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  xSaturday, June 12, 2004

cheapo dvd alert

While shopping for decorations for Naomi's birthday party, I encountered the ne plus ultra of cheapo DVDs: A set of discs -- apparently from at least two distributors -- packaged in heavy paper sleeves and selling for a dollar. Great googly moogly! Temptation proved overwhelming, and I wound up with five discs from what amounted to the change in my pockets:

  • A disc of Max Fleischman Superman cartoons (with some Fraidy Cat cartoons added for filler)

  • A disc of Betty Boop cartoons (also with filler)

  • A disc of four episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which I love; the picture quality is even decent.

  • A bad-looking 1970s-era horror film called Cathy's Curse with a disctinctly 1990s-looking Goth chick on the cover

  • Jimmy Wang Yu's Blood of the Dragon


Oh, and speaking of cheap DVDs, you can get a DVD of Al Gore's recent MoveOn speech for a mere five bucks. Of course, notwithstanding the understandable reluctanct to fund one's political opponents, I'm sure most right-wing bloggers would prefer to criticize the speech without being exposed to it in any way.

  xFriday, June 11, 2004

bad movie review of the week

To no one's surprise, the movie Garfield is getting roundly panned, including this unkind cut:
It's enough to make you long for the wit and wisdom of Mike Myers' Cat in the Hat.


(via FARK)


plame scandal update

Lawyer Dwight Meredith wonders why the White House press corps doesn't ask the President's press secretary one simple, obvious question.


geology post of the day

underwater volcanic eruption

I first heard this story the other day on NPR: A scientific research submarine lucked into a ringside seat at an underwater valcanic eruption.
"We were seeing billowing clouds coming up and turning yellow. There was sulfur and rocks were flying out," said Embley, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. "We realized we were the first to witness a deep-sea volcano during an eruptive episode."

He added: "The amazing thing is we were able to sample it. ... It would not have been a good place to be in a manned submersible."

In other research submarine coverage, NPR recently ran this story on explorer Robert Ballard's impending return to the Titanic, whose wreck he discovered back in 1985.


quote of the day

Kevin at Lean Left sums up exactly why everyone should find the "smoking memo" alarming:
[T]here have been plenty instances of morally repulsive behavior among past Presidents. And yes, there have even been a couple of cases where Presidents have tried to collect for themselves powers the Constitution clearly did not intend for them to have. Nixon even argued something similar, if not as expansive, as the memo's doctrine of Presidential Infallibility with regards to laws that effect the Executive Branch. But to my knowledge, no President had ever put forth anything of similar scope to the doctrine of Presidential Infallibility with regards to laws that effect the Executive Branch as the torture memo, and certainly no President had attempted such a sweeping power grab under the cloud of absolute secrecy that surrounded -- and that the Administration still attempts to keep in place around -- this particular memo.

And that, to me, is why Bush is worse than even Nixon and FDR's internment plan: he tried to go farther down the road of President as lawgiver than any of his predecessors had ever attempted, and he tried to do it behind our backs.

The Bush Administration has made quite apparent its contempt for even the GOP-run rubber-stamp Congress (two quick examples are Ashcroft's recent display of contempt for the Senate in which he once served, and the Bush Administration deceiving lawmakers about the cost of its prescription drug plan). No patriotic American who believes in our Constitutional system of checks and balances should accept this Administration's obvious lust for an Executive with absolute authority. Back in the Founders' time, such a truler would have beend described as a tyrant.


more torture

Mark Kleiman and Kevin Drum suspect that the Abu Ghraib scandal is about to blow wide open. A story in today's New York Times reports that the military has requested that the two-star general investigating the Abu Ghraib scandal be replaced with a higher-ranking officer, as the two-star is forbidden by military rule from questioning those who outrank him.

The Times also noted that a key witness is said to have come in from the cold:
Within the last several days, an important figure in the inquiry who had previously refused to cooperate with Army investigators suddenly reversed his position and agreed to work much more closely with investigators, a senior Senate aide and a senior Pentagon official said.

That important development prompted General Fay to send some of his 29-person team back into the field to conduct more interviews, the officials said. "A key witness, a key person who'd pled the military equivalent of the Fifth has changed his attitude, and Fay is reopening the investigation," the Senate official said.

Then there's Brad DeLong's relating of an email report of a disturbing speech given the University of Chicago by reporter Seymour Hersh, who has been at the vanguard of the story. DeLong quotes the email thus:
He said that after he broke Abu Ghraib people are coming out of the woodwork to tell him this stuff. He said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, "You haven't begun to see evil..." then trailed off. He said, "horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run."

He looked frightened.

(Let's recall that the members of Congress who have seen more of those pictures than have been released to the public were also shocked and appalled...)

In a fascinating development, questioned by reporters at the G8 summit, Bush appeared to acknowledge that he gave orders regarding the interrogation of prisoners:
"The authorization I issued was that anything we did would conform to U.S. law and would be consistent with international treaty obligations," Bush told reporters at the G8 Summit.

Perhaps overwhelmed with Reagan nostalgia, Bush also channels Reagan's faulty memory defense and claims that he can't remember if he read the smoking memo.
Asked whether he has seen the memos, Bush replied, "I can't remember if I've seen the memo or not." But he reiterated that he had instructed that the treatment of terror suspects stay within U.S. and international laws.

Mark Kleiman gives an appropriately snarky response to that lame performance.

