30 April 2004

Warning: They tell the truth

Hey all you sex-positive feminists! Now that Sassy is gone, wouldn't it be nice if there was a smart, hip, witty, frank publication for teens explaining sex? One that talked about consent, self-esteem, STDs, and contraception in a way that teens would actually read? It's easy for us to be complacent about this stuff: in much of the country, parents, schools, bookstores, and libraries seem to think that if we tell teens boring lies about sex, they won't take and interest in the subject. Lots of kids out there hungry for information, alas.

Someone smart has done the hard work, and given us Scarleteen — Sex Education for the Real World on the Web. It's very cleverly done. Another step toward sex-positive feminist victory!

Les petits quotations

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the aviator most famous for writing Le Petit Prince, was also a wise and witty man: he said a number of quotable things worth thinking about.

29 April 2004

Impasse

I have anguished mixed feelings about Israel. On the one hand, I'm not sure that creating a Jewish nation-state was such a good idea in the first place. On the other hand, once created Israel was a legitimate, democratic state with a right to defend its existence. On the first hand, the disenfranchisement of the people in the territories occupied since '67 has compromised Israel's claim to be the legitimate state of all of its people. On that second hand again, that's more the fault of Israel's Arab neighbors than of Israel --- and Israel has had to be tough and pragmatic to survive in the face of those guys at all.

And so on.

A while ago, Avraham Burg described better than I could the unhappy impasse Israel faces in his essay The End of Zionism.

The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: a just path and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer. The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice. As such, the end of the Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep. There is a real chance that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a Jewish state here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly.
...
Do you want the greater land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy.
...
Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem. Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse--or separate ourselves from them absolutely, without tricks and gimmicks.
...
Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the greater land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs.

28 April 2004

C!BR

Pete Townsend said of seeing the Sex Pistols perform for the first time that he had to keep telling himself this is actually happening. In that spirit, I give you Captured! By Robots.

Semi-manifesto

Perhaps you're not familiar with Jaron Lanier's famous One Half of a Manifesto.
If computers are to become smart enough to design their own successors, initiating a process that will lead to God-like omniscience after a number of ever swifter passages from one generation of computers to the next, someone is going to have to write the software that gets the process going, and humans have given absolutely no evidence of being able to write such software.
...
There has often been a tender, but unintended humor in the argumentative writing by advocates of eventual computer sentience. The quest to rationally prove the possibility of sentience in a computer (or perhaps in the internet), is the modern version of proving God's existence. As is the case with the history of God, a great many great minds have spent excesses of energy on this quest, and eventually a cybernetically-minded 21st century version of Kant will appear in order to present a tedious ''proof'' that such adventures are futile. I simply don't have the patience to be that person.
...
Another avenue of explanation might be neo-Freudian, considering that the primary inventor of the idea of machine sentience, Alan Turing, was such a tortured soul. Turing died in an apparent suicide brought on by his having developed breasts as a result of enduring a hormonal regimen intended to reverse his homosexuality. It was during this tragic final period of his life that he argued passionately for machine sentience, and I have wondered whether he was engaging in a highly original new form of psychological escape and denial; running away from sexuality and mortality by becoming a computer.

Back on the air!

With a big fuck you to the people at Hilton, who think that Net Nanny is something I need in the hotel business center -- as well as to the folks at Net Nanny who think that my blog editing page is inappropriate for children, prudes, and business travellers.

25 April 2004

On the road agin

I'm going to spend this week in beautiful Corvallis, Oregon. Wherever that is. I hear they have electricity there, but I'm not so sure about my internet access, so my posts may be a bit spotty.

VRWC

In The American Prospect a couple of years ago, Robert Borosage wrote an interesting essay about David Brock's memoir Blinded By The Right. Many commentators, quite rightly, focused on the disingenuousness of Brock's mea culpa, with its spooky resemblance to the work he did as a deceitful hatchetman for the right. But Borosage talks about the thing which struck me most reading Brock's book, its view from inside the right's media machine, Hillary Clinton's “vast right-wing conspiracy,” which Borosage calls the “Mighty Wurlitzer.”
With all that ideological money, institutional heft, coordination, and credentialing, the right has perfected what the CIA used to call a “mighty Wurlitzer”—a propaganda machine that can hone a fact or a lie, broadcast it, and have it echoed and recycled in Fox News commentary, in Washington Times news stories, in Wall Street Journal editorials, by myriad right-wing pundits, by Heritage seminars and briefing papers, and in congressional hearings and speeches. Privatization of Social Security, vouchers for school, Vince Foster's supposed murder, Hillary's secret sex life, you name it—the right's mighty Wurlitzer can ensure that a message is broadcast across the county, echoed in national and local news, and reverberated in the speeches of respectable academics as well as rabid politicians.

