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  xFriday, August 13, 2004

triskadekophobia post of the day



How Stuff Works has a keen explanation of why Friday the 13th is considered unlucky. As a bonus, it also led me to a groovy article on the mysterious Knights Templar, who are the subject of countless legends and not a few horror films.





  x

so-called 'liberal media' watch


This morning, NPR noted that, in addition to the longtime howls from the right about so-called "liberal media bias," critics on the left are starting to notice that mainstream news coverage tends to favor the right-wing point of view.

Gee, I wonder why they'd think that?





  x

julia child r.i.p.


julia child

Planert Swank is sad to note the passing of renowned chef and TV personality Julia Child, who died today two days short of her 92nd birthday.

A 6-foot-2 American folk hero, "The French Chef" was known to her public as Julia. She showed a delight not only in preparing good food but in sharing it, and ended her landmark public television lessons at a set table with the wish, "Bon appetit."

..."America has lost a true national treasure," Nicholas Latimer, director of publicity for Child's publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said in a statement. "She will be missed terribly."

Child was a skillful — and sometimes messy — chef, beckoning everyone to have no fear and give exquisite cuisine a try.

"Dining with one's friends and beloved family is certainly one of life's primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal," she said in the introduction to her seventh book, "The Way to Cook." "In spite of food fads, fitness programs, and health concerns, we must never lose sight of a beautifully conceived meal."

Her gourmet philosophy also included drinking. In one TV program, chef and friend Jacques Pepin asked what kind of wine she preferred with picnics — red or white.

"I like beer," Child said enthusiastically, pulling out a cold bottle and two glasses.

...Like the rest of us, she sometimes dropped things or had trouble getting a cake out of its mold.

"She just kind of opened the doors ... to the idea that cooking could be a pleasure and it wasn't drudgery in the kitchen," said Alice Waters, executive chef and owner of Chez Panisse, the celebrated Berkeley, Calif., restaurant. "It wasn't just for fancy French chefs."

I'm sure my own love of cooking was influenced by watching Child's programs. She will indeed be missed.

(image courtesy Britannica.com)





  xThursday, August 12, 2004

bush drops 'turning the corner' rhetoric


On the heels of a disappointing jobs report, the Bush campaign is dropping claims that prosperity is just around the corner the economy is turning the corner from campaign speeches. Heh.

And as the New York Times editorial board noted, the economic picture is such that the Bush Administration quickly changed the topic to terror (unfortunately, they caused a lot of damage in doing so).
Mr. Bush and Mr. Greenspan have now exhausted almost all of their stimulus options. The economy is on its own, and it is not clear whether it is on track for a stronger recovery in the second half of the year.

No wonder, then, that Mr. Bush won't acknowledge the bad news on jobs. Doing so would imply a need to re-examine the policies that have led to this point, something he is not willing to do. Given the facts, his intransigence is appalling: according to a new research report by Economy.com, an independent provider of economic data and analysis, the $700 billion swing from surplus to deficit under President Bush accounted for nearly two percentage points of economic growth a year. But it has generated economic gains of just over one percentage point.

The main reason for the crippling discrepancy is that the tax cuts were mostly handed out where they did the least good - that is, lavished on the people least likely to spend the largess. The reduction in the tax rates, the largest of Mr. Bush's tax boons, provided only 59 cents of economic stimulus for every dollar of lost tax revenue. The tax cut for dividends and capital gains produced 9 cents of stimulus for every forgone dollar. (Did someone say, "Deficits as far as the eye can see"?) In contrast, the economic bang for a dollar of aid to state governments is $1.24. Yet such assistance accounted for only 3 percent of the total cost of Mr. Bush's fiscal policies.

The president was right to use a fiscal stimulus to counter a recession - it's just that his favorite tactics were wrong, and they failed to create an environment that fosters growth in jobs and income. Now, along with outside factors like oil prices, Mr. Bush's priorities are actually contributing to the weak picture for jobs. And in a perverse feedback loop, a continuation of these policies will further swell the deficit, impeding job growth even more.

Basically, the Bush Administration changed its tune out of fears of seeming out of touch. And as Kevin Drum noted the other day, that fear may indeed be well-founded.





  x

dahlia lithwick explains it all


The fabulaous Dahlia Lithwick of Slate takes it to the hoop in a guest op-ed spot at the New York Times, with this withering takedown of the ludicrous and un-American concept of "free speech zones." It begins:
So it has come down to this: You are at liberty to exercise your First Amendment right to assemble and to protest, so long as you do so from behind chain-link fences and razor wire, or miles from the audience you seek to address.

