November 30, 2005

Gen. Peter Pace (Gryffindor), Secretary Rumsfeld (Heartless, Inept and Dangerous Bureaucrat)

Larry Johnson reports on a remarkable disagreement (that happened in front of the press!) between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense. When questioned about the responsibilities of American troops when they found evidence of "excesses" by the Iraqi Interior Ministry or Defense Ministry, this is what they had to say:

PACE: It is absolutely responsibility of every U.S. service member if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it. . . .

RUMSFELD: I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it, it's to report it.

PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it."

Between this and my post earlier today on the language of the fight in Iraq I am quickly developing a highly favorable opinion of the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And (who'd have thought it possible) my opinion of the Secretary of Defense continues to plummet. That the president hasn't fired him yet reflects extremely poorly on Mr. Bush.

Posted by armand at 12:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Let's All Bomb Maximum Broadway Radio

In the wake of the news that our Dear Leader called for the bombing of a prominent media outlet in the Middle East (it's unclear if he was joking of not), Beautiful Atrocities is running a poll on which media outlet should be the president's next target. An old friend of mine hopes you'll vote for his station - Maximum Broadway Radio. As to why it made the list, I have no idea. But for the good of God and country, go show your patriotic fervor - and cast your vote for a military assault on showtunes.

Posted by armand at 11:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Donald Rumsfeld - Language Policeman

You probably never heard the word "insurgency" before the war in Iraq. And now Donald Rumsfeld doesn't want you to hear it again (regardless of its accuracy).

I find General Pace's reaction to the Secretary's comments pretty funny. I doubt Secretary Rumsfeld did.

Posted by armand at 09:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 29, 2005

Forget Nixon, Fast Forward to Reagan

I know that many people are obsessed with Fitzmas and who knew what when and how could Karl Rove and Scooter and Novak and whether Woodward has come full circle from outsider to insider with matching bookend presidential scandals and how Iraq and why and whether or not it compares to Viet Nam and don't we remember that Cheney and Rumsfeld worked for Nixon too, huh? Huh? HUH?!

I keep getting this queasy feeling though. And it's more of a Reagan queasy. A Central America kind of queasy.

Two short days ago I was being snide about Negroponte's service in Central America under the Reagan administration. Laura Rozen isn't being snide. She has two posts up today that make me wish I hadn't been so flippant.

In one post, Rozen links to a Newsweek piece about internal Pentagon discussions about using a "Salvador" option in Iraq. You remember El Salvador, right? Where the U.S. backed regime killed the nuns, in addition to persecuting leftists and inflicting terrible consequences on the civilian population? The El Mozote massacre? Yeah, that El Salvador.

What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon’s latest approach is being called "the Salvador option"—and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is.


Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.

So let's just acknowledge all the "allegeds" up front. Even with the most skeptical eye towards U.S. involvement with human rights abuses, El Salvador is not the "option" on which to model an insurgent strategy. The historical record shows that at minimum our concerns about communist insugents led us to look the other way while still supplying billions of dollars to support a violent and corrupt regime responsible for terrible abuses (see below the fold for more information about El Salvador, and some generalized snark on US foreign policy in Central America in the 1980s).

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell NEWSWEEK.

In the Salvadoran model, the U.S trained forces were linked repeatedly to human rights violations:"Nineteen of the 27 Salvadoran officers who took part in the massacre by a UN Truth Commission report were graduates of the SOA. In fact, almost three-quarters of the Salvadoran officers implicated in seven other bloodbaths during El Salvador's civil war[...] were trained by the SOA." As the articles Rozen references point out, Iraq might be starting to look like a model copy of the successful quelling of the insurgency. Except that the insurgency hasn't been quelled in Iraq, and the price of success in El Salvador was 75,000 lives. As Rozen says:

So the US is no hapless bystander to the Shiite death squads we are seeing, but they are the product of deliberate Pentagon policy? Is Cambone going to be hauled before Congress or what? Talk about missing the black helicopter crowd. One cannot but long for justice for these guys. Could some forward looking European nation please arrest them next time they stop over, just to give them a scare? A little Pinochet-like unpleasant episode, if not a full fledged trial? Doesn't this country deserve to know what is being done in our name? If these guys believe in what they're doing, if they believe it's in the interest of US national security, why don't they have the courage to admit it openly? Why are they trying to organize Shiite death squads in secret? Because it would be bad for the US to be seen to be behind this policy? Or because they are concerned about their own legal vulnerability?

The role of religious organizations in calling for an end to human rights abuses in the Americas has been widely recognized, and El Salvador gives us one of the most famous cases: Archbishop Oscar Romero. The Catholic Church, especially, had the moral authority and relative immunity from backlash that allowed it to criticize the death squads and other human rights abuses. Because of the religious nature of the emerging conflict in Iraq, it is doubtful that there is a domestic social or cultural institution to play such a role. And Romero? It took almost twenty five years to bring Romero's assassins to justice.

What's coming next? Mothers standing silent? Waiting for their children to come home? From the NYT:

Hundreds of accounts of killings and abductions have emerged in recent weeks, most of them brought forward by Sunni civilians, who claim that their relatives have been taken away by Iraqi men in uniform without warrant or explanation.

Some Sunni men have been found dead in ditches and fields, with bullet holes in their temples, acid burns on their skin, and holes in their bodies apparently made by electric drills. Many have simply vanished.

Some of the young men have turned up alive in prison. In a secret bunker discovered earlier this month in an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad, American and Iraqi officials acknowledged that some of the mostly Sunni inmates appeared to have been tortured.

And Rozen's criticism about the unwillingness of the US government to either own up to collaborating, or stand up to condemn the behavior echoes the U.S. involvment in El Salvador, where the Reagan administration made lukewarm efforts to pressure the goverment to stop human rights abuses, and the Salvadoran regime engaged in "palliative" fixes. (my emphasis in the following)

American officials, who are overseeing the training of the Iraqi Army and the police, acknowledge that police officers and Iraqi soldiers, and the militias with which they are associated, may indeed be carrying out killings and abductions in Sunni communities, without direct American knowledge.

But they also say it is difficult, in an already murky guerrilla war, to determine exactly who is responsible. The American officials insisted on anonymity because they were working closely with the Iraqi government and did not want to criticize it publicly.

And if you don't like the NYT, try the Knight Ridder piece:

A senior American military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said he suspected that the abuse wasn't isolated to the jail the U.S. military discovered.

There is no guarantee that the squads that perpetrate these abductions are affiliated with the Iraqi authorities just because they have uniforms and identify themselves as being part of the Interior Ministry. It's quite possible, given the degree of lawlessness, that the uniforms are stolen, pirated, or subverted. Waving hands in the air and letting it go on is not going to help convince the populace the a) the government isn't involved and b) that the U.S. really cares about stopping human rights violations, already a huge problem due to the image left from Abu Ghraib (just for starters). Even if the individuals interviewed for these pieces cannot comment for safety reasons, the U.S. has to be highly visible in its condemnation and its actions against such abuse.

In five visits to a women's prison in Baghdad's Kadhimiya district over more than three months, the Human Rights Ministry found that women were being raped by male guards, Ussayran said. That problem continues.

One woman told the Human Rights Ministry that she was raped seven times on the seventh floor of the Interior Ministry, which is notorious to some Iraqi Sunni Muslims and home to intelligence offices. The Human Rights Ministry investigated that, and Ussayran said the problem had been rectified.


In July 2004, a Knight Ridder reporter witnessed prisoners being beaten at the Interior Ministry.

"Don't talk to me about human rights," said one interrogator who punched several prisoners in front of a reporter. He asked not to be named because he frequently worked undercover. "When security settles down, we'll talk about human rights. Right now, I need confessions."

When is that going to be? Those beatings aren't helping, either through the poor quality of intelligence obtained from abuse, or the backlash from engaging in it. And even if it isn't a problem of our direct making, it's a problem that needs to be forcibly dealt with by the U.S., not ignored or tacitly condoned as part of a "Salvadoran" strategy.

Random Extra Comments That Didn't Quite Fit

1) Now, Negoponte argues that linking his name to El Salvador is "utterly gratuitous." Clearly, he was not the Ambassador to El Salvador, and quite obviously, the Reagan administration's foreign policy in El Salvador was vastly different and far away from what was going on in Honduras and had absolutely nothing to do with anything that was happening in Ic-Nay Aragua-ay. No, no reason at all to think that El Salvador was even remotely close to Honduras, the launching pad for U.S. support of the Contras in Nicaragua.

2) In the 1990s, under the Clinton (yes, I'm sure it's all his fault somehow) administration, a large number of documents relating to the US role in El Salvador were declassified. Here is a summary essay about the period covered by the documents in the National Security Archive.

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Feel like a laugh?

And I mean laugh until you cry and you make those snorty noises. Funny cat videos.

Shamelessly ripped off from BitchPhD.

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"A moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard"

And then Dick said, "Lawrence, baby, I love it when you sweet talk me. Don't make Daddy spank you again!"

In an Associated Press interview, former Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson also said President Bush was "too aloof, too distant from the details" of postwar planning. Underlings exploited Bush's detachment and made poor decisions, Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson blamed Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and like-minded aides. He said Cheney must have sincerely believed that Iraq could be a spawning ground for new terror assaults, because "otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard.

The CBS story via Hoffmania.

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November 28, 2005

Ramping Up the Use of Air Power in Iraq

This Seymour Hersh article in The New Yorker points to considerable changes that are being proposed regarding how we should continue the fight in Iraq. The basic thrust of the piece is that some are calling for pulling some of the US troops out and instead relying more on US airpower.

I find this rather perplexing. In the first place, as the article makes clear it's not as if we're not already using a great deal of air power. We're regularly dropping huge amounts of ordnance. Secondly, doesn't this smack a bit of the Clinton-esque approach that President Bush has so often derided (like firing cruise missiles from afar). That's not saying that such policies can't be effective, but ... That leads me to my third concern - would it be effective? It doesn't strike me that a lot of the major targets would be best dealt with this way, though I admit to not having the information that would be relevant to determining that. Finally, what about civilian casualties? Sure technology and smart bombs have come a long way, but there's a lot more to an air war than that and this kind of turn would seem to raise the prospect of killing more innocent Iraqis than we are currently.

Now none of these concerns should necessarily preclude this policy move. It may be that all things considered it's our best hope for the future. But I'm far from sure of that. And the notion of letting the Iraqis call in the targets (which is discussed in the article), well, I have grave concerns about that. And that's putting it extremely mildly.

Posted by armand at 10:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

War on Christmas II: Laura Bush Boogaloo

Why does Laura Bush hate Jesus?

MRS. BUSH: Well, all things bright and beautiful is the theme this year. I think it will be really bright and beautiful with this fabulous tree. But thank you all very much. Happy holidays. I know this is the real start of the season, the Monday after Thanksgiving, and so I want to wish everybody happy holidays. And we'll see you later this week with the White House decorations.

The Baby Jesus hates it when you support the evil doers by saying "happy holidays," and he asked Jerry Falwell to monitor your fidelity to the message.

And what's with the repetition, anyway?

Via Crooks and Liars. The Rude Pundit has other ideas, naturally.

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Governor General Michaelle Jean

So I was reading about the (possible) impending end of the Paul Martin's government in Canada when I noticed something unexpected. Apparently Canada got a new Governor General in September. She appears to be, judging by her biography, much more interesting that you might expect. And quite apart from her own accomplishments, she stands out in a few respects. Her appointment marks the first time one woman has followed another in this office. And she was born in Haiti.

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Remember Mitch Daniels? Indiana doesn't want to.

Remember Mitch Daniels? He was W's OMB director, until he went back to Indiana to run for Governor. He won!

Yesterday, George Will reminded us of what a wonderful thing Mitch Daniels is for Indiana.

Today, Doghouse Riley reminds us how full of shit both Will and Daniels are.

(P.S.: I'm so far in grading hell that Satan is laughing down at me.)

Posted by baltar at 03:09 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Randy Cunningham, Republican Corruption and National Security

OK, let's do the math here. Congressman Randy Cunningham (R-CA) admitted to taking bribes today. Bribes that, he admits, led him to try to change policies at the Department of Defense. And Congressman Cunningham's jobs in Congress including serving as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism/HUMINT, Analysis and Counterintelligence. He's also a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

That the Republicans are able to maintain the illusion that they are the only party that can be trusted to maintain national security is both depressing and a sign of how truly inept the Democratic party can be. That the Democrats aren't better able to show their strengths and the Republicans weaknesses, in the face of many helpful events like today's guilty pleas, well, it makes the whole situation that much more depressing.

Posted by armand at 02:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"Flypaper not as sticky as advertised"

Eric Martin comments on a Juan Cole post noting the arrest of "two more graduates from the "world's most expensive school for terrorism". Thankfully they were nabbed before they could carry out their planned attack in Morocco. But it's a reminder of the seriousness of the terrorist threat, and of the unfortunate "blowback" that President Bush's policies are producing.

Posted by armand at 01:32 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

The Return of Tom Sawyer

One of my favorite former members of the US House might be returning to that body. Tom Sawyer has announced his candidacy for the seat being vacated by Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Sawyer, a former mayor of Akron who was first elected to the House in 1984, was defeated in a 2002 Democratic primary after Ohio's House seats went through redistricting following the last census.

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On Retailers Not Understanding Capitalism

Maybe people just like cheap shit.

The mall-based merchants, on the other hand, largely avoided circulars or television advertising. Gap, in a surprising break with tradition, stopped marketing its marquee brand on TV after years of aggressive campaigns with stars like Sarah Jessica Parker, Missy Elliott and Joss Stone. (Gap, saying store traffic "deteriorated beyond anticipated levels," is predicting a relatively weak holiday.)

It appeared that the Web snatched at least some of the traditional mall business. ComScore Networks, a market research firm, said online purchases rose 22 percent for the day after Thanksgiving, to $305 million.

Later mall openings may have also hampered specialty retailers. "If you look at the retailers that went all out on Friday, many of them opened at 5 a.m. You did not see a lot of malls doing that," said Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group in Washington

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November 27, 2005

Ever feel like you're being...watched?

And that you might be paying for it?

From Jesus' General, the second report that he has been visited by CIFA (Counterintelligence Field Activity). And no, don't try to use the address he captured from his sitemeter. It doesn't work. The first time the General posted about this was last year, and it turns out, he wasn't the only one being monitored. From The American Street:

My blog, Jesus’ General, and at least one other liberal-oriented blog, Call of Cthulhu, are being monitored by the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), a domestic intelligence organization formed following the Sept. 11 attacks. This monitoring appears to be ongoing, because Cthulhu alerted me to it last spring when his logs recorded a visitor from CIFA who had been referred from a link at Jesus’ General. Today, I noticed another entry for CIFA.MIL in my log (see the screen cap at right)–I use a free logging service which only captures the last 100 viewers, so I’ve had a hard time documenting it until now.

Democratic Veteran asks:

OK, wait a fucking minute here...this is the US of A, right? We are supposed to have civilian oversight of military activities unless I misunderstood 9th grade civics. So now the 1600 Crew has succeeded in bringing us one step closer to Grampaw Prescott's carefully supported, chosen government, Nazi Germany. We have laws like Posse Comitatus for a reason, and here we're getting a circumvention by the military being it's own self-propelled judge, jury and executioner against American Citizens. Fuck that.

Democratic Veteran links to WaPo article from the Sunday edition.

The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts -- including protecting military facilities from attack -- to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.

The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

Riiiiiight. Because we all know that instead of finding snarky satire about non-homoerotic (really!!!) wrestling in the military, what CIFA will really find at Jesus' General are those pesky invisible WMDs.

The proposals, and other Pentagon steps aimed at improving its ability to analyze counterterrorism intelligence collected inside the United States, have drawn complaints from civil liberties advocates and a few members of Congress, who say the Defense Department's push into domestic collection is proceeding with little scrutiny by the Congress or the public.

"We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent interview.

Wyden has since persuaded lawmakers to change the legislation, attached to the fiscal 2006 intelligence authorization bill, to address some of his concerns, but he still believes hearings should be held. Among the changes was the elimination of a provision to let Defense Intelligence Agency officers hide the fact that they work for the government when they approach people who are possible sources of intelligence in the United States.

Modifications also were made in the provision allowing the FBI to share information with the Pentagon and CIA, requiring the approval of the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, for that to occur, and requiring the Pentagon to make reports to Congress on the subject. Wyden said the legislation "now strikes a much fairer balance by protecting critical rights for our country's citizens and advancing intelligence operations to meet our security needs."

And we know Negroponte didn't learn anything from his time in the other Americas.

On the other hand, I might be suspicious. Oh wait, it's not just me.

Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the data-sharing amendment would still give the Pentagon much greater access to the FBI's massive collection of data, including information on citizens not connected to terrorism or espionage.

The measure, she said, "removes one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies." She said the Pentagon's "intelligence agencies are quietly expanding their domestic presence without any public debate."

Again, from the 2004 American Street post: adds a little more to the description:

Quietly created post-September 11, CIFA has a broad charter to provide counterintelligence and security support to the Defense Department around the world and within the United States.

“Worldwide, more than 400 civilian and military employees work for CIFA with the ultimate goal of detecting and neutralizing the many different forms of espionage regularly conducted against the United States by terrorists, foreign intelligence services and other covert and clandestine groups,” according to the Defense Security Service.

“The threats posed by these adversaries include actions to kill or harm U.S. citizens; to steal critical information or assets (military or civilian); or destroy critical infrastructures.”

Are Cthulhu and I suspected of being “terrorists” or members of “foreign intelligence services and other covert and clandestine groups?” If not, why are we being monitored by CIFA? Is it because we are opposed to the Bush regime?

The funny thing about this is that CIFA could hide their IP address if they chose to do so, but they don’t. Are they just too stupid to do it, or are they brazenly attempting to intimidate us? If it’s the latter, they’ve failed in my case. In any event, it’s beginning to look like COINTELPRO may be making a comeback.

Are you being monitored as well? You may want to check your own logs.

Maybe you're thinking, "I haven't done anything wrong! I've got nothing to worry about. Sure, I posted a nasty comment about W and the pretzel of infamy one afternoon when I was low on blood sugar, but they can't hold that against me! It's not like I'm one of those nasty liberals or anything!"

As I've said before, I have a little bit of familiarity with authoritarianism. Places where people look funny when you ask them questions they really shouldn't answer, and then they tell you what a triumph the revolution was for the people. Where people reflect fondly on the good things about military rule, like cleaner streets (because the homeless have been rounded up) and less freedom of the press (less pornography at the newsstands) and greater public safety (because soldiers stood at the crosswalks with automatic weapons). These are the things that make me rabidly pro-liberty, pro-United States Constitution, and pro-Sunshine law. Authoritarian countries are fun - in some twisted way - to study, but also scary as shit. Why? Because they show you how easy it is for normal people, well-intentioned people, even theoretically democratic people, to support authoritarianism when mobilized by fear. Fear of mugging. Fear of filth. Fear of loose morals. Fear of terrorism.

Perhaps the prime illustration of the Pentagon's intelligence growth is CIFA, which remains one of its least publicized intelligence agencies. Neither the size of its staff, said to be more than 1,000, nor its budget is public, said Conway, the Pentagon spokesman. The CIFA brochure says the agency's mission is to "transform" the way counterintelligence is done "fully utilizing 21st century tools and resources."

One CIFA activity, threat assessments, involves using "leading edge information technologies and data harvesting," according to a February 2004 Pentagon budget document. This involves "exploiting commercial data" with the help of outside contractors including White Oak Technologies Inc. of Silver Spring, and MZM Inc., a Washington-based research organization, according to the Pentagon document.

For CIFA, counterintelligence involves not just collecting data but also "conducting activities to protect DoD and the nation against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage, assassinations, and terrorist activities," its brochure states.

CIFA's abilities would increase considerably under the proposal being reviewed by the White House, which was made by a presidential commission on intelligence chaired by retired appellate court judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.). The commission urged that CIFA be given authority to carry out domestic criminal investigations and clandestine operations against potential threats inside the United States.

