Musings of a Philosophical Scrivener...
Idle ramblings of an intermittently philosophical nature... Apologies to Martin Gardner, whose The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener is one of the best books you've (probably) never read.

An Idle Thought...
What a misfortune, and injustice, for the University of Tennessee College of Law that [Glenn "InstaPundit"] Reynolds should now be their best-known faculty member.
--Brian Leiter, Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Texas, Austin

About Me (the condensed version)
A member of the tail end of the boomers; a middle aged recovering lawyer turned professional computer geek. Native of St. Louis, Missouri, transplanted to Memphis, Tennessee. Avid reader, amateur philosopher, St. Louis Cardinals fan, one of the last Renaissance men.

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A bit about me (The uncondensed version) Memorial to a dear friend
Frederick W. Benteen
The Web of Leonards
The St. Louis Cardinals
The Memphis Redbirds
BlogMemphis (The Commercial Appeal's listing of Memphis blogs)
The Guide to Life, the Universe, and Everything
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Listed on Blogwise

And in case you're interested, here's how many other 'net denizens need a life, or at least more compelling reading:

A blog worth reading:

Bloggus Caesari (Julius Caesar's Warblog)

Two blogs worth reading that I'll plug because the blogger is another Linux geek and a fellow Cardinals fan besides:

Frankly, I'd Rather Not

Other links of interest (to me, at least), in no particular order:

The Daily Howler
Bill Maher Blog
The Progressive
The O'Franken Factor
Majority Report Radio
The Gadflyer
Daily Kos
Steve Gilliard's Blog
Whiskey Bar
Just a Bump in the Beltway
The Village Gate (formerly The Right Christians)
Juan Cole *Informed Comment*
Christopher Orlet
The Online Gadfly
The Crisis Papers
Ted Rall Online
The Smirking Chimp
Talking Points Memo
Molly Ivins
This Modern World, By Tom Tomorrow
Tom the Dancing Bug, by Reuben Bolling
Bob the Angry Flower
Conservatively Incorrect, by Rack Jite
Media Whores Online
Butterflies and Wheels
The Leiter Reports
Nathan Newman
Brief Intelligence
Half the Sins of Mankind
The Swing State Project
Glorfindel of Gondolin
Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard
Missouri Liberal
different strings
Shock and Awe
Gotham City 13
Pen-Elayne on the Web
Empty Days
Censored Story of the Day
Roger's Profanisaurus
Rhonda & Jane present: 525 Reasons to Dump Bush
The Bush Scorecard of Evil
Sherman P. Wright's Moderate Weblog
Quaker in a Basement
World Phamous
NLSO Subic Bay (Navy unit alumni blog.)
Iraq Coalition Casualty Count
Bracing against the wind
Rants Vitriol and Spleen – JRI
Apostate's Weekly
Redbird Nation
Go Cardinals
The Cardinals' Birdhouse
The Birdhouse Minor League Report
The Cardinals Fan Site
St. Louis Cardinals Ultimate Fan Site
RedBird Central
Get Up, Baby!
Royalties and Cardinalate (an all-MO baseball blog)
Pro Sports Daily: St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals news
Rob Neyer's column
The Hardball Times
The Baseball Widow
Management by Baseball
The Nashville Files (RTB member in waiting?)
Madeleine Begun Kane's Notables Weblog
The Select Group of Toys
Pesky the Rat
I, Cringely
The Gripe Line Weblog, by Ed Foster
The Register
Evil Empire
Watching Microsoft Like a Hawk
Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil
Public Defender Dude
Punishment Theory
Savage Cruel Bigots
Treason Online
Hell for Halliburton
Hollywood Lost and Found
Popdex Citations

Rocky Top Brigade:

RTB Lounge
NationStates Region

A Little More to the Right
A Moveable Beast
A Smoky Mountain Journal
Beyond the Whispers
Big Stupid Tommy
Bjorn, Again
Bully Pulpit
Busy Mom
Celtic Grove
Classless Warfare Jane
Conservative Zone
Dagley Dagley Daily
Damn Art Diary
Damn Foreigner
Democratic Veteran
Doc B
Doug McDaniel
Drawing Dead
Elephant Rants
Filthy Hippy Speak
Frank Cagle
Free Speech News
Granny Rant
Growth Spurt
Guy Montag
Hypotheses Non Fingo
In a Mays
Inn of the Last Home
Jaded Journal
Johnson City Stories
Lay Lines
Lean Left
Les Jones
Loco Parentis
Long Pauses
Mike Hollihan
Mike Reed
Mind Warp
Missives Anonymous
Mr. Lawson
My Quiet Life
Newton's Kumquat
No Quarters
One Hand Clapping
Pathetic Earthlings
Philosophical Scrivener
Queen Medb's Castle
Rebel Yell
Rex Hammock
Rich Hailey
Road Warrior
Sick of Bush
South Knox Bubba
Southern Reporter
Straight White Guy
Team Rock
The Golden Calf
Up For Anything
Voluntarily in China
Wandering Hillbilly
William Burton
InstaPundit (link removed, because I think Reynolds is an idiot, and he doesn't need the linkage. If you really want to waste your time reading his drivel, you know where to find him.)
Adam Groves (MIA)
Fat Ass Politics (MIA)
Oz's Lion (MIA)
Rapmaster (MIA)
Rush Limbaughtomy (MIA)
Secret City Scene (MIA)
Twelfth Parsec (MIA)
Uncommon Sense (KIA)
Underground Man (MIA)
Xyon's Rambles (MIA)

Memphis Blogs not in the Rocky Top Brigade

Signifying Nothing
m e m p h i s . c o o l (Jon W. Sparks's personal blog)
Sparks on Memphis (Jon W. Sparks's CA blog)
Peggy Phillip
Tread lightly on the things of earth
Rachel and the City
Well, I think I'm funny
Voice of Golden Eagle
when you're 21, you're no fun

The League of Liberals:

Democratic Veteran
The Spy Game
Cosmic Iguana
People's Republic of Seabrook
Philosophical Scrivener
The Mahablog
WTF is it NOW?
blunted on reality
Happy Furry Puppy Story Time
All Facts and Opinions
Dubya's Daily Diary
ARMACT Action Alerts
Cup O' Joe
Grateful Dread on the Web
The Poison Kitchen
Indigo Ocean
The Felonious Elephant
Sick of Bush
Arms and the Man
Rick's Cafe Americain
A-Changin' Times(ACT)
Estimated Prophet
Gotham City 13
Officially Unofficial
The Gunther Concept
The Mudshark
Screaming Points
Ink from the Squid
Left Is Right
Byte Back
The Huck Upchuck
The Sesquipedalian
DeanLand - Dean Landsman's Weblog
Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard
Wilson's Blogmanac
Ayn Clouter
Anarchy Xero

The Liberal Coalition

01/01/2003 - 01/31/2003
02/01/2003 - 02/28/2003
03/01/2003 - 03/31/2003
04/01/2003 - 04/30/2003
05/01/2003 - 05/31/2003
06/01/2003 - 06/30/2003
07/01/2003 - 07/31/2003
08/01/2003 - 08/31/2003
09/01/2003 - 09/30/2003
10/01/2003 - 10/31/2003
11/01/2003 - 11/30/2003
12/01/2003 - 12/31/2003
01/01/2004 - 01/31/2004
02/01/2004 - 02/29/2004
03/01/2004 - 03/31/2004
04/01/2004 - 04/30/2004

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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

When I read a retrospective...
like this (Salon premium content; view the ad if you don't subscribe) I'm so grateful that I don't watch any TV beyond The SciFi Channel, "Star Trek: TNG" reruns on SpikeTV (which is otherwise something of a barren wasteland save for the occasional decent movie), "Iron Chef" and "Good Eats" on Food Network, selected movies on AMC and Turner Classic, and (during the baseball season) as much baseball as I can find courtesy of TVTimeWarner (Memphis--Memphis Redbirds and St. Louis Cardinals), WGN (Chicago Cubs/Chicago White Sox) and WTBS/TNT/Turner South (Atlanta Braves, of course).

If you didn't turn on your TV set at all in the last year, you might be surprised to learn that 2003 was not a big year for slow-moving, introspective dramas or subtly shaded character studies or richly imagined historical reenactments. Instead, some of the more memorable TV programming of the year catered to our basest urges and most primitive instincts as viewers. Most of all, wily programmers sought to please our inner teenager, whether stirring up trouble between warring camps of amateur models or providing night-vision shots of faraway cities exploding.

Thus, those who enjoy educational and informative shows offering insights into the human condition were left cold by this year's catalog, while those of us who like watching rich girls shop and gay boys kiss and comedians dress up as rappers and interview Boutros Boutros-Ghali had no complaints whatsoever, aside from having to lie about our viewing habits to our friends, lest they discover we spend most of our time screeching and pointing at the TV screen like little girls at a Hillary Duff book signing.

Oh wow, another blast from the past...
Via the comments at Democratic Veteran, just stumbled across this: NLSO Subic Bay. Sort of an alumni blog for personnel formerly stationed at the U.S. Naval Legal Service Office, U.S. Naval Station, Subic Bay, R.P.. A retired Chief Legalman(AW) who served at NLSO Subic (but, alas, after my time there) is trying to put together an NLSO Subic reunion in August of 2004 in/near Seattle, Washington. My ability to travel to such a dignified insurrection is probably limited, but I'll certainly keep an eye on it.

I've been very remiss...
in my commentary about the SCO/IBM/Linux litigation. But I just stumbled across an interesting LinuxPlanet interview with Pamela Jones, the owner of Groklaw. The whole interview is well worth reading (if you're a Linux geek, a law geek or both), but I especially liked this excerpt (which you can find here):

LinuxPlanet: What if SCO turns out to be right about the Linux code violations? How would this influence your editorial stance?

Jones: It wouldn't. From day one, the community has said that if any code turns out to be in violation, it'll be removed immediately. Stallman, Linus, Moglen--they all offered to remove anything SCO can show that is infringing, and SCO refused their offers and refused to identify the code. If any code is ever proven to be in there, it'll be removed. End of story. It is like a sliver in your finger. Nothing helps but removing it totally. Nobody wants SCO's legacy code. That's their misfortune.

Nothing can alter the fact that SCO has refused to allow the community to remove any allegedly infringing code and so mitigate SCO's damages, if any exist. It would be a relief to find out where any stupid code is hiding so we can get it out, if they aren't just bluffing. If there is anything, from all I've heard, it seems it can only be a very tiny fraction, unless you accept SCO's highly unusual definition of derivative code, which I don't.

And nothing will ever erase SCO's behavior from the community's memory. If they had behaved honorably, or even normally, and showed the code they believe is infringing, the community would have stood on its head to be helpful. No one wishes to violate anyone's rights. That's been true from day one.

The problem is, SCO seems to want its code to be in Linux and to force Linux to keep it there, so SCO can be like a troll under the bridge, making you pay every time you cross the bridge. They want to be paid for every Linux sale, from what I understand, and so make money from code they claim they own inside it. They don't want to let anyone remove it, because then there is no money for them from each sale of Linux. That is the impasse, as I understand it.

It reminds me of just before the Revolutionary War, when the English forced the colonists to house and feed British troops in their homes. What a brainstorm that was. Not. The English thought it would be to their advantage to compel the colonists to toe the line. It backfired, because nobody likes a forced house guest who stays forever at your expense and whom you hate to begin with. SCO wants to force Linux to accept its code permanently moving in and remaining a house guest forever. They will find that it's just not acceptable and that the Linux community is resourceful and will not accept any such arrangement, so their dreams of untold wealth from Linux appear impossible of fulfillment.

LinuxPlanet: Who stands to gain most if SCO wins in court? Who gains most if SCO loses?

Jones: This is an alternate universe question. I can't see how SCO "wins" no matter what happens. In the real world, if there is any infringing code, it'll be removed in a blink and if there are damages they'll be paid and then that is the last Linux dime SCO will ever see. That's in a best case scenario for SCO.

And GNU/Linux is so obviously the future. That is an unchangeable fact. Proprietary software will just have to learn to play nicely with others.

SCO is shortsighted. Litigation isn't a long-term business strategy, even if you "win." It's a one-time payout. Then what? If you have no product people want, that's the final chapter, especially if people really don't like you and what you stand for. As for grabbing Linux, and making it proprietary, it's impossible. The GPL ensures that.

Even if they could steal the current kernel, it'd be dead within a few weeks. All the free coders would stop supporting it and patching it and innovating with it, and SCO would soon find they had two obsolete software offerings instead of one. What they don't understand is that without the community, the kernel is nothing. The process is everything. They are trying to force Linux into a box, like their dead software, but you can't do it to Linux without killing it. So they can't "win." They can't develop or maintain the software without the community. No one can. They have to change their mind set to be relevant in the future. No company, not even Microsoft, can afford to hire all the coders willing to contribute to GNU/Linux, even if it could persuade them to work for them.

The GPL will be the big winner when SCO loses, I believe. The SCO story is a morality play, and the whole world is watching. Proprietary software is getting a black eye, no doubt about it. So from that standpoint, I think people see far more clearly how precious the freedoms are that the GPL seeks to protect. We see this crass and cynical attempt to rob honest, generous-hearted volunteers of their creative work, and many people watching respect the cleverness of the GPL, which foresaw this rainy day and planned for the SCOs of the world. As Rob Preston said last week, nobody respects a bully. To the extent that Sun and Microsoft are perceived as being supporters of SCO, I think they lose, no matter who "wins" in the courtroom. People are learning that proprietary software companies on SCO's side of the table seem to be more out for themselves, not caring much about their customers. You see SCO even threatening to sue their own customers. It's bizarrely offensive to any normal person. So the bottom line to me is that SCO taught us that users have interests that do not necessarily align with proprietary software companies' interests as personified in a company like SCO.

LinuxPlanet: Even if SCO does "win the battle," will it have "lost the war" by alienating a lot of people?

Jones: That war is over already, I believe. There appear to be a handful of analysts and some investors and one or two cynical reporters left who still think SCO has a point, or have various reasons for saying so. But for the rest of the world, as far as I can tell, they look at SCO like they just picked up a rock. I have seen a downward shift in SCO's reputation since January when all this began, and it's now like watching the tide go out: slow, but inexorable.

You wouldn't think it'd be so hard to find a couple of mules...
but the University of Missouri, looking for a pair of mules to serve as the University's "non-sports" mascots (rest easy, Mizzou sports fans, there's no plan to retire "Truman the Tiger", the mascot of Mizzou's sports teams), found the task more difficult than you might imagine.

After months of suspenseful elimination rounds, the star search is over.

Tim and Terry have been chosen as the new mule team to represent the University of Missouri at Columbia at the governor's inauguration, the State Fair and about 50 other events where an appearance by these touchstone figures from Missouri's past seems fitting.

Tim and Terry, two rawboned 10-year-olds from outside Springfield, Mo., replace Jill and Shirley, who retired last spring.

"These are the first gelding mules we've ever had, and they're maybe not as good looking as the mare mules, but the university is an equal opportunity employer," quipped Dr. John Dodem. He's a professor at the college of veterinary medicine who headed up the mule search team.


The College of Veterinary Medicine has had a team of mules since 1982. This is the third pair, and each time, the hunt gets tougher.

For the first century of statehood, Missouri was the epicenter of mule breeding, and the savvy, homely animals carried the state's economy on their backs, serving in the fields, the mines and the logging camps.

In the old days, most mules were built for heavy hauling, the size required to pull the vet school's 12-person wagon that is used for appearances at various events. Nowadays, the animals are smaller and lighter, making the hunt for a large, well-matched, well-mannered pair more difficult. Plus, the big draft mules that are available don't always get adequate traffic training, as the search committee discovered during some hairy trial runs.

Back in August , Dodem and his committee of vet school students and community mule experts thought they'd pinpointed a suitable pair of individuals. Randy Mertens, editor of the vet school's publications, notified the press excitedly: "We think that we have found the perfect candidates. I understand that these mules are used to driving the wagon in traffic and unlike our previous pair, Jill and Shirley, these new mules actually follow directions."

Two weeks later, Mertens sent out a second e-mail: "A new development in our mule search. It looks as if the team may need additional training around large vehicles, particularly garbage trucks. I've been told, and this is secondhand, that when the garbage truck was making its regular rounds, the candidate mules got spooked and ran into the barn to hide. It is essential that our mules be cool around cars. The number of drivers who feel compelled to honk their horns . . . is incredible."


Mulelike in its endurance, the search committee plodded on, rejecting scrawny mules, ill-tempered ones, undertrained ones and ones that weren't born in Missouri.

"I am not about to select some out-of-state mules and put us in line for an expose: Mizzou's Missouri mules hail from Illinois!" declared a weary but still picky Dodem.

I suppose that the University of Memphis can put on some airs here. While the Mizzou mascot, Truman the Tiger, is merely a person in a tiger costume, the U. of Memphis mascot "Tom" is a real, live tiger (I think a Siberian tiger, but he may be a Bengal; I'm sorry but I'm a bit color blind in that range of the spectrum). I've actually seen Tom face to face at a U.M. campus appearance; he's really quite a beautiful animal. Though a close friend of mine tells me that when she used to attend Memphis State University (as U.M. was known up until the 1990s) basketball games at the Mid-South Colliseum when she was a student there, she and her friends used to speculate how quickly the Colliseum could empty if someone snuck down to Tom's cage and let him loose.

Ah, bright college days!

Makes me wonder...
if Blogger changed servers or something. Couldn't get to Blogger earlier today, and discovered that while a ping to was no problem, a ping of (which is where winds up sending you when you go there) came back with a DNS lookup error. That's make sense if they changed servers and needed a couple hours to let the DNS info propagate through the system. If that's the case I wish they'd warn us about those little glitches.

TV at its best...
If you're looking for some good viewing this New Year's holiday (today and tomorrow), you can do lots worse than the SciFi network, which is doing a 46 hour "Twilight Zone" marathon. According to the blurbs, they're showing special episodes during prime time.

Check it out!

Sick Joke Department
It's sick and it's sexist, but I laughed out loud...

Bill asked the new blonde secretary, "Do you know the difference between a Big Mac and a blow job?" She looked puzzled. "No, I guess not." "Great!" said Bill. "How about an early lunch?"

Here's a reason to be glad you're not British...
If you aren't, most likely you've never been exposed to Marmite. Just because I can, here's a couple Marmite themed pages:

And in case that last one has you puzzled, Vegemite is the reason you should be glad you're not Australian.

Thought for the Day:
SARS may have been the most fatal epidemic of the year, but it wasn't the only one. For those of us who spend a lot of our time in darkened theaters and screening rooms, exposure to sequelitis was impossible to avoid. Hollywood has always had a fascination with revisiting familiar characters and settings, but this year, spurred on by a fanatical desire to make money without expending creative energy, studios pushed the volume of sequels to unbearable levels (more than 20 of them).
--James Berardinelli

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Good news, if true
IT industry moving away from Microsoft

EVERY SO often, there is a big shift in an industry. The shifts are not usually visible until long after they've happened, making you look back and say: "Oh yeah, things were different back then".

We are experiencing a major IT industry shift right now, and if you know where to look you can actually see it as it happens. This shift is all about Microsoft and open source.


Just as the press proclaims the inability of anyone to challenge the Redmond beast, control is slipping from Microsoft. As with any company faced with a huge loss of market share, Microsoft is acting predictably, pretending it is not happening, and putting on a smiley face when asked about prospects. On the inside, Microsoft is as scared as hell.


To put things in perspective, Microsoft has always performed better each quarter than the one before. Whenever the financial types settle on quarterly earnings, Microsoft always manages to pull a few more cents per share out of their hat, and beat those earnings. The collective bunch of jackals and worms that are known as 'Wall Street' sit slack jawed in amazement, and give half hearted golf claps. Rinse and repeat every quarter, including the analysts' 'amazement'.

How it does this is no trick. It has profit margins on its two major products of over eighty per cent. The rest of the products, from handhelds to MSN and the Xbox are all horrific money losers. Its finances are so opaque and badly presented, that it can shuffle money around from one part of the company to another without anyone noticing. Make too much money one quarter? Stash it in the closet labeled investments, or write off some losses. Not making the numbers? Cash in some assets and make a 'profit'.

Overall, it has been able to show a smooth earnings curve, and surprise on the upside every time it reports a quarter. Monopolies and almost no cost to make your physical product other than R&D has its advantages.

About a year ago, things started to change. The cries that Linux would dethrone Microsoft remained the same, but there was a shift in the corporate reaction to those cries. CxOs started to say 'tell me about it'. In a down economy, free is much cheaper than hundreds of dollars, and infinitely more attractive. Linux started gaining ground with real paying customers using it for real work in the real world, really.

Up until then, Microsoft had simply ignored the tuxedoed threat. Then it started reacting with the usual FUD, the Halloween memos, various white papers and clumsily purchased studies. Somehow, people didn't buy the fact that $1,000 a head was cheaper than free, and so Microsoft had to move on to a different tactic. Since it couldn't buy the company that produced Linux, the GPL prevented the usual embrace and extend, and people had simply grown to hate Microsoft for all the pain they had been caused over the years, the firm found itself in a bind. How do you compete when all your dirty tricks are either inapplicable or fail, and buckets of cash can't buy your way out of the hole you are in? Simple, you compete on their terms.

Other than in the last six months, when was the last time Microsoft lowered prices, or gave anything other than a trivial discount on anything? Yeah, right, never. Faced with losing the home office market to OpenOffice/StarOffice, the server side to Linux, databases to MySQL, and the desktop to Linux in the not too distant future, what could it do? It targeted price cuts at those who matter most, the early adopters and other key segments.

The first of these cuts was aimed at MySQL, with the developer edition of SQLServer getting the axe to the tune of about 80 per cent. Then it started a slush fund to prevent high profile companies and organizations from giving Linux that all important mindshare beachhead. Then it came out with a 'student and teacher' version of Office. Hint to the readership, if you don't want to pay $500 for office, the new version doesn't make you prove you a student or a teacher like the last one. Well, none of these tactics is working, and one of the reasons it isn't going as well as Microsoft hoped is its own money grubbing product activation scheme. Without starting the old debate about the cost of pirated software, it is hard to argue against the fact that even with the numbers it spouts off about piracy, Microsoft still clears about a billion dollars a quarter or more. If it wasn't for piracy, the Gates sprouts (little 1.0 and 2.0) could afford to be sent to a good school. Cry for them. In its wisdom, Microsoft decided to squeeze the users a little, and to its abject horror it began to realise that people were willing to take the slightly reduced functionality of OpenOffice for the $500 a machine discount. Who would have guessed that result? See foot, see gun, see gun shoot foot.

The next winning strategy was to circle the wagons, and lock people in. If you prevent other programs from working with your software, and make your stuff fairly cheap, people will flock to it, right? Well, right to a point, at least until you build up hatred and people have an alternative.

Licensing 6.0, the new 'rent as you go, but do so at our sufferance' was the catalyst here. When it proposed this scheme, people laughed outright. When Microsoft said do it or pay the retail price, people blinked, and a few cried monopoly. This is when people started to take Linux seriously.

When Microsoft set a deadline for licensing 6.0, people balked. Adoption was less than the 100% it was counting on, so it blinked and extended the deadline that wasn't capable of being extended. People still didn't flock to the plan, so Microsoft turned the screws and, um, blinked again. Once it was clear that customers weren't viewing 100% plus price increases as a benefit, and Microsoft was looking weaker and weaker with each delay, it stopped delaying. Any reasonable observer would chalk up losing one third of a customer base, and alienating it at the same time, as an unmitigated disaster.

Microsoft touted this as a sign that people didn't truly understand the generosity emanating from Redmond, so it sweetened the pot by offering tidbits to the reluctant. That included training and other things, but no price break. That was the sacred line that it would never cross. For a bit. People still didn't flock back, and high profile clients started to jump ship. What to do, what to do?

The answer was to head off the defections by offering massive discounts. Send in the big names to woo the simple. Threaten behind the scenes. Do anything it takes, and when Microsoft says anything, rest assured that there are things none of us have thought of coming into play with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

The strange thing is that even this didn't work. People did the math. With expensive lock-ins on one hand, and cheaper, more interoperable software on the other, they started choosing the less expensive route. Imagine that. The high profile defections started happening with more and more regularity, and Redmond was almost out of tricks.

Some defections were headed off, like the Thai government, which pays $36 for Office and Windows XP comes with a 95% discount if you compare it to list. There are probably other similar deals elsewhere that we have not heard about. For every one of the Microsoft victories, there were two or three Linux wins. Then four or five. Now it is not even a contest. High profile defections like cities, governments, and, gasp, IBM, are just the tip of the iceberg, and almost everyone is looking at the pioneers to see if the trail they are blazing is worth following.

If it turns out that these first few companies can make it, expect the floodgates to open, and everyone to follow. The designed in security flaws, that make Microsoft software insecurable, are only adding to the misery. Every day that a company is down due to worms or viruses, it starts re-evaluating Microsoft software. When bidding on the next round of contracts, the memory of all night cleanups tends to weigh heavily on the minds of many CIOs and CTOs.

