Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New York Times: Please replace Maureen Dowd with Digby

Maureen Dowd's gossipy style has always bothered me. It seems to reduce politics to some sort of middle school playground ritual about who is cool and who is not. And Dowd seems to often use silly comparisons and inversions that don't really illuminate anything, like this one in today's column:

Cécilia Sarkozy acts so American, while Hillary Clinton acts so French.

Cécilia at one point left her marriage to go to New York and seek love American-style, while Hillary lost the public love in the ’90s when she tried French-style health care reform.

What is "American" about Cécilia Sarkozy spending time in another country and taking a lover while remaining in a marriage? And what was "French" about reforming American health care? Every industrialized nation has some kind of national health care, not just the French. She could have called it European, or Canadian, or British. And even if these characterizations were accurate, what do the alleged American-ness of Sarkozy and Frenchness of Clinton tell us about anything? What underlying dynamic is illuminated? What mystery is made clear? What policy implications does it have? It's not even very juicy gossip.

The number of French stereotypes Down evokes in this column is ridiculous, and the examples she evokes could just as easily apply to Americans:
The French first lady, the one in a role where wives traditionally ignored and overlooked their husbands’ peccadilloes for the greater gain of keeping their marriages intact and running the Élysée Palace...
Um, are American political wives so different in this respect? Haven't we been treated to a number of American political wives standing by their husbands and overlooking their sexual infidelities? (The cases of Vitter and Craig come to mind, as well as Bill Clinton of course).

Whiskey Fire is a little more than bothered by Dowd:
It's hardly news that Maureen Dowd is a shallow, bitchy Mean Girl more interested in fashion and surfaces than policy. Her place on the NYTimes opinion page reveals the lie that feminism has accomplished all it needed to and we're done with it: she's taking a place which rightly belongs to Digby or Echidne or Katha Pollitt and filling it with gossipy crap, confirming with every word she writes snotty misogynist ideas about what women are interested in and what they're "really" like.
I agree that if Dowd is going to write this kind of stuff, she doesn't really merit a place on the NYT Op-Ed page. Atrios wants her gone, too (I don't think she should be tased, though. Violence is bad). Frankly, I'd rather read a conservative like George Will who I can get exasperated with because he's espousing a political idea I don't like, and who will challenge my liberal orthodoxy.

There are plenty of substantive reasons one can attack Hillary: her vote on the Iraq war, her vote on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment that might enable Bush to blunder militarily into Iran, etc. We don't need these stereotype-drenched playground slurs. If Hillary gets caught with a gay hooker or has a secret heroin habit, then I can see getting gossipy. But this harping on whether her style and demeanor confines itself to the extremely narrow space that Dowd to which thinks it needs to confine itself is silly. There's a place for that kind of talk, certainly. But does it have to be the NYT? How about Dowd get a political gossip blog? She could take over Wonkette's position.

Presidential candidate stances on gay marriage

I was curious about what the various presidential candidates positions were on the gay marriage issue (which I support fully). Boystowners compiled a list of positions on April 25 2007, and I don't think the positions have changed significantly since then. The only candidates in favor of Gay Marriage are Democrats Mike Gravel (Democratic Senator from Virginia) and Dennis Kucinich (Democratic Congressperson from Ohio). The rest of the Democrats support civil unions.

On the Republican side, Ron Paul thinks the federal government should have no role in deciding what a marriage is, and McCain is personally opposed to gay marriage but thinks it's an issue for the states to decide. The rest of the Republicans are opposed to gay marriage and civil unions. Rudy Giuliani has in the past been more gay friendly, but is now pandering to the homophobic base of the Republican party. So who knows how he'd act if elected.

The Boystowners site notes that Republicans feature their anti-gay marriage stances prominently on their websites, while Democrats do not feature their pro-civil unions stances in a similarly prominent matter. This is disappointing.

Another Republican gay sex hooker scandal

Images of Republican state lawmaker Richard Curtis and
sex worker Cody Castenega taken from Dan Savage's blog.


Man, it just doesn't stop with these people. This is a highly entertaining, sordid story involving lingerie, a toy stethoscope, attempted blackmail, a police sting operation, bareback sex, and of course a Republican lawmaker from Washington state. Dan Savage blogs about it.

Come out of the closet, people. It's so crowded in there I'm worried about your health. And barebacking (having unprotected sex) with a stranger you met in an erotic boutique is not safe, man. Think of the example you're setting.

Pablo on David Brooks' latest column

UPDATE: Amanda Marcotte has a reaction, as does Ezra Klein.

Pablo on Brooks:
Okay, I think David Brooks has taken his autumn rake, made a huge heap of clipped copies of his own past columns, lit it on fire, and spent an hour getting high inhaling the fumes from his own bonfire. And this column is what he wrote in that state.
I didn't find that Brooks column as annoying as some of his other ones, like the one in which he states: "[Democratic politicians] also know that a Democratic president is going to face challenges from Iran and elsewhere that are going to require hard-line, hawkish responses." (emphasis added). Even though he can't possibly know what the challenges will be in 2009-2012, he does know that the the Democrats will have to be "hawkish", because... well, because David Brooks says so. Annoying.

I actually liked Brooks' 10/26/07 column about outsourcing your brain's functions to electronic devices various websites:
...I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. It provides us with external cognitive servants — silicon memory systems, collaborative online filters, consumer preference algorithms and networked knowledge. We can burden these servants and liberate ourselves.
This is the same theme discussed in the book Natural Born Cyborgs. That book makes the argument that this cognitive offloading is nothing new: we've been doing it for centuries with inventions like writing, reading, clocks, etc. We've even offloaded the expression of sentiment to companies like Hallmark. (This is one form of emotional outsourcing I'm very reluctant to engage in. I try to buy blank cards and write my own trite drivel instead. And I don't feel I have to make it rhyme.)

But I don't think we're just off-loading mental functions: we are enhancing and extending them. Writing doesn't just save us the burden of remembering stuff: we can actually remember much more stuff much more accurately when using writing than we ever could without it. Maybe if Hallmark were able to express my feelings better than I could, I'd make use of their writings more often

Maybe David Brooks deliberately alternates writing good columns with annoyingly pseudo-centrist lectures on how Democrats need to be less confrontational (despite poll after poll showing how voters are annoyed with Democrats for not standing up to Bush enough) as a strategy to generate excitement and interest in his columns. You never know when you start reading him whether you're going to get an amusing bit of insight on some trend in society, or some stale dish of Republican talking points.

Mukasey won't say if waterboarding is torture...

...but in 1947, Americans were sure enough that it was torture that they sentenced a Japanese officer to 15 years hard labor for doing it. Here' Pensito Review's take:
Immoral Relativism: George Bush’s nomination of Michael Mukasey for U.S. attorney general — once thought to be smooth sailing — is experiencing a bit of turbulence. The problem is, Mukasey can’t bring himself to say whether or not waterboarding is torture:

During his confirmation hearings earlier this month, Mukasey said he believes torture violates the Constitution, but he refused to be pinned down on whether he believes specific interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, are constitutional.

“I don’t know what’s involved in the techniques. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional,” he said.

But after World War II, the United States government was quite clear about the fact that waterboarding was torture, at least when it was done to U.S. citizens:

[In] 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out another form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. The subject was strapped on a stretcher that was tilted so that his feet were in the air and head near the floor, and small amounts of water were poured over his face, leaving him gasping for air until he agreed to talk.

“Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told his colleagues last Thursday during the debate on military commissions legislation.
(HT: Bryan via email.) It is astounding how morally relativistic the people surrounding and enabling the Bush administration have become. And it'll be astounding how they re-discover the virtues of limiting executive power when, in all likelihood, a Democrat is elected president in 2008.

I urge all Senators to vote against confirming this guy. I'll be keeping track of names.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

If conservatives love Reagan so much...

...perhaps they should emulate Reagan's stance on torture:
"The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiations of the Convention [Against Torture]. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today," - president Ronald Reagan, 1988.
Now whether Reagan lived up to this I don't know. He certainly seemed to be fine supporting a number of regimes that used torture (e.g. apartheid South Africa). But you compare this rhetoric to what the current crop of Republican contenders is spewing at the debates and it's night and day.

I never really grokked the cult of Reagan worship among the American right. There isn't an equivalent on the American left: we certainly prefer Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, but we don't worship the guy and we are aware of his faults. And the Reagan administration did some things that would be anathema to the modern American right: it agreed to raise taxes, sold arms to Iran, and made peace with an "Evil Empire". But that doesn't stop the current crop of Republicans from invoking him at every opportunity (perhaps they have discovered his name is a magical incantation capable of suppressing unwanted homosexual feelings).

So if there is going to be a Reagan cult, why not have it do some good and help us get away from this bloodthirsty and naive notion that torture is going to make us safer. It won't. Indeed, it may have had a role in getting us into the current Iraq quagmire. Torture is for breaking people and getting them to tell you what you want to hear. Not for getting accurate intelligence. No wonder it seems to be popular with this administration.

Bill Maher's "New Rules"

I haven't linked to Bill Maher as much as I have to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but his political commentary is often quite good and quite funny. Here's a recent clip (via Mahablog):

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pumpkin Quinn

More family pictures available at the usual place.

Turkey doesn't like us anymore

This graph is rather ominous. But understandable given the situation in northern Iraq.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Which candidate do you agree with on the issues?

Here's a fun little quiz to determine which candidate most agrees with your positions on some issues. For me, Kucinich and Richardson tied for first, with Gravel and Edwards coming after. Clinton and Obama were my lowest-ranked Democrats, which is sad because at the moment they are the front-runners. The highest ranked Republican for me was libertarian Ron Paul (no surprise), and the lowest ranked was Jim Gilmore. All Republicans were ranked lower than all Democrats for me. So I suppose I'm a good little Democratic partisan.

Of course, there are other considerations besides issue agreement one should take into account when voting in primaries (experience, electability, charisma, character, what interest groups they are beholden to, what kind of people they surround themselves with, etc.) . But it is good to have some inkling of which candidates agree with you the most on some of these things.

Right now, I'm undecided as to who to vote for in the Democratic primary. The progressive blogosphere hasn't really coalesced around a candidate yet. It will probably not be Hillary Clinton, as I feel her foreign policy stances are too belligerent, and she has not been good about standing up to the Bush administration. I also feel she is part of the Democratic party establishment whose habits (reflexive "centrism" that plays into the hands of right-wingers, and a fear of the "dirty hippie" activist base of the party) I dislike and I feel are damaging to the effectiveness of the party.

It is likely that Clinton will be in a strong position once California has our primary (though who knows--at this time in the 2004 campaign Wes Clark and Howard Dean were leading), and I worry about the progressive vote being split among several candidates. So it is possible I will be shifting about a good deal. I have been very impressed with Edwards when he spends time talking about the poor in this country. He seems like the only high-profile politician who is doing so. But I am not committed in any way yet.

The New Gay Stereotype

Check it out (HT: Mad Latinist via email).

Will this cause right wing head explosion?

Condi talks to two of the American right wing's all-time greatest villains:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Anxious not to repeat mistakes of past Middle East peace-making, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has turned to former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter for tips ahead of her own conference this year.

Rice invited Carter, a vocal critic of Bush administration policies, to the State Department on Wednesday where the two discussed his Arab-Israeli peacemaking efforts in the 1970s, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Friday.
HT: C&L.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bush Administration = War Criminals

Several human rights groups have filed charges in a French court that Donald Rumsfeld authorized torture. Here's the Center for Constitutional Rights press release.

It's sad that these rights groups feel they have to go to a French court. (They're claiming the fact that since Rumsfeld is visiting France, this gives the French jurisdiction to apprehend and investigate him.) The U.S. should investigate its own war criminals.

I doubt the French will take Rumsfeld into custody or launch an investigation. They'll probably punt for diplomatic reasons. But it would be nice to see a U.S. official held accountable for policies of torture, extraordinary rendition, and arbitrary imprisonment.

So much work to be done to get ourselves out of our moral hole.

Jon Stewart greatest gay segments

Now that Comedy Central has put up their massive Daily Show archive, people have been combing it for segments on their favorite subjects. Sullivan links to this compilation of Jon Stewart's greatest gay hits, and writes:
I should say I feel an enormous debt to Stewart and his writers. To hear and watch a straight guy consistently and passionately defend the rights and dignity of gay people, and to see him skewer so much of the pompous, irrational and hateful blather that comes out of today's degenerate GOP is a mitzvah. He does it better than our often-lame gay groups. And he doesn't have to do any of it. Thanks, Mr Stewart. History will be kind to you.

No more extraterritoriality for military contractors in Iraq

Military contractors working in Iraq are now no longer immune to prosecution by Iraqi authorites. This should create some interesting showdowns in the near future. Imagine that: Iraq acting like a sovereign nation, not like some dominated 19th-century Asian state.

And what will happen if the Iraqi government publicly asks our regular military to get out?

Organizations right-wingers consider dangerous

Crooks and Liars pointed me to this list on Family Security Matters. It's Jason Rantz's list of what he considers the ten most dangerous propaganda organizations in America. Here they are:

10 ) Think Progress

9 ) Muslim Student Association

8 ) CodePINK

7 ) American Civil Liberties Union, National

6 ) Family Research Council

5 ) Center for American Progress

4 ) League of the South

3 ) MoveOn.org

2 ) Universities and Colleges

1 ) Media Matters for America

There are right-wing organizations on this list, but only two: Family Research Council and League of the South. The rest are generally considered lefty, though I don't know what the politics of the Muslim Student Association are. The fact that "Universities and Colleges" is on this list is pretty funny. Who'd have thought that the local community college is dangerous to America.

I'm proud to say that I'm a member of two of these "dangerous" organizations: the ACLU and MoveOn.org (though I think I'm late in renewing my ACLU membership). And of course I attended a university and support it (nominally-there are more needy causes than increasing Yale's bajillion dollar endowment) and my wife is affiliated with one. So I guess that means I have ties to three of the ten most dangerous propaganda organizations in America...but wait! I have a link to Media Matters in the sidebar of my blog! It's been there so long I've forgotten about it. So that means I support 4 out of 10 of the most dangerous propaganda organizations in America, including the #1 threat! There's also a CodePink headquarters near my home, so I've probably signed a petition of theirs at one point or another. So if we're willing to stretch a bit, we can say that I've been involved with half of Jason Rantz's ten most dangerous propaganda organizations.

I'm so proud of myself.

Rudy Giuliani: postmodern moral relativist nonpareil

Here's Giuliani on the subject of waterboarding:

Ms. Gustitus said: “He said he didn’t know if waterboarding is torture.”

