Saturday, February 26, 2005

Of oosiks and blog traffic
PZ Meyers has an interesting post on the evolution of the penis (really!). It seems the penis has evolved several times in amniotes (a group that includes mammals) and, more alarmingly, devolved and disappeared at least once. Meyers talks about the tissue and hydraulics, but leaves out the bone structure. Yes, some mammals have penis bones. I assume the adaptation is for speed. The penis bone is kept in the abdomen and, when needed, a set of muscles push it into a sheath in the fleshy part of the penis. Sliding a bone into and out of a sheath is much faster than waiting for the hydraulics to kick in and limits the time spent mating, which is, after all, vulnerable position.

This is a picture of the gavel that we had made for my father when he was the master of a Masonic lodge in Anchorage. The head is a piece of walrus tusk ivory and the handle is an oosik, a walrus or seal penis bone. As oosiks go, this is small one (about 20 cm long). I have seen walrus oosiks as big as a human femur.

Just for the record, the ivory was purchased from a licensed native craftsman, and this was before export restrictions began. Quite a few lodges in Alaska and Washington have gavels like this among their memorabilia. It's a joke that never gets old. I doubt as if you could get one of these any more.

If this post doesn't up my traffic, I don't know what will. I am, of course posting this, purely in the interests of science.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Bad tactics and good
Senator Jon Corzine (NJ-D) has sent a letter to the White House demanding that Bush denounce the attacks on AARP by USA Next. The USA Next campaign is despicable and Bush has both the power and responsibility to make them stop, but I still have mixed feelings about the tactical usefulness of making demands like this.

In recent years these sorts of demands for apologies and/or denunciations have become commonplace. In some cases the responsibility is well placed and the demands are perfectly valid. But more often the whole business is an exercise in political theater. Democrats and Republicans, liberals, libertarians and conservatives, are all responsible for creating this state of affairs.

The ongoing Ward Churchill brou-ha-ha is a perfect example. Churchill made some rather disgusting statements that implied that all of the workers at the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns" who deserved to die. Immediately, various conservative operatives seized on Churchill's statements as a weapon to bludgeon their various enemies: liberals, Democrats, and/or academia. They demanded that their targets repudiate Churchill. Why should anyone respond? Churchill is not a spokesman for the Democratic Party. I haven't seen any evidence that even votes Democratic. His statements were not made to benefit the Democrats or support a Democratic issue. The Democrats have no responsibility for Churchill and little ability to control what he says (outside of joining a lynch mob). The same argument holds true for liberalism and the academic establishment.

A secondary aspect of the whole charade is the fact that the demands for apologies and/or denunciations so often come from people who have no standing. The best example of this is both sides hypersensitivity to any hint of racism, classism, anti-Semitism, or sexism by their opponents. How often can we listen to white, wealthy, protestant males express shock and demand apologies for the racial/class/religious/gender insensitivity of other white, wealthy, protestant males and care? In time this silly game of gotcha has the effect of numbing our sensitivity to real racism, classism, anti-Semitism, and sexism.

The reason for making these demands are patently cynical and political. Whether or not the target responds to the demand, the association between the target and the condemned action gets to be made in public (in this case Democrats and Churchill's words). Cynical overuse of this tactic has drained it of any functionality when it really is valid. Corzine's call for the White House to denounce USA Next is just another bit of political noise for most people. The overuse of the tactic relativises all such calls in the public mind. they all look alike. The public looses the ability to discern between valid calls and cynical calls and truly bad behavior gains the protective color of public apathy.

USA Next's ads really are despicable and the White House really does have the ability and responsibility to stop them. The Swift Boat ads (by the same people) show us the course the White House will probably take. First, Bush will simply deny any responsibility. They are a separate organization; they can say whatever they want. If only the FCC had such a strong commitment to free speech. Next, he will try to profit from the situation by demanding we give him something in return for his doing the right thing. Remember his demand that his price for condemning the Swities was a complete ban on 527's like MoveOn? Finally, by the time he does say something, USA Next will have had enough time to do their damage. He will only act when their fifteen minutes of fame has passed.

What's to do? As well meaning as Corzine might be, he's the wrong one to be making the demand. AARP should be the one making the demand through their membership. It is important that they involve their thirty five million members. This post by Paperwight could serve as a rough draft for the message they should send the membership. After that, it would be fair game and a good idea for as many Democrats and others to make their demands in support of the AARP demand.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Blogging as a pathetic cry for attention
I came into blogging almost two years ago hoping for fame, fortune, dancing girls, and cheese sandwiches. Today, I can get the cheese sandwich if I bring my own cheese and make it myself. That's about how I expected it to turn out, though I'm still holding out hope that the fame and fortune will turn up someday. Going into blogging expecting F&F is about as smart as majoring in Art History for F&F. Sure, you could be the next Sister Wendy, but you're going to be a lot happier if you get some intristic pleasure from it and view any F&F that comes your way as pure gravy.

