Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Loser Takes All

Loser Takes All is a collection of essays covering the vast election fraud that has been perpetrated by the GOP—with the Democratic Party’s acquiescence—since 2000. The number of topics alone is alarming: the myth of George Bush’s victory in Florida in 2000, and FOX News’s key role in propagating it; Senator Max Cleland’s dubious defeat in Georgia in 2002; Bush’s “re-election” in 2004, including evidence of systematic fraud outside of Ohio; startling evidence of fraud committed in the 2006 midterm elections, which the Democrats appear to have won by a far larger margin than officially reported; and, crucially, evidence that the Republicans will attempt to steal the presidential election in 2008.

The book also includes an essay about Don Siegelman, a story that not many Americans are aware of:

The 60 Minutes interview doesn't cover the whole story though. In a recent Air America interview, Don Siegelman made very specific allegations of election fraud against Karl Rove and the Bush administration:

[Thom Hartmann]: Right. Now, in our conversation you have suggested that the original election that you lost to Bob Riley by a few thousand votes in the middle of the night may have been stolen. That is a part of the story that has been treated as if it was radioactive by the corporate press. It has, to the best of my knowledge, I have never heard that in any of the official corporate news reports. Have you asserted that before, have you been saying this all along, or is this…

[Don Siegelman]: Well yes, we have been saying it, we have been saying it since the night of the election. I mean, we won the election, the votes were counted and were declared and then in one county which is controlled by Republicans the, after midnight when everybody went home, when the poll workers were sent home, when the media was gone, they decided to electronically recount these votes and shifted the votes and certified the vote illegally the next day. The, interestingly, Karl Rove’s client sepped in, the attorney general stepped in and said, ‘if anybody tries to hand count these votes we’re going to put them in jail’. We initially had a green light from the local Republicans in this one area that we could come in and hand count these ballots where the electronic shift occurred.[..]

In true Republican style, Karl Rove seems to be angry that the story is being reported at all. Meanwhile, Rove continues to appear on Fox News as a political analyst without disclosure of his ties to Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) campaign.

2008 might be another loser takes all year.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

I know I've had my laughs about Fox News in the past week, but this one tops it all.

Of course Hillary Clinton was talking about the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Not Frederick Douglas. Doh!

However, it is interesting to note that in 1872 Frederick Douglas became the first African American to receive a nomination for Vice President of the United States on the Equal Rights Party ticket.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How Did This Happen?

You might have heard today about the 73-year-old Austrian man who imprisoned and sexually abused his own daughter for 24 years. Josef Fritzl admits to locking up his daughter and fathering seven children with her. The Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard said in an editorial: "The whole country must ask itself just what is really, fundamentally going wrong."

First of all, I'm not even certain they can find an answer to what is going wrong. I know I'm being cynical (and also hopeless), but there will always be sick people. Not just sick... but sociopathic... people who can devote hours to planning and building a basement to imprison a victim. People able to hide their crimes from their own neighbors and friends. People who can carry on their lives like nothing is wrong. People who say that they know what they did was wrong yet still have no social conscience.

We have more than our share of these people in the U.S. just ask Texas where, in case you haven't heard, 462 children have been taken from the “Yearning for Zion” ranch owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Later Day Saints. Right now the media is caught up in the curiosity of the hairdos and prairie style dresses of the women caught in this polygamist sect. However, when we get past the fashion show, we'll find there are many other issues to talk about. This Alternet post by Sara Robinson offers More Clarity About Abuse, Intermarriage, Child Breeders, and the Fundamentalist Church of Later Day Saints.
One of the things we need to understand is just how the FLDS managed to stay so far under the radar for so long -- and what twisted consequences were allowed to follow from that lack of oversight. Bramham shows that they did a stunningly effective job of building their own self-sufficient infrastructure of community institutions -- hospitals, police forces, courts, financial trusts, schools, and employers -- that allowed the church to function without interacting with the outside world any more than necessary. Most of the group's institutions were designed to mimic and supplant outside authority well enough to keep the group (and especially its treatment of women and children) hidden from the prying eyes of outsiders. And, for 60 years, those who were responsible for providing higher-level oversight for all these institutions have almost always been somehow induced to look the other way.
The article goes on to explain how the women and children often get their health care from FLDS doctors who feel no responsibility to report abuse and are quite willing to declare unhappy women crazy. The FLDS cops and courts will catch women who try to run and return them to their husbands for punishment. The FLDS cemeteries will hide their dead without anybody ever asking questions.

Yet some people still want to believe that these women are making a lifestyle choice, but it's not a choice if they are born into it and then have to figure out how to escape. FLDS communities do not maintain the "three girls for every boy" ratio by recruiting new sign-ups -- they maintain it by throwing out the boys.