Mr. Giuliani said: “Well, I’m not sure it is either. I’m not sure it is either. It depends on how it’s done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it. I think the way it’s been defined in the media, it shouldn’t be done. The way in which they have described it, particularly in the liberal media. So I would say, if that’s the description of it, then I can agree, that it shouldn’t be done. But I have to see what the real description of it is. Because I’ve learned something being in public life as long as I have. And I hate to shock anybody with this, but the newspapers don’t always describe it accurately.”
Emphasis added. Sullivan's reaction:
If the Khmer Rouge does it, it's torture. If the United States does it, it's not. This man cannot be allowed to be president of the United States. He believes that the United States is above morals and the president of the United States is above the law. He is a tyrant to the depths of his being.

Shrinking of the polar ice cap


(via Sullivan)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is facebook worth $15 billion?

The business development folks at my old employer, Microsoft, seem to think so:

The two companies said on Wednesday that Microsoft would pay $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook. The investment values Facebook, which is three and a half years old and will bring in about $150 million in revenue this year, at $15 billion.

The deal throws the value of the holdings of Facebook investors into the stratosphere. Mark Zuckerberg, the 23-year-old Facebook founder who followed the path of Bill Gates by dropping out of Harvard to build a company, owns a 20 percent share that may now be worth as much as $3 billion. Accel Partners, the venture capital firm that invested $12.7 million in May 2005, now holds stock that could be worth $1.65 billion.

Color me skeptical. I know Facebook is the flavor of the month right now. But these networking sites seem to fall victim to fashion trends pretty quickly. First it was Friendster, then Tribe, then MySpace, etc. The article talks about how invested some community members are in these sites, and how they've dominated certain geographical regions:
“Once a social operating system takes over a country, it’s like it becomes the native language of that country,” said Lee Lorenzen, a venture capitalist who has invested in companies making Facebook applications. Mr. Lorenzen noted that Google’s Orkut dominates Brazil, Friendster dominates the Philippines and Facebook is becoming the dominant forum in the United States, Canada and Western Europe.
But how deep can this dominance be, given that all of these sites are relatively new? I do think that allowing Facebook users to develop applications for that platform is a good idea, as it binds people to that platform and gets them more invested in it. But is it a $15 billion dollar good idea? I think dot com irrationality is coming back. Which of course means it's a great time for me to be getting back into the computer games business!

Democrats and the Iron Law of Institutions

Some interesting thoughts on how the Iron Law of Institutions plays out in the Democratic Party from Chris Bowers:
Thinking back over the past decade and applying this line of thought to the major progressive electoral challenges, it seems pretty obvious now that centrist Democratic elites are far, far more threatened by attempted progressive take-overs of the Democratic Party than they are by progressive threats of third party splits. There was tremendous elite hysteria over Nader in 2000, Dean in 2004, and Lamont in 2006, but the nature and outcomes of that hysteria was different. First, Nader in no way threatened the power of Democratic leaders within the Democratic Party, and only threatened the power of the Democratic coalition relative to the Republican coalition. This is probably why there was as much, if not more, Democratic activist anger at Nader and his supporters than there was elite Democratic attacks against him. Further, unlike the Nader 2000 campaign, the Dean and Lamont campaigns were supported by significant institutional power, including large unions, the blogosphere and MoveOn.org. In other words, the Dean and Lamont campaigns scared many Democratic elites way, way more than the Nader campaign, because they represented large institutional forces making a serious bid for control of the institution of the Democratic Party itself. By comparison, a generally non-institutional campaign that threatens only to tip the balance of power between the two major coalitions is not nearly as serious a long-term concern, especially when it can only muster less than 3% of the popular vote. Both in polls before their elections and on Election Day itself, Dean and Lamont scored a lot more than 3%.
And from A Tiny Revolution:
If you want to motivate powerful Democrats, attempt to threaten their power within the party, not the well-being of the party overall. Of course, this is easier said than done, particularly because much of the power within the party is (as Karp would put it) an unelected Democratic oligarchy. For instance, Pelosi's status as Speaker can be challenged straightforwardly. Getting at the source of the party oligarchy's power, which is money and institutions outside of electoral politics, is much more difficult.

Green Party: you gotta admit, they have a point

Recently, my friend Paul sent me this email from the Green Party:
> HOW TO END THE IRAQ WAR:
> VOTE GREEN
>
> It's time to face the truth: voting for Democrats
> is not going to end the war or change the
> direction of the US.
>
> • Democratic Party leaders supported the invasion
> of Iraq from the beginning. In October 2002,
> they voted with Republicans to surrender
> Congress's constitutional war power over to the
> Bush White House.
>
> • Democrats won't use their power in Congress to
> stall on Bush's requests for more war funding,
> which would result in a quick withdrawal of US
> troops. According to an Associated Press news
> report on October 10, congressional Democrats
> have put troop withdrawals "on the back burner."
>
> • Democratic Party leaders will only support
> vague and delayed timetables for bringing home US
> troops. Clinton and Obama won't promise that all
> US combat troops will be out of Iraq by 2013.
>
> • Democrats have rejected impeachment and won't
> hold Bush & Cheney responsible for criminal
> abuses of power: deceiving the American people
> about why we invaded Iraq, torture, surveillance
> of US citizens without warrant, detention without
> trial, violation of international laws, inaction
> and racist response to environmental emergencies
> (Hurricanes Katrina & Rita), tampering with
> scientific research on global warming.
>
> • Top Democrats limit their criticism to Bush's
> strategic military mistakes in Iraq. They won't
> talk about how the war itself is a crime -- an
> invasion of a country that posed no threat to the
> US, based on manipulated intelligence and lies to
> the American people.
>
> • Democrats want to plunder Iraqi oil:
> Democratic leaders have endorsed the Iraqi
> hydrocarbon law "benchmark" that would place 2/3
> of Iraq's oil resources under the control of
> major US and UK energy companies. This would
> require continued US military presence in Iraq to
> protect the investments of corporations like
> ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and BP. The same oil
> companies that contribute to Republicans also
> give campaign checks to Democratic candidates.
>
> • Top Democrats also take money and orders from
> the pro-Israeli-government lobby (AIPAC), which
> demanded the invasion of Iraq and now demands an
> attack on Iran.
>
> • Clinton, Obama, and Edwards have signed on to
> Bush's threat of a US attack on Iran -- which
> could touch off World War III.
>
> * * *
>
> Whether we elect a Democrat or Republican to the
> White House in 2008, the war will continue. Our
> only hope for bringing home US troops safe and
> sound is to elect Green Party candidates to
> Congress, support a Green presidential campaign,
> and help the growth of the Green Party!
>
> • Greens are committed to an immediate withdrawal
> of all US troops and to impeachment of Bush &
> Cheney for their crimes.
>
> • If Greens win seats in Congress, it'll shock
> Democrats (and some Republicans) into stronger
> action to end the Iraq War. Democrats and
> Republicans will no longer be each others' sole
> competition for votes.
>
> • The few genuine anti-war Democrats and
> Republicans in Congress aren't getting help from
> their own parties. They need Greens in Congress
> to create the political bloc necessary to end the
> war.
>
> • Thanks to the two-party monopoly on elections,
> America has moved toward more war, greater
> corporate power, and less democracy. This
> direction will continue... until new political
> voices get elected.
>
> • Green candidates take no money from powerful
> corporations. Democrats and Republicans take big
> campaign checks from oil companies, arms makers,
> credit card companies, media conglomerates, HMOs,
> insurance firms, pharmaceutical manufacturers,
> Wall Street, K Street, and other corporate
> lobbies.
>
> • There is no hope for rehabilitating the
> Democratic Party. Progressive and anti-war Dems
> like Dennis Kucinich stand very little chance of
> getting the nomination or influencing the
> Democratic Party platform. The party's powerful
> leaders won't allow it, just as they blocked
> Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown, Al Sharpton, and
> other progressives in previous presidential
> races. Past efforts to turn Democrats into "the
> people's party" have all failed.
>
> • The only solution is a new, independent party.
> The Green Party is as urgent for America now as
> the anti-slavery Republican Party was in the
> 1850s, when it emerged as a third party competing
> against Democrats and Whigs.
>
[...]
While I don't agree with all these (I don't think bombing Iran, as stupid, immoral, and counterproductive as that would be, would set off anything that could reasonably be called World War III), you have to admit that the Green Party does make some pretty good points. The Democrats have been enormously disappointing in some key areas involving standing up to the Bush administration on the Iraq occupation, torture, abuse of the Constitution, politicization of the Justice Department, granting immunity to Corporations who probably spied on Americans (though Dodd is providing some leadership there), etc.

