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  xSaturday, December 21, 2002

xmas song of the day

For your holiday listening pleasure:

Elvis Presley - Santa Claus Is Back In Town


critics to feds: dmca sux0rz

According to Wired News, a mandated public comment period on the odious Digital Millenium Copyright Act has just concluded. To no one's surprise, the collected commentary is full of criticism of the law, especially provisions that seem to chip away at the public domain in favor of corproate interests.


cheapo dvd alert

To my surprise, I encountered one of those roadside 5-DVDs-for-$20 stands this afternoon, and of course I stopped to look. I wound up blowing a sawbuck on a quintet of flicks:

  • Sonny Chiba's The Bodyguard

  • Jackie Chan's Drunken Master

  • Chow Yun-Fat in God of Killers

  • Dario Argento's Opera--the Anchor Bay, edition, no less; this isn't a cheapo DVD at all; it goes for $22.48 at An unbelievably lucky find!

  • Today's obscure-old-school-martial-arts-flick was Legend of the Dragonslayer Sword, starring Ma Jin-Tao and Yip Tong.


Update: By the way, I've decided they should be a Xmas present, so they're going under the tree.

  xFriday, December 20, 2002

swank xmas song of the day

For your holiday listening pleasure:

Frank Sinatra - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town


xmas hottie of the day

aria giovanni
aria giovanni
aria giovanni

Aria Giovanni in a Santa hat.



Please join me in welcoming my new nephew, The Baby To Be Named Later Samuel Owen Miller, born at about 6:30 p.m. today in Louisville to my sister and brother-in-law. TBTBNL Samuel Owen was 9 pounds, 3 ounces and 20.5 inches long. Mother and son are doing fine.

Congratulations, Miranda and Jake!

Update: The lad's name is Samuel Owen Miller.


disgusting. foul. rancid. just plain bad.

I was too disgusted about this yesterday to post anything, and even today it's difficult to discern if this action is more shocking and disturbing from its remeiscence to the reprehensible internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII or from its sheer ineptitude. It's hard to imagine a more counterproductive policy. Make no mistake about it: many of those arrested for lacking paperwork were in that condition because of delays at the INS. And while some may crow at their preception of a triumph for law and order, these were people who voluntarily stepped forward to comply with an official request--hardly the actions of a security risk. I feel confident in predicting, though, that we won't see much in the way of cooperation in the future.

In his tasty rant on this nauseating event, Demosthenes puts it in perspective:
People, this sort of thing plays into Osama's hands. In fact, it doesn't just play into Osama's hands, it does his job for him. Kindly remember that the entire point of Osama's quest is to convince Muslims that they need to reject the west and its embodiment, the United States, as a corrupt and evil influence. He wants to start a war between the west and Islam, and (I'm sure) is hoping that the United States will start it for him, so Muslims around the world will believe that they are next; that they are targets no matter how moderate, peaceful, and westernized they are. By doing this, the United States is reinforcing that belief. By arresting Iranians, the United States is showing that this is not limited to the Arab world and never was, and is ensuring that the clerics have a powerful weapon to keep the population in line and supporting their government- fear of the United States. Indeed, people that might not have been bothered or offended by attempts to keep terrorism in line will be forced to be suspicious, because the United States government has proven through this action that it doesn't matter who you are or where you live... as long as you come from the wrong country, you're a suspect.

The problem isn't just that these people are being arrested. The problem is that everybody outside the United States is going to know that they've been arrested, why they've been arrested, why it's a scam, and what it says about the respect the United States government has for the human rights of those it thinks may at some point threaten its security. And no amount of spin doctoring from bloggers, the punditry, the administration, or God Himself is going to make a whit of difference. They're going to know, and they're going to understand, and it's quite possible they're going to do something about it. And if they think that they're targets, not all the American pop culture in Hollywood is going to make a lick of difference.

Several times before, I've questioned this Administration's handling of the war on terrorism, and I've also noted that Bush has by now amply belied his oft-claimed honesty. This latest development makes it crystal clear that Bush was also lying when he uttered the following words (emphasis mine):
" solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and I will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."


linkage alert

Blogger-powered weblogs seem to be having difficulties with their archives. Although my archived posts appear to be in order as far as I know, I'm unable to reach several I've linked.


another severe taunting

The Onion reports that the Dickensian Ghost of Xmas Future is tantalizing videogame enthusiasts with visions, not of sugarplums, but of the 2016 version of the PlayStation.
"You know how kids are—a year is an eternity to them," the wraithlike specter said Monday during a visit to the Southfield home of 13-year-old Josh Kuehn. "So just imagine showing them something they'll have to wait 14 years for. Teasing them with a glimpse of the PS5 is the ultimate torture. They absolutely lose their minds. It's like saying, 'Hey, kid, you'll be an old man before you ever get to touch this.'"

(via Ipse Dixit)


lott to step down

This just in: CNN reports that Trent Lott has announced that he "will not seek to remain as majority leader" for the upcoming Senatorial session, adding that he would retain his Senate seate. This is, of course, a major development.

I for one applaud the Republicans for making clear that no one who expressed the nostalgia for segregation that Lott did should represent them as their leader, and Lott for doing the right thing and resigning.

More later.


more scientific fun

In the same issue that featured the study of Playboy centerfolds I just mentioned, the British Medical Journal also contains a study that debunks the legend of the "Mummy's Curse"--the theory that those involved with the 1922 discovery of Egyptian pharoah Tutankhamen's tomb died suddenly soon after. Although expedition patron Lord Carnarvon died just weeks after the opening of the chamber--launching the myth--the study found that most others suffered no undue effects, and indeed archaeologist Howard Carter, who led the team that discovered King Tut's tomb, and who scoffed at the notion of a curse, lived into his 60s before dying of natural causes.

In other goodies, the same issue contained a study suggesting that gobbling ice cream (as opposed to eating it slowly) makes one more prone to ice cream headache (known to Pete & Pete fans as the dreaded "brain freeze") even in cold weather, a study suggesting that Asian-Americans do not die in disproportiante numbers on the 4th of the month due to a beleif that the number 4 is unlucky, and a study suggesting that the lay public is better at guessing a baby's gender from looking at its face than pediatricians are, although the mean number of wrong guesses as nearly 45%.


oddity of the day

playboy centerfold brooke berry
The Xmas edition of the British Medical Journal traditionally carries material in a less serious (*ahem*) vein. This year's edition continues that tradition with the results of an analysis of Playboy centerfolds over that magazine's entire 50-year run. They found that, over the years, models have become less curvaceous, trending toward a slimmer, more "androgynous" body profile.

The scientists tabulated the models' anthropometric data: height, weight, and measurements for bust, waist, and hip. They calculated composite measures from these data: body mass index, waist:hip ratio, waist:bust ratio, bust:hip ratio, and an androgyny index that tracked the ration of the model's hip and bust (the slimmer the model, the higher the androgyny index).