So while Austria does some soul searching, I think we in the U.S. should do the same. Freedom of worship does not mean total freedom of action. Nobody has a right to imprison, enslave or abuse their wives or children. Not even magic underpants can give you a free pass.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The 8000 Pound Elephant in the Room

Many people may not agree with me, but I think disability issues are more important than lapel pins. On the surface, you see very little coverage of where the presidential candidates stand on issues affecting people with disabilities, but as Professor Michael Bérubé so eloquently explained, it's the 8000 pound elephant in the room:
Remember that debate about SCHIP? You know, the one we lost on Bush’s veto? What the hell was that about? It was about disability, folks – about children suffering catastrophic illnesses and traumatic injuries for which their parents couldn’t (and their parents’ dastardly, moustache-twirling health-insurance providers wouldn’t) provide. Vets returning from Iraq with PTSD or TBI (post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury) and being warehoused and/or underserved and/or neglected by VA hospitals? Uh, well, once again, here we’re talking about disability. Why in the world do we frame these things as matters of “health” or “employment” or “veterans’ benefits,” when doing so prevents us from realizing that we’re all touching different appendages of the 8000-pound elephant in the room? The subject is disability, people. It’s about our common frailty and vulnerability. Get used to it.
Get used to it, and also, know who you're voting for. You can read Hillary Clinton's Agenda to Expand Economic Opportunity for Individuals with Disabilities. You can also read Barack Obama's Plan to Empower People with Disabilities (PDF document).

Both Democratic candidates mention their support for Executive Order 13163 to hire 100,000 qualified employees with disabilities to federal employment over five years. Both also support the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

John McCain, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have any statement regarding disability policies on his web site. However, he voted in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 and served on the Board of Trustees at Gallaudet University, the only four-year liberal arts university for the Deaf. His Straight Talk on Health Care Reform includes several statements about "controlling health care costs."
Controlling health care costs will take fundamental change - nothing short of a complete reform of the culture of our health system and the way we pay for it will suffice. Reforms to federal policy and programs should focus on enhancing quality while controlling costs:
I think I'll translate that to "business as usual."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Soundbites Bite

This is how Fox News operates. They send some dork to interview Rev. Michael Pfleger. Then Bill O'Reilly takes one 5 second soundbite and uses it to launch a six minute tirade against the reverend concluding that the man should be sanctioned by the Catholic Church. First, watch the Fox news segment for yourself:

Now, let's get the whole story. The actual interview with Rev. Michael Pfleger lasts 10 minutes, where he defends Rev. Jeremiah Wright and smacks down the Fox grunt. Pfleger proves he knows his history and he knows how to debate. The poor little Fox shill doesn't know what hit him:

Fox also attempts to play the soundbite game with Martin Luther King, Jr.... reducing his I Have a Dream Speech to a single phrase.

Brace yourself for one long hot summer of soundbites.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Fun and Games

It's Friday, and the news is getting me down, so I'm going to post some fun links for a change. The first is TypeRacer. I thought I was a fast typist, but apparently 68wpm isn't good enough. The high score is currently 135wpm. This map game might be a little too educational for most people, but I didn't say these games would be easy. This roulette game is sick and disturbing, but I like dark humor. Finally, Pacxon -- game or drug? You decide.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stabbed in the Back!

The most powerful country with the most powerful army must have some powerful foes. These foes are so strong that their words or even their thoughts can endanger the war effort. This is the heart of the stabbed-in-the-back myth:
Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.
Yes, the enemies must be internal. This persecution-propaganda started in Germany after World War I, but soon became a tool of Republicans in the USA. The perfect example is the Vietnam War:

Vietnam was the sort of war Republicans had been clamoring to fight for two decades. A liberal administration had started it, with misplaced bravado, but it had been egged on—even dared—to take the plunge into full-scale war by prevailing right-wing dogma. When the war soured, Republicans first tried to blame not the failed premise of the domino theory or the flawed diplomacy of the Kennedy Administration or the near-universal American failure to recognize Vietnam's boundless desire for self-determination—no, it was the old fallbacks of appeasement, defeatism, and treachery in high places.

Once again, we were told that American troops were not being “allowed” to win, if they could not mine Haiphong harbor, or flatten Hanoi, or reduce all of North Vietnam to a parking lot. Yet Vietnam was a war with no real defeats on the ground. U.S. troops won every battle of any significance and inflicted exponentially greater casualties on the enemy than they suffered themselves. Even the great debacle of the war, the 1968 Tet offensive, ended with an overwhelming American military victory and the Viet Cong permanently expunged as an effective fighting force. It is difficult to claim betrayal when you do not lose a battle.

Despite successful battles, 21000 Americans were killed in Vietnam during Nixon's administration, and there were no Democrats to blame it on. Instead, blame was laid on bums, perverts, and spitting protesters.

To my readers, I'm not sure I even need to draw the parallels between The Vietnam War and The Iraq War -- The Harper's article linked above does it so well.

