Friday, November 30, 2007

Latest fundie lunacy: Interstate 35 is "Way of Holiness"

Does this mean you're just 1/4 miles from heaven? Or that you're about to enter hell?
Image from Interstate Guide.

I guess the Bob Dylan song "Highway 61 Revisited" was wrong: it turns out God prefers Interstate 35:
Running right through the heart of the Twin Cities is a spiritual road that dozens of evangelical churches say is specifically mentioned in the Bible as the "Way of Holiness." They call it the "Highway of Holiness." Others call it Interstate 35.

Evangelicals throughout the Midwest, from Laredo, Texas, to Duluth, Minn., have been praying at 24-hour prayer rooms for a month for Interstate 35 in order to "light the highway." Young people in the movement have been holding "purity sieges" in front of LGBT businesses, abortion clinics and stores that sell pornography. So far, Minnesota has been spared of "purity sieges," but 24-hour prayer rooms have been set up in Minneapolis, Albert Lea and Duluth.

The scriptural basis for the new movement comes from Isaiah 35:8, which reads, "And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it." Because of chapter 35, believers say the highway mentioned must be Interstate 35. In addition, a number of people in the "Highway of Holiness" movement claim to have had prophetic experiences that involve Interstate 35.

(HT: Sullivan) If I-35 is some sort of Heavenly Road, what is the proper theological interpretation of the recent I-35 bridge collapse? Or the fact that around the Twin Cities it splits into 35W and 35E? Does that mean everything north of the Twin Cities was cut off from God? Or everything south of the Twin Cities?

Maybe this is all just a ploy by I-35 commuters to get more federal highway money from the religious nuts in the Bush administration: "It's God's Highway! How could you deny funding for an HOV lane?"

It's pretty sad that this sort of wacky biblical interpretation nonsense is still happening. But human nature hasn't changed, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. I suppose it's a relatively harmless form of supernaturalist delusion, so I should be thankful. And I do find faddish outbursts like this rather amusing. But it does little to improve my often dour assessment of humanity.

Republican Senate candidate has a Geocities site as official page

Kos sneers at Republican John Kennedy (running for Senate in Louisiana) for having a website hosted by Geocities. Indeed, if you go to and look at the page source, you'll find it's a redirect to
That is the Web equivalent of setting up your campaign headquarters in cardboard box in a deserted alley in a seedy neighborhood.

To be fair, I too have a Geocities page. But it's just a placeholder to point to this blog, which is I guess the Web equivalent of a handwritten message thumb-tacked to a public bulletin board at the local library. And I'm not running for Senate.

Of course, maybe John Kennedy is getting some super-deluxe Geocities hosting package, rather than the crappy free hosting just anyone can sign up for. In other words, maybe Geocities is being gentrified.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Control video games with your mind!

Emotiv Systems is trying to make it happen (Disclosure: I had a job interview with them this morning).

Giuliani in BIG trouble

"Don't worry, my dear, my taxpayer-funded escort will protect us during our adulterous trysts, and by billing it to the Office for People with Disabilities (among others), no one will ever find out!"
Image from New York Daily News

Expensing your adultery to the City of New York is not cool. Trapper John on DailyKos claims "Beginning tonight, Rudy is more likely than not done as a serious candidate." I'm not so sure. Never underestimate people's ability to forgive those they look up to for things they would never tolerate in others.

Now it makes sense that the Mayor of New York should have 24-hour security. But why hide the expenses this creates in obscure branches of the municipal government? And is it really right for taxpayers to fund your escort to the Hamptons (where your mistress happens to live) eleven times? Now perhaps some of these times Giuliani had legitimate business there. Three of those trips were on his official schedule. But 11 times doesn't pass the smell test.

Giuliani has a lot of corruption issues: Kerik and his criminal associations, employment of a priest accused of pedophilia, and now this. 4 more years of cronyism is not what we need. I appreciate Giuliani's stances on many social issues (though he's running away from them now, of course). But on issues of authoritarianism, militarism, and cronyism, he's one of the absolute worst candidates. Frankly, I think I'd rather have Mitt "No Muslims" Romney. The guy is a total panderer, but I don't picture him becoming an authoritarian thug. From what I hear of Giuliani's tenure as mayor of NYC, he had a lot of frightening tendencies in those directions. That's the last thing this country needs right now.

I love it when other people think like me

I was worried that I was going out on a limb when I wrote this a few days ago:
I think what Republican primary voters want to hear is that you're such a partisan hack that you'll say anything, repudiate any position, dissociate yourself from any vote, sell out any principle, in order toe the party line and pay homage to the dear leader. Republicans eat that stuff up. Far from being a disadvantage, these transparently opportunistic position changes send a signal that says: "Don't worry: if elected, I won't let my integrity get in the way of pandering to you."Republicans lap it up.
But here's Scott Horton of Harper's saying something quite similar:
But polling has shown that the core group of Republican primary voters are not terribly troubled by the charlatan like qualities of candidates—they seem to take a certain perverse pleasure in it.
So if I'm out on a limb, at least I have some company.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Will the Euro become the new reserve currency?

Image from Bank of Finland

Jerome a Paris on DailyKos looks forward to it. Given Republican reckless mismanagement of our nation's finances, I wouldn't be surprised if the Euro becomes the new "safe" currency. I hate to see America weakened, but I can't blame people for betting against the dollar right now.

Of course, a Democratic administration might start to clean things up, just as Bill Clinton helped do in the 1990's (with a huge assist from a booming economy). But the destructive Republican ideology will still be there, ready to waste it all on wars, giveaways to the rich, and corporate handouts. Looking at America from the outside, I might be thinking, "Do I really want to bet on a country that re-elected Bush in 2004? Sure, they might get their act together, but why risk it?"

We need more than just a Democratic victory in 2008. We need a re-alignment of our politics. I don't see how else we can regain our moral and financial standing in the world.

Romney says he wouldn't appoint qualified Muslim to cabinet

"Don't judge people by their religions...wait, I mean don't judge me by my religion. It's OK to judge other people by their religions. Especially if Republican primary voters have a prejudice against that religion. Yeah. Oh wait, I mean especially if Republicans don't like that religion, unless that religion is the Church of Latter Day Saints, in which case not liking it would mean you're being unfair."
Image from Out in Hollywood (and no, Romney isn't gay as far as anyone knows.)

Romney's statement isn't surprising, given the anti-Muslim bias of those he's catering to, but pretty execrable nonetheless. Here's the quote:

I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that "jihadism" is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, "…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."

Romney, whose Mormon faith has become the subject of heated debate in Republican caucuses, wants America to be blind to his religious beliefs and judge him on merit instead. Yet he seems to accept excluding Muslims because of their religion, claiming they're too much of a minority for a post in high-level policymaking. More ironic, that Islamic heritage is what qualifies them to best engage America's Arab and Muslim communities and to help deter Islamist threats.

Pathetic and contemptible. Cabinet positions aren't to be doled out according to quotas based on religious demographics. Since when do Republicans, or anyone else for that matter, think that way? If that's too be the case, we Unitarian Universalists need to start breeding or converting like crazy if we're ever going to get one of our own in there. Of course, we've already had more than our fair share of presidents.

