Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union?

I'm a political junkie, let's face it. But I won't be able to watch the State of the Union live, so I'll probably just read it online and avoid actually watching.

Want to keep score? Juan Cole's got a list of ten things that WON'T be in the speech, and The Cunning Realist's taking bets on the frequency of terror references (I put down 10, because I think he's going to shift gears, rhetorically; Chris Bray said 38, which is twice what the Cunning Realist has as the over/under). Someone, somewhere has probably got a bingo sheet, too, but I haven't seen it yet. Update: 20.

What to know what the real state of the union is? Try dangerous to life, deeply divided, and unlikely to improve anytime soon.

Post-speech: I read it and was not impressed. It's got an awful lot of "we still haven't fixed...." stuff in it, which comes off, on the page anyway, a bit whiny. Some fact checking at Think Progress (don't miss page 2 and page 3), though there's an awful lot of stuff they didn't get on the first pass.

Monday, January 30, 2006

We need new Democrats

It's done: the cloture vote succeeded, with the help of nineteen "Democratic" Senators. Is yours on the list? (Sorted by state)
Lincoln, Pryor, Ark.;
Salazar, Colo
Lieberman, Conn.;
Carper, Del.;
Nelson, Fla.;
Akaka, Inouye, Hawaii;
Landrieu, La.;
Baucus, Mont.;
Nelson, Neb.;
Bingaman, N.M.;
Conrad, Dorgan, N.D.;
Johnson, S.D.;
Cantwell, Wash.;
Byrd, Rockefeller, W.Va.;
Kohl, Wis.
No Republicans crossed the line on this vote, of course. There's a few names on this list that are not at all surprising (Byrd, Lieberman, Salazar, Dorgan) but I'm terribly dissapointed with the lot of them (Daily Kos notes that the entire Democratic Wing of the "Gang of Fourteen" -- Senators more concerned with being "nice" than being a viable legislative body -- is represented here, and some of these people are planning to vote against Alito now that it doesn't matter).

I will not give any money to the Democratic Party as a group, nor will I give money or votes to any candidate on this list, for reelection or for any other office. Yeah, it's gonna hurt. But if they don't represent me, why vote for them?

Well, I guess it's time to take the Alito Digest off the sidebar and focus on making progress towards impeachment.

And, for what it's worth, let's be entirely clear about this: Republicans in Congress are now, as they have been for the last five years, a rubber-stamp for an irresponsible and dangerous pseudo-imperial lawbreaker. I'm dissappointed at the Democrats. I'm really, really angry at the Republican Party. That's not going to change anytime soon.

What do you do with a giant jellyfish?

Find some way to sell it, of course. That post also notes that Japan's international-community-defying whale hunting has produced a surplus of whale meat that nobody wants to eat. What was the purpose again?

ADA under attack

Orac notes a brazen attempt to bypass and delay action on accessibility by California restaraunteurs. I would love to know what their astroturf signature collection petitions look like (Probably "protect local businesses against radical and litigious cripples" or something like that... ok, probably not "cripples"... "Democrats" [like Bob Dole, author of the ADA]), but I don't know that there's much chance, short of embarrassing them into withdrawing it (and if they had any shame...), of keeping it off the ballot. So, we have to rely on the wisdom and insight and critical reading skills of California voters again, as recorded by insecure electronic voting machines.

Shit. We're toast. Oh, well.

If you want to sign a petition that pushes towards more access, consider the petition to Google regarding word verification and visual impairment access. And if you want to know where the California folks got the idea that the ADA was open to gaming the system, there's this guy.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

What's Your Project Censored Score?

Anne Zook pointed me to the Project Censored 2005 list (get it direct from the source here. I started going down the list and, as Anne noted, a lot of them were not censored, as such, but clearly had been underreported. And, being a good liberal blogger, I've read a lot of them.... but not all. How many? Let's count! I'll use the traditional method: bold for the ones I've read about previously. You can find the list with explanations and links here

#1 Bush Administration Moves to Eliminate Open Government
#2 Media Coverage Fails on Iraq: Fallujah and the Civilian Death
#3 Another Year of Distorted Election Coverage
#4 Surveillance Society Quietly Moves In
#5 U.S. Uses Tsunami to Military Advantage in Southeast Asia
#6 The Real Oil for Food Scam
#7 Journalists Face Unprecedented Dangers to Life and Livelihood
#8 Iraqi Farmers Threatened By Bremer’s Mandates
#9 Iran’s New Oil Trade System Challenges U.S. Currency
#10 Mountaintop Removal Threatens Ecosystem and Economy
#11 Universal Mental Screening Program Usurps Parental Rights
#12 Military in Iraq Contracts Human Rights Violators
#13 Rich Countries Fail to Live up to Global Pledges
#14 Corporations Win Big on Tort Reform, Justice Suffers
#15 Conservative Plan to Override Academic Freedom in the Classroom

#16 U.S. Plans for Hemispheric Integration Include Canada
#17 U.S. Uses South American Military Bases to Expand Control of the Region
#18 Little Known Stock Fraud Could Weaken U.S. Economy
#19 Child Wards of the State Used in AIDS Experiments
#20 American Indians Sue for Resources; Compensation Provided to Others
#21 New Immigration Plan Favors Business Over People
#22 Nanotechnology Offers Exciting Possibilities But Health Effects Need Scrutiny
#23 Plight of Palestinian Child Detainees Highlights Global Problem
#24 Ethiopian Indigenous Victims of Corporate and Government Resource Aspirations
#25 Homeland Security Was Designed to Fail

How did I do? Fifteen out of twenty-five, 60%. If I eliminate the ones that I hadn't heard about but which didn't surprise me in the least, it'd be a lot higher. And there's one or two on there that I wouldn't include, to be honest, for a couple of reasons. We can talk about that in comments if you like.