What I do find interesting, though, is how the stabbed-in-the-back myth relates to the recent New York Times article Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand. The article exposes how the Bush administration relied on military analysts, who often had investments in military contractors, to shape terrorism coverage from inside the mainstream media. Jon Stewart explains it with humor:

I realize that "managing the message" during wartime is not a new concept. However, this administration was in near hysterical frenzy at their approach to a "mindwar" -- using network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” It was a psychological war against the American people. The analysts were looking back at Vietnam, blaming the failure on being "out Psyoped," and strategizing how to sell the war rather than how to win it.

Never blame foreign policy, bad intelligence, or lack of planning when you can blame the American people or at least a portion of them.

And now public discontent over the war in Iraq has reached a new peak. Why? Could it be that nobody is really paying attention to the "message-force multipliers"? Or maybe it's because many of the analysts eventually revolted. Maybe those geezers in the White House don't quite understand this whole blogging thing. The stabbed-in-the-back philosophy is as ingrained in the right-wing psyche as ever... but this stratagem is failing.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Brainpower -- I feel like I can use some tonight. Luckily, Wired has 12 Hacks That Will Amp Up Your Brainpower. I was surprised to learn that 20 percent of academics surveyed by Nature are using cognitive enhancers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Finger

In school they told us an easy way to start an essay was with a definition. So here we go. Wikipedia defines "the finger":
The gesture is also known as the "bird", "flipping the birdie", the "highway salute", "The New York Hello", "concert C", "sticking your middle finger up", "Showing Off Your Monkey", "The One-fingered Salute", "The Canadian Turn Signal", and "flipping someone off". When both hands are used, it is known as the "double-barrel salute", the "double deuce", or the "dirty double". A variation of the gesture is also made by showing someone the back of the hand, with three fingers extended, and telling the recipient to "read between the lines". A more comical approach is to wiggle all five fingers and query, "Do you see these?" retracting all but the middle finger state, "Its a whole flock of these." (A distinct reference to the aforementioned "bird")
Though the gesture might be thousands of years old, it seems to be making headlines lately. Those sharp reporters from Fox News had the acuity to notice Barack Obama's sly move. Jon Stewart reports on it in this video (about 1 minute and 20 seconds into the video):

I'd just like to take a moment to thank Fox News for letting me decide. I couldn't do it without their permission! However, could it be possible that they missed this other sneaky gesture from President Bush? Watch carefully. It's easy to miss:

And finally, in celebration of Earth Day, I'm going to take Bill Maher's advice: "responsible vehicle owners must show their support for the planet by giving every Hummer driver they see the finger." Amen.

Monday, April 21, 2008

4/20 Dude

Ok, I'm a day late. I guess I just didn't get around to finishing this post...

Rep. Barney Frank has introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Ron Paul, to decriminalize the possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana and the not-for-profit transfer of up to 1 ounce. The bill, dubbed the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008, marks the first time in decades that Congress has considered removing criminal penalties for marijuana.

Last month Frank issued a statement about marijuana legislation:
To those who say that the government should not be encouraging the smoking of marijuana, my response is that I completely agree. But it is a great mistake to divide all human activity into two categories: those that are criminally prohibited, and those that are encouraged. In a free society, there must be a very considerable zone of activity in which people are allowed to make their own choices as long as they are not impinging on the rights, freedom, or property of others. I believe it is important with regard to tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol, among other things, that we strictly regulate the age at which people may use these things and enforcement of the age restrictions should be firm. But criminalizing choices that adults make because we think they are unwise ones, when the choices involved have no negative effect on the rights of others, is not appropriate in a free society.
Are politicians finally catching up with the public opinion on this issue? I think it's rather silly to put marijuana users in jail considering the fact that many leading politicians including Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, George Pataki, and Barack Obama have admitted using the drug. If any of those politicians think people should go to jail for smoking pot, well, then they should turn themselves in first.

You can use this handy online form to contact your member of Congress and ask him or her to support the personal use of marijuana.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Daily Terror

To be menaced by invisible flying monsters is a sure sign of mental illness. If the whole town is terrorized, it's mass hysteria. I imagine such hysteria would look a lot like Hitchcock's 1963 film The Birds but without the birds. This strange concept is an ongoing project by artist Martijn Hendriks. Hendriks is digitally removing all the birds from the classic film. Clips of the reconstructed fiction can be found here, here and here.

But those imaginary monsters are still clearly fiction. The Guardian takes us half a step into reality in the recent article I'm Loving Aliens Instead. Writer Jon Ronson follows UK pop star Robbie Williams to the Nevada desert to explore another paranormal threat -- UFO's! Yes, seems Williams wants to believe in aliens. When he is asked why aliens do not reveal themselves to humans, he gives this explanation:
"I think maybe they're making mistakes," he replies. "I think the shield comes off by mistake and they were there all the time." He pauses. "I don't want to hear any debunking because I want to believe."
So, the guy is definitely not a skeptic. How far do you take it though? If you are a believer, is there a point where you stop and say "wow, this is just too ridiculous!" I'd think most people would question the sanity of these people:
Apparently, a woman tells Ayda, a number of conference attendees spotted a battle between two giant reptilian beings in the desert outside the hotel the other night.

