31 December 2005

A word from the ACLU

They've been running ads in the New York Times. They have the ads available together with other information worth checking out.

And yeah, I've got my membership card in my wallet right now.

30 December 2005

Discourse

Wil Wheaton does his part for responsible political dialogue in America.
For the next forty minutes, we talked about the differences between Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, Clinton and Bush. We did it respectfully, quietly, honestly, and openly. It was about as far removed from talk radio as you can get, and the man I was talking with was not the man I portrayed in my essay. When I left, I felt closer to my dad than I have in years, despite all our political differences.
(Yeah, that Wil Wheaton.)

Secret Santa

It's a little late for Christmas, but I have to share that metal hurlant band Karkis reveals the terrible truth behind Secret Santa in "the most evil music video ever made."
a stocking stuffed with an-ar-chy!!!!!
Via Content Love.

29 December 2005

Magic word

A few of my readers may feel particularly strongly about a word that jumped out at me from a good review of the illegal wiretapping story provided by Jim Macdonald at Making Light.

oathbreaker

I was just musing about the oath in question the other day. If any of my readers have an in with the Norns, now might be a good time to have a word with them.

28 December 2005

Carfree

I recently discovered the Carfree Cities website, and feel a little bit foolish for having bought the Carfree Cities book, because I think the web actually tells the story better than the book. I suppose that I'm paying for the cost of the site, so that's not too bad.

J.H. Crawford is entirely serious in proposing that a city of a million people or more can function entirely without cars or trucks. My own image of utopian urbanism — setting aside my dreams of arcologies — has long excluded private cars but included taxis and trucks. Crawford has convinced me that these aren't necessary, that a truly carfree city is possible. After all, observes Crawford, Venice manages just fine without cars, and this helps to make it arguably the most pleasant city in the world.

Crawford's argument is, in fact, full of surprises. There's some crafty number-crunching that shows that in principle a city of a million inhabitants could be structured with 80% green space, four-story buildings, and a metro system that takes people from anywhere to anywhere in no more than 35 minutes, with no more than a 5 minute walk at either end. The metro system in Crawford's reference design is very cunning: there are only three lines, and everything is reachable with a single transfer.

Part of the trick is discussed in the book: most folks don't understand which parts of the public transit system to optimize. Where does the time go? Train accelleration is not so important, but designing the doors to start opening a moment before a train stops cumulatively shaves more significant time off of a long trip. There's a lot of good, deep thinking like this in Crawford's proposal.

The website also includes a fun pattern language of good stuff to have in a city, very much taking after Christopher Alexander. Crawford is a fan of a Mediterranean model: open courtyards in the centers of blocks, twisty little streets, arcades, little squares, and so forth.

Oh, and he wants to convert the interstate highways system into rail, too. My kind of guy.

27 December 2005

Kibo

Once upon a time, before blogs, probably before you even had an email address, probably before you even heard of the internet, there was the Usenet online forum. It still exists of course, but it was a smaller town then.

Anyway, in the '90s there was this guy who went by the name Kibo who wrote a little script that checked every day to see if anyone had posted anything mentioning his name anywhere on Usenet. If you said something witty he'd respond, usually with something even wittier. Many folks didn't know how Kibo managed to read all of Usenet, which even then was far too big for a human being to truly survey. It was sort of a sign of good fortune to get a post or an email from the mysterious, omniscient Kibo, and Usenet was eventually humming with the faux religion "Kibology."

No, I myself have never received email from Kibo. (Though who knows? Maybe he checks Technorati periodically these days, and may turn up here.) Which is why I only just now learned the reason for this post --- that he apparently used an extraordinarily long email signature.

23 December 2005

The Iraq election

A free election in Iraq is inherently good news, yes, but the results are not so reassuring. US Ambassador to Iraq Zilmay Khalilzad says:
It looks as if people have preferred to vote for their ethnic or sectarian identities. But for Iraq to succeed there has to be cross-ethnic and cross-sectarian co-operation.
That's from a brief article in the UK Independent which says that indications are that religious groups and political parties are in the ascendency, ethnic/regional divisions are sharp, and Iranian influence is powerful.