Kevin at Lean Left notes that in the wake of the "smoking memo," the State Department had to remind Bush that the US adheres to the Geneva Conventioned in order to protect its own troops. (Speculation of how much "support for the troops" Bush shows by repudiating the Conventions is left as an exercise forthe reader.) Kevin also points out that "even if Bush did not see the original torture memo (he now claims he cannot recall if he saw it), he was aware of it and what it said -- because of this warning."

Josh Marshall chimes in, pointing out that Bush's protetstations are carefully parsed, going so far as to suggest that the language is tortured.

A commentator at Washington Monthly smells something fishy, sensibly pointing out that Bush should not have needed to order that interrogations be legal.
I'm really found of Bush's claim that, "The authorization I issued was that anything we did would conform to U.S. law and would be consistent with international treaty obligations." This sort of thing is the hallmark of a bad liar trying to cover up his misdeeds. Nobody, but nobody, issues orders to keep things on the up-and-up. You just don't do it.

He says we're a nation of laws. And he's right. One consequence of that is that we assume the laws apply and ought to be adhered to. Nobody issues explicit orders or authorizations to obey the law. It's unnecessary.

Of course, Bush's statement certainly raises the question of exactly what instructions Bush gave regarding the treatment of detainees.

Besides, if Bush did order that interrogation be legal, it follows that those who were involved in the torture either disobeyed a direct order of the President, or failed to see that it was carried out. I an not a lawyer, but it seems to me that were that the case, the President's prerogative as comander-in-chief would enable him to discipline -- or at the very least fire -- those involved. That he has not done so suggests that he does not in fact disapprove of what he now seems to claims is a disobedience of his explicit order.

Indeed, the fact that Bush has not fired anyone over his various scandals, frankly, stinks on ice, and puts lie to his claims of beleiving in responsibility. Rumsfeld may have talked the talk of accepting responsibility before Congress, but without consequences, those words are hollow. (Of course, maybe he's once again taking lessons from Reagan's legacy; let's recall that Reagan had quite a few highly placed officials resign under fire, with several standing trial on criminal charges.)

Speaking of which, one aspect I'm beginning to find genuinely alarming is that if and when Bush leaves office in January 2005, unless he hands out pardons all around, not a few members of his Administration could face trial, conviction, and imprisonment. I don't think one needs to wear a tinfoil hat to realize that this fact would add an extra motivation to this sorry crew to hold on to power.

Finally, those who still believe Bush is competent to defend this nation may consider these words by Hersh:
And this was one of the most stunning parts. He had just returned from Europe, and he said high officials, even foreign ministers, who used to only talk to him off the record or give him backchannel messages, were speaking on the record that the next time the U.S. comes to them with intelligence, they'll simply have no reason to believe it....

Anyone who imagines that this picture, if accurate, doesn't have severe implications for national security has drunk too much neocon Kool-Aid.

But how silly of me. Anyone who still believes Bush is cometent to defend this nation will reject anything Hersh has to say out of hand as a "Bush hater" or a member of the so-called "liberal media." How can he have any credibility -- after all, he was the one who claimed US soldiers massacred hundreds of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. Oh, wait...


sclm watch

Atrios has a so-called "liberal media" two-fer.

  xThursday, June 10, 2004

every little bit helps

In my opinion, Jaquandor runs the Buffalo blog.


50 coolest song moments

Check out RetroCrush's list of the 50 coolest moments in rock songs.

(via FARK)

The entry for Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" has an updated link to a hilarious Flash animation that I cited back in 2002.


ray charles r.i.p.

ray charles

I'm sad indeed to note the passing of R&B great Ray Charles at the age of 73.

Update: Body and Soul had a lovely appreciation.


cute communist gallery of the day

communist girl pinup

The Russian National Bolshevik Party provides this gallery of comely comrades.

(via MetaFilter)


cool tech post of the day


Wired reports on a way-cool Web traffic monitoring site that uses a sweet Sim City-like interface to display visits and page views.


scientology infiltrating public schools? reports on an antidrug program used by some public schools that may subtly indoctrinate students to the principles of Scientology.
Anyone listening to a classroom talk by Narconon Drug Prevention & Education is unlikely to recognize the connection with Scientology; the lessons sound nothing like theology. Instruction is delivered in language purged of most church parlance, but includes "all the Scientology and Dianetics Handbook basics," according to Scientology correspondence obtained by The Chronicle.

Narconon's anti-drug instruction rests on these key church concepts: that the body stores all kinds of toxins indefinitely in fat, where they wreak havoc on the mind until "sweated" out. Those ideas are rejected by the five medical experts contacted by The Chronicle, who say there is no evidence to support them.

Narconon was created by L. Ron Hubbard, the late science-fiction writer who founded Scientology, a religion that claims to improve the well-being of followers through courses aimed at self-improvement and global serenity. Narconon operates a global network of drug treatment centers, as well as education programs for elementary, middle and high school students.

Its lectures have reached 1.7 million children around the nation in the last decade, Narconon officials said, and more than 30,000 San Francisco students since 1991. Meanwhile, Narconon's anti-drug message and charismatic speakers earn rave reviews from students and teachers.

Narconon officials are adamant that Narconon is secular and that a firewall exists between it and the Church of Scientology, and San Francisco school health officials say they know of no church-state problem with Narconon or of any pseudoscience taught.

But a close look reveals a crossover of church language, materials, concepts, personnel and some finances, leading to accusations that Scientology has slipped into public classrooms.

