Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sinking into Oligarchy

Glenn Greenwald has a must-read post about what the BushCo criminal enterprise has done to the rule of law and the idea that no one is above it.

Most revealing of all, anyone who insists that this should be different -- anyone who believes that our highest political officials and largest corporations should be held accountable when they break the law -- is a shrill "partisan," bent on vengeance and Guilty of obstructionism: trying to prevent the political establishment from operating in a harmonious, bipartisan manner to do their Important Work. At least under the Bush presidency, investigations into wrongdoing are bad and disruptive and mean-spirited, and calls for consequences for illegal behavior are shrill and nasty.
Count me as a proudly shrill partisan, then. Eight years of BushCo has done fundamental damage to American democracy, far more than Al Qaeda could ever dream of doing.

Also in that article, check out the link to Privacy International's new annual report. Based on their objective criteria, the US is now an "endemic surveillance society," right up there with China, Russia and a few of the military juntas of southeast Asia.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Question for the ages...

What is there about wills, estates, etc., that brings out the worst in family members? The most vicious fights over the most trivial stuff? And it's not stuff that has any sentimental value... we're talking about dilapidated junk. Yet there's a huge amount of "I GOTTA GET MINE!!!" going on.

I know, I'm not the first to ask that question. I'm just seeing it up-close-and-personal for the first time, and it's not pretty.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Helpful Suggestions

I saw a link to this article, revealing that President Doofus is planning on spending time next year traveling the world trying to boost America's image in the world.

With all due respect, it's going to take more than some speechifyin' to do that, mostly because of stuff President Doofus has done.

So, in the helpful spirit of the holidays, here are some suggestions on what he could do to boost America's image and standing in the world, that would definitely have more effect than any number of speeches he could give (because face it, speechifyin' is not his long suit):

  1. Announce that effective immediately, waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques are contrary to the policy of the United States, and will not be applied against any person in U.S. custody anywhere in the world.
  2. Reaffirm our historic adherence to Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, prohibiting cruel and inhumane treatment of persons in custody. (This would NOT extend POW rights to detainees; but all persons in custody are entitled to minimum decency.)
  3. Instruct the Justice Dept to appoint a special counsel to investigate the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes as potential obstruction of justice and criminal conspiracy.
  4. Announce our immediate commitment to the Kyoto Protocols and strengthening the Bali agreement. Additional funding in alternative-fuels research to be funded by a carbon tax. (Drive up the cost of crude, and the market will find an alternative.)
  5. Announce your plans to reduce troop presence in Iraq by 50% by December 2008, and to have all troops out of Iraq by December 2009. In order to help the Iraqi government transition, non-military foreign aid may have to increase substantially. But if we're no longer spending a billion a week in Iraq, we can afford it.
  6. Double the funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, to stop the disgrace of toxic toys.
  7. I was going to say "Resign," but then I realized that would lead to President Vader. Stay where you are, the alternative would be worse. So, instead of resigning, announce that your primary focus will be the day-to-day operations of a caretaker administration, pending the next President. In the meantime, you will try to clean up some of your messes and attempt to restore the rule of law.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Further evidence religion makes you stupid

Or, "I don't understand it so it must be wrong. The Big Bang is silly, the universe didn't just blow into place, saying God did it is SO much more logical."

I'd think this was a parody, but the fool is apparently serious.

This illustrates the problem with religion. Once you throw out your thinking brain and start accepting absurdity on faith, your ability to understand anything else goes out the window.

[h/t: Ed Brayton, John Wilkins, both of whom deconstruct the fool's rant in more detail.]

Religion vs spirituality

The last couple of posts (heck, a continuing thread of posts throughout) beat up on the Bible-beaters. (But they're such an easy target.)

And yet, "spirituality" is one of the things I've listed as a semi-regular topic for the blog, though I haven't discussed it much. Maybe it's time to address that.

"Spiritual but not religious" is, I suppose, the closest I can come to describing my own outlook. (Some would say that's a null referent, that there is no such thing as spirituality without religion; I'm not so sure. In fact, I am sure; it's not a null.) A higher purpose to life, a long-term trend toward enlightenment and awareness of how we affect each other beyond our own tribe, recognition of our responsibilities toward each other, a commitment to live a little closer to "love thy neighbor as thyself" today than yesterday--those are what I try to aspire to.

Is there Something out there, Something Much Bigger Than Us? Perhaps. It can't be proven; there's no positive proof of anything that's convincing, and a negative can't be proven. (See the Black Swan fallacy.) And of course, "I would like this to be true" is no proof at all. I'd like to own a sports car, but no matter how much I want it, just wanting it isn't going to make a Ferrari appear in the carport.

But there are several things my spirituality is not. I reject dogma. I reject "You must believe this because our great-great-grandfathers believed this." I reject any system that requires me to ignore evidence or abjure reasoning. I do not claim to have all the answers, but I refuse to give up my right to ask any question I please. I reject any system based on blind obedience or accepting the ridiculous "on faith," especially any system that uses my ability to accept the ridiculous as a measure of merit. I reject any system requiring me to pay homage to a tribal sky-god in bad need of a 12-step program, or that takes ancient texts of dubious authorship as unquestionable ultimate authority. I reject any system based on who it excludes or who it hates--if there really is a Big Is out there, then it's out there for everyone, not just those who agree with me or who have names I can pronounce easily.

Thus, I reject organized religion, a man-made institution in which the control freaks have run amok, institutionalizing their privileges and consolidating their control. I particularly reject the toxic combination of religion and politics, which brings out the worst qualities of both. (See the Romney and Huckabee campaigns for easy examples; Pat Robertson's presidential run also comes to mind.)

Some people claim to be able to find spirituality through religion; personally, I've not seen much evidence of it. And for every person who does, there seem to be several more who clearly don't, who find in religion a way to confirm and reinforce their bigotry and let their worst instincts run rampant. I suspect those who found spirituality through their religion, would have found it by some other means if religion hadn't been there. Thus, no net loss if it were gone.

So as long as the Bible-beaters keep acting the fool, I'll keep mocking them.

And so it goes.

That's not what "separation of church & state" means

Sen. Grassley is asking several of the richer megachurches for information about how they're maintaining their tax-exempt status and how they're spending donor's money. Only 2 of the six he's contacted have sent any information back; one said he's welcome to subpoena them (I can see the press conference where they play the martyr card already). The others have said nothing.

The leaders of two ministries contacted by Mr. Grassley’s office who have answered his queries are Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Tex., and Joyce Meyer, who with her husband, David, runs Joyce Meyer Ministries from Fenton, Mo.

Popular with women for her no-nonsense brand of self-help, Ms. Meyer was asked by Mr. Grassley’s office to explain the “tax-exempt purpose” of purchases including a “commode with marble top” bought for $23,000 for her headquarters.

Hmm. I have a hard time seeing how that level of luxury is needed in a church organization.

Oddly enough, none of these megachurches belong to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, and of course they're not audited by an outside auditor.

My favorite argument, though, is that because they're churches, the Senator is violating Church-State separation by even asking the question. Amazing how the Bible-beaters talk about how separation is a liberal humanist myth when they're talking about forcing religion into public life, but they scurry and hide behind it when it's convenient. But why shouldn't snake-oil salesmen also be hypocrites?

It's really quite simple. There are laws that say you don't have to pay taxes on donations, provided you're using them for church purposes. The government is within its rights to verify that you're obeying the law. Otherwise, let the church pay you an outrageous salary, pay income tax on it, and buy your own $23,000 commode.

Poor Huckabee, Victim For Jesus

Once again, Huckabee misses the point:

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee made no apologies Sunday for the religious tone of a recent holiday campaign commercial and said it is important to look for Jesus at this time of year.

"You can find Santa at every mall. You can find discounts in every store," Huckabee said from the pulpit of Cornerstone Church. "But if you mention the name of Jesus, as I found out recently, it upsets the whole world. Forgive me, but I thought that was the point of the whole day."

