Friday, August 31, 2007

Why is Doonesbury's "Walden College" a slacker school?

From Slate.com. Click image to enlarge.

OK, this has always puzzled me: in Doonesbury, they often talk about "Walden College". Walden is clearly supposed to be Yale. That's where Trudeau started writing Doonesbury, and there are numerous Yale-specific references (e.g. "Harvard of south central Connecticut" in the strip above). But in the Doonesbury universe, Walden is a total slacker school, as this series of strips indicates. Though Harvardians might see nothing wrong with this, I was under the impression that in the real world my alma mater still had some cachet.

Of course, maybe Trudeau just decided that there's a lot more comedic potential in a dis-accredited slacker school. Clearly he's using Walden's plight to satirize certain lax attitudes towards academic achievement. But it just seems very strange, because I suspect Yale is filled with the exact opposite kinds of people from those depicted attending Walden. At least it was when I was there. There were slackers, too, of course, but they didn't dominate the culture.

It is fun to depict the antics of a bunch of uber-slackers (and some recent movies, like Knocked Up, have done this pretty well), but why so clearly identify Walden with Yale? Is he just trying to take our alma mater down a peg? Yale does have a pretty inflated sense of its own place in the world. (If only it had managed to instill a sense of curiosity in our current president...sigh.) And Lord knows there's plenty to satirize. But the depiction doesn't ring true, and clearly isn't meant too. Unless things have changed a lot more than I know. I haven't been there in a while.

American Cancer Society decides expanding health care is #1 priority

From the NYT via nyceve on DailyKos:
In a stark departure from past practice, the American Cancer Society plans to devote its entire $15 million advertising budget this year not to smoking cessation or colorectal screening but to the consequences of inadequate health coverage.

The campaign was born of the group’s frustration that cancer rates are not dropping as rapidly as hoped, and of recent research linking a lack of insurance to delays in detecting malignancies.

Though the advertisements are nonpartisan and pointedly avoid specific prescriptions, they are intended to intensify the political focus on an issue that is already receiving considerable attention from presidential candidates in both parties.

The society’s advertisements are unique, say experts in both philanthropy and advertising, in that disease-fighting charities traditionally limit their public appeals to narrower aspects of prevention or education.

But the leaders of several such organizations, including the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the Alzheimers Association, said they applauded the campaign’s message that progress against chronic disease would be halting until the country fixed its health care system.

I cheer this development. But it's sad that the American Cancer Society feels that it has to do this. The time has come for something better. If only we hadn't wasted so much money on invading and occupying Iraq, or fighting the stupid "drug war", we could probably easily pay for this. But better health care is one of those things that it's probably worth borrowing money to pay for. Of course, the more responsible thing to do would be to raise the revenue now, i.e. raise taxes or impose a new tax. Nothing is free, but some things are worth the price.

Despite having their plane shot at, Republicans think the surge is working

This is pretty funny:

A U.S. military plane carrying a U.S. congressional delegation came under fire this week while taking off from Baghdad airport, forcing the crew to take evasive action, the military said on Friday.

No one on board the C-130 aircraft was hurt during the "surface-to-air" attack on Thursday, it said.

"The aircrew dispensed flares as a defensive countermeasure and conducted standard evasive maneuvers," the military said in a statement, adding the plane completed its flight.

The statement did not say who was among the congressional delegation nor specify the type of surface-to-air fire.

OK, the fact that people are getting shot at isn't funny. What's funny is that the Republicans are already trying to put a positive spin on this:

Sen. James M. Inhofe [R-Oklahoma] says terrorists' attempt to shoot down the C-130 military transport plane carrying him and other lawmakers in Iraq demonstrated the progress of the U.S. military campaign.

"Al Qaeda's unsuccessful attempt to shoot down this C-130 aircraft was a futile effort to influence its losing fight in Iraq, and served to underscore the reality that terrorism is still a threat and that there is still work to be done," the Oklahoma Republican said. "The crew[']s impeccable training and flawless performance ensured the safety of the aircraft and all personnel on board."

Mr. Inhofe was aboard the aircraft with Republican Sens. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Mel Martinez of Florida and Rep. Robert E. "Bud" Cramer, Alabama Democrat, departing Baghdad en route to Amman, Jordan when they came under fire.

Emphasis added. Wow. Think of how much progress we'd be making if the terrorists had actually shot the plane down! This is loony talk. To say nothing of the fact that how desperate or not desperate Al Qaeda in Iraq is has very little to do with whether the Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq can come to some kind of national reconciliation. Which was the whole point of this slight increase in troop strength (AKA "the surge") in the first place. And how the hell does Inhofe know this was Al Qaeda shooting at the plane? Did Osama bin Laden release a taped message claiming responsibility? It could have been any number of different groups, some of which are ostensibly on our "side", if that term can still have any coherent meaning after all of our alliance shifting. Al Qaeda in Iraq is only one small faction among many. The level of unreality heard in Republican statements these days is mind-boggling.

Iowa judge strikes down gay marriage ban

Crooks and Liars has the story from the Des Moines Register:
A Polk County judge on Thursday struck down Iowa's law banning gay marriage.

The ruling by Judge Robert Hanson concluded that the state's prohibition on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and he ordered the Polk County recorder to issue marriage licenses to six gay couples.

"This is kind of the American Dream," said plaintiff Jen BarbouRoske, of Iowa City. "I'm still feeling kind of shaky. It's pure elation, I just cannot believe it."
Kos reacted yesterday:

This will be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, and who knows where it'll go from there. But this is Iowa. Just a bit over four months from the caucuses.

This is now an issue in the presidential campaign.

As Todd over at MyDD says, the GOP will trip over itself blasting "activist judges" blah blah blah. But on our side, how will they react?

Our candidates should embrace it. They'll be too chickenshit to do so, but they should. Without reservation.

In this political climate, Republicans will get little salience on the issue -- which is dying anyway. Remember that Red Arizona, last year, was the first state to reject a ballot initiative banning gay marriage. With people losing their homes, and our troops losing their lives in Iraq, people have more important things on their mind than whether two people who love each other should be allowed to marry or not.

The Democratic presidential candidates opposition to gay marriage is pretty pathetic, in my opinion. I don't think they actually oppose it, because when asked why they can never seem to provide a coherent answer. It's really not sticking your neck out too far to come out in favor of gay marriage, since the trend lines are all pointing towards greater and greater acceptance of it.

Why no posts? Neverwinter Nights 2


The reason Internal Monologue has been lagging of late is that my spare time is going into a new computer game: Neverwinter Nights 2. I'm playing a warlock, which isn't the greatest character to play, at least at the level I'm at (9). My warlock is totally overshadowed by the sorcerer in the party.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

10 "Unforgettable" moments with Gonzales

Iranian sex scandals: HE TOUCHED A WOMAN!

