Archive for April, 2005

Yeah, He’s Totally Wired

Saturday, April 30th, 2005

This horse is still very much alive, so let’s flog it another mile: George Bush Press Conference 04/28/05 – Is Bush Wired?

Imagine/Walk on the Wild Side Bush Remix

Saturday, April 30th, 2005

Here’s a fun one for anyone in need of some Bush-related musical uplift: rx-imaginewalkonthewildside.mp3 (MP3 audio file).

More about the clip in the Boing Boing post mentioning it: The President sings “Imagine” and “A Walk On The Wild Side”.

I [Heart] Precious Ramotswe

Saturday, April 30th, 2005

I’ve tried to get Janus/Onan to read Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series before, but I don’t know if he ever followed the suggestion. Having just finished the latest book in the series, I want to remind him, and everyone else who hasn’t read these, to make a point of doing so. If you have read the previous books in the series, but haven’t read the latest one yet, you owe it to yourself to do that. It’s the best yet, and that’s saying a lot.

Here: I’ll even link to the evil one-click-patenting bookseller to make it easier for you to buy it: In the Company of Cheerful Ladies.

There’s a gentle folk wisdom to these books, a magic that is subtle, but powerful, and it builds as you read more of them.

Also recommended is the book’s official website, where you can read answers to fans’ questions delivered both by Alexander McCall Smith andby Mma Ramotswe herself: Alexander McCall Smith: Ask the Author.

Smoke and Mirrors at Guantanamo

Saturday, April 30th, 2005

The world is certainly full of lies these days. Someone should write a book.

Oh, wait. Someone has. From yesterday’s Washington Post: Detainee questioning was faked, book says.

The U.S. military staged the interrogations of terrorism suspects for members of Congress and other officials visiting the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to make it appear the government was obtaining valuable intelligence, a former Army translator who worked there claims in a new book scheduled for release Monday.

Former Army Sgt. Erik Saar said the military chose detainees for the mock interrogations who previously had been cooperative and instructed them to repeat what they had told interrogators in earlier sessions, according to an interview with the CBS television program “60 Minutes,” which is slated to air Sunday night.

Gallup: 50% Say Bush Was Deliberately Misleading on WMD

Friday, April 29th, 2005

So, I didn’t mention this when it came out the other day, but a new poll shows that exactly half the country now believes Bush was deliberately misleading people when he talked about those nasty Iraqi weapons: Gallup: 50% of Americans now say Bush deliberately misled them on WMDs.

This is the highest the number has ever been, apparently. I can’t decide if I’m gratified that so many people are willing to recognize the emperor’s bare bottom, or aghast that so many continue to admire the cut of his clothes. (Like the good little stooges at the Washington Times: CIA can’t rule out WMD move to Syria.)

I guess when you get right down to it, it’s just human nature to resist admitting you were wrong. In a way it’s Bush’s own character flaw, writ large.

Think about it. Fully half the country believes Bush was just honestly mistaken about the Iraqi WMD. Or they believe he was right, that the weapons really were there, but were smuggled out of the country when we weren’t looking. As long as Bush is willing to thrust his chin out and shrug and smirk his way past the nay-sayers, a lot of people are going to continue to believe that.

Lying to yourself is almost always easier than facing up to a mistake. Bush is so committed to that strategy, so unwilling to face his own failures, that he doesn’t even try anymore. And for a certain type of Bush supporter, following him down that path is as easy as falling off a log.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Found in Arkansas

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

I’ve been watching birds most of my life. I’ve seen a pileated woodpecker just three times; twice when I was 12 years old and living (briefly) in Florida, a third time in my early 20s when visiting my father near Houston. Those sightings were very memorable for me; the pileated woodpecker is a spectacular bird: big as a crow, boldly marked, loud, and boisterous. If a pileated woodpecker were a human, it would be like Muhammed Ali in his prime, only dressed like Liberace. That bird just owns any room it’s in.