No, Governor. No one's upset that you said Merry Christmas. Put away your persecuted-Christian complex. It riles up the base, but it makes you look like an idiot to the rest of us.

The problem is that you can't decide whether you're running for President, or Pastor-In-Chief. Different roles. It's fine for a preacher to preach religion. For a President, not so much.

Of course, deep thought isn't his long suit. On the one hand, he says:

Asked whether he was running for president of Christian America, Huckabee said he was campaigning to be the "president of all America, to be the people's president."

However, on the same day, he delivers a sermon at church, where he says
"The great truth of Christmas is that no matter how good we are, we're not good enough to know God without the Christ," said Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister. "And no matter how bad ... we are not so bad that he cannot find us."

"So while some people seem to want us to lose Jesus, I would like for us to do our best to find him," Huckabee said at the megachurch, where televangelist John Hagee is the senior pastor and founder.

And he insists his church appearance isn't political. So when he's president, will he occasionally take time out to make non-political, non-presidential church appearances to promote Christianity?

Seeing no contradiction here, no hypocrisy in his behavior, reveals his lack of consideration, the shallowness of his analysis. Feh. I'm with Hitchens on this one. Though part of me hopes he does well enough to cause serious problems for the GOP establishment. They spent years listening to Rove; let them reap the whirlwind.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Another semester down.

Wow, I hadn't intended to let 3 weeks go by. Long story short: Grading is finished. I had two students plagiarize their final papers for the ethics course (yes, irony is dead). End-of-semester statistics are gathered & turned in, & next semester's Blackboard sites are underway.

We're also in the middle of a blizzard. It must be December.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The more things change...

Checking the headlines real quick....

  • Imus is back on the air.
  • Larry Craig still isn't gay, despite 5 guys going on record as saying they had sex w/ him.
  • Bush & Cheney Inc. lied about Iran's nukes.
In other words, nothing at all has changed. We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Ah, a bit of brain floss....

A perfect antidote to the previous pious ramblings.

Hmmm....the timing was fortuitous. Almost miraculous. Obviously, a magic sky-daddy intended me to find that article at exactly the time I did.

More Unhinged Ramblings

I sincerely hope Time got things wrong in this article on Papa Ratzi's latest encyclical. Because they make him sound like a senile, doddering, deluded fool.

First, of course, he has to attack the wraith of Marxism, much as a GOP campaigner invoking the specter of Hillary, or an 80's evangelist raving about secular humanists. But the real problem you see, is materialism itself. The idea that by focusing on this world, we're providing "false hope of life without suffering":

"We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it," Benedict writes. "It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater." In other words, the fall of Communism again proves that human salvation lies in the Gospel alone.
A great deal of ink has been spilled about what an intellectual Ratzinger is, about the quality of his thinking. If this is an example of it, the Church is in serious trouble.

First of all, I don't know of any serious thinker who maintains we can completely eliminate suffering, unhappiness, whatever. A straw man is one of the cheapest rhetorical tricks in the book, but I guess all's fair when the Church is involved. Secondly, isn't the alleviation of suffering held up as a goal by the Church? The problem, apparently, isn't that materialists try to alleviate suffering, it's that they point out ways of doing it (better food production, medicines, education, for a few) that don't involve blind obedience to magic sky-fairies.

Benedict argues that Marx was flawed, above all, because he misunderstood the human condition. "He forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man's freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil.
Hm, he's got a point. If people are free, they might do things they shouldn't. That's what "freedom" means. That's why we've seen so many instances in history that when the Church had most of the political power, evil was eliminated, crime was unknown, and no one ever suffered.

He really seems annoyed that people have free will. I'm just saying.

It has become apparent since his election in April 2005 that this Pope, whether or not one agrees with him, stands out for his intellectual honesty and linguistic clarity.
If this is an example of either.... Well, maybe by comparison with his predecessors.
In this latest document, he uses Marxism — though no longer a clear and present danger to Catholic faith — as a warning against the rampant growth of reason, science and freedom without a commensurate growth of faith and morals.
Unfortunately, it's his unspoken, unexplored, and pernicious assumption that faith and morals are near-synonyms that is the root of the problem.

"The ambiguity of progress becomes evident. Without doubt, it offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil — possibilities that formerly did not exist," Benedict writes. "We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world."
In this much, at least, he seems to be in contact with reality. Unfortunately, he goes off the rails soon enough, and refers us back to tribal sky-gods and self-contradictory texts of dubious authorship as ultimate authorities. Bleh.

However, you have to love the patented Time non-conclusory conclusion:
Benedict's message of old-fashioned faith in the modern world is itself a call to revolution — or counter-revolution. Only time will tell how many respond to the call.
Translation: Maybe it's something. Or maybe its opposite. Or maybe it's nothing at all. We don't know.

Pretty hard to argue with logic like that.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

But Logic is Hard!

I expect PZ will have something to say about this. (I hope he does, actually; he usually gets to the core of an issue very well.)

Consider the limitations of science...

All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

. . .

Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.

You see where this is going, don't you? OH NOES! SCIENCE HAS LIMITS! There are some things we don't know! What's more, some of the questions are so hard, we're not even sure what the right questions are. Therefore, the entire edifice must be a pack of lies.

But wait, it gets better. The anthropic principle gets snuck back in here...

A second reason that the laws of physics have now been brought within the scope of scientific inquiry is the realization that what we long regarded as absolute and universal laws might not be truly fundamental at all, but more like local bylaws. They could vary from place to place on a mega-cosmic scale. A God’s-eye view might reveal a vast patchwork quilt of universes, each with its own distinctive set of bylaws. In this “multiverse,” life will arise only in those patches with bio-friendly bylaws, so it is no surprise that we find ourselves in a Goldilocks universe — one that is just right for life. We have selected it by our very existence.
That's right... The entire universe was made just for us. And science says it may even be possible! If we push and twist and distort it enough.

And having made the setup, we conclude with the *koff* inevitable:

Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.
That's right. Them pointy-headed scientists is working just as much on faith as the rest of us. Pass the Leviticus.

But wait, there's more!

This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships.

And just as Christians claim that the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case, so physicists declare a similar asymmetry: the universe is governed by eternal laws (or meta-laws), but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe.

That's right. In even trying to look for physical law, the scientists were going on faith the whole time. They're religious, they just don't know it! Or won't admit it because they hate baby Jesus!

But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.
Translation: I can think up a hypothetical at the cutting edge that you don't have a soundbite answer for. Therefore God.

But what alternative are you offering?
I see. Then how did the universe come to be?
How can we understand its workings?
What evidence do you have for this position?
What reasons do you have for this position?
What testable hypothesis does this lead to?
None. God doesn't need it and can't be
proven anyway. Therefore God.

Well, thanks for clearing that up.

I find myself actually quoting celebrity loon Scott Adams, who (back when his books were worth reading) had a list called You Are Wrong Because:, listing various logical errors. I believe this one would be "Incompleteness as Proof of Defect." Sample case: Your theory of gravity doesn't explain why there are no unicorns, therefore it must be wrong.

Science can't answer the question I pulled out of my butt, therefore it's obviously bogus.

Feh. And this is what passes for reasoning in some quarters? And religionists wonder why fewer and fewer people take them seriously?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Obviously a between-semester activity

So looking back over the number of posts per week, starting with late August and moving forward to the present:
16, 14, 6, 4, 9, 3, 7, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2.

And the only reason there's 2 posts this week (counting this one) is that with the Thanksgiving break, I've had time to clear some backlog.

Clearly a trend. At least this semester, as real life has intruded, blogging has dropped off. No surprise, really. It's been a busy semester. Accreditation site visit, dealing with the aftermath thereof (no matter how well things go, there's always aftermath), organizing for the programming competition we're hosting next semester, working on a conference presentation and a journal paper... Not to mention various family crises, out-of-the-blue calls from exes, and various other things to fill up my copious free time.

