December 31, 2005

New Holocaust Brewing

from - smijer

I'm talking here about Sudan... It's very troubling to see the problem spread to a supposedly moderate Arabic nation in Africa - Egypt.

A reporter for the Associated Press who witnessed police attacking the refugees with truncheons said that in many cases they continued to beat the protesters even as they were being dragged away.

The reporter also saw two adults and a young girl, apparently three or four years old, being carried away unconscious. A medical worker in an ambulance said the girl was dead.

One protester being dragged away by two policemen was clubbed with a tree branch about the size of a man's arm by a third officer.

Egypt's interior ministry blamed the violence on the protesters. "Attempts were made to persuade them to disperse, but to no avail," the ministry said in a statement. "The migrants' leaders resorted to incitement and attacks against the police."

Officials said 20 protesters died and a ministry statement said 50 more were injured, "mostly elderly and children". The statement said 75 police were also injured. According to the ministry, the casualties among protesters resulted from a stampede. The AP reporter saw no stampede but said the protesters could not flee because the camp was completely encircled by police.

"Protesters could be seen fighting back with long sticks that appeared to be supports for makeshift tents," the reporter wrote.

Officials at the South Centre, a Sudanese human rights monitoring group, said 1,280 protesters were put into buses and taken to three camps outside Cairo.

This treatment is quite at odds with Muslim hospitality laws...

It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards East or West;
But it is righteousness to believe in Allah, and in the Last Day,
And in the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers;
To spend of your substance out of your love for him,
For your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer,
Nor transgressing due limits, then he is guiltless,
For Allah is Oft-forgiving, most Merciful. - SURAH 2

My first thought reading this was that Egypt is acting as Italy to the Janjaweed's Germany.

And, so far, nobody seems to care.

Posted by smijer at 09:07 PM | Comments (0)

December 30, 2005

Home sweet home

from - RSA

I have little of general interest to post, so I'll just write a bit about something of personal interest.

Since last December I've been living in Venice, California, just south of Santa Monica, an area in greater Los Angeles established by Abbot Kinney. Kinney had traveled through Europe in the late 1800s and wanted to recreate a part of what he saw there: Venice of America. Around the turn of the century he built canals through Venice, a pier, Venetian-style buildings, and an amusement park. Much of his vision has survived to the present; in some of the restaurants in the area you can see black-and-white panoramic photographs of people sunbathing, riding amusement park rides, walking the boardwalk, and generally enjoying themselves. Same deal today, though now people are generally dressed less formally and have more tatoos and body jewelry.

Earlier this week I returned to Raleigh, North Carolina. Our house had been shut up for a year but was in fine shape, aside from lots of dust and several wisteria vines that had attempted to take over the back of the house while we were gone (they were valiantly fought off by our next-door neighbor.) In our Raleigh neighborhood it's about ten to twenty degrees colder than in Venice, and it's unmistakably winter (in that I can't walk around in shirtsleeves, as I was doing December 23rd in California), but it's home.

There's the squeaky bathroom door that I keep meaning to fix, the nearly opaque double-paned window I need to get someone else to fix, a closet full of clothing I'd forgotten I had, the too-small but much-larger-than-apartment-sized kitchen, all the pots and pans and German knives I'd missed, a television and stereo, a non-inflatable bed, a fireplace, and a hundred and one familiar knick knacks that I will try to cut down to fewer than fifty in the interest of living a simpler life, after having spent a year living in much-reduced circumstances. It's been an interesting experience leaving behind my life for a year; at my advanced age of over forty (grimace) it's resulted in a change of perspective--small but worthwhile.

Posted by RSA at 12:40 PM | Comments (0)

Look! Tumbleweeds!

from - smijer

It must be Holiday burnout... Or Blogger's Block.... or something.

We... will... be... back!

Posted by smijer at 07:41 AM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2005

If at first you don’t succeed….

from - Buck

jfalwell.jpg

Well, it looks like a Biblical theme park in Galilee is now in the works.

Didn't Jim and Tammy Bakker try one of these in Charlotte?

Wasn’t Jerry Falwell the last one down the waterslide there?

Shit like this reminds me of the words of Bob Dylan

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Made everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It's easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.

The peerless Pat Robertson said that he is thrilled

"there will be a place in the Galilee where evangelical Christians from all over the world can come to celebrate the actual place where Jesus Christ lived and taught."

Yeah Pat. If only we could get more of those guys to celebrate and emulate how Jesus lived and what He taught.

Posted by Buck at 02:50 PM | Comments (0)

Meme of Four (III)

from - Buck

I know I am very late but here goes my shot at the Meme of Four

Four jobs you’ve had in your life:
curb boy (any of ya’ll remember those?), janitor, purchasing agent, logistics manager

Four Movies you could watch over and over:
O Brother, where art thou?, American Beauty, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Four Places you have lived:
Since I have never left this county for more than two weeks in my life I guess I would have to say Route 1, Route 2, Route 3 and Route 4 (feel free to call me home-boy)

Four TV shows you love(d) to watch:
Seinfeld, The Andy Griffith Show, Everybody Loves Raymond, Star Trek (the original series)

Four places you’ve been on vacation:
Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Disney World / Orlando, St. Augustine

Four Websites you visit daily:
LewRockwell.com, antiwar.com, strike-the-root.com, and Smijers’s of course

Four of your Favorite foods:
Hamburgers that Mama makes, Hamburgers that anybody else makes, Chicken Dumplings that Mama makes, Chicken with Rice soup that Mama makes

Four places you had rather be:
Even though my philosophy is that “there is no place I’d rather be than right here, right now” I’ll still throw in four picks
Yellowstone Park, Central Park, The Grand Canyon, and Dillsboro, North Carolina

Posted by Buck at 09:00 AM | Comments (0)

December 26, 2005

Stop Breaking the Law, Asshole

from - smijer

But Mr. Powell added that "for reasons that the president has discussed and the attorney general has spoken to, they chose not to do it that way."

