Monday, July 31, 2006

The Madness of King Spam

E-mail headers my Yahoo filter caught this week include

killing Womans and innocentt little brilliant puussies!

pulchritudinous Schoolgirls doing resplendent bloowjob!

scenic russsian Bitches in ponoo!

They just keep trying and trying. Shift the strategy, misspell the word, choose a synonym. It's like the eternal war between the virus and the antibiotic. Or my eternal war to keep the ants out of the cat's food bowl, which currently is floating in a tin pan full of water perched on a pie cooling rack like some Hindu vision of the universe.

They Were Guilty

Get over it.

Who? Alger Hiss. The Rosenbergs. You don't have to like Nixon or McCarthy to accept the evidence that they were right. But it takes a mature mind to do so. And that still seems to be out of reach for some folks.

For Americans who came of age in the 1930s (as for many who came of age in the 1960s), the spy trials have been litmus tests for a range of issues: Nixon and McCarthy, to be sure; the Cold War and the nature of the Soviet Union as well. Even more viscerally, the Hiss case pointed to the cleavages in American history represented by the Depression, the New Deal, and even Vietnam. The last is not an anachronism, by the way, but a reflection of the degree to which the past is ever active, continually reviewed and refocused in our minds. “Which side are you on?” Woodie Guthrie asked, and an opinion on the Hiss case or any of the other trials of the 1940s and 1950s could answer that question across the spectrum of American public policy issues.

Yes, and some will go to their graves believing O.J. was framed. But ...

Postmodernists will reject the very idea of truth, but new generations of historians may discover that its pursuit and even its imperfect image have value beyond the nihilism current in so much contemporary historical typing. ... In the end, it is truth that sets us free of the dualism that has clouded American discussion of these issues for so much of this century. For too long, the demagoguery of Joseph McCarthy has been used to argue the innocence of Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs. The truth, in the end, is more complex and even more interesting: McCarthy was a demagogue, and Hiss and his colleagues were traitors.


The Passion of the Drunk

Mel Gibson sez:

"I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable."

Best use of "despicable" since Daffy Duck, but let me ask for a show of hands here among my fellow middle-aged guys who have been known to tilt the bottle more than is good for one:

The thinks you say when you're all liquored up, are they likely to be things you "don't believe to be true" or things you really believe to be true but usually have the perspicacity not to blurt out in public?

UPDATE: "The thinks you say" is a typo too sweet for correcting.

Overdue Bill

Socking the employers of illegal workers with criminal charges is A-OK by me.

Even if such serious enforcement is oh, a couple of decades overdue, and doesn't address, apparently, all employers of illegal help (yes, that means you, individual citizens, though I'd try fines in your case, which didn't work for actual business but might in this arena).

As for this:
“It’s a very uneasy feeling,” said Sister Teresa Ann Wolf, a Roman Catholic nun who works with immigrant workers in Canton, Ohio. “People are afraid to leave the house to go to the store. They are afraid to come to church.”

Is this supposed to upset me? Well, it doesn't. That's part of the point of such enforcement--making it very uncomfortable to do an end run around the legal immigration process and, in fact, to "disencent" such illegal behavior.

If illegal immigrants don't want to have to look over their shoulders, they have a couple of options. (Need I spell them out?)

Just as we do: Enforce the laws or change them. Anything else is dishonest, unjust and destructive.

McCain's Son Signs Up For Duty

Eighteen-year-old Jimmy McCain has joined the Marines, and his father says his position on the war remains unchanged.
Jimmy McCain, 18, will begin basic training in September. He'll spend three months in boot camp and undergo a month of specialized training before being assigned to a unit.

"I'm obviously very proud of my son," the elder McCain told Timefor a story in editions going on sale tomorrow, "but also understandably a little nervous."

With 25,000 of 178,000 active duty Marines in Iraq now and 80,000 having done tours of duty there or in Afghanistan in recent years, the likelihood is high of Jimmy McCain being deployed to a war zone.
McCain has been an outspoken supporter of the war in Iraq and said last month during a Senate debate that withdrawing troops would "risk disaster."

Having a son serving in the war would not change his position, the senator said. McCain, a Republican, is a member of the Armed Services Committee and could become its chairman next year if Republicans retain control of the Senate.

Well, you wouldn't expect anything less, would you?

Debasing Hate Crimes

In a display of banal and extreme jerkiness, Mel Gibson gets drunk, climbs behind the wheel and, when caught, not only makes a general ass of himself but spews anti-semitic sentiments as well.

This behavior is what we want to investigate as a hate crime? A hate crime?

Have we taken leave of our senses? Proponents of the hate crime category actually want to dumb down the definition in this manner? Pray tell, if what Gibson did can be classified as a hate crime, what are we going to call it the next time a group of morally-impaired, worthless thugs decide to kill a gay teen simply because he's gay, for example? Genocide? And then what do we call instances of genocide? Words fail.

In any case, I thought the point of making the distinction of "hate crime" as worse than other crimes is based on the notion of "hate" as the motivation behind a criminal act or acts. So ... we're saying that Mel decided to drive drunk and speed because he's anti-semitic? Did I miss the part where he said, "I had to get likkered up so's I could go run me down some Joos?" Or that he was actually trying to do so when stopped? Or that he was resisting arrest--if indeed what he did after being stopped falls within the definition of that transgression to the point of rising to the level of a crime itself--due to anti-semitism? If the latter is true, then we're redefining resisting arrest as potentially a hate crime?

I mean, WTF?

Perhaps the key lies in the way in which this sentence is worded:
JEWISH groups have demanded Mel Gibson be investigated for hate crimes after the Hollywood star allegedly made anti-Semitic comments to US police officers when he was stopped on suspicion of drink-driving and speeding.

Regarding the words which I emphasized in bold, is the idea that because Gibson was caught making anti-semitic statements while drunk (the latter of which doesn't excuse the former), that provides probable cause for launching a generalized criminal investigation to determine what other hate crimes he might have committed?

Man, I'd love to see that go before a judge.

What a wonderful precedent this would be. Next up, investigations for hate crimes when some drunken fool (or even sober one) starts in with misogynist drivel--or misandrist drivel, for that matter. Or racist drivel, of any flavor (including African-American against whites). Or religious drivel. Or... .

Let's get this straight: Certain groups are willing to debase the very notion of hate crime out of hatred of Mel Gibson and what they perceive he stands for. For the satisfaction of the "gotcha."

How freakin' cynical, and even stupid, can you get?

UPDATE: While I have found generally found The Scotsman to be a decent source, it seems that its story--which is the one I happened to see early this morning and on which my post is based--is slanted in its specific bringing up the hate crime issue and, absent additional sources, misleading, at best, which, of course, means my post is misleading. Based on looking at a number of other articles on the internet this evening, this AP article, in this case printed in the Mercury News, is representative of the way in which the situation, and the statements from Abraham Foxman, the national director of the US Jewish Anti-Defamation League, has been reported by the media.

I want to sincerely thank commenter Alene for prompting me to look further, which, of course, I should have done to begin with, regardless of my previous experience with the original media source that inspired this post.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Thanks To Hezbollah

Lebanon's prime minister thanks Hezbollah for defending his country--not surprisingly, without mentioning that Lebanon was attacked because of the terrorist's group continuing presence and influence in that country in the first place and his government's inability to control its activities, including provocation of Israel.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuoad Siniora expressed his 'gratitude' to Hizbullah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah for "sacrificing their lives for the country."

During a press conference held in wake of the Qana village incident in which 55 Lebanese were killed, Siniora asked: "Is Israel's mission to wipe out the Lebanese? It seems they want to kill all of us. One of those killed today is a baby just one day old. With its aggression, Israel is encouraging extremism."
He said that "in order to reach a general ceasefire Israel must pull back to its borders. Then, Lebanon will fulfill its obligations according to the seven clauses approved by the government."

Among others, the Lebanese government committed itself to an immediate ceasefire, the deployment of its army across all of Lebanon including the south, and the applying of a law according to which only the Lebanese army can carry weapons across the whole of the country.

The problem with this, of course, is that Lebanon has failed to keep its end of the bargain since Israel pulled out six years ago--and, in fact, have we not repeatedly been told that the Lebanese government can't do anything about Hezbollah? Isn't that partly why the Israeli attack has been characterized as unfair? How, then is Lebanon supposed to exert control over Hezbollah now, disarm its members and ensure that weapons are born only by the Lebanese army? Does the latter have power and authority now that it didn't before?

And even if the government miraculously and suddenly has a measure of control that it claimed it didn't so very recently, how credible can its promises be, not just in light of its actions and inactions over a number of years, but in light of Siniora's expressing his "full admiration for Nasrallah and all those who sacrifice their lives for Lebanon"?

