Thursday, August 31, 2006

My free bottle of wine is here!

Remember when I told you all about the free bottle of wine for bloggers? Well, it has arrived. The folks at Mankas Hill Vineyards have sent me my bottle of 2004 Amelie Cabernet Sauvignon - Merlot. I haven't tried it yet (they said I should wait for a few days after it shipped because it might have been exposed to heat), but if you send me a bottle of wine I'll at least give you a link to the wine on my blog. Advertisers take note: get me while I'm cheap. Once I'm a bigwig like Kos, Atrios, digby, or Greenwald you'll have to send me more stuff to get a mention.

I just hope Mankas Hill Vineyards doesn't find themselves in a lawsuit with the makers of a certain popular French movie.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

More "War on Drugs" waste

Via Crooks and Liars, we find this post on DARE Generation diary:
Today, USA Today ran a story entitled, "Anti-drug advertising campaign a failure, GAO report says," which exposes the fact that the ad campaign actually INCREASES the chances of teen drug use. On the opposing page, they ran one of the very same ads. How apropos!
Here's a quote from that USA Today story:
A $1.4 billion anti-drug advertising campaign conducted by the U.S. government since 1998 does not appear to have helped reduce drug use and instead might have convinced some youths that taking illegal drugs is normal, the Government Accountability Office says.

The GAO report, released Friday, urges Congress to stop the White House's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign unless drug czar John Walters can come up with a better strategy. President Bush's budget for 2007 asks Congress for $120 million for the campaign, a $20 million increase from this year.

Our tax dollars at work. If I'm going to fund propaganda, could it at least be effective propaganda? There is a drug problem in this country. Criminalization and bad advertising don't seem to be working. Some fresh approaches, please. Even if some new way doesn't work, I'd rather fail in new ways than fail in the same way we've been failing for decades. Then we'd at least be learning something. As it is, there are just a lot of people in jail who don't have to be, a lot of tax revenue the government isn't getting, and a lot of addicts who aren't getting treatment. The only people who win under the current system are the prison industry, the drug kingpins, and the politicians who exploit this "war" for political purposes. Not exactly the folks I'd like to be subsidizing.

Frist on Iraq: Move along, nothing to see here...

Greenwald quotes an interview Bill Frist had with some bloggers:
BF: I think what they’re doing – it’s such a political problem – is that they’re taking the spotlight and doing whatever they can to focus that spotlight on Iraq, and trying to separate Iraq from the larger challenges that we have with the rise of the fundamentalist extremists, and that will be it. When they take that spotlight and put it on Iraq, it takes it off of Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, plus other areas where terrorism [exists].
[emphasis Greewald's] Well, that sure shows the political winds have changed. Republicans are claiming that Democrats are focusing too much on Iraq. But I thought foreign policy and war were issues that were good for Republicans. Isn't Bush always saying that "Iraq is the central front on the war on terror"? (Yes, he is.) What's happened? Well, it seems Americans have been souring on Iraq for some time, and Republicans now desperately want them to think of something else. Our job in the lefty blogosphere right now is to make sure the administration can't distract America with parlor tricks. Iraq is going deeper into hell, and we need a big change in strategy or we're just going to get sucked down further in it. I'm for withdrawal, but I'd be open to plausible alternatives, if there are any.

Christianists and Iranian Mullahs: can you tell the difference?

Billmon (who seems to be writing less frequently these days) found a great little quote:

No society that oppresses women, denies advancement on merit even to men, indulges in fantastic hypocrisy, wallows in corruption, undervalues secular learning, reduces its god to a nasty disciplinarian and comforts itself with conspiracy theories will ever compete with us.
To which Billmon replies:
For a second I thought Ralph had been reading the Texas GOP's party platform, but he was just ragging on the Arabs again.

I'd pay to see this: Bush debating Ahmadinejad

Via digby, we find this:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voiced defiance on Tuesday as a deadline neared for Iran to halt work the West fears is a step toward building nuclear bombs, and challenged US President George W. Bush to televized debate.

“I suggest holding a live TV debate with Mr. George W. Bush to talk about world affairs and the ways to solve those issues,” he said.

In a press conference, Ahmadinejad condemned the US and British role in the world since World War II but made no direct mention of the international nuclear confrontation.
I don't know a whole lot about Ahmadinejad: he's a hardliner who got elected on a platform of cleaner government, has taken harsh rhetorical stances against the US, talks about bringing about a post-Zionist era, and apparently has some pretty apocalyptic beliefs that are the Islamic equivalent of Christian rapturist and "end times" beliefs. From what I know, it sounds like he and Bush deserve each other. It's too bad we can't just lock the two in a room together so they can argue or blow each other up or compare notes on their batshit religious beliefs.

Frankly, I don't want Bush to debate the guy on TV, because I worry that Ahmadinejad, wack as some of his rhetoric has been, might make Bush look stupid, and I want to save my country any potential embarrassment. Let's impeach Bush, get someone reality-based in office, and have our new president debate the guy. I'll take American capitalist democracy with all its flaws over Iranian petro-theocracy any day. I just don't think Bush can represent it properly.
Still, I'd definitely watch the debate. It's the coolest sounding thing I've heard coming out of the Middle East in a while.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

US helping Iran

I'm glad I'm not the only one picking up on this. Glen Greenwald has a great post today on how US actions in the Middle East have helped Iran enormously. Particularly our actions in Iraq:
Iraq is a war that is saddled with more incoherent premises than can be counted. Yet the most baffling part of it has to be that the more we succeed in stabilizing the new government and empowering majority rule, the more we hand over to our arch Iranian enemy (the New Hitlers) control over large parts of that strategically vital country. Thus, the principal result in exchange for all the lives lost and hundreds of billions of dollars squandered is to ensure that Iraq will be ruled by those most opposed to U.S. interests.
But it's not just our actions in Iraq that benefit Iran. The other forgotten war, in Afghanistan, has benefitted them, too. The Guardian has an article on a recently released study by Chatham House (I don't know anything about that organization) spelling out the consequences of our recent actions in the region:

In particular, Iran has now superseded the US as the most influential power in Iraq, regarding its former adversary as its "own backyard". It is also a "prominent presence" in its other war-torn neighbour, Afghanistan, according to Chatham House's analysts.

The report said: "There is little doubt that Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the war on terror in the Middle East.

"The United States, with coalition support, has eliminated two of Iran's regional rival governments - the Taliban in Afghanistan in November 2001 and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in April 2003 - but has failed to replace either with coherent and stable political structures."

I think the worldview of the Bush administration makes any progress in the Middle East impossible. It wants contradictory things: Middle Eastern states that are both democratic and pro US-Israel. They want to diminish Iran's influence, but also want to diminish Iran's neighbors. They want to use military force on a nation to get it to like us more. (That worked so well when Al-Qaeda attacked us, didn't it?) They want the backing of the world community, but also want to go it alone and not be encumbered by the tedious process of building alliances and forging consensus. They want more leverage with Iran and Syria, but back Israel's military actions unconditionally, even when a large number of Israelis think those military actions were misguided.

If we're going to get anywhere, we can't be so blatantly incoherent and self-contradictory in our actions. Step one: impeachment. (There's certainly sufficient legal grounds from the illegal wiretapping rulings alone). I just can't see Bush and his circle getting their heads screwed on straight in time to get a coherent foreign policy going. Even a policy I disagreed with would be better than this shooting ourselves in the foot and boosting Iran's regional stature project in which we are currently engaged.

Rhode Island Senate primary: a beginner's guide

OK folks, I want to use the limited power I have as proprietor of Internal Monologue to raise the profile of the Republican Senate primary in the tiny state of Rhode Island. I'm writing this with an eye to people who haven't been following this story, so I apologize to those of you for whom a lot of this is repetition.

Here's how I see it: The incumbent senator up for re-election in November is the moderate Republican (to the extent that anyone who caucuses with the Republicans can be said to be moderate these days) Lincoln Chafee.

The right wing doesn't care for him much. Republican bloggers, activists, and the Club for Growth (Grover Norquist's right wing "cut taxes at any cost and defecits be damned" organization) think he's too cozy with Democrats, not supportive enough of Bush, or not fanatical enough in his advocacy of tax giveaways to the extraordinarily wealthy. So they're running a challenger to him: Steve Laffey.