"I see absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions," he said.

Asked if such eavesdropping should continue, Mr. Powell said, "Yes, of course it should continue."-link

Ok... I'm not a legal scholar. I'm nearly as reluctant to play D.A. from my bedroom chair as a lot of folks should have been to play doctor, judge, and jury from their own. But the FISA Act is remarkably simpler to read and understand than your average medical library, and everyone who should have been able to do so has inexplicably and damningly failed to provide any rationale for how this spy stuff was not plainly against both the letter and the spirit of the law. George Bush made a radio broadcast to the nation intended to justify his actions... he repeatedly claimed that he acted within the law and within his constitutional authority, but didn't explain how. Condi Rice sat with Tim Russert and explained how important this kind of authority was post-9/11... a couple of people stretched the truth about whether such authority pre-9/11 might have prevented the WTC attacks. Colin Powell got on ABC to speak out of both sides of his mouth on the issue. But no one, from the President, to the attorney general, to... well, anybody... has offerred to explain what law overrides FISA on this matter.

Bush was explicitly refused the authority for non-FISA espionage involving US citizens by Congress... He told the nation, before he was caught doing it, that warrants were required by the law. He assured us during the 2004 election, while the NYT was sitting on the story, that it was not going on, which we now know was a bald-faced lie.

Unless someone wants to explain how it's legal, I believe they should keep their trap shut about there "not being anything wrong with it". Maybe Jim Carrey's son should make a birthday wish so that next time the President calls him, Colin's advice will be, "Stop breaking the law, asshole."

Posted by smijer at 11:35 PM | Comments (0)

December 25, 2005

Merry Merry, Happy Happy!

from - smijer

To All, a Merry Christmas, Happy Festivus, Joyful Saturnalia, Peaceful Solstice, and a bright Yule. I hope that covers it.

May you share this day with your families and loved ones in the spirit of peaceful communion, and may you be at rest from those perplexing questions - like, "who would leave blog spam on Christmas?!"

Peace.

Posted by smijer at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2005

Meme of Four (II)

from - smijer

I still don't have the camera back for Doggie Friday (grrrrrr)... So what the hell... I'll follow suit from RSA and play this game:
Meme of Four.

Four jobs you've had in your life: baker/decorator, waiter, truck unloader, truck pimp.

Four movies you could watch over and over: The Princess Bride, Meet Joe Black, Pulp Fiction, A Beautiful Mind.

Four places you've lived: Rome (Georgia), Atlanta, Mobile, Chattanooga (Don't you dare call me provincial).

Four TV shows you love(d) to watch: Dr. Who, Fawlty Towers, The Prisoner, Blake's Seven (Anglophilia much?)

Four places you've been on vacation: Charleston, Panama City (FL), New Orleans, Houston.

Four websites you visit daily: Big L's Random Ravings, OneGoodMove, 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera, Google News.

Four of your favorite foods: Squash Casserole; Chili Rellenos; Gravy Biscuits, FISH!

Four places you'd rather be: Brazil, Japan, Nona's house in Flint Hill (25 years ago), Cherokee National Forest/Cumberland Plateau.

Have a Merry Christmas, a great Friday, and don't forget it's Friday!

Posted by smijer at 07:56 AM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2005

Meme of Four

from - RSA

I've never done one of these bloggy games of tag, but here's my contribution to the Meme of Four.

Four jobs you've had in your life: dishwasher, sewer department worker, programmer, professor.

Four movies you could watch over and over: The Big Hit, The Thin Man, Prince of Space (MST3K version), The Matrix.

Four places you've lived: San Francisco, Baltimore, Moosburg (Germany), Amherst.

Four TV shows you love(d) to watch: X-Files, MST3K, Angel, Star Gate (notice an escapism theme?)

Four places you've been on vacation: Paris, Gibralter, Tikal, the Serengeti.

Four websites you visit daily: NYTimes, Talking Points Memo, triangle.general, Salon's War Room.

Four of your favorite foods: Saag paneer; chicken enchiladas with spinach sauce; pizza with onions, green peppers, and pepperoni; grilled and very rare tuna.

Four places you'd rather be: Raleigh, NC; Marina del Rey, CA; the Louvre; here, 2500 AD.

Posted by RSA at 03:18 PM | Comments (0)

A rising tide waits for no man

from - RSA

Matthew Yglesias points us to a nice table showing household(*) income over the past few decades. I've graphed the data, going from 2004 back to 1980, below:

income.gif

The red and green lines correspond to median income (red in current dollars, green in 2004 dollars); the blue and orange lines are mean income (blue in current dollars, orange in 2004 dollars). Recall that the mean involves adding up all the income and dividing by the number of households; the median is the amount for which we can say that half the households are above this income level and half below. I think it's almost always useful to see a graphical representation of tabular data, even if there are a few pitfalls to avoid in interpretation.

We can see a few obvious things here: Income has been rising relatively steadily over the past 25 years, by all measures. We know that income is skewed toward the upper end (i.e., households that are very rich are not balanced out by the same number of very poor households), which means that mean income is greater (50% greater in 2004) than median income.

The graph shows a few things that might be harder to figure out from looking at the table of numbers. We notice that the green line (marking the inflation-adjusted median income) is moving upward only very slightly over time. Looking back at the actual numbers, we find a 15% increase between 1980 and 2004--that's an average increase of just over half of one percent (0.6%) per year. Another striking pattern in this graph is that the red and blue lines are not parallel, and the blue line gets steeper as we move to the present. In other words, mean income is not only more than median income, but it's increasing at a faster rate. The same pattern is present (though a bit harder to see) for the inflation-adjusted numbers. There are different possible explanations for this, but clearly the rising economic tide is not lifting all boats equally.

