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  xFriday, June 27, 2003

pulp fiction post of the day

doc savage pulp cover

Covers from Doc Savage books from 1933-1949. c00L! I'm a big fan of the exploits of Dr. Clark Savage, Jr., and his team of multitalented adventurers; I own a couple of latter-day reprints, including a recent version of this story. I also dug the Doc Savage references in the excellent comic The Rocketeer. (A comic with Doc Savage and Bettie Page...what's not to like?)

(via MetaFilter)


gag credits of the day

MetaFilter points to the definitive list of gag credits used on NPR's Car Talk. c00L!


jpop wallpaper site of the day

This site has lots of desktop wallpapers devoted to various jpop celebrities, including Kyoko Fukada, Aki Maeda, Yui Shinada, and others, and more devoted to models and movies like the awesome Battle Royale.


japanese movie link of the day

I just discovered Snowblood Apple, a Web site devoted to reviews of "Asian extreme cinema," including flicks sure to be familiar to Planet Swank readers: Audition, Battle Royale, The Ring, and many others. The site even offers wallpaper of the various films along with its reviews! c00L!


avedon carol explains it all

The Sideshow has the best, most concise, and most rational response to Bush's feeble credibility:
Whether he is a deliberate liar or simply incompetent does not invalidate the observation that he cannot be trusted.

Exactly. There's lots more good stuff; go read it all.


hot dog update

Last Wednesday, I noted that former pro football star William "The Refrigerator" Perry was to challenge reigning champion Takeru Kobayashi for victory in Coney Island's annual July 4 hot dog eating contest.

Here's a once again reigned supreme of the 150-pound Kobayashi that examines some possible secrets behind the gastronomic gladiator's success.

There's a new world order in the dog-eat-hot-dog world of competitive eating. For five of the last six years, when the smoke from the grill cleared at the landmark Nathan's wiener stand, the winner was ... a diminutive Japanese man.

Led by two-time defending champion Takeru Kobayashi, a mere 5-foot-7 and 130 pounds with a 30-inch waist, Japanese eaters are dominating the holiday contest. The Japanese media covers Kobayashi like he was Elvis and Coney Island was Graceland; the Fourth of July now looms as a big day in both Nagano and New York.

Kobayashi's 100 mph style of eating — snapping the dogs in half, a move dubbed "The Solomon Method" — earned him the nickname "Tsunami." He's yet to swallow a finger, although it certainly seems possible.

Adding insult to indigestion, Kobayashi is an overwhelming favorite to keep the mustard-yellow belt symbolic of gastronomic supremacy in the land of the rising bun. No one has come close to the 50 1/2 franks that he inhaled in 12 minutes last year.

...No one knows for sure, but there are theories.

_ The "Jack Sprat" theory: Although it seems contradictory, the scrawny Kobayashi's physique serves him better than the 6-foot-4, 400-pound frame of U.S. hopeful Eric "Badlands" Booker.

"My guess is when you're 130 pounds, you have more room for the stomach to expand and accommodate the hot dogs in a single sitting," said Samantha Heller, senior nutritionist at the New York University Medical Center.

..._ The "Zen and Now" theory: While the American eaters are content to hang around Coney Island in the hours before the eat-off, Kobayashi returns to his hotel room and meditates.

..._ Finally, there's "The Fridge" theory: Who knows, but pass the franks.

"I don't know nothing about it," said William "The Refrigerator" Perry, the ex-Chicago Bears star who will join this year's fray. "I'm just going in to have fun."

Perry, who is currently the size of three Kobayashis, is a long shot to salve the pride of the American chowhounds. Booker, a New York subway conductor who downed 30 dogs earlier this year, is the best hope.

The Japanese dominance dates to 1997, when Hirofumi Nakajima defeated Ed Krachie in the annual eat-off. He duplicated the effort next year.


cyberpunk political link of the day

Check out this Bruce Sterling article in Wired on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

(via Eschaton)


iraq roundup

Athough I opposed the war in Iraq, I never had any doubt that Bush was going to invade regardless. That being the case, you'd have thought his administration would at least have had some sort of a plan for not screwing up the aftermath. Today's WaPo has a triple-dip headline, though, indicating that things are not going all that well.

Experts Question Depth of Victory
The wave of more sophisticated attacks on U.S. troops and civilian occupation forces in Iraq is raising new worries among military experts that the 21-day war that ended in April was an incomplete victory that defeated Saddam Hussein's military but not his Baath political party.

Neutralizing Baathist resistance is proving to be a more difficult job than the Pentagon calculated, and the continuing violence is becoming an embarrassment, one U.S. official in Baghdad said.

A Special Operations soldier was killed by hostile fire in the southwest part of Baghdad yesterday. In another ambush, a Chevrolet Suburban belonging to the U.S. civilian occupation authority was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade while en route to the Baghdad airport. Army Humvees have been attacked on that road before, but this apparently was the first time a civilian vehicle had been hit, indicating a new form of targeting in anti-American attacks.

Two U.S. soldiers also may have been abducted in Baghdad. In addition, Iraqis cooperating with the U.S. authorities, such as two electrical workers who were killed by a bomb yesterday, are now being attacked following weeks of threats by Iraqi opposition groups that they would be targets.

Those actions came on top of Wednesday's mob violence that killed six British troops in southern Iraq, the Shiite-dominated area that until this week generally had been considered quiet and portrayed by Pentagon officials as a success story.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said the trend in Iraq is still good and should not be seen through the lens of one day's events. "The direction is pretty clear," he said in a telephone interview. "It is toward a more secure Iraq," in which the Baathist position is weakening and basic services are being restored.

Wolfowitz did not foresee any major changes in the U.S. military posture in response to the attacks. "I think that the basic approach that the military is using is a sound approach," Wolfowitz said.

But experts on Iraq responded to the attacks with new concern about the trend of events.

"I thought we were holding our own until this week, and now I'm not sure," said retired Air Force Col. Richard M. Atchison, a former intelligence officer for the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the Middle East. "If we don't get this operation moving soon, the opposition will continue to grow, and we will have a much larger problem."

Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency expert on Arab military issues, said, "There are a lot of worrisome aspects about the current situation. Resistance is spreading geographically, resistance groups seem to be proliferating in Sunni areas, resistance elements appear to be tactically adaptive, resistance elements appear to be drawn from multiple elements of Sunni society, our operations inevitably create animosity by inflicting civilian casualties, disrupting lives, humiliating people and damaging property."

Because the war was so narrowly focused on Hussein's government in Baghdad, a large part of the Iraqi population does not feel as if it was defeated, said retired Army Col. Scott R. Feil. "As I heard one Iraqi say, the Americans defeated Saddam, but not the Iraqi people, so the psychology of the loser is not present," he said.

Wolfowitz agreed with that view, saying, "Almost because the regime failed so quickly, the major remnants of the regime were around."

Making the situation more worrisome, military analysts said, is that Iraqi fighters appear to be adapting their tactics to make them more effective. For example, during the war, Iraqis frequently died while attacking tanks with automatic weapons and other small arms. But this month's attacks have been directed at more vulnerable targets, such as Jeep-like Army Humvees and foot soldiers, said retired Army Col. Andrew J. Bacevich.

In addition, some analysts said, the relatively small size of the U.S. invasion force may be a source of some of the postwar chaos, because it has proven inadequate to the task of occupying the country. "We're winning, I think, but it has taken longer than it might have because the occupation force really wasn't large enough," said Thomas Donnelly, a defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute who is now in Baghdad. "I don't think the outcome will be much different, but still it's taken longer and introduces an element of doubt."

U.S. casualties are likely to be a frequent occurrence for months to come, said another U.S. official in Iraq. "I suspect we will see limited violence for six months or so," the official said earlier this week. The problem, he said, is that to be effective, U.S. troops have to be out conducting patrols and searches, manning checkpoints, detaining suspects. All that is necessary to boost stability in Iraq, he said, but also makes them vulnerable.

(continued in the next post)


(continued from the previous post)

You don't have to read between the lines of this report too much to discover that the hawks's own war-on-the-cheap plan is responsible for this uncomfortable situation: Going in with too small a force and a decaptiation strategy that destroyed the command structure but left the military relatively free to melt into the civilian population with their weapons. The plan was to decaptiate the regime and then impose order with the existing structure; instead, that structure appears to be turning against us. I certainly hope the hawks have a brilliant idea to alleviate this deadly and unstable situation, but I suspect that McNamara's Wolfowitz's bland assurances and the refrain that the steady trickle of casualties are "militarily insignificant" indicates that these jokers have no clue about how a guerilla war is fought, let alone won.

Iraqi Ambushes Beset Troops
At least 18 U.S. military personnel have been killed in attacks since President Bush declared the end of major hostilities in Iraq on May 1, and there have been dozens of other ambushes. U.S. and sympathetic Iraqi officials expressed concern today that an increasingly organized and well-armed resistance movement is beginning to coalesce around remnants of the former government's security apparatus.

"It's being planned and being planned well by small groups," a U.S. official said. "But we don't see a real command-and-control structure."

I hate to break it to the official, who says there's "no command and control structure" as if it's some sort of advantage for us, I doubt it really is. For one thing, much of our strategy in the war was targeting the command and control structure. It's elementary that, having seen the dangers therein, the Iraqis would break into small, independent cells , each tasked with wreaking as much havoc as possible. There doesn't have to be a "real command-and-control structure" for guerillas to be a threat, as our forces are discovering at their peril.

And when you get right down to it, can you blame the Iraqis? As loyal Americans, we'd do the same thing were we invaded and occupied. Sheesh, haven't the neocon hawks ever seen Red Dawn? The Iraqis never had a chance of resisting the US forces militarily. But when you combine this story with the previous one, you get an ominous picture: The guerillas are adapting their tactics to neutralize our advantages and enhance theirs, and we, apprently, are not following suit.

But it isn't as if these developments come as a surprise; they were a concern a dozen years ago during Gulf War Mark I. The evident failure of the hawks to prepare for this contingency is absolutely staggering in its incompetence.

More good news from the same piece:
Sweltering in 115-degree heat, many Baghdad residents are increasingly agitated by the failure of occupation authorities to maintain basic services. Much of the capital, and other parts of Iraq, have been without electricity or water for days. A number of fuel lines essential to power plants and pumping stations have been sabotaged. Iraqis are using buckets to draw water from the Tigris River, which runs through the city and is so shallow at points that children play soccer on the riverbed.

