Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Second life for a bad idea
The National Rifle Association has gone over the edge. That's not news. I think many of us gave up on the NRA ten years ago when they were practically defending Timothy McVey. Still, this week's outrage is an especially ugly development, even for them.
All options should be considered to prevent rampages like the Minnesota school shooting that took 10 lives — including making guns available to teachers, a top National Rifle Association leader said Friday.

"I'm not saying that that means every teacher should have a gun or not, but what I am saying is we need to look at all the options at what will truly protect the students," the NRA's first vice president, Sandra S. Froman, told The Associated Press.

Surprisingly, the NRA is not the first group to suggest this bad idea. Back during the Columbine aftermath Larry Pratt, director and founder of a group called the Gun Owners of America, made the same suggestion. His exact phrasing was, "We're saddened that there were not teachers and principals who had access to a gun, who might have been able to stop the mayhem," creating the the image of a firefight across a crowded cafeteria. GOA is a group that considers the NRA too soft on gun control.

Pratt is quite a figure on the farthest right. According to PublicEye, Pratt:
Has founded several groups that are to the right of their right-wing counterparts: English First (as opposed to U.S. English), Gun Owners of America (as opposed to the National Rifle Association), U.S. Border Control (as opposed to FAIR) and the antichoice Committee to Protect the Family. Resigned as co-chair of Pat Buchanan’s national campaign in 1996 after allegations linked him to militias and White supremacist organizations. A ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

At the time of Columbine, Pratt was ignored because it was obvious that only a complete idiot would suggest such a thing. Now the NRA has embraced his position.

There is a very ugly dynamic going on here; David Neiwert discussed it in detail in his fascism monographs. The flirtation with the extreme right conducted by the Republican Party and right wing media creates a mechanism for extremist ideas to become legitimized and transported into the mainstream public consciousness. Repetition and familiarity make the ideas sound less extreme. It's actually a two way transmission.

Radical ideas and positions are moved into the "center" during their adoption by progressively more mainstream figures while those same mainstream figures are progressively radicalized. In time the whole political spectrum moves right. When the inarticulate guy in fatigues outside his bunker says it, it's crazy. When the angry guy on the radio says it, it's wild, but not completely over the edge. When the glib white men with good haircuts say it while sitting around their table on TV, it's an idea whose time may have finally come.

But it’s still a bad idea.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Letter to The National Press Club
Sean-Paul over at The Agonist is politely asking The National Press Club to improve the quality of their Blogging and Journalism panel.
Members of The National Press Club,

We, the undersigned bloggers, are very concerned about how liberal political bloggers are being systematically under-represented and belittled in the mainstream media, academic settings and media forums. By being intentionally excluded away from these venues, we are effectively pushed out of the discourse of opinion-leaders. The result is that the conventional wisdom about blogging, politics and journalism, as it concerns liberal blogs, becomes a feedback loop framed by the Conservatives and their media allies.

Go read the whole letter and join in if you agree.

Personally, I'm less annoyed about this particular panel (with Gannon/Guckert representing which side, bloggers or journalists?) than I am about the general exclusion of liberal bloggers in general from press coverage. The representatives of news blogging in press stories and on these kinds of panels are too often established journalists who blog on the side, wingnuts, Glenn Reynolds, or Wonkette. And while Wonkette is an entertaining gossip columnist, she isn't a good representative of news blogging or the left.

Gentlebeings of the press, expand your sources! Hundreds of us would sell our little sisters for a chance to be a talking head. Some of us are even presentable.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

When my Mom and my clever wife get together, at some point after the drinking, the planing of meals, the drinking, the making of meals, the drinking, the eatingof meals, and, of course, the drinking, they play cards. Sometimes I play too, but usually I sneak off and blog or read. Lately, their favorite game has been Uno, a sort of Crazy Eights on steroids.

The normal play of Uno is that you play until someone plays out. At that point the other players count up the point value of their remaining cards. The official rules allow two versions of how to procede beyond this point. In version one, the winner of a hand takes the points of all of the other players. The grand winner of the game is the first to score 500 after enough hands have been played. In version two, the other players keep the points in their hands and you keep playing until the grand loser scores 500.

Lately, I have been reading my Lakoff on the different intreperative metaphors for American politics. Which play do you think better fits the lefitist, nurturing parent, metaphor and which fits the rightist, strict father, metaphor? Is it more appropriate to choose a grand winner to be praised by all or a grand loser to be condemned by all? Why do you think that, and what the hell is wrong with you?
Celebrate something
Today, Christians, or at least Western Christians, are celebrating Easter. In the last week, Zoroastrians and certain varieties of Muslims celebrated Nawruz; Jews everywhere had Passover; wicking and some earth goddess worshipers celebrated the Vernal Equinox under a variety of names; ancient Romans, if any are still alive, and many types of pagans celebrated New Years; Mustang Bobby celebrated his 50,000th visitor; my old friend Kenzo had her birthday; and archy celebrated its second blogoversary. I hope you have something to celebrate and someone to celebrate it with.

Good day to all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Pope is dead!
Well, not that pope, another pope.
The leader of a secretive Spanish sect who said he was the true Pope and that the Vatican was controlled by the devil has died, a town hall official said Tuesday.
Gregorio XVII, 58, was the leader of a self-styled church whose followers believed he would be crucified before a kind of apocalypse would take place.

