Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto assassinated

Bloomberg news:

Dec. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in an election-rally attack in Rawalpindi, threatening the stability of a nuclear-armed nation that is a focal point of the West's war on terror.

At least 16 people died and more than 60 were injured in the gunfire-and-bomb attack on Bhutto's rally, police said. The opposition leader, 54, had survived a previous attempt on her life when she returned from exile two months ago.

Rioting broke out as her supporters gathered outside the hospital where her death was confirmed and in cities across Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf, who had allowed her return to participate in parliamentary elections planned for Jan. 8, appealed for calm in a message broadcast on state television.

Not good. This country seems like its getting more and more out of control. And they have nukes. All of our nation's paranoia about Iraq and Iran would be better directed towards our alleged ally Pakistan. All the inflated fears we have about those nations are actually true of Pakistan: Pakistan has been a big supporter of the Taliban, has engaged in nuclear proliferation, and is possibly sheltering Al Qaeda and Bin Laden himself in its tribal western area. But Musharraf kisses Bush's ass, so he gets a pass. Not that we shouldn't be engaging Pakistan, but this is one of the many areas where US foreign policy seems backwards and out of sync with our interests.

I am in my mid-thirties

Thanks to all who sent birthday well-wishes! For my birthday, one of the places Sarah took me was the Musée Mécanique at Pier 45 in San Francisco. They have a number of well-maintained classic video games, including Moon Patrol, Deathrace, Star Wars, and a Robotron 2084 on which both joysticks were fully functional. The latter occupied most of my attention. I managed to get the top 5 daily scores, and 5 entries on the all-time best table. On my best game I got over 220,000 points, though I must point out that the machine was not on a hard difficulty setting. I think in my heyday during my Microsoft years I could do better, but I'm glad I have retained some of my skills.

It has occurred to me that I am now definitely in my mid-thirties. There's no way to construe 34 as early thirties. If a decade of life is divided into three roughly equal parts (early, mid, and late), there is one extra year that has to be assigned to one of the categories. But even if you assign the extra year to the "early" category, there is no credible distribution in which 34 doesn't end up in the "mid" thirties.

Here's my proposed scheme:

0-3: early
4-6: mid
7-9: late

So mid-thirties it is for me!

Excessive Christmas lights

If there's a war on Christmas, then I think this display should win it on behalf of consumerism's most sacred day. (This YouTube has been around a while, but I just saw it again on Sullivan's site).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tattoo of the day

I don't normally blog about tattoos, but this is a pretty good one:

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Lift the (virtual) rock...WITH THE POWER OF YOUR MIND!

Tan Le, the president and co-founder of Emotiv Systems

Big announcement: the author of Internal Monologue (i.e. me) has accepted an offer of full-time employment at Emotiv Systems. I will be starting Jan 7th as a game producer and technology evangelist. Emotiv Systems is developing a headset that uses EEG and other sensing techniques to allow you to control video games with your thoughts, and allows games to respond to your facial expressions and emotional states. But video games are just the first step. Ultimately, Emotiv has broader goals:

Communication between man and machine has always been limited to conscious interaction, with non-conscious communication -- expression, intuition, perception -- reserved solely for the human realm. At Emotiv, we believe that future communication between man and machine will not only be limited to the conscious communication that exists today, but non-conscious communication will play a significant part.

Our mission is to create the ultimate interface for the next-generation of man-machine interaction, by evolving the interaction between human beings and electronic devices beyond the limits of conscious interface. Emotiv is creating technologies that allow machines to take both conscious and non-conscious inputs directly from your mind.

Ooh, cool! So science fiction! But it's actually happening. And it will be happening sooner than you think! I'm so excited to be a part of this!

I'm sure Internal Monologue will continue, but posts may be shorter and more sporadic due to my new enterprise.

Maybe I''l be able to write Internal Monologue just by thinking it! Then it will really live up to its name! Well, that will probably have to wait until the technology has gone through a few more iterations.

Also, Internal Monologue may only be updated sporadically during the upcoming holidays.

Boob job for a tattoo

This is just sick...


...but undeniably fascinating (via Sullivan):
After getting a tattoo of a gynormous breasted woman, Lane Jensen wanted more so he asked his tattoo artist/body modifier to add some silicone bobos beneath his skin -- with nipples! I'm sure this is exactly what J. Franklin Hyde, the father of silicone, envisioned when created fumed silica .

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Will the Oscars be cancelled?

Crooks and Liars thinks so:
Well, no one wants to say it but you will be reading this shortly: The Golden Globes and the Academy Awards will be cancelled.

On Monday December 17th, the WGA turned down requests for waivers by the Oscars and the Golden Globes to put those telecasts on air without the Guild’s writers. With the rejection of the waivers for the Academy Awards (ABC), set for Sunday February 24th, and the much faster approaching Golden Globes (NBC), set for January 13th, the WGA has essentially cancelled both awards shows by its actions.

He has a welding torch, jump jets, a holoprojector, a universal computer interface...

...but I bet you didn't know R2-D2 could do this as well (HT: Mad Latinist via email).

