Sunday, September 30, 2007

Current US foreign policy

Stick your hand in a blender, then denounce the blades as terrorists.

The crap people without a lot of money have to deal with

Call me a privileged elitist, but barring a drastic change in my financial situation I will never send my child to a school where he or she has to deal with this kind of shit:

A school in New York is having problems because their absolute “no bag” policy is a bit anti-female, surprise surprise. As any woman reading this is immediately thinking, the problem with not letting students carry even small bags to school is that female students have a very real need to carry pads and tampons. The danger of bleeding through your pants is statistically much higher than the danger that you’re going to turn out to be a school shooter, but that fact didn’t give the assholes who passed this policy pause.

Realizing that it’s a bit problematic to leave female students bleeding from between their legs with no way to plug it up, the school has tried to compensate by allowing students who are currently on their period to bring small bags to school during their period, but no other time. Anyone who was ever a teenage girl and remembers the high percentages of creepy men—many who work in schools—who enjoy humiliating you by prying into your privacy can see the immediate problems with this policy.

The girl was called out of class by a security guard during a school sweep last week to make sure no kids had backpacks or other banned bags.

Samantha Martin had a small purse with her that day.

That’s why the security guard, ex-Monticello cop Mike Bunce, asked her The Question.

She says he told her she couldn’t have a purse unless she had her period. Then he asked, “Do you have your period?”

Samantha was mortified.

She says she thought, “Oh, my God. Get away from me.” But instead of answering, she just walked back into class.

At home, she cried, and told her mother what happened.

And how do they carry around their textbooks without bags? Fortunately, the students at the school are protesting. One kid streaked the school wearing nothing but a bag on his head. Others showed their solidarity differently:

Girls have worn tampons on their clothes in protest, and purses made out of tampon boxes. Some boys wore maxi-pads stuck to their shirts in support.

After hearing that someone might have been suspended for the protest, freshman Hannah Lindquist, 14, went to talk to Worden. She wore her protest necklace, an OB tampon box on a piece of yarn. She said Worden confiscated it, talked to her about the code of conduct and the backpack rule — and told her she was now "part of the problem."

Let's hope the publicity surrounding this incident knocks some sense into that school and gets them to rescind that ridiculous "no bag" policy. How demeaning. Is there no other way to ensure safety in school?

McCain, theocrat

Unfortunately, a lot of Americans think we live in a theocracy, too:

Q: A recent poll found that 55 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation. What do you think?

A: I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, "I only welcome Christians." We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.

georgia10 on DailyKos at the link above does us the courtesy of reprinting Article VI of the Constitution:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
as well as the First Amendment of the Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Money not on sale in Canada anymore

The US Dollar seems to be imploding. The Canadian dollar is now basically even with the US Dollar, which is a very new phenomenon. I don't know what the implications of this are other than the obvious: other nation's stuff is more expensive to us, our stuff is cheaper for them. That's what happens when you have a big trade deficit and big budget deficits for a long time, I guess.

Mad Latinist makes the Wall Street Journal

Regular Internal Monologue commenter Mad Latinist (aka Justin Mansfield) gets a mention in this Wall Street Journal article about the Latin Wikipedia, Vicipaedia Latina:

Most of the work among the editors is collegial, though now and then debates break out. One involved the proper neologism for "computer." Vicipaedia calls it a computatrum, despite the vehement opposition of editor Justin Mansfield, who says the word is just bad Latin.

"You can't use 'trum' at will to make new words," insists Mr. Mansfield, also a classics grad student. " 'Trum' actually fell out of use around the time of the Punic Wars. It's like 'th' in English. You can say 'warmth,' but you can't say 'coolth.' "

Mr. Mansfield lobbied for computatorium but was outvoted. He prevailed, though, with "particle accelerators," the atom smashers used by physicists, which, per his suggestion, are known on Vicipaedia as particularum acceleratorium.

Mad Latinist adds some context on his own blog:
Computatrum. When I lobbied against it was actually back in the mid-nineties, before wikipedia existed. On the Grex Latine Loquentium computatrum and other -trum words were (and are) very widespread, and it really bothered me. But I couldn't convince very many people on this topic. And as proper usage is determined more by what people actually say than by what they should say (OK, that's not exactly true in a dead language, but it makes sense in cases like these), I eventually gave in to the masses on this one word. Computatrum is just too wide-spread now to fight, and if you can't beat 'em.... But I do still fight the use of this suffix on most other words. So Gomes presented this whole sequence, over 10-years long, as something that happened on Wikipedia, when really it was decided long before.

But in general the article is good, and I'm very pleased!

UU ad campaign reaches Internal Monologue

This is pretty funny. As readers of this blog know, the Unitarian Universalists in the Bay Area have recently launched an ad campaignm. Some of the ads feature me and my family. (I just saw one of the posters with me on it in the El Cerrito Plaza BART station.) But of course, it's not just BART stations: there are TV commercials, NPR sponsorships, and, this being 2007, blog ads. Including this one I just saw:

Congratulations to whoever wrote the Google Adsense placement algorithm. (Though you have to balance this against all the times AdSense thought my readers would be interested in Ann Coulter books.) Unfortunately for the UU campaign, I think my readers have already heard quite a bit about Unitarian Universalism. So although this blog's readership is probably a good target demographically, I bet this ad would do better in front of people who've not yet heard of UUism. Any potentially interested IM reader has probably heard me jabber about it enough anyway.

Friday, September 28, 2007

How to write a fugue (on a Britney Spears theme)

This Douglas Hofstadter-esque little video demonstrates how to write a fugue using a theme from "Oops, I did it again".

A few items from around the sphere

(Apologies to those for whom a lot of this is redundant, but many of my readers aren't regulars at the major blogs, and rely on IM to keep them posted.)
  • Bill O'Reilly makes some shockingly daffy comments about how eating at a predominantly black restaurant in Harlem is surprisingly like eating in any other restaurant. This is yet another instance of making Jon Stewart's job too easy.
  • Those Republicans trying to trick California into splitting its electoral votes by congressional district (absent equivalent action by red states) have apparently given up. Kudos to all those who fought this.
  • Rush Limbaugh calls a bunch of American troops in Iraq "phony soldiers". We're waiting for Senate resolutions condemning his behavior. UPDATE: Well, there's a House resolution. Now that I think about it, I don't think the House should be criticizing Limbaugh either, annoying as he is. Why don't they actually end the war, or at least give our troops sufficient rest/retraining intervals? That would actually do something.
  • Senator Larry Craig (R-Minneapolis airport bathroom) isn't resigning. He's waiting to see if he can withdraw his guilty plea on the disorderly conduct charge stemming from the now-infamous bathroom sting operation. I can hear the heads of the Republican Senate leadership exploding from all the way out here in California. I think he should get some therapy, come out of the closet, and stay in the Senate and force the Republican party to deal with its massive closet issue. OK, like that's going to happen. But it's my blog. I can dream.
  • Paul Hogarth (whom I met through my friend Paul Dosh) writes on DailyKos how he avoided going on Hardball because he didn't want to be a straw-man opponent for the "Hillary's nomination is inevitable" meme that the beltway establishment is desperately pushing.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bill Clinton rips Republicans for faux outrage

Bill Clinton calls Republicans on their bullshit hypocritical outrage over MoveOn.org's ad.

Baby blogging: Quinn vs. cupcake

(It's also a much slicker implementation of Flash than the pitiful exercises I've done so far.)

Primitive Flash animation

OK, I can now create a primitive animation. And even embed it in my blog:

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Throwing illegal immigrants out has a price

According to this front page NYT article, apparently some towns are deciding that price is too high:
RIVERSIDE, N.J., Sept. 25 — A little more than a year ago, the Township Committee in this faded factory town became the first municipality in New Jersey to enact legislation penalizing anyone who employed or rented to an illegal immigrant.