On the bright side, I'm certainly not bored.

Linguistic Hazard

In Croatian, as in other languages, changing a single consonant can completely change the meaning of a word.

Thus, one should be careful when singing in Croatian if one does not actually speak Croatian.

In this case, a line from the Croatian national anthem turned into a brag about one's anatomy.

And so it goes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I don't get it.

Or rather, get it too well.

The AP reported this morning that Musharraf said he'd step down from the Army this month. The BBC doesn't have anything up about it, though they have other stories on Pakistan. The NYTimes has their interview with him, in which he didn't give a date, but no reference to any statement he was stepping down from the Army, not even to cast doubt on it. From CNN... [sigh] all the latest on OJ, which is of course the most important thing that's happening in the world.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Various updates

Took the team to the regional programming contest this past weekend, did fairly well... Useful learning for the programming contest we're hosting in April (that I somehow got put in charge of).

Meanwhile, got Eclipse installed and running on my office machine for Java and C++, and located a decent downloadable C++ reference we can install on the contest machines.

Now we just need to work out the details, such as where we're going to put the contestants...

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Democrats Cave, Again

And once again the Democrats give the Decider what he wants, because otherwise he'll say mean things about them...

Nov. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Michael Mukasey's nomination to be President George W. Bush's next U.S. attorney general is headed toward Senate confirmation after two Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee announced they would support him.

Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, who recommended that Bush nominate Mukasey, and Dianne Feinstein of California said they will vote for the 66-year-old retired federal judge when the panel considers the nomination on Nov. 6.

"We have more to fear from the bungling of the incompetent than from the machinations of the wicked."

In this case, the incompetent who are supposedly protecting us from the wicked.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Guffaw-worthy quote of the day

For some reason, I have never felt it incumbent to tell anyone what their view of existence should be.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Still not that simple...

Mike Rogers on Hardball keeps up the "Larry Craig is lying or in denial" meme....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

But it's not that simple...

Andrew Sullivan discusses the Larry Craig case, showing his usual combination of incisive insight and stunning obtuseness.

At this point in their lives, to allow the possibility that Craig is indeed homosexual, that he has sustained, lived, internalized a fundamental lie for his entire life, and involved his wife and children in that lie, would be to destroy themselves. I am not going to exonerate the man from hypocrisy because it is impossible. But I do think his problem is far deeper.
Perhaps. Such a case could be made. But Sullivan hasn't made it.
He grew up in a different time, and a different place, where even the possibility of being gay was inconceivable.
I don't think he even thinks of himself as gay, or has any idea what being gay might actually mean.
He's getting onto thin ice here. Agreed, Craig probably doesn't think of himself as gay. But what does Sullivan mean by "being gay"? As an identity? As an essentialist reduction, something you either are or aren't, and if you have sex with men then you are? Apparently...
I think he thinks of his sexual orientation as a "lifestyle" (to use that hideous term Lauer kept referring to) that can be overcome the way one overcomes smoking or poor eating or sexual compulsion. And he constructed an identity in opposition to this "lifestyle" early, out of pain and defensiveness and terrible fear.
Sullivan is assuming an awful lot here. Specifically, that Craig is gay as Sullivan understands the term; that Craig is misinformed at best, deluded at worst, if he doesn't see himself that way; and that his denials are a defense against the intolerable fact of being a gay man.
Craig was seeking in that toilet stall a connection, a shard of intimacy, that the world would not give him, or that he could not give himself.
Or maybe he just wanted a blow job.
No one should have to live without that intimacy and dignity - no one. Living a life like that - a deeply lonely, compromised, painful interior existence - is a very sophisticated form of hell. No human can keep it up for ever. No human should have to keep it up for ever.

He is a hypocrite; and he made his choices. I am not going to dispute that. His voting record helped sustain the misery for others that he lived with himself. He is for ever responsible for that.

But he is also a victim. And to see such a victim's pain exposed brutally in a public restroom pains me. He needs help. So do millions of others.
Yes, agreed. The closet is nasty and toxic. BUT.

After seeing the SNL "Oh Really?" video and the claymation "I am not gay" vid (to the tune of YMCA, and it's scrolled off whatever blog I found it on, can't find the link, my bad), I'm just noticing a rampant assumption that I'm not sure is valid.

As Sullivan correctly notes, Craig grew up in a different time and place. And yes, it may be just as Sullivan describes it. But is that the only possibility?

There's a general assumption that Craig is gay, and is simply lying or in denial about it. That either you are gay or you're not, and that if you were seeking sex with men then you are and that's that.

It's not that simple, though. The current definition of gay as an identity, with a social role attached to it (some behaviors prescribed, others prohibited), as an exclusive orientation, is a 20th-century phenomenon. (Actually, late-19th century England and Germany, or so my friend Harry who's studied this much more thoroughly than I have, says.)

But it's not the only possibility.

It's not the understanding the Greeks had, for instance. They had fairly elaborate rules about who could do what with whom, based on social class, rank, and a few other things. Feudal Japan had a different set of rules. South Asia today has a different set. I came across an online collection of photos of young Taliban in Afghanistan that are just now making their way out of the country. Many of them are vaguely homoerotic, the men are clearly expressing affection for each other, yet I'm willing to wager that few if any of them define themselves as 'gay' in the Western sense. Even though they're having at least a little sex from time to time.

Is this what Craig's getting at with his denials? Doubtful. Just as I doubt Ahmedinejad was showing his familiarity with queer theory when he maintained that there are no gays in Iran.

But it's not just a simple "you either are or you aren't, and you are, so admit it and get out of the closet, queen." And Sullivan, of all people, should know better. It's also possible Craig looks at gay culture--metrosexual, style obsessed, politically liberal--and doesn't see himself in any of it. That when he says "I'm not gay" he's simply saying "I'm not part of that culture." And gay culture is very upper-middle-class, very white, very urban. (There are reasons for that, but this post is long enough already.) He sees gay culture and not only doesn't see himself in it, he doesn't see anything he'd want in it, so of course he rejects it. And because he's been hiding from it, his view of gay culture is probably biased--centered around the highly-visible extreme minority. (Senator, for whatever it's worth, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence don't speak for me, either.)

Identity is extremely complex. We know this. Why are we so obsessed with putting people into labeled pigeonholes?

I'm not about to go off onto queer theory--and don't get me started with what all is wrong with Foucault--but this is ridiculous.

I think we survived

Our accreditation site visit wrapped up yesterday. Because of the rules about the confidentiality of the process, I can't say much more than that, other than woohoo! glad it's over...

Oh, and also, I have not been asked to clean out my office. I choose to take that as a good sign as well.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blog whoring

Check out my comment over here... Just because. Science fiction and porn... two of my favorite subjects.

Hell of a job you're doing, Bushie.

What a legacy.

Wish I'd Said That

Or at least, Wish I'd Found That Quote....

Some optimists say that in Army Gen. David Petraeus, Bush has finally found his Gen. Grant. That may or may not be true, but it is beside the point. The problem is that Petraeus has not yet found his President Lincoln.

But, alas, Mark Kleiman beat me to it.

It just never stops...

I've been offline a few days dealing with personal stuff...and what do I find when I get back? Priests trying to seduce young men... An accidental death during autoerotic play... What IS it with closeted clergy, anyway?

Never mind. I know. It's about the self-loathing and shame of the closet, and the institutional hypocrisy that pretends everyone in the hierarchy is 100% straight, or simply asexual. Other expressions of sexuality simply do. not. exist.

And while we're worried about this, the killing in Burma continues.

Update: The priest in question now says he was only pretending to be gay, in order to flush out other homosexuals within the church. The desperation continues as he searches frantically for someone to throw under the bus, before he himself gets thrown.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

More Liars For Jesus

They have them in Europe, too... A bunch of Dutch creationists are importing BBC nature documentaries and translating the voice-overs into Dutch. So far, so good.