In some ways, it's like a mirror image of what happened in nearby Connecticut, with Lieberman analogous to Chafee and Lamont's insurgent role taken by right-wing Laffey.

But there's an important difference in the Rhode Island situation: Connecticut is a very blue state, so the winner of the Democratic primary could reasonably expect to defeat the hapless Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger. (Anyone interested in some tactical Lamont advocacy should give the guy a hand, as he will syphon votes away from Lieberman). Rhode Island, however, is also a blue state. The winner of the Republican senate primary will face an enormous challenge in the November general election. The only reason Chafee has a good chance to get re-elected as a Republican is because of his moderate stances (and because voters don't understand that in the era of partisan politics, your party affiliation and the agendas of the parties matter far more than an individual senator's stance on issues).

If Laffey defeats Chafee in the Republican primary, the Democratic candidate Sheldon Whitehouse:will have a much easier time of winning in Dem-friendly Rhode Island. So the Republican establishment is throwing enormous weight behind incumbent Lincoln Chafee. At the same time, the right-wing blogosphere is fighting that establishment and backing their guy, Laffey. Jane Hamsher on Firedoglake (whom I found via Atrios) spells out the difference in the CT and RI situations:
Anyway, the joke is that the GOP is coming apart at the seams now over the race. Steve Laffey is the wrong-o-sphere’s candidate of choice, and now the GOP is marching into Rhode Island with millions to save Chafee’s ass. I guess nobody on the right cared about the practicalities of the matter like those of us on the left did — we didn’t launch a challenge in a state where the Republican stood any chance of defeating a Democratic nominee even after a contentious primary. If anyone in the media ever gets over their fixation on us as dirty urchins, maybe they can acknowledge that.

Still, I have to say I respect wingy blogs for standing up to the Republican party for once; usually they just function and another part of the right wing echo-chamber with no message (and no power) of their own, hence much of their irrelevance. And even though Mike Krempasky’s post about Liddy Dole smacks of "get back in the kitchen and bake me a pie," and I understand that Dole is in a bind (Laffey would probably get killed by Whitehouse, Chafee is the only Republican who stands a chance,) — I’ve actually got to hand it to them for pitching a fit in the situation. They’ve got their guy, they believe in him, he’s being attacked by vicious and aburdly racist ads by the NRSC (go figure) and they’re saying "enough."

(Emphasis mine.) So the RI senate primary could really be the place where righty blogs declare their independence of the Republican establishment. It could also be the place where they hand a Senate seat to the Democrats. We'll have to check back on this race often to see how things shape up. Atrios points out that the media isn't leaping on this like they lept on Lamont-Lieberman. Apparently, Republican intra-party spats aren't as interesting to them as Democratic ones:
When I was in Connecticut I tried to kid a NYT reporter by asking if they were going to devote as much attention to the Rhode Island race as they did to the Connecticut race. I got a somewhat confused look, and then in a response a question about how Matthew Brown was doing.

Matthew Brown dropped out of the Democratic primary race in April.
Well, Republican intra-party spats are very interesting to me, and you can bet I'll be keeping an eye on this one.

Scary housing price graph


If this graph (via Atrios) is an accurate depiction of housing costs, there could be one hell of a crash. I don't know about the methodology of creating it, but it looks pretty scary.

Right wing Iran insanity watch

Weigel (on Sullivan's site) continues to track the gung-ho "let's invade Iran now" rhetoric coming from the right. I just want to ask the following question: once we invade or bomb Iran, what then? If we invade, we'll probably end up with an intolerable occupation much worse than Iraq's. Iran has a population of over 68 million, which is more than double Iraq's 27 million. It's also over three times as large: 1.65 million sq km to Iraq's 437 thousand sq km. And when we left, they'd just have even more reason to hate us.

The air strike scenario goes something like this: we set back their nuclear program X number of years, but we're not really sure how many. Iran hates our guts, and uses the footage of inevitable dead civilians for propaganda purposes. The Iranian population is driven further into the arms of anti-US mullahs. Lots of unsavory regimes use the US attack as an excuse to build up their arsenals and take various anti-US actions.

So what can we do to Iran? Well, for one thing we could launch a major alternative energy initiative and a major fuel economy initiative so our consumption doesn't fund their regime. While it is unlikely we could completely halt their nuclear program this way, we could slow it down, and certainly lessen Iran's influence and its ability to pour money into Hezbollah. If Iran wasn't so flush with oil money, they might have a greater incentive to negotiate seriously. We could also get out of Iraq so that our military could be more in a position to pose a credible threat to Iran.

If we weren't so dependent on oil, we'd have a lot more economic weapons at our disposal. If we hadn't pissed off the world community so much, we'd have more diplomatic tools in our kit. And if we hadn't bungled Iraq so badly, our conventional military threat would be much greater. To say nothing of the fact that our invasion of Iraq basically won the 1980-89 Iran-Iraq war for Iran at great cost to us and no cost to them. In short, George W. Bush has done everything possible to cripple the US in dealing with Iran. The man and his administration are strategic nitwits of the highest order.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Requiem for the 10th (and 9th) planet(s)

Probably the person with the most to "lose" from the recent definition of planet is Mike Brown, the discoverer of Xena, which would have been a planet under any definition that included Pluto. But even he supports the new definition (HT: Grishnash via email):
Many people around the globe are mourning the loss of Pluto from the pantheon of planets today after astronomers voted overwhelmingly in favor of a definition of the word "planet" that includes only the first 8 planets. The change had been discussed for years, so no one should have been surprised that it finally happened. The new definition essentially corrects an astronomical mistake from 76 years ago, and shows that astronomy can move forward in the face of new information about the solar system. Pluto is now rightly classified with the rest of the recently discovered Kuiper belt objects, rather than awkwardly stuck in with the planets.
If anyone has cause to complain, he does. And if he can accept the new definition, so can everyone else.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

War Nerd on Hezbollah

War Nerd calls the recent conflict entirely for Hezbollah:
The funniest bit is the way desperate suckers are trying to spin total defeat of the IDF into some kind of victory. What's impressed me is that no Israelis are saying that. All the Israeli commentators I've read have faced up to the fact that they got hosed. It's the Americans, totally out of touch with reality and desperate to stay that way, who are finding lame excuses for the IDF, like "Hezbollah didn't really WIN, since they didn't wipe out Israel."

The best answer to that comes from an Israeli columnist I read, who said, "If a lightweight boxer fights a heavyweight and gets a draw, the lightweight won." Except I'm not sure it was even a draw. I think Hezbollah flat-out won, not just in PR/Propaganda terms but by anybody's standards. They're in total control of the field of battle, Southern Lebanon -- I hope none of you are dumb enough to think that this "International Peacekeeping Force" is going to actually try to disarm Hezbollah after the Israelis couldn't do it by force of arms.
As always, it's sad when parody personalities have greater insight than official pundits. I'm not sure I agree that it's been entirely a positive for Hezbollah though. Here's Totten quoting Michael Young from Reason:
Hezbollah's victory is no different than most other Arab victories in recent decades: the "victory" of October 1973, where Egypt and Syria managed to cross into Israeli-held land, their land, only to be later saved from a thrashing by timely United Nations intervention; the "victory" of 1982, where Palestinian groups were ultimately expelled from West Beirut, but were proud to have stayed in the fight for three months; the Iraqi "victory" of 1991, where Saddam Hussein brought disaster on his country but still held on to power. Now we have the Hezbollah "victory" of 2006: the Israelis bumbled and blundered, but still managed to create a million refugees, to kill over 1,000 people, and to kick Lebanon's economy back several years. One dreads to imagine what Hezbollah would recognize as a military loss.
Now that the fighting has stopped, we'll have to see how many Lebanese think Hezbollah are heroes, and how many Lebanese think Hezbollah are an annoying bunch of foreign-backed troublemakers that provoked Israel into devastating their country. Naturally the Bush administration will say that the latter reaction is stronger than the former, but anyone who listens to them when it comes to judging the Middle East should have their heads examined for large holes out which their brain has fallen. I don't know much about the various factions in Lebanese politics. I suspect that many Lebanese will be vehemently pro or anti Hezbollah depending on their ethnic or religious affiliation. Right now most of what I've read seems to indicate the Hezbollah's prestige has shot up dramatically in the larger Arab and Muslim worlds. But those larger worlds didn't get their infrastructure bombed and civilians killed. As always, I welcome expert opinion (or more likely, given the prominence of my blog, informed amateur opinion) on this matter.