Did you catch that part I emphasized? "Investigations and clandestine operations against potential threats inside the United States." Yeah. So, are they investigating the General as a potential threat? Why? And if they decided to engage in "clandestine operations" what would that look like? Collection of incriminating evidence, and threats to expose the secrets? A full scale takedown? A vanishing blog? Yeah yeah, tell me to take off the tinfoil hat, I know. Weaker willed souls that the General might have stopped at the first sighting of CIFA in the sitemeter.

And what about our fair legislature, ever vigilant against breaches of civilian government control of the military, and overreaching by the executive branch? Baltar reminded us of what a good job Congress is doing in holding up their side of the checks and balances equation.

So, what is a blogger to do, especially when discovering the "fingerprints" of surveillance?

As was noted at American Street in a July 2004 article Monitoring Dissent may be a key component of CIFA operations. Since I firmly believe that dissent is not only patriotic, but critical to the existence of a free democracy, it troubles me greatly to have dissenting voices lumped with "terrorists" and "threats to the country." I'm sorry, but there is something very un-American in all of this - not to mention who knows how many violations of laws and rights.

One might wonder why I would bring all of this to your attention. Well, this is not the first time that "fingerprints" from odd places have ended up on this site. I personally see it as an intimidation tactic - an effort to silence dissenting voices. A simple message that says "We are watching you." I made a decision to use such events as a "teachable moment." I get to learn and share information about interesting government agencies and activities.

It is somewhat troubling to be visited by various intelligence, counterintelligence, homeland security, military, and justice organizations (to name a few areas). It seems to indicate that I may be under suspicion for something. However, if I am an "adversary" of anything, it is of fascism, totalitarianism, and silencing of critical thinking and critical information. I welcome and attempt to foster an informed dialogue. If that is "subversive," then it shows exactly how far the United States has drifted from its moorings, and just how perilous the current course is.

This reminds me of a story one of my undergrad professors used to tell in the late 80s. See, he was a pro-democracy exile from an authoritarian country in Latin America. Because he taught classes in political science, and did research on political parties and elections, he naturally came under suspicion from the junta. He knew he was being watched, and followed. He eventually made it out (an interesting story in itself) but until he could arrange it, everytime he picked up his phone and heard the telltale click of the wiretap, he knew someone (ahem) was listening in. And everytime he picked up the phone, before he talked to his caller, or before he dialed, he would say "Bom dia, Senhor Censor!" (good day, Mr. Censor). Maybe the General - or all of us, really - should adopt a similar strategy. Tchauzinho, seu Censor! Foi uma maravilha ver-lhe em casa!

Maybe they have a (non-gay) translator over at CIFA to tell them what that means. In the mean time, this should concern all of us.

Posted by binky at 07:31 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The D&D Cartoon: "Parents Groups" Encouraging Kids to Conform to Peer Pressure

This look at the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon from the 1980s includes some important observations about the damage that "parents groups" and other lobbies can do when they work to insert political messages into the shows children watch. In the case of this show, the message was that kids should conform to the views of their peers. And if they don't, they should suffer for it.

Cartoonist Phil Mendez relates what happened with the Dungeons & Dragons show:

The kids were all heroic — all but a semi-heroic member of their troupe named Eric. Eric was a whiner, a complainer, a guy who didn't like to go along with whatever the others wanted to do. Usually, he would grudgingly agree to participate, and it would always turn out well, and Eric would be glad he joined in. He was the one thing I really didn't like about the show.

So why, you may wonder, did I leave him in there? Answer: I had to.

As you may know, there are those out there who attempt to influence the content of childrens' television. We call them "parents groups," although many are not comprised of parents, or at least not of folks whose primary interest is as parents. Study them and you'll find a wide array of agendum at work...and I suspect that, in some cases, their stated goals are far from their real goals.

Nevertheless, they all seek to make kidvid more enriching and redeeming, at least by their definitions, and at the time, they had enough clout to cause the networks to yield. Consultants were brought in and we, the folks who were writing cartoons, were ordered to include certain "pro-social" morals in our shows. At the time, the dominant "pro-social" moral was as follows: The group is always right...the complainer is always wrong.

Teaching children that they don't want to think for themselves, they should conform to the group. Did none of these parents ever read Lord of the Flies? Kids are the last part of society that should be encouraged to gang up with their peers and follow every whim of the majority.

Somebody save us from the busybodies who are trying to save kids from cartoons.

Posted by armand at 04:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I Thought You Were My Boyfriend

In this post Julian Sanchez takes the time to dissect the lyrics to one of the best songs (maybe the best) on The Magnetic Fields' album i. My earlier comments on that album are here, though I was unduly harsh on first hearing it and have grown to like it a lot more over time - I Thought You Were My Boyfriend, Irma, I Don't Believe You and I Wish I Had an Evil Twin are my favorite tracks.

The point that Sanchez makes is that Merritt's lyrics can be interpreted at least 3 different ways. On this song I've always thought that it was one internal dialogue. But the complexity and ambiguity of the lyrics in this song and others are part of what continually draws me to Merritt's work (in The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths and Future Bible Heroes). His writing is remarkably clever, as well as being thoughtful, fun, and moving. He's one of the most creative song writers working today. And if you've never bothered to pick up The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs you have no idea what you are missing. It's one of the best things in the last decade of recorded music.

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The US House Races in Kentucky

Al Cross, the top political columnist in Kentucky, updates the state of Kentucky's 2006 contests for the US House here. He's particularly focused on challengers to US Representatives Ron Lewis and Geoff Davis. Both Republicans who come from districts where President Bush did very well in 2004. But both have flaws that could be taken advantage of if Democrats recruit the right candidate. Lewis's opponent is likely to be state Rep. Mike Weaver, a retired Army colonel, and there is talk of Davis being challenged by former Miss America Heather French Henry. I expect to see both Lewis and Davis still in Congress in 2007. But it's interesting that even Republican House members from staunchly "red" districts face the prospect of tough battles for reelection in 2006.

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November 26, 2005

Don't hate the playa...

Two links on Alito, for you to read while I continue to enjoy my vacation. First, Americablog describes an Alito flip-flop, in which he first said he would recuse himself from certain cases that would be conflcts of interest, but then went ahead and ruled anyway. Oopsie! Jill from Feministe talks about Alito's membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, who are concerned that things like admitting women and promoting racial harmony are against the traditional values of Princeton.

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The Effort to Destroy the Electoral College That Almost Worked

Last fall Harvard history professor Alexander Keyssar wrote this fascinating account of the attempt after the three-way presidential race in 1968 to replace the Electoral College with a direct national election. It came close to succeeding. President Nixon was on board and the move had broad support from much of the Congress and throughout the country. What killed it? The filibuster and old segregationist lions like Jim Eastland (D-MS) and Strom Thurmond (R-SC). So, in a way, you could say that these men were why George Bush became president of the United States.

As an ardent foe of the Electoral College (I was an opponent before 2000, much like I was an opponent of the Independent Counsel law before the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio) I'd love to see this pursued again.

One particularly interesting part of this series of events involves how Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN) was able to get this to a vote on the Senate floor, given the opposition of the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Byah threatened to hold up a Supreme Court nominee (Harold Carswell) if Eastland wouldn't schedule hearings on this proposed reform. There might not be any lessons in this for what Harry Reid and company can get out of the Alito nomination - but then again, maybe there are.

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November 25, 2005

"I Guess the Lucky Ones Go to Abu Ghraib"

Riverbend has put up this post on the torture house that was "uncovered" in Jadriya.

For over a year corpses have been turning up all over Baghdad. Corpses of people who are taken from their homes in the middle of the night (lately they've been more brazen- they just do everything in the light of day), and turn up dead somewhere. That isn't as disturbing as the reports about the bodies- the one I can't get out of my head is that many of the corpses are found with holes in the skull left by an electric drill.

We've lost over 2,100 American lives and spent hundreds of billions of dollars - money that could have gone into our health care or education systems, or to helping the hurricane ravaged South or to equipping and training first responders - to put in power a bunch of torturing thugs. And of course torture isn't the only way these people deal with dissent or exact retribution for personal disputes or vendettas.

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Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) Retires

While I am saddened to see a bright, hard-working moderate (staunchly pro-business and open trade, but also pro-choice and pro-gay rights) Republican retire, Jim Kolbe's announcement opens up another opportunity for a Democratic pick-up in the 2006 contests for the US House of Representatives. A Democratic pick-up is far from a sure thing, but Kolbe's district is one that can feature a competitive race. Out of the names that are already being discussed for this opening, I find State Sen. Gabrielle Giffords to be the most intriguing so far (and check out this photo!).

Oh, and one request of the media - please don't report that the only gay Republican in Congress is retiring. Kolbe is the only openly gay Republican in Congress. It's extremely unlikely that he's the only gay Republican in Congress.

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State Sen. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) Analyzes French Politics

When last we touched on the hilarious and terrifying political career of Michele Bachmann she was lurking in the bushes, with bodyguards nearby, afraid of the gays. Now, as she runs for Congress (heaven help us), she is taking on more issues about which she clearly lacks even the slightest clue. Her recent comments on the French riots are quite amusing. Sad and terribly depressing of course - but funny.

Though one thing in her comments struck me as weird beyond her obvious cluelessness. What's an anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, you-re'gonna-pray-to-Jesus-and-you're-gonna-like-it Republican like Bachmann doing saying nice things about the (non-Islamic) French?

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November 24, 2005


Happy Thanksgiving everybody! Baltar has prepared an epic (dare I say, craptastic?) movie review for your holiday reading pleasure. We'll be back soon, after we wake up from the turkey toxicosis.

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If You Ever Expect To Be Invaded By Aliens, Don't Have Kids

Movie Review: War of the Worlds

Short Version: When faced with a choice between seeing this movie, or shooting yourself, aim for your thigh: you don't hit any bones, and you'll heal faster.

Directed by: Steven "I used to make good movies" Spielberg.

Starring: Tom "I did stupid better than Keanu" Cruise.

Also Starring: Dakota "Screamer" Fanning.

Also Starring: Any Sullen, Average Teenager to play "Sullen, Average Teen".

Also Starring: Tim "Boy, I must have needed money" Robbins.

(There were also some crowd scenes, but those people likely don't want their names associated with this alien shitstorm.)

Written By: People who are not H.G. Wells.

I seem to have expanded my ouvre: having reviewed Troy, Alexander, and Kingdom of Heaven (three movies with a historical theme united by sucking more than "Ishtar"), I watched Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" last night.

Oh My God, did this suck. To put a fine point on it, it sucked worse than "Kingdom of Heaven", but not as much as "Alexander" (which may rank as the worst movie ever made); this puts it somewhere around "Troy" in suckiness. Recognize, however, that this categorization is sort of silly: kinda like trying to decide how deep in the septic tank you are.

The plot should be reasonably familiar to anyone with half a brain: big, alien machines invade earth, beat the crap out of everything, and then die of some random Earth germs. H.G. Wells wrote the short novella in 1898. At the time, I expect, this was cutting-edge science fiction: germs were a (somewhat) recent discovery by modern science, and having the aliens die by them was an interesting plot device (or, presumably, was then).

107 years later, it doesn't work. Or, at least, it doesn't work when Spielberg attempts it.

The movie opens with Tom Cruise as a longshoreman in New York City, generally being a dick. He's divorced, and he shows up late at his house to take custody of his kids (mom & stepdad are dropping them off before going to Boston). He doesn't seem to like them, they don't seem to like him, and he doesn't seem to know much about how to care for them (one is about 8, the other about 16; you'd think he might have some clues since he's been a father for, oh, 16 years). There isn't any food in the house, and the place is a wreck. Oh Tom, you bad dad! Viewers are already supposed to understand that Tom will come to a different point of view by the end of the movie.

Tom goes to sleep, to the sound of the TV talking about how the entire Ukraine has been engulfed in massive lightning storms that seem to have wiped out all electrical equipment in the country (foreshadowing: a high-class literary device). There is someone on TV discussing EMP (or Electro-Magnetic Pulse). This is the fact that certain types of bombs (particularly nuclear weapons; EMP has been known about since the 1940s) produce massive bursts of energy. When that energy encounters metal (like, wires and circuits), it generates voltage across the wire, and that voltage (like any current) discharges itself to ground (think: static electricity). Now, the bigger the metal the more the voltage. Thus, massive metal towers mean big voltage. Small metal things (cell phones, computers) mean little voltage. The crux of the matter is what sort of "thing" is the voltage going through. Modern electronics (anything with a computer chip in it) are very fragile: any sort of voltage through it the wrong way, and it basically just dies. The pathways carved in the chip are literally scrambled, and it won't ever operate again. Bigger things (like, say, metal towers) have no chips in them, and don't really care about this. So, the more technologically advanced the "thing", the more damage is done to it.

Why this long digression? Funny you should ask. See, when Cruise and Fanning wake up, a big dark cloud appears and lots of lightning strikes all over whatever part of New York they are in ("Sullen Teenage Boy" has taken Cruise's car off somewhere, giving Cruise another reason to be irritated with him). As a result of these lightning strikes, there is a massive EMP burst (remember the TV from last night: foreshadowing!). Thus, nothing electronic works. The aliens are arriving (literally: it turns out later that they come down from space in the lighting bolts). The EMP burst knocks out the power. The cell phones don't work. The phones don't work. The cars don't work. Why? EMP.

See, I learned about EMP through 10 minutes of googling. The reason the power went out is because the power company uses computers to run the power grid: computers are the first thing to get fried. The wires are fine; the generators (big metal) are likely fine (but need computers to operate them). Hence, no power. The phones don't work: the lines are fine, but the central switching is all done with computers, and those are all fried. The cell phones and computers are toast. As are CD players, cordless phones, microwave ovens, and cars (modern cars have more computers than you can imagine). What works: anything that doesn't have a computer chip in it. I learned all of this in 10 minutes on the web. I might have some of the details wrong (very close to the center of an EMP burst - where the energy is strongest - even non-computer electronics would be fried, but the effects are clearly related to the radius from the center).

Tom Cruise's car (seen once, before he goes to sleep; the "sullen teenage kid" has stolen it by the time Cruise wakes up - this is more Spielberg family crap) is some sort of mid-1960s Shelby Mustang. There isn't a computer in it. They didn't even use computers to design the damn thing. Yet, it too is dead after the EMP burst. Everybody's car is dead. People are all standing around, hoods up, scratching their heads. Cruise (after yelling at his kids to stay inside) goes wandering around the neighborhood to see what might be seen. He comes across an auto repair shop (where he seems to be known), where they ask his advice about fixing all the broken cars. The mechanic has replaced the starter motor, but the car still doesnt' work. Cruise's advice: "Change the solenoid." Whatever that is (it seems to be part of the system that controls the starter motor: see, more knowledge with google). But, the EMP destroyed the computer in the car; the starter motor and solenoid are just fine. The car doesn't work because when you put in the key, the signal to start the car gets to the big, dead hunk of fried plastic and silicon that used to be the computer, but is now just a blocky paperweight. Nonetheless, Cruise (10 minutes later, after witnessing the alien war machine explode out of the ground and start zapping people) runs back and gets into the car (with the new solenoid) and drives it out of the lot.

Lets review: we're 15 minutes into the movie, and Spielberg has already thrown out basic physics in order to create a "story". In 15 minutes of googling, I've figured out that Spielberg is an idiot and Cruise's cool 60s Mustang should be running fine, and the dumpy Dodge Caravan (with the new solenoid!) should be a two-ton lawn ornament.

Why do I spend so much time on this fairly trivial point? It irritates me when movies just make shit up in order to "drive the plot" or somesuch. Their attitude seems to be "Well, if they are willing to believe in aliens, then they won't question any other thing we write, or how the characters act." This is fundamentally wrong. The reason people read science-fiction, fantasy and fiction in general is to see what otherwise ordinary people do when confronted with extra-ordinary possibilities. The point isn't to generate a completely fictional world: if it is completely fictional, then regular humans (i.e., readers/viewers) can't relate to it and find no real interest in who does what to whom. The point is to introduce some fictional elements (say, aliens) into a scene that people can understand (say, London in 1900; see "War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells as an example of this). Thus, when Spielberg starts the time-honored Hollywood technique of "making shit up" in order to move the story from one CGI "blow-'em-up" to another, and follows this up by making yet more shit up to get us to the next scene where Cruise emotes all over his wonderful kids, I sorta lose interest. And to regain my interest, I start counting all the things that Speilberg had to make up in order to get us to the next scene that only Spielberg gives a shit about.

Back to the movie:

So Cruise wanders around the city streets for a while. He eventually finds a whole passel of people standing around a smoking hole in the ground. He pushes his way to the front, and gets to mouth some line about how cold the fragments are (nothing whatsoever should be cold: lightning isn't cold, alien ships falling through the atmosphere aren't cold - friction creates heat; this is more inane Spielberg nonsense. The "cold" alien fragments do nothing to drive the plot, and never return in the story. Cruise even picks up a "cold" fragment and puts it in his pocket. I kept expecting it to return to the story at some point, but it never does).

At this point, with the help of CGI, a fairly massive alien warship erupts out of the ground. It makes a whale-mating-call sound, and starts shooting destructo-rays at people/cars/buildings/whatever. The destructo-rays turn everything they touch into dust. This seems to be the only weapon the alien warship has. Cruise runs away (as people/buildings all around him turn to dust), back to his kids. Thus begins the main part of the movie: the attempt to get from New York to Boston (where Mom is).

(An aside: what's up with the aliens? They travel several light years, and the worst weapon they have is a destructo-ray? I'm not knocking the destructo-ray, but do you have any idea how long it would take to depopulate the earth one human at a time? Moreover, the aliens have invented a destructo-ray, but don't seem to have managed to invent, say, bombs. Or nuclear weapons. Or poison gas. Or any number of possible weapons that kill more than one person at a time. This makes the aliens fairly stupid, but we'll come back to that again.)

So Cruise runs into his house; he collapses on the floor, the kids shout questions at him, he ignores them. They ask him (among numerous questions) about all the dusty stuff he has in his hair. He looks horrified (acting!), and rushes into the bathroom and washes it off. (Let's review: no phone, no power, no cars, lots of alien war machines systematically trying to shoot everyone individually, but the water works? Spielberg is an asshole.) Now we come to one of the other major flaws (there are many flaws, but only a few are major): Cruise manages to tell his kids absolutely nothing for the entire movie. He tries, as hard as he can, to withhold every scrap of actual information and facts from the two kids.

This makes no sense.

I understand that kids aren't as well equipped for dealing with the world as adults. They have no wisdom, lack education, and their reasoning skills aren't up to par. In addition, between the ages of 12 to 19, they are insane (and it's an ugly sort of "Charles Manson" insanity, not happy kind). Thus, you don't give any responsibility to kids, and you make allowances when they screw up.

However, the earth has been invaded by aliens. Some allowances need to be made for the "safe cocoon" you keep the kids in until they can grow up and become adults. Since the most likely outcome of their puberty is to be turned into dust, you might just want to let them know what they can do to avoid this.

Not Cruise. After washing his hair, he announces that they will leave the house in "30 seconds", and that the "sullen teenager kid" is supposed to grab all the food he can, and Dakota is supposed to grab her suitcase (??). All the while, the kids are asking questions (remember: the kids haven't seen any aliens, or destructo-rays). Cruise yells at them to shut up, and not ask questions, and get moving. This is not a good parenting strategy. One could, reasonably, give them their orders and then give them a sort of rough approximation of what's going on ("Hey kids, we're going to go visit Mommy, 'cause a bunch of aliens are par-broiling Brooklyn) while they pack their various things. But no, Cruise wants them to know nothing, and nothing they will know.

Cruise and family leave the house, walk down the street (teaming with empty cars, explosions in the background, and mobs running around; Cruise tells the kids nothing), and steal the aforementioned "re-solenoided" Dodge Caravan. This seems to be the only car that works (at least until the military shows up much later). Cruise drives it to the McMansion that mom & stepdad live in (they aren't there; they are in Boston), but it's a much better place than Cruise's house (it has food, and no aliens). It looks to be on Long Island, or something. It's night, and Cruise puts the family to bed (after a scene where Cruise tries to feed his family peanut butter - Dakota is alergic, and has been since birth, but Cruise doesn't know this, thus re-affirming that Cruise is a BAD DAD. The family notes they aren't hungry, which causes Cruise to put his head in his hands and ask the kids to try to be nice to him, 'cause he's having a bad day. Cruise then ends up throwing a peanut butter sandwich against a window. In all of this, he has yet to tell them anything about aliens.). The kids ask, reasonably, why they can't sleep in their beds (this is the house they live in; they are stuck with Cruise only on odd weekends or something). Cruise, continuing the "tell them nothing" routine, announces that the basement is safer, "like in case of tornados". Dakota, reasonably, asks if tornados are likely (remember, Cruise still hasn't told them anything). Cruise yells again, and everybody beds down in the basement.

