Archive for March, 2006

Justinsomnia’s Cease-and-Desist Letter from Exodus International

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

Speaking of the domain dispute, I enjoyed reading about Justinsomnia’s recent dealings with Exodus International over his parody of the anti-gay group’s billboard: My first cease-and-desist letter. I especially liked the snarky use of scare quotes in the C-and-D:

You appear to believe that the stolen image is exempt from federal intellectual property laws as a “parody” due to “fair use.” Unfortunately, the intricacies of federal law cannot adequately be covered on “Wikipedia” due to the variety of facts addressed by courts in numerous cases.

Yeah, well, despite the efforts of “lawyers” who work on behalf of “organizations” that believe the US would be better off as a “theocracy,” we do in fact continue to live in a “country” that has a “Constitution” that guarantees certain “rights.” And now, thanks to the efforts of the ACLU, and a well-crafted response from lawyer Laurence F. Pulgram of Fenwick & West, Exodus International appears to have backed off.

From Pulgram’s conclusion:

Exodus may not find the parody humorous and may dislike people mocking its views. Nevertheless, Mr. Watt’s parody is precisely the free expression that the copyright laws protect. There is no colorable legal basis for any claim against Mr. Watt. Mr. Watt therefore expects that Exodus will abandon its attempts to censor a viewpoint with which it disagrees.

Heh. In your “face,” Exodus.

Rogers Cadenhead Joins the ‘People Abused by Dave Winer’ Club

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Interesting guy and flaming narcissist Dave Winer has claimed another victim: Rogers Cadenhead, the net celebrity who gave its first big boost of fame by linking from his to my domain dispute page. Cadenhead has recently been one of the more-prominent defenders of Dave against his critics, but now it seems he has fallen out of favor with the big guy: Letter from Dave Winer’s attorney.

Dave actually sounds fairly restrained about the whole thing so far, but based on prior history I’d assume there’s a pretty good chance of some bigtime flames coming our way.

Chris Floyd on Dead Iraqi Children

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Chris Floyd is very unhappy about the ongoing consequences of George Bush’s war of choice: Children of Abraham: Death in the Desert.

Philosoraptor on Why It Does Not Matter

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

God, I love Winston Smith of Philosoraptor. I wish I still had time to hang on his every utterance in real time. Still, dipping in for the occasional bracing dose of clarity is fun, too. Anyway: It does not matter whether or not there were WMDs in Iraq.

Even if there had been WMDs in Iraq, this would not have made the administration honest. It would have made them lucky. If I trick you into believing that there’s gold in them thar hills by, say, fabricating or distorting geological data, then I am a liar–even if, by sheer luck, you do find gold there.

More on David Sibley and the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

Some interesting followup links to my earlier story on bird-identification expert David Sibley’s problems with the claims for rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker:

Big Lies from a Diminished President

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

You know I can’t resist a piece with a title like this: Back to the big lie. It’s by John Nichols at The Nation, and covers Bush’s response to the softball question from the Fox News reporter at yesterday’s press conference.

As long as I’m talking about the press conference, here’s the Helen Thomas portion:

THE PRESIDENT: …Helen. After that brilliant performance at the Grid Iron, I am — (laughter.)

Q You’re going to be sorry. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, then, let me take it back. (Laughter.)

Q I’d like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet — your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth — what was your real reason? You have said it wasn’t oil — quest for oil, it hasn’t been Israel, or anything else. What was it?

THE PRESIDENT: I think your premise — in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist — is that — I didn’t want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect —

Q Everything —

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on for a second, please.

Q — everything I’ve heard —

THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, excuse me. No President wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it’s just simply not true. My attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. We — when we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people. Our foreign policy changed on that day, Helen. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life. And I’m never going to forget it. And I’m never going to forget the vow I made to the American people that we will do everything in our power to protect our people.

Part of that meant to make sure that we didn’t allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy. And that’s why I went into Iraq — hold on for a second —

Q They didn’t do anything to you, or to our country.

THE PRESIDENT: Look — excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That’s where al Qaeda trained —

Q I’m talking about Iraq —

THE PRESIDENT: Helen, excuse me. That’s where — Afghanistan provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That’s where they trained. That’s where they plotted. That’s where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans.