Just in case you're tired of all the Republican sex scandals, here's a change of pace for you: in Iran, you don't have to have sex with a prostitute or plead guilty to soliciting sex with a man in an airport bathroom to provoke puritanical outrage. Both Khatami and Ahmadinejad have recently been caught on camera actually touching a woman (HT: TPM). There's a YouTube video of Khatami actually shaking hands with a woman that has hard-liners riled and Khatami claiming the video is fake:

Looks real to me.

But Iranian center-leftists aren't the only ones with indecency problems. Back in May, this picture of Ahmadinejad kissing his elderly former teacher's gloved hand had Iranian right-wingers condemning him for indecency (regular Iranians seem more concerned about unemployment, inflation, and high gas prices):

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Slacktivist on Gonzales resignation

People seem to be coming up with a lot of this sort of thing:

If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says he resigns, can we believe him?

Related paradox: the likely forthcoming, "I Don't Recall": A Memoir.

One more: Can (soon-to-be-former) Attorney General Alberto Gonzales make a rock so big that even he can't pretend it isn't there?

Discuss.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzales: "I don't recall if I've resigned"

Gonzales has resigned:
WACO, Tex., Aug. 27 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, announced his resignation in Washington today, declaring that he had “lived the American dream” by being able to lead the Justice Department.
But apparently Gonzales does not remember if he's resigned:

Washington, Aug. 27 (crAP) -- Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, five minutes after having submitted his resignation to President George W. Bush, was asked by a passer-by whether the rumor was true that he had resigned.

"I have no memory of having submitted such a letter or of having any conversation with the President about anything at all," Mr. Gonzales replied.

The former Attorney General immediately returned to his office at the Department of Justice, though he could not remember what he was supposed to do there.

Now the battle begins over his replacement. Senate Dems: please insist (with teeth) on someone acceptable. No recess appointments.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bush response to Katrina: turn Louisiana Red

In this post, Digby argues that Bush's disastrous response to hurricane Katrina was not incompetence, but in fact a deliberate (and successful) attempt by Karl Rove to push Louisiana into the Republican column:

Louisiana has been a swing state for some time, in which Democrats were dependent on the black majority in the state's largest city to win. It was not lost on Rove that all of those poor New Orleans African Americans --- and their children --- being dispersed throughout the nation could only be good for Republicans. As of now, only about 66% have returned, not enough to keep the state swinging (in more ways than one.) It looks very likely that the state will have a Republican Governor and two Republican Senators in 2008. Experts in the area estimate that the congressional delegation advantage for Republicans will be five to one by 2012. There is little doubt that the Katrina diaspora finally turned the state blood red.

Kanye West famously blurted out "Bush doesn't care about black people" at a Katrina fundraiser and shocked everyone with his blunt assessment. But we could all see why he would think that. Bush had failed to even acknowledge the hurricane for days and refused to cut short his vacation. He told his disastrously incompetent FEMA head he was doing a "heckuva job" and seemed cavalier about the fact that people were expiring on the sidewalk in New Orleans. His strongest statements seemed to be against looting. Indeed, it appeared that he was quite content to let the catastrophe unfold in slow motion on the world's TV screens.

You can't blame West for thinking he didn't care. But it was likely far more cynical than that. Rove was busy counting votes that day he and the president flew over the city and he undoubtedly knew that an opportunity presented itself if New Orleans were destroyed. And he knew something else too: that if certain people heard tales of African Americans lawlessly marauding through the streets and saw hours of footage of poor black women with children it would successfully tweak the southern racist lizard brain to solidify those gains.

It's a pretty frightening conjecture, but it seems to fit the facts. We know the Bush White House is capable of dramatic, quick action: witness its lightning response to the Terri Schiavo affair. Why so slow in response to Katrina? And why put Karl Rove at the head of the effort if political considerations were not foremost?

Iraq: Cui bono?

A couple of DailyKos diaries: one from occams hatchet about what a racket the Iraq occupation has been for certain corporations:
I have long believed that the invasion and occupation of Iraq represented, not the signal failure of the BushCheney administration, but rather the successful realization of the right wing corporatocracy's greatest fantasy: The redirection of a huge portion of the United States treasury to the pockets of Big Business, conducted with the active support and full power of the federal government and almost completely unfettered by oversight of any kind whatsoever.
And another quotes from an AP story on Forbes.com about how those who attempt to expose corruption in Iraq procurement end up getting punished:

One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.

Or worse.

For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

While I'm not sure I agree with occams hatchet that the primary impetus behind the occupation is war profiteering, I think that in general we underestimate the effect of defense industry lobbying on our policy. Why wouldn't an industry involving so much money try to influence the government to steer more billions its way? They'd be foolish not to. Members of Congress are cheap compared to the amount of money spent on a new weapons system or an Iraq building contract.

Indeed, The Exile has wondered why American members of Congress are willing to sell themselves so cheap:
While it's fun to watch the Republicans squirm a bit [over the Abramoff scandal], one thing is apparent for those of us who live in Russia: it's making Americans look bad. The reason is simple: American politicians prove that they can be bought for a song compared to their Russian counterparts, in spite of the fact that the US economy is about 5000 times larger.

[...]

[Duke Cunningham] got caught taking about $2.4 million in bribes since 1990. That's it - $2.4 million over a 15 year period, plus use of that lava-lounge yacht. Com'on folks! We're talking monkey change here, a little more than $100,000 a year.

[...]

Even minor players in Russia manage to pull in some serious corruption money. In an October sting operation, the FSB nailed a Central Bank official who teamed up with a Federal Tax Service official trying to extort a $5.3 million bribe. This crime - and figure - was so routine that it didn't even warrant front page coverage. The pair was nabbed while collecting the initial $1 million payment, made by a bank hoping to avoid a spurious $53 million tax claim. So one middling official netted nearly three times as much as America's most corrupt politician.
People often wring their hands about how much political campaigns cost in this country. But given what's at stake, I'm surprised at how cheap the process is.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Friday baby blogging

This is Quinn with his uncle Miguel back in May.

This is Quinn on a ride at Children's Fairyland on Sarah's birthday back in July.

The "surge" is not working, even militarily

Kevin Drum looks at the numbers and it doesn't look like even the military aspect of the moderate troop increase dubbed "the surge" is working:

June/July 2006
June/July
2007

Iraqi Military and Police Killed

349

429

Up 23%

Multiple Fatality Bombings

110

82

Down 25%

# Killed in Mult. Fatality Bombings

885

1,053

Up 19%

Iraqi Civilians Killed
(All violent causes)

6,739

5,300

Hard to say1

U.S. Troop Fatalities

104

187

Up 80%

U.S. Troops Wounded

983

1,423

Up 45%

Size of Insurgency

20,000+

~70,0002

Up ~250%

Attacks on Oil and Gas Pipelines

8

14 (3)

Up 75%

1Methodology changed dramatically between 2006 and 2007, so numbers are highly suspect.
2Number is for March 2007.
3Numbers are for June only. No July numbers are available.
(HT: rubber hose) Of course, the political reconciliation that was the whole point of the surge is nowhere in sight either. The force and endurance of the delusion of "progress" is truly mind-boggling.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

14-year old Eddie Wehrenberg wins D&D minis championship

Eddie, left, poses with Guy Fullerton, who interviewed him after he won the championship.

