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  xSaturday, March 15, 2003

it's the ides of march


Happy birthday, Dodd!

Update: And felicitations to the lovely Natasha (Mrs. Musashi) as well!




  x

gaming post of the day


Via Destroy All Monsters, here's a recent MSNBC commentary that points out one of the flaws in the online gaming feature of the Xbox: The ability to play with other people over the Internet means that you have to play with some of the people in the Internet. DAM editor-in-chief Musashi had a comment that also reflects some of my own online experiences:
I play videogames to escape from the cretins who infest my daily life, not to socialize with them. The internet has been struggling with this for years: most people have yet to understand that the wall of anonymity provided by online communication does not ipso facto grant one carte blanche to act like a total jackass, and for some reason, online games seemingly attract a higher percentage of jackasses than most other activities (save perhaps professional sporting events).

Actually, the last game I played extensively online was Air Warrior II back in in the mid-'90s, and in that case, the online community was generally pretty polite. That probably had to do with the fact that the WWII combat flight sim's appeal was fairly selective, and that much of its audience was older.




  x

lego spoof of the day


lego chef

Check out LEGO Chef, a hysterical parody of Iron Chef done with LEGO blocks.




  xFriday, March 14, 2003

new to the blogroll


Please welcome Left in the West and Through the Looking Glass.




  x

moving day


We're moving offices today, and all my computer gear is labeled and ready for the moving folks to pack up. Once they arrive, I'll likely be offline for the rest of the day (goodness knows what I'll find to occupy myself during that time). Posting will occur as I'm able.




  xThursday, March 13, 2003

canto-pop gallery of the day


hsu chi

A more-or-less safe-for-work collection of images of Taiwanese actress-model Hsu Chi (Shu Qi), whom I mentioned the other day in a post at Destroy All Monsters.





  x

who reads the watchmen?


P.L.A. recently recalled the fine sci-fi flick The Day the Earth Stood Still. In the comment thread, I mentioned the superb comic limited series Watchment, and that got me thinking.

Now, one of the things the hawks keep raving about is how the upcoming war against Iraq is going to be only the first domino in a chain of events that must inevitably--must! inevitably!--lead to perpetual US dominance of the world, which of course means eternal peace and cheap oil. Thinking of Watchmen reminded me of one character's admonition to another:
Q: It all turned out all right in the end, didn't it?

A: In the end? Nothing ends...nothing ever ends.

A victory over Iraq may wll convince much of the world of America's military superiority--as if that needed demonstrating. However, recent history teaches that an unfortunate response to a lopsided balance of power often is...terrorism.

Nothing ends. Nothing ever ends.




  x

loser alert


You have to hand it to Bush: If he can't get what he wants by playing by the rules, he'll just make up a batch of new ones.
President Bush, faced with a month-long Democratic filibuster that is blocking one of his top-priority judicial nominations, called on the Senate yesterday to outlaw such tactics and require "timely" votes on all judicial nominees.

(--Washingon Post)

Unlike Bush, I don't see that any further moves to enhance the President's power at the expense of our legislature are warranted. Still, I might be tempted to go along with this suggestion, with one proviso: It takes effect at the beginning of the next presidential term. While I'm confident that president will be a Democrat, it'd still (hopefully) motivate Bush to know that his ability to stack the courts with conservative activists is dependent on fostering goodwill--you know, bipartisanship.

Update: Nathan Newman adds:
[J]udge confirmations merit super-majority agreement more than any other decision by the Senate.

Why? Because it can't be reversed if the Senate makes a mistake. When Congress passes bad legislation, they can always pass another law to correct the problem. But there is no such simple option with judges, except for impeachment which requires a two-thirds vote and a process that is far harsher on their object than a [tough] confirmation process.

...Lastly, the likely result of such mutually assurred destruction of nominees is the appointment of what all sides claim to want, judicially restrained judges who are unlikely to overrule laws near and dear to either side. ...[O]n most issues judges will likely get the most mileage in saying, it's not my job to second-guess you Senators, except on the broad consensus of individual rights such as free speech.





  x

a tpm two-fer


Josh Marshall has a couple of thoughts on the Bush Administration's monumental diplomatic ineptitude during its run-up to its cherished war with Saddam. There's this:
Speaking for myself, and perhaps for some other internationalists who feel as I do, part of our frustrated anger over the current impasse is watching the present administration traduce and plow under the work of half a century and seeing the administration's acolytes greet every new disaster and *&$#-up as a grand confirmation of their beliefs and principles. It's like we've been transported into some alternative reality where the debate about international relations is some awful mix of The McLaughlin Group and Lord of the Flies. As these folks should be starting to realize about now, months of this arrogant mumbo-jumbo eventually draws a response -- at home and abroad.

and this:
The issue here isn't that France opposes us. That doesn't bother me particularly. The real point is that everyone opposes us. Everyone.