The latest quarterly numbers showed something that hadn't happened before -- flat Microsoft numbers. It blamed this on large corporations who were skittish in the wake of the Blaster worm. But if you stop and think about that, most companies are on Licensing 6.0 or other long term contracts, so the income derived from them is steady. People who are going to buy Microsoft products will do so, people who have jumped have jumped. A large corporation does not delay purchases like this for a quarter because of a security breach, they will have their licences run out from under them, or they will just buy the software as planned and sit on it if absolutely necessary. Something does not smell right with this explanation.

If Microsoft can't pull off an upside surprise, something is very wrong. It is now at the point where it must beat the street, or the illusion is shattered, and that has this nasty effect on stock prices. If Microsoft didn't meet expectations this quarter, it goes to show that it either couldn't do it, or made a conscious decision not to.


The more troubling aspect for the company is if Microsoft decided to report what is really happening. Wall Street is in a Microsoft fed la-la land when it comes to numbers. The stock is absurdly high, and in return, it is expected to do things in return. Once it stops doing those things, it becomes a lot less valuable. And when that happens, shareholders and the Street start asking all those nasty questions that executives don't want to answer. If the stock plummets, those options that Microsoft is famous for as employee incentives become much more expensive, and morale goes down. In short, things get ugly.


If I have to guess, I would say that the competition is starting to force Microsoft into a pricing war, and any moron can tell you a price war against free is not a good thing. Don't believe me? Just go ask Netscape. Oh how the worm turns. But price wars are destructive, and will sink Microsoft faster than you can say "$50 billion in the bank". Microsoft can afford to cut prices but after a while those $10 million discounts start to add up. It just won't work when everyone knows the simple truth of Linux.


The problem is that Microsoft just isn't trusted, questionable surveys aside. That knowledge is spreading up the executive ranks. Microsoft has a habit of promising users things, but not delivering.

Security is a good example. A few years ago, Microsoft promised to stop coding XP and do a complete security audit and retraining. Everything would be good after this, it said, trust us. People did. Blaster, Nachia, and a host of others illustrate that Microsoft didn't make anything close to a sincere effort.

So, what comes out of Redmond nowadays? Hot air and Ballmer dance videos made on Macs. Monkey boy is funny to watch, but after an all night patching stint with the CEO yelling at you, it loses its charm. Remember that same Ballmer who said that Microsoft would not release a service pack for Win2K because it would not be released until it was perfect? How about that same security audit for XP that would erase the chances of anything like Blaster ever happening? Anyone think the masses will buy the line for the next release? The truth is they will, and Microsoft knows it.


The culture at Microsoft , however, prevents change. I was talking to a high level person in charge of security at the Intel Developer Forum last fall, and we chatted about what Microsoft could do to fix things. He asked the right questions, and I told him the right answer, trust. Plus, throw everything you have out and start again. He didn't get it. No, more than that, he was impervious to the things I was saying to him, the culture is so ingrained that the truth can't penetrate it. Microsoft cannot fix the 'bugs' that lead to security problems because they are not bugs, they are design choices. When faced with Java, Microsoft reacted with ActiveX. That, it claimed, could do everything that Java could not, because Java was in a 'sandbox', and programs could not get out.

The fact remains that Microsoft's entire infrastructure is based on fundamentally flawed designs, not buggy code. These designs can't be changed.

Some depressing news...
from Paul Krugman: Our so-called boom

It was a merry Christmas for Sharper Image and Neiman Marcus, which reported big sales increases over last year's holiday season. It was considerably less cheery at Wal-Mart and other low-priced chains. We don't know the final sales figures yet, but it's clear that high-end stores did very well, while stores catering to middle- and low-income families achieved only modest gains.

Based on these reports, you may be tempted to speculate that the economic recovery is an exclusive party, and most people weren't invited. You'd be right.


Why aren't workers sharing in the so-called boom? Start with jobs.

Payroll employment began rising in August, but the pace of job growth remains modest, averaging less than 90,000 per month. That's well short of the 225,000 jobs added per month during the Clinton years; it's even below the roughly 150,000 jobs needed to keep up with a growing working-age population.

But if the number of jobs isn't rising much, aren't workers at least earning more? You may have thought so. After all, companies have been able to increase output without hiring more workers, thanks to the rapidly rising output per worker. (Yes, that's a tautology.) Historically, higher productivity has translated into rising wages. But not this time: thanks to a weak labor market, employers have felt no pressure to share productivity gains. Calculations by the Economic Policy Institute show real wages for most workers flat or falling even as the economy expands.

An aside: how weak is the labor market? The measured unemployment rate of 5.9 percent isn't that high by historical standards, but there's something funny about that number. An unusually large number of people have given up looking for work, so they are no longer counted as unemployed, and many of those who say they have jobs seem to be only marginally employed. Such measures as the length of time it takes laid-off workers to get new jobs continue to indicate the worst job market in 20 years.

Remember those Reagan era defenses of supply side economics: "A rising tide raises all boats"? Doesn't seem to be the case anymore--if it ever was. Krugman concludes:

The bottom line, then, is that for most Americans, current economic growth is a form of reality TV, something interesting that is, however, happening to other people. This may change if serious job creation ever kicks in, but it hasn't so far.

The big question is whether a recovery that does so little for most Americans can really be sustained. Can an economy thrive on sales of luxury goods alone? We may soon find out.

This makes sense to me...
from CalPundit: a solution to the "problem" of setting the minimum wage.

And should we index the minimum wage to inflation? Of course. But I'll renew an even better idea I proposed a year ago: index it to congressional salaries. Assuming a normal 2000-hour work year, congressmen make about $75/hour right now. How about simply making the minimum wage equal to 10% of that? Congress can then increase their own salaries anytime they want, but only if they're willing to help out the working poor at the same time. Seems fair to me.

More silly Quizilla type crap
Dammit, why do I have to get a character from a series I never watched (for some reason, "Babylon 5" never really appealed to me when it was on, though my aunt the sci-fi addict loved it, which should have told me something...)?

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

The text isn't included in the handy-dandy, cut 'n' paste HTML that the quizmeister gives us to help advertise the thing, so here it is (in case, like me, you didn't recognize the character from the picture alone):

Marcus Cole

An honest and chivalrous adventurer that pursues just causes, you would sacrifice much to help others.

"I am a Ranger. We walk in the dark places no others will enter. We stand on the bridge and no-one may pass. We live for the One, we die for the One."

Marcus is a character in the Babylon 5 universe. You can read his profile at the Worlds of JMS.

Thought for the Day:
Someone gave me this, which is kind of cool. I have one of the last "Enron Field" hats. I guess you're up for a new name now, huh? "Fifth Amendment Field" won't fit... "Up Shit Creek Field".... Arthur Andersen wanted to have a field but then the seats would have to turn both ways. What're you going to do then? "Shredder Field"? No.... "Home of the Shredders"? No, you can't do that.
--Robin Williams [concert in Houston]

Monday, December 29, 2003

And what's wrong with going somewhere you feel at home?
"Christian unity" is ultimately a pipe dream, I think. From the New York Times: Changes in Episcopal Church Spur Some to Go, Some to Join.

Frankly, if I didn't think it impossible to take Christianity seriously (it's basically polytheistic but pretending it's monotheistic, and the idea that Jesus had to be crucified in order to "save" mankind has to be the sickest, most disgusting, most despicable religious doctrine ever devised by the mind of man), I'd probably be deserting Catholicism for the Episcopal Church myself.

Damn, there are some good Christians...
if only we could get a few of them in positions of responsibility in the U.S. Church... From Reuters: Bishops slam "vigilantes" Bush, Blair

Two church leaders have blasted Prime Minister Tony Blair for going to war in Iraq, with one bishop saying he and U.S. President George W. Bush acted like "a bunch of white vigilantes".

Their criticism -- plus an embarrassing contradiction over weapons of mass destruction by the U.S. administrator of Iraq at the weekend -- comes at the end of a miserable year for Blair whose popularity has tumbled over the invasion of Iraq.

The Archbishop of York, David Hope, who is the Church of England's second most senior churchman, said Blair had displayed "a real lack of listening" over Iraq and his claims of fallen dictator Saddam Hussein's arms capability remained unproven.

"Undoubtedly a very wicked leader has been removed, but there are wicked leaders in other parts of the world," he added in an interview with The Times newspaper.

Hope urged churchgoers to pray for Blair, and said he and Bush should remember they will one day answer to God.

"I want to say...that there is a higher authority before whom one day we all have to give an account," he said.

The Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, was scathing about Blair's military alliance with Bush in Iraq. He likened them to a pair of mavericks fighting crime in multi-racial inner-city London.

"For Bush and Blair to go into Iraq together was like a bunch of white vigilantes going into Brixton to stop drug-dealing. This is not to deny there's a problem to be sorted, just that they are not credible people to deal with it," he told The Independent newspaper.

"The world now needs a U.N. army in the way that Britain 200 years ago needed to turn its bands of militia in each town into a national police force."

I wouldn't mind Christianity so much if we could get some Christian witness like this in the U.S. But Bishop Wright had something pertinent to say about that, too:

Wright said the religious conservatives surrounding Bush espouse "a very strange distortion of Christianity" while the fact "some of them stand to benefit financially from the reconstruction of Iraq" made their motives suspicious.

Of course, the good bishop didn't mention that Bush himself espouses that very strange distortion of Christianity, too. Or is it normal Christian behavior to mock someone pleading for her life?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again...
We're going to see married Catholic priests again (yes, there were such things earlier in the history of the Church). And if this article from The Guardian is accurate, the clergy knows it too:

Priestly celibacy in the Roman Catholic church has largely broken down in many parts of the world, Father Timothy Radcliffe, former master general of the Dominican Order, which has 200,000 members worldwide, said last night.

Fr Radcliffe, now a monk in Oxford but tipped by some as a future leader of the Roman church in England, said the church might have to consider ordaining married priests.

On the BBC Radio Four programme Analysis, broadcast last night, he said: "It is clearly the case that in many parts of the world celibacy has actually largely broken down - in many countries in Latin America, parts of Africa, to some extent in the United States...

"If it turns out to be the case that it is being largely ignored or bypassed, then... a very negative witness is being given; and so we have to ask is it possible now - either we have to provide celibate priests with considerably more support or we have to explore the possibility of them being married."

Fortunately for the Church, John Paul II isn't long for this world, and once he dies maybe the Church will elect a pontiff wise enough to know which way the wind is blowing. Or maybe they'll elect another reactionary, in which case the Church will die off when it can't recruit enough priests to maintain a sacramental church.

Either way, it's no skin off my teeth.

From Professor Doran's Foreign Affairs article...
which I mention in the preceding post, here's an interesting summary of how Al Qaeda views us:

To better understand how al Qaeda reads Saudi Arabia's political map, one can turn to the work of Yusuf al-Ayyiri, a prolific al Qaeda propagandist who died last June in a skirmish with the Saudi security services. Just before his death he wrote a revealing book, The Future of Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula After the Fall of Baghdad, which gives a good picture of how al Qaeda activists perceive the world around them.

According to al-Ayyiri, the United States and Israel are the leaders of a global anti-Islamic movement -- "Zio-Crusaderism" -- that seeks the destruction of true Islam and dominion over the Middle East. Zio-Crusaderism's most effective weapon is democracy, because popular sovereignty separates religion from the state and thereby disembowels Islam, a holistic religion that has a strong political dimension. In its plot to denature Islam, al-Ayyiri claims, Zio-Crusaderism embraces three local allies: secularists, Shi`ites, and lax Sunnis (that is, those who sympathize with the idea of separating religion from state). Al Qaeda's "near enemy," in other words, is the cluster of forces supporting Taqarub
["Taqarub" is the more liberal, tolerant, less exclusivist strain in Islam--LRC].

Why I loathe fundamentalism, Part 25486
This is from an interesting article in Foreign Affairs: The Saudi Paradox

On the domestic front, Nayef indirectly controls the controversial Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), the religious police. The CPVVP came under withering attack in March 2002 when its men reportedly used batons to beat back schoolgirls as they tried to flee from a burning dormitory. The girls, so the story goes, failed to cover themselves in proper Islamic attire before running from the flames, and the religious police then mindlessly enforced the laws on public decency. More than a dozen girls were trampled to death in the incident. It is impossible to say whether the story is true in all respects, but considerable evidence indicates that the CPVPV did in some manner hamper rescue efforts. Nayef, however, flatly denies that the religious police did anything wrong.

Yep, let's get our priorities straight. By Gawd, we'll let schoolgirls burn to death rather than come out of their burning dormitory without being veiled from head to foot.

And people actually believe this shit?

Are you mad that the U.S. now has Mad Cow Disease?
Then put the blame where it belongs, with the Repugnicans. According to a Center for American Progress study (cited at Daily Kos, though Kos doesn't give us a direct cite to the CAP study online), the GOP has stood in the way of increasing funding for FDA inspection programs that might have caught this before now, and which would give us a better handle on how serious the problem really is.

Self regulation is a panacea, eh? It sure kept Mad Cow Disease out of the country, didn't it?

Karen Armstrong...
author of A History of God and The Battle for God, has some interesting comments in The Guardian: When God Goes to War

We can be certain of one thing in 2004. Unless there is some unimaginable breakthrough, we will see more religiously inspired terrorism. It often seems that we might be better off without religion. A cursory consideration of the crusades and persecutions of Christian history shows that religious violence is not confined to the Islamic world. If the different faiths really are committed to peace and goodwill, why do they inspire such hatred, and why are their scriptures so aggressive?


The scriptures all bear scars of their violent begetting, so it is easy for extremists to find texts that seem to give a seal of divine approval to hatred. War affects all aspects of human behaviour, so when conflict becomes chronic, it should be no surprise that religion is also infected. This is certainly what happened at the time of the Crusades.

In a similar way, the Christian right today has absorbed the endemic violence in American society: they oppose reform of the gun laws, for example, and support the death penalty. They never quote the Sermon on the Mount but base their xenophobic and aggressive theology on Revelation. Osama bin Laden is as just as selective in his use of scripture. Most of the Muslim extremism that troubles us today is the product of societies that have suffered prolonged, hopeless conflict: the Middle East, Palestine, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir.

Maybe I'm just too curmudgeonly...
but I'm seeing ads for a stage musical production of The Lion King which is (or will be) running at the Orpheum Theater here. These ads have me wondering.... what could possibly be the point of making a stage musical out of a very successful animated movie (and one that, I'm told, was very well done; I don't know myself since I was never really tempted to see the movie)? I can't imagine that the stage version is an improvement on the animated version...

What delicious irony....
On SciFi's daily airing of "Stargate SG-1" tonight they are showing the episode "Cor-ai". In it, the Stargate team goes to another world, where an inhabitant accuses Teal'c of killing his father (which Teal'c did while first prime of Apophis), and forces Teal'c to stand trial (with the possible punishment being death). Thinking that Teal'c will probably be found guilty and executed, Col. Jack O'Neill (CO of the SG-1 team) returns to Earth with the idea of bringing a combat team to force the otherworld inhabitants to release Teal'c by force of arms. General Hammond (Commander of Stargate Command) questions the wisdom of that course of action, leading to this exchange:
GEN. HAMMOND: The United States does not interfere with the affairs of other countries.
COL. O'NEILL: Since when?
GEN. HAMMOND: Since this administration was elected!

Obviously, "Stargate SG-1" is set sometime after the Bush Administration is voted out of office.... :-)

Thought for the Day:
Television is the first truly democratic culture - the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what people do want.
--Clive Barnes

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Another overrated idea...
from the same NYT article:


In their most extreme forms, monotheistic religions are deeply intolerant. If there is only one right way of doing things, every other way is wrong. If we are good, others are evil. By contrast, the ancient Greeks and Romans welcomed new gods into their pantheon and worshiped them alongside the old. They had no crusades or jihads. The Roman authorities threw Christians to the lions because they mistook the early Christians' intolerance for seditiousness. They did not seek to kill them because they rejected the Christians' God.

Mary Lefkowitz, author of "Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn From Myths."

Thought for the Day:
This from the New York Times: Judging 2003's Ideas: The Most Overrated and Underrated

At the end of each year, Arts & Ideas asks a handful of writers, scholars and other opinionated people to identify the year's most underrated and overrated ideas.

Contributors may choose any subject they please, from designer chocolate to extreme makeovers, but most pick Big Concepts like religion, money or politics.




Repeal of the Estate Tax

We pay taxes only because the alternative is worse: no taxes, no government; no government, no army. Among our myriad taxes, none is as efficient and painless as the estate tax. It's like a lawyer's contingency fee: injured parties who couldn't otherwise afford legal access can try to recover damages because lawyers are willing to forgo their fees unless they win. Similarly, the estate tax lets us finance valuable public services with a surcharge that kicks in only if we end up among the wealthiest 1 percent. It also permits lower income-tax rates, encouraging effort and investment. It stimulates charitable giving, reducing the need for tax-financed public services. And a tax levied after death is surely less unpleasant than one collected from the living.

But if the estate tax is so great, why do 70 percent of surveyed voters favor the Bush administration's efforts to repeal it permanently? Perhaps this tax would fare better if pollsters began with a question like this: "If the estate tax were repealed, which other taxes should be increased, or which government services should be eliminated, to make up for the lost revenue?"

Robert H. Frank, professor of economics at Cornell University and author of the forthcoming book "What Price the Moral High Ground?"

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Thought for the Day:
  • New nation

  • Civil war

  • Dedicate field

  • Dedicated to unfinished work

  • New birth of freedom

  • Government not perish

--Summary slide of The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation

The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation is an impression of what Lincoln's Gettysburg Address would look like when rendered as a PpwerPoint presentation. Go take a look; it's well worth it.

Friday, December 26, 2003

I can truly die happy now...
I am now the proud owner of the complete collection of every episode of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" on DVD. Happy Winter Solstice to me...

A Day That Will Live In Infamy Department:
According to, today is the 84th anniversary of the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees by the Red Sox (though the sale wasn't actually announced until January.

Anyone want to talk about curses?


Thought for the Day:
My young son asked me what happens after we die. I told him we get buried under a bunch of dirt and worms eat our bodies. I guess I should have told him the truth--that most of us go to Hell and burn eternally--but I didn't want to upset him.
--Jack Handey

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

No posting for the next couple days...
as I'll be on the road visiting family. Meantime, everyone have an enjoyable midwinter holiday of whatever flavor you prefer, drink what you want, drive safely, and above all, don't do both of those activities at the same time (or too close to each other).

Thought for the Day:
Christmas is an awfulness that compares favorably with the great London plague and fire of 1665-66. No one escapes the feelings of mortal dejection, inadequacy, frustration, loneliness, guilt and pity. No one escapes feeling used by society, by religion, by friends and relatives, by the utterly artifical responsiblities of extending false greetings, sending banal cards, reciprocating unsolicated gifts, going to dull parties, putting up with acquaintances and family one avoids all the rest of the short, of being brutalized by a "holiday" that has lost virtually all of its original meanings and has become a merchandising ploy for color tv set manufacturers and ravagers of the woodlands.
--Harlan Ellison

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

How to lose friends and alienate people...
From the WaPo: U.S. Seeks to Ease Dutch Fears Over Court

And what fears do the Dutch have that we have to ease? Well, it seems that the Senate has approved a measure authorizing the use of military force "on behalf of" U.S. detainees being held for the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Damn, it must be nice to be the biggest bully on the block.

My guess is the defense counts this as a win...
I just saw where the Malvo jury came in with a sentence of life without parole. Given that the defense seemed to be that Malvo was excessively influenced by John Allen Muhammad, that's probably about as good as they were expecting to do. A clean defense win there, and not at all an unjust result, it seems to me.

I can sympathize...
From The Onion: Jesus 'Really Dreading' This Next Birthday

JERUSALEM—Jesus Christ, son of God and savior of humanity, confided Monday that He is not looking forward to His 2003rd birthday, saying that He is "really dreading turning the big two-oh-oh-three."

"Well, here's another one," said Christ, who will be 2003 Dec. 25. "I can't believe I'm actually turning 2,003 soon. I am seriously getting up there."

Though His associates have been keeping Him in good company as the milestone draws near, Christ said He is finding it increasingly difficult to keep His spirits up.

"They keep telling me I don't look a day over 33, but you know how they are—especially Peter," Christ said meekly. "He'll be calling me an old fogy three times before the cock crows tomorrow morning. I just know it."

This day in history....
According to, today is the 28th anniversary of arbitrator Peter Seitz's historic ruling in the Andy Messersmith/Dave McNally case, which ultimately drove a stake into the heart of the reserve clause and led to the modern era of free agency. Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, John Gaherin, chairman of the owners' Player Relations Committee, immediately fired Seitz. However, on February 4 of the following year U.S. District Judge John W. Oliver upholds Seitz's ruling. According to, in addition to being the first "modern" free agent (not the first one strictly speaking; on several occasions in the past the Commissioner of Baseball had used his discretionary powers to declare players free agents), Messersmith was also the first of a distressingly common breed, the disappointing free agent:

Signed on April 10, Messersmith missed spring training and proved to be the first in another category: the disappointing free agent. He pitched well enough, going 11-11 with a 3.04 ERA for last-place Atlanta. He was even named to the All-Star team for the third straight season (although he was replaced due to injury), but more was expected of the newly minted baseball millionaire.

From Heather Havrilesky's essay...
in Salon on "The Year of the Liar", a most excellent summary:

The president's claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was easily the biggest lie of the year. Strange, then, that months after his State of the Union statement that the administration's evidence left "no doubt" that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq, President Bush still hasn't been forced to explain himself, nor has he apologized for duping the American people by allowing them to believe that the imminent threat of WMD in Iraq justified an immediate invasion. Even if WMD turn up now, the administration has failed to produce the preponderance of evidence that we were repeatedly led to believe existed. Bush pulled this off not only by refusing to admit guilt, but by sidestepping the entire question, continuing to distort the facts by discussing 9/11 and the need to "battle terrorism" in the same breath with Iraq. Sadly, the American public has the patience of a hyperactive squirrel, and the tough questions only come for so long. Eventually, the country seems to resign itself to never really knowing the truth, or never getting a reasonable response to a serious allegation. Just as our problems in Iraq seemed to be registering with the public, we capture Saddam -- and Bush's poll ratings soar. The second he seems to be winning, all previous trespasses are forgiven or forgotten.

Sadly, we seem to be getting the kind of government we deserve. But then again, what do you expect from someone whose entire career has pretty much been a put on?

Joe Conason on the threat level...
and the cognitive dissonance which lies therein (Premium content; click through the ad for your day pass...):

In New York City today, we're suffering from a touch of cognitive dissonance. On television and radio and the front pages of our leading newspapers, we hear that federal and local authorities fear we are in such serious jeopardy that they have raised the threat alert level to orange-plus. "We've never quite seen it at this level before," said Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge. "The strategic indicators suggest that it is the most significant threat reporting since 9/11." According to White House press secretary Scott McClellan, "terrorists abroad are anticipating attacks that they believe will rival or exceed the scope and impact of those we experienced on Sept. 11."

Yet on the Op-Ed pages and the propaganda chatter channels, we're assured that the world is a far safer place since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. We're told that the Bush administration's muscular policies have forced Libya into surrender, but nobody mentions that Libya hasn't been a significant threat for at least a decade.

Rival or exceed the scope and impact of the 9/11 attacks, eh? I'll believe it when I see it, though if it happens that seems to be pretty good evidence that taking Saddam out was pretty irrelevant to the war on terror...

Blast from the past...
Right now, Cartoon Network is showing the animated "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol". First aired in 1962, it was a staple of the holiday season while I was growing up, but seemed to disappear sometime during my early teens. Nice to know it hasn't completely disappeared.

Another perspective on the centenary of flight...
Courtesy of El Reg: Wright Brothers' centenary provokes aviation speculationfest. As Lester Haines notes, 100 years and still no flying cars:

Perhaps a more lateral approach to air transport is therefore required, such as that offered by Nasa's Small Aircraft Transportation System (Sats).

Sats eschews the classic "hub and spoke" model in favour of "a nation of air travellers hopping between small airports on a point-to-point, on-demand basis in 'air-taxis'."

As part of this idea, Nasa is looking to develop so-called "personal air vehicles (PAVs)", which it claims: "would be affordable for the general public and self-operated without the need for a pilot."

Sounds good, but isn't this straying dangerously close to the sunlit heavens inhabited by that most elusive of aviation dreams - the flying car?

Yes, as I look under the Xmas tree this morning, there is no present even remotely resembling a flying car in size or shape. Indeed, I am devastated to learn that the Moller M400 Skycar is still unavailable for immediate delivery. Although Moller bravely asserts that it is looking for certfication "no later than December 31, 2005", I can't help feeling that the dream is no nearer now than it was when we first mentioned this must-have suburban people mover.

Whatever the future of aviation holds, I think it is fair to say that nothing we have seen gives hope for a better or more enjoyable airborne travel experience. And - despite all the twittering on about ion drives and SSTs - one fundamental question remains unaswered: "Where's my bloody flying car?"