With no factual basis, Brock trashes Hill—“a little slutty and a little nutty” was the quote chosen for effect—in The American Spectator, with a circulation of 30,000. Rush Limbaugh then reads from the article on his radio show, broadcast to two million people. Conservative pundits recycle the charges in columns and radio shows across the country. Brock turns the article into a book at the Free Press, which gets George Will to hype the book in a column. The Wall Street Journal devotes virtually an entire editorial page to excerpts. That ensures that the book is treated seriously in The New York Times Book Review and kindred publications. And so it goes.

Some lefties also refer to the minions of this not-so-vast right-wing conspiracy as “flying attack monkeys,” in a reference to The Wizard of Oz.

But interestingly, the Wurlitzer is strong on attack, but weak on defense, which lead Brad DeLong to recently refer to the “circular firing squad of flying attack monkeys” as, in their panic, the pundits start to contradict one another.

24 April 2004

Nothing is ephemeral any more

Let's say that you and some friends have a little ritual of getting together for pizza every week. Let's say you email around a little reminder to your friends each time. You have a sense of wit and whimsy, so you write a different little silly something for each email.
Hello! and welcome to PizzaFone!

If you know the name of the pizza you want to order, press Onnne.
If you know the location of the restaurant you want to eat at, press Twooo.
If you know the time you want to have lunch, press Threee.
If you want to select from a list of current pizza offerings, press Fooouuuur.

***4***

Current pizza showings in your area include:

Round Table Pizza Buffet
Showing at the Burbank Round Table Pizza Parlor.
With remaining showtimes at 12:15, 12:15, and 12:15 and a matinee showing at 12:15.
After a year, you've created web content to share with the world!

23 April 2004

Support our troops

In case you haven't seen it yet, this is the picture that the Pentagon doesn't want you to see: our boys* coming home in coffins draped with flags. A woman lost her job to bring you that picture.

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the patriots at The Memory Hole have obtained the release of lots more pictures, but at the moment I write this it seems that their website is overloaded with requests.


* A reader dropped me a line to chide me for my use of the expression ''our boys,'' which could be read as ignoring or dismissing the sacrifices of the many American servicewomen in Iraq. Should any of my other readers need a reminder, let me point out that we have many women serving, fighting, bleeding, and dying in Iraq: nineteen dead by the best count I can find.

Secret origin

The word ''Vertigo'' means three things:
  1. Dizziness experienced when looking down from a height
  2. Alfred Hitchcock's dark masterpiece
  3. DC Comics' realization that there are grown-ups out there who still love comics but want to read something weirder and better-written than Batman
If that third thing was not a surprise for you, then I have a little web comic that will make you chuckle.

22 April 2004

Today's quote

In what can only be described as a book Banks returns to his, by now familiar, trick of using the glyphs known as letters and punctation to describe scenes, events and characters. With words, scentences, paragraphs and even, on occasions, chapters Iain tells what one might call a story.

Amazon review of SF Novel by Iain M. Banks

21 April 2004

Eye of the beholder

I miss a day, and you all send me links to stuff that's gross. The bugs were the closest thing to wholesome. Another correspondent sent me a link to a Damned Thing too horrible to even describe, much less link.

Fine! I'll give you links to pictures of pretty girls!

Unablogger maintains a very odd blog: it's a series of links to interesting weblogs, many of them political, without any commentary ... except for pairing each link with a picture of a slender, naked, surgically enhanced young woman. There's something weirdly fascinating about it: it seems like there's a philosophy behind it, but it's not possible to discern what that philosophy is.

If your tastes in pretty girls are less conventional than that, one of the charms of the confluence of postmodern subcultural fragmentation together with the internet is that someone else out there shares your aesthetic priorities. A quick visit to Gothic Babe of the Week or Hot Goth will show you girl after girl who would never be picked for the cheerleading squad -- for lack of curves, tan, blonde hair, or a button nose -- but is a goddess in her chosen world o' style.

