do statistical analysis is that they don't care very much about putting the odd innocent man away along with the guilty if by doing so they can get a higher percentage of the guilty incarcerated. I don't know which assumption is worse, really.

How Feingold's censure motion could have been great political theatre

Both Neil and Nick argues that the motion for censure could have been a really good move on the part of the Democrats, not to hurt Bush, but to force those Republicans who are up for re-election go on the public and say that they are pro-Bush and against his censure. Bush is about as popular as a bucket full of mud now, and everybody knows it. Had the Democrats been with-it enough to push for a censure motion as a united front, a clear distinction would have been drawn with the Dems (and any rebel Repubs) on one side and the Senate Republicans on the other side...with Bush. Great ad-bait for the fall elections.

So, whose to blame? I agree with Neil and Nick that Feingold needed more discipline, needed to let his own team know what he's up to (although he could have behind doors, we'll never know), needed not to be so eager to be a martyr. At the same time, I find it highly exasperating that once the censure motion was out there, the rest of the Democrats didn't immediately recognize that the worst thing they can do is to let Feingold's motion become isolated and do that is to hand the Republicans a minor coup -- "not even Feingold's fellow democrats think Bush's alleged misconduct is worthy of censure" etc. etc.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Happy (slightly early) Anniversary!

When in doubt, I steal whole post from Dymaxion World. Here's John's take on the upcoming 3 year anniversary of the debacle that is the Iraq War. Enjoy...
Act 1: March 20, 2003

Hawk: Yee-haw! Let's roll, motherfucker! We're gonna roll in to Baghdad, make Iraq a democracy, sell oil to Israel, destroy OPEC, and then move on to Tehran! Suck it, bitches!

Dove: Umm... do you even listen to yourself talk? Sell oil to Israel? Are you serious? How long do you think any Iraqi government is going to last doing that? Do you really think that the Bush Administration is competent enough to pull this off? Mark my words: America is going to be bogged down in an occupation that won't be able to stabilize things. Iraq is awash in weapons, and most adult Iraqi men survived two wars - against Iran and the Americans. This is going to be a lot messier than you think. And what the hell happened to those WMDs you were so worried about?

Hawk: Why do you hate America? Go back to Russia, you Dixie Chick!

Act 2: June 2004:

Hawk: Man, I can't believe the media insists on reporting on nothing but the bad news from Iraq. Don't they know about all the schools we're building?

Dove: Yeah, but they might not be able to tell the whole story, what with the whole "6 hours of electricity thing." Also, you know, the regular car bombing.

Hawk: Please. That's just CNN's propaganda. Obviously, they want Kerry to win.

Dove: Well, he can't do any worse than this bunch. I mean really - have you seen the news from Abu Ghraib?

Hawk: Whoever leaked those pictures should be arrested!

Dove: Yes, because the obvious solution to a problem is to eliminate any evidence that the problem exists. I'm beginning to see a pattern.

Act 3: March 2006

Hawk: Boy, this war sure isn't going well.

Dove: Yeah, I - wait, I'm sorry. I'm not sure I heard that right. Did you just tell me the war is going badly?

Hawk: Yup.

Dove: Finally! After the atrocious planning, the lack of equipment, the historical ignorance, the thousands of casualties, the total inability to maintain order, the destabilization of the entire region, the constant drumbeat of bad news from Iran and North Korea, you finally agree that this war is going badly?

Hawk: Yup. But really, who could possibly have predicted that America would be bogged down in an occupation that isn't able to stabilize things? How could we know that Iraqis had so many weapons, or that they were so well trained to fight a war? How could we have known it would be so messy?

Dove: Me. I predicted it. I used exactly those words.

Hawk: Yeah, but you're a Democrat. I'm going to go ask John McCain when he thinks we should invade Iran.

Dove: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! (Head explodes.)