Thought for the Day:
Frankincense, one reads, has historically been used in Christian and other religious rituals to "purify the air." This was obviously written by someone with very limited experience of religious rituals. When I was an altar boy, the most coveted job (which I had) was to be "thurifer," or incense hassler. This job was great because you got to (a) light the charcoal in the thurible (incense burner) before the service, which gave my natural desire to play with matches a religious significance that I still feel when lighting coals in the Weber; and (b) you could ladle in all the incense you wanted. The result was not purer air; on the contrary, I routinely produced enough smoke to make it look like the church was on fire. In my case this merely annoyed the priest. But in the old days, you're talking about a congregation that slept with camels and didn't have the benefit of refrigerated mortuaries. No doubt smelling frankincense was preferable to smelling anything else.
--Cecil Adams

Monday, December 22, 2003

Also from the Urban Legends Reference Pages...
you can test your knowledge of Christmas folklore. Just click on your answer, and continue until you reach the end of the quiz (10 questions).

I got all of them right this time around, but I'm not going to gloat; I've been reading the ULRP for years, and I've taken this quiz every year since it started. The first time I only got 60% correct, and this is the first year I've finally remembered all of the answers (after reading each of them about 10 times or so; David and Barbara Mikkelson like to do recaps of Christmas oriented legends in their ULRP update emails towards the end of the year).

It's not..., but the Urban Legends Reference Pages has a set of "Christmas Mondegreens" (misheard song lyrics). And an explanation of why misheard lyrics are known (at least in some circles) as "mondegreens". A fun page...

My favorite, this fractured version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (misheard lines in boldface):

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
My tulip sent to me:
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lawyers leaving,
Nine lazy Hansons,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven warts on women,
Six geezers laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a cartridge in a pantry.

Obviously, if ten lawyers are leaving, it's my kind of party....

From the Joe Bob Briggs "Week in Review" email...
we get the real story behind Michael Jackson's conversion to Islam:

Michael Jackson converted to Islam, figuring he may need Al Qaeda before this is all over.

Here's some food for thought...
about Strom Thurmond and his biracial daughter...

And it appears that our love of the death penalty...
is going to rise up and bite us in the ass in Iraq. As a story at notes, there will be no international support for any trial of Saddam Hussein if the death penalty is a potential outcome:

Indeed, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan closed the door last week to U.N. support for any tribunal that included the death penalty as a punishment.

"This tribunal will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, if it's done professionally," says Scheffer. "It's extremely important that [the Iraqis] recognize that imposing the death penalty will shut the door to any U.N. or European effort to support the court."

Which means that George will have to whip out his RepubliCard™ in order to pay for this one, too.

While standing in line at the bank this morning...
I noticed that the CNN feed (which, for some reason my bank insists on inflicting on me when I go there) ran the story that apparently we're at Orange Alert, or some such nonsense. My question is, what are we supposed to do about it, besides lose sleep?

TalkLeft yesterday took a more sensible tack, noting that the heightened level of terrorist threat (read: heightened level of paranoia) certainly puts the lie to any assertions that the arrest of Saddam Hussein made us any safer.

This just in...
via League of Liberals member Pharyngula: Harold von Braunhut, Seller of Sea Monkeys, Dies at 77 (NY Times link; expires in about a week). I note a local connection, apparently von Braunhut was born in Memphis, though apparently the family moved to New York City early on.

A brilliant little site...
from the Howard Dean campaign, tells us what our tax cuts are really costing us, as we get the lowdown on how we're paying The Bush Tax.

I got rid of all my credit cards...
so of course I'm willing to get rid of this one:

The story at Daily Kos.

From South Knox Bubba...
a reference to a pithy James Carville comment on Bush's moon program:

He noted that we'd already done that, and speculated that Haliburton would soon be in the "space rocket business". But he doubted they would be able to get anyone to go. He said, "this administration would put a man on the moon and then leave the poor son of a bitch stranded up there because they wouldn't have a plan to bring him home."

Makes you wonder about that fifth dentist...
In an interesting post in Whiskey Bar Saturday, Billmon cites a poll of Americans on their support for various reasons for going to war. This excerpt caught my eye:

Asked to rate the legitimacy of eight different justifications sending troops to war, more than four in five Americans agree war is justified when another country declares war on the United States (83%) or when the United States is attacked (81%).

Only four out of five Americans agree that war is justified in the event of a declaration of war or an attack against the United States? I didn't realize that many Americans were so dedicated pacifists. Gives one some cause for hope, I suppose (even though I myself would have fallen with the four out of five).

I have a bad feeling about this. --Han Solo
From yesterday's New York Times: Strong Support for Ban on Gay Marriage

The article does suggest that getting such an amendment passed is going to be more difficult than the supporters probably imagine, and that's a good thing. However:

Sanford Levinson, a constitutional expert at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, said it was extremely hard to amend the Constitution. If the ban on gay marriage passed the House and Senate, he said, opponents could stop it by getting the support of one house of the legislature in just 13 states.

Mr. Levinson said President Bush's support was "a free pass" because he probably knows how difficult it would be to get through Congress, let alone through 38 states.

"The idea is for Bush to throw red meat to the Republican right, secure in the knowledge that this is not going to go anywhere," he said. "If it did go anywhere, it would tear the Republican Party apart."

On one of the mailing lists I participate in, I suggested (right after the Massachusetts decision) that the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts had probably thrown the 2004 election to the Republicans. Steve Gilliard, in one of his entries posted yesterday ("The great flaw", 12/21/03) suggests that Bush will lose in a landslide. He makes some good points, and I hope he's right, but you can count on the Repugnicans to hit hard on the Democrats as the party of sodomy; I'm a bit afraid that slime may well stick.

Holiday schedule is in effect...
My two or three readers have probably noted that things have gotten a little slow around here. Sorry about that; they should get slower for the next few days as I take care of my various social obligations for the holiday season (today and tomorrow may be exceptions to that prediction, but I'll be on the road Wednesday through Friday afternoon, and Friday/Saturday should be devoted to catching up with a hail of email). Things should get back to approximately normal by the end of the week, though, for what that's worth.

Thought for the Day:
Statistics means never having to say you're certain.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Some interesting reading...
What's so wrong about peace, love and higher taxes?

Really, it's a pretty simple principle: if government is to provide essential services, someone has to pay for it. And that someone is going to be all of us, one way or the other.

And I'm glad to see I'm not the only one getting interesting emails...

Thought for the Day:
In America, anybody can be president. That's one of the risks you take.
--Adlai Stevenson

Saturday, December 20, 2003

More lies and spin from the bAdministration, no doubt
Over at TalkLeft, we hear that we may be hearing more about Al Qaeda's Drug Connection:

Call us cynical, but we're putting two and two together and coming up with a plan by the Administration to spin support for Sen. Hatch's much criticized "Victory Act" which seeks to reclassify many drug offenses as crimes of "narco-terrorism" carrying even more draconian penalties than those currently in place.

Is old Europe irrelevant?
Not by a long shot: Watch out for "Old Europe": She can bite (premium content; click through the ad, which for today, at least, is for a good liberal cause :-) ).

In a nutshell, Europe is a huge investor in the U.S., and the U.S. is a huge investor in Europe. If the mutual snarkiness gets around to economic retaliation, hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides of the pond could be at risk.

And over at the Bill Maher blog...
Bill makes an interesting prediction on the course of the Saddam Hussein trial:

Saddam was apparently living on 7-Up and candy bars. You know what that means - he's going to try to mount a junk food defense.

Bob Somerby...
gives us some good news over at The Daily Howler today. While the WaPo hasn't called Krauthammer on the carpet for it yet, there are a few commentators in the press who are calling him on his dishonest attempts at "parlor psychoanalysis" of Howard Dean.

From Michael Moore...
an excerpt from a letter Moore received from a soldier. I love how soldiers, sailors, Marines and/or airmen can be so wonderfully cynical at times:

And a Specialist in the U.S. Army wrote to me this week about the capture of Saddam Hussein:

“Wow, 130,000 troops on the ground, nearly 500 deaths and over a billion dollars a day, but they caught a guy living in a hole. Am I supposed to be dazzled?”

Thought for the Day:
A random exchange:

African-Americans are almost invisible, especially in Renaissance art.
--Renee Cox
Last time I checked, there were no Americans at all in Renaissance art.
--Camille Paglia

Friday, December 19, 2003

Comedian Tim Wilson...
is a frequent guest on the syndicated "Bob and Tom" radio show (which, alas, I can't get here in Memphis). He once did a song titled "The First Baptist Bar and Grill" which is one of the most hilarious songs I've ever heard.

Now, in an interesting case of life mirroring art, we have this from CNN: Born Again: Notorious strip club to become church.

I wonder if they're keeping the poles?

How can we get Americans to focus on social problems?
The Right Christians suggests one answer: make them entertaining.

I look forward...
to the reaction of noted Cub fan Big Stupid Tommy to this piece o'news: Chicago eatery to destroy infamous baseball

Basically Grant DePorter, the managing partner of Harry Caray's Restaurant in Chicago, has bought the infamous Steve Bartman baseball for $106,600; this is the ball that Bartman deflected away from Cubs outfielder Moises Alou in game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series, and thereby set up the eventual victory of the Florida Marlins in the NLCS (and ultimately, the Marlins' victory in the World Series).

And what does DePorter plan to do with the ball? Destroy it. According to him, it will be an exorcism.

"We want to create some closure to the way the season ended," DePorter said.

The ball is to be destroyed in an act of exorcism. It is earmarked for death on Feb. 26, when the restaurant organizes a worldwide toast to Caray.

DePorter plans to ask fans for ideas on how best to banish the ball.

"Harry Caray was a true Cubs fan, and we think he'd want us to do whatever we can to make it easier for fans to put this thing behind us," he said.

For those of you who are interested, Harry Caray's Restaurants (all three in downtown Chicago, Rosemont, and at Chicago Midway Airport) will be sponsoring a memorial toast to Caray on Thursday, February 26, 2004 at 5:25 PM local (sounds like this will be a rolling toast around the world, as 5:25 PM arrives in each time zone (fortunately for me, Memphis is in the Central Time Zone, same as Chicago, so i'll be hoisting at the same time that the folks in Chicago will). According to the Harry Caray's Restaurant website (see here, though you may want to bookmark this site and visit for more info as plans develop), fans around the world are urged to hoist a Budweiser (Harry's favorite; "Cubs fan, Bud man", remember?) in Harry's memory on the 6th anniversary of his passing, and what would have been his 90th birthday.

Hey, be there or be square.

DC Circuit smacks down the pigopolists....
From the AP via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Record Industry May Not Subpoena Providers

The appeals court said the 1998 copyright law doesn't cover popular file-sharing networks used by tens of millions of Americans to download songs. The law "betrays no awareness whatsoever that Internet users might be able directly to exchange files containing copyrighted works," the court wrote.

The judges sympathized with the recording industry, which has cited declining profits, noting that "stakes are large." But they said it was not the role of courts to rewrite the 1998 law, "no matter how damaging" the practice of swapping has become to the music industry or threatens to become to the motion picture and software industries.

Of course, you knew that there'd be an objection by the U.S. Senator from the RIAA, Orrin Hatch:

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the court's decision "makes the need for reform of the subpoena process even more urgent."

And we all know what his idea of "reform" would entail--most likely giving the RIAA the power to summarily haul file sharers into the streets and have them shot.

Second verse, same as the first...
In this news from El Reg, we discover that Real Networks, maker of the Real Player streaming media player, is suing Microsoft for anti-competitive behavior, to the tune of about one billion dollars:

We believe our business would be substantially larger today if Microsoft were playing by the rules," said Real's founder and former Microsoft executive Rob Glaser in a statement.

Real will seek more than $1 billion in damages, and expects the litigation to cost $12 million and take three years to complete. However, since the company is seeking "injunctive relief", an early decision could come sooner rather than later. Real's annual revenue is around $200 million, based on its most recent earnings.

The suit, filed in a San Jose court, alleges that Microsoft used its OEM contracts to block distribution of the Real Player, and with held API information.

So when are NASA or the Columbia survivors going to sue Bill Gates?
An interesting tidbit from a recent New York TImes Magazine article: PowerPoint makes you dumb

In August, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board at NASA released Volume 1 of its report on why the space shuttle crashed. As expected, the ship's foam insulation was the main cause of the disaster. But the board also fingered another unusual culprit: PowerPoint, Microsoft's well-known ''slideware'' program.

NASA, the board argued, had become too reliant on presenting complex information via PowerPoint, instead of by means of traditional ink-and-paper technical reports. When NASA engineers assessed possible wing damage during the mission, they presented the findings in a confusing PowerPoint slide -- so crammed with nested bullet points and irregular short forms that it was nearly impossible to untangle. ''It is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation,'' the board sternly noted.

More fun with spam...
Today's entry in the sweeps didn't catch my eye for the name ("Pettifogged A. Guardrail") but rather for the subject line: " fwd: she takes a 20 inch horse c0ck, must see training religious". Would most women taking a 20 inch cock (whether equine or any other species) consider it religious training? Or even a religious experience, for that matter?

Thought for the Day:
It's not denial. I'm just very selective about the reality I accept.
--Calvin [Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes"]

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Second Circuit smacks down the Feds...
and issues a ruling in the Padilla case to the effect that the President can't detain a U.S. citizen seized on U.S. soil as an "enemy combatant". You can read the opinion on the Web (of course), if you're so inclined (.pdf file; if you've been on the Web longer than about two weeks you should know the drill there).

After Saddam's arrest, the deluge?
William Pfaff makes a compelling case in the International Herald Tribune that this might be the case...

As for Bush, Saddam's capture symbolically changes the president from war leader to the builder of a new Iraq. Electorally, he is likely to regret this change.

If questioning Saddam Hussein doesn't produce the famous weapons of mass destruction that were threatening Jerusalem, and British and American bases in the region - not to mention New York and Washington - the question of what the war was all about is reopened.

The failure to get new information will confirm what so far has been the unanimous testimony of Iraqi scientists and officials, who no longer have any reason to lie and every reason to tell the truth: The weapons programs were all terminated after the first Gulf War. Washington, significantly, had already let the issue of weapons of mass destruction drop even before Saddam's capture.

Had Karl Rove, Bush's chief domestic political adviser, been consulted in time, he probably would have told the president to seize Saddam but hide him until the first week of next November, and produce him - trussed on a turkey platter - on the eve of the election. But as 600 soldiers were involved in the capture and rumors fly, that was not practical.

As things stand, the triumph of Saddam's capture has 11 months during which to ebb. By next November it risks being covered over by an accumulation of bad news from a liberated but unpacified Iraq.

You got to admire the Brits, they're never ones to rush into anything
From CNN: UK to hold Diana death inquest

Let's see... The princess snuffed it in 1997, and they're just getting around to having an inquest now?

Why will the white, blue-collar voter shoot himself in the foot?
A couple excellent articles on the studies of UC sociologist Arlie Hochschild. First read Let Them Eat War, and then follow that up with the BuzzFlash interview.

So why is the blue-collar voter voting against his own economic self-interest? It's a very complex question, but basically, the Republicans are very cleverly deflecting this voter's feeling of anger and resentment away from their rightful targets (predatory capitalists--the natural constitutency of the Republicans) towards other targets--minorities, women, immigrants, etc.. From "Let Them Eat War":

Since the l970s, the blue-collar man has taken a lot of economic hits. The buying power of his paycheck, the size of his benefits, the security of his job – all these have diminished. As Ed Landry, a 62 year-old-machinist interviewed by Paul Solman on the Lehrer News Hour said, "We went to lunch and our jobs went to China." He searched for another job and couldn't find one. He was even turned down for a job as a grocery bagger. "I was told that we'd get back to you." "Did they?" Solman asked. "No. I couldn't believe it myself. I couldn't get the job." In today's jobless recovery, the average jobless stint for a man like Landry is now 19 weeks, the longest since l983. Jobs that don't even exist at present may eventually open up, experts reassure us, but they aren't opening up yet. In the meantime, three out of every four available jobs are low-level service jobs. A lot of workers like Ed Landry, cast out of one economic sector, have been unable to land a job even at the bottom of another.

For anyone who stakes his pride on earning an honest day's pay, this economic fall is, unsurprisingly enough, hard to bear. How, then, do these blue-collar men feel about it? Ed Landry said he felt "numb." Others are anxious, humiliated and, as who wouldn't be, fearful. But in cultural terms, Nascar Dad isn't supposed to feel afraid. What he can feel though is angry. As Susan Faludi has described so well in her book Stiffed, that is what many such men feel. As a friend who works in a Maine lumber mill among blue-collar Republicans explained about his co-workers, "They felt that everyone else – women, kids, minorities – were all moving up, and they felt like they were moving down. Even the spotted owl seemed like it was on its way up, while he and his job, were on the way down. And he's angry."

But is that anger directed downward – at "welfare cheats," women, gays, blacks, and immigrants – or is it aimed up at job exporters and rich tax dodgers? Or out at alien enemies? The answer is likely to depend on the political turn of the screw. The Republicans are clearly doing all they can to aim that anger down or out, but in any case away from the rich beneficiaries of Bush's tax cut. Unhinging the personal from the political, playing on identity politics, Republican strategists have offered the blue-collar voter a Faustian bargain: We'll lift your self-respect by putting down women, minorities, immigrants, even those spotted owls. We'll honor the manly fortitude you've shown in taking bad news. But (and this is implicit) don't ask us to do anything to change that bad news. Instead of Marie Antoinette's "let them eat cake," we have – and this is Bush's twist on the old Nixonian strategy – "let them eat war."

But mixed in with that is the image projected by Bush himself, in which the white, blue-collar male sees the government (at least the executive) mirror what he thinks should be the ideal structure of the family (which then provides a microcosm of the structure of society itself), while at the same time the very image of Bush, the miserable failure who's still on top despite his incompetence, is itself reassuring. From the BuzzFlash interview:

BuzzFlash: In this age, when liberals are accused of being politically correct, the right-wing movement is probably even more of a practitioner of political correctness on many accounts. And Bush can't communicate directly to the white male about how he stands for the white male being on top, so there's a lot of coding going on, it seems. And much of this is subliminal, because Bush can't say, well, I keep Laura in her place, but --

Hochschild: You never see her. She's in a lockbox.

BuzzFlash: And she's always walking behind him and is carefully scripted to say as little as possible. If she says anything, it's once or twice a month, and it's a sentence or two, or maybe a highly controlled interview. In their relationship, she symbolizes the woman who is always deferential to the husband. And Bush himself, although he comes from entitlement, in many ways he shows that the more he fails, the more secure maybe white males feel who are feeling uncomfortable with their position, because he's still the President of the United States. It is a reinforcement of all of the white males -- that no matter how much they screw up, they're still head of the family.

Hochschild: I think that's a really very perceptive remark. Bush is a kind of a Dagwood, you know? However awkward and wrong-headed, he's still the head of the family.

BuzzFlash: That may be reassuring to blue collar males. I won't be just thrown out of my family if I cheat, or if I spend my money drinking, because I'll come back and ultimately I'm the head of the family and I'll be forgiven. It's a patriarchal archetype that the male head of the household is always forgiven his failings.

Hochschild: Bush is the upper-class mess-up who ends up on top anyway. It is subliminal: If you mess up, don't worry. The reason that becomes important, I think, is that we live in a culture of individualism. And if you lose a job, it's your fault you lost the job. It's your credit if you do well, and your fault if you do badly. And so for him to be the mess-up that gets ahead anyway is sort of an end-run around this whole burdensome ideology of individualism.

BuzzFlash: So it's a triumph of white males through all this adversity of civil rights, "quota systems" for minorities and feminism. There's a man who's been a complete screw-up, and now he's President of the United States. I'm a blue-collar male and I don't care if he's wealthy. He's standing up for the white guy being the head of the household and the decision maker.

Hochschild: And that might become all the more important if he begins to feel it's all he's got left. And Bush represents it -- since it sure doesn't look like he's earned his title. Look at Bush's adolescence and young adulthood -- it's really extended until he was 40. He was careening around in Daddy's car, getting tickets for drunken driving, stealing the wreath off the Macy's front door. He was dragging a garbage can from a neighbor's driveway down the street and careening around.

He's still careening around. That's what he's doing in Iraq -- careening around. We are the neighbor's garbage can; he's dragging us with him.

But how that gets to be an asset subliminally for this important swing vote group is that you can mess up and still end up on top. He's not providing any policies to help that happen. That is the sleight of hand. He's actually making the working man's life a thousand times harder.

Go read both articles; they are well worth the investment in time. Thanks to Brian at Resonance for the reference.

Of course, the tinfoil hat brigade has to jump on the bandwagon...
From The Village Voice: And the Saddam-Capture Conspiracy Theories Begin

Thought for the Day:
I don't accept the currently fashionable assertion that any view is automatically as worthy of respect as any equal and opposite view. My view is that the moon is made of rock. If someone says to me "Well, you haven't been there, have you? You haven't seen it for yourself, so my view that it is made of Norwegian Beaver Cheese is equally valid" - then I can't even be bothered to argue. There is such a thing as the burden of proof, and in the case of god, as in the case of the composition of the moon, this has shifted radically. God used to be the best explanation we'd got, and we've now got vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining. So I don't think that being convinced that there is no god is as irrational or arrogant a point of view as belief that there is. I don't think the matter calls for even-handedness at all.
--Douglas Adams

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

I swear to God, I can't make this shit up...
I'm simply not that creative. According to Daily Kos, there is a candidate in the DC Democratic Presidential Primary named "Vermin Supreme".

He got screwed by landing the last ballot slot in the ballot placement lottery, too. I wonder how many votes s/he will have when the dust clears.

Gotta keep an eye on that one.

Best weird spam author name of the week...
beyond the shadow of a doubt: "Unpunished P. Affluently"

Every time I see that one it reminds me of Kenny Lay and his ilk.

Do they not teach the concept of "margin of error" in the military academies?
Fred Kaplan, in Slate, did an interesting piece on why our smart bombs were so dumb when it came to killing their intended targets (like the "decapitation" strikes on Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders). Well, it turns out (and you probably could figure this out beforehand if you devote a lobe or two to the problem ahead of time) that smart munitions are no smarter than the idiots using them (we computer tech types run into this problem all the time), and the mission planners for some of these strikes weren't thinking entirely straight. I thought the initial idea was neat; apparently the targeting of the high leadership was done by use of a GPS chip in their satellite phones; whenever someone uses a sat phone the phone is busily giving away their position. Great idea, however, there were three problems. First, time lag:

First, there is a lag between the time when the call is intercepted and the time it takes for a bombardier to fly to the area and drop his bombs on the target. The airstrike on the Baghdad restaurant took place 45 minutes after the intelligence intercept. This was heralded as amazingly fast work, but it was also plenty of time for father and sons to leave the scene and travel miles away—if they had been there to begin with.

Frankly, this astonishes me. I mean, I realize I was only a mere JAG officer, and not privy to the Great Secrets of Military Strategy that are passed on from general to general like an oral tradition is passed down from father to son in some primitive tribe, but it seems to me mere common sense that 45 minutes time to target is giving the target plenty of time to move (unless you were listening in on Saddam having sat phone sex with one of his mistresses or something like that, and had good reason to believe that he wasn't going anywhere in the next 45 minutes to an hour). Or why the hell couldn't they have had a strike plane on station, waiting for the sat phone intercept (and reducing the lag time to several minutes at most--mere seconds if you got lucky)?

The second problem? Well, the fact that we were doing sat phone intercepts wasn't exactly a tightly kept secret:

Second, it has widely been known for a long time that the U.S. National Security Agency tracked al-Qaida terrorists through their Thuraya sat phones. It is quite conceivable—Galasco thinks it very likely—that the Iraqi leaders were using deception tactics, making calls from a location, then quickly leaving, so that the American planes would waste bombs, kill civilians (and thus make enemies of the victims' relatives), and look incompetent.

Open mouth. Cut off foot. Hand severed foot to enemy for him to place in your own mouth.

Thirdly, and to my mind the most puzzling of all, we were using munitions which were more damned accurate than the positioning data we were getting from the cell phones:

Third and most astonishing, the GPS signal beamed by Thuraya sat phones is accurate only to within a radius of 100 meters. The bombs that were dropped on these targets are accurate to within 10 meters. In other words, even if the caller had still been on the scene when the bombers arrived (unlikely enough), the bombs would very likely have missed because the target could have been as far as a football fieldaway from where the phone's signal indicated.

The accuracy of the bombs encouraged a false confidence in the officers who planned the strikes. Had the bombs been considered so inaccurate that they would land, on average, 100 meters from a target (a pretty dumb bomb), no U.S. commander would have dropped them on a residential area in the hopes of killing an Iraqi leader who was thought to be
somewhere in the neighborhood. Yet relying on such inaccurate intelligence had the same effect.