Now, just like last year, for fairness, I give you the right-wing WorldNet Daily's top ten underreported story list:

1. Failure of the 9-11 commission to investigate "Able Danger."
2. Successes in rebuilding Iraq
3. Cover-up of David Barrett's probe of Clinton IRS and Henry Cisneros
4. The impact of illegal immigration on the U.S. and its security
5.The truth about Terri Schiavo and her death
6. Sandy Berger's slap on the wrist for stealing classified documents
7. The fact that WMDs were found in Iraq
8. Atrocities of radical Islam
9. Islam's impact on French riots.
10. Good news about the economy

Hmm. Nine out of Ten? (I just heard about the other one this week, actually, but I'm not counting it as something I heard about in 2005) Not as underreported as all that, are they? Now, to be fair, I don't agree with the conclusions of many of these stories, but I did hear about them, often in great detail. Again, the fact that I read bloggers from a variety of viewpoints helps, but a lot more of those were covered in "mainstream" media outlets than the on the Project Censored list.

What's your score?

Update: Welcome, Sideshow readers! If you want a proper debunking of the WND list, Anne Zook's got it. She beat me on the PC list, too....

Neither Fish nor Fowl...

How evil are you? [via]

It could have been worse. Could have been better, too....

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Saturday Lyric: Girl from Guantanamo

It's the birthday of Cuba's best-known poet, José Martí. He was an eloquent partisan of liberty, personal and national
Perhaps the enemies of liberty are such only because they judge it by its loud voice. If they knew its charms, the dignity that accompanies it, how much a free man feels like a king, the perpetual inner light that is produced by decorous self-awareness and realization, perhaps there would be no greater friends of freedom than those who are its worst enemies.
His best known work is the poem which formed the basis for the song "Guantanamera" ("The girl from Guantánamo"):
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crecen las palmas
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma
Chorus: Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera

Mi verso es de un verde claro
Y de un carmín encendido
Mi verso es un ciervo herido
Que busca en el monte amparo

Cultivo una rosa blanca
En julio como en enero
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace más que el mar
...I am a truthful man
From where the palm trees grow
And before dying I want
To let out the verses of my soul
Chorus: Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera

My verse is light green
And it is flaming red
My verse is a wounded stag
Who seeks refuge on the mountain

I grow a white rose
In July just as in January
For the honest friend
Who gives me his open hand

With the poor people of the earth
I want to share my luck
The stream of the mountains
Gives me more pleasure than the sea

I grew up with the Pete Seeger version of this, of course.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Grad School Memories

I found this great comic strip via the CHE blogroll which I noticed via Blogenspiel.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....

In other news, Natalie Bennett's Woman Blogger Roundup includes this fantastic poetic movie review (no, it's not a thumb's up!).

Disturbing Characters

I'm not kidding, there are some really disturbed people out there with a lot more power and influence than they should have. From the literary world, there's this imposter and freak (I don't call people that. Ever. This guy is beyond the pale.) [via]. From the world of politics and -- in the loosest sense of the word -- religion, Jack Abramoff and his favorite rabbi, both of whom have strong ties to apartheid South Africa, vicious dictators, and neo-Klan figures in the US, just for starters. [via]

Seriously, if you're not in a really secure mood, read something else. Maybe not this which reminds us that US forces are losing an average of fifteen lives a week, over two a day, at the moment, with no evidence that positive change is coming in the foreseeable future.

Update: Maybe not this, either in which a natural vitamin company sent out an offensive flyer because someone in Congress suggested they properly label their products [via]. And maybe not this, in which US troops in Iraq harass a journalist and confiscate his work [via].

Man, I'm disturbed.

Really, this is the last update: Ann Coulter should get a visit from the Secret Service, and attacking the livelihood of civilians is an atrocity.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Message to my Senators

This is the message I just sent to my Democratic Senators. Feel free to use all or part of it yourself.
Dear Sen. [Your Senator's Name Here],

Samuel Alito is not suitable for the Supreme Court of the United States. His deference to executive branch power, his positions on individual rights, his decisions and statements on issues of disability and corporate responsibility are all evidence of a judicial "temperment" which would render the Supreme Court a retrograde institution. Not only do I believe that you should vote against his confirmation, I feel that the nomination should be blocked entirely, by filibuster if necessary. I do not want to see a vote count leading to abandoning efforts to filibuster: I want to see an actual filibuster, one that would force a cloture vote and require both Democrats and Republicans to declare themselves on this issue.

If I do not see real resistance to this nomination, I will have to seriously reconsider my loyalty to the Democratic Party's current Congressional representation, including [Your State's Name Here]'s own Senators. I am a lifelong Democrat, who has been fortunate to live in states nearly all my life where I was represented by Democrats I could be proud of. I fear that era is coming to an end, however, unless Democrats in Congress assert their prerogatives.
Well, we'll see if we can get some action out of these people.

Hey, Comedy Lovers...

The weekly Carnival of Comedy is up, and, as usual, it contains a mix of mostly conservative humor -- I do wish more of us liberals would submit to these things -- and some non-political pieces (including, yes, one of my own minor offerings which the host has kindly ranked as "second-rate" [just kidding, Fitch!]).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Lies, damned lies...

Mr. Jones passes along this interesting chart (which originally comes from here):
Now, at first glance it makes our Most Excellent Adventure in Iraq look like a bargain... but it's lying with statistics, as so often happens.

The Iraq Occupation has gone on for about 2.5 years following the initial invasion. The first Gulf War was indeed quick and cheap, unless you include the cost of sanctions enforcement (and if you're including the costs of the current occupation, it's only fair). The Vietnam conflict went on for over a decade, so on a per-year basis, it was a lot closer to the two more recent wars (thus demolishing the central claim of those citing the chart, which is that Iraq isn't like Vietnam). WWII was indeed a "total war" involving a massive committment of human and economic resources, but it lasted (for the US) four years (and I can't tell from these sources if the cost of occupying Germany and Japan are included), so it's not quite as dramatic as it looks. The Civil War, of course, is a special case, since the chart includes both sides: we were paying for the whole war not just one half of it, as usual.