Yesterday, Atrios ran an amazingly angry letter from Ron Brynaert of Why Are we Back in Iraq? Ron's letter seems to be a continuation of an equally angry post on his blog the day before. Ron is annoyed that he has been doing tons of background research on the Gannon/Guckert/GOPUSA story without getting much credit. Several hundred Atrios readers stopped to comment and most called Ron a jerk. Atrios followed up by reprinting his tips to new bloggers. Meanwhile, Ron has picked up more traffic in the last couple days than he has in the last few months and wrote a post thanking Atrios. I think they are both being far better sports about this I would have been.

Coincidentally, the Kofax Award winners were announced yesterday, allowing for more wounded egos. I didn't make it into the finals, so my wound has almost healed into a mildly throbbing scar. Elayne Riggs has taken this opportunity to address blogger envy and why we blog.
I think y'all need to ask yourself what you really expect to get out of blogging. If I really yearned to win a Koufax instead of just make the first round of nominations, I acknowledge I would have had to post a lot more regularly, and write more longer essays..., than I did in 2004, so I truly cannot bitch about my exclusion from the Koufax finals. If I wanted "famous" bloggers to blogroll me, I'd e-mail them and ask what I could do to be worthy of their consideration.... If my goal was to be a "famous" blogger myself - I'm sorry, that's out of my control but there are certainly ways to increase your online presence (join alliances and webrings, go out and actually find/report on real news scoops, attend Drinking Liberally or other social events). If you're looking to Make Money Fast - well, I'm sure there's a Nigerian prince with a message just for you waiting in your in-box.

That about says it for me. I blog because I need to write; because I need to say something; because I need to shout into the big, black void at the end of life, "I was here." Blogging is a way to finally break out of the I'm-going-to-write-a-book-someday lethargy that has dominated the last thirty years of my life. Some readers are necessary to make it work. More readers make it better. George Soros showing up with his checkbook and saying "I want you to quit your job and write full time" would make it best. I'm not holding my breath.

Blogging has extra benefits that I never expected to find. There are a number of genuine little communities here. I not only have a few readers, I have readers on every continent except Antarctica. It's pretty cool to look at the map every so often and wonder "How did I get three readers on Guatemala?"

I've joked with my clever wife (who, by the way, is a dancing girl, so I'm not doing that bad) about the possibility of staging a feud with someone as a way to build our traffic. It might work (if you're interested, contact me). I also could build readership by finding more interesting things to blog about. That sounds like work.

And now that I've spent a whole day blogging about blogging, I'll go back to insulting the leaders of the free world. But if anyone has some spare F or F that they want to send my way, I won't turn it down (Atrios? Ron? Anyone?).

UPDATE: Brynaert responded to my "mostly fair" account of the affair of the missing links. He tells me that they made Air America and sends this message:
fic foc fuck fuck foo

not amazingly angry, but also not maybe amazingly funny hits sparked up big-time...but i've also gotten a lot of traffic from the ones who have linked to my Talon News plagiarism stories...and i knew atrios would print my e-mail and i love him even more for people are talking about what i've been talking about...links make us stronger; that's one of the secrets of the other side of the blogosphere

ron brynaert aka ron not fucking roy

Remember that lesson, "links make us stronger." Atrios? Farmer? Anyone?
Call for bad history
I'll be posting the first Carnival of Bad History here next Tuesday. We still have plenty of room for contributions and I'll be accepting till about noon on Monday.

Since this is the first Carnival, I'm very fluid on how old the contributions can be. If you've written anything you think might be relevant since the first of the year or so, send it in.

Also, since this is the first carnival, we're still fine-tuning the concept. Anything even remotely related is acceptable. If you want to correct a bad historical parallel that some talking head pulls out to support their position, send it in. If you have a pet peeve about historical movies, send it in. If you've been doing battle with holocaust deniers, internment apologists, or slavery romanticizers, definately send it in. If you want to debunk a favorite conspiracy theory, send it in. If you just want to bash on The DaVinci Code, send that in too.

Lastly, we need volunteers to be future hosts. The whole point of a carnival is to share the glory.

Send your article links and hosting volunteerances (or whatever you call that) to archy or to Bad History.
Koufax awards
The 2004 Koufax Awards were announced yesterday over at Wampum. Tragically, archy was overlooked in every single category. I'll be launching a big self-pittying rant later on to blame the big bloggers for not linking to me.

Not everyone I voted for won an award, but all of the winners are deserving. Just reading the nominees added a few new daily stops to my reading list. I'm most pleased that my friend David Neiwert won another Best Series Kofax award for his essay "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism." This is my chance to try and cop some reflected glory because I knew David when. Seriously, David's two fascism essays should be required reading for all of us

It's not too late to go drop a few nickels in the tip jar Wampum tip jar. They not only spend a lot of time managing these awards, but they also take a serious financial hit because of the server traffic (something those of us who whine about wanting more traffic should consider). After you do that, go congratulate the winners and check out the runners up. Then come back here and pump up my traffic numbers.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Two opportunities
In the last post, I described USA Next as "a classic Karl Rove style dirty trick." We might not ever know whether or not Uncle Karl was really involved, but if he is even remotely involved, it would be to our tremendous advantage to expose his links.