Gregorio believed God crowned him after Pope Paul VI's death in 1978 and he rejected changes made to the Catholic church in the 1960s such as saying mass in local languages rather than Latin and dialogue with other branches of Christianity.


The sect, based in the southern Spanish town of El Palmar de Troya but with members from as far away as the United States, conferred sainthood on former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

Last summer, Taipei Times did profile on Gregorio that explanes how he became pope:
Before crowning himself "pope", the man formerly known as Clemente Dominguez said he had visions of the Virgin Mary and messages from God that the church in Rome, and Pope Paul VI, were being misled.

"Satan is governing in the Vatican," Gregorio was told in a vision in 1971, according to one booklet. A year later he was told, "Masons and Communism have infiltrated the Vatican."

Gregorio lost his sight in a 1976 car crash but the Virgin Mary promised he will regain it one day, church documents say.

Two years later Paul VI died and Clemente Dominguez, on a trip to Colombia, proclaimed himself pope.

Gregorio's church, which he called the "Carmelite Order of the Holy Face," is not the only schismatic church to emerge in opposition to Vatican II. Last year, during the brou-ha-ha that erupted before the release of "The Passion," it was revealed that Mel Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, is a Holocaust Denier and member of one such church (The Society of Saint Pius X). Mel himself appears to be a Catholic traditionalist, a member of a congregation that still performs the Latin mass, but hasn't fully broken with Rome yet.

The other day, TBogg made a compassionate prediction about Popes dying (I think he meant the other one, but he could have meant this one):
As an added note: you do realize that if both Terri Schiavo and the Pope leave this mortal coil within days of each other, the Brides of Jesus (that would be Peggy Noonan & Kathryn Jean Lopez) will have a meltdown that will make Chernobyl look like a snuffed birthday candle.

Even if this doesn't make their heads explode, if we announce, it right it might give one of them a wee aneurysm.
Strange bedfellows
This article just came to my attention via MyDD. It's by Jon B. Eisenberg, a lawyer who has been involved in the Schiavo case since last year, when he filed an amicus curiae brief 55 bioethicists and a disability rights organization opposing governor Jeb's intervention in the case. According to Eisenberg:
Two months later I participated in a public debate on the case at Florida State University. Among the participants supporting Gov. Bush's position were Pat Anderson, one of multiple attorneys who have represented the Schindlers, and Wesley Smith and Rita Marker, two activists whose specialty is opposing surrogate removal of life-support from comatose and persistent vegetative state patients. I found myself wondering: "I'm doing this pro bono; are they?"

I did some Internet research and learned that many of the attorneys, activists and organizations working to keep Schiavo on life support all these years have been funded by members of the Philanthropy Roundtable.

The Philanthropy Roundtable is a collection of foundations that have funded conservative causes ranging from abolition of Social Security to anti-tax crusades and United Nations conspiracy theories. The Roundtable members' founders include scions of America's wealthiest families, including Richard Mellon Scaife (heir to the Mellon industrial, oil and banking fortune), Harry Bradley (electronics), Joseph Coors (beer), and the Smith Richardson family (pharmaceutical products).

These are the usual suspects to anyone familiar with the funding of the "Might Wurlitzer" the highly effective right-wing propaganda and lobbying machine that has developed over the last thirty years. Eisenberg goes on to examine the whole network of anti-abortion groups and right-wing funding giants that have underwritten and encouraged the Schindlers' legal efforts all these years.

The whole article is worth studying, but two connections in particular jumped out at me:
Wesley Smith ... work[s] for organizations that get funding from Roundtable members. Smith is a paid senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that advocates the teaching of creationist "intelligent design" theory in public schools. Between 1993 and 1997, the Discovery Institute received $175,000 from the Bradley Foundation....

Roundtable members also played a role in financing the Bush v. Schiavo litigation.

The Family Research Council, which uses its annual $10 million budget to lobby for prayer in public schools and against gay marriage, filed an amicus curiae brief in Bush v. Schiavo...

It makes sense that the same theocratic groups that work for creationism and prayer in schools would have a finger in high profile end of life and medical ethics cases. These are the same groups that poured tons of money into the "Marriage Amendments" last year. While it's not surprising to see them involved, it is discouraging to witness the extent of their reach and their funding. We have a long way to go to catch up with these people and reverse their momentum.
Blue and red
My new National Geographic arrived yesterday. I was excited to see that it had a map. I have most of the maps going back to the mid-forties. Though I don't think they're quite as good as the used to be, I'm still excited to get a new one. This month is a map of the Civil War campaigns. I believe the last time they printed this map was in the early sixties on the occasion of the centennial of the war; it was included as part of the do-it-yourself atlas they put out in those days.

I was a bit taken aback when I noticed that the Union armies were represented by blue arrows and the Confederacy by red ones. With the way "blue state" and "red state" has forced its way into our vocabulary over the last four years, I had an image of the Volvo riding forces rolling back the pick-ups and marching on to Richmond, with only a brief stop to warm croissants over the glowing embers of Atlanta. I pictured Lincoln and his generals, decaf, sugarless mochas in hand, as they debated strategy long into the night. I visualized the last ragged defenders of the lost cause making a final stand outside the No Spin Zone.

