Thursday, June 30, 2005

They get letters
I'm going to quote this letter to the Times in its entirety because it touches on a point that has bothered me for some time.
To the Editor:

President Bush's speech on Tuesday night crystallized for me the problems inherent in his arguments regarding our mission in Iraq.

The president made two basic points:

First, he said the reason we are fighting in Iraq is that we are better off fighting terrorism abroad than having to fight it at home.

By this, and by his attempts to connect the Iraqi insurgency to 9/11, I take him to mean that the bad guys we are fighting in Iraq would be coming here as soon as we stopped fighting them there.

The president's second point, however, was that our strategy in this war is to train the Iraqi Army to the point that it can fight the insurgents-terrorists on its own and our troops can come home.

But if the president is right about the first point - that we are better off fighting the terrorists there than here - should our strategy be to let the Iraqi Army take on these international terrorists?

In other words, is the president saying that our strategy is to leave the security of the United States in the hands of an inexperienced Iraqi Army as soon as we can?

Jorge L. Baron
New Haven, June 29, 2005

Most of us mock the flypaper theory because it is such a silly ad hoc idea made up to cover the fact that we had no real reason for invading Iraq. It is those things and we are right to mock it. But more than just silly, it is also illogical, dishonest, and monstrously immoral.

You will recall that the flypaper strategy was first formulated after the invasion, when it became clear that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and had managed to run his country so far into the ground that it wasn't a threat to anybody. Compounded with the fact that Saddam had had nothing to do with 9-11, the right was faced with the possibility that we wasted time, resources, and good will in order to mount an illegal invasion that did nothing to improve our security. Fortunately, they were able to avoid this moment of truth by deciding that the whole thing had been the cover story for a cunning plan to lure all of the terrorists in the world to one place where we could kill them. Whoever first came up with this hypothesis probably thought of it after a exhaustive study of the diplomacy and warfare of James Tiberius Kirk.

On the face of it, it's a silly and naive theory. First, it assumes that terrorists are a limited resource. Gather them into one place, kill them all, and--voila--no more terrorists. Secondly, it assumes the terrorists can only do one thing at a time. If they are fighting American troops in Iraq then they clearly can't spare three men to detonate a truckload of fertilizer in downtown Salt Lake. Can they?

The flypaper strategy should have been laughed into oblivion as soon as it was stated, but, lacking an intelligent face-saving explanation for the war, the wingers had to settle for embracing a stupid face-saving explanation. In the two years since it was first suggested it has been embraced by wingnut bloggers, mainstream conservative columnists, Republican members of congress, and finally by the president himself. By now, they have reduced the theory to the pithy formula of, "It is better to fight them over there than over here."

This brings us to Mr. Baron, who points out how inconsistent that is with our other stated goals. If the security of the United States depends on keeping the terrorists over there, how can we leave our security in the hands of a junior ally. Even assuming the new Iraqi army is up to the task, what if the Iraqis decide their security might be improved by not allowing all of those terrorists in the country. After all, "It is better to fight them over there than over here" is a sentiment a lot of countries could embrace.

Maybe this means we don't plan to ever leave. If that is case, how convincing can our oft proclaimed compassion for the Iraqi people be. We can't deliver peace, prosperity, democracy, civil rights, and painted schools while at the time luring the most violent mass murderers in the world to their land and turning the country into one vast killing field.

Is the flypaper strategy a cheesy marketing slogan (i.e. a dumb lie) or a murderous deception (i.e. a criminal lie)?
Archy - the magazine
The Talent Show started it. Unsure how the new FEC rules concerning blogs will shake out, Greg decided to take preemptive action (or "to be proactive" now that he's a businessman) and change his blog into an online magazine. After all, no is quite sure what the the rules and labilities of being a blog are, but the legal position of being a magazine are well established. The transition was remarkably painless:
In order to avoid any potential pitfalls, let me use this opportunity to announce that this post will be the last one on The Talent Show blog. Starting either late today or tomorrow, I will relaunch (without any fanfare whatsoever) my new web magazine, The Talent Show. I will still be the primary writer around here, but the traditional blog posts will be replaced with articles of varying lengths and topics. I will also be replacing the comments with article specific message boards. The look of the site, the writing style, the subject matter, the content, and the technological back-end will be identical to what I'm using now, but the change (as least as far as the FEC is concerned) will be drastic. Starting tomorrow, my days as a blogger are ending and my days as a writer begin.

Some of the commenters (as they were still called yesterday) suggested some refinements. Rather than be a mere writer, Greg could be the Editor-in-Chief or Editor/Publisher. After all, those titles get to be capitalized. Also, instead of "article specific message boards" he could have "letters to the Editor."

By this morning, Atrios, Americablog, Crooks & Liars, Sadly, No!, Swing State Project, Law Dork, Dispassionate Liberalism, Chaos Digest, The Political Forecast had all jumped on the bandwagon. Though i think Atrios has set an impossible standard for himself as a magazine. While promising all missing-white-women coverage all the time, he has also promised no unhappy news about Iraq. What if a white woman goes missing in Iraq, an Italian reporter say?

Should I join them, or should I remain a blogger and face the consequences? besides, what are they going to call themselves collectively? Magazinotopia? The magazinosphere? Left Magazinistan? Besides I've never been very proactive. I'm more of a proinertia type.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Tangled Bank number 31
The thirty-first Tangled Bank is up at Science and Sensibility (which, despite the sound of the name, is not a Jane Austen novel). Tangled Bank is a carnival for bloggers on the natural sciences and related subjects. I'm completely out of my league in their company, but they have been kind enough to accept a post from me for this issue. This issue's editor has arranged a full day's reading for you, so be sure to drop by and show your support for real science.

Remember, everytime someone reads the Tangled Bank, a creationist cries.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Which would you watch?
I hear the president was on the news tonight. Clever wife and I chose to watch a Miyazaki movie instead. Did the leader of the free world say anything interesting?
A lack of perspective and imagination
Damn! P.Z. Myers, among others, beat me to this one.

In today's episode, Town Hall collumnist Dennis Prager manages to display a massive amount of religious hubris and a monumental lack of imagination at the same time. It's part 17 of an ongoing series.
One major conflict between the Judeo-Christian value system and the various secular ones competing with it revolves around the answers to these questions: Is nature created for man or is man merely a part of nature? Or, to put it in other words, does the natural environment have any significance without man to appreciate it and to use it for his good?

The Judeo-Christian responses are clear: Nature has been created for man's use; and on its own, without man, it has no meaning. Dolphins are adorable because human beings find them adorable. Without people to appreciate them or the role they play in the earth's ecosystem to enable human life, they are no more adorable or meaningful than a rock on Pluto.

He wouldn't say that he'd seen how cute the rocks of Pluto are. Hubba, hubba.

Prager is giving a very rudimentary exposition of Dominion theology, which takes it's name from the last few lines of Genesis 1:
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. (KJV)

According to Prager, God created the world with us in mind. Everything in creation is here for our convenience. Prager denies that this philosophy encourages people to be wasteful or destructive in nature. The common understanding of the command to dominion is that we are to use all creation as we see fit and it would be disrespectful not to use it. We are here to tame and control the Earth. Throuugh most of his essay, Prager supports this idea.
As regards man "subduing and conquering nature," this was one of the revolutionary ideas of the Old Testament that made Western medical and other scientific progress possible. For all ancient civilizations, nature (or the equally capricious and amoral gods of nature) ruled man. The Book of Genesis came along to teach the opposite -- man is to rule nature.