USA Next is playing a very dangerous game in demonizing AARP. AARP has millions of members, of all races and religions, mostly solidly middle class, and spread across the political spectrum. and they vote. They live in every neighborhood and go to every church. They are not an urban elite like the ACLU. They are not an ethnic "interest group" like the NAACP. And they vote.

Seniors are not a constituency you want mad at you if you expect to work in the political system. Enough seniors are AARP members or know members that they will know that USA Next's characterization of them as unpatriotic and ultra-liberal is just wrong. USA Next is inviting a very dangerous backlash. Our job is to make sure that backlash happens.

I see two possible routes a backlash could take. One is to directly tie USA Next to the White House. At the very least, it would end this Social Security privatization nonsense. I don't get the sense that the GOP members of congress would be very interested in carrying this issue forward without the White House pushing them. It could very well cause a shake up and some firings at the top. It would probably destroy most of Bush's "political capital" and limit the amount of damage he can do during a second term.

The second course is to tar the Republicans in general as the party of low politics and dirty tricks. This would be the time to publicly review Tom DeLay's recent career and the evolution of parliamentary procedure in Congress.

The best of all possible worlds would be if both backlashes happened and if we dragged them out into the midterm election season.
What's worse than execrable?
Let's ponder the word "execrable." It comes from the came root as "excrement" and therefore means "poop-like" or "poopy" (insert your own favorite Anglo-Saxon synonym for "poop" if you prefer). Comparing someone, something, or some behavior to poop should be about as low as we can go. What do we call people whose behavior falls lower than that?

Taking its cues from the success of last year's Swift boat veterans' campaign in the presidential race, a conservative lobbying organization has hired some of the same consultants to orchestrate attacks on one of President Bush's toughest opponents in the battle to overhaul Social Security.

The lobbying group, USA Next, which has poured millions of dollars into Republican policy battles, now says it plans to spend as much as $10 million on commercials and other tactics assailing AARP, the powerhouse lobby opposing the private investment accounts at the center of Mr. Bush's plan.

"They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts," said Charlie Jarvis, president of USA Next and former deputy under secretary of the interior in the Reagan and first Bush administrations. "We will be the dynamite that removes them."

This much of the story has been well reported in Left Blogistan so far. Sure the Swifties were pretty repulsive in an election, but how bad can a genuine policy debate get? This bad:
Over the headline: "The REAL AARP Agenda", the ad has, on the left, a picture of a soldier in desert fatigues with a big 'X' crossing him out and on the right a picture of two men (in tuxes and obviously just married) kissing each other. The gay newlyweds have a big green check mark over them.

Atrios and others have copies of the ad. It's even more disgusting to look at than the description lets on. So far, the ad has been spotted on the American Spectator website. Clicking through on the ad takes you to the USA Next website where no attempt is made to connect the AARP with failure to support the troops or advocating gay marriage. The ad is nothing more than a cheap smear with no basis. However, the very boldness of the lie makes it very likely that the mainstream press will repeat it with the justification that the charge itself is news.

What is the point of such an easily exposed lie? Any rumor, no matter how unlikely is bound to find a few believers and staking out a completely outrageous position like this makes it easier to push a slightly less outrageous, but still false position. In this case, while most people won't believe those two specific claims, they will have the seeds of a "liberal AARP" idea planted in their minds. The press, now dominated by a "he said, she said" style of reporting, will link the AARP and USA Next together in their reporting.

Any student of recent political tactics will notice that this is a classic Karl Rove style dirty trick (though it is unlikely that we will be able to prove a link until long after the fact). Rove campaigns are always marked by attack groups going deep into the mud and saying things far more vile than Rove's client could utter in public. These groups carefully maintain their independence and thereby provide deniability for Rove's client. Five out of the 31 paragraphs in the New York Times article are quotes from USA Next officials distancing themselves from the White House. But Rove's client always profits from these groups. Some of the mud sticks, some doubts are planted, and any time or energy the AARP spends defending themselves from USA Next is time not spent opposing the will of Bush.

Too bad the AARP lost so much of its credibility and alienated so many of its friends supporting the administration's prescription drug con. They could use both of them about now.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall reports that USA Next has already pulled the ad. Fortunately, Josh and others have saved screen shots of the offending piece.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Vexillological meditation
This is a letter from David Horowitz's complaint line, Students for Academic "Freedom"* where conservative chronicle the horrible oppression under the intollerant liberal academic brainwashing system.
Complaint Lodger Details: Anonymous

Class: Human Geography

Subject: Iraq

Professor: Kujawa

College: Saint Michael's College

Description of Complaint (please be as detailed as possible, including quotes from your professor where applicable): Talked about flags as symbols of states and argued that new Iraqi flag was not a result of a transparent and fair process. Argued AS FACT that new flag had similar colors to Israeli flag and that this could be problematic. Claimed AS FACT that other Arab societies had red, green and black in their flags. Very biased. Had no visual proof of this.

Action Taken: I will fact check and complain to administration. He has an English accent but claims to be an American.

