Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Who is Lurch?

The Butler Did It for $600

He must have had a great benefit plan; Alfred began his service to this crime fighter in 1943.

The beat goes on

Updated After Sunday's mass protest and Monday's smaller marches on economic issues, demonstrations against the war and other federal policies continued on Tuesday, a day that had earlier been set aside for staging creative nonviolent actions.
On the third day of protests, a day targeted months ago for intense anti-Bush civil disobedience, Manhattan began to resemble a crazy-quilt of barriers, heavily armed police and street-corner activists.
Among them were 500 marchers from the War Resisters League taking part in a "death march" from the site of the World Trade Center towers to Madison Square Garden. About 75 were arrested when the police wrapped the entire block they were on in netting - and then arrested them for blocking the sidewalk! You just have to laugh.
Also Tuesday, outside the Fox News Channel studios in midtown Manhattan, police in riot gear contained around 1,000 demonstrators behind barricades.

In what was dubbed a "shut-up-athon," protesters denounced what they called the network's right-wing slant. One woman held up a sign that read: "Republicans are really stupid. They watch Fox News and believe it." The demonstrators spilled onto nearby Sixth Avenue.
The day also featured two dozen employees of "Hallibacon" wearing pig snouts and wallowing in stacks of fake $100 bills while chanting ""We love money. We love war. We love Cheney even more."

I wonder if, since these actions were more narrowly focused on particular concerns than the mass march on Sunday, if they're more acceptable to those who found the sight of 400,000+ people in the streets a cause for snarky, condescending remarks rather than celebration.

If you wonder why I say that, you're happily unaware of the pompous offerings in some part of the lefty blogworld that Sunday's demo was - in fact, demonstrations in general are - an inefficient, pointless waste of time, just a means of "self-expression" unrelated to effective political action. They bewailed the "chaotic" nature of the protest, noting the wide variety of issues pressed by various marchers, comparing that unfavorably to the "civil rights/Vietnam era."

Since the main purveyors of this view are bloggers clearly too young to have experienced any of those demonstrations, the temptation is to dismiss them as simply ignorant of movement history - since anyone who was at any mass Vietnam-era action could have told them that those marches swung every bit as broad a brush as Sunday's did, if not more so. (And in fact, since the theme of Sunday was "the world says no to the Bush agenda," you would have expected a wide range of issues and styles.)

But the notion that demonstrations are ineffective, just a way to show off and act out, displays such an enormous ignorance of the dynamics of political action that it can't be ignored completely.

Political movements are not built by a single tactic, a single style, a single method, but by a blending of different approaches, from letter-writing to petitioning to voting to lobbying to donating money to the lengthy list goes on. It includes the plan of labor groups to put a million people on the streets doing door-to-door canvassing on September 2. It includes people doing voter-registration drives. And it most definitely includes public, including mass, demonstrations.

The resistance to marches seems to stem from a perception of them as somehow, I don't know, perhaps "icky" is a good word. That and a fear that if the "message" can't be strictly and tightly controlled - :gasp: people might have their own ideas about creative dress or message - it will lead to some sort of "disruptive" behavior that the GOP will be able to use to its benefit. (Oddly, a comparison is often drawn between now and Chicago 1968 - but while the "chaos" there, later described as a "police riot" by an investigating commission, was against the incumbent administration, the beneficiary to the extent there was one was the opposition, the opposite of the claimed risk now.)

Those must be the truer reasons, for certainly there was no real logic in the arguments actually given for the ineffectiveness of demonstrations. "If all those people had spent that day," said one, "convincing one neighbor to support Kerry, that would have been effective organizing." In addition to the notorious fallacy that Kerry is not only a real alternative to Bushism - a doubtful enough proposition - but the only real alternative, the argument lives in an "if only" fantasy. "If they'd only convinced a neighbor...." Yeah, and if your grandmother had wheels, she'd be a wagon. And my gosh, if only each Kerry supporter could convince just one Bush supporter to change their mind, Kerry would get 98% of the vote!

Recently, on a mailing list I'm on, I had an exchange with someone who was discouraging people from going to NYC, arguing it was "too risky" and that electoral politics are the way things get changed since "marchers don't make policy." I'm going to include here my side of the exchange, which I think offers one effective reply to those who regard wonkism and electioneering as the sole drivers of change. There is some repetition; I hope you will forgive me for not taking the time to combine those and what's above in this post into one argument.

August 16
We need people to run for office because that is how change comes about. I want to remind you that it was Kennedy's death that brought about the legislation for civil rights. Johnson rammed it through when he had the opportunity.

I say you have it exactly backwards. Electoral campaigns do not create movements. They can be based on them, they can help to build them further - provided that movement is already well established.

Public sympathy following Kennedy's death was a tool LBJ used to get civil rights legislation through Congress, but it did not "bring it about." Decades of work, of organizing, demonstrating, sitting-in, civil disobedience - that's what produced civil rights legislation.

You speak of Vietnam. Do you think Gene McCarthy caused the antiwar movement? That he caused antiwar sentiment? He was a product of that movement, not a progenitor of it.

And yes, the marches had something to do with ending the war. They weren't the only thing by any means; the death toll and the continuing failed promises of "the light at the end of the tunnel" were powerful forces in their own right. But the marches kept the issue alive and on top of the agenda in a way that would not have been possible otherwise, they reminded people who opposed the war that they were not alone, they legitimized the opposition of fence-sitters, they made it easier for politicians who might otherwise be silent to speak out, and they on a regular basis reminded those in power of the significant levels of resistance to their policies, levels both in numbers and, just as importantly, in intensity.

Dismissing marches as "glamorous" but useless and risky "fun" is both contradictory and unfair. Yes, I have marched, picketed, rallied, and done CD. I have been an organizer, a tax resister, and a draft resister. All the "activist" stuff.

But I have also signed more petitions, written more letters-to-the-editor, and contacted Congress more times than I care to remember. I have run for office - three times. And I have voted in every national, state, and local election for where I was at the time since 1972 (with the exception of one time when I moved into an area too late to register for the upcoming election).

That's not intended as puffery; there are many who did and do far more than me. It's to make the point that I will embrace all nonviolent means to advance justice and peace. You, it seems to me, are willing to dump most of them and put all your faith in a handful, ones that are at their best far weaker when standing alone. And I think that is a serious mistake.
August 17
You continue to insist that elections are the - not a, but the - means of change, while at the same time you use as an example the 1964 civil rights laws, which you say may still not have been law had it not been for the Kennedy assassination. While I make no claim to match your ability to determine the course of alternate histories, even foolish ones, I will note that by your own argument electing JFK did not get civil rights laws passed. Electing LBJ did not get civil rights laws passed. And no one who might have been elected since would have done any better. So how does that show elections' sole role as agents of change? Or in this case, show them as having any role at all?

Reverting to the real world, the one in which JFK was killed, do you think there would have even been civil rights legislation had it not been for all the on-the-streets activity which you find pointless if not distasteful?

Vietnam: Did electing JFK prevent Vietnam? Did electing LBJ stop it? Did electing Dick "I have a secret plan" Nixon stop it? Are you aware of the fact that one time, Pentagon analysts told LBJ the war could be won if only he'd commit another couple of hundred thousand troops and he responded by telling them to go back to their computers and determine how long it would take "250,000 angry Americans to climb that White House wall out there and lynch their president?" Or that before announcing his "Vietnamization" policy of slow withdrawal Nixon had a second speech drawn up, announcing a major escalation? And it was because of the scale of the so-called Moratorium demonstrations [of October 15, 1969] that three weeks later he announced the former instead of the latter?

(By the way, it's utterly untrue that the right didn't march. They just couldn't begin to match the numbers.)

Do you really imagine - I choose the word deliberately - that policy change happens only through electoral change and that electoral change happens in a vacuum apart from any broader considerations or conditions? A former colleague of mine, who was as opposed to electoral action as you are focused on it, used to say "Elections only ratify what the people have already decided." I don't go that far but an underlying point is valid: Elections are part of the process of change; they are not the cause of it.

Letters to the editor and to office holders are very effective

Based on your own argument, how is a letter to the editor effective? How does it - how can it - affect policy? How does it "change a thing" in a way that marches can't? By making some office-holder aware of a perspective? (And marches can't?) By provoking someone else to think about an issue? (And marches can't?) By reassuring someone they're not the only one who thinks that way? (And marches can't?) By inspiring someone to do more? (And marches can't? In fact, that's one of the things they do best: energize participants to do more than they otherwise might.)

And I admit to being amused by the reference to letters to office-holders; I was reminded of a similar argument I had some years ago with someone who, like you, had a narrow view of what constitutes useful tactics. He insisted that letters to office-holders was a waste of time, that only personal visits, face-to-face lobbying, had any merit and writing letters was a "cop out."