"Did anyone take any photographs of the battle?" Ayda asks her.

"No," she says, "but someone collected a tissue sample and gave it to Dr Roger Leir. He might show it to you, if you can find him."

In a world where nearly everybody has a cell phone with a digital camera built in... in a world where we are always ready to film a dog eating vomit... you'd think somebody would capture an epic battle between giant reptilian beings!

So, I ask what exactly do YOU fear? Are our favorite fears real or imaginary? Or should I ask are our favorite fears real or manufactured political distractions?

It's easy to laugh at the UFO believers and the ghostbusters, but are liquid bombs really a threat to air travel? Are we in danger if our government doesn't have unchecked surveillance powers? Have we underestimated the risks of climate change? We need to have real debates about these issues and stop swatting at invisible flying monsters.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Crotch Stitch

Love anatomy? Love needlepoint? Well, here you go: The Female Anatomy Cross Section Cross Stitch. Ovaries, breast and uterus all cross stitched in amazing detail.

I have absolutely no knowledge of the needlepoint arts, so I was surprised to stumble upon a design so unconventional. I was often pushed into arts and crafts when I was a kid... I guess everybody thought it would be therapeutic... but I never finished a single project. I have none of that Martha Stewart flair, so this post will be my one and only needlepoint post ever.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Where's Waldo?

Do you think Google Earth is cool, or a tool for peeping toms? Might as well have some fun with it, right? From NPR, 22-year-old artist Melanie Coles recently made a 2,300-square-foot Waldo and put him on a roof in Vancouver. Now she's waiting for Google Earth satellites to pick him up.

On a related note, I've had a recent interest in maps and atlases. I stumbled upon Fresh Logic Atlas the other day, and I'm impressed. It's web based (no software to download), and it includes road, aerial and hybrid maps. Maybe I'll finally make up for all those 9th grade geography classes I slept through.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Stuck in a Box

The New Yorker article Up and then Down tells the sad story of Nicholas White who was trapped in an elevator in New York City’s McGraw-Hill building for forty-one hours. His entire ordeal was caught on security cameras. You can watch the mesmerizing time-condensed video here.

You can see him attempting many escapes in vain. He tries to pry open the doors only to find a brick wall. Being an express elevator, there was no exit from this shaft for many floors up or down. He tried to go for the escape hatch in the ceiling, but it was locked. It is always locked. It exists so emergency personnel can get in, not so passengers can get out. He rang the alarm constantly, but nobody responded. He had no watch or cell phone.

Elevators are a strange invention that we take for granted every day:
Without the elevator, there would be no verticality, no density, and, without these, none of the urban advantages of energy efficiency, economic productivity, and cultural ferment. The population of the earth would ooze out over its surface, like an oil slick, and we would spend even more time stuck in traffic or on trains, traversing a vast carapace of concrete. And the elevator is energy-efficient—the counterweight does a great deal of the work, and the new systems these days regenerate electricity. The elevator is a hybrid, by design.
Elevators are amazingly safe. "In 1998, in the United States, it was reported that of the estimated 120 billion rides per year in the approximately 600,000 elevators in the U.S., 10,000 people wound up in the emergency room because of elevator-related accidents." Of course, many people will recall the recent story of the man who was decapitated by elevator doors. That's another sad story, but uncommon with modern elevators.

Modern elevators, like those controlled by Destination Dispatch, don't even have buttons to press. There is no illusion of control. Did you know that in most modern elevators, the "door close" button doesn't work? Or in a sense, it works like a prayer. "That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power."

Nicholas White was eventually rescued. Although eight security guards were in and out of the control room during those 41 hours, nobody seemed to notice him. Nicholas White never returned to work. He pursued a lawsuit instead. He looks back now and realizes the lawsuit only prolonged his entrapment. He does not blame the elevator any more.

If I'm ever stuck in an elevator that long, I hope I have a copy of The New Yorker with me. Their articles are incredibly long to read. Ok, on second thought, I'd also hope to have my cell phone, a bottle of water, some food, and a porta potty.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Food Fight

From The Wall Street Journal today:
World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned in a recent speech that 33 countries are at risk of social upheaval because of rising food prices. Those could include Indonesia, Yemen, Ghana, Uzbekistan and the Philippines. In countries where buying food requires half to three-quarters of a poor person's income, "there is no margin for survival," he said.
Global food prices have increased 83% in the last three years. Recently, riots over soaring food prices have broken out in Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Haiti, Senegal and Ethiopia. Last week's food riots in Haiti quickly segued into a political mine field.