The scientists discovered that, while the weight of the models was a near constant ("and hence may indicate a stable attractiveness cue"), the other measurements changed over time. Models increased in height and age; bust size and hip size decreased, while waist size increased. Composite measures of body shape captured the same trends: body mass index and bust:hip ratio decreased, while waist:hip ratio, waist:bust ratio, and androgyny index all increased.

Solely in the interests of scientific inquiry, of course, we present a (safe for work) sampling of recent Playboy centerfolds (courtesy Comparing these lovelies with this archive of centerfolds from 1960-2000 is left as an exercise for the reader.

playboy centerfold alexandria karlsenplayboy_centerfold maria louisa gil.jpg
playboy centerfold natalia sokolovaplayboy centerfold stephanie adams
playboy centerfold victoria silvstedt


new at dam

Destroy All Monsters is now on holiday hiatus, but Editor-in-Chief Musashi and I offer suggestions of holiday gifts for the fanboy on your shopping list. For more suggestions on gifts to make a geek happy, try this.

  xThursday, December 19, 2002

xmas song of the day

For your holiday listening pleasure:

Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters - Jingle Bells


shipwreck link of the day

MetaFilter links to a couple of pages of photos taken during the exploration of the wreck of the oil tanker Prestige by the Nautile, a mini submarine that has also explored the Titanic wreck.


tolkien link of the day

Aziz Poonawalla reminds us that The Lord of the Rings is not allegorical; Tolkien himself rejected the notion that it was.
Tolkien's original vision was to create a mythology for England, which by quirk of history had none remaining. ...Tolkien was aghast at the idea that LOTR could be allegorical, and argued strenously against interpreting his work as such...The disdain that Tolkien had for this kind of decimation of themes to mere analogy is clear in the Foreword, because it takes something timeless and forces it into a very limited temporal window. This destroys the lessons and utility of the themes themselves.

The true themes of LOTR, which are applicable to any time, are these, to name just a few: We are our own worst enemy. Evil within must be defeated before the evil without. Death. The simple heroism of ordinary people. The Pandora's box of technology. The necessity of wisdom. The vulnerability of the wise. LOTR is suffused with powerful lessons that speak to the very core of the forces driving history in the Age of Man. This is why LOTR is timeless and will continue to be applicable, in its own unique way, to every unique reader.


anime link of the day

Destroy All Monsters is now on holiday hiatus, but it has re-launched its weekly feature Destroy All Anime. Among the bountiful plenty of good stuff there, yours truly contributes a review of the obscure magical girl OAV Zeguy.


fact-checking the record industry

Bruce Baugh cites a detailed examination of the marketing data figures the RIAA released to back up its claim that music swapping was killing the industry. Baugh comments:
The upshot of it is that profit per release is up. The number of new releases has been cut drastically, by a quarter or so--after the closure of Napster, as Reimann points out. But the remaining releases are each earning a lot more. The overall decline is in the realm of 6% over the last couple of years, which is by no means unusual in the midst of a recession. Ziemann claims, and I think these figures bear him out, that if the number of releases had not been slashed so far, the music industry would be enjoying net growth in revenue.

In short: they are lying lying lying about the impact of piracy. What's hurting the music industry is apparently bad managerial response to the basic fact of recession, cutting production more than was warranted and without doing things like reforming accounting practices, refraining from sales hikes, and not alienating customers with poorly conceived and presented anti-piracy schemes.

Imagine my surprise.

(via Avedon Carol)


skepticism watch

The People's Republic of Seabrook doesn't think the GOP will "walk the walk."

I have a comment in the discussion thread.



The DARPA Information Awareness Office (IAO) has removed the über-creepy eye-in-pyramid logo from its home page. The original page is cached here.

(via The Memory Hole via Neptune World)


free political philosophy treatise of the day

Matthew Yglesias links to this free online version of Hobbes' Leviathan, endorsing it as "the best work of political philosophy ever."

That may be, but waaaay back in my Political Philosophy clas, I found it mighty boring, too--exceeded only by The Communist Manifesto.

The link comes in Yglesias' citation of this Pandagon post that scoffs at an NRO column claiming the Lott flap was manufactured by Democrats (must have missed the memo declaring the party line to be that it was Republicans showing how virtuous they all are*...).

*I'm being snarky here; I've already credited principled conservatives for their sincere and justifiable outrage over Lott's comments.


media bias debunked yet again

TBOGG has a blistering two-pronged takedown on WaPo columnist Michael Kelly's attempt to demonstrate that yes, Virginia, there is a "liberal media." It seems that not only are the cited factoids somewhat, er, selective, but that Kelly's sole source is not as "nonpartisan" as he would like to have us believe.

He also cites Joe Conason's rebuttal to Kelly's column. And for good measure, he joins the rest of the sane world in thinking Bush's missile defense pipedream plan is a stupid idea.

(via Eschaton)


yet more antimissile criticism

The WaPo's editorial board--which is fairly hawkish on Iraq, let's not forget--also criticizes Bush's flawed and hasty decision to begin deployment of a vaporware antimissle defense system:
The Bush administration's decision to deploy a rudimentary missile defense system in Alaska and California by the end of 2004 begs the question of what threat justifies such an accelerated timetable. The missile system, after all, is far from proven; some of its key elements have not yet been built, much less tested. So if it is to be rushed into the field, at considerable cost and risk of failure, it ought to be because a potential adversary has appeared capable of attacking the United States with an intercontinental missile. Yet there appears to be no such enemy. America is at peace with Russia and China, nations that could easily overwhelm a missile defense system anyway. North Korea, the most likely suspect, does not yet have a missile capable of hitting the continental United States. The CIA believes its Taepodong-1 model, which has been tested only once, at best could reach the outskirts of Alaska -- and only then if it were not carrying a nuclear warhead.

North Korea, Iran or other hostile states might someday deploy missiles that threaten the United States, and for that reason a missile defense program is worth pursuing. Because several countries already possess intermediate-range missiles, and the defensive systems against them are closer to proving their worth, plans to deploy those systems on Navy ships or near U.S. bases abroad make some sense. But the Bush administration's hasty drive to build a ground-based defense against long-range missiles seems to have more to do with the U.S. political calendar than with any plausible defense scenario. For the administration's missile defense hawks, the program has become an ideology; they appear determined to pour enough concrete and create enough on-the-ground hardware by the next presidential election to make it irreversible. Some still remember, with great bitterness, the Clinton administration's decision to pull the plug on many of the pre-1992 missile defense projects; they are intent on preventing a repeat of that setback.

(continued in the next post)


(continued from the previous post)

Yet this preemptive construction, which will require a substantial increase in the $16 billion budgeted for missile defense in the next two years, will likely create a system that is more Potemkin than preventative. The Pentagon still hasn't built key parts of the system, including a workable booster rocket, or the satellite sensors needed to detect incoming missiles and differentiate them from decoys. The radar system designed to be used with the interceptors exists only in prototype. The current interceptor has failed three of eight of its flight tests, and it hasn't even been tested yet against missiles with realistic decoys. Outside experts say such tests may not even be possible before the end of the decade.