"Narconon, to me, is Scientology," said Lee Saltz, a drug counselor with the Los Angeles school district, where Narconon has made classroom presentations for many years. "We don't use their curriculum because it's not grounded in science. But they bypass our office and go directly to the schools. They're very persistent."

Narconon speakers tell students that the body stores drugs indefinitely in fat, where they cause drug cravings and flashbacks. Students are told that sweating through exercise or sauna rids the body of these "poisons." And, some teachers said, the speakers tell students that the drug residues produce a colored ooze when exiting the body.

"It's pseudoscience, right up there with colonic irrigation," said Dr. Peter Banys, director of substance abuse programs at the VA Medical Center in San Francisco.

(via FARK)


take it to the hoop!

The DNC's blog points to some good poll news that goes beyond the horse race numbers.
In the "blue" states, states Gore won by large margins in 2000, Kerry is up by 20 percentage points over Bush, 57-37. In the "red" states, the states that Bush won comfortably in 2000, Bush is only up four points. (In the swing states, Kerry matches his national lead over Bush, 49-44.)

This means that the battle will be fought on Bush's turf. He'll have to spend money defending states that he must win in order to win the election, while John Kerry can focus on the swing states and put pressure on Bush in the red states.

And five months before the election, that is indisputably good news.

Quite so. I've long maintained -- even in the face of Bush's phony "popular wartime president" image -- that the Democrats need to play offense, not defense. Aside from the fact that he seems to be bad at it, forcing Bush to play defense will also offset his financial advantage. Pleasing indeed.


torture memo reconsidered

Digby has a must-read post on the banality of evil revealed by the smoking torture memo.
These people who set about legalizing inhumane behavior on behalf of a president on whom they confer absolute power to order it at will are as shallow and evil as the cliché spouting president who demanded it. The slippery slope to totalitarianism started in a conference room where coffee and donuts and microsoft power point presentations on torture and pain were on the agenda one morning.


facing defeat?

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball report that key Bush Administration figures are preparing for a rebuke by the Supreme Court in the case of Jose Padilla, and are now "scrambling" to prepare a conventional case against him instead.
But officials acknowledge that the charges could well be difficult to bring and that none of Padilla’s admissions to interrogators—including an apparent confession that he met with top Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah and agreed to undertake a terror mission—would ever be admissible in court.

Even more significant, administration officials now concede that the principal claim they have been making about Padilla ever since his detention—that he was dispatched to the United States for the specific purpose of setting off a radiological “dirty bomb”—has turned out to be wrong and most likely can never be used against him in court.

The reassessments of Padilla come amid a growing sense of gloom within Justice that the Supreme Court is likely to rule decisively against the Bush administration not just in the Padilla case but in two other pivotal cases in the war on terror: one involving the detention of another “enemy combatant,” Yasir Hamden, and another involving the treatment of Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In the Padilla and Hambdi cases, the administration is arguing it has the right to hold the two U.S. citizens indefinitely without trial. In the Guantanamo case, the administration argues that foreign nationals being interrogated there there do not have the right to challenge their detention in federal courts.

Lawyers within the Justice Department are now bracing for defeat in both the enemy-combatant and Guantanamo cases, both of which are expected to be decided before the Supreme Court ends its term at the end of the month, according to one conservative and politically well-connected lawyer. “They are 99 percent certain they are going to lose,” said the lawyer, who asked not to be identified. “It’s a very sobering realization.”

While Supreme Court forecasts are hazardous at best, the conventional wisdom among former Supreme Court clerks is that recent disclosures about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and internal administration memos disavowing compliance with international treaties involving treatment of prisoners has badly hurt the government’s arguments before the court and turned two key “swing” justices—Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy—against it, the lawyer said.

Let's reconsider that last bit: While those who oppose the Administration's assertion of broad powers to detain American citizens without due process merely on its say-so may find rich, if bitter, irony in the fact that the Court may not take kindly the Administration's straight-faced assertions that it would never, ever consider torture, anyone who feels that such unchecked power is indeed a vital part of the War on Terror must realize that the revelations of Administration's policies may well result in blowback that'll put the kibosh on indefinite detentions. Either way you slice it, mere incompetence by the Bush Administration is the most favorable explanation.


great idea

Seeing the Forest's Dave Johnson has the perfect rejoinder to the loonies who want to put Reagan's picture on American currency: Since Reagan's name will forever be associated with "deficit," put him on the Treasury bond instead.

  xWednesday, June 09, 2004

'have you no decency?'

NPR reminded me that today, June 9, is the 50th anniversary of Massachusetts Joseph Welch's famous chiding of Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the beginning of the end of McCarthy's Communist witch hunt, and his career.

Good riddance, no matter what Ann Coulter says.


news from the war on terror

Terrorism at all-time low under Bush, down 45%

Revised figure: Terrorism up 35%, perhaps at an all-time high, under Bush.

Sheesh. Can we please get some competent people in Washington? I can't wait to vote this bunch of clowns out of power -- permanently, one hopes.

(via Daily Kos)


the graduate

cecilia graduating preschool

Congratulations to our four-(almost five)-year old daughter, Cecilia, on her graduation from preschool last month. All hail her intelligence and cuteness!


sterling on bush's lysenkoism

Writing in Wired, cyberpunk raconteur Bruce Sterling compares the Bush Administration's politicization of science with that of Stalinist hack Trofim Lysenko.
Politics without objective, honest measurement of results is a deadly short circuit. It means living a life of sterile claptrap, lacquering over failure after intellectual failure with thickening layers of partisan abuse. Charlatans like Lysenko can't clarify serious, grown-up problems that they themselves don't understand.