What if someone actually didn't stop talking?

What if, instead of waiting for the inevitable party-line (plus we-should-kick-out-of-the-party Democrats who cross over) vote, someone actually stopped talking about a filibuster and just had one [via]?

I haven't seen any really good defenses of Alito, aside from talking point echoes, most of which consist of "trust us" (!) and "he's too smart not to be on the court" (if smart were the qualification, there'd be a different court, what?) and "It's the President's right." And there you have it: the monarchical presidency, which is nominating a Supreme Court Justice, who's supposed to be a "check" on the other branches, who has made a career out of advancing the monarchical presidency.

I think it's time to call my Senators and see if they have any life left in them. If not, as Neiwert says, they can....

How close can you get?

You too can make your own Groening person (within considerable limits). This is about as close as I could come to me.... [via]

It's not easy being me...

Your results:
You are Superman
Iron Man
Green Lantern
The Flash
Wonder Woman
You are mild-mannered, good,
strong and you love to help others.
Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test via

I don't know how I feel about this result, frankly. I never thought he was that interesting, most of the time. If I'm going to read a comic, it's more likely to be Batman, and Superman doesn't come off well in most of those.... Though they were friends once.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

When Nouns Attack...

I'm no fan of Bill Heuisler (and not much of the guy he's criticizing, either), but this line is one of the best literary put-downs I've ever seen in a political fight:
He has an absolute infestation of adjectives and very few nouns. The adverbs gallop on empty fields and his borrowed opinions masquerade as facts. Pity the vast loneliness and affected scorn; like the Wiz behind his curtain, they mask an outcast.
The original article is a self-pitying self-fulfilling screechy thing, but his heart's in the right place.

Another wonderful bit from alhamedi
Prince Saud pointed out that in 2004, 53 percent of terrorist incidents around the globe occurred outside the Middle East.

That's what is called "spin". You are meant to think that most of the world's terrorism takes place somewhere other than the Middle East. So it does, just. But the thing about spin is that you can spin in two directions. Let's spin the other way. How about the Middle East, with 2% of the world's population, accounts for 47% of the world's terrorism? Isn't that something to be proud of? Funny thing, spin.
He then goes on to quiz his readers on which anti-semitic passages come from Mein Kampf and which ones from current Saudi textbooks. Ouch.

Avedon Carol, meanwhile, thinks that this administration is the problem.

On Continuing Education

This is what I love about the internet. Here's the latest edition of the Grand Rounds the medical bloggers' carnival, and there's tons of stuff that's actually useful to me, a non-doctor, non-scientist. There's a tough post on parental love for "flawed" progeny, a look at the Oh, by the way scheduling problem, the challenge of diagnosis via Google, a discussion of existing and proposed "junk food" taxes, a news story about gay activists (who I usually support) knowingly providing possibly tainted blood in South Africa, and, for those of you who -- like me -- feel withdrawal when your favorite bloggers take breaks, a little note about internet addiction.

It's like sitting in on a really smart conversation. I don't read Grand Rounds every time it comes through, but when I do I'm always a bit better for it, as a medical consumer.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Hallmarks of Humility

A lesson in humility from the Torah and Talmud:
Chovos Ha-levvavos (Sha’ar Ha-kneiah 7) writes that there are five traits through which one can recognize the truly humble: 1) He controls his anger even when he is treated disrespectfully. 2) If something bad befalls him (R”l), monetarily, or something bad happens to him or a family member, he remains calm and quiet and doesn’t lose his cool, understanding that everything comes from Hashem. 3) He is unaffected by others’ praise, thinking to himself, “Even if what they say is true, were they aware of my sins and shortcomings, they would realize that the little bit of good they praise doesn’t even begin to make up for my lack of true dedication to Hashem.” If someone insults him, even if the insult happens not to be true, he thinks to himself, “Perhaps he is mistaken, and in fact I am not at fault with regard to what he accuses me of, but I’d better stay quiet lest he find out the far-worse faults he hasn’t yet discovered!” 4) If Hashem blesses him with wisdom, wealth, honour, or any other blessings, which usually cause their recipients to become arrogant, he remains simple and humble, realizing that his blessings are the gift of Hashem, and not a result of his own prowess or merit. 5) He constantly rebukes himself and looks for ways to improve his dedication to Torah and mitzvos.
I try, Lord. I try. Goodness knows I have a lot to be humble about....

Privacy, Choice, Freedom for all

I missed blogging for choice day yesterday (I was busy blogging for equal access), but you can catch up on the posts and issues here.

Yes, I do think Alito would make things worse. In a lot of ways.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Blogger/Blogspot Accessibility

I like Blogger. Yeah, it doesn't have categories, or the ability to schedule posts in advance, but it's easy to use, reasonably reliable, free and pretty adaptable once you learn what you're doing.

But the "word verification" in comments -- as well as in the blog creation process -- is a barrier to participation on the part of visually impaired bloggers or readers. It's useful, but there are technically pretty easy workarounds that Google (which hosts Blogspot) could implement to make this media fully accessible.

I urge you to sign the brief petition calling on Google to be fair and open with regard to the visually impaired. I'd be happy to answer any technical questions you might have (if I don't know, my spouse does) in comments or by e-mail.

Sex or Surgery?

My favorite post from the last Feminist Carnival is this one. Which is more dangerous, sex or surgery? Can we at least be the slightest bit consistent: if we approve of one as a voluntary, consensual assumption of risk for pleasure and personal gain, we ought to approve of the other. One could even argue that the financial transactions involved in surgery are analogous to sex-for-hire in such a way as to make either cosmetic surgery immoral or prostitution legalizable....

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Do you have a nickname in your dreams?

I woke up from a dream about Las Vegas -- no I don't dream about Las Vegas much -- thinking about what I could put on my nametag at a gathering of pseudonymous bloggers.... Apparently, my nickname should be "Ahi"

Well, it beats "Ality" I guess.