Then I remembered that red and blue arrows have been used to represent opposing armies on campaign maps as long as there has been four-color printing, perhaps longer. But even this morning, I'm still a little tickled to think that they chose red to represent the armies of treason and rebellion in their doomed attempt to demolish the United States, and blue as the color of the saviors of the republic. I'll take my inspiration anywhere I can get it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

More mysteries
Riggsveda over at Corrente points us to very latest news about miraculous apparitions (Jesus on a brick, God's finger on a tree, and Satan on a turtle). I'm always amazed that whenever someone sees a bearded face on a tortilla, they jump to the conclusion that it must be Jesus. There must be lots of dead bearded guys floating around in the ether. How do they know that it wasn't some other guy who spotted their burrito and thought that it would be a neighborly thing to do to drop by and say howdy?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Majikthise is calling for a blogswarm in reaction to the transparently political interjection of the Republican majority in Congress into the Schiavo case.

Their motives are despicably impure: Tom DeLay wants to draw attention away from his ethics problems and the White House wants to drew attention away from the failure of President Bush's plans to gut Social Security. Their sudden discovery that baseball players were taking steroids didn't do the trick, so they have turned to an issue that Jeb Bush has been disgustingly manipulating for the past year.

They are shamelessly exploiting one family's personal tragedy to make points with their core supporters. Meanwhile, they don't care if they demonize and destroy a man who has struggled with this case for fifteen years.

They are undermining the Constitution. They are using the legislative process to interfere with the judicial process. Article One, Section Nine specifically forbids passing laws that punish or benefit an individual. Laws should deal with general principles. In passing a patently illegal law, they are encouraging disrespect and contempt for the very principle of rule of law.

Their cynical manipulation of our norms of government rises far beyond any levels that I've ever seen in my life. And I remember Nixon.

Write to your paper. Write to your congresspersons. Write to the national media. We are literally fighting for the future of the republic.

Majikthise has addresses.

Have I mentioned lately that I really hate these guys?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Look at this picture

The woman's eyes are closed. From the small part of her body we can see, she appears to arched in a posture indicating an extreme physical or emotional state. In other words, she is either in pain or having an orgasm. I doubt as if either state is true. So why did the photographer move in to get a close-up of this one young woman as opposed to all of the other protesters? Simple. She presented the best theater. She's moderately pretty and she is faking an dramatic and, therefore photogenic, state. Once upon a time, liberals were the masters of street theater. At sometime in the last twenty years, we forgot how to do it. I'll have more to say about this later.
The morality of Bush
President Bush is rushing back to Washington tomorrow to sign emergency legislation that would shift the case of Terri Schiavo to the federal courts. At a time when the majority leader of the House of Representatives is faced with at least six ethics investigations, Congress has courageously decided that they need to intervene in an individual medical decision in the state run by the President's brother. As an American, I'm proud to be ruled by a party that consistently puts morality and principal above politics.

I only have a few questions: How many vegetative or coma-state people have been unplugged or had their feeding tubes turned off, nation-wide, since Bush became president? How many vegetative or coma-state Texans have been unplugged or had their feeding tubes turned off since 1999 when Bush, then governor of Texas, signed a law which allowed hospitals to withdraw life support from patients, over the objections of the family, if they consider the treatment to be nonbeneficial? The latter question does not imply that I consider Texans and people to be mutually exclusive categories (as I did before I started blogging and discovered the many wonderful Texan Bloggers and readers).

Okay, I made a mistake in identifying the appropriate wood product in the title to this post. I meant to say, "The morality of a fence post."
Last week's logo art for some of the Liberal Coalition crowd was enough of a success that I decided I better do some more this week. A blog community is sort of like grade school: if you bring treats for some, you better be prepared to bring treats for everyone. Though there were smiles and thanks from some of the class, there were definite signs of trembling lips out there. So here's the latest batch.

I'm still working my way through the easy ones. First, I took a shot at T. Rex's Guide to Life...

...then Collective Sigh...

...and Words on a Page...

...and finally, Mustang Bobby.

Now I have to figure out what an Iddybud and a Scrutiny Hooligan look like.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The "pro-life" party at work
Here's one brought to us courtesy of those fine folks at Corrente guaranteed to crank both your fascism and indignation alarms up to eleven (emphasis mine).
George W. Bush recently nominated Stephen L. Johnson, a 24-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to be the agency's new administrator.

Johnson has been the acting administrator since January, and prior to that oversaw the EPA office handling pesticides and other toxic substances. In nominating Johnson, Bush described him as "a talented scientist" and having "good judgment and complete integrity."

Yet his record as the assistant administrator for Toxic Substances casts serious doubt about whether he is suited to lead the EPA, an agency directly affecting Americans' health and many significant industries, including automobiles and agriculture. During Bush's first term, Johnson was a strong supporter of pesticide testing on humans.


In 2001, the trials considered by the agency gave paid subjects doses of pesticides hundreds of times greater than levels that EPA officials considered safe for the general public. The agency evaluated three studies that year from Dow Chemicals, Bayer Corporation, and the Gowan Company. The Bayer and Gowan studies were conducted in Third World countries, where volunteers were more readily available....

