Thursday, June 30, 2005

irony, part 1

Identity theft is never a laughing matter, but it is certainly ironic to learn that the head of the Federal Trade Commission, the agency charged with combating ID theft, has had her personal data stolen. Deborah Platt Majoras and over one million other customers are now at greater risk of having crooks use her personal data.

Another in the recent spate of data losses by companies involved in one way or another with credit card transactions. These companies are making the very best case possible for some level of regulation on how to collect, keep, and protect consumer data. And maybe now the FTC Commissioner will have a reason to take it even more seriously!

analyses and accusations

If you don't read Juan Cole, you are cheating yourself out of a great source for analysis on the situation in Iraq. Here Cole uses the facts to skewer Bush's Iraq speech. Best quote from Cole's post: "By unilaterally invading Iraq and then bollixing it up, Bush and (General John) Vines have created enormous amounts of terrorism, which they are now having trouble putting back in the bottle." This isn't fighting terrorists in Iraq instead of facing them here; this is CREATING new terrorists in a place that was NOT a terrorist hotbed, while the other terrorists (you may have heard of them -- Al Qaeda?) can still pull off attacks in Spain, Turkey, Indonesia...

Meanwhile, I stumbled across the fact that a UN official responsible for terrorism has accused the US of maintaining secret prison camps, including prisons on ships he believes to be in the Indian Ocean. A British magazine also added the US might also be using as prisons our bases on Diego Garcia, a British island in the Indian Ocean.

I found links about this news story here, here, and here. Oddly enough, despite repeated internet searches, I have so far been completely unable to turn up an America-based media outlet carrying this news. Gosh.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

bush's iraq speech

"It has been difficult, but we are prevailing." The President's conclusion about Iraq. The understatement in the first half of this quote isn't this President's usual style -- but the dissembling (dissassembling?) in the second part is normal. Not sure how we can call the current state of affairs in Iraq anything better than a stalemate at best.

A few comments: the audience of 700 troops in Fort Bragg were surprisingly sedate -- no "hoo-ahs" and only one rather perfunctory interruption for applause, and a moderate hand at the end. They were polite but not wildly enthusiastic no matter what Fox and the rest of the GOP media machine tell you.

Bush again links Iraq to September 11. The big lie continues straight from the top dog's mouth. Please tell me you don't believe this.

Bush said he would send more troops to Iraq if his commanders told him he needs more, but they haven't asked for more. Of course they haven't -- they know better. Remember the fate of General Eric Shinseki, who before the invasion had the nerve to assess that the occupation of Iraq would require "several hundred thousand troops?" He was put out to pasture.

The President did make reference to the day Iraq can defend itself and "we can leave". Early test of the "declare victory and get out strategy?" Who knows. Haven't heard anything resembling a coherent strategy for what we're doing in Iraq now apart from killing Iraqis.

Oh and by the way -- no mention of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Gosh, whatever happened to them?

bullying baseball

Usually I'm all for abusing baseball owners and threatening their anti-trust exemption. Baseball owners have held cities hostage, extorted hundreds of millions of dollars out of cities from sea to shining sea for the construction of new stadiums, used Enron-like accounting to spin their collective sob story of poverty and loss, and colluded to hold down the salaries of the players -- the people we really care about.

But when the threats come from meddling members of Congress, I'm not so sure. Republican Congressmen John Sweeney (NY) and Tom Davis (VA) told Roll Call this week that baseball would be making a mistake if it selected the ownership group that includes billionaire Bush-basher George Soros. Sweeney said it would be"not smart" to hire a politically polarizing figure, while Davis said that Major League Baseball understands the stakes -- "I think it's Major League Baseball that gets hurt. They enjoy all sorts of exemptions from antitrust laws."

A few weeks ago when Jonathan Ledecky's group announced that Soros had joined them, I wondered if that was wise in today's politicized climate -- especially for a team that plays in the nation's capital. Once again, the GOP Congress is worrying about the truly important things -- revenge and threats against dissidents.

I can't stand it.

conservatives on religion

I came across a couple of very interesting quotes from stalwart conservative Republicans today. But it's not often I actually agree with them.

The first is from George Will. In his Newsweek column this week, Will says that the debate on evolution will never come to an end. That's a bit depressing, but Will summarizes the problem very nicely -- and comes out against teaching creationism or intelligent design in public schools. The quote: "The problem with intelligent-design theory is not that it is false but that it is not falsifiable: Not being susceptible to contradicting evidence, it is not a testable hypothesis. Hence it is not a scientific but a creedal tenet-a matter of faith, unsuited to a public school's science curriculum."

Well said.

The second quote was from one of the two Ten Commandment cases the Supreme Court recently ruled on. In concurring with the majority opinion that hanging the framed text of the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky courthouse was unconstitutional, Sandra Day O'Connor summarized the discomfort that many of us -- liberal, conservative, believer, atheist -- feel with the theocratic blusterings of James Dobson, Judge Roy Moore, and Bill Frist.

O'Connor wrote: "At a time when we see around the world the violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government, Americans may count themselves fortunate: Our regard for constitutional boundaries has protected us from similar travails, while allowing private religious exercise to flourish. ... Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly."

I wish I could have said this as eloquently as Justice O'Connor.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

recruiting and the Orwellian road

Stories about the Pentagon's growing inability to meet recruiting goals have become a news staple over the past two years. Most recently, the Army failed to meet its goal in May, coming in 37% under its original target; even when it REDUCED its desired numbers it came up 25% short.