The diversion of food to biofuels is one source of the rising prices. I touched on this in my previous blog post Black Gold, but it's worth repeating how these renewable fuels will result in higher food prices around the world:
When the production of corn intended for human or animal consumption decreases, prices go up. Why does this local shift in policy affect food prices around the world? The diversion of American corn into energy has a ripple effect for two reasons: First, the United States is the world's largest corn exporter, accounting for about 40 percent of global trade, so when corn-as-food production decreases here, costs go up everywhere. Second, when the price of corn increases, farmers in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere who use the crop to feed livestock look for cheaper alternatives, like wheat or sorghum. These alternatives, in turn, become more expensive.
Another source of rising food prices is global warming. From The Toronto Star: "Climate change is also making its toxic contribution. Major droughts have hit wheat-producing nations such as Australia and Ukraine, leading to a 30-year low in the world's wheat inventories."

A third reason for higher food prices is that fast-developing nations in Asia are demanding more and better food.

The U.S. is not immune to rising food costs. In the last year, milk prices are up by 26%, eggs by 24%, and bread by 13%. And yes, there is hunger in America. Our government estimates that 28 million people will be using food stamps this year. This is the highest level since the program began in the 1960's. Meanwhile, our federal farm program pays $1.3 billion to people who don't farm.

I predict we'll be hearing less and less about the so-called obesity epidemic.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Yoo 2

A couple of days ago I wrote about John Yoo, but I felt my post was kind of missing something. Blaming those memos squarely on Yoo misses the point. Glenn Greenwald explains it well in his blog post John Yoo: Spearhead or Scapegoat:
Directing moral outrage uniquely at John Yoo and demanding that he be removed from Berkeley, while highly understandable in one sense, poses the danger that this broader responsibility will be obscured and that real accountability need not take place. If we don't have the political will to prosecute our highest political officials for war crimes or even remove them from office -- and we unquestionably did not and do not -- how can we simultaneously insist that John Yoo is beyond the pale? For better or worse, what John Yoo did, while revolting and radical, was within what became -- and still is -- the American political mainstream in the years after the 9/11 attacks.
And what could be even more revolting and radical? President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to an exclusive interview with ABC News Friday. I guess this shouldn't surprise me. Bush is on the record saying the U.S. "does not torture people," and I know he lies. Is that why the media has responded to this story with a yawn?

They can't get enough of that teen beating video though.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Go Fox Yourself

How does John Oliver do this without even cracking a smile? His recent Daily Show piece exposes the hypocrisy of Fox News. It's a shame they would not grant him an interview about why some cowards refuse to be interviewed.

In part 2, John Oliver does his own pundit show arguing how Fox News has made American better.

I wish I had half his humor and wit. Now, I know what my readers are going to say to me: we wish you had half his humor and wit too!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fundamentalist Psychopath

Dr. Laura Schlessinger -- love her or hate her -- oh hell, you can probably tell I hate her right from the title, huh? Well, she's going to be given a new pulpit on Fox New's Hannity's America. Thanks Fox!

For those who don't know, Dr. Laura (as she is commonly called) is an American radio host, author, and commentator. Her views are conservative to put it mildly. From about 1996 to 2003 she was an Orthodox Jew. Before that she was an atheist. Currently, I'm not certain what she is, but she sure is self-righteous about it!

On a typical day of her radio show, masochistic callers will air their problems about parenting, work, and relationships. Dr. Laura dishes out some harsh advice often invoking "God's Law" and other canned responses that sound like they were written by the religious right. Funny thing is she is not a medical doctor nor accredited in a discipline such as divinity, psychology or sociology. Her Ph.D. is actually in physiology.

Whatever her education or religion, she believes homosexuality is a "biological error." I never understood how this belief is compatible with any kind of religion. God creates errors? Sounds like blasphemy to me! Despite these stupid ideas, in 2000 somebody at Paramount thought it was a good idea to give Dr. Laura a TV show. Outraged activists launched and quickly succeeded. Paramount dropped the show like a fiery brimstone.

Dr. Laura has also taken on the families of children with Tourette's syndrome. According to non-expert Dr. Laura, "[The child's mother] can punish the whole world because of this affliction of her son. She can punish everybody who doesn't want to call this normal. But it's not normal. And it's not nice."

Damn! As I read her sanctimonious bullshit, I keep spewing random curse words. Maybe I'm developing Tourette's too?

Do I have any right to spew bad words or express my opinion? Not according to Dr. Laura. She criticised a 14-year-old's award-winning essay defending free speech on the Internet. Dr. Laura said the eighth-graders support of the First Amendment was "stupid" and "dangerous." Oh the irony when a radio talk show host does not support free speech!

Many of Dr. Laura's stupid ideas are culled from her literal interpretation of the Bible. People like that always scare me, but what really bothers me is how come these self-professed Bible scholars can't answer a simple question: Why Can't I Own a Canadian? I really want to know.

