Archive for January, 2005

Hersh on Torture

Saturday, January 29th, 2005

Seymour Hersh is absolutely right: We’ve been taken over by a cult.

PostSecret Posts… Well… Secrets

Saturday, January 29th, 2005

The kind of thing I reliably fall for on the Web: PostSecret.

Feinstein to Vote Against Gonzales Confirmation

Wednesday, January 26th, 2005

I’ve had harsh words for the senior senator from California more than once in the past. But today is a day for acknowledging that Diane Feinstein apparently still has a conscience, and the will to use it. I just phoned her office, and spoke to a helpful staffer named Mike. And he told me that the vote had not yet taken place, that the Judiciary Committee was still debating the Gonzales confirmation, but that he understood that the senator had indicated she wouldn’t be voting for confirmation.

I had to double-check to make sure I’d heard correctly. “That she will not be voting for confirmation?”

“That’s correct. She will not be voting for confirmation.”

I told Mike that made me profoundly happy, and he said he’d pass my sentiments on to the senator. Though in thinking about it afterwards, I don’t think “profoundly happy” really expresses it properly. It’s not happiness to find myself in a United States that uses torture as an instrument of policy, or where the chief architect of the legal arguments justifying that torture can be nominated for Attorney General, and (in all likelihood) win confirmation. That’s just… horrifying.

But Senator Feinstein has chosen to take a stand against such horrors, and bully for her. Yeah, it’s mainly a symbolic victory in the midst of a larger defeat, but I’ll take it.

Your Bible verse for the day: Luke 15:4-6.

What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?

And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.

Diane Feinstein is the hundredth sheep. Rejoice with me.

Prosecuting Traffic Offenders — Whatever the Cost

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005

Let’s say you are driving to work, and eating an apple in your right hand. Now let’s say, that at some point during your drive, you make a turn — maybe you can hold the apple while turning the wheel with both hands, maybe you only use one hand, let’s not speculate. Now let’s consider some questions…

  • Are you guilty of “not been in full control of [your] car” ? … possibly.
  • If a police officer feels you were not in full control of your car, should he cite you? … probably.
  • If you contest said traffic citation, does the government have a responsibility to the public interest to prosecute you? … sure.
  • Should the prosecution expend time/effort/money to present video evidence from a patrol car, a police helicopter, and a police plane? … um, well … i dunno about that.
  • Should said video evidence be obtained of an empty intersection, long after the incident, without documentign anything about your driving on that particular day, or anyother day — just what the route you were driving that day looks like? … fuck no, whose lame ass idea is that?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Northumbria Police.

The taxpayers of Northumbria are lucky that someone has some common sense: the woman being prosecuted stoped contesting the charges when she found out the public had already footed an estimated court cost of £10,000, and that her appeal would cost another £10,000 … all to collect £160 in fines.

Delivering Freedom to the World – In Tiny Metal Packets

Friday, January 21st, 2005

Read this account of yet another gunning down by US troops of a carload of civilians in Iraq – or better yet, look at the photos of the blood-spattered, suddenly orphaned little Iraqi girl – and explain to me again how Bush’s war is making the world a freer place. Because I don’t see it.

Anyway: A shooting after nightfall.

The Ongoing War on (Comment Spam) Terror

Friday, January 21st, 2005

Just a heads up for those of you who post to the site: I’m playing around with different tools to block comment spam, and unfortunately the latest one I’ve tried is having the effect of blocking some legitimate comments.

Currently, the spam-blocking code is silently discarding any comments posted by a browser that doesn’t have javascript enabled. That has succeeded (for the moment) where nothing else had in stopping the steady drip, drip, drip of comment spams we’d been getting, at a rate of about one every 90 seconds for the past week or so. But I see from the report the anti-spam tool just emailed me that a number of people have tried posting legitimate comments, and had that process fail.

This isn’t acceptable to me. So I’ll be heading back to the drawing board to come up with a solution. In the meantime, if you are using a funky browser, or have javascript disabled, I apologize for the inconvenience, but at the moment, you can’t post comments.


Joshua Holland From the Inaugural Cattle Chute

Friday, January 21st, 2005

Joshua Holland offers an agitator’s-eye-view of the inauguration: A quick post from the inaugural protests.

Say, has anyone seen my country? It’s got amber waves of grain, purple mountains, and a Constitution that guarantees the right to peaceably assemble. If you happen to come across it, let me know, okay? Thanks.

Bonsai Kitten Claims Another Victim

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

One cool thing about the Internet is that stuff hangs around. Jokes that made the rounds years ago eventually get to be retold to a new audience, with the same amusing results. Like just happened with my daughter, who, when I asked what she was looking at on the computer on the other side of my desk when she should be getting ready for school, started giving me an outraged account of an email she’d just received about Bonsai Kitten.