However, they're also doing a few selective edits:

"Instead of saying "70 million years ago, something happens," they say "a very long time ago something happens". They also omit paragraphs such as: "This is inherited from my warm-blooded ancestors,"
And certain episodes and topics simply don't exist:
In particular, she singled out the EO DVD "Het Leven van Zoogdieren" - The Life of Mammals. The series is presented as written and "presented by David Attenborough. Yet it is censored and Episode 10, about apes and humans, is absent. In short, he said, it appears "in a mutilated form, cutting or rephrasing all passages relevant to evolution."
The problem, as the Telegraph article points out, is that it's still being presented as a BBC documentary, not an edited or adapted version.

This is within BBC rules, apparently, as the edits total less than 5 minutes per hour. But "legal" and "right" aren't the same thing. Or so a carpenter from Galilee is alleged to have said.

[hat tip: PZ]

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

It's hitting the rotary air-circulating device

Our accreditation visit is in about two weeks... Postings may be even more sporadic than usual.

You have been warned.

Monday, October 1, 2007

I'm not dead yet...

Had some time to blog last Friday, but blogger wasn't feeling well & wouldn't respond. Busy all weekend, and the articles I'd bookmarked last week to comment on all seem a bit...well... stale. Like week-old news. And some articles are worth commenting on even well after the fact. These aren't.

So no comment, except to say that there's no comment.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Standing up for principle

Or not, as the case may be. More here. As Pam notes,

There is no dignity in viewing lesbian and gay couples as "less than," but that is their church and their belief.
Don't talk to me about how you're protecting my dignity while you're telling me to go to the back of the bus.

Reliability of science

Or, how do we know what we think we know, and is it true that up to 25% of published scientific studies turn out to be wrong?

Frolicking in the shadow of hell

Orac has some interesting commentary on the recently-discovered cache of photos of Auschwitz SS officers and their families in their casual moments--decorating Christmas trees, picnics, taking a smoke break, etc.

Truly disturbing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Updated ratings

Incidentally, that last post put me over the line, what with all the references to sex and all....


This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

  • abortion (2x)
  • queer (2x)
  • pain (1x)

The word pain tags the blog as possibly "adult"? Who writes this stuff?

Misplaced priorities

Sullivan takes a cheap shot at the left regarding the email sent out by the Columbia Queer Alliance about Ahmadinejad's visit.

Ever since Michel Foucault's repulsive embrace of the Iranian revolution, the pomo gay left has had a soft spot for Islamo-fascists.
I'm hardly a fan of Foucault; for the most part, he gets his facts wrong, then reasons poorly from them. And queer studies is hardly the Foucault-worshipping monolith Sullivan implies. Especially since the email he cites begins by refuting his thesis:
"We condemn the human rights violations perpetrated by the Iranian government under the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We admonish the policies that make same-sex practices punishable by torture and death, as well as those that restrict the freedoms and self-determination of women.
But the point isn't Sullivan's cheap shots, or illogic, of which this is only one example.

What is it that really has the CQA up in arms?
We cannot possibly claim to understand the multiple and diverse experiences of living with same-sex desires in Iran....The construction of sexual orientation as a social and political identity and all of the vocabulary therein is a Western cultural idiom. As such, scholars of sexuality in the Middle East generally use the terms "same-sex practices" and "same-sex desire" in recognition of the inadequacy of Western terminology. President Ahmadinejad's presence on campus has provided an impetus for us all to examine a number of issues, but most relevant to our concerns are the complexities of how sexual identity is constructed and understood in different parts of the world."

That's right. What they're really upset about is that we're using the word "gay," when the current conception of gayness is pretty much a Western concept and so doesn't necessarily apply to people in Iran.

Which is fine, up to a point. The modern conception of "gay" as an identity, referring to a roughly peer-equal affectionate/sexual relationship with someone of the same gender to the exclusion of such relationships with the opposite gender, is a phenomenon of 19th/20th Century Europe. It's certainly not what the ancient Greeks believed; they had strict taboos regarding who could do what with whom, based mostly on class and relative social standing. Likewise with the Romans, who legitimized certain practices but in the context of establishing/demonstrating/enforcing power relationships. (Fone's Homophobia: A History is a useful source here.) Up until at least the 50's or so, men could identify as heterosexual and still carry out certain same-sex acts without threatening their heterosexual identity. As long as they 'acted male,' as it were, there wasn't an issue of being anything other than a heterosexual man.

After kicking this around with a friend of mine (Hi, Harry!) via some emails this afternoon, it finally fell into place what annoys me about the CQA's email. They're right that the term "gay" as we understand it may not be entirely accurate in describing those in Iran (though I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say we have no possible basis for saying anything at all).

But why are we having this conversation now? People are being executed, and we're worried about what adjectives we're using in the newspaper? When the killings stop, I'll be willing to discuss the terminology question.

The phrasing of the letter comes too close for my comfort to the sort of facile moral equivalencing resulting in "Well, Stalin also accomplished a lot of good for Russia." There's an implied moral equivalency that simply isn't there. When there's 2 sentences denouncing public executions (with those executions having the obvious purpose of keeping others terrorized & silenced), followed by a long (and rather condescending) paragraph on how we need to use the academically-correct term, I start thinking someone's priorities are messed up.

People being killed is a more important question, and more important fact, than that the people being killed are being described with the wrong adjective in the media. If believing that marks me as a reactionary old technocrat, then I'll wear that label with pride.

Why are we moving nukes?

Larry Johnson stays on the case, including a letter showing just how much had to go wrong for the "accidental transfer" of several nuclear warheads to have occurred.

The more things change....

The biggest IT/business trend of the last 20 years, of course, has been the outsourcing of work to India.

Of course, all that demand for programmers in India is driving up wages, and the influx of foreign investment is strengthening the Indian economy and therefore currency. What's an enterprising Indian company to do?

Outsource its outsourcing, of course.

Or, as Ashok Vemuri, an Infosys senior vice president, put it, the future of outsourcing is “to take the work from any part of the world and do it in any part of the world.”


Such is the new outsourcing: A company in the United States pays an Indian vendor 7,000 miles away to supply it with Mexican engineers working 150 miles south of the United States border.
And so it goes....

Why are we afraid of these people?

Why do we act like such nervous Nellies, as if we think American democracy is so weak it can't afford to live up to its own values? So Ahmadinejad was allowed to speak, and lo and behold, the ramblings of a religionist dictator didn't cause the collapse of the American republic.

Yes, he's trying to play it for all the propaganda value he can. True, he's not interested in a real dialogue. But putting him up on stage helps expose him for the fraud he is. Keeping him out of the country just makes him a martyr, which is exactly what he wants. Instead, give him a platform and let him explain that homosexuals don't exist in his country and that the Holocaust is a theory, not fact. Expose him for the weak-minded fraud he is.

As usual, President Doofus can be counted on to miss the point:

"...[A]nd yet an institution in our country gives him a chance to express his point of view, which really speaks to the freedoms of the country. I’m not sure I’d have offered the same invitation.”
Of course you wouldn't have. You'd have let him play you like a cheap fiddle.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Not What You Think

Guess the identity of the person who's being discussed:

“capable” of the intellectual rigor needed to win the presidency but instead relies too heavily on his easy charm.

“It's sort of like, 'that's all I need to get by,' which bespeaks sort of a condescending attitude towards the voters,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “And a laziness, an intellectual laziness.”
No, it's not President Doofus. It's a "senior White House official" describing Barack Obama. Who graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, and was editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Hello, kettle? This is the pot calling. Do you know what color you are? No? Well, I'll tell you....

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Well, DUH!" Headline Of The Day

I really can't think of anything else to say.

It's not important what I believe, as long as I believe in something.

McCain continues to pander:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Monday that questions over whether he identifies himself as a Baptist or an Episcopalian are not as important as his overarching faith. "The most important thing is that I am a Christian," the Arizona senator told reporters following two campaign stops in this early voting state.
No, John. The most important thing is whether there's any resemblance of principle left in you, or whether you will, in fact, say or do whatever you think is necessary to get elected. You haven't been as blatant about it as Romney....but you're catching up.