I wasn't in the D&D Minis constructed championship this year, but I wanted to congratulate Eddie on his great victory. His family had to sacrifice to make it to GenCon (including selling some of their minis collection!), so I'm glad he had a great experience. I've played Eddie in a local tournament (in fact, I think it was the one where he qualified for Gen Con), and I seem to remember him beating me. I was heartened when I saw his warband:
I played a Werewolf Lord, a Large Black Dragon, a Large Shadow Dragon, the Thrall of Blackrazor, and four Orc Warriors.
It's the sort of thing I would play: Chaotic Evil, non-gimmicky, with very powerful, cost-efficient pieces. I'm glad the Thrall of Blackrazor made an appearance, because it's a personal favorite of mine. And it was designed by 2005's champion, so there's nice symbolism there. Maybe the 2009 champion will use the piece that Eddie gets to help design.

So, congrats Eddie. And that's two years running that northern California has held the title!

What makes GenCon Indy special?

The faithful make their pilgrimage. Yes, there are that many gamers in one place. It's not always that crowded. Image from Drammattex's GenCon Indy 2007 photoblog.

I have been asked on occasion why GenCon Indy is so special. Couldn't I just go to a local convention or some other convention that had a more convenient time? The answer is no, of course. But I've always had difficulty explaining to non-games why that particular event is so important. Here's a little writeup from Drammattex that tries to capture what it's like:
If you haven't been to Gen Con before, it's a little bit Disneyland and a little bit Christmas. Even the most jaded of us gamers can't help it. We stream into that exhibit hall at 10 A.M. like a dam that's sprung a leak.

When they open for the first time, the doors to the exhibit hall are picture frames allowing us only glimpses at the world beyond their borders. We can see a little: sellers and demonstrators making last minute adjustments to their stores - bright colors on new, never before seen products; the base of some massive display looming high overhead somewhere beyond the doors... it's all promise at this point, all potential energy.

And then we're in.

I can only describe it as the way I used to feel when my cousin Dave used to visit. At eight, I was (supposedly) too young to own my own D&D set ("Ages 10 and up!"), but Dave had one. And when Dave's family drove down from Naperville to Pinkney, MI or Bettendorf, IA or Enon, OH or wherever the Air Force had put us at the time, I knew that adventure was going to follow.

I would jump up and down from the second their van turned the corner onto our street, and I didn't stop jumping until I had my character sheet in one hand, dice in the other. Something was going to happen.
Dave always got out of the van, smiled this devilish grin and said "Oh, just wait 'till you see what I've got planned. You're gonna be in so much trouble."
I couldn't fraking wait.

That's what Gen Con is like on the first day.
It's just like that. That childlike excitement comes back from wherever you (forgot you) ditched it, and you take to the hall like a mad pack of rats on free cheese day (they must have at least one day like that in their lives).

Entering the convention hall is like standing in line for the most anticipated movie of the summer on opening night: when the cinema employees finally open those doors for the film, everybody does that jog-walk into the theater to grab that prized middle seat in their favorite section.

That's opening day at Gen Con. The WotC booth gets flooded right away. Chunks of the crowd break off and fly to WizKids and Mayfair and Giant in the Playground, each chunk absolutely 100% certain that everybody else waiting outside the doors is going to the exact same destination. So you've gotta jog-walk, man. It's the only way to beat the rush.
It's funny. And nobody can resist it. The Gen Con spirit overcomes even the scroogiest of us.

It's hard not to burst in through the doors. It's hard not to turn your head in every direction at once. It's a little bit like walking through the House on the Rock in Wisconsin which, if you haven't seen that, is kind of like watching Moulin Rouge at the IMAX, which if you haven't seen that, is something like watching the grand finale of fireworks on the 4th of July, which if you haven't seen that means you need to get yourself down to Gen Con and see what I'm talking about.

This is what I look forward to tomorrow. We all get to be kids again. We all get to play. For four whole days, we get to forget everything else and we get to play.

This neighborhood has failed a drug test

From Reason.com:

Forget about lying on annual federal drug use surveys. Researchers at the Oregon State University and the University Washington have figured out a better way to track a community's use of illicit recreational drugs--check their sewage for drug residues. The press release describing the work says:

Public health officials may soon be able to flush out more accurate estimates on illegal drug use in communities across the country thanks to screening test described here today at the 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society. The test doesn’t screen people, it seeks out evidence of illicit drug abuse in drug residues and metabolites excreted in urine and flushed toward municipal sewage treatment plants. ...

Via Sullivan. How long will it be before food manufacturers put "tracer" chemicals in their products so they can do "market research" by examining the sewage coming from various neighborhoods in which they are interested?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Obama proposes easing Cuba embargo

A long overdue change in direction for Cuba policy:
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is leaping into the long-running Cuba debate by calling for the U.S. to ease restrictions for Cuban-Americans who want to visit the island or send money home.

Obama's campaign said Monday that, if elected, the Illinois senator would lift restrictions imposed by the Bush administration and allow Cuban-Americans to visit their relatives more frequently, as well as ease limits on the amount of money they can send to their families.

HT: viralvoice on DailyKos, who comments:

This will be lots of fun to follow in the coming days. The "conventional wisdom" machine will go ballistic (again). The right-wingers will bare their teeth. The DINO liberals will loose a few of theirs. Biden will likely go against Obama but watch Dodd and Richardson, they know better, oh, yeah, this could be interesting.

Senator Clinton will have to decide: Is she in or is she out?

Or will she just obfuscate (again)?

And why hasn't any US presidential candidate said this out loud?

They've been afraid.

Fear.

The politics of fear.

Let's see who is fearless in the coming days.

And let's see who really walks the walk of the politics of hope.

Because, really: Isn't 49 years of a failed policy enough?

A critique of the foreign policy "Community"

Glenn Greenwald:
The dominant ideology of the Community is, in fact, so enamored of war that there is no such thing as placing oneself outside of the mainstream of the Community through excessive warmongering.

As I said the other day, there is no such thing in the Community as "unserious war advocacy"; that term is an oxymoron. That is why you can travel as far along the spectrum as possible, arrive at the most extremist neoconservative point, and still be comfortably within the acceptable range of Serious Community Views. Kristol's partner, Fred Kagan, is a revered member of the Community. Rudy Giuliani knows that he can hire as his top foreign policy advisor an outright psychopath like Norman Podhoretz and not be deemed unserious because the Community takes Seriously all war advocacy. That is its nature, its ideology, its identity. Argue for the U.S. to start a war now with Iran and you are Serious; but argue that we should take off the table nuclear weapons when attacking a terrorist camp or that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegitimate, and you are an unserious leftist.

