Posting has been sparse today for obvious reasons. I'll be out of town visiting family for much of tomorrow, and I'll be back later that day to celebrate the wedding of two dear friends, so posting will likely continue to be sparse until Sunday at the earliest. My apologies; I have tons of links I plan to cite. With any luck I might toss a few of them up here before the day is out, but if not I'll resume normal activities by Monday. Have a good weekend, and if the mood strikes you let me know what you think of the new layout.
I have to admit--since installing my hit counter, I have been paying attention to it, and I'm pleased to note that since I installed it just shy of a month ago, there have been more than 1,000 hits. I know that hardly compares to hundreds of other bloggers, but I'm pleased nonetheless. Thanks to all of you for visiting, and I hope you keep coming back.
...and in celebration, I've implented the change I hinted at earlier: I've changed the template. Of course, the customizations have gone bye-bye, so things may look a little odd for a while as I transfer them from the code I'd save previously (of course I saved a backup!).
Update: Well, I'm fairly happy with the look in general, but there are some persistent problems I still need to work out. For some reason this version takes longer to load, and I'm checking into that. I also need to tweak the tables on the left-hand side some more. Also, I obviously haven't put the theme music back, but I plan to; may change the tune, however.
I don't know quite what to make of this...the Time Travel Fund offers to deposit your US$10 membership fee into a bank account and then return it to you at some point in the future when time travel becomes feasible. The fund plans to arrange somehow to bring members into the future using time travel, at which point the $10 will have grown into billions through the magic of compound interest. (Of course, as Woody Allen discovered in Sleeper, even a simple cup of coffee might cost a million dollars or two...imagine how much Starbuck's might charge in 500 years.)
I'd mentioned the sorry case of Rebekah Revels, the winner of this year's Miss North Carolina who was barred from competing in the Miss America pageant after an ex-boyfriend told pageant officials that he'd taken topless photos of her--without her consent, as it turned out.
In a recent development, pageant officials have [begin sarcasm tag] generously [end sarcasm tag] allowed Revels to keep the $12,000 in scholarship money she won along with her Miss North Carolina title. Although pageant officials initially maintained she's have to forfeit the prize money along with her title, they informed Revels in a letter of their payoff largesse.
...and no, there are no copies of the topless photos of her here. Perverts.
Yesterday I followed a link from FARK to the Web log of Wil Wheaton, the actor who played young Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Specifically, Wheaton posted a long and thoughtful entry on his reaction to the news that his character's scene had been cut from the upcoming Star Trek movie, Nemesis. Wheaton's essay was humble, eloquent, moving and thought-provoking.
When the Great Bird of the Galaxy re-tooled the Star Trek concept for the '80s, he riffed on several of the original series' concepts. For example, rather than casting a half-human alien struggling to supress his human side, he envisioned an android with a fully human appearance but--initially--no real concept of a human soul. Both characters offered the opportunity to do what science fiction does at its best--explore what it means to be human. Rather than have the ship's captain be bold and brash, Rodenberry gave us the more cereberal and reserved Jean-Luc Picard (sparking a never-ending debate on which captain is better), allocating the adventurous role to the new Enterprise's first officer. And just as Chekov was brought on board in the original series as a character young viewers could identify with, the new series features the youthful Wesley Crusher.
Unfortunately, that character was greeted with a wave of general derision. I never got into the new series enough to really share that scorn--by the time I started watching, Wesley's role had been reduced, and he was eventually shipped off to Starfleet Academy--and frankly, there were a lot of other things about the show that annoyed me more. (That's a topic for another time, though--well, the constant hints throught the first couple of seasons that Wesley might be the notorouisly child-phobic Picard's son were one of 'em, but they dropped that angle too.)
Looking back, though, I wonder if the problem wasn't that legions of Trekkies might have identified with Wesley a bit too well. I wonder if the stereotypical Star Trek fan might have found Wesley's youth, immaturity (he was like twelve or so when the show debuted) and geeky eagerness hitting a bit too close to home, and responded with a rejection that was really a form of reflection.
In any case, I was impressed by Wheaton's post, and the Web log he maintains. Wheaton takes a lot of flak for his character, but it's important to remember that while the actor created the character from the lines he was given, someone else wrote those lines, and the justly revered Rodenberry himself played a major role in envisioning a 12-year-old running around on the Enterprise.
Although Egypt will continue to receive American largesse to the tune of almost US$2 billion a year, the official signal marks a break in policy toward the Middle Eastern nation. Human Rights Watch praised the move as possibly "the most significant step the United States has ever taken to defend human rights in the Arab world."