Me: Uh, Julia, let me tell you about this extremely important web site called

Xeni Jardin’s Weird Obsession with Proto-Porn

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

From Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin: Desperately seeking Lily. It concerns a 1950’s-era toy that shows a little rubber model of a naked woman gyrating seductively. And it’s kind of interesting to me, and not just for the obvious reason; I’m curious about the thing’s actual backstory (as is Xeni Jardin), and I’m also amused by the meta-idea of a popular weblog using the bully pulpit of its network effects to try to tease out this particular truth.

Weiler on Boxer on Rice

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

Thank God we have at least one senator from California with the balls to stand up to Condoleeza Rice. Jonathan Weiler of Fly Trap has some excerpts from Barbara Boxer’s questioning of the presumptive Secretary of State-to-be: In a clearing stands a Boxer.

He also links to the full transcript at the NYT, if you prefer your principled stands with their spineless context: Confirmation hearing of Condoleeza Rice.

Jeanne on Tonight’s State Killing in California

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

Jeanne of Body and Soul reminds those willing to be reminded why the death penalty is wrong: Justice in California.

While we’re on the subject of our national obsession with killing people, look at the company we’re in: Thai jail plans death-row webcam.

A prison in the Thai capital, Bangkok, is planning to broadcast inmates’ daily lives, as well as their final moments before execution, live on the internet.

Rights group Amnesty International has criticised the plan, which prison officials say will deter criminals.

A spokesman for the Bangkwang prison said the scheme will highlight the risks of drug dealing, which carries the death sentence in Thailand.

Almost 1,000 of Bangkwang’s 6,000 inmates are on death row.

Thai authorities have mounted an aggressive campaign against drugs in recent years.

Thousands of people suspected of drugs offences have been killed during the crackdown, sparking criticism from human rights groups.

Morris on Why Kerry Lost

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

Via Jerome Doolittle at Bad Attitudes comes this interesting op-ed piece by filmmaker Errol Morris: Where’s the rest of him?

John Kerry lost because he concealed something that was completely honorable, even heroic: his opposition to Vietnam. George W. Bush told the truth about something that, to my mind, was not honorable: he supported that war but found a way to stay home. Mr. Kerry was forthright about almost everything except himself – and in this election that was not enough.

RFK Jr. on the Bush War on the Environment

Tuesday, January 18th, 2005

RFK, Jr. has laryngitis in this video clip, which makes him sound a lot like Bobcat Goldthwait. So go listen for the laughs. And about eight or nine minutes in, if you’re paying any attention at all, you’ll start to feel really sick to your stomach at what the Bush administration is doing to the environment in this country. By which I mean, what he’s doing to the people in this country, via the environment.

I’m not just being a Bush hater here. It’s really just shockingly awful. He’s taking money from his buddies in the energy business to look the other way while they poison our children.

Maybe some of you in the red states could explain to me how that fits in with your belief that a vote for Bush is a vote for Christian values. Which verse was it where Jesus said we should let fat cats profit by putting mercury in the water supply?

Anyway: 2004 Nicholas School Graduation – Robert F. Kennedy Jr., guest speaker.

Mailing Weird Things

Tuesday, January 18th, 2005

Again with the via-BoingBoing links: Postal experiments.

billg Beefcake

Monday, January 17th, 2005

Via monkey methods, (via BoingBoing): Bill Gates Strikes a Pose for Teen Beat Photospread, 1983.

Bush from 40,000 Feet

Monday, January 17th, 2005

This interview that WaPo reporters Michael A. Fletcher and Jim VandeHei got with Fearless Leader aboard Air Force One last Friday is interesting to me in a number of ways: Transcript of Bush interview.

The main way in which it’s interesting to me, though, is that it amounts to the closest thing to an unfiltered insight into Bush’s views that I think we’re going to get these days. Famously press-conference-averse, and given the way he approaches those events defensively, with an eye to a pre-screened list of questioners and the implied threat of access-reduction for anyone who gets too aggressive, we just don’t get much of a view of Bush at those anymore.

But in this setting, letting his hair down and being chummy with a couple of his pals, there’s a better chance that Bush will let his guard down for a minute and just talk, letting you see what’s really going on in his head.

And so he did in this talk, which I guess I’ll quote from extensively, to protect the following from link rot. Here’s the part at the beginning that dealt with Iraq, though I encourage you to read the whole thing, if this sort of thing interests you:

The Post: There was this report — it was reported in the papers this morning — from the National Intelligence Council. Always by our front-page stories. (Laughter.) Right there. And it essentially says that Iraq has become a terrorist breeding ground, it’s created terrorists who are going to take those new terrorist talents and go elsewhere after the war. Is this at all contradicting your assertion that you’re always making America safer from terrorists?