The Pentagon is working hard to maintain access to our high schools, the best source for recruits. The Washington Post recently reported that the Pentagon has hired a private marketing company to set up a database of high school students that could be potential enlistees. Nothing too intrusive, you understand - email addresses, SSN, grades, ethnicity, list of courses... all the data you need to identify and actually make contact with the student, and some extra bits to tailor the pitch appropriately to attract young Britney or Diego.

Adding insult to injury, the Pentagon can without further permission, pass on the info they gather to other agencies, including law enforcement agencies, tax authorities, and Congress (?!?!).

But it would be unPatriotic to complain about this -- the ability of a recruiter to tell Juan or Zach that if they don't join the Army, he'll have no choice but to pass on a few juicy details from their dossier to the local cops or the IRS is an important tool if we are to meet our manpower needs as we seek to establish a Comprehensive National Security State. After all, this is what we voted for when we acquiesced in the results that determined Bush would get another term in 2004.

One more step back in time, en route to 1984.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

slandering democrats and denying science

Karl Rove has some kind words about liberals and their reaction to terrorism. Did you know that when the House and Senate combined voted by over 500-1 to send troops to Afghanistan in the wake of the attacks of September 11, that the 240+ Democrats (including many liberals of course) who supported those resolutions thought they were voting for grief counseling, and to establish special centers to make us all love and understand Al Qaeda and the Taliban? The bit about sending troops must've been hidden in a footnote that they all overlooked.

Actually, as Karl said (though not for the reasons he implied), it is true that Democrats (and many Republicans) do want to understand our enemies. Understanding the enemy is a basic precondition to defeating them, and understanding the enemy also gives us a better chance to fend off further attacks and even sometimes to avoid misunderstandings that could convert a neutral party into an enemy, terrorist, or insurgent. If Bush had understood the enemy better he would have known that Iraq was NOT involved in the attacks of September 11 (actually he probably did and just grabbed the at this straw to get support to kill Saddam but that's a whole other psychological/oilman discussion), and Dick Cheney would not have expected Iraqis to greet Americans as liberators.

Whether Bush/Cheney were stupid, deluded, or deceptive in drawing links between Iraq and September 11 I guess is up to the reader; I vote for all three. But this Administration's willful ignorance of the facts is nicely demonstrated in this list of how the White House has played loose with science when the inconvenient facts don't meet the political, financial, or theological needs of the GOP and their supporters.

They don't just alter facts about climate change, which we've seen in the news a lot lately, or stem cells, where the British, Italians, and Koreans to name just three have announced significant new advances in recent weeks. They directly endanger lives by lying about poisons that were afflicting relief workers at the WTC site in New York and by removing information about HIV/AIDS from government websites (in order to promote abstinence, the preferred sexual practice theocons want to inflict on the unmarried). Not to mention the cooked data and absurd assumptions underlying missile defense, which not only is almost certainly incapable of intercepting a North Korean missile (despite the billions spent on it), will also definitely fail to catch a nuclear bomb smuggled into Minneapolis in a U-Haul -- a much likelier scenario.

I have a friend who knows a scientist working in a policy position for the federal government. This scientist guy is incredibly depressed about the effect of the Bush Theo-administration on science in this country, and said the attitude of most scientists is "wait and hope for better in 2009." I'm no scientist, but I'm depressed, too.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

eminent domain in the news

It's not often I find myself agreeing with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, but today I do. The Supreme Court today supported the city of New London, allowing it to use eminent domain to take over several houses. The city will turn the land over to developers to build a new retail and office complex.

I understand the concept of eminent domain; it is often used for infrastructure projects like railroads, or to clear away urban blight. But this case was purely because the city wanted to allow more offices and retail space to be built, to bring in more tax dollars and attract jobs. These weren't dumps; even in his majority opinion Justice Stevens noted that "there is no allegation that any of these properties is blighted or otherwise in poor condition; rather, they were condemned only because they happen to be located in the development area."

Although I support the concept of eminent domain in appropriate circumstances, this is a tough one to explain. To me, this doesn't pass the public need test. I have a hard time accepting the use of government power to hand land over to developers just for retail and office space. Right-wingers will doubtless seize on this case to push their nutty ideology that any form of government regulation constitutes a taking, in that it denies a property owner the right to exploit his property however he sees fit.

An unfortunate ruling.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

oil and the flag

The war in Iraq isn't about oil, it's about WMD. Oops, wait, scratch that, it's about spreading democracy or some such crap. But even if Iraq isn't about oil, high oil prices are on Americans' minds nowadays. Not that you could tell from the Administration's policies. Given that 2/3 of US oil consumption goes to gassing up our cars, you'd think it would make sense to look at encouraging better gas mileage in cars. But Congress and the Administration, backed by Detroit and the UAW, are ignoring this obvious idea. So, instead of acting now to ease a transition to a future where oil will cost more, we will just wait for a serious energy shock to come along and really nail us. Leadership, Republican-style.

There is a lot of oil in Iraq, and maybe not entirely coincidentally, there are a lot of our men and women in uniform. Most of them are concentrating on their primary task, which is to Not Be Killed. And they are no doubt protecting the American flag. So I'm sure they'll be delighted that House Republicans have introduced a Constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the Stars and Stripes. Ohio Congress-being Deborah Pryce thinks the Democrats just don't care enough about our troops or the flag: "...Democrats (are) putting everybody in the world before our soldiers and the American safety. They're so worried about what's going on at Guantanamo Bay. And the flag has a place in that debate."