Pileated Woodpecker

One of the things that makes the pileated so nifty, at least for me, is the visual reminder it provides of its close relative, the ivory-billed woodpecker. Even larger and more spectacular than the pileated, the ivory-billed has been thought extinct for decades, its population having crashed in the 19th and early 20th centuries after the southeastern old-growth forests it favored were logged.

There were occasional reports, unconfirmed, of someone seeing one in the backwoods somewhere, but experts always ended up concluding that the sightings actually involved misidentified pileateds. For a while the Cuban subspecies of the ivory-billed was believed to have survived, but then it, too, was downgraded to “presumed extinct.” Today’s best bird-watcher’s field guide, the Sibley Guide to the Birds, doesn’t even bother depicting the ivory-billed.

Well, hold on to your hats, bird-lovers: Ivory-billed woodpecker refound in the USA. There’s also coverage from the Washington Post: Woodpecker thought extinct rediscovered, and from Reuters: Ivory billed woodpecker, feared extinct, isn’t.

I realize that the fact that a tiny remnant population (possibly just a single individual) has managed to survive doesn’t offer much hope; the odds are stacked very much against the species’ actually recovering. Species go extinct; it’s the way of things. But like individual death, extinction is forever, and for someone who cherishes the beauty and wonder of creation, staving it off, if only for a little bit, is reason to celebrate.

Yee ha. The ivory-billed woodpecker lives. That makes my day.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Update: Here are some additional details courtesy the very-much-abuzz birdwatchers’ mailing lists I subscribe to:

For a while CNN’s web site had a small still image taken from a video of the bird (except it actually wasn’t; see below); that image has been removed now, but Google still had a copy of it:

still from ivory-billed woodpecker video

(Later update: Oh, except that image actually is a still from a test video showing a wooden model of the bird that the researchers used for comparison purposes. See the link below for the actual video image.)

From (!), a video news release that includes the actual footage of the bird: Video news release.

Finally, in PDF form, the article from Science that came out today: Ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) persists in continental North America.

First Amendment Takes a Hit in Al-Timimi Verdict

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

Fantastico takes time off from battling his arch-nemesis Terrifica to send in the following link to the Washington Post: Jurors convict muslim leader in terrorism case. Apparently the “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” exception to freedom of speech has been quietly expanded to include “saying naughty things about the United States while muslim.”

The Only Reason I Wish I Had A Brother

Friday, April 22nd, 2005

I could swear this was the plot of a (post shark) “Happy Days” episode: Texas Candidate Admits Using Twin as Stand-In.

As usual, the local press has more complete details.

Media Bias, Beyond Left vs. Right

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

I continue to boggle at the wrangling back and forth over whether the media has a bias to the left or right. We’re all seeing the same thing: they’re getting lazy. The media organism is leaving behind the competetive wild of searching out the news at the source and is turning itself in to less dangerous captivity, with regular feedings of partisan talking points and corporate messaging.

I try to avoid linking to slashdot items, but this Paul Graham article points out how PR firms feed the media outlets convenient “facts” that get out their customers’ messages. Especially creepy is the example of handing a hard, but easily mis-usable, fact to a media outlet, then using it as proof to make a point in a later spoon-fed article.

This is the same tendency we’re seeing in the political arena. It’s a lot easier to cover the red vs. blue board game than the real issues, people, and events of the day. Guys, stop hurting America.

David Corn on Marla Ruzicka’s Life (and Death)

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

David Corn remembers Marla Ruzicka, who was killed by a suicide bomber the past Saturday in Baghdad: One (especially) sad death in Iraq.

Congressman Jim McGovern on the Current State of the US Occupation of Iraq

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

Jim McGovern (D-MA) was in Iraq recently, and he takes a skeptical view of Bush’s claims of success there: What I Didn’t See in Iraq.