The Post has already answered its hypothetical question "So why spend the money to deploy, given the absence of a tangible threat?" Because one we start spending, we're committed. Once we dig those holes in Alaska, we're bound to put something there, whether it really works or not. The Post is right to point out not only how faulty the decision is, but also--once again--that it's based on political, not policy, concerns.


tpm sums it up

Talking Points Memo has this take on Bill Clinton's comments:
No one compares to Bill Clinton when it comes to cutting to the chase and telling truths in a way sure to make Republicans howl. And howl they will. Because this statement is undeniably true. ...But this really gets us into the bigger story, the bigger picture.

One needn't think that the Republican party itself is racist. I don't. (In any case, that's too big a word, too general a question.) What the Republican party does have is a history -- not by accident, but by design -- of playing to and benefiting from the votes of racist and crypto-racist constituencies in certain parts of the country -- particularly, though not exclusively, in the South. They built the Republican party in the South on the foundation of racial resentment and civil rights rejectionism. Since then they've built a whole house on top of it. But the foundation's still there.

To deny this is to deny the obvious. There's just been a prohibition on saying it. And a good deal of the Republican displeasure with Lott -- though mixed with a lot of genuine outrage at his retrograde views -- is tied to his having brought this all into the open.

For more on the GOP's recent history of flirtation with the anti-progressive vote, see (once again) this excellent essay at Body and Soul, who agrees that Clinton is telling an uncomfortable truth, and Avedon Carol's comments as well. And in today's WaPo op-ed page, Jim Hoagland--hardly a raving liberal--also says "Lott has committed the unpardonable Washington political sin: He has called attention to the obvious. Lott has unlocked the door to the attic that contains a family secret no one is ever supposed to acknowledge."

(continued in the next post)


(continued from the previous post)

Once again, I am of the opinion that the GOP's tactics need close scrutiny, and I'm not really inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I think Clinton went too far if he was equating support of the GOP in the South entirely with racism. I think there's evidence to suggest that there's a, shall we say, less progressive element in the Republican Party, that most principled conservatives do not condone such views, and that therefore such anti-American sentiments need to get the old heave-ho. In any case, it's clear that, fairly or not, the GOP has a major perception problem here, one that, to me, is exacerbated by the unfathomable defense of Lott by some of his GOP Senate colleagues. Again, this is a golden opportunity for conservatives who believe in equality to clean house.

I'll say for the zillionth time that I do not think many principled conservatives--Southerners and otherwise--condone these tactics. What I'm saying is that it's time for these folks to, first of all, acknowledge them, and then repudiate them once and for all in deeds, not just words.


more anti-anti-missile commentary

This Atlanta Journal-Constitution commentary rightly dismisses Bush's ABM plan as a "costly fantasy" justified, in part, by (imagine my surprise!) fuzzy math:
The commitment by President Bush to deploy an anti-missile defense system by 2004 is an exercise in wishful thinking. At a cost of $17.5 billion for the next two years alone, it will provide the illusion of a defense, to guard us against the illusion of a threat.

...There are three fundamental problems with the plans laid out by the president Tuesday.

First, missile defense is a vision born in the Cold War, when the main threat to our safety was nuclear-tipped missiles deployed by the Soviet Union. That world has disappeared. The attacks of Sept. 11 have demonstrated all too well that our true vulnerability is to low-tech assaults and unorthodox delivery systems. That message has been reinforced since then by repeated warnings from the president and others, pointing out that today we can be attacked by nuclear weapons delivered in suitcases, by nuclear weapons delivered by boat driven into our harbors, and by devastating biological weapons such as smallpox.

If we take those warnings seriously, how do we justify the hundreds of billions of dollars it would take to deploy an effective missile-defense system? In the decentralized, wide-open 21st century, spending a fortune on a centralized, fixed high-tech defense system is foolish.

Second, we have no grounds for confidence that any system within our technological reach will be effective, even against the ballistic missiles it is designed to attack.

The Pentagon claims that in testing, its current system has destroyed its target missile 88 percent of the time, which taken at face value means that roughly one out of 10 missiles would elude the system. Even that figure is derived by disregarding causes of failure that the Pentagon deems unimportant, including the failure of a test less than a week before the president's announcement.

When you're deploying a system, however, every cause of failure is equally important and must be counted. Because in the real world, only one thing matters: Did you shoot down the missile or not? The "why" doesn't matter.

When the numbers are counted that way, the success rate is barely 40 percent. Even that number is based on testing under perfect conditions, with no effort to subject the system to realistic battlefield situations in which the incoming missile attempts to evade or confuse with tactics such as decoys. Even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that fact by describing the proposed system as "better than nothing."

And that's the third point: It's not better than nothing. By committing to deploy a temporary, untested approach, we make it more difficult to develop a truly effective system sometime in the future. That point was driven home in a 2001 report by defense experts at the well-respected Rand Institute:

"While it cannot be ruled out that this . . . solution is an ideal first step toward a general and versatile solution, neither logic nor analysis has been produced to indicate that it is," the report concluded. "We need only reflect on the changes in the world security environment in the past decade -- regional transformations, technology diffusion, collapsing and rising powers -- to doubt that the immediate threat well represents those of the decades to come."

It's important to note that those cautionary words were written before the attacks of Sept. 11, which underlined the message of a world in flux. That same Rand report also warned against short-term political pressure that could push the United States toward "a path of least technical, bureaucratic and diplomatic resistance, instead of making a considered judgment of what missile defense capabilities and treaty rights it needs."

Unfortunately, that describes exactly what the Bush administration did this this week.

(via Blog Left)


powell nails it

I noticed an interesting bit of phrasing by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his criticism of Trent Lott's statements that I haven't noticed hearing from many quarters in the debate over the Senate Majority Leader's future.
"There was nothing about the 1948 election or the Dixiecrat agenda that should have been acceptable in any way to any American at that time [emphasis mine] or any American now," Powell told reporters. "I will let the senator and members of the Senate deal with this issue."

There's no talk of "discarded" policies or "moving on." Powell points out the obvious fact that segregation is, and was, wrong--every bit as un-American and reprehensible in 1948 when Strom Thurmond ran for President on his pro-segregation Dixiecrat ticket. Lott's very statement that Mississippi was, or even should be, "proud" of its casting its electoral votes to the Dixiecrats is a reprehensible statement that certainly smacks of racism at the very least. Powell's comment also casts a pretty harsh light on the Republican Party's odious "Southern Strategy" that reached out to segregationist legislators displeased with the Democratic party's embracing of civil rights.

(continued in the next post)


(continued from the previous post)

On the same subject, I am very disappointed with Bill Clinton's recent intimation that the GOP enjoys a strong Southern base primarily due to, shall we say, the embrace of a less progressive philosophy. Those comments went way too far. As my friend Dodd eloquently declared, there are many elements of the GOP philosophy that appeal to Southern values quite apart from racism. However, I am open to the idea that the GOP does flirt with, shall we say, less progressive elements through the use of code phrases, if not by the prominence of people like Trent Lott, whose views were hardly a secret, or John Ashcroft, who has stroked some of the same racist organizations that have Lott in trouble.