The popular anger and frustration are being exacerbated by rumors sweeping the city that occupation authorities cut off services to punish Iraqis for the recent attacks on U.S. troops.

U.S. officials have repeatedly tried to explain the reasons behind their difficulties restarting power, including decaying facilities and sabotage, but most Iraqis are unaware of their pronouncements. Without electricity, they cannot watch television, and there is no widely circulated Arabic-language newspaper that reflects the U.S. point of view.

"Rumor has become a fifth column for the Americans," said Sabih Azzawi, who led protests against a U.S. decision, later reversed, to disband the Iraqi military. "Rumors are very dangerous when the situation is so unsettled." Azzawi said Hussein's supporters were behind the anti-American rumors.

(cxontinued in the next post)


(continued from the previous post)

Then there's the encouraging news that an Iraqi militia the British were hoping would bolster their seciruty forces operated in the longstanding tradition of American militia -- when the shooting started, they cut and ran.
The militia had been assembled by an influential local opponent of ousted president Saddam Hussein as a way to maintain law and order in the bedlam of postwar Iraq. The effort so impressed British military commanders in charge of the area that they issued laminated identification cards to members and allowed them to continue patrolling.

But on Tuesday, when an angry mob surrounded the police station here and began shooting at a group of British military police inside the building, the militiamen vanished. With only a few Iraqi police trainees fighting in behalf of the outnumbered British, the throng waited until the soldiers had exhausted their ammunition before barging in and killing at least four of them at close range.

A total of six soldiers were killed and eight wounded in that incident and an earlier gun battle between paratroops and townspeople. As military officials continued to weigh their response, British forces stayed clear of the town today. The militiamen, however, reappeared with their usual swagger, manning checkpoints and zipping around in their trucks.

The reliance on militiamen to maintain public order -- a tactic used by British forces in other parts of Iraq because of what some military officials contend is a shortage of troops -- has led to unease among many Iraqis. The irregular security forces are not only poorly trained and equipped, they say, but place the interests of their tribal, religious and political leaders above the law.

With the news out of Iraq not good, and the President's prewar case looking increasingly ridiculous (although the GOP Congress appears willing to stoenwall any real investigation), I'm sure it'll be tempting for hawks to clutch at straws by claiming the recent find of old documents from Saddam's previous nuclear program somehow justifies the war.

Two words: Big deal.

No one doubted that Saddam had a nuclear program in 1991. But this material alone could not possibly be the germ of a nuclear program -- as I understand matters, it takes hundreds of centrifuges to extract uranium. And as this article points out, the fact that these materials had been butried and apparently forgotten suggests that Saddam had abandoned his nuclear program.
Indirectly challenging a U.S. argument for war on Iraq, the UN atomic agency said Thursday that a find of parts from Baghdad's original nuclear weapons program appears to back its stance that the project had never been reactivated.

The comments reflected the ongoing dispute between the United Nations and Washington over whether outsted president Saddam Hussein was trying to make weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. administration argued such programs existed in going to war against Baghdad, while UN inspectors said their searches on the ground turned up no evidence of such programs.

A U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday that American authorities were examining parts and documents from an Iraqi weapons program run in the early 1990s that were handed over by a former Iraqi nuclear scientist.

The scientist, Mahdi Shukur Obeidi, was quoted as saying he had kept the parts buried in his Baghdad garden on the orders of Saddam Hussein's government. Once sanctions against Iraq ended, the material was to be dug up and used to reconstitute a program to enrich uranium to make a nuclear weapon, Obeidi claimed to U.S. officials.

The intelligence official acknowledged the find was not the "smoking gun" that U.S. authorities are seeking to prove U.S. claims that Iraq had an active program to develop a nuclear weapon.

In Vienna Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency went even further, suggesting the revelations tended to back its arguments that there was no evidence of such revived programs.

"The findings and comments of Obeidi appear to confirm that there has been no post-1991 nuclear weapons program in Iraq and are consistent with our reports to the Security Council," said agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky.

The IAEA has long monitored Iraq's nuclear programs and has questioned U.S. claims that Saddam had been reviving his nuclear weapons program.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, said early on there was no evidence to support Washington's claims. Other UN inspectors found no signs of biological or chemical weapons.

Remember, during the inspections process, the head of the IAEA stated as definitely as one could that Iraq had no active nuclear weapons program. They are practically impossible to hide. Even if Saddam unearthed the material and reconstructed a nuclear program, it'd have been a simple matter to take it out. The justification for war was that Saddam was a threat that demanded an invasion exactly when Bush wanted it; no delay could be tolerated. The case for that urgency simply does not exist.

(continued in the next post)


(continued from the previous post)

Meanwhile, the Republicans -- apparently counting on unquestioned support from the military -- are slashing spending that benefits service people in order to pay for Bush's tax cuts for the rich. Daily Kos quotes an editorial in the Army Times:
Nothing but lip service

(Issue Date: June 30, 2003)

In recent months, President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have missed no opportunity to heap richly deserved praise on the military. But talk is cheap -- and getting cheaper by the day, judging from the nickel-and-dime treatment the troops are getting lately.

For example, the White House griped that various pay-and-benefits incentives added to the 2004 defense budget by Congress are wasteful -- and unnecessary -- including a modest proposal to double the $6,000 gratuity paid to families of troops who die on active duty. This comes at a time when Americans continue to die in Iraq at a rate of about one a day.

Similarly, the administration announced that on Oct. 1 it wants to roll back recent modest increases in monthly imminent-danger pay (from $225 to $150) and family-separation allowance (from $250 to $100) for troops getting shot at in combat zones.

Then there's military tax relief -- or the lack thereof. As Bush and Republican leaders in Congress preach the mantra of tax cuts, they can't seem to find time to make progress on minor tax provisions that would be a boon to military homeowners, reservists who travel long distances for training and parents deployed to combat zones, among others.

Incredibly, one of those tax provisions -- easing residency rules for service members to qualify for capital-gains exemptions when selling a home -- has been a homeless orphan in the corridors of power for more than five years now.

The chintz even extends to basic pay. While Bush's proposed 2004 defense budget would continue higher targeted raises for some ranks, he also proposed capping raises for E-1s, E-2s and O-1s at 2 percent, well below the average raise of 4.1 percent.

The Senate version of the defense bill rejects that idea, and would provide minimum 3.7 percent raises for all and higher targeted hikes for some. But the House version of the bill goes along with Bush, making this an issue still to be hashed out in upcoming negotiations.

All of which brings us to the latest indignity ‹ Bush's $9.2 billion military construction request for 2004, which was set a full $1.5 billion below this year's budget on the expectation that Congress, as has become tradition in recent years, would add funding as it drafted the construction appropriations bill.

But Bush's tax cuts have left little elbow room in the 2004 federal budget that is taking shape, and the squeeze is on across the board.

and this story in the Marine Corps Times ("House Republicans dig in against child tax credit for combat troops").

There you have it, folks. Not only does Bush try to pay for a war with a tax cut, but he tries to pay for a tax cut for the rich with . And the Army Times doesn't seem at all appreciative. Kos speculates that these developments might erode thraditional GOP support by the rank-and-file military, and it certainly should be pointed out to question the GOP's alleged competence in national security.

Add it all up, and I believe that Bush's mendacity about the war is going to be much more crippling than his apologists want us to believe. As American soldiers continue to die, and Iraqi "democracy" proves to be elusive at best, Americans are going to ask just how we got into this mess in the first place.

One difference I'll grant between Vietnam and Iraq is that the US involvement in Vietnam was incremental -- from supporting the French, to sending special forces, to sending troops to train the ARVN, to sending security forces for the cadres, and so on and so on. No one president was responsible -- Johnson inherited the involvement from Kennedy but escalated it; Nixon got elected once as a hawk and again with a "secret plan" to end the war (send more troops).

But Iraq is all Bush, baby. He's the once who insisted on war, and nothing but, and right now, when his own evidence didn't support that case. And it's becoming abundantly clear that the hawks who are so enamored of using small deployments to enable frequent -- perhaps constant -- use of the US military didn't have anything close to a plan for the subsequent occupation (hope, as the military maxim goes, is not a plan), and now we're stuck. If troops are still dying come election day next year, Bush had better have some fancy explanations prepared, because I don't think the public will back the sudden "discovery" of a nuclear program in Iran.


supreme court update

I've been remiss in not welcoming Jeff Cooper back to an active blogging schedule. Here's his take on yesterday's end-term flurry of Supreme Court decisions (including the decision overturning sodomy laws). He also links to a Slate article by the brilliant Dahlia Lithwick. Jeff's schedule prevents his from posting as often as he'd like, but he's always worth a read.


strom thurmond r.i.p.

Planet Swank notes the passing of former Senator Strom Thurmond, who died yesterday at the age of 100. Thurmond leaves behind a legacy of controversy over some of his views -- including the recent outcry over remarks by Senator Trent Lott that expressed support for Thurmond's segregationist views, and that cost Lott his Senate Majority Leader post. I disagree with much of Thurmond's political and social views. But Thurmond also served in the Senate for 48 years of a political career that spanned seven decades. For his service, if not his views, Planet Swank salutes Thurmond's memory.

  xThursday, June 26, 2003

compare and contrast

This morning's Washington Post Op-ed, "The Baathists' Blundering Guerrilla War"
Given the chance to lie low and bide their time -- waiting until the Americans were well into a withdrawal before striking -- the Baathist leadership, or what is left of it, chose instead to tip its hand while the American presence in Iraq was strongest. By doing so, these Baathist leaders, a loosely knit network operating in the Sunni triangle northwest of Baghdad, caused U.S. forces to pour into a region that should have been their natural sanctuary. Now they are facing retaliation from the U.S.-led coalition at precisely the time they should be resting and recovering.

If the Baathists had followed the classic insurgency doctrines preached by masters such as Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, they would have kept a low profile, spreading agitation and propaganda while the U.S. occupation forces waned in strength. They should have waited for a struggling, post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi central government to try to take control in the region before striking. Instead of a weak, fledgling democratic Iraqi regime, the Baathists are facing a seriously aroused U.S. liberation force still at the height of its power and competence.