Only by ruling and conquering nature will man develop cures for nature's diseases. We will conquer cancer; cancer will not conquer us.
But by the end of his piece, Prager wants to avoid the uglier implications of the command "to have dominion" by reading it as "stand back and admire." He twists his own description of nature's purpose in order to make that happy conclusion, "If the purpose of nature is to ennoble human life and to bear witness to God's magnificence, by what understanding of this concept can a religious person defend polluting nature?" He can't have it both ways.

The comment kids over at Pharangyula are doing a fine job picking apart Prager's pretentions, so I think I'll limit the rest of my contribution to providing the lyrics to a kids' song with far more good science and perspective than Prager's entire series.
"Yakko's Universe"
Lyrics and Music by Rangy Rogel

Everybody lives on a street in a city
Or a village or a town for what it's worth.
And they're all inside a country which is part of a continent
That sits upon a planet known as Earth.
And the Earth is a ball full of oceans and some mountains
Which is out there spinning silently in space.
And living on that Earth are the plants and the animals
And also the entire human race.

It's a great big universe
And we're all really puny
We're just tiny little specks
About the size of Mickey Rooney.
It's big and black and inky
And we are small and dinky
It's a big universe and we're not.

And we're part of a vast interplanetary system
Stretching seven hundred billion miles long.
With nine planets and a sun; we think the Earth's the only one
That has life on it, although we could be wrong.
Across the interstellar voids are a billion asteroids
Including meteors and Halley's Comet too.
And there's over fifty moons floating out there like balloons
In a panoramic trillion-mile view.

And still it's all a speck amid a hundred billion stars
In a galaxy we call the Milky Way.
It's sixty thousand trillion miles from one end to the other
And still that's just a fraction of the way.
'Cause there's a hundred billion galaxies that stretch across the sky
Filled with constellations, planets, moons and stars.
And still the universe extends to a place that never ends
Which is maybe just inside a little jar!

It's a great big universe
And we're all really puny
We're just tiny little specks
About the size of Mickey Rooney.
You might think that you're essential
Try inconsequential
It's a small world after all!
What does Karl want?
I always try to qualify who the other side is when I rant about the decline and imminent doom of the republic. There are many Christians who are not theocratic nut cases. There are conservatives who are principled and honorable people. There are (or were) moderate Republicans. To spread these terms too wildly, is to help the other side by going along with there wedge strategy. By thumping on the word Christian, we make all Christians feel attacked, with the result that even those who agree with us oppose us out of self defense. It's a tactical choice. I want to be as specific as possible about who I'm criticizing--the most dangerous extremists--so I can isolate them and reduce their ranks to the smallest possible number.

Karl Rove practices the exact opposite tactical course. He tries to tar anyone who opposes his employer, on even the most benign of issues, as dangerous extremists, in order to eliminate all opposition in one swoop. While Rove is shocking in his vulgarity and recklessness, he is hardly the first practitioner of this kind of political rhetoric.

GOP, 1952.
In the 1952 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon pounded Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson for earning a "PhD from Dean Acheson's College of Cowardly Communist Containment."

The McCarthyites' real enemies were not communists but the New Deal liberals who had dominated U.S. politics for 20 years. The McCarthy crowd was willing to divide the nation at a time of grave international peril if that's what it took to beat the liberals.

GOP, 1972.
It all reminds me of a line from a famous, or rather infamous, memo Pat Buchanan, then a White House staffer, wrote for Richard Nixon in, I believe, 1972 when their idea of the moment was what they called 'positive polarization'.

At the end of this confidential strategy memo laying out various ideas about how to create social unrest over racial issues and confrontations with the judiciary, Buchanan wrote (and you can find this passage on p. 185 of Jonathan Schell's wonderful Time of Illusion): "In conclusion, this is a potential throw of the dice that could bring the media on our heads, and cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half."

And there you have it. Tear the country apart. And once it's broken, our chunk will be bigger.

GOP, 2005.
"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," Mr. Rove, the senior political adviser to President Bush, said at a fund-raiser in Midtown for the Conservative Party of New York State.


"Has there ever been a more revealing moment this year?" Mr. Rove asked. "Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals."

I'm sure someone could go through the old Southern Democratic party from the 1920s to the 1960s and find race baiting statements of equal vileness.

The problem with this kind of rhetoric is not that it is hateful and vulgar, though it is; the problem is that it is destructive. You don't say things like this about an opposition that you expect to need to work with in the future. You say things like this about an opposition that you want to destroy, root and branch. This kind of rhetoric aims at creating a one party state.

When the old Southern race baiters created a one party state in the South, they were somewhat limited by still being part of the United States. They always had to face the possibility that the federal government might intervene if they went too far. Ultimately that is what happened. Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson, supported by congressional members from both parties, intervened in the Southern way of life and dragged them kicking and screaming into the twentieth century.

If someone succeeds in creating a single party state on a national level, either by destroying the union through the methods of Jefferson Davis and Pat Buchanan, or by eliminating all opposition everywhere, it will be the end of the United States in any meaningful sense of the word. With no meaningful counterbalance to one clique exercising unlimited power, we will become just another banana republic--a very powerful banana republic, but still a banana republic.

The United States is not a piece of territory, or a nation united by blood. The United States is a set of institutions and values. When those are gone, it won't matter if the name persists; the United States will be gone.

Let me return to my opening claim and clarify who I think is out to transform America into something, well, un-American. Do I think all conservatives want to destroy America? No.

Do I think all Republicans want to destroy America? No. Do I think the administration is out to destroy American democracy? This is where it gets harder. I think most of the people in the administration and their supporters in congress are greedy and clueless. They don't realize the effects of their actions. They are caught up in getting their way and really don't see that the institutional obstructions that they are casting aside are America.

Many corporate supporters of the administration are also clueless destroyers. They want to make as much money as possible with as little interference as possible. They want to get rid of regulation, taxes, workers' rights, and responsibility to the community. Some are outright crooks, but most aren't. They don't think their hurting anybody because they don't think anything is their fault. They manage to justify their insanity with pious words about the genius of the unfettered market. Most of them even manage to believe it.

The clueless destroyers are supported by world-class rationalizers. This is probably the vast majority of Republican office holders. They make a great show of agonizing over the extreme course their party is taking, but support it anyway. Someone said last year that we are one more big terrorist strike away from the death of the constitution. The rationalizers will express great solemnity after that strike as they vote to suspend the Bill of Rights, cancel all elections, and start arresting dissenters. They will be very sad that such actions are necessary.

A third group, and the most obviously bad, are those that know they want to destroy America and are working directly toward that goal. These people have always been around and have usually been regarded as the dangerous nut cases that they are. The most open are the fundamentalist Dominionists seek their own private Giliad. Grover Norquist hates the American way. So do the "constitution in exile" group. Other groups have a variety of causes to justify their hate, white supremacy, misogyny, national greatness, control, efficiency, and order. It's all fear and insecurity: "How dare people think thoughts unlike my own? How dare people want what I have?"

Oddly, I'm not sure where Karl Rove falls. Some days I think he's a true believer out to transform the country into the sort of state where those kids who were mean to him in high school won't be laughing any more. Some days I think he's an apolitical hack who will destroy anything for the sake of winning. I suppose the two aren't that different.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Why did we invade Iraq?
A number of bloggers have pondered that question over the last few weeks. The original impetus was the Downing Street memos. Rather than the usual speculation about the immediate tactical effect of the latest proof of the Bush administration's mendacity, the memo has brought on some very thoughtful eriting about the larger meaning of it all.