We're not exactly seeing a flowering of democratic institutions.

Mr Khalilzad said yesterday: "You can't have someone who is regarded as sectarian, for example, as Minister of the Interior." This is a not so-veiled criticism of the present minister, Bayan Jabr, a leading member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest Shia party. He is accused of running death squads and torture centres whose victims are Sunni Arabs.
Emphasis mine. I'm excitable about that sort of thing.

22 December 2005

Keeping the story alive

Via Atrios, Marty Lederman explains how even apologists are saying that the President is breaking the law.
What's remarkable about Posner's Op-Ed is that his whole point is that the FISA law on this presently is (in his view) woefully inadequate to the task. He never even mentions the serious implication of this point, namely, that if he is right that FISA currently prohibits this -- and he is right -- then the Administration's data mining for the past four years has been a violation of criminal law. (No specious suggestions from Posner, who knows better, that this was authorized by the AUMF: He's forthright that the law needs to be amended.)

Posner may be right that current law is too restrictive. Congress should have that debate. But isn't it troubling that an esteemed federal judge seems so indifferent to the fact that, in the meantime -- before the Nation and the Congress have had the opportunity to debate Posner's proposal -- the Nation's Chief Executive is systematically authorizing criminal felonies?

Felonies. Impeach Bush. Impeach Bush now.

21 December 2005

More nerd solstice goodness

Astronomy Picture of the Day delivers the goods.

Solstice

Thorn's lovely solstice poem got the better of me. So on my part, today I offer a little scientistic myth.


There are four forces in the universe. Gravity bends the universe into its shape from end to end, attracts and never repels, but is by far the weakest of these forces. Electricity and magnetism, one and the same to the divine eye — attracting, repelling, and turning — is the second weakest force, far stronger than gravitation. This second force accounts for almost everything we know: the strength of stone, the flow of water, the kiss of wind, the source of fire's energy. Even light itself is a ripple in it.

In the heart of the Sun, the press of the Sun's enormous weight makes a world unlike anything we can touch. In the heart of the Sun, the hydrogen and helium we know as wisps lighter than air are a dozen times the density of lead — pressed until they are no longer gasses, nor even anything like the liquids or solids we know, but a plasma like a soupy flame.

In the heart of the Sun, there are not atoms but the hearts of atoms, nuclei rattling among the electrons which would cloak them on Earth, shoulder to shoulder but not bound together. The second weakest force in the universe tries to drive the nuclei apart from one another while the weakest force presses them together and the heat whirls them in a mad dance. In this unearthy mælstrom those nuclei collide. And then another force, one with far greater strength and far lesser reach then its two familiar sibilings, takes hold and grafts the nuclei together.

A fire is powered by the release of energy bound in knots of the twins electricity / magnetism. So is your flesh. But the Sun is powered by the release of energy bound up in that far stronger force which circumscribes the nuclei. The strength of the hearts of atoms warms the heart of our Sun. As nuclei cleave together, energy escapes as a ripple of light. Thus the inconceivably thick plasma deep in the Sun is awash in light, which bounces and spins through it.

It takes a long time for a ray of light to find its way to the Sun's surface, where it can finally live its destiny to soar unobstructed through the vacuum of space — and perhaps to come to rest on the world we know. The light you see today was born before anything human walked. It has been a long time coming.

Remember the Sun's gifts today.

20 December 2005

Channukah poem

Via Indri, I learn of a witty Channukah poem.
Now I send out this message
to all fellow Yids
who felt a bit slighted
when you were just kids:
It's a little uneven, but the ending is a kicker.

Him, not just his administration

It seems that not only did Bush order illegal wiretaps, but he asked the editor and the publisher of the New York Times not to run the story. He brought them into the Oval Office.

19 December 2005

Santa

After reading a bit too much H. P. Lovecraft, Fafnir tells us the horrible truth about Santa Claus.