State-sponsored pseudoscience always fails, but slowly, like a wheat field choked with weeds.

...Eventually the whole vast bubble will burst of its own fairy-tale unreality. Few will be held accountable. The quackeries will be purged, forgotten, hushed up. Except, that is, for the lasting effect on the health, morale, and self-esteem of the American people.

As Sterling points out, Bush's politicizaton of science stands to do real and lasting harm to the American people. Of course, it provides red meat for certain of Bush's core consituencies -- Intelligent Deign yo-yos and polluting industries, to name two -- but one wonders why rational, intelligent Republicans seem so eager to reject the domain of fact, even if the facts appear to be biased against Bush.


kate worley r.i.p.

omaha the cat dancer

Avedon Carol passes along the sad news that Kate Worley, writer of the underground comic Omaha, the Cat Dancer died after a long battle with cancer.

Planet Swank extends its condolences to Worley's bereaved husband and two children, and her family, friends and fans.

Comics legend Neil Gaiman -- a longtime admirer of Worley's work -- has a lovely appreciation on his Web site.


more on the torture memo

Jim Henley emphasizes how serious the recently unearthed Pentagon memo that sought a leagal justification for torturing detainees.
President Bush is absolutely responsible for everything that happens in his administration, and to the extent that the Pentagon memo conditioned policy, he is first in line for blame. HOWEVER. President Bush is no one's idea of a legal mind. He may have initiated the project that became the memo, but he didn't draft the thing. High-level government lawyers, most of them undoubtedly political appointees, did that. What that means is that there is systemic corruption in the Republican Party as an institution - "Bush's Willing Torturers" we might call them. These are people that came up with the idea that the Constitutional phrase "he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" meant
authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."

They represent a deadly danger to the American system and they are multiple. It's not one guy somewhere, it's a movement. Until the Republican Party roots them out, that Party is the enemy, not just of libertarians, but of anyone who values individual freedom and republican government. From the standpoint of liberty, there can no longer be any justification for preferring the Republicans to the Democrats.

... The issue now goes beyond torture to the very structure of American government. Torture is the symptom. The concept that the President is not just himself above the law, but a supralegal authority, is the malady.

From Nixon (Watergate) to Reagan (Iran-Contra) to Bush the Lesser (where do I start?), the notion that the President is above the law seems to be a recurring theme in the Republican Party. It's a scurrilous concept that the GOP's few remaining rational minds must purge forthwith.

Billmon profiles the so-called Christian woman who headed the memo project. has some legal analysis. Money quote: "The Constitution does not make the President a King. This memo does."

And Is That Legal? points out that this memo is further evidence that the Department of Justice misled the Supreme Court when it recently claimed that it did not engage in "mild torture" or "things of that nature."

Update: The Washington Post unleashes a scorching editorial.
THE BUSH administration assures the country, and the world, that it is complying with U.S. and international laws banning torture and maltreatment of prisoners. But, breaking with a practice of openness that had lasted for decades, it has classified as secret and refused to disclose the techniques of interrogation it is using on foreign detainees at U.S. prisons at Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a matter of grave concern because the use of some of the methods that have been reported in the press is regarded by independent experts as well as some of the Pentagon's legal professionals as illegal. The administration has responded that its civilian lawyers have certified its methods as proper -- but it has refused to disclose, or even provide to Congress, the justifying opinions and memos.

This week, thanks again to an independent press, we have begun to learn the deeply disturbing truth about the legal opinions that the Pentagon and the Justice Department seek to keep secret. According to copies leaked to several newspapers, they lay out a shocking and immoral set of justifications for torture. In a paper prepared last year under the direction of the Defense Department's chief counsel, and first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, the president of the United States was declared empowered to disregard U.S. and international law and order the torture of foreign prisoners. Moreover, interrogators following the president's orders were declared immune from punishment. Torture itself was narrowly redefined, so that techniques that inflict pain and mental suffering could be deemed legal. All this was done as a prelude to the designation of 24 interrogation methods for foreign prisoners -- the same techniques, now in use, that President Bush says are humane but refuses to disclose.

There is no justification, legal or moral, for the judgments made by Mr. Bush's political appointees at the Justice and Defense departments. Theirs is the logic of criminal regimes, of dictatorships around the world that sanction torture on grounds of "national security." For decades the U.S. government has waged diplomatic campaigns against such outlaw governments -- from the military juntas in Argentina and Chile to the current autocracies in Islamic countries such as Algeria and Uzbekistan -- that claim torture is justified when used to combat terrorism. The news that serving U.S. officials have officially endorsed principles once advanced by Augusto Pinochet brings shame on American democracy -- even if it is true, as the administration maintains, that its theories have not been put into practice. Even on paper, the administration's reasoning will provide a ready excuse for dictators, especially those allied with the Bush administration, to go on torturing and killing detainees.