Good stuff. Apart from the liberal-blaming coming from conservative quarters to explain we turned Iraq into a hellhole, John pretty much had things covered.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Don't trust teh Gays

Is this just random bigotry, or should we start calling this the "Gannon rule"?
The administration rewrote a 1997 regulation that had said sexual orientation "may not be used as a basis" for denying clearances or determining whether individuals should be eligible to access classified information unless it could make them vulnerable to coercion or exploitation.

President Bush's updated language says security clearances cannot be denied "solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual."

If sexual behavior is "strictly private, consensual and discreet," that could lessen security concerns, according to the regulations that came as part of an update to clearance guidelines distributed in December.[snip]

Frank, who is gay, said the administration is taking a step backward by changing the Clinton-era protections on security clearances. Frank said it is too soon to know the impact.

"Of course, sexual misbehavior could be grounds for denying a security clearance," he said. "But that's irrelevant as to whether the misbehavior is gay or straight, unless you think that sexual behavior by gay people is inherently misbehavior."

Mata Gannon: Don't let the gay harlots get their hands on our state secrets!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sen. Clinton stands up to Bush administration on Plan B

I'm not a big fan of Sen. Hillary Clinton, but if she continues to stand up to the Bush administration on matters like this, I may have to change my mind. From the Houston Chronicle:
The former head of academic affairs at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston faces uncertainty over his nomination as head of the Food and Drug Administration because of a dispute over the "morning after" pill.

Andrew von Eschenbach, director of the National Cancer Institute and acting FDA commissioner since September, was nominated by President Bush on Wednesday.

Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington are blocking his confirmation in the Senate until the FDA decides whether to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B, the emergency contraceptive.

"For more than two years, the FDA has dragged its feet on making a decision, putting ideology over science," Clinton said. "We will place a hold on the nomination of Dr. von Eschenbach until the FDA issues a decision on Plan B, yes or no."

So if Plan B becomes an OTC drug, do you suppose we'll see cashiers refusing to ring it up? And do you suppose that they'll have the market power to keep their jobs if they do?

Asimov vs. Heinlein, liberal vs. conservative?

Megan McArdle has an interesting hypothesis:
I wonder if those who read science fiction in childhood can be divided into those who liked Robert Heinlein better, with his swashbuckling individualism, and those who preferred Isaac Asimov, with his technocratic fantasies. And I wonder if those early preferences semi-reliably map onto the conservative/liberal divide . . .
Count me as one data point in support of McArdle's hypothesis. I read both Asimov and Heinlein as a teenager, and enjoyed both, but Asimov was my favorite SF author.

It'll never catch on...

John of Dymaxion World unearthed this little nugget of amusement while googling:
October 23, 2001, 5:55 PM PDT
CUPERTINO, Calif.--Apple Computer unveiled on Tuesday the iPod, a digital music player that can store 1,000 songs on its hard drive.

The product, the size of a deck of cards, was unveiled during an event at Apple's headquarters here.

The stainless-steel unit costs $399, has a 5GB hard drive, connects to a Mac using FireWire, includes a 10-hour lithium polymer battery, offers 20 minutes of anti-skip protection, and works with Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. It will be available Nov. 10.

...Analysts offered mixed reactions to the iPod--especially to its $399 price tag....Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Intelect, said that the iPod will likely stand out for its large storage capacity but predicted that the device may have trouble digging out a niche in the market.
Ah, the perils of prognostication...

Friday catblogging

Monkey on my pillow.

Because she knows a face full of cat fur helps me sleep....

Daddy, don't leave the company to Junior

You know how we scoff and tutt over the Paris Hiltons of the world, lolling through a life of luxury without lifting a finger thanks to Daddy's dough. Turns out that's a much healthier business model than the one in which a consciencious child (usually the oldest son) would take over the family business.
London School of Economics/McKinsey study says the best way to ruin a UK family business is to give it to an eldest son, by Finfacts Team: Research published today by the Centre for Economics Performance at the London School of Economics and McKinsey the consultancy, suggests that the best way to ruin a UK family business is to give it to an eldest son. The research into the gap between the UK's productivity performance and that in the US, France and Germany found ... that half of the difference between British companies and their overseas competitors ... could be explained by the prevalence in Britain of second or later generation family-run companies. If those were removed from the analysis, British performance did not look nearly so bad.