I'm not sure when I developed a love of flags. I've always been a map nerd, so it might have been a natural extension of one interest into another brought on by those grade school wall maps that had the flags of the countries or states around the margin.

Associating flags with countries and parts of countries just came naturally. When I was very little, I noticed that most flags are mind numbingly unimaginative. In those days, eleven southern states used some variation of the stars and bars for their flag (Texas and South Carolina did not). Nineteen states used their state seal on a blue background. Washington is daringly original in using their state seal on a green background.

Most national flags were some kind of tricolor or another. While I was in grade school, thirty or so new countries became independent. To me, it seemed like the most difficult choice most faced in designing their flags was whether to have vertical or horizontal stripes in their tricolors. Tricolors are the bar-codes of national flags.

I mention all of this in order to establish my vexillological bona fides. I own flag reference books. I know how to use them. I have also discovered that it's possible to look up useful information of those internets.

Considering that all of the Arab countries have flags using some combination of red, green, and black and that none of them use light blue, just what is Annoymous' big gripe? Is it that the English accented Prof. Kujawa failed to mention white? Is this just another case of multiculturalism run wild. Once again the contribution of white has been minimised. Or is it that Annoymous is such a severe empiricist that he/she/it will accept nothing on auhtority unless backed by illustrations and proof that these illustartions represent an overwhelming statistical majority? That hardly seems conservative. Isn't unquestioning respect and deference to authority a conservative value?

* Okay, I added the irony quotes. But really, whose freedom are they concerned with when they go int the vapors over something like this? Big crybabies.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The funniest man in show biz
Who says conservatives don't have a sense of humor?
On February 15, the same day that FOX News host Bill O'Reilly claimed that "[n]o lies have been told about anyone" on his show, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh boasted: "We don't retract anything we do here because we never lie and make things up on this program." Limbaugh also defended the accuracy of FOX News, stating: "You know, at FOX News, I have to tell you this, they haven't had to retract one story, major story that I can recall since they've been on the air."
Civilization in decline
WARNING: The following post contains geezer grousing and may not be suitable for readers under thirty.

The other day I was looking over some recent DVD releases. I'm not sure why; clever wife and haven't converted to DVD yet. But I found myself with DVDs in front of my face, so I looked them. Universal has oened up its vaults to release all of their classic monster movies from the thirties. They've packaged them in attactive sets of three or four movies with documentary extras according to monster. They seem to have done a very nice job. Then their marketing department slapped a sticker on the front of each one that reads "Unleash the Original Films That Inspired 'Van Helsing.'" They think the only way people will watch classic movies is if they associate them with one of the worst blockbusters of last year. I had the same reaction when I saw "East of Eden" marketed as a selection of Opra's Bookclub. Woo-hoo, I thought, this could be Steinbeck's big career break! We're doomed.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Am I missing something?
So far, I have been watching Gannongate with amusement, but have not had much to add to the whole brou-ha-ha. I do, however, have one question: how come no one has made a proper bad joke about the inability of HotMilitaryStud to get a "hard" pass from Scottie at the White House? Don't tell me no one has thought of this in-you-endo.
Toward a history of the environmental movement
I'm sure that histories of the environmental movement exist. I haven't read any, but I can predict what they are or will be. Two narratives are possible according to the most current styles of historiography. The first is a political narrative. This would be a history of popular movements, influential groups, and significant legislation. It might be told a colorful saga of powerful personalities. The second narrative would be an intellectual history. This is a tale of influential publications, magazines, books, and theses. Both narratives are valid; they tell the tale of a lineage. They tell the tale of the evolution of a an new idea, growing from a notion into a popular value. One uses personalities as the vector of transmission; the other uses publications. I'm willing to bet both leave a significant piece of the story out.

My clever wife and I are part of the first generation to grow up with the environment, or nature, as a permanent part of our political socialization. Prior to the sixties, the environment was rarely a part of political discourse. After the sixties, it is inescapable. Different positions are possible, but the issue is inescapable. You must take sides.

Our awareness of the environment did not come from political or philosophical movements. It did not come from reading great works of nature writing. Neither of knew where the national parks and forests came from or who Rachel Carlson was until we were already committed tree-huggers.

We were brought to the environment by popular culture. When we talk about the environment, four influences stand out: the movie "Bambi," Smokey the Bear, the anti-litter campaign, and the near extinction of the buffalo and bald eagle. Bambi and Smokey personalized nature. The anti-litter campaign showed us graphically how widespread human influence on nature was. The thought that two big animals so important to the American mythos might disappear made the consequences a matter of national pride for us.

That's not the whole story. There were other important influences; I have a whole narrative that involves the interstate highway system. You don't want to hear it. We are the generation that saw the change from conservation to environmentalism. Those simple messages are the ones that worked on us.

There is a lesson here for the Democratic Party on how to construct messages. Effective messages need to be simple, they need to connect at a gut level, they need to fit into a narrative, and they need bears. Remember that.
Is it time to panic now?
I heard this on the radio this morning while trying to struggle up from dreamland. It woke me up fast.
President Bush on Thursday named John Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and currently the administration's top representative in Iraq, to be America's first national intelligence director.


