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  xFriday, November 14, 2003

asian culture post of the day

Here's a cool primer on how to say "hello" in Japanese, with links to other Japanese language resources on the Web.

And here's's guide to how movie titles are translated into Japanese.


lego link of the day

Dig this awesome Flash presentation about how LEGO bricks are made.

(via BoingBoing)


non-bush-related outrage of the day

The BBC reports that Christopher Lee's scenes as the malevolent wizard Saruman have been cut from the final installment of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Lee, 81, who plays the wizard Saruman in the trilogy, said he had expected to appear in seven minutes' worth of climactic scenes.

"Of course I am very shocked, that's all I can say," he told ITV1's This Morning on Wednesday.

Lee fans have now started an online petition to restore the scenes.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm only telling you this because it has been revealed on the internet, someone has talked and it certainly wasn't me," he told the UK TV show.

"If you want to know why you would have to ask the company New Line or director Peter Jackson and his associates because I still don't really know why.

"I can't say any more because I signed a confidentiality agreement and I honoured my word."

Asked if he would attend the première, he said: "No, what's the point? What's the point of going? None at all."

Lee brought an impressive presence to the screen as Saruman, and provided a much more tangible villain than the disembodied Sauron. I hope this revelation proves simply a rumor, or that Lee's scenes are at least partially restored. Peter Jackson has reportedly promised that Lee's scenes will appear in the extended DVD version. Jackson claims Saruman plays little role in Return of the King, which is true enough, but unless they plan to just drop the whole palantir angle, his absence will likely prove puzzling. Of course, much the same occurred in the second film, which refers to elven cloaks and brooches that Galadriel gave the party is a scene cut from the original movie.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, though. Jackson would be wiser to leave in five minutes' worth of establishing material and cut -- gasp! -- five from the battle sequences. Extended, more spectacular battles would be a bigger selling point for the special edition DVDs than "here's all the missing plot points that explain stuff that happens later in the film for no apparent reason."

(via MetaFilter; cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


ascii link of the day

Some genius has created a looping ASCII animation version of a bullet-time moment from The Matrix.

(via MetaFilter; cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


interesting economic news

Brad De Long points to a hitherto little-known economic indicator: the Wal-Mart Factor.
Economists and politicians giddy about prospects for U.S. economic growth got a dousing of cold water on Thursday from Wal-Mart Stores Inc.(nyse: WMT - news - people), the world's largest company. The retailer -- which taps directly into the psyche of the U.S. consumer -- gave a downbeat economic outlook that contrasted with reams of recent data, and bluntly suggested that many of its shoppers are barely making ends meet.

Customers continue to buy the cheapest items in any given category -- a sign that household budgets remain tight, Lee Scott, Wal-Mart chief executive officer, said on a recorded message. Buyers are "timing their expenditures around the receipt of their paychecks, indicating liquidity issues," Scott said. "I don't think consumer spending is slowing, but I also don't see the strength that many of you in the investment community appear to see," Scott said.

If memory serves me right, the holiday shopping season has provided disappointing returns for several years now. No doubt many retailers are banking on a surge in consumer spending this Xmas. The actual outcome will certainly prove interesting.

*Seemingly madatory disclaimer: No, I don't hope for an economic downturn; quite the opposite. However, I have little faith in Bush's economic policies, and although it's inevitable that the economy would show some reflection of recent stimulus measure, the question is whether prosperity trickles down from Wall Street to Main Street. In short, I want the economy to improve, and dumping Bush is the logical and inevitable first step of such a scenario.


blogroll update

Say hello to Rungu, Sisyphus Shrugged, The Right Christians, and Very Very Happy.


spinsanity exposes gop 'political hate speech' label

Spinsanity has an excellent post describing the latest tactic in the Republican's ongoing campaign to de-legitimize criticism of the President: Labeling criticism "political hate speech."
Over the last two months, the Republican Party has begun a systematic effort to label attacks on President Bush by Democratic presidential candidates as "political hate speech," a new piece of political jargon intended to delegitimize criticism of Bush. It appears this strategy will expanded in the coming months -- a recent memo from Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie urged party officials to adopt the term in their rhetoric.

Like "Enronomics" and "Daschlenomics", "political hate speech" is a carefully crafted term designed to create a hazy, non-logical association between two concepts. In this case, the phrase associates criticism of the president with "hate speech," which generally refers to speech that attacks others on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Of course, some rhetoric directed toward President Bush could fairly be described as hateful (just like any politician), but Republicans have used the term sweepingly to try to delegitimize nearly all criticism of Bush, regardless of its substance. This is a key tactic of political jargon, which often seeks to undermine the legitimacy of criticism by invoking hazy but powerful emotional symbols.

It's understandable for the GOP to be against the Democratic Party. It's reprehensible, though, how much the Republicans seem to be against the small-d democratic process.

(via Oliver Willis)

Update: CalPundit has mote thoughts on the matter, with a lively comment thread to boot.


retro computing post of the day

A virtual museum of vintage (1955-1990) computers, calculators, and hand-held computer games. c00L!

(via Geisha asobi blog)


'let me explain. no, there is too much. let me sum up.'

The Mighty Reason Man has a superb summation of the whole flap over this Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

(via Eschaton)


9/11 stonewalling update

Well, it's official: The deal struck between the 9/11 commission and the White House regarding access to vital documents is worse than worthless: It's yeat another in this Adminstration's endless parade of phony activities by which it says one thing and does quite another. The White House will be able to redact documents sought by the commission before it gets even the limited access it accepted the other day.
The commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks said on Thursday that its deal with the White House for access to highly classified Oval Office intelligence reports would let the White House edit the documents before they were released to the commission's representatives.

The agreement, announced on Wednesday, has led to the first public split on the commission. Two Democrats on the 10-member panel say that the commission should have demanded full access to the intelligence summaries, known as the President's Daily Brief, and that the White House should not be allowed to determine what is relevant to the investigation.

An umbrella group of victims' families joined the criticism, saying the terms of the accord should be public.

While spokesmen for panel refused again to provide the terms, citing the sensitivity of the talks with the White House, its executive director acknowledged that the White House would be able to remove information from the reports unrelated to Al Qaeda and to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"An entire P.D.B. will have articles about China, South Africa, Venezuela," the executive director, Philip D. Zelikow, said in an interview. "The notion that the commission should want to read P.D.B. articles that have nothing to do with Al Qaeda would be a novel suggestion. The commission has not asked to see the country's most sensitive intelligence information on China or North Korea."

A Democrat on the panel who has criticized the accord, former Representative Timothy J. Roemer of Indiana, said in an interview that he believed that the panel had agreed to terms that would let the White House edit the reports to remove the contexts in which the intelligence was presented and to hide any "smoking guns."

"The President's Daily Brief can run 9 to 12 pages long," Mr. Roemer said. "But under this agreement, the commission will be allowed to see only specific articles or paragraphs within the P.D.B.'s. Our members may see only two or three paragraphs out of a nine-page report."

He said the commission should have insisted on access to the full reports, because "you need the context of how the P.D.B. was presented to the president in order to determine whether or not there were smoking guns."

The other Democratic critic on the panel, former Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, has described the agreement as unconscionable.