Here's Kevin Drum's reaction to Romney's statement:
What's really telling about this is that you can almost see the gears turning in his brain when he came up with this answer. Obviously he had to say "no," because he knows that the Republican base would go nuts over the idea of a Muslim in his cabinet. But he can't just say that, can he? So his Bain-trained analytic mind went searching for a plausible excuse and the first thing that popped out of the wetware was a numerical explanation: (a) minorities deserve cabinet positions in proportion to their population, (b) one cabinet position is 5% of all cabinet positions, (c) therefore only groups with at least 15 million members are "justified" in getting one, (d) Muslims aren't even close to that, so (e) no dice. However, since they do make up about 2% of the population, they certainly qualify for 2% of all the lower level positions.

Game with unique interface banned in Belgium

Image from engadget.

Nintendo has a unique controller called the Wii, but this game has an even more unconventional interface: your wee wee. Too bad the Belgian police banned it:
As reported by Engadget, Place to Pee, a driving game controlled via urination, has been given the chop by police in Gent. The game was on display at the GamePower Expo, but cops there ultimately found it indecent.

Oprah will be stumping for Obama

It will be interesting to see what kind of impact Oprah has on Obama's campaign. She's got an enormous media empire and a huge audience, but will that translate into votes in a primary election?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Electric cars on the way

This front page story on Kos has some pictures and previews of electric vehicles on the near horizon.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Giuliani voted for McGovern over Nixon...

...and is now backpedaling furiously:
"I had traditionally been a Democrat," Giuliani told me in a recent interview in Las Vegas. "It was almost like a reflex mode. I actually remember saying to myself, 'If I was a person really deciding who should be president right now, I'd probably vote for Nixon, because I think the country would be safer with Nixon.'"
What does it say about today's Republican party that Giuliani has to defend a vote against the disgraced Richard Nixon? The guy was a crook. Of course, this is the same Republican party that demands fealty to Bush, the most reviled president since...Richard Nixon. OK, maybe it makes sense.

I think what Republican primary voters want to hear is that you're such a partisan hack that you'll say anything, repudiate any position, dissociate yourself from any vote, sell out any principle, in order toe the party line and pay homage to the dear leader. Republicans eat that stuff up. Far from being a disadvantage, these transparently opportunistic position changes send a signal that says: "Don't worry: if elected, I won't let my integrity get in the way of pandering to you."Republicans lap it up. How else does one explain the fact that the front-runners in the Republican nomination process are Giuliani and Mitt Romney, both of whom were elected to office in very liberal areas and many of whose past positions are anathema to the Republican base? (OK, there could be other reasons for this. Maybe the Republican base realizes that the more liberal of their candidates have the best chances in the general election or something.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What conservatives think about

Well, we don't really know. But we do know what the most viewed pages on Conservapedia are (as of this posting):
  1. Main Page‎ [1,935,866]
  2. Homosexuality‎ [1,625,236]
  3. Homosexuality and Hepatitis‎ [518,141]
  4. Homosexuality and Parasites‎ [434,518]
  5. Homosexuality and Promiscuity‎ [422,222]
  6. Gay Bowel Syndrome‎ [402,128]
  7. Homosexual Couples‎ [374,132]
  8. Homosexuality and Gonorrhea‎ [332,115]
  9. Homosexuality and Anal Cancer‎ [294,478]
  10. Homosexuality and Mental Health‎ [293,805]
(via The Agonist via Crooks and Liars)

When I read this list aloud to my wife, she innocently asked, "Is Conservapedia a gay site?"

I'm sad to see that the famous Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus page didn't make the list. Oh, they removed it.

Doonesbury on the possibility of an atheist president

A good one on a favorite subject of mine (HT: Bill in Minneapolis via email).

What do forced pregnancy people think the penalty for abortion should be?

Digby is pointing out an interesting wrinkle in the abortion debate: If the anti-choicers really believe that abortion is killing a human being, shouldn't women who get them and the doctors who perform them be prosecuted for murder? Do anti-choicers want this? Apparently not:
MATTHEWS: I have always wondered something about the pro-life movement. If—if you believe that killing—well, killing a fetus or killing an unborn child is—is murder, why don‘t you bring murder charge or seek a murder penalty against a woman who has an abortion? Why do you let her off, if you really believe it‘s murder?

O‘STEEN: We have never sought criminal penalties against a woman.

MATTHEWS: Why not?

O‘STEEN: There haven‘t been criminal penalties against a woman.

MATTHEWS: Well, why not?

O‘STEEN: Well, you don‘t know the circumstances and how she‘s been forced into this. And that‘s...

MATTHEWS: Forced into it?


O‘STEEN: ... to be effective.

We‘re out—we‘re not out—we‘re out to try to protect unborn children.


MATTHEWS: See, this is where the hypocrisy comes in, sir. If it‘s wrong to have an abortion, why don‘t you criminalize it?


O‘STEEN: I don‘t think that‘s the way you‘re going to protect unborn children.
The reason they don't want to talk about criminal penalties is because it would immediately put the focus back on the woman and the dilemma she's going through. And it would hurt their movement politically a great deal. At least that's my guess, otherwise why don't they come out and say what they think the penalty should be?

And all those statutes ready to outlaw abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, what penalty do they impose for abortion? A fine? Jail time? How much? For the doctor or the woman?

Of course, my pet theory is that they don't really want to outlaw abortion, they just want to cast shame and aspersion on women who get them. They want it to be a dirty, shameful, dangerous process so that people who had a kind of sex they don't approve of suffer negative consequences for it. I'm probably being unfair here to the anti-choicers, but Internal Monologue is hardly the place to a find a good representation of the anti-choice viewpoint.

Financing solar panels on homes

An interesting post on Berkeley's program to have the city help finance people installing solar panels on their roofs:
Berkeley's City Council has a plan for the city to finance solar panels for its residents to then have the homeowners pay for their panels through a 20-year additional assessment on their homes that is guaranteed not to exceed what their electricity would cost from the utility.

There are a number of genius elements to this path. One is that the city government will be able to achieve lower cost financing that, by definition, will lower the long-term cost of each installation. And, the City's commitment will foster educated inspectors (a real issue), a concentration of installers, knowledge in the community, etc, capacity for executing installations. The increasing number of installations (along with lower hassles for installers, like inspectors who know what they're doing) will also drive down costs as quantity of installations mount.

This does seem like a good idea: a lot of energy efficient and green technologies have high up-front costs, but more than pay for themselves over the long term. And a lot of these technologies would benefit enormously from economies of scale that aren't yet there. Maybe this program will help jump-start the business.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Take a minute away from bemoaning the insanity of the Republicans and the ineffectiveness of the Democrats in stopping it and be be thankful for the things we do have. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Who needs science fiction when you have reality?

Neuromancer author William Gibson in an interview with Rolling Stone:

You made your name as a science-fiction writer, but in your last two novels
you've moved squarely into the present. Have you lost interest in the future?

It has to do with the nature of the present. If one had gone to talk to a
publisher in 1977 with a scenario for a science-fiction novel that was in effect
the scenario for the year 2007, nobody would buy anything like it. It's too
complex, with too many huge sci-fi tropes: global warming; the lethal, sexually
transmitted immune-system disease; the United States, attacked by crazy
terrorists, invading the wrong country. Any one of these would have been more
than adequate for a science-fiction novel. But if you suggested doing them all
and presenting that as an imaginary future, they'd not only show you the door,
they'd probably call security.

This is the future, man.

Bush and Musharraf: kindred spirits

Bush seems to be climbing in bed with Pakistan's military dictator:

President Bush yesterday offered his strongest support of embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying the general "hasn't crossed the line" and "truly is somebody who believes in democracy."