Perhaps the president's lawyers have no interest in the global impact of their policies -- but they should be concerned about the treatment of American servicemen and civilians in foreign countries. Before the Bush administration took office, the Army's interrogation procedures -- which were unclassified -- established this simple and sensible test: No technique should be used that, if used by an enemy on an American, would be regarded as a violation of U.S. or international law. Now, imagine that a hostile government were to force an American to take drugs or endure severe mental stress that fell just short of producing irreversible damage; or pain a little milder than that of "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." What if the foreign interrogator of an American "knows that severe pain will result from his actions" but proceeds because causing such pain is not his main objective? What if a foreign leader were to decide that the torture of an American was needed to protect his country's security? Would Americans regard that as legal, or morally acceptable? According to the Bush administration, they should.

And the New York Times connects the dots:
In response to the outrages at Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration has repeatedly assured Americans that the president and his top officials did not say or do anything that could possibly be seen as approving the abuse or outright torture of prisoners. But disturbing disclosures keep coming. This week it's a legal argument by government lawyers who said the president was not bound by laws or treaties prohibiting torture.

Each new revelation makes it more clear that the inhumanity at Abu Ghraib grew out of a morally dubious culture of legal expediency and a disregard for normal behavior fostered at the top of this administration.

Bush apologists will no doubt dismiss the criticism of the Post and the Times as just the rantings of the so-called "liberal media" and those who decry the Bush Administration's shameful slouching toward tyranny as "Bush haters." In doing so, they in effect condone a President whose Administration clearly seeks to place him above the rule of law -- to make him not only a King, but a King unfettered by even the restrictions of the Magna Carta. Shame on them.

Update 2: Attorney General John Ashcroft has refused to provide the memo to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Of course.

And Phil Carter has more, including a link to the still-smoking memo (PDF file). Carter says -- and I concur -- that the memo's plain intent to circumvent laws against torture make the Administration's protestations that it doesn's do such things fall flat. Tristero makes the case that this sort of thing is their bag, baby.


music appreciation night

Last night my lovely wife, her parents and I had an opportunity to enjoy the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at its special Donor and Volunteer Appreciation Concert in the beautiful Hilbert Circle Theatre downtown. The program, flamboyantly but expertly conducted by Roberto Minczuk, consisted of Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra and his Symphony No. 5. The first piece also featured a superb young cellist, 16-year-old Whitney Gamble, who recently won an ISO competition for young musicians. It was a beautiful summer evening filled with beautiful music, and a very pleasant experience.

  xTuesday, June 08, 2004

gallery of the day

kyoko fukada

A small gallery (SFW) of jpop idol Kyoko Fukada.

(I mentioned this site earlier, back in January 2003.)


kaiju post of the day

godzilla, baby!

A brief teaser trailer for the upcoming 50th anniversary daikaiju rumble flick Godzilla: Final Wars is now available on the film's official site.

(via Destroy All Monsters)


one last thing on reagan

Frankly, I'm getting a bit tired of all the Reagan hagiography. Juan Cole reminds us of Reagan's odious Central American policy, which embraced dictatorship, terrorism, rape, torture and murder, all in the name of anti-communism. (And yes, some of that policies key players are now involved in Iraq.)

But I'll say one last good thing about the man. When the Iranians holding American hostages released them after Reagan's inauguration -- timing that, in my opinion, was a final gesture of contempt for outgoing President Carter -- Reagan dispatched Carter as his official personal envoy to welcome the former hostages home. That gesture was one of genuine class.


krugman on reagan's legacy

Paul Krugman has a good (but "typically shrill," of course) column on Reagan's legacy in this morning's New York Times.
ver the course of this week we'll be hearing a lot about Ronald Reagan, much of it false. A number of news sources have already proclaimed Mr. Reagan the most popular president of modern times. In fact, though Mr. Reagan was very popular in 1984 and 1985, he spent the latter part of his presidency under the shadow of the Iran-Contra scandal. Bill Clinton had a slightly higher average Gallup approval rating, and a much higher rating during his last two years in office.

We're also sure to hear that Mr. Reagan presided over an unmatched economic boom. Again, not true: the economy grew slightly faster under President Clinton, and, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, the after-tax income of a typical family, adjusted for inflation, rose more than twice as much from 1992 to 2000 as it did from 1980 to 1988.

But Ronald Reagan does hold a special place in the annals of tax policy, and not just as the patron saint of tax cuts. To his credit, he was more pragmatic and responsible than that; he followed his huge 1981 tax cut with two large tax increases. In fact, no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people. This is not a criticism: the tale of those increases tells you a lot about what was right with President Reagan's leadership, and what's wrong with the leadership of George W. Bush.

The first Reagan tax increase came in 1982. By then it was clear that the budget projections used to justify the 1981 tax cut were wildly optimistic. In response, Mr. Reagan agreed to a sharp rollback of corporate tax cuts, and a smaller rollback of individual income tax cuts. Over all, the 1982 tax increase undid about a third of the 1981 cut; as a share of G.D.P., the increase was substantially larger than Mr. Clinton's 1993 tax increase.

The contrast with President Bush is obvious. President Reagan, confronted with evidence that his tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible, changed course. President Bush, confronted with similar evidence, has pushed for even more tax cuts.

...For many middle- and low-income families, this tax increase more than undid any gains from Mr. Reagan's income tax cuts. In 1980, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, middle-income families with children paid 8.2 percent of their income in income taxes, and 9.5 percent in payroll taxes. By 1988 the income tax share was down to 6.6 percent — but the payroll tax share was up to 11.8 percent, and the combined burden was up, not down.