18 December 2005

More impeachment fodder

In case you haven't heard yet, the Bush administration has been spying on citizens without a warrant. There are stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Here's the Times:

President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years ...

Yes, “presidential order” means Bush's actual signature on an actual piece of paper. And Hilzoy reminds us

This is against the law.
....
Bush's order is arguably unconstitutional as well: it seems to violate the fourth amendment, and it certainly violates the requirement (Article II, sec. 3) that the President “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

This is what impeachment is for, folks. Follow the link to Hilzoy's article and you'll see that though she has hesitated to say “impeachment,” now it's time.

17 December 2005

Today's quote

Jon Stewart, speaking of the Bush administration.
I really think their foreign policy goal is to spread irony thoughout the world.
It explains a lot.

Batman, surrealist

Hmmnn. Robert Anton Wilson liked Tim Burton's Batman as a work of cultural protest.
Bruce Wayne has an answer to Vicki's charge of abnormality:

"What's 'normal' in a world like this?"

And that has always been, of course, the logic of surrealism. After World War 1, the surrealists hung toilet bowls in sculpture shows and painted things like Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone precisely to force everybody to ask, "What's normal in a world like this?"

Wilson seems to miss that Batman steadfastly refuses to kill. I don't blame him; it's not underlined in the picture, which is one of the many reasons why I had mixed feelings about it. The recent Batman Begins is much closer to the sort of Batman picture I want to see. Still, Wilson has a point --- and is always a provocative read.

16 December 2005

Today's quote

Ebert says what must be said when (mostly positively) reviewing The Producers.
It is unfair to observe of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick that they are not Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, but there you have it: They're not.
Truer words were never spoken.

Today's quote

Guess who said this?
Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It’s just a goddamned piece of paper.
I bet you got it in one, didn't you?

Recall, this is a man who stood up with his hand on a Bible held by the Cheif Justice of the United States Supreme Court and swore a brief oath that went like this:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States
Impeach Bush. Impeach him now.

Update: Digby has observations which illuminate how unsurprising this is.

Update: How credible is this anonymously-sourced story? The original publisher's defense of it sounds pretty credible to me.

We get tips about Bush’s temper and his comments all the time. Most of the tips don’t get used because we don’t go with information from just one source. The tip about "the goddamned piece of paper" seemed destined for the byte bin until a second aide, in casual conversation, mentioned the comment.

So I called a third source who has confirmed information in the past. At first he was defensive.

"Who told you about that?" I told him I’d picked it up from two other sources.

"Look, you know how the President is," he said. "He gets agitated when people challenge him."

All I wanted to know was did the President of the United States call the Constitution a "goddamned piece of paper."

"Yeah. He did."

Granted, that's not rock solid. But it's as good as you could hope to get in a story like this one; none of the staffers who were in the room could be expected to go on the record.

Update update: Digging further into Capitol Hill Blue produces epistemological distress. I've not been able to find a comprehensive analysis of CHB as a source. They do seem to have a rep for publishing rumors, and it seems that sometimes the rumors turn out to be true, including some big stories. I expect that on this one, we'll never know for sure.

15 December 2005

Poem

San Francisco poet Daphne Gottleib — whose work I recommend all around — knocks one out of the park.

to prove that I was someone

   (December 12, 2005)

Dare I take  
My tattoo
the master-slave connection  
  my tattoo
a step further  
  is a rebel flag,
to point out  
  a rebel flag
to point out  
  roughly 3"x5"
that many people  
  on my lower back
many people  
  Having known people
of all races and ethnicities  
  that had enlisted in the military
have allowed themselves  
  enlisted in the military
to be  
  with tattoos
modern-day slaves  
  with tattoos
  