Many of us suspected that Bush planned to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam long before he was appointed to the presidency. He was merely looking for a good excuse.

The 9/11 attacks didn't provide as direct a reason as he needed, so his people came up with the WMD excuse. When members and former members of the administration claim they believed the intelligence that indicated Saddam had WMDs, they are being deceptive. But we shouldn't ask if they believed the intelligence. Most people have no trouble believing evidence that confirms what they already want to believe. We should ask if it was the WMD intelligence that convinced them of the need to invade or if they were already convinced of the need and the WMD intelligence was nothing more than a convenient causus beli.

When they began their marketing campaign to sell the war to the American (and to a far lesser extent, the World) public, the administration only mentioned disarming Saddam as a goal. At some point between the November 2002 election and the invasion, the publicly stated goal imperceptibly evolved into regime change, overthrowing Saddam. Again, many of us believed that was the goal all along.

This is what the Downing Street Memos prove. Till now, we have only had our suspicions, some unguarded comments by members of the administration, and some compromising actions. None of it added up to proof. The Memos are proof.

Democrats, liberals, independents, and sane Republicans (and they do still exist) need to pursue two lines of questioning at this point.

The first line of questioning is about the past. Why did we go into Iraq? We need to bring the duplicity of the Bush administration into the light of day. We don't do this because it will hurt the administration, because we want to gloat about being right, or for the sake of the historical record--those are just fringe benefits--we need to do it to show a world that no longer trusts us that we are capable of cleaning our own house. We can never gain back all that the administration has destroyed, but we can move things in the right direction.

The second line of questioning is about the present and future. Why are we still in Iraq? When the administration says we must stay the course, complete the mission, or whatever the metaphor of the day is, what do they mean? What is our goal? How will we measure our progress?

If our goal was to disarm Saddam, then we are finished and we should leave. If our goal was to remove Saddam from power, then we are finished and we should leave. If our goal was to paint their schools, as I have suggested, then we need to count the number of unpainted schools left in the country and produce a monthly progress report for congress saying how many schools have been painted and at what cost. If our goal was to make Israel safer, then we have failed. If our goal was to create a corporate playground for Bush donors to loot at their leisure, then we need to impeach everyone in sight.

The closest the administration comes to answering this question is to make statements about Iraq being transformed into something that it is not now, peaceful, prosperous, friendly, secular, democratic, or capable of providing its own security. Are we holding out for all of these things? How do we quantify each? How peaceful or democratic must it be before our job is done? What are the benchmarks of success? Will we sacrifice some of those goals to others? Will we settle for a peaceful but friendly dictatorship, as we so often have in the past? How about a democratically elected theocracy?

Right now the administration is shouting, "We will not set forth a timetable for withdrawal." Fine. Don't name dates, just tell us how we can tell when "the job is done" or even whether we are moving in the right direction. Give us enough information that we can each make our own checklists to follow our progress.

Friday, June 24, 2005

This is why David is the lesser Limbaugh
In a column saying we should never let Sen. Richard Durbin off the hook for saying torture is un-American, David, the lesser Limbaugh, says this:
Democrats have done more to harm America's international image and undermine and jeopardize our military than anything they falsely imagine President Bush to have done.

I think he's trying to defend Bush, to say the president never did anything bad, and to accuse the Democrats, all of them, of making things up, but what the hell does "falsely imagine" mean? If we imagine Bush did something wrong, then we are deluded. If we falsely claim Bush did something wrong, then we are lying. If we falsely imagine Bush did something wrong, then we are lying about our delusions, which means--he really did do wrong? We know he really did do wrong, but we're pretending to have imagined it in order to protect him? Or what?
Friday night thoughts on booze
Archy, this site's patron cockroach was a fan of good drink now and then. Sadly, he lived at a bad time for a good drink. One of his most frequently quoted observations was that "Prohibition makes you want to cry into your beer, and then denies you the beer to cry into."

P.Z. Myers also thought Friday would be a good time to express some appreciation for the miracle of drink. He has a fascinating piece on the evolution of alcohol manufacture by yeast, explaining how it fits in with their other energy processing traits. Early in his post, after explaining how most organisms process sugars, he commented that yeast's peculiar metabolism \is not particularly efficient.
They have to burn a little extra energy to prepare acetaldehyde for the citric acid cycle..., which wouldn't be necessary if they used a 3-carbon intermediate as we do. So, one question is why they use a relatively inefficient method to carry out anaerobic metabolism.

My mind reeled at this thought (and I haven't been drinking, yet). Could this be the evidence that the Intelligent Design Creationists have been looking for? Think about it. These tiny yeasts have been plugging away, using a relatively inefficient method of processing sugars just so they could produce a chemical that is poisonous to most life forms, but that greatly improves the human condition. Benjamin Franklin was right when he wrote, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." God designed yeast just so we could have beer!

Or did he? Yeast appears to have been around and processing sugars in this way for about 80 million years. The drinkers (us) have only been around for one or two million, and colleges have only existed for a dozen centuries or so. That means the great majority of all alcohol produced on earth has gone to waste, undrunk and unappreciated. God, being a Protestant, would never have done anything so wasteful. Besides, as P.Z. goes on to tell us, alcohol produced some very clever advantages for yeast. Being poisonous, it chases away competitors in the sugar rich environment of soft fruits and yeast can reverse process the alcohol under certain circumstances, using it as a backup source of energy. That's a lot more clever than we humans are. Imagine if we could reprocess diesel exhaust and get a second round productive energy out of it.

Deep down in the comments on P.Z.'s piece, after a discussion of ketosis and the breath of alcoholics, a regular reader, Jaimito, asked, "Why we jaimitos come equipped with the right enzymes to enjoy alcohol, while non-jaimitos like Chinese get sick?"

European and Mediterranean civilization would not have been possible without alcohol. I'm defining civilization as a culture with settled agriculture and extensive occupational specialization. Civilization inevitably leads to population growth and the appearance of towns. But, a high density of human population contaminates the water supply, leading to frequent outbreaks of dysentery diseases which cull the population making it impossible to get beyond the very lowest level of civilization. For civilization to flourish, it needs to secure a safe water supply. European and Mediterranean civilization found beer.

Beer production as an organized industry is at least as old as writing in Mesopotamia and Egypt. That is, brewing probably came before towns. It makes sense. As long as water was used for a beverage, the population could never grow, but as soon as we added a little antiseptic to our water, we could avoid the diseases. The expansion of civilization into the forests of Europe was accompanied by producing alcohol out of the local sugar sources, beer where there was grain and wine or cider where there was seasonal fruit.

Meanwhile, Eastern civilizations developed hot beverages: tea. In addition to boiled water, Eastern civilization had spices, many of which add mild antiseptic properties to their food. Without tea and peppers there would have been no Eastern civilization.

The enzymes we need to digest alcohol appear in about half of the population of most of the world, but they appear in about 90 percent of the European and Mediterranean population. I suspect this is a case of recent evolutionary change. Westerners who could not handle alcohol would have had to subsist on water and would have had a much higher mortality rate than those who could handle alcohol. Even if they forced themselves to drink the local alcoholic beverage, they would have been sick most of the time and probably not survived to keep their genes in pool. In time, non-drinkers would become a minority in the West.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, fully half the population can't handle booze. When Westerners arrived in the rest of the world after 1500, by then bringing distilled spirits, this little enzyme imbalance gave the Westerners a tremendous advantage and aid in destroying scores of interesting cultures.