I also want to know how Dr. Laura, being such an expert in moral, societal and spiritual matters, can raise such a monster for a son? Dr. Laura has referred to herself as "the proud mother of a deployed American paratrooper." She is talking about her son Deryk who is serving in Afghanistan. It seems little Deryk had an incredibly salacious MySpace page. That link goes to a news article. The actual MySpace page has been deleted, but those who saw it were shocked at the contents:
...cartoon depictions of rape, murder, torture and child molestation; photographs of soldiers with guns in their mouths; a photograph of a bound and blindfolded detainee captioned "My Sweet Little Habib"; accounts of illicit drug use; and a blog entry headlined by a series of obscenities and racial epithets.
But wait! There's more!
"Yes . . . F---ING Yes!!!" said one blog entry on the Schlessinger site. "I LOVE MY JOB, it takes everything reckless and deviant and heathenistic and just overall bad about me and hyper focuses these traits into my job of running around this horrid place doing nasty things to people that deserve it . . . and some that don't."
I'm so glad he was raised in a household with strong family values. Just imagine how bad he could have been!

To be fair, the military investigated the situation. The conclusion was that the MySpace page was not created by al Qeada or other enemies, but
"the Army will only confirm that the investigation is complete, but will not discuss whether Schlessinger was at fault or whether he was reprimanded." And then the story disappeared from the media.

And oh I wish Dr. Laura would disappear too... along with her sponsors. However, free speech lover that I am, I still believe in her right to say dumb stuff.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Warriors Reporting

Army Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the two top U.S. officials in Iraq, are in Washington this week delivering their long-awaited midyear report on the war in Iraq. The two officials essentially repeated what they said seven months ago in their last war update:
  • Iraq's armed forces continue to improve,
  • overall levels of violence are lower than they were last year,
  • and political reconciliation is happening.
Frustrated senators asked about exit signs. Petraeus said he will know them when he sees them. This is hardly the moment of truth I was hoping for.

However, we can at least gain some insight into our Presidential candidates. The LA Times reports on the Square Off.

Clinton re-emphasized some critical points. Even with security gains, the Iraq government is not capable of political reconciliation. Also, our troops are being tied down in Iraq when they are needed elsewhere.

Obama argued that Petraeus and Crocker were setting the bar too high. He argued for more limited goals: an Iraqi government that could contain if not eradicate Sunni Arab radicals and could hold its own against Iranian influences, if not expel them.

McCain argued to continue a robust military presence. "This means rejecting, as we did in 2007, the calls for a reckless and irresponsible withdrawal of our forces at the moment we are succeeding."

Personally, I don't know how to define "succeeding" if we can't define what we mean by "success." It all seems so circular at times.

I noticed that the LAT article was titled "Petraeus, Democrats Square Off," but then went on to quote Republicans who also question the current war strategy. Think Progress points out a long list of of media outlets trying to frame these hearings as a battle between Democrats and Republicans. I don't understand the mass media's sloppiness in reporting. By the way, my favorite Republican comment came from Sen. Chuck Hagel: "Where is the diplomatic surge?"

I think that quote sums up my sentiments. Petraeus' testimony might be everything the President wants to hear, but the President's mistake is looking for answers from warriors when the real solutions will come from statesmen.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

My Butt

I'm still pondering my Blogged to Death post from two days ago. The original New York Times article has been getting quite a bit of criticism. I never took it seriously, but I guess it really was a lousy piece of journalism. Slate rips it to shreds in Everything You Need to Know about the Dead Blogger Epidemic. They also find the link I wish I could have discovered myself: America's Most Dangerous Jobs. Blogging didn't make the list in case you were wondering.

So why did I title this post "My Butt"? Because bloggers (and everybody in the information technology field) sit on their butts a lot. I know mine hurts, so I was happy to stumble upon a list of tips on How to Stay Healthy While Sitting at Your Desk All Day. One piece of advice is don't keep junk food at your desk. I'm guilty of that one. I should probably also drink more water, but remember you do not need 8 glasses a day.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Yoo Who?

John Yoo is the former Justice Department official and author of the infamous "torture memo" which was used by the Bush administration to justify U.S. interrogation techniques used on captured terrorist suspects. You can read the recently declassified 80 page memo yourself (pdf format): part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. Other related official documents can be found on the ACLU torture documents page.

The documents are, of course, filled with legalise, and comprehending them would be a daunting task for the average reader, so we'll have to settle on some professional analysis. The New York Times has A Guide to the Memos on Torture. Frontline has an analysis and video. ABC News highlights some major points in their Legalities Blog. The ACLU has a statement and some further links.

Here is a rundown on the world according to Yoo (via Think Progress):
  • Yoo argued that interrogation techniques only constituted torture if the inflicted pain was akin to that associated with "death, organ failure or the permanent impairment of a significant body function."
  • He advised that President Bush did not have to comply with the Geneva Convention, not even Common Article 3.
  • Claimed that Bush didn't need to ask Congress for permission to invade Iraq. Also argued that the 1973 War Powers Resolution Act was unconstitutional.
  • Justified the warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.
In a revealing Vanity Fair article The Green Light, the real story behind these memos is pieced together. The memos were not "simply some theoretical document, an academic exercise in blue-sky hypothesizing, but rather played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom."