Within months, hundreds, if not thousands, of recent immigrants from Brazil and other Latin American countries had fled. The noise, crowding and traffic that had accompanied their arrival over the past decade abated.

The law had worked. Perhaps, some said, too well.

With the departure of so many people, the local economy suffered. Hair salons, restaurants and corner shops that catered to the immigrants saw business plummet; several closed. Once-boarded-up storefronts downtown were boarded up again.

There are a lot of academic studies on the impact of immigrants, legal and illegal, on a community. But nothing illustrates the impact of people as starkly as chasing those people away.It gives us a sort of It's a Wonderful Life glimpse of what things are like without them. According to this article, many (but certainly not all) people are having second thoughts about successfully chasing away illegal immigrants. Some of the ordinances are being changed back.

I hope some of these stories filter up to affect our national conversation about immigration reform. Right now, it seems like the Democrats are sitting it out as the Republicans whip their ever-shrinking base into a xenophobic fury. So it seems unlikely that anything meaningful will be done in the near future, which is sad. But who knows. Sometimes the unthinkable becomes commonplace faster than one would think.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ahmadinejad claims their are no homosexuals in Iran

Listen to the Columbia audience laugh at Ahmadinejad when he claims there are no homosexuals in Iran. (HT: Sullivan. And no Andrew, you're not the only one who finds that laughter inspiring.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Quinn's 1st Birthday!

Quinn & Zac at the Oakland Zoo on Quinn's 1st birthday. (The date stamp on the picture is wrong; it was taken 9/21/07)

The pics are up on our family album. Thanks, Sarah! On his birthday, we went to the zoo. We were surprised at how indifferent Quinn was to many of the animals. We were much more into them than he was. There was a lizard that really caught his attention though. The next day (yesterday) we had a big party here. You can see pictures of both at the link above.

I'm not useless!

Dude, I just noticed that 3 people have registered to vote via my blog! That is awesome and makes me feel not useless. If even one of those people might not have otherwise registered, that will be more civic good than I've done in quite some time. Even if I just made it easier or more convenient for someone who would still have registered anyway, I consider that a worthwhile contribution to our nation's civic life.

Even if they end up voting Republican, as foolish and immoral as that is, it's important that people be involved in politics. The more people are paying attention, the less crap politicians will try to get away with.

No money for Democrats

By the way, I'm no longer giving money to the Democratic party or most individual Democratic candidates. (I'll make an exception for those like Pete Stark (D-CA) who don't shit on the party's activist base.) I'm only giving to activist groups that actually fight for what I believe in. The last several months have been mostly a disappointment, as far as what Democrats have done.

I know the Democrats have narrow majorities and limited ability to deal with the Bush administration. But they haven't even been using the weapons they do have (subpoena power, the power of the purse, etc.). I understand it's very hard for a politician to fight for something unpopular. But we're not asking you to do that. We are asking you to stop an incredibly unpopular war and to oppose a president and Republican party whose poll ratings are wallowing in the gutter, and have been for some time. There's really no excuse for weaseling out of that.

So Democrats, if you want my money, you're going to have to go begging to MoveOn.org and the like because that's whose going to be getting it until I see some changes in behavior.

Catastrophic climate change

I've been hearing more and more about how it's on the way. I think think governmental and individual action are both necessary. But of course at this critical time we have Bush in office.

MoveOn.org raises 1.5 million off Senate condemnation

MoveOn.org has managed to raise 1.5 million dollars so far in response to getting condemned by the US Senate. I wonder how much it would cost in lobbyist fees to get a "Sense of the Senate" amendment condemning Internal Monologue. My Google AdSense revenue would go through the roof! (Atrios wondered something similar.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Civics quiz

I got 57 out of 60 on this quiz about American civics (HT: rubber hose). I missed questions on the effect of the Federal Reserve purchasing bonds, what just-war theory requires for a just war, and how incomes by class have changed over the past 40 years.

You'll have to wait for Quinn pictures. Sorry.

Happy Birthday Quinn!

My son Quinn is 1 year old today. Pictures coming later tonight...

Slacktivist on Petraeus testimony

Slacktivist makes a great point about Petraeus' testimony before congress:
But set aside the facts and their bias against Petraeus' testimony -- his argument simply makes no sense. One could argue that the surge was not working, and therefore ought to be ended. Or one could argue that the surge is working, and therefore ought to be continued. But to argue, as both Gen. Petraeus and President Bush did, that it is working and therefore must be stopped is just bizarre. The general and the president both came across like something out of Lewis Carroll.

[...]

Which brings us to the bullshit. President Bush knew that the surge, whether or not it accomplished anything, was scheduled to end by next April. Gen. Petraeus knew this. All of the members of the House and Senate committees before which the general testified knew this. All of the media pundits offering color commentary from the wings knew this. Everybody knew this.

Yet Gen. Petraeus and President Bush decided to pretend that they didn't know this. Both of them got up and offered their incoherent "the strategy is working so we must end it" argument, disingenuously claiming that the reason for this step had nothing to do with what they both knew -- and they knew we knew -- was the real reason. Gen. Petraeus said things he knew weren't true. Usually, that's called lying, but Dr. Harry G. Frankfurt makes the case that lying is an attempt to deceive, which involves at least a backhanded respect for the truth. Shoveling nonsense with utter disregard for the truth, not caring even if those who hear it are deceived, is what Dr. Frankfurt classifies, with professorial precision, as bullshit.

By the way, Slacktivist's critique of the Left Behind series continues to be one of my favorite series of blog posts.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wedding Industrial Complex

If you order $100 worth of stuff from Macy*s regular website, you get free shipping.

But if you are on their wedding registry site, you have to order $125 worth of stuff to get free shipping.

Evil!

But apparently the gift box on the non-wedding website costs a dollar more than on the wedding site. Weird.

Sen. Hegel (R-NE): I can criticize Petraeus, but MoveOn.org can't

OK, here's Chuck Hegel (R-Nebraska) criticizing Petraeus' testimony:

Maher: Isn’t a dirty trick on the American people when you send a military man out there to basically do a political sell-job?”

Hagel: It’s not only a dirty trick, but it’s dishonest, it’s hypocritical, it’s dangerous and irresponsible. The fact is this is not Petraeus’ policy, it’s the Bush’s policy. The military is — certainly very clear in the Constitution — is subservient to the elected public officials of this country.. but to put our military in a position that this administration has put them in is just wrong, and it’s dangerous.”

(Emphasis from Crooks and Liars) Very good, Senator Hegel. But if you can call what Petraeus was doing dishonest, hypocritical, dangerous, and irresponsible, why did you vote to condemn MoveOn.org for saying something very similar? I guess the filthy masses shouldn't be allowed to express their opinions, even if they are the correct ones. Even Wes Clark seems to fall into the trap of this kind of thinking:

Matt Stoller: Chuck Hagel called his performance "a dirty trick on the American people... It's not only a dirty trick, but it's dishonest, it's hypocritical, it's dangerous and irresponsible." Admiral Fallon was reported saying that he thinks Petreaus is 'an ass-kissing little chickenshit" for the way he sucks up to politicians.' There are a lot of rumors that David Petraeus wants to run for President. My question is, um, is their criticism a mistake as well?

Wes Clark: Well, I think for Chuck Hagel, who's a sitting Senator who wants to criticize a General, that's fine. That's his right to do so. As far as Admiral Fallon was concerned, if he's got a personal quarrel with Petraeus, you know, that's between the two of them. Petraeus works for him, obviously he feels cut out and to some extent I've known situations like that, but, um, as for Moveon.org, it was a mistake.

Matt Stoller: But why can a sitting Senator criticize a General and millions of grassroots activists not do that? That's really what Moveon is, it's not like it's an entity.

Wes Clark: Moveon's an organization, and when it does that it distracts from the dialogue that the Senator's trying to have. [...]

