Archive for August, 2004

The Lurking Liberal Menace

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

From valued-contributor Sven comes a pointer to this interesting perspective: Day in the life of Joe Middle-Class Republican.

Cheerleaders for Truth

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

It sounds kind of tacky, but it’s actually fairly well-done, if you take the time to read it: Cheerleaders for truth.

Michael Moore vs. Ann Coulter: A Tale of Two Conventions

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

In case you missed the performance art last night, the big story from the first night of the Republican Convention was how Michael Moore, merely by showing up, reduced the assembled hordes to frothing rage. The Washington Post has the story: Michael Moore joins the press — and gets some.

I especially like this part:

“I’m Dave Espo and I work for the Associated Press,” a veteran reporter thundered to the police. “This is our work space and we need to get our work done. Please get these people out of here!”

Am I the only one who can’t read that without thinking of Peter Sellers as the president in Dr. Strangelove shouting, “Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room”?

I also love how the most-widely-disseminated image of Moore at the convention is of him making the “loser” sign at the conventioneers.

Here’s some video of McCain taunting Moore during the former’s speech: John McCain attacks Michael Moore.

Moore was there at the request of USA Today, for whom he’s covering the convention from the opposite-ideology perspective. USA Today previously asked Ann Coulter to cover the Democratic Convention, but when she turned in an embarrasingly sophomoric screed they fired her.

I think this is a great example of the difference between rabidly partisan Democrats and rabidly partisan Republicans: Coulter shows up at the Democratic Convention, is largely ignored, writes a ridiculously lame story and gets canned. Michael Moore shows up, and just by being there hijacks the carefully crafted script, since the party faithful have such an unreasoning hatred of the guy.

You Republicans really need to lighten up, you know?

As long as I’m smearing Republicans, I might as well link to these: From Daily Kos’ theoria: Republican jackass exposed as Republican jackass. And from the Village Voice, check out the ongoing RNC diary of a strip-club waitress.

Heh. Okay; back to reality.

Publius Drops the Other Shoe

Monday, August 30th, 2004

Part 2 of Publius’ excellent explanation of why voting for Bush is a horribly bad idea: The case against Bush — part 2.

Prayers of the Rational

Sunday, August 29th, 2004

You know that scene in The Verdict where Paul Newman gives his closing argument? Some folks at Florida State University stole a transcript of it from, and then the latter folks let their link go 404, so I’m going to steal it again and present it to you:

So much of the time we’re just lost. We say, “Please God, tell us what is right — tell us what is true. When there is no justice, the rich win, and the poor are powerless.”

We become tired of hearing people lie — and after a time we become dead — a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims and we become victims. We become — we become weak. We doubt ourselves. We doubt our beliefs. We doubt our institutions and . . . we doubt the law. But today, you are the law. You are the law. Not some book. Not the lawyers. Not a marble statue or the trappings of the court. Those are just symbols of our desire to be just. They are, in fact, a prayer — a fervent and a frightened prayer. In my religion, they say act as if ye had faith, and faith will be given to you. If we are to have faith and justice, we only need to believe in ourselves and act with justice. See . . . I believe there is justice in our hearts.

I’m reminded of that speech by the following two items I’ve read in the last few days, in which concerned citizens go out of their way to make a rational, unbiased case against voting for Bush (in the first case) and in favor of voting for Kerry (in the second case). Both authors present powerful arguments that I by-and-large agree with. But it’s not so much the arguments that I’m struck by. It’s the act of making them.

In a country where the kind of lies represented by the Swift boat ads can apparently be effective with a sizable chunk of the electorate, and people base their voting decisions on things like the weather (as described in that Menand piece I linked to this morning), merely being willing to invest the effort to make a rational case is impressive, I think. It amounts to a “fervent and frightened prayer,” in screenwriter David Mamet’s phrase, a prayer that the electorate will, in fact, behave rationally.

Anyway, from Publius of Law and Politics: The case against Bush — Part 1, the War on Terror. And from Scott Forbes of A Yank in Oz, as guest-blogged at Donald Sensing’s One Hand Clapping: The case for Kerry.


Mac Word Entomology

Sunday, August 29th, 2004

From Rick Schaut, a programmer at Microsoft (I think), comes this interesting account of an ongoing effort to solve a problem in (the Mac version of) Word: Anatomy of a software bug.

I call the account “interesting,” but you should realize that I have a higher-than-normal interest in the subject of the human behavior of software developers. So YMMV, and all that.



Menand: Why People Vote As They Do

Sunday, August 29th, 2004

Louis Menand has a thought-provoking piece in the New Yorker on what really drives voters’ behavior: The unpolitical animal.

Positively HIV Positive … Or Maybe Not.