The largely ignored "free-speech zone" at the Democratic convention in Boston last month was an affront to the spirit of the Constitution. The situation will be only slightly better when the Republicans gather this month in New York, where indiscriminate searches and the use of glorified veal cages for protesters have been limited by a federal judge. So far, the only protesters with access to the area next to Madison Square Garden are some anti-abortion Christians. High-fiving delegates evidently fosters little risk of violence.

It's easy to forget that as passionate and violent as opposition to the Iraq war may be, it pales in comparison with the often bloody dissent of the Vietnam era, when much of the city of Washington was nevertheless a free-speech zone.

It's tempting to say the difference this time lies in the perils of the post-9/11 world, but that argument assumes some meaningful link between domestic political protest and terrorism. There is no such link, except in the eyes of the Bush administration, which conflates the two both as a matter of law and of policy.

Indeed. While I was indeed disappointed about the Democrats' adoption of this tactic at its recent convention, though, let's not forget that this Administration has wholeheartedly and unabashedly embraced this shameful practice.





  x

gizmo post of the day


Sony has announced that it'll equip its new flat-panel TVs with the same graphics chips as its popular PlayStation 2 consol game system. Sw33t!

Cool your jets, though -- while the chips will enhance the sets' graphics processing capability, they won't let you play games directly from your TV.
The new TVs will be equipped with chips used in the company's PlayStation 2 home-use game consoles and PSX DVD recorder/game consoles. Sony fabricates these chips at a group plant in Nagasaki Prefecture.

The chips' ability to handle detailed computer graphics will improve the TV's image-processing capacity, leading to faster on-screen control for selecting the type of TV broadcasts or viewing image data stored on digital or video cameras, for example.

Sony says the chips, which are already widely used in its game consoles, will enable it to boost the functions of its TVs at little cost.

(via BoingBoing)





  x

rock 'n' roll post of the day


NPR's Morning Edition today featured an interesting interview with Jacob Slichter, drummer for the band Semisonic, who hit big a few years ago with their umtimate bar-band song "Closing Time." Slichter has written a book expressing his disillusionment with the rock 'n' roll lifestyle and his bemusement at the numerous mixes of the band's hit song that were crafted to appeal to various narrowcasting demographics. (Funny, true, but the cost of those remixes, and the payola promotional fees the record company pays to boost airplay, come out of the band's royalties.)





  xWednesday, August 11, 2004

hoist on his own petard


As a possible indication that the Rove/Delay style of dirty political tactics may have overreached, we present the strange and terrible saga of Congressman Rodney Alexander.
Alexander was wounded by comments from his former Democratic colleagues about his switch, he said. He particularly cited U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who called him a coward. It took courage to make the switch, Alexander said. "To be called a coward, I don't think that's fair," he said.

Unfair, as opposed to, say, switching party affiliation mere minutes before the filing deadline, thus preventing the Democrats from fielding a candidate (and practically elbowing a now-fellow Republican aside to boot!). Boo freakin' hoo.

(via Atrios)





  x

flash game of the day


Enjoy the addictive stick-figure action of Skyscraper Jumper.





  x

matthew yglesias explains it all


Matthew Yglesias has a good summation of the Cambodia sidebar to the Swift Boat Veterans flapdoodle, and concludes with this:
So, either Kerry made this up, or else the official records we've seen to date reflect the contemporaneous official lie that no one was in Cambodia, or else it's somehow in between (like Kerry was immediately adjacent to Cambodia supporting a cross-border incursion and misrepresented his precise location in order to make the point). Which is true? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, the usual suspects on the right have lept to the conclusion (a) that Kerry was definitely lying, and -- even more preposterously -- that (b) voters choosing on the honesty factor would be well-advised to vote for George W. Bush, a man who has never -- ever -- sold a policy initiative without misleading the American public about the nature of the initiative.

Indeed.

Atrios has more on the history of Cambodian cross-border incursions.





  x

say hello...


...to Martini Republic, a swanky and well-designed blog.





  x

kevin drum explains it all


Speaking of the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum has a superb post today in which he tackles the issue of why, with certain economic indicators showing positive signs, people still perceive the economy as weak, and their economic position as perilous.
It's true that the rise in income inequality over the past 30 years has mostly been due to huge gains at the top end, not to declines at the bottom. The average worker may not be much better off than he was in 1973, but he's not (generally speaking) worse off either.

So why does the economy feel so much worse to so many people? Hacker believes that one of the big reasons is that life has become so much more risky. People are a lot closer to the edge, closer to a single catastrophe that can wipe them out, than they were three decades ago.

This has a chilling effect even if nothing ever happens to you. Almost everyone who's not already well off these days knows someone who's been ruined by a personal catastrophe, and this personal knowledge rubs off. You're worried that you could get laid off at any time — and not be able to find a job for months or years. You're worred that a sudden healthcare crisis could devastate you. You're worried that your pension fund or your 401(k) might not be there when you retire because you made bad investment choices.