Nick Bloom, one of the authors, urges the UK Government to scrap the 100 per cent inheritance tax relief given to large family businesses. Bloom says that if tax relief were to be capped at £1m, it would spur productivity growth, save taxpayers £250m a year and avoid entrenching poor management in Britain's boardrooms. "Can you imagine if the current England football team was picked from the sons of the team in 1966? We wouldn't win anything."...

Well, when you think about it, it's not surprising exactly...imagine if Paris Hilton was in charge of running the hotels.

Party on, Paris. And thanks for taking one for the team.

Because there is always room for one more flaky internet quiz... it is, the PersonalDNA test. It's not much different from the questions a lot of quizzes ask, except the interface is nice and smooth and you are given an opportunity to put yourself on a sliding scale or quadrant rather than pick from the usual radio buttons. At the end of it all, you are given a rather meaningless description who you are based on your traits, and a button featuring your "PersonalDNA", which is a graphical representation of your mental makeup as interpreted by the test, as you can see at the top of this post. What I find much more interesting is the breakdown they give you of how you compared to a sample of 30,000 users on specific traits...for instance, I wouldn't have guessed that I am only in the 42nd percentile for "confidence" but in the 88th percentile when it comes to "openness".

Here's my full report, because I overshare like that.

Kevin Carson would be proud of me

Now, when Kevin Carson waxes rhapsodic about the P2P economy, I have a feeling he is alluding to weightier goods and services than handbags and ironic-cute crocheted animals. But lately I have been very into etsy and it seems to be an example of how technology is making very small scale P2P economies possible, much as eBay came and turned millions of garages full of junk across the land into mini merchandise depots.

The idea is simple: make something by hand and list it for sale on etsy. It can be anything from a screenprinted T-shirt to handmade soap to long as you made it. I'm stunned by the craft and the creativity people have on display, and the ridiculously low prices...I just bought lovely crochet bag that must have taken quite a few hours to knit for $15 dollars.

Despite the fact that I'm in a period of transition from one country to another and taking on another project is not a good idea, I've put up a couple of items on my own to sell, more to participate in the spirit of the thing than for the monetary gains. Considering the paltry amount I'm selling my "merchandise" for, they're made with sweatshop labor!

Friday Schnauzer Blogging: Caught mid-yawn edition

I'm sorry that so many of my FSB pictures are so static. My schnauzer is actually a very expressive animal...but it's so hard to capture the moment.

I'm having such a bureaucratic nightmare trying to get her into Taiwan. With all the paperwork I had to do (including obtaining a certificate from the USDA), you'd think I'm trying to import a small herd of hereford cattle into Taiwan instead of one small, furry, decidedly non-rabid companion animal.

Maybe I should send this photo to the Taiwanese authorities instead and try to CUTE them into submission.

Outsourcing threaten jobs... Bangalore? Wow, I guess nobody's job is really safe from globalization. Seriously though, there is more than a flavor here of the same kind of "we can always take our business one town over..." games businesses utilize to play one municipality over another.
The Indian city of Bangalore must improve its infrastructure if it wants to hold on to vital IT business, company executives have warned.

The heads of some of the biggest companies in India's IT industry have asked the government of the southern Indian state of Karnataka to improve infrastructure in Bangalore, or they will move their businesses to other states.

(Via Kevin Carson)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Pretty much sums it up...

Via Pooh, who adds: "Maybe John Kerry should fly to Switzerland and introduce articles of impeachment by phone."

How crazy is censure?

So crazy that 48% of of voters (and 46% of adults in general) support it.

Ye gods! Even Kevin Drum is coming around, reluctantly of course, and with a dose of fingerwagging.

MacService lets me down

Remember how impressed I was with MacService with how friendly and quick and responsive they are? I just got my laptop back this morning, thus making me more impressed with their amazing turnaround time...until I plugged that sucker in.