UPDATE: Totten just put up this post quoting Hezbollah's leader Nasrallah saying he really didn't know what he was starting:
“[W]e did not believe, even by one percent, that the captive operation would result in such a wide-scale war, as such a war did not take place in the history of wars. Had we known that the captive operation would result in such a war we would not have carried it out at all.”

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Tierney gets it right on marijuana

Tierney often annoys the crap out of me, but he gets it right in today's column (on TimesSelect, which always annoys the crap out of me) on this country's stupid marijuana policy. A couple excerpts for those who can't get behind the subscription wall of annoyance:
The Dutch generally use drugs less than Americans do, according to national surveys in both countries (and these surveys might understate Americans’ drug usage, since respondents are less likely to admit illegal behavior). More Americans than Dutch reported having tried marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Among teenagers who’d tried marijuana, Americans were more likely to be regular users.

[...]

The good news about drugs, Cohen says, is that the differences among countries aren’t all that important — levels of addiction are generally low in America as well as in Europe. The bad news is that the occasional drug fad get hyped into a crisis that leads to bad laws.

“Prohibition does not reduce drug use, but it does have other impacts,” he says. “It takes up an enormous amount of police time and generates large possibilities for criminal income.”

And I think three paragraphs is the limit before I get myself in intellectual property hot water. I'm glad to see the {War on Drugs = Stupidity} meme spreading. Our descendents will shake their heads in dismay when they look back this travesty.

Texas man foils Liverpool burglary via webcam

Technology is cool. This is frickin' hilarious. From Reuters UK via Progressive Gold:
An American man helped foil a burglary 4,589 miles away in northern England after spotting suspects raiding a shop whilst watching a webcam over the Internet, police said on Friday.

The man from Dallas, Texas was using a live camera link to look at Mathew Street, an area of Liverpool synonymous with the Beatles as it is home to the famous Cavern Club where the band regularly played.

He saw intruders apparently breaking into a sports store and alerted local police.

"We did get a call from someone in Dallas who was watching on a webcam that looks into the tourist areas, of which Mathew Street is one because of all the Beatles stuff," a Merseyside Police spokeswoman told Reuters.

"He called directly through to police here."

Officers were sent to the scene and three suspects were arrested.

As more and more areas are covered by webcams, I think we'll see this kind of thing more often. Of course, it may take the form of invasions of privacy ("so-and-so was seen entering a sex toy shop"). These days, it's best to assume you're always on camera. They're too cheap not to become ubiquitous.

Heading off disaster

OK folks, I think our anti-insanity activism has got to kick into gear now. These two Glen Greenwald columns are pretty scary. One is about Bush and his opinion that he can declare war, despite explicit Constitutional delegation of this power to Congress (backed up by elaboration in the Federalist papers). The other is how the right wingers in this country have not held a single person in their punditocracy accountable for being so completely wrong about Iraq. Can you believe the right wing still respects and applauds someone who wrote this in May of 2003:
It takes two to quagmire. In Vietnam, America had an enemy that enjoyed significant popular support and effective supply lines. Neither is true in Iraq. Isolated atrocities will continue to happen in the days ahead, as dwindling numbers of the more depraved Ba'athists confront the totality of their irrelevance. But these are the death throes: the regime was decapitated two weeks ago, and what we've witnessed is the last random thrashing of the snake's body.

As I wrote back then, apropos Robert Fisk's massive bulk loo-paper purchase in the run-up to war, "I can't say this strikes me as a 25-roll war". By the time you read this, Tariq Aziz and the last five Ba'athists in Baghdad may be holed up in Fisk's Ba'athroom, and he'll be hailing the genius of their plan to lure the Americans to their doom by leaving his loo rolls on the stairwell for the Marines to slip on.

But, for everyone other than media naysayers, it's the Anglo-Aussie-American side who are the geniuses. Rumsfeld's view that one shouldn't do it with once-a-decade force, but with a lighter, faster touch has been vindicated, with interesting implications for other members of the axis of evil and its reserve league.

I think the level of denial of reality and the lack of "lessons learned" on the part of these folks is truly astonishing. That folks who said this kind of stuff and haven't admitted error are getting any respect at all shows you how little that quaint thing called reality matters to those convinced of their own correctness. Fortunately, I think many Americans are seeing through the bullshit, but unfortunately that may not matter, because Bush clearly holds in contempt all of the institutions designed to check executive power.

Honestly, I think the only way to stop an immoral and counterproductive war with Iran may be to get Bush out of office. He simply doesn't care what anyone outside of his narrow cabal thinks or does. Barring that, we need to get out in front of the warmongers and start making the counter-arguments now.

Lieberman = Republican watch: he won't back Dems

ConnecticutBLOG via Atrios:
Okay, lets recap.

1. We find out that Joe Lieberman hung out with Jodi Rell and Rob Simmons on Thursday.

2. He's been endorsed by Nancy Johnson and Chris Shays.

3. NOW, today we learn that Joe flat-out refuses to back Democratic Congressional candidates Diane Farrell, Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy!

Is it NOW safe to call him the de facto Republican candidate?!
I wish he'd just get it over with and switch parties. My respect for him would actually go up if he did. "What a nice, moderate Republican that Lieberman is. A bit sanctimonious and completely deluded on Iraq, and that stuff attacking computer games back in the 90's was stupid. But strong on the environment and overall a tolerable being."

Beginning of Life creep

Yesterday, they said life begins with conception.

Today, they say life begins with intercourse.

Tomorrow, they will tell us life begins with dinner and a movie.
-From a comment by Dover Bitch front paged by Digby.

Puritans like nothing more than "discovering" that something fun is harmful. Indeed pleasure=evil seems to be the founding principle of their moral outlook. Tiresome bunch. But it's sorta fun to hear 'em squirm about plan B. I must admit I take a great deal of pleasure in the puritans' suffering and anguish on this matter. I know that this pleasure has an immoral origin, but there it is, welling up from within me.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Iranian missle hysteria

Maniak on the House Intel report on Iran:

I dug through that Atrios link and that House Staff Report is astounding. I'm hoping the intelligence community is slapping their heads at that one as much as I am. I'll stick to rockets maybe instead of politics. Probes to Pluto and missiles are more my speed. I'll leave the conventional forces and Iranian intentions out of this one.

The report seems to be intentionally lumping every missile together as just "missiles". Hezbollah has "10,000 missiles", and then the Shahab 4 has a 4,000 km range. But almost all of Hezbollah's missiles are Katyushas, which are a battlefield artillery rocket and an entirely different beast from ballistic missiles. Israel and international forces in Lebanon need to worry about the Katyushas. They're irrelevant to the rest of the world.

The cornerstone of the document is a big world map with Iranian missile circles on it. The kicker is that the circles seem to be centered on northern Kuwait, or maybe Umm Qasr, Iraq. Most generously, it's a corner of Iran just along the border with Iraq. Iran probably has short range missiles in this area continually since their war with Iraq. That's not surprising.

But there's also no evidence that the Shahab 4 is more than a blueprint drawing at this point. It was originally being developed as a satellite launcher, but that was apparently abandoned in favor of an alternate plan based on improving the Shahab 3 using lessons from China's Long March 3 program. I'd also note that there is some amount of commonality of design between the Shahab 4 and the Taepodong 2, which makes a crash program to develop the Shahab 4 unlikely right now. Iran probably switched to the Chinese-style approach for a good reason. None of the Shahab 4s have ever been built or tested, and the R&D resources seem to have been directed towards the Shahab 3 program for the past 3 years.

If a prototype Shahab 4 was sitting somewhere waiting for a test flight it would probably be on the other side of the country near the launch facilities at Emamshahr near the Caspian Sea, so that outermost launch circle is doubly fantasy. Russia doesn't seem to be in a panic over this hypothetical undeveloped missile, and they're the ones who would be most threatened by it if it existed.