(Another Aside: The kids are idiots. I understand that they are operating in an information deficiency - caused by Cruise - but even the most moronic kid can figure out that things are seriously wrong. Instead of just managing, the kids go completely to pieces. Dakota starts whining and screaming - at one point she's in the Caravan, rocking back and forth in the back seat, screaming "I want mommy" - and the "sullen teenager kid" argues with Cruise all the time. Look, kids aren't adults - I understand that. But they aren't complete morons, either. If you are driving down a road filled with walking refugees, and you are in the only moving vehicle (nobody else, apparently, can replace a solenoid), you might get the clue that perhaps something very bad is happening. Screaming doesn't help (Dakota is old enough to know that mom isn't going to appear instantly, even if she wants it); arguing with Dad about how he wasn't around when they were growing up is fairly useless as well. However, these kids are morons. They do everything they can to make Cruise go insane, and don't help at all. Not once. Ever. Nope. (No, I take that back: "sullen teenage kid" drives for a while, but he screws that up by driving them right into an angry mob that takes their car.) Spielberg seems to have felt compelled to write a new genre of movies: the action-adventure-familiy-wholesome movie. We get to see aliens turn thousands into dust, while Cruise and kids re-learn how to love each other. Except, where's the love? Dakota is useless - Cruise literally carries her around for the last half of the movie - and the teenager runs off again. Cruise certainly jumps through hoops to save his family, but why? If he didn't really love them at the beginning of the movie - why that's true isn't clear - what happens to make him love them more? OK, fine, aliens, dust, destructo-rays, solenoids, etc. A bunch of CGI happens, but in terms of the characters, why does Cruise end up "loving" them? At one point "the sullen teenager" directly accuses Cruise of trying to get to Boston just so Cruise can dump the kids on mom and go back to not having any responsibilities. Cruise doesn't deny this. However, by the end of the movie, we're clearly supposed to believe that Cruise is a reformed man, who will do anything for his family. Where, exactly, did this transition occur, and what did the kids have to do with it? I mean, lots of stuff got blown up good, but how does that turn Cruise (the character) into a different sort of family guy? Where is the emotional story, as opposed to the CGI/alien/destructo-ray story? And this is why the kids were useless. They seemed, for Spielberg, to be almost like props: here are the kids - you must love them! Express your love by carrying them to Boston! That way the audience will know you love them! They had no logic, no self-preservation skills, and were only just emotional, whiny brats. The "sullen teenager" gets it into his head to "fight back", and tries - at every chance - to run away from Cruise and join up with any of the passing Army units. This is a 15 or 16 year old kid, with no military training. And one of the "emotional familiy scenes" is when Cruise actually lets him go run over the top of a hill into an ongoing battle. The dumb kid actually uses a line like "you have to let me be me" or something. And we're supposed to cheer when Cruise lets the idiot go run off and fight. I was amazingly disappointed when the idiot teenager showed up at the end, safe and sound in Boston - even beating Cruise there. Spielberg never has an intention of making real characters out of the kids, and you never gain any empathy towards them. I wanted them dead early on, and never changed my mind.)

Anyway, overnight a plane crashes into the house they are in (don't ask, it's irrelevant). This means they have to go. They walk outside and find mostly all sorts of things (houses, planes, cars, trees, etc.) blown up (and a few aliens in the distance, zapping away ferociously). They jump in the Caravan and head north, trying to find a way over the Hudson. Again, they seem to be the only civilian car moving (we see random convoys of military vehicles passing around them, but they never stop and never seem to be doing anything important). They get to a ferry site, but make the mistake of actually trying to drive the only functioning car in New York onto a ferry while surrounded by thousands of scared refugees. Needless to say, the mob takes their car (and because the it's an unlawful mob, they immediately fight over the Caravan, and wreck it). There is an actual working ferry at the site (how? why?), and Cruise attempts to get on. No, too full. Some alien warships appear, and the ferry tries to outrun the aliens to the other side, by casting off immediately and going full speed (note: just above walking pace) towards the other side.

Now, Cruise runs into his next door neighbor (at a ferry site in upstate New York? How did she get there? Who drove her, since Cruise had the only working car?). They shake hands (?), and seem to band together. Literally, thirty seconds later Cruise hops onto the ferry without the neighbor (he makes a half-hearted attempt to lead them on, but clearly cares only about his family). Why did Spielberg put this scene here? What's the point? What does it tell us about Cruise? What is it supposed to tell us? Spielberg remains an asshole.

Anyway, the ferry (now with Cruise on board), moving at the awesome pace of 3 miles per hour or something, gets attacked by aliens. Cruise and family fall into the water (it involves getting pushed over by a car that rolls into all of them. At the same time. More Spielbergian idiocy.) The ferry is pushed over. Cruise and familiy make it to the other side (they seem to be the only ones who do). The aliens appear on both sides of the river now, zapping away. Cruise makes his escape by running over a hill (remember, still carrying Dakota, and dragging "sullen boy").

(Another, another aside: I want to revist the whole "aliens zapping humanity into extinction" issue. It really bugs me. Lets make some assumptions: let say there are about 300 million Americans. The movie never makes clear how many alien warships show up. The most you see on screen at any one time is about six. Lets just guess that 10000 alien warships were assigned to the US alone. It could be more, it could be less. No way of knowing. 10000 is very, very many. Remember, each of those alien ships had to be brought here, and moving anything many light years takes time and energy. So 10000, over interstellar distances, just for the USA, is a whole bunch. Now, 300 million people divided by 10000 warships works out to be 30,000 US citizens per alien warship. That's how many people each warship must kill in order to de-populate the US. That may not seem like a lot, but remember: they have no bombs, or poison, or anything like that. They have to kill each person individually, with a destructo-ray. How long would that take? How long would it take you, personnaly, to stamp on 30,000 ants? It's clear you can kill each individual ant, and even 30,000 won't be able to harm you, but how much effort/energy will it take? Wouldn't it be easier with a can of Raid? Or some gas and a match? But no, all you have is your shoe. I ran some numbers. At an average of 5 seconds per death, killing 30,000 people (or stamping on 30,000 ants) would take you 42 hours - continiously, no pausing for rest. And remember, after the first few hundred, the ants (and the people) are going to start hiding from you, and you have to work a bit harder to find them. And after you wipe out one bunch, you have to locate the next bunch, and then begin stamping on them. Suppose your averge time per stamp increases to 10 seconds (now you are up to 82 hours), or 15 seconds (126 hours); remember - it's just an average. If it takes you only a minute to stamp out a whole anthill, but it takes five minutes to find the next anthill, the average starts to get longer and longer. And what if there aren't 10,000 alien warships; maybe there are only 1000. Multiply every number by 10: now it takes 1000 aliens at 5 seconds per 420 hours (17 and a half days - with no pauses at all) to wipe out the US. If the average drops to 15 seconds per smoosh for the 1000 aliens, now were at 1260 hours (52 days) to wipe out the US. This is a remarkably inefficient bunch of interstellar aliens.)

Anyhoo, Cruise and family set off walking for Boston. They come across a hill, with lots of soldiers charging up it and big explosions from the other side. "Sullen boy" goes charging off to do his patriotic duty (like the Army would want him), and Cruise tackles him to try and reason with him. Dakota is left standing under a tree. While Cruise is reasoning with "idiot sullen boy", a childless mother and father come across Dakota, and basically attempt to kidnapp her ("No one would leave their kid standing here alone..."). Lady, there are aliens zapping everyone they see; don't you have something more important to do than wonder about every kid you find especially if said kid is repeating over and over: "that's my dad over there - right there - and he'll be right back")? Spielberg remains an idiot. The "sullen teenage patriot doofus" actually convinces Cruise to let him go commit suicide (I'd love to hear what mom would think of this heartwarming decision), and Cruise rushes back to save Dakota from the marauding band of foster parents. The sullen teenager runs over the hill, which immediately explodes as the aliens wipe out everybody on the other side who was shooting at them. Cruise and Dakota run away.

Now we get to the worst part of the movie. Nothing else had made sense, but now we step off the deep end. Cruise and Dakota, running away, are called over by Tim "I'm Ray" Robbins, playing Jesse Duke, except a Jesse Duke strung out on crack and heroin. Robbins drags the two of them into his basement (just over the hill from the raging battle), and they all hunker down. Robbins starts muttering some nutty stuff about "attacking them from underneath, just like they did to us", and we are supposed to think he's generally crazy. Why Robbins didn't call any of the other couple of hundred people running around the hillside into his basement is never explained. Nor is why nobody else just stumbled into the basement, generally trying to get away from the furiously zapping aliens (none of them want to work for 52 straight days, so they're zapping for all they're worth). No, these three are left alone. Cruise figures Robbins is nuts, but doesn't want to head back out. So they hunker down. It's unclear how many hours (days?) they spend sitting in the basement. While this is clearly a basement (dirt floors and all), there are lights just outside the basement walls (in the dirt?) that give the place a sort of eery glow. I honestly don't remember much of the dialog in the basement: Robbins was supposed to be nutty, and Cruise was supposeed to be overwhelmingly concerned with Dakota, and the basement was being basementy. This scene's main point was spooky "hide from the alien". They are all sitting around when one of the alien warships parks overhead. The alien warship sends down a probe. This is some dumb-ass probe. It's a long snake-like thing. It has eyes at one end (and only one end). It wanders back and forth, as Cruise, Dakota and Robbins run from one end to the other of the basement, always staying one step ahead of the evil "alien" eye.

This was complete horseshit. Once again, interstellar aliens fail to have technology that humans invented, oh, thirty or fourty years ago. Like sensors beyond just visual: you know, infared, or radar, or microphones? No, the aliens are reduced to peering through TV screens, trying to figure out if someone is in the basement. Shit. Just set the place on fire. If anyone runs out, you can zap them. I no one runs out, then they either weren't there, or their dead now. Why this dicking around? Oh, and Robbins at one point threatens to take an axe to the alien probe-snake thing. Cruise pleads with Robbins (silently, with his eyes: Acting!) not to. The alien thingy goes away. Whew!

Anyway, everyone is all sitting around and shit, and some actual aliens (not the machines, or the probes, but actual in-the-flesh aliens) come down to look in the basement. Why they would do this, is completely beyond me. What was interesting in the basement? The aliens walked around, poked at some human stuff (seemed surprised by a wheel?) and then left. Robbins tried to shoot them, but Cruise and Robbins had a silent, grimacing fight about who got to hold the shotgun (Acting!!). After the aliens left, Cruise decides that Robbins is too crazy, and must be killed for the safety of Dakota and himself. So Cruise wanders into a room where Robbins is digging himself a rabbit-hole, the door shuts, we see Dakota's wide eyes, and then Cruise walks out. He seems depressed (Acting!), but safer.

They go to bed, but are woken up when one of those alien snake-probes finds them. Dakota is sucked up to the alien ship, and Cruise runs after her.

The whole Tim Robbins basement scene (about 20 - 25 minutes) was idiotic. What was the point (other than letting Spielberg play with CGI in a different context than blowing shit up)? It didn't tell us anything about Cruise, or Dakota, or Robbins (who remains irrelevant). We got to see aliens, but they didn't do anything. Dakota stared at them for a while while Cruise and Robbins acted/struggled over the shotgun. Big whoop. Of all the parts of the movie, this was the one where I was shouting at the TV the most: everyone was an idiot (Robbins at least was playing one, so he might be excused). The aliens should have burned the house down, or at least should have had 20th Century (earth) technology to figure out if anyone was there. The strange lighting, dumb acting, gloomy set, Dakota's wild-eyed moping and Cruise's anguished face (Acting!) combined to make a sucky-movie cocktail. It was just, dumb.

So Cruise throws a few hand grenades at the alien ship (the aliens have a "shield", so we know Cruise won't do any damage), and is taken as well. Why aliens need to kidnap humans is never explained. The movie implies that they need blood (there are some red "alien" plants growing around, and when alien ships get blown up, a bunch of red fluid comes out), but never actually says so. The aliens collect some number of people, but if they really need people and/or blood for fuel/food/whatever, then why do they spend so much time zapping all the people in sight? This is never really explained.

Cruise shoves a couple of hand grenades up the alien's lower organic intake valve (or whatever you want to call that opening it was sucking humans into), and it blows up. The humans all fall several hundred feet, and all walk away unhurt (oops, there goes physics again! Quick, look over there - Acting!). Cruise and Dakota wander into Boston, amidst the backdrop of a few alien warships blown up and fallen onto skyscrapers. Hmmmm. Something might be happening! Cruise and Dakota find a bunch of army guys wandering about, who say they have no idea how that alien got blown up, it just fell over. Hmmmmm. Clues. Another alien warship wanders up, and the army prepares to run away (that "shield" thing prevents anyone from actually harming the aliens). Cruise looks closer, and sees that there is a flock of crows circling/landing on the top of the alien (why would crows hang out on a moving metal thing that keeps zapping stuff on the ground?). Hmmmm. Cruise furrows his brow in thought (acting!). If the crows can land on the alien warship, then the shield is down! If the shield is down, the army guys can blow it up! Hey, guys, come back and blow the thing up!

The army guys launch a bunch of rockets into it (no shield!), and blow it up. It falls over, and an alien (actual one) falls out of the top, dead. The army guys declare the situation secure (without, you know, actually looking to see if, in fact, anything else might blow up, or if there might be a few more armed aliens in the big machine, but I digress), and then go have a Bud off camera.

Cruise carries Dakota up to Grandma's brownstone, and mom rushes out. "Sullen Teen" comes out and hugs dad (it is at this point you really, reallly wish he was dead). Everyone looks American, and proud, and familiy-like, and the movie ends.

However, I'm still confused. How did the aliens die? Yeah, I read the book years ago, and Morgan Freeman did a voice over while the sunset/sunrise/credits over Boston were rolling, explaining that it was these invisible little microbes that attacked the aliens and gave them a fatal head cold, or something, but that really doesn't explain anything. I mean, if they have mastered interstellar travel, don't you think basic college biology would be something they could handle? And don't give me that "It's how the story was" crap. H.G. Wells' story was in London, involved multiple days of organized fighting between invaders and defenders, and other sundry differences. In particular, H.G. Wells story didn't involve one father trying to reconnect with his family while on the run from the aliens; it was a more political novel about the British government/military trying to fight the aliens off. Thus, if Spielberg is going to make shit up, he can make up a more plausible ending. In particular, the whole "shield" thing makes no sense. If the aliens have a shield, why would they turn off their shields (hence, allowing themselves to get blown up)? Maybe they are dying of some disease, but their ships are still impervious. They may stop moving and frying humans, but we shouldn't be able to blow them up at all. Very, very odd; totally dumb, too.

The whole movie is a remarkable exercise in stupidity. How Spielberg read "War of the Worlds" and decided it would be better as a movie about familiy, with alien barbeque as a kicker, is beyond me. Maybe, since he's "Spielberg!", anything he craps out is taken as gospel. In this case, it was a steaming pile of crap, and someone should have told him. I can't really complain about the acting (it wasn't good, mind you), since the story would have dragged down anyone put in it. The fundamental problem was the story: it sucked. It made no sense, and trying combine some Hollywood-based version of America and Family, with H.G. Wells' classic (but dated) "War of the Worlds" just plain didn't work. You can remake Shakespeare into the 21st Century, because Shakespeare is a story of characters and love (or tragedy or comedy). "War of the Worlds", at least as envisioned by Spielberg, strips all the characters from the Wells original, and replaces them with a made-up story that clearly wasn't written by Shakespeare. The only part of this movie that bears any resemblance to Wells' original is the title, and some of the conceptual work of how the alien warships look. That's it. Nothing more. Its as if Spielberg made a movie about the dangers of nuclear weapons that involved nuclear terrorists, smuggling, a "war room", "precious bodily fluids" and called it "Dr. Strangelove." It might have something to do with that classic original, but not much. That would suck as much as this did, but this one got made, and I had to watch it.

Some reviews have argued that Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" is some sort of comment on Bush and the war in Iraq. I don't see it. OK, fine, the aliens invasion failed and Iraq isn't going well for us, but what does that have to do with Iraq? Moreover, the ideas and script for this were likely carved in stone long before Iraq became the topic it is today (maybe even before the invasion); Spielberg doesn't have prescience. In any event, what is the moral? Don't invade anyone? Don't invade anyone you don't share compatible germs with? Do some research before you invade someone? There is nothing political here, intended or not.

So where does this leave us? This movie still sucked. Cruise was his usual self: awful. Dakota didn't so much act as scream for the first hour, then do an impression of a wooden board for the second. The "sullen teenager" did a good acting job in terms of acting like, well, a sullen teenager. Given he looked about the right age, I don't think it was much of a stretch for him. Time Robbins acted suitably crazy, but if you can't do a good crazy, you shouldn't be an actor; he certainly had no flair in the role.

Don't see this movie. Really. This monumental post should fill you in on enough points that you can talk about it with some confidence; lie like a rug and steal some of the good lines (what, I'm going to somehow catch you?). As I noted last century, when this post began, this movie was slightly worse than Kingdom of Heaven: both suffered from approximately the same flaws:

Budget: $200 Million.
Actors: $50 Million.
Sets: $10 Million.
Director: $15 Million.
CGI: $124,999,999.63.
Script: $0.37.
Someone to check if the various scriptwriters were smoking crack and just making shit up as they went along: (a used Kleenex).

There was nothing wrong with this movie (director, cast, effects, etc.) that investing a few million into a serious author/writer and a few fact-checkers wouldn't have solved. Doing that wouldn't have created the greatest movie ever, but would have ended up creating something with a story that makes sense. It would have made a good B movie, like, say Jaws. Or Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hmmm. Those seems familiar...

In closing: this sucks. It won't make you commit suicide (like Alexander), but it will make you shout at the screen in rage as characters keep doing dumb shit over and over again (like Troy). Avoid.

(Fuck you, Spielberg. You used to be good. Now you're a hack: your last seven movies you directed were: Saving Private Ryan, The Unfinished Journey (what the fuck was that?), AI, Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, and War of the Worlds. Saving Private Ryan was decent, but the rest sucked. Give it up.)

Posted by baltar at 09:29 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

November 23, 2005

Pets Banned from the WTC

I only now discovered this. And I really wish I hadn't. Come on people, just build giant black walls around the place 2000 feet high already. You are obviously determined to suck every single little glimpse of life that survived 9/11 out of that place.

Posted by armand at 04:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Yet Another Pick for Iran's Oil Minister Defeated

The intense brawl political brawl between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the conservative establishment in Iran continues. While he has successful dumped hundreds of insiders from key posts and even managed to restructure personnel at ministries as influential as Foreign Affairs, the parliament continues to quash his attempts to reform the Oil Ministry. This fight shows no sign of letting up.

Posted by armand at 11:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The War on Christmas...duh duh duh!

Maybe if Target just put up signs saying "Hey, we picked you Christians over the sluts! Where ya' goin' now?"

In case you missed it, Falwell is policing the schools and shopping centers across the country to flush out the anti-Christmas campaign he just knows is going on to deprive him of the warm feeling he gets thinking about schoolchildren singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

Falwell has put the power of his 24,000-member congregation behind the "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign," an effort led by the conservative legal organization Liberty Counsel. The group promises to file suit against anyone who spreads what it sees as misinformation about how Christmas can be celebrated in schools and public spaces.

The 8,000 members of the Christian Educators Association International will be the campaign's "eyes and ears" in the nation's public schools. They'll be reporting to 750 Liberty Counsel lawyers who are ready to pounce if, for example, a teacher is muzzled from leading the third-graders in "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

One thing that I wonder about. How much ministering of your flock can you do when there are twenty four thousand of them? And surely, the ministry does not include anything that could possibly be twisted into looking like political exhortations, does it? I'm sure there are people who would love to know.