My laptop is still not charging. The $195 worth of repair has had no effect.

I got them on the phone. The service personnel was curteous and helpful as always. He walked me through a whole bunch of reboot procedures to try and see if it's something minor. Nope. The computer's going back to California.

The curteousness, the free-shipping, the quick turn-around...all that goes a long way towards ameliorating my rage. Having said that, my fundamental response is still WTF! You did $195 worth of repairs on my computer without checking at the end of it whether the problem is fixed? Now you asked me whether it could be my power adapter that's faulty...after you went ahead and replaced the logic board? Did I not have the nice conversation with the young woman at your call center who helpfully suggested that I include my power adaptor for the purposes of double-checking against just such an eventuality?

No doubt about it...somebody messed up along the way. But they still have the chance to redeem themselves. Let's see if they can really get my computer fixed this time.

By the way, this is the first time I've had a problem with my little iBook G4 in the two years since I've had it. It is my baby. My most treasured possession. And if it weren't for the fact that I foolishly allowed it to slip off my lap and landing power-connector first, it'd still be working just fine. Wahhhhh!

Making our democracy more democratic

If you're a regular reader of this blog, I don't think I have to explain to you why the electoral college is bad, bad, bad. Almost everybody I've talked to on this issue tend to shrug their shoulders and say, "yea, but how are we doing to get rid of it?" Well, how about this?
The answer to all of these problems is direct election of the president. Past attempts to abolish the Electoral College by amending the Constitution have run into difficulty. But National Popular Vote, which includes several former members of Congress, is offering an ingenious solution that would not require a constitutional amendment. It proposes that states commit to casting their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. These promises would become binding only when states representing a majority of the Electoral College signed on. Then any candidate who won the popular vote would be sure to win the White House.

Sounds good to me.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cowardly cowards (D - Cowardland)

Dadahead wrote a post so perfect and dripping with disgust that I need to quote it in full:
Obama, Kerry, Clinton, Schumer, Durbin; none of them will even comment on Feingold's proposed censure of the president.

However, Kos digs up a list of senators who were willing to censure President Clinton for the Lewinsky affair, a list which includes Kerry, Schumer, and Durbin (as well as Kennedy, Lieberman, and Reid, among many others). This is maybe ever-so-slightly unfair, since in that context a resolution for censure was advocated as an alternative to impeachment, a possible compromise. But if these Democrats want to use that as an excuse, they will have to admit either that President Clinton was deserving of censure but President Bush is not, or that they supported the censure of Clinton even though they didn't actually believe it was warranted. Or I suppose, as a third possibility, they could say that they believe Bush is worthy of censure, but that they still don't support the resolution, but this would be more or less tantamount to admitting that they are cowards.

Let me make this clear: I'm frustrated and mad as hell at the Democrats, not because they won't risk their political neck on some pet issue of mine or another...there's no glory in heroic defeats in politics...but because their cravenness even extends to issues where, if they only had the courage to buckle down and take a firm stand, they could get the whole country on their side.

I know I've made this point once before...having Russ Feingold twisting in the wind out there with nobody getting his back makes him look ridiculous, the whole democratic party look weak and the NSA wiretapping scandal look like it's just no big deal. Yes, of course it is a big deal that we have a president who is disregarding laws and trampling on civil liberties, and wouldn't it be wonderful if the voters would recognize that from the facts of the case with no prompting. But that's not the way things work. The Republicans love to snipe that the Democrats only criticize without having a plan...well that's the job description of the opposition party! They're in power...they're the one who should have the plan, while it is our job to criticize and keep them honest...instead, all I hear is the opposite...Republicans criticizing Democrats for having no plan. This is like the driver who is getting lost criticizing the passenger for not knowing where they're going.

Fug is a feminist issue?