A heroic leap in logic by Pryce, and a nice purely fictional slander of Democrats that Pryce obviously thinks care more about tariffs faced by Bhutanese butter manufacturers than the safety of Americans, civilian and uniformed. A fine example of the typical Republican tactic of yelling "look over there!" to distract attention from the huge pile of stinking elephant turds in the middle of the living room. One Republican with a particularly big turd to deal with is San Diego Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Cunningham got a defense contractor to give him $1.7 million for a house that was only worth $1 million AND while in Washington he lives for free in a luxury yacht on the Potomac River owned by the same contractor. Cushy arrangement for an alleged servant of the people. California Democrat Pete Stark likes the idea so much he's advertising for the same deal.

The amendment on flag desecration is a cynical joke; it'll grab some headlines, distract a little bit of attention from Iraq, the economy, health care, the fact that we are breeding new terrorists through our actions in Iraq and Cuba, and the rest of it; cheap posturing is so much easier than dealing with difficult issues. Meanwhile, the troops in Iraq, whom Deborah Pryce claims to have in mind in this flag amendment, would probably prefer more armor for their Humvees and some idea of when they will be able to go home.

It might be fun to burn a flag if Cunningham and Pryce would wrap themselve in it first.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

some quotes for today

Several quotes caught my eye in today's news. First, President Bush said "The report from the field is that while it's tough, more and more Iraqis are becoming battle-hardened and trained to defend themselves."

True. Unfortunately, those are the insurgents.

Then I read that Indiana Congressman John Hostettler, upset that Democrats want an investigation into the hyper-Christian, anti-everybody-else atmosphere at the Air Force Academy, accused Democrats of waging a war against Christianity. "Like a moth to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians," Hostetler helpfully explained.

Naturally, Democrats like David Obey were unhappy, and after some discussion, Hostettler withdrew his words -- apparently grudgingly, since he wouldn't do so until presented with a short script that instructed him to do so. Good thing for the Dems that things didn't get more heated, since Hostettler is known to pack a gun in his briefcase while attempting to board aircraft.

Bill Frist, who shows no signs of being a better Majority Leader than long-distance diagnostic expert, did a fine imitation of a beached dolphin today, flip-flopping on the John Bolton nomination. In the morning, Frist said there was nothing he could do to break the deadlock on the Bolton nomination. But, after a friendly lunch at the White House, he came out energized, and said "The president made it very clear that he expects an up-or-down vote." Wonder what they served at the White House? Obviously, part of the price of running for president like Frist is having to keep on the good side of your party's president. Wonder when Karl Rove will give Frist his spine back?

Finally, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin apologized for his recent remarks about torture at Guantanamo: "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."

Durbin made the mistake of being honest, and of mentioning our brave boys and girls in uniform in the same sentence as Nazis and Soviets. Bill "I don't need to apologize to Michael Schiavo or anybody else" Frist and other GOP lackeys have been in Durbin's face ever since he made those comments last week, insisting he apologize. Well, Durbin has and it's unfortunate because he was right. He did not compare all of our armed forces to Nazis or Soviets -- just the ones torturing people in the name of the American people. Not all soldiers are torturers, and criticizing those (and their superiors in the military and intelligence services who order this treatment) who ARE torturing doesn't mean you're criticizing all soldiers any more than condemning a sargent for fragging two officers means that all soldiers are guilty of wanting to kill their superiors.

But Frist got his abject apology, and the wing-nuts are sated again.

Monday, June 20, 2005

is california for you?

Five quakes in or just off the coast of California in the past week have some local residents buying extra earthquake supplies in at least one small town. Seismologists point out that this doesn't necessarily mean the big one is imminent, and that's true. But there is no getting around the fact that some day there will be a very big earthquake in a heavily populated part of California, and it won't be fun.

But really the question for any Californians out there should be, will the earthquakes get us before we dry up? Native Californian Marc Reisner examines this question in two excellent books that anybody considering moving to California should read before moving to the coast.

The first was Cadillac Desert, a history of water development in the American West. Despite the dry-sounding subject matter, it is a fascinating book that details the water wars in the West over the past 150 years, including the legendary theft of the Owens River by Los Angeles and the subjugation of the Colorado River to serve the people and especially industries of California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming -- destroying ecosystems and robbing Mexico along the way.

Cadillac Desert
covers the Army Corps of Engineer's role throughout the US west of the Mississippi, but I found the California chapters most compelling. And relevant, given that in recent years the amount of water coming down the Colorado has not been enough for the seven states' needs, partly because of increased demand, and partly due to decreased snowpacks in Wyoming and Colorado; can you say "climate change?". Also, as Reisner points out, the Colorado River Pact was drawn up at a time of what we now know to be abnormally HIGH levels of rain/snowfall, so the supply was in retrospect bound to become tight -- even without the absurd pricing policy for this water. It drives me crazy that Western agribusiness gets water subsidized by taxpayers from adequately-watered parts of the country to grow cheap produce -- and those same agrobusinesses clamor for less government and lower taxes. (Just like the rancher who wants less government interference while he grazes his cattle at dirt-cheap prices on federal lands -- another myth of the rugged, individualistic Westerner, but I digress.)

But Reisner points to a greater concern -- that California's farmland will grow ever more saline from intensive irrigation until it grows useless. All that desert in Iraq we've been seeing on TV lately? Much of that is part of what was known as the Fertile Crescent, back in Biblical times. It is hard to believe now, but ancient peoples irrigated that land extensively, and it was fabulously productive for thousands of years, but eventually salination (NOT the Mongol hordes as legend has it) brought an end to irrigation farming in that region. We'll see if California's alfalfa and strawberry growers can avoid that fate.