I disagree that there is "no hope for rehabilitating the Democratic party". Much of what I do is premised on the idea that we can change the Democratic party. It is the idea behind the Moulitsas & Armstrong book Crashing the Gate. I would agree that this is an extraordinarily difficult task. The Iron Law of Institutions works against such change, even when such change makes the Democratic party more popular, and more able to defeat Republicans.

I definitely support measures, such as instant runoff elections, to break the lock of the two big parties and enable people to support Greens, Libertarians, and other smaller parties without "throwing" the election to a large party they don't like.

The Republican Dream Candidate

I don't know, he looks a little too foreign to me. (Follow link to a Tom Tomorrow cartoon)

Huckabee's Theocratic Delusions

Republican candidate Mike Huckabee made a completely wacky statement during the recent FOX debate:
When our founding fathers put their signatures on the Declaration of Independence, those 56 brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen, they said that we have certain inalienable rights given to us by our creator, and among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, life being one of them. I still believe that.
Emphasis added. Well, perhaps Huckabee has a different definition of "clergyman" than the rest of us. Either that, or he has a radically different concept of the term "most". Or he's just flat-out wrong:

Only one of the 56 was an active clergyman, and that was John Witherspoon. Witherspoon was a Presbyterian minister and president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).

A few more of the signers were former clergymen, though it's a little unclear just how many. The conservative Heritage Foundation said two other signers were former clergymen. The religion web site Adherents.com said four signers of the declaration were current or former full-time preachers. But everyone agrees only Witherspoon was an active minister when he signed the Declaration of Independence.

So, does Huckabee actually believe that "most were clergymen", or was he just lying to pander to the audience? Where did he get that idea? Is this a common meme among Arkansas Republicans?

Christianist Americans make this kind of mistake all the time. They can't imagine that the Founding Fathers were anything but a bunch of Bible-thumping fundamentalist theocrats. They weren't. (Here's a table that attempts to list their religious affiliations. John Adams was a Unitarian, and Jefferson had Unitarian leanings.) But this fact doesn't fit in with the current Republican world view. So we get a constant stream of statements like Huckabee's. Republicans: trying to take America back to a mythical past that never existed. This nation has always been more interesting than the homogeneous fantasies of would-be theocrats.

While on the subject, I think I should remind Republicans that the Pledge of Allegiance was written by a Christian Socialist (gasp!) who had the good sense not to include "under God" in it, despite the fact that he was a Baptist minister (a real clergyman!). Yes, Christianity is a major theme in the history of our nation. But it isn't the only theme. Thank God.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

RedState bans Ron Paul talk by new users

The one Republican candidate that seems to be generating genuine excitement, Ron Paul, has been banned by RedState (the right-wing version of DailyKos). Now I think Ron Paul has some pretty wacky ideas (going back to the gold standard?), but banning new users from talking about him seems pretty desperate. Where else can the libertarian wing of the Republican party go? Obviously they are no longer welcome in the right-wing coalition.

I like Ron Paul's stances on the Iraq occupation and the Drug War (against both). I hope he continues to drive the GOP establishment nuts.

A conservate scion's messy divorce

Conservative activist and billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife is getting divorced, at it's getting very ugly. There's a lot of stuff involved. Here's my favorite example:
"Defendant has and continues to unlawfully hold in his possession six pairs of asparagus tongs manufactured by Mappin & Webb, Birmingham, 1926 weighing 10 ounces total," reads one of dozens of paragraphs. "The last-known location for these items was at 'Vallamont,' 132 Pheasant Circle, Ligonier, Pa. 15658. The estimated cost for these items is $1,800."
(HT: Sullivan) Maybe when I'm a billionaire, I can get some $300 asparagus tongs. Of course there's adultery, assault, and dognapping, too. But I don't think those things can compare to the asparagus tongs. I didn't even know there was such a thing as asparagus tongs.

Monday, October 22, 2007

4th Edition D&D delayed until June 6 2008

From D&D Insider:

Finally, I wanted to share this last bit of exciting news with everyone. After conferring with our various trade partners, the Sales Team here at Wizards came back with word that they'd rather have the three core rulebooks release in the same month than over three consecutive months. As that's how we originally wanted to release them, Brand and R&D got together with our Production Team to see if we could accommodate the request.

The answer is YES! The new release schedule looks like this:

April: D&D Miniatures Game Starter and Dungeons of Dread boosters.

May: H1: Keep on the Shadowfell 4th Edition D&D adventure with Quick-Start Rules.

June 6: 4th Edition Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual.

We delay the original release date of the first book by a couple of weeks, but we put all three books on the shelves at the same time. Many of you asked us to do this, and I'm glad to report that we can make it happen. All the core rules will be available at the same time!

(emphasis added)

The disturbing truth about Star Wars fans

The frightening truth about we Star Wars fans:
There is a diabolical twist to Star Wars fandom, you see, that defies comprehension, and yet is the life-blood of all Star Wars fans. It is this:

Star Wars fans hate Star Wars.
(HT: Grishnash via email) Read the full article. It's quite true. Here's my theory: the real Star Wars is in fact incredibly amazing and cool, but the real Star Wars is a Platonic ideal that exists in a childlike fantasy realm of dreams: it is an idea, a holy grail, an ultimate awesomeness always out of reach. The Star Wars stuff that actually exists is often quite lame. But the existence of the real, uber-cool Star Wars can be inferred from the hideous fragments that Lucas and others have created, just as the existence of a beautiful soaring eagle can be inferred from a disgusting piece of bird poo. We know the beautiful bird is there, we just wish we could see more of the bird and less of the turd.

Indeed this goes a long way to explain why Star Wars fans are so fanatical: they are searching for a glimpse of the true Star Wars amid the highly flawed films and sea of derivative merchandising. If the movies were better, we wouldn't need to put all this energy into talking about them.

Star Wars
fandom is like a version of Christianity in which people constantly complain about how lame the Bible is and how God is a really bad author. These Christians spend endless hours criticizing the Bible's inconsistencies, stilted prose, and bad pacing. But these people are still fanatical Christians, and ravenously absorb every scrap of religious text they can get their hands on in hopes of getting a glimpse of the true divinity that they know is at the heart of their religion.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pic of the day


From IM favorite Crooks and Liars.

Unitarian Atheist Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA)

He lays into Bush for the SCHIP veto:

You don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement. This bill would provide healthcare for 10 million children and unlike the President's own kids, these children can't see a doctor or receive necessary care. [...]


But President Bush's statements about children's health shouldn't be taken any more seriously than his lies about the war in Iraq. The truth is that Bush just likes to blow things up. In Iraq, in the United States and in Congress.