However, in an Esquire exclusive, John Yoo Responds to this Week's Revelations. He says that he did express his reservations "to officials higher up the chain of command." I'd like for one of those documents to be released, but I'm not holding my breathe. Here is a snippet of his explanation:
“The basic substance of the memo released yesterday and the one released in 2004 is the same,” Yoo said Wednesday. “The memo released yesterday does not apply to Iraq. It applied to interrogations of al Qaeda detained at Guantanamo Bay. I don’t [necessarily] agree that the methods did migrate to Iraq, because I don’t know for a fact that they did. The analysis of the memo released yesterday was not to apply to Iraq, and we made clear in other settings that the Geneva Conventions fully applied to the war in Iraq. There was no intention or desire that the memo released yesterday apply to Iraq.”
Call me cynical, but does he know that our leaders can barely differentiate between Sunnis, Shi'ites, al Qaeda, Taliban, Iraqi citizens, and a dozen other groups? Of course the torture will migrate from one branch of the government and military to another branch... from use on one group of people to another. Torture has migrated from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, and there is evidence that it could migrate home. From a Harper's interview with Darius Rejali:
Yes, torture does migrate, and there are some good examples of it both in American and French history. The basic idea here is that soldiers who get ahead torturing come back and take jobs as policemen, and private security, and they get ahead doing the same things they did in the army. And so torture comes home.
The Washington Post also has an interview where the same author discusses 5 Myths About Torture.

But I'm digressing. This post is about Yoo, and all I have left to say about the guy is that he's still teaching law at Berkeley. Feel free to send him some fan mail to the address listed on his page.

I realize I provided a ton of links here, so if you only have time to read a few, I recommend the Harper's interview, the Vanity Fair article, and the Esquire article.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Blogged to Death

I've been taking it easy the last few days just so I don't blog myself to death. Yeah, right. the New York Times is reporting that bloggers work long hours, and a couple of them have died early deaths. I wonder how that compares to other professions? I can't seem to find that information though I found this cool life expectancy map.

Anyway, I certainly don't work long hours, I don't feel stressed, and I still think blogging is pretty cool. The coolest thing about blogging is... well it's certainly not the money because I'm not making any yet... the coolest thing is that I get to say what I want to say without needing anybody's permission. It's not like the old days when if you wrote a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, it would probably never get published. I think Clay Shirky said it well last week on The Colbert Report:

It's easy to forget that there is a generation gap between those who grew up with the internet and those who did not.

Another article in the New York Times is a grim reminder that Iranian bloggers face political persecution: "In 2004, according to Human Rights Watch, 21 bloggers or people who worked at Internet news sites critical of the government were arrested, and some of them were tortured. Periodic arrests since then have ended with jail terms."

Blogging to death is no joke.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Road Kill

I didn't have much time to blog today, but while I was sitting through a very boring family dinner, I found myself wondering why are there dozens of dead animals floating in space?
Before space programs started sending people up into orbit, scientists couldn't agree on what it would be like for a living organism to leave Earth's atmosphere. What would be the effects of weightlessness on a mammal? How would the body handle radiation from the sun? Instead of sending people up in such a risky situation, the United States and Russia sent monkeys, chimps, dogs and other animals into space in order to analyze such effects.
So these furry heroes of space exploration are now a sort of cosmic road kill. By the way, have you ever made up stories to go with the roadkill you pass on the road? I guess for some people it's a macabre hobby.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Really Bad Parents

Is this a trend? Or is this article Pretty Babies a total con? It's a six page article, so let me offer this substantial quote regarding the spa treatment of an 8 year old girl:
After sweating through the kid’s eyebrow wax, Engle, today an aesthetician at the Adolf Biecker Salon/Spa outposts in the Rittenhouse Hotel and Strafford — and, it should be noted, one of the most sought-after eyebrow specialists in the region — was directed to give her pint-size client a … bikini wax.

Engle was, predictably, extremely uncomfortable with the idea. But she sent the girl next door to the spa to have it done anyway. “It was clear that this girl was getting a bikini wax no matter what,” she says. “Better for her that we did it, instead of her mother dragging her off somewhere else to get it done.”

Engle is sharing this tale with me one afternoon over my own eyebrow session, after I’ve remarked on another young girl — no more than 10 or 11 years old — ­sitting nearby, thumbing through a magazine and obviously waiting for some sort of spa service. As Engle talks, my head floods with images of breaking this poor young munchkin out of the clutches of her surely nipped-and-tucked mother, to let her grow old and hairy under my prudish wing. “But … there’s nothing there, right?” I ask Engle. “I mean, at eight? Am I forgetting something?”

“Nope,” she says. “There’s not. Doesn’t matter. That’s when the mothers are starting them these days.”