Much of our national punditocracy really has learned nothing over the past four years. It is as if Neville Chamberlain were still taken seriously in 1942 after claiming in 1938 to have achieved "peace for our time" and not revised his views at all. "We are making progress in Iraq" exhibits that level of insanity.

4th Edition D&D

The beholder gets yet another new look in the upcoming 4th edition. Image from WotC, of course.

The huge news at GenCon that came out is that the 4th Edition of D&D is coming out in May 2008. (Player's Handbook in May, Monster Manual in June, Dungeon Master's Guide in July). I didn't attend the announcement presentation (links here), but seeing the YouTube video of it I don't think it was done well. I could have given a much better speech than those guys. And the information was vague. I liked the ideas they talked about, but I want details!

I did get some interesting info from Rob Heinsoo (the 4th edition lead designer) about 4th edition. I was doing the Dungeon Delve demo at the Wizards of the Coast booth so I could get my black-robed Raistlin promo repaint mini, and they were short-staffed, so Rob subbed in to DM. Now this was a 3.5 edition demo, but Rob had been playing 4th edition for quite some time so I was able to gather a few tidbits from rules slip-ups he made or vague allusions he made: for example, rogues will have some way for their sneak attack ability to affect plants in 4th edition. He said to the person playing the rogue something like, "Wouldn't it be nice if your signature ability could be used in this fight?" Unfortunately, I can't really remember anything else specific.

UPDATE: I do remember one more thing: instead of players having to ask the DM how injured a monster looks all the time, there are official "states". If a creature is reduced to half hit points or less, it is "bloodied" and everyone can tell that it in that state. This goes for characters, too, of course. Some monsters have abilities that get triggered by being in the "bloodied" state or by others going into that state. Gnolls, for example, go into a frenzy if anyone nearby is bloodied.

Defeat of the Gargantuan Blue Dragon

Image from RPGnet

More than you ever wanted to know about defeating the Gargantuan Blue Dragon. Summary & analysis of my battles at GenCon can be found towards the bottom of that page.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Ignorance of the blogosphere gem of the day

Here's Michael Skube, someone who obviously doesn't know anything about the blogosphere, writing about it on the opinion pages of the LA Times:
And to think most bloggers are doing all this on the side. "No man but a blockhead," the stubbornly sensible Samuel Johnson said, "ever wrote but for money." Yet here are people, whole brigades of them, happy to write for free. And not just write. Many of the most active bloggers -- Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias, Joshua Micah Marshall and the contributors to the Huffington Post -- are insistent partisans in political debate.
Emphasis added. Um, dude, Sullivan, Yglesias, and Marshall are some of the few bloggers who actually do make a living at blogging, or at least get paid substantially for it. To imply otherwise reveals a pretty astonishing ignorance. Heck, even Internal Monologue generates a wee bit of ad revenue: I'm up to about $147 over the life of the blog, and I actually received about $122 of it already. So even I don't write "for free", and I'm about 28 rungs lower on the blog food chain than the folks Skube mentions.

It gets better: Skube apparently didn't write those blogger names--they were added in by an editor at the LA Times. So the opinion editors at the frickin' LA Times think its plausible that Andrew Sullivan doesn't get paid for blogging. Or think it's OK to strongly imply that. And Skube apparently signed off on it.

The fact that all of this takes place in an editorial decrying the low standards of the blogosphere and touting the virtues of establishment journalism is a rather too heavily ironic. If I were to encounter such a thing in a piece of fiction, I would roll my eyes and silently chide the author for being so obvious.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Warning Iconography Reinterpreted, part 2

WARNING: OVERLY-RIGID BODY ALIGNMENT WILL CAUSE SUBMERGED MERMAID TO BASH YOU ON THE SIDE OF THE HEAD WITH A GLOWING BASEBALL BAT.
(Image from the same pool, of course.) Alternate interpretation:
DO NOT REPLACE YOUR LEFT ARM WITH A FAUCET BEFORE HURLING YOURSELF UPON THE STALAGMITES.

Warning Iconography reinterpreted

WARNING: SUPER-GLUING YOUR FOREHEAD TO THE BOTTOM OF THE OBSERVATION PLATFORM WILL RESULT IN TRIPLE LIGHTING STIKES TO THE NECK AND LOSS OF YOUR LEFT ARM AND LEG.

(Image seen on the edge of the pool on the 9th floor of the Sheraton here in downtown Indianapolis. When you're climbing out, it looks like this; those outside the pool see it right-side up.)

An alternate interpretation:

WARNING: ONE-ARMED ZOMBIES SHOULD NOT LEAP BALLETICALLY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, OR THEIR HEADS WILL IMPACT UPON THE ELECTRIFIED METAL PLATE.

Victory!!!!


I defeated the Gargantuan Blue Dragon with a 500 point warband. I did have luck on my side, as the Dragon missed many of its rolls against the invisibility of my warband. But since the dice were against me yesterday, I don't feel too bad. It was extremely close. I think I would revise my warband for future bouts, but I did get immense satisfaction from my hard-fought victory.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mad Latinist and Grishnash

Here we are at RAM. Why would you name a beer "Buttface Ale?"

GenCon update

Well, I played against the Gargantuan Blue Dragon twice, and lost both times. But I could only use a 450-point warband, becasue someone beat the dragon earlier in the day. So there was no shame in defeat. The first match was very close. In the second match, only two of my six Mordenkainen's Swords got through, despite having a 75% chance each. So I conceded. I wil try again tomorrow. I did win a game of Settlers of Catan, though. And I played in the Dungeon Delve and my group had a perfect record over three sessions: all monsters slain, no character deaths. I haven't even seen the exhibit hall yet. Now we're hanging out in our room. Perhaps later we'll play some DEFCON.

OK. we did play DEFCON. It was fun!

Stacey's tattoo

Here's Stacey's new tattoo. Don't slap her on the back, it's still tender!

Friday baby blogging


Quinn in his swing, with his usual drool puddle on his shirt.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Dude, I'm at GenCon

I'm here. Thanks to Grishnash, I have Net access. I'll try to post some pictures later.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

4th Edition D&D on its way

Looks like it (HT: Mad Latinist). I'll find out soon. Discussion is beginning. Here's a press release:

August 16, 2007 (Renton, WA) – Whether you storm a mad wizard's tower every week or haven't delved into a dungeon since you had a mullet and a mean pair of parachute pants, one thing is certain - millions of D&D players worldwide have anticipated the coming of 4th Edition for many years. Today, Wizards of the Coast confirms that the new edition will launch in May 2008 with the release of the D&D Player's Handbook. A pop culture icon, Dungeons & Dragons is the #1 tabletop roleplaying game in the world, and is revered by legions of gamers of all ages.

The 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game includes elements familiar to current D&D players, including illustrated rulebooks and pre-painted plastic miniatures. Also releasing next year will be new web-based tools and online community forums through the brand-new Dungeons & Dragons Insider (D&D Insider) digital offering. D&D Insider lowers the barriers of entry for new players while simultaneously offering the depth of play that appeals to veteran players.