Nonetheless, there was broad bipartisan support for the payroll tax increase because it was part of a deal. The public was told that the extra revenue would be used to build up a trust fund dedicated to the preservation of Social Security benefits, securing the system's future. Thanks to the 1983 act, current projections show that under current rules, Social Security is good for at least 38 more years.

But George W. Bush has made it clear that he intends to renege on the deal. His officials insist that the trust fund is meaningless — which means that they don't feel bound to honor the implied contract that dedicated the revenue generated by President Reagan's payroll tax increase to paying for future Social Security benefits. Indeed, it's clear from the arithmetic that the only way to sustain President Bush's tax cuts in the long run will be with sharp cuts in both Social Security and Medicare benefits.

...Still, on both foreign and domestic policy Mr. Reagan showed both some pragmatism and some sense of responsibility. These are attributes sorely lacking in the man who claims to be his political successor.

Whether from a left- or respectable right-wing perspective, comparisons to Reagan can only hurt Bush the Lesser. Only the tax-cut jihadists can applaud Bush II, as he is implementing their agenda of ruining the American government. But of course, as Krugman alludes, Bush is doing so dishonestly. Bush dare not say that he plans to bankrupt America in order to implement the neo-Confederate dreams of the Grover Norquist crowd. They know full well that if their agenda were put up to a vote, they would lose.


new at dam

chibi ranma group

My review of Volume 10 of the Ranma 1/2 manga is up over at Destroy All Monsters.

(Image courtesy this Ranma fan site)

  xMonday, June 07, 2004

hentai game post of the day

Wired takes a look at Japanese hentai games, finding them not as exciting as you'd think from all the Google searches (and no, I'm not posting a graphic -- I still get tons of bogus image search hits from the last time, even after taking the image down). The article is a pretty decent summary of the genre.
Appreciators of animé and manga-style girls might go for a Japanese genre euphemistically called dating sims. You might expect these games to portray real-life dating scenarios, where singles engage in the tedious rituals of wooing mates hoping for a chance to score.

Sadly, in these sims -- also known as bishojo (Japanese for "pretty girl") games -- the balance between tedium and delight is firmly tilted toward boredom.

Adult-themed or hentai (Japanese for "pervert") games are said to account for over 25 percent of all Japanese software, but they have been slower to catch on in the United States. Las Vegas-based G-Collections and Japan's J-List import bishojo games, aiming to penetrate an enormous American market potential. The United States versions retail for $35 to $50 and have the added benefit of being sexually explicit and uncensored, unlike Japanese releases that use mosaic blur-out.

A scan of the titles reads like a trip to a local adult video store: Do You Like Horny Bunnies?, Private Nurse, Virgin Roster, Secret Wives Club, I'm Gonna Serve You and so on.

Typical plot lines: a girl working in a bunny-waitress restaurant, a coed living in a sorority house, a young woman tutoring a bored housewife's son, a pretty teacher employed at an all-girls school. Some games involve SM, bondage and incest. Readers of Penthouse forum will be on familiar turf here -- standard stereotypes and shallow character development. But most "players" are here for the pictures.

The girls in these games are beautiful in an animé stereotypical way: huge pleading eyes, wildly cascading parti-colored hair, and of course, impossibly large breasts. Some are shy and inexperienced, others bold and provocative. The costumes are hentai staples: bunny outfits, schoolgirl uniforms and naughty nurse garb. The payoff is seeing the characters naked, spattered with body fluids and sporting silly pom-poms of pubic hair.

To classify these titles as games would give them too much credit. The games are simple -- very simple. The graphics consist of stills, in which characters (generally, only the sexually available females) appear in a two-dimensional format. The sophomoric plot lines develop slowly with droning, cheesy synth-pop soundtracks.

Playing a game consists of clicking through pane after pane of 7th-grade reading-level conversation and expository thinking. It's like paging through an endless computerized comic book to get to the good parts. At least in a paper comic book, you can skip to the back.

Something Awful frequently looks at hentai games with a jaundiced eye. And regular readers (all four of you) may recall that MegaTokyo creator Fred "Piro" Gallagher is a fan of the more romantic dating simulators.

I've played a few hentai games and dating sims (some dating sims have a more-or-less explicit "payoff" for winning the game/girl, even if the game itself is non-H). Most hentai games are a "seen one, seen 'em all" experience. (Unfortunately, that fact has probably led more recent entries to become more explicit and taboo.) Still, some games that actually involve odd concepts like storyline and gameplay can be enjoyable. True Love Story and Seasons of the Sakura are decent examples of the genre that actually make the player's choices a factor in winning the game. (I'm also somewhat amused that the hentai game Three Sisters Story has the player lose if he chose earlier in the game to boink either or both of his inamorata's two sisters -- they're rarely that realistic.)

(Cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


anime post of the day


Here's some groovy news! One of the first anime programs I watched as a kid is returning to TV, in uncut form! Even as a child, I could tell that Battle of the Planets had been censored for US broadcast, but now its source material, Gatchaman, is coming to the Anime Network.
Anime Network, the first channel in North America
dedicated to anime, has signed a deal with Sandy Frank Entertainment to
bring all 105 episodes of the original Gatchaman series to television
viewers and anime fans alike. This marks the first time that the complete,
unaltered original series will be aired for American fans. The announcement
was made today by Kevin Corcoran, president of Anime Network.