Bayer, former branch of I.G. Farben, the chemical company that was convicted for using slave labor in the Reich and the manufacturer of Zyklon B gas, is now doing pesticide tests on human subjects in the third world. Well, I suppose they have more experience at this than most companies. Corporate Watch has some of the details.
Bayer is implicated in the development of chemical weapons. During WW1 Bayer was involved in the development and manufacture of a range of poisonous gasses used in the trenches, including chlorine gas and mustard gas. As part of IG Farben, Bayer were also involved in the development of the next generation of chemical warfare agents, toxic organophosphate compounds. Tabun was first examined for use as an insecticide in late 1936 in a program under the direction of Dr. Gerhard Schrader at the Bayer facility at Elberfeld/Wuppertal. An accidental exposure of Dr. Schrader and a laboratory assistant to Tabun vapors made it quite clear that this compound had potential military applications. Tabun was then mass produced by IG Farben during WWII although it was never used as a weapon. Schrader was also responsible for the discovery of related, but more toxic, nerve agents including Sarin and Soman...


Bayer (along with BASF and Hoechst) was an original member of the IG Farben group. During WWII, IG Farben built a synthetic rubber and oil plant complex called Monowitz close to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Inmates worked as slave labour for IG Farben, and when they were too weak to work they were killed in the gas chambers. IG Farben subsidiary Degesch manufactured Zyklon B, the gas used in the concentration camp gas chambers.

Bayer head Carl Duisberg personally propagated the concept of forced labour during WW1. The company placed itself under a large burden of guilt due to its heavy involvement in the planning, preparation and implementation of both world wars. The International War Crimes Tribunal pronounced the company guilty for its share of responsibility in the war and the crimes of the Nazi dictatorship.

On 29 July 1948, sentences for mass murder and slavery were handed down at the Nuremberg trials to twelve Farben executives. The longest sentence of only seven years was dealt out was to Dr. Fritz ter Meer, a top executive and scientist on the IG Farben managing board.

After the war, IG Farben separated into three giant corporations: Bayer, Hoechst and BASF. On 1 August 1963, Bayer celebrated its 100th anniversary at the Cologne fairgrounds. The opening speech was delivered by Dr. Fritz ter Meer, not only out of prison but--a convicted mass murderer--elevated to the position of Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Bayer.


IG Farben also conducted experiments on humans. Eva Mozes Kor, among the 1,500 sets of twins experimented on by the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, claims that IG Farben monitored and supervised medical experiments at the Nazi concentration camp where she was interned. She claims the experiments involved toxic chemicals that IG Farben (Bayer) provided. In some of the experiments, the lawsuit states, prisoners were injected with germs known to cause diseases, "to test the effectiveness of various drugs" manufactured by IG Farben.

That is Bayer and its history. That is just one of the companies that Stephen Johnson has authorized to perform experiments on human subjects. Surely, this is an isolated case. This can't be typical of the way he's going to do business. Can it? Reread the first blockquote above. The Bayer study is only one of three conducted. Here is a fourth study.
[I]n October of last year, Johnson strongly supported a study in which infants will be monitored for health impacts as they undergo exposure to toxic chemicals for a two-year period. The Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study (CHEERS), will analyze how chemicals can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed by children ranging from infants to three-year olds. The study will analyze 60 children in Duval County, Florida who are routinely exposed to pesticides in their homes. Yet the EPA acknowledges that pesticide exposure is a risk factor for childhood cancer and the early onset of asthma.

Other aspects of CHEERS are equally troublesome. The participants will be selected from six health clinics and three hospitals in Duval County. The EPA study proposal noted, "Although all Duval County citizens are eligible to use the [health care] centers, they primarily serve individuals with lower incomes. In the year 2000, 75 percent of the users of the clinics for pregnancy issues were at or below the poverty level." The proposal also said, "The percentage of births to individuals classified as black in the U.S. Census is higher at these three hospitals than for the county as a whole."

The EPA is targeting the poor and African-Americans for the study, presumably in the hope that they will be less informed about the dangers of exposing their children to pesticides, and will, therefore, continue to expose them over the two-year period. The study actually mandates that parents not be provided information about the proper ways to apply or store pesticides around the home. And the parents cannot be informed of the risks of prolonged or excessive exposure to pesticides. Additionally, the study does not provide guidelines to intervene if the children show signs of developmental delay or register dangerous levels of pesticide exposure in the periodic testing.

Parents receive $970 for participating, but only if they continue over the two-year period.

Now, Gonzales (torture) and Negroponte (death squads) will have someone to sit with them at cabinet meetings who shares their interests.

I'm too angry to write anymore about this.

Update - I'm trying to track down some information on the individual tests. The creepily named CHEERS is the only one of any scientific use and that follows anything resembling accepted ethical guidelines. It is the only one that doesn't involve intentionally exposing people to the pesticides. It merely involves observing uninformed people who live in an area of high exposure.

The first three seem to be nothing more than hideously dangerous PR stunts involving having people consume or be directly sprayed with the pesticides, then standing back and saying, "see, they're fine." The numbers are too small to be of any statistical value, many of the subjects got violently ill, and as far as I can tell, so far, little follow up was done. I'mm still trying to track down details on all three studies and Johnson's responsibility for promoting them.

There's a story here that needs to be told.
I'm not dead yet
Tuesday after dinner, I sat down at the computer to write Bad History #2. I had an e-mail from Coturnix asking when it would be out. I replied saying I was on it and I'd post it before I went to bed. I had two other posts I wanted to get out and plenty of time to do all of it.