It's hard to imagine Israel agreeing to a ceasefire that doesn't also include Hezbollah (and vice versa) given how far this down the path this engagement as gone. How can Siniora possibly think it helpful, at this juncture, to praise Nasrallah? Because it seems to me that in appearing to move closer to Hezbollah, the Lebanese PM is reducing incentive for an Israel to compromise, not increasing it. And it also bolsters the argument that part of what Israel feared to begin with was Lebanon's vulnerability to being co-opted by Hezbollah and its attitudes.

Of course, Siniora's got plenty of opinion on his side against Israel and on the side Hezbollah, which may explain his apparent confidence.

Tonight, I'm thinking that I was too upbeat earlier today--which sure isn't how it felt this morning. How did I forget rule #1 in the Mideast: Never underestimate how much worse things can get, and how quickly.


They're mongrels. No spots! No spots at all!

The sole purpose of my post here is to bring this post on--eek!--Hippies! Hippies! Hippies! to the attention of XWL, for the sheer wicked fun of provoking him into a Cruella-like hissy on one of his biggest pet peeves.

Yeah, I'm in a mood. What of it?

; )

Not A Gentleman's War, Nor Hope's Hook

This morning, as I (reader-iam) sat watching CNN and listening to a reporter relentlessly question the woman whom she was interviewing about the morality of Israel killing civilians, clearly under the assumption that Israel is cold-bloodedly, profligately "targeting" them for death and destruction, I happened to be reading this story featuring photos of Hezbollah, smuggled out of East Beirut and published in the Sunday Herald Sun (Australia).
The images, obtained exclusively by the Sunday Herald Sun, show Hezbollah using high-density residential areas as launch pads for rockets and heavy-calibre weapons.

Dressed in civilian clothing so they can quickly disappear, the militants carrying automatic assault rifles and ride in on trucks mounted with cannon.

The photographs, from the Christian area of Wadi Chahrour in the east of Beirut, were taken by a visiting journalist and smuggled out by a friend.
The images include one of a group of men and youths preparing to fire an anti-aircraft gun metres from an apartment block with sheets hanging out on a balcony to dry.

Others show a militant with AK47 rifle guarding no-go zones after Israeli blitzes.

Another depicts the remnants of a Hezbollah Katyusha rocket in the middle of a residential block blown up in an Israeli air attack.

The Melbourne man who smuggled the shots out of Beirut and did not wish to be named said he was less than 400m from the block when it was obliterated.

"Hezbollah came in to launch their rockets, then within minutes the area was blasted by Israeli jets," he said.

"Until the Hezbollah fighters arrived, it had not been touched by the Israelis. Then it was totally devastated.

How dare those Israelis! Immoral, unfeeling, disproportionate bastards, corrupt tools of the decadent, imperialistic West! Unlike Hezbollah, they fight with abandon, cynically tossing aside any notion of boundaries or respect for life along with the bodies of their victims.


[Sheikh Naim] Qassem, a founding member of Hezbollah in 1992 and deputy general secretary, claimed Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has remained in Lebanon and has not taken refuge outside the country as has been rumoured.

“The Israelis have said several times that they were targeting the general secretary and some of his leadership in bunkers because they are certain that they are indeed in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s leadership is used to being in the field.”

Qassem admitted Hezbollah had been preparing for conflict since Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000. He claimed it had not been convinced that Israel’s aspirations in Lebanon were over, despite its withdrawal.

“The fact that Israel kept the Shebaa Farms (a strip of disputed land on the border), held on to the prisoners and its continuous reconnaissance flights over Lebanon were all indications of its aggressive intentions towards Lebanon,” he said.

Of course, Israel has proved Hezbollah's wisdom by responding to that group's continued presence and growth in influence in Lebanon over the past six years and refusing to ignore the fact that other parties to the brokered agreement that led to Israel's withdrawal from that tragic country had reneged in their commitments.

See? See? We told you that Israel was up to no good! It insists on responding to our ongoing provocation and stated desire for the Jewish state's elimination from the face of the earth!

As it happens, I've come to the opinion that it's more likely than not that Israel has made some fundamental miscalculations in its attack on Lebanon, most especially in terms of its timing, but also in an apparently overly optimistic assessment of both the desire of rank-and-file Lebanese for Hezbollah's expulsion and the strength and ability of Hezbollah itself. A good chunk of the rhetorical response from kibbitzers in the U.S., particularly with regard to calls for "striking while the iron is hot" in expanding war into other countries (however malign) has been irresponsible at best. And the handling of the situation by the U.S. and other governments has been remarkably unfocused, disorganized, and even tin-eared, given the pre-eminence of the Mideast situation over the past several years (not to mention the previous quarter century, at least).

All of that, however, is a far cry from assigning the majority of ultimate moral blame for the carnage, civilian or otherwise, in Lebanon to Israel, much less the U.S., Britain or the West generally, rather than Hezbollah, which appears to have little problem with swaddling itself in blankets of civilians.

After all, Israel may be be choosing where to aim its high-tech arrows, but Hezbollah is responsible for the calculated placement of the targets, and for cynically painting the bull's-eye as red as red can be.

Ah, but with the West's advantages, its vaunted values, its supposed superiority and strength, shouldn't it take the higher ground and condem Israel for letting fly? Shouldn't Israel, and its "puppet-masters" (a misnomer if ever there was one: The last thing that Israel should be considered is a puppet), answer to a higher set of rules and self-restraint?

Coincidentally, just before coming inside to check both cable news channels and the internet for updates this morning, I happened upon a reprint of a piece of dialogue from the 1943 film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (admittedly propaganda, but transcendent), cited in James Bowman's Honor: A History****:
"I read your broadcast (says Theo) [a former WWI German officer with whom the film's British main character, General Candy, had a duel way earlier in the century but ended up befriending], up to the point where you describe the collapse of France [in WWII]. You comment on the Nazi methods, foul fighting, bombing refugees, machine-gunning hospitals, lifeboats, lightships, bailed-out pilots and so on, by saying that you despised them, that you would be ashamed to fight on their side and that you would sooner accept defeat than victory if it could only be won by those methods."

"So I would."

"Clive, if you let yourself be defeated just because you are too fair to hit back, the same way they hit at you, there won't be any methods but Nazi nethods. If you preach the rules of the game while they use every foul and filthy trick against you, they'll laugh at you. They'll think you're weak, decadent. I thought so myself in 1919."

"I heard all that in the last war. They fought foul then, and who won it?"

"I don't think you won it. We lost it. But you lost something, too. You forgot to learn the moral. Because victory was yours, you failed to learn your lesson 20 years ago and now you have to pay the school fees again. Some of you will learn quicker than the others. Some will never learn it--but you have been educated to be a gentleman in peace and in war. But Clive, dear old Clive, this, this is not a gentleman's war. This time you're fighting for your very existence against the most devilish idea ever created by the human brain, Naziism, and if you lose there won't be a return match next year, perhaps not even for a hundred years."

Disheartening, that vision, but unfortunately resonant--as is this poem, which has been running through my head for several days:

I keep hanging up my hopes
On the signs of the seashore preparing itself
For the oncoming summer
The ring of sand doesn't care for the meaning of writing
Nor is the cycle of the wave visible to the naked eye.

I am a friend of the friend of the sea
And an enemy of the enemy of the land
Between these two there's nothing but air
Some of it melting in the speeding wind
Some of it slow as a tortoise.
Between speed and slowness
I inhale the loneliness that's left.

My watch has become useless for all
Except for the one who wears it
There's a time lag between the other side
Of the sea
And the other.

A place is marked only by the one who loves it
So Ill hang up my hopes
On the scaffold of distant hope
Once here once there
And when the right time comes
My watch will be left with no hands.
--Naim Araide

****(Bowman's book is a fine piece of work, and--in a first for me, I think--I recommend it heartily despite not having finished it yet. Far from being a polemic (which, frankly, I expected, and I'm delighted to be wrong), it's a thoughtful review of changing definitions of honor over time, and the struggles, both individual and aggregate, over and with evolving cultural attitudes toward the concept, in theory and practice. Yet (unlike my previous sentence!), it's neither dry nor highfalutin', but deftly explores its topic with reference both to history and art, especially literature, but not confined to it. Over my lifetime of reading widely and voraciously, I can think of relatively very few books which were so immediately relevant in myriad ways that I knew, within a few chapters, that I would be re-reading them--probably immediately upon completion--and pondering deeply. This is one.)


Friday, July 28, 2006

Better Late Than Never

Did you suck up to thank your system administrator today?

Seriously, we couldn't blog without a whole string of 'em. Thanks, guys and gals.

Subpoena Issued In NSA Leak Probe

The National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC) has issued a press release charging that the government has launched a "witchhunt" by serving a subpoena to Russell Tice to testify before a federal grand jury in connection with the NSA's secret surveillance program that included monitoring of American citizens without FISA oversight.

From the NSWBC press release:
On Wednesday, July 26, Russell Tice, former National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence analyst and a member of National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC), was approached outside his home by two FBI agents who served him with a subpoena to testify in front of a federal grand jury. NSWBC has obtained a copy of the subpoena issued for Mr. Tice’s testimony and is releasing it to the public for the first time. The subpoena directs Mr. Tice to appear before the jury on August 2, 2006 at 1:00 p.m. in the Eastern District of Virginia. Mr. Tice “will be asked to testify and answer questions concerning possible violations of federal criminal law." [To view the subpoena click here] (RIA note: The link in the press release goes to a pdf.)

In response to the subpoena, Mr. Tice issued the following statement: “This latest action by the government is designed only for one purpose: to ensure that people who witness criminal action being committed by the government are intimidated into remaining silent.” He continued: “To this date I have pursued all the appropriate channels to report unlawful and unconstitutional acts conducted [by the government] while I served as an intelligence officer with the NSA and DIA. It was with my oath as a US intelligence officer to protect and preserve the U.S. Constitution weighing heavy on my mind that I reported acts that I know to be unlawful and unconstitutional. The freedom of the American people cannot be protected when our constitutional liberties are ignored and our nation has decayed into a police state.”

I've criticized this administration's cavalier attitude and mindset toward civil liberties and oversight processes previously, both here, I believe, and certainly at my dormant blog (and in very strong terms, if I remember correctly). I also refuse to ignore history and the important role that whistleblowers have played in revealing abuses. However, I also think that there has been an excess of leaking to the press, and for purposes and reasons that are far from noble and selfless. (Important note: I'm not speaking directly to Tice's case here, since I don't know enough to specifically assess his circumstances and motives.)

Whistleblowers toe a very fine line, and thus so must we. Because they sometimes play an invaluable role in reining in out-of-bounds overreach on the part of government (or business, or whatever, for that matter), it's important we allow for reasonable benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, because of the often unknown nature of private motivations and agendas, we must also cast a skeptical eye, lest we enable and, in essence, deputize unelected, unaccountable (to voters), lower-level civil servants and general employees--who by definition may not have access to all information and context--to make major decisions on our behalf.

For this reason, I do not find it particularly inappropriate for a whistleblower, or anyone with whom he spoke, to have to answer questions before a grand jury or any other lawful investigative body. Whistleblowers, by definition, are trying to bring forth information into the light of public scrutiny, so that actions, policies and so forth can be openly scrutinized and judged. It seems no less reasonable to me that whistleblowers themselves be subject to the same sort of scrutiny, to ascertain their agendas and whether they did, in fact, follow all relevant procedures and exhaust all official avenues for airing their concerns before going to outside channels, most especially the press.
“What we are seeing here is a government desperate to cover up its criminal and unconstitutional conduct. They now are going beyond the usual retaliation against whistleblowers who courageously come forward to report cases of government fraud, waste, abuse, and in some cases such as this one, criminal actions. Their old tactics of intimidation, gag orders, and firing, have not stopped an unprecedented number of whistleblowers from coming forward and doing the right thing. Desperate to prevent the public’s right to know, they now are getting engaged in a witch hunt targeting these patriotic truth tellers.” stated Sibel Edmonds, the Director of National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

Well, this is what I'd expect Edmonds to say. We, however, don't really know the truth of this--which, in fact, is somewhat dependent on whether it turns out that Tice's motivations were indeed at least substantially "pure," and whether he in fact followed all relevant procedures and processes but had his concerns dismissed out of hand.

(Those last few words are critical to me, by the way: If his concerns were received and evaluated seriously but he the process still didn't result in the his preferred outcome, that does not automatically justify his going to the NYT or any other external person or organization. Disagreement is not synonymous with bad faith, much less cover-up.)

In any case, examining Tice's role (and not just his, of course, but I'm focusing on him only because the press release about him is the catalyist for this post) is part of the process of examining the bigger picture to determine whether or not the public's interest has been served and whether or not "witch hunt" is appropriate terminology.

I've stayed away from commenting on Tice's original motivations and actions specifically because, as I made a point of noting several paragraphs back, I don't know enough to comment intelligently and fairly from an informed position. However, I do think it's entirely reasonable to judge and comment on his own words, as expressed in the NSWBC release:
...I reported acts that I know to be unlawful and unconstitutional.

Questions (serious, not snarky): Is Tice a lawyer, constitutional or otherwise, or distinguished scholar in these areas? Are most people in his position, or other positions which entail access to sensitive information? If not, how does he really "know"? It seems to me that people with distinguished credentials and years of experience in these areas have made compelling arguments in both ways, and often at odds with one another. It seems to me that we are now in the process of debating and adjudicating these issues. It seems to me that we have not yet settled this precisely yet (though we do know that we have some real problems to address and issues to solve.) So how can Tice "know"? Should he, or people like him, have the final word, on an ad hoc basis, in such a context as this?
The freedom of the American people cannot be protected when our constitutional liberties are ignored and our nation has decayed into a police state.

No one in his or her right mind could disagree that our freedoms are intrinsically tied to constitutional liberties (though of course there can be disagreement as to what those are). But the last part of Tice's sentence?

Oh, bullshit.

Yeah, you read me right: Double bullshit, with a whole assortment of other types of crap piled on top. There are many countries more oppressive to a great, greater or even massive degree than ours, and that's before you even get to actual police states.

I'm assuming that this is either hyperbole, simply meant to get our attention (or because Tice and his supporters really do think we're stupid) or stir the juices of journalists, or to express immense frustration and stress, which is certainly understandable.

On the other hand, if Tice and NSWBC actually believe this, then they're either delusional or so utterly ill-informed and tunnel-visioned about the state of the world, in the present and historically speaking, that it calls into question their competence to make judgments about almost anything, much less issues that touch upon either national security OR the constitution and civil liberties.

Which sorta bolsters the argument of those voices out there that've been criticizing the whistleblowers from the very start, don't you think?

Talk about cutting yourself off at your own knees... .

A Hint Of Pause?

Israel decides against expanding its attack in Southern Lebanon, although it's calling up 30,000 of its reserves just in case.

The Israel Air Force on Thursday scored a successful direct hit against Hezbollah's missile command center deployed in Tyre, which has been primarily responsible for targeting Haifa and its surroundings. The regional command center was located on the 12th floor of a Tyre building that the IAF destroyed.
Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.

The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington.

An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hezbollah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trumpeting American plans for a “new Middle East” that they say has led only to violence and repression.

Tempted to connect any dots?


Sweet Home Crawford Texas

I see that Cindy Sheehan has reached the giddy stage of her "fast," based on her girlish gushing about the home-away-from-home she just bought to accommodate all those people who want to "join" the president whenever he vacations in Crawford, Texas.
Our new property is in town and literally right around the corner from the
Peace House. It is a beautiful, wooded 5 acres of land that will be ideal
for our expanding peace population and for hosting our growing family. We
are looking forward to being good neighbors in Crawford whenever we are
there and we are looking forward to having good neighbors, also.
Crawford is a beautiful place and Camp Casey has made it even lovelier. I
feel so at home there. When I am able to return, I feel a renewal and
resurgence of energy and hope. The sunrises and sunsets and star-lit nights
are breathtaking and there is nothing like a cool (if rare) Crawford evening
breeze to dry off the sweat and sweeten the soul.

At last! Something on which Sheehan and President Bush might actually agree--well, except for the part about Camp Casey part, no doubt.

Maybe after the president leaves office, Sheehan can turn her new little corner of paradise into a New Age day spa and weekend-getaway destination spot. Her "expanding peace community" would surely be a ready-made labor pool of appropriate talents, and of course she already knows her way around organic juice-'n-smoothie bars. Her friend Hugo Chavez could jet in for the grand opening, and maybe even bring one of the buddies or two he's in the process of cultivating--Belarus' Alexander Lukashenko jumps to mind as a perfect example of someone who could use a restorative break from the burdens of dictatorship. Heck, perhaps even Kim Jong-il could convince his people to spare him for a few days of renewal.

Don't think she should bother to send a complimentary pass to Laura Bush, though. Or most of her new neighbors, either.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Don't Get Mad, Get Upside Down

If you're too lazy to encrypt your wireless, you could just torture your thievin' neighbors instead. Keep scrolling down, kiddies (unless you actually want to try this at home).

Hat tip to my DH, back in Iowa, who'd better not be messin' with our neighbors this way.

(And by the way, I never realized I had inferior taste in cute kittens. Sheesh, I'm such an inveterate link-clicker. Pathetic. If this part of my post ends up making no sense to you, then you're likely not afflicted with the same disease.)

Tangled Knots

Tangled Knots I
Tangled Knots II
hoary tides collide,
hamlets v. napoleons:
mankind overboard

Why Hold Grudges?

Why Hold A Grudge?

No Magic Spell ...

Spit That Out This Instant

The high price for allowing gum in school:
Federal drug agents aren't laughing about marijuana packaged in yellow, smiley-faced gumballs.

The "Greenades" gumballs were found in January at Howard High School in Ellicott City. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency recently released an intelligence bulletin about them.

"It's a new idea and it's new to the DEA," Gregory Lee, a retired supervisory special agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency, told The Baltimore Examiner. "When it comes to drug dealing, you're only limited by your imagination."

You think making those kids wear that gum on their noses for a class period or two will solve the problem?

Nah, I don't think so, either.

Once A User, Always A User

First rule of addiction: All active addicts, by definition and out of necessity, are liars.

Second rule of addiction: Active addicts will do anything and use anyone to get a fix.

Drugs aren't the only things to which people get addicted. The same rules apply, though, whatever they're seeking as a means to a rush.

The reason addiction is hard to beat isn't, ultimately, the nature of what one is addicted to, but the nature of the hardest habits to break of all: self-deception and denial, arguably the most toxic elements on the face of the earth.

Hat tip for the Volokh post, which led to Lauria's piece; I've been following Leopold's crash-and-burn trajectory for a while, but Lauria's story of his experience, which I'd missed, is truly alarming.

Landis Blood Test Stains Victory

If a second test confirms that heightened levels of testosterone/epitestosterone are due to performance-enhancing drugs, the Tour De France winner's team plans to fire him.

Until the second test comes in, I think we have to give Floyd Landis the benefit of the doubt. But given the doping scandals that already tainted this year's Tour de France, not to mention other sports over the past several years, it's fair to ask: What's up with athletes not only being so willing to disregard rules, but to do so even in a climate of heightened awareness and therefore despite an increased likelihood that they'll get caught? I mean, how stupid can you get? How disrespectful can you be of the sport that you supposedly care about so much that you'll do anything to stand at its pinnacle?

I know that there are quite a number of people (including some readers here) who think the taking of performance-enhancing drugs should be OK. I'm not going to get into that argument myself (but y'all feel free to go ahead in comments, if you want), because it seems to me that it comes down to different philosophies of human ability, achievement and merit, and there's almost never any point to debating that.

But regardless of how one stands on the issue, it seems to me that we should all be able to agree that as long as the rules and regs stay as they are, it's utterly ignoble to ignore them. I mean, isn't it antithetical to the concept of sportmanship to completely flout the rules of the game you're playing, or contest in which you're competing?

Or, when it comes down to it, do we really only care about the so-called "achieving" Athlete, rather than the Game or the Sport itself? If so, the cult of celebrity has trumped all, once again, in yet another area.

And, once again, we are all lesser for it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Killer User-Experiences, Not Killer Features

The 10 fundamental rules for the age of user experience technology as outlined in a piece published in Ubiquity, an ACM IT magazine and forum.

This list nails it, for the vast majority of users, most of the time. You'd think a lot of the items would be obvious, but ponder your own experiences and those of your family and friends.

Pretty cool mag and forum, by the way.

Hat tip.

Neither Weird Nor Crazy

Practical Moderation

Sean Aqui outlines some tactics to back the vision.

In my (reader_iam's) estimation, Aqui is one of the very best contributors at Donklephant, and one of the sharpest, most thoughtful advocates of the moderate movement anywhere. He is a model for balanced thinking and writing, and while I surely can't say I agree with him on every issue, I've never read a post of his that wasn't worth every minute, and then some.

(For the record, I wouldn't know him from Adam if he magically appeared on the couch next to me this minute. Frankly, I've never even bothered to google. Hmmm: making a mental note... .)

In the post to which I linked in the first paragraph (which he first published at Unity08), he moves beyond the standard, lofty rhetoric about the virtues of the moderate cause and suggests some actions which any like-minded individual can take. (By the way, I don't mean the rhetoric reference in a pejorative way: It's just that it's necessary to move beyond that, and quickly, decisively and persistently, if the point is to have an impact in any practical way.)
...But what will really force the parties to pay attention is fundraising. If supporting moderate viewpoints generates huge sums of cash, the parties will become more moderate. Rhetoric and ideology have power, but money is king.

So contribute to moderate candidates, wherever they may be. Support (or create) moderate PACs. Volunteer for campaigns. When party fundraisers call, tell them that you have already contributed to the moderates in the party and if they want a party-level donation they need to start addressing your concerns on a party level as well.

Excellent! And carefully note the "wherever they may be" part. I'm interpreting that to mean in places other than one's own community or state (though, for those of us registered as independent or, as in my case, "no party," there's an additional meaning, and opportunity). The activist bases of both major parties didn't achieve the influence they have by minding their own business and sticking only to parochial and/or local issues and races. Moderates need to learn to meddle more in other people's sandboxes, just as their more partisan counterparts have been doing for a long time now!
Even more importantly, convince others to do the same. If moderates indeed represent a large and decisive slice of the electorate, the parties will get the message loud and clear. Even if it doesn’t lead directly to election victories, it will strengthen the hand of moderates in both parties.

I think this is a real problem for moderate voters, who by definition have a tendency to shy away from mixing it up or advocating among people who don't share their moderate tendencies.

I'm admittedly generalizing here, but moderates often tend to get tied up by their ability and inclination to see (and even embrace pieces of) both sides, a mindset that is useful for honest and balanced analysis but disadvantageous for activism. They frequently have strong ties--both ideologically and practically speaking--with more partisan people on both sides of The Divide, which perhaps leads to a too-strong preference for keeping the peace. That also leads them to making the mistake of putting up with being called wishy-washy or lacking in principles when those charges are unjust. (It should go without saying that sometimes such accusations are indeed, well, justified.)

To get back to Acqui's post, I'm also impressed with this point:
In the short term, the key is to note that seats are gerrymandered to make them safe for parties, not particular ideologies. If you don’t care about the party label, then the answer is simple: work to help moderates win their party’s nomination in a particular district. The more we can make a race be a choice between two moderates, the more we can make the gerrymandered system work for us by electing — and protecting — moderates.

At a minimum that means voting in primaries, and doing your homework on the candidates. But that’s not really enough, since at that point you’re just picking from a pre-selected group of candidates. What it really takes is getting involved in the party of your choice, so that moderate candidates stand a better chance of surviving the internal party debates that precede the public primaries. Anything that weakens the strangehold that partisans have on party organizations will help move the parties toward the center. [All emphasis added.]

I'm glad to see these suggestions, because although the approach being advocated will likely take a long time of persistence to bring forth significant fruit, it strikes me as having a far better chance of success than trying to establish a third party, the prospects for which I am more than deeply skeptical on most days.

Apart from all the obvious problems with trying to launch a successful third party, such efforts inevitably are attempted on the national level, from the top-down, which not only is antithetical to the mood of the electorate just now, but completely disregards one of the oldest "truisms" in the book: All politics is local. (At least, it starts out that way.) Even if the "all" is somewhat overstated, there's no denying that what's been most successful over time is building from the bottom up, and that retail politics--whether in-person shaking of hands, skillful rallying of 'netroot communities (which operate very closely along the local, rather than national, model) or whatever--is more effective and nurtures deeper roots than wholesale ever will.

I could sign on to an awful lot of what Aqui's advocating (some of it I already do, and have been for a long time). I do have one more cautionary note to sound, however: Beware of the tendency for moderate movements to really become just a cover for another flavor of the left, with the standard assumptions but without some of the hot-button rhetoric. In short, it's important to define "moderate" in terms of actual substance, and not just style.

I know that there are those who will jump to disagree with me, which of course is fine, but it's been my personal observation that those who fall slightly left of center are much more prone to track more toward the partisan-left over time (if not sooner) than those falling slightly right of center are to move toward the partisan-right. I don't know why that is, but that's been my experience--including back in the days when I tended more left myself. It will take tremendous self-discipline on the part of leaders--and a very, very strong commitment to be willing to both question the source of their own assumptions and compromise on even their own pet issues--to avoid that fatal trap. (Note: I'm definitely not speaking specifically to Aqui here, but rather more generally.)

Do with that caveat what you will. In any case, for now, you can count me in.

To Every Thing There Is A Season

Could A Headline Be More Loaded?

Come off it, NYT, this one's not even subtle: "Senate Removes Abortion Option for Young Girls."

Here's a question for you, slot-editor-who-wrote-that-hed (I assume, unless a higher-level editor did it, in which case the slant and misleading nature is even more egregious). Let's say the Senate had voted down S403, which prohibits adults taking minors across state lines for an abortion without a parent's permission and in order to evade parental notification laws. Let's say you disagreed with that outcome. Would you have written, "Senate Approves Abduction of Teen-aged Girls"?

Because that would be about as precise and nuanced as the hed that currently tops the article.

And don't tell me there was no way to fit a more neutral construction. I spent a few years on nightside copy and city desks myself, back in the day, and the same techniques and parameters apply for newspapers big and small. How about, "Senate Bans Evasion of Parental Notification Laws"? Sure, that's not as sexy, but it does have the virtue of of avoiding editorializing-by-implication on a freakin' hard news story.

Does the NYT just flat-out not care anymore about preserving the distinction? I'm not one to believe that journalists are as purposely partisan as they're accused of being, but crap like this sure makes it hard to defend that position.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

child's play

note to self--in future, resist temptation to show 10-month-old nephew the sights and sounds of your laptop--for a rapid touch-typist, life without a left shift key and with questionable fn, ctrl and option keys is a real bitch.


But You Let Us Get Away With It Before!

So does this mean Hezbollah might have thought twice before kidnapping the two Israeli soldiers had Israel smacked back hard sooner? That the group was expecting a more "proportional response," but is now--just like your classic playground instigator or troublemaker--mightily affronted, highly indignant, and defiantly self-righteous because its bluff got called and the provoked went on the offensive?
The truth is _ let me say this clearly _ we didn't even expect (this) response.... that (Israel) would exploit this operation for this big war against us," said Komati.

He said Hezbollah had expected "the usual, limited response" from Israel to the July 12 cross-border raid, in which three Israelis were killed.

In the past, he said, Israeli responses to Hezbollah actions included sending commandos into Lebanon to seize Hezbollah officials or briefly targeting specific Hezbollah strongholds.

He said the Shiite group had anticipated there would be negotiations on exchanging the Israeli soldiers for three Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails, with Germany acting as a mediator as it did before.

Puts an interesting light on things, doesn't it? Even sort of suggests that perhaps some rethinking about the wisdom of Israel's reaction on the part of those who are just so absolutely certain that, long-term, terrorist groups will respond just as well or better to negotiation and accommodation as they do force. And that maybe, just maybe, there's at least a little bit of truth in the idea that terrorist groups--like those playground bullies--do tend to interpet what we call restraint and temperance as weakness and appeasement.

Oh, I know that's not the whole picture, and that the situation is more complex. Still, it seems to me that some serious, clear-eyed and sober re-evaluation is needed to combat overly wishful thinking in some quarters.


But, Gee, I Know What Chavez Did Today


I dropped my son off at camp today around 9:45--late, because he wanted to come back to the house and hang a bit after walking with Papa (we're visiting his grandparents).

Five minutes ago, I casually stroll into the living room and nearly fall on my ass after tripping over--my son's sneakers.

My son's sneakers?!! The ones he wore for the walk today and that I told him to put back on right before we went out the door this morning?

Oh, Lord. Could I possibly have taken that child by the hand and led him to the vehicle; made sure he was safely buckled in; driven at the speed limit to our destination; gently helped him out of the van; lovingly escorted him into the building; hugged him; handed him his correctly packed, nutrionally balanced, junk-free and yet tasty brown-bagged lunch; and watched him head to his first camp station, without ever noticing that he was in his stocking feet?

Please say it ain't so.

Now, my in-laws run this camp (they own a large day-care/pre-school). Kind, non-confrontational people that my mother- and sister-in-law are (not to mention indulgent, after 14 years, of my, well, being different from them), it is very possible that they wouldn't call and ask me what the hell I was thinking. Actually, I can't imagine them using that latter phrase, period, under any circumstances.

So I can't decide whether I should call or just let it go.

I know one thing: If I was that absent-minded today, my father-in-law and my husband--overly endowed with a wicked sense of humor about such things--will never let me live it down. I'll bet my son'll never forget it, either.



Gee, Don't Everyone Volunteer At Once

We wouldn't want a cooperative and--dare I say it?--multilateral approach, now would we?

And kibbitzing is ever so much more fun, not to mention easier, than actually playing bridge in the big leagues.

What Every Voter Needs To Know

A distillation after a fairly extended period of general eavesdropping:

"Forget about describing your grand, lofty and generic visions. Spare me your theories and philosophies. Forget what the other guy's visions, theories, or philosophies are, or what you think they are. In fact, forget talking in terms of comparing yourself to anyone else, period.

If I vote for you and you win, tell me what I'll have to do differently, what I'll have to do less of, what I'll have to do more of, what I'll gain, what I'll lose, and how much more money you'll want from me and to benefit whom (or, how much less you'll take and who gives up a benefit as a consequence). Answer those questions as specifically, briefly and--above all--as directly as possible, without digression or retreat to generalities, given the profile you've assigned to me.

I'll be able to tell for myself what you stand for, what you want to accomplish, and how you compare to other candidates. Don't shape the debate for me, show me the goods."

Monday, July 24, 2006

Channeling Arnett

Nic Robertson concedes that a piece he did for CNN on damage done to civilian areas in Beirut was essentially engineered (not in the technical sense) by representatives of Hezbollah.

The fact that he was led around by keepers wouldn't be such a big deal in and of itself, except that he failed to issue appropriate disclaimers or caveats during the piece--as other reporters did.

Good for Howard Kurtz, a Washington Post media writer who also hosts CNN's Reliable Sources, for pressing Robertson on Sunday's edition of the show (the link provides the transcript).

Robertson's still a day late and dollar short, in my book. Doesn't this add just a few more dollops to the pool of doubt as to what's being reported from the Middle East? And won't you wonder (perhaps more than usual), the next time you see a story reported by Robertson, what context he's leaving out?

For more context and details of the stage-managed tour conducted by Hezbollah, here's an entry on the Anderson Cooper 360 blog, to which Hot Air points and follows with this question:
Did Cooper report any of this? I wonder.

People are going to say: "We never believe what they tell us, anyway." But they do, you know. To this day, people believe all sorts of stories related to Hurricane Katrina, for example, that simply weren't true--or, at least, were never verified.

This stuff matters, and it's simply not good enough for a Robertson to assume that his viewers will assume that his report is suspect. Without an appropriate (even if indirect) disclaimer, an incomplete, even slanted, picture is being provided to viewers from the git-go. And the reporter's credibility--and, by extension, that of the network on which the work appears--suffers. Or at least it should.

Treating Sex In Space With Gravity

Scientists advise down-to-earth-approach to feasibility of orbital flings.

“Sex in micro-g might be a little underwhelming. That is, the fantasy might be vastly superior to the reality. It’s a pretty messy environment…for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction,” Logan told an attentive audience over the weekend at the NewSpace 2006 meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation.

Sex in zero-g is going to have to be more or less choreographed, “otherwise it’s just going to be a wild fling,” Logan advised. But for those looking forward to space migration and setting up self-perpetuating civilizations off-Earth, the space physician raised several warning flags.

It makes perfect sense, of course, but I never considered the necessity of gravity for proper skeletal development in fetuses, for example, and movement in babies after birth. Yeah, I can see how that might be a problem in setting up space colonies with long-term "native" growth potential.

And am I the only one who finds the employment in this article of such phrases as "front and center" and "tall pole in the tent" just a teeny bit suggestive, even provocative, given the the headline and general context?

C'mon Baby, Light My Fire

Ho, hum. Could the ideas and mood expressed in this article
and this one about the DLC convention possibly scream "lackluster" more? Talk about precisely demonstrating one of the major criticisms of the status quo Democratic Party!

Based on the following quotes alone (two from the first link, three from the second) ...

"I think it's important for our party, specifically as we enter the fall elections, for candidates at every level to have innovative and creative ideas," [Iow Governor Tom] Vilsack said in an interview before arriving in Denver.

""Is there a way in which we can provide health care coverage during those transitional periods when people are learning new trades and learning new skills? That's something," [Vilsack] said.

"I would like to be identified as a leader who makes sure Americans understand the challenges that we face and that Democrats have the answer," Vilsack, chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, said in an interview.

"If people don't first trust us with their lives, they are not going to trust us with anything else," [Indiana Sen. Evan] Bayh said in an interview.

"Part of what we've tried to do is be in a position to drive the debate," said [DLC ounder and chief executive officer Al] From, who is an adviser to Vilsack and was instrumental in Clinton's 1992 campaign.

... I'd sooner watch paint dry. And I'm one of those people who actually like reading about wonky policy proposals and listening to people talk about them.

Part of it may be the tone set by Vilsack, a smart and very nice man who's one of the handful of politicians I've run across in IRL who, in person, appears to look at everyday people with actual sincere interest. Unfortunately, even regrettably, that's no substitute, in national politics, for that je ne sais quois which can kickstart the juices flowing in body politic, much less appeal to the already slavering activist camp.

"Drive the debate"? Um, how about starting by saying something interesting?

And--please!--with just a teensy bit of passion, maybe?

Update: Dumb mistake corrected. Merde!

Blogging Boosts Credibility?

Do you (would you) trust a journalist more if he or she blogs?

Seriously, weigh in here. For me, this just doesn't compute. Thinking quickly, I'm not sure how many of the reporters whom I most admire blog (at least regularly, or in the mode that I think of as blogging), or, if they're from the past, would have done any such thing.
Vulnerability. It's a good thing. It's what people need to establish healthy relationships, and it's why journalists (among others) should blog.
What's so great about vulnerability? To be vulnerable is to have your defenses down. Whether this is in a relationship or at work, it usually leads to better communication. Often you find that you didn't need the defenses in the first place. They just got in the way.

You know, I don't really care if journalists are "sharers," or extroverts, or comfortingly vulnerable. I'd take smart, shrewd, widely and well read, and intellectually and ethically rigorous over friendly any day. And I'd definitely prefer a healthy skepticism of trendiness over an unthinking embrace of the "therapeutic culture," for example, obsessed as it is with feelings over facts, reactions over analyses, opinion over data.

In short, I don't want my journalists huggable, I want 'em credible, and far from the former building up the latter, I think--if deliberately cultivated or worried over, as some sort of goal in and of itself--the first quality is much more likely to compromise the requirements for achieving the latter.

What about you?

Delicacy? In A Pig's Eye

Some culinary traditions are better left in the ashcan of history, the nasty breadcrumb imagery included.

Update: Well, here this toss-off post has been sitting all day, with a bad link, until my husband finally took pity on me and called from Iowa to tell me I'm an idiot, and blind, too! No, not really--I'm not sure he thinks 900 miles away is far enough to pull that one off. Heh.

And no, for the record, I do not think Christie's should be consigned to any sort of ashcan, nor should whatever it is they're auctioning these days.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Honey, Your Laundry's On The Phone!

Can a toilet that calls to complain about the smell be far behind?
Washers and dryers that link wirelessly to Internet-connected home networks are being tested by consumers who are receiving updates on their dirty laundry via cell phones, computers and TV sets.

Why on earth would people--already inundated with IM's, e-mails, junk mail and constant calls from people who, due to the ubiquity of cell phones, expect instant availability and response--want to add to the cacophony with a direct dial from their own appliances? And when did monitoring one's laundry become such a challenge and a burden that a technological assist of that type is required?

Of course, microwaves that can cook food more efficiently and precisely are great. The idea that appliances can adjust to conditions--such as dishwashers that can "smell" dirt levels and washers that can self-level during spin cycles, etc.--is a
wonderful thing. But I, for one, don't want the darn things adding to my volume of calls, e-mails, or IM's, thankyouverymuch.
"When you think about it, it's just laundry. It's not exciting. But this isn't about technology. It's about the emotional impact of the technology," said Tim Woods, an Internet Home Alliance vice president.

OK, it's true that I "love" our Roomba, but I'm not emotionally involved with it and can't imagine becoming so with any appliance, no matter how technologically advanced. Isn't that what people, or nature, or works of art, are for?
"I think this is a great example of people using new technology to solve a problem that doesn't exist," said Laura Champine, a home products analyst for Morgan Keegan. "I've done my own laundry for four decades and I've never been away from my home and wondered how it's doing. Until the cell phone can load the dryer, I don't know how this technology will work for me."

I'm with her, even if that makes us both fogeys (a possibility, in my case, which I've already conceded). Except that I'm not so sure it's such a great idea to find ways to avoid toting laundry and loading dryers. Don't most of us already suffer from too much encouragement to sit on our butts and way too little activity for the amount (and types) of food that we eat? It's not as if most of us are going to spend the time saved working out at the gym or even with an exercise video in the comfort of our entertainment rooms. And what does it say about college students who have no problem taking the time and expending the effort to check for empty washers and dryers on a website, but think it's too much of drain on their schedule and energy to just trot down to the laundry room and use the eyes with which they were born? (After all, even they could use the exercise, statistically speaking, these days.)

You know, I've always thought the human mind--certainly its potential--is the most amazing piece of technology imaginable. How ironic, then, that we seem to be so enamoured of using that power to create technology that allows us to demand less of ourselves, that implies that we're less competent than we really are, and that increasingly makes us more and more dependent on complicated, expensive, resource-hungry and self-sufficiency-gutting externals.

Are we really sure that all of these "tools" are truly adding more quality--in terms of time or any other measure--to our lives? And if we never have to remember anything, or organize ourselves around tasks as opposed to the other way around, is it possible that we will gradually lose some essential abilities, some core flexibility and organic self-sufficiency attached to those skills? And what about raising the bar, yet again, for what's considered "necessary" for comfortable survival in daily life? I'm not sure that's worked out so well, in the big picture, and most especially if the electricity ever goes out for an extended period.

After all, there's a fine line between between being freed by technology and ultimately enslaving ourselves to it, down to the tiniest details (and, I'm sorry, but in my book starting the washing machine is a tiny detail).

Where's your line?

Dangerous Art

Dreamscape sculpture takes patrons on a nightmare ride, killing two and injuring 13.

What a horrible freak accident--and a way, way more "intense, direct experience with art" than I'd ever care to have.

By the way, anyone know how likely it is that this could happen to one of those bouncy houses that kids love? My son always begs to go into those, and while I let him, I always worry that they'll accidentally deflate or something (just one of those weird quirks: generally, I'm not a safety-paranoid mom). It never occurred to me to start obsessing as to whether the damn things could take off into the air!

Wicked Of Me To Link To This Spoof

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Charting Your Way Through The Murk

Slate presents "The Middle East Buddy List." Scroll down to the hyperlink in the last sentence (no direct link).

I don't know that I'd say the chart provides everything you need to know, being more of primer and necessarily constrained in scope and nuance, but it sure is a nifty idea, and does at least as good a thumbnail job as I've seen anywhere else. The map component is handy, too, for those who aren't geographically inclined.

Slightly off topic, but this sort of tool strikes me as a natural for bloggers/citizen-journalists, at least those with graphic and technological know-how. I'll bet students would find this kind of presentation more "friendly" than straight, traditional, explanatory text, for example. It reminds me, a bit and certainly with several twists, of the old multiplication charts we all made back in elementary school, before calculators. Talk about the old becoming new again!

Break Out The Shades and Surgical Gloves

Not that I really think that they will prevent biometric spoofing.

Right? Because if they will, I'll have to rethink my whole approach to accessorizing.
Although biometric security systems--using fingerprints, iris scans and facial recognition--are only just now entering the mainstream, they are likely to be common within a few years.

And as soon as biometrics begin to be used to protect bank accounts or benefit systems, crooks will start looking at ways of breaking into them, according to Bori Toth, biometric research and advisory lead at Deloitte & Touche.

Biometric spoofing is a "growing concern", she said.

Toth told "We are leaving our prints everywhere so the chance of someone lifting them and copying them is real.

"Currently it's only researchers that are doing spoofing and copying. It's not a mainstream activity--but it will be. It's just human nature; if it can be done it will be done if you can achieve some benefit from it."

Idle questions: If you leave your fingerprints everywhere, are they actually private? If I regularly seek and maintain eye contact, can I later say that my irises aren't public? If I talk constantly, am I just begging to be recorded?

Sure, these questions are farfetched. But then, so was this sort of technology, not so very long ago.

Identity theft, indeed.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I'd Have Fired Her, Too

What a non-story, a complete non-scandal, this business about contractor Christine Axsmith being fired over her blogging activities at the CIA.

Readers familiar with my stance on free-speech issues might be surprised by my emphatic stance on this one. Why not go to bat for the rights of this woman?

Because it's not a free speech issue. She was on company time, using a company communications organ intended to share work-related information, and she wasn't even an employee of The Company. Nor was she a consultant or advisor on policy, or even an analyst, but rather a computer engineer charged with software "performance and stress testing."

She was a contractor, a strictly "at-the-pleasure-of" worker at the CIA, and not a very savvy one, at that, apparently. Whatever she may have been thinking when she decided to put in her two cents, at a client site, using a client's property, on a topic that had absolutely nothing to do with her contract job, she wasn't thinking clearly. Her judgment left a lot to be desired, and it's absolutely reasonable for both the CIA and BAE, the company who was providing her services to the CIA, to be uncomfortable with her continuing in her role. Frankly, it wouldn't bother me if the tipping point had been her "most popular post -- bad food in the CIA cafeteria," rather than one related to the Geneva Convention(s).

There was a period of time when I spent a lot of time as a consultant--a contract worker--at client sites (and virtually), both as a direct contractor or as a sub hired on a project basis to work as part of a team managed by a major corporation working for various of its clients. At various times, I worked as a documenter, a training developer, a training materials editor, a user procedure tester, and so forth. In addition, for a period of time we also had a couple dozen or so subcontractors going through our small company doing similar, or even more, technical work.

So I'm not just talking through my hat when I say that I have a little insight into what it's like to be a contractor, what both client and customer expectations are, what the boundaries are, and some of the big no-no's.

Unlike some, perhaps, I actually can envision circumstances under which Axsmith might --might--have had access to sensitive reports in connection with putting together or conducting training (which, by the way, still wouldn't make commenting on them part of her job). But if she were in that sort of circumstance, that's all the more reason that she should have known better--even if she, as an apparent employee of BAE, as opposed to a sub--didn't have a contract an inch thick specifying all the ways in which she was to toe the line.

And no, it doesn't make a difference that it was a blog internal to the client. And no, I still don't think it would be a free-speech issue if she'd written the same information on a personal blog on her own time.**** [See update.] Presumably, she, or BAE as her employer, have extensive confidentiality agreements by which they must abide, and which she would have violated under that scenario. I'm not presuming much, either, based on the contracts that I have signed over time and, in some cases or ways, by which I am still bound, years later.

Christine Axsmith made a not-so-uncommon, but easily fatal, contractor error of thinking that she was really "an insider," someone who belonged, who could say or do whatever she wanted, rather than the "at the pleasure of" cog she truly was, and it affected her judgment. That sort of contractor poses a real risk to the company providing workers at a client site. And no company that cares about its reputation can afford to be tolerant of that kind of risk.

(I don't mean "cog" to dehumanize her, by the way: Remember, I've been a cog, too, and as recently as a little over a year ago. It simply is a reflection of the reality of the position, in many if not most circumstances. Almost every consultant/contractor I've ever known has understood this. Those that haven't ... well, let's just say that more often than not, they've ended up in Axsmith's position.)

I understand why WaPo decided to go with this story: The CIA, elements of the Geneva Convention, references to waterboarding, top-secret blogging, interrogation reports, free-speech, a firing and so forth made it too good to pass up. Hell, as an editor or reporter, I'd most likely have gone with it, too. (Though I hope I'd have had more of clue as to the role of a contractor and done a better job of providing a more complete picture of relevant issues.)

But there's still no real beef here: A contractor got too full of herself, made a stupid decision (actually, more than one, but it took a while to catch up with her), and violated some basic Contractor/Consultant 101 precepts. She's a martyr to no cause and was betrayed by herself.

However, I'll bet she's already got a lawyer or lawyers telling her otherwise... .

***Clarification update: ***Hmmm. I see that as I've written this, I'm implying that there would be problem with Axsmith having expressed her stance on waterboarding, in the abstract, on a personal blog. Of course, there wouldn't be. I was thinking more specifically of the references to reading classified interrogation transcripts and commenting on whether European lives were saved based on that, or generally blogging about the client worksite, information gleaned there, etc. etc.

Dean's Big Tent Talk

What I like about Howard Dean is his consistent message that goes like this:

"We cannot be a national party unless we have the courage to ask every single American for their vote," Dean said.

Right. It's the most patriotic thing an American partisan can say. He risked his nomination bid in 2004 on a statement to the effect that guys in pick-ups with gun racks and rebel flags also ought to be able to find a place in the Democracy.

Go ahead, write off every state of the old Confederacy. But try to win a presidential election without one. And yet after Dean's Confederate flag quip his peers pounced on him as though he had a Klansman in the woodpile. What he's saying is smart politics, but it's also good for the country.

As Michael Novak wrote after Zell Miller's 2004 convention speech:

Well, a lot of Democrats were from the families of poor whites, and whatever our education we did not want to abandon our families. In fact, we saw in them a lot more wisdom than we found on the campuses. Especially on the question of what is and is not a threat to the survival of this marvelous country of ours — its decency, its honor, its goodness — Zell Miller speaks for us.

If only the Democrats I know weren't so smug in their arrogant exclusionism and more proud of the votes they don't get than the votes they do, the party might get out of its rut once in a while.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Lying in Winter

Sometimes, amid all the hue and cry over crushing of dissent, it's good to be reminded what real totalitarian leaders do to the voices of their subjects:

"I thank you comrade chairman ... I thought I had succeeded in developing a personal idiom that adhered to the wise demands of the Soviet people ... I now see I was mistaken and have underestimated my need for artistic correction. I acknowledge the rightness of the party's judgment. I shall work on the musical depiction of the heroic Soviet peoples, from the correct ideological standpoint. Equipped with the guidance of the Central Committee, I shall renew my efforts to create really good songs for collective singing."

Well, "history" may be an abstraction, but the Greeks made her a muse with a mind, and she does seem to enjoy flipping the tables. The man who forced the brilliant Shostakovich to make that groveling socialist recantation, Tikhon Khrennikov, head of the soviet composers union, finds himself on the wrong side of the table:

When I suggest he led the regime's repression of musical life, he becomes angry and yells at me that I am recounting lies and slander; he says the reason the Soviet Union needed to encourage positive socialist realism in music was because "you" (the west) had erected an iron curtain to threaten the USSR; the campaign against Jewish composers was regrettable, he says, "but don't forget there were many Jews in musical life and they launched unfair attacks on my compositions."

Khrennikov tells me he was simply told - forced - to read out the speech attacking Shostakovich and Prokofiev in 1948: "What else could I have done? If I'd refused, it could have been curtains ... death. They made me do it; and anyway, Shostakovich and Prokofiev were sympathetic to my plight - they knew I had no choice: I did everything I could to help them financially while they were banned and repressed ... and they were grateful to me."

But even now he is proud of the power he wielded under Stalin: "My word was law", he says. "People knew I was appointed personally by Stalin and they were afraid that ... I would go and tell Stalin about them. I was Stalin's Commissar. When I said No! (he shouts), it meant No."

Old commisars never get over it, do they? And leave it to the Guardian to end up finding Khrennikov's repression of the artists morally justifiable:

Khrennikov was certainly flattered by the power and influence Stalin conferred on him, and he did his master's bidding with a vengeance: his ruthless imposition of "socialist realism" dogged Soviet music for decades and tormented the greats like Shostakovich and Prokofiev. But he is right when he says it would have been someone else if he had turned it down. And it is undoubtedly true that composers and musicians avoided the mass arrests and executions that Stalin inflicted on the writers.

Yes, yes, and if Mengele hadn't been the doctor someone else would have been the doctor. And after all, he was just following orders.

In some depictions, she has the seen-it-all look of a girl who's heard, more than once, all the stories men tell to get their lying asses out of the doghouse.


Sad Sack criminal suspect du jour has to be the 6-foot-1, 190 pound man who whipped out a gun, jumped up on the freezer of a Philadelphia grocery, and menaced the owner and 15 customers while demanding money.

And Thomas Santana, nine inches shorter and 43 years older than the young thug simply walks up behind him, grabs him around the shins, while the owner gives a shove from in front and topples the gunman to the floor.

Stunned the gunman starts squeezing the trigger, managing only to shoot himself, grazing his head. Santana, meanwhile, plucks a jar of Mott's applesauce off a shelf and starts whacking the crook with it till the cops get there.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bible Stories

Wartime euphemisms are nothing new. During the Atlanta battles in 1864, one of Sherman's soldiers took a fancy engraved Bible from a home in Decatur, Georgia. The Good Book eventually ended up in a Yankee home, with the inscription "Captured in Decatur, Georgia. July 20th 1864."

Sort of reminds of the old Indian chief's quip about the Union troops in "Outlaw Josie Wales": "I didn't surrender, but they took my horse and made him surrender. They have him pulling a wagon up in Kansas I bet."

In writing about the Bible, the Journal-Constitution doesn't claim the book surrendered. But they use verbs like "taken," "stolen," or "snatched." The probable correct term, "looted," doesn't make it into the AP or the AJC copy.

But the Bible -- captured or stolen -- turned into an American story as two families opened its cover to tell their stories.

Wood and Spencer probably never actually met, but their families were bound by the purloined Bible for decades. On pages reserved for weddings, births and deaths, the histories of both families — the Woods and the Spencers — are meticulously documented.

Confederate on the left.

Union on the right.

Dead Parrots Society

A young English professor writes:

Dead Poets Society is old enough now for many professors to have been inspired by it as undergraduates. I remember seeing it during my junior year, and I thought, at that time, that the film encapsulated many of the romantic feelings that led me to become an English major the year before.

Ugh. I love poetry and I have a cringing reaction to "DPS." Vachel Lindsay? Come on.

But it's an interesting article. After a semester of teaching "the development of literary theory from humanism to structuralism to poststructuralism to the dilemmas of the present," he asks his students, "So, why do you want to study literature, knowing what you now know?" They give a range of answers, which would be the same ones I'd give, and which, he writes, "defied everything they had been taught in my theory seminar."

The problem is you can't get to where I am now without going through a decade or more of immersion in a highly politicized and anti-literary academic culture. You have to spend so many years conforming that, by the time freedom presents itself, you don't know why you became an English major in the first place. You might even have contempt for your seemingly naïve students, who represent the self that you had to repress in order to be a professional.

Ayup. And that's why I'm working on a copy desk and reading poetry for pleasure still instead of teaching it for a living. Going to graduate school for literature because you love poetry is like studying clinical gynecology because you love tantric orgasms.

Of Vice and Men

Theodore Dalrymple, the British essayist whose background is as a medical doctor and psychiatrist, has an old-fashioned view of the world that allows for right and wrong and a belief that Western Civilization is the best answer yet devised to the human situation. Which means a lot of people will pigeonhole him as a conservative.

Here, he picks up two of his pet peeves from American medical journals. The second is articles on childhood obesity that focus on government as the party exclusively responsibile for solutions.

What was very striking about the two articles in the NEJM, however, was the complete absence of reference in either of them to the responsibilities of parents towards their own children, or to the cultural context in which parents have largely abandoned such responsibilities. The articles mentioned that television advertisements had made it difficult for parents to control their offspring’s diet, and that they somehow transferred the onus for making a choice about diet from the parents to the children. A majority of children now claimed that it was they, not their parents, who decided what they ate.

How old is this tendency in America? At least as old as the 1830s. Back then there was a segment of the body politic that blamed societal vices (always the same ones: crime, poverty, substance abuses) on systematic social inequalities, class oppresion, or corrupt institutions.

And there was a segment that saw individuals making bad choices or abjuring all choices. They saw a culture that too often encouraged and rewarded laziness and sensual temptation and seemed to gnaw the roots of moral behavior.

The poor are not poor because the rich are rich. Or are they? Self-improvement can raise people out of the traps they were born into. Or can it?

The unresolved tensions certainly go depper than 1830. The questions, and their clashing answers, add up to who we are, Americans.

We're mostly descended from people who left homes all over the world to come here because they believed in their individual capability to succeed on the strength of their own efforts. But they also came from places where they knew the social institutions and established religions and aristocracies kept them locked out of opportunity to succeed at home.

The believer in America says this place is different -- exceptional -- because it was built to leave the paths to success open. Equal opportunity is our mantra. The other voice says the game can be rigged, even here, and too often is. The fortunes of the two political parties have been tied to nothing more firmly than to which of those two visions the voters have uppermost in mind on election day.

The dilemma has nothing to do with big government/small government labels. The advocate of individual responsibility often wishes to use the government to encourage people in the right choices, or to make the wrong ones more difficult to obtain.

Advocates of change in the social order to promote equality and justice rarely can pass up the chance to use government to accomplish it. The few cases I can think of where they are anti-big-government are the cases where the government is so involved in protecting or promoting the system deemed evil that the advocates of change would rather the government die if it took down the institution with it. Garrisonian abolitionists, for instance.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Eye of Newt

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says America is in World War III and President Bush should say so.

He lists wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, last week's bomb attacks in India, North Korean nuclear threats, terrorist arrests and investigations in Florida, Canada and Britain, and violence in Israel and Lebanon as evidence of World War III.

Well, North Korea and Hamas don't have much in common, but then neither did bushido Japan and Nazi Germany.

It's possible he's right, from a historical perspective. And Gingrich is better than most U.S. politicians at being able to think historically, three days out of five. Nobody back in 1337 came home from work, clicked on CNN, and said, "Oh, no, the Hundred Years War has begun." The historical view sees related conflicts separate in place and time as single wars. The Peloponnesian War had long intervals of truce and peace, but we rightly consider it a single conflict. So the U.S.-Soviet conflict of 1945-1989 may seem, a century from now, to be a single world war in which Korea, Vietnam, Bay of Pigs, and Afghanistan (1980s) were campaigns or episodes.

And it's possible our grandchildren will read that a world war began on Feb. 26, 1993, when Islamists tried to topple one of the Twin Towers onto the other amid a cloud of cyanide gas. Even if the plan failed, the details didn't emerge until much later, and at the time it seemed like another wacky day in the Big Apple.

My guess is they'll call it World War IV, though, since they'll probably decide the Cold War and its flare-ups were World War III.

But that's an academic exercise. People don't live in history books. Should we, as Gingrich thinks, treat this as a real world war in our daily decisions about justified use of force and about curbs on civil liberties?

I've written before that one of the principal differences among Americans today is that some of us believe the United States is at war, a dangerous war against a desperate enemy. And other people don't believe that's true at all. To the non-believers, the people who are waging war look violent and paranoid, and to the people at war those who don't believe it look like appeasers and useful idiots, if not outright traitors.

The realists probably would argue that it's nonsense to try to distinguish one type of war from another and adjust tactics accordingly.

Yet surely there's a doctrine of proportion that a civilized nation ought to bear in mind when it marches to the battlefield. Not because it expects the enemy to have any such decency, but in spite of the fact it knows the enemy will not.

Seen in part, America battling the Islamists and North Korea and Iran probably looks to the rest of the world like a pro wrestler swatting horseflies. In Israel, the enemy has loudly proclaimed the country has no right to exist and will be destroyed by any means necessary. And now it has shown the consequences of an Israeli pullback.

[Gingrich] said European leaders and some in the Bush administration who are urging a restrained response from Israel are falling short of what needs to be done "because they haven't crossed the bridge of realizing this is a war."

Once that's accepted, he said, "Israel wouldn't leave southern Lebanon as long as there was a single missile there. I would go in and clean them all out, and I would announce that any Iranian airplane trying to bring missiles to resupply them would be shot down. This idea that we have this one-sided war where the other team gets to plan how to kill us and we get to talk, is nuts."

Meanwhile, a quote from one of the Associated Press California wildfire stories struck me as perhaps appropriate to the Mideast story, too:

Two major fires in the California desert have merged, which fire officials described as a positive development.

"The fact that they burned together makes it easier for us because now we're only dealing with one perimeter," said Wayne Barringer, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry.


Nice Place; Be a Shame if Something Happened to It

This Philadelphia Inquirer article reports on a real issue and a real problem. Center City Philly is now a wonderful place to hang out and have fun on a Saturday night. Yet the neighborhoods only a few blocks away suffer a high rate of violent crimes against people and property.

Most American cities I know that are still thriving have that division in place. You can look at it and see a rebirth of once-great cities that has the potential to spread out past the poverty wall and lift up the urban neighborhoods, too.

Or you can see it as a permanent stasis, a tension that can stand for generations, like the casinos-and-crackhouses schizophrenia of Atlantic City.

Or you can look at it as a bunch of fat, stupid sheep unaware of the wolves slavering at the edge of the forest. Which seems to be the approach the Inquirer takes:

"The haves and the have-nots, the safe and the vulnerable - usually two separate worlds like that don't stay separate," said Mark Alan Hughes, the Robert A. Fox Leadership Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. "In this case, my feeling is that the status quo - and maybe a little worse - is sustainable for a while. But it wouldn't take much to change things."

For now, the two worlds stand apart. To a striking degree, the gun violence, which has devastated so many Philadelphia families, has largely spared Center City, the surrounding neighborhoods, and other upscale areas.

Which, considering this is a story about a non-issue -- the blood-letting crime assault on the affluent part of the city by the slums -- makes me wonder about the mind that does imagine it in a lurid, almost yearning, tone:

None of the killings has involved any of the key elements of the city's resurgence. No tourists have been shot in the historic district, no suburbanites gunned down near trendy restaurants, no empty-nesters outside their new condos.

There's an awful lot of positive imagination in that list of things the newspaper says haven't happened ... yet. It's hard for me to read it without hearing the reporter's sneer.

If Norman Rockwell Painted for Stalin

... the result might be something like the art world of North Korea.

In fact, there is no uncertainty at all expressed in North Korean contemporary art, no individual hopes or expressions, no mystery. As Kim Jong-il said: "A picture must be painted in such a way that the viewer can understand its meaning. If the people who see a picture cannot grasp its meaning, no matter what a talented artist may have painted it, they cannot say it is a good picture."

Still, some of it may surprise you. Be sure to watch the slide show.

Final Frontier

New Mexico wants to build a $225 million "space hub" where tourists can take off on suborbital flights into the wild black yonder. Let the Roswell jokes begin. They;re going to call it Spaceport America. The old name was Southwest Regional Spaceport, but that "was a mouthful to pronounce and didn't reflect the cutting-edge vision of the project," accroding th AP, citing New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans.

Here's the newly redesigned logo:

Perhaps a bigger joke than the Roswell one is "Spaceport America" with a global image of Africa right smack in the middle of it. (And the Middle East at the top and Antarctica peeking up around the bottom.)

It's not like there are no images of New Mexico from space.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Dating Emergency

A "cutie-pie" cop arrests a woman who called 911 and asked a dispatcher to play matchmaker.

Sure, she was "misusing" the emergency dispatch system, but up to a year in jail and thousands of dollars in fines seems a bit of a steep price to potentially pay.
it all started with a noise complaint called in last month by neighbors of Lorna Jeanne Dudash. The deputy sent to check on the complaint knocked on her door, then left.

Thompson said Dudash then called 911, asking that the "cutie pie" deputy return.

"He's the cutest cop I've seen in a long time. I just want to know his name," Dudash told the dispatcher. "Heck, it doesn't come very often a good man comes to your doorstep."

After listening to some more, followed by a bit of silence, the dispatcher asked again why Dudash needed the deputy to return.

"Honey, I'm just going to be honest with you, OK? I just thought he was cute. I'm 45 years old and I'd just like to meet him again, but I don't know how to go about doing that without calling 911," she said.

"I know this is absolutely not in any way, shape or form an emergency, but if you would give the officer my phone number and ask him to come back, would you mind?"

A classic example of "be careful what you wish for," wouldn't you say?