And if you're a teacher, you better get singing hymns in the classroom otherwise the C.C. (Christianically Correct) Police are going to tattle and let the world know you hate Jesus. Being tone deaf is no excuse. As such, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord" has been revised to "Make a noise. And make sure the CCP hear when you do it. Otherwise..."

Friends, according to "Friend or Foe" campaign sponsor Liberty Counsel, "do not discriminate against Christmas." Foes are going to get a letter from one of the pro bono lawyers reminding them that "Christmas is constitutional," not to mention a federal holiday.

A little something in the stocking, so you know we're paying attention to who is naughty or nice.

Or boycott. The American Family Association called Thursday for a Thanksgiving weekend shunning of Target stores, saying the chain was refusing to allow the phrase "Merry Christmas" on in-store promotions and advertising.

"I don't know where they're coming from," Target spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter replied. "We have no such policy on Christmas. You can see it in our stores."

At one local Target, in Colma, most of the in-store advertising offers a generic "Gatherround." One of the few advertising mentions of the C-word is above a Christmas card rack that says, "Celebrate Christmas."

That's not good enough for American Family Association President Tim Wildmon, who wants to see "Merry Christmas" signs displayed prominently "if they expect Christians to come in and buy products during this so-called season."

Wait a cotton pickin' minute here, just a second ago it was Christian persecution that Target was only groveling in abject obeisance to the Christian right's stance on Plan B and not allowing the use of "Merry Christmas" on the premises. Now it's Christian persecution not to have prominant signs welcoming Christians to celebrate Christmas in the Target of their choice?

And nice sneering threat, by the way. The snark icing on "so-called season" makes the protection racket cake taste even better going down.

And he isn't worried if they offend people who aren't Christian.

"They can walk right by the sign," Wildmon said. "It's a federal holiday. If someone is upset by that, well, they should know that they are living in a predominantly Christian nation."

Um, so, then, wouldn't these Christians be able to walk right on by some ofensive signs just like they expect all the heathens to do? I mean, it is a "predominantly Christian nation" and all that. Oh wait, sorry, sorry, there I go using logic again.

The ACLU and its supporters believe they're being drawn into a make-believe war. They say they've fielded fewer holiday-season conflicts in recent years and that everybody seems to know the rules, except those trying to make a political point.

"People are free to worship in their homes and their houses of worship and if they rent out a hall," said the ACLU's Jeremy Gunn, national director of the group's Freedom of Religion and Belief program. "You have to ask, why do they want to worship in the public schools?

Because they think everyone should be just like them? Or that they're insecure about their own religion that they can't tolerate any dissent? You'd think this guy would be down with the friends of Jesus:

Sam Minturn, who heads the California Christmas Tree Association, said his group hadn't taken a position on the issue. In fact, he doesn't mind the term "holiday tree" -- a phrase that angers some "Friend or Foe" campaigners.

"I don't care what people call them, as long as they buy them," said Minturn, who lives in Merced County. "Go ahead and call them a weed."

Uh-oh. He's on the CCP bad list for sure. And he's from California too. Probably he's teh gay, and wants the kids on drugs (he said "weed" after all).

In signing on to "Friend or Foe" this month, Falwell urged the 500,000 recipients of his weekly "Falwell Confidential" e-mail to "draw a line in the sand and resist bullying tactics of the ACLU and others who intimidate school and government officials by spreading misinformation about Christmas."

Let's see, monitoring teachers, misrepresenting the policies of businesses and threatening boycotts because businesses aren't Christian enough, open disregard for the consequences and perceptions of people of other faiths... and it's the ACLU engaging in bullying tactics?

Standing on the other side of that sand line are religious, liberal and secular organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, whose national director, Abe Foxman, recently bemoaned the religious right's efforts to "Christianize" America.

"This amped-up effort shows how these groups want to push into the classrooms more," said Tami Holzman, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League's San Francisco office.

"There is no war against Christmas," said Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "There is no jihad against Christians. There is nothing going on around Christmas except these groups' incessant fundraising."

Ah yes, the "season of giving." Nothing like a little invented drama about war on Christmas to send the change clinking in the collection plate. Oh, my bad, I guess that dates the last time I was in church. The soft rustle of bills in the collection plate might be more accurate?

Sigh. I'm off to bake some heathen pies that I am absolutely not going to consume with friends and family (of which a large proportion might be religious) at a traditional values supporting America loving kinda meal where prayers might be said and blessings might be asked for and/or recognized with thanks that might be offered. Oh no! Because I hate all that stuff, and want to see it exterminated everywhere, not just Target.

Via IntoxiNation.

Posted by binky at 10:15 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

November 22, 2005

Nuremberg War Crimes Trials

While its two days late, it is worth noting that 60 years ago, on November 20, 1945, the first war crimes trials were gavelled to life at Nuremberg, Germany. These trials, the first of their kind in history, were decreed by the victorious allies (US, Britain, USSR and France was allowed in) to deal with the millions of civilians that the Nazi regime had systematically put to death. They are commonly refered to today as the Nuremberg Trials.

Nuremberg was chosen as the site for the trials, as it was one of the cities that Hitler and the Nazi Party had extensive ties with. Having the trials there, it was thought, would help end the German ties with Nazism.

The ideas behind the trials - that civilian leaders of states can be held responsible for actions that were not illegal by their own laws - have remained a part of international law, and have even grown stronger (see the UN tribunals looking into war crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda). Most recently, there has been an attempt to make permenant an International Criminal Court to try individuals from any state that commit war crimes or genocide.

Posted by baltar at 04:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Convenient Revisionism on White Phosphorous?

OK, so given this US government document from 1995 - do we have to send more US troops into Iraq to kick out our troops who are already there? I mean if one of our justifications for the war was Saddam Hussein doing to Iraqis in the past exactly what we are doing to Iraqis now ...

UPDATE: Do you think things like this could have anything to do with the Iraqi leadership (yes, the one we are supporting and helped put in place) formally noting the "legitimate right" of resistance being excercised by Iraqi insurgents (who are killing Americans)? Yeah, me too.

Posted by armand at 09:38 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Schumer (I Mean Suozzi) to Challenge Spitzer?

Matt Stoller has this report on an impending nasty political brawl in New York. I find it stunning that someone with Senator Schumer's political smarts would try to upset with the coming landslide that will be Eliot Spitzer's victory in the New York gubenatorial race next year. But the mixture of intense ambition and personal animosity can result in otherwise inexplicable actions.

Posted by armand at 09:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Christmas Truce

From CNN.

Alfred Anderson, the last surviving soldier to have heard the guns fall silent along the Western Front during the spontaneous "Christmas Truce" of World War I, died Monday at age 109.

More than 80 years after the war, Anderson recalled the "eerie sound of silence" as shooting stopped and soldiers clambered from trenches to greet one another December 25, 1914.


Born June 25, 1896, Anderson was an 18-year-old soldier in the Black Watch regiment when British and German troops cautiously emerged from the trenches that Christmas Day in 1914. The enemies swapped cigarettes and tunic buttons, sang carols and even played soccer amid the mud, barbed wire and shell-holes of no man's land.

The informal truce spread along much of the 500-mile Western Front, in some cases lasting for days -- alarming army commanders who feared fraternization would sap the troops' will to fight. The next year brought the start of vast battles of attrition that claimed 10 million lives, and the Christmas truce was never repeated.

Posted by binky at 12:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 21, 2005

GOP Says "Fuck You" to Constitution

You know, the funny thing is, I used to be a fairly strong Republican, and am still registered as one.

Via a commenter over at Balloon Juice, this Boston Globe story about Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch:

Back in the mid-1990s, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, aggressively delving into alleged misconduct by the Clinton administration, logged 140 hours of sworn testimony into whether former president Bill Clinton had used the White House Christmas card list to identify potential Democratic donors.
In the past two years, a House committee has managed to take only 12 hours of sworn testimony about the abuse of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.


An examination of committees' own reports found that the House Government Reform Committee held just 37 hearings described as ''oversight" or investigative in nature during the last Congress, down from 135 such hearings held by its predecessor, the House Government Operations Committee, in 1993-94, the last year the Democrats controlled the chamber. Party loyalty does not account for the difference: In 1993-94, the Democrats were investigating a Democratic administration.
Representative Tom Davis, the current chairman of the Government Reform Committee, the chamber's chief watchdog for government waste and abuse, said his panel had not abdicated its oversight role, which many consider critical to the separation of powers in government.
''What aren't we doing? We aren't going after the mini scandal du jour, to try to embarrass the administration on a hearing that's going nowhere," said Davis, Republican of Virginia.

Well, for sure if you don't have the hearing it will certainly be "going nowhere." And, depending on how you define "scandal du jour", you can avoid having hearings at all. After all, if the world doesn't end, then it can't really be that important, can it?


''Congress has enormous power and it does nothing," said Frank Silbey, a former investigator for the Senate Labor Committee under both parties. ''It is absolutely the worst situation I have ever seen in my life. Congress shows no inclination to expand the public's right to know. That's one of the reasons for government oversight."
Controversies such as the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, abuses at US detention facilities at the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons, and the revealing of former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson's name have gone largely unscrutinized on Capitol Hill.
Instead, congressional committees have directed oversight at such topics as steroid abuses in sports and ''diploma mill" universities -- topics critics say are worthy, but which do not fulfill Congress's responsibility to be a check on the executive branch.
Further, some of the recent hearings defined as oversight by panel leadership in fact served to advance a Bush administration agenda. In addition to the hearings into faith-based service providers and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, House and Senate panels have sought to expose the dangers of buying imported or pharmaceuticals sold on the Internet, buttressing a Republican and drug-industry position that Americans should not be permitted to buy cut-rate prescription drugs outside the United States.

This is one of my hobby-horses. The Constitution was written (for all those strict-constructionists out there) in order to prevent tyranny: three separate but equal branches. Congress gets to authorize (and confiscate) money. The Executive gets to spend it. The Executive gets to make day-to-day policy decisions, and actually execute policy. The Congress gets to call them to their chambers and ask them very pointed questions about how they're spending the money, and what they are spending it on. This Congress, in particular, has utterly failed to do so.

I think, in the future, that when we look back at the Bush Presidency, we'll be forced to conclude that one of the reasons that things got so screwed up is that Congress failed to actually hold the Executive accountable. If Congress had done (was doing) its job, we clearly wouldn't be where we are today on Iraq, New Orleans, the budget, or terrorism.

Posted by baltar at 06:34 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

To Be or Not to Be...

Based on recent events with Pajamas/OSM/Name of the Week media, we've been talking about whether we've done everything we ought to with this whole blogging thing. In my earlier post, I suggested that Jammies should have "done their homework" or looked before leaping.

When we started this whole thing, being academics, we did research. I even talked to a lawyer about whether it was worth it to copyright or trademark, thinking mostly about whether it would provide us any protections in case someone else tried to do something (bad) using our name, rather than staking turf claim. In the end we went with the Creative Commons license.

Now we're thinking about it again. As my previous post said, I am all in favor of friendly sharing. What if, on the other hand, the same thing happened to the name Bloodless Coup that happened to ...Open Source? And what if the name confusion brought people to a site with which we vehemently disagreed and wanted no association with at all? And what if it didn't get resolved like the situation with PoliBlog, where the encroaching entity backed off?

Right now we're doing some reading. If you're curious too, there are three places to start. And an excerpt of a couple of basic questions:

What is a trademark?

A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. In short, a trademark is a brand name.

What is a service mark?

A service mark is any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce, to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services.

Do I have to register my trademark?

No, but federal registration has several advantages, including notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration

So rather than "to be or not," the question becomes "to register or not," which is really composed of "is it really worth $400 to possibly look like an asshat pissing in corners and overinflating your own sense of worth?" Updates to come.

Unrelated bonus joke on the title for all you yinzers out there:

Hamlet's soliloquy, translated for Pittsburghers:

"Or not."

Posted by binky at 04:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Anti-Smoking Idiocy Continues

Majikthise has one of the most recent stupid events in the war on smoking - HarperCollins creating a fictious pose for an illustrator of classic fiction. Will someone stop this insanity? Anyone? I was listening to a commentary track on an episode of Desperate Housewives last week, and the series creator noted that the one thing the network really wanted out of the show was the fact that one of the characters was smoking. They apparently had no problem with the fact that the character who was smoking was a married woman who had just had sex with a high schooler. I'm not saying we should go back to the bad old days of cigarette company lies. And I don't think that smoking is something we should celebrate. I was thumbing through a new history of the US Senate, The Most Excluisve Club, and saw an advertisment featuring Senator Charles Curtis (R-KS) (who later served as Vice President of the United States) endorsing a brand of cigarettes. That's not terribly responsible. But this business of wiping any image of cigarettes or smokers out of recorded history needs to be stopped.

Posted by armand at 04:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Missing Link(s)

Something funky is happening with the view of Bloodless Coup. Mozilla viewers seem to see no difference. With Internet Explorer, the sidebar vanishes. No word on Netscape. If you're not seeing what you expect to see over there (like our links and pithy subheadings) sit tight. We're trying to figure out what happened. Since we didn't change anything, it's kind of a stumper.

UPDATE: Hugo had to go. It was the picture coding. Something was a little wonky, and in the interest of enjoying my Thanksgiving week vacation, I just purged El Presidente from the site and put a link to his photo instead. Sorry for any problems you may have experienced.

Posted by binky at 10:48 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Sharon Leaves the Likud

It's finally happened. Jonathan provides a concise analysis of the implications of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon leaving the Likud here. The key thing I think we need to watch for at this point is whether or not Sharon can get any prominent Labor members to join him, and what happens to Shinui. Those matters will be key in determining whether or not Sharon's party becomes a truly centrist major party or whether it simply represents the "moderate" side of Likud.

Posted by armand at 09:19 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 20, 2005

Behind the Gym at 3 O'clock (L vs R)

L: You're a plagiarist.

R: Racist!!! But you're right that I don't really write all my own stuff.

The L response.

Posted by binky at 07:50 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Six Bags of Leaves

It's about that time. Time for raking leaves, you ask? No! Time for another asinine article about how the end of the world is coming because girls dress like sluts. When I flipped open my Washington Post this morning, there is was, shining with the glow from so many points of "what's the matter with those kids today" thickheadedness.

Temptation to rip it to shreds was there, but two mitigating factors counteracted the urge. First, I had a whole lotta leaves to rake.

Second, I thought, well, I'm sure Amanda and Jill will take care of this garbage, while I am out taking care of the compost. And oh, how they did.

From Amanda, ever pithy:

On top of being reactionary, this article is also stone-cold stupid.

From Jill, an astute observation about how the article perpetuates the problem of blaming young women for bringing danger on themselves, and also how the article perpetuates negative images of men:

But what kills me about this paragraph is the statement that by dressing a certain way, young women are bringing danger on themselves. Where are the alarmist articles about the young men who are presumably the ones doing the damage to these girls? Where’s the cry to parents to teach their sons to respect women? Despite the fact that raising boys differently would probably eliminate most of the “dangers” this writer references, the burden is still put on young women — and the implication is, “if something bad happens to you, you brought it on yourself.”

No, he isn’t. He’s putting her in an even more vulnerable position — if something does happen with one of those teenage boys, she’ll internalize it as her fault for dressing in a particular way. When she goes out of the house and sees other girls dressing in more revealing clothes, she’ll become part of the group that looks at them and says, “You’re a slut.” Adolescence is hard enough on young women; when they’re already desperately trying to fit in and find their own identities, the worst thing one can do is encourage greater rifts between “good girls” and “bad girls,” and create even deeper insecurities in all of them.

And where is the dad who says, “Honey, I was a teenage boy once. I know that they’re capable of being reasonable human beings, and of treating women well. Don’t accept anything less than that” — and who tells his sons the same thing? Sexual equality and women’s physical safety simply cannot come from women alone. Shaming young girls about the way they dress isn’t the way to achieve anything.

Posted by binky at 07:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

It's very good. Not perfect, but if you are a Potter and Hogwarts fan, and I am, I don't think you'll be disappointed. While it doesn't hold to the book in every way, it certainly captures the spirit of the text, and it tells a fun, dark, fantastical story at a fast clip, even if the movie is rather long. Mike Newell (who directed Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco, among other works) helms this 4th Potter film, and while it's not presented in as poetic a fashion as Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban, he effectively manages both the comedy and the horror to create a great weekend diversion.

There are several things that I think were done extremely well. Lord Voldemort's return and duel with Harry is handled well, even if it's a little shorter than I would have preferred. Ralph Fiennes is great as the villian, who like so many super villains before him, should know better than to slowly engage our hero in a duel. Miranda Richardson is superb and malicious as Rita Skeeter, the dangerous "journalist". The actors cast as Viktor Krum and Cedric Diggory are perfect for their roles (quiet, hulking and athletic and almost too good-guy handsome and strong). The addition of Mad-Eye Moody is one of the great pleasures of the film, and Madame Maxime adds more wizarding world flavor. The Yule Ball scene is superbly realized, as is the mer-people task in the Triwizard Tournament, and there are a number of even small bits to the film that are just as you'd be likely to visualize them when reading the book (for example, the Potter Stingks badges). And as a big fan of the Weasley twins and Shirley Henderson (who plays Moaning Myrtle), its good to see them get some screen time.

I have some quibbles with the film that I'll discus in the extended entry, but on the whole, it's good. I recommend it - fine (albeit dark and spooky) family fun.

OK, so here is the SPOILERS section.

Some of the omissions from the book are fine. There's no real need to see Ludo Bagman, for example. But to omit everything involving the house elves is a little odd. It's not a gross omission, but for fans of the book, well, it's a big change in the story. Still, it's handled pretty well, even if it does tone down part of Hermione's character (and any interest in the student body of Hogwarts in political activism). I wouldn't have continued to explicitly mention the students' ages in this film - they don't look 14, after all. And depending on what they plan on doing with Rita Skeeter in the future films, its seems problematic that they didn't discuss a key aspect of her character. And the maze, well, I'm not sure I really like what they did with it, but all in all, I'm not annoyed or disappointed.

So, what did disappoint me? As a big fan of Professor Trelawney and Molly Weasley, I was a little disappointed not to see them in this film. I am also annoyed that they never discussed Cedric being a member of Hufflepuff. The Houses have been a big part of the mythology of this work, but they aren't mentioned at all in this film. And since Diggory is the biggest thing that we'll ever see associated with Hufflepuff, the House that gets the "hard-workers" (aka those who aren't particularly smart, brave or ambitious), it's too bad not to see that connection made in the film (I'm presuming that there are Hufflepuff fans out there, even though that's somewhat similar to saying that Ringo is one's favorite Beatle). Finally, my biggest head-scratchers are 1) the way they handled the wands crossing in the duel (which will likely leave viewers who haven't read the book confused) and 2) the way the film handled Beauxbatons. The script makes it a girls' school (which it wasn't in the book, though its champion was a girl), forces the girls to perform an ever-so stereotypical, feminine dance, and yet, even though they are going through all that cooing in silk stuff, chooses not to mention veela at all. That seems odd to me. As long as you are piling on, why not follow the mythology?

Still, these are mostly minor quibbles. It's a good movie, and am rather disappointed (yes, already) that I have to wait a year to see the next installment in the series.

Posted by armand at 04:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

513 Yards

If there was any doubt that Reggie Bush should win the Heisman Trophy this year, his performance yesterday against Fresno St. should dispel it.

Posted by armand at 03:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Una vez más, Hugo Chavez

This is the kind of thing that made me kiss the hard sciences goodbye. See Hugo sing.

Wearing a broad-rimmed sombrero, Chavez sang Mexican ballads with a mariachi band before thousands of his supporters at the end of a march to back him days after Venezuela and Mexico withdrew their ambassadors in a diplomatic standoff.

"How great the people of Mexico even though they are alongside the most powerful empire," Chavez roared from a stage outside his presidential palace. "That's why we say, 'Long live the people of Mexico, we are with you.'"

The dispute broke out after Mexican President Vicente Fox criticized Chavez, and the Venezuelan leader countered by calling him a "lap dog" of U.S. imperialism for his close ties to Washington and said, "Don't mess with me, mister, or you'll get stung."

"The one to blame for all this lamentable conflict is none other than Mr Danger," Chavez said using his usual reference to President Bush. "We hope things cool down... but that depends on the Mexican government," he told the crowd.