Or think about the rockabilly world, where a little clever accessorizing gives character and appeal to a young woman who would otherwise be ''plain.'' Many of the '50s-ish clothes wouldn't look right on someone who wears a dress smaller than a size fourteen. Now that is a meaningful victory over aesthetic cultural hegemony.

19 April 2004

Today's quote

Winston Churchill:
If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.

Thinning blog

I've not had a minute to myself all this last week, and I've run out of stuff for the blog that I've saved for later. Somebody send me something cool to share ...

Unhappy anniversary

On this day in 1993, 81 people died in a fire at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, concluding the federal government's seige. Exactly two years later, Timothy McVeigh set a bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people. McVeigh asserted that this was his response to Waco.

Since then, the anniversary has passed pretty unmemorably each year, and I hope that continues. But if there's bad news again, let's all recall the significance of the date in the eyes of some very angry and very ruthless Americans. ''Terrorist'' does not equal "Muslim.''

18 April 2004

Today's quote

Osama bin Laden had been saying for years, 'America wants to invade an Arab country and occupy it, an oil-rich Arab country.' We stepped right into bin Laden's propaganda.

Richard Clarke

Duh.

By way of Michael Bérubé, who mentions this quote in the context of pointing out how Michael Berman doesn't understand this point. Extra credit for checking out Bérubé's terrific review of Berman's Terror and Liberalism, which is the only interesting article I've ever seen from the pages of Tikkun.

17 April 2004

Rough justice

Ruben Bolling's comic which runs in Salon, Tom the Dancing Bug, doesn't usually work for me. But I love his “Justice Scalia” series of strips, which feature every lefty's anti-favorite conservative jurist having adventures in the style of a silly TV program, “righting wrongs” using the logic of his court decisions.

For your convenience, I have them for you here: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight

16 April 2004

Why I won't buy a house

So you know I have this dread about the cost of housing. I just found an article that makes me more fretful and confused.
Only in about 20 metro areas, mostly located in eight states, does the relationship of home price to income defy logic. The bad news is that those areas contain roughly half the housing wealth of the country. In California, the price of a home stands at 8.3 times the annual family income of its occupants; in Massachusetts, the ratio is 5.9:1; in Hawaii, a stunning, 10.1:1. To some extent, there are sound and basic economic reasons for this anomaly: supply and demand. Salaries in these areas have been going up faster than in the nation as a whole. The other is supply: These metro areas are "built out," with zoning ordinances that limit the ability of developers to add new homes. But at some point, incomes simply can't sustain the prices. That point has now been reached. In California, a middle-class family with two earners each making $50,000 a year now owns, on average, an $830,000 home. In the late 80s, the last time these eight states saw price-to-income ratios this high, the real estate market collapsed.

15 April 2004

Today's quote

Counting every legally cast vote cannot constitute irreparable harm.

US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, writing in dissent
Bush v. Gore, 9 December 2000

(By way of Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo)

Is it something about the shoes?

It turns out David Sedaris has not said everything there is to say about getting a job as an elf. There's another guy with a tale to tell.
Yes, this is real. Someone really posted a job ad offering Exxxtra $$$ for elf-based ''hand-to-hand'' marketing promotions. I really responded with a straightfaced email expressing interest. The person really replied with an invitation to an elf orientation.
Google reports that it is the only page on the Web containing the exact phrase ''elf orientation.'' Or did, until I posted this ...

14 April 2004

What are Google up to?

To make Google work, they have a hundred thousand servers working together. A hundred thousand. Let the audacity of that sink in. It hadn't really occured to me before, but once it's pointed out, the interesting question about Google emerges naturally.
Google is a company that has built a single very large, custom computer. It's running their own cluster operating system. They make their big computer even bigger and faster each month, while lowering the cost of CPU cycles. It's looking more like a general purpose platform than a cluster optimized for a single application. While competitors are targeting the individual applications Google has deployed, Google is building a massive, general purpose computing platform for web-scale programming.

This computer is running the world's top search engine, a social networking service, a shopping price comparison engine, a new email service, and a local search/yellow pages engine. What will they do next with the world's biggest computer and most advanced operating system?