Although half of those Chinese folks that Jaimito was worried about don't have the enzymes to digest alcohol, about half of them do. That's a lot of drinkers. Thomas, of Seeing the Forest points out this ominous story of the effect all those drinkers might be having on the global balance of drinking power. It appears we may be heading into a global shortage of well-aged single malt scotch.
you may be able to find the heavily peated Ardbeg 10-year-old, you can pretty much forget about snagging a bottle of the more subtly smoked Ardbeg 17-year-old scotch -- the distillery ran out of it a few years ago.

"Right now, everything over 14 years old is in jeopardy," says Howard Meister, owner of the Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys. With close to 700 brands, Meister's store is the largest retail source for single-malt whisky in the United States.

"I started building my stocks of single malts years ago," he says, "before they started really taking off . . . I remember being the laughingstock of the other retailers. Now, many of them are calling me searching for certain aged whiskies for their customers. But there just isn't that much to go around anymore."

Not since Scotland's first illicit stills began trickling out spirits in the 18th century has demand been higher and supplies scarcer.


Another factor contributing to the shortage of single malts is their recent discovery by the under-40 crowd in China. Forget the fact that young Chinese might mix it with green tea; it is common for groups at karaoke bars to go through a bottle of scotch in an hour. Even though they may be sipping blends, it taps into the shrinking supply of single malts.

AAAAAAAA!!! MIXING MALT WHISKY WITH TEA!?! I'm glad my dad didn't live to see this. He could barely stand the thought that some people might mix malt with an ice cube (I do in hot weather, but I never told him about it). For god's sake, you Chinese yuppies, if you're going to mix it, use blended whisky and leave the good stuff for the drinkers who can do it right.

It's enough to make a man or a cockroach cry into his beer. Thank Gambrinus we do have our beer to cry into.
New members
I haven’t had a chance to update my blogroll yet (that’s an obvious task for this weekend), but I want to point out that The Liberal Coalition has just added five new members.

If you’re not already familiar with them, drop by and get acquainted.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Sacredness, blasphemy, and the first amendment
All bloggers should know the first amendment by heart, but it doesn't hurt to review.
Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Once again, Congress, having solved all of the serious problem in the country, has too much spare time on its hands. When ever that happens, they turn their attention to meaningless symbolic gestures and dangerous tinkering with the constitution. Or both.
The proposed one-line amendment to the Constitution reads, "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." For the language to be added to the Constitution, it must be approved by two-thirds of those present in each chamber, then ratified within seven years by at least 38 state legislatures.

As Lambert pointed out last night, the key word in this is "desecration." Desecration is not just a vague word that would cause endless mischief in attempting to enforce such a provision, but its literal meaning describes "the act of depriving something of its sacred character," that is, blasphemy. To enforce such an amendment, Congress would have to write laws spelling out the limits of sacredness and blasphemy.

Let's go back and see what that does to my favorite amendment.
  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof... - In defining even one instance of sacredness or blasphemy, they are starting work their way into the religion business. And they aren't entering this business in a free market sort of way; they plan to make observance of their idea of sacred mandatory for us all. This will be big hit with the Quakers.
  • ...abridging the freedom of speech... - That's the whole point of this exercise, isn't it? They are amending the constitution in order to eliminate this instance of free speech.
  • ...or of the press... - How real can freedom of the press be without freedom of speech?
  • ...or the right of the people peaceably to assemble... - Again, they have created a crack in which to slip the thin end of a wedge. They now have the power to limit what a peaceful group of people can do.
  • ...and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. - As with freedom of the press, how real is the power to petition the government when your means of expression are limited?

This one little amendment has within it all the tools they need to repeal the entire first amendment. Of course, I'm arguing the far extremes of reason here. Nothing like this would happen right away. For the first amendment to erode away would take years of interpretation and precedent setting decisions by a judiciary filled with right-wing ideological nuts, exactly the kind of judges Bush prefers for the highest positions.

You have to ask yourself why conservatives are always so hot to pass this amendment. It's not like we are experiencing an epidemic of flag desecration. When was the last time you heard of anyone disrespectfully burning a flag in the United States? It's not a problem. I was a scout and learned all of the proper flag etiquette. Personally, I am far more offended by the flags I see every day on car and truck antennae, left out in all kinds of weather, after dark, faded and torn to shreds by whipped along at 70 mph. Let them show some respect for the flag themselves before they start mandating the proper forms of patriotic observance for the rest of us.

This has nothing to do with the flag. It's a political game. It's about making points and it's about control. Conservative lawmakers like to bring this up because it's a good way to rally the faithful. They get to scare the base with urban legends about flag-burning hippies and then promise to come to the rescue with an amendment. Like the right to life amendment and the heterosexual-only marriage amendment, the point is to keep their supporters angry and motivated. Many of them are fully aware that it would be a disaster if they actually passed all of these amendments and could no longer tap into that reservoir of red state fear and anger at election time.

Isn't it interesting how the same people who go on and on about the original intent of the founders are always so eager to slap new amendments into the constitution. Their amendments are always aimed at banning something. Their goal is to limit freedom, not to expand it, to protect the privileges of an exclusive group, not to expand those privileges to all. This isn't a coincidence. The stern father values of the right include respect for established authority, reverence for the past, and controlling disorderly individualism through conformity or suppression. As the rally the faithful, they get to show themselves to be strong father figures, not only defending the values they all hold sacred, but also taking a firm hand to supress the anarchic impulses of the childlike others.

Though it's probably not formost in their minds at the moment, they wouldn't mind taking the first amendment apart and replacing all of those disorderly freedoms with proper obligations. Let us be free to worship only in the right way; to say and write only approved things; to gather only to do nice, conforming things, like go to church and hold 4th of July parades; and ask only respectful and positive questions of our godly, anointed leaders.

Fortunately, along with the idiots there are still a few same people among our leaders. There are still enough willing to call the bluff of the slimy opportunists.
Supporters said there was more public support than ever because of emotions following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. They said detractors are out of touch with public sentiment.

"Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center," said Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif. "Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment."

Critics accused the amendment's supporters of exploiting the attacks to trample the right to free speech.

"If the flag needs protection at all, it needs protection from members of Congress who value the symbol more than the freedoms that the flag represents." said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., whose district includes the site of the former World Trade Center.

Cunningham and his ilk have had their opportunity to preen before their constituents, now let's have the Nadlers of congress bring some sanity to this spectacle.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Evil genius at its finest
This is breathtaking. The Pentagon wants to create the marketing database to end all marketing databases.
The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of all U.S. college students and high school students between 16 and 18 years old to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment in some branches.

The program is provoking a furor among privacy advocates. The new database will include an array of personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.


"The purpose of the system . . . is to provide a single central facility within the Department of Defense to compile, process and distribute files of individuals who meet age and minimum school requirements for military service," according to the official notice of the program.

Privacy advocates said the plan appeared to be an effort to circumvent laws that restrict the government's right to collect or hold citizen information by turning to private firms to do the work.