...We're in international affairs not just for today but for the long haul. And our political leadership in the world community matters profoundly.

If we like, we can kid ourselves and believe that "old Europe" in the guise of France and Germany oppose us but "new Europe" supports us. But if we look at the question honestly we have to confess that this isn't true. The populations all across Europe oppose what we're doing. ...if we think we can trade our old allies in for these new ones, then it matters a great deal that these governments are doing this in spite of the wishes of their populations, not because of them. One or two elections, and no more 'new Europe.' Fundamentally, alliances of democracies are founded -- like democracies -- on popular opinion.





  x

exactly!


Let me set the stage a little here: Steven den Beste recently discussed (to his credit) his concerns about some of the possible ill consequences of the pro-war position he advocates, but in the midst of his speculation, seems to go a bit overboard with regard to the French: "Do they see the stakes as being high enough so that they might actually threaten to nuke us?" In response, Kevin Drum, Keiran Healy, Ted Barlow, and others more or less openly wondered if den Beste had taken leave of his senses (again to his credit, SDB cites these posts as an addendum to his own).

(continued in the next post)




  x

(continued from the previous post)

Anyway, in the comment thread to Digby's post about another neocon conspircacy theory, Demosthenes hits upon something that I've certainly noticed when debating the hawks:
I don't see this as madness, per se; it's what happens when you eliminate options.

The reason why France and Germany are saying "no" to the invasion of Iraq is because they think the invasion is wrong, that it sets a bad precedent, and that the neocons that are currently running the show are getting too grasping.

The problem, however, is that there is absolutely no way that Den Beste, or Ledeen, or any of the other absolutely reactionary pro-war types would believe this. They don't disbelieve it because they disagree, mind you, but because they simply will not admit that another logical perspective can be held on these issues. They can't; it allows for the possibility of their being wrong, and they simply will not accept that.

When you eliminate that possibility, however, you still have to explain their behavior somehow. In the case of Den Beste, Ledeen, and the rest, they engage in a bizarre Holmesian exercise: they cast around for alternative explanations (no matter how utterly improbable) because they have eliminated the (truthful) option that they believe impossible. In Den Beste's case, it's that "France is supplying WMDs to Iraq" thing. With Ledeen, it's "Europe is trying to bring down the hyperpower".

Yes, both would only be possible if the Europeans are uncommonly stupid (they're closer targets for fundamentalism than the U.S. and are identified with it), and they aren't that stupid. The thing is, though, these conspiracy mongers have no other choice. They've eliminated the truth, and all that's left is conspiracies.





  x

diplomatic dividends prove headaches for bush


In another major setback for the Bush Administration's claims that its march to war enjoys insternational support, the government of Turkey--far from reconsidering its recent rebuff of US efforts to base troops there--is now adding additional conditions and denying US overflight rights without Parliamentary approval.

This event comes as even the Bush Administration seems to acknowledge that it can't muster the votes for a symbolically important majority vote in the UNSC. Hardly surprising, of course, considering a recent string og high-profile diplomatic blunders from Donald Rumsfeld's implication that the US would not even need the British to launch a war to Bush's own veiled threats to Mexico.

It's seeming more and more like a major subtext for the Bush Administration's unwavering focus on war is its profound inability to achieve American aims diplomatically. When you get right down to it, though, the hawks's stance seems to be that any amount of damage to the reputation and goodwill the US enjoys internationally is acceptable because of the presumed boost in domestic popularity Bush will gain from going to war.

(via Daily Kos)




  x

economy watch


AP: February Retail Sales Fall 1.6 Percent; Reuters: Retail Sales Plunge in February

From the AP account:
WASHINGTON - War worries and snow storms kept shoppers away from the stores, driving down sales at the nations' retailers by 1.6 percent in February. The worst showing in 15 months was another ominous sign for the sputtering economy.

The drop in sales reported by the Commerce Department (news - web sites) Thursday marked a big pullback by consumers from January, when sales rose by a modest 0.3 percent. The weakness in February was widespread, with losses reported for automobile dealers, electronics and appliance stores, apparel shops and other merchants. Building and garden supply stores posted a record drop in sales.