Administration officials have acknowledged that they are concerned that intelligence reports received by Mr. Bush in the weeks before 9/11 might be construed to suggest that the White House failed to respond to evidence suggesting that Al Qaeda was planning a catastrophic attack. The White House acknowledged last year in response to news reports that a copy of the Daily Brief in August 2001 noted that Al Qaeda might use hijacked planes in an attack.

That admission, of course, confirmed that the Administration misled the nation when it claimed that the attacks came without warning. The new line was, no specific warning, meaning that the hijackers were rude enough not to send the cops engraved invitations. That admission alone was confirmation of the Administration's astonishing incompetence. The Bush administration has also remained steadfastly silent about what actions, if any, it took in response to the warnings it admits it received. Bush has so far managed to avoid careful scrutiny of what he knew and when he knew it, and his actions reveal beyond dispute that he wants to keep it so.

So you have the Administration working to stymie its own official investigative body charged with ensuring that we don't, as a nation, repeat the mistakes that led to 9/11. And rumors abound that Bush is contemplating a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in time for the election regardless of the current situation. And the invasion of Iraq, of course, inflamed Muslims, strained vital relations with allies, and stretched the US budget and military to the point where we now lack the ability to respond adequately to genuine threats, let alone the flexibility to take the initiative ourselves. Tell me again how Bush is supposed to be "serious" about national defense?

Update: Different Strings makes an essential point (hat tip: The 18 1/2 Minute Gap)
Yes, I know there are security concerns, but there should also be security concerns regarding how the administration let the 9/11 attacks happen. The only way anyone can understand for sure what happened is if the investigators are allowed to know what the decision-makeers knew prior to and on that day. Otherwise, they're just making guesses in the dark, and that isn't going to do a whole lot to protect the country in the long run.


primate post of the day


I heard about this fascinating study yesterday on NPR. Researchers have found that baboon mothers with strong social ties are more successful parents.

The study, appearing this week in the journal Science, found that baboon mothers who formed networks of female friends were about a third more successful at raising their young than were females who spent more time alone or isolated.

"We don't know how sociability helps females, but we do know that social females do better at raising their young," said Susan C. Alberts, a Duke University researcher and co-author of the study. "It suggests that social bonds are an important part of being primates."

Joan B. Silk, a UCLA professor and first author of the study, said the researchers analyzed how 108 females in wild groups of baboons in Kenya spent their time and how this might affect their motherhood.

The baboons socialize by staying close together, grooming each other's fur and forming tight coalitions against outside threats, either from predators or from other bands of baboons. All of this helps build a tight relationship network among the social females.

"They are spending a lot of time and a lot trouble in maintaining their social contacts," Silk said of the female baboons. "They spend 10 percent of their day grooming others and that is a big chunk of time for animals living in the wild."

But it pays off in reproductive success, she said.

"The most sociable females are about one third more likely to rear their infants successfully to one year than were the least sociable females," said Silk.

Most deaths among young baboons occur during the first year, so if an infant reached that birthday the researchers counted it as a reproduction success.

From my own parenting experience, I have no doubt that strong social networks help human beings too, although not usually in terms of sitting around grooming one another.


supercomputer post of the day

Here's some extremely cool news: IBM has adapted technology it developed for making chips for next-generation game consoles to build a supercomputer the size of a TV set.

IBM said the supercomputer, which can perform two trillion calculations per second, is a small-scale prototype of the Blue Gene/L supercomputer that it is building for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The computer made it onto the Top 500 supercomputer list, which is compiled by a member of the University of Tennessee's computer science department.

IBM vice president of technology and strategy Irving Wladawsky-Berger said that the supercomputer used 1,000 microprocessors that are based on PowerPC microchip technology. The PowerPC chip is currently used in Apple Computer Inc. computers.

It is also the technology that will be the foundation of the next generation of gaming consoles from Nintendo Co. and Sony Corp, which IBM is working on, he said.

He said the chips were less expensive and consumed less power than traditional microprocessors, making it possible to pack the same amount of computing power into a smaller space. Producing the chips in volume for gaming will help offset the costs of building supercomputers, he said.

Video and computer games have long pushed the limits of available technology to cram as much content into available processor power as possible. The lucrative market for computer and video games also fueled demand for more processor power. It's extremely cool to see the computing giant IBM now adapting technology developed for video games to mega-computing, instead of the other way 'round.

(Cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


it seems...

You are



"You should never be cowed by authority. Except, of course, in this instance, where I am clearly right and you are clearly wrong."

What "Buffy" Character Are You?


aviation post of the day

concorde escorted on last flight

Blogger Maggie McDonnell posted this great photo of the Concorde's last flight.

Maggie's blog, Something Up With Which I Will Not Put, is worth a visit.

  xThursday, November 13, 2003

lego link of the day

The Matrix in six minutes...with LEGO! c00L!

(via The 18 1/2 Minute Gap; cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


happy blog-aversary

It's Talking Points Memo's third birthday. Congratulations to Joshua Marshall!


milestone of the day

Traffic has understandably slacked off since October's record-setting pace, so I haven't been paying much attention to the hit counter. As such, I missed it when the counter passed 51,000 sometime late Tuesday or Wednesday. Thanks for visiting!


is the iraqi resistance saddam's battle plan?

The Washington Post has a fascinating article this morning speculating that the escalating guerilla resistance in Iraq is the result of a specific plan by Saddam.
The recent string of high-profile attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq has appeared to be so methodical and well crafted that some top U.S. commanders now fear this may be the war Saddam Hussein and his generals planned all along.

Knowing from the 1991 Persian Gulf War that they could not take on the U.S. military with conventional forces, these officers believe, the Baath Party government cached weapons before the Americans invaded this spring and planned to employ guerrilla tactics.

"I believe Saddam Hussein always intended to fight an insurgency should Iraq fall," said Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division and the man responsible for combat operations in the lower Sunni Triangle, the most unstable part of Iraq. "That's why you see so many of these arms caches out there in significant numbers all over the country. They were planning to go ahead and fight an insurgency, should Iraq fall."

In an interview Wednesday at his headquarters northwest of the capital, Swannack said the speed of the fall of Baghdad in April probably caught Hussein and his followers by surprise and prevented them from launching the insurgence for a few months. That would explain why anti-U.S. violence dropped off noticeably in July and early August but then began to trend upward.

Not everyone in Iraq agrees with that theory. An alternative view is that the current resistance was not planned in advance; rather, Hussein loyalists were in disarray after the invasion and took several months to develop a response. In either case, the insurgents clearly gathered intelligence during that time on the vulnerabilities of the U.S. occupation force.

Swannack said there is no evidence that Hussein is orchestrating the attacks. "He has to move so much that he can't do the day-to-day operational planning or direction and resourcing of the effort," he said.

For what it's worth, I doubt Saddam is really running the show. I think for him to do so would be far too risky. Here's what I said in the comment thread to CalPundit's post on the matter, quoting an earlier comment:

Even if Saddam is trying to direct the insurgency, what real effect he could he have? Could he have any effective communication? Could all channels of command have been kept from us? I doubt it.