Posted by binky at 12:55 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 19, 2005

Go Commodores!

For those of us who enjoy seeing Phillip Fulmer lose ...

Today Vanderbilt defeated Tennessee. Now Vanderbilt hadn't won since September, so they still won't be heading to a bowl game (bet they really wish that Middle Tennessee St. game had turned out differently), but as today's win over Tennessee follows 22 straight losses, you know they are excited. And I bet a lot of the fans are also pleased that this win knocks Tennessee out of the bowl picture entirely. Even if they beat Kentucky next week, they still won't have the requisite 6 wins. This is the first time the Volunteers aren't bowl eligible since 1988.

Posted by armand at 06:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

We. Should. Not. Torture. Period.

An excerpt from ABC News' report on CIA interrogations:

According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.
His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.

We tortured him. He told us what we wanted to hear. We used his "information" as part of the justification for war.

There really isn't anything further to say.

Posted by baltar at 01:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 18, 2005

Can you say crash and burn, boys and girls?

The whole Pajamas Media thing gets curioser and curioser by the hour. In the search for a name with more gravitas, they switched to Open Source Media. Should have done some googling first, however. Steve Gilliard has a post about this, with links to Open Source Media a PRI show.

Confused? So were they, when some listeners emailed in to report that someone else (the Pajamas folk) was claiming to be Open Source Media. Summarizing the whole thing would take too long, and of course, due to the restrictive user agreement [any copying, using, displaying, reproducing, anything from their site is verboten, i.e. no fair use, even though they sustain themselves by reproducing things from other people's web sites] on the Pajama/OSM site, I'm not going to even get into it.

Read the five part blog from Open Source (the radio show): Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five.

Now, here at Bloodless Coup we know there are other "Bloodlesses" out there, including our other publication, the Bloodless Coup 'Zine (which should have a new issue out in a month or so). Bloodless Coop hatched about three weeks before we registered our domain name. He's got a blogspot page, a different sort of focus, and a barnyard flair. We check each other out periodically, blogroll each other, and exchange friendly neighbor nods. For awhile there was another blogspot ( blog that called itself "Bloodless Coup" as a title, which honked me off briefly, but Baltar advised patience and predicted it would "die a natural death" as there never was much activity there in the first place. He was right. So, no real issues, just the friendly Coop.

After the Pajamas/OSM thing, I just checked to see what was up with BloodlessCoup .net and .org, since I hadn't had a look in a couple of months. There was nothing at .net, so to be safe, we bought it. Then I discovered there is something new at .org. It's got domain name forwarding to a comcast site, so basically the .org site points to the comcast. The .net was purchased last month, and we haven't heard a thing from them. No idea how long the comcast has been there.

It's funny how you never really think about this stuff, even the web savvy, who should. A regular-reader (Morris?) once chastised us for having an outdated name. And I responded, "yes, it is" because Bloodless Coup has been the name of my band since about 1986. Baltar argues with me over whether or not the modal category of existence for the band is "mythical" as opposed to "irregular," but in many ways, I have been - at least to myself - Bloodless Coup for about twenty years now. I've known Baltar for ten years, Armand for five. The recent incarnation of Bloodless Coup as the three of us started with talk of reviving the band as a trio (we're still working on it, but it's looking more like quartet at this point), and then morphed into the band website, the zine, and then the blog. Different form, same bloodless(ness).

So, I suppose that in the context of the Pajamas/Open Source situation, the question is: how do we feel about other Bloodless Coups? I like the way things are between us and the Bloodless Coop. We each have our own "personality," we blogroll each other, read each other, occasionally comment, and it's like finding a long lost cousin with the same name or something. I'm curious to see what happens with the .org Bloodless Coup. I am a little peeved again that someone would not take the time to send a heads up this way when setting up the .org site, especially when it looks to be getting made into a political blog. After all when Google searching bloodlesscoup we are the first six (and 8 of the top 10) hits and the top 2 when searching "bloodless coup" (darn those real coups in Libya and Mauritania). [And yes, when I registered the .com, I checked to make sure there were no other bloodlesscoup anythings.] If the .org gets going, it would be nice to have evident differentiation, at least some acknowledgement and a redirect link. That being said, the same kind of relationship we have with the Coop would be even nicer.

As for Pajamas/OSM and the First Open Source Media, well, I'd be pretty pissed if I were the public radio folks. They've applied for trademark, they registered the domain name, they have a friggin' radio show. And the Pajamas people supposedly have millions of dollars, teams of lawyers, venture capitalitalists, and the brightest minds of the blogosphere behind the project. Meaning what? They are setting themselves up as professionals, and some of the people involved have been blogging for a long time. They should know better than to move ahead without doing their homework. What they did with the retractions and corrections does not reflect well on their enterprise. It's shady, slippery, and if I had given them $3.5 million dollars I'd be yelling that somebody's "got some 'splainin' to do."

UPDATE: I last checked his blog a couple of weeks ago, and should have known to check back before this post. Dennis the Peasant proves that hell hath no fury like an ex-partner scorned. Stop in and read all the way down.

Posted by binky at 11:16 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Republican War Strategy Walks the Plank

Likely, everyone has seen the comments by Representaive Murtha (D-Integrity) by now. Murtha, a Vietnam veteran and long time member (respected, by the way, by both sides) of the House Armed Services Committee, came out yesterday and gave an emotional call to bring the troops home from Iraq, like, today. (The text of Murtha's statement is here.)

Readers of this blog will likely recognize that immediate withdrawal from Iraq isn't a policy position I can really support. While I find the present set of policies (and policy-makers) to be failures, there are lots of alternatives available for trial before withdrawal (though time is running out both in Iraq and domestically for new initiatives). That being said, the White House official response to Murtha was beyond the pale, arrogant, wrong, and plainly insane:

Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America. So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party. The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists. After seeing his statement, we remain baffled -- nowhere does he explain how retreating from Iraq makes America safer.

Yesterday was the day, officially, that the White House walked the plank on Iraq. Murtha, while a democrat, is about as far from the "extreme left wing" of the Democratic party, and has likely never met Michael Moore (that may or may not be true; irrelevant). Murtha is rated 0% by NARAL, 53% by the Christian Coalition, supports a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning, and is generally given a moderate position overall. He's not "Michael Moore" by any, any stretch.

For the White House to characterize his rejection of the present policies as "surrender to the terrorists" is insulting and insane. Morover, if the best response of the entire press/PR department of the White House is to insult Murtha, that speaks very ill of any coherence, stability and calmness behind the scenes.

Six months ago, we could have had a reasoned debate and altered policies to try to achieve something like success in Iraq. That would have required Bush to make concessions, and likely bring aboard some Democrats. He rejected that idea. Now, because the White House won't even brook reasoned criticism, the alternative position that looks to be moving closer and closer to the default is "immediate withdrawl". That's bad (for the US, for Iraq, for stability in the Middle East, for oil prices, and for the world; but that's a much long blog post). However, Bush's complete inability to consider any alternative is leaving all compromise positions withering on the vine.

The "withdrawal" boulder is gathering speed, and the White House statements on Murtha just gave it an extra boost.

Posted by baltar at 02:01 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Juan Cole Lets Bob Dylan Ask the Questions

Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free? . . .

The US has detained around 83,000 persons during the four years of the "war on terror," most of them in Iraq. Some 14,500 remain in detention there. Many detainees are not actually guilty of anything, but have difficulty obtaining their release once taken into custody. There have been many instances of torture or at least of cruel and unusual punishment while these persons were in US custody.

He goes through the whole song.

Posted by binky at 01:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


This is a good movie you might never have heard of. I don't recall ever hearing a thing about Heights before seeing it as preview on a dvd. This is mildly perplexing as it's one of the last films produced by Ismail Merchant, stars Glenn Close, and features both game young actors like Elizabeth Banks (The 40 Year Old Virgin), James Marsden (X-Men, X2) and Jesse Bradford (Bring It On) in the other major roles, and a slew of famous faces in small supporting roles (including George Segal, Eric Bogosian, Rufus Wainwright and Isabella Rossellini). But it has much to recommend it beyond the famous faces. I really like the way it's shot, and in terms of the lighting, art direction and such - technically it's a very well done film. As to the plot - well, it's one of those multiple narratives films that have become popular lately. There's a young couple who are on the verge of marriage, her mother is a very famous actress who's directing a play that a struggling actor wants to star in - and, well, there are a number of other story lines too. And some of these stories cross others in the film - sometimes predictably, sometimes not. It might not be the most original of concepts, but I found it to be very well made, quite diverting and really surprisingly enjoyable.

Posted by armand at 10:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 17, 2005

A Religious Response to Pat Robertson

As has been mentioned, Pat Robertson just about called down the (literal) wrath of God on Dover, PA, for unelecting some whackos to the school board who wanted to teach religion in science class, rather than science in science class. I ran across this response, from the retired Bishop of Newark, New Jersey. Selected highlights:

I want to make only two points about this issue. First, I wonder who, other than Pat himself, designated Pat Robertson to be God's spokesperson? How dare Pat assume that the God revealed in the Jesus I serve is filled with all of Pat's peculiar prejudices. Why does he not understand that God is God and Pat Robertson is not? Why does he not see that when he tells the world with an unashamed certainty what God thinks and what God will do, he is only revealing what he thinks and what he would do if he had God's power? Pat needs to understand that he is acting out the very meaning of idolatry. He has confused God with himself.
Second, someone needs to inform Pat Robertson that the idea of God sitting on a throne above the clouds manipulating the weather in order to punish sinners is so primitive and so naïve that it is staggering to the educated imagination. It is bad enough that his mind cannot embrace the thought of Charles Darwin from the 19th century, but Pat has yet to embrace the thought of Copernicus from the 16th century or Galileo from the 17th century.
No educated person today believes that the earth is the center of the universe and that God lives above the sky, playing with low-pressure systems and planning revenge on those who are not believers in Intelligent Design. Indeed why would anyone be drawn to the demonic deity who emerges in Pat's thinking and teaching?

Read the whole thing. Good to know that there are still some Christians who aren't insane. Now, if only they were more vocal, and more important to the culture.

(Via the comments at Cole's Balloon Juice.)

Posted by baltar at 01:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

It's not just your imagination

Paris Hilton does always look the same.

Posted by binky at 10:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 16, 2005

Military Misses 2005 Recruiting Goals

As this has been a topic at Bloodless before, I thought it worth finally noting the official end-of-2005 tallies:

The Department of Defense this week announced the Army missed its fiscal 2005 recruiting goal by more than 6,600 soldiers, bringing in 73,373 new troops over the last year.
The Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve and Air National Guard also all missed their recruiting goals, each pulling in less than 90 percent of their targets.
On the positive side, the Marine Corps, which had missed several monthly recruiting goals earlier this year, reached its year-end enlistment goals. So did the Navy, Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve.

The article goes on to note that the news is even worse, as the Army had to raise the maximum age, and lower the education standards in order just to miss the goal by 6000 or so (less than 10 percent).

They may do well for the next year (Recruiting was better than expected for the first month of the new year), but how much do you want to bet they lowered the bar, and are looking for fewer recruits?

I'll be curious to see what the actual numbers are in a few months.

Posted by baltar at 10:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tell me something I didn't know

The CIA says that Fidel has Parkinson's disease and that in the next few years he may reach the point where he has trouble governing.

The CIA has concluded that Cuban President Fidel Castro suffers from Parkinson's disease and could have difficulty coping with the duties of office as his condition worsens, an official said Wednesday.

The assessment, completed in recent months, suggests the nonfatal but debilitating disease has progressed far enough to warrant questions among U.S. policymakers about the communist country's future in the next several years.

Hello! Yes, you, CIA! Hey, over here: HE'S SEVENTY NINE EFFING YEARS OLD...of course there are going to be questions about his rule over the next several years.

In addition, anyone who has paid any attention to Cuban politics or the Miami rumor mill and has even the most limited layperson's knowledge of Parkinson's could have made this diagnosis for some time.

When I was in Cuba in 2002 (with the permission of the U.S. Treasury Department, thank you very much) I watched Fidel give a multi-hour speech on television. OK, I didn't watch the whole thing, but came in periodically from drinking beers on the porch to see if he was still going, which he was, and I can't remember now if it was four hours or six hours, but it was a long damn time to be talking about dengue fever and how to prevent it. The thing that struck me was not the length of the speech - he was sitting after all - and not his liver spots, but that in the whole time I watched the speech he never left his hands unsecured for more than a moment. None of this kind of gesture, but plenty of this, this, and especially this. The last one really shows what he was doing, though he did it with a whole hand as well as a finger tip. He also kept folding his hands like this as if he was about to crack his knuckles, essentially holding one hand still with the other.

This looks like just one more of the little tit for tat swipes we take at Fidel, and then he'll accuse the U.S. government being in cahoots with Cuban exiles on wishing him dead:

Castro has long been the subject of rumors of illnesses, including Parkinson's, despite a generally strong physical constitution. Many of the reports up to now have come from the anti-communist Cuban-American community in Florida.

Castro has dismissed them as the work of his enemies who wish to see him dead.

When all else fails, and there's nothing but bad news about lies, corruption, and war...trot out the commies!

Posted by binky at 10:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Voting Rights and the Support Thereof

Treading on Armand's turf of law and courts, and likely inviting disaster in the form of a Moon corrective, I submit this post by Nathan Newman which I have seen referenced at a few sites.

But what is most striking about Alito's statement is this line:

In college, I developed a deep interest in constitutional law, motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment.


For the non-lawyers out there, Alito meant he was against the Supreme Court decisions requiring that all state legislative districts be designed to guarantee "one person, one vote", instead of giving some districts with very few voters the same representation as urban districts with far more voters.

I'm curious. Has anyone else tackled this aspect of Alito's statement? Are there alternate interpretations? Moon?

Posted by binky at 09:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Fables of Activist Judges

You don't really need to mourn the loss of Underneath Their Robes, not when you have Scott Lemieux keeping you busy with the real, political science view of all you need to know about Alito:

As a follow-up to my previous post, Somerby notes today that he recently posted the contemporaneous reaction about Ginsburg's nomination from the Washington Post:

On the D.C. Court of Appeals, to which she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, she has become a swing vote. A 1988 computer study by Legal Times newspaper found that she had sided more with Republican-appointed colleagues than [with her] Democratic counterparts. In cases that were not unanimous, she voted most often with then-Judge Kenneth W. Starr, who became George Bush's solicitor general, and Laurence H. Silberman, a Reagan appointee still on the court.

So, in other words, the wild-eyed radical that the GOP generously let onto the Court voted most often in non-unanimous cases with well-known Trotskyite Ken Starr. Needless to say, we will not be seeing any similar data about Alito, because he's more conservative than the other Republican appointees on the 3rd Circuit, let alone the Democrats. Anybody drawing comparisons between Alito and Ginsburg, and saying that the Dems now have some obligation to rubber-stamp Alito, is a hack pure and simple.

My completely chaste, political science geek crush on LGM continues.

Posted by binky at 06:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Another Iraqi Regime of Torturers

Plus ça change ...

"... others had some of the skin peeled off their bodies by their abusers"

Thousands of Americans (and vastly more Iraqis) are dead - and this is what we get? These are the people we've spent hundreds of billions to put in power?

Posted by armand at 11:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Joe Biden Slams John Edwards

My dislike for the senior senator from Delaware intensifies.

Posted by armand at 10:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Josh Marshall Explains It All

So I just readTalking Points Memo , and it appears that Joshua Michah Marshall had a busy night. There are all kinds of goodies over there that deserve a look. The highlights include more evidence that the Vice President of the United States is a serial liar (of something approaching titanic proportions) when it comes to national security issues, and he stands by while his "big oil" buddies lie to Congress. News that's a reminder that the man President Bush wanted to put in charge of Homeland Security during the War on Terror has to go down in history as one of the most appalling picks for a major Cabinet post ever proposed (and yes, you might very well have seen him in the not too distant past doing commentary on FoxNews). And there is a big development in the Plame leak case - one that might have major implications not only for the investigation, but also for the career of one of the nation's best known journalists. So if you are interested in the US politics and media whirlwind that is DC, that site would be a good place to start your morning.

Posted by armand at 07:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 15, 2005

"Poor Information"

The Pentagon has confirmed that US troops used white phosphorus during last year's offensive in the northern Iraqi city of Falluja.

"It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC - though not against civilians, he said.

The US earlier denied it had been used in Falluja at all.


Col Venable said a statement by the US state department that white phosphorus had not been used was based on "poor information".

BBC via the Liberal Avenger.

Posted by binky at 09:12 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Humor in the Classroom?

For his sake, I hope so.

Embarrassment Took Care of the Other Two

Professor guy: Does anyone know who the celebrity advocate is for sickle cell anemia? Come on people, you can't be less hip than me.
NYU girl: T-Boz.
Professor guy: That's right! T-Boz! From what group?
NYU girl: TLC.
Professor guy: Yeah, TLC! And in case you don't know who they are...

He puts a picture of TLC on the overhea[r]d projector.

Professor guy: I actually have their CD. I put it on at home when I feel like getting jiggy with it. I thought we'd listen to it while you work. Not I Don't Want No Scrubs, partly because I don't know what that means.

--Silver Building, Waverly Place

Overheard in New York.

Posted by binky at 08:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


From Dan Nexon:

How bloody difficult is it for people to distinguish the widespread belief that Iraq had possession of biological and chemical agents from the Bush administration's arguments that Hussein's possession of, or eventual acquisition of, weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat to America's urban centers? I know we have a small readership, but it isn't exactly like Rodger and I are the only people explaining the difference.

Posted by binky at 05:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Which one of you was trying to talk me out of trading Lieberman for Snowe?

Because I'm about to offer again. From Amygdala, a link to the Roll Call Vote on the (failed) Bingaman Amendment.

Posted by binky at 03:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Woman Thing (Part 7854)

Picked up via Feministe, more coverage of the woman blogger "phenomenon". Some good points, some less good points, but the one thing I liked best:

"Blogs"--short for web logs--have become the most popular political tool since Thomas Paine stamped "Common Sense" on a pamphlet.

Pamphleteers. That's not bad. Now if only we had the equivalent of cool woodcuts like the cordeis about Lampião.

UPDATE: This hadn't occurred to me, and it's a good point:

Not surprisingly, it's still a man's world, but that's not the point I want to address. It's the frame of "women bloggers." By addressing the issue in this way, we've already set the frame up so that the default "blogger" by itself is male, and adding a parameter -- "women" or "female" -- is necessary to feminize this default setting for the word.

It's like when people use "male nurse." The default state is feminine, and the "male" is added to masculinize it. Actually, it seems that, according to my spell-checker, "masculinize" isn't even a word... but "feminize" is. Why? I'm guessing that most words in our heads are already clearly masculine, and we've got a lot more feminizing to do than we realize.

I'm thus putting out a call to bloggers (and readers of blogs) everywhere to help make sure that this word gets firmly established as a gender-neutral, happily androgynous occupation. Stop using those pesky gender-qualifiers today.

Posted by binky at 02:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Biden III for Delaware AG?

Well, I've been expecting it for about 15 years, and it appears that it's finally going to happen. Beau Biden is apparently going to be running for statewide office in Delaware in the next election cycle. And he might even become the state's Attorney General sooner than that - Gov. Ruth Ann Minner is considering appointing him to the post (she has named the incumbent, Republican Jane Brady, to a state court).

Posted by armand at 01:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Strange Bedfellows?

No, I'm not talking about myself and John Cole (though I could) but rather Joe Manchin, the Democratic Governor of West Virginia and the Schindler family. Bobbi Schindler, Terry Schiavo's brother, and Manchin spoke at the West Virginians for Life "Rose Dinner" at a local resort. The event was in part a fundraiser for the organization, which has brought criticism from state democrats who argue that Manchin's participation was helping to raise money for the opposition. Manchin maintained that his participation is personal, not political:

The Governor is pro-life, a decision that he says is his own personal decision. He's refused to cancel his appearance after other members of the Democratic Party raised issue with it.

Lara Ramsburg, the Governor's Communications Director, says Manchin is honored to speak at the West Virginians for Life Rose Dinner. It's being held at Lakeview Resort in Monongalia County.

Ramsburg says Manchin will talk about his pro-life beliefs and give those who attend the dinner a wrap-up of what's happened with women's issues in West Virginia over the past year.