February's retail sales were weaker than economists were expecting. They were forecasting sales to fall by 0.5 percent.

The disappointing retail sales report, along with a troubling employment report released by the government last week, may heighten concerns that the economy could again fall into recession.


...and more from Reuters: Jobless Claims Show Jobs Market Ailing
The ranks of U.S. workers lining up for first-time jobless benefits thinned a bit last week but remained at levels suggesting a still stagnant labor market, a government report on Thursday showed.

At the same time, the number of unemployed workers who continued to file for benefits after making an initial claim rose to its highest level in 3-1/2 months, the Labor Department said.





  x

update


According to the local paper, a woman caught on tape last year beating her four-year-old daughter has been reunited with the child after pleading guilty to felony battery charges. Although the charges carry a maximum three-year jail term, the judge elected to use misdemeanor sentencing guidelines, handing down a one-year suspended sentence, a year of probation and a $500 fine. The child, now 5, will remain a ward of the state until the case is closed, which an official predicted could occur in August if no problems develop.




  x

obvious: spam cost escalating


From today's WaPo: Spam's Cost To Business Escalates; Bulk E-Mail Threatens Communication Arteries
The flood of unsolicited messages sent over the Internet is growing so fast that spam may soon account for half of all U.S. e-mail traffic, making it not only a hair-pulling annoyance but also an increasing drain on corporate budgets and possibly a threat to the continued usefulness of the most successful tool of the computer age.

Spam continues to defy most legal and technical efforts to stamp it out. The surge has spurred calls for national legislation, but deep divisions remain regarding what constitutes spam and how best to regulate it. In the meantime, spammers, Internet providers, company network administrators and anti-spam vigilantes are locked in a ferocious electronic arms race.

Many spammers have become so adept at masking their tracks that they are rarely found. They are so technologically sophisticated that they adjust their systems on the fly to counter special filters and other barriers thrown up against them. They can even electronically commandeer unprotected computers, turning them into spam-launching weapons of mass production.

...Roughly 40 percent of all e-mail traffic in the United States is spam, up from 8 percent in late 2001 and nearly doubling in the past six months, according to Brightmail Inc., a major vendor of anti-spam software. [Emphasis mine]

As I've said before, the insidious thing about spam is that the spammers bear only a fraction of the cost; ISPs and recipients are the ones who pay to transmit, receive or filter all that junk.




  x

disgusting


Here's the deal: In order to buy a house, you have to have homeowner's insurance. Lenders won't write a mortgage without it. But with the downturn in the stock market, homeowners are forced to pay for a service they can't really use:
Just two or three claims filed over the course of two years is now enough for many insurance companies to cancel a policy. Some count inquiries, even when no claim is paid. “It’s happening to everybody,” said Tim Schaefer, an independent insurance agent in Germantown. “It really is bad.”

That is why Matthew Rouhanian decided not to file. The snowstorm caused leaks in the roof of his North Potomac house after ice collected in the gutters. Instead, he decided to pay the $1,800 repair cost himself. The reason: He lost his previous insurance policy three years ago because he had filed three claims in two years.


I don't advocate Patrick Nielsen Hayden's tongue-in-cheek vision of "summoning the insurance industry’s top managers to an economic summit, and then setting packs of wild dogs on them," but when reading this WaPo story, it almost sounds tempting.

(via Long Story, Short Pier via MeFi)




  x

w00t!


Splendid news this morning: Kidnapped teenager Elizabeth Smart has been found alive and well and was safely returned to her family. An itinerant handyman and self-described "prophet" has been arrested for the girl's abduction.

I'm tremendously relived and happy for the young woman and her family.




  xWednesday, March 12, 2003

this is too l4m3


Is this the kind of thing we pay our Congresscritters for?

CNN: House cafeterias change names for 'french' fries and 'french' toast
The cafeteria menus in the three House office buildings changed the name of "french fries" to "freedom fries," in a culinary rebuke of France stemming from anger over the country's refusal to support the U.S. position on Iraq.

Ditto for "french toast," which will be known as "freedom toast."

The name changes were spearheaded by two Republican lawmakers who held a news conference Tuesday to make the name changes official on the menus.

Puh-lease! The whole thing reminds me of sauerkraut being redubbed "victory cabbage" during WWI. Of course, today, when I order a hot dog, I top it with...sauerkraut.