Did the right steal a march on the left in its emphasis on local elections, becoming aware that the focus of government was moving from DC to the states well before we did? Yes, they did and we're still playing catch-up. But to turn that into an argument that electoral politics is the only way to go and marches and other public actions are wastes of time that can change nothing, accomplish nothing, is more legerdemain than logic and I can't help but suspect functions more than a little as a justification for your own fears.

I say again, I will embrace all nonviolent means to advance justice and peace and these means are stronger when they reinforce each other rather than many being dismissed as the "illusions" of "you people." That does not strengthen those remaining, it weakens them, narrowing the political base on which they stand. And that, I repeat, is a serious, serious mistake, one we can't afford to make.

Just consider this: If marches and the like are so ineffective, so pointless, why in hell is the right so damned intent on rendering them invisible?

The famous quote attributed to Martin Niemoller is apocryphal, but a version seems relevant here: "First they came for the marches, but I didn't speak out because I wasn't a marcher...." Don't go that route.
I say do what you can the way you can to the degree you can. I have no time for "my way of organizing is better than your way" arguments. That is the real waste of time.

Updated by way of a footnote: The New York Times seems to have been at a different series of actions taking place in some other city. AP, Reuters, and CNN combined made one reference to a "verbal confrontation" when police forced protesters off the steps of the New York Public Library where they had, organizers later said, been told by police they could gather in advance of their march.

But according to the Times, it was "a day of disorder unmatched during convention week," one featuring a "wave of confrontations" that "erupted into clashes with police," including "a brawl with police" and "angry crowds ... screaming at delegates." And all that in the first two sentences.
But at the various staging areas - near Ground Zero, in Union Square, in Herald Square near Macy's, and outside the New York Public Library - the police began making arrests, sending the crowds into a frenzy. These confrontations followed several other events, some of which went of without incident with the police taking aggressive action to prevent disruptions.
"Frenzy?" Fren·zy, n. 1. A state of violent mental agitation or wild excitement. 2. Temporary madness or delirium.

Must be more of that liberal media bias.

Oh, and by the way, why isn't "police taking aggressive action" an "incident?"

Well, waddaya know!

"GOP Convention Viewers Prefer Fox" - headline on AP wire service story, August 31.

Huh. I never would have guessed.

Monday, August 30, 2004


What is the Friars Club?

The Butler Did It for $200

Ted Cassidy filled this servant's shoes on "The Addams Family."

Submitted for your approval....

We do live in a strange world and stranger times. AP for August 30 says that
[i]n an interview on NBC-TV's "Today" show, Bush vowed to stay the course in the war on terror, saying perseverance in the battle would make the world safer for future generations. But he suggested an all-out victory against terrorism might not be possible.

Asked "Can we win?" Bush said, "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the - those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."
That remark, AP says, sparked an "inferno of criticism" by Democrats who "pounced" on Bush with scripted outrage.

The truth is, it was probably the most honest, truthful thing George Bush has ever said. Of course "we" can't - no one can - "win" a war on "terrorism." You can't "win" a war on a tactic, which is what terrorism is. I said as much on October 2, 2001:
In the wake of September 11, a blunt truth: Barring divine intervention, and I for one do not count on that, we will never "rid the world of terrorism." As long as there are people there will be those, both individuals and governments, prepared to commit the most venal cruelties against innocents to gain political ends. What we can hope to do is control terrorism, limit it, minimize it.
So for once George Bush spoke the truth - and the Democrats slammed him for it, taking advantage of the political blunder of facing reality.

Strange times indeed.

Maybe things aren't quite as bad as I think

An AP article on Sunday brought a little comfort to this darkening corner of the universe.
The chilling sights and sounds of war fill newspapers and television screens worldwide, but war itself is in decline, peace researchers report.

In fact, the number killed in battle has fallen to its lowest point in the post-World War II period, dipping below 20,000 a year by one measure. ...

For months the battle reports and casualty tolls from Iraq and Afghanistan have put war in the headlines, but Swedish and Canadian non-governmental groups tracking armed conflict globally find a general decline in numbers from peaks in the 1990s.

The authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in a 2004 Yearbook report obtained by The Associated Press in advance of publication, says 19 major armed conflicts were under way worldwide in 2003, a sharp drop from 33 wars counted in 1991.

The Canadian organization Project Ploughshares, using broader criteria to define armed conflict, says in its new annual report that the number of conflicts declined to 36 in 2003, from a peak of 44 in 1995. ...

"Not only are the numbers declining, but the intensity" - the bloodshed in each conflict - "is declining," said [American scholar Monty G.] Marshall, founder of a University of Maryland program studying political violence.
The researchers credited both changing political situations in the world and the growth of international peacekeeping missions, which have tripled since 1999.

Footnote: One sobering note is that Andrew Mack, director of Project Ploughshares, said the figures don't include deaths from war-induced starvation and disease, deaths from ethnic conflicts not involving states, or unopposed massacres, such as in Rwanda in 1994.

Just wondering

The New York Times reported on Saturday that
Russia's security service announced Friday that investigators had found traces of an explosive in the wreckage of one of the two passenger airliners that crashed simultaneously on Tuesday, and declared its downing a terrorist act. ...

The evidence of an explosive aboard one of the planes, Sibir Airlines Flight 1047, is the strongest indication yet that deliberate acts, not human or mechanical errors as Russian officials initially suggested, were involved in the crashes, which killed a total of 89 people. If that is confirmed, as is now expected, the twin disasters would be the country's worst act of terrorism in the skies.

Officials said investigators were focusing attention on two women with Chechen names - one aboard each plane - as possible suicide bombers, raising the specter of an ominous new front in Russia's fight against terrorism.

In the last two years women known as "black widows" and said to be avenging the deaths of husbands, brothers or sons in Chechnya have been involved in some of the Russia's most lethal suicide attacks, including the bombing of a subway train in Moscow in February that killed at least 41 people. None have attacked the country's airliners before.
So why is this treated like it's just more or less ordinary news? Why isn't what appears to be simultaneous, coordinated terrorist attacks on two civilian airlines grabbing the headlines? Is it because

- no Americans were killed?
- Russian authorities appear to be leaning toward Chechens, not Muslims (even though the Times spent a significant portion of the article exploring a questionable connection to a Muslim group in Pakistan)?
- both?

Just FYI

A large number of peace organizations are organizing a National Memorial Procession for all the dead and wounded in the Iraq war to take place in Washington, DC, on Saturday, October 2. The procession will go from Arlington Cemetery to the White House under the slogan "Mourn the Dead. Heal the Wounded. End the War."

The American Friends Service Committee has more information here.

Another EPIC saga

The case of Gilmore v. Ashcroft, now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, is one of those that leaves you scratching your head because it seems like such a no-brainer that you can't imagine why it's even an issue.
On July 4, 2002, John Gilmore went to Oakland International Airport. He had a ticket in his own name with Southwest Airlines to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. ...

John politely refused to show his ID and was not allowed to fly.

John then went to San Francisco International Airport and attempted to fly to Washington, DC on United Airlines. There he was informed that if he was not willing to show ID he could fly, but only if he submitted to a far more intrusive search than what every passenger goes through at the security checkpoint.

He politely declined the search and again was not allowed to fly. ...

At San Francisco's airport, just like the rest of the country's airports, there was a sign that began "A Notice From the Federal Aviation Administration" and includes the sentence "passengers must present identification upon initial check-in."

John worked his way up the bureaucratic chain and was eventually told by United Airlines that there were security directives that mandated the showing of ID, but that he couldn't see them. These secret directives, issued by the Transportation Security Administration, are revised as often as weekly, and are transmitted orally rather than in writing. To make things even more confusing, these orally transmitted secret rules change depending on the airport.
EPIC picks up the story, noting that
Gilmore argues that the requirement [to show ID] violates numerous constitutional protections, including the rights to travel, petition and freely assemble, be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and have access to due process of law.

Mr. Gilmore is challenging the dismissal of his case in March by a federal district court. In that proceeding, the government not only refused to provide the court with the text of the law or regulation requiring airline passengers to show identification, but declined even to acknowledge whether the requirement exists. Furthermore, the district court judge accepted the government's assurance that the court did not have jurisdiction to review the law or regulation, failing to independently determine the legal basis for that claim. [Emphasis added.]
That is, people are being required to show proof of identity based on secret directives based on laws or regulations the very existence of which the government will not acknowledge! Now, a certain amount of secret information, that I can buy. Secret directives under very limited conditions, even that I suppose maybe I could see.

But secret laws? And a court - any court - agreed?

Unbelievable. We are at a dangerous point, perhaps even a tipping point. I don't like what I see. At some blue moments like this, I'm glad I'm the age I am so that I will very likely not live to see the world of 50 years in the future.