THE PRESIDENT: The report — and I welcome these studies — basically says America must stay on the offense. And there are two ways to stay on the offense. One, use our intelligence services, as well as the intelligence services of friends and allies, to find people and bring them to justice before they hurt us, and secondly, to spread freedom. And it’s a — I think the report was somewhat speculative; this could happen. And I agree. If we’re not diligent and firm, there will be pockets of — parts of the world that become pockets for terrorists to find safe haven and to train. And we have a duty to disrupt that. I firmly believe that a free Iraq will be a major defeat for the Salafist movement and the extremist movement, those who want to use terror as a weapon to impose their will on millions of people throughout the world.

The Post: Secretary Powell said this week that American troops will begin leaving Iraq this year. Is that true?

THE PRESIDENT: The way I would put it is, American troops will be leaving as quickly as possible, but they won’t be leaving until we have completed our mission. And part of the mission is to train Iraqis so they can fight the terrorists. And the sooner the Iraqis are prepared — better prepared, better equipped to fight — the sooner our troops will start coming home.

The Post: Can you be sure that by the end of your second term, that there will be a significant reduction?

THE PRESIDENT: I’m still on the, as quick as possible.

The Post: Do you disagree with Colin Powell’s assessment, then, that he thinks it can be done?

THE PRESIDENT: My assessment is, is that we will — one of the reasons why the military sent an assessment team to Iraq recently was to assess our training mission, because success in Iraq will depend upon the Iraqis defeating the enemy. And so we’re constantly assessing to see whether — where we can improve training, how we can do things better, and what the Iraqis think they need, in order to do their job.

And so the troops have been helping to provide as much security as possible for the elections. The political process is going on. And at the same time, doing their job and training these Iraqis. So we’re constantly assessing, and that’s what this is. The panel will report back to determine how best to train the Iraqis. My answer to your question is, as soon as possible, based upon fulfilling the mission.

The elections — I am pleased that the elections are going forward. I recognize that there are a group of terrorists trying to stop the election process. I have been amazed by the spirit of the Iraqi people. There’s a big front-page story; I’m sure you read that. Please don’t tell me you haven’t.

The Post: I read them all.

THE PRESIDENT: Please don’t tell me you haven’t.

The Post: Read them all.

THE PRESIDENT: But there is a spirit there that I appreciate. And I talked to President Yawar today. I talked to Prime Minister Allawi earlier in the week. And they recognize that the terrorists are mean and tough, but they also are focused and determined that these elections go forward. And it is that determination which impresses me.

So the political process is unfolding. And it is a process. In other words, this is the election of an assembly, which will choose leadership. And out of that leadership will, obviously, become — we’ll work to develop — further refine the security strategy, as well as watch a process unfold that will write a constitution. And it’s important for people to understand that. Unlike our system, that has “the election,” and it defines what America — how America will be governed for four years, this is a process.

The Post: In Iraq, there’s been a steady stream of surprises. We weren’t welcomed as liberators, as Vice President Cheney had talked about. We haven’t found the weapons of mass destruction as predicted. The postwar process hasn’t gone as well as some had hoped. Why hasn’t anyone been held accountable, either through firings or demotions, for what some people see as mistakes or misjudgments?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 election. And the American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me, for which I’m grateful.

Listen, in times of war, things don’t go exactly as planned. Some were saying there was no way that Saddam Hussein would be toppled as quickly as we toppled him. Some were saying there would be mass refugee flows and starvation, which didn’t happen. My only point is, is that, on a complicated matter such as removing a dictator from power and trying to help achieve democracy, sometimes the unexpected will happen, both good and bad.

And the point is, there has to be a flexible strategy that will enable our commanders on the ground and our diplomats to be able to adjust strategy to meet the needs on the ground, all aiming at an eventual goal, which is a free and democratic Iraq, not in our image, in their image, according to their customs. See, we haven’t been — we’ve been there — sovereignty was transferred in June of 2004. So this has been a sovereign nation in its new form for less than a year. I’m optimistic about it, and so are a lot of other people who were there in Iraq –optimistic about that, being optimistic about the emergence of a free government.

I’m also mindful that it takes a while for democracy to take hold. Witness our own history. We weren’t — we certainly were not the perfect democracy and are yet the perfect democracy. Ours is a constitution that said every man — a system that said every man was equal, but in fact, every man wasn’t equal for a long period of time in our history. The Articles of Confederation were a bumpy period of time. And my only point is, is that I am realistic about how quickly a society that has been dominated by a tyrant can become a democracy. And therefore, I am more patient than some, but also mindful that we’ve got to get the Iraqis up and running as quickly as possible, so they can defeat these terrorists.

There’s no big OhMyGod moment in there. But what there is, at least for me, is a steady drip, drip, drip of confirmation that Bush really deals with this Iraq question on a very simplistic level. He has no clear strategy for how to exit the current quagmire, and will predictably just keep travelling down the same path.