IMO, Timothy nails it. Communication intercepts are one of our most vital intelligence tools, and proved essential in snaring several prominent al Qaeda figures. If memory serves me right, bin Laden has gone from using satellite phone to using only trusted runners to relay communications, which, of course, hampers his ability to run the show.

If Saddam were running the show, he'd also run a *huge* risk of detection and capture or killing. I strongly doubt that he could maintain a large enough network of runners -- and besides, if the population is unsympathetic, the capture of one could once again blow the whole thing wide open.

Then again, we nabbed his two sons thanks to an informant, not a comm intercept, if accounts are accurate. And they presumably would have played a large role inthe resistance, which hasn't decreased as predicted at the time, but just the opposite.

I don't doubt Saddam had contingency plans for resisting American troops -- disbanding an army that couldn't fight the US into guerilla bands that could is straight out of Sun Tsu -- but I don't think it matters if he's running the resistance or not. Perhaps he is in charge of part of it, but I doubt that's the whole story. And I'm skeptical that he could run a nationwide network of guerillas without us being able to tumble his location.

On the other hand, it's important to remember that war skeptics such as myself were highly doubtful that the US could handle a nigh-unilateral occupation of Iraq without facing a stiff and intractable guerilla resistance. And it's worth remembering that the prevailing opinion in Colin Powell's Pentagon agreed with that assessment. It's beyond belief that this Administration eschewed realistic assessment and disdained planning in favor of the neocons' hopeful optimism. The current situation should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, and the fact that events occurred exactly as predicted a decade ago is indictment of Bush's deadly incomeptence.


blogroll update

Please welcome the cleverly named Philosoraptor and Etched in Stone, the Web log of Cold Fusion Video's Nathan Shumate.


dune link of the day

Here's an incredible Dune fan site, devoted mainly to David Lynch's 1984 film version, but including information about the books and recent mini-series as well.

(via Wirehed Magazine)


more chicken jokes

Jaquandor seems to have ceased his "why did the chicken cross the road" parodies (and without lampooning me *sob*!), but fear not! Here's an entire Web site devoted to "why did the chicken cross the road" jokes.

(via Wirehed Magazine)

I've always been partial to elephant jokes, myself.



The 9/11 commission -- having fired a warning shot at the White House with its subpoena of certain Pentagon records -- has apparently struck a deal with the Bush Administration that may give it access to the information it's been trying to overcome administration stonewalling to obtain.
The accord was reached after months of talks over the reports, known as the President's Daily Brief, which the Central Intelligence Agency presents to Mr. Bush and his senior aides every morning. The bipartisan commission had threatened to subpoena the reports.


"We believe this agreement will prove satisfactory and enable us to get our job done," the panel said in a statement that lacked details on the agreement.

Although panel officials said the pact imposed substantial limits on access, it still appeared to establish a precedent for outside access to some of the most highly classified intelligence reports in the executive branch, a precedent that the White House had not been eager to set.

Administration officials acknowledge that they fear that information in the reports might be construed to suggest that the White House had clues before Sept. 11, 2001, that Al Qaeda was planning a catastrophic attack. The White House acknowledged last year, in response to news reports, that an intelligence briefing in August 2001 suggested that Al Qaeda might be planning hijackings.

Commission officials said that under the accord two members of the 10-member commission would have access to the full library of daily briefings prepared in the Bush and Clinton administrations and that two other members would be allowed to read just the copies of the briefings that the White House deemed relevant to the inquiry.

The Washington Post points out that the deal apparently still does not give the panel access to the full contents of the briefings.
But the accord also includes restrictions limiting what parts of the briefings can be seen and what parts can later be shared with the rest of the bipartisan panel, and it includes White House review of much of that information, sources familiar with the agreement said. Those with direct access will take notes, and those notes are subject to review by the White House before being shared with others, sources said.

The limitations prompted angry condemnations yesterday from two Democratic commissioners -- former senator Max Cleland (Ga.) and former representative Timothy J. Roemer (Ind.) -- who have argued that the commission should be more aggressive in seeking sensitive materials from the Bush administration.

Cleland called the agreement "unconscionable" and said it "was deliberately compromised by the president of the United States" to limit the commission's work.

"If this decision stands, I, as a member of the commission, cannot look any American in the eye, especially family members of victims, and say the commission had full access," Cleland said. "This investigation is now compromised. . . . This is 'The Gong Show'; this isn't protection of national security."

Roemer said: "To paraphrase Churchill, never have so few commissioners reviewed such important documents with so many restrictions. The 10 commissioners should either have access to this or not at all."

We'll see whether this deal does indeed provide the information the commission is looking for, or is just another Bush Administration bait-and-switch.

Update: It's looking like the families of some of the 9/11 victims aren't too happy with the deal:
Relatives of people who perished in the Sept. 11 attacks say a federal commission accepted too many conditions in striking a deal with the White House over access to secret intelligence documents.

The Family Steering Committee, a group of victims' relatives who are monitoring the work of the independent commission, criticized the agreement announced late Wednesday. Under the deal, only some of the 10 commissioners will be allowed to examine classified intelligence documents, and their notes will be subject to White House review.

"All 10 commissioners should have full, unfettered and unrestricted access to all evidence," the group said in a statement Thursday. It urged the public release of "the full, official, and final written agreement."

Neither the commission nor the White House disclosed the terms of the agreement, although sources familiar with the commission's work described some of its provisions.

"We really want to know the details here," said Lorie Van Auken of New Jersey, whose husband, Kenneth, was killed at the World Trade Center. "I don't understand what's so secret about that. I mean, this is not a game."

A commission spokesman, Al Felzenberg, said there is no need to broadcast the fine print. "The importance of the agreement is access to the documents," Felzenberg said.

Given this Administration's obsession with shrouding its mechanisms in secrecy and its repulsion from the very notion of accountability, it's hard to give it the benefit of the doubt when it comes to hiding information that nay well reveal the extent of Bush's undeniable incompetence that led to 9/11. That he failed to prevent the attacks is beyond dispute. That he failed to address terrorism entirely prior to 9/11 is a matter of public record. Now Bush seeks to shield vital evidence from a commission whose existence he only grudgingly consented. This story is well worth keeping an eye on.


debunking of no child left behind myths debunked

I've been meaning to comment on this Washington Post defense of the so-called "No Child Left Behind" act, but Matthew Yglesias (writing in Tapped) and Mark Kleiman pretty much say it all. Yglesias uses the points the author seems to concede -- rather than debunking -- to refute the article's number-one contention, that NCLB isn't really a "a Republican Party plot to undermine public schools."
It may be true that the act's approach is thematically similar to the one propounded by progressive southern governors in the 1980s, but that doesn't change the fact that No Child Left Behind combines impossible-to-meet standards (see point 3) with arbitrary criteria (points 5, 6 and 9) and inadequate funding (points 2 and 10). Now as to whether this adds up to a "plot to undermine public schools" or simply another example of a politically motivated initiative devoid of actual policy merits (see, for instance, steel tariffs) -- well, that's a bit hard to say. But the inevitable consequence of the bill is going to be a number of "failing" schools all out of proportion to the number of schools that are actually failing.