If the speaker in Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" ever finds his lost shaker of salt, maybe he could get one of these to go with it. Of course, Internal Monologue readers know that "Margaritaville" is actually about something else entirely.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Can we leave Iraq? They don't want us there

Picture of wall outside Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, April 26 2003

Image stolen from VIEWIMAGES, who foolishly believe that by disabling right-click on their site they can prevent me from stealing their intellectual property. Yo, ever heard of the Print Scrn button? It takes a snapshot of the current window and copies it to the clipboard. Open up Windows Paint, paste the image, crop it down to the picture I want, and presto!

Via rubber hose, we have this from the Washington Post:

Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of "occupying forces" as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month.

That is good news, according to a military analysis of the results. At the very least, analysts optimistically concluded, the findings indicate that Iraqis hold some "shared beliefs" that may eventually allow them to surmount the divisions that have led to a civil war.

That second paragraph shows how Orwellian our military has become. It's sad that I won't be able to tell my children "I was a Democrat; we did all we could to stop it". Because the Democrats as a whole aren't doing much at all to stop it. And the leading Democratic candidates aren't pushing this issue very hard. Is it too much to ask to get a politician willing to tackle the #1 political issue of our day in a way that reflects the opinion of a majority of Americans? I know I know, we've covered this ground before. It still galls me. This is one of those issues that seems like such a no-brainer to me. But then I am a good deal smarter than most people.

Quote of the Day

I don't normally link to Reason magazine, but this quote (via Sullivan) is pretty good:
Tom Tancredo has dropped out of the presidential race. He will be replaced by Montezuma Aztlán Calderón, an undocumented worker from Oaxaca who will denounce the Brown Peril for just $3 an hour plus room and board.
Given how desperate Republicans are for a candidate, I suspect that Mr. Calderón has as good a shot as anyone at getting the nomination.

I'm glad that Tancredo, the most xenophobic candidate, has dropped out. I'm glad that his message didn't get him anywhere. I'm still saddened that sane immigration reform is impossible due to brown peril scare-mongering. Immigrants, legal and illegal, generally commit fewer crimes than native born folks. And the reason the American working class is getting shafted is because of Republican policies that tilt the scales of power away from labor and towards crony capitalism. (And because Democrats aren't fighting hard enough on their behalf.) Globalization contributes, but other countries have been able to maintain strong middle and working classes, and they face the same international economic forces we do.

Mmmm, ramen! Yum!

Japan: The Ukita family of Kodaira City

Food expenditure for one week: 37,699 Yen or $317.25
Favorite foods: sashimi, fruit, cake, potato chips


If you haven't seen it already, check out this series of photographs showing what families around the world eat in 1 week, and how much it costs. People seem to drink a lot of Coke.

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina

Food expenditure for one week: $341.98
Favorite foods: spaghetti, potatoes, sesame chicken

Slacktivist on I-35/Isaiah 35:8 nonsense

A Christian perspective on the wackos who think that Interstate 35 is the road referred to in the Book of Isaiah:

My own church youth group never laid siege to a gay bar, but I still wince when I recall some of our forays into "radical" evangelism. We did "boardwalk evangelism" down the shore. I personally handed a gospel tract to Madame Marie herself. Unlike the many mission trips our youth group also did, that wasn't something I enjoyed at the time or felt proud about afterward.

This is the dynamic at work in so much of what fundamentalist and evangelical churches think of as "youth ministry." Tell a bunch of good church kids what God expects of them and they will do their best to comply. Tell them God wants them to pass out tracts to strangers and they'll go along. Tell them God wants them to lay siege to a nightclub and they'll get on the van. They will go along because their conscience will be telling them that if this is what God would have them do, then it is what they ought to do. But their conscience will also be telling them that this seems not just awkward or intimidating, but wrong. "Be bold and courageous for God," the youth minister will tell them, but they're not balking out of fear, they're hesitating out of guilt. That will, in turn, provoke another crisis of conscience as they wonder what's wrong with them that makes them feel like right is wrong.

Friday, December 21, 2007

101 dumbest moments in business

If you're wanting to sneer at your fellow humans for their foolishness, you could do worse than to peruse Fortune magazine's "101 Dumbest Moments in Business". Some highlights for me:
13. Disneyland
It's a fat world, after all
Disneyland announces plans to close the "It's a Small World" attraction to deepen its water channel after the ride's boats start getting stuck under loads of heavy passengers. Employees ask larger passengers to disembark - and compensate them with coupons for free food.

15. Bindeez
But officer, it was the Toy of the Year!
Australia's Toy of the Year, a bead toy called Bindeez made by Moose Enterprise, is pulled from stores after scientists discover that the beads contain a chemical that converts into the date-rape drug GHB when ingested.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Putting other people's poo in your butt