At that point my clever wife came in and asked to use the computer for a few minutes. I went into the library and sat down to look over a new paperback. And fell asleep for fifteen hours. Sometimes, when my body says stop, it means right now, dammit. I was groggy and stupid for the rest of Wednesday, but now I feel moderately coherant. I'll get caught up with all things bloggy after I get home from work this afternoon. Really.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Some art for the pig
I was browsing through the blogs of my friends in the Liberal Coalition and noticed that some of their sites could use a little visual livening up. For most of them, I'm of no help in solving this. But, luckily for Edward Pig, I have in my posession a rare and obscure copy of Winnie the Pig with the original illustrations by E. H. Shephard's less talented, evil twin brother, J. H. Shephard.

I've scanned the first page and present it here in the hopes that David can put it to some good use.

PS - Someone find job for the poor guy.

UPDATE - Oh, look. I found some more art.

Here's one for Rook's Rant...

...and one for the Invisible Library...

...and--um--A Kidney of the Snakes.

I'll probably pay for that last one. It's never a good idea to mess with a goddess, even a minor one.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Friday cockroach blogging
The patron cockroach for this page was a correspondent of Don Marqius, an editorial columnist for the New York Sun in the teens and twenties of the last century. Marquis described his meeting with Archy in a column dated March 29, 1916. After a few short comments on Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, Pancho Villa, and a couplet about scarlet fever, he launched into the following story.
Dobbs Ferry possesses a rat which slips out of his lair at night and runs a typewriting machine in a garage. Unfortunately, he has always been interrupted by the watchman before he could produce a complete story.

It was at first thought that the power which made the typewriter run was a ghost, instead of a rat. It seems likely to us that it was both a ghost and a rat. Mme. Blavatsky's ego went into a white horse after she passed over, and someone's personality has undoubtedly gone into this rat. It is an era of belief in communications from the spirit land--there is Patience Worth and there is the author of Letters of a Living Dead Man and there are many other prominent and well though of ghosts in touch with the physical world today--and all the other ghosts are becoming encouraged by the current attitude of credulity and are trying to get into the game, too.

We recommended the Dobbs Ferry rat to the Psychical Research Society. We do not pretend to know anything about the Dobbs Ferry rat at first hand. But since this matter has been reported in the public prints and seriously received we are no longer afraid of being ridiculed, and we do not mind making a statement of something that happened to our own typewriter only a couple of weeks ago. We came into our room earlier than usual in the morning, and discovered a gigantic cockroach jumping about on the keys.

He did not see us, and we watched him. He would climb painfully upon the framework of the machine and cast himself with all his force upon a key, head downward, and his weight and the impact of the blow were just sufficient to operate the machine, one slow letter after another. He could not work the capital letters, and he had a great deal of difficulty operating the mechanism that shifts the paper so that a fresh line may be started. We never saw a cockroach work so hard or perspire so freely in all our lives before. After about an hour of this frightfully difficult literary labor he fell to the floor exhausted, and we saw him creep feebly into a nest of the poems which are always there in profusion.

NOTE: This is a slightly different version of the story than the one published in the books Archy and Mehitabel and The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel. Loyal archyoligists should thank John Batteiger for publishing the entire original Sun Dial column on his great website Don

Archy, we were told was the spirit of a vers libre poet who had passed over into the body of a cockroach. He proclaimed, "expression is the need of my soul." He had always been a writer and had one been a drinking buddy of old Bill Shakespeare. His politics were progressive and he opposed prohibition ("prohibition makes you want to cry into your beer and denies you the beer to cry into").

I'll talk about the wit and wisdom, politics and poetry of Archy another day. Today, I want to talk about Archy the cockroach. Archy is a singular and special cockroach in more than one way, but what kind of cockroach is he?

Because of his size, some have assumed he must be a palmetto bug, but Archy never called himself anything other than a cockroach. Archy was clearly American, a product of New York City. Archy clearly had a few traits that are not common to cockroaches. In the George Herriman illustration he is almost always shown wearing a derby and occasionally using a walking stick. These could be accounted for by considering them them human habits carried over from a previous life. Though where he found his size .0007 hat remains a mystery. Are there insect haberdasheries? His taste for a nice cold beer is less problematic; all cockroaches are omnivores and will consume anything containing even the smallest bit of nutrition, including plywood and old campaign speeches.


Common American Cockroach

We might be safe in assuming he is just an unusually large individual of the common American cockroach species (Periplaneta americana), but for one problem, his longevity. Archy remained an active correspondent of Marquis's for a good fifteen years, and he was fully adult at the beginning of that period.

I think we have to say Archy represents a hitherto uncatalogued species. Any proper description should include the facts that this species is a large, unusually long lived urban dweller that wears hats, can operate complex machinery and hangs out in saloons with poets, reporters, and other riff-raff. I'll take it upon myself to name this new species, Periplaneta archii, though the proper credit for discovering and describing it goes to Don Marquis.

For more information on Archy, see Don For more information on cockroaches in general, see Joe Kunkel's Blattabase: The Cockroach Homepage.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Alright, I'll do it
Every Friday, Steve at The Modulator runs a series he calls the Ark, a sort of carnival of Friday pet/animal blogging. Cats still hold a place of honor in Friday pet/animal blogging, though a number of other species are now carving out their own niches.