The GOP race heats up...

We need candidates like Keyes... So we know what the people who aren't thinking, are thinking.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"They told me I had no rights"

The slightly bizarre case of a musicologist whose residency visa was suddenly revoked without explanation caught my eye.

Ms. Ghuman’s descent into the bureaucratic netherworld began on Aug. 8, 2006, when she and Mr. Flight returned to San Francisco from a research trip to Britain. Armed immigration officers met them at the airplane door and escorted Ms. Ghuman away.

In a written account of the next eight hours that she prepared for her lawyer, Ms. Ghuman said that officers tore up her H-1B visa, which was valid through May 2008, defaced her British passport, and seemed suspicious of everything from her music cassettes to the fact that she had listed Welsh as a language she speaks. A redacted government report about the episode obtained by her lawyer under the Freedom of Information Act erroneously described her as “Hispanic.”


And Ms. Ghuman said her demands to speak to the British consul were rebuffed. “They told me I was nobody, I was nowhere and I had no rights,” she said.

This is a British citizen, resident in the US for years, no particular political activism, no public positions of any controversy.

Hopefully just a bureaucratic snafu, one that's taken longer than usual to get cleared up. Unfortunately, this kind of treatment is becoming all too common. Meanwhile, Germany manages to bust a terror plot by using a technique rapidly falling into disfavor here: the rule of law.

And so it goes.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"People Should Not Vote For Any Republican"

There's an excerpt from John Dean at Salon that deserves reading. His new book is called "Broken Government," and it details how the GOP has changed beyond anything he recognizes.

As I was writing this closing section an old friend from the Nixon White House called. Now retired, he is a lifelong Republican who told me that he voted for Bush and Cheney twice, because he knows them both personally. He asked how my new book was coming, and when I told him the title, he remarked, "I'll say the government's broken." After we discussed it, he asked how I planned to end the book, since the election was still a good distance away. I told him I was contemplating ending midsentence and immediately fading to black -- the way HBO did in the final episode of the Sopranos, but that I would settle for a nice quote from him, on the record. He explained that he constantly has to bite his tongue, and the reason he does not speak out more is because one of his sons is in an important (nonpolitical) government post, and we both know that Republicans will seek revenge wherever they can find it. How about an off-the-record comment? I asked. That he agreed to.

"Just tell your readers that you have a source who knows a lot about the Republican party from long experience, that he knows all the key movers and shakers, and he has a bit of advice: People should not vote for any Republican, because they're dangerous, dishonest and self-serving. While I once believed that Governor George Wallace had it right, that there was not a dime's worth of difference in the parties; that is not longer true. I have come to realize the Democrats really do care about people who most need help from government; Republicans care most about those who will only get richer because of government help. The government is truly broken, particularly in dealing with national security, and another four years, and heaven forbid not eight years, under the Republicans, and our grandchildren will have to build a new government, because the one we have will be unrecognizable and unworkable."

Go read the article. Then go read Altemeyer.

Greenwald on the endless war

Greenwald once again calls it like it is:

As much as our political class disgraced itself with its obsequious support for the invasion itself, and further disgraced itself with its complicity in the endless claims (including from the General Whose Credibility Must Not Be Questioned) that things were going well when the opposite was true, their behavior over the last twelve months -- when even they admit that the war is a failure and keep promising to support withdrawal only never to do so -- is the undeniable evidence of how corrupt and worthless they really are.

Endless war....

I haven't had much to say about the Petraeus report because others are saying quite a bit about it, about its mind-numbing bogosity, and about how the only plan the regime has is endless war, drawing troops down to where they were before the so-called 'surge' and calling it a reduction instead of more of the same. Sullivan can feel pity for Bush; I don't. It's been a disaster, it's hurt our position in the world, and the only way out involves the Democrats suddenly finding a spine, which, alas, doesn't seem likely. And speculation that it's all a setup for going after Iran is just more sickening.

This has to end. I actually agree with Camille Paglia:

Words and more words -- what's new? Just get our troops the hell out of there -- now! A phased withdrawal, requiring the removal of massive amounts of supplies and equipment, will take months. But there isn't the sketchiest plan because Bush is dug in to the bitter end and will toss this hot potato to the incoming president -- who (no matter which party wins) won't dare to act. And of course Iraq needs to remain neutralized when American or Israeli bombs start dropping on Iran, which I have little doubt they will do by next year. Bush-Cheney, lacking a clear record of achievement, want to go out with a bang.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Identity politics. Literally.

Interesting post over at Daily Kos arguing that the right's obsession with abortion, homosexuality, and creationism isn't so much because of deeply-held values or religious consistency, as much as it is a way of marking one's identity, of defining one's tribe. Much the same is true of any litmus-test issue, of course... If you're going to be one of us, then you MUST believe X, Y, and Z.

Tribalism in the modern era still depends on its sense of persecution and isolation. Because Christians are the majority, Dominionists must create an enemy to unite them. And so they take an approach opposite to Christ's inclusiveness, peeking through windows and looking for minorities to persecute. The Anti Abortion/Evolution/Homosexuality tribe goes to absurd lengths to prove that it is a persecuted and isolated group that must struggle to protect the safety of its members in a hostile world.

In the absence of real enemies, a tribe will readily create imaginary enemies to unite them, and without concrete evidence of persecution, the tribe must often create an enemy with supernatural powers.
Part of why this resonated so much is that I just recently finished Altemeyer's The Authoritarians, which laid out the degree of tribalism inherent in the authoritarian mind-set, and the way in which identification with the group becomes the most important thing.

Oh yes it IS hypocrisy.

John Cloud at Time has an essay suggesting that Larry Craig isn't guilty of hypocrisy, just weakness.

Assume for a moment that Craig and Haggard actually believed what they said--that homosexuality is sin. They spent most of their lives fighting for the conservative cause. But in Craig's case, the Idaho Statesman has published allegations that there were at least three other slipups involving men, beginning in 1967. What if, like the radio host who gets fat but commits to losing weight, the moralizers were trying through their "pro-family" endeavors to expiate their lustful sins? You may think they are wrong about homosexuality (I do), but that doesn't make them hypocrites.
But this is an explanation, not an excuse. And it doesn't excuse the right-wing anti-gay positions Craig has made such a proud part of his record.

Yes, Craig deserves pity. Watching the self-destruction of a career is never pretty, and the pain is only increased when it happens in public. And despite the bravado of Craig's press releases about getting the verdict reversed, his public career is almost certainly over.

And if he had simply been living a quietly closeted life and got outed, that would be one thing. But these incidents have apparently been going on for years. Cloud makes something of a big deal about how important sequencing is--that if you claim you're going to lose weight, then eat pizza every day for a week and gain 5 pounds, you're a hypocrite. But if you eat pizza and gain weight, then announce you're going on a fitness plan, you're virtuous. Fine. By that criterion, Craig's a hypocrite.

Craig deserves pity. But he also deserves a measure of contempt. Not only for the lie he lived, but for the effect his rhetoric and his policies and his votes on the Senate floor had on people who were living with far more integrity than he. He got far too much mileage out of the "family values" (i.e. anti-gay) meme to deserve sympathy for being exposed.

How much pity, how much contempt? Hard to say. There is a certain amount of self-deception in the closet, and Craig appears to have had more of than most. Cloud describes a series of psychology experiments in which people adjusted their beliefs to match their behavior, no matter what the cost:
They had crossed over from hypocrisy to something more pathetic: self-deception. In this light, getting married, having kids and advancing conservatism looks more like a heartfelt, doomed effort to change sexuality than a hypocritical ploy.
Well, I suppose. Though Craig didn't have kids, he acquired the entire family ready-made when he married. (The kids are his wife's, from her previous marriage.) (Hmmm, 'previous marriage,' how did that come to be acceptable for the 'family values' crowd?) And his votes weren't just on tax cuts. Craig never missed a chance to posture himself as the guardian of society from the Homosexual Menace. Yes, the self-loathing driving that behavior must have been awful. But the fact that he bore it, rather than standing up and admitting what he was doing--or bringing his behavior under control--shows a remarkable lack of integrity.