FDR dedicated the New Deal to "freedom from fear." He believed that government's role was not to provide handouts to the poor, but to provide a certain minimum level of security against the everyday catastrophes that ruin people's lives.

It is this minimum level of economic security that George Bush and modern movement conservatives want to abolish. In fact, it's the point of Bush's "ownership society": if everyone owns their own Social Security account, their own healthcare account, and their own college account, then the government no longer provides security against disaster. If you make a mistake, or if the market makes a mistake, you're screwed.

This is likely to be the eventual downfall of modern conservatism. Human beings have a deep desire for a certain minimum level of stability and security in their lives, and eventually they'll rebel against a party that refuses to acknowledge this. Life today is so much better than it was in the 30s that people have forgotten the basic New Deal ethos that made it that way. But if conservatives have their way, it won't be much longer before they start remembering.

Spot on.





  x

howard explains it all


I've come to admire a cat who posts to the comment threads at Washington Monthly under the name of howard. He posts well-reasoned and thoughtful posts, and he shows remarkable patience with the Political Animal blog's infestation of trolls.

Today in a thread on Medicare, howard posted a remarkable summation of why I am a Democrat.
[A troll] falls back upon the usual tool of right-wing cynicism: that democrats are only interested in bribing voters.

Not true: democrats are interested in using the collective power of government to make certain aspects of life - old age, medical expenses - less subject to purely market forces and more subject to collective insurance and therefore fulfill the constitutional desire to "provide for the general welfare." [emphasis mine]

Well-designed programs have the added benefit of being popular, but the correct position is horse (a program) in front of the cart (popularity).

Poster tanstaafl followed up with a more terse phrasing:
Democrats are interested in using the collective power of government to transfer the risk of certain aspects of life--old age, medical expenses, catastrophe--from individuals to society as a whole.

These two posts prompted my own rejoinder:
Now that I think about it, it's that whole "general welfare" thing the Republicans really seem to have a problem with, ennit? I guess they just can't get past the "provide for the common defense." No wonder they're nowhere near "secure the blessings of liberty."

Indeed.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Nevin Drum's beautiful summation of Bush's increasingly unpopular Medicare bill:
The Medicare bill is practically a model of the Bush administration at work: an initially reasonable idea made unrecognizable by deep frying it in a witch's brew of bloated spending, dishonest accounting, fealty to big corporate contributors, crackheaded movement conservative ideology, and just plain incompetence. If Bush ends up losing the election partly as a result of a revolt of seniors over this bill, it will be poetic justice.

One can only hope.





  x

so-called 'liberal media' watch



This morning on the way to work, I was astonished and disgusted to hear the supposedly liberal NPR go totally into the tank with a story about the intelligence being gathered from the capture of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, the suspected al Qaeda operative who was apparently a double agent working with Pakistani officials until the Bush Administration clumsily blew his cover over the weekend. The hook was that Khan's arrest represented an intelligece bonanza that led to the controversial "orange alert" that followed the Democratic convention and the arrest of 12 al Qaeda suspects in Great Britain. Here's how NPR describes the story:
NPR's Renee Montagne talks with Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation. They discuss how the arrest of an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan has given investigators a leg up in the war on terrorism by leading to more arrests and elevated terror warnings.

Good news, right? Too bad that summary doesn't reflect the reality of Kahn's arrest. By blowing a covert operation against al Qaeda, the Bush Administration has, far from giving the struggle against terrorism a "leg up" -- dealt it a serious blow that compromised a rare and valuable intelligence source inside al Qaeda -- that coveted "human intelligence."

Here's a clue for NPR: As a double agent, Pakistani authorites already had the ability to interrogate him and access to Khan's computers. Indeed, while Khan was a double agent, intelligence officials could use his presumed active status in al Qaeda to gather information on other terrorists, ongoing operations, and communication sources and methods. These valuable assets are now a smoking ruin, and anyone who takes the struggle against terrorism seriously is rightly outraged at the Bush Administration's (at best) clumsy incompetence. Bruce Hoffman, the Rand Corporation security expert who was the story's sole source, did allude to the possibility -- in a single aside! -- that he may have been a double agent, but that's as far as it goes.

The Bush Administration's blowing Kahn's cover unquestionably ruined a gold-plated intelligence source -- an all-too-rare mole inside the al Qaeda organization itself. What's more, the premature outing of this agents forced British authorities to make a series of hasty arrests, which may not have netted as many suspects as possible and may prevent authorities from even holding those arrested due to lack of evidence. Moreover, the clumsy outing of yet another intelligence asset for political reasons makes it even less likely that other nation's clandestine services will be eager to cooperate, or that potential double agents might come forward. (Apparently, Pakistan had to put Kahn into hiding out of fear for his life.)