EPIC's amicus brief in the case is here in .pdf format; their page about travel privacy issues is here.

An EPIC saga

After Thomas Cameron Kincade, a convicted bank robber, was paroled in August 2000, his parole officer demanded he submit to providing a blood sample so that a record of his DNA could be added to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) maintained by the FBI and made available to other law enforcement agencies. The requirement was in line with the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000, which requires certain felons and parolees to submit a sample of their DNA to the government.

As explained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in a mailing on August 27,
The DNA Act does not require suspicion that an individual will commit or has committed another offense, nor that the sample be taken in order to aid in the investigation of a particular crime. Refusal to provide a DNA sample is a misdemeanor.
Kincade did refuse, claiming that being required to submit such information in the absence of reasonable suspicion violates Fourth Amendment guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure. Last October, three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with him.

On August 18, the full court overturned that decision in a close 6-5 decision.
Judge [Diarmuid] O'Scannlain's majority opinion noted that parolees are not entitled to the full extent of constitutional protections enjoyed by the public. The court concluded that the public interest served by collecting parolees' DNA outweighed parolees' "substantially diminished expectations of privacy...."
The Detroit News for August 19 has more.
"Parolees have demonstrated by their adjudicated criminal conduct a capacity and willingness to commit crimes serous enough to deprive them of liberty," O'Scannlain wrote. ...

The DNA program "helps minimize the pain and suffering recidivist offenders sow in our communities," he wrote.
I think that comes dangerously close to "once a criminal, always a criminal." And in fact, the danger goes well beyond that, since O'Scannlain also said that
"By contributing to the solution of past crimes, DNA profiling of qualified federal offenders helps bring closure to countless victims of crime who long have languished in the knowledge that perpetrators remain at large...."
Which clearly marks the program as a fishing expedition, as demanding people surrender personally-identifying information just to see if maybe it can be used against them somehow. But if that's the logic, why stop at parolees? Why not profile everyone? After all, it can hardly be argued that all unsolved crimes were committed by those now on parole. Does Judge O'Scannlain have no interest in bringing "closure" to those other cases?

In fact, it was only in a concurring opinion that the issue of what happens to the records later was raised.
A concurring opinion by Judge Gould emphasized that the court had not determined the rights of an individual "who has fully paid his or her debt to society, who has completely served his or her term, and who has left the penal system.... Once those previously on supervised release have wholly cleared their debt to society, the question must be raised: 'Should the CODIS entry be erased?'" Judge Gould noted that this question would have to be addressed in a future case,
leaving open the possibility that such a "future case" could decide that the records could be kept permanently, perhaps even referring to O'Scannlain reasoning about "recidivist offenders."
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who wrote the ruling that was overturned, wrote in a dissent the new decision puts all Americans at risk "of having our DNA samples permanently placed on file in federal cyberspace."

"Even governments with benign intentions have proved unable to regulate or use wisely vast stores of information they collect regarding their citizens," Reinhardt wrote.
He noted that California's Proposition 69 would give state authorities the right to obtain DNA samples from people merely arrested - not convicted, arrested - for felonies. If they were cleared, the records would not be automatically destroyed; the formerly-accused would have to obtain a court order to have it done.
Judge Reinhardt's lengthy dissent ... chastised the majority's holding, stating, "Never has the [Supreme] Court approved of the government's construction of a permanent governmental database built from general suspicionless searches and designed for use in the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses." Judge Reinhardt went on to caution, "Privacy erodes first at the margins, but once eliminated, its protections are lost for good, and the resulting damage is rarely, if ever, undone. Today, the court has opted for comprehensive DNA profiling of the least protected among us, and in so doing, has jeopardized us all."
For more information about the case, see EPIC's account here; to read EPIC's amicus brief on Kincade's behalf, click here for the .pdf file.

Footnote: The other excuse for allowing the demand was that the invasion of privacy is "minimal." Isn't that always the way? Every single intrusion is called "minimal." Back on March 29 in relation to another civil liberties issue, I mentioned a comic-strip story done some years ago by Jules Pfeiffer about atmospheric nuclear testing. After each test he showed a functionary loudly declaring "this test has added no appreciable amount of radioactive fallout to the atmosphere." But after enough of those "no appreciable amounts," people started to see "big black floating specks" in the air that grew larger with each new test. It's wise to remember that enough "minimals" add up to one "maximal." And the black specks are becoming clearly visible.

It just keeps getting better

The New York Times for Monday reveals that columnist Robert Novak, who has repeatedly touted the anti-Kerry book by the Swift Boat Veterans for Lies, has an undisclosed tie to it: His son, Alex Novak, is the director of marketing for the book's publisher, the conservative publishing house Regnery.

The continuing drip of such information, I suspect, is why we're now seeing such as this:
Troy, Ohio (AP, August 29) - President Bush said opponent John Kerry's service was "more heroic" than his during Vietnam, in an interview shown Saturday on NBC News.

"I think him going to Vietnam was more heroic than my flying fighter jets," said Bush, who served in the Texas Air National Guard. "He was in harm's way and I wasn't. On the other hand, I served my country. Had my unit been called up, I would have gone."
What I think we have here is a sign that the Rethuglicans have decided they've gotten as much mileage out of this business as they're going to and want to turn it off before the counterattack gains any more traction.

Seems to me I just said that

Just on Saturday I was suggesting that the Madhi Army is outgrowing Moqtada al-Sadr and wondering how much control he actually had over it as opposed to functioning as a rallying point, an organizational logo, if you will. A test of that, I said, will be seeing if the militiamen really do turn in their weapons as he told them to.

From the BBC for August 28:
Correspondents say many of Mr Sadr's fighters left with their weapons, or concealed them in different parts of the city.

"They will hide their weapons but will not hand them over to the police or to the army..." his spokesman Sheikh Ahmed Shaibani told AFP news agency.

"They will be able to go back to their work whilst remaining an army."
So not only didn't they do as they were told, Sadr's office is already admitting they didn't do as they were told and acting like that's what they meant all along.

That didn't take long.

Footnote: Mysterious indeed are the ways of paranoia. As a result of his mediation in Najaf, al-Sistani is beng denounced as a "collaborator with the occupation" by contributors to a Russian website, wandering dazedly in a haze of revolutionary daydreaming. And at the same time we have the blogger Cosmic Iguana, who in effect labels Sistani a shill for Sadr.
Al Sadr has 9 lives, it seems as long as Sistani is around. ... And more U.S. soldiers have died for nothing as Sistani's brilliant non-violent campaign has undercut the U.S. just when it had Al-Sadr's men cornered.
"Blessed are the peacemakers" for they shall be reviled by both sides.

(In fairness, Cosmici earlier compared Sistani's involvement with the Salt March organized by Gandhi in 1930 in terms of undercutting the legitimacy of the occupier. But still....)

Sunday, August 29, 2004


What is Andromeda?


The president of this social club founded by New York City entertainers in 1904 is called the abbot.


This is just too good. AP for August 29 tells us that Bunny has added a new phrase to our political vocabulary.
[I]n an interview with Time Magazine, the president suggested he had underestimated the struggle of the postwar period in Iraq.

"Had we to do it over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success, being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day," Bush said.
Catastrophic success? Just what in the flaming hell is that supposed to mean? The disaster that is Iraq happened because we won too easily? That's what he's saying? That if only our conquest was bloodier and took longer everything would be fine now? What kind of crap is he spewing?

Let's not forget, by the way, that this was the administration that said that the takeover of Iraq would be a "cakewalk" and we would be greeted as "liberators" with rose petals strewn in our path. So they predicted it would be easy and now are saying the troubles and pain are because it was easy. The logical conclusion is that they wanted there to be this kind of trouble and pain in Iraq, wanted ongoing strife, fear, and death.

Either that or they're just a sleazy cabal of despicable liars. Whatever.


Updated As in Demo-Day. It came off wonderfully, energetically, beautifully. While earlier news reports spoke of "tens of thousands," as the day wore on the reports turned to "over 100,000," "more than 200,000," "hundreds of thousands," and treated the organizers' estimate of 400,000 - far more than the expected 250,000 - as credible. (Having the media treat organizers' estimates as credible is itself an amazing accomplishment.) It was massive. It was impressive.

I've been trying to find news coverage of what happened after, when it was expected at least some people would head for Central Park, but so far no luck. But if even 0.5% headed that way, that still could be as many as 2,000 people. I had this image of a mass of people moving up the sidewalks toward the park with police blocking all the entrances to it.

But as I said, no news that I've seen.

Now something needs to be built from there, something that will extend beyond November 2. Remember: A John Kerry win does not mean the end of the Iraq war, far from it. I'd really like to see a counter-inaugural featuring the now-famous line "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

I've said it before: The work doesn't end on November 2, it begins. But this could be a good start.

