The Talking Dog has undertaking the daunting project of cataloguing and categorizing notable Web logs on a mission to become "the best damned links section on the InternetTM." I'm tremendously honored that The Talking Dog has seen fit to include Planet Swank on his list of notables, The Dog Run (which has introduced me to some blogs that are now regular reading), and most flattered by TD's appraisal:
Planet Swank is the work of Indianapolis blogger and computer maven Gregory Harris. Gregory represents what (to me) is the best of the blog world, a liberal with a sense of humor! His blogroll features the big lefties (and others), and other valuable resources; Greg will drift from the political into the technical or pop-cultural every now and again, but we're looking at some good, solid, often pleasantly sarcastic commentary, we got ou'selves a live one! With "bad movie links" and other "links of periodic intervals" -- like I said -- we got ou'selves a live one.
TD Designation: American Staghound
Thanx, TD; you just made my weekend. You have my gratitude.
...No, not the great punk band. Scientists have created a new, improved black: the most non-reflective surface yet developed. 25 times blacker than standard black paint, it's intended for coating the interiors of telecopes.
Reminds me of Spinal Tap: "How much more black could this be? And the answer is....none."
Playstation 2, for example, isn't "compatible" with the Playstation One at all. What it does have is an entire PS1 One embedded into it. A single chip that represents what used to take up an entire little gray machine.
This is priceless! A 12-year-old British girl was duped into installing a Trojan horse program on the family's computer by a hacker, who proceeded to rip off her dad's credit card numbers. Some time later, young Danielle Athi resumed contact with the hacker in an Internet chat room and began flirting with him. In the process, she was able to dupe the 15-year-old malefactor into revealing his identity, which led to his arrest.
The Department of Homeland Security is but a few weeks old and already it's jumped the shark. Bad enough was the color-coded so-called "alert system" that provided no useful information, proved all too susceptible to misinformation, and has been greeted with reactions from dismissal to ridicule. Then Tom Ridge made his infamous duct tape comment; while keeping three days' supplies on hand actually makes sense, it's information that any yo-yo could come up with by a Google search (come to think of it, someone probably did). Now the DHS launches its next brave new program to protect us: a Web site! Oooh...I feel safer already. Of course, as far as I know, Bush hasn't used those powers he sought to actually fire those whose incompetence led to 9/11 (which also means, obviously, that Bush hasn't resigned, but oh well...)
Speaking of those helpful government graphics, check out Pandagon's nifty new design. And Kieran Healy explains it all for you...both of these worthy bloggers are now permalinked.
The influence of Western values from the Iraqi enclave
And some potential pitfalls, including:
Further war in the Middle East
Proliferation of WMDs as a deterrent to American military strikes
A damaging attack on Israel
Economic slowdown due to distrupted oil supplies
...and ask both sides to weigh these factors in deciding their support. I'm going to consider those questions and post a follow-up later.
But in the meantime, I have another question for my conservative friends: Do you support Bush's Iraq adventure enough to accept a tax increase to pay for the entire cost of the war (and yes, that includes reconstruction, the bribes incentives we're paying allies like Turkey, and the expenses of the planned extended occupation). And doesn't it say something that Bush isn't even willing to put an estimate of those costs in his budget, let alone propose how to pay for them? In other words, for all his rhetoric, couldn't one draw the conclusion that Bush's tax cuts are a higher priority to him than his war plans? (I know, not really, 'cause he plans to put it on the credit card anyway...)
First, it totals $9.1 billion. That's nearly three times what Reagan managed to spend on the program in any of his years in office and a 20 percent increase over the $7.5 billion that Congress gave Bush last year—completing the transformation of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency from an insular research shop into one of the flushest branches of the U.S. armed forces.