Look for a pro-US proxy government to be installed in Iraq over the next four years. It won’t be particularly democratic, since true democracy in Iraq would require kicking out the increasingly hated Americans. We’ll probably get to start bringing some troops home, having outsourced the war of attrition with the insurgency to our Iraqi hirelings, but the insurgency will still be going strong.

The two things I love the most in the interview are the part where non-news-reader Bush admonishes the reporters about reading the front page, and of course, the part where he interprets the 2004 election as an “accountability moment,” which at once validated his every decision during his first term and gave him carte blanche to make whatever mistakes he wants to in his second. Which is true, from a certain point of view, I’ll grant you. But it’s still pretty breathtaking to see him assert it like that.

This is how the guy views himself: Infallible, accountable to no one, entitled. And yeah, in someone so demonstrably incompetent, it really bugs me. And I realize that those of you with Red State values don’t see it that way, and that at least for the moment, your views hold sway in the land.

But it still bugs me.

Man Fails To Notice Four-Inch Nail in His Skull

Sunday, January 16th, 2005

I’m trying to figure out how you fail to notice something like this happening to you: Nail found embedded in construction worker’s skull.

Do What You Love, Unless Your Parents Don’t Like It

Saturday, January 15th, 2005

Management consultant William Fried has given a presentation entitled “The Secret of a Happy Life” to the same CA middle school for three years straight on eighth-grade career day. In it, he “counsels students to experiment with a variety of interests until they discover something they love and excel in.” This year, in response to some followup questions from the students, he acknowledged that it was possible to make lots of money as an exotic dancer — and that the bigger your bust size, the bigger the pay check.

Aparently the principal wasn’t very happy about this.

None of this really surprises me.

What really ticks me off is the last comment in the article: “one mother said she was outraged when her son announced that he was forgoing college for a field he loves: fishing.” Maybe it’s just me, but if you’re going to have a speaker come to the school to talk about having a happy life, you shouldn’t bitch that he encourages your kids to pursue whatever makes them happy. I have a lot of friends who have taken good jobs for good money and burned out in only a few years — because they didn’t love it.

So let me just put this plea out to all the parents out there: Don’t worry about how much money your kids will grow up to make, worry about whether or not they will be miserable.

A Festival of Calvin and Hobbes Links

Friday, January 14th, 2005

We have a reasonably complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes books. Our ownership of them dates to the time when Julia was eight, and had surgery to correct a congenital defect of her aorta. What with the surgery and the ensuing complications, she (and we, her parents) ended up spending most of 10 days in the cardiac care unit at the UCLA Medical Center, an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone, least of all a fun-loving, energetic, constantly-in-motion eight-year-old.

Her doctors and nurses were wonderful. My wife, Linda, and the members of our family who helped her through that time, were wonderful. But ultimately, nothing could relieve the stress (and boredom) of being trapped in that unit for that long. By the time Julia had been there for a week, she was showing signs of what the nursing staff referred to as “ICU psychosis,” in which she’d wake up in the middle of the night to the pain and noise and needles and tubes and blinking lights, and not know where she was, locked in an open-eyed nightmare, sobbing and clutching at us and talking frantically about things we couldn’t see.

Those were among the worst of times. But there were also better times, when we could help her find a brief escape to a happier place. And the thing that worked better than anything else for that was Calvin and Hobbes.

Anyway, I know Bill Watterson values his privacy, and has had enough of gushing fans to last him a lifetime. So I’ll just express this thought here, where he probably will never see it: Thank you. You made a huge difference to a little girl at a time when she really needed it, and I owe you a debt of gratitude I can never repay.

Anyway, here’s a little Calvin and Hobbes on the Web. Catch it fast, before the copyright police at Universal Press Syndicate shut it down, as they’ve done with so many other sites:

Huygens Approaching Titan

Thursday, January 13th, 2005

So, if all goes well, by this time tomorrow we should be starting to know a whole lot more about the atmosphere and surface of Saturn’s smog-shrouded moon, Titan: Huygens at Titan’s doorstep.

I actually came down on the Luddite side on the question of Huygens’ parent Cassini probe’s 1999 flyby of Earth. I’m all for space exploration and science. But I resented the way some of the Cassini defenders deliberately obscured the nature of the risk associated with the flyby, focusing instead on the relative safety of the launch, as if that were really the issue. A launch disaster, you see, would have been unlikely to release plutonium into the atmosphere from Cassini’s radioactive-decay-powered batteries. But a mistaken trajectory during the near-Earth flyby would have been a very different story.

Anyway, the (admittedly low) possibility of a radiation release during the Cassini flyby didn’t come to pass, so we don’t have to second-guess the public relations effort that deflected public attention from the possibility. And now I’m just very excited about the chance that we’ll be getting a great big chunk of previously unknown data, all at once.

Good luck, little robot.