But Reisner wasn't just concerned about California's water supply; he feared the effect a major earthquake would have on the Golden State. A Dangerous Place describes how Californians continue to build up places that are extremely vulnerable to earthquakes, whistling in the dark and hoping no major seismic event hits their particular hillside. Mudslides and wildfires have nothing on a big quake for destructive power, Angelenos and San Franciscans. Hitting some of the same themes as in Cadillac Desert, Reisner describes the growth of Los Angeles and San Francisco, points out their vulnerabilities, and at the end describes a nightmare scenario for a major quake in the Bay area, complete with a break in the levees that could flood the Central Valley with seawater-- with obvious consequences for California's water supply and agricultural future.

Both Cadillac Desert and A Dangerous Place are well-researched, well-written, and thought-provoking books. Californians who fear the state will be overcrowded should send copies of both books to anybody considering moving to the state -- but shouldn't read the books themselves if they plan to stay and sleep soundly at night. I certainly don't plan to move there ever!

Unfortunately, Reisner won't be following up with other cautionary tales about America's biggest state; he died of cancer in 2000, only 51 years old. His books have really stuck with me in a way that not many do; I read Cadillac Desert 10 years ago and it is still vivid in my memory.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

a taste for whales

Japan is about to announce a big increase in its "scientific" whaling program. Interesting article in the Post today about the Japanese government's attempt to inculcate a taste for whales in their school children.

The Japanese are full of crap about the alleged excess population of whales. No serious scientist who isn't paid by a pro-whaling country denies the fact that whale populations are down at least 50%, maybe 90%, from the levels before industrial-scale whaling began in the 19th century. Likewise, most scientists recognize that falling fish stocks are due to human activities -- overfishing and pollution -- not due to hungry whales eating too much.

Ironically, Japanese are losing the taste for whales. Most Japanese over the age of 40 have only eaten whale as school children, and don't remember it that fondly. But, rather than let the whaling "industry" atrophy naturally, the way the buggy-whip manufacturers did, the Japanese are trying to prop it up by propagandizing elementary school kids. Classy.

Not to mention the fact that whale meat is pretty chock-full of various poisons. Whales are long-lived, large predators at the very top of the food chain -- the epitome of a being that will have mercury and other persistant pollutants in their meat and blubber.

So, enjoy that whale.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

credit card follies

It seems we are seeing stories like this more and more frequently. The latest: hackers get into a computer run by CardSystems, a company that processes credit card payments. MasterCard said no personal info (beyond the 40 million credit card numbers, that is) was attached to the files, but that hardly fills me with confidence, since this year alone customer info has been stolen at Bank of America, ChoicePoint, Reed Elsevier and now CardSystems.

MasterCard and Visa reassure us that customers aren't held responsible for unauthorized charges, but I was surprised to learn in this article that not only do the card issuers pass the loss on to the business that authorized the charge, the banks actually CHARGE merchants for reversing unauthorized charges. In other words, they make a PROFIT off of bad charges. Not much of an incentive for them to better protect our info, is it?

Friday, June 17, 2005

what, us worry?

Not content with its own ruinous energy/climate change policy, the Bush Administration is now working hard to force other G-8 members to not go too far in calling for any significant action to slow the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

We couldn't have that, now could we? Nobody tells us to quit driving our Hummer and air conditioning our house to 65 degrees. Hell, we don't believe scientists who tell us about evolution, why believe the worry-warts on climate change? We'll believe it when we see Atlanta become a beach resort.

Meanwhile, the guy who neutered scientific papers about climate change on behalf of the White House has landed on his feet nicely. Surprise, surprise, a job at Exxon, the only major oil company that refuses to admit that there might, just might, be some reason to reduce carbon emissions. The quote from the White House about him returning to the private sector after "public service" slays me. That was no public service; like most of these lobbyists who take a turn in government, they were there to further the goals of their paymasters. Sometimes by coincidence it might do some good, but there is nothing good about this Administration's criminal, willful neglect of climate change policy.

See you at the beach in Atlanta.

Schiavo quotes of the day

Reaching back to March, from Tom DeLay: "Terri Schiavo is not brain-dead; she talks and she laughs, and she expresses happiness and discomfort. Terri Schiavo is not on life-support."

From Doctor Bill Frist, also in March: "Terri's brother told me Terri laughs, smiles, and tries to speak. That doesn't sound like a woman in a persistent vegetative state."

They both also sided with those accusing Michael Schiavo of wanting to execute his wife, or of strangling or otherwise abusing her. Now with the Schiavo autopsy report being released confirming that Terri could not have lived without a feeding tube, and was way beyond the point of any recovery, and had suffered no abuse nor strangulation, we can wait for their apology and admission that they were wrong.

Here is what I predict will be the gist of their apology to Schiavo, Judge George Greer, and others they impugned: " (silence) "

Similar to the front page of today's Washington Times: not one word about the autopsy, after running dozens of very pro-DeLay/Bush/Frist/God and Jesus stories about Terri's tragedy before? Damn moonies.

Oh wait -- now Jeb Bush wants to investigate how long it took for Michael Schiavo to call 911 on the day Terri's heart gave out? Even though he says he doesn't mean to imply there was any crime committed? Wow, just when I thought the scope for crass political opportunism and point-scoring at the expense of Terri Schiavo has been exhausted, a creative sleazebag like Jeb "please please me in 2008 even though I say no" Bush finds a way to prove me wrong.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

blinders on pay

The New York Times today ran an op-ed piece that made me just shake my head. Norman R. Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, writes to complain about how Congress, "in its wisdom", limits how much of a CEO's pay may be written off as a business expense to $1 million annually -- and even less for some companies that do business with Uncle Sam. And old Norm isn't happy.