Engle’s anecdote might be one of the scariest, but it’s not her only one. She’s seen a pair of sisters — one nine, the other 10 — brought in for microdermabrasion. (Note: Microdermabrasion sloughs off dead cells to reveal glowing “younger” skin beneath. Which is awesome if you’re, say, 45.) And at Adolf Biecker, it’s normal to see 12-year-olds coming in for their first eyebrow jobs.
My first reaction is "Eeewwww!" My second reaction is "Eww! Eww! EWWW!" My third reaction, after a little thought and some breathing exercises, is that this is abuse. It's physical abuse (waxes hurt even if there is no hair), and I think maybe it's even sexual abuse. Why tell a child that a very normal part of her body is not right and needs to be fixed? Does it set the kid on a path to an eating disorder? Or maybe just a narcissistic personality disorder?

But I know people. I know people with kids. They don't do this to their little girls. My friends care about the emotional development of their children, and pretty much want them to have childhoods similar to our own. Ahhh... I know... this article is about OTHER people's kids!

It's about a minority of parents who indulge their kids in the stupidest ways possible. We all pay the price. I predict in a few years this child will be auditioning for American Idol, we'll suffer through her rendition of Dancing Queen, and finally Simon Cowell will be the first person to tell her how spoiled she really is.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Actions and Words

I was reading today and found this article on implicit attitudes about race. The article includes a series of test you can try over at Project Implicit. Each test works the same. You're shown a series of images which you must quickly categorize. Next you're shown a series of words you must categorize as good or bad. Then the tasks are combined. Then they are switched. And then you feel like a jerk for being such a racist homophobic Republican. Seriously, follow the link and try a few tests.

When you get your results, you're shown a summary of how other web respondents scored. Sadly, like 33% of respondents, I have a strong automatic preference for able-bodied people, yet I also have a strong automatic preference for Franklin D. Roosevelt over George W. Bush. I could have predicted the second result but not the first.

Project Implicit really demonstrates how people's actions are different from their words. We say we don't judge people, but we do. However, I think we benefit from knowing our own biases. The real problems arise when we know our own biases and simply don't care.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Black Gold

Black gold in a white plight
Wont you fill up the tank, let's go for a ride
--Soul Asylum
What would you think if you woke up early one suburban morning to the rumble of an oil rig outside your window? This is happening all around Los Angeles, and many homeowners are shocked and angry about the revitalization of urban oil wells:
With oil prices at $110 a barrel, producers nationwide are suddenly taking a second look at decades-old wells that were considered tapped out and unprofitable when oil sold for one-fifth the price or less. Independent producers and major conglomerates alike are reinvesting millions in these mature wells, using expensive new technology and drilling techniques to eke every last drop out of fields long past their prime - and often in the middle of suburbia.
Expansion of the North American oil refining capacity might be one answer to our ailing economy. Besides siphoning out these old wells, there is also an estimated 174 billion barrels of crude oil in Canadian tar sands.
But extracting heavy oil from tar sands and transporting it by pipeline for refining is a difficult and costly process. Producers are developing new drilling techniques to reduce the large volumes of natural gas and water needed to separate the oil from sand. And the oil companies, which have pledged to reduce greenhouse emissions in their operations, are making the needed investments to meet environmental regulations.
And let's not forget about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). According to American cartographer Ian Thomas, we may already be drilling there.

These are epic battles. Naively, I'd like to believe that these battles are fought between people who are concerned about the environment and global warming and people who are concerned about our fuel costs and energy independence. I want to believe that both sides have noble goals. However, defending profits of a subsidized industry does not fit my definition of noble.

The oil companies can keep drilling, and get every last drop of oil, but with the world petroleum consumption over 80 million barrels a day, we will eventually run dry. We need to work on a sustainable plan now.

I hear a lot of talk lately about biofuels. By 2010, 30% of US corn crop will be used for biofuel, but this renewable fuel will result in higher food prices around the world:
When the production of corn intended for human or animal consumption decreases, prices go up. Why does this local shift in policy affect food prices around the world? The diversion of American corn into energy has a ripple effect for two reasons: First, the United States is the world's largest corn exporter, accounting for about 40 percent of global trade, so when corn-as-food production decreases here, costs go up everywhere. Second, when the price of corn increases, farmers in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere who use the crop to feed livestock look for cheaper alternatives, like wheat or sorghum. These alternatives, in turn, become more expensive.
Americans need to remember that it's not all about us. The rest of the world likes to eat too.

Saying this oil crisis is complicated is an understatement. It is urgent, it is real, it is moral, it is global, it is challenging, but it is not black and white.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Not Very Funny

Today is April Fool's Day, so don't trust anything you read online. For my more gullible friends, let me make it perfectly clear: Google is not allowing you to send e-mail into the past, Virgin and Google are not colonizing Mars, ICANN is not shutting down the Internet for an hour (does anybody still fall for this one?), TechCrunch is not acquiring Tiger Beat, the eHarmony founder did not find love on, and... ok.... this list is exhausting me. Don't believe anything today! You can find a more complete list of pranks here.

If you have some time to waste today, fill out the Virgle Pioneer Job Application.