Updated to say I finally found this, from the Wichita (KS) Eagle, quoting Monday's Washington Post:
The protest organizer, United for Peace and Justice, estimated the crowd at 500,000. It was, at best, a rough estimate. The Police Department offered no official estimate, but one officer in touch with the police command center at Madison Square Garden agreed that the crowd appeared to be close to a half-million. ...

After the march, hundreds of protesters in a more belligerent mood made their way to Times Square and blocked the entrances of two Midtown hotels while another group harassed Republican guests at a party at the Boathouse restaurant in Central Park. But a post-march gathering on the Great Lawn of the park was peaceful.
Still no word on the size of the Great Lawn crowd.

Developing.... (Whoops, sorry, thought I was Matt Drudge for a second there.)


My day off from blogging kinda. And I've actually had a good day. For personal reasons and much to my great frustration, I couldn't make it to New York, which would have made the day much better. But I did enjoy my day. So there.

Saturday, August 28, 2004


What is an arrow?

Constellations for $2000

This constellation of a lady chained to a rock contains the nearby M31 galaxy.


Passing it on

I only just heard about this and what I know is pretty much limited to what's here, but I thought it worth passing on.

Veronza Bowers was a member of the Black Panther Party who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murdering a US Park Ranger, a crime of which he still maintains his innocence.

After a September 12, 2000, parole hearing, the regional parole examiner recommended parole, but the following February the National Parole Commission declared without explanation it saw "no new and relevant information" and so overturned the regional examiner's action.

This, however, is where it turns from frustrating toward outrageous: On April 7, 2004, Bowers had been in federal prison for 30 years. By federal law, once someone has been in prison for 30 years, they must be granted parole unless the National Parole Commission makes a positive finding based on credible evidence that the person has failed to adapt to the rules of the prison or is likely to commit crimes if released.

Despite having made no such finding and despite having granted a waiver of a final parole hearing, just 18 hours before Bowers' scheduled release the NPC rescinded the waiver and ordered that Bowers continue to be held. According to his supporters, even the officials at the prison were shocked by the order.

A suit has been filed against the NPC, but in the current atmosphere of fear of any sort of - or even history of - radicalism, even on the part of someone who has supposedly become a "model" prisoner, the result is hard to predict.

So far, the support group is not asking for any action except letters of support to him and/or his attorney. If you want to get the addresses or more details, there is a website at www.veronza.org.

Just noted in passing

It's not really important, but I just thought it worth noting not so much for its political impact but for what it reveals about the ways of the powerful.
Austin (AP, August 28) - In a video posted on the Internet, Ben Barnes, a former Democratic speaker of the Texas House, said he is ashamed he helped President Bush and the sons of other wealthy families get into the Texas Air National Guard in 1968 so they could avoid serving in Vietnam.

"I got a young man named George W. Bush into the National Guard when I was lieutenant governor of Texas, and I'm not necessarily proud of that, but I did it," Barnes said in the 45-second video, which was recorded May 27 before a group of John Kerry supporters in Austin. Barnes, who was House speaker when Bush entered the Guard, later became lieutenant governor.

He said he became ashamed after walking through the Vietnam Memorial and looking at the names of people who died.
Shrub has always denied that there was any family influence involved in getting him into the Guard. That's an example of what I used to call "a Reagan truth," but I supposed the name should be updated. Anyway, it was defined as "a statement that is technically true but phrased in such a way as to give a misleading impression - that is, a lie."

The "Bush truth" here is that he says there was no "family" influence involved. That may well be true - because according to Barnes, it was a friend of the family, not an actual family member, who made the call that resulted in him - also not a family member - using his influence to get Bunny into the Guard.

John Kerry, once a man who stood for something, has turned into a smarmy, wishy-washy, corporate butt-kissing twerp trying to prove how macho he is. But George Bush is just a, a - words fail me - just a slimy creep.

Don't touch me!

More trouble for touchscreen voting. And who is more deserving?

Florida state law requires a manual recount of votes in any election decided by a small enough margin or when there's a proper and timely request.

But 15 counties in the state use touchscreen voting machines that provide no voter-verified printout. When elections supervisors in some of those counties asked the state what they should do, Secretary of State Glenda Hood issued a ruling banning manual recounts in touchscreen counties.
A coalition including government watchdogs and other interest groups sued the state, arguing the law requires provisions for hand recounts in every county, no matter what voting technology is used.

[On Friday], Administrative Law Judge Susan Kirkland agreed, writing that state law clearly contemplates "that manual recounts will be done on each certified voting system, including the touchscreen voting systems,"
reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

The most likely outcome will be that Hood will appeal, delaying any change until after the elections, even though election officials admit they could do a hand recount if they had to. It would be time-consuming, but it could be done.

However, an even better answer to those who think like Hood was offered by "Mike" in a posting on Techdirt.com:
Those who support the current e-voting machines are complaining that this ruling creates an impossible situation: they can't conduct manual recounts because there's nothing to count. They seem to be missing the point. If there's nothing to recount, then shouldn't that mean the machines don't conform to state laws?
Like they say, "there is nothing so obvious as the truth - once someone has said it."

Damn damn damn

Italy 1 - Iraq 0

Bronze to Italy.

Thou criest peace, peace....

So there's a peace, or at least a peace deal, in Najaf. What remains to be seen is if this is actually a peace or just a truce, an actual settlement or just another lull.

And it may also reveal an answer to a question I've been wondering about: Just how much control does Moqtada al-Sadr have over "his" Mahdi Army?

I admit I was doubtful about Ali al-Sistani's initiative. I only became confident that something would actually come of it when I heard that as part of the agreement, Sadr had agreed to a specific deadline by which his supporters would leave the Imam Ali shrine. Without that, it could easily have become just another talk session.

Recall some of the recent chronology: Sadr refused to meet himself with a delegation from the Iraqi National Conference who were carrying a peace proposal, leaving them to lower-level officials. But the next day, he "accepted" that same proposal. However, he wanted to "negotiate the terms of implementation" but only with representatives of the conference. He also insisted there be a ceasefire and withdrawal of foreign forces from the city first - something I knew the US and Allawi would not accept, as it would in effect restore the status quo that existed before this latest outbreak of violence.

Sadr, who had previously insisted that he would not deal with the "illegitimate" Allawi government, then said he wanted to meet with the same national conference delegation he would not meet with before - and they could bring along a representative of the interim government. His representatives keep insisting he wanted to arrange a ceasefire as the military pressure increased.

(Sidebar: I can't help but comment that for someone who has been described by a number of people - including me - as having a "martyr complex," Sadr seems singularly adept at avoiding final confrontations.)

So while I was convinced that Sistani's intentions were honest (the fact that he came back somewhat early from his recuperation from an angioplasty added weight to that notion), I wasn't sure he could pull it off, despite his undeniable stature and influence.

My doubts grew when Sadr's supposed acceptance of Sistani's proposals were followed by bickering over the handover of the keys to the mosque, the symbolic transfer of authority. In effect, Sadr wanted to hand over the keys while his supporters still occupied the grounds, which would have involved Sistani at least symbolically in the defense of the mosque against any attack by US or Iraqi forces. Sistani didn't bite and Sadr, slowly but surely losing ground militarily and facing what most observers said was certain defeat, relented and agreed to a specific time by which his supporters would leave the mosque.

That was the key that enabled Allawi to agree as well: Sadr was no longer talking about leaving or negotiating about leaving, he was leaving. The unacceptable status quo was no longer. And even if the "victory" was in significant ways symbolic, since it involved a pledge to take no action against Sadr or his militia, still it was enough because it did not represent "backing down," which well could have been disastrous for Allawi's fragile reign.

US military commanders also agreed even though they were not happy about it. They were in no position to say "no" when Allawi said "yes" and still maintain the fiction that Allawi's government is the ultimate authority.

And so
[t]he crisis appeared resolved Friday morning when al-Sadr issued a statement broadcast over the shrine's loudspeakers ordering his Mahdi Army militia fighters to lay down their arms and leave Najaf and Kufa.

"To all my brothers in the Mahdi Army ... you should leave Kufa and Najaf without your weapons, along with the peaceful masses," his statement said.

Thousands of Shiite pilgrims, who had come at the behest of al-Sistani, streamed into the shrine and mixed with the militants who had been holed up inside. The whole group then filed out, with some of the militants defiantly chanting, "Muqtada, Muqtada."