...and this afternoon's AP story, "Two missing soldiers apparently abudcted in Iraq: defense official"
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US attack helicopters led an intensive search north of Baghdad for two US soldiers who appear to have been abudcted from their post along with their Humvee, arms and equipment, a US defense official said.

Blood was found near their post at the flashpoint town of Balad, but no other trace of the two soldiers or the Humvee, said the official on condition of anonymity.

At least one person who is believed to know something about what happened has been detained, the official said.

"It appears that the vehicle and the occupants were somehow abducted," the official said. "Neither has been found at this point. The search is obviously ongoing."

"We're concerned. They had the vehicle, the radio, the weapons, the whole nine yards," the official said.

AH-64 Apache attack helicopters were engaged in search for the soldiers, who were discovered missing on Wednesday, the official said.

Balad, a town on the Tigris north of Baghdad, has been the scene of intensive US sweeps in recent weeks to stamp out attacks by gunmen loyal to the deposed Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.

Forst off, I think it's dangerously naive to assume these are simply Baathist holdouts, especially considering the recent multiple British casualties in Shia-dominated (and Baathist-unfriendly) southern Iraq. But regardless, it's clear that the guerillas aren't following Gary Anderson's comforting script. Absconding with a fully armed Humm-vee and its two crew is a major escalation from random potshots, drive-by shootings and even RPG attacks. It gives the assailants the potential for even mor devastating surprise strikes by donning the crew's uniforms and using the vehicle. (Anyone who's ever watched The Dirty Dozen could figure out that tactic.) And it's a bold confrontation of "a seriously aroused U.S. liberation force still at the height of its power and competence." Small wonder the US general named to head CENTCOM now says ""we are certainly in for some difficult days ahead" and "Our military involvement there will be certainly a long one." I defy any hawk to explain how this is somehow a positive development.

It's no secret that I opposed Bush's war on Iraq. One concern I voiced was the inevitable difficulty of a prolonged occupation of Iraq. There's an odious assumption among some Bush supporters that anti-war sorts not casualties out of some sort of celebration, or a desire to see our forces "learn a lesson." How vile. To the contrary; I note these developments -- and I haven't even been keeping note of the almost daily attacks on US forces -- out of a sense of disappointment and horror that, as badly as Bush wanted the war, he obviously didn't have a plan to run the country in the aftermath, or the competence to execute any plans he did have. These are real Americans with parents, wives, and children. They're dying. And Bush can't explain what's going on. How anyone can defend this debacle any more is beyond me.


milestone of the day

A few minutes ago, thanks to a vistor from Dodd's site, the hit counter topped the 33,000 mark.

This occurrence a mere two days after hitting 32,000 is, of course, due to the fluke flood of hits I got from Blogger yesterday.

Thanks for visiting, and welcome to all new faces; I hope you return.

Speaking of referrer logs, a big hello to Caffeine Goddess, and thanks for the link!


b-movie link of the day

...for real this time. Underground Online lists the Top 11 Animals-Eat-People movies. c00L!

(via FARK)


it isn't fisking, it's fristing

Billmon has the goods to refute Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's recent, er, revisionist claim that "Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was not the main justification for the US-led invasion of Iraq. ('I'm not sure that's the major reason we went to war,' Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told NBC television's Today Show.)" -- in Frist's own words, yet.



it seems...

What Video Game Character Are You? I am Kung Fu Master.I am Kung Fu Master.

I like to be in control of myself. I dislike crowds, especially crowds containing people trying to kill me. Even though I always win, I prefer to avoid fights if possible. What Video Game Character Are You?

(via The Power Pill)


breaking news

The Supreme Court has struck down, by a 6-3 vote, a Texas sodomy law.

Update: Via CalPundit, here's Jack Balkin's take on the ruling.


zombie movie update

The other day, I expressed my anticipation for the upcoming zombie flick 28 Days Later. Musashi of Destroy All Monsters got to see a preview (lucky guy!), and has a review. What did he think? Well, he begins, "It's about time someone made a decent zombie film." He also cites this MSNBC feature article on the film.

As Julius said in Pulp Fiction, "I'm going. That's all there is to it. I'm @#$%^&*! going!"

Update: Here's Roger Ebert's review.


more 'liberal media' watch

Check out this incredible critique of the US press by Justin Webb in the British Independent. Essentially, it wonders why the press in the most powerful nation in the world can't ask its own Defense Secretary a follow-up question. I'd say go read the whole thing, but it's worth quoting in full:
We ask the questions

It took a British journalist to put the American Defence Secretary on the spot. Why, asks Justin Webb, are the US media so timorous? [Ed: That's a polite, British way of saying "cowardly"]

24 June 2003

My favourite weapons-of-mass-destruction moment came at a Pentagon briefing a few weeks ago. Just as the storm over the failure to find said weapons was breaking in Britain, deep in the bowels of the Pentagon one of the deputies of the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was asked a potentially tricky question on the subject. His imperious response: "I'm not here to answer that."

And, lo and behold, he didn't. And nobody complained about it.

It reminded me of the famous BBC doorstep interview with Clement Attlee, which went something like this: "Prime Minister, do you have anything to say...?"


British broadcasters have moved on since then. The American media, well...

Just before the Iraq war, David Dimbleby came to Washington to interview Donald Rumsfeld. They talked for half an hour. As you would expect, the questioning was persistent, forensic. Americans who heard the interview were shocked. The world's most powerful nation does not have the world's most powerful press. Specifically, it has no daily forum for the close questioning of politicians - no Today programme, no Channel 4 News, no Newsnight.

Incredibly - in this cultural and political superpower, in this supposed beacon of world freedom - radio stations were reduced to running interviews with experts from the BBC on their airwaves; a plucky station in Boston laid on an hour-long discussion and phone-in to follow the broadcast, during which I had to explain to the listeners that this kind of thing happened all the time in Britain.

What surprised people most was the style. Mr Rumsfeld's answers were followed up. His reasoning was tested. He was put on the spot and not allowed to leave it. When Dimbleby asked him why he had repeatedly referred to the "so-called" occupied territories of the West Bank, Mr Rumsfeld said he might have done it once but certainly not repeatedly.

Dimbleby had the dates and occasions in front of him. The Defence Secretary was forced to concede the point.

What a far cry it was from the Donald Rumsfeld Americans know and love. Strutting his stuff on the Pentagon podium, Mr Rumsfeld is lord and master of all he surveys. The Defence hacks titter nervously at each other and hope to get off with as light a beating as possible. Difficult questions are avoided; difficult questioners are lampooned. Anyone who persists is taken out and beaten senseless. (I made that up, but the atmosphere is genuinely one of laughing menace; a truly independent spirit would not enjoy being a Pentagon correspondent. The Today programme's Andrew Gilligan would not get through the door.)

So why the transatlantic journalistic rift? Are American journalists simply spineless? Do they toe the line because they love the President? Or because their employers do?

The answer, I think, is more complex. Americans in all walks of life have a respect for authority that the cynical Brits jettisoned somewhere around the time of Profumo and Christine Keeler. Americans, remember, still go to church. For all their rhetoric of freedom, there is nevertheless an acceptance of a higher power here in the United States. And an acceptance, too, of unimpeachable motives. President Bush, you may remember, declared the Iraq war won while on board a US aircraft carrier out in the Pacific Ocean. He flew to it on a navy jet, emerging with his flight suit on, looking for all the world like the Top Gun that he never was. I watched the performance live on US television and marvelled at the difference in coverage that there would have been on a British TV channel for a British prime minister attempting the same stunt.

Only once did the anchor people remark to each other - in the most delicate fashion - that the pictures would likely be used by the Bush team during next year's election.

Likely be used! The whole thing was set up for political use - it had no other purpose. The President could have stepped on board the carrier on shore; but it had been slowed down to make sure that it was still at sea. Incidentally, some questions were asked after the event about whether the White House had overstepped the mark with the carrier landing, but they were asked in a tone of hurt surprise, a tone that said: "We trusted you and you let us down." The British media would surely have sunk the whole enterprise.

(continued in the next post)


(continued from the previous post)

If a President's motives are generally considered worthy until proved otherwise, the same can be said of the President's appointments. When he appoints a Defence Secretary, your average American is willing to believe that this man or woman is worthy of trust, worthy of respect. He or she is the choice of the President. The journalists charged with the task of questioning the President and his advisers must work within the bounds of a culture that is willing to give national leaders the benefit of the doubt. Even after Watergate. Even after Monica Lewinsky. Even after Wag the Dog.

That's why the BBC's Correspondent programme caused a minor sensation here when it questioned the veracity of the Jessica Lynch story. Lynch was the 19-year-old West Virginia soldier taken prisoner by the Iraqis and rescued by US special forces during the war. [For the full story, see pages 4-5.] At the time, Pentagon sources said - and the American media reported - that Lynch had fought back against the Iraqis; that she had been stabbed and shot; that she had been abused in hospital.

The BBC team went to the hospital and heard a different story. Her injuries, according to the Iraqis, were caused by a car accident; after the accident, she had been brought to the hospital and treated well. The "rescue" had been unnecessary; the doctors had been trying for some time to hand her back.

It does not matter which story is true. The issue is that there were conflicting accounts but the American media overwhelmingly chose to report the Pentagon's version as fact.

Let's be honest, though: much of the questioning of American motives and purposes in the British press is equally one-sided. My heart sinks when junior producers ring from London, enthused by an article in a British paper that proves that the war was all about oil, or that the Zionists are in charge, or that the Vice-President's former company is taking over the world. The view from this side of the Atlantic is that the Brits have axes to grind.

It's still the case, though, that the US media have not covered themselves in glory in recent weeks. And I am glad to be able to report that the Bush administration is properly grateful. I went to see the Vice-President make a speech a few nights ago. He finished with a reference to the war in Iraq, telling his audience: "You did well - you have my thanks."

Were these troops or government officials he was addressing? Neither, in fact: the occasion was the annual dinner of the American Radio and Television Correspondents Association.

It's all very, very cosy. No wonder the BBC table was No 148. Next to the lavatories and the emergency exit.