I'm sorry; this completely blows me away. Last I remembered looking into the situation, the various U.S. service academies were considered some of the better engineering schools in this great nation. And my recollection of my own college education (which was distinguished for its lack of rigorous, engineering level science courses) is that one of the first things you learn in your freshman physics class is that you never do calculations to a greater degree of accuracy than the data warrants. If you're gathering data that's accurate to the hundredths place, for example, you don't then calculate out the the hundred thousandths place using that data. But by using bombs that were much, much more accurate than the intelligence we were using to target them, we were doing the same thing.


Thought for the Day:
Which Service has the Dumbest Officers?--or, conversely, the smartest enlisted people?
  • Well, in the Coast Guard the officers stay nice and dry on land, while the enlisted people head out to sea in all sorts of weather.

  • In the Army, the officers stand behind the troops and shout, "Attack!"

  • In the Navy, the officers stand on the bridge and steer the ship into action.

  • In the Marine Corps, the officers stand in front of the troops and shout, "Attack!"

  • And in the Air Force? Well, the officers go off to battle in their pretty flight suits, flying their expensive toys, while the enlisted people head for the club for a long one.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Hmmmm... I sorta like the look, but why would I want one?
As part of the hype for "Spider-Man 2" (which I'm looking forward to; I loved "Spider-Man"), Sony has released a bunch of Spiderman themed blog templates for both Blogger and Live Journal.

If only I blogged all Spiderman, all the time. *sigh*

Congrats to Fellow RTB member...
Busy Mom for winning the Wizbang "Best Flappy Bird Blog" award.

Now that the voting is over, I'll acknowledge that I am aware that someone (who I read regularly and respect very highly) did nominate me for "Best Marauding Marsupial Blog" which I came nowhere close to winning (on a clear day, I can see seventh place, which another RTB member claims for his own). I didn't take notice of it here (in fact, I didn't even vote for myself) because I was curious to see how things would develop without any publicity, and because it is always de rigeur to pretend you aren't noticing your poor performance at any sort of contest when you don't figure you have a ghost of a chance of winning. Apparently there's 22 other folks out there whose taste in literature is as bad as my writing style, because they voted for me (either that or they got confused and clicked the wrong radio button). Any of y'all who really did vote for me because you meant to, thanks for your support and your more or less regular readership. And the rest of you who voted for me because you got confused, thanks for getting confused. I'm not proud; I'll take my support any way I can get it, short of bribery.

Oh shit, I've got to be honest. Bribery isn't beneath me; I just didn't have the money this year. Oh well, wait til next year.....

Oh my god no!!!! I'm a blogopath.
Thanks to Brian Leiter for the term, and the diagnosis:

Blogopaths pen lengthy tomes about every topic; they appear to blog 24/7; they pounce almost instantly at any slight or mention from another blogger; they are frequent "commenters" on other sites, always with links to their own blog; their blogs include "endorsements" by other bloggers, and so on. Blogopaths are the folks well-described in an e-mail by one trusted reader: "These [types] are unfulfilled people not unlike, figuratively, the homeless who rummage through garbage bins. Cyberspace is their alley, their raison d'etre. It gives them a reason to get up in the morning." (The same reader offered the most memorable description of the blogopathic part of Cyberspace, calling it a "sub-universe of dementia" populated by "marginalized sociopaths" who crave "publicity, [which] allows them to fantasize that they are real and engaged and relevant.")

So is the Blogopath a type? If so, is there a DSM-IV category that covers this type? Is it symptomatic of, e.g., obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, or something else?

Sociologically, what if anything do we know about the demographics of Blogopaths? It appears to be an overwhelmingly male phenomenon, to start. There also appear to be a disproportionate number of gross "underachievers" (folks with mediocre academic credentials, folks who are undistinguished in their professions, and so on, i.e., people without real-world achievements or, in some cases, attachments). The demographic profile may shed light on the psychological questions.

Damn, how accurate... I'm male, mediocre academic credentials, undistinguished in two professions, without real world achievements or attachments. Jebus, why don't I just shoot myself and get it over with now?

Or why don't I just take the dog for a walk when I get home, instead?


More lies the bAdministration told us...
or rather, our elected representatives. From Florida Today: Senators were told Iraqi weapons could hit U.S. Nelson said claim made during classified briefing

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Monday the Bush administration last year told him and other senators that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but they had the means to deliver them to East Coast cities.

Nelson, D-Tallahassee, said about 75 senators got that news during a classified briefing before last October's congressional vote authorizing the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Nelson voted in favor of using military force.

Nelson said he couldn't reveal who in the administration gave the briefing.

The White House directed questions about the matter to the Department of Defense. Defense officials had no comment on Nelson's claim.

Nelson said the senators were told Iraq had both biological and chemical weapons, notably anthrax, and it could deliver them to cities along the Eastern seaboard via unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.

"They have not found anything that resembles an UAV that has that capability," Nelson said.

For that matter, they haven't found the bio- and chem-weapons yet, either.

Good column today...
by Paul Krugman about possible profiteering in Iraq:

The point is that we've had an environment in which officials inclined to do favors for their business friends, and contractors inclined to pad their bills or do shoddy work, didn't have to worry much about being exposed. Human nature being what it is, then, the odds are that the troubling stories that have come to light aren't isolated examples.

Some Americans still seem to feel that even suggesting the possibility of profiteering is somehow unpatriotic. They should learn the story of Harry Truman, a congressman who rose to prominence during World War II by leading a campaign against profiteering. Truman believed, correctly, that he was serving his country.

On the strength of that record, Franklin Roosevelt chose Truman as his vice president. George Bush, of course, chose Dick Cheney.

The Doctor Science Question o'the Day
from the Doctor Science daily emailing:

Dear Doctor Science,
If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, how do I keep lawyers away?
-- Larry Blake from Ardsley, NY

Have you tried fermented fish entrails? Lawyers won't go near them, even when a hefty retainer is dangled before their eyes. Electric shock sometimes works to defer ambitious advocates, but only if the lawyer in question isn't insulated by a heavy briefcase and thick-soled shoes. Back in the sixties, they tried giving LSD to law students, hoping they could change their entire value system and become poets or painters, but most of them just became more motivated to grab their piece of the pie and then some. If you really want to keep lawyers away, try running high voltage current through fermented fish entrails. A vat the size of a wading pool should suffice, but if they're still swarming, upgrade to a stock tank.

"Criminals are dumb. That's why they get caught." Jon R. Waltz, Professor of Law, Northwestern University, August, 1979
From the Associated Press (scroll to the bottom for this particular story):

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A woman, eight months pregnant and awaiting trial on charges of twice robbing a convenience store armed with an ice cream scoop, was arrested on charges of trying to rob neighbors with a putty knife, police said.

Angela L. Jackson, 18, of Susquehanna Township, was arrested after the residents identified her as the woman who barged into their home at 4:10 p.m. Wednesday and demanded one resident's purse, police said.

The resident refused and in the ensuring scuffle, Jackson was rapped with a hammer. She was uninjured but fled, police said.

After the residents said they had seen the culprit around the neighborhood - and getting the description that she "appeared to be very pregnant" - Jackson was quickly apprehended, Sgt. James Nelson said.

Jackson had been out on $5,000 bail awaiting trial on charges that she robbed the Shop N Drive while armed with the ice cream scoop in August. Police were looking for her on charges of robbing the store again.

Jackson was arraigned on charges of robbery, burglary and simple assault in the newest case and jailed in lieu of $25,000 bail.

How are we dumb? Let us count the ways.... One should generally try to keep a low profile (i.e., not be more than necessarily conspicuous) when one is committing crimes. Committing a crime against another person while eight months pregnant is probably a bit higher profile than one should be. And for that matter, attempting to rob one's neighbors--who might be expected to recognize you as being someone they see regularly, especially if you've been conspicuously pregnant in that period) isn't exactly a practice rich in wisdom. Nor is attempting to rob the same store twice in recent memory. And then, if you're going to try to commit armed robbery, you want to at least arm yourself with a weapon more lethal than a putty knife or an ice-cream scoop (I wonder if surveillance cameras are available for that one; you've got to expect that to hit one of the Fox "real live cop videos" shows soon).

If there's a "Stupid Criminal Hall of Fame", I see one deserving member of the charter class here...

Sometimes it's nice to know...
that even the ethics experts aren't as expert as we think. Slate yesterday did a pretty good column on the subverting of some bioethicists by drug companies and their PR firms: Not so Public Relations

But funding bioethics is less an act of corporate good will than the latest move in a larger strategy: buying off the entire apparatus of academic medicine. One way drug companies can achieve "maximum market impact," for example, is through funding medical education. Drug and device manufacturers now supply over half of the $1.4 billion spent on continuing medical education for physicians in the United States. They have also begun funding patient support groups and a handful of prominent bioethics centers, apparently taking to heart Michael Corleone's advice, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."

Today's featured spam senders...
I've already blogged a couple times about the weird names I'm seeing as "authors" of mail in my inbox. Today's crop for some reason struck me as really weird: "Prodigy I. Stanley" (Subject: "VIDE0 0F PARIS HILT0N SURE"), "Watergate Q. Hypertension" (Subject: "entire Top Story: Virgin Paid $50k For LIve Sex called"), "Transcontinental H. Ferraro" (Subject: "Lcleavelin"; this one must be personal), "Dynamics A. Patron" (Subject: "Here You Go Lcleavelin front"), "Arise B. Confidences" (Subject: "ever footage of dog playing with females covered", which I think wins the prize for most incoherent), "Water D. Canvasback" (Subject: "hospital Paris Part 2 green"; hmmmmm... and that makes me curious yellow), "Rubdown H. Discommoding", (Subject: "however Top Story: Virgin Has Live Sex For $50k you"), "Unfailingly L. Atrocity", (Subject: "cent What Makes Jenna Screem? much"; I'd gusee too few cents for the job at hand would make Jenna "screem"), and "Uncommoner L. Offal" (I'll have you know all my offal is the uncommonest kind), (Subject: "issue It's Too Big For Her. Don't you Think? added").

I guess of this crop, "Watergate Q. Hypertension" is my favorite, though "Walter D. Canvasback" sounds like you could get away with using it as a character name in a trashy novel or in a particularly bad play.

Thought for the Day:
There's very little advice in men's magazines, because men don't think there's a lot they don't know. Women do. Women want to learn. Men think, "I know what I'm doing, just show me somebody naked."
--Jerry Seinfield

Monday, December 15, 2003

Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler...
points out the conflict of interest that seems to be corrupting the press corps these days:

RUMMY’S WINTRY MIX: The most interesting part of Safire’s column today is its opening paragraph. We know what he did last weekend:
SAFIRE: On Saturday night, I stuffed myself on lamb chops and potato pancakes at a holiday party at the home of Don and Joyce Rumsfeld.

“Along with other media bigfeet,” Safire says, “I chatted up Rummy and C.I.A. chief George Tenet.” But neither man tattled about Saddam’s capture. “So much for being a Washington Insider,” the self-effacing Timesman laments.

Should scribes party-hardy with those whom they cover? Last summer, we noted that Gwen Ifill enjoyed some top-notch home cooking over at Condi Rice’s place. Sadly, Rice had received some home cooking too; one week earlier, on the NewsHour, Ifill had taken a total dive when she interviewed Rice about uranium-from-Africa. Should scribes be best buddies with those whom they cover? That wintry mix at Rummy’s home shows how bigfoot Washington plays it. Their parties come first. Your interests come second.

And let's not forget Margaret Carlson's confession that the press corps favored Bush over Gore in 2000 in part because the food was better on the Bush plane (But she spends much more time discussing the way Bush provided better food on his plane. Mmmm! “There were Dove bars and designer water on demand,” she recalls, “and a bathroom stocked like Martha Stewart’s guest suite. Dinner at seven featured lobster ravioli”).

Maybe that's the surefire way to improve the level of punditry and reportage in the press: make 'em go hungry.

You Know You've Been A Law Student Too Long When...
you find a Contracts exam question in The Lord of the Rings:

Sauron: Offer and acceptance
"As a small token of your friendship Sauron asks this," he said: "that you should find this thief," such was his word, "and get from him, willing or no, a little ring, the least of rings, that once he stole. It is but a trifle that Sauron fancies, and an earnest of your good will. Find it, and three rings that the Dwarf-sires possessed of old shall be returned to you, and the realm of Moria shall be yours for ever. Find only news of the thief, whether he still lives and where, and you shall have great reward and lasting friendship from the Lord. Refuse, and things will not seem so well. Do you refuse?"
The Fellowship of the Ring, in "The Council of Elrond"

It seems to me that's really two, maybe three separate offers. The first seems to be unambiguously an offer for a unilateral contract (to find the supposedly piddling ring for three of the Dwarf rings of power plus the estate of Moria), to be completed by performance. Dáin wouldn't want to bind himself to produce a ring; it's too risky. This seems like the straight-forward reward scenario envisioned as a prototypical offer for a unilateral contract.

There's more; this excerpt doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. Not only the post itself, but the visitors leaving comments then pick up the ball and run with it further. This is all probably more amusing (or more nauseating) if your'e a lawyer, law student, ex-lawyer, or ex-law student, but even the layperson should get a grin out of it.

Heidi should be saying right now what I've often said since August, 1979: "I want my old mind back!"

Thanks to Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard for this reference.

More from Juan Cole...
this time, on the political impact of Saddam's capture in the U.S.. It seems Professor Cole comes to the same conclusion that the Billmon comment cited below came to:

The capture of Saddam is probably more important for US politics than for the Iraqis. The Baath Party and the Saddam cult of personality were spent forces by the end of the Gulf War, which was why Saddam was forced to rule by sheer terror. You don't have to put thousands of people in mass graves if you have a large popular mandate. So when Saddam fell, and when the Republican Guard tanks corps disintegrated last April, it was over with. Saddam could never have come back. His actual capture is just a footnote in Iraq. Of course, there are still Baathists, and some of the violence has come from them (as I have repeatedly suggested), but they are a small minority that knows how to rig bombs, not a mass movement.


The commentators on cable news shows on Sunday seemed to think that Saddam's capture guarantees Bush's reelection in November of 2004. Well, incumbents have great advantages, and most often do get reelected. But Saddam won't do it for Bush. In a way, the capture came too early for those purposes. It will be a very dim memory in October, 2004.

The Sunni Arab insurgency will continue at least for a while (see below), and the possibility that the Shiites will make more and more trouble cannot be ruled out. The US military is stuck in the country for the foreseeable future at something approaching current troop levels. The move to give civil authority to a transitional Iraqi government may not go smoothly. The administration will have to ask Congress for another big appropriation for Iraq sometime before the '04 election, and that won't help Bush's popularity. The Iraqi economy is still a basket case, the oil pipelines are still being sabotaged or looted, and a whole host of everyday problems remain that having Saddam in custody will not resolve. If Iraq is still going this badly in October of 2004, it would be a real drag on the Bush campaign. Yes, I said "this badly." One arrest doesn't turn it around, except in the fantasy world of political theater in which pundits seem to live.

Thought for the Day:
You might have noticed that most CEOs are not eager to work for companies that are already in the crapper and rotating clockwise. That's puzzling, because you would think that a confident CEO who believed in the power of his own leadership skills would prefer a challenge -- something with more of an upside potential. But it seems that given the choice between a hard job, like CEO of Bob's Pastry and Muffler Shop, or something easy, like CEO of General Electric, most leaders will opt for the position that could be handled equally well by a sock monkey.


If you replaced all of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies with Magic 8 Balls™, and came back in five years, you would discover that some of those companies had compiled excellent track records by pure chance. The CEO's job in a huge company is essentially the same as the Magic 8 Ball: saying yes, no, or maybe, without the benefit of understanding the questions. A Magic 8 Ball is highly qualified for that sort of work.


Recently I heard an interview that CNBC did with Lou Gerstner. He said his biggest contribution as CEO at IBM was changing its culture. His example of how he changed the culture is that when he came into the job there was a lot of talk about breaking up the company into smaller companies; he decided not to do that. In other words, his biggest contribution to IBM was not doing something. Then he wrote a best-selling book about his leadership. The Magic 8 Ball would have had a 50% chance making the same decision; a sock monkey would have nailed it on the first try.
--Scott Adams

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Juan Cole...
is Professor of History at the University of Michigan, specializing in Middle Eastern and South Asian history (as well as religion, including Islam, Sufiism, Baha'i and Unitarianism, which strikes me as an interesting mixture). He also appears to be married to an Arab woman (an Iraqi, perhaps), to judge from this post in his personal blog: Reflections on the Capture of Saddam Hussein

A nightmare has ended. He will be tried, and two nations' dirty laundry will be exposed, the only basis on which all can go forward towards a new Persian Gulf and a new relationship with the West.

What is the significance of the capture of Saddam for contemporary Iraqi politics? He was probably already irrelevant.

The Sunni Arab resisters to US occupation in the country's heartland had long since jettisoned Saddam and the Baath as symbols. (See "Sunnis gear up" below.) They are fighting for local reasons. Some are Sunni fundamentalists, who despised the Baath. Others are Arab nationalists who weep at the idea of their country being occupied. Some had relatives killed or humiliated by US troops and are pursuing a clan vendetta. Some fear a Shiite and Kurdish-dominated Iraq will reduce them to second class citizens. They will fight on, as Mr. Bush admitted today.

My wife, Shahin Cole, suggested to me an ironic possibility with regard to the Shiites. She said that many Shiites in East Baghdad, Basra, and elsewhere may have been timid about opposing the US presence, because they feared the return of Saddam. Saddam was in their nightmares, and the reprisals of the Fedayee Saddam are still a factor in Iraqi politics. Now that it is perfectly clear that he is finished, she suggested, the Shiites may be emboldened. Those who dislike US policies or who are opposed to the idea of occupation no longer need be apprehensive that the US will suddenly leave and allow Saddam to come back to power. They may therefore now gradually throw off their political timidity, and come out more forcefully into the streets when they disagree with the US. As with many of her insights, this one seems to me likely correct.

Scary. Most likely, the bAdministration and its captive pundits have been predicting a quick end to the war now that Evil Incarnate has finally been captured (I wouldn't know for sure; I've not been watching any of the Sunday morning newsshows or any of the cable networks). Wouldn't it be ironic if the capture of Saddam, rather than ending the insurgency, now results in it ratcheting up beyond anything we've seen yet?

Then again, expectations not panning out seems to be a hallmark of this war.

The downside of the spread of "professionalism"...
is The era of the $10,000 a year executive. A good roundup by fellow RTB'er Semi-pundit on how the bAdministration is trying to classify more jobs as "professional" within the meaning of the Fedreal labor laws, so that the companies employing the ersatz "professionals" don't have to be paid overtime.

Memphis Area Blogger Meeting?
Mike Hollihan at Half Bakered is pushing the idea of a Memphis Area Blogger Bash (permalink appears to be bloggered; scroll down to "Memphis Area Blogger Bash?" on 12/12 if it doesn't seem to work), basically a get together of all (or at least as many as can get the word) Memphis area bloggers:

I should stress that this would be non-partisan and non-ideogolical. Everyone's welcome. It's just that blogging is socialising-by-proxy, so why not remove the filter and just socialise for an evening?

A Good Idea, however based on my ability (or more to the point, my lack of ability) to attend GOLUM (local Linux user's group) meetings (none of which I've made since I joined), Atheist Meetups (of which two have actually gotten the 5 votes and 5 confirmations necessary to avoid cancellation, but which I've not been able to make), Memphis Freethought Alliance monthly meetings (which I've not been, can you see a pattern developing here) and the Movie Night on Madison Avenue (which I wanted to make since I could actually have made Mike's acquaintance (since I know he occasionally visits here), and it's only about a 5-7 minute walk from my apartment, but which I wasn't.... you get the picture)...anyway, based on my inability to make any of those dignified insurrections, I'm not betting any serious amounts of money that I'll be able to make a Memphis Area Blogger Bash... But I'll do my best to try.

Some other liberal responses to the Hussein capture
Missouri Liberal (who refers us to a blog entry at Amy Sullivan's Political Aims blog):

Yes, it's great this bastard is caught, but that doesn't change the fact that this president took us to war using faulty intelligence. That he said Iraq posed an "imminent threat” to the United States, when in fact it did not. It doesn’t change the fact that our president told us that Iraq had massive amounts of WMD, yet they are nowhere to be found. These are still questions that should be asked. However, the capture of Hussein will make it that much easier for the president and his supporters to deflect those questions, and to paint anyone who disagrees as treasonous and un-American. I wish I could count on the Democratic leadership to step up and continue to push these issues, hell even start to push, but considering how weak they’ve been recently, I won’t hold my breath.

And from Amy Sullivan :

I want to stress, however, that it is possible to rejoice in the fact that the VBM has been captured and still have questions about how we entered into war with Iraq and how we are handling the reconstruction effort. And yet over the next few days and weeks, we will hear -- whether there is proof for the accusation or not -- that liberals are "unhappy" about Saddam's capture, that we're so unpatriotic and irrational that we wish he was still on the lam.

But here's the truth. Liberals aren't so cynical that we're going to regret this amazingly peaceful and successful capture of a man who murdered untold numbers of his own citizens and who has been a declared enemy of the United States for years just because it reflects well on the Bush administration. No, we're going to spend the next few weeks stewing because we know from recent history how Bush and Co. are going to use this victory not only as the centerpiece of campaign ads, but also for political advantage by further discouraging dissent.

I would like to think things aren't going to pan out this way, but the Bush bAdministration (specifically, Bush's puppetmasters) has made clear that they will stop at nothing to try to subject Americans to permanent Repugnican rule. Using Saddam's capture as a club to beat us all into submission would be right up their alley.

And from former League of Liberals member Blunted on Reality:

Let's remember the real reason for the war... the implied threat of an attack with weapons of mass destruction. The Bush Administration has been unable to show any proof of its claims that Iraq had a functioning nuclear program, or that they had any stockpiled WMDs. We've captured Saddam, but our reason for going there in the first place has yet to be proven to be anything other than either a gross exaggeration or gross failure of our intelligence system.

Let's also keep our troops in mind. We've captured Saddam, and his reign of terror in Iraq is over. It would only make sense to start withdrawing large numbers of United States troops from the country and begin moving in international forces to assist... our men & women have been there too long, and far too many have been buried. The current results of the war in Iraq do not justify the deaths of those soldiers.

As Harvey Keitel said in
Pulp Fiction, "Well, let's not start sucking each other's dicks just yet". Remember that the so-called War on Terrorism that led to the war in Iraq was started with Osama bin Laden in mind, and he is still at large. We still have countless people living in Iraq who are without electricity, gas, or water. We have a tough road ahead of us if we are going to be the primary financiers of Iraq's future as a functioning country. Capturing Saddam Hussein is but the smallest of tips on a very large iceberg

Don't know why this should matter....
save that he's probably going to be the Dem nominee: Statement by Governor Dean on the Capture of Saddam Hussein

WEST PALM BEACH-- Governor Dean issued the following statement this morning:

"This is a great day for the Iraqi people, the US, and the international community.

"Our troops are to be congratulated on carrying out this mission with the skill and dedication we have come to know of them.

"This development provides an enormous opportunity to set a new course and take the American label off the war. We must do everything possible to bring the UN, NATO, and other members of the international community back into this effort.

"Now that the dictator is captured, we must also accelerate the transition from occupation to full Iraqi sovereignty.

Offhand, except for calling for Bush and company to be tried for crimes against humanity, doesn't sound too far removed from my analysis, below.

Sometimes you gotta wonder...
how gullible is the American public? Got SpikeTV's "Star Trek: TNG" Sunday mini-marathon on for background noise as I do some work and some blogging, and they just show a commercial for metal detectors (or more likely, a metal detector retailer, since the commercial doesn't seem to mention a particular brand of detector, and gives a toll-free number for a free catalog.

Anyway, one of the selling points of the commercial is the spokesdroid (who is, if truth be told, not a bad looking man at all), patting his belly contentedly as he says, "My wife said I should get a healthy hobby, and she's proud of weight I've lost."

The next great health fad? Aerobic treasure hunting? Don't make a whole lotta sense to me.

Some words to ponder from Billmon
Trapped like a Rat:

The PR possibiltiies are almost limitless. If it were feasible to airlift the Saddam to Madison Square Garden, so the emperor could pose before the adoring masses with his boot planted firmly on the vanquished dictator's neck, I'm sure the White House Communications Office would be tempted to do it. For Bush, I suspect, this really is "mission accomplished" -- a final victory over the family nemesis, the happy ending to a multi-generational psychodrama.

What it most emphatically was not, however, is what Proconsul Bremer called it: "a great day in Iraq's history." Rather, Saddam's capture -- like Saddam's rule -- is a testament to the utter failure of the artificial nation cobbled together by the Western powers after World War I, to which America has become the residual heir.

Bush's mission may be accomplished, but the true test of the significance of yesterday's rat trapping is still to come. Is the Sunni insurgency simply the last gasp of Saddam's "dead enders," or a popular movement that could simmer for years, posting a perpetual threat to the stability of any American-backed government in Iraq?