Let's finally consider the happy talk from the Bush administration about how well the economy has been doing under his watch. They might tell people, "Look! You're earning more than you did in 2000, when Bush was first elected. Isn't that great?" Unfortunately, if you adjust the numbers by inflation, you see that both mean and median incomes are down, and have been moving downward every year that Bush has been in office.

(*: Apikoros, a commenter on TPM, noted an error in the original description of this data: it's household income, not per capita income as I'd originally written.)

Posted by RSA at 02:21 PM | Comments (0)

Thoughts from the Desert Anarchist

from - Buck

Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.

Edward Abbey

Posted by Buck at 11:03 AM | Comments (0)

Santa Claus Came Early

from - smijer

I had a nice long chat on the telephone last night with one Buck Simmons. He's been a friend ever since Neal Boortz one day suggested his listeners go check out the anti-boortz, and of course he's 1/3 of smijer & Buck. But this is the first time we had a voice conversation in the two years that we've been friends.

Last night, I came home from work and what did I find in the mailbox? A box had come from Georgia with the return address marked "BUCK". That's right. A Christmas gift came. In fact, there were two. One was David Gilmour in Concert... and I'm blown away. The other was kind of exclusive. It was the John Cowan Band, recorded live at Buck's uncle's farm, on two CD's. Now, how about that???

This second one is one that I will share... we'll have a podcast or two featuring the JCB in the coming weeks.

So, any way, I felt like such a generous, thoughtful surprise deserved at least a phone call of thanks, and we had a very nice talk about everything from Pink Floyd to domestic spying. Friends, Buck Simmons is the real thing. The embodiment of easy-going southern gentility. Thanks for everything, Buck!

Posted by smijer at 07:49 AM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2005

Dover

from - smijer

Ok, I only have a second & then I have to be about getting out of here... Just a quick question for anyone who might have an opinion on it, having read the decision from Dover.

Did the judge "ban" the teaching of ID in public school science classrooms as all the news reports say? Or were it requirements that ID be taught the only "banned" policies under the ruling?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by smijer at 06:26 AM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2005

If C.S. Lewis Had Been UU

from - smijer

Disclaimer: I have neither read the Chronicles of Narnia, nor seen the movie. I did once see a youth/amateur stage presentation of The Lion, Witch & the Wardrobe.

Disclaimer#2: I understand from hearing past comments from radio or television, that Lewis claims he did not intend for Narnia to be an allegory of Christianity. To which, if that is the case, I must call B.S.

Now... I have often wondered how the Chronicles of Narnia, or others of Lewis' literary works, would have looked if his views of Christianity were less... well... conservative. The title of this post aside, this could mean liberal or moderate Christian, whether or not they were UU Christians.

What if the message of Jesus (speaking loosely... a lot of what Jesus is purported to have said could fit within a single, broad, liberating "message", in my view) were the means of salvation, rather than the punitive model of substitionary sacrifice? What if the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was the sacrifice he paid for bringing the saving message to the world?

What if wickedness was the result of very specific behavioral, emotional, and intellectual patterns that could be broken, rather than existing as a result of "man's fallen nature", or the devil, or whatever?

What if the Kingdom of God was "within" rather than in a distant, imaginary paradise? What if the power to do good came from that inner kingdom, rather than empowerment from "above"?

How would Narnia be different? I've often toyed with the idea of finding out - by writing a Narnia-style allegory from the perspective of a non-fundamentalist Christian... maybe even a non-"mainstream" Christian.

And now, I'm thinking about doing it in installments... on this blog... Any votes, yay or nay?

Posted by smijer at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2005

Pulling Out Hands Iraq to Our Enemies

from - smijer

The headlines all quote Bush to this effect today - no time to find the links...

My immediate response, thinking of handing Iraq back to the Iraqis is, "yeah, it's getting to be that way."

Posted by smijer at 05:22 PM | Comments (0)

Cheney's reality

from - RSA

It's a wonder Cheney's brain isn't in the same danger of exploding as his heart is. Here are two (reordered) passages from Froomkin today:

Moran: Before the war you said Americans would be greeted as liberators here, and yet your own trip here today was undertaken in such secrecy that not even the prime minister of this country knew you were coming, and your movements around are in incredible secrecy and security. Do you ever think about how and why you got it wrong?

Cheney: I don't think I got it wrong. I think the vast majority of the Iraqi people are grateful for what the U.S. did. I think they believe overwhelmingly that they're better off today than they were when Saddam Hussein ruled.

And a bit earlier:

Fewer than half of Iraqis -- 46% -- said their country was better off than it was before the war; half said it was wrong for the United States to invade in 2003. Two-thirds said they opposed the continued presence of U.S. troops, and almost half said they would like to see U.S. forces leave soon.

In Cheney's world, vast majorities (i.e., half) of Iraq are grateful for things they wish didn't happen, and the 54% of Iraqis who don't believe they are better off now than under Saddam's rule are overwhelmed by those who disagree. If this were the 1970s, I'd ask, "Is this the New Math?" Nowadays I guess I might ask, "Did Cheney go to school in Kansas, or what?"

Update (thanks to The Carpetbagger):

Moran: Are you troubled at all that more than 100 people in U.S. custody have died — 26 of them now being investigated as criminal homicides — people beaten to death, suffocated to death, died of hypothermia in U.S. custody?

Cheney: No. I won't accept your numbers, Terry.

