Archive for November, 2006

Happy Feet Good. Casino Royale, Eh, Okay

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

Capsule review of my holiday cinema-going:

Happy Feet: Unexpectedly awesome, and proof that you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a CGI animal movie. Casino Royale: Expectedly just a Bond movie, and confirmation that yes, I really did outgrow that genre sometime in late adolescence.

N.J. Teacher Busted for Teaching Creationism

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

File this one with Monica’s blue dress, Ted Haggard’s recorded phone messages, the cameraphone video of Mostafa Tabatabainejad being tasered at UCLA, and Michael Richards trying (and failing) to be funny while dropping the N-bomb on hecklers. It’s all well and good to be present when something shockingly noteworthy is happening, but having documented evidence of the shockingly noteworthy something is way better.

In this case, a high school student in New Jersey went to his principal and said his history teacher was teaching creationism in class. After a month of complaining, the kid finally got a meeting with the teacher and the principal. And the kid was apparently getting nowhere with his charges — until he produced audio recordings: Student tapes teacher proselytizing in class.


Paszkiewicz shot down the theories of evolution and the “Big Bang” in favor of creationism. He also told his class that dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark, LaClair said.

On Oct. 10 — a month after he first requested a meeting with the principal — LaClair met with Paszkiewicz, Somma and the head of the social studies department.

At first, Paszkiewicz denied he mixed in religion with his history lesson, and the adults in the room appeared to be buying it, LaClair said. But then he reached into his backpack and produced the CDs.

Scott Adams: We Should Leave Iraq. Here’s Why.

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

Scott Adams (yes, of Dilbert) has a weblog. Who knew? (Well, a whole lot more people than know about, clearly, judging by the volume of his comments.)

And it’s not just some marketing come-on exhorting you to read the comic strip. It’s a real, grown-up weblog, running on Typepad and with an open comments section. And Adams writes about real, grown-up weblog topics. As in this recent posting, on why we should leave Iraq: Complicated decisions.

Dressing Up As Animals

Friday, November 17th, 2006

A fun little link, with photos reposted from Swiss design student Geoffrey Cottenceau’s thesis project, in which he dresses himself up as various animals using common items from the closet. Um, it’s more impressive than it sounds.

More of Cottenceau’s cool projects at

Thanks to Hiro for the link.

36 Views of Mostafa Tabatabainejad Being Tasered

Friday, November 17th, 2006

You’ve probably already seen the 6-minute video of UCLA student Mostafa Tabatabainejad being repeatedly tasered by the campus police. If you haven’t, it’s definitely worth checking out on YouTube: UCLA student gets Tazered. It’s also worth reading some of the details about the incident from the Daily Bruin: Community responds to Taser use in Powell.

If you want polarized interpretations by people who always know what to think without bothering to actually think first, check out Michelle Malkin: Screaming UCLA student tasered, and then maybe follow that up with jumpingfish: He had an ethnic name.

A few things I find noteworthy about the video:

  • We don’t see the beginning of the incident. Despite the proliferation of video-capable cameraphones, this seems likely to remain an impediment to ubiquitous public oversight of random cop/perp interactions, at least until we get always-on personal video surveillance.
  • As compelling as the central action is, I find myself getting caught up in the crowd reaction. I especially like the point after the third (by my count) tasing, when the onlookers’ collective sense of outrage suddenly crosses a threshold, and there’s this surge forward, almost despite the inclinations of the individual observers.
  • Part of the reason for my being distracted by the crowd dynamic is that the person filming this was a bad director. Please, can we get someone from the film school to record the next incident? At least the audio is pretty compelling. My vote for best dialog isn’t Tabatabainejad’s “Here’s your Patriot Act! Here’s your fucking abuse of power!” (though that’s certainly worth an honorable mention). Nor is it the officers telling him calmly, repeatedly to “Stand up… stand up or you’ll get tased again.” No, I think the most-significant dialog is the part at the end of the video, when one of the officers, letting his guard down now that Tabatabainejad has been carried from the building, indulges in the following response to one of the angry onlookers: “Get back upstairs or you’ll get tased too.”