13 April 2004

Hentai

There's the old joke that ''what I like is erotic and what you like is kinda kinky, but what those other people over there like is just sick. Ewww!'' But there is another category --- sexual proclivities which are so alien to one's own that they are funny or even strangely sweet. In that spirit, I submit to you (for educational purposes only!) a dictionary of Japanese perversions.

Bad protest fashion

When I go to an antiwar protest, I try to be tasteful about it: I wear a coat and tie, and bring a large American flag. I do. Other people make more embarassing style choices.
Protesters often complain about being marginalized or ignored by the mainstream media and a good look at the choice pics below may explain why. Come on people! Going to a protest is no reason to make yourself look ugly or retarded.

12 April 2004

Turkee

If you've taken my not-so-subtle hints to visit Atrios regularly, you may wonder about his strange references to ''turkee.''

It's a crossed-meme joke. Last November, there was a story about a 7-year-old who was disciplined at school for telling other kids that his mother was a lesbian. Atrios followed the story and posted a disconcerting image of the school's ''student behavior contract,'' which says ''what I should have done: cep my mouf shut.''

Meanwhile, a story was breaking about the famous picture of Bush serving Thanksgiving turkey in Iraq being a bit deceptive: it seems that the turkey in question was a display platter, not something served to GIs.

Add to that Atrios' recurring theme in linking to mainstream news articles, pointing out, like many observers, how the mainstream press, and the White House press corps in particular, have been intimidated by the Bush administration. With Karl Rove at the helm, the administration has used a strategy of weeding out reporters who write things critical of the administration by cutting off their access to information.

So Atrios combined all of those themes into a joke. And now ''turkee'' is Atrios' shorthand for ''the good stuff.''

11 April 2004

Twenty questions

You've probably seen a robot that plays ''twenty questions'' before, but this one is particularly fun.

Warm water

I would not have suspected Igloowhite of knowing how to compose a good Pagan invocation, but it seems that he does.
A Supplication to the Shower Goddess of Iowa City, Iowa, for a Hot Shower Before I Teach My Eight-Thirty AM Class on Friday, February 27th, 2004

Impluvia, hot fingered,
please be there when I open the spigot.
I woke up cold.
...
when you close the thermostat circuit,
when you keep the others asleep and
save yourself for me,
it is a miracle of hotness

10 April 2004

The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest

Spaghetti trees!

Edge City

I have feelings of strong ambivalence about Joel Garreau's book Edge City. On the one hand, Garreau was the first to clearly articulate what was going on as suburbs have grown into something much more complicated than just bedroom communities, and he describes the phenomenon with extraordinary clarity. The book is a fascinating read.

On the other hand, he has this bizarre optimism that they're not so bad as they seem, they're just evolving into something cool that we cannot yet fully imagine. Bunk. Edge cities suck. They lack public space, corrode community, and are ugly, ugly, ugly. They sap the soul. People live in them because in America they mostly don't have a choice, for economic reasons.

Kevin Drum has a nice summary of the book's explanation of how the logic of cars shapes edge cities.

The basic unit of density in an edge city development is the FAR (pronounced eff-ay-are), or Floor-to-Area Ratio, which Garreau describes this way: ''It is the developer's fundamental calculation of urban density, hence traffic, hence parking, hence human behavior, hence civilization.'' FAR is the ratio of the total floorspace of a building to the area of the land the building is on, and it is constrained by the rule of thumb that each worker in an office building requires 250 square feet and each car requires 400 square feet.
...
In other words, there's a gray zone between an FAR of 0.4 and a FAR of about 1.0 where it doesn't make economic sense to build much of anything. And it all hinges on parking.
...
Edge cities always develop to the point where they become dense enough to make people crazy with the traffic, but rarely, if ever, do they get dense enough to support the rail alternative to automobile traffic.

09 April 2004

Today's quote

Magic is the art of creating false (but funny or beautiful) cause-and-effect relationships.

Teller (of Penn & Teller)

Gargamel

As a kid, I was puzzled by the motivations of Gargamel, the villian on Smurfs who had a strong resemblance to Richard Nixon. Sometimes he wanted to eat the Smurfs. Sometimes he wanted to use them in an alchemical operation to turn lead into gold. Sometimes he wanted payback for some imagined slight. His malice was just so unfocused, it didn't make sense to me.

Broke my willing suspension of disbelief, you know?