In the latter case, the baby was grabbed from a mini-van, car seat and all, while her mother dropped off an empty shopping cart a few feet away. (The mother grabbed the kidnapper's car and was dragged several yards, and was treated for scrapes; a 13-year-old onlooker pounded on the suspect's car but failed to stop it.) Scary.
The science journal Nature is to publish an article indicating that two mutations to a single gene that occurred nearly 200,000 years ago gave humans much better control of the muscles of the mouth and throat, leading to the ability to speak.
Somehow, despite this laundry list of screw-ups and failed initiatives, the Bush administration largely retains its reputation for awesome managerial competence--a reputation that cows even Democrats. Many have wondered why the administration suddenly floundered when confronted with this summer's corporate corruption scandal. The real mystery is how the White House failed to advance its agenda for so long without anyone noticing. Why does the myth of Bush administration competence persist after ample evidence has emerged to show that it simply isn't true?
The Bushies also excel at the atmospherics and trappings of competence. Meetings start punctually. Everyone stays on message. Staffers don't leak. Everyone wears suits. ... Particularly in a wartime setting, the Bushies' buttoned-down, all-business approach contrasted favorably with the on-the-edge atmosphere of the Clinton years. ... And the White House's aggressive assertions of executive privilege--such as blocking the sleuths at the GAO from peeking inside the White House and ordering agencies to resist complying with Freedom of Information requests--have also kept potential embarrassments out of the public eye.
Getting people to follow you by force of personality, persuasion, and will is the essence of leadership. In fact, some of the qualities that make the president so great at scamming the policy process proved to be his greatest strengths in the first phases of the war. Bush was supremely confident and appropriately indifferent to complexities that might have distracted a more thoughtful, but less resolute, individual. But mostly, what the Bushies call "leadership" is just a confidence game. And over time, that kind of leadership will get its butt kicked by reality every time.
During the 2000 election, on issue after issue, Democratic positions outpolled Republican ones, just as they had in 1998. George W. Bush won the presidency in spite of that. But he still faced the difficult task of governing with an agenda that most Americans simply didn't support. When you look past the promises and the tough talk and the spin, you see an administration whose major policy initiatives are stalled or postponed to some unspecified point in the future.
In my opinion, Democrats are enamored by the trappings of Democracy. They have trained themselves to believe that the more "input" and "diversity" that takes place, the better the end result. As a result, the process looks chaotic and by association, the result seems unpolished and flawed. Policies may in fact be flawed because they can be designed to accommodate and appease each member of the Democratic coalition (blacks, labor, etc) and put other considerations aside. Republicans come out of a corporate background, in which a board of directors pretty much rubber stamps the decision of the CEO (at least, in modern days it does), or at least keeps conflicts hidden in order to put on a united front. This makes the decision making process seem competent, when it may be no such thing.
Josh also... ...wonders why "the Bush administration -- which made such a fuss about 'responsibility' -- is quick pass the buck to [Clinton] whenever anything goes wrong on their watch in the war on terrorism," then goes on to document some fudgery--only reluctantly and quietly corrected--in OMB statisticss that understated the role of the Bush tax cut in creating the deficits projected over the next ten years.
...wonders whether, even if attacking Iraq is justified, if the Bush administration's record lends itself to trust that it'd do a comeptent job...
...comments several times on damning information about intelligence and anti-terrorism preparedness prior to 9/11 and its current state...
...best of all, notes that "most media outlets ... framed coverage [of the economic forum] thusly: was the Forum a genuine forum or a hollow PR exercise? That meant the White House had already lost the battle, since framed that way, the question pretty much answers itself. And not in a way the White House would like."
The Bull Moose (no permalink) also has a wonderful column today in which he points out another underrepresented group I hadn't considered--conservative economists.
Don't expect W. to readily adopt any of the economic proposals that emanate from the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal anytime soon. Conservative policy wonks were apoplectic that they were excluded from the Waco economic forum. Of course, that forum had less political diversity than a meeting of the North Korean People's Congress in Pyongyang. Maximum leader Kim Jong Il receives less fawning adulation than W. got Tuesday at Baylor.
...along the way, the Moose offhandedly skewers the canard of the "liberal" media:
Is there liberal bias in the media? Sure, and so what? There is a conservative in the White House and right wingers are largely dominant on Capitol Hill. Obviously if there is bias, it is dramatically inept and counter-productive.