Considered a true classic and one of the preeminent anime series of all
time, Gatchaman began more than 30 years ago and has become one of the
longest-running drama series in anime history. The series, which spawned
G-Force and Battle of the Planets (named among the all-time, top-10 animated
series in the U.S. by Wizard magazine), the much-edited versions that aired
in the U.S. in the 1970s and 80s, follows the adventures of five teenagers
who come together and change into superheroes to save the world from
monsters and intergalactic evil. The complexity of the characters and their
everyday struggles, including sometimes just getting along with each other,
has helped the anime genre attract more adults than children.

Sw33t! Of course, I don't think my local cable companies carries the Anime Network, but it isn't too late to lobby them...

(via Destroy All Monsters; Image courtesy this BotP fan page)


bzzt! wrong!

Here's an amusing quiz on the Tolkien bestiary, but I think the first question gets it wrong:
What kind of creature was Shelob?

The answer it's looking for (spolier alert!) is "spider," but if memory serves me right, Shelob is actually a demon in the form of a spider. If any of my more Tolkien-versed readers can clarify, it'd be appreciated.

Full disclosure: To my surprise, I missed one of the questions. Suffice it to say that the answer to
Of what creature is it said: "If it had a brain half as big as its stomach, it would be the smartest creature in the world?"

is not "Hobbits," as I supposed.

(via FARK)


sensors record power of martial arts blows

Technology Review reports on a fascinating system that can sense how hard a martial artist strikes. A development of the scoring system used in fencing, which records contact but not force, the system is being tested in tae kwon do tournaments to aid judges in determine when a participant lands a scoring blow.
Researchers from Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Stanford University, and Impact Measurement have brought computers into a martial arts sparring ring with a system that senses the force of a hit.

The researchers are testing the system in tae kwon do matches. Information from the sensors combined with the judges' calls makes for more accurate scoring, according to the researchers. The method could also be used for sensing impact in other contact sports and also for videogames.

Tae kwon do competitors earn points for accurate, powerful kicks delivered to a scoring region of a competitor's body. The system uses wireless piezoelectric pressure sensors planted in the hogu, or body protector worn by a competitor. Piezoelectric materials transfer vibration into electricity and vice versa. The sensors transfer the force of impact into a readable electrical signal that is wirelessly transmitted to a laptop base station.

The system includes wireless handsets for the three judges, and each sensor score has to be confirmed in real-time by a least two of the judges. The sensor and handset data is processed by the laptop, which also controls a score display.

As a veteran of several (light contact) tae kwon do torunaments, I can attest that the participants definitely feel when contact is made. It's fascinating to see a system that can gauge the impact of martial arts kicks and strikes. I'd imagine it can even report when a technique is applied with excessive -- and therefore disqualifying -- force.

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


'another smoking memo'

Phil Carter has the details on the George W. Bush version of "no controlling legal authority."
[T]his DoD memo appears to be ... quite literally, a cookbook approach for illegal government conduct. This memorandum lays out the substantive law on torture and how to avoid it. It then goes on to discuss the procedural mechanisms with which torture is normally prosecuted, and techniques for avoiding those traps. I have not seen the text of the memo, but from this report, it does not appear that it advises American personnel to comply with international or domestic law. It merely tells them how to avoid it. That is dangerous legal advice.

(Emphasis in the original)

Need I add how disgusting it is that the "no controlling legal authority" argument in this case involves justifying torture?

There's also an interesting aspect to the Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) Carter cites:
A military official who helped prepare the report said it came after frustrated Guantanamo interrogators had begun trying unorthodox methods on recalcitrant prisoners. "We'd been at this for a year-plus and got nothing out of them" so officials concluded "we need to have a less-cramped view of what torture is and is not."

In other words, after interrogation of some of the so-called "enemy combatants" at Gitmo proved fruitless, rather than consider that the individuals may have nothing of value -- especially after a year in detention -- the interrogators apparently decided torture was the answer. Shame on this Adminsitration for creating an atmosphere in which such a situation could occur.

Between this and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales's odious declaration that the Geneva Conventions were an anachronism that the United States need not recognize, there's really no gettign around the fact that come November, a vote for Bush is a vote for torture.

Update: Kevin of LeanLeft has more:
[O]nce again, the White House has taken for itself the right to decide what laws and rights it will honor. It is acting as if it is above the law, able to decide on a whim what it can and cannot do. That is not how a democracy is supposed to work. We have a government of laws, not a government of men, for the very good reason that history and common sense tell us that people are not to be trusted with unlimited power. The Bushies (the review was written in part by civilian Pentagon lawyers, almost certainly meaning the neo-con cabal surrounding Wolfowitz, Feith and Rumsfeld) do not seem to understand that. Which means that they do not understand democracy.

Update 2: Talk Left links to a Reuters summary of the WSJ article, and notes that one of its authors is currently seeking confirmation as a federal judge. The Senate must exercise its advise and consent role and reject Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II forthwith.

And Kevin Drum notes that the Convention Against Torture, currently the law of the land, explicitly prohibits using war or threat of war as a justification for torture.

Update 3: Josh Marshall points out how very seriosu this memo is:
So the right to set aside law is "inherent in the president". That claim alone should stop everyone in their tracks and prompt a serious consideration of the safety of the American republic under this president. It is the very definition of a constitutional monarchy, let alone a constitutional republic, that the law is superior to the executive, not the other way around. This is the essence of what the rule of law means -- a government of laws, not men, and all that.