Back in my youth, during the days of Nixon paranoia, before libertarian meant right-wing fellow traveler, this kind of news would have sent us running for the hills to take advantage of that cache of canned peas and ammunition that we all had waiting. In those days, survivalism was an apolitical impulse, and we would have been happy to make common cause with those who believed that the name of the database was 666. Today, the libertarians (now with a capital "L"), the survivalists, and the 666 nuts are as likely to be on the side of the government
as against it.
The Pentagon's statements added that anyone can "opt out" of the system by providing detailed personal information that will be kept in a separate "suppression file." That file will be matched with the full database regularly to ensure that those who do not wish to be contacted are not, according to the Pentagon.

This is brilliant. If you voluntarily fact-check their data for them, they promise to keep your information in a separate file that will spare you the junk mail. Other than that, they intend to keep your files and use them. Their only concession is that they will be more discreet about ending your right to privacy.

Before we get too testy and call this an unprecedented invasion into the privacy of young people and families with teenagers, the Pentagon rushes to assure us that most of this privacy has already been stolen by the Bush administration.
Some information on high school students already is given to military recruiters in a separate program under provisions of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. Recruiters have been using the information to contact students at home, angering some parents and school districts around the country.

School systems that fail to provide that information risk losing federal funds, although individual parents or students can withhold information that would be transferred to the military by their districts. John Moriarty, president of the PTA at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, said the issue has "generated a great deal of angst" among many parents participating in an e-mail discussion group.

But John, you must be saying, the Pentagon only wants to use this information to resolve the recruitment crisis. Surely, they wouldn't use this information for any other purposes or keep it after the subjects are too old for recruitment.
According to the Federal Register notice, the data will be open to "those who require the records in the performance of their official duties." It said the data would be protected by passwords.

The system also gives the Pentagon the right, without notifying citizens, to share the data for numerous uses outside the military, including with law enforcement, state tax authorities and Congress.


Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the Social Security Administration relaxed its privacy policies and provided data on citizens to the FBI in connection with terrorism investigations.

Let's summarize: the Pentagon, in order to make an end-run around federal privacy laws that limit the ability of most branches of the government to collect information about citizens, has hired a private marketing firm to collect vast amounts of information about every citizen between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Now, since most people pass through the ages of sixteen and eighteen on their way to becoming adults, this will give them a legacy file of an increasingly large proportion of the populace as time goes by. Presumably, only declared gays and lesbians will be safe, since they aren't eligible for military service. Oh, and non-Evangelical-Christians in the Air Force officers' corps. There is no danger of this information being misused, because they only intend to share it with multiple branches of the federal and state governments, and people running for reelection to Congress. Once a department of the government has information about citizens, they never use it for other than its original stated purposes, unless an unelected administrator decides to do so.

At least we are secure in knowing that this information will be safe in the hands of corporate America, who never misplace, misuse, or lose valuable consumer data.

Thanks to the Farmer for being the first to warn us. The Farmer understands that a cache full of canned peas will be worth its weight in gold when civilization collapses and gold is worth its weight in - um - peas.

Monday, June 20, 2005

How do you score this one?
Teevee lawyers always know their trial score, "He's never lost a case for a paying client." I don't know if real lawyers do that, but if they do, what are the rules on something like this?
The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a new trial for a Pennsylvania death row inmate in a 17-year-old murder case, ruling that his attorney was sloppy in failing to investigate possible evidence of mental retardation.

So, the lawyer lost the case in trial (that's bad), but it was thrown out on appeal (that's good), the grounds that the lawyer was incompetent (bad again). I don't think that one goes in the win or lose column. Is there a third column, or does the lawyer just pretend it never happened and hope no one notices? More seriously, if someone is condemned by the Supreme Court as an incompetent, does the local bar association take notice?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Just wondering
Isn't it about time to declare car alarms a failed experiment and do away with them? They have long since degenerated into just another background noise of the urban landscape. When was the last time you heard a car alarm go off followed by someone running into the street, shouting, "you there, rapscallion, unhand that vehicle"? When was the last time you did? I can't remember either. When the neighbor's alarm wakes you up at night, is your first instinct to call Avocado Girl for help, or to curse your neighbor and several generations of his ancestors? Can you even tell your car alarm apart from your neighbors'? The other day I arrived at the grocery store just as a squall dropped a load of hail on the parking lot and was almost deafened by a hundred car alarms going off at once. I hate those things.
People who say stupid things, part 4
Chris Wallace:
I mean, what was so horrific in the memo, and I'm not saying, you know, there aren't legitimate questions there, is that someone is chained to a floor and forced to defecate on themselves, and has loud rock music playing. Excuse me? I mean, you know, Auschwitz? Bergen Belsen? The Soviet gulag? I think they would have been very happy to be allowed to defecate on themselves.

Because the whole death camp experienced would have been so much better if only they had been allowed to wallow in their own waste. "You're so lucky; you got to wear your own poop. We never got to wear poop."

The Fox News correspondent has decided to join the dogpile in distorting Senator Durbin's comments about Gitmo. Since most of the distortion is based on taking the comments out of context, I don't feel that have any responsibility to put Wallace's comments in context (take my word for it; they're just as stupid in context).

PS - I think a remark this stupid fully justifies speculations about Mr. Wallace's personal relationship with human waste in the comments. No, not waste in the comments, speculations in the comments.

Friday, June 17, 2005

So long, Nick
When I came to Seattle from Anchorage seventeen years ago I arrived a week before my belongings, which were taking the boat. Noodling around my empty apartment, I discovered an FM radio in the back of one of the closets. I had a pizza, a paperback book, a sleeping bag, and, now, music, enough of the basics to tide me over till my stuff and the cats arrived.

I taped a piece of wire around a window, to use as an antenna, sat down on the floor and began to explore the airwaves of Puget Sound. I planned to start at the bottom of the dial and work my way up, but the first station I hit--88.5, KPLU--was a jazz station, so I stayed at the bottom. The next morning I discovered that it was also an NPR station. Jazz and news. If I had been asked to design the perfect John station, this would have been it. I still don't know what's on the rest of the dial in Seattle.

It was about three months before I got to know some of the people in my graduate program enough to socialize. During that time, the music and voices of KPLU were my only company besides the cats. I came think of the hosts of the shows I listened to the most as my first friends in Seattle. There were three: Dale Bondurant, Ken Wiley, and Nick Morrison. Bondurant left years ago and Wilie's show is only on one day a week, but Nick Morrison does the morning jazz. I still hear him every day for a little while on the way to work.

During the last seventeen years, KPLU has grown from a small, college-based, public radio station into one of the most influential jazz outlets in the country. They've put up translators and upgraded their equipment till they can be heard from north of Vancouver, BC to south of Olympia, WA. Their streaming programming can be heard on the internet anywhere in the world. Nick Morrison has become nationally recognized, award winning Music Director.

Today is Nick Morrison's last day. Though I've never met him, he's my oldest friend in Seattle. I'll miss him.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

People who say stupid things, part 3
Scott McClellan:
The White House said a senator's comparison of American interrogators at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Nazis, Soviet gulags and Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot was reprehensible and a disservice to those serving in the military.

Here is what Sen. Dick Durbin (D - IL) said after reading an FBI agent's report describing treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings."

This is the official response from the White House.
"I think the senator's remarks are reprehensible. It's a real disservice to our men and women in uniform who adhere to high standards and uphold our values and our laws."

Reprehensible words are needed to describe reprehensible actions. As Atrios has been pointing out all day, apparently the position of the White House is that any listener hearing a description of the Guantanamo Bay abuses would never mistake them for anything but American actions. There is some quality in the torture committed by free men and women that makes is different that the torture committed by despots.