Second, to go with the big boost, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has asked Congress to exempt Missile Defense from the law that requires all weapons systems to undergo operational tests before being deployed in the field. Carl Levin, the Senate Armed Services Committee's ranking Democrat (and the only lawmaker raising a fuss about this move), noted that the purpose of this law is "to prevent the production and fielding of a weapon system that doesn't work right." Yet Rumsfeld, justifying the bypass, said, "We need to get something out there," in case, say, North Korea attacks us with ballistic missiles soon." [Ed: There's a tremendous vote of confidence in the Administration's ability to deal with a crisis...]
By the MDA's own admission, the $9.1 billion—on top of the $73 billion appropriated for missile-defense R&D over the past 19 years—buys little, if any, protection in the near future; ...in the longer run, again by their own testimony, the MDA's managers don't know where the program is going, what it will look like, when it will be finished, or how much it will cost; and ...the program is still technologically immature—some of its most vital elements have yet to be built, even as prototypes.
These problems exist quite apart from a couple of broader issues: There are far cheaper ways, which Bush has resolutely dismissed, to neutralize the North Korean threat; and there are far cheaper ways, which he has gravely shortchanged, to deal with more immediate threats.
Even the components that have been tested, even successfully tested, are by no means finished products. In its budget document, the MDA boasts of the tests to see if an interceptor can collide with, and destroy, a simulated incoming warhead—in military parlance, to see if a bullet can hit a bullet.
...However, the MDA left out some important caveats to these statistics. First, the numbers are quite small—typically, missile systems undergo about 20 tests before being declared operational. Second, the tests were set-pieces: Everyone involved knew where the mock warhead was coming from, where it was going, and when it would come into view; there were no realistic decoys, no instances of multiple warheads being fired at once (except in a few of the Patriot tests, which involved two warheads fired over a short range). Third, and most telling, the MDA decided late last year to halt the test program; it even canceled two tests that had already been scheduled. ...The tests made no effort whatever to see if the interceptors could work as part of an integrated network in which early-warning satellites detect a missile launch, transmit the data to other radar systems that track the missile more precisely, and then aim and fire the interceptors to knock the missiles down.
Need I add, of course, that Bush's massive spending boost is coupled with massive tax cuts--in other words, he's putting this dubious system on the credit card. Furthermore, every dollar spend on this boondoggle is one not spent, not only on the social programs Bush and his fellow un-compassionate conservatives loathe, but real security and intelligence programs designed to ensure actual progress in the war on terrorism. And, of course, terrorists have amply demonstrated that even a functional anitmissile system wouldn't prevent them from striking.
From the WaPo editorial page: "Any time a salesman has to resort to such deceptive tactics, the customer ought to be wary about what is being sold."
In this case, it's about Bush's dishonest representation of the "average" amounts of savings in his tax plan--although, indeed, that watchword could apply to any number of Bush policies, from Iraq on down the line. While the average savings of more than US$1,000 are technically true, they're being represented as a typical tax savings, and that simply isn't the case.
The vast majority of taxpayers -- 80 percent -- would receive less than that amount, according to data from the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. For the truly typical household -- filers in the middle fifth of the income spectrum -- the average tax cut would be $256. Almost half of all taxpayers would see their taxes drop by less than $100. At the top of the income pyramid, however, the tax savings would be huge; the top 1 percent of filers would receive an average tax cut of $24,100. The average tax cut touted by Mr. Bush is more than $1,000 only because the savings for the wealthiest Americans are so large.
[T]his is essentially the logic adopted by the Bush administration and the Republican congressional leadership to rationalize turning the federal budget surplus back into huge deficits. They say that deficits are actually a good thing—despite what you may have heard from Ronald Reagan and almost every Republican before and since—because deficits create pressure for smaller government. ...The Bushies apparently would rather be thought of as insanely Machiavellian than as shamefully irresponsible.
Kinsley goes on to spell out exactly why this is a stupid idea, and then moves in for the kill:
Republicans now control the White House and both houses of Congress. ...And self-labeled conservatives are pretty much in control in the party itself. There is nothing to stop President Bush and his congressional cohorts from proposing, enacting, and imposing any vision they may have about the proper size of government and method of financing it. They don't need wacky behavioral schemes and incentives.