Kleiman, meanwhile, points out once again that, rather than poking holes in at least one "myth," the article confirms it as literally true.
Ahhhh...let me make sure I have this right. The mythical charge is in fact literally true: the text of the act creates what its authors knew to be an unmeetable requirement. But paying attention to that fact "misses the point." The ridiculous provision is sure to be repealed, but in the meantime the sure-to-be-repealed requirement to do the impossible will motivate the schools to try harder.

As long as that's clear.

Kleiman goes on to notes that the Post's spirited defense of the law may smack of conflict of interest.


a jaquandor two-fer

My friend Jaquandor has been posting political rants with increasing frequency over the past several weeks. He comments on the need for Democrats to recognize the changed political landscape and build their own informational system to counter the conservative spin machine. I agree; it isn't enough to assume that voters will recognize that the core beliefs they express consistently simply resonate more with Democrats than Republicans. The GOP has grown adept at bait-and-switch and has embraced wholesale deception, and the Democrats must not stand idly by while the Republicans so subvert the small-d democratic process. (One minor quibble -- I don't accept that the Deomicrats positioning themselves for majority status and winning the 2004 election are at all incompatible. IMO, if there's any talk about "unelectability," it should apply to Bush.) In short, conservatives under the delusion that the media has a systematic liberal bias are in for a shock -- a truly liberal media will likely emerge to counteract the Mighty Wurlitzer.

And he issues an eloquent defense of labor.
Show me an unskilled and uneducated worker, and I'll show you a worker. In fact, I'll go you one better: I'll show you a worker who isn't unskilled, but a worker whose skills are underrecognized and undervalued by a society that sometimes seems to equate "skill" with "number of diplomas". It's a curious thing that we should build our economy around the efforts of these people and the jobs they work, and then look down our noses upon them while they're working.

Indeed. It's important to keep in mind that whatever problems with cultural elitism some on the Left may suffer absolutely pale in comparison to the detriments workers suffer under the Republican agenda. Bush and his cronies have made their status as cheap-labor conservatives plain for all to see.

Since the 1980s, it's a simple fact that wealth has concentrated in the hands of the very wealthy, while the middle class increasingly gets squeezed and the twem "working poor" -- which should be an oxymoron, dammit -- has instead become a fact of life. Bush and hispals would be happy if the United States went the way of the Third World in creating a culture where there's abundant wealth and privilege for the few, while the majority struggles to get by. But I strongly doubt most Americans share that ambition. As Jaquandor observes, it's essential to inform workers of the true costs and benefits of Republican policies, and hammer home exactly who gets the elevator ride to the penthouse and who gets the shaft.

CalPundit has a post along similar lines, in which he cites an article by principled conservative commentator Bruce Bartlett. In urging the GOP to keep the defecit issue off the table for the 2004 election, Bartlett airs the Republican's dirty secret that Bush's ruinous defecits make tax increases, entitlement cuts, and perhaps both inevitable -- precisely why Bush must avoid attention to this particular miserable failure of his. Given that many of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy haven't kicked in yet -- and that the GOP is highly unlikely to simply let the cuts expire, as they needed to in order to skew the deficit figures in the first place -- there's simply no question that Bush's deficit is going to get worse, not better. Bartlett recognizes the Republican culpability in this matter. The question is, can the Democrats overcome GOP attempts to avoid discussing it?


asian culture link of the day

Nathan Schumate of Cold Fusion Video Reviews has spent some time in Japan, and in doing so began a collection of Japanese phone cards. He amassed quite an impressive haul, and has devoted a portion of his Web site to putting them on display.

Japanese phone cards are different from their American counterparts, which usually resembe -- and work like -- plastic credit cards. Yen coins are fairly rare, so many pay phones operate with a kind of scrip. The user buys a paper card of various denomination, and the machine punches it like a ticket as its value is used up.

The cards are imprinted with everything from anime characters (like the Astro Boy from Schumate's collection depicted above) to scenery to sports cars to advertising to pr0n. Although they're worthless as phone cards once they're used up, they've become something of a collector's item for the images on the back.

I have a couple myself. At my desk at work is a card depicting Great Mazinga from the eponymous mecha anime series (and in honor of my Destroy All Monsters handle). I also have a Sailor Moon card, and Cecilia has a framed card depicting Pokemon.

By contrast, this person has a collection of more than 1,000 anime phone cards.

If you're interested in anime phone cards, a good place to look is eBay. Here's a Japanese source where you can apparently buy them new.

(Cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)

  xWednesday, November 12, 2003

zombie link of the day

Internet security professionals warn that hackers can implant remote controls on vulnerable home computers and turn them into so-called "zombie" machines from which to launch attacks.
As more homes connect to faster delivery systems, their computers are becoming vulnerable to hackers and virus writers who can turn them into "zombie" machines, ready to carry out any malevolent command.

Favorite targets for the extortionists -- many thought to come from eastern Europe -- have been casinos and retailers, but one recent high-profile victim was the Port of Houston.

"At the end of the day, this is old-fashioned protection racket, just using high-tech," said a spokeswoman for Britain's Hi-Tech Crime Unit.

Wednesday, UK cyber crime cops made a plea to businesses to report attacks against their Internet businesses following a recent string of incidents with the blackmailing trademark.

Police have seen an increase in the number of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks targeting online businesses.

In some cases, the attacks, which can cripple a corporate network with a barrage of bogus data requests, are followed by a demand for money. An effective attack can knock a Web site offline for extended periods.

Hackers are increasinly using email-borne viruses to create "zombie" slaves on infected machines. Rather than interfering with individual computers, they use them as stealthy springboards to launch much more widespread and costly denial-of-service attacks or other mischief.


bush cowardice watch

Not content with shielding himself from dissent at home, Bush wants the British to protect him from any glimpse of protest -- even if they have to shut down large swaths of London to do so.
American officials want a virtual three-day shutdown of central London in a bid to foil disruption of the visit by anti-war protestors. They are demanding that police ban all marches and seal off the city centre.

But senior Yard officers say the powers requested by US security chiefs would be unprecedented on British soil. While the Met wants to prevent violence, it is sensitive to accusations of trying to curtail legitimate protest.

It'd be ironic indeed if the British do more to stand up for free speech than Bush's craven administration, which has shown no qualms at all about curtailing legitimate protest, and indeed a positive eagerness to do so. Disgusting.

(via BoingBoing)


liberal incompetent media watch

CNN has apologized for planting a question with an audience member during a recent "Rock the Vote" broadcast with presidential contenders. An audience member's question was vetoed by CNN because it wasn't "lighthearted" enough and the network "wanted to modulate the event with various types of questions." Perish forbid the event concern issues of substance.
"In an attempt to encourage a lighthearted moment in this debate, a CNN producer working with Ms. Trustman clearly went too far," [a CNN spokesperson] said.

Wanted: News producers who realize that such phoney-baloney so-called "journalism" is "going too far" before going on the air and getting rapped for it. Lotsa luck.


cereal post of the day

Check out Tophere's exhaustive Breakfast Cereal Guide. If you get bored with that, you can create your own cereal box. c00L!

(via FARK)

For more cereal blogging, check out my review of the limited-issue Star Wars cereal.


shorter tony blair

President Bush and I meant well when we lied to you.