Posted by RSA at 02:05 PM | Comments (0)

Osama on line two....

from - Buck

Boortz, that great champion of libertarianism, today puts up what to me is probably the dumbest scenario I have ever seen put before the public:

OK .. before we get into this, let's explore a scenario. Some reports over the weekend have suggested that this scenario might be more fact than fiction. U.S. Intelligence agencies overseas discover the phone number of Osama bin Laden's satellite phone. Osama makes a satellite phone call to a U.S. citizen living outside of Chicago. Nobody's home. Intelligence operatives are certain that bin Laden will try to place the call again, but it may be from a different phone. They know that Osama changes phones frequently, so there is no time to waste in mining this resources. Their best chance to intercept bin Laden's next phone call is to place a tap on the U.S. citizen's phone. The next phone call may be in a matter of minutes, or hours. There is no time to go before a court to get a wiretap order. So ... what do you do? Do you put the wiretap in place immediately, or do you take the chance of missing the next phone call from Osama while trying to get a court order? Now, before you answer, imagine that this might have been a phone call from bin Laden to Mohammed Atta an hour before Atta was to board that American Airlines flight in Boston. The call was bin Laden giving Atta the final go-ahead for the attacks of 9/11. Without a court order you intercept the call, discover the plot, and save 3000 lives. Wait for a court order and the 9/11 attacks go forward.

What if cutting your mothers throat would have prevented 9/11 Neal? Surely you would have had no objections.

These people absolutely amaze me with their “what if” analogies that make other fairy tales pale in comparison.

Waiting on a call from Osama? Good God. Two-bit dealers in reefer know better than to run their operations via cell phones and I would be willing to bet that Osama Bin Laden hasn’t even seen a cell phone used in years much less used one himself.

There is nothing that cannot be justified in the minds of many. Over 80% of the respondents to Neal’s poll say that the President did not overstep his bounds by allowing the spying in question.

If you were to ask these people whether or not they thought the President had any bounds he could possibly overstep I would predict that their answer would be, “Not as long as we are expecting a call from Osama.”

Posted by Buck at 12:07 PM | Comments (0)

Universally Ignored

from - Buck

Brahmanism: This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.: Mahabharata 5:1517

Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you,
do ye even so to them.: Matthew 7:12

Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what
which he desires for himself. Sunnah

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.:
Udana Varga 5:18

Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowmen. That is the
entire Law; all the rest is commentary.: Talmud, Shabbat 31:a

Confucianism: Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto
others that you would not have them do unto you.: Analects 15:23

Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your
neighbor’s loss as your own loss.: T’ai Shag Kan Ying P’ien

Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto
another whatsoever is not good: for itself. : Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5


Posted by Buck at 10:20 AM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2005

What harm?

from - RSA

Over the past couple of days, liberal blogs have focused on the New York Times story about the President having authorized wiretaps without warrants on communications in the U.S., apparently a significant departure from past practice. Lacking much background in history and politics, I didn't recognize what was important about this at first. "Was anyone harmed?" I thought. Perhaps not, but that's to some extent irrelevant: the problem is that our governing principles have been harmed.

I think it may be easiest to see this by looking at conservative opinion makers, who seem to be brushing off the issue, saying, for example, that we should go after the whistle blowers (in striking contrast to their general reaction to the Plame case.) I've had worthwhile discussions--arguments, really--with conservatives in the past about our political differences. These were what we might call "principled conservatives", who seem to be going the way of, oh, Arctic ice these days. I don't see many principled justifications put forward in support of spying on Americans (aside from arguments that Bush's actions do not cross the line into illegality). Most fall into the following categories:

  • Bush says that the program is narrowly designed. In other words, the NSA only eavesdrops on people with a clear link to al Qaeda or related terrorist groups. But this is farcical on the face of it. The New York Times reports that hundreds to thousands of people are on or have been on the NSA's watch list. Does anyone believe that there that many serious terrorist sympathizers in the U.S.? If there really are, they are a pretty incompetent bunch.

  • Bush says that the program bypasses judicial red tape, for the purpose of timeliness. As many legal observers have noted, FISA almost never refuses to grant warrants, the system is organized for fast response, and the Justice Department has the legal option of getting warrants approved up to three days after they've carried out their monitoring. Red tape is a red herring.

  • Security comes before civil liberties. Some conservative bloggers have honestly noted that there's a tradeoff between security and freedom. They seem to be saying that even if the monitoring of U.S. citizens is not strictly legal, it's justified in the current circumstances. I think that a natural implication of this view is that the Bill of Rights should need to be amended to say that if the President judges that searches are appropriate, they can be carried out without judicial oversight. I haven't seen this argument made, and I doubt that it will be.

  • If you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. This is an everyman argument, and appeals to an authoritarian streak in many conservatives. Being stopped on the street and asked for your papers by the police? Respectable people don't find themselves in such situations. (Even the offense of "driving while black" is sometimes justified in a similar way.) The answer to this is pretty straightforward: Would you be as happy with secret decisions in the executive branch if it were President Hillary Clinton making them? I doubt it. If the person of the President makes a difference in judging whether actions are justified or not, then we're moving away from a government of law. Statues of Justice are blindfolded for a good reason.

Posted by RSA at 11:16 PM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2005

Holiday Infant

from - smijer

heh.

Posted by smijer at 06:41 PM | Comments (0)

Spies Like Us

from - smijer

The last time I made an international telephone call was prior to the war on terror. I can be relatively certain that no one in the government overheard and noted my admittedly maudlin reminescance with my high school buddy in Japan. It's unfortunate enough that my high school buddy in Japan heard and noted it... He must think I'm a complete wino by now. He's not far wrong.

So, if the story is true, do you think it's really time to impeach?

Posted by smijer at 05:19 PM | Comments (0)

Links With Your Eye Boogers - No Doggie Friday Edition

from - smijer

It's Friday, and I have no doggies to share... The camera is temporarily out of our possession. This is unfortunate, because Thumbelina and Ms. Patches are now officially part of the smijer family. Did I mention that Ms. Patches is also polydactyl? The sad news is that Butterball and Phantom have disappeared. We fear the worse, which is why we decided to bring the others inside before they disappeared, too.