I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That’s why I went to the Security Council; that’s why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences —

Q — go to war —

THE PRESIDENT: — and therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.

[Another reporter’s] Q Thank you, sir. Secretary Rumsfeld — (laughter.)

[Helen’s] Q Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: You’re welcome. (Laughter.) I didn’t really regret it. I kind of semi-regretted it. (Laughter.)

Q — have a debate.

THE PRESIDENT: That’s right. Anyway, your performance at the Grid Iron was just brilliant — unlike Holland’s, was a little weak, but — (laughter.)

[To new reporter.] Sorry.

Have I mentioned how proud I am of Helen Thomas?

On the subject of Bush’s current Iraq war PR blitz, I really want to see the video of Monday’s speech Bush gave in Cleveland, and the hour-long Q-and-A he had with the crowd after. There were some really interesting questions and responses. My goal in watching the video, though (assuming I can find it), is to look for evidence that Bush was (or wasn’t) wired for discreet prompting at the event.

Yes! My obsession with the secret-earpiece story continues!

Heh. That was for you, Craig.

WordPress Upgrade

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

I’ve updated to the nifty new version of WordPress. All the changes are (or should be) behind the scenes; if you notice anything different about the site please let me know. Thanks!

Just Look At That Progress!

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

Haha. Check out the graph of US Iraq war fatalities that accompanied a brief news item at AOL (Where Are We Headed?):

And you guys rag on me for being misleading.

ThinkProgress has more. Thanks to Janus for the link.

Sibley: I Didn’t Include the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in My Book, So It Doesn’t Exist

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

The New York Times has a brief article on the latest news regarding the rediscovery of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker: Is Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Alive? A Debate Emerges.

Basically, David Sibley, author of the best field guide to North American birds, has a brief item in the current issue of Science questioning the validity of claims for recent sightings of the bird in Arkansas (Comment on “Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) Persists in Continental North America”).

The authors of the original Science article on the rediscovery have a response in the same issue (Response to Comment on “Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) Persists in Continental North America”).

Basically, Sibley’s all wet. If you read his (and his co-authors’) criticisms, and the original authors’ response, he really just flat-out loses the argument.

Since Sibley is in some ways the leading expert in the country on bird identification, his criticism is getting a lot of attention. But speaking as someone who’s been involved, at least peripherally, in the world of obsessive birders for more than 30 years, I’ve got my own take on what’s going on here.

Basically, Sibley represents the extreme example of something that turned me off from competitive birding (and yeah, for a certain type of person it actually is a competition) a long time ago. Really obsessive birders tend to be skeptical of claims made by anyone less expert than themselves. Being better at finding and identifying “good” birds (by which they mean, rarities, either birds that are locally rare because they are occurring outside their normal range, or absolute rarities, because there just aren’t very many of them) is how they measure their status, and in that scheme of things, the Ivory-Bill really is the holy grail. For someone like Sibley, the fact that he hasn’t personally seen and identified an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, while someone else claims to have done so, represents a significant challenge to his sense of self-worth.

This is the same thing that annoys me about certain way-committed skeptics of the paranormal. You can be wrong by being too skeptical, just as you can be wrong by being too credulous. Being skeptical to the point of error isn’t a virtue; you’re still wrong. That’s the trap Sibley has fallen into here. Podcast 13

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

If you’re dying to hear me go on (and on) about the usual stuff, here you go: Podcast 13. Among the usual stuff in this installment:

  • My take (at last!) on the Cheney shooting accident.
  • Some chatter about the Claude Allen shoplifting (sort of) story.
  • Gushing fanboy love for Paul Hackett, the Daily Show, and Ed Helms, and corresponding scorn for the Democratic party generally and Iraq-war-supporting tools in particular.
  • A (too brief) account of my (too brief) encounter with kickass Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA).
  • A shout out to the Best Podcast Evar: The Hollywood Saloon.

Three Years In

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

Here are the updated graphs of US war deaths in Iraq for February, with 55 US fatalities during the month. As always, I’m comparing the military casualties to those from the Vietnam war at a similar point in each war’s political lifetime (which some have charged is misleading; see disclaimer below).