I'm also disappointed that so much of the discussion over whether Lott should keep his job as Majority Leader revolves around political calculations. Statements like "There is now a substantial question as to whether Senator Lott has the capacity to move [the Republican] agenda forward" (by Republican Missouri Senator Jim Talent) seem to be a symptom of raging just-don't-get-it-itis. Putting it like that implies that Lott's statements are only unaccesptable for the political damage they caused, and not on their own (de)merit. Earth to GOP: Lott's statement alone should be the criteria; either it was acceptable, in which case endorse it by keeping him, or assert that the GOP will not associate itself with the ideas Lott expressed and dump him. It's that simple.

As I've said, this sordid occasion brings a golden opportunities for all Americans to cunduct a long-overdue examination of conscience with regard to race in this country. Just as I reject the claim that a reasonable assertion of imbalance in economic or tax policy is "class warfare," examining policy or campaign tactics for in light of their effect on race relations is not inherently racist. Clinton absolutely went too far, but that does not mean the policies and tactics of the GOP (and the Democrats, of course) does not deserve close scrutiny to see if they've really abandoned the Southern Strategy that has tainted its politics from the Dixiecrat days through the Nixon era and at least up to the practices of the late Lee Atwater.

It's about walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

  xWednesday, December 18, 2002


lord of the rings
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was simply amazing. It was an absolutely stunning visual achievement, and George Lucas could learn a thing or two about digital characters by watching the tour de force that is Gollum/Sméagol. The digital effects were seamlessly integrated into the film, and the battle scenes--featuring 10,000 computer-generated orcs, elves, an human warriors--were nearly overwhelming in scale. I only had a few beefs with the film, but I'll save them for the review I'm writing. More later.


missile 'defense' update

This MetaFilter thread points to a PBS Frontline documentary on anitmissile technology and this Slate article critiquing Bush's L4m3 ABM pipe dream scheme:
What the president did not say is a) that we've been through this before, many times, with equal exuberance, enormous investments, and no returns; b) that as recently as 18 months ago, the program's top general said it was still at an early stage and warned against rushing things; and c) that, no matter how good defenses might get, any "rogue" with enough sophistication to build and launch a ballistic missile can easily maneuver around those defenses. On this last point, it is worth noting that U.S. weapons scientists and intelligence analysts have known about these maneuvering tricks for more than 40 years; that no one has the slightest idea how to deal with them; and that Bush's current test program does not even attempt to do so.

The United States (and the U.S.S.R.) gave up on nuclear defenses—not just ABMs, but also nationwide fallout shelters—not out of obeisance to deterrence theory, but because the calculations were clear that offense would always beat defense [emphasis mine]. And because the technology seemed out of reach, the effort seemed fruitless, in any case. That's why Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev—neither arms-control softies—signed the ABM Treaty.

...In September 1999, the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate concluded that any country able to develop ballistic missiles "would also develop various responses to US defenses," including such "readily available technology" as decoys, chaff, or wrapping warheads in radar-absorbing material.

...Judging from today's speech, it seems that Bush wants his generals to run the New York marathon before they've mastered the 100-yard dash.


hero of the day

The odious so-called USA PATRIOT act enables the FBI to monitor the Internet uage on library computers--without probable cause--and forbids librarians from stating that surveillance is taking place. An irate librarians who objects to "culture of fear that is pervading this country lately, as well as the complicity and lies that librarians are expected to add to it" has concoted a set of technically legal signs to inform patrons that Big Brother is watching.

(via BoingBoing)


privacy victory of the day

FTC creates national do-not-call list. w00t!

We're on Indiana's list, and my perception is that it's been most effective; I haven't received a telemarketing call in recent memory.

(via FARK)

Update: Dodd welcomes the development as well.


paying the costs

Just-permalinked Mark Kleiman has another good point: Why isn't the government willing to pay market rates for its workers (up to and including Supreme Court judges)?
When a major corporation wants to get its internal workings looked into by someone distinguished, it pays a market rate. Why can't the Feds do the same?

And, in the long run, shouldn't we stop being so penny-wise about the wages of the people who do the actual work? And, while we're at it, could we stop passing out the casual insults aimed at civil servants that are so characteristic of American political discourse, especially though not entirely on the right? A number of people have noticed that the switch from private contractors to federal employees has substantially improved the courtesy and efficiency of airport screening, but no one seems willing to draw the obvious moral.

Right now, we're getting, at the Federal level, substantially better than we pay for. But if we persist in underpaying and insulting the people who work for us, we may succeed in recruiting and retaining a group of civil servants who deserve low salaries and contempt. And that will cost us plenty.

Of course, his excellent post doesn't consider the merry dance of slashing government--well, social; the Pentagon gets more than it wants--program funds, so they provide subpar service, so certain politicians can run against that lousy government (or powerful contributors are inadequately policed) , and on and on.


now that's a poor choice of words

Mark Kleiman points out the obvious: "Given the nature of the1948 campaign, the references to Lott's losing his job as "lynching" by Pat Buchanan and [Senator] Richard Shelby are in astonishingly poor taste. Lynching victims didn't get to retire to lucrative lobbying practices."

An outraged Jeanne D'Arc reminds us what lynching really was.


the two towers review

Dodd caught a midnight showing of The Two Towers last night, and heaps praise upon it.

My lovely wife and I are off to see it tonight, and I've promised Musashi a review by Friday.

Meanwhile, here's a link to rare audio clip of Tolkien himself reading a passage from the book, another of Tolkien reciting a poem in Elvish, and an excerpt of a BBC dramatization featuring Ian Holm (Bilbo, in the films) as Frodo.

Update: Here are WarLiberal's opinions on the movie.


jpop xmas song of the day

For your holiday listening pleasure:

Shonen Knife - Space Christmas


jpop gallery of the day


Here are several more galleries of Japanese model Megumi Asakura, including a few sera fuku pics. SFW.


tax the poor! update

The People's Republic of Seabrook has a tasty rant on the Administration's reported desire to sell a tax hike--yes, an increase--on low- to middle-income Americans that I mentioned the other day.
Shrub and his minions are trying to find a politically palatable way to make the poor pay more taxes. Apparently, the rich white folks who helped elect Shrub are making the case that they are paying an unfair share of taxes relative to those who live in trailers and raise six children on one minimum-wage income.

...Before the rich begin whining about their onerous tax burden, perhaps they could try walking a mile in the shoes of the poor and middle class.

For Shrub, the supposed champion of Middle Class America, to even be floating trial balloons on this issue smacks of hypocrisy. He was more than willing to accept the votes of Joe and Lorena Sixpack, but now that he's in office, there are bills to pay. And his rich benefactors are calling to collect.

Meanwhile, Tapped points out a blog post that deconstructs the "fuzzy math" employed to bolster claims that the wealthy have an unfair tax burden.