Sullivan gave Stark a Moore award nomination (for "intemperate left-wing rhetoric") for making this statement. Frankly, I'd like to see more Democratic legislators engaging in some intemperate left-wing rhetoric. Better yet, let's get some intemperate left-wing action happening. Heck, I'd settle for some cautious center-left action.

Excruciating Dilemmas for Republican candidates

From John Cole via Sullivan:
1.) “Would you have sex with a man to stop a terrorist attack?”
2.) “If lowering taxes results in increased revenues then would lowering taxes to zero result in infinite revenues?”
3.) “If you had a time machine, would you travel back in time and abort Bin Laden?”
4.) “Would you torture and kill Jesus to ensure mankind’s salvation? And how does that work?”
*** Update ***
5.) “If Russia entered Turkey from the rear would Greece help?”
6.) For Rudy specifically: “How many alimony checks does the sanctity of marriage cost?”

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bush at 24% in Zogby poll

Americans don't like Bush, and they don't like Congress either. Republicans taking solace from the latter fact should be aware that the reason we don't like Congress is that it has not opposed Bush enough. 24% is a record low for the Zogby poll. I suspect this is the result of the SCHIP expansion veto which has gotten a lot of publicity.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The phony or the maniac?

Looking at the Republican nominees, Josh Marshall would prefer Romney to Giuliani:
I know I've said before that Romney's profound and almost incalculable phoniness is a terrifying prospect to behold in a possible president. But the danger of phoniness, aesthetic or otherwise, cannot hold a candle to the truly catastrophic foreign policy Giuliani would likely pursue if he got anywhere near the Oval Office. Watching him campaign it's pretty clear that the guy has no real sense that posturing and pandering to ethnic paranoia in New York City simply isn't the same as running a national foreign policy. The people he's coalescing around himself as his foreign policy advisors are the ones who are going to help him learn as he goes. And they are simply the most dangerous, deranged and deluded folks you can find in American political and foreign policy circles today. It's really not an exaggeration. Scrape the bottom of the "Global War on Terror" Islamofascism nutbasket and you find they've pretty much all signed on as Rudy advisors.
From what I know of Giuliani's rhetoric and the resumes of his foreign policy advisers, I agree. A panderer is always better than an egomaniac. A panderer can be influenced. (It'll be so fun to watch Romney desperately tack back to the center if he gets the nomination.)

More than you ever wanted to know...

...about those Real Dolls I mentioned in my previous post. Imagine how creepy those dolls will be when they are actually robots.

Marriage to a robot?

Long a staple of science fiction, the idea of human-robot romanto-erotic relationships is getting more mainstream attention:
Humans could marry robots within the century. And consummate those vows.

"My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots," artificial intelligence researcher David Levy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands told LiveScience. Levy recently completed his Ph.D. work on the subject of human-robot relationships, covering many of the privileges and practices that generally come with marriage as well as outside of it.

At first, sex with robots might be considered geeky, "but once you have a story like 'I had sex with a robot, and it was great!' appear someplace like Cosmo magazine, I'd expect many people to jump on the bandwagon," Levy said.

Before you laugh, consider that some guys are already having "relationships" with REALDOLLs [not work safe!--very creepy!] that have no intelligence whatsoever.

I don't think there will be legalized marriage to robots in 2050. I doubt robots will have any legal status as persons as soon as 2050: not because they won't have the intelligence or moral sense or emotional desire necessary (they very well might) but because our social and legal system will be unable to deal with the philosophical revolution implied by the existence of such robots.

Some things that the MSNBC article doesn't seem to consider or think through properly:
  • If you can make ONE intelligent robot, you can probably make a lot of them without too much additional trouble. If robots are granted rights, what's to prevent political groups from "stacking the electorate" with robots programmed to vote how their creators want? Some movements (like the Quiverfull folks) are trying to do this with humans, but I figure the work required to raise a child is a strong dis-incentive to this kind of tactic. But such limitations do not exist for robots that could potentially be mass manufactured.
  • Once you make a robot as smart/perceptive/empathic/creative/moral/spiritual (take your pick) as a human, it is only a matter of time before Moore's Law will allow you (or the robot) to create one that is much smarter/more perceptive/more empathic/more creative/more moral/more spiritual than a human. It's not like robotic technology is going to reach some plateau of "humanness" and then just stagnate there. Once they're as smart, then in a few years they could completely surpass humans. See Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near for more thoughts along these lines.
  • If you have an intelligent robot whose mind is a computer, it should not be too hard make "backup" copies of the robot's mind. Or "clone" as many copies of the robot as you could afford hardware for. If you're married to a robot, and it copies itself, are you married to both copies? How would you determine which one is "the real one"? They very notion of personhood becomes problematic when a "soul" can be moved from one body to another, copied, transported, stored in inert form, revived, reprogragrammed, etc.
My prediction is that society will be completely unable to come to consensus around these issues, because the change of pace will be far too fast. Our culture and our biology weren't even designed to deal with today's technology, much less the technology of 2050. We haven't even been able to come to terms with the implications of birth control yet: society is still riven on this subject. And birth control is small potatoes compared to mass produced super intelligence.

The future is going to be way cool and spooky.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Department of bad timing

Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) is inducted into the Idaho hall of fame:
Craig was chosen for induction last spring, well before his sex-sting arrest and many Idahoans say they're glad Craig still received the honor for a quarter century of political work in this state.

Amy Henderson said, "I think he's done a lot for Idaho and I think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I think his personal issues should be personal."

Fred Bauer told CBS 2 Eyewitness News, "I think it's appropriate. I think what he had done for the state has been suburb."

Others believe it's not the hall of fame he should be in, but the hall of shame, "I think he made a joke out of Idaho, so I don't think he should be inducted," Kasey Swinford said.
I think he should come out. Then, instead of being a joke, he'd be an incredibly brave man. It's time for this country as a whole to shed its denial of homosexuality.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The psycholinguistics of swearing

A fun Pinker article on swearing.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Internal Monologue Book Club: Three Cups of Tea

I've been meaning to blog about this book I recently read for some time now. Three Cups of Tea is about Greg Mortenson, a mountain climber turned activist who builds schools in Central Asia. I liked this book for a number of reasons:
  1. It depicts the people of western Pakistan and Afghanistan in an intimate and humanizing way. With all the messages and images we get of terrorists, Taliban, etc. it's important to realize that the vast majority of the people in these regions are extremely poor and far more concerned with surviving and bettering their lives than with ideology. It seems this books is a great primer on this region of the world, though not being an expert I can't properly critique the picture the authors paint.
  2. The book depicts an American doing something GOOD in this region of the world, and acting with humility, determination, and a sensitivity to local customs. Given the behavior of our current administration, it is refreshing to see this kind of thing.
  3. It depicts in stark relief the power of Saudi money to build madrassas that often have a fundamentalist or Wahabbist agenda. Often, the schools Mortenson helps build are the only places rural Pakistanis and Afghans, especially girls, can get a secular eduction. But he and his allies arer clearly out-gunned financially by the madrassas being built in the same areas. They can offer free room and board, as well as nice uniforms and a shiny new building. This makes their lure very powerful to the rural poor, who don't get many services from the government or outsiders and must often struggle just to survive. When I fill up my gas tank, I think that some of the money I'm spending goes to support these madrssas. That is really annoying.
  4. The book talks about one person making a difference in the world, and that is inspiring.

Sometimes it seems that individuals are too small to make a dent in the problems the world is facing. But of course the enormous currents of change flowing around the world are simply the aggregated actions of many individual human beings. Sometimes, by describing social and economic change using metaphors grounded in natural phenomena ("the tidal wave of global capitalism"), we can fool ourselves into thinking that they are natural phenomena over which we have no control. This is not true. Behind every "inevitable trend", there are probably a lot of people working very hard to make it happen, and who are profitting from it.