Justin Webb is Washington correspondent for the BBC

It's the job of the press in a democracy to hold the Administration accountable. Since the beginnings of my recollection in the mid 1970s, Republican administrations haven't liked being called on Watergate, Iran-Contra, various Reagan administration mini-scandals (James Watt, Ann Burford, etc.), whether ambassador April Glaspie gave Saddam the green light to invade Kuwait, and so on. Thus the myth of the "liberal media" was born. The press was questioning Republican administrations, so it must be liberal!

Hogwash. Back then, they were just doing their job. And now, under the most mendacious and secretive Administration in my memory, the press is incompetent, lazy, cowed or some unsavory combination thereof. For Pete's sake, as a candidate, Bush simply declared that he wouldn't answer any questions about prior drug use. And rather than taking the bait, the so-called "liberal media" simply nodded and acted like good little stenographers.

Simply pathetic.

(via a Daily Kos open thread)


'liberal' media watch

I haven't commented on Tim Russert using data spoon-fed to him by the Administration to sandbag Democratic candidate Howard Dean on a recent airing of Meet the Press, because I didn't watch the program. But I note with interest that not only did a news organ conspire with a politician's opponent to obtain damaging data --rather than, say, doing research of their own -- but also that the Administration's data is misleading -- and, for once, the Administrations admits it, and even boasts that the bogus data makes them look good, so they'll keep right on using it!
The Bush administration yesterday released a highly selective analysis of the cost to families of rolling back scheduled tax cuts, an early sign of the White House's plan to brand Democrats as tax raisers throughout their race for the presidential nomination.

In addition to using the issue to inject himself into the Democratic campaign, President Bush plans to make the extension and preservation of tax cuts a centerpiece of his general election campaign, senior Republican officials said.

The seven-page analysis, by the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Analysis, asserts that repealing the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and last month would mean a tax hike of $1,933 for a married couple with two children and an income of $40,000. Their taxes would go from $45 to $1,978, for an increase of 4,296 percent, the study said.

"If you are advocating repealing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, you are advocating a significant tax increase on the American people," said Rob Nichols, the Treasury Department's chief spokesman. "You're talking about raising taxes on roughly 100 million households."

Strategists for several of the Democratic candidates said they will try to avoid such a label by calling for changes only in the tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest Americans.

Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential candidate and former Vermont governor, was confronted with the Treasury Department figures on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday. He said they do not account for increases in property taxes because of cuts in federal services and shortfalls in federal aid to education.

"The real effect of the Bush tax cuts has actually been to raise taxes on most middle-class people and to cut their services," Dean said.

The research was prepared at the request of "Meet the Press," NBC and Bush officials said. The analysis does not include single people or lower-income couples, two groups that benefit little from Bush's cuts. Four of the examples involve married couples with one or two children making $40,000 to $75,000 a year, and the other two concern spouses who are both age 65.

Peter R. Orszag, a senior fellow in economics at the Brookings Institution, said the document "gives a misleading impression of the overall effect of the tax cuts." Just 27 million of the nation's roughly 140 million households consist of married couples with children, he said. Brookings figures show that under the most recent law, 81 percent of households would save $1,000 or less.

Nevertheless, Republican officials said the figures will be used as a weapon [Emphasis added] as Bush argues on the campaign trail that the tax cuts should be made permanent instead of ending over the next seven years, as they are scheduled to do.

A presidential adviser said Bush and his campaign will be aggressive in claiming that Democratic plans would amount to a tax increase.

As I've said before, if the expiration of these tax cuts is a tax increase, then it's a tax increase Bush himself signed. The Democrats simply must not allow the GOP to get away with this bogus argument.

Skeptical Notion is the go-to guy on this sorry situation, with this spot-on summary:
  1. The Bush Administration released a deliberately misleading report.
  2. They prepared the report for a member of the press. [Ed: At the press's request, yet!]
  3. The member of the press used that report to attack Howard Dean.
  4. GOP officials acknowledge it's deceptive, but plan to use it anyways.

Why am I not surprised...


webcomic link of the day

Congratulations to 8-bit Theatre on publishing its 300th comic!


bump, set, spike!

Yesterday, Blogger migrated me to its new version. It seems to be working well so far, but in addition to not being able to post for the latter half of the day, an unusual side-efect occurred.

It so happened that Planet Swank appeared on Blogger's list of recently published blogs when posting was suspended. As a result, instead of rotating off the list in a matter of minutes, it stayed on for hours, generating a staggering number of hits. My hit counter spiked to more than 750 yesterday, about 600 more than average, most of which were referred by Blogger.

Some visitors even left comments to the first post.

I hope the occurrence will result in some new regular readers, but it was rather heady for this slithering reptile to get that many hits in a day.


national do-not-call list to go live

The Federal Trade Commission's Do Not Call Registry is launching in the next several days, according to the Associated Press.
The free service, first proposed last year, will begin registering consumers before the end of the month.

The Federal Communications Commission was to vote Thursday on whether the industries whose calls it regulates, including airlines, banks and telephone companies, will be subject to the FTC program.

Consumers will be able to sign up on a Web site by providing the phone number they want protected and an e-mail address so they can receive a confirmation message, the FTC said. The only identifying information kept will be the phone number.

Telephone registration using a toll-free number will begin at the same time in states west of the Mississippi River, including Minnesota and Louisiana, the FTC said. Nationwide registration should be available about 10 days later. Consumers will have to call from the number they want to register.

...The government says consumers who register should see a decrease in telemarketing calls after it begins enforcing the do-not-call list in October.

We're on Indiana's DNC list, and as I perceive matters, it's been tremendously effective in reducing unwanted telemarketing calls. I expect to register for the national list as soon as possible. I applaud the FTC in taking this non-intrusive and sensible step to protect consumers' privacy.

Update: After 12 hours in operation, the list garnered more than 370,000 numbers. Wow.

  xWednesday, June 25, 2003

paul krugman explains it all

This excellent Paul Krugman column not only calls Bush on his deceptiveness, but on his supporters for enabling him:
There is no longer any serious doubt that Bush administration officials deceived us into war. The key question now is why so many influential people are in denial, unwilling to admit the obvious.

About the deception: Leaks from professional intelligence analysts, who are furious over the way their work was abused, have given us a far more complete picture of how America went to war. Thanks to reporting by my colleague Nicholas Kristof, other reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and a magisterial article by John Judis and Spencer Ackerman in The New Republic, we now know that top officials, including Mr. Bush, sought to convey an impression about the Iraqi threat that was not supported by actual intelligence reports [Emphasis added].

...And yet the political and media establishment is in denial, finding excuses for the administration's efforts to mislead both Congress and the public.

For example, some commentators have suggested that Mr. Bush should be let off the hook as long as there is some interpretation of his prewar statements that is technically true. Really? We're not talking about a business dispute that hinges on the fine print of the contract; we're talking about the most solemn decision a nation can make. If Mr. Bush's speeches gave the nation a misleading impression about the case for war, close textual analysis showing that he didn't literally say what he seemed to be saying is no excuse. On the contrary, it suggests that he knew that his case couldn't stand close scrutiny [Emphasis added].

Amen, brother. That's what I've been saying.

Now comes the "shrill" part:
So why are so many people making excuses for Mr. Bush and his officials?

Part of the answer, of course, is raw partisanship. One important difference between our current scandal and the Watergate affair is that it's almost impossible now to imagine a Republican senator asking, "What did the president know, and when did he know it?"

But even people who aren't partisan Republicans shy away from confronting the administration's dishonest case for war, because they don't want to face the implications.

After all, suppose that a politician — or a journalist — admits to himself that Mr. Bush bamboozled the nation into war. Well, launching a war on false pretenses is, to say the least, a breach of trust. So if you admit to yourself that such a thing happened, you have a moral obligation to demand accountability — and to do so in the face not only of a powerful, ruthless political machine but in the face of a country not yet ready to believe that its leaders have exploited 9/11 for political gain. It's a scary prospect.

Yet if we can't find people willing to take the risk — to face the truth and act on it — what will happen to our democracy?

From the very moment of his appointment election, Bush has shown his contempt for the small-d democratic process. Bush's so-called "leadership" can hardly be said to have produced positive results in this nation during his term, and the prospects for improvement are nil. Bush doesn't even give us Reagan's feel-good "morning in America" rhetoric. With him, it's nothing but scare tactics and "if you aren't with us, you're against us." He has the glib charm of a con artist, but like a con artist, he gets real nasty real quick when his lines are questioned. And like a con artist, eventually he'll abscond (and the sooner the better), leaving us holding the bill. A bill, make no mistake about it, that will need to be paid.

(via Interesting Times)


bush (lack-of) credibility watch

This piece in the Christian Science Monitor hits the nail on the heard with regard to Bush's pattern of mendacity and deception. Money quotes:
In the past few weeks some questions have begun to arise about just how candid this White House is being in a variety of areas. The accusations aren't really of lying, per se, but rather they center on this administration's ability to give people the entire truth, the full picture of reality. Slowly and quietly, a credibility gap is opening, and this White House needs to be careful. If not, the gap may open wide enough to swallow up Bush's high poll numbers.

...It's easy to discount these problems as little bumps in the road for the president. As 2004 nears, his approval numbers are in the 60s, as people continue to put faith in him as governmental CEO, and assume that every politician stretches the truth now and again. But there's a saying in journalism. "One is an event. Two is a coincidence. Three is a trend." And this trend could be particularly troubling for the president.

Bush's support doesn't come from his positions; it comes from something more personal. People like him in large part because they believe he's being straight with them. If that changes, his ride toward reelection may have more than a few twists and turns.

The piece notes three key examples about Bush being, shall we say, less than forthright: Iraq (of course), misleading claims of "average" tax cut benefits, and the recent EPA report editing flap. The ample evidence of Bush's con-artistry is already out there for anyone who cares to look, and there are encouraging indications that the press is beginning to wake up and call the Administration on its claims.

Personally, I can't wait for the Presidential debates in the 2004 race. I have a feeling that if and when a Democrat, at last, challenges Bush to defend his lousy record (no more staring blankly into the camera and saying "I trust people" for the man for whom executive secrecy is an obsession), Bush will simply crack. Here's a man whom his handlers realize can't handle being challenged -- no press conference that isn't scripted, no remark that isn't carefully rehearsed, nothing but speeches in front of friendly crowds. The minute Bush gets outside that comfort zone, he's in trouble, and the Democrats need to take the game to him.

For that reason, I doubt Bush will accept a debate.