Bowers SLAMS issue groups who support Republicans

Bowers at MyDD lays into "progressive" issue groups (in this case, the League of Conservation Voters, or LCV) who support "moderate" Republicans. And he is right to do so. These groups are politically idiotic, and I won't send them another dime until they pull their heads out of their asses. Here's Bowers:
To summarize:
Even though a Democratic Congress would be far better according to the LCV than a Republican congress, even though all Republican members of Congress vote to support the leadership of that Congress, even though there isn't a congressional district in the country where the Republican nominee would vote better or even as well as the Democratic nominee, even though Patrick Murphy would vote better than Fitzpatrick, even though Fitzpatrick didn't really vote all that well, and even though Fitzpatrick's warchest is filled with the money of Republicans who received a score of uner 10 according to the LCV, the LCV is going to endorse Fitzpatrick. That seems like the smart, strategic move in order to help the environment.

These days, the entire single-issue, non-partisan, progressive advocacy organization infrastructure in Washington, D.C. has become a pathetic farce that has no impact on either elections or the issue areas for which they advocate. None of these organizations have accomplished a single progressive legislative victory at the national level since Republicans have held the trifecta. Their advocacy on behalf of "moderate" Republicans has gotten hem nowhere, except that it keep Republicans in power and hard-right conservatives in charge of legislating on their advocacy areas.

More political ignorance...

...along the lines of what I already posted here. From the Blogometer (full disclosure: I'm currently applying for an internship there):
Bennett found that nearly one-third of adults were unaware that the Republican Party is more conservative than the Democratic Party. And lest the reader think that this is an expression of cynicism rather than a lack of knowledge, Bennett found that whether or not respondents knew there were major differences between the two parties was associated with the amount of knowledge they had of major politicians and the parties but not with their levels of governmental trust.
Whoa, dude. That's like...far out. People are in like, totally different universes, man. I'm like, in a wackly little buble of knowledge.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wingnuts advocate nuclear annihilation of countries that haven't attacked us

Glen Greenwald speaks out:
Add pre-emptive nuclear annihilation of entire countries to the list of policies (along with the use of torture as an interrogation tool, rendition, laweless detention of U.S. citizens, and presdiential law-breaking) which are so self-evidently contrary to the defining values of our country that they used to be taboo even to advocate, but are now commonly accepted policies among many mainstream pundits, including those who most ardently support the current president.
Here's an excerpt from the Walter Williams column he's reacting to:
Today's Americans are vastly different from those of my generation who fought the life-and-death struggle of World War II. Any attempt to annihilate our Middle East enemies would create all sorts of handwringing about the innocent lives lost, so-called collateral damage.
I suppose it's just "handwringing" to think about the tens or hundreds of millions of people who would be killed in such an annihilation. And please, spare me the "those of my generation" condescension. It seems to me that those who fought World War II did so with a greater sense of moral responsibility than Walter Williams is showing here (not to mention a better grasp of global strategy than our administration is displaying). In World War II, no one in the United States was advocating the annihilation of nations that hadn't even attacked us. And from what I've read there was a good deal of "handwringing" about the atomic bomb and the firebombing of Axis cities. And there's a good deal of debate today as to whether those actions were an optimal use of military resources, and whether they were morally justified.

I hope that as the wingnut moral insanity becomes more and more visible, people become more and more repulsed by it. Please, in 2006 let's get some grown-ups in control of Congress. And as soon as possible let's get a grown-up on "The Button" too.

UPDATE: A commenter, zAmboni, on Greenwald makes an important point:
Of course the article is ridiculous. But that is the point. The right is trying to define the boundaries of the ME debate and it usually starts out by coming up with some extreme ridiculous argument.

This argument gets played up and then the rest of the conservative pundits swoop in with slightly less ridiculous "solutions" to the problem which appear to be tame in context. I think Digby has talked about this type of tactic a bunch of times....

Of course use of nuclear weapons would be ludicrous....but now when the neocons come in later and say that limited airstrikes on strategic targets in the ME is the solution, it seems reasonable in comparison (but ridiculous in terms of ME stability itself)
So when some other commentator comes out pushing for a "limited bombing" campaign, be sure to evaluate that proposal on its own merits. Don't be fooled just because it sounds more reasonable than nuclear genocide.

Alas, for now it's "Bush's way or no way"

Atrios makes a very important point:
Whatever problems we face in the world it's important to understand that the choices are "do basically nothing" or "let George Bush do something" and it's doubly important to be able to recognize that "do basically nothing" is often going to be the preferable option.
One of the most dangerous aspects of the Bush administration is the fact that it seems impossible to persuade or convince this administration to move away from any particular policy. This lack of strategic flexibility makes it easy for those who oppose us to take advantage of us. They can make any strategic move they wish if the proper counter-move for the U.S. would be a diplomatic one, because they know that this administration can't do diplomacy worth a damn. Similarly, they can take advantage of our presence in Iraq, knowing that the "move" of withdrawing is simply not in Bush's strategic toolkit.

Analysis of Iran's conventional military

It's not very strong, according to Steve Sailer (via Weigel on Sullivan):
If Iran is really out to conquer the region, it would need tanks, lots and lots of tanks, plus air cover, since tank armadas are dead ducks in the open desert. So, is Iran building up its tank fleet and air force preparatory to its upcoming blitzkriegs? Here's what the Center for Strategic and International Studies says about Iran:


"Most of Iran's military equipment is aging or second rate and much of it is worn. Iran lost some 50-60% of its land order of battle in the climatic battles of the Iran-Iraq War, and it has never had large-scale access to the modern weapons and military technology necessary to replace them. It also has lacked the ability to find a stable source of parts and supplies for most of its Western-supplied equipment, and has not have access to upgrades and modernization programs since the fall of the Shah in 1979."

Now of course Iran might very well be focusing on nuclear and missile technology. But in all this Iran hysteria it's important not to inflate all aspects of the threat.

I'm a bit skeptical that Iran's military is as shoddy as Mr. Sailer depicts it. It seems to me that with its oil wealth, Iran ought to be able to buy itself some better hardware, even if the US and its allies have an arms embargo in place. Couldn't Iran buy stuff from Russia, China, or someone else? Or are those countries refusing to sell weapons to Iran too?

(If iranian, one of my readers, could weigh in on this issue, I'd appreciate it.)

UPDATE: A reader responds to Weigel's original post:
I think Sailer is being a little flip about the Iranian airforce.

First, the F4 was and is a very credible fighter. It may have first entered service in the late '50s, but you know what? The fighters that make up the front line of the US line-up all entered service in the 1970s, 30 years ago (that's right: the F-14, F-16, and F-18 all debuted in the '70s). Age of first introduction is not a very interesting metric.

But this reader also agrees that the overall inflation of Iran on the part of this administration is "another giant con-job" a la the buildup to the Iraq invasion.

Pluto gets the boot!

CNN has the story:
For now, membership will be restricted to the eight "classical" planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Much-maligned Pluto doesn't make the grade under the new rules for a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune's.

Instead, it will be reclassified in a new category of "dwarf planets," similar to what long have been termed "minor planets." The definition also lays out a third class of lesser objects that orbit the sun -- "small solar system bodies," a term that will apply to numerous asteroids, comets and other natural satellites.

I wonder what all the poor Pluto-fetishist whiners will say. Will they still love their eccentric icball, now that its a dwarf planet, along with Ceres?

Aside from being a political analyst and rocketry expert, Maniak is also an astronomy geek! And Maniak only posts on Internal Monologue! Here's his reaction to part of the CNN.com story linked to above:
CNN.com says: "It was unclear how Pluto's demotion might affect the mission of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which earlier this year began a 91/2-year journey to the oddball object to unearth more of its secrets."

Is CNN proposing that they might have to turn around and go home now that the classification of the target of the New Horizons probe has changed? These reporters are literally not rocket scientists. There could be some changes here and there to some of the detailed plan for the encounter based on what looks most scientifically interesting, but there isn't anything more irrelevant to the process than what Pluto is called.

"War-Torn Middle East Seeks Solace In Religion"

These days, parody news sources (The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Onion) seem more likely to have insightful commentary than "real" news shows. In this case, it's The Onion. I think in my sales pitch for the benefits of secular outlook and de-fanged religion, the whole Middle East will be exhibit A. (And yes, I'm aware that the Communists and the Nazis were technically "secular", but I would argue that they made a religion of the state and of their leaders.)