The answer may not be long in coming, judging from today's news:

Car Bomb at Iraq Police Station Kills 17

Bomb Kills U.S. Soldier in Iraq

We've been through this drill before. After the deaths of Saddam's sons back in July, it seemed -- for a time -- like every story about the insurgency included some sort of disclaimer to the effect that the attacks continued despite the coalition's glorious destruction of Uday and Qusay. Then, after a while, when it became fairly clear nothing had changed, the media simply stopped talking about it.

To do otherwise would have been to admit that the insurgency existed independently of the Husseins and even of the Baath Party, but rather represented the Sunni minority's response to the loss of its historical powers and privileges. This, in turn, would have poked big holes in the administration's fantasy of a grateful and united Iraq marching shoulder to shoulder with its American liberators into a glorious future.

UPDATE: This is what I get for blogging a post before I read all the comments. A comment on Billmon's post (the one that is the subject of this entry) makes an interesting point, namely that Saddam's capture isn't exactly an unalloyed benefit for the Bush re-election campaign:

Actually, this is great news!

While Saddam's capture is irrelevant to Iraq's future, I must admit a certain amount of glee at witnessing Bush's biggest PR failure to date. Hussein was W's trump card, and he's been forced to play it nearly a year before the election.

Saddam's capture is probably only good for a month or so of positive spin. Even if the Great Bug Out gets under way immediately, it will take a month or two, by which time Iraq falling to pieces will be more pressing news. If American troops stay, they will continue to be targets right through next November.

So three cheers for the U.S. armed forces! One distraction down!

An interesting question...
is being asked by N.Z. Bear over at the The Truth Laid Bear: President Saddam--Again?

During the buildup to the war, and since, many who opposed the war declared it an "illegal" action and a violation of international law.

Now that he has been found to be alive, I'd ask this to those who considered this an illegitimate war: will you now stand up and demand that Hussein be placed back in power? He was, after all, the "legal" ruler of Iraq.

And if not, why not?

Needless to say, some of the wingnuts are hooting and crowing. According to the Bear's trackbacks:
  • Amish Tech Support: "NZ Bear lays the smackdown on the insipid America-hating Loony Left."

  • Overtaken by Events: "NZ Bear takes aim and hits the donkey square in the ass."

  • The Spoons Experience: "NZ Bear asks a question. But don't hold your breath waiting for an answer...."

  • Interested Participant: "Excellent question! Will the Indymedia/NPR/ folks start carrying "Free Saddam" signs? I bet some will." [Actually, if Interested Participant were local to me, and I could find out where s/he lives, I probably would carry such a sign near her/his house, but only to be an annoying prick.]

As one who believes that this is an illegal and illegitimate war, I'll throw my two cents into the mix here. Since I have a law degree and all of one course in international law (over 23 years ago) as my first year law school elective, I suppose I'm marginally more qualified to answer that question than about 99 44/100% of the blogosphere, wingnut or moonbat. Not that my opinion matters all that much; it plus about what-- $2.25 or so?--might just get you a cup of coffee at Starbuck's.

Anyway, my answer to N.Z.'s question is this:

As every good trial lawyer knows, you can't unring a bell. Normally, that piece of folk wisdom refers to issues of jurors hearing objectionable evidence, but the principle applies to other human actions as well: sometimes, what we do simply can't be undone. The ouster of Saddam is one of those things. And in the final analysis the ouster of Saddam is A Good Thing; nobody ever said you can't get good results from evil acts; it's just not the optimal way to achieve them. Given that we've accomplished a good result from some evil acts, what would be the best way to set things completely right?

First and foremost, the United States has to restore the legitimacy of international organizations and international action. That means, to me, ending the U.S. occupation and turning over the transitional governance of Iraq over to some legitimate international organization. U.S. troops might continue to remain in Iraq, but must be subordinate to an international administrative organization, and work in concert with troops of other nations.. My preference would be for the United Nations to take over, but that might not be realistic anymore, in light of resistance attacks on the UN presence in Iraq earlier. NATO might be a good alternative, but the specter of European cultural imperialism might be as objectionable to Iraqis. Intervention by the Arab League is probably objectionable to most Americans, but on the other hand the U.S. was in large part in the wrong here; we have no right to complain now if the only international organization that can put things right isn't one we particularly approve of.

Secondly, the United States has to unconditionally and completely renounce the Bush Doctrine of "pre-emptive" war. It's not enough to turn over this mess to international organizations because we're fucking it up, it's necessary to actually acknowledge their supremacy. And that means acknowledging that being the big boy on the block doesn't give us the right to beat up on other nations without the support of the international community (absent a clear and present danger of an attack).

Thirdly, once the United States has turned over the transitional governance of Iraq over to an international authority, the reconstruction needs to be seriously reorganized. The crony capitalists like Halliburton/KBR need to have their contracts cancelled, and the reconstruction work needs to be bid out fairly to all comers, regardless of nationality or connections (or lack thereof) to the Bush bAdministration.

Lastly, there needs to be an Iraqi government put in place, and it is imperative that this government is not perceived as being a U.S. puppet. This means that the resulting Iraqi government might well not be one which is beholden to U.S. interests, or indeed, not be particularly friendly to the U.S. once it is in power. Tough shit; the bAdministration should have thought of this before deciding to take Saddam out (my recollection is that a number of the bAdministration's critics mentioned that possibility in the run up to the war).

I know that I labelled the above point as "lastly", because I think that this is as far as the situation can be resolved practically. There is a last step which I think is necessary to completely right the wrongs which the U.S. has committed; I know it won't be taken, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it, because there is really no such thing as "justice" in reality (it is merely an ideal that we should strive towards). If there were to be a completely "just" resolution of the Iraq mess, it is imperative that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and all the rest of the architects of the Iraq war should be removed from office, taken into custody, delivered to an international tribunal of competent jurisdiction, tried for crimes against humanity (specifically, waging a war of aggression per the Nuremberg precedents) and, if convicted (I believe in the presumption of innocence, and I'm not advocating that we "give the bastards a fair trial and then hang 'em") they should be suitably punished (which, according to the Nuremberg precedents could include the death penalty; I personally oppose the death penalty, and while it would be poetic justice for George W. Bush, the bloodiest U.S. state governor in recent memory, if not U.S. history, to meet his doom at the hands of an executioner, I'm not going to renounce my opposition to capital punishment in this case).

Ok, so be it. There's my (undoubtedly imperfect) resolution to the Iraq mess which gives a "just" result without restoring Saddam to power; note that there's no "President Saddam" in that "solution" that I can see. I suppose that, if the Iraqi people chose to bring Saddam back to power the U.S. would have to grit its collective teeth and accept that, but I have very grave doubts that this is a result we need to worry about.

Oh Gawd...
AOL's been showing various celebrities in their commericals for "AOL 9.0 Optimized". Just caught the one with Peter Graves. Good lord, he's looking old (yes, I know, that's because he is old). But at least Tom Bosley, Marion Ross and Jerry Stiller are looking something like what they did in their prime. But I almost didn't recognize Graves until he opened his mouth and the "Jim Phelps" voice issued therefrom.

Age hasn't been good to a number of celebs, though. Week before last, SciFi had their big froo fraw over their new "Battlestar Galactica" "mini-series" (um, wait... two episodes of two hours each? No thanks, that's not a mini-series, that's a two part made for TV movie) and in their "Battlestar Galactica: The Lowdown" special they gave us a look at Richard "Apollo" Hatch and Dirk "Starbuck" Benedict. Hatch hasn't aged badly at all, but Benedict certainly looks much the worse for wear, which is a shame because he was a damned good looking man in his prime.

Saddam Captured
That's good. But pardon me if I don't crow like I have the feeling Dumbya's going to crow in a few minutes (as I write this he's scheduled to address the nation, an address I have no intention of watching). From the looks of the pictures on the websites I've seen, Saddam doesn't exactly look like he's been entirely capable of masterminding the kind of resistance we've seen lately.

I hope I'm wrong, but I don't hear a fat lady singing, and I don't see her waiting in the wings, either.

Thought for the Day:
There's no problem so large it can't be solved by killing the user off, deleting their files, closing their account and reporting their REAL earnings to the IRS.
--The Bastard Operator From Hell

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Godwin's Law...
updated for our time: "Stranger's Law"

As we head into the 2004 election year, much has been made in the SCLM* over those horrible 'Bush Haters' - a rubric that apparently includes anyone who would say anything critical of Bush, probably even down to not liking the color of his tie.

So in the interest of keeping the political discussions honest in the coming year, I'm proposing a variant of Godwin's Law that I'm calling 'Stranger's Law.' And it goes a little something like this:
As a discussion of US politics grows longer, the probability of a liberal or progressive being called a 'Bush-Hater' approaches one. Once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever called someone a Bush Hater has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress.

So let it be written. So let it be done.

* So-Called Liberal Media

Thanks to Brian at Resonance for the reference.

The latest in Nathan Newman's "is Growth Real?" series...
was posted yesterday: Is Growth Real? More on Inflation. Basically, the analysts at the Bureau of Economic Affairs keeps revising its numbers every so often, trying to be more "accurate" in their conclusions, but apparently they've finally gotten it straight:

However, on the topic of the odd calculations used to measure inflation based on qulaity improvements in technology (see this post), the BEA has thrown in the towel and admitted that it's "quality adjustments" were just mucking up the numbers. The result:
after adjusting for inflation and quality changes, computers contributed over half of the economy's growth in the second quarter. But, by another measure, computers accounted for less than a tenth of it...

In actual dollars, investment in computers edged up by a meager $6.7 billion to an annualized $93.5 billion in the second quarter.

The original report for the second quarter, by contrast, showed in inflation-adjusted terms that same category of investment surged by $35.8 billion to $354.9 billion, or close to half of the growth in GDP.

As the BEA noted in a recent article, the use of 1996 dollars significantly overstates the impact of computers on the economy "during the last half of the 1990s when computers experienced explosive growth and during the second and third quarters of 2003, when computer sales accelerated."

Wait, I thought that "Dog bites man" is not news...
From Steve Gilliard (12/13, "How Dr. Phil became rich"):

I'm watching 20/20 tonight, my fall Fridays are usually dull, and John Stossel came on with the most stunning story I've seen in some time. No, I was truly floored.

Did you know middle class teenage girls like to spend money on shoes? I grew up with two sisters and I did not know this. I was astounded. Did you know materialism was popular with teen girls? They spend money on jewlery and clothes and even work so they can do so?

John Stossel, besides being a right-wing hack, is an utter fucking idiot.

Boys like fancy street clothes and electronics. Girls like to look pretty. Didn't his producer tell him this was obvious. I mean, does he have MTV? Ever hear of a show called MTV Cribs? Where everyone wears tons of expensive jewlery and drives really fast, really expensive cars. Bling bling is a common catch phrase.

I have a hypothesis as to why this mass, collective dumbing down of the public is happening. You see, the sum total of intelligence in the universe is a constant, but of course, the population is growing....

Thought for the Day:
reinvent the wheel v. To design or implement a tool equivalent to an existing one or part of one, with the implication that doing so is silly or a waste of time. This is often a valid criticism. On the other hand, automobiles don't use wooden rollers, and some kinds of wheel have to be reinvented many times before you get them right. On the third hand, people reinventing the wheel do tend to come up with the moral equivalent of a trapezoid with an offset axle.
--Eric S. Raymond [from "The Jargon File"]

Friday, December 12, 2003

Interesting take from Bill Maher last Monday...
on why the Dean campaign has the momentum:

The Dean mystery - why he among the Democrats became the favorite - is: it turns out, it helps your social life. If I read the article right yesterday, the Dean campaign is basically Friendster for people who listed politics as one of their interests. Not to say that they're not sincere, but it did smack a bit of the convenient hippies of the 60s, the guys who went to the peace rally, more to meet hot chicks into freelove and bra burning, and stop a war they might have to go to, than any political quest. Again, sincere people they both also were. But everybody's hungry for love, damnit! And there's just something about being in a "crusade" together that makes the exhausted, lost-cause sex even hotter.

From Taegan Goddard's Political Wire...
Some reasons not to expect a Bush landslide, no matter who the Democratic nominee is:

Here's why I expect the presidential race to be close, regardless of the Democratic nominee:
  • Bush has significantly less support from Democrats than Ronald Reagan did. Even Bill Clinton, hated by so many Republicans, had more friends among members of the opposition party. Without greater support among Democrats, Bush cannot win in a landslide.

  • It's very hard to pull off a landslide when you're not likely to win three of the five largest states. In 2000, Bush wasn't even competitive in California, New York or Illinois. He lost all three states by more than 12 percent. That's 109 electoral votes in just those states.

  • Finally, nearly every national poll shows the country is more polarized than it has been in decades. As in 2000, we're still very much a 50-50 nation. (See the forthcoming book, The Two Americas by pollster Stan Greenberg.) Indeed, it's been nearly 16 years since any presidential candidate even won a majority of the vote. A blowout of 1972 or 1984 proportions would require an extraordinary set of circumstances that are not present today.

Thought for the Day:
Who are you going to believe - me or your own two eyes?
--Chico Marx

Thursday, December 11, 2003

"I've got a bad feeling about this." --Han Solo
From the AP: Pentagon: Many of New Iraq Soldiers Quit

WASHINGTON - Plans to deploy the first battalion of Iraq's new army are in doubt because a third of the soldiers trained by the U.S.-led occupation authority have quit, defense officials said Wednesday.

Touted as a key to Iraq's future, the 700-man battalion lost some 250 men over recent weeks as they were preparing to begin operations this month, Pentagon officials said.

"We are aware that a third ... has apparently resigned and we are looking into that in order to ensure that we can recruit and retain high-quality people for a new Iraqi army," said Lt. Col. James Cassella, a Pentagon spokesman.

Some insightful commentary...
by Steve Gilliard today (12/11, "Missing the Point"):

Dean is the worst candidate for Bush to deal with, despite the spin coming from their camp, because their plan to deal with him is doomed to fail. Bush is a weak leader. Once you toss Clark on the ticket and I can't imagine there not being insane pressure for him to be on it, Bushco faces a lack of credibility on domestic policy and foreign policy. Dean will also have the most money to play with. The Bush spin saying they want him will explode in the next few weeks. But they know he's not just a candidate, but a movement. They know he's going to appeal to people who they thought were safe votes in the past. Dean's message will be simple and blunt and Bushco will not be able to deal with it.

What has to be stressed over and over is the fragility of Bush's support. Wrong on the issues, the war in Iraq, Bush only has an aura of personal charm which keeps his presidency afloat. People mistake his obstinancy for plain spokenness. It isn't. Bush is really just that stubborn and simple. Someone said Bush has a glass jaw, I think that's kind. Bush is one real challenge from a complete collapse. That bubble they built around him isn't for laughs. The idea that a president doesn't read the news may sound cute to some, but it's frighteningly disconnected to me. Bush plays into the worst prejudices of American political life: a belief in authority over curiousity, a xenopohobia which is deeply personal. A man with his education doesn't not travel abroad unless he has a deep aversion to it. His inability to admit error, the excessive stage management, the fear-based war on terror. All are indicative of someone unable to face the world on its own terms.

Bush's reelection hinges on Iraq getting better. That's like having your sex life hinge on hitting the Daily Number. It's an insane position to be in. Bush, in an imperial quest for glory, refused to share the burden of Iraq. Now, isolated and stranded, he acts as if help is around the corner. It isn't even close. The Bush theory of management seems to be insult and demand for help as if help was guaranteed. All of the Hoover Institute apologists mean nothing compared to the holes in the DHL jetliner, which didn't crash in flames because of only the skill of the pilot. Iraq will be messy to leave, no matter how we do it. Bush may not pay a penatly for it, but that is unlikely. The debate over who lost Iraq will probably fill classrooms and Congressional hearing rooms for years to come.

Anyone who thinks Dean, or any serious Democratic candidate is going to lose to Bush is not looking at the reality of the situation. Bush is as weak as any incumbent could be. Only Rove's thuggishness has prevented a serious internal challenge to Bush. But that won't be enough to forestall defeat. Iraq is killing the US Army, day by day. The reports on the ground, despite denials, are getting worse, not better. I don't mean in some kind of airy fairy hippie way, but stories of a decrease of control on the ground. US troops do not control the airspace above Baghdad International Airport. They don't control major towns. Iraqi security forces are a joke, with one of the three companies of the new first Iraqi battalion quitting. The police now seen as totally penetrated by the resistance. I would imagine that morale issues are even worse than Stars and Stripes lets on , and their letters page is not happy reading.

Now, we're reaching back in to the black arts of assassination, oblivious to the fact that our defacto alliance with the Israelis undermines any attempt to keep the peace in Iraq, with Shia or Sunni. Just because Sistani hasn't gone to war yet, he cannot like reading about the coordination between US and Israeli troops.

Not that the reality of our looming defeat in Iraq has sunk in yet. It hasn't. But as it does, it will consume Bush. The resistance almost blew a C-17 out of the sky today. When will they finally get that big troop carrier with a hundred people aboard? When do we have another Khobar Towers or Beirut? When will that big sign that we are failing come to us? When it does, the American people will turn on Bush and his war, with no looking back. The fig leaf of 9/11 can only hold for so long to shield Bush from Iraq.

Dick Gephardt summed up not only Bush's presidency, but his life as a 'miserable failure". How can anyone expect that he'll break that pattern now?

And Nathan Newman...
comes up with the conservative definition of "judicial activism":

For conservatives, judicial activism is any decision they don't like.

That's the only conclusion you can have reading pieces like this by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal:

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor more or less completed her ideological journey toward judicial activism yesterday when she cast the deciding vote upholding the McCain-Feingold restrictions on campaign speech... And, of course, Ms. O'Connor wrote the court's opinion this year upholding the use of race in university admissions in the University of Michigan case. (emphasis added)

Here Fund is complaining that O'Connor didn't second guess the Congress on McCain-Feingold and didn't second-guess Michigan on use of affirmative action.

What defines restraint more than deferring to the judgement of the elected branch?

The United States: international outlaw
First and foremost, for our waging aggressive war in Iraq (a crime for which Nazi leaders were hanged by the neck until dead, but for which Bush and his puppetmeisters won't even be slapped on the wrist, alas). However, the European Union notes that the strongly anti-union business climate in the U.S. puts the U.S. in violation of a number of treaties we've signed.

A milestone of note.....
according to this column in the Baltimore Sun, last year, for the first time, more women earned doctoral level degrees than men did. You have to scroll down to get to that part of the column, but rather than scroll, read the first part of the column, which summarizes the well reasoned criticisms of a University of Baltimore law professor on the subject of law journals and legal scholarship. Legal scholarship is, for the most part, a joke, and there is a relative handful of law professors who are worth listening to.

InstaPundit, by the way, is not one of them.

Operation Head in the Sand:
This makes no sense whatsoever to me: Iraq to Stop Counting Civilian Dead

Seems to me that your health ministry would want to know why people are dying, and a war going on in your country is one major reason why people are dying. Apparently, the orders to stop counting were at the order of the Iraqi health minister, Dr. Khodeir Abbas. Dr. Abbas is denying that the order to stop counting was done at the behest of the CPA, but according to underlings there may be more to this than Dr. Abbas is letting on:

The health minister, Dr. Khodeir Abbas, denied that he or the U.S.-led occupation authority had anything to do with the order, and said he didn't even know about the survey of deaths, which number in the thousands.

Dr. Nagham Mohsen, the head of the ministry's statistics department, said the order came from the ministry's director of planning, Dr. Nazar Shabandar, who told her it was on behalf of Abbas. She said the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which oversees the ministry, didn't like the idea of the count either.

"We have stopped the collection of this information because our minister didn't agree with it," she said, adding: "The CPA doesn't want this to be done."

This makes more sense to me, especially with reports that the fight against the insurgency is going to go Vietnamesque (complete with assassination squads trained by Israel) any minute now. Easier to keep things hidden when nobody's bothering to count.

Thought for the Day:
I'm a big believer in copyrights. Of all the intellectual property laws, copyright is the only one that is expressly designed so that individual people can (and do) get them without having scads of lawyers on their side. If Darl McBride was in charge, he'd probably make marriage unconstitutional too, since clearly it de-emphasizes the commercial nature of normal human interaction, and probably is a major impediment to the commercial growth of prostitution.
--Linus Torvalds

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Very light blogging today, possibly tomorrow...
I hate it when Real Life™ interferes with the more important things... *sigh*

Thought for the Day:
The aim of a liberal education is not to turn out ideal dinner guests who can talk with assurance about practically everything, but people who will not be taken in by men who speak about all things with an air of finality.
--Walter Kaufmann

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

You've gotta keep an eye on those cults...
From Pesky the Rat: Reagan-worshiping cult creates massive dime

And on the Dean endorsement...
The Right Christians makes an interesting observation:

But I have noticed one thing that rather surprises me since the news about Gore's endorsement hit late yesterday afternoon. The reaction on the right is very negative. Brit Hume had to calm Fred Barnes down last night on Fox. David Brooks is extraordinarily nasty in his NYT op-ed today. Mrs. Goldberg's son utilizes a similar tone.

If the Right really thinks Dean would make such a lousy opponent, why don't they keep quiet until the Democrats are securely ensnared in the 2004 version of the McGovern trap? Are they trying to save us from ourselves? Is their clever ploy to make us believe they're afraid of Dean so that we nominate him? I'm a bit baffled by their behavior.

Steve Gilliard...
has some interesting comments about the Dean campaign (go to Steve's blog and look for the 12/9 post titled "Endorsements and me"; Steve's blog still doesn't seem to do permalinks). Steve's not endorsing anyone right now, but he doesn't think that a Bush victory against Dean is a foregone conclusion:

In the back of my head, I wonder if we're all going to crash and burn with this guy. You have to wonder if this is the real thing or an illusion. Personally, I won't endorse anyone until it's time. Not that I think it matters. No one cares who I vote for, nor should they. I think the idea is to make sure that we discuss the campaign without pimping one candidate over another.


I wish Dean well, but I'm not going to join the Dean bandwagon just yet. I've seen politics up close, and a lot of people working with Dean will, ultimately be disappointed. He's not the Messiah, just another politician. One I think stands for the right things, but it's politics, not a cult. He can never fulfill their hopes and dreams. At best, he can inspire them to change their lives for the better.


With that said, when I see the Dean campaign in action, I get the same feeling that I got watching the 1986 Mets, a team which can win no matter how tight things get. That his people, having been on so many losing teams, had figured something out. People are angry and they know someone is screwing them. They've lost their life savings, their jobs and the only reason they could support Bush is that there is a war on terror. Eliminate that, and Bush might have been prevented from running for a second term because he is a miserable failure.


Dean is raising money on par with Bush in spots, liberal intererest groups will provide even more support. Instead of trying to fight the GOP on their issues, on which we can win, he wants to fight them on Democratic issues. Let them talk about God, Guns and Abortion. They don't matter nearly as much as jobs, education and health care. It doesn't matter if you believe in abortion or not if you get laid off. You don't have to like gays, but if your kid is functionally illiterate, he's functionally illiterate. You can love guns, but if you have prostate cancer, you need health insurance. There are issues which affect all Americans, regardless of their political beliefs. Dean clearly believes that Democratic issues win elections and aping Republicans do not.

I've noted the fear of the national security crowd about Dean on defense and I laugh. Bush's defense plans have failed. The Army detests Rumsfeld, the troops hate Bush and their civilian leaders. Iraq is a quagmire and getting worse. Heroin production has exploded in Afghanistan. So exactly what is this scary edge that Bush has in national security issues? Hype?

The reality is that Bush, as he has done his entire life, has failed. He is failing at being president as he has failed at every other job in his life. My fear about Dean is moderated by my realization that George Bush could not do a worse job if he tried. It's as if JR Ewing was president, but with a quarter of the smarts and twice the bile.

At this point, I'm not really smitten with anyone, though I'm comfortable with Dean on the issues (or at least most of them). At this point, it seems to me that Bush is beatable, though there's plenty of time for either side to screw up....

I'm starting to understand why the Chinese thought "May you live in interesting times" to be a curse.

From Nathan Newman...
we get a reference to this post from economist Brad DeLong's blog about "The Strange Case of the Unemployment Rate That Did Little in the Early 2000s" (I'm going to give Brad a brownie point for a subtle Sherlockian reference here...)

More than half of the additional people who would have reported themselves as unemployed in a previous big recessionary period... aren't. They're reporting themselves as out of the labor force instead.

Why? What's happened to change the relationship between changes in employment and changes in the labor force? And what does it mean? (It's not the self-employed: this is from the household survey.)

It might be the sheer length of the downturn: a longer downturn may induce more people to give up looking, and produce more discouraged workers out of the labor force. But the 1979-1983 period was also prolonged, and although I remember Larry Summers and Olivier Blanchard worrying about how prolonged employment declines might discourage workers and produce a version of the European structural employment disease, it didn't.

My memory's reminding me that I have blogged about one explanation for this phenomenon. I'll have to chase down the reference when time permits (too busy now), but I remember reading (perhaps in one of Nathan Newman's "Is Growth Real?" series) that the bAdministration's been moving a lot of non-employed workers into the ranks of the disabled, which takes them out of the work force for the purposes of calculating unemployment figures. That might have something to do with it....