Last week, PZ Meyers noted a certain other imbalance in the Friday blogging and in the way Steve reports it.
He has several categories: Cats, Dogs, Birds, Other Vertebrates, Invertebrates, and Didn't Make It.

Take a look at that list: 6 categories, and 4 of them are dedicated to a single, not remarkably successful subphylum. There are roughly 30 metazoan phyla, and 29 of them are lumped into that solitary catch-all, "Invertebrates". I mean, Steve could have at least singled out the usual top-of-the-charts phyla—Porifera, Cnidaria, Platyhelminthes, Nematoda, Mollusca, Annelida, Arthropoda, Echinodermata, and Chordata—but he didn't even do that, carrying prejudice to an extreme and relegating everything without a backbone to the invertebrate ghetto, and worse, giving favored status to a minor class, the Mammalia.

He follows this with a blood-stirring battle-cry, "Liberate the Friday Ark from the shackles of mammalocentric oppression!"

As the proprietor of the only blog I know of that is named after a cockroach, I suppose I have a certain responsibility to answer that call. Starting this Friday and continuing irregularly until I get tired of it, archy will feature Friday Cockroach (and Cat) BloggingTM. As a special treat for those who can’t wait for two days, I give you Sean Carroll, the best physics blogger on the internets and a fine judge of cockroach poetry.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Bolton to the UN
I have often argued that Bush's personal behavior reeks of the mind of a juvenile bully. His nomination of John Bolton to be the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is aanother great illustration of this mindset. Despite his frequently mocked claim to be "a uniter, not a divider," Bush is a particularly bad winner.
Bolton drew fire from Democrats in 1994 when he said at a Federalist Society forum that "there is no such thing as the United Nations."

"If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference," he said.

Several officials from U.N. Security Council member states expressed astonishment that Bush would name someone they believed had a known antipathy toward the United Nations, according to a Reuters report.

For Bush, it is not enough to always get his way, he has to rub his opponants' noses in his victory. He goes out of his way to add humiliating elements to his victories. Forcing a known UN hater on the UN fits his pattern exactly. Consider:
  • When Bush cut scheduled civil service raises for the 2004 fiscal year, he chose the Labor Day weekend to make the announcement.
  • When the Bush Justice department signed on to the lawsuit opposing affirmative action at the University of Michegan, they made the announcement on Martin Luther King Day.
  • He sent the man who rationalized the administration's use of torture to run the Justice Department.
  • He began his second term by resubmitting all the judges that the Democrats objected to in his first term, confident that he now has a big enough majority to trample all objections.

If Bush cared about the international reputation of the United States, or about working effectively with our allies, he would have done better to nominate Michael Bolton than John Bolton. He clearly doesn't care about anything except getting his way and punishing anyone who dares say no.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Rush Limbaugh and the Yugoslavization of America
In one of his post election posts on making the Democratic Party competitive in rural areas again, David Neiwert made the following observation about how rural Americans form their attitudes:
People listen to their radios a lot in rural America. Maybe it has something to do with the silence of the vast landscapes where many of them live; radios break that silence, and provide the succor of human voices.

If you drive through these landscapes, getting radio reception can sometimes be iffy at best, especially in the rural West. Often the best you can find on the dial are only one or two stations.

And the chances are that what you'll hear, at nearly any hour, in nearly any locale, is Rush Limbaugh. Or Michael Savage. Or maybe some Sean Hannity. Or maybe some more Limbaugh. Or, if you're really desperate, you can catch one of the many local mini-Limbaughs who populate what remains of the rural dial. In between, of course, there will be a country music station or two.

That's what people in rural areas have been listening to for the past 10 years and more. And nothing has been countering it.

During the 1990's, David C. Barker (now at the University of Pittsburgh) studied the effect of conservative talk radio on opinion formation. He published the results of his study as his dissertation and expanded them into a book Rushed to Judgment: Talk Radio, Persuasion, and American Political Behavior. In his study, Barker focused on Limbaugh as the host with the biggest audience. He was surprised at how direct an effect talk radio hosts have.
The basic conclusion, drawn from survey data, is that persuasion occurs in a variety of ways. First of all, people's opinions, over time, reflected the opinions of the hosts more after listening; second, listeners became more inclined to vote Republican; third, they became more participatory, that is, they're more likely than non-listeners to engage in politics, whether that means talking about issues, voting, contributing to or working for a campaign, sticking a bumper-sticker on their car.

People who listen to talk radio adopt the opinions expressed by the hosts and act on those messages.

Anyone who has been reading Orcinus knows that David Neiwert is very concerned about eliminationist rhetoric in American politics. In his many articles on the growing fascist trend in American politics, Neiwert regularly brings up the growing tendency of the far right to talk about violence toward the left. Ann Coulter says it would be a great thing if the New York Times building would be blown up. Congressman Jim Gibbons of Elko, Nevada says antiwar protestors should be sent to the frontlines in Iraq to act as human body armor for the troops. Coulter, Hannity, and others regularly call anyone who opposes the president, the war, or the far right agenda "traitors." And what's the traditional punishment for treason? Lets not even mention the rabid talk that came out over at Powerline, Little Green Footballs, or NewsMax during the election and continues today. When called on their encouragement of violence, they all claim that they were just joking and liberals have no sense of humor.