And I'll have a side of french fries with that, please.

Update: Long Story, Short Pier comments, "[A]ctually slapping the moniker “freedom fries” on the US House of Representatives cafeteria menus is—well, it’s upholding a long-standing tradition of moronic House grandstanding, but it’s still pathetic. Disappointing, even. —But no longer funny."




  x

the 'bully' pulpit


Slate's Fred Kaplan: The president is botching the Iraq crisis with his clumsy, naive unilateralism
It is becoming increasingly and distressingly clear that, however justified the coming war with Iraq may be, the Bush administration is in no shape—diplomatically, politically, or intellectually—to wage it or at least to settle its aftermath. It is hard to remember when, if ever, the United States has so badly handled a foreign-policy crisis or been so distrusted by so many friends and foes as a result.

...What's particularly disturbing about these failures is not so much their legal implications as their political and diplomatic ones. If the administration lacks the acumen or persuasive power to deal with such familiar institutions as the U.N. Security Council or the established governments of France, Germany, Turkey, Russia, China—even Canada—then how is it going to handle Iraq's feuding opposition groups, Kurdish separatists, and myriad ethno-religious factions, to say nothing of the turbulence throughout the region?

[L]ack of nuanced thinking on Korea—the substitution of cliché for analysis and the unnerving certainty that all will turn out well in the end, that America's unrivaled military muscle will yield results, respect, and redemption—parallels the blithe unilateralism of his gulf policy. Maybe Bush will get lucky. Maybe he will turn out to be right. But others are unwilling to take the risk; they have heard nothing to lure them to his leadership, in part because he has revealed his indifference about whether or not they follow.

Great stuff. Bush and his supporters may not care what damage to US prestige his obsession with Iraq may be doing, but at the heart of the optimism that functions for them as foreign policy is an implication that the world will bow down before American military might. How dare they insult the noble principles of this great nation that way?




  x

i'm late...


...in blogging this, but:
WaPo: Some Evidence on Iraq Called Fake; U.N. Nuclear Inspector Says Documents on Purchases Were Forged
A key piece of evidence linking Iraq to a nuclear weapons program appears to have been fabricated, the United Nations' chief nuclear inspector said yesterday in a report that called into question U.S. and British claims about Iraq's secret nuclear ambitions.

Documents that purportedly showed Iraqi officials shopping for uranium in Africa two years ago were deemed "not authentic" after careful scrutiny by U.N. and independent experts, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the U.N. Security Council.

ElBaradei also rejected a key Bush administration claim -- made twice by the president in major speeches and repeated by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday -- that Iraq had tried to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes to use in centrifuges for uranium enrichment. Also, ElBaradei reported finding no evidence of banned weapons or nuclear material in an extensive sweep of Iraq using advanced radiation detectors.

"There is no indication of resumed nuclear activities," ElBaradei said.

Knowledgeable sources familiar with the forgery investigation described the faked evidence as a series of letters between Iraqi agents and officials in the central African nation of Niger. The documents had been given to the U.N. inspectors by Britain and reviewed extensively by U.S. intelligence. The forgers had made relatively crude errors that eventually gave them away -- including names and titles that did not match up with the individuals who held office at the time the letters were purportedly written, the officials said.

"We fell for it," said one U.S. official who reviewed the documents.


This development shoots Bush's contentions that Iraq poses a threat poses a threat full of holes, but that doesn't matter--the Administration and its supporters either pretend they never made any such argument, move on to another rationale, or better still, simply make the same discredited assertions all over again. This has never been about whether Saddam is or isn't disarming and certainly not about whether he poses a threat--the fact that he doesn't is comfortably obvious to all his neighbors, after all. Regime change has been US policy since the Gulf War, but Bush proposes waging unprovoked war to achieve it.




  x

blogs in the news


From the AP: Success of Weblogs Heralds Big Future
[A]s more people have embraced the concept, what once seemed like a passing fancy has morphed into a cutting-edge phenomenon that may provide the platform for the Internet's next wave of innovation and moneymaking opportunities.

"Just like the Internet was 10 years ago, blogging is popular with an underground culture that is doing it for the love and passion," said Tony Perkins, who edited the recently folded Red Herring technology magazine and last month launched a business blog called Always On Network.

"Now there are people like me coming along and trying to figure out how to package it," Perkins said. "It's time to take it to the next level."

Other notables seeking to capitalize on the rise of the Web's so-called "Blogosphere" include Terra Lycos, America Online and Google.