So Norm comes up with another proposal: increasing tax revenues by jacking up taxes on the income of "superstar athletes, rock stars, movie directors and a few others". Going for cheap nods of support, Norm suggests that Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds, Latrell Sprewell, Howard Stern, Kobe Bryant, and Randy Moss could all spare a few bucks -- it would be "rough justice."

Norm's missing the point on several levels. There is no cap on how much CEOs can be paid, just a limit on how much of this salary can be applied to reducing corporate income taxes. This was NOT done to raise revenues, but rather was to protect the SHAREHOLDERS of corporations. After all, who do you think pays when somebody like "Kenny Boy" Lay or Bernie Ebbers pulls in well over $100 million a year? Companies can still grossly overpay CEOs if they want, but at least the taxpayer won't have to subsidize it. If somebody is really worth more than $1 million a year to a corporation, they'll find it worthwhile to pay that even without the inducement of a tax write-off.

It's absurd to compare the income for a pro athlete, musician, actor, or director to a CEO. Do baseball players get to pack a board of directors full of their cronies, who will then directly or indirectly approve the compensation for them? Nope.

Nobody is holding a gun to the head of the owner of pro sports teams, Hollywood studios, or record labels when they decide to shell out major bucks on Tim Duncan, Steven Spielberg, or Britney Spears. They are making a calculated business decision that paying these talents will pay off in profits and/or championships. And whether through on-base percentage, box office take, or CD sales, it is possible to quantify the return you get on these people and compare it to their peers in other organizations in determining whether to offer them a raise when their contract is up. Unlike CEOs, who will take multi-million dollar bonuses as a reward for a 5-year, 15% hike in the company's share price when the overall market was up 25% over the same period.

There have been studies that undercut the idea that there are only a very few people capable of being great CEOs. Pay for CEOs and other senior executives has been grossly inflated by the practice of not having to expense stock options, absurd perks like luxury apartments at a fraction of market rents, unfettered access to corporate jets, etc. Trust me, there are plenty of bright business types out there chomping at the bit to run an organization who will do it gladly for well under $100 million a year.

If the player/director/actor/singer asks too much or delivers too little, they won't get a contract. It's quite simple. Not like the farcical charade of having a group of your friends sitting around saying "how much should we pay old Norm? How about $50 million, and while were at it, bonuses all around!"

Norm, quit your moaning and enjoy your retirment. I'm sure your pension is one most of us working stiffs could only dream of.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

news from two deserts

Rumsfeld's comments to the BBC June 15 seemed to get little attention in the U.S.

In an interview for the BBC's Newsnight programme, Mr Rumsfeld said Iraq had passed several milestones, like holding elections and appointing a government.

But asked if the security situation had improved, he admitted: "Statistically, no."

"But clearly it has been getting better as we've gone along," he added.

"A lot of bad things that could have happened have not happened."

I supposed this could be true, but it's a bit hard to prove... Damn those statistics, always getting in the way of a good lie, I mean morsel of propaganda, oops I mean story.

From Iraq to a happier desert, on Tuesday night Comedy Central aired the first episode in the new season for "Reno 911." If you haven't seen this show, look for it -- it is a great spoof on "Cops," with the same documentary-style camera work (filmed on location in Reno, NV), a great cast, and an uncanny feel for life as a cop. I don't laugh out loud at many shows -- but this is one. And some of my friends who are cops find it very close to reality.

florida autopsy

Today's autopsy announcement showed Terri Schiavo really was beyond medical hope. Shame on Bill Frist, Tom DeLay, Jeb Bush, and everybody else outside of the immediate families for sticking their collective nose in this very private, family situation.

What we need now is a reasonable way to allow the body of people like Schiavo to die humanely. This obviously wasn't an issue for most of human existence since before the 1960s somebody in Schiavo's state wouldn't have been long for this world, but with the medical technology available now, they probably could have kept Schiavo's husk of a body "alive" for another 40 years -- to no end.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


This is hilarious. Baseball geekdom is not a strategy for romancing the ladies!

Unintentionally hilarious were comments today by Treasury Secretary John Snow in Brussels. The punch line:

Let me say a word about our fiscal situation. Before joining government, I was not a fan of large deficits. And I'm still not! Some things never change. The current budget deficit is unwelcome but understandable given the extraordinary shocks we endured: the bursting tech bubble, 9/11, and corporate scandals. This was a "perfect economic storm." Since then, we have made strides to trim the budget deficit. Our solution is not to raise taxes. Spending restraint, combined with economic growth, is the key to a lower deficit.

You know, John Snow is a very versatile actor. First, after laboring in obscurity (admit it, if I hadn't named him you couldn't have named the Treasury Secretary) Snow played the role of the groveling, begging, self-abasing supplicant very very well earlier this year in the demanding role of Cabinet Secretary Desperate To Keep His Job in the early 2005 Rovian White House production of "Kiss Ass or Get Fired." Snow kept his job, and is rewarded by still being completely ignored.

And now Snow demonstrates further dramatic range by keeping his face perfectly straight and admitting not even the tiniest bit of doubt that maybe, just maybe, all those tax cuts for oil tycoons, Halliburton executives, and Paris Hilton, coupled with the huge spending increases (not limited to the strictly optional and unrelated-to-terrorism war in Iraq) might have had the slightest impact on the federal budget deficit.