My favorite example of this is "Moore's Law" about the doubling of semi-conductor density approximately every 18 months. It's often presented as some sort of natural phenomenon, like gravity. But the fact is, semi-conductor companies like Intel and AMD spend billions of dollars on R&D to make Moore's Law happen, and make billions of dollars in profits from making it happen.

That is not too say that stopping or changing these kinds of trends is easy. But it does happen and can happen. Anyway, I've strayed somewhat from the topic of the book, but I highly recommend it. It's a very intersting story and is filled with a lot of information about places in the world that I've heard a lot about, but don't actually know much about.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gore and IPCC win Nobel Peace Prize for work on climate change

Congrats Al Gore and IPCC. Take that, climate change deniers!

Krugman defends Graeme Frost

Paul Krugman exposes right-wing smears of a 12-year old child who had the audacity to advocate for the enormously popular expansion of the SCHIP program:

All in all, the Graeme Frost case is a perfect illustration of the modern right-wing political machine at work, and in particular its routine reliance on character assassination in place of honest debate. If service members oppose a Republican war, they’re “phony soldiers”; if Michael J. Fox opposes Bush policy on stem cells, he’s faking his Parkinson’s symptoms; if an injured 12-year-old child makes the case for a government health insurance program, he’s a fraud.

Meanwhile, leading conservative politicians, far from trying to distance themselves from these smears, rush to embrace them. And some people in the news media are still willing to be used as patsies.

Politics aside, the Graeme Frost case demonstrates the true depth of the health care crisis: every other advanced country has universal health insurance, but in America, insurance is now out of reach for many hard-working families, even if they have incomes some might call middle-class.

And there’s one more point that should not be forgotten: ultimately, this isn’t about the Frost parents. It’s about Graeme Frost and his sister.

I don’t know about you, but I think American children who need medical care should get it, period. Even if you think adults have made bad choices — a baseless smear in the case of the Frosts, but put that on one side — only a truly vicious political movement would respond by punishing their injured children.

At least one mainstream media voice gets it.

Careful what you lobby for...you might actually persuade people

I really like this point slacktivist makes:

General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have loudly insisted for years that they are technologically incompetent. They have spent millions of lobbying dollars to explain all the things they cannot do, all the improvements they are unable to make, all the ways their abilities, designs and engineering are inferior to those of their competitors. All of that money spent advertising their limits and incompetency has had an impact. American car buyers listened. We believed them.

Consider, for example, CAFE standards -- targets for corporate average fuel economy. Every time that Congress or Al Gore or the Sierra Club has suggested these standards should be higher, Detroit shrieks that they can't take the pressure, that it couldn't possibly be done, that they don't have the skill, the know-how or the basic competence to pull it off. Toyota, Honda, Mercedes and Volkswagen, on the other hand, just said, "More fuel-efficient vehicles? Hai. Ja. We can do that. We're good at making cars."

Detroit has a massive image problem to overcome. And why don't they lobby for health care reform? They're getting clobbered by health care costs. Are they too reflexively anti-government to lobby for something so progressive?

I'll forgive the American auto companies everything if they're first to market with a flying car, though. That would be awesome.

Turkey threatening to send troops to Iraq?

This is not good:
BAGHDAD, Oct. 11 — A Kurdish lawmaker in the Iraqi Parliament today condemned preparations by Turkey’s government for potential cross-border military action against Kurdish rebels in Iraq, even as he reported that the Turkish military was mobilizing on the border and Turkish warplanes were flying close to Iraq.
(HT: DHinMI on Kos, who has lengthy commentary on this.)

Friday baby blogging

Quinn with one of his favorite blocks.


Quinn asleep in the baby backpack at the Albany Bulb.

As always, more on our family album.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

My latest addiction

Titan Quest is basically Diablo 2 with 3-D graphics and a classical mythology setting. It's very addictive. My character follows the disciplines of Warfare and Strom, and is optimized for very high damage output at the expense of defense and subtlety. I figure this lets me get through the game faster: focusing on defense might make my character more survivable, but it would take longer to kill the monsters so overall progress through the game would be slower. Since healing is very easy (just press a key to drink a potion), the damage my character does take can be easily remedied in most cases.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Freaky multiple personality voice montage

This is the freakiest thing I've heard in a while: "I just am who we are". It's a montage of voices--each one from a separate personality of someone suffering from multiple personality disorder. It starts around 1:50 into the clip. Very disturbing, and one of the voices sings a song about sexual abuse, so be warned.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Right wingers think smearing 12-year old kid is a good tactic

A 12-year old whose family benefited from the SCHIP program gave the Democrat's weekly radio address last week. He apparently talked about how the program helped him and his brain-damaged sister get health care. Right wing bloggers and radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh have proceeded to smear him, saying his family must be wealthy and bilking the government.

These people are vicious. They are desperate. They are losing.

How do you face Mecca when you're in space?

Malaysia has published a guidebook for Muslim space workers aboard the International Space Station:
The book, entitled Guidelines for Performing Islamic Rites at the International Space Station, teaches the Muslim astronaut how to perform ablutions, determine the location of Mecca when praying, prayer times, and how to fast in space, the Star newspaper reported on Saturday.
(HT: Progressive Gold) If you want to know why I use the term "space worker" instead of "astronaut", "cosmonaut", or, in the case of Malaysia, "angkasawan", see this post.

But the story doesn't give any details. I want to know the specifics! (I've wanted to know for over a year; see this post.)

Old Blackwater keep on rollin'... out of Iraq

The Iraqis want Blackwater out:
BAGHDAD - Iraqi authorities want the U.S. government to sever all contracts in Iraq with Blackwater USA within six months. They also want the firm to pay $8 million in compensation to families of each of the 17 people killed when its guards sprayed a traffic circle with heavy machine gun fire last month.
(HT: The Carpetbagger Report)

Republican candidate bumber stickers

By Hunter on Kos:

Rudy Giuliani
My other wife is 9/11

Millionares for Mitt
Because dogs and poor people suck.

Vote Tancredo
Because Sam Brownback isn't insane enough.

Vote Sam Brownback
Doesn't "Tancredo" sound ethnic to you?

McCain
I'm a still a maverick. Now give me a dollar.

Fred Thompson for President
Hey, baby. This is what passes for sexy.

Huckabee '08
I'm running too, goddamn it!

Kids for Ron Paul
Like Optimus Prime, but with lower taxes.

Question of the Day

From Quiddity at uggabugga:
If you waterboard someone while wearing an American flag lapel pin, is it therefore legal and moral?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Stewart on SCHIP veto

The lines practically write themselves:

BUSH: …I believe in private medicine, not the federal government running the healthcare system…

STEWART: Yes, I don’t think there’s an uninsured kid out there who wants to be suckered into some slippery slope socialized medicine scheme. These kids don’t want the government telling them what they can or cannot die from. It’s just wrong.

Republicans: people who veto health care for poor children.

Sledgehammer Irony

White House spokesperson Dana Perino:
Well, unfortunately, intimidation and force can chill peaceful demonstrations. And reports about very innocent people being thrown into detention, where they could be held for years without any representation or charges, is distressing; and we understand that some of the monasteries have been sealed. Now, obviously, this has, again, a chilling effect on protestors, but we would ask that everyone show restraint and allow those who want to express themselves to be able to do so in Burma.
Emphasis added. Can you imagine the scorn and derision statements like that inspire around the world? It inspires scorn and derision in me, and I like this country; it's been extremely good to me and my family. I can just hear the members of the Burmese junta laughing their asses off at us. It sickens me that Bush has managed to shrink the moral distance between my government and these repressive thugs so greatly.