Saturday, August 28th, 2004

It just goes to show, you can’t get too many second opinions. Jim Malone was diagnosed HIV+ and then later told it was all a mistake. What makes this really disturbing is that after his initial diagnosis, he began treatment at a VA Hospital which conducted their own test and confirmed he was negative, but: “It appears he was never informed of the negative result” — that was 8 years ago.

To ‘go n’ Or Not To ‘go n’

Saturday, August 28th, 2004

From Yian comes word of this nifty site: Hamlet – the text adventure.

The Twin Towers Toy

Saturday, August 28th, 2004

You know how callous Americans can be about tragedy in other parts of the world? Ho, hum; another 17 million dead in flooding in Bangladesh. Well, here’s the world holding up a mirror to that behavior: AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove.

Schneier on Fear

Saturday, August 28th, 2004

Bruce Schneier asks an important question: How long can the country stay scared?

The DHS’s incessant warnings against any and every possible method of terrorist attack has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with politics. In 2002, Republican strategist Karl Rove instructed Republican legislators to make terrorism the mainstay of their campaign. Study after study has shown that Americans worried about terrorism are more likely to vote Republican. Strength in the face of the terrorist threat is the basis of Bush’s reelection campaign.

EFF Wins the JibJab ‘This Land’ Fight

Friday, August 27th, 2004

Yay! The good guys defeat the intellectual property goons for a change: This song belongs to you and me.

Lakoff on Why You Shouldn’t Say “War on Terror”

Friday, August 27th, 2004

Berkeley professor explains how to talk with conservatives: Linguistics prof. George Lakoff dissects the “war on terror” and other conservative catchphrases.

You’ve said that progressives should never use the phrase “war on terror” — why?

There are two reasons for that. Let’s start with “terror.” Terror is a general state, and it’s internal to a person. Terror is not the person we’re fighting, the “terrorist.” The word terror activates your fear, and fear activates the strict father model, which is what conservatives want. The “war on terror” is not about stopping you from being afraid, it’s about making you afraid.

Next, “war.” How many terrorists are there — hundreds? Sure. Thousands? Maybe. Tens of thousands? Probably not. The point is, terrorists are actual people, and relatively small numbers of individuals, considering the size of our country and other countries. It’s not a nation-state problem. War is a nation-state problem.

Baldwin on Occupational Secrets

Friday, August 27th, 2004

From Matthew Baldwin of the Morning News comes this fun collection of little-known facts from various lines of work: Tricks of the trade.

One example to tease you:


When you’re twisting balloons for children, never tell them what you’re making. The majority of the finished products–despite your best attempts–almost always look like a dog, a blastula, or something vaguely phallic. If you identify what you’re actually attempting to make, the children will respond to your finished product with, “That doesn’t look like a [insert animal name]…” But if you make the animals and then ask, “What does it look like to you?” the child’s imagination will take over, turning the blue, four-legged balloon into Blue from Blue’s Clues, the blastula into a Pokemon, and the phallic object into an elephant. You’ll also get bonus points because you were so cool for making exactly what they wanted.

Another Dream About Bush

Friday, August 27th, 2004

I had another dream about George Bush last night. In the dream it was nighttime, and I was at some kind of fancy Spanish-style rambling estate/hotel; the sort of place with a big fountain out front and a bunch of separate outbuildings and bungalows and gardens and winding paths. There was an event going on with lots of dignitaries, and I can’t remember why I was there; that was from the early part of the dream, and it’s fuzzy. Because this was one of those dreams that goes on and on and on.

(The last dream, where I was Colin Powell, only covered a few seconds of in-dream time. But this one, where I was just myself, took hours. At least, the plot that was covered in the dream stretched across that kind of time. The dream itself, I realize, was probably pretty quick.)

Anyway, I was at this rambling estate/hotel, and somehow I ended up in this smallish group that the president was interacting with. Maybe I was hanging out with the president’s web guys, or something. I was talking to them, and then Bush just kinda showed up. And I’m acting the way I act when I’m around a celebrity, which is to just try to act cool and natural and not make a scene, since I know the celebrity gets people acting weird all the time, and I’d rather just be a normal person to them.

And somehow it develops that Bush wants to leave this event. He wants to duck out, get away from all his handlers and retinue. He gives me the keys to his limo (which in the dream I keep wanting to refer to as “Air Force One,” even though I realize that’s wrong; it’s not his airplane, it’s just his car). He asks me to go get his coat (which is checked at the hat check), and get his limo, and meet him “over by that yellow house, over there” (pointing to this house a short ways away). And I’m like, “in the street over there, in front of the house?” and he’s like, “no, at the house itself.” And I say, “okay,” and I set off on my mission.

I get the coat pretty easily. It’s in a garment bag, like you use on a plane. So I’ve got the keys to the president’s limo, and I’m carrying this garment bag with the president’s coat in it, and I’m trying to find the limo so I can drive it over to this appointed place. And I’m wandering all over, taking more and more time, and I just can’t find the limo.