Manchin has stressed his decision to speak at the dinner is his and his alone and that those Democrats who have voiced their objections, including Kanawha County Delegate Carrie Webster, have known since the beginning of his career where he stands on the issue.

While the democrats have criticized Manchin's decision mostly on pro-choice grounds, Cole comes at it from the direction of end-of-life decisions:

Putting aside the fact that the autopsy verified that Terri Schiavo’s personhood had long since departed and that she was well beyond what would even be described as ‘profound brain damage,’ what is alarming is the continued effort to avoid dealing with the sad realities of the case, but instead to villify the medical community for daring to have the audacity to name a condition, to attack ‘activist judges,’ and to pretend that somehow, if only we had a different word for Terri Schiavo’s condition, the outcome might have been different. According to Mr. Schindler, had the medical community just used a different term, Terri would today still be gleefully whiling away the hours tracking balloons across her hospice room, engaging in light banter with her pro-life attorneys.

If these people were not trying to wrest away control of my end-of-life decision making rights to cede them to some other entity (the church, the courts, who knows?) all because of their personal religious beliefs, I could probably manage to find a way to tolerate them. Right now, I can not, as too much is at stake.

I am in agreement with Cole on two things about this issue. One is that compassion for private grief suffered is no excuse to let someone get away with trying to transfer your individual decision-making to his preferred arbiter. The second is that I remember paying close attention to the Schiavo case, as a "native" Floridian who followed the story from its beginning. I've always thought it was a horrible situation, and that neither "side" was pure as the driven snow, but likely both were motivated by some incomprehensible (to me at least) combination of grief and emotional response to the other part of the family. The thing that broke it for me was listening to Limbaugh (I think, it could have been Hannity) when the Schindlers threw in their lot with Randall Terry (whose role in the drama Cole called "beneath contempt") and started letting him speak for them. After that, I was done.

And Manchin. Well. As I've said before, it's not like I'm all that happy with a lot of democrats (maybe I should move to Maine) either. And even though I know that politics is a lifelong struggle for polish and position, and therefore give politicians some leeway in the opportunism department, Manchin's very public and repeated protestations about "his own personal decision" really rub me the wrong way, especially when his actions lend support to a group working to erode personal decisions that are a lot more important than whether to make a speech while people eat the rubber chicken.

Posted by binky at 10:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 14, 2005

A question

And this is better than being a one-termer how?

Posted by binky at 09:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

In case you missed the previous post on the private sector...'s more good news (pdf) on how the public sector is contravening its own procedures to affect your health care. I've added some bold/italics to help elevate your blood pressure:

November 2005


Decision Process to Deny Initial Application for Over-the-Counter Marketing of the Emergency Contraceptive Drug Plan B Was Unusual

Highlights of GAO-06-109, a report to congressional requesters

In April 2003, Women’s Capital Corporation submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting the marketing status of its emergency contraceptive pill(ECP), Plan B, be switched from prescription to over-the-counter (OTC). ECPs can be used to prevent an unintended pregnancy when contraception fails or after unprotected intercourse, including cases of sexual assault. In May 2004, the Acting Director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) issued a “not-approvable” letter for the switch application, citing safety concerns about the use of Plan B in women under 16 years of age without the supervision of a health care practitioner. Because the not-approvable decision for the Plan B OTC switch application was contrary to the recommendations of FDA’s joint advisory committee and FDA review staff, questions were raised about FDA’s process for arriving at this decision. GAO was asked to examine (1) how the decision was made to not approve the switch of Plan B from prescription to OTC, (2) how the Plan B decision compares to the decisions for other proposed prescription-to-OTC switches from 1994 through 2004, and (3) whether there are age-related marketing restrictions for prescription Plan B and other prescription and OTC contraceptives. To conduct this review, GAO examined FDA’s actions prior to the May 6, 2004, not-approvable letter for the initial application.

On May 6, 2004, the Acting Director of CDER rejected the recommendations of FDA’s joint advisory committee and FDA review officials by signing the not-approvable letter for the Plan B switch application. While FDA followed its general procedures for considering the application, four aspects of FDA’s review process were unusual. First, the directors of the offices that reviewed the application, who would normally have been responsible for signing the Plan B action letter, disagreed with the decision and did not sign the not-approvable letter for Plan B. The Director of the Office of New Drugs also disagreed and did not sign the letter. Second, FDA’s high-level management was more involved in the review of Plan B than in those of other OTC switch applications. Third, there are conflicting accounts of whether the decision to not approve the application was made before the reviews were completed. Fourth, the rationale for the Acting Director’s decision was novel and did not follow FDA’s traditional practices. The Acting Director stated that he was concerned about the potential behavioral implications for younger adolescents of marketing Plan B OTC because of their level of cognitive development and that it was invalid to extrapolate data from older to younger adolescents. FDA review officials noted that the agency has not considered behavioral implications due to differences in cognitive development in prior OTC switch decisions and that the agency previously has considered it scientifically appropriate to extrapolate data from older to younger adolescents.

The Plan B decision was not typical of the other 67 proposed prescription-to-OTC switch decisions made by FDA from 1994 through 2004. The Plan B OTC switch application was the only one during this period that was not approved after the advisory committees recommended approval. The Plan B action letter was the only one signed by someone other than the officials who would normally sign the letter. Further, there are no age-related marketing restrictions for any prescription or OTC contraceptives that FDA has approved, and FDA has not required pediatric studies for them. FDA identified no issues that would require age-related restrictions in the review of the original prescription Plan B new drug application.

In its comments on a draft of this report, FDA disagreed with GAO’s finding that high-level management was more involved with the Plan B OTC switch application than usual, with GAO’s discussion about when the not-approvable decision was made, and with GAO’s finding that the Acting Director of CDER’s rationale for denying the application was novel. However, GAO found that high-level management’s involvement for the Plan B decision was unusual for an OTC switch application and FDA officials gave GAO conflicting accounts about when they believed the decision was made. The Acting Director acknowledged to GAO that considering adolescents’ cognitive development as a rationale for a not-approvable decision was unprecedented for an OTC application, and other FDA officials told GAO that the rationale differed from FDA’s traditional practices.

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on the link above. For more information, contact Marcia Crosse at (202) 512-7119 or

"Let me 'splain. [pause] No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

Religion over science? CHECK.

High level subversion of standard practices? CHECK.

Obfuscation? CHECK.

Ideological activism? CHECK.


Via Alas, a blog.

Posted by binky at 08:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

First Sony, now Target

From Steve Gilliard, more on the contortions of Target (and yes, that's his graphic and tag line. Nice, eh?).

Do your fucking job and hand out the pills

Here at Target we offer stylish, low cost goods
and vagina control

I've been after this subject before, and leave it to Gilliard and AMERICAblog to discuss the particulars (including that Target will only respect religious rights in respect to Plan B). I'll limit my comment to this: I'm disgusted with Target. The weasels. If they want to support religious freedom, go for it. Respect the full gamut of expression. That would be gutsy. This position? It shows what cowards they are. I've got a $100 gift certificate from Target. Now, they already have the money, so tearing the gift card up and sending it in won't really accomplish much. No, not much. But it got me to thinking... what could I do with $100 to show Target my displeasure. Buy posterboard and markers and use them to make and post signs announcing Target's cowardice? Buy some oh-so-fashionable cards and send them to all my friends with a copy (printed on paper bought at Target, of course) of the craven capitulation to the religious right with an exhortation to never offer one thin dime more of their hard earned cash to a company more concermed with the mendacity of the religious right than medical science? Perhaps I should buy buckets and buckets of sidewalk chalk, and use them to broadcast a guerrilla protest on whatever surface presents itself? I don't know... I'm still contemplating what to do with the hundred bucks. Until they change their policy, it will be the last money I ever spend at Target.

Posted by binky at 07:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Donald Rumsfeld

Via Belgravia Dispatch, a simply brilliant article on what Donald Rumsfeld has done to the Pentagon.

I want to be clear about this: Rumsfeld has done a tremendous amount in five years (as the article notes, the third longest serving DecDef); some of it good, some of it bad. In particular, he gets high marks from me for attempting (success is still unclear) to rid the Pentagon of a mountain of Cold War-era policies, bases, weapons, and ideas. This isn't the Cold War, nor will it be ever again. Good on Rumsfeld for trying to force the Pentagon to accept that.

However (and it's a massive "however"), the article makes reasonably clear that he's not really interested in Iraq. He's interested in modernizing/changing the Pentagon. Thus, he has never really committed himself all out to do what needs to be done to win; he has saved some amount of resources (intellecual, physical, military) to do what he sees as the most important job: reorganization.

I've argued before that Rumsfeld needs to go; this article did nothing to convince me otherwise. I'm not saying he's incompetent - far from it - he's just fixated on one goal, and won't be moved away from that goal.

Meanwhile, 2000+ dead in Iraq, and no end in sight.

If Sept. 11th hadn't happened (or had been prevented), Rumsfeld might have gone down as the greatest SecDef ever - his "trasformation" ideas are that important. However, it did. Nothing left to do but call Sam Nunn (who else would serve as SecDef?).

Posted by baltar at 07:04 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Marc Lynch on Terrorism and IR, Continued

Over the weekend Binky noted that Marc Lynch had written a post at Abu Aardvark on the dearth of scholarship on terrorism in the field of International Relations since 9/11. That post got a lot of attention, so it's worth noting that Lynch has updated his thoughts on the matter. I can't say I find this particularly surprising, and I agree with what a lot of the people commenting at his site have written. Three points in particular stand out as reasons for the scarcity of this kind of work: 1) It might simply be too earlier to see some of this work given the lag-time associated with the peer review process; 2) to many in the IR academy terrorism isn't as important an issue as, for example, major trade patters or the relative power of state, so of course it won't be a central topic in the field's journals; and 3) there has been quite a lot of work on this in other fields where it is a more appropriate area of research. I'm familiar with the work on it in psychology, and I imagine there's a good deal of research on it in sociology and other disciplines.

Posted by armand at 12:47 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Alito on Abortion, When He Interviewed for Ed Meese

This is from an interview Judge Alito had with Attorney General Ed Meese in 1985:

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, wrote that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion" in a 1985 document obtained by The Washington Times. "I personally believe very strongly" in this legal position, Mr. Alito wrote on his application to become deputy assistant to Attorney General Edwin I. Meese III.

That should spice up the confirmation hearings.

Posted by armand at 10:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Lessons of History

In addition to being big on IR around here, we are also big on history. It seems like the last couple of years have given us ample opportunity to quote Santayana: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

In a WaPo op ed, a lawyer representing a Guantanamo detainee reminds us that some lessons of history bear repeating:

In a wiser past, we tried Nazi war criminals in the sunlight. Summing up for the prosecution at Nuremberg, Robert Jackson said that "the future will never have to ask, with misgiving: 'What could the Nazis have said in their favor?' History will know that whatever could be said, they were allowed to say. . . . The extraordinary fairness of these hearings is an attribute of our strength."

The world has never doubted the judgment at Nuremberg. But no one will trust the work of these secret tribunals.

And the detainee whose case inspired the lawyer to write about Habeus corpus?

Adel is innocent. I don't mean he claims to be. I mean the military says so. It held a secret tribunal and ruled that he is not al Qaeda, not Taliban, not a terrorist. The whole thing was a mistake: The Pentagon paid $5,000 to a bounty hunter, and it got taken.

The military people reached this conclusion, and they wrote it down on a memo, and then they classified the memo and Adel went from the hearing room back to his prison cell. He is a prisoner today, eight months later. And these facts would still be a secret but for one thing: habeas corpus.


The Defense Department says it is trying to arrange for a country to take him -- some country other than his native communist China, where Muslims like Adel are routinely tortured. It has been saying this for more than two years. But the rest of the world is not rushing to aid the Bush administration, and meanwhile Adel is about to pass his fourth anniversary in a U.S. prison.

Posted by binky at 09:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Political Heat Wave in Detroit

Martha Reeves (as in "the Vandellas") is now a member of the Detroit City Council. Never underestimate the importance of name ID in when it comes to winning elections.

Posted by armand at 08:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Did the Bush Administration Mislead the Country in the Run-Up to the Iraq War?


And, as Drum notes, this isn't even a comprehensive list of matters tied to the war.

I think that the point he makes in his last lengthy paragraph is particularly important in that it has received relatively little attention, but played a key role in setting up a situation in which the president could take us into a war built on lies. The White House abused the classification process in a way that made debate about the merits of the war illegal. That is a terrible thing to say about a democracy. I think it's entirely appropriate that the American people consider him to be the least trustworthy president we've had in 30 years - but it's a terrible thing for the country in that it greatly imperils our ability to be a force for good, and to promote American interests.

One other thing I would note about Drum's list is that it is probably too tightly centered on events directingly tied to Iraq since other lies and evasions by the White House had an effect on our choice to go to war. For example, the administration covered up the extent of the North Korean nuclear threat until after it had won support for the Iraqi war from Congress.

And how does the Republican leadership deal these issues today, now that they are burdened by the fact that their lies and evasions have drawn the country into an unpopular war? By spewing even more lies.

Posted by armand at 08:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 13, 2005

I'm never buying anything from Sony again

Just so we're clear on that.

First, a baseline. When you buy a regular CD, you own it. You do not "license" it. You own it outright. You're allowed to do anything with it you like, so long as you don't violate one of the exclusive rights reserved to the copyright owner. So you can play the CD at your next dinner party (copyright owners get no rights over private performances), you can loan it to a friend (thanks to the "first sale" doctrine), or make a copy for use on your iPod (thanks to "fair use"). Every use that falls outside the limited exclusive rights of the copyright owner belongs to you, the owner of the CD.

Now compare that baseline with the world according to the Sony-BMG EULA, which applies to any digital copies you make of the music on the CD:

  1. If your house gets burgled, you have to delete all your music from your laptop when you get home. That's because the EULA says that your rights to any copies terminate as soon as you no longer possess the original CD.
  2. You can't keep your music on any computers at work. The EULA only gives you the right to put copies on a "personal home computer system owned by you."
  3. If you move out of the country, you have to delete all your music. The EULA specifically forbids "export" outside the country where you reside.
  4. You must install any and all updates, or else lose the music on your computer. The EULA immediately terminates if you fail to install any update. No more holding out on those hobble-ware downgrades masquerading as updates.
  5. Sony-BMG can install and use backdoors in the copy protection software or media player to "enforce their rights" against you, at any time, without notice. And Sony-BMG disclaims any liability if this "self help" crashes your computer, exposes you to security risks, or any other harm.
  6. The EULA says Sony-BMG will never be liable to you for more than $5.00. That's right, no matter what happens, you can't even get back what you paid for the CD.
  7. If you file for bankruptcy, you have to delete all the music on your computer. Seriously.
  8. You have no right to transfer the music on your computer, even along with the original CD.
  9. Forget about using the music as a soundtrack for your latest family photo slideshow, or mash-ups, or sampling. The EULA forbids changing, altering, or make derivative works from the music on your computer.

So this is what Sony-BMG thinks we should be allowed to do with the music on the CDs that we purchase from them? No word yet about whether Sony-BMG will be offering a "patch" for this legalese rootkit. I'm not holding my breath.

Via Atrios, adding fuel to my already existing fire.

Posted by binky at 03:55 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Drop a Regression Line Through That, Baby!

Political Arithmetik is running a regularly updated track of Bush's poll numbers. Looks like the Dread Pirate Roberts tumbling down the hill on the way to the

This figure shows, in color, the compounding effect of Katrina and the Libby scandal on the already downward drift.

Historical comparisons here.

Via Majikthise.

Posted by binky at 12:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday Morning Blog Roundup

I havne't touched the Sunday papers yet (the WaPo has a front page story about the decline in voting-rights and civil-rights prosecutions by the Bush Department of Justice that looks interesting, though not particularly surprising), but I thought I'd post a few longish blog posts I've found in the past couple of days worth reading.

Most Depressing: Senator Graham's amendment to restrict the ability of detainees to have access to the federal court system was adopted this week (49 - 42, if I'm not mistaken). The result of this (if passed by the house; signature by the President is a forgone conclusion given the Bush stance on torture) is that it significantly limits by law the ability of detainees to go to court and challenge either their detention or the harm that Americans have inflicted upon them (remember the torture thing?). I'm not going to argue that detainees should have full and unfettered access to the courts, but preventing them from challenging their detention and removing habeus corpus restrictions (not to mention medical malpractice) is just wrong. Remember: not a single, solitary military tribunal has occurred since Sept. 11th (over 4 years, 2 months ago). Thus, not a single detainee has had the opportunity to challenge their detention even in a military-run court. Yes, some detainees have been released (after the US realized the people they were holding were not, in fact, terrorists or Taliban fighters), but that's not the same thing as a legitimate attempt to show/prove that each and every one of the people we hold are likely guilty of something. To hold people in this fashion violates norms and laws that go back to the Magna Carta, some 800 years ago.

In any event, for a much longer and more detailed (and much more depressing) take on all this, go read the ongoing series at Obsidian Wings (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, with perhaps more parts to follow. Additionally, Marty Lederman over at Balkinization has something to say about the legal aspects of this, and how this seems to result in removing the courts from any jurisdiction over any detainees are treated.

This thing is still up for grabs in the Senate (there is a compromise amendment in the works), so if this is important to you, please contact your Senator to express your feelings.

Most Academic: Via Kevin Drum and Digby, comes this Abu Aardvark debate about the relevance/irrelevance of the academic study of international relations to the world. Abu Aardvark notes that of 700+ articles in seven major IR journals since 2001, only something like 19 address terrorism in even an indirect manner. This, he notes, isn't good if we're hoping to have academics actually help the policy process (or, generally, help). Anyway, interesting.

Military Thoughts of the Day: Over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Robert Farley argues that, basicly, we're training our troops wrong. More specifically, we're not building an army that puts maximum tactical flexibility into the hands of the lowest possible commanders (down to sergents would be ideal: squads). This lack of flexibility means that we can't respond to changes or events at the level of neighborhoods in Iraq. The system (even Rumsfield's vaunted "Revolution" that's changing the Army) pushes the most information up to the highest commander. This is great for smashing big armies (if the generals can see what's really happening over the entire battlefield, they can manuver to bring maximum firepower onto the enemy's movements and plans, disrupting the enemies command, control and planning; see the writing of John Boyd if you are interested, especially the Coram biography), but not really so good at guerrilla warfare/fourth generation warfare. In other words, the US is once again building an army to fight the last war (Gulf War I, a hypothetical World War III against Soviet tank armies), not the war we're in (or the wars we're likely to be in for the forseeable future). I'm not sure I completely buy the logic, but it does make for interesting reading and thinking.

Veterans Day: President Bush's speech (as has been reported, an almost exact copy of a speech he gave over a month ago) for Veterans Day was remarkably political. I understand that he is going though some difficult political troubles (in my opinion: of his own making), but using a national holiday devoted to honoring all our nation's veterans to push back against critics of his own military policies is somehow unsavory.

Veterans Day was originally created to honor the Veterans of World War I, though it has been extended to all veterans. It is worth remembering the horrors of that war. Making Light has a very nice roundup of links to commemorate the sheer brutality of that war. All wars are bad, and none worse than any other. However, the "human wave" attacks over barren battlefields in Ypres, Paschendale, Verdun and other battlefields (now, sadly, mostly forgotten by the present public) are particularly harrowing.

War is awful. It should only be attempted when there are no other options. We would do well to remember that, today.

Posted by baltar at 11:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 12, 2005

The Pants-on-Fire Administration

Mark Kleiman has this on the president's "unpatriotic" Veteran's Day address.

Posted by armand at 09:18 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Dot the I

Those eyes, how does he manage to convey so much with those eyes ...

Sorry, I got distracted. I watched Dot the I last night. Binky and I had rented that last weekend, but as you may have guessed from the relative lack of posts this week, we've been pretty busy. Anyway, I finally got around to watching it, and I am happy to recommend it as a quite enjoyable diversion - and, even better, a quite enjoyable diversion starring Gael Garcia Bernal. I don't know what I can really say about the film without spoiling its secrets and twists, so I'll just say that it involves a love triangle - but there's considerably more to it than that. There's more to be seen that what you are seeing. But don't worry about it's twists just sit back and watch them unfold. It's not a major movie, but it's one of those things that would be perfect for light entertainment during a few quiet weekend hours.