The administration's 2004 budget documents include long-run projections, based on its own policy wish list and its own economic assumptions, that show growing deficits from now until … forever. If Bush really believes that increasing deficits in general, and its own policies in particular, will produce smaller government and more fiscal responsibility, why don't his own numbers reflect this? In the fine print, it seems, the Bush folks don't really believe any such thing. And why should they? It's ridiculous.
There's also this:
Although Republicans insist that bigger deficits will lead to smaller government, it would be equally plausible to argue that they will lead to higher taxes.
Of course, but the GOP is no doubt counting on the Democrats to bite the bullet and do the right and honorable things by raising taxes. Even George H. W. Bush famously recognized that such action was sometimes necessary, and the conservatives never forgave him for it. Dubya might recognize that someone will eventually do what it takes to fix his train wreck of the budget, but he has no intention of even being honest about it, let alone making any hard choices.
We begin today with some wonderful news...Fred "Piro" Gallagher of MegaTokyo recently announced that his longtime girlfriend Sarah (the inspiration for the "Seraphim" character in the strip) has accepted his propsal of marriage (offered during a panel at the Katsucon anime/gaming/etc. convention, no less!). Wednesday's strip features notes from Piro and Seraphim on the occasion.
Planet Swank offers its warmest congratulations to the happy couple!
Here's Movieline magazine's its archive of the wonderful (but sadly discontinued) review column Bad Movies We Love. These reviews--also available collected in book form--are entertaining, and often hysterically funny, looks, not at mundane B flicks, but at some of Hollywood's most misguided big-budget missteps, such as one of my personal favorite Bad Movies, Johnny Mnemonic.
"Democracy is a beautiful thing," Bush said, adding that "people are allowed to express their opinion." [emphasis added]
Gee, thanks! I prefer, however, to view it that people have the inherent right to express their opinion; they aren't "allowed" to do so. I suggest a little light reading for Mr. Bush.
By the way...is is just me, or is anyone else reminded, every time Bush says something like "Democracy is a beautiful thing," of Chancellor Palpatine saying "I love democracy" as he accepted broad emergency powers in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones?
And there you go again: The Bush Administration's constant misrepresentation of the options WRT Iraq makes it nearly impossible for me to believe they're approaching the decision to go to war--with the inevitable deaths of Iraqi civilians, not to mention our own armed forces--honestly. Once again:
One can acknowledge that Saddam poses some degree of threat without conceding that Bush's policy is the best, let alone only, way of dealing with him. Indeed, from what the inspectors have so far determined, it seems to me that containment and deterrence has been working pretty darn well, if not perfectly.
One can oppose an unprovoked invasion without advocating "doing nothing." Every time Bush utters those words, he's commiting a flagrant, reprehensible dishonesty. Just for starters, the policy of containment and deterrence--again, while not perfect--was not "doing nothing." Indeed, there are many--myself included--who would accept airstrikes against demonstrable terror sites or proscribed weapons facilities while having serious qualms about a rain of cruise missiles on Baghdad.
The magnitude of the protests might make a President even more eager to present an irrefutable case. Bush simply has not done so; it made grandiose claims about its evidence, only to have several points contradicted by Hans Blix himself, whose inspectors have actually been to some of the sites. A genuine leader convinces others of the rightness of his case; a poor one presents sloppy half-truths and then blames others when they don't buy it.