There’s an interesting emotional overlay for me in watching this video, because I attended UCLA for a number of years, and during that time I worked in the Community Service Officer (CSO) program. It was a CSO who started this incident, in a sense, by asking Tabatabainejad for his ID, and then using his radio to call the campus police when he refused to produce it. I’m not sure, but I assume that’s the CSO in question, in the final part of the video, after Tabatabainejad has been carried out of the building; you can recognize him by the blue jacket he’s wearing, with the big gold rectangle on the back with “Community Service Officer” inside it. Those are the same jackets we wore back in the day.

I worked as a CSO at UC Irvine during my freshman year in college, then continued to do so at UCLA during my four years there, ending with my graduation in 1985. During a couple of those years I was in charge of the CSO program’s hiring and training operation. I also spent a lot of graveyard shifts patrolling the UCLA Medical Center, where I had the closest thing I ever experienced to the incident shown in this video. In my case, a person who’d been signed in on a 72-hour hold (for drugs? or general danger-to-himself-or-others behavior? I never found out), decided to rip out his IV needle and walk off the ward he was on, and as luck would have it, came walking down the corridor I was in shortly after the call went out over the radio to be on the lookout for him.

Hilarity ensued.

Anyway, I certainly came away from that incident with a newfound appreciation for the men and women of the UCLA Police Department. And I watch this video with a certain sympathy for the officers, as they proceed to repeatedly zap Tabatabainejad.

The video notwithstanding, I wasn’t there. I think the reality of the situation is probably more complicated than jumpingfish would have it, and I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated than Michelle Malkin would have it. But I also think the video makes it pretty clear what the officers’ attitude was, which was: we are going to keep inflicting severe pain on you until you do what we tell you to do. It’s not about our safety. It’s about us imposing our will. It’s about us making you walk out of here under your own power, so we don’t have to carry you. It’s about us being in charge, and dishing out punishment until you decide to stop being obnoxious. And I know that’s a pretty standard part of the cop mindset, but yeah, I think Tabatabainejad has a point: I think that sort of attitude has been more openly displayed since 9/11, and I’m pretty sure if I were a Muslim male being treated this way, I’d interpret it through the same political filter he did. And in the final analysis, I think what the cops did went beyond the role that the police, ideally, are supposed to play.

At the same time, I sympathize with the cops. The one thing that working as a CSO definitely taught me is that police officers aren’t necessarily villains, and they’re not necessarily heroes. They’re just people, with the same emotions and decision-making apparatus as the rest of us.

Well, and guns. And tasers. And a job description that includes going into whatever ridiculous, complicated, dangerous situations happen to arise, and figuring out in realtime how to fix them, so the rest of us can go about our happy little oblivious lives.

As a practical matter, there’s going to be some sloppiness in that process. That’s unfortunate, but it’s also reality.

David Davis: My Borat Back Story

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

I still haven’t seen Borat. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be terribly funny. I mostly didn’t laugh at Ali G., though, and I suspect that Borat is going to be a lot more of the same for me. I think I used up my Borat humor supply the first three or four times I saw him doing an in-character interview promoting the movie. Whatever.

In the meantime, though, I found this piece interesting: Borat. It’s by investing expert Andrew Tobias, who reposts a lengthy email from one of his readers, a guy named David Davis who apparently is one of the victims portrayed in the movie. Davis writes:

Oh, I’m famous all right. People stare at me on the DART light rail and wonder where they’ve seen me. (I’ve been in movie trailers all summer long.) Friends all over the country – and abroad! – have e-mailed and called me. Of course, the reaction is: OH MY GOSH, I KNOW THAT GUY! THAT’S DAVID DAVIS FROM THE ADOLPHUS! WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HE DOING IN THIS FILM? Friends in Hollywood have said, “When did you start acting?” I was recently introduced to Michael Sheen (he plays Tony Blair in THE QUEEN) as a fellow thespian. His face lit up as though I were truly a legitimate actor. I could’ve have crawled under the carpet and died.

On a certain level I understand the appeal of making fun of Red America. But getting people to sign releases by lying to them, then ambushing them with over-the-top obnoxiousness in order to film their reactions, seems kind of, I don’t know. What’s the word I’m looking for?

Oh, right: Lame.

Still. I should probably see the movie before passing judgement. Maybe it’s really just The Funniest Thing Evar, and I (and David Davis) need to lighten up.