At one point I’m passing a big group of people lined up outside one of the buildings, and I see my wife and her brother and maybe some other people I know in the line. (They’re here for the same reason that brought me to the place, whatever that reason was. But we weren’t together when the whole Bush thing happened.) And I run up to my wife, and I’m telling her the whole story, and showing her the keys, and then I tell her I’ve gotta go; the president is waiting for me.

And then I realize hey, the limo isn’t just going to be parked out somewhere where I can find it; it’s going to be valet parked in some obscure underground lot. So I need to find the valets.

Now I’m trying to find my way to the main entrance of the hotel, which you’d think would be pretty easy, but I can’t seem to even do that. And finally I come across a weird little door leading into the building, and it looks sort of familiar, so I open it and go inside, and there’s another little door after that, and I open that and go through, and it’s dark in there, so I turn on the lights to find I’m in a little tiny room, almost a closet.

I realize that there’s a small bed against one wall, and someone is sleeping in it. So I try to quietly slip back out, but the person in the bed wakes up, and he’s this young black guy with dreadlocks. I apologize to him for barging in and waking him, and I explain what I’m doing, and he turns out to be really helpful. I gather that he works at the hotel in some housekeeping or maintenance capacity. And he’s nodding and saying yeah, we’ve gotta call the parking guys on extension 300, and he takes me back outside and we’re looking for some other hotel staffmember with a phone or a radio or somesuch.

And then I was blinking in the early morning light in my bedroom, and the sense of urgency that had been growing over the course of the dream (hurry up! the president is waiting!) gradually ebbed away.

My interpretation:

The Swift boat ads, and Bush’s gains in the polls, have me worried. He’s setting the agenda, and his opponents (like me, and Kerry) are running around on stupid errands when they should be focusing on their own tasks. Also, my obsession with Bush is keeping me away from my wife and family.

Why am I letting him consume me like this? I need to lighten up. I don’t want him in my dreams. It isn’t healthy.

J.S.G. Boggs Makes Money the Old-Fashioned Way: He Draws It

Wednesday, August 25th, 2004

I first heard about J.S.G. Boggs a few years ago while watching a Nova episode about counterfeiting. But for some reason the subject of his particular brand of loony performance art came up in conversation the other day, so I googled him and have a few links to pass along.

Boggs’ story goes something like this: He was fascinated with the artwork on currency, so he started drawing his own. At a certain point this evolved into the following: He goes to some retail establishment or restaurant and tries to get the clerk or waitress or whatever to accept, in lieu of actual payment, a hand-drawn bill, signed by him, for the amount he owes. He explains that all artwork’s valuation is more or less arbitrary, so he has set the value of his artwork at the face value of whatever bill he’s reproducing.

More often than you’d think, the clerk or waitress agrees to the deal, which is where it gets interesting. Boggs takes the receipt and gives it to one of the many collectors of his work, who in turn tracks down the bill’s recipient and buys it, often at many times the face value. This American Life’s Ira Glass wrote this about it in Meeting J.S.G. Boggs, the counterfeit artist:

What I love about this is that it’s a con game, run in reverse. If the person falls for the game, they come out of it far wealthier than they went in. As Weschler puts it in his joyous little book, Boggs operates “a sort of floating aesthetical ethical crap game. Or else a sort of fairy-tale virtue test, in which the worthy agreed to sacrifice and [are] subsequently rewarded a hundredfold.”

Naturally this has led to Boggs being the focus of law-enforcement attention. He’s been charged with counterfeiting, and acquitted, in Great Britain, and has had the US Secret Service show up at his door and confiscate extensive “samples” of his work. Interestingly, despite the fact that the Justice Department decided it had better things to do than prosecute an artist whose “counterfeit” bills are only drawn on one side (the back of the bill gets Boggs’ thumbprint and signature), the Secret Service refused to return his confiscated materials, arguing that they were “contraband” under federal law, and that even without actually prosecuting Boggs for anything, they were entitled to keep them.

Boggs sued for the return of his artwork, and the suit eventuallly made it as far as the US district court of appeals. You can read an actually-pretty-interesting transcript of the ensuing oral arguments on Boggs’ web site.

I’m not sure how all that eventually turned out, but I’m curious. And I love the following observation from Glass’s article:

I don’t feel like I’m leaving the territory of journalistic objectivity to say that somehow this does not seem fair. Our government is seizing his property without any trial, any chance to argue his case, any due process at all. He’s trying to generate some press about all this, but so far the attention he’s got is modest. What’s crazy about the whole thing is that he’s convinced he’d have stopped drawing U.S. currency years ago, because he’s got tired of it, but now he has to keep doing it to keep his income up for this lawsuit.