Jill Carroll in Context

As Brian notes, Jill Carroll is at least the sixtieth journalist victim of Iraq since the invasion. This is part of the context of this atrocity which I've been missing. Many journalists died from US/Allied fire; many were Iraqis. Journalists really should be protected, as much as doctors and teachers and ... well, everyone who isn't actually fighting. Old fashioned of me, I know.

But this goes to the other half of the problem. Us.

Yes, the insurgency is fighting dirty and should be stopped, punished, obliterated. But our tactics and our results are also problematic -- I'd argue that we're doing about as much damage, mitigated by the fact that we're trying to do a lot of good stuff as well -- and it's got to be kind of hard for Iraqis to be sure whose side really hurts them more.

lick fire ants off a stick?

Libertarian blogger Dale Franks got to conference call with the candidates for House Majority Leader (Tom Delay's old job, before he got caught at it): I would rather lick fire ants off a stick than see Roy Blunt as Majority Leader.

From the sound of the call, Blunt's been taking media access and negotiating tips from the Bush administration. From the comments, it sounds like he's building a family political/lobbying dynasty ... yup, complete Bush knock-offs.

I have a bet with myself going: will this, or will this not, be remembered as the most corrupt political era in US history? I already think it will, but then they keep raising the bar... lowering the bar... getting worse.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I couldn't have said it better myself....

From the HNN Roundup board
Mark Naison: Every City Should Be a Chocolate City
Source: Communication to HNN, distributed via Dr. Naison's list. (1-19-06)
[Dr. Naison is Professor of History and African American Studies at Fordham University.]

When New Orleans Mayor Nagin said, in the course of a Martin Luther King Day speech, that New Orleans should remain a "chocolate city," the whole country jumped on him. So many people, inside New Orleans and out, accused him of being a racist that he had to apologize for his remarks.

Not me! I think his critics lack imagination! Chocolate is one of the great things in life, and I think every city should be a Chocolate City.

Think of all the different colors Chocolate comes in. There is white chocolate, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate. Mix it with coffee and you get Mocha!

Chocolate is comfortable with contrast and irony: What tastes better than hot chocolate sauce on cold vanilla ice cream? What wakes you up faster and gets you ready for school or work than a Mocha Frappachino?

Chocolate is Funky! It smears on your fingers when you pick it up and sticks to your lips when you put it in your mouth There is nothing like kissing someone who has just eaten Chocolate! Its adds an element of decadence to the onset of romance!

Chocolate is adaptable. You can bake it, mold it, melt it, and sprinkle it; turn it into mouse or fudge, you can serve it hot or cold, you can eat it plain or mix it with nuts.





Don't those get you excited? Make you happy?

Mayor Nagin may be a prophet before his time!

Every city should be a Chocolate City!
And of course, there's me... the chocolate covered nut....

Yes, Spam and Drugs Are the Dark Side

Got this in my e-mail recently:

As I said in the title, my first thought was that it was the confession of a sex drug spammer that they belong to the Dark Side. Not that we didn't know that to begin with.

Then the narrative problems started to pop up: why would Darth offer Obi-wan something helpful? Is it, like the Dark Side, an ultimately dangerous and corrosive shortcut to unearned power? Does anyone really doubt that Obi-wan's lightsaber is really straight and full of energy, or is this intended to sow doubt among the faithful?

Then my head got really weird: Jedi don't marry! They aren't supposed to have intimate relationships, apparently, except... for their mentoring relationships with other Jedi. Could it be that the all-male and paternalistic Jedi order has the same kind of "platonic" sexual relations that the ancient Greeks had? (Is there more to the Obi-wan/Anakin relationship?) I know I can't be the first person to ask these questions, but when did the spammers find out and who are they really marketing to?

Spam can mess with your head if you think about it too long. Anything can, really, but this is truly weird stuff. What are they thinking?

Enough. Carnival of Satire Time! (Except, this isn't satire, it's reality! Funnier than anything you can make up, sometimes.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Thursday Lyric: Waiting for the B Train

I'd be tempted to make some sort of political allegory out of this, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader, which we can discuss in comments. The real reason I'm posting it is that it's funny, and in that slightly morally confusing sort of way that makes you laugh, think, laugh, and hope the next song comes on soon....

Waiting for the B Train
by Christine Lavin.
Copyright 1995 (ASCAP)

I dropped a token in the slot
Pushed through the turnstile
There was a woman at the end of the platform
Waving her arms around kind of wild
"Come here" she wailed,
"There’s a puppy on the rails
I think it has been hurt!"
I raced down to where she was pointing
To see a ball of fur covered with dirt

"It must be dead" I said to her
As I turned to leave
"No, it’s alive!" she cried,
"Just before you got here I swear
I saw it breathe
And I’ll watch for the train if you’ll jump down
Pick him up and hand him to me
I’ll take him to the vet. If we save his life
Think how wonderful that will be!"

I looked down through the tunnel
There was no train in sight
I looked at the furry thing lying there
A truly pitiful sight
"Look", I said, "I’m not sure that’s a puppy
It could be a lice-infested long-haired rat
And it’s got to be dead so I’m not jumping down"
I figured that was that

By then more people had arrived on the platform
And she yelled
"Help! There’s a puppy on the tracks!"
They looked for a moment, then like true New Yorkers
Collectively turned their backs
Then she said "Somebody's gotta do something"
As they slowly turned around again
"Someone must have the courage to save him
It’s a puppy! It's man’s best friend!"

"Trains come through here every few minutes"
Said a man wearing madras pants
"And It’s way too dangerous! You’d have to be nuts
To take such a foolish chance!"
But the woman was insistent
"In the time we’ve been debating
One of you could have jumped down
Handed him to me, by now that puppy could be
At the animal shelter ‘cross town!"