(Emphasis mine.) All you filthy masses be quiet! The Senators are getting distracted, poor dears.

Unitarian Atheist Pete Stark (D-CA) supports MoveOn.org

From Firedoglake:

“I commend MoveOn for their ad and for speaking truth to power,” said Stark. “Up is not down, the earth is not flat, and the surge is not working. General Petreaus betrayed his own reputation by standing with George Bush in opposition to the timely withdrawal of all of our brave men and women from Iraq. I thank MoveOn for their patriotic ad and call on Petreaus to help Bush end a war the President should have never started.” – California Congressman Pete Stark

If you want to tell the Senate to lay off MoveOn.org, you can sign MoveOn.org's petition here.

Message to Senate: Get us out of Iraq, you sanctimonious blowhards

The Senate recently voted 75-24 to pass an amendment condemning MoveOn.org (of which I am a PROUD member) for running this ad calling out General Petraeus for the pro-occupation shill that he has been:
(click image for .pdf)

Here's the text of the ad:
General Petraeus is a military man constantly at war with the facts. In 2004, just before the election, he said there was “tangible progress” in Iraq and that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward.” And last week Petraeus, the architect of the escalation of troops in Iraq, said, “We say we have achieved progress, and we are obviously going to do everything we can to build on that progress.”

Every independent report on the ground situation in Iraq shows that the surge strategy has failed. Yet the General claims a reduction in violence. That’s because, according to the New York Times, the Pentagon has adopted a bizarre formula for keeping tabs on violence. For example, deaths by car bombs don’t count. The Washington Post reported that assassinations only count if you’re shot in the back of the head — not the front. According to the Associated Press, there have been more civilian deaths and more American soldier deaths in the past three months than in any other summer we’ve been there. We’ll hear of neighborhoods where violence has decreased. But we won’t hear that those neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed.

Most importantly, General Petraeus will not admit what everyone knows: Iraq is mired in an unwinnable religious civil war. We may hear of a plan to withdraw a few thousand American troops. But we won’t hear what Americans are desperate to hear: a timetable for withdrawing all our troops. General Petraeus has actually said American troops will need to stay in Iraq for as long as ten years. Today, before Congress and before the American people, General Petraeus is likely to become General Betray Us.
Here's the relevant text from the amendment:
[a listing of Petraeus' many accomplishments and awards]

(b) Sense of Senate.--It is the sense of the Senate--

(1) to reaffirm its support for all the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, including General David H. Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq;

(2) to strongly condemn any effort to attack the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all the members of the United States Armed Forces; and

(3) to specifically repudiate the unwarranted personal attack on General Petraeus by the liberal activist group Moveon.org.

First of all, I didn't see anything in the MoveOn ad attacking any member of the armed forces except General Petraeus. So it's ridiculous for the Senate to imply that it is. Stop trying to use the members of the armed forces as human shields against criticism. It's pathetic.

Secondly, MoveOn.org is not denying that General Petraeus is a highly accomplished, highly decorated military commander. MoveOn.org is questioning what the general is saying to Congress, and cites a good deal of evidence that calls into the question the assertions the general was making. It doesn't matter how accomplished you are, you don't get to lie or mislead. It doesn't matter how good your resume is, if you're shilling, then you are a shill. Where did people get the idea that intelligent, accomplished people with distinguished records of service can't lie when it suits their purposes to do so? And if someone seems to be lying to Congress about the war, is it not our duty to question their integrity?

Thirdly, since when did putting on a military uniform make you immune to criticism? When General Shinseki famously said that it would take several hundred thousand troops to successfully occupy Iraq, did Republicans withhold their criticism out of respect for the uniform he wore? No, they did not. And it turns out Shinseki was probably right, or at least more right than the people to whom the Republicans did listen. So please allow those of us who think this occupation is a stupid, immoral calamity to voice our criticism. We don't have a Deputy Secretary of Defense to attack generals whose opinions we don't like, so we have to use groups like MoveOn.org and have them take out ads in the Times.

Remember, this General Petraeus is a guy whose own boss (CENTCOM chief Admiral William Fallon) called him an "Ass-kissing little chickenshit". So it's not just us on the left who have issues with him. Maybe the Senate can take the time to censure the CENTCOM chief, too. No doubt Admiral Fallon is a deeply unserious, terrorist-loving, hippie Al-Qaeda traitor, along with the 59% of Americans who want to withdraw from Iraq.

So Internal Monologue is putting forward a "sense of the blog" resolution (passed 1-0) that the Senate should stop wasting its time condemning anti-occupation activist groups for exercising their free speech rights and start figuring out how to get us out of the Iraq quagmire. It would be ridiculous enough if MoveOn.org was expressing a minority opinion. But when MoveOn.org is attacked by 72 members of the Senate for expressing a majority opinion on the #1 political issue of the day, you can start to realize how completely broken our political discourse is. How long will it take for the will of the majority of people to translate into action?

By the way, congrats to Senator Clinton for voting against the Senate amendment. Obama, why were you absent? My California senators split predictably: Boxer voted Nay, Feinstein voted Yea. Find out how yours voted here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Gen Con Adventure! (a little exercise in Flash)


The next exercise in my Flash CS3 self-teaching regimen is this little text-based Gen Con simulator. I think those of you who have been there or heard me talk about might enjoy this little romp through game geek culture. It requires a Flash plug-in, which your browser probably already has. Pretty soon I'll actually learn how to animate things...

Update: The game can also be found here if my Yahoo! GeoCities bandwidth quota gets used up and you can't access the game from the links above.

Bay Area Unitarian Universalist propaganda blitz begins

Contra Costa Times (registration required):

Seventeen Bay Area Unitarian Universalist congregations have launched a $300,000 marketing campaign financed by 600 member donors. Its theme: "Imagine A Religion."

TV, radio and print spots designed by gUUrilla marketing began airing this week on Comedy Central, The Daily Show and A Prairie Home Companion

About 500 signs are going up in BART stations. Mainstream publications and specialty magazines serving Spanish-speaking or gay and lesbian readers will carry ads.

The campaign also features sequential billboards, based on the old Burma-Shave ads, meant for passing motorists to read.

"Imagine a religion that embraces many different beliefs ... including yours," reads a magazine ad that pictures a middle-aged gay male couple, a young African-American man, a mother holding a young child and a mixed-race family.

Emphasis added. Guess who that mixed-race family is? Us! Of course, I'm a mixed-race family even when living by myself.

Erotic Personality Quiz [NOT WORK SAFE]

Take this fun erotic personality quiz (HT: punkythecat [NOT WORK SAFE EITHER]). I did, and it was fun and seemed accurate. I'll spare my readers my results. (Punkythecat is not so shy.)

Iraq bans Blackwater military contractor

This news a few days old I know. But I like what Majikthise has to say:
It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Blackwater has a $300 million contract to provide security to the State Department alone. I doubt they're going anywhere.

It's delicious to think that in order to keep Blackwater, the U.S. will be forced to abandon the pretext that Iraq is an independent state.
I don't know if "delicious" is the word I'd use, but I am interested in how the administration resolves its split personality disorder on Iraq. One the one hand, there's this pretense that Iraq is a sovereign nation, that we're helping them get on their feet and we'll "stand down as they stand up", etc. But then there's the reality of the permanent military bases, the largest embassy/fortress complex on the planet, the withdrawal that always gets pushed off another six months, etc. This Blackwater incident will be indicative of which reality is the more powerful.

Theology book cover battles

It's the fish wars all over again, except this time with book cover designs and titles:

I'm not sure how much this is advancing the debate, but then it seems pretty futile to attempt to do so. It's amazing how people can come to believe very different things.

You can call her "Doctor" now

My wife filed her dissertation this morning, and she has the lollipop they give you to prove it. Congratulations, Dr. Taylor! w00t!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Federal prosecutor accused of soliciting sex with five year old

Warning: the details of this are pretty stomach churning:
A federal prosecutor was charged yesterday with flying across the country to have sex with a little girl.