(via Eschaton)


media watch

Check out Steve Gilliard's spot-on analysis at Daily Kos of this morning's shocking revelations that "embedded" reporter Judith Miller may have become a bit too embedded...apparently taking it upon herself to give orders, direct ops and sit in on interrogations.

If these revelations are anywhere close to true, Miller's tenure with the New York Times must end at once. There's absolutely no room for a supposedly objective reporter to inject herself into events in this fashion.


'a matter of time'

We may have missed Saddam, but Bush believes it's just "a matter of time" until we get him. Just like it's "a matter of time" until we get bin Laden (in this case, 21 months and counting...).
Asked about the fact that the fates of both bin Laden and Saddam remain unknown, Bush said, "There's more than two principles at large. ... There are others around, too. And we're just on the hunt."

Bush said it could take days, months or years before the United States and its allies complete the search for terrorist leaders. "And we'll find them. It's only a matter of time," he said.

Notice, by the way, how even when asked bout those two individuals directly, Bush avoids referring to them by name.

There's also this little item indicating that Bush dragged his feet on authorizing Predator drone strikes on possible bin Laden locations until after the 9/11 attacks.
When President Bush took office in January 2001, the White House was told that Predator drones had recently spotted Osama bin Laden as many as three times and officials were urged to arm the unmanned planes with missiles to kill the al-Qaida leader. But the administration failed to get drones back into the Afghan skies until after the Sept. 11 attacks later that year, current and former U.S. officials say.

Top administration officials discussed the mission to kill bin Laden as late as one week before the suicide attacks on New York and Washington, but they had not yet resolved a debate over whether the CIA or Pentagon should operate the armed Predators and whether the missiles would be sufficiently lethal, officials told The Associated Press.

Bear this fact in mind when conservatives complain about Clinton's so-called "fecklessness."

Meanwhile, Donald Rumsfeld says it's just a "matter of time" until Iraq's weapons are found.
"I have reason, every reason, to believe that the intelligence that we were operating off was correct and that we will, in fact, find weapons or evidence of weapons, programs, that are conclusive. But that's just a matter of time," he told a Pentagon media briefing.

It's refereshing that the press keeps asking. But if "the intelligence that we were operating off was correct," we would have found them already. And as I've said, even discovering weapons shouldn't excuse this Administration from close scrutiny of its prewar rationales. If weapons are found, they'll be in a location we had no inkling about. If nothing else, how could our intelligence provide information about weapons where they demonstrably aren't and yet miss where they actually are?
Meanwhile, check out this whopper:
He said no one had contended that Iraq had nuclear weapons...

This is one of those literally true deceptions I've mentioned before. Of course no one said Iraq had a nuclear program, but Bush himself made numerous statements implying Iraq had a nuclear weapons program that would shortly result in a weapon. Take these from the 2003 State of the Union address:
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities.

...nor did he have to, as many Administration critics and members of Bush's own intelligence agencies noted that both the uranium and aluminum-tubes stories were utterly bogus.

And then:
With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region.

There you go; Bush cites Iraq as a nuclear threat. Hypothetically perhaps, but the citation is there.

And then there's Bush's famous "Iraq is six months away from having a nuclear weapon" blunder.

So no, no one in the Administration claimed Iraq had a nuclear weapon. But they did everything they could -- including relying on the shoddiest of so-called "intelligence" -- to imply that Iraq posed some sort of nuclear threat. The inspections process alone made that theory laughable. As a nuclear program is almost impossible to hide, it's safe to say at this point that Iraq didn't have anything you couldn't download from the Web. Yet Bush and crew continued to invoke the "mushroom cloud" to create the necessary atmosphere of fear to garner support for their ill-justified war. Rumsfeld knows that, which is why he's indulging in his own "revisionist history" right now. Contemptible.

Update: Via Daily Kos, this gem:
And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.

-- Vice President Dick Cheney, Meet The Press, March 16.

There you have it.



A recent attack on a convoy believed at the time to possibly contain Saddam Hussein or his sons apparently didn't get the former Iraqi leader, according to SecDef Rumsfeld, although it did waste a one-year-old girl. Congratulations, guys.

The attack spilled over into neighboring Syria; that's known as a "border incident" in some circles and an "act of war" in others, although Syria doesn't seem inclined to press the issue.

The real tragedy is that this attack didn't have to happen this way. The US has complete miltary supremacy in Iraq; any attacks it makes, and any methods it uses, are because the US military chooses to do them. And that goes for the bombing that claimed civilian lives during the war. Yes, surrounding the caravan with light armored vehicles would have posed a risk for US troops. Yet it would have reduced the risk to innocent civilians -- who weren't even Iraqis, for crying out loud -- carried a much greater level of certainty, and left the proportion of force in the hands of our soldiers, who are, I believe, well-trained enough to make such a determination. (Example: If they'd surrendered, there would have been no need to blow the convoy to kingdom come.)

Jim Henley has an excellent post saying that not only are these attacks immoral, but that they're also counterproductive -- long-distance saturation attacks don't offer the necessary certainty that we indeed got our man.
I do know that we're doing too much of this. Blow it up first, then see if the corpses are the specific people you were aiming for.

...The New York Times says it was a Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile. Bomb first, swab later. It reduces the risk to American infantrymen at a known cost in lives of innocent foreigners. No surrounding the convoy and demanding surrender, no up close and personal. Hit them with a Hellfire or a helicopter autocannon. Act on "intelligence" that you lack the knowledge and experience to vet. Pick through the cinders to see how you did.

This is wrong. It is the callous policy of an evil government. This was not a wartime operation to capture a strategic crossroads. This was, supposedly, an effort to detain specific fugitives in a country where "major combat operations have ended." In that context it is not moral to kill strangers because one or two of them might be in your deck of cards. Too often now our government behaves as if what we can do and what we are justified in doing are the same thing. They are not.

Indeed, the pattern all too often has been that -- even if the target was in the area at the time -- he's long gone by the time we figure out that we miss. And it's funny that the Administration was sooooooo concerned about tipping "sources and methods" during the runup to its coveted war, but is perfectly willing to do so in near-miss attacks. Every time Saddam or bin Laden survive one of these, it not only enhances their reputation among forces unfriendly to the US, but also gives them valuable experience in eluding capture in the future.

Next time, send in the troops. I'm not at all happy about the rising death toll due to guerilla warfare in Iraq, but if US servicemen and -women are to die, let it be for a reason, like the capture of the thug who murdered 3,000 Americans and others in the 9/11 attacks.

Update: Jim Henley responds to my response, and offers a plausible alternative to the near misses:
This is true if any of these attacks are actual near-misses. The other theory, that they are publicity stunts timed to buck up homefront morale, becomes harder to dismiss as the pattern continues. Just last week two things happened: 1) the "Trailers of Mass Destruction" story went sour; 2) days later, it was announced that troops found Mukhbarat files that may pertain to Iraqi special weapons programs. How? From what period? Army spokesmen didn't say. But they were calling in people who could actually understand the documents to figure that stuff out.

Then of course we had the latest "we may have killed Saddam story a few days after that.

Of course, if the various publicised "we think we got hims" are not near misses - if they bear no geographical or temporal relation to the actual physical presence of Saddam or Osama or Fu Manchu, that too tells our antagonists something valuable - we have no idea where the hell they are.

A much more disturbing scenario, and unfortunately impossible to dismiss out of hand.


employment post of the day

The job market is so over-saturated with qualified applicants, Wired reports, that companies are making interview candidates jump through all sorts of mental hoops.
When Neil Doshi sat down for his job interview at a major business consulting firm, the last thing he expected was that he'd be calculating the height of the Empire State Building -- not just in feet, but in quarters.

"He wanted to know how many quarters I would have to stack to reach the top of the building," said Doshi of his interviewer. "So I started estimating the number of quarters in an inch and multiplied that with the number of inches in a foot and so on."

When Doshi finally presented his solution, his interviewer barely seemed impressed. "Good," said the manager. "Now tell me the total dollar value of those quarters."

Doshi is not the only job seeker hit with bizarre questions in an interview. With the depressed economy supplying dozens -- if not hundreds -- of qualified applicants for each job, companies increasingly use riddles and puzzles in interviews to narrow the options. The practice is catching applicants off guard.

"In this economy, companies can afford to be choosy," according to author William Poundstone. "The brain-teaser interview is a trend that has reached a broad cross section of the Fortune 500."

Poundstone's latest book, How Would You Move Mount Fuji?, examines the legendary Microsoft interview, which long has been associated with grueling puzzles that baffle applicants.

..."By asking candidates to solve a puzzle, interviewers hope to gain some ," explained Poundstone.

However, whether questions like these actually yield important information about candidates is still up for debate.

In one discouraging study conducted by Harvard University psychologists, interviewers were found to make up their minds about a candidate within just two seconds of seeing the person. The revelation could mean that brain teasers -- or any other interview questions for that matter -- add little value to the selection process.

On the other hand, many hiring managers who use puzzles reason that Microsoft's success is due in large part to its employees. The fact that many of those employees were selected through a rigorous interview filled with brain teasers bodes well for the tactic.

"We use these types of questions not necessarily to see if the candidate gets the right answer but to observe the candidate's thought process," said one vice president of a business software firm, who asked not to be named. "How does the candidate think on their feet? Do they work through the problem in a logical manner? Do they have the drive and determination to work through the problem no matter how difficult the question?"

As for Microsoft, a spokesperson said the company believes that the puzzle questions help interviewers determine a candidate's creativity and problem-solving abilities, but that a candidate's responses to those questions are not the only factor in a hiring decision. "The type of question discussed in (Poundstone's) book is one of many techniques that Microsoft continues to use to identify a candidate's ability to fit into the company and vice versa."

Poundstone cautions that the "vice versa" part of the equation is important for employers to remember should they choose to integrate brain teasers into their own hiring processes.

"You have to be careful not to let it turn into a hazing stunt," said Poundstone. "In businesses where there's a fraternity culture, it sometimes becomes a matter of putting everyone through the same gauntlet of puzzles and high pressure. But you don't want potential employees going away feeling harassed."