The Demographic problem (in the US)

It used to be that when one mentioned "the demographic problem", one was referring to the fact that Arabs have been breeding faster than Jews in Israel, and that barring some kind of action, Israel would cease to exist as a Jewish state.

But now it seems that a certain professor who opines in the Wall Street Journal is pointing out that the American left has a demographic problem (HT: Echidne via Digby) , too. A "fertility gap" with conservatives:
But the data on young Americans tell a different story. Simply put, liberals have a big baby problem: They're not having enough of them, they haven't for a long time, and their pool of potential new voters is suffering as a result. According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a "fertility gap" of 41%. Given that about 80% of people with an identifiable party preference grow up to vote the same way as their parents, this gap translates into lots more little Republicans than little Democrats to vote in future elections.
From this, the author concludes that Democrats are doomed. I would point out the following: There are other ways to get voters than by breeding them. Even though it's true that most people vote like their parents, if liberals can convert more conservatives than vice versa, the fertility gap could be lessened. Another source of voters is immigration: if liberals can do better than their opponents at wooing new citizens, that is another potential source of strength. Given that the most vehement anti-immigration rhetoric seems to be coming from Republicans, I suspect that the Democrats are doing pretty well with America's newly minted citizens. If Latin American immigrants voted Republican more, I bet there would be a lot less talk of building a wall on the border (or maybe it would just be different people doing the talking).

This is why I think there's such a big divide in the Republican party over immigration and more specficially Latin American immigration: Bush (i.e. Rove) favors a more accommodating policy, because he sees the numbers and knows that if the Republicans become a "whites only" party it is doomed. But the xenophobia of the Republican base isn't thinking in such a long-term way. Tactically, I'd really like to see Democrats exploit this more. (This being said, there are numerous legitimate concerns on the immigration issue-it's not all xenophobia.)

So yes, there are tough demographic challenges for Democrats. But I think Republicans face equally daunting ones. Look at people's attitudes about homosexuality broken down by age: I think Republicans will find that pushing the anti-gay button will become less and less effective as time goes on. I think demographics can tilt the playing field, but I suspect that upcoming technological and societal upheavals will make todays political distinctions irrelevant before current demographic trends shift the political balance irreversibly one way or the other.

A portrait of the undecided voter as a complete dolt

Digby has a great post that mainly consists of an in-depth look at undecided voters:
But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to... So I tried other ways of asking the same question: "Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or worried about anything? Are you excited about what's been happening in the country in the last four years?"

These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn't the word "issue"; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the "political." The undecideds I spoke to didn't seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief--not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.
There's a lot more; go read. When you spend your time in the blogosphere, you don't realize how many people don't care, or don't even realize that there's something to care about.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"If you say Pluto's not a planet, I will cry like a baby"

For those of you who are unaware, a group of astronomers is attempting to hash out a definition of "planet" that everyone can agree on. The central problem seems to be this: the "folk definition" of planet includes 9 objects, the smallest of which is Pluto. But any useful scientific definition of planet either excludes Pluto, or includes a whole bunch of other objects that people don't want to think of as planets (the "no iceball left behind" definition).

It seems like the most sensible definition would be one that excludes Pluto, but then there are all these whiners who for "emotional reasons" want Pluto classified as a planet. They learned there were 9 planets in elementary school, and are unable to endure the neurological re-wiring it would take to change that number to 8.

My opinion: screw the whiners. If someone wants to have a highly emotional relationship with a chunk of ice with an eccentric orbit, that's fine. Just don't expect the scientific community to cater to your fetish by twisting the definition of "planet" into something ridiculous.

Terrorism threat overblown?

Continuing my parade posts countering the prevalent terrorism hysteria, I link to this article in Foreign Affairs (HT: Weigel on Sullivan):
Summary: Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable -- but rarely heard -- explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.
I'm a little more worried about international terrorism than the author of this article seems to be. Even if Al Qaeda is defunct, other organizations may eventually arise and use similar tactics.

My main beef is that the steps we are taking to prevent terrorist attacks of this kind seem all wrongheaded. The terror hysteria is making us less secure, because we act less sensibly in response to it. Homeland security money seems to be a big pile of pork, security measures that would require industry to bear some burden (e.g. changing the way we transport hazardous materials) don't get implemented, the airline industry gets a lot of panicky attention, and we do things in the foreign policy arena that exacerbate antagonism to the United States. Ironically, I bet we'd be safer if we took the threat less "seriously". Then cooler heads might prevail and important work on securing our ports, increasing human intelligence, and improving police work might actually get done.

Republicans "purge" their party

Alaska Republicans threw out their incumbent governor in a primary election yesterday. Like Kos, I'm sure a zillion editorials declaring that the Republican party has been purged by fanatical insurgents will follow.

More kudos for...ME!

Apparently the folks at Progressive Gold saw fit to honor my words on Madonna in Digby's comment section as their comment of the day. Regular readers probably caught these same words in my post on the subject, but if they can be reproduced there, they can be reproducted here:
Maybe on her next tour, Madonna can stimulate herself with fluorescent multi-colored sex toys shaped like crosses, crescents, and stars of David while in the background a chorus of eunochs with enormous nipple piercings burn the Bible, Talmud, and Koran with a penis-shaped acetylene torch. The resulting common sense of injury and outrage that would pour forth from all the offended theists could lay the foundation for lasting peace in the Middle East.
Had I known this would get around, I would have tightened it up a bit. But now I feel obligated to keep it in original "comment of the day" form for all time.

You go girl!


OK, it seems like everyone in the blogosphere is spitting venom at Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey for this post on her blog (HT: Jon Swift). I'm going to buck the trend and say I think that post is frickin' awesome. Modesty is highly over-rated. So many people in this country seem to mistake moral, legal, and spiritual equality (which I believe in) with intellectual, socio-economic, and erotic equality (which definitely don't exist, though we could work on the socio-economic part). Some people are smarter, better off, and hotter than others and anyone who pretends differently is completely deluded. To hear a blast of unapologetic elitism is like a breath of fresh air. A sample:

The above list explains why I typically receive 50-100 (sometimes more) responses whenever I post personal ads. This is in addition to getting hit on almost every time I go out alone (and all that those men know about me is that they like the way I look, they don’t even know about all the other qualities I have that make me more appealing than most other women).

So, I have a *lot* of choices of men who want to date me. Given that, of course I choose to date only the highest quality men -- men who are also fit, attractive, intelligent, educated, financially successful, etc. I’m attracted to men from any race and a wide age range (21 to 50 or so) so the pool of men who meet those requirements is quite large, which allows me to add all sorts of additional restrictions if I want -- must be atheist, must be libertarian, must not want (more) children, must be financially independent or self-employed and available for frequent world travel, etc.

Arrogant, yes. But so refreshing! I hope Ms. Passey finds her dream man. I hope he strides right off the pages of an Ayn Rand novel and sweeps her off her Objectivist feet. I hope they fall madly in love and produce lots of Libertarian children. (But she doesn't want children. Oh well. They can have lots of Libertarian non-procreative sex instead.)

One point I would make to her is that many of the qualities she lists as attractive (being intelligent, well-educated, and financially self-sufficient) are only attractive to certain people, and may not in fact raise her overall desirability when one takes the entire pool of available men into consideration. I myself value these qualities in a woman (and am very happy my wife possesses them), but many men do not. Of course, I suspect these qualities would be considered attractive by many of the men that she would find attractive, so perhaps they do make her more of a catch within her "target market".

Best of Luck, Ms. Passey!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Iran attacks...Romanian oil rig?

Apparently, Iran has attacked and captured a Romanian oil rig. Could someone please clue me in as to what the hell is going on here? Why would Iran do this? Is this the opening move in some grand strategic plan, or just some random crazy stuff to keep the world on edge? This article in the Houston chronicle mentions some kind of commercial dispute that Iran decided to respond to with force. I guess what pops into my head is that Iran is sending a signal that it can disrupt Persian Gulf oil if it wants to. But I'm totally pulling that out of my ass. Anyone with more expertise care to weigh in?