So is there a threat? Are we about to see brownshirt street-fighters breaking up Democratic or liberal meetings and protests? Who can say? Let me draw a parallel.

In the summer of 1993 I went to Belgrade, Serbia to interview Milovan Djilas, an old revolutionary, student leader, and partisan general turned apostate to the Party. At this time, the economy of Serbia was in shambles. International sanctions and hyperinflation had produced over 50% unemployment. Organized crime was buying up everything worth owning. The army of an entity calling itself the Serbian Republic of Bosnia was laying siege to Sarajevo and Srebrenica. Paramilitaries openly walked the streets of Belgrade. The hotels were mostly filled with refugees from the war zones in the west. I was the only paying guest at the hotel I ended up in. According to official statistics, there were only eight tourist visas issued for Belgrade that month. I had one.

After conducting my interviews with Djilas, I spent most of the rest of my time checking out the city to try and get a feel for what people thought of their situation. The black-marketeers who hung out in the hotel coffee shop decided I was a reporter and bought me drinks. I interviewed the Foreign Minister of the Kraijina Republic. I bought some books. I went out for coffee with a member of parliament. Most people seemed to me to be shell-shocked and quite baffled as to how this had come to be.

Most of the American press bought into a narrative I called the "ancient animosities." According to this storyline, the peoples of the Balkans have hated each other since time immemorial. Their grudges are intractable and at any given opportunity they will begin massacring each other. Only a strongman like Tito can stop the killing by clamping down equally on everyone.

At its best, the story was simply bad history. For most of their history, the peoples of the Balkans have had no more problem with their neighbors than any other people in the world. Most Balkan wars have been the locals against their various imperial overlords, Turks, Habsburgs, and Nazis. At its worst, the story is crude racism. "Those people" are just savages and nothing can be done about it. In either telling, the narrative denies our common humanity with the people of the Balkans and saves us from thinking the uncomfortable thought that we might behave in a similar manner should the right circumstances arise.

My coffee with the MP turned into beer at a sidewalk cafe. He wanted to defend his people from this charge that they were mindless killing machines programmed to attack the neighbors whenever they can. There was nothing inevitable about the collapse of Yugoslavia or the war between its peoples, he told me. The problem was brought on by the Tito constitution and the power it gave to local nationalist elites.

A brief digression for some background is in order here. Tito was a vain and insecure man and these traits grew worse as he grew older. He wanted to be a unique force in the history of his people and hated the idea of someone else being the "new Tito." In later years, when it became obvious that he would outlive (either physically or politically) all of his presumed heirs, he began to plan a new constitution. This new constitution went into effect just before he died.

To make sure that no one would have the role of unifier, he essentially destroyed the central government. The presidency became a committee of eight men (one from each federal unit). They rotated through the chairmanship every six months. The same principle was used in the all of the federal ministries. This made it impossible for anyone to build a power base in the federal government. The place for ambitious politicians was in each of the six republic governments. In the two largest republics (Serbia and Croatia) nationalist hacks (Milosevic and Tudjeman) took over the government. And with the government came the government news media.

This was the key, my MP told me. Milosevic and Tudjeman shamelessly played the nationalist card. Every day the news was filled with stories emphasizing how their nationality was singled out for discrimination and abuse. Obscure historical anniversaries of victories and defeats were observed and parallels to the present peril drawn. The other nationalities were continually plotting with dark outside forces for their destruction. In every violent crime, the ethnic element was played up. To strike first would be self defense. Surely, the rest of the world would understand that.

Imagine, he said, if the Ku Klux Klan controlled the news in the United States. Imagine if an entire generation grew up only hearing their slant on events. It's not necessary to lie; they can do plenty of damage just by selectively reporting events. When enough fear, feelings of persecution, and division has been engendered, it will only be a matter of time before one group or another strikes out, preemptively to "defend" itself.

You can see where this argument is going. The eliminationist rhetoric of the talk radio right is priming us for conflict and violence. However, I want to say, there is nothing inevitable about that outcome. The nationalist medias in Serbia and Croatia helped drive Yugoslavia into civil war. Other factors helped push the country to that end. At the same time there were forces working for unity and to disarm the situation.

In 1988, most observers assumed South Africa had passed the point of no return and that race war was just matter of when, not if. Somehow, they managed to step back from the precipice. Today, many of us look at the political scene in the US and see it rapidly going to hell. Nothing is inevitable until it has already happened. Sanity could break out at any minute. While it is good to be aware of the dangers we face, we should never give up hope and never stop working for a better outcome.

Update - Ezra has a post up commenting on the same David Neiwert post. Interesting that we would both be compelled to comment on the same three month old post. Ezra posts here, with a follow-up by his weekend guest host, Michael, here.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Banging my head
When I was in high school many years ago, a close friend of mine opined that the opening paragraph of Winnie the Pooh was the perfect metaphor for the human condition. At the time, my favorite literary description of life was from the Scottish play: "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing." But over the years, I have come to feel that "sound and fury" is too grand a description and Pooh's entrance better matches my experience.
Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.

That's life. There must be a better way of doing it, and we could figure it out if only the head-banging would stop long enough for us to think about it.