Some have pointed to this incident and declared that "Irony is Dead." On the contrary, I think this statement by Perino shows that irony is doing quite well, thank you very much. It is a sense of shame that is dead, at least in this administration.

Humanizing Iran


This image is from a series of pictures of people and places in Iran (HT: Greenwald). I'd like to remind the Bush administration and its supporters that those are real people they are talking about bombing. It's a shame that we have to remind ourselves of that.

Yes, we have many conflicts with the government of Iran, many areas where our interests are at odds. But we need to throw some very cold water on the fantasy that violence is the easy solution to all the world's problems.

This photo series made me ask myself: when was the last time I saw a picture of an Iranian other than Ahmadinejad or someone about to be executed? What if the only images of America someone saw were images of George W. Bush and the atrocities at Abu Ghraib? Wouldn't you want to show that person some other pictures? Take a look at these images from Iran (and one from California that got put in by mistake).

Sprinklers don't work in $592 million Baghdad US embassy

If this happened in a novel or movie, I might chide the author for being a bit heavy handed with the symbolism. Yahoo! news via Sullivan:
The latest problem with the trouble-plagued new U.S. embassy complex in Iraq is that the sprinkler systems meant to contain a fire do not work, according to officials in Congress and the State Department.

The previously undisclosed problem in the $592 million project was discovered several weeks ago when the fire-safety systems were tested and pipe joints burst, State Department representatives recently informed Congress .

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Europe: better off than conservatives depict it

Via Atrios, a Washington Post opinion piece challenging following 5 assumptions about the European economy:
1. The sclerotic European economy is incapable of leading the world.
2. Nobody wants to invest in European companies and economies because lack of competitiveness makes them a poor bet.
3. Europe is the land of double-digit unemployment.
4. The European "welfare state" hamstrings businesses and hurts the economy.
5. Europe is likely to be held hostage to its dependence on Russia and the Middle East for most of its energy needs.
Not true, says Steven Hill.

Quinn's physical stats

For those of you who can't get enough data about my son:
> your child is 23.5 pounds, and that is
> at the 57th percentile for weight.
>
> your child is 32 inches, and that is
> at the 95th percentile for height.
Quinn's head circumference is also in the 95th percentile (49.5 cm).

Christian churches resort to Halo 3 as recruiting tool

"Suffer the children to come unto me," sayeth Master Chief.
Image from clubskill.com.

Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.

If those don't work, use highly-popular M-rated violent video games:
Across the country, hundreds of ministers and pastors desperate to reach young congregants have drawn concern and criticism through their use of an unusual recruiting tool: the immersive and violent video game Halo.
(HT: Pablo via email.)

I do object to the following remark in the article:
“If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it,” said James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a nonprofit group that assesses denominational policies. “My own take is you can do better than that.”
Um, dude, I bet if a minister tried to lure teenage boys into a church by offering free alcohol and porn, the teenage boys would (rightly) flee in the opposite direction as fast as their baggy pants would let them. Barring a few fetishists, I don't think most teenagers want to get their porn fix in a church.

As far as Halo 3 nights, I guess I don't have a problem with this, except of course for my overall problems with Christianity and theism and supernaturalism in general. If churches offer kids a place to play Halo 3 on a big screen, that seems to be a useful function. I think churches should try to be more relevant to young people's lives. I doubt Halo 3 contains any useful moral lessons, but then neither do bingo, movies, pot luck dinners, or many other activities churches use to bring people in and create a sense of community.

On a different note, I think Bill Gates should issue a press release declaring Microsoft more popular than Jesus. (Using the crude measure of Google hits, Microsoft gets about 305,000,000 hits, trouncing Jesus at 60,400,000.)

Democrats, Clinton, and "polarization"

I think some people are under the illusion that if Democrats don't choose Hillary Clinton as the nominee, then the right-wing hate machine will close up shop and go home. This is a ridiculous delusion. Kevin Drum has this to say on the subject:

But there's a huge difference here. A guy like Giuliani is polarizing because he actively chooses to be. It's part of his persona. He wants people to hate him

Hillary, by contrast, is polarizing not because she wants to be, but because the right-wing attack machine made her that way. She's "polarizing" only because a certain deranged slice of conservative nutjobs detest her.

And guess what? By this standard, Jimmy Carter is polarizing. Bill Clinton is polarizing. Al Gore is polarizing. John Kerry is polarizing. Do you see the trend here?

There are plenty of good reasons to oppose Hillary Clinton. But anyone who opposes her because she's polarizing is allowing the bottom feeders of modern movement conservatism to dictate who gets to run for president and who doesn't. If we want less polarizing politics, the answer isn't to oppose Hillary Clinton, who, outside the cartoon universe invented by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, holds almost relentlessly orthodox center-left opinions and expresses them in relentlessly garden-variety politician-speak. The answer is to send the right-wing rage machine back under the rock it crawled out from. Anything else is just caving in to bullies.

Digby adds:
Giuliani could theoretically be a transcendent politican in 2008. He's a rare northeastern blue state Republican with all kinds of signifiers that should appeal to independents and Democrats. He was mayor of New York City, for crying out loud. But the Republican base forces every candidate to become polarizing because that's what they like in a candidate. Indeed, that's why Giuliani is doing so well --- he's a nasty piece of work and they can sense it. Their movement is based upon rabid partisan hatred of liberals/Democrats/blacks/"immigrants" and whatever other "other" they've targeted today. It's their fundamental organizing principle.

I have no doubt that Hillary will be polarizing, but it will come from the abject hatred any Democrat inspires on the right (although the fact that she's a woman probably add a little frisson to their loathing.) Look at what they did the John Kerry. Hell, they impeached her husband, a centrist good old boy who advanced a fair portion of their agenda in the name of bipartisan comity. They will loathe and despise Obama, Edwards, Richardson, Dodd or any of the rest with just as much fervor. It's what they do.

(And, by the way, it doesn't matter whether any Dem moves so far to the right that they could give Inhofe a run for his money, the media and the right wing press will portray them as an "ultra-liberal" in thrall to the MoveOn communists. They do that too. There's no sense in changing positions on the issues to try to thread that needle. It's impossible.)
One of my frustrations with the Obama candidacy is all this "I will bring people together" stuff. I'm skeptical. He's less polarizing than Clinton now, because the smear machine hasn't focused on him yet. But if he's the nominee, it will. There is no one so patriotic, so red blooded, so full of the spirit of Jesus that the Republicans won't smear them. Democrats who are questing for such a person are on a fool's errand. Democrats should nominate someone who will be able to deal with the smears when they happen.

And given what Republicans have done and are doing to our nation, I'm not interested in being brought together with them. I am interested in defeating them, and undoing what they have done. Obama's lofty rhetoric of hope does have an appeal. And I like his status as someone more outside the current political village. But I am a lot angrier at Republicans than he seems to be. A lot of Democrats and independents despise Bush and have enormous contempt for him and everything he stands for. I wish the Democrats did a better job of channeling that frustration in a constructive direction. Instead, they seem afraid of the anger in their anti-Bush base. They don't want to appear "shrill", lest some talking head chide them on TV. But by doing this, the Democrats are cutting themselves off from a strong vein of energetic support.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Republican presidential candidates follow Bush over the SCHIP cliff

Because those seeking the Republican presidential nomination must prove they hate American children more than the other nomination seekers, Romney, McCain, Giuliani, and Thompson have all come in support of Bush's veto of the popular SCHIP expansion:
The four leading Republican presidential candidates have aligned themselves with President Bush’s veto on Wednesday of an expanded health insurance program for children, once again testing the political risk of appearing in lock step with a president who has low approval ratings and some critics of the veto within their party.
Crooks and Liars says the following:

Perhaps more than any policy decision this year, the president’s decision to veto expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) was spectacularly dumb. It was bad politics, bad policy, and based on bad reasoning. Lawmakers from both parties, governors from both parties, medical professionals, and children’s’ advocates all agree that Bush’s nonsensical decision does nothing but hurt children.