Cloud gets one thing right, though:
Because their decision making is usually more diffuse, institutions aren't as susceptible to cognitive dissonance. Corporations and political parties routinely say one thing (the GOP is the party of strict values) and do another (the party let Louisiana Senator David Vitter, who unlike Craig holds a swing-state seat, get off with a simple apology after he was linked to a female prostitution ring). The GOP's moralizers deserve some pity. The party itself, not so much.
Craig deserves some pity. The GOP leaders helping run him out of town, none at all. Particularly if the rumors swirling about some of them turn out to be true.

It just keeps getting stranger.

I know I should let this case go, as others are covering it in more detail etc. But just when I think it can't get more bizarre....

Craig was arrested, IIRC, in June. He entered a guilty plea in August. Call it six weeks or so. Now he's saying he didn't really understand what he was doing because he was in a panic about being hounded by the media:

Persuading a judge to withdraw a guilty plea is difficult but Craig will argue that he was under too much stress to knowingly plead guilty, Martin said.

"He was under tremendous pressure," Martin said in a telephone interview.

In particular, Martin cited pressure from Craig's hometown newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, which spent months investigating whether Craig engaged in homosexual encounters.

Craig, who has denied such suggestions and accused the newspaper of conducting a "witch hunt," was so concerned about that investigation, he quickly pleaded guilty when arrested in the bathroom sex sting, Martin said. Craig did not consult with a lawyer or appear in court.

So.... given a month with a court date hanging over him, he didn't consult a lawyer? Even knowing that discussions with a lawyer are privileged? Amazingly enough, I find myself agreeing with Arlen Specter:

Minnesota law is that a guilty plea may be withdrawn if it was not intelligently made "and what Sen. Craig did was by no means intelligent," said Specter.

I'm not sure "intelligently made" has the same meaning Specter's applying here... Yes, entering a guilty plea without consulting with an attorney is certainly foolish. But I wonder if that's grounds for overturning a plea. I somehow doubt it.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Did I Miss This?

President Doofus is in Australia, for a high-powered economic summit. Naturally, with so many world leaders in the city, security is tight. So tight, in fact, that a TV show was able to drive a limo with someone dressed as Osama Bin Laden to within a few feet of the hotel where the President is staying.

There's a video report at Crooks & Liars. The harrumphing commentator at the end gets my vote for the "unintentionally funny clip of the day" award... Apparently the problem isn't the lax security, the problem is how much they crossed the line in even trying something like this because, well, we're never really told why. Because maybe this makes the president's security detail look foolish? Because it raises questions about the millions that's being spent on security? Because it reveals our government as fallible? Those are all reasons to applaud this stunt, not condemn it. Security that can be breached that easily deserves to be lampooned... Or, in the words of the Australian talking head, "bums will be kicked all up and down the line." Apparently the police really didn't twig that something was out of the ordinary until the actor dressed as Osama got out and asked to see his 'old friend,' and explain what a misunderstanding all of this was...

Funny, though. I can't seem to find any U.S. news outlet that's picked up this story. I could be missing something, I suppose... After all, they'd never suppress a story to help out the Commander Guy or his minions, would they?

Nice to get confirmation

A new study shows that certain food additives can increase hyperactivity in ADHD children. This was old news to me.

My younger brother was ADHD. And until he was at least in junior high, we could tell if there'd been a party at school that day and he'd had anything purple to drink. He was a wildman for the rest of the day. We didn't keep most kids' drinks in the house, because he got very hyper after even a little bit.

Still, it's nice to see it's not just an urban legend or one anecdotal case. The study looks like it was well-designed, so the conclusions are probably reliable.

And life goes on.

Protecting Our Contributors

The regime Administration has come out opposing network neutrality. Remarkably enough, the position of the Justice Dept bears an amazing resemblance to the standard line of the telcos:

The Justice Department said imposing net neutrality regulations could hinder development of the internet and prevent ISPs from upgrading networks.

The agency said it could also shift the "entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements onto consumers".

And of course, once they've rolled out the new networks, the ones that don't carry any data from the competition, they'll be prevented from raising, exactly?

A lot of companies have made a lot of money off the Internet. It's the open, flat, neutral architecture that made it successful in the first place. Strange how many companies in Japan are offering all sorts of whiz-bang services that are way ahead of anything available here, and they didn't need their own walled garden to do it.

The one bright spot is that by this point, the Justice Dept is so thoroughly and so obviously politicized that fewer and fewer people take it seriously. Unfortunately, they do still have plenty of raw power, which shouldn't be underestimated.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Life's little ironies

It's been a busy week, haven't had time to check in, but I did have something happen today that's worth wondering about. The question came to mind while walking through the halls on my way to class, passing a group of undergrads, and hearing rather more of their conversation than I cared to. But I wondered...

Why is it that the most metrosexual frat boys, the ones with the hairstyles and bead choker-necklaces that wouldn't look at all out of place in most gay bars, are the most likely to give each other crudely homophobic nicknames?

OK, I guess I don't have to think about it all that much...

Monday, September 3, 2007

Al-Jazeera Reports Peace Breakthrough

Wow. This is potentially very good news:

Iraqi Sunni and Shia representatives have agreed on a peace plan during secret talks in Finland.

"Participants committed themselves to work towards a robust framework for a lasting settlement," said a statement issued on Monday by the Crisis Management Initiative, a conflict-prevention group that organised the meeting.

In an agreement released by CMI, the participants "agreed to consult further" on a list of recommendations to begin reconciliation talks, including resolving political disputes through non-violence and democracy.

The recommendations also included the disarming of factions and forming an independent commission to supervise the disarming "in a verifiable manner."

The four-day meeting which ended on Monday brought together 16 delegates from the feuding groups to study lessons learnt from successful peacemaking efforts in South Africa and Northern Ireland.

It's very early, of course. But if this holds, it's very good news indeed.

Of course, we'll be hearing from President Doofus that it's all because of the surge...

[h/t: Paddy over at Cliff Schecter's blog.]

"Wave of the future"--not.

Misty Irons runs a blog I check occasionally. I don't always agree with her, but her opinions seem well thought-out, are respectfully stated, and are usually worth taking seriously. However, her latest entry makes me wonder. Referring to the press release by the Log Cabin Republicans about the Larry Craig matter (she's got the entire text on her site, you can read it there), she comments:

Principled, patriotic, and taking the moral high-ground. These gay Republicans know how to speak a language that most straight Americans can relate to and understand--which is why I think the Log Cabin Republicans are the wave of the future.


If by "principled" you mean "decrying the closet while actively working for a party that wants to keep them there," I suppose so. I couldn't help noticing they didn't come out with this statement until after the senior Republican leadership started saying the same thing...this is essentially the Republican talking-points list, worked over. Maybe it just took a while to get the press release edited...The story had been going on for days by that time, and their silence was obvious. A cynic would think they were waiting for instructions.

Patriotic? I suppose so. They hardly have a monopoly on it. And "flag-waving" is not a synonym. [I'm not attributing such beliefs to Ms Irons...merely commenting that I see nothing here any more 'patriotic' than any other political press release.]

Moral high ground? I'm not convinced. From where I sit, they appear to be willing to accept second-class status and work for a party that wants to lock in such status, in exchange for tax cuts. (Some of their press releases about the wave of anti-marriage amendments getting passed were truly hilarious.)

If this is the future, we're in serious trouble. Yes, we have to move beyond Planet Hillary, and the sooner the better. But being a Log Cabin Republican requires the kind of doublethink and willful acceptance of a second-class status that no self-respecting citizen, gay or straight, should have to accept, let alone find desirable.