The data come 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 36 months of each war. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

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

Disclaimer: Every so often someone comes along and says I’m guilty of intellectual dishonesty by comparing apples to oranges in these graphs. For the record, here’s what I am not arguing with these graphs:

  • I’m not saying that Iraq is somehow deadlier per soldier-on-the-ground than Vietnam. For both wars, the number of fatalities in any given month tracks pretty closely with the number of troops deployed (along with the intensity of the combat operations being conducted). There are more troops in Iraq today than were in Vietnam during the “corresponding” parts of the graphs. Similarly, for later years in Vietnam, when the monthly death toll exceeded the current Iraq numbers, there were many more troops in place.
  • I am not saying that Iraq is somehow “worse” than Vietnam, and have not chosen the starting dates for the respective graphs out of a desire to make a dishonest argument to that effect. I include the first graph mainly because I wanted a zoomed-in view of the Iraq data. And I include the second graph, which shows the entire span of the Vietnam war, because I want to be clear about what the data show about overall death tolls — where any rational assessment would have to conclude that, at least so far, Iraq has been far less significant (at least in terms of US combat fatalities) than Vietnam.

I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and how those deaths played out in terms of their political impact inside the US. For that reason, I chose as the starting point for each graph the first fatality that a US president acknowledged (belatedly, in the case of the Vietnam graph, since US involvement in the war “began” under Kennedy, but the acknowledgement was made only later by Johnson) as having resulted from the war in question.

As ever, you are free to draw your own conclusions. And for that matter, you’re free to draw your own graphs, if you have a way of presenting the information that you believe would be better. In that case, feel free to post a comment with a URL to your own version. Thanks.

Galbraith on the Mess of Iraq

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

I know; I’ve been neglecting my duties as collector of interesting falsehoods. Sorry about that.

Here’s one of the best things I’ve read on Iraq in a while. It’s not especially new, but I hadn’t had time to read it until now. From Peter W. Galbraith, writing in the New York Review of Books: The Mess. It covers a couple of books I’ve been meaning to read for a while, Paul Bremer’s My Year in Iraq, and (especially) George Packer’s Assassin’s Gate.

RV Voters for Truth

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

“As you may have heard, South Dakota has just passed a law outlawing all abortions except when the life of the mother is at stake” … but did you kow that South Dakota’s voter registration laws are specifically designed to encourage “RV Voters” — people who are registered to vote in the state even if they are only there for a week or two camping trip each year?

Registering to vote in Sout Dakota just to try and sway future elections may seem far fetched, but it’s aparently quite practical, and there are evidently some other handy benefits. Podcast 12

Saturday, March 4th, 2006

Valued reader Bob writes to ask:

Where’s the Podcast? C’mon

Bob, this is for you: podcast 12. It was recorded three weeks ago, so it has nothing at all about Cheney’s shooting accident, Katrina-related recriminations, and the Dubai port deal, but I finally got around to editing out most of the ums and pauses and loud bangs when I doofishly smacked the microphone into something.

Left in are all of the following:

  • Extended discussion of my addiction to the game Halo. (Note: At one point I’m talking about the different enemy races in the game’s campaign mode, and I inadvertantly say “Covenent” when I meant to say “Flood” — and I don’t notice it as I’m talking, so I’m correcting myself here. Anyway, listen for that.)
  • A (very little) bit about George Bush and domestic eavesdropping.
  • Movie talk about Brokeback Mountain, Sense and Sensibility, Saving Private Ryan, and Rumblefish.

Knock yourselves out.

Zogby Poll of US Troops

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006

Here was my favorite quote from the recent Zogby poll of US troops in Iraq:

While 85% said the U.S. mission is mainly “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks,” 77% said they also believe the main or a major reason for the war was “to stop Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq.”

I realize polls are ridiculous, generally, but this one certainly seems to speak volumes about the view from the trenches.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006

Sorry for the lack of posting lately. I really have been extraordinarily busy.

Here’s a fun item to tide you over: Police Station Intimidation.