We felt bad, but no one would do it
When a transit cop appeared
Down at the other end of the platform
We all yelled "Hey You! Come here!"
He ran to us, I pointed at the tracks
Said "See that thing? Furry, not too big?
What do you think it is?" he looked and said

"What? You mean that wig?"

We stepped back, a rush of embarrassment
Swept right through the crowd
Accented by the blast of a train whistle
Approaching and growing quite loud
The B train flattened that furry thing
We got on board, went on our way
Grateful we didn’t risk our lives
To save the life of a wig that day

So if you see something weird on the train tracks
Take a tip from me
Don’t let anybody talk you into saving it
It’s best to just let it be
And if you ever see a person wearing
What looks like a puppy on their head
Don’t call the police, it’s only a wig
And chances are it’s already dead

You can see other lyrics and poetry here.

Is it Real? Is it Money?

Via Ann Bartow's Sivacracy comes a tale of legal and financial limbo:
....In the course of this project, I made a total of $11,000 selling on eBay the items I won playing a game called Ultima Online, $3,900 of which was in the final, most profitable month. I reported my profit to the IRS, and I paid the requisite taxes. But after I did so, a troublesome set of questions continued to nag at me—for which even IRS publication 525, entitled "Taxable and Nontaxable Income," couldn't provide answers.

This was remarkable, for publication 525 would appear to contain every conceivable form of income known to accounting. To read it once is to realize that you know nothing about income. Here you'll find a description of gains, ill-gotten and otherwise, so irregular that they can be taxed only according to that form of guesswork known as fair market value. Here are stocks, options, retirement watches, and stolen goods ("If you steal property, you must report its fair market value in your income in the year you steal it unless in the same year, you return it to its rightful owner").

Most significant for my purposes, here too are items acquired either through barter or as prizes in a game. The rules make clear the IRS's fundamental point: Goods taken in trade or won at play are taxable the moment they fall into somebody's hands, even if they are not sold for money. The more I read, the more I wondered whether reporting the amount I had brought home from selling virtual items on eBay was enough to satisfy the IRS. ....
We'll skip over the "I'm in the wrong line of work" wailing for now and go right to speculating about how wierd the tax laws regarding virtual properties are going to look...

There's other ways in which the on- and off-line worlds collide, productively but complicatedly: new academic discussions which include practitioners (some of whom are academics) and theoreticians of a wide variety of disciplines.

Finally, some actual satire, for those of you who remember the single-person, text-only game Xyzzy (sometimes known as Zork, apparently). I played it on ... what was it... a Heathkit, which my parents built. Anyway, here's the George W. Bush edition [via].

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Catching Up

If you haven't been paying attention to the news out of Iran lately, this is an excellent roundup of the issues including, as bill notes, four reasonably likely future scenarios:
The Couch Spectator Solution...
The “Don’t Make Us Spank You” Solution...
The “No More Fondue Forks For You” Solution...
The “Look Away and Let The Israelis Do It” Solution...
He leaves out the "Imperial Overstretch Solution" -- we attack Iran anyway, springboarding from our oh-so-secure Iraqi positions and exploring the outer limits of (i.e., overstepping dramatically) our economic, diplomatic and military might, not to mention our moral authority -- which isn't as unlikely as he'd like to think.

To be fair, the evidence that Iran is dangerous is at least as strong as the evidence against Iraq was.... but I'd be happier if the administration had shown any progress in dealing with other nuclear proliferators without major oil reserves or ideological allies: a.k.a. North Korea.

Also, a number of bloggers I respect have been talking about Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor reporter kidnapped in Iraq and scheduled to be killed shortly if "all female prisoners" aren't released (they've also been talking about her deceased translator, a tragic loss). It's an atrocity, and I haven't said much about it mostly because I feel like there's a larger context I need to think through before I go too deeply. But it's an atrocity and it isn't going to help the insurgents accomplish anything, that I can see.

In Happier News: Operation Stardust has brought comet samples back to Earth! Here's the press release and clean room webcam.

And the seventh Carnival of Feminists is up and its.... alphabetical? I'm neurotic, but it never occurred to me to arrange a carnival like that.

I haven't done a quiz in a while. Maybe I shouldn't have started with this one?

You scored as Pelagianism. You are a Pelagian. You reject ideas about man's fallen human nature and believe that as a result we are able to fully obey God. You are the first Briton to contribute significantly to Christian thought, but you're still excommunicated in 417.
Chalcedon compliant

Are you a heretic?
created with QuizFarm.com [via]

On the plus side, I now know what the Christian Heresy closest to Judaism is.... I think.

Oh, not sure who Pelagius is? Here's a brief description, a frighteningly long (but interesting, if you're into Stoics) description, and an attempt to reconcile him with modern Christianity.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Is that a surfboard or are you coming down on me like a manhole cover?

"Many people feel that they get online from their own home, they can post whatever they want. But the Internet belongs to a public information space, it is different from one's home or private space. Sometimes one sentence can cause very harmful consequences," commented an Internet expert.
"The main function of Jingjing and Chacha is to intimidate, not to answer questions," our reporter was told by officials in charge of The Internet Security and Surveillance Division of Shenzhen Public Security Bureau. The Internet has been always monitored by police, the significance of Jingjing and Chacha's appearence is to publicly remind all netizens to be conscious of safe and healthy use of the Internet, self-regulate their online behavior, and maintain harmonious Internet order together.

The full report is here [via]

"Sometimes one sentence can cause very harmful consequences."... boy, ain't that the truth.

Wishful Thinking

Citing Bainbridge's citation of Harlan's rejection of judicial activism (real activism, not the "boy I wish the Constitution weren't so clear on these issues" sour grapes cases cited by so-called conservatives), Anthony Arend writes
While a legal scholar can certainly make recommendations about what the law should be, those recommendations should never be done under the guise of saying what the law is. I worry about international legal scholars in particular, because unlike in much of domestic law, there is no stare decisis in international law, and state practice can often be difficult to assess. There is clearly a temptation to say that a rule of customary international law exists because one wants it do exist, rather than because the putative rule is truly controlling (reflected in state practice) and authoritative (believed by states to be the law).
Among other things, this is why the impeachment of George W. Bush will have to be a domestic affair.