Bush’s Lie on Rumsfeld

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

I don’t think it’s the most important story of the day by a long stretch, but as the presidential falsehood journal of record I’d be remiss if I didn’t note this in passing. A week before the election, Bush answered questions for a small group of reporters in the Oval Office, in the course of which he was asked about whether he’d given thought to replacing Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. Bush replied that Rumsfeld was doing a heck of a job (in effect), and that he would be keeping him in place for the next two years (see Terrence Hunt’s AP story: Bush says Rumsfeld, Cheney should stay).

Fast forward to the press conference shortly after the election, at which Bush announced that Rumsfeld was being replaced, and at which this exchange took place (video and transcript available from Think Progress: Bush admits he lied about Rumsfeld for political purposes):

REPORTER: Last week you told us Secretary Rumsfeld would be staying on. Why is the timing right now, and how much does it have to do with the election results?

BUSH: You and Hunt and Keil came into the Oval Office and asked me to question one week before the campaign. Basically, are you going to do something about Rumsfeld and the Vice President? The reason why is I did not want to make a major decision in the final days of the campaign. The only way to answer that question, and get it on to another question, was to give you that answer. The truth of the matter is as well, that is one reason I gave the answer. The other reason why is I had not had a chance to visit with Bob Gates yet. I had not had my final conversation with Don Rumsfeld yet at that point. I had been talking with Don Rumsfeld over a period of time about fresh perspectives. He likes to call it fresh eyes.

It’s a little tortured to follow Bush’s explanation; watching the video, especially, I’m reminded of certain conversations I’ve had with my daughter in the wake of some action of hers I’m not happy with. But all told, what Bush is clearly saying is, “Yeah, I lied when you asked me that question, because we were in the final days of a campaign, and for political reasons I chose to be dishonest.”

There’s been a fair amount of discussion of this by both righty and lefty (and center-y) folks. Some of the more-interesting commentary I’ve seen is:

Kevin Drum, in particular, thinks this isn’t a big deal. He writes:

But, really, this has gotten way too much attention. There’s a pretty broad-based understanding, after all, that personnel issues are special: you’re expected to deny that anything is going on until the minute you make an official announcement. And there’s really no other way to do things. You can’t refuse to ever comment on your own subordinates, but at the same time you can’t give away future personnel moves by suddenly clamming up about them. The result is a kabuki dance accepted by everyone in which you’re allowed to lie about this stuff until something official happens.

However, this lying is typically a bit more smoothly done. What this kerfuffle really shows is that Bush must have been pretty rattled by the specter of upcoming defeat and then by the massive defeat itself.

I guess I’m mostly with Kevin Drum on this not being some terribly significant example of presidential lying. The most noteworthy part of it, for me, ends up being Bush’s casual “yeah, I lied. What about it?” response, and what that says about his evolving attitude toward his job, the press, and the public.

Some in righty blogistan have complained that if Bush knew he was getting rid of Rumsfeld before the election, he should have said so then, so he could have picked up some votes for being flexible on Iraq, thereby averting at least the loss of the Senate. What this misses, I think, is that Bush is better at doing those sorts of calculations than the average bear. What his response to the reporters hinted at, and what I think the righty complainers are missing, is that Bush’s Iraq policy is such a house of cards at this point that any acknowledgement of error (which is how a pre-election announcement of Rumsfeld’s ouster would have been seen) could have cost Bush many more votes than it gained.

At least, I’m pretty sure that’s how Bush saw it before the election. Now that the election is over, the lie is no longer useful, so out it goes. And if Bush couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to do even a minimal amount of sugar-coating on the about-face, it’s just another indication that for him, this whole Leader of the Free World thing has pretty much stopped being fun.

A Night to Remember

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

It’s been a while since I had a happy election experience. Last night was definitely one for the ages.

I hoped the House would change hands, but couldn’t let myself really believe it would happen. I was steeling myself for the inevitable shock and outrage I would feel as I saw how low the other side was willing to go to get and hold onto power.

And then, amazingly, it happened. Democrats took the House, and took it with authority. Huzzah.

Actually, though, another thing that buffered my normal unhealthy level of pre-election obsessing was that for the first time, I was personally involved. Not in the sense of ranting on this site about things happening in other parts of the country, but in the sense that I was volunteering for a local City Council candidate, Al Clark, who I really believed in.