By the way, I do not blame our men and women in uniform for these actions; I blame their superiors, the ones who never get their hands dirty. I blame the higher officers and the policy makers in the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and the White House. They have corrupted our honest soldiers and no words are reprehensible enough to describe what I think about them.
People who say stupid things, part 2
Oprah Winfrey:
DNA experts have questioned Oprah Winfrey's belief that she is a member of South Africa's Zulu nation.

The African-American chat-show host announced during a recent visit to South Africa that she had had a DNA test that had shown her to be a Zulu.

She also told South Africans she felt "at home" in the country.


"I'm crazy about the South African accent," she said. "I wish I had been born here."

If she had been born in South Africa, the benefits she would have been able to enjoy along with that cool accent would have been no education, abysmal poverty, no meaningful political representation, and a segregation system that made the American South of her childhood look positively warm and fuzzy. Until she was in her mid-thirties, she would have been banned from entering 80% of the country and would have needed a passport to travel between the isolated enclaves she was allowed to visit. She would have been banned from most professions (even if she could have acquired an education). If she traveled for work, she would not have been allowed to bring her family. She would have had none of the career opportunities that have made her a household name.

Just as an historical aside, it is extremely unlikely that Oprah has any Zulu ancestors. Most of the slave trade into the American South came from West Africa (the area between Gambia and Nigeria). The limited slave raiding that did happen among the people who later became the Zulu nation went to Brazil. Her DNA might share some similarities with someone in a data bank calling themselves Zulu, but it is far more likely that she and that person share a white ancestor or share the same DNA markers with a large portion of Sub-Saharan Africa.
People who say stupid things, part 1
Chris Matthews:
My big concern is, the longer you keep them, the angrier they get. Eventually, you are going to send them home. Maybe the smarter thing is to execute everyone down there, because if you‘re going to send them back to the Arab world or the Islamic world angry as hell at us, they‘re going to be doing dirty stuff against us, right?

Yes, the smart way to keep people from hating us is to kill hundreds of people with no due process. Hundreds of people who might be mere passers-by, kidnapped for the bounty, who have never been charged with a crime, and who have had no meaningful chance to address the accusations made against them. The best way to make the world respect us and our values is to kill their citizens on the first assumption of guilt.

Matthews is correct in that we have created a horrible problem for ourselves by throwing away our stated values and committing the sort of injustice we have with the "enemy combatants," but committing an even greater repudiation of our values and an even greater injustice is not the solution. A wrong and an even bigger wrong do not make a right.

Previously noted by Atrios.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Warning labels
Over the top suggestions are a classic way to draw attention and rally the faithful. Left, right, political, and non-political, we all do it. It is an almost indispensible tool for those who operate in the twilight area between the acceptable far end of the political spectrum and the unacceptable reaches of the extremist fringe. By casting themselves as "refreshingly honest" or loveably "outrageous," these operatives work as transmission belts to rehabilitate unacceptable ideas and introduce them into the mainstream. David Neiwert writes frequently and eloquently on this subject.

It helps if the ideas have a whit of sense.
The leader of a conservative Christian lobby group appears to suggest that gays should be required to wear warning labels, although he denies that was his intention.

"We put warning labels on cigarette packs because we know that smoking takes one to two years off the average life span, yet we 'celebrate' a lifestyle that we know spreads every kind of sexually transmitted disease and takes at least 20 years off the average life span according to the 2005 issue of the revered scientific journal Psychological Reports," Rev. Bill Banuchi, executive director of the New York Christian Coalition told the Mid Hudson News.

The journal regularly publishes articles described by many mainstream psychologists as misleading and faulty. The homosexuality morbidity study was conducted by the conservative anti-gay Family Research Institute.

Exactly what purpose would such labels serve? To protect me from catching a sexually transmitted disease from a gay man? I'm a happily and faithfully married heterosexual man. If I'm ever drunk enough to be having sex with another man, I'll be far too drunk to read the warning labels on him.

Of course, Banuchi denies that he was actually making that suggestion, he was just trying to make an incoherent and mean-spitied point.
Despite using the analogy of cigarette labels, Banuchi tells that he is not advocating gays specifically be labeled.

Banuchi also alleges that he has received hate mail since his remarks were published.

The issue of labels is particularly sensitive to gays. In Nazi Germany they were forced to wear the pink triangle to differentiate them from other internees at concentration camps.

As a memeber of the extremist right, Banuchi isn't suggesting that we should duplicate Nazi social programs for real. He's only making the suggestion that we should duplicate Nazi social programs in order to make a point. He doesn't think anyone will take him seriously when he's being refreshingly honest and loveably outrageous like this.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The glories of a free press
At this moment, the top stories on invclude a missing white woman story ("Aruba 'doing utmost' to find missing teen"), a celebrity trial story ("Jackson jury beginning week 2 of deliberations"), and two celebrity gossip stories ("Destiny's Child announces breakup" and "Katie Holmes embracing Scientology"). It is only when we get down on the lower half of the screen that we find "Report: British doubted postwar plan," a story involving honest-to-god important news.
A staff paper prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair eight months before the invasion of Iraq concluded that U.S. military officials were not planning adequately for a postwar occupation, The Washington Post reported.

"A postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise," authorities of the briefing memo wrote, according to the Post. "As already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden."

The eight-page memo was written in advance of a July 23, 2002, meeting at Blair's Downing Street offices...

This is as fine an example as I could name as to why bloggers hate the professional news media. Here is an organization that still knows how to do real news, even if it just means stealing it from another source. They know it's important enough that they put near the top of their sectioned out news. But their eqivalent to front page is dominated by lowest common denominator tabloid trash.

Flash and glitter leads while news that might affect more than the people actually involved is relegated to the bottom of the page. You have to know where to look for it. The republic is doomed.
It might not be Dumbledore
Coturnix and Orac both have their bets up for which character will die in the next Harry Potter novel. They, and most of the betting world, believe it will be Dumbledore. Coturnix explains why.
Albus Dumbledore. Yes, that's the one. He has to die in #6 so nobody expects him to help Harry in #7. Even if JKR lets him travel far away, readers will expect him to come back in the nick of time. Even if JKR makes Dumbledore old, sick and out of his mind, the readers would expect him to get sane, strong and healthy enough to help Harry. Old Albus has to go.

Orac elaborates.
The Harry Potter novels are, in essence, a coming-of-age story. In all coming of age stories, the hero must reach a point where he has to stand on his own against his foe, without mentors, without help, without anyone to fall back on, especially his wise mentor/father figure. This will be the sixth of seven planned novels, which means that Harry's final battle, in which he must face and defeat the evil Lord Voldemort, will occur in the next book. To clear the decks for this final confrontation, Dumbledore has to go. As Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda both had to die before Luke could face Darth Vader and finally defeat him, so will it be with Dumbledore before Harry can face Voldemort for the final time and defeat him once and for all.

I agree with their logic completely, but I'd like to suggest a counter case, just for the sake of playing devil's advocate.

First, while I agree that Dumbledore needs to be eliminated from the action and killing is the best way of achieving that, there is no reason why he has to go in book six. The final battle with Voldemort in book seven will involve plenty of twists and turns. It's possible that Rowling plans to remove him closer to the climax--say, halfway through book seven.

Last month there was a flap in the British betting community when a cluster of bets on Dumbledore were made in the village of Bungay and nearby Beccles. Bungay is home to Clays, the printers of the previous five books in the series. During the printing of book five, a forklift operator at the Clays plant stole a few pages of the book and tried to sell them to British tabloids prior to publication. This has led many to suspect that a similar security leak is to blame for the recent Bungay and Beccles bets.