So today, the witty and sophisticated Diane pointed out to me the obvious: Gargamel is just crazy, and hatred of Smurfs is a psychotic symptom. This also explains why he lived in such a crummy hovel --- obviously he can't hold down a steady job if he's nuts.

I feel much better now.

Go, Atrios!

Atrios doesn't often make linkless comments, but this one is a doozy.
If things are not going swimmingly in Iraq, it is not the fault of domestic critics. It is the fault of the people who sent in too few troops and failed to plan for the aftermath of the war.

One should not have to have been 'pro-war' to be a critic of what's going on. I'm tired of people prefacing their criticisms with phrases like 'as someone who supported this war...' Well, you were wrong. Why should we listen to you now? There were plenty of reasons to be against the war, but the only one which was necessary was the fact that the people in charge were utterly incompetent - that people opposed to 'nation building' had no real desire to carry it out. Once their incompetence was clear, no other reasons were necessary. Even Tom Friedman recognized this was a risky venture, but he failed to understand that you do not support risky ventures run by inept lunatics.

Or, as I've been saying for two years, it's not that I think having a cruel totalitarian dictator running Iraq is okay, it's that I think invading Iraq is catastrophically stupid policy. That's not too rarefied a distinction, is it?

08 April 2004

Naming conventions

I live a life in which I meet quite a few people with totem animal names. In fact, I've been in rooms full of people where I feel a bit awkward confessing that my name is simply “Jonathan,” and the temptation to jazz that up as “Jonathan ben Ephraim” doesn't help a bit. So I was tickled by this article about people choosing silly “Raven” and “Wolf” names.

Wolves are no more noble than scorpions. They'll happily rip your face off between munching on fluffy rabbits and sweet little mice. But wolves are furry and gorgeous and they look off into the distance as though they contain some unspoken wisdom. Bitch, please. They were thinking about how nice some noble caribou would taste right about now. But this seems to be the prerequisite for liking an animal enough to name yourself after it — that the animal is adorable or fiercely beautiful, which reflects well on the namee. No one ever names themselves Salamander Mangymoose, or Swift Ostrich, or Starmanatee. Yet these are perfectly lovely animals — they just don't make you look dark and cool, do they? Yeah. I'm onto you.

Now for the record, I know a “Raven” who I figure gets a special pass because she's mostly a scientific rationalist and she chose it in spite of being blonde. And the mighty Joi Wolfwomyn also gets a special pass, in spite of her silly spelling, for going out of her way to observe in her Re/search: Modern Pagans interview that “you don't meet that many Pagans whose names are Aardvark, Piranha, or Snail.” Plus, she has enough personal fortitude and presence that she has a genuine right to name herself whatever she pleases.

But really, if you're gonna go the totem animal route, you ought to do something distinctive and unique, with very personal symbolism. Isn't that the point?

I know a guy who has it right: his name is “Fly.” He grew up as “Maggot,” but then had a transformative experience one day. Now that is cool.


Update: Thorn just introduced me to Shaggy Manatee. Nothing beats the tale of Fly, but still cool.

Weird news from Iraq

Under assault by insurgents and unable to rely on U.S. and coalition troops for intelligence or help under duress, private security firms in Iraq have begun to band together in the past 48 hours, organizing what may effectively be the largest private army in the world, with its own rescue teams and pooled, sensitive intelligence.

Washington Post

Is it just me, or is this really like the plot of a bad videogame's cut scenes? An alliance of necessity between mercenaries in a war-torn country ...

Hamlet, Buffy, Spock

During my recent bout of illness I watched about forty hours of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. I ordinarily watch very little TV (I don't own one) so seeing a concentrated chunk from a single series made me super-conscious of some of the recurring patterns in the show. Series television depends upon recurring patterns for practical reasons, but this has serious artistic consequences for the medium.

Efforts to control production costs necessarily create recurring themes in a show's visual style. The most obvious and important example is the tendency to use the same sets repeatedly, either to represent a location frequented by the characters or to create “new” sets by redressing old ones in new ways. Handled artfully, this can be a real strength, creating a vivid world where the characters live. The bridge of the Enterprise is as much a character on Star Trek as Spock or Captain Picard. Or think of the Stedmans' house on thirtysomething, the endlessly re-dressed cemetary on Buffy, or the garage in Taxi. On ER, M*A*S*H, and The West Wing, the setting is the title character! The recurrance of sets, costumes, and props can also put a television show into an almost pure world of characters and dialogue: I don't think we ever left the two-room office on Barney Miller, giving the show a simplicity that contributed to its distinctive rhythm.