Our cousins at Detroit Free Press quote police who say John David Roy Atchison, 53, arrived at the airport in Detroit "with a Dora the Explorer doll, hoop earrings and petroleum jelly for a 5-year-old he planned to have sex with" following a series of online conversations with an undercover investigator.

"Atchison reassured the sheriff's deputy who was posing as the child's mother that he would not hurt the 5-year-old because he goes 'slow and easy,' and 'I've done it plenty,'" The Detroit News reports.

This Kos diary claims the suspect is a Republican, but we all know that federal prosecutors are non-partisan, right?

Welcome to reality, New York Times

The New York Times has apparently decided to climb out from behind its subscription wall. Sullivan:
The NYT reverses one of the dumbest moves in the history of online journalism. This is not the benefit of hindsight. It was obvious at the time that this kind of gambit would never work for online opinion, and anyone with a pulse and a modem could see that, including many of the columnists themselves. In some ways, it was less a business decision, it seems to me, than a sheer assertion, by slightly desperate men, that somehow Times opiners merited a fee in a way no one else did - least of all those - shudder - bloggers. Two years ago, they could still assert that with a straight face, even if the rest of us were snickering. No longer. The NYT has some great columnists and some unreadable ones. But they are not a class apart. They are merely part of a much larger and better conversation than any Sulzberger could ever own. Welcome to the blogosphere, guys. It's free.

The student loan program

This Michael Kinsley article taught me a great deal about how federally subsidized student loans work. Basically there are two kinds: one where the government gets banks to lend money to students by guaranteeing the loan and paying some or all of the 7-8% interest, and another where the government lends directly to students, and can borrow money to do so at 3-4% interest. Why would the government pay more money so that banks can do the lending rather than the government? Because those banks have been very cozy with Republicans (and are now getting cozy with Democrats now that they control Congress).

This seems to be another example of how Republicans screech with outrage when the government spends money to help people, but cheer with glee when the government spends ten times as much money to help a large corporation. Blank checks for war, miserly penny-pinching for health care and education. Not a good way to maintain an economically competitive nation in the 21st century, in my opinion. And Democrats need to fight on this issue more. If we aren't vigilant, they will just feed at the trough, too.

Note: there are some well-written rebuttals to many of Kinsley's claims in the comment section associated with this article. However, I don't know enough about the factual claims made to know who is right.

Dude, I'm sure the game wasn't THAT good

From Time:

(BEIJING) — A man in southern China appears to have died of exhaustion after a three-day Internet gaming binge, state media said Monday.

The 30-year-old man fainted at a cybercafe in the city of Guangzhou on Saturday afternoon after he had been playing games online for three days, the Beijing News reported.

Paramedics tried to revive him but failed and he was declared dead at the cafe, it said. The paper said that he may have died from exhaustion brought on by too many hours on the Internet.

The report did not say what the man, whose name was not given, was playing.

Aw, c'mon! The only thing anyone wants to know is which game it was. Some reporter wasn't on the ball. Marketing departments of computer game companies everywhere are waiting with baited breath: which game was so great someone actually died rather than stop playing?

Humor aside, I suspect the cause of this addictive behavior will be found as much in the psychology of the person afflicted as in the addictive qualities of the game itself. No game is that good. I wonder if people do this because they have nowhere else to go. Someone needs to analyze this phenomenon.

I know World of Warcraft actually has built-in incentives to take a break from playing: by "resting" in an inn, you can increase the rate at which you gain experience points. The result is that you can advance as quickly by taking breaks as you can by playing constantly (I'm not sure if it's exactly equal, but near enough. I haven't played WoW for a while so I'm not up on the latest tweaks and expansion packs.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Emmy nomination clips for best comedy writing


How much comedy can you pack into your Emmy nomination clip, which must include reading a long, boring list of writers? I think they do a pretty good job.

Iceland to pull its one guy out of Iraq

Iceland has announced it will withdraw its one guy from Iraq. Here's the story, via Heraldblog:
Foreign Minister Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir has decided to remove an Icelandic Crisis Response Unit (ICRU) member from a NATO training program for the Iraqi army in Baghdad next month, causing disappointment among NATO leaders.

The ICRU member has been working in Baghdad for the last two years, primarily as a media representative, and will cease working there October 1, Morgunbladid reports.

John Craddock, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO and the US European Command, said at a press conference in Iceland yesterday that Iceland is an important and active NATO member and that he was disappointed with Gísladóttir’s decision.
I'm glad they're not giving even fig-leaf appearance of participating in this disaster. Every country that has even one person there enables Bush to tout how many nations are participating in this disaster. Most people aren't fooled, as they know that American troops form the vast bulk of occupying forces. But having 36--oops I mean 35--other nations participating does lend a veneer of respectability to the operation. Why are other nations doing this? Do they believe America should be occupying Iraq? Are they getting some kind of favors from the US in return? How do their populations feel about their nations' troops being there? There should be a nice chart summarizing this somewhere...

Iraq occupation as a "dollar auction" trap

Via Sullivan:

Economics professors have a standard game they use to demonstrate how apparently rational decisions can create a disastrous result. They call it a "dollar auction." The rules are simple. The professor offers a dollar for sale to the highest bidder, with only one wrinkle: the second-highest bidder has to pay up on their losing bid as well. Several students almost always get sucked in. The first bids a penny, looking to make 99 cents. The second bids 2 cents, the third 3 cents, and so on, each feeling they have a chance at something good on the cheap. The early stages are fun, and the bidders wonder what possessed the professor to be willing to lose some money.

The problem surfaces when the bidders get up close to a dollar.

After 99 cents the last vestige of profitability disappears, but the bidding continues between the two highest players. They now realize that they stand to lose no matter what, but that they can still buffer their losses by winning the dollar. They just have to outlast the other player. Following this strategy, the two hapless students usually run the bid up several dollars, turning the apparent shot at easy money into a ghastly battle of spiraling disaster.

Theoretically, there is no stable outcome once the dynamic gets going. The only clear limit is the exhaustion of one of the player's total funds. In the classroom, the auction generally ends with the grudging decision of one player to "irrationally" accept the larger loss and get out of the terrible spiral. Economists call the dollar auction pattern an irrational escalation of commitment. We might also call it the war in Iraq.

Full article here.

Greenspan's Johnny-come-lately conversion to Bush critic

Ian Welsh at Firedoglake isn't buying Greenspan's after-the-fact criticism of Bush policies:

For him, now, to say that he somehow didn’t mean it, or that he was, behind the scenes, urging caution, or that he was hoodwinked, is sophistry of the most pathetic kind. He was not economically naive. He had the skills not to be taken in. If he was taken in, he was taken in because he wanted to be taken in. And right up to 2004 he can be seen, having not learned his lesson, even as Bush had vetoed no spending bills at all, still using his reputation to try and help push through Bush administration policies.

There have been a lot of people writing books and articles of late, in which they throw Bush over the bus in an attempt to save their reputation. (Colin Powell, are you listening?) In almost every case, they did nothing when they had the power; had the influence; had the opportunity to actually made a difference.

Greenspan is nothing but another rat fleeing the sinking S.S. Bush in an attempt to save his reputation for posterity. He doesn’t deserve space on the life raft. Men like Treasury Secretary O’Neill, who wrote their books while it still mattered, when it still took guts, when it might have made a difference; they deserve a hand up. Greenspan deserves to go down with the ship.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Riding Harry Potter's broom to a place of great fun

This is pretty funny. From Feministing:


Apparently this made CNNMoney.com's list of 101 Dumbest Moments in Business 2003:
Shortly after Mattel releases its Nimbus 2000 broom as part of its line of Harry Potter toys, the vibrating device begins getting the wrong sort of customer raves. "I'm 32 and enjoy riding the broom as much as my 7-year-old," says one enthusiastic mother on Amazon. "My only complaint is, I wish the batteries didn't run out quite so quickly." Mattel stops making the toy, but denies that the unintended value-add is the reason. Says a spokesperson: "It's just not a continued product in our line."
I don't see what was dumb about it. It seems to me the dumb move was stopping production. A Harry Potter quidditch broom seems like the perfect "cover" for selling a sex toy. The company has plausible deniability to keep the prudes at bay. And the sales roll in. What could be better?