The doors of the shrine were then shut and the keys were handed over to al-Sistani's office, a symbolic and crucial step in ending the crisis.
But where the crisis ends, the questions start. Again, Sadr specifically called on his followers to leave Najaf and Kufa without their weapons.
"Do this so they won't condemn you and they won't condemn me," the speaker said, reading a letter from al-Sadr over the mosque's sound system.
And indeed, dozens of Kalashnikov rifles were piled in front of Sadr's office and a senior al-Sadr representative said most Mahdi Army members had turned in their weapons.
[B]ut thousands of others were believed to be still armed, and some were seen pushing carts full of machine-guns and rocket launchers through a narrow alley.
Which raises the question I offered at the beginning: How much does Sadr actually control "his" militia? As part of the truce in June, his supporters who were not from Najaf were supposed to leave and go home. But as I noted in a post on August 12, not all of them did. So how many of them now will heed his call not only to leave the city but to surrender their weapons before they do? How much is Sadr in charge?
Almost unknown to the world before its violent uprising last April against US forces in Baghdad and elsewhere [the Christian Science Monitor reported on Thursday], the Mahdi Army is emerging as a well-organized parallel government that aspires to govern Shiites according to its religious principles. Its models are the violent militant organizations (designated as terrorists groups by the US) with social programs like Lebanon's Hizbullah and Hamas in Gaza, and its goals are at least as ambitious.

In most cities where the Mahdi Army is present, there are Mahdi Army religious courts for resolving disputes and punishing criminals; Mahdi Army police patrols; and even Mahdi Army town councils for planning social programs.

All of these services pay political dividends, earning the admiration of many Shiites who don't necessarily support Sadr or his militia. ...

[I]n Sadr City, the news from Najaf seemed quite distant. For Mahdi Army fighters here, the war is just beginning. And even for those who have been severely wounded say they are preparing for the next battle.

Abu Hassan, one of Hassan's patients, says the fighters in Najaf will stay and fight to the last man. "This is their home territory, and their own families will encourage them to fight and die, and then they will go to heaven," he says.
I don't know what reaction he had to the agreement to leave the shrine or if he really had any reaction at all. The point here is that he identified the struggle in terms of the fighters, not in terms of Sadr. No matter how much personal allegiance there may be, no matter now much he stands as a symbol, it seems to me that the Mahdi Army as a movement is outgrowing Sadr.

Two tests of that will come up soon: One, will Najaf and Kufa really become "no weapons zones?" Or just "no weapons seen in the open right now zones?" The other is how will other towns with a Mahdi Army presence react? What, in particular, will happen in Sadr City, which is seeing its own war of attrition, except that, unlike Najaf, it's unclear who's being attritted?
A witness said a U.S. tank shelled targets along the volatile Haifa Street in central Baghdad, a dangerous stretch that has earned the nickname "Little Falluja."

Small arms fire and explosions were heard in the morning hours, and 12 U.S. troops were wounded in hand-grenade attacks. Eight people have been detained.
This is not the end. It is at most a transition.

Footnote: In a noble attempt at spin,
[a]l-Sadr spokesman Sheikh Ahmed al-Sheibani on Friday said a critical point had been made in the three-week standoff - to prove to the United States and the interim Iraqi government that religious authority is the primary power in Iraq.
Of course, since Sadr had supposedly accepted a peace proposal from the national conference and had declared his willingness to negotiate with them (and even to involve a member of the Allawi government) before Sistani got involved, it's kind of hard to credit that argument, but it's still a good attempt. Not up to Shrub's standards, certainly, but hey, they're not as experienced.

Friday, August 27, 2004


What is Orion?

Constellations for $1200

Sagitta, which represents this item, landed in the sky, not far from Sagittarius himself.

Listen up!

Back on March 11 I posted an item reporting the assertion of arms control expert William Arkin that the US was about to deploy "a new, untested weapon" in Iraq. It's a powerful megaphone that could produce 145 decibels at 300 yards. That's more than four times louder than the threshold of pain, sufficient to cause not only severe pain but permanent hearing loss and possible cellular damage.

I don't know if that was ever actually deployed in Iraq, but I do know of one place where it or it's first cousin has been deployed: New York City.

Mercury News (CA) for August 27, in an article about how technology is affecting protest, reported that
[e]arlier this month, the New York Police Department showed off a machine called the Long Range Acoustic Device, developed for the military and capable of blasting at an earsplitting 150 decibels - as loud as a firecracker, a jet engine taking off or artillery fire at 500 feet, according to the Noise Center at the League for the Hard of Hearing.

The NYPD said it would use the machine to direct crowds to safety if there's a terrorist attack or remind protesters where they're allowed to march. Police said they wouldn't use the earsplitting screeching noise feature at the convention.

"It's only to communicate in large crowds," Inspector Thomas Graham of the police department's crowd control unit said.
"Communicate" as in "What we have here is a failure to communicate?"

What's being "communicated" to me is that the NYPD is in possession of a device intended as a weapon to be used for dominance, for crowd control and dispersion through the infliction of pain on a mass scale. Its "trust us" reassurances do not impress me.

Be careful what you wish for

Remember the suit against the so-called "partial birth" abortion ban that caused a stir when a judge in New York upheld a demand by Attorney General Burntfarm for access to patients' confidential medical records?

The feds lost.
New York (Reuters, August 26) - A federal judge on Thursday ruled against the government's ban on so-called partial birth abortions, saying the measure signed into law last year by President Bush was unconstitutional.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Casey of Manhattan followed a similar decision by a San Francisco judge in June that barred the U.S. Justice Department from enforcing the ban.
Casey, perhaps showing why he upheld Ruinedland's intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship, called the procedure, properly called intact dilation and extraction, "gruesome." Still, he said, previous Supreme Court rulings allowed for it in the absence of a medical consensus that it had no value for pregnant women seeking abortions.
"While Congress and lower courts may disagree with the Supreme Court's constitutional decision, that does not free them from their constitutional duty to obey the Supreme Court's rulings," Casey said.
Well, the GOPpers always say they're against "activist judges." Apparently, Casey agrees.

There's nothing surer...ain't we got fun

The numbers from the Census Bureau report released Thursday are cold and unrelenting.

- The number of poor people in the US increased from 34.6 million in 2002 to 35.9 million in 2003, or 12.5% of the population. It was the third straight increase.

- The childhood in poverty rate rose from 16.7% to 17.6%, the largest one-year jump since 1991.

- The number of people without health insurance went from 43.6 million in 2002 to 45 million in 2003, meaning 15.6% of the public has no protection. That, too, represented a third consecutive increase.

- Inflation-adjusted median household income, the level at which half of households earn more and half earn less, fell for the second straight year to $43,318 - just slightly below the 2002 level but 3.4% behind the 2000 level.

- Women working full time earned 76% of what men did, a drop of a percentage point from the year before.

- Asians had the highest median household income, followed by non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics, and blacks. Black median household income was only 62% that of whites and only 54% that of Asians.

- Non-Hispanic whites were the least likely to be in poverty or without health insurance; Hispanics and blacks fared the worse in both areas. The black poverty rate was nearly three times that of non-Hispanic whites.

The report generated the usual spate of blame-dodging and finger-pointing between the major political parties, all of which is frankly wholly and completely irrelevant. While some proposals are certainly better than others, these numbers are not going to be changed to any meaningful degree by sound bites ("Tax cuts! Tax cuts! Tax cuts!") or bumper stickers ("Put People First"). They may be ameliorated, but not altered significantly.

Because the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our presidents but in our economy, in its very structure, its very nature. The fact is, an economy like ours, built on perpetual growth, built on want want more more, built on hierarchy and an over-arching (and false) vision of competition as the source of all progress, cannot function without significant levels of poverty and significant differences among groups. The winners require the existence of the losers to maintain their victory.

Until we admit that, until we admit that there are powerful forces in our society that benefit from the existence of poverty, discrimination, and despair, we can shove those numbers around a few percent (and yes, less suffering, even if just a little less, is better than more suffering, but that's not the point here) but we will not achieve actual justice.

Warming up to warming up

Taking a grudging step in the general direction of reality,
a new report to Congress focuses on federal research indicating that emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are the only likely explanation for global warming over the last three decades.

In delivering the report to Congress yesterday, an administration official, Dr. James R Mahoney, said it reflected "the best possible scientific information" on climate change. ...

The report is among those submitted regularly to Congress as a summary of recent and planned federal research on shifting global conditions of all sorts.
That from Thursday's New York Times.