The 4th Edition rules emphasize faster game play, offer exciting new character options, and reduce the amount of "prep time" needed to run the game. D&D Insider includes a character creator that lets players design and equip their D&D characters, dungeon- and adventure-building tools for Dungeon Masters, online magazine content, and a digital game table that lets you play 24/7 on the internet — the perfect option for anyone who can't find time to get together.

"We've been gathering player feedback for eight years," said Bill Slavicsek, R&D Director of Roleplaying and Miniatures Games at Wizards of the Coast. "Fourth Edition streamlines parts of the D&D game that are too complex, while enhancing the overall play experience. At its heart, it's still a tabletop game experience. However, D&D Insider makes it easier for players to create characters, run their games, and interact with the rest of the D&D community."

Wizards of the Coast will release two 4th Edition preview books in December and January — Wizards Presents: Classes and Races and Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters. The first live demos of 4th Edition will happen at the D&D Experience gaming convention in Washington D.C. in February 2008. The full scope of 4th Edition books, miniatures, and adventures will be available in the spring and summer of 2008.

Since its first release in 1974, the fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has taken millions of players on imaginary adventures of epic scale. Today, D&D is universally regarded as the original game that created the roleplaying game category, and the inspiration for generations of game designers. D&D is enjoyed by millions of players worldwide, while countless more remember it with fond nostalgia.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Random harlot generation table in AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide

GenCon Indy approaches, and so I'm not posting much. I hear D&D co-creator Gary Gygax will be at the convention this year. If I run into him, I want him to autograph one of the most ridiculous pieces of gaming weirdness ever to make it into a mainstream AD&D publication. I'm speaking, of course, about the infamous random prostitute generation table in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide. That book included a random encounter table for cities; "Harlot" is one of the entries. Here is the Harlot entry, reproduced in facsimile for your delectation:

Sadly, subsequent editions of the Dungeon Master's Guide lack such useful prompts to the imagination. Dungeon Masters are now forced to improvise descriptions of harlots, should such be encountered by an adventuring party. Unless, of course, the Dungeon Master owns a copy of the 1st Edition DMG or is lucky enough to see this blog post.

In the interest of fairness and gender equality, this table should be updated to include male prostitutes, transgendered prostitutes, and empowered sex-positive feminist prostitutes. There should also be a separate subtable to generate the "Johns" who are availing themselves of the harlot's services. "Lecherous nobleman", "sleazy cruiser", "drunken rake", and "Republican Congressman" should have their place alongside "slovenly trull" et. al.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

1994 Cheney explains why invading Iraq would be a bad idea

This is rich. Here's Dick Cheney himself:
Because if we’d gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.

Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it — eastern Iraq — the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey.

It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

But of course, on September 11, 2001, a bunch of non-Iraqis flew planes into our buildings, so that makes all these potential occupation problems disappear.

The Art Garfunkel figure

The Onion can be cruel:
Ben Affleck Hoping Jason Bourne Has Sidekick In Next Movie

The Onion

Ben Affleck Hoping Jason Bourne Has Sidekick In Next Movie

LOS ANGELES—Affleck envisioned the sidekick as being taller and slightly beefier the Bourne, and who would always look out for his best friend.

I like this post on wealth disparity

Digby on Robert Frank's new book:
We hear a lot about income inequality these days and if you're like me, you probably wonder, other than the fundamental unfairness of it all, why this matters. After all, life isn't fair, get back to work and stop lallygagging.

As it turns out it matters a great deal, and that sense of dissatisfaction and anxiety so many of us feel is a direct result of the conspicuous consumption of the fabulously wealthy overclass trickling down through society and making it necessary for people to constantly buy more, even as they are earning the same. According to Frank, it's not just keeping up with the Joneses or class envy or any of the other things that people usually attribute to those who live beyond their means. It's a natural, human response to the context in which they live. Frank makes a compelling case that measuring yourself against your neighbors, co-workers or whatever, isn't just a matter of "keeping score." It's the way we make sense of the world. And that measure is affected every day by what the super-rich are buying.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Atrios on Afghanistan

Worth reading:
Discussions of the utility of the conflict always took a backseat to the perceived moral righteousness of it. Yes we were attacked. Yes that gave us the "right" to do "something" and perhaps something which involved civilian casualties. But, ultimately, we must look back and ask: what did we achieve? At what cost (to us and to others)? Was there a better way?

As has been the case for some many things these past years the choices were never "nothing" or "Pony plan." The choices were always "nothing" or "George Bush's plan." The failure to comprehend that simple fact has prevented members of our very serious crowd of pundits from listening to or admitting to the validity of criticism of so many things. Years later, opponents of the Iraq invasion are almost entirely absent from our mainstream our discourse even though they were the ones who were pointing out what was going wrong in real time even as the Weekly Standard cheerleaders were simply telling us that hope was a plan and that clapping louder was the best thing we could do.

[...]

For years it's been a verbal tic of many Iraq war opponents to assert "I supported the war in Afghanistan..." as a necessary prophylactic to charges of "unserious peacenik dirty fucking hippie!" The question is dangling, however... "should you have?" At the very least, shouldn't you have tried to open the door to critics who were less than supportive, not because they hate America, but because they were concerned that George Bush would fuck the whole thing up? Because it was hard to imagine that they'd actually go in and rebuild the place?

University of Chicago to publish 1943 Iraq guide

Remember when I posted about this WWII guide for American soldiers in Iraq (that link is a PDF to the whole thing)? University of Chicago Press is publishing it, and I guess it's selling well:
Perhaps even more shocking than the book's discovery has been its success. Re-published just a few weeks ago and selling for $10 a copy, the book is already in its second printing and the press is planning for at least a third printing and probably more, a feat for any academic publisher more accustomed to narrow-interest academic and reference books.
Too bad it didn't sell well before the invasion:
The book includes an updated foreword from Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, who served in Iraq with the 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division. He writes about wishing he read the book before going to Iraq's Al Anbar province in 2003.

"Some of the guidance in this little book is eerie to anyone who has fought in Iraq recently," he wrote in the introduction. "It is almost impossible, when reading this guide, not to slap oneself on the forehead in despair that the Army knew so much of the Arabic culture and customs, and of the importance of that knowledge for achieving military success in Iraq, six decades ago -- and forgot almost all of those lessons in the intervening years."

Nagl says it would have been helpful to know that there could be an uptick in violence during the holy month of Ramadan, which he experienced during his unit's deployment. If military leaders had read the 1943 guide, they also may have better recognized the power of the tribal leaders, known as sheiks, and especially the importance of allying with the Sunni leaders.
I doubt it would have ultimately changed the overall dynamic if our troops knew a little more. An occupying army is an occupying army even if they know a little bit about where they're occupying. But it couldn't have hurt, and it wouldn't have cost much. And the army already friggin' wrote the thing 65 years ago. You know, back when we actually planned our wars.