Blogging will be light for the foreseeable future: 100 degree fevers don't let me sit at the computer for long, and there's that "real life" stuff to get done, too.

And, continuing the wishful thinking theme, the difference between settled and frontiers in science is a challenge, as well. And Al Gore gives great speeches.

Update: The fever is mostly gone, but the energy's not back. I don't usually agree with Daniel Pipes, but in this case he's disagreeing with the Pope and I think Pipes is closer than Pope on this one: all sorts of "divinely given" words have been reinterpreted through the ages, updated, etc.; there's no reason to think that Islam won't go through a similar evolution (though, of course, it will probably look nothing like the process of either Christianity or Judaism...)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Welcome LiveJournal Readers!

How curious. When I wasn't looking, someone created a LiveJournal feed of this blog. Is this something that LiveJournal does routinely, or did someone (perhaps someone who didn't know that I already have a LiveJournal account?) set this up for me? And if someone did set it up, would they be so kind as to either disable comments or make sure that they are forwarded to my e-mail address?


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Penguin Writing!

The message is pure Avedon [via] but the tool is just fun. If I could figure out how to do a screen capture, I could have a whole new logo.... Thanks to my brother, here it is, though I forgot that there's no penguins in the final view. Oh, well:

Also via Avedon Carol
"Ahistoricality" in Morse code is:
.- .... .. ... - --- .-. .. -.-. .- .-.. .. - -.--
The translator is here

Really Good Carnivals

After a New Year's hiatus, the History Carnival is back, with a vengeance. One of the best bits comes early
The CHNM is also home to H-Bot, a robot (ok, a “software agent,” but you know how I feel about robots) that answers simple history questions. Sheila Brennan’s Relaxing on the Bayou introduced me to H-Bot with a post called “Web of Lies.” As that title suggests, H-Bot is only as good as the information it finds on the internet, but Daniel Cohen (H-Bot’s creator) and Roy Rosensweig say that’s pretty good. The robot got an 82% score on the fourth-grade National Assessment exam in American history, trouncing the average human fourth-grader and making no friends on the playground.
There's lots of stuff I want to read there, like the ones here:
A handful of blogs and indeed the mainstream Canadian press discussed The Lost Millenium: History’s Timetables Under Siege. This new book by mathematician Florin Diacu contends the Middle Ages didn’t happen, the Peloponnesian Wars are fifteen centuries more recent than we think, and today’s date is January 15th, 964 A.D.
That last, and this conspiracy theory definitely qualify as my first collections for the next Bad History Carnival. This History Carnival had so much good stuff, they actually didn't use anything I sent in! The quality's definitely going up.

There's also a Teaching Carnival, which is always great reading: Lots of moaning and groaning, of course, but underlying it all is great joy and a desire to do well.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

In honor of the Fourth Weekly Harry Potter Carnival

I've made some Harry Potter fans unhappy.

  • I included a link to the Second Harry Potter Carnival (HPC) in a post titled "Collected Atrocities" (and a good portion of that post had to do with issues which really did deserve the name, and ended up with a few "collected" links I hadn't done anything with in a while but wanted to note) in which I refered to it as evidence of "the utter vacuity of Western Civilization."

  • That brought an immediate rejoinder from the proprietress (and still sole host) of the HPC, Ms. Dana Huff, complaining that my comments were hastily made and uncivil. I disagreed on both counts.

  • I did follow up with a few more comments on fandom that were unrepentant but offered, I thought, some potential for opening up a discussion rather than a mere tizzy fit. I had a nice discussion with Anne Zook but none of the Harry Potter fans seem to have noticed.

  • It rested there for a while, but Ms. Huff decided to take the ocassion of HPC #3 to link back to that post (which was just fine with me, though I thought her as-yet unanswered plea for postive comments on the carnival was bit sad) and to initiate a discussion at the Harry Potter fan site DiagonAlley
    Do I/we get tired of being mocked because we fear there is a grain of truth in the criticism, or is it because we feel they truly don't understand us? Or is it neither?
    I even linked to those and suggested that my readers could make up their own minds and leave their own comments. I don't know whether it was my light, breezy tone, or just the fact that I was paying attention (particularly to the DiagonAlley discussion, which I don't think she expected) that bothered her, but Ms. Huff didn't like that, either.

  • Those links brought a number of her fans and allies back to me, as well as comments in the DA forum, most of them variations on the themes "We're harmless; why are you picking on us" and "Jerk." Actually, some of those comments went quite beyond that (see below).

  • I pointed out to Ms. Huff, both in comments and in response to an e-mail of hers (which was in response to an e-mail of mine point out the comments here to which she hadn't deigned to respond), that it seemed hypocritical to me for her and the other HP fans to complain about stereotyping when they were making snap judgements about my character based on one comment in one blog post, or about rudeness. She has bowed out of this discussion several times, trying to claim some sort of moral high ground. She keeps coming back, though, and encouraging her friends.

  • Eventually, frustrated at the tone of the comments, the lack of interest in actually having anything like a dialogue, and actual lies (claiming to have read this blog when my statmeter indicated they went directly from DiagonAlley to the initial post and never looked anywhere else), I closed comments on the initial post (not, as some of them seem to think, the entire blog) and directed them to read some of the other posts which relate to the issue and post responses there (instead of rehashing the same junk over and over). Only one has responded so far, posting a hostile and logically circular comment in an inappropriate place. It was removed, but reasonable comments, even vehement disagreement, posted to actually relevant posts here have not been. This is actually the first time I've ever had to invoke my right to control comments, aside from spam removal.