Monday, June 13, 2005

bonaparte and michael jackson

I came across an excellent quote today from everybody's favorite metric-system-imposing, Europe-conquering, megalomaniacal French dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte: "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."

I suspect old Boney was right on an aggregate level. But for me as an individual, it's more my fear of prison that keeps ME from wringing the neck of some rich dude!

Speaking of the rich and a fear of prison, Michael Jackson was acquitted today. No surprise; the OJ trial showed that a rich African-American (I can't really call Jackson black now, can I?) guy with access to high-paid legal talent can be acquitted in modern America. This represents true progress in our society, since this has been true for rich white guys for the past 400 years.

I have no idea whether Jackson is really innocent or not, or whether he is even capable of distinguishing right from wrong. I'm just glad the trial will no longer be all over the news. Instead we can concentrate on meatier news like this.

Bonaparte said an army marched on its stomach. That burger could get a battalion halfway to Moscow.

trolling zevon

I was checking out some music at Amazon today and stumbled across a tribute album, different artists recording songs of Warren Zevon. Down in the reviews was something weird, three reviews clearly by the same person. Too strange not to share.

Here they are:

zevon fan is epitome of communist scum of speech suppression, June 9, 2005 Reviewer: Lone Zevon fan suffers from "mental handicaps of refusing to equate reasoning" (with reality):

When an "entertainer" dies, even an old-timer nobody like Zevon, the press has a soulless frenzy in exaggerating him to be repugnantly more than what his status really was!!!! To the unconscientious media, the death of even barely recognizable figures is the equivalent of the most exploitable Godsend bounty arriving!!!! This is all part of the press' calculated stratagem to trick naïve morons to part with their money, as the press embezzles incrementally more business from putting the gimmick of purportedly "famous" persons deaths in their headlines, which they hopefully plan will draw some contemptibly impressionable triflers concerned with only celebrity-oriented lightness. I've contradicted myself; it's an outrage that the media, in the first place, manhandled Zevon's decease to embellishment, for he was obscurely unknown in the least, a session musician at a salacious best!!!!

Zevon had smoking disease and not asbestos, June 9, 2005 Reviewer: Zevon's asbestos is figment of imagination "of psychotically rabid fan of" (loneliness and wishful thinking)

Let's-for the 1st and only time in this enormity of reviews-weigh the grossly poisonous reaction from rabidly hyperventilating, suspicious Zevon fans. 230 reviews with ratings all oppressively stressed to the maximum venom of perfect five stars?!?!?!?! This inarguably reveals the easily misled suggestibility of the excess of 230 varying reviewers, which is so shameful, it's sad. I despise to spoil the party of obliviousness that's occurring here with the untamed, postmortem and late fan "appreciation" of Zevon, but to ANY impartial observer, one who hasn't been seized control of by the feral hypocrisy of the media preying on a relatively MEDIOCRE "entertainer's" death, all these 230 reviews are a SHAM.

To hell with lone Zevon fan who uses censorship if bested!!!, June 8, 2005 Reviewer: Communist Amazon and Nazzzi, Lone Zevon fan must be taking bribes "from Zevon's remaining family of smokers to" (keep censoring the expose of the whitewash of his "asbestos")

Zevon must practice liberalism/socialism. Self-destroyer-presumably not functionally retarded-disowned the meanest of basic common sense regarding his LIFELONG SMOKING HABIT. He's the indiscriminately prototypical poster-boy for moronically scorned liberals/socialists who non-conformingly jeopardize themselves because of liberal/socialist thinking cancers, which dictate they'll never be responsible for their actions and/or can shift the blame. Zevon's ominously close to being lowered onto the stereotype of chronic smokers who kill themselves, then, in irrational vindictiveness, whose families sue tobacco companies immoderately. Zevon's kids should just huffily-in abnormal dissatisfaction-sue, confirming this hippie liberal's culpability!!!! You 230-strong are discomfortingly suffering from the LOWEST manifestation of hero worship-in your cases, sacrilegious idolatry of a frailly hampered, small-name studio musician, which progresses the outrage even more.

There are some strange people on the internet. Not sure what's the strangest about this one. Clearly this person didn't much care for Warren Zevon's music and has been driven to distraction by the positive reviews this compilation was drawing. You just know this guy is trolling all over the web, making up for his lack of logic and spelling with strong accusations -- and the dreaded "L" word as his nastiest epithet. Loser.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

pay per mile?

We should consider new policies to reduce the implicit subsidies on drivers -- but this idea just proposed in Britain may go a bit too far...

missing in aruba

The latest case of a missing attractive young white (preferably blonde) woman continues in the headlines. If you're curious, check here to learn about some of the 45,000+ other adult Americans that are listed as missing. Obviously most of these people are insufficiently cute to rate much of a mention.

tyson's done

Wuss. Good to see Tyson go out in the same classy style we've grown accustomed to -- you know, trying to break McBride's arm, then headbutting him. McBride's lucky Tyson didn't come out for the 7th round, Tyson's next move would've been trying to bite his nose off.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

bush law enforcement initiative

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you...

if you don't like what you're hearing, walk out

Classy move -- Democrats are criticizing the Patriot Act and the GOP, led by Chairmen Sensenbrenner, just walk out, cutting off the microphones and ending the committee hearing. Watch the video, if traffic permits.