Terra Lycos last month introduced publishing tools to help people launch their own blogs. America Online is expected to offer a similar service to its 35 million subscribers later this year.

"We want to take what has been an underground phenomenon and introduce it to the masses," said Charles Kilby, Terra Lycos' director of product marketing.

I can't say I agree--I see this as another L4m3 and ultimately doomed attempt for business to try to cash in on an Internet trend. For startes, there's no real reason why anyone in the "masses" who wants to do a blog right now couldn't do so, without needing an assist from Terra Lycos or whomever. Also, blogging represents a considerable commitment of time; since blogging software is already easy to use, it stands to reason that learning curve isn't a bar to entry.

Moreover, once again you have the inevitable problem of convincing people to pay for a service they currently enjoy for free. If memory serves me right, Salon's experiment with for-pay software and service hasn't been a stunning success.

Commercial blogging may indeed have a role in the future, but I'm not holding my breath--I don't see much behind the hype here.




  xTuesday, March 11, 2003

milestone of the day


Sometime today while I was in training class, the hit counter passed 19,000. Thanks for visiting! Full posting should resume tomorrow afternoon; in the meantime, please feel free to browse the previous posts or visit the fine sites on my blogroll.




  x

training day


I have to attend an all-day (and half-day tomorrow) required training session at my place of employ, so posting will likely be sparse today unless I can get access to a computer.




  xMonday, March 10, 2003

sw33t!


M4d props to anna on her spiffy new design!

Ph34r anna's M4d coding skillz!




  x

tatu update


USA Today takes note of the Russian pseudo-lesbian pop duo Tatu, quoting singer Elena Katina (the redhead) as saying "I can't understand why everyone thinks we're lesbians." Perhaps posing for pictures like this has something to do with it.

(via FARK)




  x

redhead gallery of the day


ann-margaret

RetroCrush nominates the Sexiest Redheads of All Time (pictured: Ann-Margaret). SFW.

(via FARK)




  x

shipwreck post of the day (sorta)


Heavy Seas is a nifty gallery of ships encountering massive waves. It's a fitting tribute to the power of the oceans and the bravery of sailors who ply their waters.

I may go home tonight and watch my DVD of The Poseidon Adventure.

(via Byzantium's Shores via MetaFilter)




  x

cool science toy of the day


Great googly moogly! Check out Powers of Ten, an awesome journey through the universe by powers of ten, from 10 million light years away from the Milky Way galaxy to Earth in its orbit around the Sun to an oak tree in Floriday to quarks in a carbon atom in a DNA strand in the nucleus of a leaf on that tree. If you like it, you can even order a Windows screensaver for a small fee. Awesome!

(via Byzantium's Shores)

Update: I'd originally said Powers of Ten was done in Flash, but Bret informs me via the comments that it's Java-powered. Silly me; all I had to do was view source to find out. Anyway, it's still pretty darn cool.




  x

review at dam


I obviously haven't been able to do much blogging today, but at least I can share one of the things that's kept me busy: Destroy All Monsters has posted the first record review I've written since college, of Korean pop star BoA's ablum No. 1.

Props to DAM editor-in-chief Musashi for keeping up with the news-blogging chores on my busy day!




  x

busy busy


Just a quick heads-up: I'm busy completing a couple of projects, so posting is going to be sparse/nonexistent until this afternoon. There's lots of stuff from the previous week or so, and plenty of juicy stuff in the fine sites listed at left.




  xSunday, March 09, 2003

fox wins legal claim of right to lie


How charming: A journalist sued her employer, Fox Television, claiming they wrongfully fired her when she refused to broadcast a story she knew to be, and could prove was, false. Lawyers for Fox appealed; they didn't contest that the journalist was pressured to air a false story, but instead that FCC guidelines against deliberate media distortion are not binding rules and that the First Amendment "gives broadcasters the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves." In February, an appeals court sided with Fox, ruling that "the Federal Communications Commission position against news distortion is only a "policy," not a promulgated law, rule, or regulation" tossing out a US$425,000 verdict in favor of the journalist.

(via Body and Soul)




  x

pulp fiction post of the day


Happy 85th birthday, Mickey Spillane!

Several years ago, Mr. Spillane was kind enough to autograph a vintage 1953 paperback edition of his Mike Hammer novel My Gun is Quick for me. I've long enjoyed Mr. Spillane's work, and would like to take this opportunity to thank him once again and wish him a very happy birthday, and many more!





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