Yuk o'the Day:
Two guys were talking. One said, "I'm gonna start working out." "Really? That's good." "Yeah. I'm gonna do the Peter Fonda workout." "You mean the Jane Fonda workout." "Nope, Peter Fonda. That's where you wake up, take a hit of acid, smoke a joint, and then go to your sister's house and ask her for money!"

Missouri Liberal has a couple interesting comments on the Gore endorsement of Dean...
here: Gore Endorses Dean?!, though his second comment, "What about Lieberman?" leaves me a bit puzzled. My gut level reaction is that contrary to MoLib's position, it isn't too early to make an endorsement like this, especially in the context of numerous other indications that the Democratic establishment is, for better or for worse, coming to the realization that Dean has some serious momentum, and that a serious "stop Dean" movement being launched now would probably open fatal wounds in the party. Despite the attempts of some to paint Dean as some bomb-throwing radical or something like that, Dean is, by his record, comfortably centrist.

Then again, my reaction may just (read: "probably is") a reflection of my biases. Of all the "serious" condenders for the nomination (i.e., those not named "Sharpton", "Mosely-Braun" or "Kuchinich"), Lieberman has achieved only one thing that I can find worthy of note, namely, he's actually managed to make me look upon a Dick Gephardt candidacy more favorably than a Joe Lieberman candidacy (right now, about the only way I'd get behind Gephardt if if he and Lieberman were the only "serious" candidates running, and even then I might just support Kuchinich out of pique). About the only thing good I can say about Lieberman at this juncture is that he'd be (marginally) better than Bush, and obviously that's damning with faint praise.

Why is "zero tolerance" synonymous with "zero intelligence"?
From the Shreveport Times: Bossier School Board upholds Advil expulsion.

Apparently, Amanda Stiles, a student at Parkway High School in Bossier Parish, LA, got fingered by a snitch for a smoking rap. When searched by school officials, Amanda's purse was searched. What did the authorities find? No lighter. No cigarettes. Just some Advil. You know--Advil. Generic name ibuprofen. I know it as a "non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug", but that's just because I happen to work with a bunch of pharmacists. As you're probably aware, Advil/ibuprofen is freely available over the counter. Without a prescription. And has been since at least, oh, 1986 that I can remember. Which only goes to show you how dangerous a drug Big Brother thinks it is.

No matter. Citing their "zero tolerance" drug policy, Amanda got expelled. The Bossier School Board, sensing a major drug problem at Parkway as a result of Amanda's apparent dependence on "pain pills" (damn, isn't that what Rush said he was addicted to? Well, not quite...), upheld the suspension.

Jebus! How on earth can we teach children to be functioning members of society who use the intelligence that whatever powers that be give them, when the adults in charge can't even muster together the brains those powers gave an animal cracker? Columnist Tim Greening of the Times had a lot of fun with this one:

A Parkway High School sophomore has been expelled for an entire year because she had Advil in her purse, which violates the Bossier Parish school system's zero-tolerance policy for medication.

Wow - until now, I thought Ex-Lax was the only medicine that could cause such a harsh expulsion.

Ba-dum bum. Thank you! I'm here all week! Be sure to tip your waitresses!

But seriously, folks. Advil? A whole year? I'll bet that's a harsher penalty than will be given to Rush Limbaugh and Courtney Love combined. (Eeew ... and if Limbaugh and Love were to combine, their child would be one seriously obnoxious kid.)

Many were surprised at how strict the policy is. But I'm very familiar with it. Here's one of my dirty little secrets: When I'm feeling naughty, I stand at the very edge of a Bossier school campus with a bottle of Maalox. When no one's looking, I hold the bottle directly out in front of me, breaking the plane of the school zone. I hold it there until a teacher walks by, then I snap the bottle back and start playing air guitar.

Breakin' the law! Breakin' the law!


It's possible the girl even may spend the year in the "alternative" school, which I assume is the politically correct term for what we used to call "reform school." Wonder how many times this conversation has happened there:

"What're you in for?"

"Hit a teacher. You?"


Good thing it wasn't Advil Plus she was toting around. She'd be facing the death penalty for sure.

Yep. Some days it just ain't worth chewing through the leather straps first thing in the morning.

A buddy from my old job....
sent me this: SCO Group hit by double whammy. We already blogged about the fact that SCO lost a motion and is being compelled to divulge what it thinks the infringing source code in Linux is; it appears that they also lost a motion to compel IBM to divulge source code as well.

Predictably, their share price is beginning to suffer, though there are folks trying to put a spin on that.

Why I didn't major in physics
Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass

If you're reasonably science literate, you should get the joke. And if you do, you'll laugh your ass off.

Kudos to fellow RTB member Half-Bakered for the reference.

Operation Phoenix, redux?
Of course I'm slow on this one; significant parts of the blogosphere have already picked up on the story that we're not only instituting new counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq (see, for example, Billmon yesterday) but that these tactics are apparently being devised with the advice of the Israelis. Bad move, as Slate's Fred Kaplan points out:

This is bad business on two counts. First, it reinforces the myth, propagated by radical groups in the region, that the United States is waging a war against Islam. American officials showed they understood this danger earlier in the year—and during the first Gulf War in 1991—by going out of their way to keep Israel out of the conflict. Why are they so openly aligning with Israel—and emulating its methods—during the equally sensitive post-battlefield phase of this war?

Second, Israel is a poor model on substantive grounds. Even when such a heavy hand has succeeded at swatting foes in the short run, it has tended to alienate more Palestinians in the medium-to-long run. The idea is to isolate the guerrillas from the population, but the result is often to turn the population into guerrillas.

The U.S. Army has had its own woeful experiences with attempts at this strategy. In Vietnam, it was called the "hamlet" strategy. It didn't work. In early 20th-century Philippines, the cordoned-off villages were called "concentration camps." It did work in the Philippines, but only after two years of savage brutality, followed by 40 years of occupation—more time, at either task, than anyone wants to spend in Iraq.

What's the old cliche about generals always planning to fight the last war. Looks like we're planning to fight several wars ago....

Of course, we need answers to the important questions in life
From Brendan Koerner in Slate: Is Miss Universe Miss World's Boss? Which beauty queen reigns supreme and where Miss America fits in.

Um... I suppose you want to know the answer. The quick and dirty answer is that Miss Universe and Miss World, are separate organizations hosting separate pageants, neither affiliated with the other though the Miss Universe pageant is currently doing better than the Miss World pageant (in case you're interested, there's also a Miss Earth pageant; that's the one which generated the pictures of Miss Afghanistan in the red bikini which electrified the blogosphere not too long ago). In both the Miss Universe and Miss World pageants, the U.S. contestant is referred to as "Miss USA". Miss America is purely a domestic affair; the winner of that pageant has no international responsibilities.

If you want the whole dope, go read the article. :-)

Thought for the Day:
Stanley Motss: The President will be a hero. He brought peace.
Conrad 'Connie' Brean: But there was never a war.
Stanley Motss: All the greater accomplishment.
--"Wag the Dog

Monday, December 08, 2003

Wish I were there to see it
Corps of Discovery to Metro East. Apparently, a group of re-enactors are re-enacting (what a concept) the Lewis and Clark expedition, and are overwintering near Wood River, Illinois, just like the original expedition. I remember Lewis and Clark re-enactors making appearances at the annual Lewis and Clark Days celebration in St. Charles. This is bound to be at least as interesting. Wish I were there to see it if they're doing anything for public consumption.

More silly Quizilla tricks...
though this is not from a Quizilla site:

To drink my weight, I would have to chug 299 bottles of beer!
How big is your beer belly?
Powered by the mighty Rum and Monkey.

A different take on the Bush Baghdad trip...
and one which makes a certain amount of sense: Going AWOL

We're supposed to believe that the President went to Iraq for Thanksgiving because he's such a brave guy, and just because it was The Right Thing to Do. The growing legion of Bush-haters, who see the President's every move as a calculated political ploy, frame his recent surprise trip as part of his reelection campaign, carefully planned and stage-managed by cynical handlers. There may be some truth in that, but I have an alternative theory: it's all about the skyrocketing rate of desertion.

Le Canard Enchaine, a French weekly, has the skinny on a story that the American media probably wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole: over 1,700 American military personnel have deserted their posts in Iraq, so far. They go on leave, and, once back in the U.S., disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Col. Billy J. Buckner, spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps, acknowledges that the number of troops going AWOL is rising, but attributes it to moral failings on the part of the soldiers involved:

"People go AWOL for a number of reasons. They may have had family problems at home and couldn't reconcile it, or they were stressed out or maybe they just didn't like the Army and are afraid of war."

At any rate, says the Colonel:

"You sign a contract that says you're going to serve the Constitution and the nation. We're not going to tolerate it."

The military may not be tolerant of deserters, but there isn't a whole lot they can do about it, especially if the numbers keep increasing. That, I believe, is a major part of the reason why the President went to Baghdad: sure, he was directly addressing the Iraqis, and every politician is always running for reelection, but his primary audience, in this instance, really was the troops.
Buck up, he was telling them. Because we're with you, the American people are with you, and I'm with you.

Billmon's back!!!
And he came away from his hiatus with a very strong post: Eye of Newt. Somehow, you'd think that the bAdministration knows it's fucked up Iraq when even Newt Gingrich starts criticizing them:

“The Army’s reaction to Vietnam was not to think about it,”[Gingrich] says. Rather than absorb the lessons of counterinsurgency, [he] says, the Army adopted “a deliberate strategy of amnesia because people didn’t want to ever do it again.” The Army rebuilt a superb fighting force for waging a conventional war. “I am very proud of what [Operation Iraqi Freedom commander Gen.] Tommy Franks did—up to the moment of deciding how to transfer power to the Iraqis. Then,” said Gingrich, “we go off a cliff.”

So Gingrich is off the reservation -- for reasons that have nothing to do with how the war in Iraq is being fought.

The neocons understand that Bush's policy game is no longer about transforming Iraq into a beacon of peace and democracy in the Middle East (how quaint those far off days of last February and March seem now) but rather about getting out of a political nightmare as quickly as possible, even if that means leaving behind a broken and unstable country on the verge of civil war.

Until recently, the neocon line of choice has been that it's all the State Department's fault, somehow, for preventing (in ways that are never made clear, because they don't exist) the smooth transfer of authority to Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi Puppet Congress.

Gingrich has now taken things a step further, and is willing to direct at least some of the blame at the White House, at Jerry Bremer, and at the military -- which never wanted to invade Iraq in the first place. That last bit is particularly surprising, given that Gingrich is an Army brat (and chicken hawk) whose attitude towards the uniformed services has long verged on idolatry.

His criticisms are all the more biting for being essentially correct.

Why the faith based initiative is a bad idea:
Woman claims she was fired for being a Bah'ai (among other things; she says that she's also being discriminated against for being a woman and for being a cancer survivor).

Bogan belongs to a faith with 6 million adherents that originated in Persia in the 19th century. Just as Christianity was born of Judaism, Baha'i grew out of Islam.

But it embraces many religious traditions: "The Baha'i Faith is perhaps unique in that it unreservedly accepts the validity of the other great faiths," states the faith's online literature.

"Baha'i's believe that Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus and Muhammad are all equally authentic messengers of one God."

That was not a view shared by Bogan's co-workers, according to her suit.

It says that other staffers told Bogan that they were praying for her soul, that they thought she belonged to a "weird cult," that she was "following the Anti-Christ."

The office manager gave her a framed picture of Jesus, the complaint states. Bogan says she was too intimidated to complain because she feared that doing so would cost her the job.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated her charges earlier this year and issued her a "right-to-sue" letter. Bogan is asking for unspecified monetary damages.


Bogan's complaint states that a letter from her supervisor, Rusty Titsworth, accompanying her termination notice said, "You indicated that you did not believe in Satan or understand how something good would not be of God. In many ways I hope you are able to see through some seemingly good decisions you have come across something that will probably be most difficult to understand."

The letter continues: "Realize why Jesus Came. Recognize his Holy Name. Receive Jesus Christ into your heart. Rely on Jesus every day."

As befits a good liberal and former criminal defense lawyer...
I think that this story is sufficiently scary. I would hope that the Supreme Court would withhold U.S. law enforcement agents the power to arrest overseas (unless the host nation in question gives its permission), but if I remember my criminal procedure class in law school there's longstanding U.S. Supreme Court precedents that allows criminal jurisdiction to be exercised even when the defendant was kidnapped by law enforcement (the Israel Supreme Court relied on them heavily to rule that the Israeli courts had jurisdiction to try Eichmann, as I recall). I have my doubts that the plaintiff here (the criminal case was dismissed in the trial court, and the defendant in the criminal case, who was kidnapped by Mexicans at the behest of the DEA) can prevail.

This is another one of those stories that had me beating my head against the wall yesterday...
because Blogger had fallen down and couldn't get back up: George Bush G.I. Joke figure. Make sure you read the blurbs on the box.

From the usual gang of idiots at Mad magazine. Seems to me I should subscribe again.

When real life gets stranger than I can imagine, it's time to give up
According to this website, Prince (formerly The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, formerly Prince) converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses recently...

Thought for the Day:
It's not that I don't like Christmas. I do. I like Christmas a great deal. It's just that I'm a twisted, bitter cynic who believes that humanity is going downhill faster than Pavarotti on a greased toboggan, and that you can't erase the life-sucking misery of the last eleven months with four weeks of candy canes, garland, and insipid music echoing in your brain until you're compelled to play nosebleed-inducing speed metal to drive the opening verse of "Winter Wonderland" from your head.
--A.J. Axline

Sunday, December 07, 2003

I should have figured as much...
Is Attorney General Asshole overstating the effectiveness of his war on Terra™? This study seems to suggest he is (via TalkLeft).

SCO v. IBM news...
Judge orders SCO to show Linux infringement

It's the moment of truth now. For months, SCO has been screaming "infringement!" while not showing it. The judge has finally told them: put up or shut up.

This could get interesting very quickly.

Still a few bugs in the system...
Actually, this looks more like human error to me.

As I've mentioned, I subscribe to's St. Louis newsfeed, so that I can keep track of what's going on in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. I had to admit being a bit puzzled when I saw this headline: St. Louis leads Lightning over Rangers.

If you follow the link, you see that the story's not got anything to do with St. Louis, MO, but deals with a player named Martin St. Louis, who led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a victory over the New York Rangers.

My guess is either that moreover has a script that scans headlines for the string "St. Louis" and adds any story meeting that condition to the newsfeed, or someone wasn't thinking when s/he added this headline to the feed.

Sometimes, in spite of myself...
I perceive a reason to be optimistic. From CNN: Most Florida voters oppose "Terri's Law".

Not just most. Damn close to two-thirds:

Sixty-five percent of respondents said they oppose the law, which only applied to the case of Terri Schiavo, who has been in a persistent vegetative state for 13 years since collapsing from a chemical imbalance.

Twenty-three percent of those polled said they favored the law, while 12 percent had no opinion or refused to answer, according to the poll for The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times.

Now, if these same voters remember who rammed this legislation down their throats... and vote accordingly.

I hate it when Blogger goes down...
and I can't mention the stories that are really worth blogging. This one from KSDK (TV channel 5, NBC affiliate) in St. Louis: Sex Play Leads to Police Shooting.

I have to admit, before I clicked the link in my RSS reader, my imagination ran a bit wild trying to figure out what kind of sex play could lead to a police shooting (that is, what kind of sex play short of a cop walking in on a forcible rape in progress, which is simply not "sex play" by any reasonable definition of the term). I had to fight back some snickers when I read the lede:

A St. Louis County Police officer says he and his girlfriend, another officer, were using a gun as a sex prop when she was shot in the face.

Thomas Zeigler is facing a slew of criminal charges, including assault and felony drug possession for his part in the shooting, which happened in his car outside his apartment last March.


Zeigler confessed that he had been using the gun as a sex prop, and it discharged accidentally.

Now, I have to confess that my imagination is seriously lacking; I can't imagine any way that one can use a gun as a sex toy or sex prop, not to mention a usage that would result in one of the "playmates" getting shot in the face. This, however, is the part at which even my mind starts to boggle (and remember, I was an assistant public defender for several years; I thought I'd heard everything, but now I see I'm wrong):

Zeigler says the two had been drinking heavily, and testimony in a hearing Friday indicated March[the name of the shooting victim--LRC] had a blood alcohol level of .349. The legal driving limit is .08.

0.349??????!!!!!!!!! For God's sake, with a BAC of that magnitude, any resemblance that Officer March bore to a living, breathing human being is purely coincidental. If there was sex play going on, I have the feeling that Zeigler was working out some necrophiliac fantasies, after having rendered March pretty close to unconscious.

Let's play what if...
What if Jack T. Chick was a zealous evangelist for the C'thlhu mythos? You'd probably see something like this: Who will be eaten first?

Kudos to League o'Liberals member Pharyngula for that reference.

Let me take this one step further. If you're a non-religious fan of Jack Chick (and there are a lot of us; the man's tracts are absolutely hilarious if you don't take him or his crackpot version of Christianity seriously), you might want to check out one of the number of Jack Chick parodies that are out there on the Web:

The Jack T. Chick Parody Archives

The Jack Chick Parody Wing

Jack Chick Parody Tracts: Tower of Lies

I don't know if I should be glad or disappointed...
Of course, a number of liberal bloggers have mentioned the rumor that Bush will be using the occasion of the centennial of the Wright brothers first powered flight (December 17, 1903, in case you weren't paying attention in school) to announce a proposal to send Americans back to the moon.

I'm a little surprised none of them (that I've read, at least), hasn't made the obvious pot shot: that they'd be fully in favor of sending another American to the moon, namely George W. Bush, on the condition that we leave him there.

Ok, there, I said it. But I don't embarrass anymore.

A propos of the previous item...
Interestingly enough, I happen to be watching "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" on SciFi as I was reading/writing about Gov. Arnie.

The IMDB trivia for "Terminator 2" has an interesting little tidbit:

Given Schwarzenegger's $15 million salary and his total of 700 words of dialog, that translates to $21,429 per word. "Hasta la vista, baby" cost $85,716.

Of course, way back in 1978 they paid Marlon Brando $4 million for a mere 10 minutes of screen time (the original Christopher Reeve "Superman"), though my recollection is that Brando may have spoken a few more words that Schwarzeneger in that role. But then again, $400,000 per minute of screen time probably sets a record that hasn't been touched either (though I'm willing to be corrected if that isn't the case).

Saying you'll do it...
is one thing. Actually doing it is another (believe me, I know that from bitter personal experience). According to Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, Der Gubernator just lost his first big political fight:

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger "was dealt his first major political setback when the Legislature rejected the borrow-and-spending-cap proposal he planned to use to target the state's fiscal crisis," the AP reports.

Though really, the notion that Ah-nuld could borrow his way out of California's budget crisis was rather silly, and probably would have bad results in the long term. Schwartzenegger probably did better by losing this one.

Nathan Newman...
thinks the glass is half full, not half empty, as he makes his case that the Medicare bill may be a plus for Democrats in the coming years.

While the bill may in aggregate be an improvement on the status quo, seniors are going to be in serious revolt over the bill's many downsides. With Democrats promoting new legislation to fix these problems and the GOP resisting, I would still bet on the prescription drug issue to be a strong plus for the Democrats next year.

Lucian Truscott IV...
West Point graduate, soldier, now novelist and journalist, gives us an interesting view of what's coming down in Iraq: A million miles from the Green Zone to the front lines. I'm not sure I like the picture Truscott draws:

So there may be nothing new about this war and the way we are fighting it — with troops on day and night patrols from base camps being hit by a nameless, faceless enemy they cannot see and whose language they do not speak. However, the disconnect between the marbled hallways of the Coalition Provisional Authority palaces in Baghdad and the grubby camp in central Mosul where I spent last week as a guest of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, is profound, and perhaps unprecedented.

An colonel in Baghdad (who will go nameless here for obvious reasons) told me just after I arrived that senior Army officers feel every order they receive is delivered with next November's election in mind, so there is little doubt at and near the top about who is really being used for what over here. The resentment in the ranks toward the civilian leadership in Baghdad and back in Washington is palpable. Another officer described the two camps, military and civilian, inhabiting the heavily fortified, gold-leafed presidential palace inside the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad, as "a divorced couple who won't leave the house."

Meanwhile in Mosul, the troops of Bravo Company bunker down amid smells of diesel fuel and burning trash and rotting vegetables and dishwater and human waste from open sewers running though the maze of stone and mud alleyways in the Old City across the street. Bravo Company's area of operations would be an assault on the senses even without the nightly rattle of AK-47 fire in the nearby streets, and the two rocket-propelled grenade rounds fired at the soldiers a couple of weeks ago.

It is difficult enough for the 120 or so men of Bravo Company to patrol their overcrowded sector of this city of maybe two million people and keep its streets safe and free of crime. But from the first day they arrived in Mosul, Bravo Company and the rest of the 101st Airborne Division were saddled with dozens of other missions, all of them distinctly nonmilitary, and most of them made necessary by the failure of civilian leaders in Washington and Baghdad to prepare for the occupation of Iraq.

And why are these soldiers doing all these missions, few of any of which they have trained for? Because there isn't anyone else to perform them:

Why were the soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division — who were trained to clean latrines but not to build them — given the daunting task of making the cities and villages of northern Iraq work again? Because when they were ordered 300 miles north of Baghdad after the city fell, there was no one else around to do it. Even today, seven months later, it is still largely the job of the soldiers in Bravo Company and the other units of the 101st to make the system work in Mosul and its outlying provinces.

The Coalition Provisional Authority nominally has the job of "rebuilding" Iraq — using $20 billion or so of the $78 billion that recently flew out of America's deficit-plagued coffers. But during the time the 101st has been in Mosul, three regional coalition authority directors have come and gone. Only recently, long after the people of Mosul elected their mayor and city council, was a civilian American governance official sent to the area. And, according to the division leadership, not a nickel of the $20 billion controlled by the provisional authority has reached them.

And why the disconnect with reality? Because the CPA is living in a compound that is equal parts palace and fortress, and very little from the outside world intrudes to disturb their serene surroundings:

But the guys in the Green Zone seem to have plenty of time on their hands. The place is something to behold, surrounded on one side by the heavily patrolled Tigris River, and on the three others by a 15-foot-high concrete wall backed by several rows of concertina razor wire and a maze of lesser concrete barriers. There's only one way in and out, through a heavily fortified checkpoint near the Jumhiriya Bridge guarded by tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the First Armored Division and an invisible array of British commando teams. More tanks guard key intersections inside the walls, machine gun towers line the wide boulevards, snipers man firing positions atop palaces great and small.

In all, hundreds of uniformed soldiers and heavily armed civilian security guards stand watch all day, every day over a display of grim garishness that would have given Liberace nightmares. If you're curious about how your tax dollars are being spent in Baghdad, you should get one of the many colonels strolling about the Green Zone to take you on a tour of the rebuilt duck pond across the road from the marble and gold-leafed palace serving as headquarters of an Army brigade. As I went to sleep one night a couple of weeks ago in the Green Zone, listening to the gurgle of the duck pond fountain and the comforting roar of Black Hawk helicopters patrolling overhead, it occurred to me that it was the safest night I've spent in about 25 years.

Which was a blessing for me, but a curse on the war effort. The super-defended Green Zone is the biggest, most secure American base camp in Iraq, but there is little connection between the troops in the field and the bottomless pit of planners and deciders who live inside the palace. Soldiers from the 101st tell me that they waited months for the Bechtel Corporation to unleash its corporate might in northern Iraq. "Then one of the Bechtel truck convoys got ambushed on the way up here three weeks ago, and one of the security guys got wounded," an infantryman told me. "They abandoned their trucks on the spot and pulled out, and we haven't seen them since."

And what is the way that the CPA and their overseers in Washington support the troops. By minimizing the problems they face:

"It's really not helpful when people down in Baghdad and politicians back in Washington refer to the `disorganized and ineffective' enemy we supposedly face," said one young officer, as we walked out of a battalion battle briefing that had been concerned largely with the tactics of an enemy force that is clearly well organized and very, very effective. After spending more than a week with the soldiers of Bravo Company, I know that they resent not only the inaccuracy of such statements, but the implication that soldiers facing a disorganized and ineffective enemy have an easy job.

Is it occuring to anyone in Washington that there's need for a reality check?

More template tweaking...
Ok. I upped the font size and widened the columns at the left and the right. Things look quite a bit better to me. What do y'all think (if you have an opinion)?

Thought for the Day:
Brain: Do you realize what we will do with this pollen, Pinky?
Pinky: Ummm... open a boutique?
Brain: Yes, that's it. We'll open a boutique and sell ladies' clothing and pollen.
--"Pinky and the Brain"

Saturday, December 06, 2003

As promised....
We diddled with the template again. I didn't like the colors of the Blogger template I'd chosen, so I went searching, and I rather like the stark black and white of this one. Hope the contrast isn't too hard to take. Feel free to let me know.