I haven't done much political posting of late, despite a plethora of potential topics. Among the thoughts I've been intending to express, of course, is my continued skepticism over the coming war with Iraq. First, of course, is the question of exactly what US policy is toward Iraq--disarmament? regime change?--and which one best achieves the interests of US national security at the least cost. The Administration, in almost everyone's view, seems to be fixated on invasion. The question is, is invading Iraq the best policy, the one that meets US interests above all others? I haven't seen much evidence that the Adminstration is even considering other policies--see Bush's own rhetoric that the alternative to invasion is tantamount to doing nothing"--and that concerns me greatly. With that in mind, this morning's Washington Post, columnist E. J. Dionne summed up my reservations almost exactly:
I have a terrible foreboding that when we look back on our debate over the impending war with Iraq, we will be disappointed in ourselves. We may end up starting a war without any real argument over what it will take to win the peace.
Like many Americans, I do not feel fully comfortable in either of the big camps lined up against each other over this war. Those of us who are doubters but not full-fledged opponents constitute, by a fair reading of the polls, about one-third of our fellow citizens.
We doubters cannot identify with those who see American power as a force for evil in the world, and we believe President Bush was right to increase pressure on Saddam Hussein to disarm. Many of us agree with British Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement over the weekend that, given the nature of the Iraqi regime, "ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity."
But doubters do not share the confidence of so many of the war's supporters that victory will revolutionize the politics of the Middle East. We worry about the unintended consequences of military action and can't quite shake the hope that the very military buildup Bush has carried out creates opportunities to disarm and perhaps even unseat Hussein through means short of war.
My own doubts are rooted in the Bush administration's failure to prepare our country for the long commitment that will be required if this war is to achieve the results its supporters promise. We still don't know how the administration intends to handle the aftermath of what one hopes would be an American military victory. And it is not as obvious to me as it is to the war's supporters that this battle is the clear next step in our response to 9/11. It's hard to escape the feeling that those who always wanted to "finish" the last Gulf war by getting rid of Hussein are using the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as a rationale for doing what they wanted to do on Sept. 10.
Some of my doubts are, purely and simply, doubts about this administration. I find it astonishing that Bush and his lieutenants are not willing to offer a sober calculation of the long-term costs of this war, factor those costs into the nation's budget and ask Americans to pay the price. [Ed: How seriously should we take Bush's drive to war if he won't specify what he thinks the costs should be, and propose a concrete means of paying for it? And need I add that this time the US is likely to pick up much more of the tab, when you factor in our bribes inducements to allies such as Turkey.] Instead, they would shuck off the costs to the next generation.
Their failure to count the costs can only make you wonder about how committed they are to what will be an arduous struggle to pacify and democratize Iraq. This is why it matters that we have allies, including, eventually, those obstreperous French and Germans. We are unlikely to want to do the job of rebuilding Iraq all by ourselves, or with the British alone.
God bless the Czechs and the Poles, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Estonians and other Europeans standing with us. But it is unrealistic to think that these nations will be in a position to offer serious help, financial or military, in the postwar work of transforming Iraq.
It's easy to trash the French and the Germans. But the leaders of Germany and France are only following European public opinion. Even if you think that Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder are being opportunistic, you wonder how much the Bush administration created the opportunity they are exploiting by conditioning public opinion against us. Would we be in this fix -- would millions of demonstrators have poured into European streets -- if the Bush administration had not been so publicly indifferent to European views on issues ranging from global warming to the International Criminal Court? [Ed: And this attitude, however frustrating to the Administration, makes Rumsfeld's "old Europe" gaffe an even more serious blunder.]
Yet like so many of my fellow doubters, I find it hard to be a wholehearted supporter of the antiwar movement. Some in its ranks harbor reflexive anti-Israel sentiments that I find repellent, even though I am no supporter of Ariel Sharon. For all my misgivings about Bush, I find it absurd to call him a greater threat than Hussein, as some in the antiwar movement do. [Ed: And for the record, doubts about Bush's honesty hardly equate to blind faith in Saddam's.]
By being a man of few doubts, Bush pushed a reluctant world into dealing with the dangers posed by Hussein. But that is an achievement Bush now threatens to undercut by being indifferent or dismissive toward those who lack his certainty. The danger is that he will fail to build the consensus, at home and abroad, to turn an American military victory into a genuine triumph for our national security and for democracy. More than he knows, he needs the doubters.