Recurring patterns emerge also from the way that the storytelling in a series interacts with the viewer's time: a show has both a very short and a very long chunk of the viewer's attention. On the level of an individual episode, you have 22 or 45 minutes of screen time, which compels a lot of storytelling efficiency. If you can rely on the same rules for vampires, or phasers, or ER proceedure, you don't have to spend time providing this exposition. But then once you've seen several epsiodes, these recurring elements become what you take away from the show, more than any particular story: Buffy kickboxing, Hawkeye with a martini, Columbo saying “there's just one thing that bothers me.”

This is why TV show drinking games are interesting: they remind you of patterns in the show that you recognized on an unconscious level, and it's pleasant to see those things articulated.

In the episode “The Zeppo” Buffy demonstrates the clever effects that this makes possible. The episode has the same basic structure as Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Stoppard follows two minor characters from Hamlet, with Shakespeare's play only occasionally intersecting for brief scenes. Rosencrantz is funny because the audience understands what's happening better than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do — we've already seen Hamlet, and Stoppard can take advantage of that pre-existing knowledge. In “The Zeppo”, Xander is separated from the other characters for most of the episode, occasionally intersecting with the other Buffy characters who are facing an apocalyptic threat.

But dig it: in “The Zeppo,” the Buffy story that our protagonist intersects with is a story we have never seen. Yet we can follow it because what we do see is full of recurring elements we recognize from other episodes: Willow preparing a magic spell, Buffy and Angel declaring their love for one another, the end of the world averted in secret in tunnels beneath Sunnydale. The show itself is winking at us, saying it knows it falls into these patterns, and then using that admission to tell a different kind of story.

07 April 2004

Mmm, tasty paragraph

Brad DeLong sums up the challenge of liberal economic policy.
Even a small amount of belief in diminishing marginal utility of wealth leads to the conclusion that the government ought to put its thumb on the scale on the side of a more middle-class and a less Second-Gilded-Age economy and income distribution. How the government should do this, however, is an extremely hard problem--a problem that it is even hard to think about because we lack an adequate theory of market failure.

05 April 2004

Scooped Tom Tomorrow!

So two weeks ago I anticipated what This Modern World would be about today. How clever am I? And why don't I appear weekly in Salon?

Grontar is everywhere!

It looks like I'm not the only one who digs Grontar. It seems he has a growing following telling tales about him.

If you were one of the people who were puzzled by Grontar the first time, you will remain puzzled by these new pages as well.


Update: The genius creator of Grontar revealed!

Today's quote

I viewed [Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed] as the second movie on a day that began with a screening of Taking Lives, with Angelina Jolie absorbing vibes from the graves of serial killer victims. The third movie was Bresson's 1966 masterpiece Au Hasard Balthazar, which could have been called ''The Passion of the Donkey.'' So you see we have to shift gears quickly on the film-crit beat.

Roger Ebert

04 April 2004

Quagmire

Every time I think I'm being too much of a lefty naysayer, I stumble across new explanations of why Iraq is an even bigger policy nightmare than I had imagined.
Were the United States to withdraw, it would send a clear message that Washington is vulnerable to pain --- even at low levels. This would undermine the ultimate goal of demonstrating undeniably that the Islamist militants --- al Qaeda or not --- have no chance of defeating the United States, and therefore no chance of achieving their broader goal of a renewed Islamic caliphate stretching across the Muslim world.

We are now at a point where an object --- immovable by strategic design --- is being faced by a thus-far unyielding force. Washington cannot pull back, or it will suffer defeat on a much broader scale than just Iraq. The jihadists cannot end their offensive, or they will demonstrate their impotence and lose any chance of stirring the Muslim street (whatever that might be) into action. With U.S. elections nearing, the jihadists will intensify both the scale and the scope of attacks. In Iraq, with the handover of power nearing, the secular militants will increase their attacks. With the ongoing rotation of troops, U.S. forces will make a show of their power to deter future attacks or resistance. The combination will be volatile.

Google mirror

I suspect that there is only one web page that is a pun. It's clever.