"John will make sure that those whose duty it is to defend America have the information we need to make the right decisions," Bush said. "We're going to stop the terrorists before they strike."

"[S]top the terrorists before they strike." Those are pretty chilling words coming from a guy is alleged to have had close ties to Central American death squad leaders back when he was Reagan's ambassador to Honduras. At least now Alberto Gonzales will have a kindred soul to sit with during cabinet meetings. These two between them control the intelligence and law enforcement communities, the CIA and the FBI. My paranoia meter just went to eleven.

I'll have more to say about this later.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Axis three are one
Yesterday Bradblog demonstrated that CNN's website was using the same photo of some kind of compound in stories about two different nuclear programs in both Iran and North Korea. Atrios asked if this was proof that Iran and North Korea were one and the same country. According to the Institute for Science and International Security, the photos are of the gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility near Natanz, Iran.

Today, Bradblog has pictures discovered by EarlG (see comment 63 "Important Update"), an administrator over at Democratic Underground, of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty using a photo of the same facility in a story about the North Korean program last March. The filename of the photo used in the RFE/RL story is "Iraq-nuclear.jpg." Bradblog has all of the pictures nicely lined up for comparison here. Although funded by the US government, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is normally a highly dependable source of news for areas of the world that are not well covered by other American new media.

If the CNN gaffe was the whole story, it would be easy to believe that it was an honest mistake. But the RFE/RL angle is particularly disturbing. For one thing, they printed a different picture that the one CNN is using, so this is not a case of one mislabled picture circulating through news circles. Secondly, the RFE/RL is mislabled as yet a third country. All three countries are members of the "Axis of Evil" targeted by the administration as the sources of most of the evil in the modern world.

So what is going on here? At this point, I don't think it's conspiratorial to say it looks like they are all being fed information by the same source. Bradblog has communicated with both CNN and RFE/RL and requested that information (RFE/RL is run out of Prague, so it may take some time for him to get a response). At this point, I'd say the safe money will bet on the executive branch of the US government. At least, that's where I'm putting my money.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Thanking our friends
Some liberals wanted to thank Sen. Barbara Boxer (forces of good - CA) for leading the floor fights against confirmation of Bush’s appointees, especially Gonzales, so they decided to send her some roses for Valentine’s Day (375 dozen to be exact).

Barb says thanks over at Kos.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Re: Deep Throat, not the movie
John Dean tells us that Deep Throat might be ill and dying. Should Deep Throat die, Bob Woodward has promised to finally identify the legendary Watergate source. "Oh boy! I can't wait for him to die so we can finally find out his name," is a pretty tacky way to react to the impending death of a fellow human being. But not knowing who he is, I can't say for sure that I do or do not want to see him dead.

To be honest, I raised glass in cheer to the news of the last breath of quite few Watergate dramatis personae. Alan beat me to the punchline when the chief crook himself left this plane. "I was always told you should only speak good of the dead," he said. "Nixon is dead. GOOD!!" The historians raised their glasses and cheered; the area studies majors looked scandalized. Go figure.

I have a number of preferences about the identity of Deep Throat, though they are more based on my desire for a good plot twist than on my historian's instincts. Maybe we'll know soon which one is more dependable. Maybe we will be truly sorrowed by the loss of someone who saved the republic and refused the credit.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The sad last days of Heckle and Jeckle
Bryant asks the question of the day, “So, like, whatever happened to Heckle and Jeckle?” I hate to have to be the one to have to tell him the sordid tale. The following is mostly a summary of chapter seven of “Cartoon Babylon” (New York: Permanent Press, 1997).

It was the usual story of show biz egos run amuck. Jeckle got tired of playing second fiddle and broke up the act to pursue a solo career in music. He recorded one album that was generally ignored by fans and critics alike. Heckle tried to retire, soon bored of that, and wrote a tell-all memoir of his days in toons. Both went through a series of high profile Hollywood marriages and expensive divorces.

After about ten years of obscurity, they had a tearful reunion on the "Merv Griffin Show" and tried to revive the old act. By then, however, kids’ tastes had moved on to more sophisticated fare like "The Chan Clan," “Scrappy Doo,” and "Josie and the Pussycats." Jeckle took to the bottle while Heckle tried, without luck, to sell another spicy memoir. Heckle also tried, unsuccessfully to create a new act with Baba Louie after the latter’s famous split with Quickdraw McGraw.

Throughout the eighties and nineties, Jeckle drifted in and out of rehab, became born-again, and was briefly a fixture on “The 700 Club.” Heckle paid his many alimony bills by accepting any kind paying acting gig he could get, usually undignified sitcom walk-ons. Now days they can occasionally be seen doing dinner theater on the Carolina coast or signing autographs for money at old cartoon conventions. It's really quite sad.
Resistance is futile
So far this week has had "give up and run away" written all over it. In the name of protecting us from brown foreigners who might want to commit some terroristic act like picking our fruit, Congress is well on the way toward creating a national ID system and exempting the Secretary of Homeland security from any laws or judicial oversight (I'm not exaggerating). With that lurking in the back of my mind, I looked over at Jeralyn Merritt's place this morning to find this:
The only grade school in this rural town is requiring students to wear radio frequency identification badges that can track their every move. Some parents are outraged, fearing it will take away their children's privacy.