In short, Bush is not wrong to place Iraq on the agenda, and the return of inspectors would be lauded as a Good Thing if the policy is to disarm Iraq as opposed to finding a pretext to invade. Bush had a marvelous opportunity to declare victory and demonstrate himself as a man of peace. But instead, his ever-more-bellicose rhetoric and policies are, I fear, putting the US in the position where it must go to war with Iraq or lost major face. That isn't being resolute, it's being reckless.
Protecting US national security is paramount, and I have no problem at all with the use of force--even preemptive force--when circumstances leave no other option. I do have a problem with fixating on an invasion and pursuingthat aim regardless of developments. I am not at all convinced--indeed, increasingly less so--that Iraq poses a threat of sufficient magnitude to warrant an unprovoked invasion. That path seems to discard even the option of less extreme military action, such as destruction of any real terror camps or proscribed weapons facilities. Couple this monomania with the Administration's ongoing bungling of the North Korean situation, its blindness toward other terror threats, and its obvious releuctance to discuss Osama bin Laden, and I, like Dionne, see little reason to put our trust in this Administration's good intentions--or competence.
I finally returned the theme music--contained in a little 150K Flash file--to its rightful place at the top of the blog. Since I know many of my visitors have learned of this blog since last August, it may be your first time to listen to it. One change I did make, though, was to make the music opt-in--just press the Play butten to listen to it; if you'd rather not, simply don't. The old version startes playing automatically if you didn't stop it in five seconds. Frankly, since I view and reload this page so much, it got to be rather a pain. So now, if you want to hear the swanky, lounge-style anime music I've chosen as the Planet Swank theme, it's just a click away. Enjoy...and please let me know if you like it via the comment thread.
The other day, I was watching my new DVD of Gunsmith Cats with a couple of friends. At some point I mentioned the term fan service, and one of my friends asked me what it meant. I was getting set to explain that it was the term used to describe gratuitous imagery added to anime to please its (generally male) fan base, when, as if on cue, the TV showed a sleeping Minnie May Hopkins:
That, I said, pointing, is fan service. No further explanation was necessary*.
*...although, actually, while fan service is generally thought of as gratuitious glimpses of anime females, it can also refer to any more-or-less unneccessary tidbit thrown in to please anime fans, such as character cameos or needlessly elaborate mecha.
As promised, here’s a recap of the events of our very pleasant (despite the inclement weather) weekend.
Friday, of course, was Valentine’s Day. My lovely wife and I had arranged a babysitter so we could go out to dinner, and she turned out to be available long enough for us to take in a flick as well, so we decided to go for it. Prior to leaving, though, we exchanged gifts. The girls had already enjoyed their present: A DVD of The Muppet Movie. I gave my bride a pair of gold heart-shaped earrings and a shirt with cherubim printed on it; she gave me the Gunsmith Cats DVD I’d requested and a DVD of Lawrence of Arabia as a bonus!
We began with Japanese food; I had sushi, tempura and udon noodles, while my lovely wife enjoyed a meal of sushi and salmon teriyaki. It was drizzling freezing rain when we left, but when we emerged from the restaurant, the rain had changed to snow.
After our meal, we took in the musical Chicago. We both enjoyed it very much. (I'll share my thoughts on the movie later, but for now, here’s Roger Ebert’s review.)
The roads were treacherous when I took our babysitter home, but I drove carefully and made it back (obviously). Actually, the snowstorm was kind of romantic; it reminded us of our first date, which took place during a torrential downpour. I think the fact that the soaking rain didn’t ruin our date indicated how right we were for each other. And the same is true today, nearly six years later; the snow could have been miserable, but as before, we snuggled close and laughed about it.