I'm with Majikthise...Go fug yourself is great. I see what Ann Bartow means by the "meaness" of the site (although it's more snarky than actually cutting -- I doubt any of the celebrities featured really mind), but not the "misogyny". Sure, the reason why we have to put up with Bai Ling somehow managing to bare her bosom despite being swarthed in what looks like a giant, furry squid could be due to the fact that we live in a society where some celebrities feel like they have to bare skin to attract attention. But don't blame Heather and Jessica for pointing out the fug.

By the way, You Knit What?? is like GFY for knitters. It's quite entertaining, and a reminder that the urge to slag off what's ugly is universal, and has got very little to do with "putting a dumb girl in her place".

(By the way, I did drop by Ann's and her blog is quite interesting, and I don't mean to join the pile-up on her specifically...just saying that on this particular issue, we disagree!)

Hackett's revenge.

Watch this space...I have a feeling the hilarious interview Ed Helms did with Paul Hackett is going to be posted soon. Unlike most interviewees, Paul Hackett was fully in on the joke, and was quite a good sport about playing along. Including doing a fake "campaign ad" in which every trace of personality was gradually ground of him in order to get him to fit the profile of the average Dem candidate.

(Yes, you remember correctly. I was not a Hackett backer. Doesn't mean I can't find this funny though.)

When trolls come a trollin'

Amanda has some wise advice for those beset with trolls:
As someone who has been pretty damn successful at (finally) running off people who have nothing to add but animosity, I thought I’d offer some advice therefore on a simple, easy way to get rid of your most odious trolls–ban for thread drift. It’s a great rule that attacks your average anti-feminist’s greatest weapon, which is to turn every thread into a forum on his pet issue that causes him to hate on women so much.

Seems sound to me. I'm lucky in that I've got some great commenters but Battlepanda have not gotten so big that we attract the attentions of many trolls. I don't even have a resident troll, like Al with Kevin Drum or that guy whose name I can't spell on Dadahead. Just passing trolls who tend to come, paste in the same comment they've left at half a dozen other blogs and leave without a backward glance, much like the pack of beagles down the road leave little piles of poo on the lawn (to my Dad in law's great consternation) as they range around the neighborhood.

Ah, the advantages of being in a "secluded" corner of the blogisphere.

Hugo, I feel for you, man. Good luck keeping the discussions fun an productive without having to ban anybody. Oh, and your chinchilla is crazy cute.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Anosmic party

We can talk all day about the root causes of what ails the Democrats. But the proximate cause of our failure to thrive is quite clear to me -- we, or our leadership, to be more precise, are politically anosmic -- we cannot smell the blood in the water, and pounce on weakness. Sure, we've pounded Bush and good on the Dubai ports deal. But so did many Republicans, giving dems the sense that it is a safe issue on which to take the president on. I wonder what would have happened if no Republicans broke rank with the Bushies...I'd bet that the Democrats would have meekly dropped the issue, dollar to doughnuts.

Now they're letting Russ Feingold twist in the wind over his call to censure Bush over the NSA scandal. What a colossally bad move. I am of the belief (without denigrating the intelligence of my fellow Americans) that we go through life convinced that we've got firm views on most issues, but when pressed, are actually liable to make up our mind on the spot grabbing the nearest available evidence*. This wouldn't be so bad except that once we make up our minds more or less on the fly, we then fool ourselves into thinking that it was what we believed all along, and is loathe to change our opinion.

Now lets take this NSA scandal...I don't think most Americans go around with firm conceptions of what kind of spying behavior and what level of government powers is or is not acceptable. When they are first presented with any issue they're not immediately familiar with, their opinion is very malleable. They pick up on cues that are not what we generally think of as facts of the case, but is very salient to people nevertheless. If you appear outraged, certain of your case, loud and vociferous, people are going to pay attention to you. If you skulk and appear keen to strive for middle ground and afraid to appear too strident, people discount your case without even bothering to look into it. When Russ Feingold put himself out there calling for Bush to be censured, and his own party backed away from him, that is sending a message to the American people loud and clear -- "this domestic spying stuff is no big deal...even his party are not on board...the Republicans are louder and more they're probably right." The Democrats are trying to chase public opinion in their public appearances when they should be striving to be shaping public opinion with those appearances instead.