Bush spoke nearly three weeks after Musharraf declared emergency rule, sacked members of the Supreme Court and began a roundup of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists. Musharraf's government yesterday released about 3,000 political prisoners, although 2,000 remain in custody, according to the Interior Ministry.

Let me go on record as predicting that this backing of Musharraf is going to blow up in our faces. I hope not literally, but that's a possibility. I'm no Pakistan expert, but from where I'm sitting Musharraf looks like bad news. And he's not even useful to us. The guy is a military dictator with nulclear weapons who is duping the United States into giving him billions of dollars in military aid for a task he doesn't really want to do. I'm glad some people in government are speaking out on this:

"What exactly would it take for the president to conclude Musharraf has crossed the line? Suspend the constitution? Impose emergency law? Beat and jail his political opponents and human rights activists?" asked Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a presidential candidate. "He's already done all that. If the president sees Musharraf as a democrat, he must be wearing the same glasses he had on when he looked in Vladimir Putin's soul."

Bush was asked in the interview if there is any line Musharraf should not cross. "He hasn't crossed the line. As a matter of fact, I don't think that he will cross any lines," Bush replied, according to an ABC transcript. ". . . We didn't necessarily agree with his decision to impose emergency rule, and . . . hopefully he'll get . . . rid of the rule. Today, I thought, was a pretty good signal, that he released thousands of people from jail."

Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said that "it's hard to imagine how the administration will be able to achieve anything in Pakistan if the president is so disconnected from reality. "Almost everyone in Pakistan who believes in George Bush's vision of democracy is in prison today," Malinowski said. "Calling the man who put them in prison a great democrat will only discredit America among moderate Pakistanis and give Musharraf confidence that he can continue to defy the United States because Bush will forgive anything he does."

(If Maestro, my super-secret government contact with some subject matter expertise in this area, would like to weigh, in I'd be very interested.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Military wants signing bonuses of wounded soldiers back

This is 100% batshit insane:
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) ―The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.

Kos and Sullivan both react. Fortunately, a member of Congress has introduced a bill to put the kibosh on this sort of thing:
Mr. Altmire's legislation, the Veterans Guaranteed Bonus Act, would require the Defense Department to pay bonuses in full within 30 days to veterans discharged because of combat-related wounds.
I'm proud it's a Democrat doing this, but I imagine such a bill would have bi-partisan support.

There have been so many examples of our veterans being treated poorly recently. It's a disgrace. How about we defund some weapons programs or ballistic missile defense systems and fund veteran's health care or college scholarships or something? The priorities of our nation, as expressed by what we spend money on, are truly out of whack.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What if all the action movie characters fought each other?

The Ultimate Showdown for Ultimate Destiny:

What has happened to our politics?

I think Republican Mike Huckabee has jumped the shark with this Chuck Norris ad currently playing in Iowa. Yeah, it's kinda funny. But what does it say about our level of political discourse that this is the ad he's running in Iowa?

Lots of people are reacting to this ad:

Ezra Klein: It's increasingly hard not to really, really like Mike Huckabee. I'm definitely going to vote for him for neighbor, or possibly for friend. That said, this is Huckabee's first ad in Iowa, and it seems strangely conceived. Chuck Norris facts are very well known amongst plugged-in hipsters who read Gawker. They are not very well known, I'd guess, among Iowans. If this were a web-only ad meant to get the campaign some YouTube pick-up, it would be very well-designed. As an introduction to Iowans? I think it'll confuse more than it will convert.

Pam Spaulding on Pandagon: This is funny, but probably not for the reasons Mike Huckabee thinks it is.

Quote of the Day

"Imbecility that is not even meek, ceases to be pitiable, and becomes simply odious."

-George Eliot, "Evangelical Teaching", from The Portable Atheist anthology

When I read this recently, I immediately thought of the Bush administration.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A flood of spam

I didn't realize how bad it had become, and it's getting worse all the time. Here's a message from the sysadmin of Macalester:
Since the volume of spam we receive was a critical factor in causing the e-mail delay problem, we'd like to take an opportunity to make clear just how bad the situation with spam really is. During October and November, the average number of incoming e-mail messages has been between 800,000 and 1,000,000 per day. Of this traffic, between 90% and 99% is spam. (For comparison, a year ago our daily traffic load was approximately 200,000 messages per day, of which approximately 80% was

Worst of all, this proportion of spam to legitimate traffic is not unique to Macalester. It's a worldwide problem, and affects everyone's e-mail everywhere. Thankfully, all but a handful of such spams are blocked before reaching your Inbox. It's a sobering thought, but realize that for every spam message you receive, there are thousands you never see.

If you are curious, real-time and historic statistics regarding our spam load may be found on the Web, here:
(HT: Pablo via email)

Maybe I should start using bigger words

cash advance

I guess the fact that I can reach a young audience is a good thing. Gotta let the yunguns know about how cool atheism is and how not-cool Republicans are. But some snobby part of me would have liked to have had a higher level of education required to comprehend my sublime profundity.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

That's Mario, but who's the other guy?

Image from the joystiq story

It's Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper! Americans aren't the only ones stunningly ignorant of politics:
Mario is more recognizable to Canadian citizens than their own prime minister, according to a Harris/Decima survey.

As reported by Joystiq, researchers found that more Canadians could identify a picture of Nintendo’s famed plumber than they could of PM Stephen Harper, who has been on the job for nearly two years.

On the other hand, Nintendo commissioned the survey.

To be fair, I wouldn't have recognized Stephen Harper either. Until now, that is.

OK, looking at the report on the survey, the quote above isn't really accurate. Only in some areas of Canada was Mario more recognizable. Nationwide, they both have 70% name recognition:
Even in Calgary, which includes Harper's home riding of Calgary Southwest, Mario was more recognizable (47 per cent vs. 41 per cent). More women across Canada were also able to identify Mario than the country's top politician (66 per cent vs. 63 per cent) and nationwide, the animated plumber is just as well-known as the prime minister. Both were recognized by 70 per cent of respondents in five major centres when asked to identify photographs by name.
(emphasis added.)

Yo NYT: a billion is a THOUSAND millions

If you read the lead editorial in the paper version today's New York Times, you would have come across this shocking line:
House Democrats distinguished themselves this week when they stood up to the White House’s latest military funding steamroller: approving only $50 million of the additional $196 million the president requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Their editorials need an editor. If Bush only asked for $196 million for wars, Congress would give it to him no problem. And no one who knows anything about military budgets would describe such a paltry sum as a "funding steamroller". Of course, the editorial writers meant to say "billion", not "million". That they could make such a mistake is truly frightening. A billion is nothing like a million. In fact, a billion is what you get when you take a thousand millions and add them together. It's like mistaking gallon jug for a shot glass. (Here's a good post from Dean Baker on innumeracy and how the press should report numbers.) How many people did this error slip past? It's a howler. A doozy. A big black eye for the Gray Lady. (HT: Atrios, though I did see this myself this morning and shook my head in utter dismay. It's the New York Times, for chrissake. Don't they have like, copy editors and budgets and shit?)

I'm pleased to see they have corrected the error on their website.

In other news, I'm very sad to discover that Internal Monologue has only had 45 visitors since its inception. That's like 2 visitors a month. I guess no one reads this blog...oh wait, I've had 45 thousand visitors. Funny how I couldn't tell the difference.