UPDATE: Maniak's take (yes, he's a political analyst as well as a rocketry hardware analyst):
A strange move on a day that many were expecting Iran might do something crazy. My guess is that the commercial dispute gave an opening for Iran to give the world a hint that it can use oil as a weapon. It's just too suspect coming on the same day as Iran's response to the UN on its nuclear program. Kish, where this oil rig was seized is Iran's answer to Dubai. It's an island of luxury hotels and ports, and the center of Iran's oil trade with Europe. They are in the final stages of building an oil exchange there that will be the first major oil trading market based on the euro rather than the dollar. Seizing the Romanian rig almost within sight of this building could be Iran's way of determining Europe's posture in the upcoming diplomatic battle over the nuclear program. Will they risk derailing the opening of the petroeuro exchange to stick up for Romania? Iran may be using the European response to this provocation to see how viable it could be to evade any impending sanctions.
[links added] It's a joy to have Maniak as a resource, this is as good an analysis as anything I've seen out there. I'm still interested in more input to make sense of this.

War on Drugs Stupidity

David Weigel posts a great video on Sullivan's site. It shows police officers and former police officers talking about how stupid and futile our prohibition strategy on drugs is. I want these ideas to become more prevalent in our discourse.

More on Turkey and Iran shelling PKK in Kurdish Iraq

I've been getting a lot of Google hits on this post, which mentioned somewhat ominous developments regarding Turkey, Iran, and Kurdish Iraq. Apparently, the shells are flying. A Kurdish guerilla group, the PKK, operates out of Kurdish Iraq and both Turkey and Iran are apparently taking their fight across the border. Here's the Turkish Weekly:
Tuesday , 22 August 2006

Kubilay ATASOYU, Ankara, JTW - Artillery shells fired from Iran landed in the PKK armed bases in Northern Iraq. It is reported that many PKK militants were killed and many more were wounded. At the same time Turkish Army has been bombing the bases. Turkish military is sharing intelligence on the PKK in the region with Iran. The PKK is a terrorist organization according to the Turkish, Iranian, American and European laws.
Following the recent killing one of the top commanders of the Iranian security forces by the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), the PKK's name in Iran, Iran has escalated its attacks on Qandil (Kandil) mountains. The PKK has at least 10 camps in and around Qandil region. Turkey has also bombed the region.

The PKK has had armed training and military camps in Northern Iraq for the years. The US promised to remove all of these camps during the Iraq war, yet no concrete step has been taken. Turks blamed the US of not combating against the PKK terrorism. Turkish security expert Prof. Dr. Ihsan Bal argues that the PKK issue undermines Turkey-US relations.
For an interesting view of what it's like in Kurdish Iraq, take a look at Michael J. Totten's excellent writeup of his visit there (he's also guest blogging at Sullivan's site). From the sound of things, it's pretty under control there, but they do it via massive ethnic profiling. And they're just waiting for an opportunity to declare independence, which could make things with Turkey and Iran messier very quickly.

Update: The New York Times mentions this violence in their Iraq coverage from yesterday:
SULAIMANIYA, Iraq, Aug. 19 — Artillery shells fired from Iran have landed in remote northern villages of Iraqi Kurdistan in the past four days and have killed at least two civilians and wounded four others, a senior Kurdish official said Saturday. Dozens of families have fled the region.

Will Lieberman be stripped of Dem affiliation?

MyDD has the story:
As I said, it appears to be an open and shut case: he is clearly and knowingly running as "a candidate for office under the designation of another party or organization." As such, if I am reading this correctly, according to Connecticut Democratic Party rules, Lieberman's registration in the Democratic Party should be voided for two years.

Americans against the war in Iraq 61%-35%

I normally refer to it as the occupation of Iraq, but since this CNN poll (HT: Atrios) used the term "war" I'll use it in this case. Whatever you call it, it seems Americans don't like it by a pretty hefty margin:
Just 35 percent of 1,033 adults polled say they favor the war in Iraq; 61 percent say they oppose it -- the highest opposition noted in any CNN poll since the conflict began more than three years ago.
Now if only our political arena reflected this reality.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"We're not leaving so long as I'm the president"

Notice how Bush's statement about Iraq from today's press conference (via billmon) doesn't include any reference to any circumstances in Iraq, good or bad. It doesn't matter if they "stand up" or if they are in a civil war (which they are) or if Iraqis ask us to leave or if the American public or Congress or the U.S. military want us to leave. According to Bush, we're staying, period. He's "decided". His connection to reality, always tenuous, has come completely untethered.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has the story. And kudos to them for having a Technorati-powered "Read what bloggers are saying" box attached to every article. This will get them lots of links from me, certainly!

Bush is a felon

Once again, Glenn Greenwald slams it out of the park. Here he is, quoting Jonathan Turley(registration required):
If this program is unlawful, federal law expressly makes the ordering of surveillance under the program a federal felony. That would mean that the president could be guilty of no fewer than 30 felonies in office. Moreover, it is not only illegal for a president to order such surveillance, it is illegal for other government officials to carry out such an order.
It seems pretty simple: FISA requires you to get a warrant to conduct certain kinds of surveillence. Bush didn't get the warrant, but did the surveillance. Therefore, he broke the law. Breaking this law is a felony. The issues aren't that complex. The very simplicity of the case is causing major embarrassment. No one in official Washington is willing to make the obvious "He's not wearing any clothes at all!" statement. They desperately want to believe that there are hopelessly complicated issues at stake, so they don't have to take any action that might upset any of their fellow insiders. Again, Greenwald:
This has been the most bizarre part of the NSA scandal all along: the President got caught red-handed violating an extremely clear law -- he admitted to engaging in the very behavior which that law says is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine -- and yet official Washington (the political and pundit classes) simply decided to pretend that wasn't the case.

About time: Blair dumps Bush?

I was wondering when Blair was going to come to his senses and quit the poodle act. Via digby we have this story:
The alliance between George Bush and Tony Blair is in danger after it was revealed that the Prime Minister believes the President has 'let him down badly' over the Middle East crisis.

A senior Downing Street source said that, privately, Mr Blair broadly agrees with John Prescott, who said Mr Bush's record on the issue was 'crap'.

The source said: "We all feel badly let down by Bush. We thought we had persuaded him to take the Israel-Palestine situation seriously, but we were wrong. How can anyone have faith in a man of such low intellect?"

All I can say is, it's about frickin' time. Blair's capitulation to Bush's insanity is something I've never fully grokked. Blair's support has lent a fig leaf of a tiny amount of international legitimacy to Bush's disasterous and immoral Iraq venture, and thereby made it more difficult for people to see it for the colossal failure that it is. I won't easily forgive Blair for being a Bush enabler, just as I won't easily forgive Lieberman for essentially doing the same thing. But at least the orbital mind control lasers are no longer functioning on the British Prime Minister. Joementum has yet to break free of their control.

UPDATE: Taylor Marsh picks up the story, and shows the cover of The Economist:

Christian hissy-fit: Madonna and the disco cross

Oh, this is rich. It turns out Madonna is being threatened with legal action in Germany for the number in her concert depicted in the image to the left. According to SpokesmanReview.com (via digby), "Pop star Madonna could face legal action in Duesseldorf, Germany, if she repeats a scene in her Sunday show that has angered Roman Catholic leaders."

Where to start? First of all, I think anti-blasphemy laws are stupid. I think this may be one area where The United States is a lot more progressive than Europe. Second of all, I don't suppose it ever occurs to to these folks that Madonna and her PR machine would like nothing more than to have one of her stage numbers spark some kind of religion vs. free speech controversy. This sort of thing is Madonna's bread and butter: waves of free exposure of exactly the kind she needs in order to stay "edgy" and "current". Heck, she's even getting mentioned on Internal Monologue. You can't buy that kind of publicity. (Well, actually you can. Pretty cheaply, in fact.)

But anyway, here's a tip for all you shocked and outraged Christians who want to stick it to Madonna: Instead of issuing statements like "This concert is a blashphemous challenge to the faith and a profanation of the cross. She should be excommunicated.", just ignore her. Can you imagine the money Madonna would make if she were excommunicated? That's the title of a double-platinum album if I've ever heard one. So just go back to whatever it is you normally do and leave Madonna to blaspheme alone, unheard. If there's one thing a celebrity can't stand, it's not being talked about.