(Hat tip for the "shorter" concept to D-Squared Digest and Blah^3)


mandatory derision

Bush media flack Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz opines that Bush is flailing about for a mandate for the 2004 election. Kurtz fails to note that not having a mandate in 2000 -- having lost the popular election and gained the Presidency through a highly controversial Supreme Court decision that suppressed the tallying of Florida's ballot -- never stopped Bush.

Ah, but this time it's different: Bush is desperate, Kurtz says, to avoid the fate of his one-term father.
Just as important, Bush needs some concrete issues to run on, to give his candidacy a forward-looking cast. If he campaigns solely as the man who cut taxes and won two wars, voters might be forgiven for concluding that he has little left to offer them.

Of course, the jury's still out on whether Bush, having admittedly achieved short-term objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan, has the competence to mold the postwar situation in America's interest. And voters would indeed be wise to conclude that Bush's priorities have little indeed to offer them.

Indeed, if Bush truly hoped to deserve re-election, he could have pursued policies that were geared more to benefit the general public rather than his corporate cronies; the latter are doing fine right now, while the general public is still greatly concerned about Bush's economic train leaving them at the station. Instead, as Kurtz's column makes clear, Bush hopes to project an image that will appeal to voters regardless of its grounding in reality, just as he exuded an air of "amiability" in 2000 that has since been revealed to be a sham.

Kurtz predicts that Bush will revive his Social Security privitazation scheme, and declares that talk of the Social Security trust lockbox "now seems totally irrelevant in an era of huge budget deficits." Of course, Kurtz glosses over the fact that Bush broke his lockbox campaign promise in the face of deficits his own budgets created. But that's okay, Kurtz says, because that's all irrelevant. Pathetic.

But Kurtz, perhaps unintentionally, tips Bush's hand: Having little chance of defending the miserable failure of most of his policies (sure, he can tout the success of passing tax cuts for the rich, but I doubt Joe Average Voter will be much impressed), Bush hopes to ride a multi-million-dollar propaganda campaign to victory, counting on carefully crafted image to disguise the stench of his rancid policies. Bush's opponents must be prepared to poke holes in that phony image at every opportunity and force Bush to defend the miserable failures of his policies at every turn.


art carney r.i.p.

Planet Swank is saddened to note the passing of famed funnyman Art Carney, who died over the weekend at the age of 85. More from CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times.

  xTuesday, November 11, 2003

happy blog-aversary...

to Wampum!



Eric Alterman rebuts Charles Krauthammer:
Charles Krauthammer argues in Time: “It is pure fiction that this pro-Americanism sentiment was either squandered after Sept. 11 or lost under the Bush Administration.” It never existed, Krauthammer writes.

“Sympathy is fine. But if we ‘squander’ it when we go to war to avenge our dead and prevent the next crop of dead, then to hell with sympathy. The fact is that the world hates us for our wealth, our success, our power. They hate us into incoherence.”

But of course it is Krauthammer who is incoherent. Iraq had nothing whatever to do with 9/11. We did not go to war “avenge our dead and prevent the next crop of dead,” deliberate administration deceptions not withstanding. We did it as part of a misguided grand imperial adventure that is turning out disastrously for all concerned. Krauthammer and company are so blinded by their romantic ideology and jingoism that they can’t understand that and so they cast about for villains without realizing that it is they who are responsible for much of the hatred America has engendered.

Indeed, many Republicans seem to be so blinded by romantic ideology and jingoism that they can't perceive that a great many patriotic Americans oppose not this country but misguided, dishonest or outright unjust Republican policy.

That said, I note that once again, Bush apologists -- Krauthammer, this time -- must revert to overt black-is-white-ism to defend Bush's indefensible mendaciousness and incompetence. Bush didn't squander international goodwill after 9/11, he says; it never existed. Hogwash.


flash games of the day

A set of six groovy cool mini-games based on Cartoon Network shows like Powerpuff Girls, Justice League and Scooby-Doo.


dems must not rely solely on defense

Skeptical Notion has an excellent rant about the Democrats' reliance on playing defense, and its evident ineffectiveness.
I watched in 2002 as Democrats contented themselves with playing defense. They assumed (quite rightly) that Bush was going to hammer them about they voted to support Bush's wars. They assumed (quite rightly) that Bush would hammer them about fiscal policy, so they voted to support his tax cuts. Their idea of a good candidate was one that agreed with Bush...not because Bush was right, but out of a naive view that Bush (and the GOP) would be unable to attack those candidates if they had, in fact, voted "his way". They hoped that a bad economy, coupled with "attack proof" candidates who refused to say anything provocative, interesting, or new would somehow manage to win them the Senate.

They were wrong. Bush didn't need reasons to attack. If the candidates didn't give him one, he simply made it up. Max Cleland, as a triple amputee and Vietnam vet, was "unassailable" (according to Democratic projections) on "patriotism" or "homeland security". Ask Mr. Cleland if he has a job right now.

Our mistake was to cede control of the debate over to Bush and Rove. Whether through fear, or some odd belief in Rove's infallible political instincts, or just sheer lack of guts, we let Bush and the GOP control the debate. We did it in 2003, in 2002, in 2000...and through the Clinton years. Although Clinton, I note, managed to wrest control of the debate a number of times...

It's painful to watch Democrats talk the 2004 race as if the issues were predetermined. As if, frankly speaking, Bush and Rove had already gotten "official approval" on what could and could not be an "issue" of 2004.

Quite right. The Democrats must not cede the initiative to Bush. It's Bush who should be forced into defending his lousy policies, forced into defending states he considered a lock, and forced into defending the ludicrous notion that he deserves a second term in office.


latest idiocy from the so-called 'war on drugs'

Here's another outrageous abuse of civil liberties conducted in the name of "zero tolerance," or the "war on drugs," or something: Gun-Wielding Cops Conduct Drug Sweep At School
Surveillance video from Stratford High School in Goose Creek shows 14 officers, some with guns drawn, ordering students to lie the ground as police searched for marijuana. Students who didn't comply with the orders quickly enough were reportedly handcuffed.

..."We received reports from staff members and students that there was a lot of drug activity," said George McCrackin. "Recently we busted a student for having over 300-plus prescription pills. The volume and the amount of marijuana coming into the school is unacceptable."

The punch line is that the police didn't find any drugs at the school. If zero drugs is an "unacceptable volume," what the heck is McCrackin's goal?

The Modulator provides this video screen capture, which for all the world reminded me of the violent and disturbing film Battle Royale -- and not in that good way. It's important to remember that Fukusaku's controversial film, which depicts a class of Japanese middle-school children forced to kill each other, begins with a series of violent acts against the children by authority figures: Gassing and kidnapping them, for starters, sapping one student who wakes up, and then the deliberate murder of two of their number. I suggest, however, that Fukusaku was not proposing violent authoritarianism against kids as a good thing.

Dolts. Principal George McCrackin should lose his job forthwith for inviting the search, and the judgement of the police officials who approved and led it should be seriously questioned as well.


'a few bad men'

Billmon has a good post on the Republicans' efforts to stifle bipartisan Congressional oversight of the Executive branch, a move that even conservative Daniel Drezner calls "imperial."
The irony, of course, is that the Democrats on the committee are isolated in their efforts to get at the truth precisely because the Republicans have closed partisan ranks around their president.