Drawing conclusions about what the Bush Administration thinks about the latter concept is left as an exercise for the reader -- and, more importantly, the voters.

  xSunday, June 06, 2004

a happier anniversary

Today is also the first birthday of P.Z. Meyers' fine blog Pharyngula. Planet Swank extends its congratulations and many happy returns!


d-day commemorated

US troops wade ashore on D-Day
Today is the 60th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Here's the coverage in the local paper.

And here's the three D-Day columns written by famed journalist Ernie Pyle (bio at MSNBC), courtesy the Indiana University School of Journalism:

A Pure Miracle

The Horrible Waste of War

A Long Thin Line of Personal Anguish

A quote from the latter:
Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers' packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles and hand grenades. Here are the latest letters from home, with the address on each one neatly razored out - one of the security precautions enforced before the boys embarked.

Here are toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand. Here are pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers, and bloody, abandoned shoes. Here are broken-handled shovels, and portable radios smashed almost beyond recognition, and mine detectors twisted and ruined.

Here are torn pistol belts and canvas water buckets, first-aid kits and jumbled heaps of lifebelts. I picked up a pocket Bible with a soldier's name in it, and put it in my jacket. I carried it half a mile or so and then put it back down on the beach. I don't know why I picked it up, or why I put it back down.

Soldiers carry strange things ashore with them. In every invasion you'll find at least one soldier hitting the beach at H-hour with a banjo slung over his shoulder. The most ironic piece of equipment marking our beach - this beach of first despair, then victory - is a tennis racket that some soldier had brought along. It lies lonesomely on the sand, clamped in its rack, not a string broken.

Two of the most dominant items in the beach refuse are cigarets and writing paper. Each soldier was issued a carton of cigarets just before he started. Today these cartons by the thousand, water-soaked and spilled out, mark the line of our first savage blow.

Writing paper and air-mail envelopes come second. The boys had intended to do a lot of writing in France. Letters that would have filled those blank, abandoned pages.

Always there are dogs in every invasion. There is a dog still on the beach today, still pitifully looking for his masters.

He stays at the water's edge, near a boat that lies twisted and half sunk at the water line. He barks appealingly to every soldier who approaches, trots eagerly along with him for a few feet, and then, sensing himself unwanted in all this haste, runs back to wait in vain for his own people at his own empty boat.

...The strong, swirling tides of the Normandy coastline shift the contours of the sandy beach as they move in and out. They carry soldiers' bodies out to sea, and later they return them. They cover the corpses of heroes with sand, and then in their whims they uncover them.

As I plowed out over the wet sand of the beach on that first day ashore, I walked around what seemed to be a couple of pieces of driftwood sticking out of the sand. But they weren't driftwood.

They were a soldier's two feet. He was completely covered by the shifting sands except for his feet. The toes of his GI shoes pointed toward the land he had come so far to see, and which he saw so briefly.


ronald reagan r.i.p.

By now it's common knowledge that former President Ronald Reagan , the 40th president of the United States, died yesterday at the age of 93. I can't say I'm surprised; Reagan's advanced age aside, when I saw news articles on Yahoo! with headlines like "Reagan's Health Said to Have Deteriorated," I figured it was coming.

It's always sad when a prominent American passes away, but beyond that I can't say I'm especially grieved. I would summarize Reagan's presidency in two words: Iran-Contra. There's some interesting -- and, surprisingly enough, not entirely unfavorable to Reagan -- commentary going on over at Daily Kos (start here and work down.) (Update: Kevin Drum points to some, ah, interesting reaction on the right. And Josh Marshall relates some classy condolences from the Big Dog.) For my part, I agree largely with Dr. Meyers:
Reagan, however, was a disaster for American politics: I sincerely believe that his presidency, even more so than Nixon's, was the point where the Republican party went off the rails into outright lunacy, where a figurehead idiot could be elected to the highest office in the land, where Religious Right took over, where the party endorsed insane economics and corruption, where the environment became something to be plundered rather than preserved. Reagan made George W Bush possible...and it's hard to believe, as much as I despised Reagan during his presidency, that now we would have someone in office who actually makes him look respectable.

He also links to what I believe will be history's true judgment on the man:
As someone who served with President Reagan, and in the interest of historical accuracy, please allow me to share with you some of my recollections of the Reagan years that I hope will make it into the final cut of the mini-series: $640 Pentagon toilets seats; ketchup as a vegetable; union busting; firing striking air traffic controllers; Iran-Contra; selling arms to terrorist nations; trading arms for hostages; retreating from terrorists in Beirut; lying to Congress; financing an illegal war in Nicaragua; visiting Bitburg cemetery; a cozy relationship with Saddam Hussein; shredding documents; Ed Meese; Fawn Hall; Oliver North; James Watt; apartheid apologia; the savings and loan scandal; voodoo economics; record budget deficits; double digit unemployment; farm bankruptcies; trade deficits; astrologers in the White House; Star Wars; and influence peddling.

I hope you find these facts useful in accurately depicting President Reagan's time in office.

I do agree with a number of my fellow bloggers from the left end of the political spectrum: As astonished as I am to admit this, I would prefer Reagan vastly to the one that currently occupies the White House. At least Reagan eventually realized the deficits caused by his supply-side pipe dream was ruining the economy, did the right thing, and raised taxes.

And being a punk rocker was more fun with him in office. After all, 1984 just wouldn't have had the same cachet if it fell in a second Carter term.

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