  such as swastikas, iron crosses, etc.
Indeed, a person does not have to  
  etc.  I though it wouldn't
be black  
  cause a problem.
to exhibit a slave mentality.  
  Apparently though, it has.
Unwittingly, too many of us —  
  The Army, the Air Force, and the Marines
and it does not matter whether we are black  
  the army
asian  
  the air force
chicano  
  and the marines
or white  
  have told me
or white  
  that any tattoo to
perpetuate “the Master's will”  
  considered racist or sexist
through our own self-hatred  
  will keep you from enlisting in the military
and destructive behavior.  
  Is this some new policy since 9/11?
For those individuals who are in denial,  
  Is there anything I can do?
for those individuals who are in denial,  
  I am 17 and have
here are some recognizable signs of  
  a future ahead of me
  
self perpetuation of slave behavior:  
  I have come from
be it  
  the bottom of society
in prison  
  and worked my entire life
in prison  
  to prove that I was someone
or  
  to prove that I was someone
in society  
  who was capable of status
in society  
  other than white trash.
  
  Somebody please help me out.





All text in left column by Stanley “Tookie” Williams, “My Letter to Incarcerated Youth No. 2”. Tookie Williams was executed by the State of California on December 13, 2005.

All text in right column by a writer identified as “dingo the CGP” on the Legal Issues forum of Stormfront White Nationalist Community at http://www.stormfront.org/forum/showthread.php?t=121583 posted on March 13, 2004, found after a search on Tookie’s execution offered a link to the Stormfront page.

Daphne Gottlieb, December 12, 2005. This poem was finished at midnight.

Ms. Gottleib says “it is absolutely fine to point to this piece or redistribute as long as ‘authorship’ is credited to me and no money is garnered from its reproduction.”

Yes, really, you are

Sarah Bunting uses an even simpler definition of "feminism" than my own to say yes, you are a feminist.

14 December 2005

Digby gives good rant

I know that my blog has been laying off the ongoing war in Iraq and breakdown in the American body politic lately. If you're jonesing for a bit of the bitter, drop by Hullabaloo for a dose.

Tree of life

A few folks have just passed on to me Kabbalah ... with Britney and Madonna.
Madonna: Its complement is Gevurah. You’ll see that image is from I’m Breathless.

Britney: Pardon me?

Madonna: The soundtrack to Dick Tracy?

Britney: I’m sorry. It’s not ringing a bell.

Madonna: Never mind. Tracy is a lawman; my single, "Hanky Panky" was all about punishment, spanking. Gevurah shows us order and restraint; it keeps things as they are. Chesed and Gevurah are at odds and in balance. It’s difficult to explain, my sweet, perhaps because you’re not yet a woman of grand experie …

Britney: Is it like when you reinvent yourself as a more adult performer, perhaps with an r’n’b edge, but you have to make sure that you don’t alienate your core demographic?

Madonna: You are a fine pupil, Britney, wise beyond your years.

Let me add that Colin Low has done the same thing for us, using Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Worf is a brilliant depiction of Gevurah. His dominating motivations are duty and honour, so his behaviour is tightly constrained by whatever he considers to be dutiful and honourable. He is not afraid to die upholding duty and honour and exhibits something close to a death urge --- he would make a good Kamikaze.
And I have at least a picture of the RHPS execution of the Tree.
Chaos Magicians tend to be very (you guessed it!) chaotic people. The kind of people who would dream up things like this Rocky Horror Picture Show Cabbala (pictured to the right). Yep, that was designed by one of the most famous chaos magicians out there: Phil Hine (it's scanned from my (signed) copy of Condensed Chaos).
I'm still working on my own superhero tree-of-life and Firefly tree-of-life. I'll let you know.

13 December 2005

Penalized

Stanley "Tookie" Williams III
1953 - 2005
Not a martyr

He founded a deadly and ruthless street gang. He apologized for doing it. He was a committed and effective anti-gang activist. There are plausible reasons to think that he was innocent of the crime he was convicted of committing. He was certainly not an innocent man. He was loyal to his friends. Some of those friends were bad, bad men.

Judge not, lest ye be judged? But we live in a world in which we must exercise judgement; to refrain from judgement is itself a judgement. Yet the world conspires to baffle our judgement. What to make of Mr. Williams' life?

People called for clemency. People called for the most severe punishment. Personally, I felt sympathy with both arguments. I am baffled.