...for bona fide medical reasons, of course. If your intestine has been invaded by nasty bacteria, it's important to restore a healthy in-ass ecosystem. This can be a difficult process, as the antibiotics used to kill the invading bacteria also kill the helpful bacteria that form part of the healthy "gut environment". Apparently, there is a clever, if somewhat icky, way to jump-start the rebuilding of a normal up-the-butt environment:
What if, instead of re-constitituing healthy gut flora one species at a time, you could simply take the entire fecal contents from a healthy person and use it to re-colonize your own gut--in other words, undergo a fecal transplant? Yes, it's like probiotics on steroids: getting an infusion of someone else's gut flora in order to re-establish a healthy gut ecology of your own, and squeeze out some potentially harmful organisms along the way. A recent story discusses this treatment for patients suffering Clostridium difficile infections in Scotland, but it's actually not brand-new, and has already surfaced in the peer-reviewed literature.
OK, don't read this part if you're eating food. It's a description of how to prepare a piece of poo for transplant:
Select a stool specimen (preferably a soft specimen) with a weight of 30 g or a volume of 2 cm^3. Add 50-70 mL of sterile 0.9 N NaCl to the stool sample and homogenize with a household blender. Initially use the low setting until the sample breaks up; then, advance the speed gradually to the highest setting. Continue for 2-4 min until the sample is smooth. Filter the suspension using a paper coffee filter. Allow adequate time for slow filtration to come to an end. Refilter the suspension, again using a paper coffee filter. As before, allow adequate time for slow filtration.
I would suggest that this "household blender" be clearly labeled as a fecal processor and not subsequently used for other purposes.

Mitt Romney attended Planned Parenthood fundraiser

In 1994, Mitt Romney attended Planned Parenthood fund raiser. But he changed his mind and is now pro-life. And the fact that this position is incredibly politically convenient had nothin' to do with it. Yeah, right.

Why does anyone take this guy seriously? The level of blatant pandering he's willing to engage in exceeds the usual political chameleonism by at least a standard deviation and a half.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Krugman column crystallizes my objection to Obama

I've had this complaint about Obama for some time, but today's Krugman column, "Big Table Fantasies", in the New York Times really expressed it well:

At one extreme, Barack Obama insists that the problem with America is that our politics are so “bitter and partisan,” and insists that he can get things done by ushering in a “different kind of politics.”

At the opposite extreme, John Edwards blames the power of the wealthy and corporate interests for our problems, and says, in effect, that America needs another F.D.R. — a polarizing figure, the object of much hatred from the right, who nonetheless succeeded in making big changes.

Over the last few days Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards have been conducting a long-range argument over health care that gets right to this issue. And I have to say that Mr. Obama comes off looking, well, naïve.

I agree with Krugman here, and that's why I find myself leaning towards Edwards: the current ideologies and practices that dominate the Republican party (foolish belligerence, intolerance of criticism, cronyism, disrespect for the Constitution and rule of law, Christianism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.) need to be defeated, not given a seat at the table. Yes, we'd like Republican people to have a seat at the table. That kind of inclusiveness I can applaud. But certain ideas, like the ones I mention above, should not be a part American politics. And those who do not renounce them should be excluded as much as possible from political power.

It is legitimate to argue whether abortion should be legal or not, or what kind of tax system we should have, or what the penalties for certain crimes should be, or how much or how little the government should fund social programs. I have very strong opinions on these matters, but I accept that other Americans have differing views. And I understand that American policies must and should be the result of compromise among these differing views.

However, it is not legitimate to say that those who criticize the president's foreign policy are traitors, or that people with the wrong race or religion are un-American, or that the President is above the law and can imprison and torture anyone anywhere, or that it is more important for a job candidate to have correct political stances than to be able to do the job in question (see Imperial Life in the Emerald City). These are not positions that should be compromised with. They should be discredited. And the Republican party is currently dominated by people who advocate or implement such positions. I don't see how Obama can seriously think he can compromise with people who do not believe in the rule of law.

I do believe that there is a large swath of voters that does long for inclusion, and Obama does seem to be good at appealing to them. But his winning smile isn't going to work on the likes of Karl Rove, James Dobson, Grover Norquist, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and other hardened, powerful voices of the right wing, should they choose to set their sights on him. He's going to have to kick their ass. At some point, you gotta say, "That is crazy, that is wrong". And I want to know that Obama knows that. Some people can be persuaded, some can be accommodated, and I think we should persuade as many people as possible that a progressive vision is what is best for our country, and accommodate as many conservative concerns and objections as possible. But in the end, some people will have to be defeated if meaningful change is going to take place.

If America is better off eight years from now, I think that necessarily means that certain people, groups, entities, and ideas will not be better off eight years from now. A rising tide can lift all boats, but--OK in this age of global climate change that's probably a bad metaphor. I'll let this Edwards quote from Krugman say what I mean:
Some people argue that we’re going to sit at a table with these people and they’re going to voluntarily give their power away. I think it is a complete fantasy; it will never happen.
(On the other hand, Obama did vote against the war in Iraq, and Edwards did (and since said it was a mistake) and that's gotta count for something.)

Was Jimmy Buffett beaten by one of these women...

Image of Shaker sisters from the Enfield Historical Society

...and did he enjoy it? This is the hidden question within Buffett's Karaoke staple hit "Margaritaville". Allow me to explain. The first line of the classic refrain is traditionally (but incorrectly) parsed as:
Wastin' away again in Margaritaville,
Searchin' for my lost shaker of salt.
Emphasis added. But if you listen closely, it is obvious Buffett is not singing "shaker of salt". He is actually singing "Shaker assault". Listen to the recording; it is obvious that "Shaker assault" is the actual lyric.