This is a nice demonstration of how most of today's Republican politicos view the world. We're in power, we don't have to listen to any of you, so go to hell. Not only that, we don't have to believe in science that is politically or religiously (same thing) inconvenient, we don't have to tell you who advised the White House on the energy policy that all Americans are paying for, who exposed a CIA agent to douchebag Bob Novak, how or why a gay male prostitute would get daily passes to White House press briefings, or any of that. Shut up and let your betters run things.

bill o'reilly, so misunderstood

Media Matters has a compilation of a few of Bill O'Reilly's "clarifications." Once I would have found this amusing, but given the track record Fox and the Republicans have over the past 10 years with their slander, lie, and coverup tactics, it's no longer funny.

Fox and the RNC, partners in integrity.

is your brain rotting?

If what David Shuster says is true, we could be in for a long, sad story. USDA of course is run by and for the American agricultural industry, so the idea of them being more concerned with marketing beef and less concerned about people developing Creutzfeldt Jakob disease is all too believable.

colorado coverup

Remember those three people tossed out of one of the President's stage-managed "town meetings" on Social Security last March in Colorado? They had done nothing wrong, but had a "no more blood for oil" bumper sticker on their car? Turns out the White House and the Secret Service both know who was responsible for kicking them out -- but they ain't telling.

Now the "coverup" word is being used. Colorado Democrats are demanding the White House reveal the names.

Well, good luck. This Administration is so comfortable with lies that I don't see any reason for it to not feel just fine about a small-scale coverup like this. The bigger crime really is using taxpayer money to shuttle the President around for these Social Security events and excluding people for no reason other than they don't like him. Sure, the Secret Service can keep out people perceived to be a threat to the President -- but political hacks shouldn't be allowed to keep somebody out because their car is expressing a political opinion that oilmen Bush and Cheney don't like.

Friday, June 10, 2005

lies about iraq

Juan Cole has it right. "(O)n the subject of Iraq, the way you can tell when Bush is lying is that his mouth is moving."

We're almost at 1700 dead Americans and who knows how many Iraqi civilians, an insurgency that Dick "we'll be greeted as liberators" Cheney now thinks might be defeated by January 2009, an American army that is being ground to bits by the tempo of operations in Iraq, and no way out.

Of course, as the Downing Street memo, former White House counterterrorism chief Dick Clarke, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and many others have made clear, the lies about Iraq started well before now.

And we re-elected him. Well, I didn't, but somebody did.

michael jackson, michael jackson, michael jackson

It would appear that Michael Jackson is in the news again. Tell you the truth, I haven't been paying much attention. I just don't care about celebrities and weirdos enough to get wrapped up in his latest legal problems.

But others certainly do seem to care. Hell, there's even a computer virus out there now attached to a bogus news story about Michael Jackson attempting suicide.

Please go away, and take your sister with you. As for the mother of the kid, what the hell were you thinking lady, to let him stay at Michael Jackson's house? Not like this is a new phase in Michael Jackson's behavior.

CLICK, TV's off.

missile "defense"

Not surprising that a panel appointed by the Pentagon has found fault in how Bush's pet missile defense program has been rushed. Actually, it does surprise me slightly that the Pentagon actually paid for the study and has now released this info; I guess there must be a few generals there who recognize its utter absurdity.

What's not to like about the program? Heck, it's only cost $10 billion so far and for that piddling sum, we now have a nifty system that just might, maybe, perhaps hit a North Korean missile as long as the North Koreans launched only one missile, told us in advance when it would be launched, gave us its trajectory, and promised not to use the most basic, elementary countermeasures like balloons that would confuse the intercepting missile.

Of course, this system will have absolutely no chance of stopping a nuclear weapon that is put on a small boat and sailed into the port of Houston -- a far more likely scenario nowadays than the launch of an ICBM against the American mainland.

Star Wars was stupid during Reagan's presidency, and it's stupid now. A nice piece of pork for the military-industrial complex, courtesy of the US taxpayer.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

how much personal info will you give for a hot dog?

The Washington Post this morning ran a piece about "biometric payments." Specifically, a gas station/convenience store in Sterling, Virginia allows pre-registered customers to pay by having their fingerprints read; the charge is then deducted from the customers' checking account.

I don't think you need to be paranoid to wonder about the wisdom of giving away your fingerprints (not to mention access to your checking account) just to save 30 seconds in the morning when you're buying your coffee and a doughnut. I'll keep my fingerprints to myself, thanks, while I still can.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

brownback's hypocritical hold

The Washington Post on Tuesday reported that Sam Brownback, the Senator from Creationopolis, Kansas, has placed a hold on the nomination of Julie Finley, Bush's pick to be ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Finley, a Republican fundraiser, seems reasonably qualified for the job, representing the US in an organization which deals with European security and political issues like arms control treaties and peacekeeping in Chechnya.

However, Finley is an apostate on a key point of current GOP dogma. She is pro-choice on abortion, and Brownback doesn't like that. Finley's views on abortion have nothing to do with the job she's been nominated for, but Brownback, angling for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, apparently thinks that somebody with such views can't be approved lightly.

Brownback and most of the other Republican Senators have insisted that Presidential nominees like John Bolton and Priscilla Owens deserve an up-or-down vote. The GOP has criticized the Democrats for their filibuster against ten of the President's 200+ judicial nominees, but this unilateral Brownbackian motion reminds me of how often the Republicans placed holds on Clinton's judicial nominees, dozens of whom never got votes in committee, let alone on the Senate floor. If Republicans want to get rid of filibusters, maybe they should get rid of holds as well, which are far more undemocratic. It takes 40 votes to maintain a filibuster, but it only takes one to keep a hold in place.