Conservative punditry is widespread - perhaps even dominant - in the media today. Although it is true that many former Democratic operatives work in the media, they often bend over backwards to mute their bias leaving the left under-represented. [emphasis mine] Ask yourself - who is a greater object of ridicule in the press, Bush or Gore? And can anyone argue that Clinton got a free ride with the New York Times?
More money spent in Washington means less money in the hands of American families and entrepreneurs; less money in the hands of risk-takers and job creators.
STF is dismayed:
What? The guy who signed the farm bill said this? Does he think that the money the government spends disappears into outer space?
Well, no...when the GOP is is charge, that money doesn't disappear; it's merely redistributed to corporations and GOP districts.
The 1994 revolution that gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives produced a seismic shift in federal spending, moving tens of billions of dollars from Democratic to GOP districts, an Associated Press analysis shows...the change was driven mostly by Republican policies that moved spending from poor rural and urban areas to the more affluent suburbs and GOP-leaning farm country, the computer analysis showed...In terms of services, for example, that translates into more business loans and farm subsidies, and fewer public housing grants and food stamps.
When Democrats last controlled the House and wrote the 1995 budget, the average Democratic district got $35 million more than the average GOP district. By 2001, average federal spending in Republican districts was $612 million more than in Democratic districts.
And of course, none of that takes into account tax cuts that are tilted toward the wealthy (like the estate tax).
Make no mistake about it...the Republicans aren't really interested in cutting the size of government, merely certain parts, while lavishing spending on others. In the words of Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey:
There is an old adage: To the victor goes the spoils.
Indeed, nearly everybody in the two panel discussions aired on C-SPAN today was a CEO. The others were a student at Yale’s graduate school of management; a woman who, combined with her husband’s, had five college degrees; and a pair of union bosses who wore suits and talked only about the Bush policies they supported. Like plantation owners, the employers on hand spoke for their employees. “They are so happy to have jobs,” one CEO told Bush.
Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill ... opened with standard Bush administration talking points: Some people are suffering, but the economy is sound; Bush’s tax cuts helped cure the recession; and what we need now is more tax cuts and less regulation. Then they threw it open to the participants, who suggested that Bush should rethink … nothing.
Of course, if all these people agreed with Bush beforehand, then the event wasn’t about listening. It was about selling Bush’s policies. And if the public had already agreed with Bush, the sales job would have been unnecessary. ... In short, the operational premise of the event was that its stated premise was false: The “real people” onstage held beliefs that the real people watching it didn’t share. That ruse may have been economical. But it wasn’t very presidential, and it certainly wasn’t a forum.
Imagine that [Karl] Rove had not stuffed the forum with campaign donors and friends of the Administration's policies. Imagine how effective this could have been if Bush and his people had stood up to harsh questioning and successfully defended their policies. That would have been impressive, and would have gone a long way to sell their policies.
Now, I don't think they can defend their economic policies in front of a hostile crowd, and neither does Rove, apparently. Rove's problem is that he saw the alternative to be what he built - an extended photo-op that everyone knows was a snow job, and no one would be afraid to label a snow job. At best, people will ignore it. They could, however, also see it as just one more example of Bush being disconnected from ordinary concerns.
Right below this post is a little comment device (as long as enetation is up and running). That means if you agree-or disagree--with what I have to say, you're free to respond; you can also email. Many bloggers use one of not both ffedback systems, and I believe that doing so indicates
openness to other people's points of view, even if they are different
confidence that one's positions can withstand challenges
the intellectual honesty to stand corrected if necessary
Contrast that with the Bush forum....indeed, his entire autocratic bitartisan governmental style. 'Nuff said.
In the great Tim Burton movie Ed Wood, there's a running gag that whenever the legendary bad director (Wood, not Burton) pitches a movie featuring his pal Bela Lugosi, people express surprise that the former Dracula star is still alive. Well, I just had much the same reation to this Wired article, which reveals that Apple continues to offer its great HyperCard tool; apparently--big surprise--the problem is that despite the fact that just about anyone who uses the thing loves it, the company is having trouble deciding how to market it. There's a sidebar interview with the author of HyperCard and MacPaint, Bill Atkinson, in which he rues not thinking that HyperCard could have been the first Web browser. I had assumed that Apple had pulled the plug on HyperCard long ago; even so, they haven't updated it since 1998.