Just for fun, here's a few of the things Harry Potter fans have said about me:
  • pretentious jerk
  • dunderhead
  • a member of some fundamentalist and possibly quite nasty sect, because he obviously cannot reason in a logical manner but is high on moral judgement just the same.
  • intellectual snobbery
  • complete and utter fuckwit
  • The sucker has no real part in Western Civilization ... no experience of a live and kicking mess of a culture ... FUCK THEM, poor suckers!
  • pompous, disgruntled windbag whose opinion is inarguably the only one that matters. Closeminded people like himself ... what a waste of neurons they are.
  • an @$$l he's an utter vacuity of Western civilization.
  • an arrogant bastard with a small mind and a big mouth.
  • His opinions are obviously the only ones that matter in his little world... which is fine until he starts imposing them on other people.
They also accused me of being a snob, and a poor reader (or writer). I'm not sure how it's OK for me to have opinions but not to express them. That's all I did, after all. I didn't stop anyone from reading Harry Potter, or disrupt their discussion. Free speech, after all, is very important to me. And I've invited comments in several places, only imposing limits when I felt my hospitality was being abused.

[Note: I'm pretty sure that "@$$l" is leetspeek for a very common vulgarity, but if I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will tell me.]

So, all in all, a very disappointing experience. It's too bad, really: I'd like to have seen Harry Potter fans articulate something postive about their ongoing interest (other than "it's harmless fun" which more or less confirms my initial comment about it being vacuous) which distinguishes them from people like me who read the books, even discuss them, but refuse to fetishize them. Perhaps, now that I'm a member of DiagonAlley, some of them can send me private messages (which I promise to share here if they are of interest), and perhaps the site administrators and moderator who participated in the discussion can explain how the slurs above don't violate the forum rules.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

It's all fun until someone gets hurt....

Why don't I trust the Republican party and "mainstream" conservatives? This is why [via, via]: their leaders, elected and media, routinely make it very clear that, if they were not bound by little things like the Constitution, I would have few, if any, rights left. Or I'd be dead, which is more or less the same thing.

You want to play the "the left does it, too" card? Find the quotes. Not from bloggers, but from people with mainstream media power, political and cultural influence.

Dave Neiwert has been discussing this for some time. I think the War on Christmas will be more than a metaphor in a year or two, but it won't be atheists doing the shooting.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Money Can't Buy Me Love....

...but it helps when you're taking high-stakes tests. I'm in the wrong line of work: apparently test designers live well.

I could always become a consultant, figuring out why schools get failing grades. Well, the states can't figure it out, so someone has to.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

It was deemed...

....inconvenient to actually prosecute Ready Reserve former soldiers who didn't show up when called to duty. Aside from Chris Bray (also check out this Stars and Stripes letter he cites), I know a few families that have been on tenterhooks because of call-ups: I guess they should have just said "screw it." Bray's best line
There really is no sight more awe-inspiring than that of a bunch of senior bureaucrats rolling into an accountability deflecting ball, pumping out streams of passive language the way an octopus fires ink
I'm not gonna read anything better all day, dammit.

Now for something Completely different...

I don't usually link to people being snarky about clothes and furnishings. But that's not just anyone posing like an ahistorical cowboy-manque: that's Tony Blair. Yes, that Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and our closest ally in the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, etc., etc. He posed for that picture.... would you?

Monday, January 09, 2006

C-Span on LSD

Bill, at So Quoted has done it again! Yes, MS Word's autosummarize feature does appear to be what the AP wire service uses. Just look at the Alito statement and compare it to the highlighted quotations in your newspaper tomorrow morning.

Alito: What Could He Say?

I've been thinking about this as the Alito confirmation hearings approach: given what we know about him already which has given us plenty of reasons to oppose him, what could he say in his hearings that would change the mind of someone like myself?

There are perfectly good questions that Senators could ask him. [update: ironically, of the "30 questions" the NYTimes solicited from six legal scholars, I actually would be most interested to hear the answers to John Yoo's, though I suspect that my and Mr. Yoo's desired answers would be very different) But what could he credibly say in these hearings to overcome a long and distinguished record of partisan and dangerous positions.

Fact is, if his answers are consistent with his previous positions, he should be voted down. If his answers are inconsistent with his previous positions (and I don't mean that people can't change their minds, but he's been doing this stuff for a long time and has been pretty consistent about it), why should we believe him?

Have you ever seen...

...what happens when a feather pillow -- an old feather pillow -- disintegrates in a dryer?

I have.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

CAUSING the decline of civilization

Bill notes several cases of litigation, or the threat of litigation, ruining perfectly good experiences and medications for the rest of us. this is the most troubling for me, because the idea of "perfectly safe" medication ignores the very real tradeoffs we have to make when dealing with body chemistry and extreme and chronic conditions. The War Against Pain Doctors is a very real side-effect of these kinds of policies.

As my father says, you can make it foolproof, but you can't make it damn-fool-proof, because those damn-fools are so darned clever.... in related news, I've got just under 1.5 years left on the marketing side of this prediction and just over two years on the lawsuit side. [Update: Just in time: the year's best warning labels, complete with pictures. This is not satire, friends; these are real.]

In unrelated linkage, a lovely piece of short fiction with a great kicker ending. If you like socio-political irony, anyway.

Carnivals and Comments

Blogging will be light for a while. I do want to point out that I've been involved in some interesting conversations recently, including a discussion with Mr. Jones about the War on Christmas (he's agin' it) and with Anne Zook about fandom. And, the host of the Harry Potter Carnival which started that discussion (it's weekly!) is trolling for compliments and reassurance, to balance out my assessment, so go on over and tell her to keep up the good work! Or something.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Maye is Innocent

Most of us are the kind of parent who'd protect their child against armed intruders. Cory Maye believed he was doing just that.

Most of us want the police to follow decent procedures, that protect the rights of everyone and the lives of everyone, to the furthest extent possible. There will be errors, but there's a huge gray area between mistakes and legal culpability. This case isn't in that gray area.