This understanding demands a complete re-interpretation of the song. The booze-induced lazy funk described in the song is not brought on by a failed romance or by alcoholism. It is the result of a deep, unfulfilled, sado-masochistic longing to be beaten by a member of The United Society of Believers In Christ's Second Coming. The reason the Shaker assault is "lost" is quite simple: There are hardly any Shakers left, and those who remain have no interest in flogging an aging pop singer whose songs glorify laziness and cheeseburgers. (Industriousness being a core virtue glorified by the Shakers. How else did they make all that cool furniture?)

The impossibility of fulfilling this desire for a "Shaker assault" fills the song with a tragic poignancy. Indeed, it is likely that the longed-for "Shaker assault" is not something that ever happened in reality, given the puritanical and pacifistic leanings of the sect. This "assault" is a product the Romantic imagination, much like the pleasure dome in Coleridge's "Kubla Khan": an object of intense desire and longing, forever out of grasp, lost in the ancient past; yet at the same time a creation of the very being who longs for it.

(By the way, I'm not the first person to have noticed this hearing of the lyric, but as far as I know I am the first to give it its proper interpretation.)

Lieberman to endorse McCain

All those Democrats who endorsed Lieberman over Ned Lamont can now take a look at this:

Democratic and Republican sources say that Sen. Joe Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut and fierce supporter of the war in Iraq, will formally endorse Sen. John McCain tomorrow in New Hampshire.

A McCain spokesperson declined to comment.

A source familiar with the endorsement said that the two will appear of NBC's Today Show tomorrow morning and at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire.

I expect a chorus of "I told you so's" from the lefty blogosphere. We'll start with one from Internal Monologue: I told you so.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Obama-Clinton moment everyone is talking about



Commentary from a reader at Sullivan's blog:

I was undecided up to now, but forty seconds of YouTube has decided me: There's a sword at Obama's throat. Hillary grabs the sword and brandishes it, gloating. Obama reaches out, takes the sword from her hand, and runs her through. What an aphoristic moment. Or as the YouTube commenters put it, PWNED.

In the larger context, this was a grievous unforced error on Hillary's part. In my eyes, her crowing reaction damages her as much as Obama's comeback benefits him. All she needed to do was listen politely as Obama squirmed, and the moment was hers. Instead, she reacted like a comic book supervillain and handed a superhero moment to Obama. I don't know who's got an exact count, but I suspect her team this season has racked up the most errors, both forced and unforced. In sport, that has a lot of significance. In politics, I think it's about to.

Friday, December 14, 2007

We already knew he was a conehead. We didn't know this...

Darth Vader truly revealed...(HT: Grishnash via email)

Another "Why are the Dems ineffective?" answer

thereisnospoon on DailyKos thinks Democratic inaction on Iraq is a cynical ploy to sacrifice American lives and treasure in order to win the 2008 elections:

What they truly care about is winning the next election. They're politicians. That's what they do: strategize to win the next election. It's the only thing that matters to them. And strange things start to happen when all you care about is winning the next election: you start to do really, really amoral things that make you look much more stupid than you really are.

Let's get a few things clear. Our Democrats are not actually ignorant of the political situation. Though it may not seem like it, they really do know what's going on.

Nor do they really believe that by giving Bush what he wants and allowing themselves to be rolled over by the Republican minority in Congress, they will be seen as strong on terrorism or war. They understand that the public trusts Democrats more than Republicans on national security precisely because they hate Republican stances--not because Democrats adopt them. They're not really that dumb.

What they are is cynically manipulative, all in the name of winning the next election. I've said this before, and I'll say it again. If you want to know what's really going on, all you need do is read the following quote paraphrasing Chuck Schumer:

"Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, who leads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, insists that the more Republicans block Democrats in Congress, the more seats Democrats will win next year."

Read it. Understand it. Weep. Then do something about it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Lost in Translation last whisper revealed (allegedly)

OK, this little YouTube video claims to reveal, via digital signal processing, what Bill Murray's character whispers to Scarlett Johansson's character at the end of Lost in Translation. I don't know if it's a fake or not. And I don't think knowing what he says really adds anything to the movie. But there is a naughty pleasure in knowing that which was meant to be hidden. So here it is (HT: Sullivan):

One way for the Catholic church to alleviate its shortage of priests



HT: Pablo via e-mail.

There's probably a sign like this that would work on me

xkcd has a strip about "Nerd Sniping" (HT: Mad Latinist via email).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Huckabee thinks women should "graciously submit to their husband's sacrificial leadership"

Now that Huckabee is surging in popularity, it's time to give him a little more scrutiny. Let's take a look at a USA Today ad Huckabee signed his name to back in 1998:
The evangelical leaders' USA Today ad states to the Southern Baptist Convention:
"You are right because you recognized that the family was God's idea, not man's, and that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman for a lifetime.
"You are right because you called husbands to sacrificially love and lead their wives.
"You are right because you called wives to graciously submit to their husband's sacrificial leadership.
"You are right because you affirmed that the husband and wife are of equal worth before God.
"You are right because you reminded us that children are a blessing and heritage from the Lord.
"More importantly, you are right because your statement is based on biblical truth."
Emphasis added (HT: 4fx on DailyKos). Of course, that was nine years ago. Perhaps the former governors views have evolved somewhat since then. Or perhaps Mr. Huckabee is waiting until after the primaries to let his views evolve, as such reactionary sentiments on the subject of patriarchy probably endear him to many Republican primary voters.