And Mark Kleiman is all over it as well: "Remember how the Bushies denounced any attempt to determine the allocation of the Bush tax cuts among the income percentiles as "class warfare"? Turns out Republicans don't believe in preaching class warfare; they just go ahead and practice it." (via Avedon Carol)


the blecch files

Entities from The Washington Post to Arianna Huffington have wondered just who was behing the sleazy inclusion of an unrelated passage in the so-called Homeland Security bill that shields pharmaceutical companies from liability over a mercury-based preservative that may be linked to autism. (The meager payments--capped at $250 large--are shelled out by the taxpayers, not the pharmcos.) I declare that, while such last-minute inclusions are certainly not unprecedented, I find it telling indeed that no one will own up to it--c'mon, where's the Republican prepared to defend his actions as right and proper...?

Tapped points out that the political site has offered a ten-grand reward to anyone who can identify the culprit, and thinks that Counterspin Central may have the goods.

Meanwhile, P.L.A. speculates that the fallout from the firestorm over Trent Lott may include the GOP reneging on promises--necessary to win the votes of skeptical moderate Republicans--to "revisit" the offending provisions, on the grounds that they were made by Lott, and may not be binding on his replacement--especially if it's Bill Frist, who authored the bill that originally included the shields...


fund the sec!

Brad DeLong quotes a passage from an upcoming book (via Andrew Tobias) illustrating the need for a robust Securities and Exchange Commission--and notes the, ah, disingenuousness of Bush's signing a (still inadequate) US$776 million budget authorization for the SEC and then proposing actual spending of US$568 million.

The passage begins with this stunning fact:
In 1939, when a total of 260 million shares traded – all year – the S.E.C. had 1,700 employees. In 2001, when 2 billion shares traded a day, the S.E.C. had the equivalent of 2,936 full-time employees.

makes the obvous point that
Today, the S.E.C. sees lots of likely frauds it simply lacks the resources to pursue.

and wonders
How come the Bush/Cheney administration and many Republicans in Congress (and some Democrats) generally want to underfund the agency? It’s the sort of budget appropriation only an insider trader or a market manipulator would applaud. (As has been much noted, both Bush and Cheney have some firsthand experience with these murky waters. The less S.E.C. scrutiny of outfits like Harken and Halliburton, they may instinctively feel, the better.)


missile defense sux0rz

I have a headline for you:

Democrats Propose Massive Spending Increase On Dubious, Unneccesary Program

Sounds like I ripped that one right out of the GOP playbook, doesn't it? You can just hear Rush, the Professor, and others yelling about it? Well, in a way it does represent the GOP playbook; just a different page: Missile Defense to Start in 2004; Bush Commits U.S. to Initial System. This announcem,ent, which is already drawing fire, comes right on the heels of a conspicuous failure in a recent test (It's five of eight, so far--and these initial tests are easy). Odd timing, to say the least, even if we weren't already engaged in one international conflict and moving toward another one. But I think the GOP is up to something here that goes a long way to explaining the timing.

Let's take a look at what a stinky policy this is:

  • As even Rummy admits, the system doesn't work; it's far from ready for deployment. So why now?

  • Because once the government commits to spending money on a project, it's incredibly hard to stop, and the Bush Administration is cynically counting on this, to the contradiction of their avowed small-government principles (ah, but they're "strong on defense," so it's okay...). Make no mistake about it: Missile defense is already going forward as an R&D project. My sense is that the Bush Administration doesn't really have much confidence in either the program or being around in 2004. So the key is to get all those holes dug in Alaska now, because one they're dug, we'll have to put something there whether it works or not.

  • But even if the system works--and mind, that's far from certain--against ballistic missiles, now is hardly the right time to deploy, given the massive spending commitments necessary for the War on Terror and the Homeland Security reshuffle, not to mention a possible War opn Iraq (for which we're going to pick up most of the tab this time around). I don't imagine that Bush has proposed any mechanism for paying for it other than using the government's credit card?

  • (By the by, the time when we need allies is also a funny occasion to resurrect this adminstration's image as arrogant, unilateralist cowboys...)

  • And even if the system works at a given level, it's pathetically obvious how easy it would be to circumvent--more missiles, for starters (should we really motivate the North Koreans into a new arms race?), more dummy warheads, or simply not using a missile. The money for deployment of this wishful-thinking system--it doesn't freakin' work yet, people!--would be much better spent on detection equipment at the nation's sea- and airports.

  • By the by, have you noticed which way the ABMs are pointed? Toward the nuclear threat that Bush prefers to negotiate with.

There you have it. The system doesn't work, but the Bush Administration wants to commit the US to this porvocative, wasteful boondoggle for the defense industry anyway, at the expense of increased defecits at the bare minimum (since you sure don't hear about Bush proposing a tax increase to pay for it), and in all likelihood serious damage to US prestige and international relations as well, not to mention the very real possibility of a brand-new arms race. (Once again: The way to circumvent a missile defense is to build more missiles, which is exactly why the US and Soviet Union signed the 1972 ABM treaty).

Reasonable people could support the concept or reliability of a missile defense system. I disagree, but on top of all of that, now is hardly the time, except to cement a massive increase in, and ensure continuous of, government spending that deals with a hypothetical threat.

Neptune World rightly heaps scorn on the idea too, and Oliver Willis imagines Bush's memo authorizing the boondoggle.


rushkoff explains it all

David Rushkoff has one of the most concise and apt explanations of the Bush Administration's rationale I've read in a long time.
But I think what the US current regime exposes through its policies and actions is a much less complex and more typical struggle: rich against poor. The Bush regime's economic, environmental, and military adventures can all be understood quite easily as the maintenance of the short-term interests of the wealthy over the long-term interests of the poor.

The Bush regime is not simply 'in bed' with the oil industry. This is not a question of undue influence or corporate donations. The Bush regime is the oil industry. VP Cheney's own oil industry dealings have yet to be surrendered to independent investigators, and will likely be kept secret unless the Supreme Court demands they be released - something Cheney, no doubt, thinks will be delayed until after he is dead.

Likewise, Kissinger's first act as independent investigator of the 9/11 incident has been to bury his own client list.

These are not indications of some abstract "conflict of interest" that require our analysis. They are the very simply understood actions of a single, coordinated group. Not a "conspiracy," but a collaboration. The only real question unanswered about the invasion of Iraq, for example, is who will get which piece of the spoils

...The main difference between the tactics of the Bush regime and those of their partners in the Arab world is the particular methodology through which they keep their people stupid enough not to fight back. In the United States, citizens are led to believe that Bush and his team are part of an anti-elitist, populist backlash against the over-intellectualized and effeminate liberalization of government by homosexuals, feminists, anti-Christians, and other democratic party members.

(...Even the wealthy in the United States - the people who advise me at my own bank, in fact - use self-imposed stupidity and denial in order to bring themselves to the point where they can support Bush. It is in their short-term economic interests to do so.)

Whichever method of maintaining public ignorance is utilized, the result is the same. Nationalism, xenophobia, and a surrender of power and influence to the wealthy.

