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  xFriday, December 10, 2004

chtulhu yuletide post of the day


choco-cthulhu

BoingBoing encounters the soul-shattering, but delicious, insanity of Choco-Cthulhu. Sw33t!





  x

rumsfeld redux


The local paper has an editorial today about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's callous dismissal of the safety concerns of the troops under his command.
Sorry, Mr. Secretary, but that's not good enough.

Rumsfeld needs to explain to not only the soldiers but also the American public why Pentagon planners were so badly unprepared for equipping soldiers for the type of warfare that has developed in Iraq.

The Pentagon obviously envisioned a "shock-and-awe" campaign in which speed, airpower and force would overwhelm the enemy. And, in the first weeks of the war in Iraq, that is exactly what happened. But now the U.S. is confronting a prolonged insurgency with no front lines, where every soldier and piece of equipment -- armored or not -- is exposed to gunfire, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs.

Although the Pentagon was too slow to ask for funding for more heavily armored Humvees, in all fairness, its ability to start shipping add-on armor kits to the troops within six weeks of coming up with a design is nothing short of a miracle when the traditional procurement process takes five to seven years.

But putting more plating on Humvees scratches the surface of properly equipping U.S. troops for the conflicts they face in combating terrorism. Redesign of military transport vehicles is needed from the ground up.

Many of the military's basic vehicle designs are outdated. The Humvee -- relatively new by military standards -- is nearly 20 years old. Most truck designs are far older. Retrofitting these vehicles with armor plating often makes them top-heavy and unstable, and causes excessive wear on engines and suspensions. Lack of basic safety equipment -- shoulder harnesses, airbags, anti-lock brakes -- contributed to many of the 833 crashes, 50 vehicular deaths and 223 injuries the Army sustained last year, mostly in non-combat situations.

As one solider who handles logistics observed, "War is a come-as-you are party."

Rumsfeld must ensure that U.S. troops are provided with the tools necessary to protect themselves and to win the fight in Iraq.

The editorial's admonishment is welcome, but a bit belated, considering the editorial board's overall support of the war and general reluctance to recognize the incompetence of the Bush Administration in general and Rumsfeld in particular. And while criticism of the Bush Administration by a right-wing paper is refreshing, it falls short of recognizing the larger issues that Rumsfeld's haughty rebuff reveals.

Make no mistake about it -- the Bush Administration's failure to heed warnings of the likely consequences of the neocon war plan, failure to establish security in Iraq and failure to respond to insurgent tactics while lavishing funds on defense contractor cronies have cost the lives and limbs of American troops and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, Rummy's tardy promise of a couple of armored Hummers notwithstanding. As Democratic Senator Evan Bayh pointed out, Rumsfeld's claim that production of protective equipment is at the maximum peak was dishonest (surprise, surprise!). The supplier could increase production at once, but the Army hasn't placed the order.

Never forget that Operation Inigo Montoya was a war of choice, in response to exactly no present threat, and that Bush and Rumsfeld were solely responsible for the timetable. For Rumsfeld to pretend -- in the face of a steadily mounting casualty toll -- that the expediece of war requires American troops to go without necessary protective equipment more than a year after the US invasion is dishonest in the extreme. The local paper is correct to identify Rumsfeld's failure to live up to his immediate responsibility of protecting the lives of American forces to the fullest extent possible. One wishes it were more forthcoming in recognizing the greater failures of Bush's and Rumsfeld's policies in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Bull Moose has a modest request:
In response to this controversy, President Bush had an oddly passive response -

"We expect our troops to have the best possible equipment," he said. "And if I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country, I'd want to ask the secretary of defense the same question."

Excuse me, Mr. President, you have just been re-elected to the most powerful position in the world. If reports are accurate that the company making the armor is under-capacity or is incapable of supplying the necessary protection, why don't you call an emergency session of Congress, get a declaration of war, and force industries to manufacture the equipment. For God's sake, lives are at stake!

Alas, while the vital seriousness of the problem is all too obvious, the President has made his priorities clear.





  xThursday, December 09, 2004

bush mendacity watch


Kevin Drum had two crucial posts on the Bush scheme to destroy Social Security. Samples:
[T]here's nothing necessarily wrong with private accounts being part of a Social Security package, but only if they're based on reasonable assumptions about how much money they'll raise. If they're properly accounted for, tightly regulated, and honestly funded, they might be worth taking a chance on.

Needless to say, though, "properly accounted for, tightly regulated, and honestly funded" is not what we've come to expect from Bush administration economic policy. So unless you hear otherwise, you'd best keep your hands on your wallet when their actual proposal comes down the pike.

and
So here's the puzzler: for private accounts to be worthwhile, they need to have long-term annual returns of at least 5%, and 6-7% is the number most advocates use. But are there any plausible scenarios in which long-term real GDP growth is less than 2% but long-term real returns (capital gains plus dividends) on stock portfolios are well over 5%?