Rove to resign at end of August

The Wall Street Journal, despite being owned by Rupert Murdoch, has the story:

Karl Rove, President Bush's longtime political adviser, is resigning as White House deputy chief of staff effective Aug. 31, and returning to Texas, marking a turning point for the Bush presidency.

Mr. Rove's departure removes one of the White House's most polarizing figures, and perhaps signals the effective end of the lame duck administration's role in shaping major domestic policy decisions. Mr. Rove revealed his plans in an interview with Paul Gigot, editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. (See related commentary.)

HT: Georgia10 on DailyKos

Good riddance, but don't start thinking that this gets you out of any subpoenas, Mr. Rove. You still have a lot to answer for.

A very BAD idea: splitting California's electoral votes before other states

There's a very BAD idea that might appear on a California Ballot initiative soon: California would award its electoral votes for president by congressional district, instead of all-or-nothing. Why is this bad? Because it would give the Republicans about 20 more electoral votes, making it very hard for the Democrats to take the White House in 2008. (HT: this DailyKos diary from SemDem.)

The only way I would support this is if California got together with a bunch of traditionally Republican states (for presidential elections, i.e. Texas) and passed this kind of reform all at the same time, with contingency language to the effect that the by-district electoral vote allotment only happens in California if it happens in these other states, too.

Of course, the Republicans pushing this measure in California are not pushing similar measures in Texas or other "red" states. The Democrats are pushing a similar measure in North Carolina, but it wouldn't balance out the California one because far fewer electoral votes are at stake.

Why not just have direct popular election of the president? Like in a democracy? We could avoid having to amend the Constitution if enough states agreed to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. They could specify that this only goes into effect if enough states are also agreeing to apportion their electoral votes this way. Maryland has already done this. I would support such a measure in California.

Just got a very good deal on a laptop

I just got a very good deal on this Acer laptop from Best Buy, but the purchasing experience was a nightmare. I bought a floor demo model, and they couldn't get it out of the locked rack. They were trying all sorts of different keys, and when they finally unlocked it, the alarm went off. Then they had to wipe the Best Buy"attract mode" advertising stuff off it, which prevented me from taking it home last night. Today when I went to get it, they couldn't find the accessories: battery, power cord, manual, Windows license, etc. After about 45 minutes of their searching, I got so fed up (Quinn was with me and getting restless) that I told them I wanted to return it. Then a different clerk looked and found the stuff right away: It was in a bag labeled "Compaq" and the first clerk overlooked it. Overall, it was a parade of incompetence, delay, and annoyance. But now I got my new machine, and I'm getting it set up, so I might not be posting as much. Great price, lousy service. I think that's the new economy in a nutshell.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Just in case you thought this blog was getting smut deficient...

...here are two items to excite your prurient interest. Don't worry, like all Internal Monologue items having to do with the topic of sex, there's a thin veneer of sociological interest, political import, or artistic pretention you can use as a fig leaf to cover up your lurid fascination with sexual behavior.

Item one: A performance artist recreates rape scenes from movies using herself and a multi-thousand dollar sex doll made to look just like her. Both she and the doll dress like the victim, but she plays the aggressor and the doll plays the victim. She also dressed herself and the doll in matching bride outfits and "married" the doll in Vegas. Here's one of the tamer pictures of the pair:

I don't really know what to make of this person's work. It's certainly creepy and interesting. But I certainly wouldn't say I "get it" or anything. (HT: Amanda Marcotte on Pandagon, who isn't quite sure what to say about it either.)

Item #2: Horror stories from a video clerk who has to deal with creepy porn rental customers. Here is one of the tamer sections. WARNING: major ick factor.
All of us abuse the hand sanitizer. I know that over-the-counter antibacterial products are bad. I know that it actually develops hideous resistant strains of bacteria. I even did the high school biology experiment where you put penicillin in a petri dish of E. Coli, then watch the zone of inhibition get smaller and smaller as the bacteria learn to eat the stuff for breakfast. I know it is bad, and I don't think it should even be legal to sell it. All of my fellow clerks agree with me, but we all abuse the hand sanitizer. We can't help it.

Contamination is everywhere. I see people sneezing onto the tape cases. They cough wetly into their palms right before handing me change. They squeegee out their ears with their pinkies. They forget about the security cameras downstairs and pick their noses with wild abandon and astonishing force. Still, the only thing that realy freaks me out is the semen. Well, OK, the lubricant freaks me out too, but I'm pretty sure that's because of the implied presence of semen.

The only thing we can do is use the hand sanitizer. I use it so much that I lose all finger traction and can't open our plastic bags. I've had days when I've used it so much that I can't even make fingerprints on the glass countertop. It freaks me out, but the thought of not using it is worse.
An interesting note: I noticed that all these stories are from 2002. I think the video store clerk who has to deal with porn customers is going to become a dying breed once broadband Internet access percolates out to the point that people don't have to deal with video store clerks at all. I suspect that this will take a long time to unfold completely, though. Maybe these people should get special compensation from the government or something (the clerks, not the creepy customers). Heck of a way to earn $6.50 an hour.

Phoenix Games moving online


My first gaming store, Phoenix Games on Lake Street in Minneapolis, is closing and moving entirely online. Apparently, the block is being redeveloped, and Neil isn't interested in paying the assessments. I had been shopping there since the early 80's, when it was called Little Tin Soldier, and Neil was just an employee. Maybe I'll see him at GenCon Indy next week.

Thanks to Pablo for tipping me off on this sad and momentous occurrence. I sort of feel the same way as when I heard that DUNGEON and DRAGON magazines were ceasing publication.

Phoenix Games' website will apparently be overhauled within the week, and I look forward to visiting the virtual version of one of my childhood haunts. But it is sad, sad, sad, to know that it will no longer be there on Lake Street.

Next week at GenCon, when I'm throwing my 20-sided dice, I'll wonder which of them were purchased there, years and years ago.

Is this guy for real?

There's a guy with a blog who claims to be Mitt Romney's illegitimate son. He tells awful stories about his dad. Atrios linked to him. But I can't find any confirmation as to whether this person is actually who he says he is. Is it all a joke? Some Giuliani supporter on a lark? Reading the few posts on the blog, a real sense of resentment and anger comes through. But it's so extreme I have a hard time believing it. I guess I doubt it's for real. But it's well done enough that I got taken in.

I-35 bridge rescuer says no to Bush photo-op

Not only does he rescue children from school buses, he disses Bush:
Hernandez declines Bush photo: Somebody who saves 50 kids from a school bus teetering on the edge of a collapsed highway is a bona fide hero, and Jeremy Hernandez deserves the media attention -- and the $15,000 scholarship he's being offered to finish his automotive repair program at Dunwoody Institute. But it seems he draws the line somewhere, according to Molly Schwartz, communications director for Pillsbury United Communities, where Hernandez works as a gym coordinator. When asked by a White House staffer to appear in a presidential photo op, Schwartz told the New York Times, his answer was simple: "He was just, like, 'Nope.'" He decided to go fishing in Northern Minnesota instead.