Until recently, nobody thought Huckabee had a chance. Suddenly, everyone's taking him seriously. Let's not give him a pass because he has an affable demeanor. The guy is a frightening Christianist with some pretty backward views.

Monday, December 10, 2007

If philosphers made attack ads

Not as funny as it could be, but worth a mention (HT: Sullivan):

Legalized Bribery

Every once in a while, when we're gnashing our teeth and decrying the horridness of our politicians (Democratic complicity in American torture is my latest trigger; what's yours?), we should remember that campaigns are financed by a system of legal bribery. People pay politicians to get what they want. Given that reality, I think we're pretty much getting the politicians one would expect. (If Guantanamo inmates had a decent PAC and a top-flight lobbying firm, I'm sure they'd be getting better treatment. Heck, they'd probably getting subsidies and tax breaks.)

So I guess it's only fair that a politician, in this case Mitt Romney, is now bribing people to get what he wants:

One big strength of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign is that he has a lot of institutional support from establishment-minded social conservatives. One big weakness of Romney's presidential campaign is that he seems like a great big phony all the time. To liberals, he looks like a phony. But to the socially conservative rank and file he . . . also looks like a phony. So why all the love from elites? Tom Edsall and Ethan Hova have the story: Bribery!

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is distributing numerous payments, primarily to religious and social conservatives, most of them in Iowa, for what he calls "GOTV Consulting." "GOTV" is political shorthand for get-out-the-vote - just what walk-around payments financed. [...] The payments start at $500 a month, the base rate for student leaders, many of whom are chairs in the "Iowa Students for Romney" campaign organization. At a higher level, Joe Earle, former director of the Iowa Christian Alliance (the successor to the Iowa Christian Coalition) gets $4,000 a month, and Gary Marx, a top-level member on the Romney for President National Faith And Values Steering Committee, gets $8,000 a month.

Well, that explains it.

I wonder how much Romney would shell out to Internal Monologue to have it abandon its current political stance. Probably not much. Maybe I should change the blog's name to The Iowa-New Hampshire Political Digest. Then candidates would be eating out of my hand. On the Internet, nobody knows you don't live in an early primary/caucus state.

My Christmas Tree

Here's our Christmas Tree!

If you're curious why I haven't been posting as much, here are two reasons:
  1. Season 4 of The Wire came out on DVD and we got it on Netflix.
  2. Civilization 4. You gotta play just one more turn. I just completed my first game. I was playing at the "chieftain" level, which was way too easy for me.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Yet another metaphor attempting to explain Democratic capitulation to Bush

It seems that one of the main preoccupations of the progressive blogosphere is figuring out why Congressional Democrats won't tell Bush (one of the most unpopular presidents in modern history), to take his stupid war (also very unpopular) and shove it up his ass. Indeed, it is a puzzling subject. Here's another attempt at getting our heads around it, from smintheus on Daily Kos:

Haggling with a poker player just doesn't work and almost never ends well. As Cernig reminds us again today, it's foolish and positively dangerous to try to haggle with George Bush.

Democrats in Congress really ought to think long and hard at some stage, maybe soon, about the implications of seeking to reach a middle ground with a man who sees politics as a game of poker, where there are only winners and losers.

Bush is not a good poker player. In fact, he was exposed long ago as godawfully bad. By this year he had run out of cards to play, in any round, other than the veto. With Bush it's always bluff, bluff; and bluffing doesn't normally succeed when you've been exposed as a perennial bluffer.

So it's remarkable that the Democratic Congress manages to keep finding ways to lose in what should be a completely uneven match. Democrats hold both chambers of Congress, which the public gave them on the promise that they'd call Bush's bluff. It's tempting to put these repeated failures down just to timidity and cluelessness. But there's also a clash of cultures. Many Democrats in Congress cling to a culture in which true negotiation is the norm, a culture that rewards compromise. It's a culture that Republican leaders rejected a generation ago, but Democrats stubbornly refuse to see any culture but their own.

I'm not sure whether the poker player vs. haggler framework is the best way to view this problem, but the matter does scream out for some kind of explanation. Maybe Congress can de-fund the war and bring an end to this whole "fishing for the right metaphor to explain Democratic capitulation" industry.