Posted by armand at 09:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

McCaskill Leads Talent in Missouri

The latest Rasmussen poll has Claire McCaskill (D) leading incumbent US Senator Jim Talent (R), the man who defeated Jean Carnahan (D) in 2002, 47-45. McCaskill's lead apparently stems from her 7 point lead among independents. While Talent has a big campaign warchest, it's looking like Missouri will be one of the key US Senate contests of 2006.

Posted by armand at 08:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bill O'Reilly Condones an Al Qaeda Attack on San Francisco

By now people with even a 60 IQ should know better than to believe anything Bill O'Reilly says. But given Fox's patriotic rah-rah image, just how in the hell can they continue to employ a guy who'd be perfectly fine with an al Qaeda attack on the West Coast? As long as he's daring to work for Fox he should be forced to apologize, or he should be fired immediately. And of course he should apologize in any case.

Posted by armand at 08:26 AM | Comments (50) | TrackBack

November 11, 2005

David Dreier (R-CA) Lies About Medicaid Cuts

Just when I thought my jaw couldn't possibly drop lower from the blatant lies spewed by the House Republican leadership, the chairman of the House Rules Committee lowers my expectations ever further. There are lies, awful lies, stunning lies, but this one really breaks all scales.

Posted by armand at 10:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The 40 Year Old Virgin and Ma Mere

I’ve watched a couple of films this week. The 40 Year Old Virgin was diverting enough I suppose, but as summer fare goes I greatly preferred Batman Begins, Red Eye, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a number of other things. It’s not bad, and it’s got a funny and game supporting cast. They produce some comic gems. But, well, perhaps part of my relative ambivalence to it is the product of not being a huge Steve Carrell fan - that and the fact that this film is just so oppressively sweet that by the time it ended I felt like I’d gotten two cavities and was starting to feel queasy. So all in all, it's not bad, but it's not great either.

I rented Ma Mere because I’m a big Isabelle Huppert fan – a big, huge, gigantic, awed fan. She has done amazing things as an actor, and I admire her willingness to take big risks and turn in great performances no matter the subject matter or film style. But that said … this film features some seriously messed-up behavior. And I mean really distressing and unpleasant stuff. It’s well constructed and well acted, but given the gross subject matter (sadism and incest are merely the start) I’d urge you to skip it.

Posted by armand at 09:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 10, 2005

Frickn' frackn' ($&%$#

MT Blacklist is acting up again. Sorry if you are getting moderated or blocked. I'm working on it.

Binky weaves "a tapestry of profanity which to this day is still hovering somewhere over" the Three Rivers....

UPDATE: More of the "..." nonsense. Once again purged from the spam database.

Posted by binky at 06:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What's that? It's Pat!

What would we do without Pat Robertson?

“I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover. If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city. And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for His help because he might not be there.”

Via Majikthise. And the video at PFAW.

Posted by binky at 03:25 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

That'll be the day!

Via John Cole an urgent action backed by both Kos and RedState.

November 9, 2005 Dear Member of Congress,

As bloggers from the right and left, we don’t often agree on much. But when it comes to free speech online, we couldn’t agree more. We urge you to oppose H.R. 4194, the Shays-Meehan "Internet Anti-Corruption and Free Speech Protection Act of 2005". We oppose H.R. 4194 primarily because despite claims by its supporters - it does not in fact offer adequate protections for speech and political activity online. In particular:

• It would stifle technological innovation. H.R. 4194 would not adequately protect Internet activity which is not “blogging”, such as already-widely used technologies like podcasting, wikis and peer-to-peer networks, let alone the technologies of tomorrow. In the face of regulatory doubt, no one will want to invest in emerging technologies to enhance citizen participation not clearly protected by the law; and

• It offers no guidance as to the treatment of group political activity, potentially treating all group websites that discuss federal candidates as political committees, with voluminous filing and disclosure requirements, so long as members spent $1000 on server and other costs, an easily-reached amount;

Its alleged protection to incorporated bloggers offers no real protection. In comments filed before the FEC, supporters of H.R. 4194 have stated explicitly that those websites which endorse, expressly advocate, and urge readers to donate funds to the election of preferred candidates do not qualify for protection under the law. In other words, rather than protecting popular sites like or FreeRepublic, H.R. 4194 would actually force them to seek counsel and comply with voluminous campaign finance law requirements, stifling and chilling grassroots political activity across the Internet. For those members committed to extending the BCRA rules and regulations to the Internet, it would be preferable to pass no bill at all rather than H.R. 4194, which would only chill free speech and technological growth, and instead wait for the Federal Election Commission to complete its current rulemaking process.

Better still would be to pass H.R. 1606, the Online Freedom of Speech Act. H.R. 1606 would preserve the status quo which governed the 2004 election cycle, during which none of the fears now trumpeted by H.R. 4194’s supporters came to pass. Moreover, as FEC Vice Chairman Michael Toner has stated, the charge that H.R. 1606 would somehow allow federal candidates to coordinate with corporations and unions to spend soft money funds to purchase Internet banner and video ads on behalf of candidates “has no legal foundation.” As he has explained:

The FEC's regulation exempting the Internet was based on its interpretation of the statutory definition of “public communications” in the McCain-Feingold law. However, neither the FEC's regulation, nor the Hensarling bill, in any way touches the broad statutory prohibition found at 2 U.S.C. Section 441b that bars corporations and unions from making expenditures in connection with federal elections.
The purpose of campaign finance law is to blunt the impact of accumulated wealth on the political process, but this is does not occur online. While wealth allows a campaign or large donor to dominate the available space on TV or in print, there is no mechanism on the Internet by which entities can use wealth or organizational strength to crowd out or silence other speakers. Any citizen who wants to establish a website that discusses political matters can do so within five minutes, and their words are instantly available to hundreds of millions of users on an equal basis with every other site.

Moreover, one need not invest millions of dollars to reach people on the Internet. The most popular Web sites are often the cheapest ones, many using the free service to publish their thoughts at no cost at all. Content is king on the Internet, and the idea that accumulated wealth could have a corrupting influence online demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of how the medium operates or how citizens approach it. In sum, the Internet now fulfills through technology what the rest of campaign finance reform attempts via law – and this occurred under the legal regime which H.R. 1606 seeks to codify. We urge you to proceed cautiously, and steer clear of additional restrictions like H.R. 4194 until real corruption becomes evident. At that point, Congress and the Federal Election Commission will still be around, and can prevent actual problems, and not merely hypothetical ones. Before considering support for H.R. 4194, ask yourself this question: if everything its supporters are saying is true, why did no one take advantage of these “loopholes” in 2004? We urge you to oppose H.R. 4194.


Markos Moulitsas Zúniga

Michael Krempasky

More information at Online Coalition with a link to Congress.

Posted by binky at 11:27 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

On Rednecks and Reproduction

Light blogging this week as the real world makes repeated demands on all of us. In the meantime, via Twisty, a post by Redneck Mother about the stupidity of thinking about pregnancy as a linear process. A sample:

I think about all this in the context of pharmacists presuming to tell women whether they can prevent a pregnancy or not, of legislators trying to ban "unauthorized reproduction," of Sam Alito and all the other conservatives who want women to answer to men about what's going on in their own bodies. And I say this: You have no idea what you're trying to control, no right to do it and no way to do it to your misguided satisfaction anyway because women are not machines and reproduction is not an industrial process. Pregnancy is unpredictable, carries infinitely variable risks, and is so private that it is in many ways a closed book even to the woman herself. If she and her obstetrical team can't shoehorn it into neat, predictable processes, why do you presume you can? No one has the right or authority to compel any woman to go through what I chose for myself, and no one has the right to judge any woman for choosing not to do so.

If you want to control an organic process, brew your own beer. If you want to protect babies, tell Bush to pony up for the UN Population Fund. If you want to preserve respect for and dignity of men in our society, work to stop the government-sanctioned torture that diminishes us in the eyes of the world and endangers our troops.

You want to regulate my uterus? Step off, and take your simplistic hubris with you.

Hope to be back soon. xoxo, B.

Posted by binky at 10:18 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Clearly Reporters Don't Like Judith Miller

The Washington Post has a devastating, long story on Judy Miller, her life and times with the New York Times. The Times has a story as well about Miller leaving the paper, but the WaPo article is much, much better.

Given the WaPo story, I'm not sure what sort of credibility she has left. If she ends up at Fox News (note: not mentioned anywhere I know of), that'll be the last straw.

Posted by baltar at 08:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 09, 2005

Marc Fisher on the VA Election Returns

Since my attempts to find much election coverage last night were dashed by the fact that predictable, sleazy features are now considered "news" (Van Susteren, Scarborough and the rest were busy running stories on missing nubile young women, some of them long missing, and how your children are at risk in a host of ways - at least Anderson Cooper was covering something that was a breaking story, the Tennessee school shooting - the only network covering politics was Comedy Central), I had to wait to this morning to actually get much in the way of results or analysis. If you are interested in last night's returns from Virginia, this bit of live-blogging by the Washington Post's Marc Fisher might be something you'd want to take a look at.

Posted by armand at 10:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Voters of Dover, PA Strike Back

As Binky notes below, Kansas has, yet again, stepped back into the 13th century. Yay! More good science and tech jobs/money for the rest of us. But the proponents of this religious mantra shouldn't be too excited about their "victory", because the tides are turning against them elsewhere. The incumbents on the Dover, PA school board who wanted this taught in science class were booted out of office by the voters yesterday - every single one of them.

Hmmm, what does God have against those who are supposedly doing his work?

Posted by armand at 09:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Don't Hire Any Lab Techs from Kansas

Because they might have been taught that the mutating cancer cell from your pap smear is God's Intelligent Design.

See also PZ Myers.

Posted by binky at 09:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 08, 2005

Article 16?

Article 16 [State of Emergency]

(1) When the institutions of the Republic, the independence of the nation, the integrity of its territory, or the fulfillment of its international commitments are under grave and immediate threat and when the proper functioning of the constitutional governmental authorities is interrupted, the President of the Republic shall take the measures demanded by these circumstances after official consultation with the Prime Minister, the Presidents of the Assemblies, and the Constitutional Council.

(2) He shall inform the nation of these measures by a message.

(3) These measures must be prompted by a will to ensure within the shortest possible time that the constitutional governmental authorities have the means of fulfilling their duties. The Constitutional Council shall be consulted with regard to such measures.

(4) Parliament shall meet ipso jure.

(5) The National Assembly may not be dissolved during the exercise of emergency powers.

France. Moving right along.

Posted by binky at 10:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Professor Murphy on Judge Alito and Justice Thomas

For what it's worth, here is how Walter Murphy, the McCormick Professor in Jurisprudence Emeritus at Princeton University, evaluates Judge Alito, and his comments on comparing him to Justice Clarence Thomas.

Murphy, who has kept in touch with Alito over the years and has invited him to guest lecture in classes, also offered some impressions of Alito's stances on key judicial questions.

Murphy said he and Alito agree that the 1973 landmark abortion-rights case Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided.

"He is much more an Anti-federalist where state and national authority clash, more libertarian on issues such as gun control, and much tighter on some matters as the rights of the criminally accused than I," Murphy said in an earlier email message.

"We, however, agree on other important issues, such as finding no constitutional barrier to bans on late term abortions and requiring spousal and parental notification of impending abortions."


"Sam is his own man," Murphy said. "He'll never be 'Scalito.' And then it's a gross insult to say in the mold of [other conservative and constructionist justice] Clarence Thomas. Their IQs are so radically different ... We're not talking about someone in Sam's intellectual league."

Posted by armand at 10:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 07, 2005

Pra nosso visitante da UNICAMP

Bem vindo!

Parece que você é o primeiro visitante do Brasil. Agradecemos sua visita!

Posted by binky at 11:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

La Mano de Dios

Ah, Diego. That detox in Cuba helped you with your spare tire, and now this to help a new career as chat show host.

I saw Maradona play. Once. 1989. Maracanã. Brasil/Argentina. Leading up to the World Cup. 100,000 Brazilians. Chanting as one:

Maradona! Maradona! Vai tomar no cú!

And Bush thinks he has it bad.

Posted by binky at 10:22 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack


Do you remember cassettes?

I still have some of these with Led Zep bootlegs, and this kind with XTC and the Housemartins, and some of these with every lovelorn mix from 1987-1989.

Why not take a walk down memory (memorex?) lane?

Hat tip, Mr. Ed.

Posted by binky at 08:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Paris is Burning

I realize this isn't really new news to anyone who reads the papers, but it looks like twenty plus years of French immigration policy is, literally, going up in smoke.

At the moment, this is merely interesting (though, of course, bad for France). However, given the extent of the violence (according to the NYT story, all major French cities are experiencing this, and it has spread to Belgium) and the inability of the government to stop it (and, perhaps, the inability of the government to even attempt to stop it: they are only now having "crisis meetings", and this is the eleventh straight day of anarchy), this could be very significant. The next few days will tell.

Posted by baltar at 08:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kinkster and the Pets

A hurried post to share a cute face, a good cause, and a very interesting Texan. The Texan? Kinky Friedman author, musician and now candidate for governor. The good cause? Friedman established a rescue for homeless pets including those from NOLA. The cute face? One Gumbo, in need of a home. If I didn't have three already, I'd make the call.

Posted by binky at 07:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Once Upon A Time, The Light of Reason Flared

In the perpetually waiting updates to the blogroll, one on the list to be re-added/adjusted is Arthur Silber. For those who didn't read him before at the now-discontinued Light of Reason, you should have. He's back, with a new blogger site called Once Upon a Time.

People overuse the word unique, and have redefined it down to something different, and now to something they hope to convince you to want because it is (supposedly) different. Silber has a truly unique voice, has come through Ayn Rand and noxious libertarianism to occupy his own place. He's old school on form, quirky in the degree of self-citation, and cranky with most everyone. He also has a tale of woe and is blegging to support himself and his kitties.

Crooks and Liars reminded me Arthur was back.

Posted by binky at 06:46 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Zarqawi Is Playing Two-Level Games?

Presuming for a moment that Ayman al-Zawahiri really does want Zarqawi to decrease his attacks on Muslims (quite possible, but I don't want to act as if I'm certain of either what Zawahiri is thinking, or of the nature of correspondence within al-Qaeda), it is quite interesting that Zarqawi would continue on with attacks on Muslim Arabs. And it makes me wonder more about whether intra al-Qaeda politics might not be more than the second front in Zarqawi's war (as Marc Lynch speculates). Maybe the intra-group feud has become equally important to the shape of current events in Iraq.

Posted by armand at 03:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Incumbents in Trouble in the Midwest

US Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) has awful reelect numbers. It appears that Pennsylvania and Ohio will be the best opportunities for Democrats to pick up Senate seats next year (and of course there are a number of other places where they have good chances too, for example, Rhode Island and Missouri). But Democrats in the region shouldn't get too giddy over DeWine's troubles - particularly Democrats in Illinois. State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka deciding to run for governor is probably the worst news the Democrats there could have gotten all year (well, unless former Gov. Edgar had decided to run).

UPDATE: Uh, learning the details of that Ohio poll, I'd say DeWine can at least turn down the panic alarm. But it remains one to keep a close eye on.

Posted by armand at 01:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Daily Kos Is Funny - Accidentally

This post is right above this post. Given the latter, is an endorsement from The Washington Post something to brag about?

Of course the lameness and obtuseness of the paper's editorial page is nothing new. They've long been apologists for some of the worst excesses of the president's policies. But that said, they're right on this race. Gov. Warner has done a superb job of cleaning up the mess that he inherited four years ago, and Tim Kaine is clearly the candidate who is more likely not to undermine the work that Warner and the state legislature have put into vastly improving the states government and finances. Plus Jerry Kilgore's campaign has been built on one lie and ugly tactic after another (remember the Hitler ad?).

Posted by armand at 09:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 06, 2005

Hannity Says the Economy is Positively Booming

Or at least he did the other day when I was stuck in the car listening to him and his listeners cream themselves over remembering the 25th anniversary of Reagan's election. The Dark Wraith thinks not:

From a well-balanced portfolio of the common stock of reasonably low-risk, very large public corporations to an equally well-balanced portfolio of the common stock of relatively riskier, small-cap public corporations, equity (that is, "stock") has offered negative returns in both nominal and real terms over the tenure of absolute Republican control of the Legislative and Executive Branches of the federal government. Because no reasonable analyst could argue that securities markets have a political bias, the figures presented above offer an objective assessment of the effect of the neo-conservative agenda on both the national economy and on investors relying upon the stewardship of the country's leaders in their responsible role of ensuring an environment conducive to capital appreciation. To the extent that individuals and households rely upon that capital accumulation for future income security, the Republican era that has marked the beginning of the 21st Century has been a failure.

And there are numbers too. You can check out the whole calculation yourself, but the final analysis, corrected for inflation is:

Dow Jones Industrial Average: —2.81% per year

Standard & Poor's 500: —4.65% per year

NASDAQ Composite: —7.47% per year

I'm sure its just becuse the effects of those tax cuts haven't had time to be reflected in the data. Right.

Posted by binky at 09:11 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

News from the World of International Relations

First, congratulations to Dan Drezner for not just landing on his feet after a tenure denial, but landing a nice new job with tenure at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Second, a funny and profane philosophical debate between Aristotle and Socrates, as if written by Reservoir Dogs era Tarantino (via Duck of Minerva).

Posted by binky at 07:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

There is a cure for cancer...

...and the Christian Right wants to prevent its legalization.

It's been covered here and there over the last month or so, but via Pharyngula a link to this thoughtful post by Brent Rasmussen (no relation to yours truly, despite the initials and last name). I'm excerpting the politics and science part, but there is also a very moving story of losing someone he loved to cervical cancer.

Nationwide, about 5,000 women will die of cervical cancer this year out of the over 12,000 cases that will be diagnosed, the great majority attributable to HPV. The virus is also known or suspected in uterine, throat, vulvar, rectal, and even sometimes, penile cancers. All told, the impact of HPV on the US is roughly equivalent in terms of mortality, morbidity, and expense, to a 9-11 attack every month. And now, finally, after truckloads of disease ridden body parts have been incinerated in hospital waste facilities and millions of lives world-wide torn asunder, we can end at least this one threat to little girls and the women they will become. Maybe forever.


In fact, Cervical Cancer is believed to be caused almost exclusively by two strains of HPV. In addition this virus is strongly suspected as a common precursor in a number of other types of cancer.

Oddly enough, the link between cervical cancer and HPV is in a sense, good news. Because vaccines can be developed for viruses, cervical cancer comes with the potential of virtual elimination (Too bad all cancers don't work that way). And sure enough, pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. recently developed a new vaccine for four strains of HPV, several of which are known to be associated with cervical and other cancers. Clinical trials indicate the vaccine is, get this, One-hundred Percent effective in preventing cervical malignancies! As a side benefit it also provides enormous protection against common types of warts which are both unattractive and trigger a false positive on PAP smears.

Results like that are breathtaking, eh? A real cure for cancer, at least one kind anyway, that works every time. Rarely in life or in science is anything one-hundred percent. And what it means is we can now give every little girl (And little boy for that matter) something never before available with a few shots in the arm: Near total protection from nasty warts along and one of the greatest cancer killers of all time, if administered early in life, before they're exposed to HPV.

Except there's a catch, here in the US anyway: The Neo-Christian Right (NCR) is opposed.


Now an old force has crawled out of the darkest depths of our collective Id, as surely as racism and ethnic cleansing clawed out of their burial grounds in Central Europe once relieved of their Soviet Oppressors. And as many suspected, there's a big wide streak of sexism (And racism) running right through the heart of the Neo-Christian Base. Broader than the Mississippi and nastier than a concert outhouse.

In the laboratories of the right-wing church, the ancient prejudice is jolted back to life, unloaded from the psyche onto the sanctify of the Temple, washed clean of shame, and offered back to the faithful now refined by convoluted apologetics and stamped with the comforting Seal of Allah, God, or YVHW. From the Sunni bin Laden wannabes to the Mullahs of Iran to loosely confederated Neo-Christian groups across North America, the faithful are schooled in the age old sexist hatreds, at times openly at times subtly, but always reassuringly; women are weak and wicked and the cause of every ill plaguing mankind, natural or manmade. It says so in the Good Book.