And I'd just like to add that Christians are a bunch of pansy-ass wussies when it comes to images that offend their oh-so-delicate sensibilities (at least they tend not to burn down embassies like certain other monotheists have been known to do). Madonna is using religious imagery in her concert! Get me my smelling salts! Atheists constantly put up with being told that we're going to burn in hell, so you'd think the poor Christians could take a little blasphemy on the chin. But no, they cry like babies and their fellow monotheists come running to embrace them in their hour of pop-star persecution and need:

In an unusual show of religious solidarity, Muslim and Jewish leaders added their condemnation of the self-styled Queen of Pop, famous for peppering her concerts and videos with controversial religious and sexual imagery.

"I think her idea is in the worst taste and she'd do better to go home," Mario Scialoja, head of Italy's Muslim League said.

Riccardo Pacifici, spokesman and vice president of the Roman Jewish community, added Madonna should have pulled the routine considering where she was performing -- a stadium a mile from the gates of Vatican City.

So let me get this straight- one shouldn't engage in gaudy, opulent displays of Christian imagery too close to the Vatican, home of the gaudiest, most opulent displays of Christian imagery on the planet? Maybe they don't want the competition.

Maybe on her next tour, Madonna can stimulate herself with fluorescent multi-colored sex toys shaped like crosses, crescents, and stars of David while in the background a chorus of eunochs with enormous nipple piercings burn the Bible, Talmud, and Koran with a penis-shaped acetylene torch. The resulting common sense of injury and outrage that would pour forth from all the offended theists could lay the foundation for lasting peace in the Middle East.

Technical Update: Trackbacks!

OK, I think I've enabled trackbacks on this blog. If you don't know those are, that's OK. (They are a way to place links to your blog here on Internal Monologue. So if you write something on your blog about one of my posts, and you want Internal Monologue readers to see it, you can leave a trackback on my post that points to your blog. I use them a lot on Andrew Sullivan's blog to try to get his readers to come here.)

I haven't tested them yet. Let's see if they work...

UPDATE: They seem to work. Link away! Think how much traffic will be driven to your site with a trackback on Internal Monologue!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Free bottle of wine for bloggers?

I found this at Majikthise. It appears to be legit: the offer is detailed here. I've already written in for mine.

Hint to advertisers: Bloggers are cheap, and more importantly, starved for attention. We have an enormously inflated sense of our own importance, and anyone who caters to it will probably get a disproportionate amount of publicity as a result. But act soon, because eventually everyone will catch on and you'll have to spend lots of money just to get us to pay attention to you. Exploit us now while we're still cheap.

Scarborough asks "Is Bush and Idiot?"

Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, asked this question prominently on his show, and has created quite a stir among conservatives. My favorite part is the Scarborough nailed Bush for exactly the right fault: it's not so much that Bush is dumb, but that he completely lacks curiosity about the world:

While the country does not want a leader wallowing in the weeds, Scarborough concluded on the segment, "we do need a president who, I think, is intellectually curious."

"And that is a big question," Scarborough said, "whether George W. Bush has the intellectual curiousness -- if that's a word -- to continue leading this country over the next couple of years."

I love it when my thoughts are echoed in the larger media world:
If I was going to surrender my conscience to some god-king, it would not be to an inarticulate dry drunk whose profound incuriosity about the world is matched only by his smug certainty about the correctness of his judgements on it.
UPDATE: Sullivan's guest bloggers link to the video.

John Kerry attacks Lieberman

How quickly Joementum has turned himself from darling of the Democratic establishment into untouchable pariah. Lots of sites have picked up Kerry's slam:

Kerry Calls Lieberman the New Cheney

Aug. 20, 2006 — Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., blasted a fellow Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman, for continuing his bid in the Connecticut Senate race despite a narrow loss to newcomer Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary earlier this month.

"I'm concerned that [Lieberman] is making a Republican case," Kerry told ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" in an exclusive appearance.

Kerry accused the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate of "adopting the rhetoric of Dick Cheney," on the issue of Iraq.

I'll link to Taylor Marsh and Daily Kos for analysis. One thing I object to is ABC's use of the phrase "fellow Democrat". I think "erstwhile fellow Democrat" would be more apropos.

Iraq is in a civil war

Duh. But it's nice to hear that this is the new "Conventional Wisdom". So let's pat the puditocracy on the back for being able to see the frickin' obvious.

Terrorist fear causes racist hysteria on plane

Sad, but predictable. Glen Greenwald has the story, quoting from the Daily Mail:
British holidaymakers staged an unprecedented mutiny - refusing to allow their flight to take off until two men they feared were terrorists were forcibly removed.

The extraordinary scenes happened after some of the 150 passengers on a Malaga-Manchester flight overheard two men of Asian appearance apparently talking Arabic.

Passengers told cabin crew they feared for their safety and demanded police action. Some stormed off the Monarch Airlines Airbus A320 minutes before it was due to leave the Costa del Sol at 3am. Others waiting for Flight ZB 613 in the departure lounge refused to board it.
My favorite part of Greenwald's response:
Personally, I don't blame anyone for having irrational thoughts and fears prior to flying. Our brains generate irrational fears in all sorts of different situations, and particularly with the fear-mongering and relentless media hyping of every rumored terrorist threat, it is hardly surprising that people will have these thoughts.

But the point here is best illustrated by analogy. "Courage" is not the absence of fear, but is instead the taking of action notwithstanding that fear. Identically, "rationality" is not the absence of irrational fears or thoughts, but is instead the choice not to allow those fears and thoughts to dictate behavior. The blame lies not with those who entertain such fear, but with those who allow it to govern their conduct, and more so, those who purposely stoke and exaggerate those fears due either to their own fears and/or because doing so is to their advantage.

Religious wars entertain God

Or so say certain Christians, like Francis Collins (who also happens to be a prominent scientist and author of The Language of God):
If the case in favor of belief in God were utterly airtight, then the world would be full of confident practitioners of a single faith. But imagine such a world, where the opportunity to make a free choice about belief was taken away by the certainty of the evidence. How interesting would that be?
Lizard at Journal of Applied Misanthropology gives this view the royal smackdown it so richly deserves:
Wow. Just...wow.

Why are there religious wars? Because God finds them "interesting".

Why are (if Christian theology is correct) uncounted billions of human beings consigned to an eternity of unimaginable torment? Because God thought it would be amusing.

Why are children being murdered and women being gang raped due to factional differences between groups allegedly practicing the same faith? Because it affords God some momentary amusement.

I am not the one saying this -- Collins is.
Amen, brother! Check out his post (I comment there). I may not agree with Lizard on gun issues, but he can rip bad theology a new asshole in a most invigorating way. It feels almost like a cheap shot to attack such lame formulations of Christianity; it's too much like shooting fish in barrel. But a lot of people eagerly lap up exactly this kind of theological crap, so I think it's fair game. (Just like astrology.)

The decline of the House of Hefner

This Pandagon article and the Maclean's article it links to, paint a picture of the lifestyle of Hugh Hefner, publisher of Playboy, as he nears octogenarianity:
As Hefner approached 80, his sexual prowess had dimmed. With Viagra he could summon a facsimile of his youth. The result, as described by St. James, was as spontaneous and erotic as a tax audit. After much female fluffing, Hefner always finished solo, which is ironic: the man responsible for the fantasyscape of generations, the role model for promiscuity, is in the end like a teenage boy masturbating alone to Playboy. The only difference: Hefner brought himself to orgasm amidst a living Playboy tableaux, as naked women writhed in a "pseudo-lesbian thing."
What a wonderful, sad, poignant mixture: here's Hugh, living out the beautiful "pseudo-lesbian" multiple bed-partner fantasy. But alas, he is unable to take advantage of it fully, and requires a product touted by Bob Dole to do so in even a limited fashion. What a wonderful mixture of envy and pity rises in my heart at the thought of his situation. Hugh Hefner seems to be living a life that is half wet dream, half Hadean torture straight out of Greek mythology.