I can't say I think much of this practice. Justifications about gaining "insight into how well the candidates think on their feet" aside, it's difficult to see what value trivia questions or intricate puzzles add to the interview process -- the applicant is seeking a job, not membership in Mensa. It's also difficult to see how anyone subjected to this ritual -- especially when caught unawares, and prepared only do discuss, you know, germane subjects like employment history, qualifications and skills, wouldn't go away feeling harrassed. This process strieks me as another Dilbert-esque management trend.

Of course, it seems fair that applicants could ask similar questions right back to the interviewer...I wonder how many of them would do without the answer sheet in front of them.

This situation reminds me of the titular sequence in Takashi Miike's ultra-violent thriller Audition, in which a group of young women trying out for a television role are asked a bizarre series of humiliating and intrusive questions by one of the men in charge. The sequence is subtly disturbing, and easy to view as an indictment of the power imbalance between the genders in Japan.

Fortunately, the job market here doesn't seem to have become that bad yet.

(via FARK)


latest playboy scientific analysis

Last December, I mentioned a study in the British Medical Journal that analyzed the curvature of 50 years' worth of Playboy centerfolds and determined that they've become less curvaceous over the years.

Now Reuters reports on the result of another study suggesting that the relative curviness of Playboy models correlates with economic conditions.
According to researchers, a comparison of the faces and figures of Playmates of the Year from 1960 to 2000 suggests men may prefer stronger-looking women in hard times, and softer, more vulnerable types when bull markets resume.

"In short, we want someone to have fun with when times are good, and we want someone to take care of us -- and themselves -- when times are bad," said psychology researcher Dr. Terry F. Pettijohn II, of Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania.

The study, co-authored by undergraduate student Brian Jungeberg, was presented earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society, in Atlanta.

Previous research has suggested that ideals of beauty and sexual attractiveness change between cultures and over time. A handful of studies have discerned a slight trend toward thinner bodies among both Playmates and Miss America contestants over the past few decades.

However, according to Pettijohn, his study is the first to consider "how social and economic conditions may have influenced these changes."

In their research, Pettijohn and Jungeberg created an annual "hard times measure" by tracking changes in U.S. statistics on unemployment, marriage, homicide and other factors for the years 1960 through 2000.

Then, using clear, front-on photographs of Playboy Playmates of the Year for each of those 40 years, the two researchers made precise measurements of key face and body dimensions.

Comparing models over the years, the researchers discovered that, in hard times, Playmates tended to be slightly older, heavier and taller, with larger waists and bigger waist-to-hip ratios. Smaller eyes -- a feature linked to "stronger" faces -- were also predominant.


In honor of this breakthrough, we present yet another small (and safe for work) Playboy centerfold gallery.
angela littlecara wakelin
deanna brooksjodi ann paterson
(via FARK)


japanese pseudo-lesbian musical act of the week

Some time agao, I linked to a Mainichi Daily News story that indicated an increasing acceptance of sapphic imagery in Japanese society. In particular, the story noted that jpop singer Ayumi Hamasaki appears on the cover of a recent album of ballads Photoshoopped to appear to be embracing herself.


Now, meet Juemilia (official site), Japan's answer to the Russian pseudo-lesbian pop duo TATU; they even cover TATU's hit "All The Things She Said."

(via Destroy All Monsters via FARK)

suitei shoujo

And here's another Japanese TATU clone, Suitei Shoujo (Presumed Girls), via Geisha Asobi blog.


...and speaking of orwellian...

The Washington Post editorial page gets it exactly wrong with this morning's commentary on the debate over the Administration's case for attacking Iraq. The esteemed editorial board presents a tissue of obfuscations, distortions, and straw-man arguments that -- and this is the real sin -- completely ignores much of the paper's own reporting. Let's go to the videotape...
The debate in Washington over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the administration's prewar intelligence about them is becoming more overheated and uninformed -- and the best way to bring it back to earth will be the collection of fresh evidence about what happened to the illegal arms that Iraq was known to possess in the 1990s. If they are found, then much of the public discussion of the past few weeks will be rendered irrelevant.

The Post swallows whole the GOP spin characterizing criticism of the Administration as claims that WMDs do not exist, which will inevitably be refuted when some rusty barrels of mustard gas are planted discovered. This statement is dangerously disingenuous. The debate is -- has always been -- that the Administration's case for invading Iraq was based on shaky evidence whose solidity was wildly exaggerated, combined with vague references to Iraq's capacity in the first Gulf War -- since degraded by inspections and military action -- and ominous implications that the "smoking gun" could be a "mushroom cloud."

It's perfectly relevant to demand that the Administration come clean about what it knew and when it knew it in justifying a predetermined obsession with making war on a country that, it's increasingly obvious, posed a threat to the United States only as we occupy it.

And it's dishonest to the extreme to claim that any accidental discovery of some paltry amount of chemical biological weapon will retroactively justify all the Administration's claims. Remember, they were talking about tons and thousands of liters. The Post is quite correct to say that subequent discoveries can show one side's claim to be a fantasy, but it's theirs, not the critics'.
If they are not, then both the Bush administration and U.S. intelligence agencies will suffer a serious loss of credibility -- one that could compromise efforts to disarm or contain the rogue states with WMD that continue to threaten the world.

I hate to break it to the esteemed editorial board, but US credibility has already suffered. The US didn't dare call a UNSC vote authorizing force under Resolution 1441, not only because of a threatened veto, but because it was likely to be rejected by a majority vote. Bush's bogus case failed to convince many of our own allies. And it's looking more and more like they were right not to be convinced.

Think back to Powell's presentation to the UN -- many of his claims were debunked by the ionspection process, and now that we have free run of the country, not one of them has proven valid. Not one. This Administration provided evidence that events have proven to be bogus.
The absence of facts hasn't stopped critics of the war from rushing to the conclusion that no WMD exist, or that Mr. Bush and his top aides manufactured a case for war by strong-arming U.S. intelligence officials and distorting the evidence.

Here again the Post plays the old trick of misstating the case. I am not aware of anyone saying WMDs do not exist. I, for one, am saying that under these circumstances, there is no way the President's prewar claims can be shown to be accurate. Right now, Bush can't prove any of it. As for the latter part of the sentence, the Post's own reporting has established that such attempts to influence the intel services did occur. Heck, the hawks didn't like the intel the CIA and DIA was providing, so they set up a separate unit to report only the isolated nuggests that bolstered their case, out of a vast quarry of information that didn't.

By disingenuously saying critics claim that no weapons exist, the Post -- and, by extension, the Bush Administration -- lowers the bar for its own vindication. Sorry, guys, I'm not buying.

I would also add that if WMDs did exist, their absence is disturbing indeed, as the possibility that they're in the hands of terrorists can't be discounted. The President himself implied as much when he said sites were "looted."

Worse yet, the Post's editorial board has made this disingenuous claim before, and been called on it. It's hard to imagine a more stunning display of intellectual dishonesty.
Some of the claims made by Mr. Bush -- such as his assertion that Iraq sought to buy nuclear material from an African country -- indeed have proven false.

It isn't just that -- the Administration had reason to believe they were false before they made the claims, as the Post, once again, has reported.

And there's another way of looking at it: Exactly which claims of the Administration have proven true?
The administration's argument that Saddam Hussein had a relationship with al Qaeda looks unconvincing to many independent observers, just as it did before the war.

You're darn skippy they did. And as the Post itself has reported -- the Bush administration knew it. The Administration made public claims that its intel not only didn't support, but also in many cases directly contradicted. And Bush kept right on dishonestly conflating not only Saddam and al Qaeda, but also Saddam and the 9/11 attacks. Are we starting to see a pattern here, guys?

Reports that senior Pentagon and White House officials may have pressured intelligence analysts to reach certain conclusions are disturbing and merit the probes now being conducted by Congress. The results of those investigations, and as much of the evidence as possible, should be fully and publicly aired.

The Post has done this before -- notice how earlier, they talked about "rushing to the conclusion that no WMD exist, or that Mr. Bush and his top aides manufactured a case for war by strong-arming U.S. intelligence officials and distorting the evidence"? They're conflating one implausible claim (which, as I've noticed before, only the Adminsitration's defenders are talking about as a means of lowering their burden) with another much more plausible claim, in hopes that the taint of the former will rub off on the latter. Yet now the editors admit that there's reason to believe that the Administration may have engaged in just such activity. And while it's a time-honored tradition for editorial boards to call for full disclosure, the fact that the GOP is both dragging its feet and doing whatever it can to keep the investigation out of the light of day should give them a clue.

It nevertheless remains true that a wide range of governments, agencies and individuals outside the Bush administration looked at the same or their own evidence about Iraq and drew the same fundamental conclusion -- that Saddam Hussein was defying repeated U.N. disarmament orders. The Clinton administration, the governments of Britain, Germany and France, most of the senior U.N. weapons inspectors and most Democratic senators also were convinced that Iraq was hiding weapons and the means to produce them. While the Bush administration may have publicly exaggerated or distorted parts of its case, much of what it said reflected a broad international consensus. If it turns out that neither the weapons nor the programs existed, the failure will be not just that of the Bush administration but of most Western politicians and intelligence experts.

The Post also picks up the GOP spin that "everyone thought Iraq had them." True enough; which is why the aforementioned individuals and governments supported the return of UN weapons inspectors.

That wasn't good enough for Bush and crew, though -- he insisted that Iraq posed a threat so dire that war was not only the only possible answer, but also that it had to happen immediately. Bush didn't claim that he "suspected" Saddam had WMDs or "believed" he was working on a nuclear program, he stated it as fact. He implied, at the very least, that he had evidence. And only the concept of an Iraqi threat justified a preemptive war against a nation that had not attacked us. The Post is simply wrong to conflate Bush's positive assertions -- and his insistence on nothing but war -- with the suspicions.

No, no -- it isn't everyone's failure at all. Yes, everyone had suspicions. Yes, everyone wanted answers about what happened to the remnants of Iraq's weapons program after a decade of military destruction, inspections, and economic sanctions. But only Bush and crew -- supported by broadsides from the Post editorial board -- insisted on having facts about a massive and dire threat that demanded military action. Claims that went far beyond the general consensus.

In a way, it's a variation on Bush's dishonest line that not going to war was tantamount to "doing nothing." No one was advocating "doing nothing;" but only Bush insisted on immediate war. He got it, all right; Americans and allies died -- and are continuing to die -- as a result, and none of the Post's distortions can conceal that the facts as we now know them simply do not support the case for war.