We cannot step into the same river twice. We cannot punish the same person who committed a crime, nor can we reward the same person who did a good deed. We are all the inheritors of the legacy of our younger selves. Yet only a fool would say that we should neither punish crimes nor reward good deeds.

There's a lot I don't know about Mr. Williams, and how we should respond to him. In a baffling world, I want to know what he would have made of the rest of his life. And in a baffling world, I don't want the State of California to have the power of life and death over its citizens. But I don't know much more than that.

Update: Daphne Gottleib commemorates the moment with a poem that will take your breath away.

Klingon karaoke

I kid you not.

My favourite is the Klingon version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which ends with:

baHHa' wejlogh nIHoch
Daq beySbol QujlIj

misfire three times, they kill you
at our baseball game

Reading the page, I learn that there are Klingon karaoke competitions.

Incompetent design

Via Monkeyboy's Linkblog, I offer you a new competitor to Darwinism, Creationism, Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Design, and Flying Spaghetti Monsterism. The new kid on the block: Incompetent Design.

Oh, and be sure and roll over the wiggly thing in the upper left corner of the page with the Incompetent Design article.

12 December 2005

Geeky yet irresistable

BrickQuest, "Fantasy Boardgaming in an ABS Universe," is a game in which you enact brave heroes meandering through dungeons slaying terrible monsters and stealing their treasure. With Legos.

It's so geeky that it collapses into a geek singularity and falls behind the geek event horizon. But you gotta click that link and check out the little Lego monsters.

Via Poor Mojo.

11 December 2005

Comic

Richard Pryor
1940 - 2005
American poet

In the event that you've only been exposed to him in the form of his stupid later films, mark the day by finding one of his old standup routines on CD or DVD and go see him invent contemporary stand-up comedy.

There's a whole generation of comics now who learned his trick of digging into the dark places of pain, anguish, race, sex, violence to win laughter from an audience. Most of them are using that trick for cheap laughs, while Pryor earned those laughs the hard way. You paid for them, listening to him. And he paid, himself --- he paid dearly. And was ten times funnier than almost everybody in the business in the process.

While we're here: As I was trawling for a quote for this post, I stumbled across an amazing story about him working with Lily Tomlin. It says this about his work:

Instead of adapting to the white perspective, he forced white audiences to follow him into his own experience. Pryor didn't manipulate his audiences' white guilt or their black moral outrage. If he played the race card, it was only to show how funny he looked when he tried to shuffle the deck.

And then it says a whole lot more. Check it out.

Update: Digby says some fine things about Pryor.

He was right up front, saying it all clearly and without restraint. He wasn't being polite and pretending that race wasn't an issue. And it didn't matter. Nobody, not one person, in that audience was angry. In fact, not one person in that audience was anything but doubled over in paroxysms of hysterical laughter. He had our number, all of us, the whole flawed species.

Also long, also worth a read.

10 December 2005

Tempting fate

Even if there's only a 1 in 5500 chance that it will hit the Earth, when you learn about a wayward asteroid 40 times the diameter of the one that probably leveled a big chunk of Siberia, no matter how clever you think it is, don't go naming it Apophis. Okay?

Via Warren Ellis.

08 December 2005

Dream

I don't ordinarily do the dream diary thing here, but I just woke up from a weird one, and have to share.

I get drafted by the Space Marines. I'm me, only in a you-can-get-drafted-by-the-Space-Marines world. After a lot of shuffling around from room to room as I'm processed into the system, I get deposited into a military based disguised as a large disused old fire station together with the rest of my unit, all dressed in our civvies as we wait for what's next. Most of us are in our Hi-Viz Lime Yellow Aerostitch Roadcrafter one-piece motorcycling suits.

Before we find out what fiendish psychological experiment has brought us all together, I wake up.

Evil

Folks on the right sometimes tar lefties like me as Stalin apologists. I have no idea where this comes from. For the record, in my book, Stalin was evil, okay? Big league evil.