(via Seeing the Forest)


yukking it up

We know now that Enron's accounting tricks were a joke. According to a company skit that has surfaced on videotape, senior Enron executives knew as far back as January 1997 (well, duh!).
In one skit, former Administrative Executive Peggy Menchaca played the part of [outgoing Enron President Rich] Kinder as he received a budget report from then-President Jeff Skilling, who played himself, and Financial Planning Executive Tod Lindholm.

When the pretend Kinder expressed doubt that Skilling could pull off 600 percent revenue growth for the coming year, Skilling revealed how it could be done.

"We're going to move from mark-to-market accounting to something I call HFV, or hypothetical future value accounting," Skilling joked as he read from a script. "If we do that, we can add a kazillion dollars to the bottom line."

Richard Causey, the former chief accounting officer who was embroiled in many of the business deals named in the indictments of other Enron executives, made an unfortunate joke later on the tape.

"I've been on the job for a week managing earnings, and it's easier than I thought it would be," Causey said, referring to a practice that is frowned upon by securities regulators. "I can't even count fast enough with the earnings rolling in."

Oh, yeah, and then-governor George W. "I barely know Kenny Boy Lay" Bush was in attendance, along with George Bush Senior.

(via Neptune World)

Update: Brad DeLong has commented as well.


winter games 2002

Cogent Provocateur looks at developments since the November election and says: let the games begin!


show me the money

Matthew Yglesias calls Andrew Sullivan on the latter's claim that Lott's enthusiams for pork-barrel spending, which has made him unpopular with certain conservatives, makes him like a Democrat.
Now while GOP figures Sullivan likes more — George W. Bush, say — can't be accused of Lott-esque racial obtuseness, where's the evidence that anyone in the Republican Party is a bigger opponent of pork barrel spending than the Democrats are?

(via Charles Murtaugh, who also links an Economist article that notes: "There was a time when conservative Washington was full of Adam Smith enthusiasts who solemnly intoned that good government must promote competition, not hand out favours to cronies. But most of those young Reaganauts have long since taken the lobbying industry's dollar. Now the talk is of commerce, not competition.")

Even with the Republicans in charge of all three branches of government, does anyone really expect domestic spending to decrease, or even to see a massive reduction of programs withing a framework of static spending? I'll believe it when I see it. The Dems should hit the GOP hard on this: They're as much the party of income redistribution as they claim the Dems are; it's just that the dough goes to different constituencies. Couple that with the notion that the GOP hasn't laughed the idea of tax increases for lower incomes out of the room, and I predict their support will evaporate.


liberal media alert

CalPundit calls attention to Larry King's relentless grilling--not!--of John Ashcroft WRT his connections to the same bunch of neo-Confederists whose association with Trent Lott is keeping the heat on.

"Then it was on to the war on terror," CalPundit notes. Talking Points Memo has an interesting comment on that subject, riffing on a recent WaPo article:
The [White House] officials said Bush and his aides believe Democrats are hypocritically exploiting the issue out of partisan opportunism, and that the absence of news from the war on terrorism last week contributed to the focus on Lott. The officials said Bush would oppose any effort by Democrats to undermine Lott.

To an extent, the second clause of the first sentence is simply a statement of fact. But it's also, I think, a kinda revealing statement of how much the White House has to come rely upon and use [emphais in the original] the war on terrorism to muffle down domestic political problems.

You can believe in the necessity of the war on terrorism and still recognize how crassly the White House sometimes exploits it for the narrowest political purposes.


japanese pic of the day

mt. fuji and shinjuku

...and for once, it isn't a jpop model. Here's a cool shot of Mt. Fuji at sunset viewed through the skyline of Tokyo's Shinjuku district, courtesy of the Mainichi Daily News.


trekkie link of the day

Star Trek fans have a reputation as being obsessive nerds, but several cast members of the new Trek movie have stepped forward in their defense.
[Patrick] Stewart [(Captain Picard)], in London for the premiere of "Star Trek Nemesis" and the launch of a new "Star Trek" exhibition, did concede: "There are a tiny percentage of "Star Trek" fans who might be categorized as obsessive." But he defended the vast majority who revel in one of cinema's longest-running and most successful franchises, which has earned more than $1 billion at the box office.

"I know fans who would not dream of missing an episode who are vice chancellors of universities, internationally famous classical musicians, opera singers, celebrities, members of President Bush's cabinet, high-ranking members of the military," he told reporters. "These are not people that you would want to be apprehensive about. They are fascinating to meet."

Actors Brent Spiner and Marina Sirtis also weighed in on behalf of Trekkies.

Of course, some fans do take their fascination to, ah, unusual lengths...



megatokyo panel
Largo (fg, left) and Piro (fg, right)

MegaTokyo, one of my favorite Web comics, posted its 350th installment today. In honor of the occasion, here's an interview with co-creators Rodney "Largo" Caston and Fred "Piro" Gallagher at OniMedia, and another interview at Animefringe.


astronomy news of the day

NASA scientists have picked up a faint radio signal from the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, 7.5 billion miles from Earth on its way out of the Solar System. The craft, launched in 1972 (not 1974, as indicated in the story), was the first, along with its sister probe Pioneer 11, to traverse the Asteroid Belt, which was previously considered by some an insurmountable obstacle to exploration of the outer Solar System. The probe sent back some amazing images of Jupiter .

No signal from Pioneer 11 has been received since 1995.

  xTuesday, December 17, 2002

cosplay gallery of the day

japanese cosplay

Along with taking note of Japanese holiday displays, I was going to write up something for Destroy All Monsters on a Mainichi Daily News photo spread of costume play ("cosplay") at a recent fan convention. However, one of DAM's vigilant readers beat me to it. This example is seasonal as well as kawaii as heck.


more bylines

TechRepublic has posted an article I wrote about creating a text list of directory contents under Windows 2000 (I use an old DOS technique...).

And Destroy All Monsters has posted a batch of news items. I've just sent in a new feature article; hopefully it will appear soon as well.

Update: My article on classic videogames deserving resurrection on modern consoles is now up at Destroy All Monsters. The front page also still contains links to my reviews of Treasure Planet , Godzilla's Revenge, and Spider-Man, and my article on Taiwan's betel-nut girls, as well as plenty of news posts.



Blogger just introduced me to another planet-named blog: Planet P, which seems to be devoted to technology issues.



The Ipse Dixit discussion thread I mentioned earlier WRT Trent Lott is still jumpin', and the discussion is most civil.


willis on gore

Oliver Willis has a good piece on Gore's decision not to run.


speaking of bizarre...

When grabbing the link in the previous post, I couldn't help but notice this right up top:
President Bush has earned a reputation as a compassionate conservative who shapes policy based on the principles of limited government, personal responsibility, strong families and local control.

I need to turn my attention to other projects this morning, but I'm sure I could cite numerous examples to debunk nearly all of these ridiculous contentions. (Indeed, I'm sure a quick spin through the archives would suffice.) Offhand:

  • "Earned a reputation:" Having Karl Rove and Karen Hughes relentlessly spin it for you is hardly "earning a reputation." I'd say Bush has earned a reputation as a safety-net entrepreneur with a record of failure.