Heck, why doesn't Rowling license some company to produce a line of Harry Potter sex toys? "Magic wands"...you gotta find the one that's right for you...etc. I'm sure they'd sell really well. And it would do wonders for the mainstreaming of sexuality. Harry and his pals are all grown up now. I'm sure by the end of book seven they must be full-fledged sexual beings. And the Christianists, already hostile to Potter's wizardly paganism, would go absolutely apoplectic with rage. It would be so cool.

Wes Clark endorses Clinton

I just got an email from Wes Clark that he's endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. I'm not sure what I think of this. Obviously, it means Wes Clark isn't running. But what do I think of his Clinton endorsement? I want someone firmly anti-occupation, firmly progressive, and more people-powered than establishment powered. I don't think Clinton fits the bill. Obama, Edwards, Dodd, Richardson, Gravel, and Kucinich have offered pieces of what I'm looking for in a candidate. But none of them have broken out of the pack for me. Of course I'll support Clinton if she's the nominee. But I do hope that as the public starts paying more attention to the nomination process, the Iraq occupation issue will bring another candidate to the fore.

I wonder if Clark is getting anything in return for this early endorsement. Secretary of Defense or something? VP? Who knows. Maybe he thinks she's the right person for the job.

UPDATE: Over at MyDD, Jerome Armstrong is thinking similar thoughts:
Pretty big endorsement. I've long stated that a Clinton/Clark ticket would be the strongest were Clinton to become the nominee. I went ahead and asked him if he'd consider the position, and he of course deferred;)

Duke and Earl as spinmeisters for Craig

Duke and Earl, the evil lobbyist father-son team in Doonesbury, have some great advice for Senator Craig.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Another retroactive Republican critic

There seems to be a pattern: Upon leaving the Bush administration, a Republican stooge voices trenchant criticisms of that administration completely at odds with their previous water-carrying behavior. It makes one wonder why the hell they didn't do anything when they were in a position to do so. Colin Powell is the prime example of this, but Alan Greenspan seems to have joined the ranks. Why didn't he come out against Republican fiscal recklessness when he was Chair of the frickin' Federal Reserve? I seem to recall him giving his stamp of approval to Bush' giveaway to the rich, despite the fact that the deficit was growing and we were fighting two wars. (We still are, by the way. How's Afghanistan going? Not so well I hear.)

Update: Hey, Sullivan agrees with me:
I await the right-wing blogosphere's description of Alan Greenspan as a convert to leftism because he has recognized the fiscal policies of Bush and Cheney for what they are and were. The arguments made in my book, The Conservative Soul, have not gone away. It is good to see more and more fiscal conservatives prepared to say how far astray the GOP has wandered. I guess it's a little too much to ask that they might have said it at a time when it could have made, you know, a difference.

Republican strategist: Why is Bush reminding Americans why they don't like him?

This is one of those anonymous quotes, so take it with the requisite sprinkling of NaCl crystals. Here's Time magazine:
But Bush's trumpeting of what he called a "return on success" could end up backfiring. Bringing the war into America's living rooms is never a safe political bet. And if news of a slow drawdown may be popular, Bush himself still is not. Some key Hill Republicans, in fact, were upset that he returned front and center on the issue at a time when the White House had so carefully ceded the selling of the surge to Petraeus and Crocker. "Why would he threaten the momentum we have?" says one frustrated Capitol Hill Republican strategist with ties to the G.O.P. leadership. "You have an unpopular President going onto prime time television, interrupting Americans' TV programs, to remind them of why they don't like him."
Devilstower on DailyKos comments:

Bush did more than remind the American people that this is his war, and that in supporting this war, the Repubicans are placing loyalty to the worst president in history above any demands of decency or common sense. In his speech, Bush raised the stakes of his long-shot gamble.

In the life of all free nations, there come moments that decide the direction of a country and reveal the character of its people.

Do you smell that? That's the odor of every possible bridge being burned. By supporting Bush now, Republicans are supporting the idea that Iraq is more than just a miserable conflict, badly planned and horribly executed. They're buying the idea that America is defined by what happens in Iraq.

In supporting Bush, they are placing every chip on the table, and accepting that they can never draw them back. You can not accept this cause as the cause and change your mind later. The Republicans are absolutely invested in this war. They hold only a 7-2 off suit, but they are all in.

Now all that is wanting is someone to call their hand.

Amen. I think the Democratic presidential candidates are the ones in a position to do this. Dodd and Richardson have come out strongly against this occupation. I'd like to see more leadership from Obama and Clinton though. Not only are they the leading Democratic candidates, they are actually in the Senate and in a position to push for mandatory withdrawal or de-funding the occupation and bringing our troops home. The majority of the country is anti-occupation, but anti-occupation politicians still seem to be somewhat ashamed of their positions. Come out of the anti-occupation closet! The big bully whom you're all afraid of, George Bush, is a guy with crappy approval ratings. His front man, Petraeus (how pathetic that the President is hiding behind a battlefield commander! Not the Secretary of Defense, not the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not the CENTCOM commander, but someone even lower on the chain of command. Lame.) is a guy with a long history of misguided Iraq optimism and whose boss called him an "ass-kissing little chickenshit" who has an annoying habit of saying what his superiors want to hear.

Note on my anti-occupation stance: I'd support a small residual American force in Kurdish areas to preserve the relative stability there and to prevent Turkish-Kurdish hostilities from getting out of hand. Ideally it would be under the auspices of the UN or NATO or some other international organization. And I'd only support it if the Kurdish people and the Kurdish leadership wanted it there. Everywhere else in Iraq I just don't see a role for us. Approximately 60% of the Iraqi population approves of attacks on our troops. That's a pretty good signal that it's time to go.

Friday baby blogging: tooth update

Quinn's upper front right incisor has arrived!

As always, you can get your fill of Quinn pictures from our family album.

In at least one high school, a guy can wear pink and have people stand up for him

Central Kings Rural High School students David Shepherd and Travis Price bought 75 pink tank tops and other pink items for students to wear after a new student at the school was bullied for wearing a pink shirt. (IAN FAIRCLOUGH / Valley Bureau) Image and caption from Nova Scotia News

Some students in Nova Scotia decided that they'd had enough of bullying:

Two students at Central Kings Rural High School fought back against bullying recently, unleashing a sea of pink after a new student was harassed and threatened when he showed up wearing a pink shirt.

The Grade 9 student arrived for the first day of school last Wednesday and was set upon by a group of six to 10 older students who mocked him, called him a homosexual for wearing pink and threatened to beat him up.

The next day, Grade 12 students David Shepherd and Travis Price decided something had to be done about bullying.

"It’s my last year. I’ve stood around too long and I wanted to do something," said David.

They used the Internet to encourage people to wear pink and bought 75 pink tank tops for male students to wear. They handed out the shirts in the lobby before class last Friday — even the bullied student had one.

(HT: Sullivan) Dan Savage has picked up the story, too.

Friday baby blogging

Quinn and his friend Kieran, from back in July. ARRR! They are baby/toddler pirates!

CT Senate voters have buyers' remorse

According to this poll, enough people have changed their minds about Lieberman (CT-CT for Lieberman) that if the election were held today, Ned Lamont (Real D) would win. Lieberman claimed he wanted to end the war during the campaign season, but has since reverted to being leading pro-escalation, pro-occupation voice.