The Republicans, naturally, can (and do) argue that in war time, everybody should close ranks around the president -- even if that president has taken each and every available opportunity to exploit the war for partisan advantage. That's how the game is played these days, I suppose. Bipartisanship is just another word for date rape.

But the corporate media appears to be getting quite comfortable with a universal double standard, in which near lockstep partisan conformity on the Republican side is taken for granted, but partisan opposition by the Democrats is regarded as, if not treason's first cousin, then at least a distant blood relative.

...It's a curious way for a democracy to die -- one small cut at a time, with the media (who should have a vested interest in preserving democracy) standing on the sidelines and cheering for the people who are gradually squeezing the life out of it.

Mark Kleiman has more.


cosplay post of the day

cosplay salute

The proprietress of the cosplay site Second Skin got a real-life seifuku (schoolgirl sailor suit) outfit from Japan and shows off how kawaii she looks in it.


lego link of the day

Here's an insanely cool TV ad for the Honda Element. It depicts zillions of LEGO bricks flying together to assembe the vehicle, done entirely in CGI. Keen!

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


'rummy calls bush "george w. romero" behind his back'

Dong Resin has a hilarious interview with the Patriot Act. (Hat tip: Demagogue)


hero of the day

An Afghan security guard endured imprisonment, torture and death threats rather than reveal the location of a priceless collection of ancient gold artifacts to the Taliban regime. His actions also prevented the Taliban from absconding with the nation's gold reserves.
The fate of the Golden Hoard of Bactria, a collection of 20,000 artefacts, has been the subject of fantastic rumours: that it was stolen by Soviet troops or looted by the Taliban to be sold through antique dealers in Pakistan to fund a terrorist network.

But the treasure remained safe largely due to the efforts of one man, Askerzai, who has been guardian of the vaults for 30 years. Mr Askerzai, 50, an employee of the central bank, is one of the few people to have seen the 20,000 gold objects.

...After the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, a delegation of 10 mullahs arrived to inspect the vaults. A pistol held against his head, Mr Askerzai opened the combination lock so they could inspect the gold bars. They had found the second prize, but did not realise the real treasure was in a vault above their heads.

...On the Taliban's last night in power, they stuffed the central bank's cash reserves into tin trunks and arrived at the vault for the gold bars. They spent four hours trying to open the vault. Mr Askerzai watched.

Unknown to them, five years earlier he had broken the key and left it in the lock. The Taliban gave up and fled as Northern Alliance forces edged closer.

The Taliban did not ask about the Golden Hoard of Bactria, for a simple reason, Mr Askersai said. The uneducated mullahs were not schooled in Afghanistan's great archaeological heritage - they had never heard of Bactria.

Hats off to Mr. Askersai!

(via FARK)


pr0n post of the day

Screw magazine has folded and filed for bankruptcy, with publisher Al Goldstein claiming that print pr0n can't compete against the abundance of the stuff on the Internet.
Goldstein said circulation woes throughout the field show "we are an anachronism; we are dinosaurs; we are elephants going to the bone cemetery to die. ... The delivery system has changed, and we have to change with it if we want to survive."

Founded in 1968, Screw was successful in its early years. Its mix of scatological editorials, pornographic pictures and tongue-and-cheek articles sold as many as 140,000 copies a week. By last year, sales had dipped to around 30,000.

Purveyors of adult fare must expand beyond traditional publishing methods to survive, said Samir Husni, head of the magazine program at the University of Mississippi's journalism school.

"The magazine may remain the cornerstone for the name brand, but in the future, the real money will be made elsewhere," Husni said. Hundreds of new adult Web sites launch every month, he said, compared to 30 new sex magazines all of last year.

"That's one magazine category that really can't compete with the Internet and television," Husni said. "Sex has become so much a mainstream entity."

Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who says his company has succeeded in the new marketplace, agrees that magazines are a dying breed.

"This past decade has been very, very bad for men's magazines and it could become worse," he said by phone from his office in Los Angeles. "I'm not going to say it's going to become extinct because some people will always want to feel that magazine in their hands, but it's never going to have the impact it once had."

Flynt said his company began to diversify over a decade ago, and now has a presence on the Internet and in the adult movie industry.

"You can see more on cable and satellite today than you could see in what I published in 1974," Flynt said. "I honestly think Guccione and Al Goldstein were not aware of what kind of an effect technology was going to have on publishing."

Penthouse has also filed for Chapter 11 protection, although it continues providing fake-lesbian pictorials and whatnot for the present. But CEO and founder Bob Guccione just resigned as head of the company, although he remains the magazine's editor in chief.

(via BoingBoing)


happy veteran's day

Planet Swank salutes our nation's veterans. Here's the Veterans Day editorial from the local paper.

Update: The local paper also takes note of the Bush Administrions, er, "support" of veterans:
If you notice there are more veterans to honor this Veterans Day than there were last year, thank the Bush administration and the Republican Congress.

If you want more help for those veterans, better ask the Democrats.

They're fighting President Bush, the Defense Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the GOP congressional leadership just to keep a shamefully inadequate veterans support system from getting worse.

When Democrats tried to insert health insurance and other personnel benefits into the $87 billion appropriation for Iraq and Afghanistan, the White House shot them down.

When Democrats tried to replace $1.3 billion of the $1.8 billion shortfall in the pending VA health care budget bill, the White House threatened a veto.

On and on it goes. Waits of six months to two years for some seekers of health care, even as the VA moves to close down facilities. Multiple hikes in drug co-pays. Exclusion of more than 160,000 "low-priority" vets from the health care system because the money's not there to cover them. Non-mandatory funding, meaning the budget must be fought for anew every year by those who care.

"The general public has no clue as to the shortfall in the veterans' system nor the impact of an additional 130,000 people (eventually returning from Iraq) on that system," said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "If the American public fully understood how we are treating our veterans, they'd be outraged."

The old adage is even more true now: If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention. Or you write for The Corner, or want to. Whatever.

Update 2: This also seems like a good time to take note of the Army Times' article "An Act of Betrayal," which calls attention to Republican attempts to cut benefits to military families.

  xMonday, November 10, 2003

lovecraftian post of the day

Say hello to the Call of Cthulhu blog. The most recent entry:
O my brothers, great Cthulhu stirs amidst His wrath. No peace for days hast mine humble self known...His dreams wrack mine mind, His every thought a smite against mine sanity:

"Blarg, mortals. Gakk. Mighty is Cthulhu, and mighty is His hangover. When one's head is sixty feet across, thence can ye know Mine pain. Curses upon thee, O sons of Montezuma! Thine agave is most blasphemous a plant indeed! Sith ye, ape-spawn, hast thou any idea how much tequila it takes to stagger Mine Herculean physique? Yay, dost thou know that all the tequila Cthulhu shouldst desire is His for the asking? Woe unto Mine magnificence...Cthulhu's cultists feed His desire with great gusto.

"Know ye, O sons of dust, that Cthulhu did hold His annual feast of All Hallows Eve. Great was the suffering in R'lyeh. Great was the partying therein."