Classic movie lines...if there were no writers

I support the striking writers. They should get something from Internet sales. It may be hard to make money on the net, but that doesn't mean the writers shouldn't get a cut of what money does get made. It should be just like any other distribution channel. In fact, this whole divvying things up by distribution channel is weird. They're all merging together, but old arrangements are slow to adapt. Why don't they just get some small cut of the take, regardless of medium?

As an actor, I run into this weirdness every time I try to explain to someone the different jurisdictions of SAG and AFTRA: SAG is film, and AFTRA is TV and radio. But some TV is SAG if it's shot on film or if it meets some other weird criteria. Some "industrials" (in-house corporate videos used for training, promotion, or other purposes) are SAG and some aren't. It's all very abstruse.

Anyway, via Eschaton, we have this funny look at some classic movie lines as if they had been written by non-writers:

David Brooks defense of Reagan annihilated

Reagan speaking at the Neshoba County fair in 1980.
Image from the Neshoba County Fair website.

David Brooks recently penned a column in which he claimed that Reagan mentioning "state's rights" in a speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi (site of three infamous murders of civil rights workers) was not a coded appeal to racists:
Still, the agitprop version of this week — that Reagan opened his campaign with an appeal to racism — is a distortion, as honest investigators ranging from Bruce Bartlett, who worked for the Reagan administration and is the author of “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy,” to Kevin Drum, who writes for Washington Monthly, have concluded.
Well I don't know about Bartlett, Kevin Drum doesn't exactly exonerate Reagan. Indeed, he calls Reagan's speech "a genuine blight on his record" and says Reagan deserves criticism for it and that Reagan's civil rights record was "pretty abominable". Drum just makes the point that Dukakis also shaded his language to appeal to white racists when campaigning in the same place 8 years later (Dukakis did so by not explicitly mentioning the murders, even though his speech was 24 years to the day after the bodies were found.)

Well, Brooks' attempted whitewashing (ha ha ha) of Reagan drew some pretty fierce criticism from both bloggers and the mainstream media. His fellow NYT columnists Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert both savaged him, though neither mentioned Brooks by name. For real , direct anti-Brooks invective, you gotta go to the blogosphere. Via Crooks and Liars, here's driftglass on why David "Bobo" Brooks felt compelled to defend Reagan's indefensible racist appeal:
What is at stake for David Brooks is not the validity of some quarter-century-old quote by Ronald Reagan, but Bobo’s very own tribal identity.

His back-stage, hologram-stamped laminates to the Big Freeper Jamboree.

Long ago Bobo went all-in on his Great Imaginary Conservative Revolution. And now, while he desperately clings to his self image as a tolerant and reasonable person, his ideology and chosen profession have left him literally nowhere else to go but deeper into the pit, shackled at the throat by chains of his own forging to the scum of the nation.

Which is why he can only bear to sneak little glimpses of his fetid political bunkmates as he scurries past them in the dark; can only bear to catching tiny terrifying glances of their squirmy, bestial bulk in the blastlight of occasional, startling flashes of illumination, like Katrina and Abu Ghraib.

And so what we see in Bobo’s column is a deep-dive into the dangerously self-deluded mind of one of the last, faux-reasonable Defenders of the Faith, torqued almost to the breaking point.

A man whose livelihood depends entirely on sustaining a state of utter denial about what his livelihood actually depends on.
Driftglass has four posts on this subject. The first is here.

Republicans need to jettison racism and homophobia if I'm ever going to take them seriously as a party, or view them as anything other than an enormous obstacle to American progress. If only for reasons political demographics, Republicans need to dump these forms of hate.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

RISKAY on how to tell if your man is cheating

I suppose it would work:
Why you comin' home
At five in the morn?
Something's going on.
Can I smell yo dick?

Don't play me like a fool
Cuz that ain't cool
What you need to do is
Let me smell yo dick!
(via RazzyBlog)

Why Republicans don't shame Democrats into closing hedge fund tax loophole

Democrats should close the "carried interest" loophole that allows hedge fund managers to get taxed at 15% while the rest of us get taxed much higher. Unfortunately, hedge fund managers give a lot of money to Democrats and that buys influence. Matt Yglesias asks why Republicans don't shame Democrats into closing the loophole. It would be a pretty easy way to score some political points and show how the Democrats are in hock to narrow moneyed interests. Kevin Drum responds:

Silly Matt. Virtually every Republican in Congress has signed — using the blood of their first-born child — Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge. Everyone knows that "closing a loophole" is just crafty liberalspeak for "increasing your taxes," so voting to tax hedge fund managers at normal rates would cause all pledge-abiding members of the GOP caucus to explode. Or, in any case, open them up to Grover Norquist saying mean things about them.

Besides, you know the old saying. "First they came for the hedge fund billionaires, and I didn't speak up because I was not a hedge fund billionaire. Then they came for the trust fund billionaires, and I didn't speak up because I was not a trust fund billionaire. They they came for the real estate billionaires, and I didn't speak up because I was not a real estate billionaire. Then they came for me, and by that time there were no billionaires left to speak up."

One of the more pernicious effects of GOP propaganda is that our politicians have become tax crybabies: in their sissy little minds raising revenue is NEVER a good idea. No matter how big our deficits are, or how important the need, even suggesting that an egregious tax loophole be closed sends Republicans into a Norquist-induced tantrum.

These are often the same people who claim that the United States is in an unprecedented existential struggle for survival against them terr'rrists, who are a greater threat than the Nazis and Soviets put together. But somehow were supposed to fight off this threat for free, or with the money we get from cutting some education and health spending. It's insane. But cognitive dissonance has never stopped these folks.

Why are so many Islamic terrorists engineers?

Engineering seems to be the field of choice for many Islamic terrorists. Why? This paper, by Oxford Sociologists Gambetta and Hertog, tries to figure it out. Here's the abstract:
We find that graduates from subjects such as science, engineering, and medicine are strongly overrepresented among Islamist movements in the Muslim world, though not among the extremist Islamic groups which have emerged in Western countries more recently. We also find that engineers alone are strongly over-represented among graduates in violent groups in both realms. This is all the more puzzling for engineers are virtually absent from left-wing violent extremists and only present rather than over-represented among right-wing extremists. We consider four hypotheses that could explain this pattern. Is the engineers’ prominence among violent Islamists an accident of history amplified through network links, or do their technical skills make them attractive recruits? Do engineers have a ‘mindset’ that makes them a particularly good match for Islamism, or is their vigorous radicalization explained by the social conditions they endured in Islamic countries? We argue that the interaction between the last two causes is the most plausible explanation of our findings, casting a new light on the sources of Islamic extremism and grounding macro theories of radicalization in a micro-level perspective.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Southern Baptist pedophile scandal

Orcinus wonders why this hasn't gotten the same attention that the Catholic Church's scandal has:
And so here it is -- in the form of hundreds of young women and men coming forward to tell their stories to judges and juries, exposing a decades-long pattern of unchecked predatory behavior on the part of their Baptist pastors. This parade, too, has gone on nearly non-stop and just as fast for nearly a year now -- so where are the reporters, the cameras, the headlines?

A few national papers have picked up on this, as has ABC's 20/20 (which did a report in April). Among bloggers, the perspicacious Pam Spaulding has been on the case. But mostly, the coverage has been confined to the local papers -- each one treating its own hometown pastor scandal as an isolated incident, without putting it in the context of a larger national trend. As long as the dots aren't being connected, this isn't getting anything like the 24/7/365 coverage that the Catholic scandal did.