The badges introduced at Brittan Elementary School on Jan. 18 rely on the same radio frequency and scanner technology that companies use to track livestock and product inventory.

Where to start? It's dehumanizing. It's an invasion of privacy. It destroys autonomy at the age when it is most important to encourage it. It panders to the most fearful cowardice on one hand and the most authoritarian impulses on the other. Depending on a device like this reduces the personal bund between teacher and student. How is this going to play with the endtime crowd?

Did I leave anything out? Slippery slope? There is no slope here, it's a vertical plunge. The program is being justified as a way to simplify taking attendance, but since it tracks movement it will also be used to prevent and investigate vandalism. Plans are already afoot to connect the system to the library database and the cafeteria payment system. How long before it occurs to someone to connect it to the municipal bus system? How long before it occurs to someone to sell the system to malls and other businesses that often feel themselves to be at war with young people? Surely they have a right to know who enters their premises. With Congress already introducing national IDs for grown-ups, is it out of line to suspect that 24 hour electronic tracking of minors is just around the corner? And when we have raised a generation used to that kind of surveilance and control from above, what kind of adults will they make? What freedoms will they surrender in the name of security?

Is it really that bad or am I just paranoid? Not that the two are mutually exclusive. Let's back away from the future for a moment and just look at the present. How bad is this program?
The system was imposed, without parental input, by the school as a way to simplify attendance-taking and potentially reduce vandalism and improve student safety. Principal Earnie Graham hopes to eventually add bar codes to the existing ID's so that students can use them to pay for cafeteria meals and check out library books.


Graham, who also serves as the superintendent of the single-school district, told the parents that their children could be disciplined for boycotting the badges - and that he doesn't understand what all their angst is about.

It was started without parental knowledge and is being continued over their protests. Participation is compulsory for all students. Okay, that's pretty bad. But certainly principal/superintendent Graham is addressing the parents' concerns.
"You know what it comes down to? I believe junior high students want to be stylish. This is not stylish," he said.

I suppose open contempt could count as addressing their concerns.

My advice to parents is to get a couple of powerful bar magnets, bolt them together into the shape of a cross, and have their kids wear them around their necks at about the same height the cards hang (purely as an act of religious freedom, mind you). I wonder if the cards are washer and dryer safe. And if the student accidentally left the card out with a slice of bacon wrapped around it, they couldn't be held responsible for anything the dog did, could they?

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has much more information on this issue. Meanwhile, if anyone needs me, I'll be curled up in a fetal position under the stairs.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Social Security speech for Mom
The elevator speech, if you are lucky enough to have never encountered it, is a marketing concept. The idea is to have a short speech that is able to define your product/service and the need it fills in the time space of an average elevator ride. That usually means a hundred words or less. Authors are often told that they need to be able to explain what their book is about in one sentence if they want to sell it.

During the tech boom, I worked for a software startup as their main writer. Though hired as a documentation writer, I ended up writing a lot of their marketing copy. We had a difficult service/product to describe. Before I learned the concept of the elevator speech, I thought of it as the Mom speech. How could I tell Mom what I did for a living in terms that she could explain to her friends?

We all need to be able to deliver the Democratic/anti-Bushevik position on Social Security as a Mom speech. It's not just how do we explain it to Mom; it's how do we implant memorable phrases that she can repeat, meme fashion, to her friends.

Bush is playing a sophisticated divide and conquer game with Social Security. He is telling people over 55 that they will get theirs, therefore they shouldn't care about anyone else, even though it's their children who will be screwed. He's promising young people that they will all be part of the minority that win in the stock market; everyone will collect winnings and no one will be the losers who pay. To the middle aged he says "look, homos are getting married!!"

Let's hear your elevator speeches. If we win my Mom's friends, the fight is over.
This is not a scientific poll
Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut's fourth district gives us this little poll.
To address the long-term structural deficit in Social Security, do you support adding personal savings accounts to the program, which have the potential to significantly increase the benefits future retirees can expect to earn?

Let me rephrase that, "To address the long-term structural deficit in Social Security, do you support a program that might give you buckets of cash?* Or maybe big buckets?**" If you say "yes," we'll quote you in Congress.

* "Then again, it might leave you out on the street trying to sell apples to orchard owners."

** "Or we might sell your grandkids' kidneys to rich GOP donors."

Sunday, February 06, 2005

PS - Thanks for voting for us
In a heartwarming act of conservative comapassion, the Bush administeration tells injured veterans "bite my shorts."
President Bush's budget would more than double the co-payment charged to many veterans for prescription drugs and would require some to pay a new fee of $250 a year for the privilege of using government health care, administration officials said Sunday.

I could comment, but it speaks for itself.