The Great Salt Lake is shrinking due to below-average precipitation and high summer temperatures. Since the lake is shallow, dropping water levels expose more shoreline, with the side effect of an unpleasant odor from rotting material around the edges.
Today President Bush expressed his optimism with the economy, and once again Wall Street finished down. I've said before that the TV news device of showing a minute-by-minute stock ticker during a Bush speech is hardly fair or accurate, but I'm definitely starting to notice a pattern here.
A Wall Street analyst explained that the reason for the drop was disappointment that the meeting of the Federal Reserve didn't result in an interest rate reduction: "Today was selling on the news because there's nothing coming along in the dog days of August that's going to change the psychology."
...well, nothing except a much-ballyhooed dog-and-pony show economic summit and a Presidential address in which he displayed his cluelessness optimism, but obviously Wall Street was none to impressed with that.
Thankfully, no one seriously believes Cuba is a terrorist state, and the momentum is clearly with the embargo foes. The House has already voted to end the Cuba embargo, and the Senate should soon follow suit. Even House Majority Leader Dick Armey -- a staunch anti-terrorism, anti-communism conservative -- argues the embargo should be lifted [registration required] (even though he voted against doing so out of loyalty to the GOP's Cuban-American House contingent).
Embargo supporters have one last line of defense -- Bush's threatened veto. While Bush has yet to veto a single bill, Florida politics demand he make this his first. And it will be interesting to see how this plays. Bush will override the will of the vast majority of Congress -- a strongly bipartisan [emphasis in the original] majority no less, to protect the narrow (and irrational) interests of a small special interest group for the benefit of his his and his brother's reelection campaigns.
"Under this administration, we've lost nearly 2 million jobs, $7 trillion in the market and more than $5 trillion of the surplus," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat. "A made-for-TV economic forum isn't going to solve our problems, or ease families' concerns."
Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser, shot back, "I understand why people who are hypersensitive about the fall elections want an opportunity to score a political cheap shot, but frankly every American ought to applaud it when their president sits down with ordinary people and hears from them."
...yup...according to Rove, citing real statistics about real jobs real people have lost since the Bushies took over (not to mention the vanished surplus) is a "cheap shot;" and anyway, the people ought to be just darn grateful the President is taking a break from listening to his ownerscronies loyal business campaign contributors to hear from them, the people.
Speaking of who Bush really listens to, I don't know if you'd call this "news," but according to the AP report, "Bush...mostly heard endorsements of his policies on tax cuts, pension reforms and terrorism insurance from a handpicked." Imagine that...you invite a preselected list, and, mirabile dictu, they tell you what you want to hear. Like it's a total coincidence that after Cheney's energy task force consulted with industry representatives--including Enron execs--it recommended substantially pro-industry, anti-environment policies. Amazing how that works, really.
If this is the best Bush can do to show his "leadership," the Democrats ought to be sitting pretty come November.
Update: Oh, this is priceless...the very day he appears at Bush's forum, Charles Schwab announces his company is closing down a customer service center and laying off 375 employees--in Texas, no less! (via Eschaton)
Dan Gilmour's column points out that all the complaining about copyright issues going on in Web sites, columns and blogs (including this one) won't do any good if the people who make the rules don't listen to it. The column makes so many good points that it's tempting to quote the whole darn thing, but I'll settle for some key excerpts:
If you can set the rules, you can win the contest. That's the major reason the entertainment cartel is winning the debate over copyright in the Digital Age.
Average people are not part of the conversation, not in any way that matters. To the cartel and its chattel in the halls of political power, we are nothing but ``consumers'' -- our sole function is to eat what the movie, music and publishing industries put in front of us, and then send money.
(Okay, that's the first two grafs verbatim, but it's strong stuff!)
Absolute control means demolishing the rights we users of copyrighted material have enjoyed for centuries, such as the fair-use right to make personal copies or quote from copyrighted works. It means carving away what's left of the public domain, shrinking the public commons from which so many creative works have emerged in the past.
The entertainment companies don't fear the end of creativity. They fear the end of the business model that has centralized control over much of our culture, a system that has produced extortionate profits for companies that have a remarkable tendency to cheat the artists in the process.
I'm convinced that we can preserve our rights, if we can only persuade Congress that they're worth preserving. There's little or no constituency for fair use and other rights, partly because lawmakers are only hearing one side. But if the community of readers, listeners, viewers, scholars, researchers and others who don't ``own'' copyrights doesn't at least challenge the terms of the debate, it will surely lose.