We have to wonder: why did the Catholic Church get the full media treatment -- but all we hear about this still-exploding scandal is the sound of crickets chirping?
Having been accused of Catholic-bashing before, I feel compelled to point out similar failings in Protestant denominations. And if I hear about a juicy Unitarian Universalist sex scandal, I promise I'll post about it here.

Senator Vitter (R-LA) gets subpoena to testify about escorts

Those of us who enjoy watching Republicans squirm on the spit of sexual hypocrisy should pencil in November 28th on our calendars:

WASHINGTON -- The "D.C. Madam" served a subpoena Tuesday on Sen. David Vitter, R-La., requiring him to testify about his use of the Washington, D.C., escort service federal prosecutors say was a prostitution ring.

The subpoena calls on the freshman senator to testify at a federal court hearing Nov. 28 looking into the business operations of the $2 million escort service Deborah Jeane Palfrey operated in the nation's capital for 13 years.

(via The Carpetbagger Report). Remember the Internal Monologue offer: any politician who comes forth and proposes decriminalization of prostitution, or even gets a good discussion going on how we should deal with sexual matters in our culture, will get a pass from Internal Monologue when it comes to sex scandals.

Torture is wrong

The Military Commissions Act is one of the more hideous pieces of legislation the US Congress has passed (if you care about civil rights, human rights, and the moral standing of the United States, that is). Here's a site devoted to fighting it: (HT: Pablo).

The writers' strike, explained by a Daily Show writer

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fashion horrors of JC Penny 1977

I have complained about the baggy pants fashion among today's youth, but I suppose I should be thankful that it is no longer 1977 and we were subject to stuff like this:

(HT: Bryan via email.) There's so much more. Follow this link, if you dare:
Last weekend I put an exhaust fan in the ceiling for my wife's grandfather. After a bunch of hours spent in The Hottest Attic In The Universe, he had a ceiling fan that ducted to the side of his house.

While my brother-in-law and I were fitting the fan in between the joists, we found something under the insulation. What we found was this [...]

A JC Penney catalog from 1977. It's not often blog fodder just falls in my lap, but holy hell this was two solid inches of it, right there for the taking.

Airline Security: Annoying AND Useless

All the annoyances we put ourselves through at airport security are basically forms of voodoo: by going through a ritual that looks like it has something to do with security, our magical minds convince us that we are actually more safe. The charade is pretty transparent though, and it annoys the crap out of me. Now that I have a baby son, all those annoyances are magnified tenfold. And these measures don't even stop relatively straightforward attempts to get dangerous devices on planes:

A report made public Wednesday said government investigators smuggled liquid explosives and detonators past airport security, exposing a dangerous hole in the nation's ability to keep these forbidden items off of airplanes.

The investigators learned about the components to make an improvised explosive device and an improvised incendiary device on the Internet and purchased the parts at local stores, said the report by the Government Accountability Office. Investigators were able to purchase the components for the two devices for under $150, and they studied the published guidelines for screening to determine how to conceal the prohibited items as they went through checkpoint security.

Not only did investigators get the items through the checkpoints, but they also brought them onto the planes, GAO told lawmakers Thursday.

Devilstower on DailyKos:

Another 9/11 was impossible on 9/12, because all that made it possible was the assumption that the best way to survive a hijacking was to go along with it. Absolutely nothing needed to be done to make air travel safer.

Everything we've spent there has been more about congressmen looking busy than making people safe.

The fact that this stuff is so obvious yet doesn't get acted on is a pretty damning indictment of our political system. Or maybe it's just more evidence for my thesis that we are fish out of water: tribal barbarians living in a world where tribal instincts are always fucking us up. Human beings are obviously beta products that don't scale well. Let's hope the Robotrons who replace us are better.

Alabama sex toy ban will stand

The Supreme Court won't hear the case:
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a challenge to Alabama's ban on the sale of sex toys, ending a nine-year legal battle and sending a warning to store owners to clean off their shelves.
Now purveyors of sex toys will have to call them medical devices if they want to avoid rather stiff penalties:
Up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine for a first offense. A second offense carries a prison sentence of one to 10 years.
This story does little to change my stereotyped thinking about The South. Aren't people just embarrassed by this kind of law? Fortunately, Alabamans can still buy this stuff from other states and online.

Sweet home Alabama
Ain't no dildo sellin' here
You buy as many guns as you want
It's those butt plugs that we fear

HT: RazzyBlog

Vocabulary quiz that gives rice to charity

Here's a fun vocab quiz that dynamically adjusts its difficulty to make itself very hard for you. I got up to level 47, but I tend to bounce around 43-46. Each correct answer causes the sponsors to donate 10 grains of rice to UN famine relief. (HT: My wonderful wife Sarah via email.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How to successfully interrogate people

When the FBI interrogated Saddam Hussein, it did it the right way:
Instead of bright lights, loud music or waterboarding, the Beirut-born Arabic speaker - who immigrated to the U.S. as a teen - built a rapport with the dictator nabbed in a spider hole. He treated him with respect and took care of his every need.

On his birthday, Piro showed Saddam news clippings showing that Iraqis no longer celebrated the date. But then the agent gave him baklava Piro's Lebanese mother sent him in Baghdad.

They talked about sports and Saddam's pulp novels, and soon the despot was spilling his guts over thick cups of Folger's.

This is what you do when you actually want to get information from someone. Torture is for getting false confessions and for practicing cruelty.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It's Veteran's Day

Let's take a moment to remember that it's Veteran's Day.

Don't be intimidated by wine experts

They don't really know what they are talking about:
In 2001, Frederic Brochet, of the University of Bordeaux, conducted two separate and very mischievous experiments. In the first test, Brochet invited 57 wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn't stop the experts from describing the "red" wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its "jamminess," while another enjoyed its "crushed red fruit." Not a single one noticed it was actually a white wine.

The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle was a fancy grand-cru. The other bottle was an ordinary vin du table. Despite the fact that they were actually being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the differently labeled bottles nearly opposite ratings. The grand cru was "agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded," while the vin du table was "weak, short, light, flat and faulty". Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only 12 said the cheap wine was.

(via Sullivan) I wonder how many "cultures of expertise" would fail similar tests. The people who rate the value of collateralized debt obligations aren't any better at their jobs, given the recent spate of multi-billion dollar losses at major banks and investment firms. Put a fancy label on something, get a few "experts" to tout its virtues using intimidating, esoteric language, and its amazing what you can foist on people for a time.

Get your flu shot

If you have any sense of civic duty whatsoever, get your flu shot. According to this post on Marginal Revolution, Influenza kills 36,000 people a year. By getting your flu shot, you're not only protecting yourself, you're protecting other people by making it more difficult for the flu virus to use your body as a Xerox machine to make copies of itself and infect other people. Indeed, depending on the circumstances, you may on average be preventing more flu infections in other people than you are in yourself.

(via Sullivan)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Humans don't have supernatural powers

If you can demonstrate otherwise, you should go to this guy and win $1 million dollars.

Bush's key enabler: Dianne Feinstein

She's not up for re-election until 2012, so no wonder she feels she can blow off her constituents (including yours truly). Greenwald:

Feinstein is not merely voting reliably for the most extremist Bush policies, though she is doing that. Far more than that, she has become, time and again, the linchpin of Bush's ability to have his most radical policies approved by the Senate.

Could the universe be any larger between what Feinstein's constituents want and what she is doing in the Senate? Here are the latest views of California voters of the President to whose agenda Feinstein is displaying such ferocious fidelity:

Do you approve or disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as President?