''Mirroring'' is a term that system administrators use meaning that they have set up multiple computers that serve up the exact same data. They do this when the data -- like a web page -- will have lots of people asking for it and any one computer would get overwhelmed. If you didn't know that, now you do, and you'll laugh at the pun.

03 April 2004

Today's quote

Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.

Schopenhauer

Ouch!

With great power comes great responsibility

Here's a funny story about the consequences of discovering that Clarence Thomas is a big fan of a comic book you write.
Justice Thomas is a truly uncommon creature, a black political conservative. Now, if you only see black men on cable news talk shows, where all black men are conservatives (Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Alan Keyes, Armstrong Williams) you probably don't think this is unusual. Well trust me, it is. It's really quite difficult to find an African-American who (like Justice Thomas) was alive during Jim Crow, who actually saw the Voting Rights Act end legal discrimination at the polls, and who is the successful beneficiary of Affirmative Action (but now says that he's against it). It was easier to justify my character Icon having those beliefs; he's also a space alien who can fly.
Via everyone's favorite comic book superhero, Neil Gaiman.

02 April 2004

LAX, yeah, but ORD? IAD?

From the department of how stuff works, an article about airport codes.
It's obviously much easier for pilots, controllers, travel agents, frequent flyers, computers and baggage handlers to say and write ORD than the O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois -- but how did this practice start, and why are some airport codes easy to understand (ABE and ZRH) while others seem to make absolutely no sense (ORD)?
...
Some special interest groups successfully lobbied the government to obtain their own special letters. The Navy saved all the new 'N' codes. Naval aviators learn to fly at NPA in Pensacola, Florida and then dream of going to ''Top Gun'' in Miramar, California (NKX). The Federal Communications Committee set aside the 'W' and 'K' codes for radio stations east and west of the Mississippi respectively. 'Q' was designated for international telecommunications. 'Z' was reserved for special uses. The Canadians made off with all the remaining 'Y codes which helps explain YUL for Montreal, YYC for Calgary, etc. One of the special uses for 'Z' is identifying locations in cyberspace. What am I talking about? Well, an example is ZCX the computer address of the FAA's air traffic control headquarters central flow control facility. ZCX is not an airport but a command center just outside Washington D.C., that controls the airline traffic into major terminals.

Lacking both 'W' and 'N' Washington National has a code of DCA for District of Columbia Airport. The newer Dulles airport just outside D.C. was DIA (from Dulles International Airport); however, the DIA and DCA were easy to confuse, especially when hastily written in chalk on a baggage cart, scribbled on a tag or a handwritten air traffic control strip, so we are stuck with the backwards IAD. Now one of the rules of the game is ''the first and second letters or second and third letters of an identifier may not be duplicated with less than 200 nautical miles separation.''

01 April 2004

Today's quote

I've been trying to take it easy on the politics here, but stuff keeps coming up.
''The Final Solution''

Bill O'Reilly, 31 March 2004

Did he really say that? Am I just being sneaky, quoting out of context? Atrios reports, you decide.

War and conservatism

Three days after 9/11, Phil Agre circulated this chilling essay about the consequences for democracy in the US. A few months later, I recall rereading it and finding it scary and prescient. Rereading it again now, ''scary and prescient'' is an understatement.
Let us say, then, that George W. Bush commences a war against Osama bin Laden, or even against the greater abstraction of ''terrorism''. What happens then? A state of war is a serious thing. States of war have routinely been used to justify censorship, the curtailing of civil liberties, and the repression of dissidents. States of war are also understood to require the opposition in the legislature to moderate its otherwise essential functions of criticism. Calls are issued to stand behind the political leadership and to display unity, with the implication that the enemy is watching and that failure to unite is tantamount to treason. These are not healthy conditions for a democracy; indeed, they are the opposite of democracy.

War in the old conception was temporary: the idea was explicitly that the state of war would end, and that the normal rules of democracy would resume once their conditions had been reestablished.
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The almost inherent crisis of democracy, and the actual nature of conservatism, become clearest in conditions of war. The conditions of war are almost identical with the social vision of conservatism, and it is no surprise that conservatives are so eloquent when the possibility of war arises. Conservatism has always been profoundly opposed to the popular exercise of reason, supposing it to lead inevitably to tyranny, and wartime is ideally suited for the absolute, polarized, us-and-them forms of thinking that are the opposite of rational thought.