The Bull Moose (no permalink) suggests to President Bush an example of pro-growth, anti-corruption populism from Texas history, Governor James Stephen Hogg. The Moose quotes the The Handbook of Texas Online:
He pleaded for three separate principles: (1) that no insolvent corporation should do business in Texas; (2) that the free-pass system over the railroads should forever terminate; and (3) that the use of corporate funds in politics and in support of lobbies at Austin should be prohibited. [emphasis mine] At the end of a trying evening, he had won the audience over to his views.
I'm pleased with the volume of posts today--as opposed to yesterday. I've also been tossing some a roundup of news items from across Asia Destroy All Monsters way. Editor-in-Chief Musashi was kind enough to post 'em all, with his own unique commentary thrown in. I hadn't realized there were so many! Check 'em out.
I know I feel so much better knowing that Bush is so "incredibly optimistic" that the economy will rebound. Acknowledging that investor confidence is critical, Bush summed up his administration's policy nicely by saying, "Confidence is more than just government enforcing the law. Confidence is an industry policing itself." Which, of course, has been working just wonderfully.
Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias wonders if any corporate executives would look beyond an agenda of immediate self interest to speak to critical problems the way AFL-CIO president John J. Sweeney did in his op-ed piece.
More good news from the War on Drugs: A thriving drug market exists in the parking lot of a McDonald's mere blocks from three city-run Methadone clinics. Read the article and see how brazen the dealers are, and how little they fear the rent-a-cop the McDonald's stationed on the premises.
To paraphrase Orwell, if you want a picture of the future of the War on Terror, imagine the War on Drugs forever.
u.s. to begin fingerprinting some foreign visitors
This WaPo article indicates that the Justice Department is preparing to launch a program of fingerprinting and ID checks for many foreign visitors, especially those from some Muslim countries. Of course there are charges of profiling, but frankly I don't have a real beef with that. The September 11 hijackers were hardly an ethnically diverse bunch; to the contrary, they all conformed to a similar profile.
But as Eschaton points out, Saudi Arabia is conspicuously absent from the list, even though 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
I went outside late last night to try to catch a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower. Unfortunately, the sky was overcast, so there was no chance of seeing anything, even if I'd driven away from the city. Tonight might be better, but if not there's always next year...
Do you feel you need a little more retro in your life? Do you long to surround yourself with swingin' jazz, cars with fins, or just '40s-style cheesecake pinups? Living Retro might be a good place to start. It features essays on all aspects of mid-20th-century nostalgia, from cars and cocktails to recipes and film.
Totally c00L: In an effort to help alleviate frustration due to nearby constuction, an Omaha, Neb., bank slipped some larger-denomination bills into its Automated Teller Machine; lucky patrons of the machine received a surprise bonus. The $20 stack contains a few $50s while the $10 slot doles out the occasional sawbuck ($20). No end date for the "road warrior" promotion is scheduled, but the construction project is due to be completed later this year.
spider-man! spider-man! delivers all the propane he can!
A Thai store seeling bottled cooking gas has seen its sales spike thanks to a unique gimmick: the owner dressed all his delivery staff in Spider-Man costumes. The store owner said sales have tripled since they started the costumed delivery. No word yet on any copyright-infringement lawsuit...
Just noticed on Blogger's Blogs of Note list: It's All About Coffee, a site "devoted to the fascinating world of coffee." The site contains history, quotes, recipes and fun facts about coffee and other caffeinated beverages.
I've been in meetings all day, so have had little opportunity to post. In addition, I'm tackling a couple of assignments for Destroy All Monsters, which are taking up much of my free time in the near term. Sorry for the lack of fresh content--I did just post one new item--but I plan to make up for it in the coming days.
A Reuters report indicates that "script kiddies," the youthful malefactors who assemble harmful viruses such as the infamous "Love Bug" or "Anna Kournikova" from downloadable, cut-and-paste Visual Basic scripts, are becoming a practically neglible threat. The article quotes experts as saying that the email-borne viruses caused a lot of damage but inspired new security measures that are beyond the abilities of the "script kiddies" to overcome. The article notes that other viruses, such as the recent Code Red and Klez, which used more sophisticated programming--including altering their file size at random to throw off antivirus programs--still pose a threat.
The article does not indicate whether users are becoming more wary of email-borne viruses that lure vistims to opening an attachment with an enticing description. One organization where I worked--and a technology-related company at that--endured a practically constant onslaught of the "Anna Kournikova" worm because there was always one person who'd double-click the purported picture, flooding the company all over again.