Everything we have been told about Iraq by the Bush Administration has either been an outright lie or overwhelmingly false. There were no weapons of mass destruction; we have not been greeted as liberators; and the cost in terms of blood and treasure has outpaced even their worst-case scenarios. Trust is something I cannot give to this Administration.

If things in Iraq are so much better, why are we not decreasing the number of US forces there? Why is the insurgency showing no signs of waning? Why are we being told that in a few months the Administration will again ask Congress for billions of dollars more to fight the war? Why, according to the World Food Program, is hunger among the Iraqi people getting worse? It’s time for some candor, but candor is hard to come by in Iraq.

Bushies Eliminate Terror the Old-Fashioned Way: They Pretend It Isn’t There

Monday, April 18th, 2005

Back in the run-up to the Iraq war, when nearly all the major media organizations were dutifully presenting the Bush administration’s overstated warnings about Iraqi WMD, one news organization actually did a fair amount of good, solid journalism, and reported the real story: that the Bushies were full of shit. That organization was Knight-Ridder, a news outfit associated with a number of smaller-market newspapers.

I saw a piece a year or so ago that speculated about why it was that the Knight-Ridder reporters got the story right (in hindsight), while the more-prestigious outlets bungled it, and one of the main reasons cited was that the Knight-Ridder reporters, lacking the sexy credentials of the folks from the New York Times and CNN, tended not to get interviews with the top sources, but instead had to develop their stories the old-fashioned way: by talking to the government foot soldiers lower down in the table of organization, people who weren’t as wedded to the false-to-fact talking points, and actually talked about what was really going on.

Anyway, it looks like the Knight-Ridder people are still doing real journalism, in this case, by reading weblogs. Check out this piece, for example: Bush administration eliminating 19-year-old international terrorism report. It seems the Bush people, unhappy with the way that the State Department’s annual report on global terrorism reveals that Bush is losing his War on Terra, have decided to simply eliminate the report.

That’s one way to beat terror! Not a particularly effective way, but then, Bush has never demonstrated any particular effectiveness at anything (other than the promotion of a mistaken belief in his own effectiveness).

The Knight-Ridder story was developed from information presented in the Counterrerroism Blog; see Goodbye Patterns of Global Terrorism? Yay, weblogs.

The Rooter Paper

Monday, April 18th, 2005

Some enterprising students at MIT submitted an academic paper to the upcoming World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI), and the paper was accepted for presentation at the conference. There’s only one problem: The paper itself was a computer-generated stream of gibberish and random buzzphrases, with no actual meaningful content. From CNN: MIT students┬ápull prank on conference.

Samir’s Story of the Saddam Hussein Capture

Friday, April 15th, 2005

Having previously linked to the (unconfirmed, and since shown to be pretty clearly bogus, as far as I can tell) story of the guy who said Saddam was not captured in the infamous spider hole, I feel compelled to point out this story: I punched Saddam in the mouth.

Thanks to Bravo for the link.

The Coming Global Petroleum Withdrawal

Sunday, April 10th, 2005

There will be a socialization class in room 700 for citizens cited for deviations 23-A and 96-A per subchapter six of the Permanent Emergency Code…

Something worth a good deal of thought, I think, is how we of the First World plan on coping with the upcoming end of our collective petrochemical binge. See, for example, this Rolling Stone article by James Howard Kunstler: The long emergency.

US Iraq War Deaths Down in March

Sunday, April 10th, 2005

Deaths of US military personnel in Iraq continued to decline in March, giving us the best month (relatively speaking) in just over a year. Since Bush has previously claimed that increased US deaths are a sign of progress (because such increases show that “the insurgency is getting desperate”), I suppose a strictly logical interpretation would be that the decline in the number of US deaths is bad, since it shows that the insurgency is gaining confidence.

I don’t expect Bush to be logically consistent in that sense, though. I don’t expect him to claim the reduced deaths are a bad sign, or even a good sign; I expect him to make no public acknowledgement of them whatsoever. But they’re still happening, with the following charts giving an idea of the numerical trend so far.