They just don't learn

Sony is in trouble, once again, for putting virus-like "security" software on its products and not letting anyone know it's there.

What's interesting is that this "vulnerability" is being compared to the XCD fiasco. That "vulnerability" was a botched implementation that weakened security, was impossible to remove, and--coincidence of coincidences--even though it used many of the same techniques as viruses, leading antivirus software ignored it. The AV companies just said they worked with "industry partners." Uh huh....

At one time, Sony defined cool in consumer electronics. Today, they're not only user-hostile, they're incompetent.

Read Schneier's book. Or Schneier's other book. Security by obscurity is inherently insecure. And in this case, once again, using products that relied upon it put users at risk.

Yes, security is hard to get right. But you'd think after getting burned on a fundamentally flawed approach that outraged users, outraged regulators, and cost the company millions, they'd have learned their lesson.

Apparently not.

Cart Here, Horse There

A NYT article on the evils of AdBlock manages to be insulting while completely missing the point. The problem, you see, is that this evil program actually gives the user some control.

What happens when the advertisements are wiped clean from a Web site? There is a contented feeling similar to what happens when you watch a recorded half-hour network TV show on DVD in 22 minutes, or when a blizzard hits Times Square and for a few hours, the streets are quiet and unhurried, until the plows come to clear away all that white space.

But when a blizzard hits Times Square, the news reports will focus on the millions of dollars of business lost, not the cross-country skiing opportunities gained.

Likewise, in the larger scheme of things, Adblock Plus — while still a niche product for a niche browser — is potentially a huge development in the online world, and not because it simplifies Web sites cluttered with advertisements.


[T]he program is an unwelcome arrival after years of worry that there might never be an online advertising business model to support the expense of creating entertainment programming or journalism, or sophisticated search engines, for that matter.

First of all, the purpose of the web, and the internet in general, is not to make money. No matter how many latecomers want it to be.

Second, most online advertisers should be grateful I'm blocking their ads. If I don't see their ads, I don't know anything about them. But seeing their ads gives me an impression of the company, and most of those impressions are overwhelmingly negative. Dancing aliens, jarring flashing colors, suddenly getting a sales pitch blaring over my speakers and having to hunt for the ad that's causing it, then the purposely-obscured mute button on the ad, popovers, scroll-bys...

Look, it's really quite simple. If you go out of your way to annoy me, and I have to go out of my way to shut you up, you're not making me want to buy your product or service. Your crackhead tech-school-dropout web designer may be proud of himself for coming up with code that keeps your ad on top no matter what, but all you're really doing is driving people to seek out ad blocking software and to avoid you entirely.

And as for the websites that block FireFox entirely...well, again, I think we should thank them for self-identifying about their priorities, so a boycott is simplified. FireFox offers a valuable, almost uniquely valuable, service. Very few websites do, and even fewer online merchants do. So if I need to choose between FireFox and yet another widget-seller, it's an easy choice. Almost a no-brainer. Just as easy as the decision was in the first place to install AdBlock Plus.

Liars for Jesus

It's always worth checking up on the more outlandish claims.

So what are we left to conclude? PFOX claims to have been attacked verbally and physically on public fairgrounds by one or more unnamed attackers, yet no one we can find who is in a position to know about such an attack has any idea what PFOX is talking about. And though we tried to contact them, PFOX representatives have offered no evidence at all to support their own claims.

Of course, the entire incident is already being treated as unassailable fact among the right-wing set, and will no doubt form the basis of many, many fundraising letters...

Disappointment in Washington

Some people must be terribly disappointed about North Korea.... Diplomacy worked.

The foreign ministry statement, carried by the state news agency, follows a meeting in Geneva this weekend between nuclear envoys from both nations.

Washington said the talks resulted in a pledge by the North to disable its nuclear facilities.

But...but... how will we keep up threats of endless war?

Oh well... we'll always have Iran.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Bad ideas, probably ready for import

From the BBC we learn about a plan in Germany to plant spyware onto suspect's computers via spam email.

The e-mails would contain Trojans - software that secretly installs itself on suspects' computers, allowing agents to search the hard drives.
There would only be "a few" of these (no specification of how many) and for a limited time (no hint of how long).

I don't know what the situation is with German law, though news reports are cited that privacy laws may be violated by this. In the US, of course, there would (in theory) need to be court approval, but as we've seen lately, that's not really required; it's more of a suggestion, just being in the constitution and all.

I give it 6 months before it's done here, and 6 months after that before the story breaks and we find out how many cases it's been used on. And it'll be a much higher number than anyone expects.

And of course, this raises some questions. Will antivirus software be "updated" to ignore "official" spyware? If I find it and delete it anyway, is that taken as proof of malicious or criminal intent? Is it interfering with an investigation?


Such blissful ignorance

A guest editorial at NYT on the Craig follies makes a couple of astounding conclusions:

Clearly, whatever Mr. Craig’s intentions, the police entrapped him. If the police officer hadn’t met his stare, answered that tap or done something overt, there would be no news story.
Um, no. Entrapment involves enticing someone to commit a crime they wouldn't have been predisposed to commit. How, exactly, was Craig "entrapped," encouraged to do something he wouldn't have done ordinarily? As the article itself states, a straight man would have been left alone after the first unanswered cough, gesture, whatever. Craig participated willingly. He was many things, but not entrapped. The question of why Minneapolis is spending public resources sending cops out to deal with these kinds of things is a legitimate question...but a charge of entrapment is risible.

Quoting the first study looking at these questions, "The Tea-Room Trade," she goes on:
“The only harmful effects of these encounters, either direct or indirect, result from police activity,” Mr. Humphreys wrote. “Blackmail, payoffs, the destruction of reputations and families, all result from police intervention in the tearoom scene.” What community can afford to lose good citizens?
Except the only harmful effects don't result from police activity. Unsuspecting spouses are exposed to STD's. Adultery is not victimless. The men themselves are trapped in a cycle of shame and self-loathing. Men who are able to be out don't spend much time cruising the parks and men's rooms. (Some do, of course; but most don't. They have other options.)

She does get one thing right, though:
[L]et’s stop being so surprised when we discover that our public figures have their own complex sex lives, and start being more suspicious when they self-righteously denounce the sex lives of others.

Thrown Under The Bus

A good summary of how quickly the GOP moved to get Larry Craig out of the Senate after his little, um, incident. The difference with the Vitter case, of course, is nothing short of astounding. And while I've argued that it's more due to political consideration than anti-gay animus, well, let's not be completely naive here.

"It's because Craig was charged & convicted." While Vitter avoided being charged due to the statute of limitations, but publicly admitted he'd done the deed. Solicitation is a crime, and according to the "moral values" people, adultery is a serious sin. (Except in the case of presidential candidates, of course.)

The part that pegs the irony meter is that Mitch McConnell delivered the bad news to Craig. There have been rumors about McConnell for years.... poor Mitch has got to be wondering if there's some hustler out there just waiting until the election gets a little closer.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, the hypocrisy reeks to heaven.

Bush's so-called legacy

I've been busy with things for school the last couple of days and haven't had time to write much about this. But President Doofus is thinking about what life is going to be like after he leaves the White House:

First, Mr. Bush said, “I’ll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol’ coffers.” With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, “I don’t know what my dad gets — it’s more than 50-75” thousand dollars a speech, and “Clinton’s making a lot of money.”
Yes, that's true, Clinton is. Of course, people like Clinton. And without Rove, he doesn't even remember to put in terms of "speaking out about the issues" or "working on things he considers important" or something like that... It's about the money. Because 20 million just doesn't go as far as it used to, you know. But wait, there's more:
Then he said, “We’ll have a nice place in Dallas,” where he will be running what he called “a fantastic Freedom Institute” promoting democracy around the world. But he added, “I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch.”
I can see him getting bored, too. After all, boredom is usually a symptom of a lack of engagement. You get bored when there's nothing interesting going on. And this is not a man who engages deeply with the world. Indeed, the last seven years have been short-attention-span theater.
For now, though, Mr. Bush told the author, Robert Draper, in a later session, “I’m playing for October-November.” That is when he hopes the Iraq troop increase will finally show enough results to help him achieve the central goal of his remaining time in office: “To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence,” and, he said later, “stay longer.”
That's the important thing, you see. Keeping troops in Iraq as long as possible. And it's not about the Iraqis. It's about the politics. It's all about the politics. Always has been.
But fully aware of his standing in opinion polls, Mr. Bush said his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would perhaps do a better job selling progress to the American people than he could.
That's right. It's not about the people dying, the chaos, the complete ineffectiveness of the government. It's about how the war's been packaged and sold to the domestic audience.