Links

  • The news media is reporting a win for McCain's anti-torture bill. This is great news. But every silver lining comes with a cloud, and the UUSC may have discovered the cloud that attends on this one.
  • Keith Olbermann is stealing our Schtick... That's right, Olbermann named Neal Boortz "Worser": "He's also a racist? OK". An amusing side note from the Media Matters page:
    During the segment, Olbermann showed a photo of a man incorrectly identified as Boortz; in fact, the picture is of former Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA).
  • John Dingell is a Poet! I swear, the way the media, the Congress, and "some evangelical groups" have latched on to the Bill O'Reilly faux crusade... it's damn depressing. It's nice to see that some of us recognize it for the joke that it is... It's scary to think that Crazy Bill O'Reilly is taken so seriously by the rest.
  • Paranoid?... Lord, I hope so.

Have a great Friday, and don't forget that there are Critters out there (and a Frapper Map for catbloggers!)

Posted by smijer at 07:48 AM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2005

Remembering President Bush

from - RSA

Imagine that you heard someone asked about how they hoped to be remembered in the future, and here was the response:

I hope that first, as a person, I'll be remembered as a fellow who had his priorities straight: his faith, his family and his friends are a central part of his life.

Lovely. How could you complain about that? (Taking "faith" in its loosest meaning.)

Secondly, I hope to be remembered, from a personal perspective, as a fellow who had lived life to the fullest and gave it his all.

Again, you look up to people who seize the day, who devote themselves to doing their best.

And thirdly, I'd like to be remembered as the president who used American influence for the good of the world: bastioning freedom and fighting disease and poverty, by recognizing to whom much is given, much is required and that -- that I wasn't afraid to make a decision."

And now you realize that you're listening to the President of the United States, a man whose priorities are no different from everyone else in the world who is not the President of the United States. Not a good thing. Consider: how many people will ever get to know President Bush well enough to judge how he treats his family and friends, or to remember him as someone who lived life to the fullest? A handful? Twenty? Fifty? Let's be generous and say 350, about a millionth of the people currently living in the U.S. Our views come in third, along with the rest of the world, behind the good opinion of Bush's friends and family.

But let's take Bush at his word. How's he doing? Not well.

Infoplease lists numbers for people living below the poverty level in the U.S. going back to 1997. Here's a snippet of the number of people living in poverty and their percentage of the U.S. population.

2001 32,907,000 11.7%
2002 34,570,000 12.1%
2003 35,861,000 12.5%
2004 36,997,000 12.7%

That's an unfortunate trend. But remember that Bush mentioned "bastioning" freedom first. How about that? Freedom House has a variety of measures of political freedom on the world scene, but here's a very concise summary in terms of the number of countries in the world:

1999 2004
Free 85 88
Partly Free 60 55
Not Free 47 49

Oh, unfortunate world. Things are not looking up. But as long as Bush is remembered as having given it his all, he's happy.

Posted by RSA at 09:20 PM | Comments (0)

Toward a philosophy of sports

from - RSA

Buck's post about baseball reminded me of a theory I have about sports, based on not much more than ill-informed opinion, which makes it a perfect candidate for blogging. The theory is this:

All true sports can be seen as elaborations or combinations of three primitive activities: fighting, racing, or hunting.

This means that the purest sports, under this interpretation, are activities like boxing and track and field (including the javelin throw). Elaborate team sports, such as football, basketball, and rugby, tend to involve all three activities to varying degrees, in that they're easy to see as combinations of fighting and racing; even in baseball, hitting and throwing skills can be seen as useful for hunting.

I happened upon this idea while trying to figure out what it was that bothered me about sports like the rhythmic gymnastics, and diving, and synchronized swimming. My first thought was that if you need a judge to tell you who's won, it's not really a sport; it's closer to performance, where your success is based on the reaction of some audience, even if it's only five judges. But this doesn't capture it all. I like the idea above better, that sports are associated with the activities primitive man would have found useful---hunting, for example.

We can operationalize this idea (as computer science types sometimes say) by identifying questions that will help us distinguish between true sports and other activities. Here are a few candidates:

  • If the question "How fast can the athlete run a forty-yard dash?" is irrelevant to the athlete's performance, it's not a sport. (This eliminates horse racing, for example.)
  • If the participants themselves can't tell who has won a contest without a judge being present, it's not a sport. (This probably eliminates a lot of gymnastics.)
  • If the outward appearance of the athlete's costume has a bearing on success, it's not a sport. (Forget figure skating and ballroom dancing.)
  • If you can't play it without simple equipment, it's not a sport. (No "motorsports".)
  • If there's no room for improvisation, it's not a sport. (No required routines in gymastics.)

Note that that people who engage in the activities I've identified above may be excellent athletes, but their activities, in my view, are not sports.

Now, there are lots of cases on the boundaries (how about bicycle racing? The biathlon? Bowling?) but in the interests of theoretical elegance I will simply ignore them.

Posted by RSA at 02:07 PM | Comments (0)

It is stuff like this......

from - Buck

that really pisses me off!

Cuba, baseball's dominant force for three decades at the Olympic and world-championship level, is being disallowed from playing in the inaugural WBC by the Bush administration in response to a congressional request that the Cubans be refused admittance to the United States on economic grounds.

You can blame it on South Florida politics.

Fidel Castro had agreed to let the guys play even though he knew some would probably defect. How can it be that Castro allows freedom to leave and we can't allow freedom to play?

God I hate politics.

Posted by Buck at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2005

Ford: Ain't Wussies No More

from - smijer

Don't know why... if Ford was more scared of the gay community than of the Religious Reich... but they've reversed themselves and then some. Don't worry about a link. It's all over the place at the usual suspects.

Personally, I think this is a case of the corporation growing a bit of a moral backbone. Kudos to Ford.

Posted by smijer at 05:41 PM | Comments (0)

Gregory Thompson

from - smijer

Gregory Thompson's execution is set for February 7, in Tennessee.

As improper as I found the execution yesterday of Tookie Williams, he was likely guilty, and he probably did understand what he was doing at the time of his crimes, and what was happening to him at execution. I can understand a society that puts him to death, even if I disagree with it.