Some changes here...
I succumbed to the geek temptation of diddling with my template, WITHOUT making a backup of it first (yes, I do know better than that, but "it was only going to be a little change, and..."). Of course, when the dust cleared, I'd hosed my template and had no way to recover gracefully, short of starting from scratch with a brand new template....While at it, decided to shift the commenting system over to Haloscan to see if it's any better. Of course, that means that the old comments are gone (or at least not immediately accessible). But hey, progress has it's price...

Bear with me; I may decide to change templates yet again....

Fellow RTBer Janet Dagley Dagley...
of the Dagley Dagley Daily has a good commentary on the case of the Louisiana kid who was disciplined for mentioning that his mom is gay: Have yourself a Louisana little Christmas.

Paul Krugman had it right again...
in yesterday's column: Looting the Future

One seriously has to begin to wonder about Dumbya's sanity, so disconnected he seems to be from reality:

One thing you have to say about George W. Bush: he's got a great sense of humor. At a recent fund-raiser, according to The Associated Press, he described eliminating weapons of mass destruction from Iraq and ensuring the solvency of Medicare as some of his administration's accomplishments.

Then came the punch line: "I came to this office to solve problems and not pass them on to future presidents and future generations." He must have had them rolling in the aisles.

In the early months of the Bush administration, one often heard that "the grown-ups are back in charge." But if being a grown-up means planning for the future — in fact, if it means anything beyond marital fidelity — then this is the least grown-up administration in American history. It governs like there's no tomorrow.

Nothing in our national experience prepared us for the spectacle of a government launching a war, increasing farm subsidies and establishing an expensive new Medicare entitlement — and not only failing to come up with a plan to pay for all this spending in the face of budget deficits, but cutting taxes at the same time.

In addition to the insolvency of the government (it's clear that Bush's tax cutting mania means that there is no way that the government can, in the long run, pay for all the entitlements and other spending its obligated to pay for), the obvious Machiavellian "ethics" of the bAdministration is worrying:

Then there's international trade policy. Here's how the steel story looks from Europe: the administration imposed an illegal tariff for domestic political reasons, then changed its mind when threatened with retaliatory tariffs focused on likely swing states. So the U.S. has squandered its credibility: it is now seen as a nation that honors promises only when it's politically convenient.

Of course, that's leaving aside the blatant deception in pursuit of the bAdministration's desire to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and its continuing deceit in maintaining the ridiculous position that the conquest of Iraq and the overthrow of Hussein was in some way a "response" to the 9/11 attacks and a critical step in the War on Terra™. And then there's the continuing pandering to special interests:

What really makes me wonder whether this republic can be saved, however, is the downward spiral in governance, the hijacking of public policy by private interests.

The new Medicare bill is a huge subsidy for drug and insurance companies, coupled with a small benefit for retirees. In comparison, the energy bill — which stalled last month, but will come back — has a sort of purity: it barely even pretends to be anything other than corporate welfare. Did you hear about the subsidy that will help Shreveport get its first Hooters restaurant?

And it's not just legislation: hardly a day goes by without an administrative decision that just happens to confer huge benefits on favored corporations, at the public's expense. For example, last month the Internal Revenue Service dropped its efforts to crack down on the synfuel tax break — a famously abused measure that was supposed to encourage the production of alternative fuels, but has ended up giving companies billions in tax credits for spraying coal with a bit of diesel oil. The I.R.S. denies charges by Bill Henck, one of its own lawyers, that it buckled under political pressure. Coincidentally, according to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Henck has suddenly found himself among the tiny minority of taxpayers facing an I.R.S. audit.

The whole picture makes you wonder what kind of planning is going on here. The evidence before us, including the debacle of the Iraq "peace", suggests little, if any:

The prevailing theory among grown-up Republicans — yes, they still exist — seems to be that Mr. Bush is simply doing whatever it takes to win the next election. After that, he'll put the political operatives in their place, bring in the policy experts and finally get down to the business of running the country.

But I think they're in denial. Everything we know suggests that Mr. Bush's people have given as little thought to running America after the election as they gave to running Iraq after the fall of Baghdad. And they will have no idea what to do when things fall apart.

Josh Marshall makes a similar point in a recent column in The Hill:

Like the decision to game the Medicare bill around the 2004 election, just about everything the administration has done in the last 30 months has been done with little thought to the medium-term, let alone the long-term, consequences.

Where to start? There’s the rapid run-up in the deficit we’ve noted, repeated instances of breaking political precedents for short-term political gain — like the unprecedented decision to re-redistrict congressional maps in Texas and Colorado — and then of course there’s foreign policy, where decades-old alliances have been wrecked and our military capacities have been vastly diminished all to make way for the invasion of Iraq, which — in case you haven’t noticed — isn’t going so well.

Taken together, almost everything we’ve seen since early 2001 points to a decision to rush through as many political goodies as possible and secure as much political power as possible as soon as possible, with little regard for picking up the pieces.

There appears to be a theme here: failing to plan is planning to fail. Unfortunately, it won't become clear that the failure has happened until Bush can no longer be held accountable for it.

A thought provoking read:
Bark Bark Woof Woof: More on Moore who is no More. A comparison between Judge Roy Moore and Sir/St. Thomas More. Moore, needless to say, gets the shitty end of the stick in that comparison. Check out the comments, though; a couple of good comments suggest that More's PR paints him to be a more admirable character than he may in fact have been.

We can't attend funerals, but we can send letters...
George aWol Bush has, according to reports, been sending form letters to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq. Of course, the Bush spinmeisters say he's "writing" the letters, which gives the impression of handwritten sympathy notes from the President, but hey, at least he's signing them himself.... or so the reports say.

Come to think of it, that Newsweek piece did not include the full text of the grieving family form letter. You don't suppose it included a paragraph asking for money for Bush's re-election?

Credits to The Right Christians for the reference...

Singing a different tune now...
Now that it's been pointed out that the promise of money for his son's congressional campaign in return for his vote constituted a bribe, Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) has recanted that story, according to Tim Noah of Slate. Noah doesn't believe the retraction; neither do I. But that's neither here nor there.

Damn, just when you think there might be one honest politician, he goes and turns to the dark side of the force. Diogenes would have a hell of a time in the U.S. Congress...

Thought for the Day:
I am beginning to get worried about the men and women of the U.S. government. Oh, I know they're big boys and can handle themselves in a fight. I'm just afraid that handling themselves in a fight is about the only thing they can do. They can't seem to find people. The most obvious example is Osama bin Laden, for whom we launched the most massive manhunt in the history of manhunts. Hell, we tore apart an entire country looking for him, but he slipped through our fingers. And now it seems as if we've stopped looking. The best guess is that he's up there in Weirdville, the rugged (I believe that's the traditional adjective) country on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, a place that doesn't even have a government. We can't bomb it, because we currently love Pakistan. And our general policy is that we never invade a territory until we've whomped the bejeezus out of it from the air. So, have a nice life, Osama, and good luck with that kidney.
--Jon Carroll

Friday, December 05, 2003

Hmmmmm... Moonbats?
Been a stir about Bush's being about to announce a new moon program... Brian over at Resonance has an interesting quote from Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS):

You've got the Chinese now going into space and saying that they're interested in going to the moon. We don't want them really to beat us to the moon. And, instead, we'd rather be there and be able to develop the resources, the areas, the sweet spots for observation. [emphasis added--LRC]

How quickly they forget July 20, 1969.

Fun With Campfire Science
Did you know some propane fueled camping lanterns are radioactive? Cecil Adams, in this week's "The Straight Dope", tackles this issue. If only I had known that there was the potential to really do a nuclear physics project for that grade school science fair so many years ago:

In the meantime, look at the bright side. Your wife can entertain the Girl Scouts with numerous educational demonstrations about the wonders of the atom. For example, you can build a kitchen-table cloud chamber using dry ice and alcohol--drop in a thorium mantle and you'll be able to see the condensation trails left by the radioactive particles. If the kids are really ambitious, and I wouldn't put it past some of the little Madame Curies I know, they can build their own model breeder reactor. In 1994 17-year-old David Hahn did just that in his mom's potting shed near Detroit as an outgrowth of work on a Boy Scout merit badge, using tinfoil, duct tape, uranium powder from ore, radium from old luminous clock dials, americium from smoke detectors, and thorium ash from thousands of mantles--even after the thing was disassembled, local radiation levels were 1,000 times background. One appreciates enterprise, but cheezit, kid, couldn't you stick to helping old ladies cross the street?

In case anyone's interested, here's a Web archive copy of a Harper's Magazine article on David Hahn and his unique merit badge project.

It takes all kinds...
New horizons in advertising, according to El Reg: US man has IT company logo tattooed on head

Those companies looking for a novel way to grow their business could do worse than follow the example of US hosting outfit CI Host.

For the next five years a 22-year-old man from Illinois will roam the States with a five-inch CI Host tattoo on the back of his head, handing out business cards and flyers.

The company reportedly secured Jim Nelson's services via a eBay auction, although he receives no salary or commission. To date the "human billboard" has attracted 500 new customers, a coup described as "a tremendous success" by CI Host CEO Christopher Faulkner.

It appears that CI Host has relied heavily on publicity stunts to attract its current 200,000+ customers. Indeed, the company has in the past sponsored a NASCAR race car, sent one compo winner on a jet-bound trip to the stratosphere, erected a giant Santa on the roof of its headquarters and stuck its logo on the back of Evander Holyfield's boxing trunks.

More fun in the inbox...
Yesterday I indulged in a little almost-rant about some strange names that were appearing in my email inbox. The spammers are, needless to say, still at it. This morning's mail features urgent missives from "Naiades A. Protestantism" ("america News Flash: Virgin Has Live Sex For $50k police"), "Lichtenstein C. Democrat" ("analysis Top Story: Virgin Get's Paid $50k To Have Sex methods"), and "Tenderloins S. Acts" ("DISCREET H0USEWIFES REMEMBER").

There's really no point to this comment; I just like to say "Naiades A. Protestantism".

Thought for the Day:
Alcohol is a very necessary article. It makes life bearable to millions of people who could not endure their existence if they were quite sober. It enables Parliament to do things at eleven at night that no sane person would do at eleven in the morning.
--George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Real World 1, Hannity 0
Sean Hannity did an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. From this report, he should stay in his sheltered world where he can control the "discourse".

Thanks to WTF is it Now? for the reference.

Irony is dead, Exhibit #304
The county section of today's LA Times has a big story with photos about a dog show being held in Long Beach. Some of the photos show a couple of the freakish shapes dogs have been twisted into for the sake of entertainment.

One column away, there's an article noting that the state fish & game commission has banned the sale of genetically-altered glowing fish. One commissioner remarked that "it seemed frivolous to tinker with an animal's genes to create a pet that glows red."

(from a posting on the SKEPTIC mailing list)

Pretty hilarious read...
From The 20 most annoying conservatives of 2003. My favorite passage, personally, is the one on Rush Limbaugh:

The Two Transgressions of Rush for 2003 are his massive drug use, and his period of time as a football analyst – most notably his egregiously stupid comment that Donovan McNabb, a Pro Bowl quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles, was only in the position he was in because the media was desirous to promote a black quarterback. McNabb, by the way, is now at the helm of the NFC’s hottest team and a potential MVP candidate. Again.

Rush isn’t annoying in this regard because he’s a racist (although the statement definitely had racist overtones, and he has a history of this sort of thing). He’s annoying because he was a shitty football commentator. ESPN made an investment into him as an “everyman voice” on ESPN NFL Sunday, not realizing that a multimillionaire far-right celebrity who censors opposing viewpoints from his show might not be the best guy to sit on a panel of lively, active debaters who know a hell of a lot more than him about the subject matter. The solution was to sit him over on the side and let him get on air when the producers said so, during his “Rush Challenges”. When he “challenged”, he just let loose with it. And it was crappy. Other than the McNabb comment, there isn’t a whole lot to his tenure at ESPN, it being that forgettable. He doesn’t know football, and when Michael Irvin is shutting you down in a debate, it’s time to just back away and go home.

Of course if “home” is also known as “Pfizer Florida”, that might not be a good idea. Limbaugh, after years of dictating to everyone to his left exactly why they were wrong, dangerous, unfit to run the country, envious of its downfall – and usually because of some personal moral failing such as adultery or political disagreement (Tom Daschle, mind you, was SATAN to this man in 2002). Rush personally constitutes one of the largest drug rings in Florida, and he couldn’t beg for forgiveness fast enough.

Rush brought out something in the right we’d never seen in the post-Reagan era. Sympathy for a drug user. And not just sympathy for a drug user…sympathy for all moral failings! In case the disconnect wasn’t quite large enough, a variety of conservatives palled up to host his show while he was in rehab, many of them going on to rail against the moral and personal weakness of their political opposition.

The only thing bigger than Rush’s hypocrisy, and his lying, and his completely lack of anything resembling a moral, intellectual or philosophical backbone…is Jupiter, actually.

From UPI's Investigations Desk
we get a pretty damned good explanation why the Army isn't meeting its National Guard and Reserve reenlistment goals.

Would you really want to stick with an outfit that doesn't provide you with necessary equipment?

Back when I was in the Navy, there was a lot of talk about "One Force", how the Regular Navy and Naval Reserve weren't separate forces, but rather equal parts of one team. I hope the Navy is doing a better job of it right now than the Army seems to be doing. Given my experience in the Navy, I have my doubts.

Thanks to Missouri Liberal for the head's up.

From the SKEPTIC list...
there's been some discussion of the story that a British Airways pilot saw Air Force One on its way to Iraq last week. From a post in that thread:

Okay -- I'm with you, inasmuch as I believe the current administration is a pack of evil liars to be loathed and feared (no hyperbole here). However, I wonder if this particular story actually matters a great deal. The story's so trivial, I can't see what significant benefits could have come from it for anyone. I can't imagine the original story was anything more than a mistake -- a joke someone reported as fact, or a "wouldn't it be funny if" story that grew legs.

Granted, the increasingly implausible explanations seem to be intentional attempts to cover the administration's butt, which, in my opinion, is ridiculous and far from admirable. But it doesn't seem markedly different to me than when I tell my boss I got caught in traffic because I'm too embarrassed to admit I overslept.

I have a friend whose explanation for taking this case seriously goes along the lines of, "Well, if they would lie about something little like this, we know they would lie about something big, like evidence of WMDs in Iraq." I understand that point, but since I already believe they lie about big things, I'm not sure it's productive to sweat the small stuff. If we Bush opponents make a big deal of things like this and the "mispronunciation" of Nevada, don't we run the risk of not being taken seriously when we pursue the major mistakes and inconsistencies?

Let me know if I'm wrong, though, because I'd rather keep making fun of Our Great President than be right.

More on the story...
of the child who was disciplined by his school for calling his mother "gay" (which, in point of fact, she is). Via the AP, we learn that the mother is "bewildered" that her son was disciplined.

Conservatives take things way too seriously...
Via old blogfriend Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard, we learn that "conservatives are demonstrating that they are a bunch of humorless wankers."

But congrats on all the attention the miserable failure project has garnered....

You wouldn't know it from reading what I have to say about it most days...
but there is an upside to attending law school. The selection process is such that it surrounds you with a lot of people who are at the very worst, highly intelligent (some are fucking geniuses; they're the ones that make the rest of us feel inadequate). Given a collection of (at the worst) highly intelligent folks, you're going to get a few that are creative, and who have wicked senses of humor. Some of them even regain their sanity, leave the law, and redeem themselves (like MadKane).

Brian Leiter, in his blog today, highlights a couple sterling examples of law school humor. Leiter seems to have liked this one, Dr. Seuss goes to Law School, and I'll agree it's quite good. Frankly, though, this one, a parody filk of "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer", is at least just as good, and deserved a mention too. But the best, I think, was this, a very accurate explanation of law school exams.

UPDATE: Jeremy of the "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" and Dr. Seuss parodies managed to beat out Heidi, though (she of the "law exam as a chess exercise" gag), with this parody of a law school student newsletter. One of my favorite parts of that one:


Professor Madison seeks a slave
No experience necessary, no pay. Duties include: doing laundry, cooking dinner, and teaching his classes whenever he doesn't feel like doing it himself.

Professor Johnson seeks a "research assistant"
Professor Johnson has a "research project" that involves long hours of "work," mostly late at night when his wife is away. Assistant must be "patient" (Professor Johnson is old), and have a great "grasp" of research "tools." Also must be "flexible," eager for a "learning experience," and ready to dive in and get "hands dirty." Assistant must also be a young man with a long [rhymes with Venus].

Professor Harrison (James) seeks a student training to be a divorce attorney, specializing in situations where the husband has cheated, but the wife hasn't.

Professor Harrison (Jane) seeks a student training to be a divorce attorney, specializing in situations where the wife's cheated too, but the husband doesn't know it.

Support a good cause: buy liberal
Just in time for the holidays, Steve Gilliard's started a "Steve Gilliard's News Blog Shop" through the folks at CafePress (hey, if Big Stupid Tommy could do it, why can't Steve?). It features, of course, what every good Liberal woman needs: the "Fighting Liberal" classic thong panty.

Looks like we're cruisin' for a bruisin'...
The scene in Iraq: the US wants the transitional government chosen in an indirect, caucus like manner (all the better to select compliant puppets, my dear). The Shiites want direct (as in one person, one vote; what a concept!) elections. Juan Cole is worried, and rightfully so.

The most disgusting news I've heard all day...
and it's not even 9:15 yet. According to a report in The Mahablog, "Eighty members of Congress have co-sponsored a bill to remove the profile of Franklin Delano Roosevelt from the dime and replace it with the face of Ronald Reagan".

I swear a most holy vow: if they put Reagan's face on any piece of U.S. currency, paper or coin, I'll refuse to use it.

Over on the SKEPTIC mailing list...
we've been having an on-again, off-again debate on "The Brights Movement" (a movement which I think is silly and which doesn't have the ghost of a chance of success in the United States). British philosopher Jeremy Stangroom gives an excellent criticism of the whole thing: Not a Very Bright Idea:

Which thoughts lead on to the second point about the kind of movement the brights idea is likely to foster. It is certainly going to contain some odd bedfellows. Scientific atheists and Marxist atheists will be united in thinking that there is definitely no god, but they’ll fight like cats and dogs over the fate of the bourgeoisie. The agnostics will irritate both groups by sitting on the fence, whilst freethinkers drive themselves crazy trying to find a viewpoint unique to themselves. The skeptics will watch the whole thing from afar with slightly cynical smiles, and the postmodernists will talk past themselves, as per usual. As for the rest of the world? They won’t see past the name. And laughter and parody will be the result. Therefore, one can only hope that the ‘bright’ meme fails on its evolutionary journey.

Probably the worst thing to happen to philosophy...
was its professionalization. From The Philosopher's Magazine: Fed up in Philly, a description of the American Philosophical Association Eastern Division meeting.

For the British, this is just one example of how they do things differently in North America. The scale of the conference is the most obvious difference.

"It’s busy, madly busy," says Tristan Palmer, senior commissioning editor at Continuum Publishing in London. "At a British philosophy conference you’re hard pressed to get more than a few hundred people."

The difference in scale is indeed striking. The size of the event means they are held in plush conference centres, with most delegates staying at the international hotel chains a mere skywalk away. This contrasts with the typical British conference, held on a university campus with delegates staying in drab student halls of residence.

But the scale is the most superficial contrast. The real difference is that in the UK, going to a conference means listening to papers. At the APA, many, if not most, people are out to do business, whether it’s hiring, getting hired, publishing a book or just making contacts.

"Loads of people here are saying they haven’t been to any of the talks," says Palmer. "They’re here to interview or be interviewed for jobs, or just to network and chat. It’s a peculiar set up in a way." And although he does discuss book projects at UK conferences, in the US "there’s a lot more focus on actually trying to get a contract."

It’s hard to understate just how deeply the business side of the conference permeates the whole atmosphere. Take the evening receptions, a chance ostensibly to relax at the end of the day over a drink. The reality is that universities hire tables at these receptions and use them for an extension of the day’s interviewing.

In addition to their acquisition of SuSE Linux...
Novell has just introduced a new certification: Novell Certified Linux Engineer. I see that Novell isn't worried too much about the claims of SCO....

I wonder what's going on here...
I'm getting a number of spams in my various email accounts with some of the weirdest "author" names inserted in the "from" field. Today, alone, I've received email (which I haven't read; I may be curious but I'm not stupid) from: "Gospels D. Electrocuting" (Subject: "Paris Hiltoon Stolen Home Movie town", "Notebooks M. Hargreaves" (Subject: "car Real Hilton Tape stock"; as you might imagine The Infamous Paris Hilton Sex Tape is the greatest thing to hit spam since "Make Money Fast"), "Burnside C. Beamed" (Subject: "elements Horse Penis WIth Farm Girls american"; what gives me the feeling that English is not this writer's first language?) and "Dimension V. Filibusters " (Subject: "Mega Hot Cheating House Wives!"; damn, this one is apparently the most coherent of the bunch).

I do have to admit, though, if I were writing a comic novel I'd try to feature a character named "Burnside C. Beamed" in it....

UPDATE: And in another email account, I see I have an email from Roseanne Barr with the subject line, "We can lower your life insurance". I didn't know that Roseanne had switched careers to life insurance sales. I guess that's what I get for not following the gossip columns more closely.

A baseball/computer geek's dream come true?
From Slate yesterday, the interesting story of what happens when a baseball geek lurking on a message board on a Red Sox obsession website gets to compare the relative hotness of the Olsen twins with an All-Star: C_Schilling1966 Has Entered the Room.

Allow me to confess to a bit of nerdery: For the past year or so, ever since I first stumbled across it, I've been an obsessive lurker at a Boston Red Sox message board. The site is called Sons of Sam Horn, and if I'm honest with myself, I probably spend more time there than at any other Web address. That says a lot about me, sadly, but also something about the site, and how fantastic it is.

OK, that's great, Seth; you love your Red Sox message board. So, what? Well, in the last week or so, SOSH went from fantastic to surreal. First, in the midst of heated contract talks with the Red Sox, pitcher Curt Schilling actually logged on and chatted for a while, describing the ongoing negotiations and correcting rumors about his demands. SOSHers at first couldn't believe this was really Schilling, but it was. Soon after, once a deal had been struck, Red Sox owner John Henry posted a message announcing as much, and thanking SOSH for the great impression it had made on Schilling. Then Schilling logged back on again and chatted some more—this time answering questions about the comparative hotness of the Olsen twins, and who'd win in a fight between a shark and a bear. (Schilling went with the bear.)

As a fan, this is the dream. Shooting the breeze with a star from your favorite team. And the SOSH guys deserve every second of it. They're the epitome of great baseball fans: loyal, passionate, absurdly well-informed, and can talk about the game with both humor and insight. What's more, Schilling fits right in. He's articulate and funny, and he's dorky enough to play online fantasy games like EverQuest (character name: Scythehands Voxslayer). Really, the only things separating him from the other guys on the message board are a whistling fastball and tens of millions of dollars.


Nevertheless, I'm eager to see what becomes of this brave new world. I've read the sports pages for years without ever feeling all that close to the players. Now we're talking Olsen twins with an all-star. I like the trend.

Thought for the Day:
Nothing says guilty like a high priced lawyer.
--Tom Griswold

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Sometimes, you just gotta do something futile because it's right
Talking Points Memo has a copy of a letter sent by Terence McAuliffe, DNC chairman, to Attorney General John Asscrack. The letter urges Asscrack to investigate the bribe offered to Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) in return for his vote in favor of the Medicare bill. McAuliffe closes the letter:

Mr. Attorney General, your repeated unwillingness to uphold the law is creating a wild west atmosphere in the Capitol where rules and regulations mean nothing. Republican officeholders feel free to openly and repeatedly break the law. It is disgraceful that you have allowed your inaction to foster this kind of atmosphere. I am asking once again, that you put upholding the law ahead of partisanship and investigate this matter.

Thanks to Resonance for this. Brian concludes himself:

That's both sad (because it's true) and funny. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that attempting to invoke a sense of shame will do any good.

The fact that Asscrack has no shame is itself sad. The man who enforces the law ought to have some respect for it.

What do viruses and spam teach us about "tort reform"?
They teach us that we don't need it. Nathan Newman refers us to an article in the UK's The Economist magazine. In it, they quote a proposal by computer security guru Bruce Schneier:

The culprit, in other words, is the licences that require buyers of new software to click their assent that the vendor is not liable for any flaws in its software. As long as software vendors-- and this is not specific to Microsoft-- cannot be held liable for security issues, Mr Schneier says, the economic incentives are stacked toward adding bells and whistles and shipping upgrades fast, rather than toward writing simpler, safer software.

Changing the law so that liability does rest at least in part with vendors, he argues, would align the incentives properly and lead to other good things as well. Software companies, just like firms in other industries, would buy product-liability insurance. Insurance companies would respond by pricing the risk, in effect voting on the security of each product. Just as companies that install sprinklers in their warehouses pay lower premiums and have a competitive edge over rivals that do not, software companies that write safer code would have an economic advantage.