On the other hand, the stories of how he tried to control the lives of his concubines are just plain disturbing:
The perks came with a price. Life at the mansion was tightly controlled. At 9 p.m. curfew was imposed when they weren't out with Hefner. Lest Hef be seen as a cuckold, Girfriends weren't allowed to see other men (an edict the women violated). Privacy was limited; security shadowed them at clubs; their phone calls were screened. "It is not a real, equal or intimate relationship," St. James writes, should the reader be in doubt.
And the living quarters apparently left something to be desired:
With time, though, the shabbiness of the private quarters began to grate. Furniture looked like it came from Goodwill, she writes. Hefner, an animal lover, let Girlfriends keep dogs as pets. Carpets were filthy and smelled of urine which "added to the general scent of decay."
I hope that should I ever somehow acquire a harem, I will be a much more kind, progressive, and empowering manager of it than Mr. Hefner. At least he could change the carpets. (I think landlord/tenant laws in here in Albany, CA require that, don't they?) And a 9pm curfew? WTF? That is controlling and pathetic.

As for the Playboy brand and magazine, it's funny how quaint Playboy seems today, compared to what's out there. I can remember when it represented the hight of all that was delicious and forbidden. Now it brings up images of tired, soft-core, air-brushed commercialism and middlebrow sophistication with an edge of ersatz rakishness. These things have their place, (perhaps even a place in my own erotic universe, I confess), but the brand ceases to inspire wonder. Even Hugh's multiple bed-partners and blonde bookend girlfriends have an air of staid, old-fashioned conventionality about them. Of course I envy his ability to do what he does (be honest with yourself menfolk: having a bevy of such arm candy/bed candy would be nice), but I also get the distinct feeling that the times have passed old Hugh by.

Maybe someone else will come along and update the dream of male sexual hedonism for modern times. And when they do, I hope it doesn't include smelly carpets, 9pm curfews, and screening people's phone calls. That sounds like some kind of depressing group home for recently paroled juvenile delinquents, not a Xanadu of luxuriant voluptuousness and sexual ecstasy.

Criticism of Israel, Criticism in general

Here's a wacky phenomenon that Michael J. Totten, guest blogging for Andrew Sullivan, points out:
An even starker contrast is noticeable between Israel-supporters in Israel and Israel-supporters in America. Israel’s partisans in the U.S. often talk as though Israel rarely makes any mistakes, that because Israel is a democracy with a right to defend itself it can do no or little wrong. Israelis themselves rarely do this.
One of the things that frustrates me most about the American right-wing mind is that it conflates criticism of something with hatred of something. If you criticize Israel, you must hate it and want Hezbollah to win. If you don't like the way our occupation of Iraq is being conducted, you must hate our troops. If you point out something in America that you feel needs to be changed, you must despise your homeland. I don't know if they actually think this way, or just use this as a rhetorical device to score political points, or whether they can tell the difference. But they act as if they believe it, at least when it comes to criticism from the left: I don't hear right wingers accusing each other of hating Amercia when they criticise secularism, the judicial system, or Hollywood.

This definitely comes to the fore with Israel and its millitary conduct. I think Israel fought this war very poorly, so much so that at times it appeared difficult even to tell what they were trying to accomplish. As Totten points out, this opinion or those like it seemss common enough in Israel, and you'll read it on the editorial pages there. But uttering this kind of blaspemy here in the states will have the right-wing noise machine linking you to Al Qaeda in no time. (Never mind that Hezbollah and Al Qaeda are completely different organizations.)

Back on the subject of the false criticism=hatred idea, one thing right wingers are always complaining about is why those on the left spend more time criticising the United States and its allies than criticising terrorists and their allies. Because they believe (or pretend to believe) that criticism=hatred, they go around saying, "Those lefties criticize America more than they criticize terrorists, so they must hate America more than they hate terrorists. In fact, they are probably on the side of terrorists, blah, blah, blah..."

I don't suppose it's ever occurred to these folks that those of us on the left criticize the United States because we love it, and want it to be better, and because as citizens of the United States we have a right to participate in its policy making. I don't don't waste my words condemning Al Qaeda's fanatical murderous acts because I think they are past reasoning with. I don't spend a lot of time condemning homocidal anti-gay bigotry in the Middle East because I don't think I have any influence over it, and I don't think it's my responsibility. But I do feel our nation and its conduct is my responsibility, insofar as it is a democracy and I am a citizen of it. If I had to allocate my words of criticism in direct proportion to the evil committed by the target of that criticism I guess I'd have to do 538 posts on Stalin, Hitler, and Mao before I could say one word about any of the stuff that I currently talk about. Then maybe I'd have to do 173 post on Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge...but oh wait I need to do 244 posts on the civil war in Congo first.

So when I say "America is doing something wrong", that doesn't mean that I think it's more wrong than what some thug whom I'm not criticizing is doing. It means I feel closer to America than to Iraqi insurgents or to Hezbollah terrorists or to Sudanese janjaweed or to whoever, and therefore what America does is more in my name than what some other nation or entity does, and therefore I'm more likely to take issue when I feel America's actions are stupid or immoral.

Think of it this way: What is more upsetting: when a stranger does something you know in your heart is wrong, or when one of your own family members does something that you know in your heart is wrong, or when you realize that you, yourself, have done something wrong? The answer to that question is why those of us on the left criticize the our country and our allies more than we criticize our country's enemies. I guess folks in Israel have already figured this out.

I wish we Americans would catch up. Because then we can start arguing about what criticisms are valid, and what criticisms aren't valid, instead of having our patriotism or basic human decency impugned.

UPDATE: Glen Greenwald chimes in on a similar note:
I've contrasted several times the Isrealis' willingness to acknowledge so openly and quickly that their war in Lebanon was going so poorly with the absurd insistence by Bush supporters in the U.S., sustained over several years, that the disaster in Iraq was going well. As Totten notes, these supporters apply their same absolutist, reality-denying mindset to Israel as they apply to the conduct of George Bush and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dry Humping Saves Lives

...is the slogan of the AIDS prevention program described here on Feministing.

Lieberman = Republican watch: NYT


The New York Times is picking up on the Lieberman = Republican story (HT: DailyKos). After spending time in the blogosphere, the MSM (that's mainstream media for those of you not down with the lingo) often seems a bit dated, at least when dealing with topics in which I'm interested:

G.O.P. Deserts One of Its Own for Lieberman

Facing Senator Joseph I. Lieberman’s independent candidacy, Republican officials at the state and national level have made the extraordinary decision to abandon their official candidate, and some are actively working to help Mr. Lieberman win in November.

Despite Mr. Lieberman’s position that he will continue to caucus with Democrats if re-elected, all three Republican Congressional candidates in Connecticut have praised Mr. Lieberman and have not endorsed the party’s nominee, Alan Schlesinger. An independent group with Republican ties is raising money for Mr. Lieberman, who has been a strong supporter of President Bush on the Iraq war.

I'm glad to see this is getting more widespread approval. Can you believe that the entire Democratic establishment lined up behind this guy? Boy do they look stupid. Strip him of all his committee assignments and seniority now, please.

Celebrities say no to terrorism

I'm with slacktivist on this one. Taking out a big ad in the LA Times to condemn something that everyone already thinks is evil is not "taking a stand", it's just self-aggrandizement. It's like when people come out in support of Christianity, the religion of some 90% of the country. Oh, your bravery astounds me! Would that I had such cajones! To publicly declare something that nearly everyone agrees with must require a strength of spirit far beyond anything I can ever hope to obtain.

This reminds me of the celebrity activism parodies in the movie Team America: World Police. I usually don't find celebrity activism annoying the way some people do. I'm glad that people use their fame to try to improve the world. But I guess in this case I can feel a little annoyed, too.

UPDATE: OK, I guess this could be a pro-Israeli statement that doesn't quite come out and say exactly that (a commenter on slacktivist makes this argument). If you want to argue that the media has been unfair to Israel in its reporting, or that people or nations aren't treating Israel fairly, please come out and say so. Then we can discuss whether it is true or not. But saying "terrorism is bad" is very different than saying "Israel has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties, and yet gets no credit for it."

So what do I think about what this statement might be saying, but doesn't come out and say directly? While I sympathize with Israel's predicament (how do you fight people embedded in a civilian population, that delights in inflicting civilian casualties?), I think they killed a lot of people unncessarily. Given how quickly they are withdrawing from Lebanon, did all that infrastructure destruction really give them anything? I'll say that Israel's hats are a lighter shade of grey than Hezbollah's black hats, but I'm not going to grant them "good guy" status in my moral cosmology.