Have I mentioned lately that I really hate these guys (Condi, too)?
Bad History in the Social Security Debate
I think we can expect a lot more of this in the coming months.
In an attempt to promote President Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security, nationally syndicated radio host and former Reagan administration official William J. Bennett and FOX News managing editor and anchor Brit Hume falsely claimed that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt advocated replacing Social Security with private accounts. In fact, while Roosevelt advocated "voluntary contributory annuities" to supplement guaranteed Social Security benefits, he never proposed replacing those benefits with private accounts.


Former Social Security associate commissioner James Roosevelt Jr., Roosevelt's grandson, noted in a January 31 Boston Globe op-ed piece: "The implication that FDR would support privatization of America's greatest national program is an attempt to deceive the American people and an outrage."

As a debate tactic, what Bennett and Hume are attempting is as old as written language and probably older. They are attempting to make their ideas unassailable by claiming that they spring from ancient revered authorities. This argument is especially effective with conservative audiences, so it's no wonder that conservative pundits would use it to push forward the agenda of an ultra-conservative president.

As history, Bennett and Hume are committing two sins. The first is misrepresentation or just plain lying. The second is trying to draw an ahistorical parallel. This is the act of pulling historical examples and saying they are relevant to present day issues because of some similarity. There is nothing wrong with using historical examples in debate, but the issues have to match.

In this case, the real problem is the misrepresentation. If the Roosevelt program had been what Bennett and Hume claimed it was, then they would have had a valid parallel. But it wasn't, so they don't. This then undermines the debate tactic. They appealed to a revered authority for support and the authority didn't support them. They lose this round.

Cross posted at The Carnival of Bad History.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Poison the women and children first
The party of family values at work.
The Environmental Protection Agency ignored scientific evidence and agency protocols in order to set limits on mercury pollution that would line up with the Bush administration's free-market approaches to power plant pollution, according to a report released yesterday by the agency's inspector general.

Staff at the EPA were instructed by administrators to set modest limits on mercury pollution, and then had to work backward from the predetermined goal to justify the proposal, according to a report by Inspector General Nikki Tinsley.

Mercury is a toxic metal released as a byproduct by coal-burning power plants and other industries, and it is known to have a range of harmful health effects, especially on young children and pregnant women.

Good thing those tree-hugging, family-hating, blue-state liberals aren't running things. Sigh.

The article goes on to say that the agency disputes Tinsley's claim and says she doesn't understand the science involved. I can't say that I have the credentials to sort the issue out on it's scientific merits, but based on the administration’s history of sacrificing good science to desired results and of bending over backward to give the energy industry what it wants, I'm inclined to take Ms. Tinsley at her word.

This is a prime example of something I've been meaning to post on, but usually give up on in despair before I can produce anything. While most of our attention is usually focused on high profile things like the war, torture, the administration's lawlessness and efforts to gut the bill of rights, and the grotesque behavior of the Republican majorities in congress, the Bush camarilla has been slowly dismembering a hundred years of regulatory machinery.

The role of the US government as a regulator of business and shield to the public against predatory and outright murderous business practices dates back to, ironically, a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt. Republicans eat their ancestors. It's disgusting but true.
We're not done with Gonzales
The confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General by the Senate yesterday was a national disgrace, but it was not a surprise. Voting to endorse torture and lawlessness confirms every negative image of America that the rest of the world has come to belive over the last three years.

The Republican Party used the brute force of their majority in the Senate to push his nomination through. The vote was 60 to 37. Every single Republican voted for the man who justified torture, breaking of treaties, and arbitrary executive rule while White House counsel.

To their credit, 36 Democrats and Independent Jim Jeffords voted against confirmation. To their shame, six Democrats voted to confirm. Those six are:
  • Ken Salazar (CO)
  • Ben Nelson (NE)
  • Mary Landrieu (LA)
  • Mark Pryor (AR)
  • Bill Nelson (FL)
  • Joseph Lieberman (CN)

The first five have a weak excuse for their behavior. As representatives from conservative red states that voted for Bush in the last election, they must perform a delicate balancing act in the course of their duties. Even though they were elected as Democrats, they have to recognize the conservative values of their constituents and periodically join the Republicans on issues that resonate with that base. This is where their excuse weakens until it has all of the strength of a wet tissue (single ply).

Red states fancy themselves to be "the heartland," a term that implies that they are the real America, the core that exemplifies traditional, authentic American values unlike the decadent coastal enclaves of the blue states. Torture and lawlessness are not traditional values, they are not conservative values, and they most certainly are not American values. Did these Senators believe that there was an irresistable groundswell of support for torture and lawlessness among their constituents? Did any of them even try to appeal to the American values of respect for law, fair play, and basic human decency among their constituents? By bringing this shame down on us all they have ill served their states and their country.

Joseph Lieberman is a different case. He doesn't even have the fig leaf of a weak excuse for his vote. He represents one of the bluest of the blue states. His vote can only have been one of conviction. Someone of those convictions has no place in the Democratic Party.