The sad thing of course is that the domestic spying stuff is really material that had the potential to resonate for all the right reasons. Feingold said, and I think he's right, that "I’m amazed at Democrats, cowering with this president’s numbers so low. The administration just has to raise the specter of the war and the Democrats run and hide." We think we're running and hiding from an unpopular position. We don't realize that it's the running and hiding that's making us unpopular.

*As an example, let's walk through this thought experiment -- we all know Bush's approval rating skyrocketed after 9/11. Now, let's imagine reassembling the last group of polled voters who gave Bush crappy job approval rating asking them if they changed their minds after the attacks. I'm not talking about a demographically similar group -- I'm talking about the very same people who were just asked the same question days before. I would imagine that most of them would say "Gee, what happened on 9/11 was really terrible, and I feel like it's important to support our president in this time, but I really didn't think Bush was doing a good job before the attacks, so obviously I'm still going to give the same answer." Now imagine asking the group of voters who gave Bush sky-high ratings right after 9/11 and asking them how they felt about Bush all along. I'm sure they'll say "Well, I've always liked President Bush...because of [whatever]. Did I change my mind on Bush just because the World Trade Towers went down? Of course not. What do you think I am, some kind of suggestible moron?"

So, although as a collective we've obviously allowed our opinion of Bush to be swayed by the patriotic fervor that swelled in the wake of tragedy, as individuals we won't admit that logical inconsistency. Those who are forced to come to a firm opinion about Bush before the disaster would probably stick to that opinion. Those whose opinions weren't fixed in the same way, however, come to view Bush more positively and convinced themselves that this was the way they felt all along.

How do we end this madness?

When you've got the Republicans agreeing with Bono agreeing with the Cato institute agreeing with me that something's bad, bad, bad, it's probably time for it to go. Except we're talking about crop subsidies for western farmers, and as as Mark Thoma grimly opined: "I'll believe it's possible to eliminate crop subsidies if and when it happens."
In Fight Against Farm Subsidies, Even Farmers Are Joining Foes, by Scott Kilman and Roger Thurow, WSJ: A movement to uproot crop subsidies, which have been worth nearly $600 billion to U.S. farmers over the decades, is gaining ground in some unlikely places -- including down on the farm. In Iowa ... a Republican running to be state agriculture secretary is telling big farmers they should get smaller checks. Mark W. Leonard, who collects subsidies himself ... told a room full of farmers ... that federal payments spur overproduction, which depresses prices for poor growers overseas. "From a Christian standpoint, what it is doing to Africa tugs at your heartstrings," Mr. Leonard told them. ...

There is a long history of mostly failed attempts to pare farm payments. But the current anti-subsidy sentiment ... is stirring attention because it is unusually broad. Students for Social Justice at Baylor University in Texas have dumped cotton balls on the ground to protest cotton subsidies. The foundation of late Nascar legend Dale Earnhardt has teamed up with rock star Bono, ... to overhaul Western agriculture policies to boost African development. In Washington, D.C., the Alliance for Sensible Agriculture Policies is meeting to share ideas about changing the farm bill. Participants include Oxfam and Environmental Defense from the left, the National Taxpayers Union on the right and the libertarian Cato Institute. Prominent philanthropic organizations, including the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, are financing some of this advocacy. ... Another spur to the anti-subsidy movement comes from the World Trade Organization...[snip]

The movement is tilting against one of the most deeply entrenched federal entitlements. In 1996, a Republican-led Congress passed legislation to wean farmers from subsidies over seven years. But Washington backed off as the farm economy entered one of its cyclical tailspins. The 2002 farm bill signed by President Bush is one of the most lavish ever, even as the economic cycle improved. ...

This is a perfect illustration of how a very motivated minority can somehow subvert the will of the majority in our democracy. This has got to be stopped...but how?