Again, I’m getting these figures from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville’s page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.

The first graph shows the first 24 months of each war. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the same chart, with the Vietnam numbers extended out to cover the first four years of the war:

Finally, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

Disclaimer: I’m aware that we have more troops in-theater in Iraq than we had during the corresponding parts of the Vietnam War graph. Vietnam didn’t get numbers of US troops comparable to the number currently in Iraq until shortly after Johnson won the 1964 election, some three-and-a-half years after the starting point of the Vietnam graphs above.

These graphs are not intended to show the relative lethality of the two conflicts on a per-soldier basis. I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and these graphs let me see that. You are free to draw your own conclusions.

Sven’s Freeway Protest

Sunday, April 10th, 2005

On April 5, valued contributor Sven sent in the following report of his participation in a freeway-overpass protest of Governator Schwarzenegger. I’ve had kind of a hectic week, and didn’t get around to posting it until now; sorry about that. Anyway, awesome job, Sven! Here it is:

While it hasn’t been getting much media attention, you’re probably aware of our California Governor’s fundraising and petition efforts to force a “Special Election” costing our state $70 million tax-dollars. I’m sure by now you’ve seen the petitioners, as they seem to be everywhere. With Jenny being a teacher, we personally feel threatened by what the Governator is doing to the teachers, firefighters, police officers, nurses, and other state employees by trying to take away their retirement pensions, as well as his half-baked “Merit Pay for Teachers” idea. Perhaps he thinks punishing these state employees is a good way to balance his bankrupt budget. In our view, driving teachers out of the profession will only further damage our schools. Classes sizes have grown too large, and we need more teachers, not fewer.

I guess if the petitioners were a legitimate grass-roots effort, I wouldn’t be bothered so much by them. But knowing that they are getting paid $5 for each person they con into signing their petitions really infuriates me. I’ve tried arguing with them in front of the grocery store that what they are doing is wrong, but I usually just end up feeling worse for it. Instead my wife and I feel limited now on where we can shop. If we see any sign of the Arnold Brigade, we usually go to another store.

So this last Friday, Jenny and I tried something different. While I believe it only got brief mention in our local news, Democracy for America had organized a protest against what the Governor was doing. While we’ve never done anything like it before, we decided to participate in their efforts by “Freeway Blogging.”

We went to one of the many overpasses where the protests were to take place around 4:45 pm, just in time for rush hour. When we got their, I was at first a little put off. There were only two other individuals at the Palomar Airport overpass of the 5 Freeway in Carlsbad protest site. While I was hesitant, Jenny pointed out: “we’ll double their numbers!” So we went and met up with Bryan and Sue, who had been their for a short while with their protest signs bungied to the fence of the bridge. We contributed our pathetic little 11 x 17 sign: “The cost of $wartzRenegers Special Election: $70,000,000.00”, and bungied it to the fence as well. We protested for an hour or so, and we found it much more rewarding than arguing with the petitioners. While we did receive a handfull of one-fingered salutes, most of the responses we received from the oncoming stop-and-go traffic was actually quite positive. Among some of them:

  • Nearly half the cars honked, waved, or gave us a thumbs up to our Anti-Swarzenegger propaganda
  • A Carlsbad Policeman and CHP stopped separately to say that they supported our efforts, and of course agreed with our protest, but that they had received a phone call from a “concerned citizen.” They asked what our signs said, and let us know we could not “bungie” them to the fence. As long as we held on to them, we were with in the law. We thanked them with a smile as they left us to continue our protest.
  • a handfull of cars gave us the “heavy-metal” hand signal, and one gave a shout of “Anarchy”. I took these to be positive gestures.
  • One passerby shouted “Show us your [breasts]” — although they didn’t use the word breasts. I believe they were referring to Jenny, although I suppose they could have been talking to me. Again, we took this as a positive statement.