Approve -- 28%

Disapprove -- 70%

Among California Democrats, a grand total of 9% approve of Feinstein's beloved President; 90% disapprove. Obviously, nothing could be less relevant to Feinstein than the views of her constituents, but still, the disparity between what they believe and what she is doing is just striking, even for the Beltway.
Which policies are these? Greenwald gives a good summary:

Two months ago, Dianne Feinstein used her position on the Senate Intelligence Committee to enable passage of Bush's FISA amendments, granting the President vast new warrantless surveillance powers.

Last month, Feinstein used her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure confirmation of Bush's highly controversial judicial nominee Leslie Southwick, by being the only Committee Democrat to vote for the nomination (The Politico: "Sen. Dianne Feinstein had emerged as a linchpin in the controversial nomination").

This week, Feinstein used her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to enable confirmation of Bush's Attorney General nominee by ensuring that the frightened Chuck Schumer didn't have to stand alone (Fox News: "Schumer's and Feinstein's support for Mukasey virtually guarantees that a majority of the committee will recommend his confirmation").

And now, Feinstein is using her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee -- simultaneously -- to single-handedly ensure fulfillment of Bush's telecom amnesty demands...
It's too bad there's not much we can do right now. All the more reason to be alert for opportunities to put real progressives in positions of power in the Democratic party.

Abstinence Only doesn't work; comprehensive does

This is one of those truths that I fear bears repeating, because it hasn't yets unken into the collective consciousness: Abstinence Only sex education doesn't work. Here is a quote from a recent study by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy:
At present, there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence, or reduces the number of sexual partners. In addition, there is strong evidence from multiple randomized trials demonstrating that some abstinence programs chosen for evaluation because they were believed to be promising actually had no impact on teen sexual behavior. That is, they did not delay the initiation of sex, increase the return to abstinence or decrease the number of sexual partners."1(p. 15)

In contrast, a substantial majority of the comprehensive sex education programs reviewed—which receive no comparable federal funding—are effective. The positive outcomes included delaying the initiation of sex, reducing the frequency of sex, reducing the number of sexual partners and increasing condom or contraceptive use.
(via Sexuality and Religion) Now given this reality, which kind of sex education receives federal funding? Indeed, which is slated to get $28 million more than the $141 million it got last year? If so-called conservatives are concerned about wasteful government spending, wouldn't federally funded abstinence-only education be a no-brainer to ax?

Of course, I suspect the people pushing abstinence only aren't concerned about actually reducing teen pregnancy, premarital sex, the spread of STDs, or the number of abortions. They are interesting in striking a certain moral pose. They think it's important to "send the right message" and "stand up for certain values", regardless of whether doing so actually helps reduce the behavior they abhor. I feel we get a lot of this "lawmaking for show, consequences be damned". I suspect our completely misguided and immoral drug prohibition regime is driven by this kind of thinking. I'm sick of it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

How to get information from the Internet

Don't go onto some site and ask a question, like "What's the best sushi restaurant in such-and-such neighborhood?" That won't get you the best information. Instead, go up on some site and post "Restaurant X is the best sushi restaurant in such-and-such neighborhood, and anyone who disagrees with me is a damn fool." This will trigger a tremendous outpouring of "nerdfury" in which you are rebutted by an angry mob that will describe in great detail exactly how you are wrong and what the real best sushi restaurant in that neighborhood is and how stupid you are, etc. But you will get much better information than if you just innocently asked for the information you wanted. (Insight from this post. Kevin Drum responds: "Anybody who doesn't immediately recognize the truth of this is obviously spending too much time in the real world and not enough time online.")

The religious right falls in line like docile sheep

We keep hearing stories about how social conservatives will never accept Giuliani, how the religious right would abandon the Republican party if he's the nominee, etc. I'm starting to believe it's all baloney. It seems as though the authoritarian style Giuliani projects trumps all those "deeply held moral principles" about abortion, sanctity of marriage, homosexuality, gender roles, etc. It's not as if there aren't Republican candidates that have a strong record on those social issues. But Giuliani continues to lead. Of course, it could be that most people aren't paying attention yet. It's easy for us political junkies to forget that for most people, this is still way far off.

There's still more of this to play out, but I think that among the American right-wing, the need for belligerent, macho posturing is much stronger than the need to express puritanism.

Why do Senate Democrats let themselves get punked?

Greenwald, who is almost always worth reading:

But it isn't true that there is a "60-vote requirement," [to get anything done in the Senate] because only Republicans are willing to impose it. Democrats won't, even on what they claim are the gravest of matters, such as confirming someone as Attorney General who is "dead wrong on torture" and who won't even "tell the president that he cannot ignore the laws passed by Congress."

The so-called "60-vote requirement" applies only when it is time to do something to limit the Bush administration. It is merely the excuse Senate Democrats use to explain away their chronic failure/unwillingness to limit the President, and it is what the media uses to depict the GOP filibuster as something normal and benign. There obviously is no "60-vote requirement" when it comes to having the Senate comply with the President's demands, as the 53-vote confirmation of Michael Mukasey amply demonstrates. But as Mukasey is sworn in as the highest law enforcement officer in America, the Democrats want you to know that they most certainly did stand firm and "registered their displeasure."

Well, allow me to "register my displeasure" with the Democrats of the Senate (especially Schumer and Feinstein), since unlike them, I can't filibuster nominees for Attorney General who hem and haw on whether waterboarding is torture or not.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Falafel tracking fails to uncover any terrorist plots

No terrorists in this one...but there are still four more to check!
Image from Sugar and Spice.

A short-lived FBI program that sought to ferret out Iranian operatives in the Bay Area by tracking sales of Middle Eastern food items in local grocery stores has apparently not yielded any results:

Like Hansel and Gretel hoping to follow their bread crumbs out of the forest, the FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian terrorists.

The idea was that a spike in, say, falafel sales, combined with other data, would lead to Iranian secret agents in the south San Francisco-San Jose area.

The brainchild of top FBI counterterrorism officials Phil Mudd and Willie T. Hulon, according to well-informed sources, the project didn’t last long. It was torpedoed by the head of the FBI’s criminal investigations division, Michael A. Mason, who argued that putting somebody on a terrorist list for what they ate was ridiculous — and possibly illegal.

Well, given some of the other things people have been put on the terrorist watch list for (like having the name "Robert Johnson"), it's not that ridiculous. But it certainly should be illegal.

Wow. To think that the FBI was poring over my Trader Joe's receipts and wondering if the hummus I bought meant I was an Iranian agent. (OK, maybe not my receipts; I don't live in the South Bay area.) Did they ever stop to ask themselves whether Iranian agents bought groceries in a different manner than anyone else from that part of the world?

I hope this story is not representative of our domestic counter-terrorism efforts. If so, we're in big trouble. Life under the Bush administration: increased government intrusiveness, but it's done in such a stupid way that it doesn't provide any security benefits.

Why is the US government not more concerned about Pakistani dictatorship?

You'd think that when a military dictator of a nuclear-armed country seized power and suspended the constitution, this would be some cause for concern for the US government. But then I saw this darkly humorous comparison chart:

Signs To Look Out ForUSAPakistan
Unitary ExecutiveCheck!Check!
Stolen ElectionsCheck!Check!
Military Loyal To President, Not ConstitutionCheck!Check!
VP Shoots People In FaceCheck!Not so much
Criminalization of Political OppositionCheck!Check!
Constitution SuspendedCheck!Check!
People Noticed Constitution SuspendedCheck!Check!
Media Noticed Constitution SuspendedNot so muchCheck!
Judiciary Stands Up for Rule Of LawNo, but they do stretch their arms from time to timeHad to fire the whole lot of them!
Lawyers revolt over lawlessness of governmentYou're kidding, right?Check!
President as popular as syphilisCheck!Check!