No, sir, many of us did not agree with them about the nature of the Iraqi threat. It now falls to them to prove your case, and I demand that they do so right now. And we all know they can't, which is exactly the purpose of such misleading editorials.

In that sense the failure to find Iraqi WMD so far ought to be less of a scandal than a genuine mystery. Former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, no friend of the administration, frankly confessed his puzzlement the other day to The Post's Colum Lynch, pointing out that Saddam Hussein unquestionably tried for 12 years to obstruct and deceive inspectors. "Why deny access if you are not hiding something?" Mr. Blix asked. That's a good question. Until the facts are found, both the administration and its critics ought to avoid drawing conclusions about Saddam Hussein's weapons. Mr. Bush must meanwhile keep his promise to discover the full truth -- and commit to sharing what he learns with the world.

This is simply foul. The notion that the President presented a misleading case for war -- a fact that this editorial concedes -- is a scandal indeed, and of the highest order. We did not go to war to see if Iraq had weapons. We went to war because Bush said he knew they did, and they posed a threat. That notion is proving to be more ridiculous with each passing day.

They said Iraq was a threat. Where's the proof of that?

In addition, not that once again the editors claim critics are "drawing conclusions about Saddam Hussein's weapons." Not at all -- critics such as myself are drawing conclusions about the President's case for war. Conclusions that are increasingly obvious, increasingly supported by subsequent revelations, and increasingly disturbing and damaging to US credibility, US national interests, and US security. Conclusions that the Post would rather not acknowledge, even as its own reporting staff publishes more stories supporting them.

I can understand that the Post, which supported the war, is reluctant to admit it was wrong, or that it could have been deceived. But shoddy obfuscation of the sort demonstrated in this lame editorial does not excuse the editorial board from facing the facts, and it certainly can't be allowed to retroactively lower their burden of proof.

And exactly what confidence do we have, now, that Bush will indeed come clean, or that whatever he shares has any credibility at all? That is the question the Post should be asking. But to do so, they have to ask themselves as well, and it's clear that they'd rather not do so.

Update: The Daily Howler (just permalinked) has been on a roll this week in describing the strawman tactics Bush defenders like Robert Kagan have been using to avoid answering the actual questions critics are asking. It has everything to do with changing "Bush took us to war claiming he had evidence he couldn't possibly have had" to "Critics are saying there are no weapons." Go read.


happy birthday, george orwell

The Washington Post has a 100th birthday essay on Eric Arthur Blair, who is better known by his pen name George Orwell.

The article notes that "Orwell has suffered the famous author's ultimate fate: He is revered and invoked more than he is read." Which is probably true. But I'm a pretty big fan of Orwell; enough to have read more than the Big Two, 1984 and Animal Farm. My friend Patty sent me a copy of Orwell's first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, from a bookshop in Paris. It's an excellent autobigraphical account of living in poverty. Having worked in a big hotel, as Orwell did, I found his descriptions remarkably accurate some 60 years later. And on the recommendation of a friend, I read Homage to Catalonia, Orwell's account of his fighting on the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War. (Orwell was wounded, and then Communist factions sought to purge him for his less-than-pure ideology, forcing him to flee.) I admit that, while I own a copy of Orwell's early novel The Clergyman's Daughter, I've never gotten 'round to reading it.

I have to take exception to the following line in the Post piece:
As a prophet he was almost always wrong; 1984, as we now know, looked nothing like "Nineteen Eighty-Four."

That sentence shows a profoundly disturbing failure to comprehend what 1984 is all about (indeed, it strikes me as the comment someone might make who invokes Orwell without having read him...) I've not only read 1984 but studied it several times in high school and college, the last time in a course on utopian novels (1984 and Brave New World were included as examples of dystopian works). Like most utopian/dystopian fiction, 1984 isn't supposed to be "prophecy;" it's a commentary on present-day society -- in this case, a harsh critique of Stalinist Russia in 1948. (Just as Animal Farm isn't a "fairy story," but an allegory of the Russian revolution and a crititique of Marxism.)

Having said that, only a fool would say that, having passed Orwell's title date, his predictions become invalid and we're safe from the clutches of Big Brother. I could point to several ways in which Orwell's writings are eerily prophetic when compared with 2003:

  • Increasingly pervasive surveillance, both online and in public, and the collection of vast amounts of personal data in private hands

  • Perpetual war, thanks to the "War on Terrorism" and its dress rehersal, the "War on Drugs" (both of which, I might add, have come with a hefty price in terms of civil liberties)

  • And an increasing prevalence in both political "doublespeak" and information management that recalls Orwell's "memory hole" (cases in point: Bush's labeling as "revisionist history" critics who pointed out that he'd cited a threat from Iraq's alleged weapons as a threat to justify his invasion, and Ann Coulter's apparent attempt to rehabilitate Joe McCarthy in her recent book -- and as a bonus, she calls criticism of McCarty's witch hunts "Orwellian"!)

And those are off the top of my head. Articles like the Post's might point to the ways that modern society isn't like Orwell's dystopian future in smug satisfaction, but it's much more important to be on guard against the ways society is trending in that direction, and oppose those trends as much as possible.

So on the 100th anniversary of George Orwell's birth, here's a quote from 1984 that describes the totalitarian Party mindset to keep in mind as we absorb the Administration's lates spin about its war on Iraq:
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully-constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them.

and of course, with love to Karl Rove,
The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power.

Yeah, Orwell was a terrible prophet. Sheesh.

George Orwell Google Directory

  xTuesday, June 24, 2003

jpop gallery of the day

chiaki kuriyama

A gallery devoted to rising Japanese actress Chiaki Kuriyama (Battle Royale). Kuriyama plays Chigusa, who, if memory serves me right, is a pretty and disdainful student who goes berserk when one of her admirers accidentally cuts her face. This wallpaper page features images of her in that role.

chiaki kuriyama

This fan site features a small gallery of pics. This thumbnail gallery requires registration for downloading, and here are two more sites devoted to the young actress.

Researching this post, I also discovered a rather creepy fan gallery of pictures of the actress from modeling gigs when she was 10 to 14 years old. They appear to be pictures from legitimate modeling gigs like Ralph Lauren clothing, but the fact that someone attached a short love poem to a bunch of photos of a practicaly preteen girls sort of wierds me out.


hanging punching judge

When a defendant went berserk in a Cook County courtroom yesterday, felling his court-appointed lawyer with a possible skull fracture, Judge John Kirby vaulted over the bench to help take down the defendent and put a stop to his rampage.
"It certainly was a heroic act on the part of Judge Kirby to come down and help subdue the person until law enforcement could help," said Chief Judge Timothy Evans. "We're waiting to hear about the the fate of the young public defender who was the first person struck by the defendant."

Assistant Public Defender Richard Kruss, 37, was reported in serious condition at a local Hospital that night. We wish Kruss a speedy and complete recovery, and congratulate the two-fisted Judge Kirby on helping restore order to the court.

(via FARK)


frantic's famous ford flips fans the finger

harrison ford pointing

This humorous site documents how actor Harrison Ford always seems to find the point of his roles...

(via Byzantium's Shores; I composed the headline especially for Jaquandor, who seems to be a big fan of alliteration)


quote of the day

Tim Dunlop has a must-read post on why the rationale for war of three national administrations -- that of the United States, Great Britain and Australia -- must be examined:
Most of us accept that when it comes security intelligence there are some things we can't know about. But we surrender this level of involvement in the self-governing system that is democracy on the understanding that our representatives are trustworthy, accurately portray the broad picture even if they can't tell specific details, and if they are ultimately accountable for the way they explained the secret stuff to us.

When the topic at hand is war, the obligation for politicians to be trustworthy before the fact and accountable afterwards is set to maximum. There's is no argument now about whether inquiries should be mounted or evidence presented or leaders be asked to explain themselves. This is simply night-follows-day terriroty, a statement of the bleeding obvious. We shouldn't even need to ask; what we couldn't know then should simply be presented to us now. This is moved beyond any doubt under the circumstances we are currently in where the failure to find the promised motherload has suggested to even Blind Freddy that there is a mismatch between rhetoric and reality.

But this is not happening. In the US, efforts are still being made to keep any inquiry confidential and George W. Bush, as usual, has not subjected himself to any public questioning. Tony Blair has refused to appear before his country's inquiry, though at least has had to front parliament, where all he has said is "be patient". In Australia, the government is doing everything it can to block an inquiry, aided and abetted by an opposition that couldn't organise a root in a brothel.

A government that refuses to fully explain itself is shifting the emphasis from the consent of the governed to the whim of the governers, at which point we are right to suggest our democratic sovreignty has been placed at the top of a incline that is being smothered with baby oil as we sit and watch. [Emphasis added]


milestone of the day

Late last night, the hit counter inched over the 32,000 mark. Thanks for visiting.


zombie movie link of the day

I saw a poster for this flick back in May at the small art-house theater where we saw the Cowboy Bebop movie. 28 Days Later (Flash-tastic official site) is a zombie flick by Danny Boyle, driector of the excellent Trainspotting and the significantly-less-than-excellent A Life Less Ordinary.

Here's the plot summary from the IMDb:
A powerful virus escapes from a British research facility. Transmitted in a drop of blood and devastating within seconds, the virus locks those infected into a permanent state of murderous rage. Within 28 days the country is overwhelmed and a handful of survivors begin their attempts to salvage a future, little realising that the deadly virus is not the only thing that threatens them.

The Stateside release is slated for June 27. I can hardly wait!


true game clerk stories

Some time back, I linked to the fascinating online journal True Pr0n Clerk Stories. It contained the musings of a young woman regarding her experiences as a clerk in a video stor with a large adult movie section. The author commented on the appeal pr0n has for certain people, quirks -- appealing and otherwise -- of her various regular customers, and the everyday tribulations of a video store clerk (rude customenrs, people who don't rewind, and the like). The journal concluded when the author left the job for greener pastures (and we hope Ali is doing well out there...).

In a similar vein, Acts of Gord is a hilarious site that details the interactions of a worker in a video game store. Annoying customers, people who fail to return games and then complain when the store forwards the account to collections, people who ask endlessly repetitive's all there. Jaquandor of Byzantium's Shores (who found the site on MetaFilter) rightly compares the site to some of the "annoying customer" segments of Clerks, and it's often reminiscent of a less pathetic but equally sarcastic version of The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy.

  xMonday, June 23, 2003

comix images of the day


The History Channel is airing a program on the history of comic book superheroes tonight. The show's official site fatures a cool, all-Marvel mini-gallery, which included the two classic Spider-Man images I've appropriated here. c00L!