The money drawings are the only thing he creates that earns him the kind of real cash he needs right now. But he’s weary of drawing money. He’s tried every variation on it. He’s ready to move on to other kinds of artistic creation. In short: If the Treasury Department weren’t harassing him, trying to bully him into quitting his money drawings, he’d have quit years ago.

Anyway, there you go: A temporary reprieve from my recent Kerry/Bush/Swift boat obsession.

Marshall on Bush’s Moral Cowardice

Tuesday, August 24th, 2004

I think this may be one of the best things I’ve ever read by Joshua Micah Marshall. And that’s saying a lot: With the president descending to the most shameless sort of attack politics…

An excerpt:

The current debate about these two men’s military service has put the spotlight on physical courage. But that really is a side issue in this campaign, if we’re talking substance. The real issue isn’t physical bravery but moral cowardice.

President Bush is an examplar of that quality in spades. And it cuts directly to his failures as president. Forget about thirty years ago, just think about the last three years.

Before proceeding on to that, one other point about the two men’s service. On the balance sheet of moral bravery, as opposed to physical bravery, the two men are about as far apart as you can be on Vietnam. On the one hand you have Kerry, who already had doubts about whether we should be fighting in Vietnam before he went, and put his life on the line anyway. On the other hand, you have George W. Bush who supported the war, which means he believed the goal was worth the cost in American lives. Only, not his life. He believed others should go; just not him. It’s the story of his life.

That is almost the definition of moral cowardice.

We have a more immediate sense of what physical bravery and cowardice are. In fact, when we speak of bravery and cowardice, the physical variety is almost always what we’re talking about. It’s whether or not you can charge an enemy position while you’re be fired at. It’s whether you’re immobilized by the fear of death.

Moral cowardice is more complex. A moral coward is someone who lacks the courage to tell the truth, to accept responsibility, to demand accountability, to do what’s right when it’s not the easy thing to do, to clean up his or her own messes. Perhaps we could say that moral bravery is having both the courage of your convictions as well as the courage of your misdeeds.

As I’ve been saying here for the last couple days, the issue isn’t that Bush ducked service in Vietnam. It’s that he tries to smear other people’s meritorious service without taking responsibility for what he’s doing. He gets other people to do his dirty work for him. Again, that image of McCain calling him on his shameless antics and his look of fear, his look of feeling trapped.

The key for the Kerry campaign to make is that the president’s moral cowardice is why we’re now bogged down in Iraq. It’s a key reason why almost a thousand Americans have died there. President Bush has set the tone for this administration and his moral cowardice permeates it.

There’s more, and it’s all really, really good. It gets right to the heart of what bothers me about Bush, and about the latest Swift boat shenanigans by Rove and Co.

Janus/Onan made a comment the other day that I was getting kind of out of control with the Bush-hater stuff lately. To the extent you feel the same way, apologies for the zealotry. But the man really does have no business whatsoever being president of the United States, and this piece does a great job of explaining why.

Krugman on Bush’s Rambo Impression

Tuesday, August 24th, 2004

If you’re one of those who doesn’t like Paul Krugman, you won’t like his latest column. He indulges in a nice little type-M argument (i.e., he attributes impure motives to Bush, and attacks those motives rather than confining himself to attacking the outcome of Bush’s actions).

But this isn’t science, or a courtroom, or an Olympic judging panel, where objectivity is supposed to be sacrosanct. This is an opinion column, and it’s the columnist’s job to tell a compelling story about the world as he sees it; you can take that story or leave it, as you see fit.

From where I sit, Krugman hits it pretty close: The Rambo coalition.

Susan Sets the Media Straight

Monday, August 23rd, 2004

Susan of Suburban Guerrilla does a good job expressing the sense of outrage that’s been growing in me lately at the way some of the mainstream media have been willing to accept the Bush crowd’s argument that the Swifties’ ad and the MoveOn response are the same sort of thing: A letter to the media.

Anyway, because you’re all so rusty with this principled-and-hardworking-journalist thing, there’s a point I’d like to make: You can’t really compare the Swift Boat Veterans ads with those ads. Can you guess why?

It’s because the content of the ads is what we call “factual” and the Swift Boat Veterans ads are what we call “lies.” See the difference?

Senator Ted Kennedy: Suspected Terrorist

Friday, August 20th, 2004

Maybe now, people will start taking the the issues of TSA “secret lists” seriously: Ted Kennedy (the senator) has repeatedly been delayed in getting on flights because T. Kennedy (the suspected terrorist) has a similar name. The only reason he was ever able to get on the planes is because Airline supervisors recognized him, and the only reason he was ultimately able to get off the list was because Tom Ridge stepped in and personally took care of the matter. As Kennedy puts it: “How are [ordinary citizens] going to be able to get to be treated fairly and not have their rights abused?

Amazingly, Kennedy is not the only congressman to have this problem.