Good question -- and, I predict, not one you'll see the Grover Norquist crowd answer.





  x

fiction post of the day


Jaquandor favors us with a selection of his creative writing. Excellent!





  x

cthulhu yuletide post of the day


xmas cthulhu

Great googly moogly! Some geniuses have reworked classic Xmas carols with a Lovecraftian twist. They offer sheet mucic, a CD and even downloadable MP3 samples. A work of twisted genius!

(via Wirehed Magazine; image courtesy this forum post)





  x

a call for a science primer


Dr. Meyers has a great post on the confict, not between religion and science, but in those who want science to work like religion.
We’re all stuck on those spiteful liars and loud-mouthed ignoramuses at the DI and ICR and AIG who initiate and promulgate their nonsense, but ultimately what happens is that this stuff clots the brains of innocent people. And then they get all confused, because science is not going to deliver any of the things they want. [emphasis in the original]

...She essentially wants science to be like her religion: fixed, with straightforward answers delivered authoritatively, no matter how wrong. It’s not going to happen. If it does, it’s not science.

We really have two problems here: a fundamental failure in science education to teach people the most basic concepts about how science works, and wretched opportunists who step into the gap and fill their heads with dishonest garbage. ...Stomping on the creationist scum is kinda fun, but man, we’ve really got to do something about disseminating simple understanding to the general public, too.

Dr. Meyers is exactly right; the vast misunderstanding of the scientific process -- as exemplified by the yutzes who dismiss evolution as "just a theory" (like, say, gravity), is disheartening indeed.

After Sputnik, I thought the US underwent a crash program in emphasizing science education. Evidently, it didn't take.





  x

rumsfeld to troops: drop dead


Addressing US troops in Kuwait, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was taken aback by complaints from the soldiers about the continued shoddy supply situation. Rumsfeld's reply showed the esteem for the uniformed military that typifies the Republican Party.
Hundreds of soldiers applauded a comrade who complained to Rumsfeld that U.S. troops were being forced to dig up scrap metal to protect their vehicles in Iraq because of a shortage of armored transport.

"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to armor our vehicles ... (scrap) that has already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat?, the soldier said.

"We do not have proper armorment for our vehicles to carry us north (into Iraq)."

At Camp Buehring in Kuwait, 20 km (12 miles) south of the Iraq border, Rumsfeld faced other questions about equipment shortages and the U.S. role in Iraq after elections scheduled for Jan. 30.

He conceded that "not every vehicle has the degree of armor that it would be desirable for it to have," but said the army was hurrying to plate more vehicles.

"I think it is something like 400 a month are being done," he said. "As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time...

"I've talked a great deal about this with a team of people who have been working hard at the Pentagon... if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up."

Yeah, maybe, but that statement sort of ignores the fact that it's been more than a year since Bush and his cronies pulled the trigger on Iraq. It is the "later time." And the insurgency is hardly a new phenomenon.

Pandagon (here too) and Martini Republic show Rummy's comments the contempt they deserve.





  xWednesday, December 08, 2004

anime xmas wallpaper of the week


anime xmas wallpaper

This month I'm decorating my desktop with anime-themed Xmas wallpaper (or Xmas-themed anime wallpaper, if you please). This week's entry is a kawaii group of anime characters enjoying the holiday spirit, courtesy this anime wallpaper page.





  x

'bush hatred, redux'


Ed Kilgore has an excellent post on his attitudes toward Bush and the Republican Party that mirrors my own opinion pretty closely:
I didn't see any honest case for giving Bush a second term, and was angered by the dishonest case--he's done a brilliant job of fighting terrorists, he's a tower of wisdom and resolve, he's going to control big government, he's going to protect traditional values, he's got a second-term agenda to create an "ownership society"--advanced by his campaign.

Moreover, I came to believe strongly that the real agenda of the people closest to Bush--including his political advisors and much of the Republican congressional leadership--was not only dishonest, but deeply cynical and irresponsible: a drive to simultaneously wreck the federal government and to perpetuate their control over the wreckage as long as possible through the exercise of the rawest sort of institutional power and corruption. And moreover, this belief made me angry at even those Republicans who did not share that agenda, because they were helping to promote it against their own best instincts.

...What I most dislike about Bush personally is his happy complicity in the GOP myth-making machine that treats him not as a rich kid who found a new spiritual home in Texas, but as the opposite: a salt-of-the-earth character who's achieved world-historical greatness as the Winston Churchill of his time. That's a double lie, and he lives it every day.

And maybe that's the bottom line. I think today's Republican Party, and its leader, are built on a foundation of fundamental dishonesty about who they are, what they want, and where they are taking the country. ...until they demonstrate the ability to walk, or perhaps I should say swagger, in a straight line, I will continue to hold the president, his advisors, and his allies in Congress in minimum high regard.