The death penalty is a mistake. It creates dilemmas that are not worth whatever it is we gain by authorizing the state to take lives in slow, deliberate, premeditated fashion. But if we must have a death penalty, we must agree that it should only apply to the unredeemable, those whose crimes make it impossible for us to imagine that their continued lives would serve any positive purpose, in prison or out. Cory Maye is not that criminal.

[Thanks to Lawrence Krubner for bringing the buttons and MayeIsInnocent.com website to my attention (and contributing the bandwidth to the cause). I don't do sidebar buttons mostly, but I will put the link there.]

Friday, January 06, 2006

Good baboons learn to cooperate and play nicely with others.

So says Anne Zook, summarizing the findings of a very interesting Foreign Affairs article on primates and evolutionary psychology.


If you're going to be hosting a carnival (like me), you might want to wander through Sour Duck’s Carnival Host Notes. Some of what she says about hosting the Feminist Carnival doesn't apply to smaller affairs, but it's all worth thinking about in advance... There's a new edition of the carnival, too. Looks like lots of good stuff again.

The lastest Skeptics' Circle is in the form of an Icelandic Saga (yeah, the boring "they all sat around the table and told tales" bits, but the writing's good and the links are worth it).

We haven't hit bottom yet...

Microsoft's blog-hosting service has been blatantly censoring users at the behest of Chinese authorities. Not because there's a legal necessity: just because they were asked.

And Rodney Balko asks the question do you know what's going on? Not directly, but it's a cute column. Scary, but cute.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


In a comment on my Agnotology post, pantagruel points out another very useful word: misology, the hatred (mis-) of knowledge, learning, argument or reason (-ology). Here's more about it, including a technical consulting firm which is apparently hoping that nobody knows what the word means....

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

You are Milk Chocolate
A total dreamer, you spend most of your time with your head in the clouds. You often think of the future, and you are always working toward your ideal life. Also nostalgic, you rarely forget a meaningful moment... even those from long ago.

The description isn't totally wrong, to be fair. But I don't identify any of that with white chocolate: sweet but insubstantial, elegant in appearance but adding little flavor... not me!

[UPDATE: Yes, I see that it says Milk Chocolate. I'm not sure what happened, because I clearly remember it coming up as White Chocolate before. Brain spasm, as my brother used to say, I guess. For the record, I don't think that's a terribly good description of Milk Chocolate, either.]

Inflation Ahead, and it's deliberate

The Cunning Realist argues that the Fed is moving towards inflation but trying to keep it quiet and relatively slow (I don't think he adequately takes the midterm elections into account: unless there's some way to blame it on Democrats as a group, the Fed will do everything in its power to keep gas prices from spiking next summer). This represents a stark shift from Greenspan's previous pattern, and should, as TCR says, be explained publicly, but it might represent the fruits of the transition to his successor, who's more of a money-supply guy.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Dramatic, Powerful, Flirty. Ice Cream?

You Are Chocolate Ice Cream
Dramatic. Powerful. Flirty.

There's so much more to say about this flavor. So much....

Is there a Carnival for You?

It used to be that blogging carnivals were few and far between, but it seems that there's a regular roundup for everyone, now. The inaugural edition (a.k.a. "First Date") of the Jewish Dating Blogcarnival has appeared.

There's a carnival for ME! I've volunteered to host the next Bad History Carnival, so keep your eyes peeled for bad historians, analogies, and other ahistoricalities.

It's not technically a carnival, but Penny Richards' disability blog roundup has some great reading as usual.

And to the Harry Potter fans I've offended... tough. I'm still a serious fantasy and science fiction geek, but I was never a trekkie. I've read Star Wars books, showed up the first day for movies, played with plastic figures.... but I grew up (and I never played out the Star Wars stories with the figures: we made up our own stories). I've been to Science Fiction Conventions (but never a TrekCon). I'm sorry, I just don't get fandom; I think it's pathological and I think the fandom economy (and it is an industry, people: you are a market) is highly problematic.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Collected Atrocities

After having their illegal activities revealed, the Bush administration, typically, goes after the whistleblowers and threatens the publishers. Administration supporters volte face spryly because it's "their guy" or "a crisis" or whatever they think will fly. Because they, at least, are not quitters, they will continue throwing human resources at a problem until they figure out what the problem is.

Because we can't get an exemption, the US has stopped promoting the landmine ban treaty. Because they might have real weapons, we won't do anything about the North Korean kakistocracy.

For a very different sort of atrocity, this will set your teeth on edge (via Tigerlily). This, on the other hand is just disgusting (via Chris Bray). And the utter vacuity of Western Civilization stands revealed here.

And, Anne Zook's been accumulating atrocities as well. No overlap, as near as I can tell, with my list. Damn.

2005 in epigram

Via Bill, at So Quoted, I found Ann Althouse's quotes of the year. It's not bad, as a year in review. What it's missing is the undercurrent of ephithets...

For a subtly frightening year in review for Asia, go here. And for a list of current armed conflicts (some of which date back a half-century), go here. And weep.

New Year's Resolutions

I am NOT going to list over a hundred goals for the year. I am NOT going to sell everything and buy a motor home to meet new people. I might take these into account...

Actually, I hate New Year's Resolutions. I know what's wrong with me, mostly, and I know what needs to be done. New Year's is just one of several annual "oh, shit. I'm older and still stuck" moments which pass by me every year. I make the same resolutions every time, and I honestly don't think I've ever made any progress on them. But let's see if making them public (yet anonymous) helps.

Here's the short list:
  • lose weight and sleep more (yes, those go together)
  • blog better: perhaps less frequently, but with more focus (see)
  • Manage time (instead of letting it pass me by; also cutting out clear time-wasters)
  • Figure out how to be professionally happy not just conceptually (I love my job, in theory) but actually (I'm not so sure about the work I do), which will include, ironically, working harder at it, not to mention considering alternatives.
  • Take and share and archive more pictures
  • write more letters/e-mails
That's enough. If I can make progress in most of those areas, 2006 will indeed be a better year.