The report, pointing to recent studies using climatological models, says that shifts in the sun's energy output and other natural factors can explain the rise in temperature from 1900 to 1950 but not that in more recent times, particularly the sharp and continuing climb over the last 35 years.
It also says the accumulating emissions pose newly identified risks to farmers, citing studies showing that carbon dioxide promotes the growth of invasive weeds far more than it stimulates crops and that it reduces the nutritional value of some rangeland grasses.
It may be hard for the White House to walk away from this report, as it has from previous ones, since it's accompanied by a letter signed by Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, and John Marburger, Shrub's science adviser. But that doesn't mean they won't try. Even though the Times refers to it as a "striking shift," Mahoney, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and the director of government climate research, tended to downplay its significance.
In an interview, he said the report was mainly an update on the overall climate research program and was not intended to be a conclusive "state of the science" summary of the administration's thinking. A series of 21 reports are promised on particular issues in coming years, he said, and the studies on climate models, agriculture and other subjects mentioned in the new report are "significant but not definitive."
That can easily be translated to the old "need more study" dodge, which is likely why environmental scientists were not bowled over by the news, as Reuters reported on Friday.
Some said the Bush administration report ... might simply be a bid to reach out to environmentally minded voters before the November presidential election.

"I don't think there is any policy shift at all," said Steve Sawyer, climate policy director at the environmental group Greenpeace. "It's election season and Bush may be trying to reach out to the elusive center." ...

None saw Bush as a convert to concerted international action.
And why would they be so cynical? Maybe it's because Bush himself gives them reason.
In an interview with the New York Times, published on its Web site, Bush was asked why his administration had changed its position. "Ah, did we?" Bush replied. "I don't think so."
The report can be found online here.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Second thoughts

You know, I'm beginning to think we've misunderstood the GOP. It's not populated with nutsoids bullies who would be shunned in any society that didn't have its collective head up its ass as a result of being uninformed when it's not being misinformed by a media composed largely of boot-licking wusses. Rather, it's populated with brilliant performance artists, satirists who will any day now throw off the disguise and cry out in one huge gleeful voice "GOTCHA!" I mean, how else to explain the utter contempt for logic and the phenomenal depths of self-pitying paranoia?

For example, Greg Palast noted that the blog of the Rethuglican National Committee linked to an article in the Manchester (NH) Union-Leader claiming that "people who hate Republicans" have all kinds of dastardly plans for the RNC convention including releasing "swarms of mice," giving phony directions, and throwing pies. These are described as attempts to "terrorize" the delegates and the people as "junior terrorists." Mice. Throwing pies. Terrorism. See the connection? (The whole bizarro piece is here.)

Piling absurdity on top of inanity, the GOP link refers to "protestors supporting John Kerry" even though the article does not call them that.

Oh, there's more. The level of satire on this RNC blog page is endless. Another item mocks DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe for saying the party was not supporting the NYC protests.
Really? Then explain how Nashville circuit designer Cecily Letendre decided against joining her fellow travelers to NYC and instead just donate money to the Kerry campaign.
That's right, they found one person - one - among the others mentioned in a New York Times article on people going to the demo who thought it would be more effective to donate to Kerry and claimed that as proof that the marchers are "part and parcel of the Democrat apparatus." (Oh, and note the clever way they worked in the phrase "fellow travelers." These people are a hoot.)

Having just finished Eric Alterman's book What Liberal Media? (I know, I know, hardly hot off the presses), this, however, may be my favorite - particularly because of the subtlety involved.
And Speaking of Media Bias…
You know the drill – drop by Google News and enter ‘Ed Gillespie,’ then count the articles headlining DNC boss Terry McAuliffe. The liberal bias is sooooo glaring it’s almost embarrassing.
A double-dose of subtlety, in fact. The first, mundane, one being the safe knowledge that most of the people who read this won't actually do the search, they'll just internalize the implication (which is an additional subtlety, in fact, since the item doesn't actually claim anything, it just hints at a conclusion without having to take responsibility for reaching one - a common GOPper tactic but still worth noting). The other, deeper, one is that even if the facts implied were true they would not show what it's implied they show.

That is, suppose you did google "Ed Gillespie" and found a lot of the results headlined Terry McAuliffe. What that could indicate is that the media doesn't write about McAuliffe without mentioning Gillespie as well. How would that show a "liberal bias?"

Of course, it wouldn't. It's a fantasy. If you wanted to search for bias in name-dropping, you'd not only have to google "Ed Gillespie" to look for hits headlining Terry McAuliffe, you'd also have to do the reverse, googling McAuliffe and looking for Gillespie headlines. And then you'd have to search for "Ed Gillespie" NOT "Terry McAuliffe" and also the reverse to look for articles that mention just one without the other.

But of course that would take some minimal understanding of logic and some minimal concern with accuracy, so ignoring it was no problem for this crowd.

Footnote: I actually did the searches I just mentioned. It only took a few minutes even with my dialup connection. These are the results:
"Ed Gillespie" - 1360 hits
"Terry McAuliffe" - 1510 hits
"Ed Gillespie" NOT "Terry McAuliffe" - 1170 hits
"Terry McAuliffe" NOT "Ed Gillespie" - 1290 hits
"Ed Gillespie" AND "Terry McAuliffe" - 167 hits
In the first two cases, I scanned the top 60 headlines. In each case, not one headline mentioned the other by name, although some did headline the other party. If you can find bias in those numbers, you're ready to be a GOP activist.


Who is Aaron Burr?

Constellations for $400

This hunter's dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor are positioned at his heels.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The pattern is now familiar, so familiar that, like most things that get absorbed into a culture, it's been applied to areas well beyond its original meaning.

But it was new, revolutionary, in fact, in 1969 when Elisabeth Kubler-Ross labeled and explained the "five stages of grief" associated with death. Her book, On Death and Dying, became a standard text for those dealing with terminally-ill patients and those around them and was central to her being named among the "100 Most Important Thinkers" of the 20th century by Time magazine in 1999.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, 78, having gone through her own five stages, died of natural causes Tuesday at her home in Scottsdale, Arizona.
"For the past two years, I have — thanks to a series of strokes — been totally dependent on others for basic care," she wrote at the time [1997]. "Every day is spent struggling to get from bed to a chair to the bathroom and back again. My only wish has been to leave my body, like a butterfly shedding its cocoon, and finally merge with the great light."
She was ridiculed by some for her later beliefs in near-death experiences, reincarnation, and channelling the spirits of the dead, which were perhaps her own way of bargaining. I don't share those beliefs, but I won't mock her for holding to them.

In fact, I'm perhaps best described as an agnostic on life after death. I don't believe in it because I see no basis for doing so. At the same time, I say with Alexander Alekhine "I can't conceive that there will be nothing left of me when I am gone." Yet I know that may simply be my own failure of imagination, or even an inability of the human mind to imagine its own non-existence (since to imagine it there must be something doing the imagining). All of which means that while I believe the mind, the spirit if you will, which the more we look the more it depends on physical processes within the brain, does not survive the body, I can't absolutely rule it out.

So no, I will not mock her. Instead I will celebrate her life and the understanding she brought to and of both life and death.


Right-winger Michelle Malkin's new book, In Defense of Internment (which I note for the record I'm calling a book only because of the combination of cover, binding, and pages with print on them, not because it actually contains anything of value), uses bogus and long-discredited claims to argue that the shameful World War II internment of Japanese-Americans was a "military necessity" that caused only "inconvenience" - and does that in order to justify active racial profiling of Arab-Americans and Muslims today.

The August 24 Daily Star (Lebanon) has a good commentary on her "book," which includes this sentence, which is what I wanted to note:
"[W]hen we are under attack, 'Racial profiling' - or more precisely, threat profiling - is justified," she argues.
Note that well: "Threat profiling" is a "more precise" rendering of racial profiling - thus equating "threat" with "race." What Malkin proposes to do is to take a characteristic ("threat to the US" - or, more likely, "threat to me, who cares about you") that might apply to some members of a group (Muslim- and Arab-Americans), to make that characteristic a defining one for the group as a whole ("race = threat"), and then to judge every individual member of that group in terms of that claimed definition.

That, friends, is a definition of racism.

Micelle Malkin is a racist. Period.

Footnote: She tries to slip loose by asserting "Make no mistake: I am not advocating rounding up all Arabs or Muslims and tossing them into camps." But
[w]hatever reservations Malkin may have about a mass incarceration of Arab- and Muslim-Americans are confined to a single sentence: "In part because of the geographical dispersion of the current threat of Islamofascism, it is hard to imagine parallel circumstances under which America would be compelled to replicate something on the scale of the West Coast evacuation and relocation during World War II."
That is, it's just not practical. Oh well, then, I guess that's okay. I am SO reassured.

Okay, it can't all be serious, part 3

Found this on the website of the Wichita (KS) Eagle for Thursday:
Madrid, Spain - Knee-deep in red mush, tens of thousands of revelers pelted each other with tons of ripe tomatoes Wednesday in Spain's messiest summer party.

Police in the eastern village of Bunol - population 10,000 - said some 36,000 people waged the hour-long food fight, bathing themselves, the walls and streets with 140 tons of fruit projectiles.