If we don't fight unbridled executive license here at home, is it any wonder we're not fighting it abroad?

A few quick things

Christians who got in bed with Republicans are waking up with torturers. Some are not pleased. Let's hope we hear more from them.

Smoking pot didn't harm Swiss teenagers in a recent study, but only if they didn't use pot and tobacco:

The study did not confirm the hypothesis that those who abstained from marijuana and tobacco functioned better overall, the authors said.

In fact, those who used only marijuana were "more socially driven ... significantly more likely to practice sports and they have a better relationship with their peers" than abstainers, it said.

Bush may suffer his first veto override on a water infrastructure bill. Even Republicans don't want to get flooded.

Ron Paul is getting hoards of cash, and Glenn Greenwald asks why this isn't a bigger story. Kos admires the Paul campaign, and wishes it was a Democrat rather than a Republican "and a crazy one at that" doing all this people-powered stuff.

Democrats did pretty well in elections last night. Immigrant bashing didn't work for the GOP (and it helps seal their demographic doom. And it's wrong.). Some Democrats are still worried that the issues surrounding immigration will hurt them, though.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Nobody wants to run for Congress as a Republican

The Republicans are apparently having a hard time recruiting people to run for Congress:
A recruiting surge anticipated by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in recent weeks has yet to take shape as promised.

The NRCC said in late September that it would have challengers emerge in five specific top-targeted districts within a few weeks, but so far only one of those races has a nationally recruited challenger officially in the race.

They are also having some major financial problems. Jonathan Singer of MyDD:

Compounding the NRCC's relative recruitment problems, of course, are the committee's fundraising woes. As of the end of September the NRCC trailed its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $28,334,264.70 to $1,598,505.61 in cash-on-hand -- and $25,351,765.09 to negative $2,251,494.39 when debts and obligations are taken into account. That's right -- the Democrats have more than a $27.6 million advantage in terms of actual money in the bank at this juncture, an advantage that will mean that they will be able to play in many, many more districts than will the Republicans.

Money and recruitment might not be everything in politics, but they are extremely important, nonetheless. And while those two factors may not be sufficient for a party to succeed in an election, they're probably necessary -- meaning that unless the Republicans rights their course, and fast, they're going to have no shot whatsoever at reclaiming one or both Houses of Congress next fall.

Maybe the Republicans should stop choosing such crappy leaders and pursuing such stupid, immoral policies and engaging in such blatant political hackery and trampling on our Constitution and sullying our nation's honor with torture and arbitrary imprisonment and having our customs agents act like assholes.

There's one Republican Congressperson who doesn't seem to have trouble raising money: Ron Paul. $4.2 million online in one day! All for a guy the pundits have written off as having no chance of winning, and whom the Republican establishment can't stand. I disagree with a lot of Ron Paul's stances: he's anti-choice, thinks we should go back on the gold standard, wants to withdraw from the UN, and opposes the assault weapons ban. But he's right about wanting to withdraw from Iraq and ending prohibition for drugs. Maybe the Republican establishment should look at the success and excitement he's generating and get themselves out of the ideological rut they've channeled themselves into.

What's wrong with the system

Time's blog covers the Donna Edwards primary challenge to Al Wynn. Here's Pelosi's response to the progressive blogosphere's fundraising for Edwards:
Pelosi's spokesman Brendan Daly is unfazed. "He's an incumbent. That's what we do," he told me when I asked him about Pelosi's appearance for Wynn. "We help our incumbents."
Yes, you do, despite the fact that this incumbent cast some very troubling pro-Republican votes AND there's a credible progressive challenger AND there's no chance that the challenger will throw the district to the Republicans. That is NOT effective leadership. I think the Iron Law of Institutions is in effect here: Pelosi seems more concerned about securing Al Wynn's vote should any challenge arise to Pelosi's Speakership than with shoring up the unity of the Democratic caucus or fighting for progressive causes.

I can understand Democratic party leaders distancing themselves from lefty activists when we want them to take unpopular positions (like on gay marriage, for example, though the numbers are trending our way). But it's heartbreaking to be disowned when we're trying to get the Democrats to do popular things, like end the Iraq war or stand up to a loathed Bush administration. Doing this would make the Democratic party more popular if recent polls are to be believed, and yet they don't do it. Either they're afraid of being called weak, or they're more concerned about making nice with Republicans so that their social gatherings aren't awkward or something. Or maybe the leadership doesn't actually believe in progressive values.

I understand the Democrats won't win every fight. But I do think they need to show up and fight. And that's why I'm doing a little bit to help change it. And I'll be doing even more to help the Democrats beat the Republicans. More AND better Democrats.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Why is Pakistan our ally and Iran our enemy?

OK, the news of Musharraf grabbing emergency powers and suspending the constitution in Pakistan makes me wonder: why do we like this guy, again? Pakistan has nuclear weapons, sold nuclear weapons technology on the black market (the A. Q. Khan scandal), and supported the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Why are we continuing to give the guy billions in military aid? Here's what we've spent:
While the total dollar amount of American aid to Pakistan is unclear, a study published in August by the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated it to be “at least $10 billion in Pakistan since 9/11, excluding covert funds.” Sixty percent of that has gone to “Coalition Support Funds,” essentially direct payments to the Pakistani military, and 15 percent to purchase major weapons systems. Another 15 percent has been for general budget support for the Pakistani government; only 10 percent for development or humanitarian assistance.
Sounds like an American defense industry boondoggle to me. What have we gotten in return? Pakistan's military doesn't seem to be going after Al Qaeda with much gusto. They don't really control the northwestern border areas where we suspect Osama bin Laden is hiding. (Remember him? The Saudi Arabian guy who, unlike Saddam Hussein or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or whoever the right-wing's "Hitler du jour" is, actually masterminded an attack on the United States. And I have to add that the vilification of Ahmadinejad is doubly ridiculous because he doesn't even control Iran's military. The mullahs who actually rule Iran do.)

Maybe Bush just likes the fact that Musharraf suspended the constitution and imposed emergency rule. It's what Bush has been trying to do for some time. (And thanks to a disturbing lack of opposition from Congress and the media, Bush has been far more successful than he should be.)

UPDATE: Devilstower on DailyKos asks the same questions.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More Democrats, BETTER Democrats.

This post is about the latter part of that slogan. Given that this is primary season, we need to be thinking about replacing some of the more egregious "pre-emptive capitulationists" within the Democratic ranks. (Maybe they aren't capitulating to the Bush administration- maybe they actually agree with the Bush administration, in which case the need to defeat them is all the more pressing.)

In Maryland, there is a Congressperson named Al Wynn. He is a Democrat, but his voting record leaves an enormous amount to be desired from a progressive standpoint:
People within Wynn's district often cite a number of poor votes on Wynn's part for their dissatisfaction. These include his votes for the Terri Schiavo legislation, his support of the Bush/Cheney Energy Policy, his vote for the Bankruptcy Bill, his vote to repeal the Estate Tax, his lack of support for net neutrality, and his vote to gut the Endangered Species Act. [See the campaign's Halloween You Tube ad, Al Wynn's Scary Votes]

And of course his vote to support the Iraq War resolution.