The program airs at 9 p.m. Eastern time; check your local listings.

(via Counterspin Central; cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


enter the matrix

Byzantium's Shores uses the concept of "zero-tolerance policies" to launch into an excellent rant about the pernicious way policies and systems evolve from a tool for aiding decisions to an excuse not to make even the most obvious and rational ones.
"Zero Tolerance" is one of those things that sounds great in theory, but in reality it leads to those whacko incidents we've all read about: kids getting suspended for having fingernail clippers or pocket-knives of whatever. The whole "Zero Tolerance" thing is pretty goofy (as George Carlin once observed, "You can probably beat someone to death with the Sunday New York Times"), but it's probably not going away. And not because it's really protecting our kids, but because it's part of a growing trend to replace actual, human thought with impersonal process.

Go read the whole thing. Jaquandor's comments reminded me of some of the concepts introduce in The Matrix: Agent Smith's claim that the sitiation arose because humans let the machines do their thinking for them, and some being so dependent on "the system" that they'll fight to preserve it (providing Neo and his fellow resistance members plenty of cannon fodder). The clear problemn with "zero tolerance policies" is that they're designed to absolve anyone from having to make a decision. In some cases, it prevents abuse by authority (imagine how long Animal House would have lasted if Delta House had been up against an Unchallengable Policy instead of a vindicitve dean...). But a better way to ensure rational and fair application of authority is an open process (something the Bush Administration is dead-set against...hmmmm....).


exploitation movie link of the day

Well, once again, not really, but a newspaper story that'd make a killer sleazy flick. The Mainichi Daily News reports on the, ah, frustrations of incarcerated young Japanese women.
About one-third of Japan's roughly 2,800 jail birds are in their 30s, usually the time when women reach their sexual peak.

What's more, nearly half of Japan's female inmates are serving sentences for stimulant drug convictions, a dire situation when it comes to sex.

"Women in jail not only know what it's like to take speed, but they have probably had sex while under the influence of speed as well," former yakuza and now author Shinji Ishihara tells Asahi Geino. "Naturally, they're going to be really open when it comes to talking dirty, but they're also unlikely to forget the intense thrills they felt while having sex when high on speed."



Several days ago, I mentioned a keen Web essay on Japan's famous love hotels. The article noted that love hotels are becoming more expensive as they add fancy trappings to entice amorous visitors.

The Mainichi Daily News reports that some couples find the cost of a love hotel a bit steep during Japan's hard economic times, and are getting back to nature for their romps, getting it on in the rent-free outdoors. Even the risk of being caught on videotape by legions of lurking camera voyeurs doesn't seem to deter the amorous activity.

"Couples where the guy is a young salaryman are skimping on paying for love hotels and having sex outdoors. Youngsters nowadays do anything to save their money. High school students don't have any money to start with, so if they want somewhere to fool around out of sight of others, they've really got no other choice than go to a park or the emergency exits on buildings," adult entertainment industry writer Koji Hirose tells Weekly Playboy.

Backing up the theory that randy youngsters have no qualms about coupling in the great outdoors is the increase in sales of videos catching copulating couples pumping pubics in public.

"Once, we made 100 percent of movies released under our company's name, but now about 40 percent are produced by freelance cameramen and the other 60 percent we get from couples who've filmed themselves," says Makoto Sekiguchi, head of Lighting, a company that has produced a series of 45 films of couples fornicating under the starry skies. "More couples are susceptible to being filmed outside while having sex, so that has made it much easier for amateurs to catch them in the act on film."

Tokyo's Harumi wharf, which offers brilliant nighttime views of the spectacular Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo's city skyline, is whispered to be one of the most notorious nooks for nocturnal nooky. Though the men's magazine can't confirm for sure, it's a rumor a security guard in the area is willing to confirm.

"It's shocking just how far young people have recently been willing to go. They started having sex here, there and everywhere in public places and despite whether people are there or not," the security guard tells Weekly Playboy.

Writer Hirose adds that the recent prevalence for playing in public stems from more than simply financial reasons.

"More high schoolgirls are using digital cameras or camera-equipped mobile phones to take pictures of them having sex outdoors, which they can post on the Net and charge people to look at so they can make a little extra pocket money," he says. "These cameras can take high grade pictures of up to 1 million pixels and they've all got a powerful flash. They also exchange information with friends about how thrilling it is to have sex outdoors, so they all go to greater lengths to try and outdo one another, then report on the results like it gives them some sort of special status or something."

Manga artist Akira Narita, a big fan of a frolic in the grass, is delighted by the turn of events.

"Romping around naked outdoors and touching somebody else's naked form is an extremely healthy pursuit," the artist tells Weekly Playboy. "I know of a survey that said more than two in every three Britons had engaged in sex outdoors. Japan looks as though it is finally catching up with the rest of the world."

(via FARK, cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)



Heroic rescue of stranded chicken!
SAN FRANCISCO -- A hen, initially identified by authorities as a rooster, was recovering at the SPCA in San Francisco after a harrowing ordeal Saturday.

The fowl, tied to about a dozen helium balloons and set adrift, floated into power lines and was extracted hours later after authorities shut off power to more than 1,800 homes, officials said.

Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co, said what appeared to be a "cruel and unusual prank'' had forced engineers to briefly cut off power to the lines near Broderick and Fell streets.

The hen was then retrieved, untangled and transported to the city's Department of Animal Care and Control, where a veterinarian checked the red-feathered bird, said Judy Choy, a department supervisor.

"When they brought it in, it drank some water and appeared to be in good condition,'' Choy said.

Authorities had been called to the bird's rescue around 11:45 a.m.

A police officer near the scene, who declined to give his name, said authorities had yet to locate the bird's owner. He said that animal cruelty charges could result for the person responsible.

I don't blame the guy for not giving his name...

(via FARK)


japanese pop culture link of the day

jakq dengeki tai

Henshin Hall of Fame is a way-cool site devoted to Japanese superhero TV shows. It features descriptions of various shows (from ones I'm familiar with, like Kamen Riders and Kikaida, to obscure programs like Warrior of Love Rainbowman), theme song samples, air dates, and a handy glossary of frequently encountered Japanese terms. Groovy!

(via Geisha asobi blog, cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


surprising news

This just in: The US Supreme Court has upheld the University of Michigan's admissions policy. More on this later as I digest the information; I'll be watching How Appealing for commentary.

Update: Here's more from the AP; the Court apparently struck down the point system. Frankly, I have no real problem with that; the Court seems to be saying, "you can give preference to minorities, but not that much.



The coverage of Bush's weekend radio address carried an astonishing admission of incompetence, in case anyone decides to pay attention to it.
"For more than a decade, Saddam Hussein went to great lengths to hide his weapons from the world. And in the regime's final days, documents and suspected weapons sites were looted and burned," Bush said in his weekly radio address.[Emphasis added]

As the Reuters story points out in its lede, Bush was "trying again to explain the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," but this statement from thge President himself should have even war supporters frothing in anger.

We went to war to prevent terrorists from obtaining Iraqi weapons. And now, it's quite likely that because of the war, terrorists have access to whatever Iraqi weapons may have existed.

Remember, chemical and biological weapons are incredibly dangerous and volatile, and very hazardous to handle. Many of the looters who raided the Iraqi nuclear waste dump became ill from handling the stuff. So if looters really> emptied Saddam's stockpiles, two possibilities present themselves:

One, it was just civilians, in which case we'd have seen dead or incapacitated bodies.

Two, it was done in an organized basis by persons unknown for motives unknown (but presumably not to turn them over to the US...). As the second scenario is more likely, if the sites were looted, that means Bush's policies have endangered national security even more than I'd previously contemplated.

This Presidential admission is puzzling. After all, US special forces raided those same suspected weapons sites, and found nothing. So

But the bottom line is, once again, Bush's incompetence is the defense against Bush's perfidy. But he himself just suggested that the US failed to secure weapons stockpiles he asserts Saddam had, and that as a result the weapons are in unknown hands. This incompeence doesn't excuse his betrayal of the nation's trust before the war; it simply makes it worse.

By the way, I wish the so-called "liberal media" would spend as much time pointing out when Bush changes his story as they did when Gore supoosedly did so in the 200 campaign.


review at dam

I'm slowly getting my working-blogging-reviewing schedule back in order. As part of that, my review of the obscure wuxia pian (martial chivalry, or heroic swordplay) flick Butterfly and Sword, which stars well-known Hong Kong actors Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Donnie Yen.


weekend off

I spent much of the weekend away from the computer, which was both pleasant and refreshing. Saturday we held a little family birthday celebration for Naomi; my mother, brother, sister, and her two small sons traveled up from Louisville to join us. We had a good time, and Cecilia and Naomi got to play with some of their friends. A good time was had by all. The day before, we had lunch with my dad, as he and his wife and daughter were traveling through on their way to Chicago. So Naomi got a three-day birthday celebration. She was very excited; she kept singing "Happy Birthday To You" intermittently throughout the weekend.

Sunday we did something special. Three years ago, we planted a tree on Cecilia's first birthday; since then, we've moved into a bigger house. The woman who bought the house had contacted us to say that she didn't want the tree in her front yard and offered to let us move it. Crystal arranged with her church to have us plant it there, replacing a tree that had been downed in a storm. Yesterday was the big move. We dug the tree up, moved it to the churchyard, and planted it. It was hard work, of course, the more so as we had to deal with lots of tree roots (from a large neighboring tree going out and the remnants of the dead tree going in). But now Cecilia's tree is not only moved, but it's in a place where once again she can visit it regularly. And next year we can see about donating a tree to the church for Naomi on her birthday.

Cecilia and Naomi were both wonderful all weekend, despite the level of activity (Naomi was so tired after Saturday, she slept until 9:30 Sunday morning -- almost three hours later than ususal!). In fact, I was so pleased by Cecilia's wonderful behavior at Omi's party that I took them both out for an ice-cream cone after denner.

Moving on to more recent topics, things are starting to pick up at work. Blogging is going to be light today.

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