Gregory Thompson, on the other hand, was truly and clinically insane when he killed Brenda Lane, and will be just as insane the day he is executed. His mind is broken by disease. The idea of executing him as "punishment" just disgusts me to no end.

We anguish over the necessity of putting down a rabid animal. But Gregory Thompson is a human being, not a dog. We have hospitals where he can be treated. There is no necessity to force us to an anguished decision. Yet we decide to kill him. It's beyond comparison.

If you want to help, please contact Phil Bredesen. Phone calls and letters through snail mail are the best. But if you don't have time for that, you can e-mail him. It's not too late.

Posted by smijer at 07:32 AM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2005

Don't forget Cory Maye

from - Buck


Boortz enjoys being wrong on both counts yesterday.

He attributes his error to the fact that he did not take into consideration that it is “too cold in Los Angeles” for there to be riots. Maybe 66 degrees is too cool for those aspiring rappers and NBA stars to go out and steal flat-screen televisions.

Boortz then appeals to the “majority rules” crowd when it comes to important issues like life and death.

Normally Boortz has a total disdain for the “majority” unless he happens to fall into that group. I have always gotten a kick out of his rantings about how incredibly stupid the majority of voters are without seeing the irony in the fact that his beloved Republicans have control over absolutely everything and were voted into office by a majority of these incredibly stupid voters.

Classic Boortz.

By the way, did you know 3 states still offer hanging as the method of execution? You could put that on TV and give the money to the victims' families. Just a thought.

Ain't it a shame what it takes to sell radio advertisements these days?

It is too late for Tookie but it is not too late for Cory Maye.

While there may be honest disagreement concerning the fate of Tookie are there any other people in the United States who believe that Cory Maye should even be in prison much less on death row besides the jury that convicted him?

Posted by Buck at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

The Wages of Death

from - smijer

Tookie Williams was executed this morning.

The results?
Nothing.

If anything Tookie was doing while in the joint made society a better place, if he was making partial restitution to society for the harm he caused... well, that's over. Justice can no longer be served.

No one is any safer. Execution does not deter violent crime.

The families of the victims do not have their loved ones back. At least one, mentioned in the LA Times article, understood ahead of time that retaliatory killing was an empty promise, if it was to provide solace. She is paraphrased this way: "Lora Owens said she did not expect the execution to end the ache over losing her red-haired stepson, Albert, who was killed with a shotgun at the age of 26 while working at a Pico Rivera 7-Eleven late one February night in 1979. But watching the killer take his last breath, she said, might help her 'let it go' just a bit."

So far, no riots. No "aspiring rappers and NBA stars", looking for "an excuse" to riot, as Neal Boortz predicted.

All that money, the risks of putting innocent people to death... all those messages we send about how we treat white lives as more valuable than black ones... were for absolutely nothing. It's hard to think of a greater waste.

Governor A. believed Tookie should die because he wouldn't confess to the crimes. John Cole agrees. I side with TalkLeft - his refusal to confess is only a crime if he was truly guilty - and we can never know for sure - in any case, really, but especially in this one. TalkLeft cites this report on the problems of using testimony from sources with "incentive to lie".

Another grim summary. Who's better off with Stanley Williams dead? No one. Except maybe,... ironically..., Stanley Williams.

Posted by smijer at 07:49 AM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2005

Way Over My Head

from - Buck

I ran across another fascinating comment today on one of the blogs that I look at from time to time. The subject was Pakistan and the comment was this one

Since Pakistan is a nuclear state, the US would be forced to back a military coup should the islamists win control of the government in elections.

The majority of Pakistanis in Pakistan have IQs below 85. This makes them too unintelligent to be trained to live in a modern country, except as unskilled labor. The religious clerics may be slightly brighter, but barely.

The elites who currently run things are split politically, so a military dictatorship would be very harsh, necessarily, to maintain control.

I was at first stunned by the second paragraph but then I wondered, where in the hell do you get the average IQ’s for the population of a nation?

Fortunately, I was not the only one who wondered and the question was asked and answered.

IQ of nations: This table says Pakistan rates in at 81. Unfortunately, being smart is no guarantee of a decent society, the average in North Korea is 104.

I spent a little time looking at The IQ Of Nations where I found this fascinating bit of information

IQ of Nazi leaders, cited from: Gilbert, G. M.: Nuremberg Diary. New York: Signet Book 1947, p. 34; Wechsler-Bellevue IQ: Hjalmar Schacht IQ 143, Arthur Seyss-Inquart IQ 141, Hermann Göring IQ 138, Karl Dönitz IQ 138, Franz von Papen IQ 134, Erich Räder IQ 134, Dr. Hans Frank IQ 130, Hans Fritsche IQ 130, Baldur von Schirach IQ 130, Joachim von Ribbentropp IQ 129, Wilhelm Keitel IQ 129, Albert Speer IQ 128, Alfred Jodl IQ 127, Alfred Rosenberg IQ 127, Constantin von Neurath IQ 125, Walter Funk IQ 124, Wilhelm Frick IQ 124, Rudolf Hess IQ 120, Fritz Sauckel IQ 118, Ernst Kaltenbrunner IQ 113, Julius Streicher IQ 106 - "confirming the fact that the most successful men in any sphere of human activity - whether it is politics, industry, militarism or crime - are apt to be above average intelligence."

This made me start wondering, “What are the differences in politics, industry, militarism and crime?”

Everything started running together on me and I started feeling dizzy so I said to hell with it.

The Falcons play the Saints tonight on Monday Night Football.

I think that watching the ball game is a little bit more in line with my IQ.


Posted by Buck at 05:19 PM | Comments (0)

More thumbs up for torture

from - RSA

[Warning: graphic thought experiment ahead.] Charles Krauthammer wrote an essay earlier this month in the Weekly Standard called The Truth about Torture. He makes detailed and deeply disingenuous arguments in favor of torture under tightly constrained circumstances. This passage captures the moral essence of his piece:

Let's take the textbook case. Ethics 101: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He's not talking.

Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it?

Aside from stacking the deck by asserting that somehow you know that a bomb is in place, how powerful it is, and what time it will go off, but not exactly where it is (did the terrorists send off a premature email, perhaps?), Krauthammer presents an argument that essentially treats the person to be tortured as someone who deserves poor treatment. You know he's guilty. To see why this can poses a problem, in a world where we have very little that is certain, let's walk through a slightly different scenario to see if we end up at the same place. Philosophy 101:

A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in ten minutes. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist, after he has fled into an animal shelter, taking his tiny, almost indetectable countdown device with him. (His device is the only thing that can stop the bomb from going off.) Once you capture the terrorist, he tells you that he has fed his device to one of the dozens of kittens waiting in the shelter for adoption.

Question: If you have the slightest belief that hacking open dozens of adorable kittens with a rusty machete to obtain the device will save a million people, are you permitted to do it?

(Now I realize that I'm playing on people's emotional attachments, but you could substitute babies in a maternity ward in the example, if you like.)

I'll paraphrase Krauthammer for his moral conclusion:

However rare the cases, there are circumstances in which, by any rational moral calculus, [hacking open kittens with rusty machetes] not only would be permissible but would be required (to acquire life-saving information).

My apologies to kittens everywhere for their appearance in this thought experiment.

Afterthought: I just thought of a question I haven't seen addressed by proponents of state-sanctioned torture: What should the guidelines be for compensating victims who have been unjustly tortured?

Posted by RSA at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)

Mouth watering for the Death Penalty

from - Buck

Boortz bloviated this morning about the evils of Tookie Williams. He made the following prediction:

Tookie's Termination is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. It won't happen. First, the federal courts are likely to grant a stay or two. After all, he was only sentenced about 24 years ago. What's the rush? Secondly, I believe that the main reason the execution of Tookie Williams won't be executed is because Schwarzenegger knows full well that as soon as Tookie's death is announced there will be riots in South Central Los Angeles and elsewhere. The huge media exploitation of this story has made drop-dead sure of that. There are thugs just waiting for an excuse ... not a reason, an excuse. The rioting, of course, will lead to wide scale looting. There are a lot of aspiring rappers and NBA superstars who could really use a nice flat-screen television right now.

Look for Arnold to give Tookie a pass.

Well by the looks of things Arnold did not give Tookie a pass so Neal was wrong about that.

I just hope he is wrong about the wide-scale looting, burning and destroying.

Large scale destruction should be left to governments and kept out of the hands of the private citizenry.

I can remember a time when I was all for the death penalty. I understand the mindless rants of folks like Boortz because there was a time when I would have been shaking the pom-poms with him.

I can respect a pro-death penalty position. I can understand the argument. But damn it would be nice if people like Boortz would not sound so happy about the administration of state sanctioned killing.


Posted by Buck at 04:06 PM | Comments (1)

A Pro-Life Argument Finds Support

from - smijer

Long term stress effects of abortion is evidenced in Norwegian study.

Pro-lifers have been claiming this for years, with only anecdotal evidence. Now research seems to support their view (caveat: this is a press discussion of a single study and should be taken as such).


I suspect social factors, such as condemnation of those who abort and anti-abortion polemic are not responsible for the bulk of this post-abortion stress, as it was done in Norway, not Kansas.

I think this is one of several good reasons that society should concern itself with reducing unnecessary abortions.

I would also like to see further studies of this type. If my suspicions are true, the results will be more negative for later term abortions and elective abortions than for earlier term and medically indicated ones.

Those who are pro-choice should, if they are of good will, acknowledge this danger, insofar as the clinical studies support it. This isn't the way to start:

A spokeswoman for the Family Planning Association, said: "There is no evidence to suggest that abortion directly causes psychological trauma.

Now, they may have in mind other studies which show the opposite of the results of this one... but they should say so honestly and directly - "we doubt the validity of this result based on studies X, Y, and Z"... To say that there "is no evidence" after such evidence has just been found is disingenuous.

Pro-lifers and Pro-choicers should come together to increase sex education, decrease poverty, and make emergency contraception easier to get one's hands on. This would be a hell of a lot more productive than fighting and screaming over the legality of abortion, or its constitutional status.

Posted by smijer at 08:06 AM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2005

True Love Doggie Friday

from - smijer

DooDoo and Ms. Precious - doing what Doggies Do Best.

truelove.JPG


truelove2.JPG

We're worried about the outside baby - Phantom - (S)he? hasn't been at breakfast in over a week. Here's hoping for her safe return.

Now climb aboard The Ark and spend forty days and forty nights in pure animal heaven.

Posted by smijer at 07:20 AM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2005

The co$t of war

from - Buck

The financial cost of our current war in Iraq is the source of much debate. On one side of the spectrum there are those who feel it is a pittance and on the other there are those who think it is going to break us.

Making sense out of money is one of the many things that I am just not very good at. It has always seemed to me that if the value of your currency is based solely on paper, ink and the faith and trust that you have in your government then as long as you have paper, ink, faith and trust then you don’t really need economists, you just need missionaries.

I do enjoy watching those who think they know discuss the topic though.

I ran across these comments left by Viper over at thinkprogress.

Viper makes some interesting points but I am sure there are many out there that can convincingly refute every one of them.

The entire discussion gets pretty interesting. Even Jesus and Hitler get drawn into the fray.

Read it if you have the time.

Posted by Buck at 01:11 PM | Comments (0)

A Touch of Arrogance

from - smijer

I guess I'll have to look elsewhere for a candidate to support in the 2008 primary. It seems my erstwhile favorite, W. Clark, has become infected with a case of Big Head. He thinks that, under his brilliant leadership, the U.S. can win the war in Iraq without first ending the occupation.

The time is long past when American influence on the Iraqi political system can be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the Iraqis.