Attached is a rather blurry photo of us taken by Bryan’s wife as she drove past on the freeway:

Sven on the overpass

I believe it is at this moment that we are talking to the very polite CHP officer (not visible). In all, it was a lot more fun than I would have expected, however futile our efforts might be to stop Arnie. It seems anyone with $50 million dollars to spend and an axe to grind can get whatever they want on the ballot in our state.

Since you wont hear much about it in the regular media, check for more info on what our Governor has been doing. Also, daily kos has some interesting reports on events at a California Target store. And later today 10,000 nurses are protesting in San Fransisco.

If you think it worthy, feel free to post our story to — it would really make our day. Since I’m a designer, and not a writer, edit it however you like. Thanks!


Update: Later, Sven forwarded this link to me: CA Gov. 2006: The tipping point. Shortly after that, he sent me the following message:

Victory! at least this round:

Perhaps our protest wasn’t so futile. I guess Arnold got the message when he had angry nurses, firemen (firepeople?), off-duty police, and teachers pounding on his limo as he was leaving his fundraiser in S.F. the other night.

IE’s ‘Best Gig Ever’ Action

Sunday, April 10th, 2005

This actually took place a while ago, but This American Life did a segment about it this weekend, and I caught it in the car and really loved it.

The story concerns those wacky comedy guerrillas at Improv Everywhere (previously linked to for their McDonald’s bathroom attendant mission), who picked out a newish, mostly unknown rock band called Ghosts of Pasha (G.O.P.) that was scheduled to perform a gig late on a Sunday night at NYC’s Mercury Lounge. Normally such a show would have had about three paying customers. But 35 IE agents prepared themselves by downloading songs from the G.O.P. web site, and then showed up and gave the boys in the band their best gig ever.

The story makes for a fascinating twist on the question of who is the performer and who is the audience. The members of G.O.P. were (naturally) weirded out by the unexpectedly big crowd that was whooping and dancing, singing along with every song, but they soon got into it, as band and audience fed off each other’s energy.

Within a few days the band figured out what happened; see their comments on the IE site: band response.

It sounds like it was a lot of good, clean fun. The episode isn’t available yet on This American Life’s 2005 show archive page, but it should be there shortly. Highly recommended.

California Organ Donors Database – FINALLY!

Monday, April 4th, 2005

I’m normally all about the quirky, offbeat, absurd news – but not today, this is important:

The myth is that once you signed up to be a donor at the Department of Motor Vehicles, your name and data went into a central registry. Not so. There never was such a registry, making it uncertain that such preferences were noticed or honored. Donor networks say less than 10 percent of the driver’s licenses with dots are produced when needed. Often the person dying doesn’t have a license along when brought to a hospital, and relatives don’t always know that the individual signed up to donate organs.

Starting today, there is an official Organ and Tissue Donor Registry for the state of California. This is a really great program, the kind of program that can really save lives — too bad bureaucratic shit prevented it from going into effect 4 years ago.

If you live in California please consider registering, and if you ever get a chance thank Sen. Jackie Speier.

More mp3 players and bikinis…

Monday, April 4th, 2005

So like, here I go again with more prurient entertainment. I’ve recently become burned out with the arguement or the debates or whatever we’re calling it here. Some people have tried to go fact for fact and are polite in their posts (jbc) (TeacherVet) others are a little more vitriolic but still good people (Rise Against).

However none of us are really changing each other minds at all, or even offering up more food for thought. I’ve been a Libertarian leaning independent for years and will probably be for years to come. I’ve become worn out already with the stupidity and namecalling (except when I’m being stupid and calling people names).

So from now on, I’m going to try and keep it light. Without further ado, college chicks in bikinis, its iPose. And iPod minis, they have those too. (There are dudes for people who like dudes, but I think the people who like chicks are gettin’ a better deal with this one.)