Note: the poll was paid for by DailyKos, which has had it in for Lieberman for a long time. But the results aren't particularly surprising: CT is a pretty blue state, so it's to be expected that it's pretty anti-occupation. So no one should be too surprised if CT voters are now annoyed with Lieberman.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Here's my first Adobe Flash program

Here it is. I of course followed the long and noble tradition for what the first program you write in a new language should do.

UPDATE: OK, here's another one. It's called "Relationship Game". This one has buttons. Notice the different colors when you hover over the button and when you press the button. Cool, huh?

Cut me some slack, I've been working with Flash for like only a few hours!

(Please note that this is not to be construed as a comment on any current relationships I might be in. A "married to Sarah game" wouldn't be any fun to play because it would just have a "She's wonderful; you're happy" screen and no action. Drama requires conflict.)

Does empathy make effective charity more difficult?

Here's another bit of info that supports my "fish out of water" thesis, i.e. that human beings and our instincts are not designed to handle the modern world. It turns out that human empathy is good for getting you to care about the suffering of one person, but the greater the number of people who are suffering, the less empathic we feel:

In one recent experiment, Slovic presented subjects with a picture of "Rokia," a starving child in Mali, and asked them how much they'd be willing to give to help feed her. Then he showed a different group photos of two Malinese children -- "Rokia and Moussa." The group presented with two kids gave 15 percent less than those shown just one child. In a related experiment, people were asked to donate money to help a dying child. When a second set of subjects was asked to donate to a group of eight children dying of the same cause, the average donation was 50 percent lower.
(HT: Sullivan) The column then goes on to speculate why Bill Gates might be a very effective philanthropist. He might be effective precisely because he's not very empathic:

Which brings me back to Gates. The guy is practically a social cripple, and at times he has seemed to lack human empathy. But he's also a geek, and geeks are incredibly good at thinking concretely about giant numbers. Their imagination can scale up and down the powers of 10 -- mega, giga, tera, peta -- because their jobs demand it.

So maybe that's why he is able to truly understand mass disease in Africa. We look at the huge numbers and go numb. Gates looks at them and runs the moral algorithm: Preventable death = bad; preventable death x 1 million people = 1 million times as bad.

We tend to think that the way to address disease and death is to have more empathy. But maybe that's precisely wrong. Perhaps we should avoid leaders who "feel your pain," because their feelings will crap out at, you know, eight people.

I'm not as down on empathy as the author of the column: empathy seems like a good trait for helping one person instead of zero people. And going from helping zero people to helping one person is an important step. I should take it more often than I do. But I agree that to tackle macro problems on a global scale, empathy is not nearly enough. To save one child, give me a kind-hearted person. To save a hundred thousand children, give me someone whose good at logistics and has the ability to raise money, even if they're a jerk. To save ten million children, well, maybe Bill Gates is exactly the right person for the job.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

If "THE SURGE" were a consumer product

Here's how it might be advertised (from DailyKos):

(Subjunctive correction courtesy of my wife.)

Jon Stewart takes on Petraeus

John Stewart takes on Petraeus and the media lionization he has received. Much needed. Wait to the end of the segment to see the M. C. Escher Iraq drawing: no matter which stair you take, you're still in Iraq!

What does Petraeus' CENTCOM boss think of him? "Ass-kissing little chickenshit"

Think Progress quotes IPS News, whose story opens:
WASHINGTON, Sep 12 (IPS) - In sharp contrast to the lionisation of Gen. David Petraeus by members of the U.S. Congress during his testimony this week, Petraeus's superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM), derided Petraeus as a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad last March, according to Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting.

Fallon told Petraeus that he considered him to be "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" and added, "I hate people like that", the sources say. That remark reportedly came after Petraeus began the meeting by making remarks that Fallon interpreted as trying to ingratiate himself with a superior.

That extraordinarily contentious start of Fallon's mission to Baghdad led to more meetings marked by acute tension between the two commanders. Fallon went on develop his own alternative to Petraeus's recommendation for continued high levels of U.S. troops in Iraq during the summer.

The enmity between the two commanders became public knowledge when the Washington Post reported Sep. 9 on intense conflict within the administration over Iraq. The story quoted a senior official as saying that referring to "bad relations" between them is "the understatement of the century".
I kept wondering why Petraeus kept referring to his "chain of command" instead of naming specific superior officers when giving his testimony. Maybe that's just proper protocol, but maybe it's because he hates his boss.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Warner: Does that make America safer? Petraeus: Sir, I, I don't know actually



Here's video of Petraeus saying he doesn't know if fulfilling our objectives in Iraq will make America safer or not. He later tried to walk back from that statement. But I like Sullivan's take on it:
But it was a genuine gaffe - the truth blurted out by a general who could not help himself. This exchange may be - and certainly should be - the turning point of the Iraq debate. Wars that make us less secure are not wise endeavors. In fact, this week has been unexpectedly revealing, it seems to me, of the rapidly rising stakes now involved.
Unfortunately, there are many things that should have been the turning point of the Iraq debate, but they never were. This administration isn't interested in debates. To them the truth isn't something you have to have a debate to get at. They're convinced they know the truth a priori.

So many times, sane people in this country have seized upon some statement or incident or scandal and thought, "At last! This will bring people to their senses!" I don't think there's going to be some "thing" that happens to make ending this war easy. It's going to be a hard slog and a lot of work. Trying to end this war has revealed the strength of all the pro-war forces in our culture.

The biggest obstacle seems to be the idea that people who want to end the war are somehow "unserious" or "naive" or "weak", regardless of their expertise, combat experience, or correct predictions about what would happen during an occupation. Those who cheerlead the war, on the other hand, are never laughed out of town, no matter how many times they've been wrong, or how many of their predictions are shattered, or how many people get killed because of what they say. They still get to be serious foreign policy analysts or whatever and go on television and get prominent columns.

So much work to be done.

Osama bin Laden has 46% approval rating in Pakistan

As they would say in Apollo 13, Houston, we have a problem. According to this recent poll, Osama bin Laden has a 46% approval rating in Pakistan (officially an ally in the struggle against bin Laden and his ilk). This approval rating increases to 70% in the northwestern province where it is possible bin Laden is hiding. No wonder we can't find him. He can just ask any random dude he runs into for help and has darn good odds of getting a friendly reaction.

George Bush has a 9% approval rating in Pakistan. Our president has managed to lose a popularity contest with a mass murderer, and lose badly. Of course if you tally civilian deaths from our invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, then I suspect bin Laden has a lot of catching up to do in the killing innocent people department. Could that have something to do with why people around the world don't like us much these days?

I sort of see these approval numbers as the current score in the struggle against Islamist terrorism. We're currently losing 46 to 9, which looks rather like an ass-kicking to me. Until the American president can become at least comparable in popularity to our enemies, how can we possibly expect people to be on our side?

United States: land of the backward

Here's a tiny quote from a New York Times article (about Britain and Ireland being able to keep using pints) that made my blood boil:
...the United States, one of three countries, including Liberia and Myanmar, that have not officially adopted the metric system.
What glorious company we keep these days. The metric system will never feel as comfortable and natural to us who grew up with inches and ounces, but there's no reason the next generation has to feel such awkwardness. Comfort with the metric system would be a great gift to pass on to our children. Given the crap we're handing off to them in other areas (climate change, national debt, etc.) it's the least we can do.

Pathetic: US takes in fewer Iraqi refugees than Sweden

It's stuff like this that makes me deeply ashamed of the current administration. We owe so much to the Iraqis. Taking in a decent number of refugees seems like a bare minimum for decent behavior. Syria and Jordan have had to deal with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees. Maybe we could end our occupation, and spend a tiny fraction of that money resettling Iraqis here. We owe a special debt to Iraqis who worked for us and now face retaliation for their association with the United States.