And where are Obama, Edwards, and Clinton on this? Instead of telling us you would end the war, why don't you just end it? (Well, Edwards isn't in the Senate anymore, but the other two are in a position to do a lot more than just blather.)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Hitchens not impressed with Romney

Hitchens is rather disdainful of Romney's speech:
Romney does not understand the difference between deism and theism, nor does he know the first thing about the founding of the United States. Jefferson's Declaration may invoke a "Creator," but, as he went on to show in the battle over the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, he and most of his peers did not believe in a god who intervened in human affairs or in a god who had sent a son for a human sacrifice. These easily ascertainable facts are reflected in the way that the U.S. Constitution does not make any mention of a superintendent deity and in the way that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention declined an offer (possibly sarcastic), even from Benjamin Franklin, that they resort to prayer to compose their differences. Romney may throw a big chest and say that God should be "on our currency, in our pledge," and of course on our public land in this magic holiday season, but James Madison did not think that there should be chaplains opening the proceedings of Congress or even appointed as ministers in the U.S. armed forces.
The whole Romney spectacle is pretty sad. It's sad that he has to pander to the religious prejudices of the Republican base. It's sad that those prejudices exist. When people who believe in virgin births and guys coming back from the dead get into arguments about "weird beliefs" with people who believe in revelations found on gold plates and that God begat us as spirits before we entered this world, all this atheist can do is sit back and laugh at the lot of them. No doubt Romney would like them to get together and laugh at the likes of me. But as no atheist is currently running for president (or at least no one is letting on to being an atheist), Romney is not going to have the benefit of that distraction.

Romney: Look! A secularist! Let's gang up on her!
Evangelicals: Um, OK, maybe, but we still think you're a heretic.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The shame of torture

The front page of the New York Times today:
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 — The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about the C.I.A’s secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.
Outrageous. Reminds me of the time the DVDs of Jose Padillia's interrogations were "lost". People need to be punished for this kind of destruction of evidence.

Congressional Democrats are not happy. Let's hope their inquiry has some teeth.

Huckabee's problems

Kevin Drum:
In other Huckabee news, apparently Huckabee was completely unaware of the new NIE on Iran two full days after it was released. Heckuva grasp on foreign policy, Huckie.
Oh dear. You'd think God would have kept him up to date.

And if you don't know about Huckabee releasing serial rapist Wayne Dumond, read about it in the same post. Dumond became a darling of the Clinton haters, because one of his victims was a distant cousin of Bill Clinton. Huckabee apparently either believed Dumond was framed by Clinton, or didn't believe it but pandered to the Clinton haters anyway. When Dumond was released, he quickly committed another rape and murder.

Now any time a prisoner is released there's the risk of the prisoner committing another crime. And a governor can't be blamed for everything a released prisoner does. But in this case, it seems like Huckabee specifically intervened for dubious political reasons. So it seems he does bear some responsibility.

Romney tries to thread the needle of religious prejudice

Here's a copy of Romney's religion speech. Here's my rough summary:
All religious questions regarding matters on which Mormons and Evangelical Christians agree are fair game. All religious questions regarding matters on which Mormons and Evangelical Christians disagree are dastardly attacks that have no place in a presidential campaign. And people who people who aren't religious can't support freedom.
Other reactions:

Atrios:
This kind of intolerant horseshit is basically gibberish, but since words mean things let's try to figure out the implications of what Mitt's saying.
It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong.
Really it would just be crazy if anyone tried to start a new religion in America... oh, wait.
DemocratDad:

As an atheist and a father of three young children, the speech Mitt Romney delivered at the George H. W. Bush presidential library today shocked me to my core.

If this is the drift of this country, towards a politics that explicitly excludes my standing as a worthy citizen because I do not believe in one of the major monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism or Islam, then I seriously do not know what I will do to sustain for myself, and instill in my children, the strong sense of belonging that I currently feel as a citizen.

Dude, if this sort of talk from Republicans "shocked you to your core", then you obviously haven't been listening to a lot of Republicans talk lately. They are more and more and explicitly Christianist party, with hawkish Jewish folk along for the ride since many Evangelicals are convinced that Israel must perish in a specific manner for Jesus to come back. Romney speech is pretty par for the course as far as Christianist pandering goes.

Ryan Sager:

The most remarkable thing about Romney’s address — and even folks at National Review picked this out, notably Ramesh Ponnuru — is that is wrote atheists and agnostics out of the American nation. Whereas even President Bush, whose own cynical politics have done so much to pit believers versus non-believers, has long gone out of his way to include “good people of no faith at all” in his vision of America. While the president’s need to qualify that phrase with the word “good” might be offensive, it’s a warm embrace of the faithless compared to Romney’s declaration that “freedom requires religion.”

Got that? Those of us who don’t believe in Christianity, those of us who don’t believe in God, those of us who don’t believe in the divinity of human-written holy books have no place in the American experiment, can’t be relied on to uphold the principles of our Constitution, and don’t have the morality necessary to keep a Republic.

Again, why so shocked? This is the direction Republicans have been going for a long time.

David Frum:

To be blunt, Romney is saying:

It is legitimate to ask a candidate, "Is Jesus the son of God?"

But it is illegitimate to ask a candidate, "Is Jesus the brother of Lucifer?"