It all started with a pistol shot at high noon, after which six trucks unloaded fruit ammunition for Spaniards and tourists from as far away as Japan who had gathered to paste each other in the decades-old battle called "La Tomatina."
What's Spanish for joie de vivre?

Footnote: Yes, I know about waste of food, coulda woulda shoulda, and the rest. But if this "summer party" did not occur, would that fruit have gone to market? Would it have been donated to feed the hungry? Since I think it's safe to answer "no" to both those questions, I don't accept the objection.

Okay, it can't all be serious, part 2

AP reported on Thursday on a momentous occasion: the 100th anniversary of the banana split.
Ice cream aficionados believe David E. Strickler, a 1906 graduate of [the University of Pittsburgh]'s School of Pharmacy, created the first banana split in 1904 when he was an apprentice at Tassell Pharmacy in Latrobe. ...

As with any first, restaurant and pharmacy owners around the nation have disputed Strickler's story. But the National Ice Cream Retailers Association recently honored Latrobe as the dessert's birthplace.

There's convincing evidence that supports Strickler's claim, said Greubel, who co-wrote "Ice Cream Joe: The Valley Dairy Story and America's Love Affair with Ice Cream."

Strickler in 1905 asked the Westmoreland Glass Co. in Grapeville to make "banana boat" dishes. The order form still exists and is on display at Latrobe's historical center, Greubel said.
The University celebrated by declaring Wednesday "Banana Split Day" and serving about 4,000 ice cream cones to students, family members, and others returning to campus for the new school year.

Okay, it can't all be serious, part 1

He's been compared to Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. But he plays classical as well as rock and blues. While he performs solo for the more serious, classical pieces, in a group, he plugs his instrument in "goes nuts," playing the strings with his teeth or using a pedal board. On a recent tour of Japan, a joint performance with the popular band Tube drew a crowd of 35,000.

All of which is pretty cool since his instrument is the ukulele, all four strings and two octaves of it.

Our virtuoso's name is Jake Shimabukuro, a fourth-generation Japanese-American from Honolulu. He's been playing the ukulele since he was four. He says he still considers the uke a "toy" because it's so much fun to play but wants to convince people to appreciate the instrument as an untapped source of musical performance.

Who knows? He just might do it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Bank on it!

Back on August 11, I referred to an article in the International Herald Tribune addressing the fact that the World Bank, charged with reducing poverty in developing nations, has no idea if its programs work or not.

According to Nadia Martinez, Latin America coordinator for the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies, writing in the August 16 Christian Science Monitor, it's even worse: The Bank knows that at least some of its policies don't help - and it doesn't care.
After years of pressure to make the World Bank more accountable for its investments, the bank's president, James Wolfensohn, pledged in Prague in 2000 to undertake a review of the World Bank's support for the extractive industries, particularly oil, gas, and mining.

A year later, Mr. Wolfensohn appointed Emil Salim, a former Indonesian environment minister who served under the Suharto dictatorship, to lead the review. Dr. Salim was also on the board of a coal company at the time of the appointment (though he resigned later). With those credentials, most of the environmentalists, faith-based groups, development advocates, and human rights activists who'd demanded this assessment were pessimistic about ever seeing the bank change.

To every observer's surprise, the report concluded in January that World Bank support for fossil fuel and other mining projects simply doesn't alleviate poverty.
What's more, the report said the Bank should take steps to ensure that money gained from such projects is used for such things as education and health programs instead of for weapons, to guarantee the rights of people, especially indigenous people, affected by those projects, and to get out of financing them at all by 2008.

Instead of acting on the report, the Bank sat on it for six months until the board of directors finally considered it on August 3, at which time it
opted merely to endorse minimal commitments to change the way the bank does business. For example, while they pledged to increase renewable energy financing by 20 percent annually, the base line the lender is using is so low that the target for renewable support in 2005 is lower than the bank's loans for renewables in 1994. Currently fossil fuel financing at the World Bank exceeds renewable lending by a factor of 17 to 1.
What's more, the developing nations targeted by the Bank don't even get the benefit of the energy produced, Martinez says, citing IPS studies that say 82% of the oil-extraction projects actually supply consumers in the US and Europe and
the main beneficiaries of World Bank fossil-fuel extractive projects are Halliburton, Shell, ChevronTexaco, Total, and ExxonMobil, in that order, and the list continues.
The World Bank, that is, functions not as a means to help the poor escape poverty by economic development but as one to help the industrialized West continue to exploit them. There comes a point where reform is a pipe dream and the best thing to do is junk what you've got and start over. Check out the 50 Years is Enough campaign.


What is Isuzu?

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A peanut-butter eating Alexander Hamilton buff can't articulate the name of this vice-president since he hasn't "got milk."

Dream on, sucker

Probably the most amusingly endearing quality of neocons is their childish inability to deal with the real world. They're like 6-year olds who imagine themselves blasting aliens or as Spiderman swinging through the streets of New York - or perhaps, like I did, as blasting home run after home run in their rookie year in the majors. And no matter how many times you try to hit the ball out of your hand and miss, still you see it flying over the fence.

In an article in the International Herald Tribune on Tuesday about cracks in the previously-solid front of neocon support for the war in Iraq, there is this:
Others are redoubling their arguments for the invasion of Iraq, contending that it should be the first step in a campaign to transform the region. In the next issue of Commentary magazine, Norman Podhoretz, who helped found the neoconservative movement in the 1970s, has written a 37-page defense of the Bush administration's foreign policy.

In "World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win," he argues that the United States should now help seek the liberation of other Middle Eastern countries to help drain the swamp where Islamic radicalism breeds, just as the cold war helped liberate the Soviet Union.

"Like anybody else in the world who is sane, I am very much worried about Iran gaining nuclear capacity," Podhoretz said in an interview Friday. "I am not advocating the invasion of Iran at this moment, although I wouldn't be heartbroken if it happened."
Apparently, in his mind, the war has been a resounding success, Iraq is liberated and we should spread exactly the same liberation across the entire region. Isn't he just the cutest thing? Just look at him in his little Spiderman outfit....

Just flaming disgraceful

I'm not really surprised, especially after what happened the other day, but I'm still furious. From VOA News:
A New York State Supreme Court judge has rejected a last minute attempt by an anti-Republicans group to hold a massive rally in New York City's Central Park.

United for Peace and Justice, a nationwide coalition of anti-war, anti-Bush groups, sued New York last week for refusing to give the group a permit to hold a demonstration in the Park on Sunday, the day before the Republican Party Convention officially begins.
With an utterly straight face and utter contempt for logic, the city continued to argue that it could not allow the rally in Central Park because the crowd would damage the recently-renovated Great Lawn, a site that for scores of years has been host to mass demonstrations, outdoor concerts, and other large-scale activities. Now, however, the city apparently believes it can put it off limits to any protest with a "keep off the grass" sign.

Disgustingly, the courts appear ready to agree.

After months of being stonewalled, UFPJ reluctantly agreed to the city's one and only offer for a rally site: the West Side Highway, a hideously bad site. After informing people of its decision, the group was inundated with complaints about the lack of shade, the lack of shelter, the lack of nearby toilet facilities, the lack of availability of water - not to mention that the rally would be stretched out like a string with most of the people unable to hear - or, lacking binoculars, even see - what was happening on the stage.

As a result, the group withdrew its agreement and went to court.
But the city's attorney, Jonathan Pines, said it is too late to change sites and provide adequate security.

"We could have been here in June. We could have been here in July," he said. "No, we are here now with mere days left."
Which is a pile of crap. The delay was cause by the city's attempts to prevent a rally at all - indeed, I'm utterly convinced that had they been able to come up with a way, they would have blocked the march as well. You can be damn sure that if UFPJ had sued in June or July, the city would have argued that such a suit was "premature" while "negotiations are still going on." Then again, being manipulative hypocrites is what people like Pines get paid for. But that of course didn't matter to the court.
Judge Jacqueline Silberman agreed [with Pines], saying UPJ was "guilty of inexcusable and inequitable delay" in bringing the case to court.
Which just goes to show that judges can be just as much in contempt of court as anyone else - that is, contempt of the court system and the justice it's supposed to be capable of dispensing, which is what the charge is supposed to mean, rather than its more usual interpretation of "wounding the judge's ego."

I say that the first time - and I mean the very first time - the city approves a permit for use of the Great Lawn for any large-scale activity, individual members of UFPJ should institute a massive civil suit against the city for violation of constitutional rights, charging that granting the permit proves the city's basis for denying a permit for the protest was a lie and content-based, which is unconstitutional.

It's likely that a significant number of people will head for Central Park at the end of the march anyway. No doubt, the city will try to stop them. It would be an interesting - and I think very good - thing if hundreds (I can dream thousands) of people refused to obey an order to disperse, preferring nonviolent civil disobedience.