A commenter asked what Clark had in mind for a fallback position. His answer begins this way:

As for a fallback position, what I've laid out are three sets of military tasks that must be accomplished in order to get this right. As the tasks are done, it is possible to draw down troops...

In other words, there is no fallback position if those three "military tasks" cannot be accomplished. However, ...

...if the Iraqis ask us to leave, then we would simply execute a phased withdrawal, absent other compelling reaons to stay and recognizing that to remain inside a sovereign state against its will is tantamount to a continuing invasion and unsuported by law.

Well, here's a newsflash: The government won't ask us to leave until we tell them to. The people, on the other hand, already want us gone. So here's another question for General Clark: who speaks for Iraqis? They, themselves, or their political leaders?

I don't think it's too late for gestures of good faith toward the Iraqis. I don't think it's too late to earn back some good will. But we can't do it while we are at war with them. The first gesture of good faith is to end the occupation, give up the reconstruction contracts, and start paying for the reconstruction through reparations to the Iraqis. Then, if we comport ourselves as partners with rather than daddy to the Iraqi people, we might even earn enough good will to have some advisory influence in the new political process. Wouldn't that be nice.

It is going to take someone who recognizes that continuing to dig the hole is not the answer to lead our country out of these problems... General Clark is too ambitious to recognize such pessimistic truths.

Posted by smijer at 07:50 AM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2005

Thumbs up for torture

from - Buck

I got a real kick out of this one from Boortz.

But you won't be hearing much about this poll....after all, it makes the Bush administration look good. Remember the template: any news that's interpreted as being good for George Bush is buried, while the bad news is covered on page one. Typical media bias.

Supposedly the “great news” that a majority of people think that torture is justified will be buried by the “liberal” media. Boortz got the story from everybody’s favorite underground news source, ABC News.

So much for the mainstream media burying a story.

So, the torture of suspects is okay. Hell, nowadays all you need is a beard and a swarthy complexion and you are a suspect.

When a green light for torture is great news for your President the problems in your country are legion.

Posted by Buck at 12:21 PM | Comments (0)

Penis Empathy

from - Buck

I know that football season is finished for some and winding down for others but this is an activity that I do not believe will ever catch on over at ESPN.


Posted by Buck at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2005

Somebody's watchin' you!

from - Buck

Ours is a camera-obsessed society.

I have made peace with the fact that no matter where I am or what I am doing there is a better than average chance a camera is pointed at me.

Eyewitness News did talk with Bibb County District Attorney, Howard Simms. He says cameras in public school bathrooms are legal because schools have more leeway on privacy issues

Have more leeway on privacy issues than who or what? Can Wal-Mart not have cameras in the restrooms in order to help prevent vandalism? Why not? God knows they have cameras everywhere else in the building.

If the guy I am renting from wants to have hidden cameras in my apartment to help prevent vandalism can he? Why not? After all, it is really his apartment. I am only renting it.

Are cameras to be limited to only government institutions? Why?

As I have already said, I have made peace with this. I do not like it but I have no real choice but to tolerate it. Privacy and the right to privacy is an illusion.

We all might as well get used to it.

Posted by Buck at 09:25 AM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2005

News In Review

from - smijer

Enough going on that it's worth going over in case you missed the blurbs.....

Britain's gay residents are almost equal citizens now, now that law recognizes they have all the rights of civil marriage, except civil marriage.

The RRR (that can be for Rascals of the Religious Right, or whatever you like... so long as you see the historical similarity with that other hate group with the three letter acronymn) says "boo", Ford runs screaming. Wussies.

This, but you already knew that, huh?

Maybe you didn't hear about this, but that's because it happened in Africa.

For us locals... Nissan takes Tennessee for a ride... Figuratively.

Posted by smijer at 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

Things I Didn't Do This Weekend

from - smijer

  • Pay bills
  • Put up the Christmas Holiday Tree
  • Finish the nUUsletter
  • Go to work and "catch up"
  • Buy batteries and garbage bags

Mondays Suck.

I did get a mini-lesson on what medical physicists do from a very nice member of that profession.

And, I did enjoy seeing the adorable young'uns, both furry and non-furry, of the co-bloggers. Thanks fellas.

Posted by smijer at 07:45 AM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2005

New job opportunity?

from - RSA

I just noticed a funny confluence of postings. On November 23, smijer commented:

I did come across one thing I posted from 2/16/03 that made me chuckle. . .

For $1 billion, plus expenses not to exceed $25 billion, I will personally arrange a regime change in Iraq.

Today's headline at Huffington Post reads:

WANTED: PLAN TO STABILIZE IRAQ CITIES TO DEFEAT INSURGENCY. $1 BILLION AVAILABLE. INVITATION OPEN TO ANY TYPE OF ENTITY...

As some business folks say, our people should talk to your people. . .

Posted by RSA at 02:52 PM | Comments (0)

December 02, 2005

Cat-free

from - RSA

I've always enjoyed seeing cat pictures on Fridays. I wish I could participate, but since my wife and I moved to Venice, we haven't had the room for cats of our own. (This will change immediately when we move back to Raleigh at the end of the month.) Since Buck and smijer have posted pictures of their kids, though, I'll chip in a picture I took of one of my nephews this past summer:

IMG_0237.jpg

Posted by RSA at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

Emilee and Sophie

from - Buck

Emilee and Sophie.bmp

I know this is not the best picture in the world but my youngest daughter, Emilee, took a picture with her cellphone of her with our cat Sophie and emailed it to me.

Sophie was rescued from a landfill in Rhea County, Tennessee by my brother-in-law. When we got her she was so sick that she could barely lift her head. We brought her home and doctored her and she has been with us now for 12 years.

Our family would not be the same without her.

Posted by Buck at 08:25 AM | Comments (0)

Babies

from - smijer

Without comment:

abath.JPG


sweetness.JPG


Now, prance right over to the modulator, and see the rest.

Posted by smijer at 07:40 AM | Comments (0)