In other words, you fear viruses and spam because the tort lawyers haven't been suing Microsoft and other software vendors for the damages resulting from their insecure software. Instead, Microsoft and other vendors require you to click "Ok" to a dialog box which gives you a text area in which appears a "license agreement". That license agreement (which is longer than most novellas and more complex than an introductory treatise in quantum mechanics) always includes a clause saying that the software (which, by the way, you don't "own" but which you merely "license") is provided to you "as is", and the software developer assumes no liability for anything bad that might result from the use of their software.

Frankly, I have problems with these "clickthrough" licenses; there's a concept in contract law known as a "contract of adhesion". It's a complex concept (what legal concept isn't?), but the basics aren't that difficult to understand. The basis of a contract is agreement between the contracting parties. This implies negotiation, and some significant give and take between the parties. But in some cases, one side has all the guns, one side holds all the cards... one side can force the other side to take the mouse's share of the benefits of the deal while it gets the lion's share. The courts have held that in the most extreme cases, where the stronger party can virtually dictate terms to the other party, a contract of adhesion results. This definition is slanted towards insurance law, but the basic principle applies in other areas as well:

A contract drafted by one party and offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis or with little opportunity for the offeree to bargain or alter the provisions. Contracts of adhesion typically contain long boilerplate provisions in small type, written in language difficult for ordinary consumers to understand. Insurance policies are usually considered contracts of adhesion because they are drafted by the insurer and offered without the consumer being able to make material changes. As a result, courts generally rule in favor of an insured if there is an ambiguity in policy provisions.

As the definition implies, contracts of adhesion are construed strictly in favor of the weaker party and against the stronger party in the event of ambiguity in the terms, and in some cases a contract of adhesion can be so unfair that a court may find it unconscionable and refust to enforce it (in effect, the ruling is that the stroger party is so much in control, and the weaker party so powerless to negotiate changes in the terms of the contract, that there is no actual agreement on terms at all).

Since the beginning of my career in the IT industry, I've always been surprised that "clickthrough" and "shrinkwrap" licenses ("by breaking the wrapper surrounding this package you are agreeing to the terms of this license"; in the most egregious cases software firms have claimed that opening the package constitutes agreement to the license terms even though the consumer has to open the package in order to read the license!) have been assumed to be enforcable; if anything seems to amount to an unconscionable contract of adhesion these are it.

But Scheier makes a very good point; if it was absolutely clear that a software vendor would be monetarily liable to their customers in the event of software bugs that result in losses to the customer, they'd have damned good motivation to make sure that software was as bug-free as they could make it.

As Newman concludes:

The reasons you don't die as often in your car is thanks to the tort lawyers.

And the reason you live in fear of viruses wiping your hard drive is because Microsoft doesn't fear them enough.

I thought that there was such a thing as conflict of interest laws....
Democratic Veteran and Nathan Newman both direct us to this New York Times story: Health industry bidding to hire Medicare chief.

I see there's a local connection; one of the firms that Scully is contemplating an offer from is the Washington office (I presume) of the Memphis law firm of Baker, Donaldson.

The federal official who runs Medicare and was intimately involved in drafting legislation to overhaul the program is the object of a bidding war among five firms hoping to hire him to advise clients affected by the measure.

Though the official, Thomas A. Scully, is not widely known outside Washington, his exhaustive knowledge of the Medicare program and the intricacies of the legislation, approved by Congress last week, would make him a prize catch for any law firm or private equity firm.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Scully said that his discussions with potential employers complied with federal ethics regulations and that he had seen no reason to recuse himself from work on the legislation. He said he had consulted with the top ethics officer for the Department of Health and Human Services and received a waiver allowing him to continue work on the bill. The department confirmed his account.

Damn. And where did that "ethics officer" get his/her training, the William Bennett School of Virtue (school motto: "Ethical principles are for little people.")?

If Scully's discussions complied with ethics regulations, then it's time for those regulations to be made tighter. One of the things that marks professional ethics codes is the striving to avoid the appearance of impropriety, not just the striving to avoid actual impropriety. Scully probably did nothing wrong (certainly nobody's saying he did), but his crassly cashing in on his expertise--particularly given the importance in coming days of the interpretation of a law he helped draft--certainly looks bad.

In today's incomparable Daily Howler...
Bob Somerby exposes the lies of Dick Morris and Sean Hannity (Hannity's lying was done with the connivance of "morals guru" William Bennett. Specifically, Hillary Clinton did not tell the troops in Iraq that "the outcome is not assured" in Iraq--she told that to the Washington bureau chief of the Buffalo News. But to hear Morris and Hannity tell it, Hillary was telling the troops that.

Thought for the Day:
Our courtship was ardent and, uh, strategic. An Army officer renders the same breathless exhortations as every other lover, but it comes with a little something extra: Cupid's organizational fury. A smitten officer is not hard to spot. First, he'll compliment you on being "squared away." Then maybe he'll declare his intentions in PowerPoint ("I've prepared a 25-slide presentation to show how our relationship will deepen over the next four quarters"). Once he logs your vacation itinerary into Excel, you can safely bet there's a proposal on the horizon.
--Lily Burana

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Feast or famine...
We had a famine there for a while; now time for the feast. We welcome three more members to the World Famous Rocky Top Brigade:

Welcome, y'all!! And the rest o'you go to the RTB official blogroll (linked above) or to South Knox Bubba and check out the new RTB logo. Haven't decided when I'll put it on my blog yet; reduced to the "proper" size to fit my layout it'll lose a lot of the punch, alas.

I'm only surprised...
that, Hollywood being what it is, that she hasn't been cast as his leading lady yet. From Britain's The Sun: Jack Nicholson wants to bed Britney Spears.

AGEING playboy Jack Nicholson wants to bed Britney Spears — but says he is “too old” for sex.

The 66-year-old actor believes a romp with the singer, 22 today, would be “life-altering.”

"Life-altering", eh? Jack, you've got an incredibly keen grasp of the obvious.

Though this line reminds me of a classic Monty Python quick cut. They'd done a sketch of some Government ministers talking about what other human activity could they possibly levy a tax on, with the result that they eventualy decide on taxing sex (always referred to as "thingy"; the punch line is Eric Idle saying, "Well, it'll certainly make chartered accountancy a much more interesting job." They then move to some "vox pops" (various Pythons as different characters zinging quick lines), and one of them is Michael Palin as "the 'It's' guy" (the ragged old guy in the beginning who stumbles up to the camera and says "It's..."), who says, "I would tax Raquel Welch. And I've a feeling she'd tax me."

More miracles....
Once upon a time, I blogged about the "miracle" St. Mary's Dragons, who managed to get into the Missouri State AAAA (I think) High School Football Playoffs when the Missouri State High School Activities Association went and made Clayton High School forfeit 9 of their 10 season victories this season for fielding an ineligible player, and the local judiciary refused to force the MSHSAA to change its mind (a series of events which St. Mary's boosters dubbed "a miracle").

God rained down his blessings on St. Mary's in the tournament, when Vashon High School spanked them good, 27-7, and sent them home first round losers.

Quite a miracle.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry...
when a story in The Onion could be mistaken for the real thing. From this week's issue:

Alan Colmes Loses Argument With Nephew
NEW YORK—Alan Colmes, the liberal co-host of the Fox News debate program "Hannity & Colmes", lost an argument to his nephew Bryan while babysitting the 8-year-old Monday. "I wanted to stay up late to watch television, but Uncle Alan said, 'There's already too much self-parenting in America,'" Bryan said. "So I started screaming, 'Mom lets me, Mom lets me,' real loud. He gave in after, like, 20 seconds." In the past two years, Bryan has won arguments with Colmes on the subjects of Pokémon cards, Crunch Berries cereal, and steel tariffs.

Enough already, dammit!!!
I subscribe to's St. Louis newsfeed. A good, fairly painless way to keep up with what's going on back home.

However, I swear to Gawd, listing 6 stories on St. Louis getting a new archbishop within a 15 minute period is the very definition of overkill (especially since at least 4 of them appear to be the same AP story running in several different newspapers across the country).

The new American media: too much is never enough.

Oh Jebus!
I can't say that this bodes well for SCO in its litigation against IBM: SCO Would Like A Month's Delay to Get a Patent Attorney

SCO filed a motion in Utah on November 26 asking for a month's extra time to answer IBM's third set of interrogatories. IBM asked them for all facts relating to their affirmative defenses. That's too much to ask them to finish on time, SCO argues, because they asserted 26 affirmative defenses, so that's like 26 questions instead of just one.

Also, they point out there is a motion to strike three of those affirmative defenses. What if IBM wins that motion, SCO seems to be saying? Then we'd only have 23 affirmative defenses, so it'd be wasteful to provide all the facts about those three affirmative defenses.

In addition, they need a month because they hired a patent attorney, but it turns out there may be a conflict due to the patent firm's "prior or continuing representation of IBM in other matters", they explain. Either he has worked for IBM in the past or his firm is now working for them on another matter or has in the past. SCO asked IBM to waive the conflict, but IBM said no. Duh. I think SCO may have trouble getting any favors from IBM's lawyers. There are apparently negotiations about the waiver still going on, but if it doesn't get settled by December 1, SCO says it will have to hire a new patent attorney. They say they need a patent attorney because some of IBM's counterclaims are about patents.
[my emphasis--LRC]

Dammit, the first thing one does when one embarks on representation of a client is check to see that there's no conflict with prior clients represented. This is an issue that should have been ironed out well before the filing of SCO's suit, not now, ferchrissakes!

MS-BS Today had some choice comments:

Which raises the interesting question: whose expert talents were used for the initial SCO court pleading?

From all appearances, people are beginning to find the whole SCO suit borders on the ridiculous. Those who have read SCO's court documents have noted poor grammar, misspellings, incorrect dates and a multitude of errors which do not show professionals at work.

Beyond the externals of grammar, expression, spelling and punctuation, the internal logic of the SCO case seems twisted beyond recognition. Much of their copyright violation case hinges on the claim the GPL is irrelevant, that IBM lifted copyrighted SCO code. Yet, SCO has sold Linux code in which a substantial portion was delivered by GPL, and made no effort to license it as the intellectual property SCO claims it is.

Due to the extended nature of SCO's grand and theatrical lawsuit, those hoping to profit by delay in Linux deployments are banking (literally) on the farce lasting many months longer. But what they did not expect is the SCO case to appear so flimsy, so soon.

If the sole purpose of the SCO case is to stampede users into Microsoft's forthcoming Digital Rights Management schemes, the threat loses power on a daily basis. Exactly like a suicidal rear-guard action, all SCO wants to achieve is delay.

I was married to a schoolteacher once upon a time...
so I generally side with teachers, and don't call for one to be fired lightly. But this is ridiculous. From TalkLeft: 7 Year Old Disciplined for Discussing Gay Mother . Basically, the kid told a classmate, "I have two mothers because my mother is gay." When the classmate asked what "gay" meant, the child then replied "Gay is when a girl likes a girl." A teacher, overhearing the conversation, then proceeded to scold the kid, telling him that "gay" was a "bad word" and sent him to the principal's office, where his punishment was to come early to school to write "I will never say the word 'gay' in school again" repeatedly. TalkLeft's comment: "We say fire this teacher..." I agree. This was a situation which needed to be handled with tact and care, and the school authorities dropped the ball in that regard.

Sometimes I think there's no hope for the children anymore, when you get a look at who's responsible for their education....

Steve Gilliard gives us...
a few good comments on the Howard Dean draft situation. Go to Steve's blog and scroll down to the 12/02 post titled "A few words about Howard Dean and the draft" (Steve's blog doesn't seem to do permalinks).

I was watching Crossfire today and Charlie Black called Howard Dean a draft dodger. Which is a lie. It isn't a mistatement or opinion. Anyone claiming Dean dodged the draft is lying. I would suggest Dean supporters note the following: Howard Dean reported for induction, he was examined by an Army doctor. The Army declared him 1Y, not 4F, which is to say that he was in the second rank of people eligible for induction. So he followed the rules.

The condition Dean has was discovered while he was a teenager and had been treated and noted before he entered Yale. It was not invented for the exam, and if it had not been judged serious enough, he would have been inducted on the spot. He didn't try to get a reserve unit posting, nor claim dependents or anything which would have mitigated his service. All he would have had to do was get a civilian job which would have exempted him and given his family connections, that would have been easy. There were no furtive phone calls, no favors, no claims of homosexuality or long hidden illness. Dean acted as ethically as someone who opposed the war could have acted. He also faced induction in New York, not the most liberal of draft boards, given the large number of New Yorkers who served in Vietnam.

People think the draft was an open option exam, and it's not. Many people were rejected for military service based on any number of conditions. Gregory Peck was declared 4F because of a boating injury he had at UCLA. During WWII, people lied to get inducted and several committed suicide when they were declared 4F. A draft classification is not up to the individual and while middle class and wealthy kids did present medical conditions to the draft board, Dean seems to have acted ethically. Poor kids were rejected by the same classification system as well.

I was surprised that Max Clelland attacked Dean for skiing after his induction physical. Dean never claimed to be physically unfit. He didn't claim a sudden illness. If there had been no war, he would have still had the same condition. The reason he was considered 1Y, and not 4F was that he had enough mobility, but with his condition, service would have been difficult. Carrying a 50lb pack or sitting in a tank all day with a bad back is not a good combination. Especially when the pain imobilizes you for minutes at a time.

Sure, he could lay bricks or ski, because no one was shooting at him and he didn't have 11 other men depending on him at the time. If he stopped for a moment, no one was going to get a bullet in their skull. Which is why they have draft classifications and not press gangs.


Dean played by the rules, Bush and Cheney did not. Bush used his family influence to avoid Vietnam service and was AWOL to the best of anyone's recollection, for an entire year, an act which should have gotten him busted and sent straight to Thailand as a ground officer. Cheney got four deferements and hid behind his wife and graduate school. At least he hid, not lied like Tom DeLay, saying too many coloreds prevented him from going. Oddly enough, there seem to be a lot of poor white Texans who got sent to Vietnam.

I don't know anyone who avoided induction. Everyone I know of that age served in Vietnam. So this was never an issue for me. But I do know that people who didn't serve moved seemlessly through life and those who did fed our family for 30 years. So I'm not sympathetic to people who gamed the system to avoid service in Vietnam. But I also know Dean didn't game the system. He followed the rules. Even if Dean had volunteered, his condition would have probably precluded service if he had been honest about it.

To whip around and claim he did something unethical or illegal when he clearly did neither is dead wrong. It's wrong when Dems use it, and it's dead wrong when the GOP does it.

I'll forgive the bad pun....
because Nathan Newman is making an excellent point here: A really shitty court decision.

You can read through the decision, but it's a torturous bit of judicial second-guessing of the labor department with the simple goal of making exploited agricultural workers lives as miserable as humanly possible.

Apparently, demanding that a toilet be available within a quarter mile of where you labor in the fields is too much decency to ask.

And folks wonder why I hate courts that are more anti-labor than the Bush Administration itself.

Update: Thinking about this post, I'm having a stronger reaction, mostly because I know this decision will get zero attention, from the media and most liberal columnists. The right to humane working conditions is a baseline human right -- the right to take a shit in dignity is pretty much a bottomline issue. Yet there is explosive attention on the Massachusetts gay marriage decision, and zero attention on this one, and the many rightwing economic decisions by the courts.

Maybe it's just not "news" that farmworkers are treated so badly in this country.

But as long as liberals don't agitate to make this kind of court-driven economic assault "news", you'll end up with all the attention on courts being "activist" on social issues, with none of the attention on court activism on economic issues that effect working families.

But sometimes, it seems justified, if not wise, to wear that tinfoil hat...
Paul Krugman today takes up the issue of electronic voting machines. What he has to say, alas, doesn't fill me with confidence:

Inviting Bush supporters to a fund-raiser, the host wrote, "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." No surprise there. But Walden O'Dell — who says that he wasn't talking about his business operations — happens to be the chief executive of Diebold Inc., whose touch-screen voting machines are in increasingly widespread use across the United States.

For example, Georgia — where Republicans scored spectacular upset victories in the 2002 midterm elections — relies exclusively on Diebold machines. To be clear, though there were many anomalies in that 2002 vote, there is no evidence that the machines miscounted. But there is also no evidence that the machines counted correctly. You see, Diebold machines leave no paper trail.

Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey, who has introduced a bill requiring that digital voting machines leave a paper trail and that their software be available for public inspection, is occasionally told that systems lacking these safeguards haven't caused problems. "How do you know?" he asks.

What we do know about Diebold does not inspire confidence. The details are technical, but they add up to a picture of a company that was, at the very least, extremely sloppy about security, and may have been trying to cover up product defects.

Those of you who have been following the story know about Diebold's reaction to revelations of their security problems: rather than fix the problems, they've sued ISPs under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in an attempt to get Diebold documents which admit that the problems exist pulled from the World Wide Web.

A man or woman much wiser than me once said, "When they are out to get you, paranoia is merely good sense." As Krugman concludes:

But there's nothing paranoid about suggesting that political operatives, given the opportunity, might engage in dirty tricks. Indeed, given the intensity of partisanship these days, one suspects that small dirty tricks are common. For example, Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recently announced that one of his aides had improperly accessed sensitive Democratic computer files that were leaked to the press.

This admission — contradicting an earlier declaration by Senator Hatch that his staff had been cleared of culpability — came on the same day that the Senate police announced that they were hiring a counterespionage expert to investigate the theft. Republican members of the committee have demanded that the expert investigate only how those specific documents were leaked, not whether any other breaches took place. I wonder why.

The point is that you don't have to believe in a central conspiracy to worry that partisans will take advantage of an insecure, unverifiable voting system to manipulate election results. Why expose them to temptation?

I'll discuss what to do in a future column. But let's be clear: the credibility of U.S. democracy may be at stake.

Now, why didn't I think of that?
Back on Thanksgiving Day I blogged this (which I'm bringing forward just because I can):

Daily Kos refers us to a Bob Novak column which demonstrates what evil, despicable, Machiavellian, worthless excuses for human beings that the GOP leadership is:

During 14 years in the Michigan Legislature and 11 years in Congress, Rep. Nick Smith had never experienced anything like it. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, in the wee hours last Saturday morning, pressed him to vote for the Medicare bill. But Smith refused. Then things got personal. Smith, self term-limited, is leaving Congress. His lawyer son Brad is one of five Republicans seeking to replace him from a GOP district in Michigan's southern tier. On the House floor, Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat.

If Smith voted the way his constituency wanted, he should advise his son to leave the GOP and run as an independent, and then campaign hard on this blatant influence peddling by the GOP leadership. If these Michiganders are independent thnkers rather than GOP sheeple, maybe they can parlay that into a victory.

Today, I read Tim Noah's column in Slate, and he picks up on something that both Kos and I missed: intimations of an offer of money to Brad Smith's campaign, in return for Rep. Smith's vote in Congress, is a federal crime, bribery of a Congressman.

Tim urges Rep. Smith to blow the whistle on the party who tried to bribe him:

Obviously Smith doesn't want to alienate the GOP establishment by hurling criminal accusations at whoever this phantom bribe-giver may be. But it's a little late for that. If Smith witnessed an attempted bribery, he has an obligation as a citizen—and even more so, as member of Congress—to make that person's identity known to law enforcement officials. Marc Miller, a Washington attorney who advises clients on ethics issues, told Chatterbox that what Novak described not only looked like "a slam-dunk violation of the bribery law" but probably also included "a smorgasbord of other criminal violations." Rep. Smith, Miller said, "should really be sharing the specifics with the Justice Department."

So, Congressman. Enough with the guessing games. Who tried to bribe you?

Sounds like a great idea to me.

Thought for the Day:
I told my wife she looks sexy with black fingernails. Now she thinks I purposefully slammed the car door on them.
--Emo Philips

Monday, December 01, 2003

Blast from the past...
From the Seattle Times: Military leaders object to administration policy on terror detainees

Rear Adm. Don Guter felt the Pentagon shudder when an airliner hijacked by terrorists crashed into it on Sept. 11, 2001. He helped evacuate shaken personnel and later gave the eulogy for a colleague killed that day.

"I would have done anything that day, and I fully support the war on terrorism," said Guter, who served as judge advocate general, the Navy's chief legal officer, until he retired last year.

Nonetheless, he is joining his predecessor and a retired Marine general with expertise on prisoner issues to challenge the Bush administration's indefinite detention of suspected terrorists at the Navy base in Guantánamo, Cuba.

Guter, Rear Adm. John Hutson and Brig. Gen. David Brahms worry that lengthy incarcerations at Guantánamo without hearings will undermine the rule of law and endanger U.S. forces.

"For me it's a question of balance between security needs and due process, and I think we've lost our balance," Guter said.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a newly minted LTJG in the Navy JAG Corps making my way to Newport, RI, and the Naval Justice School's Military Lawyer Basic Course. Since I'd graduated from Northwestern University Law School, and hadn't gotten around to leaving Chicago yet (I'd married a woman there just after graduation, and had no pressing need to leave since she was still gainfully employed) the Navy in its infinite wisdom gave me temporary orders to cool my heels at the Naval Legal Service Office, Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois, where the commanding officer put me to work doing various and sundry assorted legal tasks while we waited for my slot in NJS to come up. The Special Court Martial Military Judge assigned to Great Lakes at that time was one LCDR Donald J. Guter, JAGC, USN. Yes, the same Don Guter who later became Judge Advocate General of the Navy, and who is named as joining in the amicus brief in the excerpt above.

I can testify from personal experience with the man; RADM Guter was the military judge before whom I tried my very first court martial (an assignment for which he should have gotten hazardous duty pay, since he was in grave danger of dying of boredom up there on the bench as I made my case). RADM Guter is one of the most decent, honorable, and fairest men I've ever had the privilege to serve with, and he's one of the finest lawyers I've ever known in my career. If it's his considered opinion that the indefinite detention of "enemy combatants" is illegal, you can take that to the bank.

Thanks to Happy Furry Puppy Story Time for the reference.

Brave, bold stroke, or panicky PR stunt?
Muslim Online Media see Bush Visit as PR Stunt

I wish her the best of luck; hope she wins, but I know better...
9/11 Victim's Widow Files Civil RICO Action Against Bush and Cabinet

Philip J. Berg, Esquire, announced today that he, attorney for Ellen Mariani, wife of Louis Neil Mariani, who died when United Air Lines flight 175 was flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9-11 at a news conference regarding the filing of a detailed Amended Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on 11/26/03 in the case of Mariani vs. Bush et al that he is alleging President Bush and officials including, but not limited to Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and Feinberg that they:

1. had knowledge/warnings of 911 and failed to warn or take steps to prevent;

2. have been covering up the truth of 911; and

3. have therefore violated the laws of the United States; and

4. are being sued under the Civil RICO Act.

Great. Just great...
From Josh Marshall: our Iraqification plans are in flux. In large part, that's because our damn Iraqis are gaming us to try to remain in power in a system that wouldn't otherwise keep them there.

Talk about being played like a two bit piccolo...

It's only fair to give credit where credit is due...
so I congratulate SECDEF Donald "Rummy" Rumsfeld on his well deserved award: 'Foot in mouth' prize for Rumsfeld

Joe Bob says it all....
on the topic of "The Reagans". From Joe Bob Briggs's "Week in Review" email newsletter:

"The Reagans" premiered on Showtime, and everybody wondered WHAT THE HELL THE BIG DEAL WAS. The three-hour movie INDUCES Alzheimer's.

As a liberal on criminal justice matters...
I'd rather see prostitution decriminalized, and I disapprove of letting the media publicize the names of accused prostitutes or accused johns who are charged with either prostitution or patronizing prostitution.

But if it has to be criminal, and the identities have to be publicized, as a non-Christian I take a certain sick pleasure in seeing stories like this: Pastor Arrested in Prostitution Sting.

This is going to go down as one of my more favorite quotes:

Police say they are not surprised at the arrest of a minister.

I can respect a principled conservative...
And it looks to me like Judge Richard Posner would fall into that category. Brian Leiter quotes Judge Posner:

I don't object to the fact that Senators are concerned about the ideology of judicial candidates; the President is concerned, so why shouldn't the Senators be? Anyone who is realistic about the American judicial process knows that ideology affects decisions, especially the "hot button" decisions that engage the attention of politicians; and Senators are politicians.

The source of that quote, an interview with Posner on a blog devoted to appellate court matters, is pretty interesting, even for a layperson. You might want to check it out if you have a few minutes to spare.

MadKane's in great form today...
I approve, even though my former congresscritter Dick Gephardt was her inspiration for a filk that should go down as a classic: Oh, What a Mis'rable Failure. It's set to a possibly recognizable tune (thanks to a recent entry in PBS's "Great Performances" series, probably more recognizable than it might otherwise have been).

Just had to quickie blog this one....
Another myth bites the dust: the Day after Thanksgiving is not the biggest shopping day of the year in the U.S. (if you go follow the link, you'll learn what were the biggest shopping days of the year for the last 10 years).

Thought for the Day:
God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles ALL THE TIME.
--Terry Pratchett