Petraeus' PhD thesis: Don't get bogged down in counterinsurgencies

Here's a PDF of General Patraeus' 1987 Princeton PhD dissertation. (HT: HNN via Sullivan) What's it called?
The American military and the lessons of Vietnam: A study of military influence and the use of force in the post-Vietnam era
Hmm, sounds like it may have some relevance to Patraeus' current job. Let's see what's inside...

Soldiers are often less hawkish than civilians when it comes to advocating the use of military force...yes how prescient. OK I'm not going to read all 343 pages of the PDF.

Here's the quote everyone's bandying about:
"The Vietnam experience left the military leadership feeling that they should advise against involvement in counterinsurgencies unless specific, perhaps unlikely, circumstances obtain -- i.e. domestic public support, the promise of a quick campaign, and freedom to employ whatever force is necessary to achieve rapid victory. In light of such criteria, committing U.S. units to counterinsurgencies appears to be a very problematic proposition, difficult to conclude before domestic support erodes and costly enough to threaten the well-being of all America's military forces (and hence the country's national security), not just those involved in the actual counterinsurgency."
Emphasis added. It's so weird how the words of the architects and implementers of this fiasco so accurately predict it. There's that Cheney quote from 1994 explaining why invading Iraq would be a bad idea ("It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.") These people clearly have the mental capacity to see what a cock-up it is. But their willfulness or their blind loyalty or their I don't know what is far more powerful.

By the way, did anyone ask Patraeus why the 50:1 rule of thumb for counterinsurgency operations (20 soldiers per 1000 population) was so completely ignored for Iraq? (I talked about this back in December.) I'd like to know his response to this. I don't think we should be occupying Iraq at all. But we don't even have enough troops to do a half-decent occupation, unless there's some super-duper new way of doing counterinsurgency that acts as a "force multiplier".

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For a minute I thought Google Adsense was feeding me ads for prostitutes

When this ad appeared on my blog, I did a double-take:

My first thought was: I don't think enough prominent Republicans read my blog to make advertising prostitutes here an optimal choice. And if you're getting them for "<4$ a day", I shudder to think of the quality of the rentals and working conditions they must endure to enable such rock-bottom pricing. And how come they have "men" (plural) for rent but only one "woman"? Is the woman there as a token so closeted Republican politicians can tell themselves that they're not contacting an all-male escort service?

Unfortunately, my agreement with Google AdSense prevented me from clicking on my own ads to investigate them, lest I try to game the click-through counters to inflate my ad revenue.
But upon further inspection it's clear that this is an ad for a jewelry rental service. Why Google AdSense's algorithm thinks Internal Monologue readers would be interested in "surging" their
bling I have no idea. Fo' shizzle yall are already pimped out.

Patraeus the cock-eyed optimist

I suppose it would be remiss of me not to comment on the Patraeus testimony that happened today. I actually caught some of the hearing on NPR. I was listening to a female Republican representative (I didn't get her name) and I was flabbergasted at the gulf between her reality and mine. In her view, any questioning of Patraeus' objectivity was tantamount to anti-Americanism. She's clearly fallen into the "let your enemies pick the battlefield" trap as evidenced by her quoting jihadists who say that driving the US out of Iraq is one of their primary goals. (Never mind that it's also a goal of the majority of American people and the majority of Iraqi people.)

Then there was Patraeus' testimony. He sounded so wise, so assured, so reasonable. But I have now idea how he's coming to the conclusion that we should stay there longer. (Well actually I do: that's the conclusion he's supposed to come to.) Here's a roundup of some of the evidence that contradicts the Patraeus' and the administration's claims (they're the same) about our position in Iraq:

First of all, Patraeus is not some objective general just giving an apolitical assessment. He has a long history of backing the administrations positions, including a pro-occupation editorial that came out right before the 2004 election. Here's Glenn Greenwald:

It is actually amazing to watch media coverage of Gen. Petraeus' testimony depict him as though he has just risen from the apolitical ether as the objective and trustworthy source with regard to the war. The White House is desperate for that image to be maintained because the nation no longer trusts George Bush or Dick Cheney or other Republican office-holders, precisely because they have heard from those individuals over the last several years countless assurances of "progress," only for events repeatedly to prove those claims to be untrue.

But since the inception of the war, Gen. Petraeus has been at the forefront of issuing those sorts of highly -- and unduly -- optimistic statements about the war's progress. The media should not take a position as to how much credibility ought to be assigned to Gen. Petraeus' testimony, but it is inexcusable to exclude from their coverage these facts -- facts which demonstrate indisputably that what Gen. Petraeus is claiming this week about the war's success is exactly what he has been claiming for the last several years.

There are numerous pieces of evidence that Patraeus is not some neutral, unbiased general. After his testimony to Congress, Patraeus and Crocker (the US ambassador to Iraq) gave a 1-hour exclusive to FOX News. Hardly the venue wherein one demonstrates one's political independence. Republican operative Ed Gillespie (former chair of the RNC) has been "hard-wired" into Patraeus' operation:
Another new arrival in the West Wing set up a rapid-response PR unit hard-wired into Petraeus's shop. Ed Gillespie, the new presidential counselor, organized daily conference calls at 7:45 a.m. and again late in the afternoon between the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the U.S. Embassy and military in Baghdad to map out ways of selling the surge.
Second, the idea that the so called "surge" (really a mild increase in troop strength combined with some strategy shifts and a shitload of PR) is in any way succeeding is ridiculous. The primary goal of the surge was to create a space for political reconciliation. Sullivan has quotes from Bush himself showing this clearly to be the case. This political reconciliation has clearly not happened. Maliki's government is still only at 23 of 40 ministers. None of the political questions that Iraqis need to answer can be answered by an American occupation.

Third, many Iraqi's don't want us there. Why this fact doesn't get more attention is baffling to me. A new BBC/ABC/NHK poll just came out (here's the pdf) that illustrates how negatively our occupation is viewed by Iraqis. Here are some highlight quotes (or lowlights, rather) from the Washington Post article on the poll:
  • BAGHDAD, Sept. 10 -- Seven in 10 Iraqis believe the U.S. troop buildup in Baghdad and Anbar province has made security worse in those areas and nearly half want coalition forces to leave immediately[...]
  • In most areas, the poll reveals a basic disconnect between U.S. commanders' view of a steadily improving situation in Iraq and a bleaker outlook among Iraqis. [...] poll numbers show that ordinary Iraqis are significantly more likely to say "things are going badly" than in the early days of the increased U.S. military presence in March.
  • More than six in 10 Iraqis now say the U.S.-led invasion in spring 2003 was a mistake. That negative assessment is 11 percentage points higher than it was in March. For the first time, more than half of Shiites, 51 percent, say it was wrong for coalition forces to invade Iraq, an event that toppled a power structure in which minority Sunnis dominated Shiites and Kurds.
  • Nearly half of all Iraqis now want coalition forces out of the country immediately, a 12-point increase from March,
  • Nearly six in 10 Iraqis say attacks on coalition forces are "acceptable," up six percentage points from March, including a 15-point jump among Shiites, 50 percent of whom now call such actions acceptable.
OK, it's the disconnect between those last two points that boggle my mind. Nearly half of Iraqis want us out immediately, but nearly 6 in 10 approve of attacks on occupying forces. That must mean that at least 10% of the population doesn't want us to leave immediately AND approves of attacks on us. Do they want us to stay SO we can be attacked? How large is this group? What's going on here?

Question: has anyone ever won a counter-insurgency campaign when nearly 60% of the population supports attacks on the occupying forces? (Without simply killing everyone, that is.) I'm not a military historian, so any help here would be welcome. It would seem rather difficult to quell an insurgency when someone can take a you, then flee into a random house and have better-than-even odds that the occupant approves of what they just did. Not that that particular scenario happens like I just described it. But 60% approval rating has got to make life more comfortable for a guerrilla than it would otherwise be.