That brings me to my second point, J.K. Rowling is a very clever lady and we shouldn't underestimate her. I wouldn't put staging a disinformation campaign beyond her abilities. That, at least, was my first thought when read about the bets. It's not even clear that the printing is being done at the Bungay plant this time. Some rumors say the printing is being done in Germany.

So, who do I think is going to get it. I'm really not sure. Last time, I was betting on Mr. Weasley. He was a minor father figure, a friendly adult, and Harry's only advocate at the Ministry of Magic. It made perfect sense to me that Rowling would begin to establish Harry's isolation and independence on the way to his final one-on-one with Voldemort. I was right, from a purely mythical/dramatic standpoint, even though I had all of the details wrong. This time I think Dumbledore makes perfect sense, but I'm not betting on it.

As to the other characters, the only strong feeling I have is that it will not be Snapes. Harry and Snapes have been at odds since the very beginning, even though they are almost on the same side. From the mythical/dramatic standpoint, Snapes needs a redemption. This doesn't mean he and Harry need to become friends; they just need a grudging respect and cooperation to defeat Voldemort. I don't think Snapes' redemption will be anything as simple as jumping in front of a lightning bolt to save Harry; I expect that they will be required to work together to teach Harry defense against the dark arts. Naturally, that means something will have to happen to Snapes after teaching Harry and before the final battle. If Dumbledore really does die in book six, it wouldn't surprise me if Snapes became the new headmaster.

Of course, it won't surprise me if everything I think is wrong.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

State of the lawn
In some fields, three occurrences of something are all you need to declare a pattern or a cycle. Every fourteen months or so since I started blogging, I've written about the state of my lawn. This is number three, but since I'm a humanities guy, I think I'll call this a tradition.

This might be the year that my neglect finally eradicates the last of the real grass from the lawn. When we moved in, our house was ninety years old. The soil is mostly gravel (I think we're on the end of a glacial moraine) so the lawn was never much to brag about. Still, the realtor had hired someone to mow it and sweep the walk and the yard gave a fairly lawn-like performance. As soon as the realtor left us alone with it, the lawn's true nature emerged.

Most lawns strive toward the Platonic ideal of a golf course. Golf course grass is made up of one or two types of dark green, fine-bladed grass that that spreads in an even mat and only rises a few inches above the ground. A small amount of clover might be mixed into some lawns for nitrogen and texture, but that's about it. All other flora is strictly forbidden and quickly shown the door if they dare show their green faces.

My yard is almost an anti-lawn. It's made up of a plethora of invasive weeds, aggressive native plants, and coarse, tall, mounding grasses. During the winter, a few species of crab grass are dominant. They fill the center of the yard with mounds of wide-bladed grass with stems that rise about knee high before producing lovely heads of grain. In the corner of the front yard is a clump of uber-crabgrass that rises almost shoulder high on me and arches completely across the sidewalk as if it were trying to clothesline a jogger.

In the spring, at least three types of dandelions appear: true dandelions with shiny leaves and straw-like stems; false dandelions with fuzzy leaves and fibrous stems; and mutant giants that grow three or four feet tall and the produce a clump of a half-dozen blossoms. At the same time the dandelions appear, a number of other wild flowers try to take root in the yard.

In early summer, as things start to get drier, smaller flowers begin to appear. The only one I can name is a variety of yarrow that only grows about four inches high and seems almost unique to my yard.

I should mention here, that I'm not the bad neighbor with ragged yard who provides dandelion seeds to the whole block. Most of my neighbors have some of the flora I'm describing. Instead of yarrow, most of the others get tiny little pink flowers on runners or tiny white daisy shaped flowers. One house, near the psycho cat, has tiny violets growing up through their grass. Theirs is the only yard that has them.

My yarrow grows in places where the grass has been mostly replaced by moss and some other tundra-like ground-huggers. One of my neighbors has almost nothing but the moss and it looks pretty good. I wouldn't mind if mine colonized the rest of the yard, but I don't think it can penetrate the crabgrass zones.

Last winter, clever wife decided we needed bird-feeders. Unfortunately, we have urban squirrels. Every morning after she filled the feeders, the squirrels would come by to take the best parts. They would swing around on the feeders, contemptuously flinging away everything except the sunflower seeds, which they would bury in our flowerpots. When the squirrels were done the birds would arrive and feed off the ground. This seemed to feed everyone, so we didn't worry about it too much, but now a large circular area of the back yard is growing millet. I think it has a better color and texture than the crabgrass that was there before, so I might leave it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Irony is dead, part 721
This is a few days old, but still worth a raised eyebrow.
A state senator who once said that giving women the vote was a symptom of weakness in the American family now wants to be the top elections official in Kansas.

Sen. Kay O'Connor announced Wednesday that she is seeking the GOP nomination for secretary of state next year. O'Connor, 63, has served in the Legislature since 1993.

In 2001, O'Connor received national attention for her remarks about the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1920, which gave women the right to vote.

"I think the 19th Amendment, while it's not an evil in and of itself, is a symptom of something I don't approve of," she said at the time. "The 19th Amendment is around because men weren't doing their jobs, and I think that's sad. I believe the man should be the head of the family. The woman should be the heart of the family."

Is this offensive or just plain weird?

First, a woman who thinks women should not vote holds an elective office. How does she live with the paradox? Does she believe, as Elizabeth I was said to believe, that she is a unique creature, different from men, different from ordinary women, different, even, from other royal women? She's hardly alone in this paradox. Movement conservativism is filled with such anti-feminist women of power. Movement conservativism could hardly exist without its Phyllis Schlaflys and Beverly LeHayes.

Second, she wants to be the official in charge of elections. To do what? End women's suffrage? That's not within the power of the office. Ensure that all who are entitled to vote do so? How believable is that when she is on record as saying half the voting population should never have received the vote. Influence the machinery of elections to favor some unmentioned agenda? Hmmm.

Third, and most disgusting, many women will support her and vote for her. Some will do it ignorantly, because of the "R" after her name on the ballot. Some will do it knowledgably, because they know what she stands for and think such statements reflect "right thinking."

When asked specifically why they are voting if they think they shouldn't even have the vote, the Republican women of Kansas will dismiss the whole issue with a comment along the lines of "Oh, she didn't really mean that." And though you're thinking, "But isn't saying something you don't mean called lying?" you shouldn't say it out loud. It won't get you anywhere. It won't convince anyone. Movement conservatives don't really care about words or logic, they care about tone and message. Kay O'Connor said something outrageously un-liberal which sent a message to the movement conservatives that she's one of them.

I don't know if Kay O'Connor really means or believes what she says. I do, however, think voters should believe what their politicians say. "They don't really mean that," has a way of coming back and biting us on the ass. Hitler didn't really want to kill the Jews. Republicans don't really want to get rid of Social Security. O'Connor doesn't really want to end women's suffrage. Disbelieve at your own risk.

Monday, June 06, 2005

What's wrong with Kos?
I like Kos. Some people have problems with him because they think he's grown too big and is eclipsing the smaller bloggers or because of his famous temper. Neither of those bother me. I would rather be bigger blogger myself, but I don't believe the biggest sites are stealing all of the sunlight. I think his temper is part of his voice and I agreed with his famous "mercenaries" comment. But--and you knew this paragraph was leading to a "but"--over the last couple days I saw something in his outbursts that I had never noticed before.