The vote is over and we lost. But that doesn't mean we should let the issue drop. Write to these Senators and (politely) let them know disappointed we are in their action. Let them know that they are on probation and that we will not forget how they embarassed their party and disgraced their country.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Vote NO on Gonzales
Since the vote will probably happen tomorow, today is your last chance to make your opinion heard on Gonzales. Call your Senator, especially if you live in a red state. Torture is not an American value. Ignoring international law does not make America more secure. The world will see a vote for Gonzales as a vote for lawlessness. And that's exactly what it is. Tell your Senators to support American values and reject Gonzales.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Euphemism watch
In the context of reporting on another Republican who refuses to go along with his president's scheme to privatize Social Security, Josh Marshall pulled this sentence out of the Cincinnati Enquirer: "Davis has said he will not support Bush's plan to allow workers to invest a percentage of their payroll taxes into self-directed personal investment accounts." (My empahsis.) From here it's only a short step to "self-directed personal investment account program related research activities."
Condi's greatest hits
In honor of Condoleezza Rice's new job, and in honor of the debut of The Carnival of Bad History, I'm rerunning an old archy post from August 31, 2003 in which Condi commits bad history.

History lesson
A while back, someone taught Bush a new phrase and something about the concept that goes with it: "historical revisionism." Like many people with a new cool concept he couldn’t wait to find opportunities to work it into conversations. The leader of the free world may or may not have been briefed that “historical revisionism” is a term embraced by Holocaust deniers and that in using it to describe his critics, he got to slip in an oblique accusation that they are in some way anti-Semitic. And although an accusation that critics of the war in Iraq must be anti-Semitic by itself makes no sense, he could rest snug in the knowledge that it nevertheless pissed off liberal intellectuals to hear it.

Now the administration, in the persons of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Rummy, has decided to practice historical revisionism.

On Monday, Dr. Rice told the San Antonio VFW that:
There is an understandable tendency to look back on America's experience in postwar Germany and see only the successes. But as some of you here today surely remember, the road we traveled was very difficult. 1945 through 1947 was an especially challenging period. Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officers—called "werewolves"—engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them—much like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants.

Before looking at the substance of her statement notice how she frames her parallel by anachronistically transferring modern terminology into the past. The Allies have become "coalition forces." By this rule I suppose we should start referring to John Wilkes Booth as a member of the Fedayeen Jefferson Davis.

On the same day before the same audience, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld referred to, "dead-enders ... known as ‘werewolves’ ...[who along with] other Nazi regime remnants targeted Allied soldiers, and they targeted Germans who cooperated with the Allied forces."

Meanwhile, Australian blogger John Quiggin, has tracked the source of this story to an article in National Review Online by Mackubin Owens. There can be no doubt that this is the source because Rumsfeld uses as examples in his version of the Werewolf story only those examples that appear in one block quote in the Mackubin article. The source of that quote, and indeed apparently the only source for Mackubin is a one-thousand-word book review in the British magazine History Today.

Daniel Benjamin in Slate demolishes their story. There was some resistance by German soldiers behind the lines while the fighting was still going on at the end of WWII. Among these were the famous efforts by Otto Skorzeny in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, the assassination of the collaborationist mayor of Aachen after the Americans occupied that town, and the less known efforts by Volkdeutsch leader Andreas Schmidt in Rumania against the Red Army. However, none of these were Werewolf activities in the sense that Rice and Rumsfeld mean. These were commando activities directed by Reich authorities in Berlin.

The real Operation Werewolf had a little reality and a lot of myth. The reality was a plan to train troops in guerilla tactics and sabotage, to create hidden supply depots in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps, and to make Germany ungovernable for the Allied occupiers. The reality was more like an unfunded Bush social program; the supply depots never materialized and the troops were mostly Hitler Youth boys who, as soon as the command structure vanished, ditched their guns and cyanide capsules and went home. In an ugly sequel, the Soviets, who had some understanding of partisan warfare, used the Werewolf rumors as an excuse to execute German POWs while the restored national governments of continental Europe used those same rumors to justify their expulsion of 14 million ethnic Germans from Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Werewolf has lived on as a great plot device for a hundred Ludlum wannabes and not much more.

This is not a matter of interpretation where one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. There was no one there to call a terrorist, freedom fighter, or ice-cream vendor for that matter. No one.

Not long ago, on a drive down to Mom’s, my wife and I engaged in a variation of the perennial "stupid or evil" debate. You know the one, does the administration act the way they do because they are stupid or because they are evil? The usual answer is that it’s a trick question and the correct answer is "all of the above" (on our trip we were dividing the administration into plain old corrupt and ideological fanatics). This time the division appears easy. Dr. Rice is co-author of a book on recent German history and should know better. Her willingness to sacrifice truth for her career has been well established through revelations concerning the run up to the war. It’s clear, to me at least, that she’s a willing liar. Rumsfeld is only a little harder. He has already demonstrated by his version of the early epilogue to the American Revolution that History is not his best subject. On the other hand, he too has shown that he doesn’t really care about truth; he’ll say whatever is necessary to get his way.

I’m only going on like this because history is my field. After all, they are not abusing history any worse than they already have science, economics, or ethics.