By the way, just in case you didn't know, "what happened the other day" was that a federal court refused to order the city to issue a permit for a smaller gathering in Central Park on Saturday, arguing that the city was within its rights to consider "security." Just what security threat was presented by a rally two days before the RNC opens was, not surprisingly, unexplained by a logic that would allow the city to ban any protest at any time simply by saying it had "security concerns."

Footnote: There is planned nonviolent CD - a march and die-in - at the convention on Tuesday. Information can be found at the War Resisters League site here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Mission to Geek

Sprites, jets, and elves don't sound like the stuff of science, but they are. They are the names given to various colored flashes of light seen high in the Earth's atmosphere, flashes of light that until recently scientists believed were figments of the over-active imaginations of airline pilots, who usually were the ones to report them.

It's now most commonly believed that they are, in effect, upwardly-striking lightning from the tops of thunderstorms or the remnants of the "cells" that make them up.

In a simple form, lightning happens when the potential difference between in the charges in a stormcloud and the ground below become great enough to overcome the electrical resistance of the air between. But that surge of charge from cloud to ground can leave in its wake a new potential difference: between the cloud and the ionosphere above it. If and when that potential difference is great enough, a jolt of charge can slam upwards to the ionosphere.

It's all part of a global electrical circuit which is now being studied by satellites.
The phenomena are difficult to study as they occur between 50 and 100km (30-60 miles) above the Earth's surface, too high for most aircraft and too low for satellites.

To study them, the Taiwanese government built the Republic of China Satellite 2 (Rocsat -2), which includes a sensor built by the University of California at Berkeley, US, to gather information about the lights.

The instrument contributed by the Americans is called Isual - the Imager of Sprites and Upper Atmospheric Lightning. ...

The first Isual image was returned on 4 July. It showed red sprites - short fluorescent "tubes" glowing like neon lights - reaching to the ionosphere.

Another image showed a brilliant lightning flash with a trio of red sprites above it and a sprite halo encircling it. ...

The red sprites are formed in the regions of molecular disintegration [caused by strong local electric fields]. The blue jets, however, seem to come from the top of thunderclouds.

Elves are rapid bursts of light due to electromagnetic pulses from lightning jolts.
After (somewhat reluctantly) concluding the earlier reports were based on actual observations, some scientists have suggested that the flashes may also be the source of many of the UFO sightings airline pilots are rumored to have had.

Two quick Olympic observations

1) So the US men's basketball team can't get its act together and the US is in the finals for the gold medal in women's soccer. US teams floundering in basketball and up for gold in soccer I mean football? Did I slip through a spacetime warp into a different dimensional reality?

2) Speaking of football, the Iraqi team lost in the semifinals to Paraguay, 3-1, so the dream of the Olympic finals is over. I suppose it doesn't matter much in the scheme of things and they have gone further than anyone had a right to expect, but dammit, it just would have been nice for them to get there.


What is "I Heard It Through the Grapevine?"

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In the '80s, a sleazy salesman named Joe boasted that this car make had "more seats than the Astrodome."

Again sticking my toe into...

..the waters of the presidential campaign. Well, sort of. Actually, it's more that something came up which prompts both a campaign-related comment and a more general one. I'm sure you've already heard about the something; it's from Sunday's New York Times, referring to planned demonstrations during the Republican national convention:
Republicans said they would seek to turn any disruptions to their advantage, by portraying protests by even independent activists as Democratic-sanctioned displays of disrespect for a sitting president.
That is, they not only intend to lie through their teeth, they're so arrogant about it (or, perhaps more accurately, so confident in the incompetent spinelessness of the media) that they're prepared to announce in advance their intention to lie through their teeth.

First, the campaign-related thought:

The Democrats should be producing an ad to have ready, one that should be relatively quick and cheap to make. It could be a 15-second spot. It would consist of things GOPpers said about Bill Clinton while he was president ("scumbag," "pot-smoking hippie," etc.) fading in and out various places on the screen (perhaps with dates and overlapping voices reading them). After several seconds, they all fade and these words appear (with a voiceover): "And now they want to talk about respect?" Fade to black.

Okay, the more general comment:

Just who the hell do they think they are? Who the hell do they think he is? Just what kind of timid, what brand of rancidly timorous, people do they want Americans to be? Do they think we should be? The president is an elected public official. He's not a king, he's not lord of the manor, he's not some high priest ostensibly exalted by some god or another. Just why can't he be shown some "disrespect?" The rough and tumble of an actual functioning democracy, the actual free expression of a free people, is certain to include numerous demonstrations of "disrespect." If Bush, if any public official, can't abide that, then they'd better get out of public life before their delicate ego gets too much of a beating. Because I say we need more "disrespect," that we've already gone too far along a path of obsequious submission to authority, and it's time to remember that, as I quoted Abbie Hoffman saying a couple of weeks back, democracy is something you do.

And to those who would argue that it's unacceptable to show "disrespect" to the president, I say that you have no understanding of what a democracy, a republic, is about, what free expression, free speech, means and there are a lot of other countries where you would feel more at home, ones where government hoo-hahs don't have to worry about expressions of "disrespect" from the people.

Okay, they have officially gone nutso

Early in the movie version of "War of the Worlds," the male lead, played by Gene Barry, is in a bunker watching the Martian machines rise out of the pit where they landed. In a voice thick with gleeful astonishment, he says "This is amazing."

I feel the same way about this:
Washington (Los Angeles Times, August 20) — Having failed to find banned weapons in Iraq, the CIA is preparing a final report on its search that will speculate on what the deposed regime's capabilities might have looked like years from now if left unchecked, according to congressional and intelligence officials. ...

The plan to have the report project the potential of Baghdad's weapons programs was disclosed during a classified briefing on Capitol Hill last month by Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, the former military commander of the weapons search group, according to congressional officials familiar with the briefing.

In her Aug. 13 letter, [Rep. Jane] Harman [(D-CA, 36)] said that Dayton had "told staff that the report will focus on what the state of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs would have been in 2006 or 2008 had the United States not gone to war with Iraq in 2003." ...

Other sources familiar with the work of the Iraq Survey Group confirmed the change in direction, saying they had learned of it in recent months even before Dayton discussed it at the congressional briefing.
"We didn't find any weapons, we didn't find any weapons materials, we didn't find any weapons programs, we found only scant indications of weapons research, but BY GOD, SADDAM WAS A THREAT! WE GOT THERE JUST IN TIME! If we hadn't invaded in 2003, in just five years he would have threatened THE VERY FABRIC OF SPACETIME ITSELF!"

Am I being overly cynical to note that this report is apparently scheduled for release just as the presidential race is really heating up?
[S]ome officials familiar with the CIA's plans for the final report said they thought it was politically motivated and designed to focus the public's attention on hypothetical future threats.
Only some?

Footnote: There's just so much good material here. There's Charles Duelfer, who took over for David Kay in January, squeezing more weasel words into one phrase than I would have thought possible, claiming "evidence" that Iraq had "ongoing research suitable for a capability" to produce chemical or biological agents. And there was this:
The U.S. intelligence official said that describing Iraq's future capabilities was "not the focus at all" of the final report and that "the report will not be speculative." But the official declined to say whether such projections would be part of the document, saying he could not comment "on a report that hasn't been completed."
I'm sorry ::scratching head:: but isn't that what you just did?

Monday, August 23, 2004


What is Seoul (South Korea)?

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Claymation California raisins danced to this Marvin Gaye hit.

For the greater advancement of democracy

Tired of hearing about the Demopublicans? Tired of hearing John Kerry and Shrub argue about who's more macho about Iraq? Curious about who else is out there or even just about what moves people, whether fringe or centrist, to run for president?

Project Vote Smart has a list of all the presidential candidates, even those on the ballot in only one state, with - where it has it - some background.

They also have a list of Congressional candidates and another of state-level candidates.

The Congressional list has a big oops: It omits New York. And there is something about the state list which I find dumb: When you first go there and select "State Officials" under "Candidates for Election," you'll be presented with a list of states from which to choose. If you then click on "State Officials" again, expecting to be taken back to the same list for a different selection, you'll get a surprise: It goes directly to the same state you've already chosen. If you want to pick a different state, you have to use the drop down list labeled "Don't Know Your 9-Digit ZIP?" under "Find Your Representative." I think that's dippy, but it's how they do it.

C-SPAN has its own state-by-state list of candidates for federal, state, and local offices here.

Words to keep in mind...

...when listening to right-wing media rants:
Strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause.
Even fortune cookies can see through those suckers.

Feeling under...

...I was going to say the weather, but that tends to the inadequate: I'm also seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling under the weather as well. So light doings tonight and maybe tomorrow. We'll see.
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