Friday, Carol Darr of something called the Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet at George Washington University managed to get under his skin in her comments to the Federal Election Commission on proposed rules for the internet. This is an issue of interest to all political bloggers and the Kos team have been right at the front since the beginning. So Kos has strong feelings on this matter. In the course of taking apart one of Darr's points, Kos said:
Make no mistake, this attempt by Ms. Darr is just the latest by academic pinheads to degrade the role of citizens in the media space.


These campus blogethicists like Carol Darr at IPDI love to pontificate about the harm that bloggers cause their precious profession, even as they fail to understand that bloggers are, in huge part, a response to the failings of their profession. So they pontificate from their ivory towers, oblivious to the excesses and failures of "legitimate" journalists around them.

Last night he fired back at some readers who complained about a tacky ad that ran on the site over the weekend. The ad, for a reality show, featured large-breasted, wet women wrestling.
But I am not Lieberman. I won't sit there and judge pop culture and act as gatekeeper to what I think is "appropriate", and what isn't.

And I certainly won't let the sanctimonious women's studies set play that role on this site.

To be fair, Kos somewhat apologised for the last shot:
It's a fair critique, and duly noted. I stand by everything else written, which is offensive enough to some people as is. But I honestly didn't mean to smear anyone who has ever taken a women's studies course, or majored or minored or gotten an advance degree in it. Just what is, to me, a small, extremist set looking for signs of female subjugation under every rock. So yeah, a poor choice of words that cast the net far too wide to cover the people that have, in fact, pissed me off.

In both cases, Kos reacted with the passion of a parent defending his children from assault, the children being blogging in general and Daily Kos in particular. That's understandable. And, as I said, that very passion is one of the things that makes Kos Kos.

Let's ignore the content of both issues and just look at the words he uses when he lashes out: "academic pinheads," "pontificate from their ivory towers," the "women's studies set." This kind of language is the stuff we hear every day from Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. These are classic stereotypes of right-wing populism. When looking for a bludgeon, why does he grab anti-intellectualism and anti-education?

Once again, I'm not taking a side in either of the issues that brought on these outbursts and I want to be sure to give him all credit due for understanding that the latter was "a poor choice of words." But it worries me that his first instinct was to choose those words. Many of the people on his side are "academic pinheads." Some might even be in Women's Studies. Hasn't he read his Horowitz? Doesn't he know that academia is, to a person, a bunch left-leaning socialists?

I'll joke, but this isn't a light issue for me. If his critics had been non-white would his first instinct have been to launch ethnic slurs? No! Of course not. So why the anti-intellectualism?
Tom DeLay is a crook
An annoymous Dean bashing piece in Salon begins with the following:
Democrats Joseph Biden and John Edwards are criticizing party chairman Howard Dean, saying his rhetorical attacks on Republicans have gone too far.

Dean has said Republicans never made an honest living in their lives and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence. DeLay has not been accused of any crime.

What kind of idiot is this unknown Salon writer? I've accused DeLay of being a crook. Molly Ivins has accused him. Half the newspapers in Texas have accused him. Hundreds of lefty bloggers have accused him.

DeLay has not been charged with any crime. Yet. There are a big differences between "accused," "charged," and "convicted." If the unknown Salon writer beileves that Dean is suggesting that DeLay has been convicted of a crime, they should say so. But, if the want to criticize Dean for not being technically accurate in his accusations toward DeLay, then should meet that same standard of accuracy in their accusations toward Dean.

Meanwhile, if Howard and I want to call DeLay an alleged felon with bad hair, we are perfectly accurate in that claim, even if we're the only ones doing the alleging.

Thanks to Mustang Bobby for pointing out Salon's silliness.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Good sign, bad sign
David Neiwert continues to be the local authority on hate crime manifestations. His latest piece of news comes from Santa Clara, California.
They started on May 18 when Robert Richardson, on his day off from work, stepped out to mow his lawn and saw a yellowed pattern burned into the grass. Standing over it, he couldn't decipher what it said.

"I knew it spelled something but I couldn't see what it said," said Richardson, 43, an African-American, who earlier this year moved into the neighborhood.

He got on the roof and saw "I hate" followed by a crude slur.

"Nothing like that has ever happened to me before. It was really a shock," said Richardson, who grew up in the Bay Area.

I won't intrude too much on David's turf as the expert here. Anything I would say would require copious linking to his posts for context. The recurring points that David tries to make are that hate crimes are terrorism on a smaller scale and that most hate crime criminals are not members of groups. Most communities dismiss hate crimes as local rowdies, acting out, and ignore the underlying message. Once these "rowdies" are allowed to organize into groups, it's really too late for local forces to handle them. Go read David's originals for details and examples.

What I want to comment on is these paragraphs from the San Jose Mercury story on the recent Santa Clara crimes:
Responding to Richardson's phone call, sheriff investigators went out to canvass the neighborhood for possible witnesses. Then they saw swastikas, a Nazi symbol widely used by hate groups.

Houses on both sides of the street were targeted for vandalism, but not all. Even a welcoming house with benches laid out on the front porch and a small teddy bear dangling from a heart-shaped "Welcome" sign on the front door. That place, too, was hit.

On a bad day, I might sneer at the fact that the writer feels the need to explain to the paper's readers what a swastika is and that it has a tie to fascism. On the other hand, maybe we can take it as a good sign that the writer feels the effectiveness of the swastika is fading and needs to be explained. Sure, forgetting the past is something I consider bad, but denying criminal symbols their power is something that can be viewed as a good. Right?

Or maybe the writer is a naive and pedantic nincompoop. Let's follow Mel Brooks' advice and hope for the best, but expect the worst.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Journey to the center of the earth
Or, for our English speaking readers. "Journey to the centre of the earth:"
Japanese scientists are to explore the centre of the Earth. Using a giant drill ship launched next month, the researchers aim to be the first to punch a hole through the rocky crust that covers our planet and to reach the mantle below.

The team wants to retrieve samples from the mantle, six miles down, to learn more about what triggers undersea earthquakes, such as the one off Sumatra that caused the Boxing Day tsunami.

For our American readers, Boxing Day is a holiday in most of the British Commonwealth. It is the day after Christmas when kids lose interest in their new toys and decide the boxes are more stimulating to their imaginations.

Our scientifically literate readers may be protesting at this point that the center of the earth is further than six miles (ten kilometers) down. They are all a bunch of blue state, liberal elitists who rely on their "education" to think the earth is more than 6000 years old. So we know what to think of them.

Finally, the geezers in our audience will be off in a nostalgic reverie wondering what ever happened to Project Moho. That's a damn good question.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Let's make it a real choice

Now imagine getting a full frontal lobotomy from a senile monkey with a rusty melon-baller and no anesthetic. I know which one I'd choose.

Have I mentioned lately that I don't like these people?
Last throes
I think Dick Cheney has a different functional definition of "last throes" than I do.
The insurgency in Iraq is "in the last throes," Vice President Dick Cheney says, and he predicts that the fighting will end before the Bush administration leaves office.

Let's see, the insurgency has been going on for about 26 months. The Bush administration has 43 months to go. So, according to Cheney, "last throes" can last more than fifty percent longer than all other phases of the insurgency combined. That's not even considering the fact that Cheney and his cohort have been announcing light at the end of the tunnel, they're really desperate now, it's almost over since practically before the war started. I can't believe anyone takes this guy seriously or that they let him speak in public at all.