Saturday my lovely wife was informed that the university where she teaches had cancelled classes, so she enjoyed a snow day. Cecilia had been invited to a birthday party that afternoon, and while she was gone I began preparing dinner. Our friends Onye and Anthony visited, and we shared a pleasant meal. After dinner, while my lovely wife put the girls to bed, Anthony and I got some geek time by showing off our favorite PlayStation 2 games (He: Dead or Alive 2 Hardcore; me: Devil May Cry). I think we both convinced the other to go out and buy them. After that, we sat down for a couple of episodes of Gunsmith Cats. Fatigue brought an early end to the festivities; Onye and Anthony went home after the second episode, and I started nodding off during the third.
Sunday my wonderful wife let me sleep in until almost 9. We basically stayed indoors and straightened up from the weekend. After the girls went to bed, we watched Much Ado, and then I followed up by dusting off my copy of Parasite Eve 2 for a while. I hadn't realized how close I was to finishing the game when I put it aside after getting the PS2, but I think I'm going to take a stab at finishing it if I can take care of a few other chores this week.
Congress has attached a rider to one of its spending bills repealing the last-minute inclusion of a measure in the so-called Homeland Security bill shielding pharmaceutical companies from liability relating to a vaccine preservative called thimerosal.
I decried the midnight insertion of the liability provision in the so-called Homeland Security bill, and cited some questions about whether the GOP would follow through on its pledge to reconsider, so it's only right to give credit where due and applaud the removal of the provision.
As if it needed repeating, I have no objection to shielding vaccine manufacturers from liability for any ill effects of vaccinations required for homeland security. Indeed, the entire existence of the special vaccien court is predicated around the notion that some people will react adversely to vaccinations through no fault of the manufacturer. Perhaps thimerosal is indeed linked to autism; perhaps not--I don't think there's sufficient science to prove either case. Perhaps there is a case to be made that pharmaceutical companies should not bear liability should past injections of thimerosal indeed be linked to autism. But such a case should be made through public debate, not backroom dealing.
In Indianapolis, workers plowed almost continuously over the weekend, using 70 to 75 of the city's 85 snowplows, but side streets in residential areas went untouched.
The storm started harmlessly Friday, when about a half-inch of rain fell in central Indiana. But by 11 p.m., the rain froze and combined with sleet and snow to create dangerous driving conditions, causing numerous slide-offs and at least one fatality in Indianapolis when a car plunged into icy water.
Gusts of 20 to 40 mph Saturday caused the drifting that hampered snow removal. Sunday, wind continued with some snow and pockets of sleet and freezing rain south of the city, said Jim O'Brien, a meteorologist with WTHR (Channel 13), The Indianapolis Star's news-gathering partner.
As y'all know, I'm a huge DVD fan--between my wife's birthday and Valentine's Day last week, we picked up five new ones. I've certainly been accruing DVDs much faster than I did movies on VHS, and I've welcomed the increasing predominance of DVDs in retail outlets.
Prices of VHS tapes were often in the $89 range, because studios made most of their money selling them to video stores for subsequent rental. The business strategy for DVDs was to make them a "sell-through" medium, like CDs and paperback books. The format has been successful beyond the industry's wildest dreams. Recently some big consumer electronics chains have stopped selling VHS tapes altogether to make more room for the discs.
By the way, that same column derides the practice of pre-movie commercials. Much as I'd like to embrace the idea of getting up, walking out, and demanding a refund, I just don't see that practice as practical. As the father of two small girls, the opportunity to go to the movies is rare and involves much preparation; there's little point in engaging a babysitter and arranging dinner reservations only to walk out of the theater. (And besides, it won't really make a difference unless the entire audience followed suit.) I will say again, though, that knowing commericals await me has dampened my enthusiasm for going to the movies. No; were I to be sufficiently riled as to take action, I'd write to the company advertised and inform them that their co-opting my time motivates me to avoid their product in the future.
Of course, I doubt anyone in Hollywood cares, as I'm no longer in the coveted 18-25 age group most movies--and attendant commercials--seem to be aimed at.