(via The Poor Man)


simply amazing

With the war in Iraq not proceeding according to his previous rosy predictions -- and the weapons that formed the linchpin of the Adminitration's rationale conspicuously absent -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is employing a favored tactic from the Bush Administration's arsenal of mendacity: Denying he ever said any such thing. In a recent press conference, he did just that, and challenged reporters to prove he did. (""Never said that," he said. "Never did. You may remember it well, but you're thinking of somebody else. You can't find, anywhere, me saying anything like either of those two things you just said I said.")

Amazingly, someone took him up on the challenge, and of course he did say those things he's denying saying. Of course.
In the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. forces would be welcomed by the Iraqi citizenry and that Saddam Hussein had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

Now, after both statements have been shown to be either incorrect or vastly exaggerated, Rumsfeld - with the same trademark confidence that he exuded before the war - is denying that he ever made such assertions.

In recent testy exchanges with reporters, Rumsfeld interrupted the questioners and attacked the premise of the questions if they dealt with his pre-war comments about weapons of mass destruction and Americans-as-liberators.

For example, on Feb. 20, a month before the invasion, Rumsfeld fielded a question about whether Americans would be greeted as liberators if they invaded Iraq.

"Do you expect the invasion, if it comes, to be welcomed by the majority of the civilian population of Iraq?" Jim Lehrer asked the defense secretary on PBS' "The News Hour."

"There is no question but that they would be welcomed," Rumsfeld replied, referring to American forces. "Go back to Afghanistan, the people were in the streets playing music, cheering, flying kites, and doing all the things that the Taliban and the al-Qaeda would not let them do."

...When testifying about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the House Armed Services Committee Sept. 18, 2002, Rumsfeld said Saddam "has amassed large clandestine stocks of biological weapons." including anthrax and botulism toxin and possibly smallpox. His regime has amassed large clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including VX and sarin and mustard gas."

Saddam "has at this moment stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons," he later added, repeating the charges the next day before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He repeated that theme in the weeks preceding the war.

Last month, after U.S. weapons hunters reported to the administration and Congress that they have yet to find a single weapon of mass destruction in Iraq, Rumsfeld was asked about his earlier statements.

A reporter at a Pentagon news conference asked: "In retrospect, were you a little too far-leaning in your statement that Iraq categorically had caches of weapons, of chemical and biological weapons, given what's been found to date? You painted a picture of extensive stocks" of Iraqi mass-killing weapons.

"Wait," Rumsfeld interjected. "You go back and give me something that talks about extensive stocks. The U.N. reported extensive stocks. That is where that came from. I said what I believed to be the case, and I don't - I'd be surprised if you found the word 'extensive."'

With the weapons hunt in its eighth month, Rumsfeld also has backtracked on his earlier assertions that American troops knew where the forbidden weapons were hidden.

On March 30, 11 days into the war, Rumsfeld said in an ABC News interview when asked about WMDs: "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

If this trend -- the press fact-checking the Administration, instead of just playing he-said, she-said with Democrats -- Bush and Company could be in big trouble.

Of course, administration apologists will give Rumsfeld a pass because he may not have used the word "extensive," despite having made statements to that exact effect.

(via Pandagon and Joshua Marshall)

As I said in a comment thread over at Byzantium's Shores -- where Jaquandor expresses exasperation with Team Bush's we-never-said-what-we-were-saying attitude, "the mere fact that Bush's defenders keep claiming that, if you parse his words carefully, Bush didn't really say what he was obviously intending to appear to say, simply means that -- and, once again, by the tacit admission of Bush's own defenders -- Bush simply is not to be trusted."


as predicted

It was obvious that Bush's Top Gun moment was staged for later campaign ads. But I'm sure Karl Rove didn't imagine that it'd be Bush's opponents who'd be using the footage.
Presidential contender Howard Dean plans to air television commercials showing footage of President Bush's landing on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln -- images Bush deployed as a triumphant visual coda to the Iraq conflict but which Dean says are now powerful reminders of a war gone wrong.

With mounting casualties and unrest in Iraq, the images, which include a backdrop banner reading "Mission Accomplished," are increasingly viewed by Bush's political opponents as a liability. Dean is the first Democrat to commit to using them in his ads.

"We're going to put up the aircraft carrier ad and show what his real defense is," Dean said in an interview on Thursday. "We're going to use this footage of him landing on the aircraft carrier . . . to show that he's all talk and no action. And the action he's got us into has cost us 400 lives and thousands of wounded people who will never get their limbs back."

Best of all, this preemptive strike will, I think, lessen the possibility of Bush's campaign using the footage, lest it remind voters of the context. After all, did Dukakis ever run the film of him in that tank?

That said, it's time for Democrats to leave the second-guessing of themselves to Republicans.
Now, Dean hopes to turn Bush's shining moment as commander in chief into a misstep, though some say the move carries the risk of elevating Bush in the process.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It's giving air time to George Bush, his good images -- in a flight suit, flying onto an aircraft carrier. My guess is that Dean will get some leverage out of this issue -- not as much as if he presented it another way."

The article goes on to point out, in the very next graf, how effective Bush I was at using the Dukakis/tank footage. Although I haven't picked a Democratic candidate, Dean's team is far too savyy to use Bush's flight-suit pretense in a way that reflects well on him. And indeed, why should it? Bush's premature posturing and "bring-it-on" bravado are perfect indications of how unprepared Bush was for the "long, hard slog" that his Iraq policy has become. Bush wanted his image to be associated with Iraq; so be it.

(via Oliver Willis)


quote of the day

I think most of these men don't look on these values traditionally ascribed to manliness to be their exclusive right. They don't define manhood by postures and attitudes copied from actors, they define it be what it is to live as a man.

-- poster MoniCA in the comment thread to this Atrios post, which links to this excellent takedown of a certain mouth-breathing so-called "essay" that's seen some linkage in the righty blogosphere.

Update: Avedon Carol has more. And let's let Dwight Meredith have the last word.


liberal incompetent media watch

In his review of Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which depicts a Columbine-style school shooting, critic Roger Ebert relates his experience of telling a story that doesn't fit in with the angle the reporter has decided to pursue.
The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. "Wouldn't you say," she asked, "that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?" No, I said, I wouldn't say that. "But what about 'Basketball Diaries'?" she asked. "Doesn't that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?" The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it's unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. "Events like this," I said, "if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory."

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of "explaining" them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

As someone who has both seen and read The Basketball Diaries, I can tell you exactly why that scene appears in the movie: Because (at least as he related to his diary) the young Jim Carroll, angry at the abuse he suffered for his long hair and hipster ways, fantasized about doing just that. (Interestingly, he also fantasized about whipping out a machine gun in time to save the school from an onslaught of Nazis or what-have-you.) I have no doubt Carroll was not the first -- and certainly not the last -- teenager to entertain thoughts like that. The vast majority, of course, never act on these impulses. Ebert's quite right: it's idiotic to blame movies for events like Columbine -- at worst they're an aggravating factor, but blaming them completely absolves pundits from looking at the real causes. Of course, such a look -- as evidenced by the aftermath of Columbine -- can be acutely uncomfortable, and worse yet, result in a call for ordinarty people to change their ways. Perish forbid that should happen. So unfortunately, yo-yos like the unnamed reported Ebert mentions will continue to tell a nice, sensational -- but ultimately comforting -- and wildly innacurate prepackaged story, and kids will continue to die in schools. Swell.


smoochy woochy

Here's a handy guide to improving your kissing technique. I recommend getting lots and lots of practice.