  • "Compassionate conservative:" Half right

  • "Limited government:" The Department of Homeland Security (which he originally opposed, rendering his adoption of the issue a shining example of abandoning principle for politics)

  • "Personal responsibility:" Nothing that happened at Harken Energy was his fault! Better yet: But isn't responsible for the massive intelligence failure that was 9/11 (and Bush' reuluctance to have that investigated is increasingly obvious) because, although there was an alert about skyjacking, they didn't know the planes would be used as missiles! (News flash: If the plane is never hijacked, it can't be used as a missile. And no, that doesn't mean 9/11 happened because Bush allowed it; it happend because Bush was incompetent.)

  • "Local control:" Offhand, federalizing airport security workers; I'm sure there's more.

I honestly, honestly don't see what people see about the guy; I never have. But it's clear that the things Bush does are spun as laudable not because they're admirable, but because Bush did them, so they have to be.


i'm deeply honored

P.L.A. has suggested a yearly round of awards for left-of-center blogs, dubbed The Koufax Awards (named after Sandy Koufax, "in our estimation, the greatest left-handed baseball pitcher of all time"). I am flattered and pleased that some kind soul nominated Planet Swank in the Best Design category. (Now I really need to get my cascading style sheets in order...)

I haven't made any suggestions yet, as choosing the best from among the quality sites I visit regularly is a daunting task. Look at the list at left; while not all are left-of-center blogs, they're all admirable.

But I'm grateful not only for the nod but to Dwight Meredith for the suggestion. It's a marvelous opportunity to take stock of the many quality left-leanming blogs out there. Since I started this project back in April, I've become acquainted with numerous fine lefty bloggers--Dwight Meredith among them--that have provided a welcome measure of sanity in the face of the bizarre.


a severe taunting

springsteen in asbury park
Although I'd hoped to attend tonight's Bruce Srpingsteen concert here in Indianpolis, I've decided not to. Frankly, it's close enough to Xmas that spending $150 on two concert tickets just isn't a wise move. Which is sad, as it'll be the first local Springsteen show I've missed since the Born in the USA tour.

All this makes me feel like a ridiculous old man, of course, but NPR had to go and rub it in--this morning, I heard an appreciation by New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose on his experience following the Bruce Springsteen tour across Texas at the age of 42, and recalling some of the concerts he attended in his youth.

By way of compensating, today's Xmas MP3 is the Boss's rendition of "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town."

Update: Here's the local paper's review. I *knew* he'd introduce the band during the raucous rave-up "Mary's Place."

  xMonday, December 16, 2002

weekend update, holiday edition

It was a pleasant if someowhat hectic weekend. As I mentioned, I did get my hair cut (in fact, I got them all cut, har har). I'm really pleased with the way it turned out--since I'm usually in a rush to get my trim (Saturday mornings is my only opportunity), I regularly take whichever barber at the shop I go to is first available. This weekend, though, I lucked into one of the more senior, more skilled hands, and as a result got my hair cut shorter than usual without looking too goofy around my various cowlicks.

We spent most of the dya preparing for a small gathering we hosted to decorate our Xmas tree. My lovely wife had done an amazing job of putting up all the lights:

xmas tree before

I spent the afternoon making a big batch of chili (I'm really pleased at how that turned out, too). We had a few friends come over for the evening, with a little swank Xmas music on the stereo, good food, some nice hot cider and nice cold b33r. After visiting, eating and drinking, we all gathered 'round the tree and put up ornaments; the various kids assembled really enjoyed it. Here's how it turned out:

xmas tree after

I would like to point out that the star is mondo retro--it's genuine Charlie Brown Christmas-style plain tinsel star; it doesn't light up or anything. Yes, that sort of thing is impossible to find these days.

Sunday afternoon we had our babysitter come over so Crystal and I could do our Xmas shopping. We managed to get almost everything done (we'd done a lot of shopping already online). In another pleasant occurrence, our friend Onye dropped by Sunday night while we were wrapping gifts. We polished off the cider and enjoyed her company; by the time she left, we were exhausted and ready to hit the hay.


white house refuses comment on lott ouster

According to CNN, the Bush White House has refused to comment on a possible reconsideration of Trent Lott's position as the Republican leader of the Senate. A spokesperson referred to President Bush's earlier position that Lott should not be replaced.

Sometimes, talking the talk isn't enough. You have to walk the walk. This is one of those times, only there seem to be a big "Don't Walk" sign up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


shipwreck link of the day

A Norwegian cargo ship collided with a container vessel and sank in the English Channel Dec. 14. The automobile carries ship Tricolor's crew of 24 made it to lifeboats and were rescued, but nearly 3,000 cars went down with the ship. There were no casualties on the container ship, which was heavily damaged but making for port with its crew aboard.

Although the sunken vessel was initially partially visible above the surface, a later high tide submerged the ship completely.

(via FARK)

Update: According to the BBC, the sunken ship is proving a navigation hazard. A Dutch cargo ship struck the sunken hulk Monday but did not sustain injuries or serious damage; several other vessels were involved in near-collisions with the wreck.


jpop model gallery of the day

race queen yin ling

A gallery of Chinese "race queen" (a model who poses at races and auto shows) Yin Ling.

race queen yin ling

Here's the same model sporting a pink bikini.

Both galleries are SFW, despite the domain name.


cameo of the day

Although I've noted that actor Wil Wheaton's scenes in the new Star Trek movie had been snipped, it seems that he does appear in the background of other shots that made it into the film's final cut.

(via FARK)


hopeful sign of the day

Ill. H.S. Names 2 Girls 'Cutest Couple'
...[T]he girls - longtime high school sweethearts - were voted "cutest couple" by their fellow seniors at Crete-Monee High School in the suburbs south of Chicago.

Administrators balked, at first. Then several students walked out of class to support the girls.

...[L]ast week, district superintendent Roberta Berry wrote a letter praising the students at Crete-Monee High: "I am proud to say that while other schools continue to address issues such as alienation, bullying and hate crimes, we have a student body that not only accepts each others' differences, but also celebrates them."

Upset, some parents and community members have called to complain and written letters to the editor of local newspapers.

But others are supportive - a sign, students say, that times are changing.

"...I think people need to realize there are different people everywhere," says Rachel Urban, a 17-year-old Crete-Monee senior. "If 15- and 17-year-olds are mature enough to handle this, the rest of the country can."

"I think people voted for them because they're so open about their relationship - and how good it is," says Danielle Cheatom, a 17-year-old senior. "They're actually in love and care about each other."

(via Eschaton)


the casually miraculous

Brad DeLong has a fascinating piece on the amazing socio-economic import of being able to buy a bag of flour for 69 cents.


news from the class warfare front

Not content with passing a massive tax cut skewed toward the rich, the Bush Administration is considering shifting more of the income tax burden toward lower incomes (who, let's not forget, pay relatively more in payroll taxes):
As the Bush administration draws up plans to simplify the tax system, it is also refining arguments for why it may be necessary to shift more of the tax load onto lower-income workers.