Leftist gloating

This weeks Economist is all about how the American right wing and the Republicans are in deep trouble. Here's one article. It's about time. If only Congressional Democrats opposed Bush more resolutely.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Occupation critics are NOT impressed with the surge

There's a ridiculous meme being spammed by the right-wing noise machine:
The new Franken-meme goes like this: War critics in general -- not just the Dynamic Duo from Brookings -- are now "conceding" that real, honest-to-God military progress is being made in Iraq.
This is of course bullshit, as the TPM article I link to above illustrates.

How did this start? The New York Times foolishly allowed a couple of war cheerleaders to bill themselves as "war critics" when writing a pro-surge editorial. Then all the right-wingers and media establishment folks leaped on it and flogged it as some sort of major wave of Iraq optimism sweeping over us folks who think the whole thing is a colossal clusterfuck.

Greenwald discussed this in detail a while ago.

I'm posting this because I know many of my readers don't follow the blogosphere, and so might be deceived by all the coordinated bullshit spray hitting our media. There is no wave of optimism among occupation critics and opponents.

Bwahahaha! Obama out-polling McCain among Iowa REPUBLICANS!

Here's a stark illustration of the difficulties the McCain campaign is facing: Iowa Republicans apparently prefer Obama to McCain:

But the poll also gauged support among registered Iowa Republicans, whether they’re planning to participate in the caucuses or not. And that’s where it gets ugly.

The changes among Republican voters since March are dramatic. Romney is now the preferred candidate at 21.8 percent — double his March support.

Giuliani’s support, 10 percent, decreased by almost 8.5 percent. McCain’s support has collapsed in Iowa. His support among registered Republicans dropped from 14.4 percent in March to 1.8 percent in July-August. UI political scientists note that McCain has been passed in popularity not only by former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., who earned 5.2 percent support, but also by a Democratic challenger, Obama, who is supported by 6.7 percent of Republicans. No other candidate received more than 3 percent support. (emphasis added)

Think about that for a moment. Among Iowa Republicans, McCain has fallen behind Obama? And Iowa is the key to McCain’s comeback plan?

"The Doors Are Closing...Please Stand Clear of The Doors"

Image of The Doors from Wikipedia

"The doors are closing; please stand clear of the doors."

This warning gets played on BART trains all the time. When ever I hear it, I picture The Doors "closing", i.e. getting closer, perhaps walking four abreast down the platform in a menacing fashion. People hurry to "stand clear of The Doors", scurrying out of the way. All manage to do so, except for one unfortunate old lady who is too slow and gets pushed onto the tracks by keyboardist Ray Manzarek (third from the left in the sunglasses) and dies horribly on the electric rails, the hideous crackling of her flesh accompanied by the opening strains of "Riders on the Storm".

Maybe you, too, will now think of this whenever you hear "The Doors are closing...please stand clear of The Doors."

I suppose this post is a sister of this one, in that it involves re-interpreting the ubiquitous safety messages our society constantly throws at us in a more amusing fashion.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Han Shot First

Image of Han and Greedo's pre-shooting conversation found here.

I don't know what made me think of this. But here it is: Han shot first. Star Wars fans probably already know about this whole controversy. For those of you who don't, here it is in the nutshell: In the original theatrical release of Star Wars: A New Hope, Han blows Greedo away before Greedo shoots at him. In the 1990's, when the special editions came out, an addle-brained Lucas decided that this made Han look cold-blooded. So Lucas re-edited the scene to have Greedo shoot Han and miss (from across a table!) and then Han shoots him.

It is so much better with Han shooting first. Han isn't a nice guy, at least not at the beginning of A New Hope. That's the whole point of his character: he's a foil to all the moralizing do-gooders in the Rebel Alliance. (I find a Han's cynical, mercenary perspective is sorely missed in episodes 1-3.) He's one of Luke's fist contacts with the rough-and-tumble larger universe. And it's demeaning to Greedo (and Rodians in general) to have him miss at point blank range. Rodians are supposed to be a race of hunters, after all. Of course, Star Wars is notorious for entities whose marksmanship does not live up to its hype.

Star Wars fans have expressed strong feelings about this, as fan-made graphics like this one attest:
Apparently, Lucas has a sense of humor about this, as according to the Wikipedia entry linked above he was seen in 1997 wearing a "Han Shot First" t-shirt.

A Visual Timeline of "The next few months in Iraq are critical"

click on image to go to the actual timeline

The number of times we've heard how "the next few months" in Iraq are "critical" is really astounding. To illustrate the magnitude of this phenomenon, the folks at The Center for American Progress have put together a nice visual timeline illustrating just how often we've been fed this line. Go take a look. Then listen to what the war supporters are asking America to do: give the project more time to succeed.

Ugh.

Air Force charges victim in her own rape

Yes, that seems to be what happened. From KVUE's website:

In the early hours of May 13, 2006, Cassandra said she was raped by three men at a party at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, N.C.

[...]

Six months after the alleged assault, the Air Force charged Cassandra and the three men with indecent acts.

And it gave the men accused of the sexual assault immunity to testify against Cassandra, which they accepted.

“When you have a change of command, when you have your first leaders, and over time they switch out. So the people that know her are not there now. So they see a different person than other people might have seen, and when you have that change you might have a different attitude,” Jesse Hernandez said.

(Emphasis added.) If this is true, the culture of our military is really fucked up. I found this via Feministing. The Houston Chronicle has a story on this as well. Let's hope someone comes to their senses. But then, the Air Force doesn't have a very good record on this sort of thing. Neither do the other branches of the military, as far as I know. Of course, we only hear about the cases where things seem to go horribly wrong. But it seems to me that we need to shine the light of scrutiny into what goes on when sexual assault is reported in the military.

UPDATE: Doonesbury has been doing a series on this. Man, I know its a cliche by now, but why is it that Doonesbury, The Daily Show, and This Modern World seem to be the ones bringing up painful realities about the war and generally calling bullshit on this administration and the media?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What the Internet is good for


HT: Mad Latinist via email. Mad Latinist is posting in Latin at the moment, and despite his urgings I still don't make much of an effort to figure out what he's saying.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

LEGO Escher

Take a famous Escher image, Realtivity...

...and shoot it with a LEGO-izing ray:

Lots more of this sort of thing on Andrew Lipson's LEGO page.

Interpreting warning iconography


Shoot your brow-mounted spike into the head of the supplicant, and then, after growing a new one, escape with your child via gondola.

(This pair of visual warning icons is printed on the side of the small inflatable pool we have in our yard.)


Oscar, the Angel of Death kitty

"Your time has come," says Oscar the Cat.