Brownback's far-right Bible-thumping Christian fundamentalist credentials are already well established. Holding a nomination like Finley's for no good reason remotely related to her qualifications for the job is just electoral grandstanding and pandering to the Christian right.

harris runs in florida

I see the wire services today report Florida Republican Congressman Katherine Harris will seek the GOP nomination for Senate in 2006, hoping to run against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

I think that's just fine. Greater media exposure to her heavily lacquered face should turn off many voters -- and will help remindthem how the GOP stole Florida from Gore in 2000.

Katherine Harris. A good example of why chief election officials should be non-partisan.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


I've been collecting quotes for a few years now, rather haphazardly. I'll share some of them, once in a while. Here's a good one from St. Augustine (the early Catholic bishop, not the Florida town): "What is a political regime, when devoid of justice, but organized crime?"

I wonder about that too, St. A.

another promise broken

Rolling Stone this week has a damning article about the Bush administration's AIDS initiative. You may remember the President announcing it in Janaury 2003. A nice counter to the pounding of the Potomac war drums, it sounded like the sort of thing a compassionate conservative would do -- you know, help poor people in poor countries to avoid contracting HIV/AIDS, and help treat those who do.

Except, as described in Rolling Stone, it hasn't happened quite that way. First, spending the $15 billion promised over five years has been far behind schedule. Unsurprising, because most Bush Administration initiatives of this sort are designed to make a big splash up front; implementation isn't as important as the 6:00 news cycle. No need to dwell on the fact that much of this new money in any case was shifted from other international health programs that the U.S. (sometimes) helps fund.

That's bad enough, but the program has been handed over to fundamental Christians to run. Basically, the Bush AIDS initiative is telling African kids not to have sex, period. Abstinence, abstinence, abstinence, instead of the more common ABC approach -- Abstinence, Be faithful, and use a Condom. Despite the pious wishes of the fundies, abstinence alone is an unrealistic approach, and even being faithful is difficult since it only takes one partner to ruin that.

Even worse than ignoring condoms in US-funded programs, the conservative Republicans running this initiative are forcing Uganda -- a well-known success story in the fight against HIV/AIDS, using the ABC approach -- to quit distributing condoms in schools.

Scandalous isn't a strong enough word; let's try criminal. HIV/AIDS experts fear that Bush's initiative will help raise infection rates in Africa rather than lower them.

But that doesn't matter, does it? As long as the fundamentalist lunatic branch of the Republican party is happy pushing its piety, Bush is happy. And if a bunch of Africans get sick and die, well hell, they're only poor Africans, right? They would have died of something else anyway. Besides, they don't vote in battleground states.

Read the article, there's more. It'll make you realize how there are enough criminal (or criminally stupid, to be charitable) plots in our reality to make it easier for people to believe absurd conspiracy theories like the one about HIV being created by the CIA for the explicit purpose of killing Africans and African-Americans.

Monday, June 06, 2005

the neighborhood

Out of curiosity I hit "next blog" a few times after creating this masterpiece. A couple of blogs by families, a teenage girl, all very normal, bloggy stuff. Then I encountered a blog that was nothing but a series of links for penis enlargement medicines, another one that had lots of mortgage info, a blog entirely about cell phones, another one about filing for bankruptcy, an absolutely riveting blog about shower curtains, and finally a blog that was all about insurance. I am so glad to know that there is a blog for all purposes out there!

bleep that mumble

This is my first post, so it should be something weighty, right? A post about a topical political issue like the assassination (oops, I mean reform) of Social Security, or a scandal like Tom DeLay's entire political life, or maybe profound thoughts about former FBI agent Mark Felt being Woodward's Deep Throat.

Too obvious, sorry. Instead, let's talk music ... and censorship. Over the past couple of days I've spent a couple of hours listening to the local classic rock station and in that span heard three censored songs.

One was "Jet Airliner" by the Steve Miller Band -- you know the line, about "funky shit going down in the city"? I've heard it censored before (usually on AM radio), either as "funky kicks" or in this case, "funky (inaudible)". That didn't surprise me too much.

Another was Pink Floyd's "Money" -- "don't give me that do goody-good bullshit" was rendered "goody-good bull (silence)". I don't remember hearing that song censored before, but I could be wrong.

The first one I heard was Dire Strait's "Money for Nothing" -- you know, the one with the microwave delivery guys griping about how they have to work hard while rock stars get money for nothing, and chicks for free, while Sting croons "I want my MTV" at the song's end.

The lyrics in question: "the little faggot with an earring and a mink coat. Yeah buddy, that's his own hair. The little faggot's got his own jet airplane, the little faggot, he's a millionaire."

Yesterday when I heard the song, at each spot where Mark Knopfler sings the word "faggot", there was just a sort of musical mumble -- you could tell there was a word there but you couldn't make it out.

This bit of editing surprised me a bit, because I have never heard a radio station bleep that bit before. Don't get me wrong -- "faggot" is an ugly word, I don't use it, and I find it offensive. But in Knopfler's lyrics, it works: this is just how the song's working class stiffs would gripe about Prince, who I've always assumed was the guy in question.

I dunno why the classic rock station did that. I could call and check I guess but I'm not a journalist (oops, the first clue to who I am, or at least who I am not). But I find myself wondering if the FCC's recent rampage against obscenity is responsible. This radio station's demographic ranges well over 18, we've all heard these three songs before with the original salty language, and anybody who would be badly offended by shit, bullshit, and faggot (in these contexts) would probably be listening to classical music or Jesus radio anyway.

Maybe the station manager is a prude. But maybe he/she is just afraid of being fined by the FCC if some fan of James Dobson or some other blue-nosed, holier than thou, interfering fundamentalist type happened to hear the offending words and decided to complain to the FCC.