Aides said Mr. Bush agreed to speak so freely with Mr. Draper only after years of lobbying, in which Mr. Draper said he finally convinced Mr. Bush and his aides that he was writing about him as “a consequential president” for history, not for the latest news cycle. And aides said they saw the book as the first effort to write about Mr. Bush in the context of nearly his entire presidency.
By that measure, he's been a success. They'll be writing about him for years. And I suppose he can't be blamed for finding a suitably sycophantic hack to fire the first volley in the book wars. After all, there are those speaking fees to consider!

Mr. Draper, a Texan like Mr. Bush and a former writer for Texas Monthly, spent hours interviewing Mr. Bush and his close circle of aides in 1998, when he wrote an early, defining article on Mr. Bush’s budding presidential candidacy for GQ magazine.

Mr. Draper’s family also has a history with Mr. Bush’s. Mr. Bush’s father in 1982 was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral of Mr. Draper’s grandfather, Leon Jaworski, a special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal.

Find a loyal family retainer to do your sales job. Classic.
Telling Mr. Draper he likes to keep things “relatively light-hearted” around the White House, he added in May, “I can’t let my own worries — I try not to wear my worries on my sleeve; I don’t want to burden them with that.”
Psssst.... some of us would appreciate some indication that you are worried, just a teensy. We certainly are. In fact, some of us are downright unnerved. And your blithe confidence that everything will be all right if we just let you keep doing what's worked so terribly so far...well, you're not helping. A few signs of worry would be encouraging. As it is, it looks like you're unaware of what's going on.

Oh, and by the way... He's in charge:

And in apparent reference to the invasion of Iraq, he continued, “This group-think of ‘we all sat around and decided’ — there’s only one person that can decide, and that’s the president.”
Except when he isn't:

Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”

But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush’s former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army’s dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ” But, he added, “Again, Hadley’s got notes on all of this stuff,” referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.

Yep, there was a policy. It didn't happen. He apparently shrugged and said "oh well."

And ultimately, the Iraq situation boils down to a problem of politics and PR:

He otherwise addressed his unpopularity as a tactical issue. For instance, in May he said that this fall it would be up to General Petraeus to convince the public that the Iraq strategy is working.

“I’ve been here too long,” Mr. Bush said, according to Mr. Draper. “Every time I start painting a rosy picture, it gets criticized and then it doesn’t make it on the news.”

That's right. Because, of course, the awful biased media only reports the bad things like people dying and troops without body armor and civilian casualties and death squads and ethnic cleansing, but they don't report all the good things that are happening, like, um....well....
“One interesting question historians are going to have to answer is: Would Saddam have behaved differently if he hadn’t gotten mixed signals between the first resolution and the failure of the second resolution?” Mr. Bush said. “I can’t answer that question. I was hopeful that diplomacy would work.”
Given his continual push for war on any old justification at all, this rings pretty hollow.

Absolutely incredible. Completely untroubled by the awful burden of self-awareness. And we put him there.


Friday, August 31, 2007

Link fixed

I think the link for the RSS feed is now fixed.

If anyone cares.

"Moral Values" hypocrisy

Glenn Greenwald shows once again that when he's on point, he nails it.

The issue is not that these Traditional Marriage proponents sometimes stray from their own standards. People are imperfect and will inevitably do so. The point is that they apply these supposed "principles" only when it is expedient to do so, only in ways that are politically comfortable, thus revealing the complete inauthenticity of their alleged convictions.

It is hard to remember an incident that more powerfully reveals the true, deeply unprincipled face of the "Traditional Marriage" movement than the completely disparate treatment from the GOP leadership for David Vitter and Larry Craig. As the likes of Mitch McConnell and (the divorced and adulterous) John McCain oh-so-nobly demand Craig's resignation while continuing to embrace David Vitter, the last thing we ought to be hearing is how this demonstrates newfound moral rectitude from the Republican Party. Whatever is driving the party leaders as they keep David Vitter and push out Larry Craig -- and similarly condemn same-sex marriages while saying nothing about (and often engaging in) divorces and multiple marriages -- devotion to "traditional moral values" is not it.

Tell me another one.

So the US military can't guarantee operational security on a mission to get some civilian (U.S.) lawmakers out of Baghdad without their plane being fired on.

Tell me again how well the surge is working. I keep forgetting.

Will no one rid me of this meddlesome inspector?

Once again, the U.N. team fails to stick to the script, and reports that Iran is taking some steps to cut back on the nuclear program, and at any rate aren't close to coming up with weapons. Naturally, the "we should nuke Iran before they nuke us" crowd is up in arms, because this doesn't fit the narrative.

Given the accuracy of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, compared to the accuracy of the claims that led us into the war, I know who I'm likely to give the benefit of the doubt to.

Because if we're caught breaking the law, the terrorists win.

And the damage to the presidency continues... This time the minions of President Doofus are arguing that they shouldn't have to reveal details of how a Belgian bank provided the US info on various banking transactions, possibly (probably) in violation of the law. Why shouldn't they release information on whether or not they broke the law? Because...wait for it... it's a state secret.

The problem, of course, is that this looks awfully convenient, that the motivation is more of the regime's Administration's desire for secrecy for its own sake. So it's going to be that much harder for the next President to make any such argument. For that matter, it's going to be harder for the regime Administration to keep making that point if they keep overusing the "it's secret because we say it is, and you don't need to know why" defense:

Historically, courts have been reluctant to challenge the secrecy privilege. But the administration has suffered setbacks in seeking to use the secrecy claim in the eavesdropping case and several other recent cases.

“We’ve seen a real erosion of the ‘state secrets’ privilege in the last year,” said Mr. Schwarz, the lawyer suing Swift. “I think it is from overuse. We’ve seen it used in record numbers, in situations where it was inappropriate, and the courts are starting to recognize that.”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

So it's not just us

Great Britain's wind-power scheme seems to be turning into a bit of a boondoggle. Plants built where the wind isn't, where development pressure is high (but winds aren't), and with a power system that isn't prepared to deal with the variability of the electricity generated.

Of course, it's not a simple problem. The power grid wasn't designed for generators that go on and off all day long. There isn't a convenient way to store the electricity generated, and adding a system (some sort of flywheel comes to mind) adds to the cost and complexity, and therefore makes it less viable.

But at least they're doing something. Unlike the US, where the generally accepted solution seems to be more subsidies for oil companies that are already making record profits.

Hilzoy to Democrats: Grow A Spine!

Tell it, sister:

[T]his is not about "distaste". Our objections to allowing the administration to listen in on us without warrants is not aesthetic. It concerns some of the most fundamental principles in our Constitution, and the freedoms we take for granted as Americans. Distaste has nothing to do with it.
The full post really is worth reading. I'm continually baffled why the Democrats act as if it's still 1996 and they've just been repudiated at the polls. These are fundamental principles, and no one seems to care that they're being shredded. The Democrats seem terrified that if they don't give the regime Administration everything it wants, they'll be called names or something. Not realizing, apparently, that the people who voted them into office in large numbers in 2006 want them to do something, and want them to stand up for principle.

It shouldn't need to be said, but apparently it does: Hey, people...we've got your back. Now go do what we sent you there to do. The sooner the better.