I set up Al’s web site, and organized the voter data and walking lists, went to meetings to participate in strategy planning, and did a little canvassing, knocking on my neighbors’ doors and passing out literature. It was fun, and more importantly, it helped me keep my perspective. Maybe we were going to win, maybe we were going to lose, but either way, I knew I was doing my part.

So as the returns were coming in showing the House changing hands, I was at a party where we all were more interested in the results of the local City Council and School Board elections. And we won! In a five-way race for three seats, Al came in second, and the two candidates he’d endorsed and who had endorsed him came in first and third. And in a three-way race for two seats on the School Board, again, the candidates I supported won.

And as the cherry on top, today I watched as the result I never really considered likely came to pass: the Senate switched hands, too. Wow.

Now, realistically, I know that this doesn’t really change much. Bush is still President, we’re still stuck in a stupid, stupid war with no good options, and the architects of the current fiasco will be working overtime to shift the blame onto anyone else they can find. And the Democrats with their newfound subpoena power and committee chairmanships (What’s that? you say Jay Rockefeller will be the new chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence? Well, lordy, I wonder if that might help us finally finish up Phase Whatever of the investigation into how the Bush administration misused intelligence to railroad us into the aforementioned stupid, stuipd war); ahem, as I was saying, the Democrats with their new oversight and agenda-setting power could still screw things up.

But at least now we’ve got a chance to start moving things in the right direction.

I think I was actually pretty good about not indulging in the snarky stuff this time. And I don’t really want to go there now. But I can’t resist posting the following image from Rick Santorum’s concession speech:

There there, Sarah Maria. I know what you’re going through. This too shall pass, I promise.

Happy midterm election of 2006, everyone.

Republican Robo Calls Dirty Trick

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

Check out the latest innovation from your friends in the winning-is-better-than-actual-democracy National Republican Congressional Committee. The way it works is this: The NRCC is funding automated “robo calls” to voters in key Congressional districts where the Democratic and Republican candidates are running neck-and-neck. So far no big deal. But the calls actually begin with a line like, “Here is important information about [insert name of Democratic candidate].” If the recipient listens to the whole call, they get a misleading smear against that candidate. But if the recipient hangs up before the message is finished, the call is automatically repeated up to 5 or 6 times in quick succession, making sure that the recipient gets well and truly pissed — at the Democratic candidate, who the recipient assumes is the one behind the annoying calls.

See Joshua Marshall’s Talking Points Memo for the emerging details:

It’s a win-win scenario for the people paying for the calls. See, the downside of robo calls (and of phone canvassing generally, but robo calls in particular) is their potential to annoy the recipient. But this way, the folks at the NRCC can have their cake and eat it too. If the recipient listens to the whole thing, they get a misleading attack ad. And if they get annoyed at the message, the misleading nature of the message makes it so the bad karma accrues to the Democratic candidate, not the Republican. And the repeat-calls-in-response-to-hangups technique serves to maximize the annoyance factor.

It’s fiendishly clever. And misleading, and evil, and anti-democracy. That is to say, it’s just the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from today’s Republican Party.

Haggard: I Am a Deceiver and a Liar

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

The Ted Haggard story was an interesting example of high-profile lying. The footage of him being interviewed in his car on Friday, with his wife and kids, was especially powerful stuff. Check out the video, if you haven’t seen it yet: Haggard interview (WMV file).

But that interview was actually the second act (or so) in this three-act public tragedy (or comedy, depending on your sympathies). First came the earlier interview, from last Wednesday, in which Pastor Ted claimed not to know his accuser. Check that out here: Deborah Sherman on her two Ted Haggard interviews (WMV file).

If you just watch the second interview, in the car, it’s hard not to believe the guy is telling the truth. There’s a directness, an affected artlessness, to his manner, that is really compelling. He just exudes trustworthiness. Which shouldn’t be shocking, I realize, for a highly successful televangelist.

What happened between the first and second interviews is that his accuser produced audio recordings of Haggard’s messages, left on the accuser’s phone, and audio experts indicated that the voice probably was Haggard’s. It was Monica’s blue dress all over again. Haggard’s second interview put as good a face on things as he could, but with that first interview already out there, there was no way to reconcile the two statements. And once you realized that in at least one of those two statements Haggard had to be lying, it was all over.