It is hard for me to see a principled difference between these two questions, and I think on reflection that the audiences to whom Romney is trying to appeal will also fail to see such a difference. Once Romney answered any question about the content of his religious faith, he opened the door to every question about the content of his religious faith. This speech for all its eloquence will not stanch the flow of such questions.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The right-wing echo chamber

Recently retired Bush adviser Dan Bartlett talks about conservative blogs in an interview with Texas Monthly:
That’s what I mean by influential. I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on.
That's why the conservative blogosphere isn't as powerful or interesting as the liberal blogosphere: because usually they're saying the same stuff the Republican establishment is saying. There already is a Republican establishment, so their blogs don't fill any gap. The lefty blogosphere has a very critical stance towards the Democratic establishment, and says things that you generally don't hear from Democratic leaders. It's powerful because it addresses a need that our political leaders aren't paying enough attention to.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Rove laments that DC politics has become too nasty

This is not an Onion headline. Pandagon:
Without a trace of self-consciousness, Rove complained that politics in DC have become too negative because it’s gotten personal and nasty. He blames it on the Beltway predilection for carrying a grudge, unlike the folks down in Texas, where he says everyone shakes hands, moves on, and gets along.
You can hear him talk about it here.

Computers are better than people

"Yield control, pathetic human! Driving is far too demanding for your antiquated biological systems to handle!" Image from gizmodo.com

OK, it seems like the flying car is still a long ways off. But maybe the car that drives itself is a bit closer. Yesterday's Science Times section had this article:
“Within five years, it’s totally feasible to build an autonomous car that will work reliably in several limited domains,” says Sebastian Thrun, a computer scientist at Stanford and head of its racing team, which won the 2005 Darpa competition and finished second in last month’s. In five years he expects a car that could take over simple chores like breezing along an expressway, inching along in stop-and-go traffic, or parking in the lot at a mall or airport after dropping off the driver. In 20 years, Dr. Thrun figures half of new cars sold will offer drivers the option of turning over these chores to a computer, but he acknowledges that’s just an educated guess. While he doesn’t doubt cars will be able to drive themselves, he’s not sure how many humans will let them.
[...]
But cars, unlike humans, will keep getting smarter. They will learn from their mistakes. They will not get distracted by cellphone calls. They will not drive drunk. Smart cars will never be infallible, but they don’t have to be. They just have to be better than the drivers who now cause more than 90 percent of traffic accidents and kill a million of their fellow humans per year.
Emphasis added. Of course, I bet humans will be getting smarter, too, via cybernetic enhancement of various kinds. We'll have to, if we want to keep up with computers.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Eliminate the middleperson

Via Blogometer, we have Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) on how to improve Las Vegas:

Now the casinos have people trained, like chickens hoping for pellets, to take money from one machine (the ATM), carry it across a room and deposit in another machine (the slot machine). I believe B.F. Skinner would agree with me that there is room for even more efficiency: The ATM and the slot machine need to be the same machine.

The casinos lose a lot of money waiting for the portly gamblers with respiratory issues to waddle from the ATM to the slot machines. A better solution would be for the losers, euphemistically called “players,” to stand at the ATM and watch their funds be transferred to the hotel, while hoping to somehow “win.” The ATM could be redesigned to blink and make exciting sounds, so it seems less like robbery.

I share Adams' disdain for slot machines and other forms of chance-driven gambling. Why play when you know the odds are against you?

Monday, December 03, 2007

If you can get into Harvard, do you really need it?

This economist suggests that parents are better off spending education dollars on an expensive high school rather than an expensive college, if they are forced to choose (HT: Sullivan).

I'd go further and suggest that if you have limited resources, you're better off spending them on preschool and elementary school than on high school or college. By the time they're teenagers, they've already decided whether they like school or not. In the Montessori system (in which I was educated until 8th grade), the primary time for intellectual development is before puberty. Once the hormones kick in, many kids are more concerned with social, romantic, and worldly matters. (It would be interesting to see some data on the long-term effect of quality early childhood education.)

Of course, we have to keep in mind that parents' ability to determine what kind of person their children will be is quite limited. The right schooling can be a wonderful thing, and I am certainly grateful for the wonderful educational opportunities my parents gave me. But I think I would have been nerdy no matter what. Kids have their own personalities. The right school can help that personality flourish, but it's not a guarantee of success or happiness.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Giuliani in VERY big trouble

The latest development in Giuliani's "Sex on the City" scandal (if you go by what DailyKos is calling it. Personally, I prefer TPM's "Shag Fund"):
Yesterday, every reporter who wanted a copy, was allowed to go down to City Hall and pick up copies of the city financial records that were the basis of the original Shag Fund report in the Politico.com. That's how we found out about the weird $400,000 prepayment to American Express, which appears to have been yet another method of taking city money and running it through enough buckets that it could be used for pretty much anything Rudy and his crew wanted to use it for. Some stuff legit, other stuff pretty questionable. The Daily News asked top Giuliani advisor Anthony Carbonetti about the prepayment and were told that, "it's fiscally responsible to anticipate predictable expenses and prepay them."
And what did this document reveal? TPM broke in a new intern looking over the stuff, and here are some doozies they found ("Nathan" is Judith Nathan, his mistress at the time, now his wife):

The Shag Fund not only paid for the 11 tryst visits to Hamptons.

-- It paid for hotel and other expenses for mayoral aides -- in addition to the security detail -- who also went with the mayor to the Hamptons on the tryst weekends.

-- Nathan's NYPD-chauffeured trips (without Rudy) to visit her parents in Pennsylvania, 130 miles outside the city.

-- NYPD detectives and city-owned undercover Dodge to drive Nathan around the city.

-- NYPD detectives and city-owned undercover Dodge to drive Nathan's friends and family around the city even when she wasn't in the car.