Indeed.

(via Joshua Marshall)





  xTuesday, December 07, 2004

xmas electronica tunes of the day



Some genius had a computer analyze Xmas music, which in turn generated 16 new tunes based on its mathematical patterns. The result (download here, streaming audio here) is not exactly Jingle Bells, but it's interesting.

(via BoingBoing)





  x

ascii gallery of the day


natalie portman in ascii

Here's a gallery of celebrity women -- such as Natalie Portman -- rendered in ASCII characters. SFW, as far as I can tell. c00L!

(via BoingBoing)





  x

pickup artist


My Destroy All Monsters reviews of the PS2 game Guilty Gear Isuka and the manga Bleach have been picked up at Static Multimedia.

While you're there, check out its review of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.





  x

paul krugman explains it all


Paul Krugman cut short his vacation to pen a (typically shrill, of course) column on the Republican plan to kill Social Security.
[T]he politics of privatization depend crucially on convincing the public that the system is in imminent danger of collapse, that we must destroy Social Security in order to save it.

...There's nothing strange or mysterious about how Social Security works: it's just a government program supported by a dedicated tax on payroll earnings, just as highway maintenance is supported by a dedicated tax on gasoline.

Right now the revenues from the payroll tax exceed the amount paid out in benefits. This is deliberate, the result of a payroll tax increase - recommended by none other than Alan Greenspan - two decades ago. His justification at the time for raising a tax that falls mainly on lower- and middle-income families, even though Ronald Reagan had just cut the taxes that fall mainly on the very well-off, was that the extra revenue was needed to build up a trust fund. This could be drawn on to pay benefits once the baby boomers began to retire.

The grain of truth in claims of a Social Security crisis is that this tax increase wasn't quite big enough. Projections in a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (which are probably more realistic than the very cautious projections of the Social Security Administration) say that the trust fund will run out in 2052. The system won't become "bankrupt" at that point; even after the trust fund is gone, Social Security revenues will cover 81 percent of the promised benefits. Still, there is a long-run financing problem.

But it's a problem of modest size. The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of G.D.P. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending - less than we're currently spending in Iraq. And it's only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts - roughly equal to the fraction of those cuts that goes to people with incomes over $500,000 a year.

Given these numbers, it's not at all hard to come up with fiscal packages that would secure the retirement program, with no major changes, for generations to come.

It's true that the federal government as a whole faces a very large financial shortfall. That shortfall, however, has much more to do with tax cuts - cuts that Mr. Bush nonetheless insists on making permanent - than it does with Social Security.

But since the politics of privatization depend on convincing the public that there is a Social Security crisis, the privatizers have done their best to invent one.

My favorite example of their three-card-monte logic goes like this: first, they insist that the Social Security system's current surplus and the trust fund it has been accumulating with that surplus are meaningless. Social Security, they say, isn't really an independent entity - it's just part of the federal government.

If the trust fund is meaningless, by the way, that Greenspan-sponsored tax increase in the 1980's was nothing but an exercise in class warfare: taxes on working-class Americans went up, taxes on the affluent went down, and the workers have nothing to show for their sacrifice.

But never mind: the same people who claim that Social Security isn't an independent entity when it runs surpluses also insist that late next decade, when the benefit payments start to exceed the payroll tax receipts, this will represent a crisis - you see, Social Security has its own dedicated financing, and therefore must stand on its own.

There's no honest way anyone can hold both these positions, but very little about the privatizers' position is honest. They come to bury Social Security, not to save it. They aren't sincerely concerned about the possibility that the system will someday fail; they're disturbed by the system's historic success.

For Social Security is a government program that works, a demonstration that a modest amount of taxing and spending can make people's lives better and more secure. And that's why the right wants to destroy it.

As Krugman and others have said before, if the GOP were ever honest enough to propose a tax cut on the wealthy to be paid for by the funds from two decades' of taxes on the middle and lower classes, they would surely fail. Credit the GOP at least for knowing that honesty won't sell their policy.





  xMonday, December 06, 2004

groovy image toy of the day


Zoom!

(via Byzantium's Shores via The Modulator)





  x

please stand by


test pattern

I know this blog has been bare over the last several days, but I've been crushingly busy, especially at work, and my access to the home computer was spotty over the last week. My apologies, but I do intend to ramp back up very soon.





  x

rant of the day


Professor Meyers has a great rant about prudes all aflutter about an obscure naked cherub barely visible on a 16th century Italian fresco shown on TV. He notes that for all the silliness of these bluenoses, they're part of a campaign on the part of the pro-censorship crowd to set themselves up as “citizens who believe in values” who oppose, presumably, citizens with no values.






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