And so today we got the third act. Haggard had the following read aloud to his former congregation at Sunday service: Statement by Ted Haggard.

The last four days have been so difficult for me, my family and all of you, and I have further confused the situation with some of the things I’ve said during interviews with reporters who would catch me coming or going from my home. But I alone am responsible for the confusion caused by my inconsistent statements. The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.

I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life.

So, there you go. Think about that, people, the next time someone seems oh-so-trustworthy, oh-so-sympathetic. Surely Pastor Ted, of all people, couldn’t be lying to me.

Actually, yeah, he could.

U.S. Deaths in Iraq vs. Vietnam: The Handoff

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

Here are the updated graphs for October. The US death counts for the Iraq and Vietnam wars were almost exactly even last month (105 for Iraq, 104 for Vietnam). Granted, it’s an artificial juxtaposition, based on a somewhat arbitrary starting point for the Vietnam graph. But it seems like an odd irony, at least.

As you can see from the version of the graph that covers the entire Vietnam War, this is almost certainly going to wind up being the crossover point in the two graphs; the Vietnam numbers spike up dramatically from this point on, while I’d be surprised if the Iraq numbers didn’t continue more or less the same going forward. It seems fitting, in a way, as the war is poised to enter a new political phase, with Democrats in the House widely predicted to gain subpoena and agenda-setting power in Tuesday’s midterm election.

As always, I’m comparing the US military casualties in Iraq 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 45 months of the comparison. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

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

Disclaimer: I’ve been accused of comparing apples to oranges in these graphs. For the record, here’s what I am not arguing:

  • 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 were more troops in Iraq in the early going than were in Vietnam during the “corresponding” parts of the graphs. Similarly, for later years in Vietnam, when the monthly death toll exceeds the current Iraq numbers, there were many more troops in place.
  • I am not saying that Iraq is somehow “worse” than Vietnam. 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.

The Smallness of George Bush’s America

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

From the Washington Post: U.S. seeks silence on CIA prisons.

The Bush administration has told a federal judge that terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons should not be allowed to reveal details of the “alternative interrogation methods” that their captors used to get them to talk.

The government says in new court filings that those interrogation methods are now among the nation’s most sensitive national security secrets and that their release — even to the detainees’ own attorneys — “could reasonably be expected to cause extremely grave damage.”


Because Khan “was detained by CIA in this program, he may have come into possession of information, including locations of detention, conditions of detention, and alternative interrogation techniques that is classified at the TOP SECRET//SCI level,” an affidavit from CIA Information Review Officer Marilyn A. Dorn states…

Kevin Drum, in Torture and secrecy, writes:

This highlights the fundamental corruption of the human soul that torture causes. We know it’s wrong, so not only do we torture prisoners, but we then do what we must to conceal what we’ve done. And then we try to conceal even that. Torture and secrecy, secrecy and torture, world without end.

That’s not America. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Nope. America, the real America, the America I was born and raised in, is the home of patriots willing to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. It’s a nation that faced the Civil War, and the Great Depression. It’s a nation that waded ashore on Omaha Beach, and raised the flag on Iwo Jima. It’s a nation that landed on the Moon.

George Bush wants to turn my America into a very different sort of country, into a pissant little dictatorship, fearful of the outside world, fearful of its own people, fearful of the truth. George Bush’s America would never have dared to sign the Declaration of Independence, or travel with Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, or free the slaves, or defeat Hitler, or ride a rocket to another world. George Bush’s America would have peed on itself in the face of any of those terrors.

I’d hate to live in a country like that.

Drum on Holding the Neocons Accountable for Iraq

Saturday, November 4th, 2006

In the middle of all the last-minute silliness of the midterm elections, Kevin Drum takes note of something more serious: The Neocon rehabilitation project.

The neocons have always been idealists, and their ideals saw full flower in the Iraq war. A show of force in one country, plenty of threats against its neighbors, a disdain for multilateral action, and an occupation designed to be a showpiece of conservative ideology rather than a serious attempt at reconstructing a society. That’s what the neocons wanted, and that’s what they got. The rest is details.

The failure of Iraq is inherent in the naive idealism and fixated ideology of neoconservatism, and shame on us if we let them get away with suggesting otherwise. This is one rehabilitation project that needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.