Yuck! That's quite a spate pro-Republicanism. Fortunately, there is a progressive candidate running against him in the primary: Donna Edwards (no relation to the Presidential candidate (at least as far as I know)):
Donna Edwards has been endorsed by numerous progressive and labor organizations and there's a big campaign in the progressive blogosphere to get her elected. I've contributed a small amount to her campaign and I encourage you to do so as well. It sends a message to the Democratic leadership that they need to take progressive causes seriously, and it may help get a real progressive elected to congress. Donna Edwards came within 3,000 votes of winning the primary before the 2006 election, so we have a very good shot at winning this. Unfortunately, the forces of the Democratic establishment are not on our side on this:

Ouch. Nancy Pelosi is supporting this guy, despite the opportunity to have him replaced with a more reliable progressive ally. She had a fund raising event for him tonight. There it is: the incumbency protections racket in black and white. That just means we have to work harder. This blogospheric fundraising campaign is a direct response to Pelosi's backing of Al Wynn. (As of this post, it has raised $176,548: not bad for a bunch of leftist mouse-clickers.)

But wait, you're thinking, maybe Pelosi is being a shrewd leader, protecting a flawed Democrat to keep the seat in her party's hands. Well, considering that the district is 77% Democratic, that can hardly be an excuse. Yes, we have to tolerate a lot of anti-progressive votes from the likes of Ben Nelson, but he's a Democratic Senator from Nebraska, so we'll take what we can get. (Still, it's annoying that he doesn't identify himself as a Democrat on the front page of his website. This seems to be the case with numerous senators of both parties. Pathetic, in my opinion.). But this is a solidly blue district, and there's no such excuse.

Just fighting Republicans won't end the occupation of Iraq or turn this country around. The Democratic party is very sick and needs some people powered medicine badly. Fortunately, there are things we can do to help. There is always something we can do. Apathy and disengagement are for wimps.

Quinn can crawl!

Quinn crawled forward across his bedroom multiple times this evening before going to bed. He had been able to scooch and roll before, but never has he so determinedly progressed forward with such proficiency and for such distance. A new era in self-mobility has begun!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Senator Schumer and Senator Feinstein don't know if waterboarding is torture

These two have decided to vote to confirm "I'm not sure if waterboarding is torture, despite the fact the US has prosecuted people for doing it" Mukasey as Attorney General. I guess my email to Feinstein didn't persuade her. Boy am I pissed at these two.

We need more Democrats, and we need better Democrats. This instance is an example of the latter. So much work to do to turn our polity around. The problem isn't just Bush.

Friday, November 02, 2007

There are no more "Red States"

In October 2007, Bush managed a stunning achievement: He is below 50% approval rating in every single state of our great nation. (Note that some of these are based on estimates put together by a DailyKos poster.) Even Republican stalwart Utah is at 47%.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

John Cole is now a Democrat

I guess I'll have to find a different Republican blogger to read, because one of the few I could stomach, John Cole, has become a Democrat:
Long story short, I got up there to register as an independent, said “Fuck it,” and now I am a Democrat. I certainly don’t agree with all their positions, but they are not bat-shit crazy like the GOP. That has to count for something.
Yes, not being bat-shit crazy should count for something. Let's reform the Democratic party to the point where we can give voters more reasons other than "they are not bat-shit crazy" to vote for us.

Kos: just say no to political junk snail mail

Kos is pissed at the amount of paper political campaigns waste:

It really is infuriating. I blame direct mail consultants who charge per piece sent. They must love these growing contributor lists because they get to send more crap to people who OBVIOUSLY prefer to donate online. I get direct mail from campaigns and it goes straight into the shredder and recycling bin.

So here's what I'm going to do -- starting in December, I will NOT FUNDRAISE for any candidate who does not pledge to stop direct mail to people who contribute via ActBlue.

It's a waste of money, and it's degrading to the environment. I'm tired of it. People are tired of it. And if campaigns won't listen, then I'm through with them.

Amen! And it's sick that consultants get paid per piece sent, just like it's sick that campaign consultants get paid a percentage of television ad spending. What a crappy incentive system! That needs to be thrown out, too. I never give money to direct mail solicitations. Never never never. If you want me to give money to your organization, send me an e-mail. I'll probably delete it, but it's much cheaper than a paper letter and much better for the environment and it's faster for both of us.

If you really want to get my attention, find a relevant post on my blog and leave a thoughtful comment. That way I know you're not just spamming me. If you can't find a relevant post, then perhaps that means I'm not interested in your cause!

A sociological diversion: As history has progressed, the ratio of "effort required to print something" to "effort required to read something" has steadily decreased. This has made text inherently less valuable. Before the printing press, I probably would have read any bit of text I came upon, because I would have known that someone went to the effort to write it out by hand and thus it must be very important. One should read it almost as a sign of respect to the effort one put into creating it. Once the printing press was invented, it became possible to mass produce text, and spam (i.e. text that is only of interest to a tiny fraction of the people who read it) became economically viable. So I might not want to read just any pamphlet I happen to stumble upon, because I know that the effort required to print that particular copy may be significantly less than the effort I must spend to read it. And why should I invest more time in whatever the subject is than the author/printer has?

Now with e-mail, it is possible to attempt to jam a piece of text under my nose for almost nothing. So my skepticism must increase dramatically and the "default courtesy" I extend to any unknown sender must be very low indeed if I'm ever going to plow through my inbox. That's why I like people coming to my blog and commenting: I know they had to go to at least a small amount of human effort to do so, so they start off several rungs up from an unsolicited e-mail.

CENTCOM public affairs scandal

One of the many disturbing trends that has emerged from the fiasco of the Iraq occupation has been the extreme politicization of the military. General Petraeus and other military figures have been given us overly-optimistic assessments of the situation that curiously coincide with Republican talking points and invariably conclude that we should stay in Iraq. ("Violence is up! We can't quit until it drops!" "Violence is down! We can't quit while we're winning!".) Heck, CENTCOM's PR flaks even dropped by Internal Monologue a while back to leave some drive-by spam in the comments section of an Iraq-related post.

Now, there's the curious case of Petraeus' spokesperson, Col. Boylan. Apparently he sent an angry email to one of my favorite bloggers, Glenn Greenwald of Salon. Greenwald had been writing about the politicization of the military and Col. Boylan apparently took offense. Greenwald, surprised to hear from Col. Boylan, asked Boylan to confirm the authenticity of the email. Boylan declines to do so, and an odd exchange ensues. Later, Col. Boylan claims the e-mail was not sent by him. Analysis of the disputed e-mail header information seems to indicate it was, in fact, from Col. Boylan. Either that or it was from someone who has severely compromised our military's computer systems in Iraq or has physical access to Boylan's computer there (not to mention an uncanny ability to mimic Boylan's prose style). If the latter case is true, the military has a major security breach on its hands. But they don't seem particularly concerned about it.

What seems far more likely is that Col. Boylan fired off an angry email to Greenwald, then realized the e-mail made him and the General he speaks for look like angry, right-wing partisan hacks, which was Greenwald's criticism in the first place. So now Col. Boylan is trying to dissociate himself from the email he sent.

Now whatever the result of this little dust up is (maybe Boylan did not in fact send the e-mail, and even if he did, it's not a crime to send an angry e-mail to a blogger), the fact remains that the Bush administration is infecting our military with partisan hackery and cronyism. This isn't too surprising, since they've done the same thing with every other part of government under their control. But it's a little more scary when it's the military.