(via FARK)


news flash

A New Hampshire court has ruled 3-2 that lesbian sex does not contitute adultery. c00L!

But seriously, though, the state law specifically mentions "intercourse," and precedent indicates that adultery runs the risk of "spurious issue." By its ruling, the court sought to avoid having to define which specific practices constitute adultery. The court's two dissenters, considered the more conservative justicies, complained that any extramarital sexual activity should be defined as adultery.

In general terms, they certainly have a point, but if they apply a standard that doesn't appear the law itself, aren't they guilty of the same "judicial activism" conservatives like to complain is a trait of liberal justicies?

(via FARK)


right-wing intellectual dishonesty watch

David Ignatius indulges in some typical right-wing intellectual dishonesty in his Friday column defending Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Give Donald Rumsfeld this much: The wily ex-wrestler knows that if you're having trouble against a tough opponent, it's time to try some new moves.

That's the importance of Rumsfeld's leaked memo last month, in which he described the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a "long, hard slog." The defense secretary was assailed for daring to state the obvious, but the purpose of the memo was to solicit fresh ideas about how to combat a terrorist enemy, in Iraq and elsewhere.

Memo to Ignatius: Rusmfeld was assailed, and rightly so, not for "daring to state the obvious," but for the marked contrast between his stating the obvious in this internal memo and his egregiously optimistic public statements on the situation in Iraq. Ignatius's words imply that Rumsfeld's critics have a problem with his speaking the truth, when the real problem is -- if he's "daring to state the obvious" with this less-than-rosy assessment -- why Rumsfeld keeps telling the American people that everything's just fine. Parallels to Vietnam are hackneyed indeed, but it's worth remembering that one of the factors that soured the American public on the war was the obvious disconnect between official pronouncements and the situation on the ground. Alas, the Bush Administration's answer seems to be to manage the American perception of the situation through news management. Their proclivity to do so hardly inspires confidence in their ability to manage the mess Bush's war fever has created.


american credibility a casualty of bush's incompetence

Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has a lengthy op-ed in the Washington Post in which he bemoans the lousy security situation created by the ideology and oncompetence of Bush and his minions. He recalls the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the United States actually had evidence, but France -- yes, France -- was satisfied with the President's word. Bush has squandered our nation's credibility, perhaps in perpetuity.
The loss of U.S. international credibility and the growing U.S. isolation are aspects of a troubling paradox: American power worldwide is at its historic zenith, but American global political standing is at its nadir. Maybe we are resented because we are rich, and we are, or because we are powerful, and we certainly are. But I think anyone who thinks that this is the full explanation is taking the easy way out and engaging in a self-serving justification.

Since the tragedy of 9/11, our government has embraced a paranoiac view of the world summarized in a phrase President Bush used on Sept. 20, 2001: "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." I suspect that officials who have adopted the "with us or against us" formulation don't know its historical origins. It was used by Lenin to attack the social democrats as anti-Bolshevik and to justify handling them accordingly. This phrase is part of our policymakers' defining focus, summed up by the words "war on terrorism." War on terrorism reflects, in my view, a rather narrow and extremist vision of foreign policy for a superpower and for a great democracy with genuinely idealistic traditions.

Our country suffers from another troubling condition, a fear that periodically verges on blind panic. As a result, we lack a clear perception of critical security issues such as the availability to our enemies of weapons of mass destruction. In recent months, we have experienced perhaps the most significant intelligence failure in American history. That failure was fueled by a demagogy that emphasizes worst-case scenarios, stimulates fear and induces a dichotomous view of world reality.

It's also worth noting, of course, that Bush was already embarked on a unilateralist, my-way-or-the-highway foreign policy even before 9/11, and that the devastating terrorist attacks that occurred on his watch were no doubt made easier by Bush's incompetence, including, but not limited to, his Operation Ignore policy towards global terrorism. Read the whole thing.


corporate welfare watch

In a story datelined in my adopted city of Indianapolis, the New York Times observes that the multi-million-dollar bribes incentives states pony up to corporations in the name of creating jobs aren't always a good investment. Case in point: The US$320 million given to United Airlines to build a state-of-the-art maintenance hub at the Indianapolis airport. The financially distressed airline has abandoned the facility, which now stands empty.
The shuttered maintenance center is a stark, and unusually vivid, reminder of the risk inherent in gambling public money on corporate ventures. Yet the city and state are stepping up subsidies to other companies that offer, as United once did, to bring high-paying jobs and sophisticated operations to Indiana. Many municipal and state governments are doing the same, escalating a bidding war for a shrunken pool of jobs in America despite the worst squeeze in years on their budgets.

Their hope is that the new employees at the subsidized companies will give back their incomes to the community in tax payments and spending, more than justifying the subsidies. Critics argue that the same tax dollars produce a greater return when they are channeled into education and public transportation, for example, rather than corporate ventures. They also say that subsidies distort markets: United, for example, might not have walked away so quickly if the $320 million had been its money, not the city's and state's.

And then there is the view, shared by Gov. Joseph E. Kernan of Indiana, that the subsidies are unnecessary, a bonus to companies that would set up shop anyway, at their own expense, without any subsidy. The national economy would benefit, if not a particular city's or state's.

That doesn't mean that Governor Kernan intends to stop offering subsidies. "I understand the argument that taking jobs away from Boston and putting them here is nationally a zero-sum game," he said. "But Indiana, like virtually every other state, is not going to unilaterally disarm."

Far from disarming, Indiana's legislature recently revamped the corporate tax structure — in effect offering a reduction in a company's state tax bill — as an incentive to locate in Indiana, or to remain here. With the United fiasco in mind, the emphasis is on tax credits, the governor said, rather than upfront "bricks and mortar investments in particular projects." Indianapolis, for its part, is giving generous support to big employers like Eli Lilly, the multinational pharmaceutical company headquartered here. Lilly is getting a $106 million package in exchange for a promise to invest $1 billion and add 7,500 jobs by 2009.

There is no official data on how much is distributed in subsidies across the country. Alan Peters, a professor of urban planning at the University of Iowa, and one or two other academics have tried to estimate the total loss of city and state tax revenue through abatements, lower income taxes, outright payments, training grants, wage subsidies and the like. Their estimates start at $30 billion a year and range up to $50 billion, with Mr. Peters putting the number somewhere in the $40 billions, based on a recent survey of tax expenditures.

"It seems like almost every state is giving away grandmother, grandfather, the family jewels, you name it, everything," Mr. Peters said. The anecdotal evidence of the escalating bidding war is greater than the statistical, he said.

Of course, the news isn't all bad; in Bush's economy, those formerly highly-paid and skilled airline mechanics can still find part-time work stocking shelves at Wal-Mart. Either that or they simply quit looking for work; either way, they're off the unemployment rolls, and therefore no longer Bush's concern.

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