Head-bangings are not all bad. Some are neutral, some are even good, but all are distracting. My clever wife had half of her teeth pulled out a few weeks ago. She has needed a lot of attention. I'm a born nurturer so this is at least as good as it is bad (for me, at least). My boss has serious parental health issues lately. She's my friend as well as my boss, so the vicarious pain is as important as the bad-mood-boss crisis. I stressed about the launch of the Carnival of Bad History, which turned out less good than I hoped and better than I expected. My Mom has a new tumor and is going back on chemo. That trumps everything.

Sometimes it's hard to take the news seriously. We're no longer executing criminals who were kids when they did the crime, but we'll still send kids off to die in the villages of Mesopotamia. Hunter Thompson is gone, but Molly Ivins lives on. The State Department is criticizing Iraq for detaining people and denying due process, but...what!? Hillary Swank has a lovely back? In a world where Henry Kissinger can win the Nobel Peace Prize, irony is no longer possible.*

Meanwhile, at 6:24 this evening someone on the West coast became my 30,000th visitor. Thank you, whoever you were. Bump, bump, bump, life goes on. I might go into hiding for a while or I might decide to take my frustrations out by writing rude things about the powers that be.

* Tom Lehrer never said that, but he does endorse the sentiment. He also said this, "I'm not tempted to write a song about George W. Bush. I couldn't figure out what sort of song I would write. That's the problem: I don't want to satirize George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporize them." And, as an old clavicle fan, I do believe Hillary Swank has a lovely back.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

What does the rock know
This comes to us via the skeptical PZ Meyers at Pharyngula.
Does a stone carving in one of Rome’s biggest cathedrals know whether Pope John Paul II will survive his latest health crisis?

The monument to Pope Sylvester II, who ruled the Catholic Church 1,000 years ago, is said to moisten when the death of a pontiff is imminent.

On Friday, a priest touched the carving in Rome’s Basilica of Saint John Lateran and confirmed it was dry — good news for the pope, who had windpipe surgery Thursday after being rushed to the hospital with breathing problems.

Let's be perfectly clear about this: rocks do not have the power of prophecy. Oh, sure, they'll tell you they do, but they're lying. They just make stuff up that they think you want to hear. As soon as the rock gets a few lucky guesses, people start running in circles saying "oooh, what an amazing rock. It can tell the future." They don't remember all of the times the stupid rock was wrong. People are so gullible.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

How to be a good sport
I am neither a big fan of Hallie Berry nor a professional Berry basher. Still, this caught me eye as a class act.
George W. Bush won the "Razzie" worst actor of the year award on Saturday for his performance as president in "Fahrenheit 9/11" but his moment in Hollywood's dubious spotlight was eclipsed by Halle Berry, who actually turned up to receive her embarrassing accolade.

Berry was named worst actress of 2004 by the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation for her performance in "Catwoman" and she showed up to accept her "Razzie" carrying the Oscar she won in 2002 for "Monster's Ball."

"They can't take this away from me, it's got my name on it!" she quipped. A raucous crowd cheered her on as she gave a stirring recreation of her Academy Award acceptance speech, including tears.

She thanked everyone involved in "Catwoman," a film she said took her from the top of her profession to the bottom.

"I want to thank Warner Brothers for casting me in this piece of shit," she said as she dragged her agent on stage and warned him "next time read the script first."

It's also a good career move to endear herself to her detractors and keep the spotlight even after making a stinker of a movie.

Over at The Poorman, the comments on this story include Don Henley managing almost the exact same stunt.
Carnival of Bad History, issue #1
It's finally here, our first issue!! It's not as big as I had hoped, but it is the first issue, and it will grow.

Orac at Respectful Insolence how he came to take on the ultimate in bad history. The title tells all: "Musings on the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz: How I discovered Holocaust denial." It is a sensitive and moving glimpse into a battle that rages over the internet every day.

Most of us, if we have heard of Trofim Lysenko, know him only as a Stalinist characture. Lysenko was a Soviet biologist who pushed some outdated theory of genetics, based on Marxist ideology and managed to single-handedly cause a famine. But how many of us cam detail that theory and place it within its history of science context. Coturnix looks at his book collection and gives us a lesson in what Lysenko believed, how he argued it, and even manages to find an occasional nice thing to say about him.

Jonathan Dresner of Cliopatria showed the kind of enthusiasm we like to see. He sent us not one, not two, but three contributions.

Contribution number one he calls his personal favorite from last year, a "whack at the Marco Polo myth." What is the myth? The idea that Polo ever made it all the way to China.

Contribution number two finds a childish myth embedded in the President's second inaugural address.

Contribution number three takes aim at a historically trained neo-con's fantasy and holes it below the waterline. He also gives us some tasty folk music to wash down our history lesson.

Finally, my own contribution is actually an old post that I republished last month as an example of the kind of thing I had in mind for the carnival and just because I like insulting what passes for intellectual honesty among our leaders. Condi and Rummy tell us about the German Werewolf program, but their explanation fits better in a Captain America comic book than a peer reviewed history book.

And that's it. Our first issue has been short but sweet. Many people who expressed interest in the idea of bad history also expressed some shyness that their work was not good enough. Nonsense, truth is not the exclusive property those who lucky enough to be paid to pursue it. This week I'm going out recruiting posts and I won't take no for an answer.

Issue #2 will be out on the ides of March. I'll also be hosting that issue here at archy, but Alan gets to write it.