(via Les Dabney)

Nathan Newman offers the comforting prospect that, having already implented the middle-class portions of the tax cut, deferred the ones for the wealthy, and hid the cut's costs by adding a sunset clause, progressive politicians can force the GOP to defend each one of them (such as the estate tax) by pressing for their repeal before they even take effect.

Never forget: Attacking tax policies that favor the rich isn't class warfare. Implementing them is.

Update: Not surprisingly, Kos is all over this.


a lott more

Tapped aptly warns that "the Democrats are never in more danger of overdoing it than when accusing Republicans of being racist" but has this to say about the conspicuous lack of leadership emanating from the White House:
This is a watershed for the Bush administration. Up until now, Bush has made a lot of noise about being a different kind of Republican. But he's done very little to prove it -- and nothing that would actually cost him something, politically or electorally. (Appointing Condi Rice and Colin Powell sent a good signal, but it didn't cost him anything.) Lott has provided Bush with a good opportunity to prove that being a different kind of Republican is worth something to his administration. But so far, Bush hasn't taken it.

As I've said before, this is a marvelous opportunity for the GOP leadership to stand up and say that the sentiments Lott expressed have absolutely no home in the Republican Party. Although the writing may already be on the wall WRT Lott's leadership position--the GOP has reportedly agreed to meet to reconsider Lott's election as Majority Leader--it's a pity that the question appears to be "eroding confidence in his leadership" rather than the odious policies he embraced.

Update: CalPundit notes that right-wing criticism of Lott has been far from unanimous, and quotes some of the prominent GOPers who see no reason (at least as of last Thursday) for Lott to resign.


astronomy photo of the day

An amazingly detailed photo of a planet-sized sunspot, taken by a Swedish land-based telescope. Photo courtesy of NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day site.

(via David Lawrence)


dvd review of the day

Aziz Poonawalla looks at the extended edition DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring. I was remiss in not pointing out Dodd's take on the same back in November.


trekkie link of the day

I was waiting in the barber shop this weekend perusing a copy of Time magazine, and noted an interesting article on the business of Star Trek. Wil Wheaton provides a link to the online version.


i'm flattered

The Rittenhouse Review has placed this humble site on its Blogrolling-powered list of better blogs. You have my gratitude!


funny doonesbury strip

Sunday's Doonesbury comic imagines what TV commercials might sound like if they adopted the tactics of political campaign's so-called "issue ads."



From Wired News: a group of activists are giving the head of the government's Total Information Awareness project, Iran-Contra conspirator John Poindexter, a taste of his own medicine by researching his personal data and posting it online, noting, for example, that Poindexter's $269,700 Rockville, Md., house is covered with artificial siding, according to Maryland tax records.

The TIA project--which has an ominous logo and was allocated $137 million for fiscal year 2003--proposes to combine vast amounts of personal information on US residents, including credit card information, school records and travel histories, into a massive database that's supposed to be examined for patterns indicating terrorist activity, and has drawn criticism from many quarters.


gore won't run

Al Gore has announced that he won't seek the Presidency in 2004.

More on this later.

Update: Okay, I've had a while to digest this news, and I have a couple of thoughts:

  • Had I given it much thought, I should have taken Gore's appearance on Saturday Night Live as a signal that he'd given up on 2004. As Avendon Carol pointed out, yukking it up for the cameras doesn't go along with Gore's notion of propriety in a national leader. Having shelved his Presidential aspirations, Gore truly is free to let it rip.

  • Gore's also clearly enjoying the opportunity to show how badly he's been mischaracterized by the right-wing spin machine, with the so-called "liberal media" playing right along. As people realize that the Gore they see doesn't jibe with the image they were sold, I think many will also wake up to the fact that more of them agreed with Gore's positions in 2000. There's also the fact that Bush has now exchanged his vague and empty campaign platitudes for actual policy, so the contrast will become all the more clear. (I wonder, will the man whose Administration launched the Total Information Awareness project--which gathers information on everyone--be able to smirk at the camera and say, "I trust people"?)

  • Gore has shown tremendous savvy in going over the heads of the so-called "liberal [news] media" and appearing directly before viewers without righty spinmeisters poised to misrepresent his every statement.

  • By removing himself as a potential candiate, I believe Gore intends to assert his prerogatives, as the man who won the 2000 popular vote, to critique Bush's policies, and I excpect the crtiticism to be relentless. Gore also won't have to worry about angering big-check donors, and thus will hopefully help his party take popular populist positions even if corporate plutocrats don't like it.

Frankly, I was looking forward to a Gore-Bush rematch. And I can't say I'm especially excited about any Democrats just yet, but there's plenty of time yet. And I, for one, am confident that, when voters have an opportunity to weigh Bush's policies in contrast with his personality, he will hardly be a shoo-in for re-election.


lott update

For the record, Trent Lott is still Republican Senate Majority Leader as of this writing, although the WaPo sees the GOP's recent effort to circle the wagons as eroding with Oklahoma Republican Senator Don Nickles (a strong candidate to replace Lott should he be dismissed as Majority Leader) calling for his ouster from the top spot.

Lott finally found the right words to apologize over the weekend, but not everyone was impressed. Neither was I--at this point, I've come to believe that Lott's statements WRT Thurmond were a much better indication of his attitude than his recent apology, although it is well taken. Lott did the right thing with his long-awaited repudiation of segregation, but I don't agree with Senator Mitch McConnell that we should just forget it an move on.

Dodd didn't appreciate my citation of Jeanne D'Arc's contention that the GOP flirts with, shall we say, less progressive elements. Frankly, I believe I've made enough disavowals that Lott's attutide hardly reflects the majority of conservatives, and I think Dodd's broadly drawn criticism is a straw man that doesn't address the substance of either my or Jeanne D'Arc's opinion. I do believe that the GOP has some demons it needs to confront, and I stand by my statement that pretending otherwise doesn't help. My hope remains that Lott's reprehensible statements will provide the opportunity for principled conservatives, like Dodd, who hold no truck with racism will make their influence felt.

I'll say for the zillionth time that I do not believe Lott's sentiment for segregation to be representative of the Republican Party. But the fact that the GOP leadership even needs to "debate" replacing Lott as Majority Leader shows that at least some of that leadership at best simply don't understand how embracing Lott will tarnish the party's reputation, or at worst genuinely don't see the problem with what he said. I maintain that the GOP leadership's actions--or lack thereof--stands in stark contrast with the genuine outrage expressed by liberals and conservatives alike and reflects no credit on the party.

Finally, a comment on one of Dodd's discussion threads led me to discover Discriminations, a Web log devoted mainly to examination of "the theory and practice of discrimination, and how it is reported and analyzed," which has several posts regarding l'aiffaire Lott.


anime xmas wallpaper of the week

anime xmas wallpaper

An anime-themed Xmas wallpaper featuring characters from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Love Hina and others.

(courtesy Anime Dream)


xmas pic of the day

xmas modela

Just 'cause I felt like it...Happy holidays!


xmas song of the day

For your holiday listening pleasure:

Robert Goulet - Winter Wonderland

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