This is from a "perspective" in the New England Journal of Medicine (which is, like, a totally prestigious journal). Here's the postscript to "A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat":
Since he was adopted by staff members as a kitten, Oscar the Cat has had an uncanny ability to predict when residents are about to die. Thus far, he has presided over the deaths of more than 25 residents on the third floor of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families. Oscar has also provided companionship to those who would otherwise have died alone. For his work, he is highly regarded by the physicians and staff at Steere House and by the families of the residents whom he serves.
(HT: t4toby at Donkey Punch, who was kind enough to point out that I used the term "progosphere" before he did, though I hasten to add that others used it before me.)

I wonder how Oscar the Cat figures this out. Maybe they could train other cats to get the same ability. Or even train people. Or build a Roomba-like robot that can do the same thing. It would be very useful.

Hillary Clinton at YearlyKos

Clinton and Obama at Yearly Kos. Image from SantaFeNewMexican.com.

A friend of a friend of mine, Paul Hogarth, was at the Hillary Clinton breakout session at YearlyKos and did a lengthy post about it on DailyKos. He titled it: "Yearly Kos Has Endangered Hillary's Nomination". An excerpt:

With 1,500 delegates at Yearly Kos, I only met two Hillary Clinton supporters. She is the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and is hoping to get it by inevitability. But this doesn’t mean the blogosphere is “out of touch,” although blogger demographics clearly work against her. Hillary’s lead in the polls comes from a higher name recognition, and a strategic muddling of her position on Iraq so that progressives don’t hate her.

Hillary was the biggest loser in the Convention’s Debate, as she defended taking money from Washington lobbyists and argued that we are now “safer” than on 9/11. While Iraq never came up in her break-out session, that’s because only five people – including myself – got to ask her a question. Hillary’s response to my question about the Clinton years was the session’s “only moment of tension,” and confirmed she is a ruthless triangulator who will take progressives for granted. If Democrats realize this, she will lose the nomination.

Monday, August 06, 2007

And now for something completely different

Some white American sketch comedy artists (including a veteran of The Fifth Humour, my college sketch comedy group, as the host) attempt to capture the spirit of a weird Japanese talent contest:

Video: Monkey Pancake Funny Show

A Critique of Conservative Principles, part 4

Continuing with my critique of conservative principles:
6. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. ... All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. ... The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.
OK, here's one I can get on board with, barring the sexist language. Human beings were not optimized for moral behavior. I share conservative disdain for perfectionism in political arrangements or formation of moral character. Anyone who is under the illusion that evil and suffering will disappear if social and economic conditions are improved to a certain point is foolish. The "Blank Slate" notion that humans are infinitely malleable through education and cultural influence is a delusion. We should be realistic in what we can expect to achieve.

My fear is that when conservatives speak the truth that "We're never going to make things perfect" they are really speaking the lie that "It is impossible to make things better than they currently are". Certainly, neither individuals nor society can be perfect. But looking around, it doesn't take too much brainpower to see that some societies and individuals seem to be better than others. And from there it's not a great leap to wonder what leads to those differences, and to ponder how we might make choices that increase the likelihood that we and our society might trend in the direction of better. I don't think one needs to be a loony utopian radical to believe that there might be a slightly better way of going about doing things, and that we just might have enough capability to fumble clumsily in the general direction of that better way.
7. Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. Separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all.
I agree with this , but I don't think I take from it what conservatives take from it. I think what conservatives mean by this is that for freedom to be meaningful, individuals who own property must be protected from government depredations. Communal ownership, nationalized industries, and government taxation are all anathema (or at least highly suspect) because they lessen the freedom of the individual who do with property what the individual wishes. And if the government is empowered to take away all of the individual's property, any purely political or social "freedoms" are moot because the Leviathan can devour all your stuff. I agree with all of this.

But when I, as a liberal, see a statement like "freedom and property are closely linked", I nod my head in agreement, but my thoughts go down a very different path. I think of the individuals who don't have property to begin with, and how they are open to predation from the Behemoth of those that do. I think of predatory lenders, cigarette companies, exploitative prison phone fees, and airlines stranding people for hours on planes because it is profitable to do so. And I think of the state not as a huge devouring monster, but as a potential shield or referee to counterbalance the enormous power of the property owners. It seems that though a conservative has a healthy skepticism of the power a government exercises over an individual, the conservative is incredibly gullible when it comes to the power some other entity exercises over an individual.

I think a more wise stance would be to be wary of any situation in which one human being can exercise power over another. Human nature being what it is, such situations are potential breeding grounds for abuse. Hence the needs for checks and balances, laws & regulations, elections and accountability, disclosure, ombudspeople, annoying bloggers, etc. All of these things exist so that if the powerful abuse their power, there will be some consequence. It doesn't matter if the powerful entities are governments, corporations, individuals, churches, cultures, or anything else. They all need watchdogs and limits. One way I think good liberals and good conservatives complement each other is that they are inherently suspicious of different kinds of power. So more bases are covered, and more abuses are curtailed.

Critique of conservative principles, part 3

More conservative principles and my reactions:
4. Conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. ... Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away.
I certainly agree that we should act with prudence. Anyone who acts without regard to long-term consequences is mere foolish, not lacking in conservatism. Certainly conservatives are right to emphasize prudence. But I'm not willing to concede "prudence" as a conservative value. I think both liberals and conservatives value it.
5. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation.
OK, I don't believe in the Last Judgment, and I don't even think one should assume that a conservative does. There are a lot more roads to conservatism than through Christian eschatology.

I also disagree that all attempts to make people more equal are doomed to failure. If you look at the history of the Anglo-American political tradition, it seems like a lot of people have been made "more equal" over the past few hundred years. Merchants were made equal to nobles, then non-property owners were made equal to property owners, then slaves were made equal, women were made equal, etc. And I don't think all this equalizing has lead to social stagnation. Indeed, the "stagnating" societies of the world seem to be the ones that haven't gotten around to the necessary work of equalizing. Of course, it may be the equalization is a by-product, not a cause, of advancement. But certainly increasing equality cannot

Indeed, a blanket statement like "all other attempts at leveling must lead, at best, to social stagnation" really presumes super-human knowledge about social conditions. Are conservatives so wise that they know what the result of every single possible attempt to increase equality must be? Isn't this statement symptomatic of a radical form of exceptionalism? To believe this, one must either deny that any levellings that took place in the past were good ("Things were so much better before the Magna Carta!"), or that these levellings were not the result of efforts to change society ("Wow! My right to vote just fell out of the sky!"), or that the current moment is a unique and unprecedented historical circumstance because although past levellings might have been good and the result of human effort, no future levelling attempts will produce anything better than stagnation, because for some reason things are radically different now and now further equalizing via human effort is possible.

Of course, equality before a court of law is important. That's why conservatives are such staunch advocates of ensuring that accused criminals have equally good defense lawyers, regardless of their financial circumstances. Not.

Here we may be getting into "conservatism as outlined in principle" vs. "conservatism as it actually exists America". I'll give the "principled conservative" folks the benefit of the doubt, but don't think that because I support some of these "principles" that I will ever support the American conservative movement in its current incarnation.