In fundamentalist Islamic, Judaic, and Christian Theology, all females inherit this defect from Eve. And followers are warned to observe the screwy traditions of bronze aged shepherds where it is wholly moral, in fact it is incumbent upon mankind as an expression of Divine Righteousness and undeniable Will, to punish all descendants of the Original Sinner: That includes, most especially, all women.

This is only one of the many hideous facets of fundamentalist religion that the GOP has frantically kept behind closed doors for as long as possible; the reasoning for concealment hopefully obvious. Here in the US, our own Neo-Christian Right extremists--if extremist is a fair qualifier any longer -- have been kept mostly hidden from the public for decades lest they shock normal voters back to reality. Now, with BushCo tenuously in power and needful of every swinging dick they can retain, as the whole mediocre crew slides inexorably toward the bottom quartile of approval, the monsters of mankind's past have been reinvigorated, and their legions are marching on modern decency with torches in hand.


These extremists would happily sacrifice anyone, even the lives of sweet little girls, on the alter of their warped version of YVWH. If their unscrupulous leaders properly motivate them and can profit financially and/or politically from feminine discomfort and demise, they'd burn them alive. If you're a women (OR any other deme targeted for domination or elimination) you are, quite bluntly, OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND, if you vote for anyone who champions these vicious, predatory sons-of-bitches. That applies as equally to the Shia in Iraq as it does to soccer moms in Ohio.

Sobering post. I'm sorry that he lost someone dear, and am glad that he is speaking out so that others might avoid her suffering.

Posted by binky at 06:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Exposing John McCain - The Money Shot

There are few things I like more in current political commentary than people daring to expose what really lies beneath the myth that is Sen John S. McCain, III of Arizona - so it is no surprise that I love this post by Shakespeare's Sister.

Posted by armand at 04:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 05, 2005

Mysterious Skin

OK, first a word of warning. Roger Ebert writes the following in his extremely positive review of this film, far and away the best film ever created by Gregg Araki. It:

is at once the most harrowing and, strangely, the most touching film I have seen about child abuse. It is unflinching in its tough realism; although there is no graphic sex on the screen, what is suggested, and the violence sometimes surrounding it, is painful and unsentimental.

So now that we're all clear on the fact that I'm discussing a movie about the aftermath of the sexual abuse of 8 year olds (something I'm guessing a fair amount of the country isn't going to want to watch no matter how good the film is), let me recommend this film to those of you who have the stomach for it. In fact, let me recommend it very highly. It's tough for me to put my finger on exactly why I liked it as much as I did, but two things come to mind. First, from everything from the plot design to the art direction to the music, the film does an excellent job of combining the both the troublingly and banal realism of these boys' experiences and their dreamy escapes to really give you a sense of these characters think and feel (or don't). And, secondly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does an excellent job as the darker of the two boys - the coach's favorite who doesn't supress his memories and turns into a cold hustler. Brady Corbet does a very nice job in the other lead role, but Gordon-Levitt is particularly impressive.

As A.O. Scott wrote of it in The New York Times:

Its subject matter may be grim - Mr. Araki addresses Neil's early and later sexual experiences with unflinching candor - but "Mysterious Skin" is infused with remarkable tenderness and beauty.

It's the best dvd rental I've made in weeks.

Posted by armand at 09:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 04, 2005

Cognitive Dissonance for an American Drug Warrior

Gosh, who should a patriotic "conservative" American pull for in this debate - the popular MP who's likely to soon lead the Conservative Party who wants to make Ecstasy somewhat less illegal, or the Labourite Home Secretary who's defending stringent anti-drug laws?

Posted by armand at 02:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Try Telling the Virgin Mary ..."

This post on Pandagon features what I think has to be the best post title of the week.

Posted by armand at 11:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Rep. Rohrbacher, Bin Laden's Best Friend in Congress

Atrios today is reminding the blog world of something that I have long considered truly extraordinary - the fact that Dana Rohrbacher remains in Congress in light of his past ties to the Taliban. This has long perplexed me. You'd think that some patriotic American in his district would use this photo to trounce him, particularly in a Republican party. But apparently the conservatives of Southern California are ok with a man who defended the Taliban representing them in Congress.

Posted by armand at 10:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kerr's 7 Varieties of Judicial Conservatives

Orin Kerr reminds me why there are few words I find more infuriating and less helpful to engaging in clear discourse than "conservative" and "liberal". Kerr sees at least 7 distinct types of judicial "conservatives".

Posted by armand at 10:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 03, 2005

Alito's Faves - Rehnquist, Brennan, Harlan II and White

I'm sure a lot of eyebrows have gone up on the news that William Brennan is one of Judge Samuel Alito's four favorite Supreme Court justices of the past. I'd say that the inclusion of White should raise far more eyebrows. Reason 1 - While he while he served for 30 years after being appointed by President Kennedy, he wasn't a particularly significant figure or compelling writer, simply one of the more conservative votes during his era on the Court. He famously authored the odious, and historically sloppy (intellectually dishonest?) Bowers v. Hardwick decision that the Supreme Court recently struck down. Reason 2 - He was one of only 2 justices to dissent in Roe v. Wade. It's interesting that the only 2 justices to dissent in Roe v. Wade are both among Alito's four favorites.

Posted by armand at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Mountaineers Slay the Huskies

I went to the WVU/UConn game last night. WVU might not be especially TV friendly (they virtually never pass - honestly, last time I checked they ranked #116 in pass attempts in division 1 football, and there are only 117 teams), but they are a good team. The game was essentially over at halftime with WVU ahead 35-3. By the 4th quarter WVU was playing the fourth string, players that even the uber-fans around me had never heard of. UConn? Can I say anything nice or positive about UConn? No. They looked astoundingly awful.

Posted by armand at 10:50 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

4 Out of 5 Americans Don't Like Dick Cheney

President Bush's job approval rating is down to 35%. Ouch! If you believe the work of Richard Neustadt, and that presidential power is closely tied to reputation, it looks like things are going to be awfully rough for the president for the remainder of the year. But the number in this CBS poll that really stood out to me, even more than the president's incredible unpopularity, is that Vice President Cheney's favorable rating is down to 19%! That's practically toxic. What else is that unpopular? Cross burnings? Sexually transmitted diseases? That's really stunningly poor.

Oh, and want an example of what happens to presidents as unpopular as Bush? Try Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) proposing to build a fence all along the US-Mexico border on the very same day that the president goes to an international conference aimed at improving our ties with our allies in Latin America. Numbers like that give room for powerful congressional leaders of the president's own party to embarrass the president so badly. At 35%, the president is badly weakened.

Posted by armand at 10:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Analyzing What Alito's Actually Written, Not Just Yelling

Our buddy Moon has written an impressively researched piece analyzing several of the opinions that leftist bloggers have been using in their attacks against Judge Alito this week. He concludes that many of these attacks are unfair, and that 1) in some of the more troubling cases Alito really was simply applying the law, as an appeallate judge is supposed to do and 2) there are a number of things in these opinions that liberals might actually like - for example, clear respect for certain basic freedoms. Go read this. Really. It's extremely impressive and well worth your time if you are hoping to understand this man (who might well be on our Supreme Court for decades to come) better.

Posted by armand at 10:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Ongoing War on Terror

While the article is 24 hour old, it remains important. Yesterday the Washington Post reported:

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The long and the short of it is that the CIA (note: not the Pentagon, that's clear) has become a jailer. We are holding about 100 Al Qaeda prisoners (30 "high value, 70 "medium value"). We are holding them outside the US so that the CIA can't be accused of breaking US law (if they were held in the US then we would have to obey international laws, including the Geneva Convention, on treatment and access).

It is truely an stunning piece of journalism, and clearly points to huge issues. What is the oversite on these places? Who knows about them (do the foreign countries even know? - the article claims that sometimes only the foreign head of state knows)? What governs the conduct of the CIA employees? Is "torture" used (and what, exactly, is "torture"?)? What are the long term plans for these captured terrorists?

What have we gotten ourselves in to, and how does it look to the rest of the world?

Posted by baltar at 08:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 02, 2005

When the Anarchists Meet, Do They Sit in a Circle or Just Wander Around?

Hey, Baltar, your people are giving up on New Hampshire.

Posted by binky at 09:03 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

And they call it, tone deaf!

Remember that Saturday Night Live segment with David Spade?

Santorum: Did your wife tell you that she called me the other day?

Imus: She didn't.

Santorum: She didn't?

Imus: No, what about the autism thing?

Santorum: Well she called and the first thing she said to me was you know Suzanne Wright? I said sure and then she says, well I'd like to do a threesome.

What? (Imus stopped cold in his boots) Imus: I think she meant a conference call.

Crooks and Liars has the video. You can fast forward to 9:40 if you don't want to hear Imus swatting Santorum over the Reid/Frist business. I think Ricky thought he was being clever or chummy, but it dropped like a turd in the punchbowl.

Posted by binky at 08:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Has anyone else ever noticed...

...that when Rush Limbaugh impersonates a democrat he affects a falsetto lisp?

Posted by binky at 04:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The President's Daddy Issues

Last weekend I finally got around to reading Jeffrey Goldberg's piece on Brent Scowcroft in the October 31, 2005 issue of The New Yorker. It's an interesting article. And Scowcroft comes across as a sort of uber-Realist who obviously has a deep affinity for the writings and beliefs of Hans Morgenthau. Consider just the last four sentences.

"I believe in the fallibillity of human nature," Scowcroft told me. "We continually step on our best aspirations. We're humans. Given a chance to screw up, we will."

It's no coincidence that Goldberg describes the first Bush administration's involvemnet in Somalia (a decision made when Scowcroft was serving, for the second time, as National Security Advisor) as a time when "the United States acted selflessly out of self-interest". That's clearly how Scowcroft saw, and justified, that decision.

The article provides brief glimpses of other foreign policy leaders as well, including Richard Holbrooke (who I think comes off very well) and President Bush (who comes off, yet again, as petulant). The President appears to be a big fan of Natan Sharansky's book The Case for Democracy (predictable, but something which should give us pause). Sharansky recounts a story in which he tells the president to "say hello to your mother and father", and the president reacts as if he's shocked given his father's "Chicken Kiev" speech. The way Sharanksy tells the story it appears that our president 1) has no respect for simple courtesy, 2) favors huge idealistic actions as opposed to working with today's realities, and 3) knows depressingly little about how his father conducted foreign policy, 4) is a big believer in holding grudges and 5) really might want to be seen as greater than, or accomplishing things, that his father could not.

Some may argue that I'm reading too much into Sharansky's comments, but that's my read on them. And sadly, there's plenty of evidence in his behavior over the last 4 years to suggest that these are set characteristics of the man who's charged with leading our country for more than 3 more years.

Posted by armand at 11:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Iran Purges Its Diplomatic Corps

This is a very troubling move, and perhaps the biggest sign yet that Iran's foreigng policy may be turning sharply to a more confrontational tack under its new president.

Posted by armand at 10:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

In Her Shoes

Someone in Twentieth Century Fox's marketing department might need to be fired. I saw Curtis Hanson's In Her Shoes on Monday night, and it's really rather pathetic that the studio didn't find a better way to promote this film. It is, in so many ways, the classic, well-crafted American family comedy/drama that millions of people around the country want to see. Sibling rivalry. Archetype characters. Extremely strong family bonds - yet an awareness of the fact that if there's anyone you'd like to kill (not that you would), it's usually family. Deep secrets coming to the surface, but in ways that lead to acceptance and overcoming the pain of the past. An appreciation of the eldery's role in providing both wisdom and comic relief. Marriage and career success both making women happy. Seeing a cruel and uppity stepmom get what's coming to her, if only for a minute. The classic celebrations of American life (weddings and wedding showers). That's all here, and there's more! And it's very well crafted, and it's very well acted (especially by Toni Collette). It's an all-American film if ever there was one, and the studio really shot itself in the foot by not marketing it better.

Posted by armand at 10:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 01, 2005

Chuck Hagel: George Bush's Waterboy?

Who do you think has dared vote against the Republican leadership more often, noted party "maverick" Chuck Hagel or Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist? It appears maverick doesn't mean what it once did.

Posted by armand at 05:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dems Shut the Senate to Media, Force Presence of All Senators

Pandagon has it from Raw Story (emphasis mine):

The Senate's Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unexpectedly pulled the Senate into secret session Tuesday afternoon in order to have closed discussion of Iraq intelligence, RAW STORY has learned. Specifically, the senator sought to discuss a Senate Select Committee on Inteligence report on the failure of Iraqi WMD intelligence. The maneuver immediately shuttered the doors of the Senate and cleared the Senate press galleries. It has been invoked just 53 previous times in the history of the body. It was last used during the Clinton impeachment hearings.

Crooks and Liars has video: Harry Reid shuts down the Senate. Watch Frist get pissy.

Posted by binky at 04:34 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Connie Mack Again!

The Tax Panel report is in.

Daniel Gross, at Slate:

On the one hand, gutting the mortgage-interest deduction seems progressive, because the deduction now favors the well-off: The mortgage deduction gets more generous the more expensive the home you buy, and the more income you have. And property taxes are generally a function of home size and value. On the other hand, regional variations in home prices and state and local taxes would heavily skew the burden of these tax changes onto blue-staters. Who has the most to lose if the mortgage deduction is capped at $313,000, and if you can no longer deduct local taxes from your taxable federal income? People who live in places where (a) real estate is expensive; (b) states and/or cities tax income; and (c) property taxes are high, to support local schools and services. In other words, people who live in California, Seattle, the entire Atlantic seaboard from Maryland up to Maine, and well-off suburbs of Chicago. If you live in a $300,000 McMansion in a state with no income tax, like, say, Texas or Wyoming, these changes aren't likely to affect you at all. But if you just bought a $700,000 house in Takoma Park, Md., you're screwed three ways.

Why, the Treasury Secretary is so happy he can hardly stand it!

Via The Liberal Avenger.

Posted by binky at 04:20 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

File Protection and What Might Be Hiding On Your Computer

Or One More Reason to Get Pissed at the Music Industry. A geek read, but very interesting.

The entire experience was frustrating and irritating. Not only had Sony put software on my system that uses techniques commonly used by malware to mask its presence, the software is poorly written and provides no means for uninstall. Worse, most users that stumble across the cloaked files with a RKR scan will cripple their computer if they attempt the obvious step of deleting the cloaked files.

The DRM not only installs itself sneakily and hides from you once it does, but heaven help you if you try to uninstall it.

At that point I knew conclusively that the rootkit and its associated files were related to the First 4 Internet DRM software Sony ships on its CDs. Not happy having underhanded and sloppily written software on my system I looked for a way to uninstall it. However, I didn’t find any reference to it in the Control Panel’s Add or Remove Programs list, nor did I find any uninstall utility or directions on the CD or on First 4 Internet’s site. I checked the EULA and saw no mention of the fact that I was agreeing to have software put on my system that I couldn't uninstall. Now I was mad.

I deleted the driver files and their Registry keys, stopped the $sys$DRMServer service and deleted its image, and rebooted. As I was deleting the driver Registry keys under HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services I noted that they were either configured as boot-start drivers or members of groups listed by name in the HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\SafeBoot subkeys, which means that they load even in Safe Mode, making system recovery extremely difficult if any of them have a bug that prevents the system from booting.

When I logged in again I discovered that the CD drive was missing from Explorer. Deleting the drivers had disabled the CD. Now I was really mad.

Posted by binky at 02:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Jane, You Ignorant Slut (Food Fight at Ezra's Place!)

In case anyone is interested in watching two Democrat-friendly bloggers throw it down as if they were in the middle of drag queen jello wrestling, I'll note this exchange in a comments thread between David Sirota and Neil the Ethical Werewolf, and this post in which Neil continues the fight.

Posted by armand at 02:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

String Theory and Chocolate

Some fun news from the NYT in the midst of all the judicial doom and gloom. New breakthroughs in string theory...yippee!

Posted by binky at 01:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

J.C. Watts on the Republican Party

"Republicans in just 10 years have developed the arrogance it took the Democrats 30 years to develop."

Posted by armand at 12:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Are you scared by Alito?

I swear, it's invading my consciousness. I was looking for the ghost in this picture (look hard, it takes a while to focus on it) and I swear it looked just like Alito.

Stolen shamelessly from The Liberal Avenger.

Posted by binky at 12:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Congress Pisses Me Off, Again: Part 2325

Via todays New York Times, we discover that "organic" no longer means, well, "organic":

But last week, Senate and House Republicans on the Agriculture appropriations subcommittee inserted a last-minute provision into the department's fiscal 2006 budget specifying that certain artificial ingredients could be used in organic food.

Yes, that's right, Congress inserted language into the Ag bill (language that wasn't in either the Senate or the House version of the bill originally) to allow non-organic compounds in the making of organic food. Yup, that makes about as much sense to me as passing a law to declare that "red" can be called "blue".

Why the change? Why is Congress bothering with this?

With sales of roughly $12 billion, organic food remains a niche market within the $500 billion food industry. But the sector's growing appeal to consumers has fueled a 20 percent annual growth rate in recent years, making it highly attractive to food giants looking for gains in a slow-moving business.

So, this isn't lobbying by the small, organic farms themselves. Nope. Big business (who, it seems, can't actually compete without changing the fricking rules to benefit themselves) wanted this. Didn't know that big business was in the organic foods markets? Neither did I:

General Mills markets the Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen brands; Kraft owns Back to Nature and Boca Foods, which makes soy burgers. Within the last few years, Dean Foods, the dairy giant, has acquired Horizon Organic and White Wave, maker of Silk organic soymilk. Groupe Danone, the French dairy company, owns Stonyfield Farm.

Yup. Most of the organic food comes from massive corporations who can't be bothered to actually, you know, grow organic food:

At the same time, Charles Sweat, chief operating officer at Earthbound Farm, the country's largest grower of organic produce, said he was concerned with the section of the spending bill that gives the Agriculture Department authority to grant temporary exemptions to allow conventionally grown ingredients like corn, soybean oil or tomatoes in organic food when organic versions are not "commercially available."

Yup, once again, you got it right. When some ingredients aren't "commercially available" (whatever that means - I don't want to know) in organic form, companies can use non-organic versions, and still label the resulting product as "organic" - and certified organic by the USDA. Fucking assholes.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the standards as they are now mean that "organic" isn't really "organic":

The National Organic Standards Board has been trying to persuade the Agriculture Department to clarify its vague rule that to produce organic milk, dairy cows, besides receiving only organic feed and avoiding growth hormones and antibiotics, must have "access to pasture." It wants to require that milk labeled organic come from cows that get at least 30 percent of their diet from pasture grass for a minimum of 120 days a year.

That's right: to be organic, you only have to have "access" to pasture. They want to raise the standard to 30% pasture grass for 33% of the year. By my calculations, that means milk will be "organic" if the cows eat pasture grass for about a month and are stuck inside for the next 11 months (30% of 33% is about 10%).

Oh, and don't buy any "organic" milk from Safeway, Costco or Target:

Mr. Kastel of Cornucopia estimates that roughly 30 percent of the organic milk sold in the United States comes from cows that are not on pasture, most of them from two large dairies run by Aurora Organic Dairy, an offshoot of what was once the country's largest conventional dairy company. Organic milk is the most popular organic product and sells for up to twice the price of regular milk.
On a recent visit to Aurora's farm in Platteville, Colo., at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, thousands of Holsteins were seen confined to grassless, dirt-lined pens and eating from a long trough filled with 55 percent hay and 45 percent grains, mostly corn and soybeans. Of the 5,200 cows on the farm, just a few hundred - those between milking cycles or near the end of their lactation - were sitting or grazing on small patches of pasture.
Aurora executives say that despite the lack of pasture, their cows are "very healthy and happy." The 10 million gallons of milk the farm produces each year are supplied mainly to supermarkets and sold under store brands like Safeway Select, Kirkland at Costco and Archer Farms at Target.

"Organic": just another word for "profit center".

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My Eyebrows Got Singed with the Heat...

...from Hunter's post at Daily Kos.

Also via Hoffmania who has all the goodies this morning.

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All Politics Are Local

How about a little disenfranchisement with your midmorning coffee? Via Hoffmania.

Posted by binky at 10:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack