Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Publish the Memo!

There is now a full-scale campaign in favor of publishing the oddly classified Blair-Bush memo regarding the threat/joke/Tourette's symptom about bombing Qatar-based al-Jazeera.

I'm not a big one for blog campaigns, having been burned by MoveOn (they were supposed to disappear when their job was done. In case you haven't noticed, they're still here!) but I'm in. I'll post my number in the list of member bloggers, which is currently almost 200, plus scores more in comments and trackbacks, when they update the list. Go here to sign up, or view the list of member bloggers.

This is a gross misuse of the Official Secrets Act, and of classification schemes in general. Unless the President and Prime Minister were discussing the secret weapons in development that might have made the bombing somehow less of an atrocity.... no, there's no good reason. It's pure bureaucratic ass-covering.

Release the Memo!

Quotes Galore on Planet Claire

Planet Claire has a really nice collection of quotations, sorted by source. I'm particularly fond of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Homicide: Life on the Street stuff.

Also, I discovered in comments below, Ravings of a Madman's mostly conservative quotations. Some solid historical stuff, so far.

Blogging will be perfunctory for the foreseeable (I can't see very far) future.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Octopush Champions!

Yes, it's just what it looks like: They are playing hockey underwater. I have to agree with the description of octopush as "a supreme aerobic game - other sports at least allow you to breathe as you play" and note that it is now as venerable as some of our better-known sports, being over fifty years old. It is clearly going to take off now, as extreme sports enthusiasts tire of individual, style-oriented pursuits and look for team sports with real scoring.

I can understand inventing the game. Eventually, everything will be tried once, particularly variations on existing themes (and octopush clearly draws on hockey, water polo and diving). I don't understand doing it twice.

Put not your faith in secrets

One of the very common liberal criticisms of the war in Iraq is that the Bush-Cheney administration ignored the intelligence analysis coming from the experts at the CIA and went ahead with their own analysis. As eb points out though, the CIA has been part of the problem of politicized and distorted intelligence and analysis as much as it has been part of the solution.

And Congress?
I have long marveled at the inability of most oversight legislators and staffers to ask clear questions; their failure to frame pertinent follow-up questions borders on the absurd.
And he's not alone.
Espionage and covert action are essential tools of foreign policy and national defense, but they do not lend themselves to near-perfect oversight.
Which is why it's important to have people of integrity and skill doing the work. Very, very important.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Hunger Strike Ends!

Ryan Commerson, the ASL teacher who refused to eat until serious problems in Michigan Deaf education were addressed, met with state education leaders and is satisfied that they will follow through to seriously consider and address the issues, to the extent of their authority. The hunger strike is over, but a vigil will continue at MSD until actual action has been taken.

Quotations #078

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." -- Edmund Burke

"If I were an antiquarian, I would have eyes only for the old stuff, but I am a historian. Therefore, I love life." -- Henri Pirenne to Marc Bloch

"The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of the truth -- that error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it has been cured of one error, is usually another error, and maybe one worse than the first one." -- H.L. Mencken

"Omnia mutantur; nihil interit." [All things are changed; nothing dies] -- Ovid, Metamorphoses 15,165.

"Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." -- Northcote Parkinson

Coherent Absurdity

Ralph Luker (thanks for the link, Ralph!) is responsible for sending me to the best quote I've seen in days:
"What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?" -- James Joyce, Portrait of the artist as a young man
Actually, it's the punch line (of sorts) of an Umberto Eco column in which he cites lots of very smart people on the inherent difficulty of having faith without feeling like an idiot. To be fair, not having faith doesn't actually solve the problem of feeling like an idiot; actually, you have a much broader field of idiocy to work in, and you can be much more creative.

But... Joyce is wrong, and Eco is wrong, to prefer coherent absurdity to illogical incoherence. Don't get me wrong, I'm no anti-rationalist, not much of a post-modernist, and I like things to make sense. But the world doesn't. And there has yet to be a religious system that didn't have a huge dose of tribalism and revelatory supremacy. Agnosticism makes sense; understanding the world requires flexibility about rules and systems. God has a sense of humor, as well as a sense of justice.

How is honor possible in a war like the one in Iraq?

That was reportedly the suicide note left by military ethicist Col. Ted Westhusing, Ph.D.

What did the army and his co-workers have to say?
"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited," wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He could not shift his mind-set from the military notion of completing a mission irrespective of cost, nor could he change his belief that doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do should be the sole motivator for businesses."

One military officer said he felt Westhusing had trouble reconciling his ideals with Iraq's reality. Iraq "isn't a black-and-white place," the officer said. "There's a lot of gray."
In other words, it's as bad as you think.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Is "Stars and Stripes" part of the liberal media?

Chris Bray, god bless him, is still blogging. When he's not exposing illegal government secrecy (not military secrets!), he's reading between the lines of the Department of Defense (our own DoD, yes) flagship daily, Stars and Stripes.

So far he's offered us a little-noted sign that we may not be the ones determining our exit timetable or strategy from Iraq and evidence that the contradictions of imperialism are alive and well.

Maybe I ought to start reading it myself? Nah, Sgt. Bray is doing a fine job already.

Sagittarius, with a Cancer Moon....

"You thrive on balance in all aspects of your life. You have a great deal of passion and when it comes to love, you like to play games. You have a tendency to search for something better, a search which always seems to come up short. You have difficulty finding satisfaction in life, but you have a great ability to get along with almost anyone."

. : : Which Astrological Planet are You? : : . [10 Gorgeous Pics!]
brought to you by Quizilla [via]

Of the possible results, Jupiter and Pluto might fit just a bit better. But not much.

On a second read-through, I find the description disturbingly close to that of a codependent enabler.... oh, well.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

What's Left of Democracy....

Tom Englehardt says that
Polls are, it might be said, what's left of American democracy. Privately run, often for profit or advantage, they nonetheless are as close as we come these days -- actual elections being what they are -- to the expression of democratic opinion, serially, week after week. Everyone who matters in and out of Washington and in the media reads them as if life itself were at stake. They drive behavior and politics. Fear, too, is a poll-driven phenomenon.
He's right about the way in which many professional politicos treat polls, but he ignores the subset of "true believers," those whose views and tactics are not poll-driven. There are people of principle (including fanatics) on both sides, and they are the ones who frame the discussion, who force the polls to be taken, who design the polls to scare the politicos.

These are anti-democratic forces, and no wishful thinking about "the voice of the people" can change the fact that polls don't represent it any better than elections. No, you want to know what's left of democracy? You're reading it, friend.

Time-Waster: Physics for Fun!

The above link is a game in which you must "fire" an atom in such a way that it doesn't collide with any of the (increasingly numerous) gravitational masses long enough to advance a level. It's very simple physics, really, but the computations necessary to make the movements realistic are a testament to the immense quantity of spare computing power we have at our disposal. This is kind of educational, really, if you need a quick intuitive brush-up on gravity and motion. I like this kind of thing: simple, easy to get better at, and reality-based. I don't want to get into on-line games.... again.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Splog = Spam + Blog

I love new words. Well, actually, mostly I like discovering old words that mean something I thought there wasn't a word for; to be honest, most modern neologisms are faddish and awkward. Honestly: "blog" is pretty much the verbal equivalent of slapping mashed potatoes on a plate from an awkward height....

Still, tracking back a recent comment I discovered a relatively new blogger who shared a new word:
Like most of the comments I delete here, a splog is a weblog entirely devoted to hawking a particular product, company, service, etc.

Google, according to the linked post, is trying to filter out splogs from its search algorithms, which is good for the rest of us ... and their own ad revenues, of course: they couldn't be bothered to deal with the neo-Nazi Jew googlebomb, or embedded text search engine traps, until their bottom line was threatened. Oh, well.

In (barely) related news, the best thing I could get from the (almost completely right-wing) Carnival of Satire this time around was a link to a thorough linguistic and sociological discussion of l33tspeak. iF i WeRe K00L iD Ri3H+ 1iK3 +Hi5..... yeesh.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thursday Lyrics (Thanksgiving Edition): Simple Gifts

I already used Thanksgiving Eve last year. So I picked what may well be my single favorite Christian hymn. I don't have a lot of those.

I imagine that I am not the only person who knows only the first verse and refrain. I learned this from the singing of Judy Collins; I've been blessed to know Quakers since who consider this one of their songs as well. This song also makes me think of Sufi dancers....

Simple Gifts
Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr., 1848

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right
'Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
'Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we'll all live together and we'll all learn to say,
'Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
'Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of "me",
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we'll all live together with a love that is real.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Yeti Speaks! Zook Rants!

The latest Skeptic's Circle upholds their tradition of creative presentation: Interview With a Yeti, and a skeptical one, at that. It's tough being obscure: You get misunderstood by all the wrong people!

Aside from stuff I'd already read (Orac, PZ Myers, tinfoil hats), my favorite so far is EoR's attempt to define whether Reiki is a religion. And there's an interesting (if incomplete) meditation on the relationship between science, skepticism, credulity and fundamentalism. I'll have to go back to that one and think about it.

And Anne Zook is in fine ranting form today, and I entirely concur. She's bookended the rant with wonderful links about politics and energy (both links are about both; it's not either/or, anymore, if it ever was).

Finally, from Chris Bray, shooting fish in a barrel....

Why Don't We Have Suicide Bombers?

What causes suicide bombers? According to one undercover documentarist,
Oppression, lack of freedom, brain washing, organized poverty, placing God in charge of daily life, total separation between men and women, forbidding sex, giving women no power whatsoever, and placing men in charge of family honor, which is mainly connected to their women's behavior.
The whole interview is fascinating -- the guy is clearly overstating and overinterpreting in places (if I have time later, I could go into more detail, or folks can just leave comments), but he's been "on the ground" in places that most of us don't go.

The nagging question in my mind comes from -- am I predictable or what? -- comparing the list above to conditions within the US, particularly in some of the religious and political subcultures described by David Neiwert, Sara Diamond, etc. They even believe, in their own minds, that they are under siege, occupation, oppression no less heinous than that suffered by Palestinians. What's the difference?

When your soul is starving...

What if your school teachers didn't speak your language? What if they tried to teach you to walk on your knees instead of using your feet? Would you be outraged?

ASL teacher Ryan Commerson has begun a hunger strike in response to inadequate conditions, staffing and pedagogy at the Michigan School for the Deaf and Detroit Day School for the Deaf. He seems to be making headway but there's a long way to go.

Want a ground-level view of the issues? Try the comments on the Michigan School for the Deaf student blog. Forty-three students were suspended for going outside to witness/join beginning of Commerson's protest.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ten Fallacies, and one more....

I'm sure there are more than ten fallacies involved in "stay the course" rhetoric, but it's nice to have most of the problems laid out in a nice easy-to-link format.

There's one more implicit fallacy, though, in the discussion: the only alternative to Bush's Iraq policy is a policy of disengagement.

In other Sideshow-supplied commentaries, good ideas for controlling our own law enforcement:
These differences illustrate four principles that should guide our use of personal information by the police. The first is oversight: In order to obtain personal information, the police should be required to show probable cause, and convince a judge to issue a warrant for the specific information needed. Second, minimization: The police should only get the specific information they need, and not any more. Nor should they be allowed to collect large blocks of information in order to go on "fishing expeditions," looking for suspicious behavior. The third is transparency: The public should know, if not immediately then eventually, what information the police are getting and how it is being used. And fourth, destruction. Any data the police obtains should be destroyed immediately after its court-authorized purpose is achieved. The police should not be able to hold on to it, just in case it might become useful at some future date.
I wonder, though, how (if) the arguments will change the first time one of the FBI/NSA/DHS programs flags someone who does turn out to be a terrorist. More fallacious reasoning awaits....

Joking to Death

"My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."
With those words, broadcast inadvertently on the radio, President Reagan put the world on nuclear alert. It's not quite in the same league, thanks be to God, but memos leaked from the UK today claim that Bush was seriously (or jokingly, depending on who you ask) considering bombing the headquarters of Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar. The text of the memo itself hasn't been released, but it seems to me that if Blair had to convince Bush that it wasn't a good idea, then perhaps he wasn't joking?

Update: The original Mirror article is not much more detailed. I really want to see the memo!

Quotations #077

"Research is to see what everybody else has seen and to think what nobody else has thought." -- Albert Szent-Gyögyii

"If you feed the people just with revolutionary slogans they will listen today, they will listen tomorrow, they will listen the day after tomorrow, but on the fourth day they will say 'To Hell with you!'" -- Nikita Khrushchev

"Society can exist only on the basis that there is some amount of polished lying, and that no one says exactly what he thinks." -- Lin Yutang

"An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." -- Arthur Miller

"Is not man himself the greatest variable in nature? " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 197.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Lie, Cheat, Attack; Repeat As Necessary

Ultimately, the Bush administration is either going to go down in history as one of the most corrupt and ethically bereft ever, or the nation is going to change beyond recognition, either through collapse or fascist transformation. Signs of the apocalypse:

Not only is the president from Texas, a snakepit where democracy has rarely been more than a fig leaf over naked economic and racial power, he continues to appoint his closest friends and cronies to higher and higher positions, and the "iron triangle" (a term that used to apply to Japan's bureaucratic, political and business elite collusion; in the case of Bush I can't decide whether the military counts as bureaucratic, political or business, or perhaps it's an Iron Square?) gets stronger gets stronger and stronger.

Not only are we still involved in wars which we should have won, but we got there through gross incompetence and felonious falsities. Now, we can't seem to get out of them without losing our minds: On the one hand we're loudly denying that we're going to "cut and run" and on the other we're making plans to get out with all due haste.

In other words, this administration couldn't talk out of one side of its mouth if its collective head was fixed in a vise.... which doesn't sound like a bad idea, just on general principles.

Quiz Takers Unite: You Have Nothing To Lose But Readers...


You go out of your way to build bridges with people of different views and beliefs and have quite a few religious friends. You believe in the essential goodness of people, which means you’re always looking for common ground even if that entails compromises. You would defend Salman Rushdie’s right to criticise Islam but you’re sorry he attacked it so viciously, just as you feel uncomfortable with some of the more outspoken and unkind views of religion in the pages of this magazine.

You prefer the inclusive approach of writers like Zadie Smith or the radical Christian values of Edward Said. Don’t fall into the same trap as super–naïve Lib Dem MP Jenny Tonge who declared it was okay for clerics like Yusuf al–Qaradawi to justify their monstrous prejudices as a legitimate interpretation of the Koran: a perfect example of how the will to understand can mean the sacrifice of fundamental principles. Sometimes, you just have to hold out for what you know is right even if it hurts someone’s feelings.

What kind of humanist are you? Click here to find out. [via]

Apparently New Humanist defines "humanist" to mean "secular humanist" with an emphasis on "secular" so obviously I'm coming off as a muddle-headed "nice" guy to them. It's worse than they think, actually, but this isn't a bad definition of "religious humanist" which is how I usually describe myself. I suspect that anyone who wasn't strictly atheistic would come out this way on the quiz (unless they have a result for someone who's so religious they won't count as "humanist"; there's no "see all results" on the quiz that I could find, and I'm starting to consider that a serious flaw in quizzes in general [and who woulda thunk I'd have strong opinions about the structure and methodology of internet quizzes, eh?]).

Reasons to oppose Alito

I think this is going to be a frequently updated list, so I'll date items and adjust the date stamp now and then so that it stays near the top. {update: Apparently this alters the URL when you go past a month boundary, so I'll put it back in November and post a link from the sidebar, and update notices, instead)

I know it's technically a fallacy, but the fact that he is strongly supported by groups whose agendas and tactics I fundamentally oppose just doesn't help.

10 January 2006
If he claims, in the hearings, to be reasonable and mainstream with respect to precedent and stare decisis, someone needs to ask him about these cases which suggest that "conservative" is a cultural position (and not a popular one), not a judicial temperment, in his case. That might make the hearings interesting, but I doubt it.

25 December 2005
Alito would enshrine the monarchical presidency [via]:
One troubling memo concerns domestic wiretaps - a timely topic. In the memo, which he wrote as a lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department, Judge Alito argued that the attorney general should be immune from lawsuits when he illegally wiretaps Americans. Judge Alito argued for taking a step-by-step approach to establishing this principle, much as he argued for an incremental approach to reversing Roe v. Wade in another memo.

The Supreme Court flatly rejected Judge Alito's view of the law. In a 1985 ruling, the court rightly concluded that if the attorney general had the sort of immunity Judge Alito favored, it would be an invitation to deny people their constitutional rights.

In a second memo released yesterday, Judge Alito made another bald proposal for grabbing power for the president. He said that when the president signed bills into law, he should make a "signing statement" about what the law means. By doing so, Judge Alito hoped the president could shift courts' focus away from "legislative intent" - a well-established part of interpreting the meaning of a statute - toward what he called "the President's intent."

21 November 2005
Religious Freedom. Sounds harmless enough, right?
Both supporters and opponents say he has the potential to become the most aggressive supporter of religious liberty on the court, moving it toward greater deference to religious practices.

"He is inclined to the view of the First Amendment that the government is not intended to be hostile to religion," said Douglas W. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University in California. "It is intended to be accommodating when it can."

Professor Kmiec, a former Justice Department colleague of Judge Alito's, is a leading proponent of the "religious liberty" argument pressed by social conservatives, which advances the view that the Constitution allows for a greater presence of religion in the public sphere than courts have previously allowed. This stream of argument has largely involved issues like prayer at school functions, the display of religious symbols at Christmastime and public financing of programs run by religious groups.
Among his other distinctions, Alito ruled that evangelical groups could send home invitations to proselytizing meetings with elementary school kids. To be fair, he also has won considerable praise for his support of what you might call reasonable accomodation to personal religious requirements (accomodations that he might well call into question if they were involuntary ability restrictions instead of voluntary religious ones, but what the hell), but what that basically means is that he's entirely hostile to secular, agnostic and atheistic folks, and fine with almost anyone else (as long as it's faith, not need).

15 November 2005
More Disability Rights issues

6 November 2005
Alito is ethically challenged. What else do you call it when a judge doesn't recuse himself when his own financial interests are at stake? Oh, Supreme Court material, of course.

3 November 2005
New York Times analysis [registration required, until they archive it and charge you]:
In the several hundred cases he heard over 15 years on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Judge Alito dissented more than 60 times, often taking issue with decisions that sided with criminal defendants, prisoners and immigrants.

He frequently voted in favor of the government and corporations in these dissents
. He generally deferred to what he called the good faith judgments of other participants in the justice system, including police officers, prosecutors, prison wardens, trial judges and juries. He appeared particularly reluctant to order new trials over what he called harmless errors in the presentation of evidence or in jury instructions. [emphasis added]
I'm all for "good faith" but part of the role of the courts is to ensure that good faith is backed by good sense and protected rights. It's just not enough to be pure of heart and on the side of the angels....

In other news, Alito was in favor of gay liberation thirty-five years ago.

2 November 2005
Disability Rights: Alito's fundamentally hostile to disability rights, defining both disability and discrimination so narrowly that he strips the "reasonable" out of "reasonable accomodation."

Women's rights: Spousal notification? No Exceptions.

Friday, November 18, 2005

When Your Spammers Suggest You Shouldn't Blog....

Recently recieved (and deleted) spam (emphasis added, links removed):
Quick Links
Dressed in a flowing black robe that seems to float off his body rather than hang, Mr ... Last July, "Bloggers Need Not Apply," an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education about an anonymous Midwestern college's attempt to fill a position, laid out the perils for academic job-seekers who blog.
Find out how to buy and sell anything, like things related to instant road repair on interest free credit and pay back whenever you want! Exchange FREE ads on any topic, like instant road repair!
The image of "Ivan Tribble" in a floating, flowing black robe, suggesting that blogging academics will end up in road repair advertising positions....

Quotations #076

"Everything we think of as great has come to us from neurotics. It is they and they alone who found religions and create great works of art. The world will never realize how much it owes to them and what they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts on it." -- Marcel Proust (1921)

"We are in the grip of industrialism; this terrible machinery must not stop, for if it does it would destroy the lives of thousands. It must, on the contrary, go on faster and faster, even though in the process it destroys thousands and thousands of other lives. ... A product of the human brain has at last escaped from the control of human hands. That is the comedy of science." -- Karel Capek on the origins of R.U.R. [i.e. robots]

"Murder, torture and mutilation are all right if our side is doing it." -- 1968 US Department of State classified memorandum on El Salvadoran death squads.

"Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value." -- Buckminster Fuller

"Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime." -- Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Am I Average?

Just for fun, I'll bold the parts that match me:
He (or she) spends 95 percent of the time indoors [if you count time in cars], thinks abortion is morally wrong but supports the right to have one, owns an electric coffeemaker, has nine friends and at least one pet, and would rather spend a week in jail than become president. He (or she) lives within a 20-minute drive of a Wal-Mart, attends church at least once a month, prefers smooth peanut butter to chunky, lives where the average annual temperature is between 45 and 65 degrees [and there's some snow, according to the article], and believes that Jews make up 18 percent of the population (the actual figure is between 2 and 3 percent).
OK, I'm not terribly average. I knew that....

Other markers of normalcy cited in the article (the book has 140 criteria!) include
  • "12.7 years of education" [I'm a bit over that]
  • "a midsize car" [which gets, at last report, pretty much average gas mileage]
  • "in favor of marriages between blacks and whites"
  • "live in a one-unit owner-occupied detached dwelling, or private home"
  • "most Americans live in suburbs" [sorta]
yeah, I'm still not too average.

A quiz! We need a quiz!

Thursday Lyric: Suzanne

This is a very sweet song with a deeply bitter undercurrent.

I grew up with the Judy Collins version of this song; in fact, it's playing on my computer now. Curiously, now that I look at the original lyrics, I find that she's altered them just a bit. If you want the history of the song (and I lived without it this long, so I think you can too, if you try), there's a fascinating interview with Suzanne herself here.

by Leonard Cohen

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she's half crazy
But that's why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover

And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind.

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you'll trust him
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror

And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body with her mind.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

History Carnival XX... more carnivals soon

The latest edition of the History Carnival is up and it's a very nice roundup of material. Aside from the folks I already have on my blogroll (Bennett, Jones, Muller, Orac), the history of Celtic Runes is a very detailed, but extremely contentious resource. That one will take some close reading, as it's openly challenging to the recieved wisdom in ways that strike me as ... ahistorical. Wrong, in other words. Bizarre, actually.

Oh, and I keep forgetting to mention that the Cliopatria Awards for history blogging are open for nomination for two more weeks. I don't think this blog's done anything worthy of mention there, but you're more than welcome to disagree and nominate me!

I did submit this to some of the usual suspects, so expect more carnival notifications soon!

And welcome to Orac's readers! Who could have guessed that the first 100+ visitor day I'd have in over a month would come from my new comment policy? Oddly, I'm also getting a noticable boost from the History Carnival, though I'm not mentioned. Apparently being the first, alphabetically, on the sidebar is paying dividends I hadn't considered. (Update: actually, I'm noted in the addendum with regard to the Celtic piece. That explains it!)

Welcome Carnival of the Vanities readers! If you found me, that means you read through almost the entire carnival -- and a fulsome lot it was -- and still had the strength to click through: Well Done! Host Dr. Charles notes that the right side of the blogosphere is somewhat over-represented, which is very common for some of the right-hosted but supposedly non-partisan carnivals like this one: I do hope more of my liberal blogging friends will realize how powerful the carnivals can be and will submit.

Also, Matt, at Pooflingers Anonymous has a Shakespearean edition of the Skeptic's Circle that rivals Orac's best Carnivals for style (and isn't bad for substance, either). I note, as well, that both Matt and Tigerlily have blogrolled me, which I find both heartwarming and highly odd....

Final Update (really!): The Carnival of Comedy (where I apparently rank just above failed suicide bombers) and the Carnival of Satire (where I lead off and get a "Hooot!" to boot) have now been posted. The fun is really underway now! All these links have actually pushed me up into TTLB's "Flappy Bird" category, though that will undoubtedly not last long. Still, it's kind of fun to be in quadruple digits instead of quintuple...

50 lashes per week for 15 weeks

and three years in jail.

The crime?

Criticising terrorists and refusing to give repeat exams to failures.

Teachers beware.

Quotations #075

"He who would do good to another, must do it in minute particulars
General good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer."

-- William Blake, "Jerusalem" (1815)

"A soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good cause becomes indistinguishable from the evil they set out to destroy." -- Christopher Dawson, Judgement of Nations (1942)

"Governments need both shepherds and butchers." -- Voltaire

"The state is like the human body. Not all of its functions are dignified." -- Anatole France (1893)

"Great men, great nations, have not been boasters and buffoons, but percievers of the terror of life, and have manned themselves to face it." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1860)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Little Hands... coming for you

This looks like something I'll have to come back to: the Science in Fiction feature.

This one's about little fingers and reimagined hands. Do not under any circumstances watch the animated fractal zoom unless stone cold sober and emotionally whole.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Stick Your Finger In God's Eye

The theme song of Pat Robertson's theology

Stick Your Finger in God's Eye
(to the tune of Woody Guthrie's "Put Your Finger In the Air"

Stick your finger in God's eye (in God's Eye)
Stick your finger in God's eye (in God's Eye)
Stick your finger in God's eye
And in Hell you'll surely fry
Stick your finger in God's eye (in God's Eye)

Stick your finger in God's ear (in God's ear) [x2]
Stick your finger in God's ear
and your prayers he will not hear
Stick your finger in God's ear (in God's ear)

Stick your finger in God's nose (in God's nose) [x2, etc]
But be careful when he blows

Stick your finger on God's chin (on God's chin) [x2, etc]
Teaching Darwin is a sin

Stick your finger on God's head (on God's head) [x2, etc]
His faithful will cut you dead

Stick your finger on God's cheek (on God's cheek) [x2, etc]
Say that levee's lookin' weak

Put your finger on God's plan (on God's plan) [x2, etc]
Is his best work really Man?

My spouse contributed:
Stick your finger on God's foot (at God's foot) [x2, etc]
And for Christmas you'll get soot

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bush gets Cram'd

In more way than one, we're starting to resemble the "evil empire" that we used to fear and deride. If you're wondering what Bush said in that "major speech" in honor of our nation's increasingly neglected veterans of war, and what reality might actually be behind that propoganda, Cram's on the job. It's a dirty job....

What's a Bonkbuster?

According to the Telegraph (among others), it's "a type of popular novel characterised by frequent explicit sexual encounters between the characters." In other words, a blockbuster, with lots of bonking.

It's remarkable, given the frequency with which bonkbusters are produced on US television, written for US audiences, and put on the big screen, that I'd never heard that word before. Too much time reading manga, I guess (though bonkbuster is certainly a serious subgenre there, too).

I dig and delve? Not if I can help it....

People have got to start designing these quizzes better.

To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
brought to you by Quizilla [via]


There are all kinds of gaps in our knowledge of the past and present. Why fill this one first?

Mechademia is a new refereed journal from the University of Minnesota Press, for critical work on Japanese anime, manga, and the fan arts.

We are currently seeking submissions on topics linked to manga or anime, as well as related material from fields like fashion, film studies, fine art, video game design, and international fan culture, among others. Mechademia's goal is to promote critical thinking, writing, art, and creative activity that can bridge the current gap between professional, academic, and fan communities and discourses.
Further information is available on the journal's web site at

I think critical thinking would obliterate the ranks of fandom. Critical thinking about anime and fandom will probably neuter academics. Critical thinking from manga professionals would lead to unreadable and unpopular products. Is it worth it?

Friday, November 11, 2005

What's Country?

Country music is supposed to stand for something, even if no one can decide exactly what that something is; you're supposed to be proud to be country. The music has a historical and mythical connection to rural Southern white culture, even though today's performers and fans are often neither Southern nor rural.
Musically, it's all over the map: lately I've been hearing country songs that draw influence from rap (mostly in the speed and style of the vocals; Talking Blues are usually more conversationally paced) and lots of hard rock guitar. Sometimes it just sounds like "rock with twang" but sometimes it really does draw on those mountain roots.

More than anything else, it's the range of topics which distinguishes Country from any other genre besides Folk: they sing about family, about religion, about life and death, about relationships (yeah, everyone does), about history and changing communities. I'm more likely to react to the storytelling and topics of country music than I am to respond to any other genre on the radio (except for folk, of course, but it's not on the radio much).

When NPR isn't on, and I'm in the mood for something lively, it's Country.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Harold Leventhal, of blessed memory

Theodore Bikel remembers Harold Leventhal:
The list of artists whom Leventhal managed or presented is not just impressive but also daunting: Peter, Paul & Mary; Johnny Cash; Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; Joni Mitchell; Mahalia Jackson; Harry Belafonte; Phil Ochs; Odetta; Judy Collins; Theodore Bikel; The Clancy Brothers, Arlo Guthrie — the list goes on and on. Then there are the international folk and ethnic artists Harold presented to American audiences, including Miriam Makeba, Jacques Brel, Nana Mouskouri and Enrico Macias. He also booked American artists into European venues and festivals. When the State Department decided in the 1960s to discontinue American folk music as part of its cultural exchange program, Leventhal produced their concerts in the Eastern bloc himself. In 1966 he brought the Jewish State Theater of Poland to Broadway. And he pioneered the presentation of Israeli folk artists in this country, including Shoshana Damari, Geula Gill and the Oranim Zabar Troupe, reflecting his longtime devotion to Israeli culture.
It would be a slight exaggeration to say that without Leventhal I'd have had no music in my childhood, no melody to my politics, no chorus of justice. But only slight.

Comments Policy

In light of recent troubles elsewhere I thought it might be time for an explicit comment policy for this blog.

It's my blog.

Anything which I think is a commercial solicitation or self-aggrandizement through comments on my posts which does not in my opinion relate directly to the matter at hand will be deleted at my earliest convenience. Note: "IN MY OPINION" means just that: I decide what is or is not spam, what is or is not relevant.

It's my blog.

Civil discourse -- i.e. significant disagreement and vigorous discussion -- is a good thing, but it's my blog. Post that are in my opinion trollish will be deleted at my earliest convenience. Note: "IN MY OPINION" means just that: I decide what is or is not trollish, what is or is not worth responding to.

It's my blog.

I reserve the right to delete comments for other reasons, at any time, and to do so without explanation. I may delete comments by people who I don't like; I may delete comments with language I don't like; I may delete comments with arguments I find offensive, troubling, or simply too wrong to bother with; I may delete comments that are poorly written; I may delete comments that are unkind or unnecessarily vulgar or otherwise offensive; I may delete comments which attack myself, my friends, relations, colleagues, heroes or admirers without extremely good grounds.

It's my blog.

I reserve the right to alter this policy at any time without notice, and to delete comments covered under new policies ex post facto. I disavow responsibility or approval of any comments which I have not made myself.

It's my blog. Comment at your own risk.

Update (13 April 2006): QuakerDave has a similar policy, with a slightly more nuanced rationale. I approve.

Survey Says: 4% of us check e-mail in the bathroom....

Two-thirds of us don't have portable e-mail devices, and the other 32% are probably lying.

Thursday Poem: Questions from A Worker Who Reads

This translation is a bit different from the one I originally read (in Raphael Samuel's "People's History"). If you want to do a little poetic/linguistic investigation, read other translations, too; they can't even agree on the breaks.

Questions from A Worker Who Reads
Bertolt Brecht
("Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters" - translated by M. Hamburger, from Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956, Methuen, N.Y., London, 1976)

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the name of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished.
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
Of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song,
Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
The night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Years' War. Who
Else won it?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the bill?

So many reports.
So many questions.

Update: Orac reminded me that it's the anniversary of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Now that's going to be going through my head all day.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Texas Voters Ban Marriage

They thought they were banning gay marriage (again), but a literal (one might say, legalistic) reading of the proposition takes marriage out of the hands of the state entirely:
“The language is divided into two sub-sections,” said [Dallas lawyer Mike] Northrup, senior counsel with Cowles & Thompson. “Sub-section A says that in Texas marriage consists only of the union of one man and one woman. Then sub-section B says the state and its political sub-divisions cannot create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”
Read literally, Northrup said, “The only thing identical to marriage would be the union of a man and a woman, and the amendment says the state cannot recognize that. Would any judge interpret it that way? I don’t know. But it is a definite possibility, from a strict constructionist point of view.”
There's definitely an "other" missing from sub-section B.

This came to my attention via some friends who were, they thought, married in Texas. She's going to take some yellow roses and re-propose, but I don't know how they're going to explain it to their 4-year-old son.... (Update: He said "yes"!)

On the other hand: There's a Catholic school newspaper which went too far the other way.

Journalism 102: Alarmism

Panicked about bird flu? Stop reading bad journalism.

Yes, it's a Human Right. Yes, I'm a human...

A declaration in support of our best hope for real human progress.
To help advance freedom of expression, the undersigned:
  • Reaffirm that freedom of expression is a universal human right that companies have an obligation to respect throughout their worldwide operations, and, in particular, in countries with a history of serious and widespread human rights violations;
  • Reaffirm that Internet sector businesses have a particular responsibility in this domain for a number of reasons, including the following:
    • Their long-term success depends on a broadly connected Internet that is free of censorship; and
    • Millions of people depend on their products and services for reliable access to news and information;
  • Recognize that, according to numerous and credible sources, a number of countries throughout the world do not tolerate public dissent and monitor and control citizens’ access to the Internet as a means of suppressing freedom of expression;
  • Recognize that some businesses help authorities in repressive countries to censor and mount surveillance of the Internet, and others turn a blind eye to the use made of their equipment;
  • State that respect for freedom of expression is a factor we consider in assessing a company’s social performance;
  • Announce that we will monitor the operations of Internet businesses in repressive regime countries to evaluate their impact on access to news and information;
  • Commit ourselves to supporting, at annual general meetings of publicly listed companies, shareholder resolutions that we believe are favorable to freedom of expression or otherwise promote the principles of this declaration;
  • Call on Internet businesses to adopt and make public ethical codes stressing their commitment to freedom of expression and defining their obligations to uphold these freedoms, and
  • Call on Internet businesses to make information public that will allow investors to assess how each firm is acting to ensure that its products and services are not being used to commit human rights violations (including, products and services that enable Internet censorship, surveillance and identification of dissidents).
Consider me one of the undersigned.

In other news, David Neiwert thinks it's time for a privacy amendment to the Bill of Rights. I agree.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Hypocrisy Watch: Speak Loudly and Drop Chemical Munitions

As Roderick Long said, "Good news for the Bush claque – WMDs have finally been located in Iraq! The bad news is, they’re being used by US troops." Technically, there should be a distinction between illegal chemical weapons, conventional weapons used indiscriminately and actual Weapons of Mass Destruction. But still, the use of phosphorus weapons against urban populations is a pretty clear violation of international law.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Another Year?

So, it's been a year since I started this blog as a way of commenting on other blogger sites and to vent those things for which I had no other outlet. It still fulfills that role, pretty well, though it's become more of a project than I ever intended. As usual, new and regular readers -- particularly lurkers -- are invited to sign in and tell me what, if anything, this blog does for them.

Update: I forgot to mention that, according to Blogger, I've made just over 500 posts. That's roughly twelve viewers per post.... but who's counting?

Let us put man and woman together to find out which one is smarter....

BJP say Yes, Nature say No, women got the man beat, they should know. That's right, the women is Smarter!

with apologies to Harry Belafonte. Among others.

All together now: "Violence is Bad"

It's not acceptable when it's targetted terroristic violence from someone who claims to be on my side, and it's not acceptable when it's self-destructive violence by frustrated youth, or honor killings or piracy on the high seas.

No, I don't have a solution, just this minute. I just wanted to be clear on the concept.

Update: Oh, I forgot to mention torture. Torture's bad. The spectre of the President of my own beloved country trying to "carve out an exception" to permit the abuse of prisoners held incommunicado in secret CIA facilities while denying that we are applying torture as a national policy is just too much. It's weird and it's morally disgusting. Here's the deal: I will not ever give money to or vote for a candidate who in any way supports the use of torture. I will not give money to political parties which in any way support the use of torture. I don't care what party or position or identity you represent: if you support torture, you cannot represent me.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Nasty, Brutish and ... Electable?

Brandon cites Thomas Hobbes on the hallmarks of an infernal society:
"[T]he kingdom of darkness, as it is set forth in these and other places of the Scripture, is nothing else but a confederacy of deceivers that, to obtain dominion over men in this present world, endeavour, by dark and erroneous doctrines, to extinguish in them the light, both of nature and of the gospel; and so to disprepare them for the kingdom of God to come. (Leviathan ch. 44)"
Hobbes has something more spiritual than political in mind. I do find it interesting, though, the extent to which the Kingdom of Darkness depends on "impure" and "irrational" ideas (as defined by Hobbes, mostly Catholic and neo-pagan), a problem still faced in contemporary politics: mytho-poetic origins, sentimentalism, chauvinism, absolutist dualism, etc....

What Happens After You Die?

Well, the Little Anachronism is growing up. The question du jour (there's a sudden interest in other languages, as well, though it's mostly limited to listening to language tapes as entertainment instead of actually following along) is about post-mortem existence. My spouse actually got the question, and after coming up with the first draft answer, checked in with me. The three basic tropes, as near as we can determine are
  • non-existence
  • reincarnation
  • Heaven and Hell
There are some significant variations on the last one, but nothing that we can think of which really qualifies as a fourth option.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Why I Blog...

Isaac Mao, the mastermind of this conference, is even more amazing than I already knew he was. Key quote (among many): "the combination of all these small voices will make our society smarter."

Friday, November 04, 2005

You think?

Brainy Kid

In high school, you were acing AP classes or hanging out in the computer lab.
You may have been a bit of a geek back then, but now you're a total success!
You Should Get a PhD in Liberal Arts (like political science, literature, or philosophy)

You're a great thinker and a true philosopher.
You'd make a talented professor or writer.
Now, what field combines the best elements of political science, literature and philosophy....

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Turnabout is fair play...

...or the scariest mirror is the one in which you see yourself as others see you. And see yourself as you've seen others...

It is impossible to read this and not wonder whether we will be talking about our inevitable decline in a few years.

Yes, this piece is almost two months old. I put it aside for a while because I had other things going on. But sometimes a twisted perspective is the only one that really shows you what's going on.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Carnivals! History, Poetry, Invertebrates, Insanity....

Step right up!

History Carnival #19 seems to be continuing the recent trend towards true crime, horror and sex, but maybe it's just Halloween.

Carnival of the Spineless, the roundup of biology blogging about invertebrates, is in the form of a menu.... yum? Sushi is one thing....

Insanity can be a matter of perspective. The Carnival of Insanities is like a minefield in which your perspective might be pilloried or glorified (or both) in any given post. It's a bit hard going, working through all those posts in which all those points of view are so vigorously attacked from so many other points of view.

Finally, another bit of hard work, but much more pleasant: Poetry. I'm particularly fond, on first readthrough, of Einstein at Princeton, but there's more. And they're looking for a host... I wonder if I'd qualify?

Update: It's not technically a carnival, but the Disability Studies folks monthly roundup is definitely worth browsing through.

10 Reasons Why Gay Marriage is Inevitable, I mean, Wrong

by Anonymous (more likely, several anonymouses) [from via]
  1. Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.
  2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
  3. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.
  4. Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
  5. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.
  6. Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.
  7. Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.
  8. Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.
  9. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.
  10. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

Re-post this if you believe love makes a marriage.

OK, If I'd written it, I'd probably write it differently (that tag line, for example, would be either "love and committment make a marriage" or "love makes a family"). It's a bit of a sledgehammer. But, you know, this isn't that complicated, really, so perhaps a sledgehammer, isn't the worst tool....