Yes, NPR, Khan's arrest has led to some hasty arrests and dubious terror warnings. But his outing as a double agent ruins a rare and priceless intelligence asset: A mole inside al Qaeda. His outing can not in any way be spun as a success in the war on terror, and yet that's exactly what NPR does, by dutifully avoiding any mention the context. (One wonders what comments a Pakistani or British intelligence official might have made, for example.) For pity's sake, even CNN was on top of this aspect of the story earlier in the week. But as far as NPR's listeners are concerned, everything is hunky-dory.

I plan to contact NPR's ombudsman at once about this outrageous story, which is shamefully shoddy journalism at best and naked pandering to GOP spin at worst. If this kind of tripe is what we get from the supposedly "liberal" NPR, the conservative trope about the so-called "liberal media" is clearly nothing more than an effective whine intended to "work the refs." Sadly, it seems to have worked, and the quality of journalism has suffered as a result.





  xTuesday, August 10, 2004

cosplay post of the day


alice in wonderland cosplay

Great googly moogly! A bunch of Japanese gothic lolita cosplayers do scenes from Alice in Wonderland! Hubba, hubba!

(via BoingBoing)





  x

old-skool video game emulation post of the day


I just filled up on a batch of ROMs for my Nintendo Entertainment System emulator at this groovy site.

They even had a copy of the awesome Vic Tokai war game Conflict, which took me forever to fine before, as well as classics like Zelda, Metal Gear and Guardian Legend.





  x

anime gallery of the day


misato katsuragi

A gallery of images devoted to the lovely Misato Katsuragi and other characters from Neon Genesis Evangelion.





  x

zombie movie post of the day


Apparently someone is planning to shoot a zombie movie in the ruins of Chernobyl.
Some 40 documentaries have been shot within the vast controlled zone that rings Chernobyl and the nearby town of Pripyat.

Now, for the first time, a Hollywood feature film -- the zombie movie "Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis" -- has gained access to the infamous site.

Ukrainian-born producer Anatoly Fradis is proud -- despite the obstacles and the cost. "Up to a couple of days before we began shooting, it was touch-and-go whether they would let us in, and I had to pay more than I had budgeted to secure the permission," Fradis says, standing inside Chernobyl's first checkpoint inside the zone.

He's anxious to get started on two days of shooting on-location with director Ellory Elkayem and special effects zombie expert John Vulich of Optic Nerve Studios.

For a zombie movie, there's an odd lack of gore-covered extras with vacant stares. A 1960s open-top, Russian-made Chaika limousine serves as a rock-steady rolling camera bed for 11 scheduled shots here.

c00L!





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kawaii doom3 mod of the day


hello kitty doom mod

Doom3 to project a kawaii Hello Kitty beam! And released the mod file to the public domain! Sw33t!

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






  xMonday, August 09, 2004

whatever happened to faye wray?


faye wray

...Alas, she passed away today. Planet Swank joins the friends, family and fans of the King Kong co-star in sadness at her passing.

Update 08/11/2004: This is cool...the Empire State Building dimmed its lights yesterday to honor Wray's memory. Sw33t.





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bush administration incompetence watch



What the heck is the deal with the Bush Administration apparently outing an al Qaeda double agent? Once again, the Bush Administration proves that as far as it's concerned, politics trump the so-called "War on Terror." The excuses explanations for this fiasco boil down to a choice -- although hardly an exclusive one -- between bad faith and mere incompetence. The most pathetic excuse is the lame claim that the Bush Administration had to blow the source because of all the mean criticism of last week's bogus terror alert. Baloney! Since when has the Bush Administration acted like it gave a toss what its critics think? No, the problem is that Karl Rove's keen eye on the polls indicated the general public was less than impressed, which called for swift action -- and who cares if the action was in the American national interest?

The sad reality is, the Bush Administration couldn't simply say, "We have our sources. Trust us." No, that account is way overdrawn. Pathetic, really.

Update: Jeff Cooper does a slow burn at the Administration's incompetence.





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overdesign


When I arrived at the home offlice last week to begin my current assignment, I of course adjusted the many knobs and widgets on my standard-issue office chair to achieve the minimum level of discomfort. In doing so, I noticed a plastic tab imprinted with a question mark within an arrow tucked unobtrusively under the seat. Pulling the tab in the direction indicated by the arrow, I discovered a cheat sheet describing the function of the chair's various adjustment mechanisms.

That's right...this chair has a pop-up help feature. If there's better evidence that the ever-lovin' humble chair has been overdesigned to death, I don't even want to know about it.






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