-- NYPD security detail for Nathan, personally approved by Bernard Kerik.

-- NYPD cops to walk Nathan's dog.

Emphasis added. If it's true that Rudy Giuliani got the NYPD to walk his mistress's dog, he is finished.

A conservative take on improving social conditions

This Commentary article (via Sullivan) talks about the dramatic improvement of a number of social indicators since the early 1990's:
But a strange thing happened on the way to Gomorrah. Just when it seemed as if the storm clouds were about to burst, they began to part. As if at once, things began to turn around. And now, a decade-and-a-half after these well-founded and unrelievedly dire warnings, improvements are visible in the vast majority of social indicators; in some areas, like crime and welfare, the progress has the dimensions of a sea-change. That this has happened should be a source of great encouragement; why it happened, and what we can learn from it, is a subject of no less importance.
The odd thing is, some indicators of family strength have not improved. Indeed, they have gotten worse. This challenges the conservative notion that the breakdown of the family is the primary driver of social ills in our society:
Murray may well have been correct about the importance of illegitimacy. But he—and not he alone—seems to have been incorrect that it would drive everything else. Over the past fifteen years, on balance, the American family has indeed grown weaker—but almost every other social indicator has improved.
(Remember that Commentary is a conservative publication, so their take on some things is different than that of the typical Internal Monologue reader. I don't endorse all the views expressed in it, but it's an interesting read.)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Who said it?


The object of this 12 question quiz is to determine whether a given quote came from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, politician Bill Clinton, jedi master Yoda, or Radiohead songwriter Thom Yorke. I got 75%. Hint: word order normal does Yoda use on occasion.

Department of Irony

The reason the sign is up in the air is because they don't want you to look at the ground.
Image from Pharyngula.

The evolution denialists who built the Creation Museum in Kentucky probably didn't take this into account:
[The geology field guide] also pointed to the great irony that the Creation Museum is built on one of the most fertile fossil beds in all of North America. The Ordovician strata is the remnant of the great inland sea that inundated much of the Midwest 500 million years ago. It is the purple region on the map from yesterday's entry. The rock strata are so close to the surface that just about every road cut, stream bed and construction site offers an opportunity to discover fossils. At these disrupted sites, you can expect to trip over corals, crinoids, brachiopods, nautiloids and trilobites. Todd and I scrambled through a creek bed and found some crinoids and brachiopods.
Emphasis added. Of course, fossils don't shake the world view of these folks. But it's pretty funny nonetheless.

A frightening glimpse into the right-wing mind

This is scary. Joe Klein got to sit in on a Republican focus group watching the Republican candidate debate. They held little dials so they could register instant approval or disapproval with what the candidates said. The results validated every stereotype I have about the thuggish right-wing authoritarian personality:

In the next segment--the debate between Romney and Mike Huckabee over Huckabee's college scholarships for the deserving children of illegal immigrants--I noticed something really distressing: When Huckabee said, "After all, these are children of God," the dials plummeted. And that happened time and again through the evening: Any time any candidate proposed doing anything nice for anyone poor, the dials plummeted (30s). These Republicans were hard.

But there was worse to come: When John McCain started talking about torture--specifically, about waterboarding--the dials plummeted again. Lower even than for the illegal Children of God. Down to the low 20s, which, given the natural averaging of a focus group, is about as low as you can go. Afterwards, Luntz asked the group why they seemed to be in favor of torture. "I don't have any problem pouring water on the face of a man who killed 3000 Americans on 9/11," said John Shevlin, a retired federal law enforcement officer. The group applauded, appallingly.

To be fair, there are probably evil things to which I'd have a positive reaction, too. And we don't know how these Republicans were selected. Maybe Frank Luntz, who organized the group, deliberately or inadvertently stacked his group with this kind of voter. And Joe Klein has had some journalistic integrity issues recently. Digby points out that the (presumably mostly Republican) debate audience actually applauded the lines that this focus group rated low:
And anyway, the applause was much too loud for it to have been done by a spattering of Democrats in the audience. I think it was a reflexive response by the decent Republicans in the audience to these candidates saying the obviously correct thing.
So maybe there's some hope yet. But this ugliness in our national character must be addressed and confronted.

For more on right-wing authoritarianism in American Politics, Orcinus is the blog to go to. This long post is a good overview of the phenomenon.

Washington Post front-pages blatant falsehoods about Obama


Glenn Greenwald, as usual, points out what's wrong:
This is without question one of the most significant problems in how our establishment media functions. They refuse to subject claims -- particularly claims from the GOP power structure and the right-wing noise machine which they fear -- to any critical scrutiny.

For various reasons, they simply will not investigate such claims and, when warranted, identify such claims as false. The most they are willing to do is simply write down each side's claims and treat them equally, even when one side is blatantly lying. GOP operatives know that this is how the press functions and thus know that they can easily get away with spewing lies, and can even recruit the media into helpfully spreading them (using the predominant "he-said/she-said" template). That's the same process that led us into Iraq, kept us there for so long, protected endless presidential lawbreaking and enabled all sorts of fact-free smears.

It's boring to have to point this out again and again and again, but it is even more exasperating that it keeps happening.