It’s striking, then, that Bush’s would-be Republican successors all agree with the ridiculous White House line.

I think the four leading Republican candidates should have written the following letter. Since they didn't, I did it for them:
Dear Democrats,

We love you so. Please bash us over the head with this again and again and again. Every child who would have gotten this coverage but didn't because of this veto can now appear in your campaign ads against us. We have given you an army of poster children, many of whom will be very cute. They will be from many different states and have many different ethnicities, so you can pick which child you use to maximize empathic effect with different target demographics. It is possible that some of these children may get sick or even die because of this veto, and I'm sure your attack ad makers won't have too much trouble finding them if they do. By supporting this veto, we have publicly sided with not giving American children health care, which conveniently plays into the worst stereotypes people have about Republicans. We did this because we are so desperate to prove our wignut credentials that we are willing to sacrifice any chance of winning in the general election.

Sincerely,

The seekers of the 2008 Republican presidential nomination

Republicans have confused "the closet" with "the restroom stall"

This probably won't be huge scandal, because he's not a national figure, but another Republican is retiring due to revelations involving public restrooms.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Republican Convention logo features "wide stance" elephant

Kos is having a blast mocking this logo:

And yes, this is real, not an extremely clever photoshop job, and truly encapsulates what the Republican Party is all about.

Wide stance? Check.

In Minneapolis? Check.

Prison stripe-wearing? Check.

Starry eyed? Check.

As for the elephant humping the "2008"...

Are they going for a "Still screwing the country in 2008" theme, or is it a reference to hypocritical adulterers like David Vitter and just about the entire Republican presidential field?

All of the above? Check!

Apparently they ran out of space for a collapsing bridge.

There are some funny bits from the comment section as well.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

James Dobson: We won't vote for a pro-choice Republican

I don't normally link to Dobson Op-Ed pieces, but this relates to my earlier post on speculation that the Christianists might bolt the Republican party if Rudy Giuliani is the nominee. Here's Dobson on the NYT editorial page:

After two hours of deliberation, we voted on a resolution that can be summarized as follows: If neither of the two major political parties nominates an individual who pledges himself or herself to the sanctity of human life, we will join others in voting for a minor-party candidate. Those agreeing with the proposition were invited to stand. The result was almost unanimous.

The other issue discussed at length concerned the advisability of creating a third party if Democrats and Republicans do indeed abandon the sanctity of human life and other traditional family values. Though there was some support for the proposal, no consensus emerged.

Emphasis added. Dobson sounds pretty serious. But I wouldn't be surprised if these folks figure out some way to reconcile themselves to Giuliani, should he be the Republican nominee. All he'd have to do is pledge "himself or herself [if he's cross-dressing] to the sanctity of human life". No one said the pledge had to be believable, or consistent with recent positions or behavior (including donations to Planned Parenthood as recent as 1999).

At highest levels, US condoned torture

Front page the New York Times:

But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

After World War II, we executed people for doing this kind of thing. It seems pretty clear that the Bush administration contains people who should be prosecuted for war crimes.

Others writing about this story:

Sullivan:

There is no doubt - no doubt at all - that these tactics are torture and subject to prosecution as war crimes. We know this because the law is very clear when you don't have war criminals like AEI's John Yoo rewriting it to give one man unchecked power. We know this because the very same techniques - hypothermia, long-time standing, beating - and even the very same term "enhanced interrogation techniques" - "verschaerfte Vernehmung" in the original German - were once prosecuted by American forces as war crimes. The perpetrators were the Gestapo. The penalty was death. You can verify the history here.

We have war criminals in the White House. What are we going to do about it?

If it was up to me, prosecute them and put them in jail.

Crooks and Liars:
I know it’s difficult to muster a new degree of outrage every time the Bush gang sinks to a new low, but today’s revelations highlight American lawlessness at the highest levels of our government.

Kevin Drum:

The Times says that "most lawmakers" didn't know about this secret opinion. That means that some of them did. I'd like to know which ones. I'd also like to hear each of the Democratic candidates tell us whether or not they promise to repudiate all secret Bush administration memorandums on torture and detention during their first day in office. Quickly, please.

Digby:

I am still stunned that we are talking about the United States of America issuing dry legal opinions about how much torture you are allowed to inflict on prisoners. Stories like this one are the very definition of the banality of evil --- a bunch of ideologues and bureaucrats blithely committing morally reprehensible acts apparently without conscience or regret.

Digby is encouraging people to sign the American Freedom Campaign's pledge. I have done so, and most of the Democratic candidates have either signed it or made singed statements similar to it. Hillary Clinton is notable by her absence on that page.

Hilzoy:
These techniques are not just morally abhorrent; they are flatly illegal. One might think that since the President is required by the Constitution to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed", this might be a bit of a problem. Not for the Bush administration. First, John Yoo wrote his famous "torture memo", in which he argued that interrogation techniques were illegal only if they produced pain equivalent to organ failure or death. When that memo became public, the administration disowned it. But they also issued another secret opinion reaffirming the legality of the various combinations of techniques described above, and then wrote another secret memo saying that none of the CIA's interrogation techniques constituted "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment.

FBI agents investigating Blackwater to be guarded by....Blackwater

It seems like the US government can't do a damn thing in Iraq without the help of mercenaries. While investigating the Blackwater shooting incident, FBI agents working in Iraq will be protected by...Blackwater security agents. Why doesn't the FBI just do what the State Department did and outsource the investigation itself to Blackwater?

Time to quote Machiavelli's The Prince, chapter 12:
Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.

More UU fame for me & my family

We appear for about 1 second at 9 minutes, 8 seconds into this 10 minute video about Unitarian Universalism. No autographs, please.

Their reality has lapped our satire

I know from my super-top-secret contact in the State Department (codename: Maestro) that State is in a big personnel crunch right now, what with the passport backlog and all. So it's natural that it might turn to outside contractors for help. But please, when writing an initial report investigating the Blackwater shooting incident, please don't outsource the job to a Blackwater employee:
A Blackwater contractor wrote an initial U.S. government report describing contractors' involvement in a September 16 incident in which Iraqi civilians were shot, government and industry sources told CNN.
[...]

Blackwater contractor Darren Hanner drafted the two-page spot report on the letterhead of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for the embassy's Tactical Operations Center, said a source involved in diplomatic security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Hanner, listed on the report as the center's watch officer, was working for Blackwater at the time the report was written -- just after the shooting occurred, said a highly placed industry source. He was to rotate out of Iraq last week, the source said.

The State Department is of course distancing itself from the report:

The State Department is conducting an investigation, and deputy spokesman Tom Casey called the spot report "a first-blush account of those on the scene." He said the "report has no standing whatsoever."

"It was not intended to be used as an analysis, investigation, review or any detailed assessment of the situation. To assert that is untrue," Casey said.

HT: TPM via rubber hose.