I tend to think that there was a certain artistic genius to Nazi evil that makes it worse than Stalin's reign in an important way. But I won't argue with folks who call Stalin worse than Hitler, since Stalin killed more people, which is an imprortant metric that transcends questions of style. On the other hand, I'm not letting Pol Pot off the hook; the Khmer Rouge may have killed piddling numbers of people by Hitler and Stalin standards, but there are ways in which they make even the Nazis look like the Boy Scouts of America.

If you are going to go by the numbers, though, I learned recently that Mao is the champion of twentieth century evil. So Uncle Joe has at least that much going for him.

05 December 2005

Medical care

Kevin Drum is puzzled. Medicare for the elderly and medicaid for the poor seem to work pretty well.
Here are the percentages of Americans who say they are "fairly or very satisfied" with their own health system:
  • Poor: 45%
  • Elderly: 61%
  • Everyone else: 34%
...
Americans in general are highly dissatisfied with their healthcare system --- the one that's supposedly the "best healthcare in the world" --- and yet they've been conned into thinking that a national healthcare system would be even worse. This is despite the fact that people in America who are enrolled in a national healthcare system (most of whom have previous experience with private employer programs) like it better than the working stiffs who have private coverage.
Meanwhile, Ezra Klein reflects on the propaganda triumph thus puzzle represents.
We've so fully demonized government-run health care that we won't even believe it can work when it already is. The totality of propaganda's triumph over not just the facts, but our subjective interpretation of the facts (i.e, how satisfied we are with our health care) is truly stunning.
Having done some recent work for foks in the insurance biz, I have to say that I'm convinced that the government could not possibly screw things up any worse than the current system. I doubt even the Bush administration could find a way to do it.

04 December 2005

Racism and social insurance

A while ago I blogged Digby explaining how American's resistance to government social insurance — like healthcare — is rooted in racism, the fear that those brown people will get “more than their share.”

our commitment to civil rights cannot be separated from our commitment to reasonable taxation in service of a stable society. In our culture they are inextricably bound to one another and we will never achieve one without achieving the other. As I wrote in my earlier post on this topic, racism is America's original sin. Until we politically and socially emasculate it, we will continue to be shackled by a fantasy of individualism and a Hobbesian worldview that can no longer be ameliorated by an endless frontier or global economic dominance.

If you didn't check it out then, I recommend taking a look now.

I'm reminded of it by a post on the same subject from Cervantes, who blogs about health care policy.

Almost everyone in Fishtown claimed to be a conservative, and expressed scathing contempt for liberals. So what were some of their conservative ideas? .... nationalizing the oil companies ... government sponsored health care, a higher minimum wage ... massive investments in public transportation ... cleaning up the air pollution — all kinds of radical right wing ideas.
....
What's going on? I confess I have left out the most important issue that the good people of Fishtown were worried about. In their own words, it was the niggers. They were all on welfare, and they were taking all the jobs. (That's right, I often got that in consecutive sentences. And by the way, I would estimate that 1/4 of the households in Fishtown consisted of single mothers on welfare, or disability pensioners.)
....
Racism has divided the working class, and made the white majority mistrust social programs which they have been persuaded somehow favor the other at their expense.

I don't know whether this makes my head or my heart hurt more.

03 December 2005

Bad example

I love a good pagan invocation as much as the next guy. And I'm not too picky about form. And though it's generally not my thing, I'm capable of appreciating rap. But Zeus does not rap.
I be Zeus! King of the clan
You talk to me you talkin to The Man
Got gods and goddesses up the yin-yang
Mess wit me you messin wit a gang.
There's more, if you follow the link. But ow, it hurt my brain.

01 December 2005

Blog against racism

I'd hoped to find time to write something more elaborate in honour of the day, but fortune intervened.

Instead, I offer you Peggy McIntosh's essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. If any of my white readers are not familiar with it, they should have a look at it --- at least the middle section, "daily effects of white privilege." The sections bookending it may not be so digestible for someone who hasn't drunk pretty deeply from feminist or lefty culture, but the list is necessary reading for any white American.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

Sobering stuff.