I could go on and on about how most things aren't getting better in Iraq (see a sobering graph here at TPM) , and how what is getting better (e.g. Sunni tribes in Anbar deciding they don't like foreign Al Qaeda people blowing them up) doesn't need an American occupation in order to happen. Some people argue that if we withdraw, horrible things X, Y, and Z will happen, forgetting that this argument has been used for years and that horrible things X, Y, Z always happened anyway, even though we stayed. And even if horrible things X, Y, and Z will happen if we withdraw, that's not an argument for staying longer. We should only stay longer if our continuing presence is making horrible things X, Y, and Z less likely to happen when we eventually do pull out. And that doesn't seem to be happening.

Fortunately, Americans are highly skeptical of Patraeus' testimony and the whole Iraq occupation. Greenwald again:

But what is notable about all of this, if not surprising as well, is that the overwhelming majority of the American people now harbor such intense distrust towards our political and media elite that they are virtually immune to any of these tactics. Several polls over the past month have revealed that most Americans do not trust Gen. Petraeus to give an accurate report about Iraq. And a newly released, comprehensive Washington Post-ABC News poll today starkly illustrates just how wide the gap is between American public opinion and the behavior of our political establishment.

The majority of Americans have emphatically rejected the Beltway P.R. campaign of the last several months, and are as opposed more than ever before to the war. Perhaps most remarkably, in light of the bipartisan canonization rituals to which we have been subjected, a strong majority (53-39%) believes that Gen. Petreaus' report "will try to make things look better than they really are" (rather than "honestly reflect the situation in Iraq").

Moreover, huge majorities continue to believe that the war was not worth fighting (62-36%) and that the U.S. "is not making significant progress toward restoring civil order in Iraq" (60-36%). Only a small minority (28%) believe the Surge has made the situation in Iraq better, while vast majorities believe it has made no difference (58%) or has made the situation worse (12%). And a sizable plurality continues to believe the U.S. is losing the war (48-34%).

More significantly still, overwhelming numbers of Americans understand what the D.C. Establishment refuses to accept: namely, that even if there are marginal and isolated security improvements, there is still no point in continuing to stay in Iraq. Large majorities want the number of U.S. troops in Iraq decreased (58-39%); believe overwhelmingly that a decrease should begin "right away," rather than by the end of the year or next year (62-33%); and favor legislation now to compel troop withdrawal by the spring (55-41%).

What is frustrating is that Congress, including many Democrats, continues to be baboozled by these power point slides and "we need another six months" and Patraeus' reputation. Enough is enough is enough.

UPDATE: There's a petition you can sign at Openleft.com to try to counter some of this disconnect between the American people and our political class. I'm not sure how much good it'll do, but I wanted to do SOMETHING.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dude, my family is going to be so famous!

Is it because of our amazing professional accomplishments? Our brilliant minds? Our humble demeanors? No! It's because we are poster children for the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist advertising campaign! Check out this poster, soon to be appearing in BART stations:

What a nice looking nuclear family we are! You can click on the image to get a larger version. Or go to uuba.org to see us in the little banner at the top (but it's the same picture, and smaller). Or go there to actually learn about Unitarian Universalism.

The Bay Area UU churches decided to get together to do this marketing campaign because we were tired of people coming to our churches/fellowships and saying "Gosh, if we'd known a church like this existed, we'd have shown up a lot sooner!" While I suspect Unitarian Universalism will never be a mass movement (too intellectual, too willing to say "we're not really sure" or "well, UU's disagree on that" in response to the questions that bring people to religion), I do think there are a large number of people out there who would be attracted to UUism if they knew about it. Republican politics, purituanism, anti-Islamic sentiment, and apocalyptic eschatology have dominated American religious discourse for too long. It's time more people found out that an alternative exists.

For those who like Unitarian Universalism's openness and acceptance, but want something more within the Christian tradition, I recommend the United Church of Christ. Those who are looking for something with fewer of the trappings of mainstream Protestant Christianity might want to investigate the Religious Society of Friends, (also known as the Quakers, though they no longer actually quake, at least not any more than anybody else). For those who want a pretty good computer game version of 3.5 edition D&D, I recommend Neverwinter Nights 2, despite the cumbersome item creation system that doesn't seem to allow the warlock class to create items as per the rules laid out in Complete Arcane.

Gay marriage in Iowa: only for the quick

Nah nah nah boo boo! We got our Iowa gay marriage license! The rest of you were too slow!

Actually, I bet the couple wishes others could follow in their footsteps. Photo by Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press and stolen from the NYT.

When you're gay and gotta get married RIGHT NOW before the judge issues a stay prohibiting further gay marriages, count on the Unitarians to come through:

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Same-sex marriage was legal here for less than 24 hours before the county won a stay of a judge's order on Friday, a tiny window of opportunity that allowed two men to make history but left dozens of other couples disappointed after a frantic rush to the altar.

At 2 p.m. Thursday, Judge Robert Hanson ordered Polk County officials to accept marriage license requests from same-sex couples, but he granted the stay at about 12:30 p.m. Friday. By then 27 same-sex couples had filed applications, but only Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan of Ames had made it official by getting married and returning the signed license to the courthouse in time.

In the front yard of the Rev. Mark Stringer, pastor of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, they become the only same-sex couple wed in the U.S. outside of Massachusetts, where some 8,000 such couples have tied the knot.

Emphasis added. Once again, I'm proud to have my denomination be the go-to people for gay marriage. Rock on Iowa UUs!

That's pretty mean to have it for such a short period of time. Gay marriage..NOT! How cruel. I bet that couple could sell their marriage certificate on ebay for a lot of money. Of course, since it's valid, they probably don't want to sell it.

I have a feeling that twenty years from now, states that amended their constitutions to prevent same sex marriage are going to be seen as ridiculous throwbacks and feel pretty stupid and embarrassed. But there will be enough homophobes who haven't died off or had a change of heart that the states will have a hard time amending their constitutions again to allow it. It'll be a mess. And I'll laugh at their sorry prejudiced asses when all the cool corporations move away because no gay people will move there. Heck, I'll laugh at their sorry prejudiced asses now.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

McCain's strategy: run on the occupation of Iraq

McCain is getting in bed with "the surge" as a campaign strategy (HT: Sullivan). The frightening thing is, to secure the Republican nomination, that's probably a good strategy. This excerpt from the Philadelphia Enquirer illustrates the stark difference between Republican and Democratic opinion on Iraq matters:

In a New York Times/CBS poll of sentiment on Iraq in late July, 73 percent of Republican voters agreed that the United States "did the right thing" by going into Iraq, while just 24 percent of Democrats agreed.

"This is more than a policy difference," Binder [a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution] said. "It's fundamentally different perceptions" of reality.

In the same vein, the poll found 57 percent of GOP voters approved of Bush's handling of the war - to 5 percent of Democrats. Twenty-five percent approved overall.

So you can see how embrace of the Iraq occupation, and even Bush's handling of it, would be a good strategy for someone seeking the Republican nomination. Remember, primary voters tend to be more partisan than party members in general. So I suspect Republican primary voters and caucus goers would support Bush in greater numbers than the ones I quote above.

How lashing himself to the Iraq anvil won't sink McCain (or any other Republican candidate) in the general election I don't know. I suppose they'll try their usual tricks, but I think enough people are on to them that it won't work the way it did in 2000-2004. The usual tricks certainly didn't work for the Republicans in 2006. They got shellacked, and I don't think the fundamental dynamics have shifted at all since then. Still, Nov 2008 is a long ways away.

Maybe the one thing that could save the Republicans is if the Democratic nominee isn't clear enough about ending the occupation. Then the Republican nominee could muddy the waters and tack leftward, perhaps seizing on some event in Iraq as an excuse to change the version of reality to which they subscribe. Fortunately, Democratic bloggers will have plenty of YouTube footage of the Republican nominee's pro-occupation lunacy with which to fight back against such revisionism.