31 January 2007

Bring them home

It's on the table now. A bill in the US Senate says to withdraw US troops from Iraq. This is binding legislation—a legal mandate.
The legislation commences redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007 with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008, a date that is consistent with the expectation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.
The bill was introduced by Barack Obama, whom I'm relieved to see giving up his triangulation act.

Fruitcake

Leftover from the Yuletide season—ho ho!—I have competing links on the subject of fruitcake.

BBSpot reports: “RFID Tag Technology Confirms One-Fruitcake Theory.”

Meanwhile, pro-fruitcake partisan Teresa Nielsen Hayden answers the question, “what is it with fruitcake?”

30 January 2007

Raise my taxes

I often say, with a grin, that the way for a politician to win my heart is to promise to raise my taxes. Really. Taxes buy things like fire trucks and bridges and schools and libraries and forest rangers and space probes and Sesame Street and hospitals and train stations.

I like those things.

Via Poputonian at Hullaballoo, I learn that Thomas Geoghegan says the same thing in the pages of In These Times.

... in a rich country, if we spend them on ourselves, taxes make us happier. That’s the point of a new book, Happiness, by a British economist Richard Layard. You can find much of the same thing in John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society. Consumers can’t buy happiness—only taxpayers can.

Our New Democrats? They don’t get it. Kerry or Gore or Clinton will propose a tax increase, but only to be “responsible.” It’s a Boston Puritan kind of thing, like castor oil. We do it for the sake of rectitude. We do it because policy wonks at Harvard and Yale think we’ll be the better for it. God forbid it give us any pleasure. No wonder we keep losing: If we have to raise taxes, why make it so joyless?

We propose to rob Peter, in the top 1 percent, without ever getting any fun out of paying Paul. I say: Let’s give it to Paul, just to give him joy. Here’s how we have to sell a tax increase: Not to be fiscally responsible, but to be a little happier. Be like the Europeans. Have a little fun.

Let’s indulge in this higher GDP per capita. In richer countries, a strange thing happens: the higher the tax, the nicer it is to live there. And the more interesting life is.

29 January 2007

Geekiness test

I thought I should alert readers geeky enough to care that this image is available on hoodies and t-shirts for a limited time.

RAW

Via The Wild Hunt, I learn that there will be a memorial service for Robert Anton Wilson in Santa Cruz on Sunday 18 February.
Join Together at the Robert Anton Wilson Cosmic Meme-Orial & Lasagna Levitation Celebration!

Hail Eris! All Hail Bob!

Celebrate the life, work and continued multi-dimensionality of Robert Anton Wilson by joining us in a giant, jammin' Translation Celebration and 8th Circuit Soiree!

In case you're into that sort of thing.

Also, I see that libertarian Reason magazine noted his passing. How about that.

Very, very wrong

Via Infinite Perplexity, I offer you a nice, piping hot bowl of ice cream.

Today's quote

From Adlai Stevenson:
Those who corrupt the public mind are just as evil as those who steal from the public purse.

28 January 2007

Dolchstosslegende, again

Digby at Hullaballoo has a good post about a favourite subject of mine, the function of the dolchstoßlegende about Vietnam in colouring contemporary politics. Digby traces where the legend came from and the unhappy consequences today.
I worry greatly that as a result the man people will look to to lead us out of the quagmire will be the war hero John McCain. He can be McGovern without the hippies, Nixon without the slush fund, a hawk who supported the war but by 2008 will have reluctantly decided that he needs to step in to end it. With a secret plan, no doubt.
Lots of great links, quotes, and analysis, if you like that sort of thing. Check it out. As Digby says:
Young people, educate yourselves.
(And now's a good time to get hooked on Digby all around. This week has been a week of kicking out the jams. We not only got that good post on the myth of Vietnam driving Iraq now, there's also cracking good posts on the language of contemporary conservatives' racism, Dick Cheney's dreams of an imperial presidency, how the Surge has hopefully ruined McCain's strategy for '08, how George W. Bush shows all the signs and weaknesses of a pathologically angry father, how the Scooter Libby trial reveals the Bush Administration's stragetgy for governance is to get away with murder through sheer deceitful audacity. )

A little observation

Lance Mannion recounts tales from Chris the Cop.
“She's a wild one. That one. Caused her father a lot of gray hairs over the years.”

The father, he went on, deserved to have a daughter like that. A former state trooper. Real jerk.

Seems that fathers who deserve to have daughters like that get them. What a coincidence.

Hmmnn. I knew that, but didn't know that I knew.

27 January 2007

Republic

Remember this?

Via Warren Ellis, I learn that Stéphane Kelly, writing in the Toronto Star, takes the idea seriously. As a Canadian, of course Kelly calls this an annexation of New England.

If the annexationist vision is imaginable, it is because there is a good historical ground for it to thrive upon. And we have underestimated this ground for a long time. We wrongly thought Canadians had always been anti-American.

After the Revolution of 1776, the elite of the Loyalist colonial towns of New England changed their point of view on the matter. In Canadian towns, people started distinguishing between bad Americans (southerners) and good Americans (northerners). These Canadians criticized southern politics, subjugated as they were by the radical republicanism of the Democratic party under Jefferson and Madison (allied with Revolutionary France). Northern Americans were judged acceptable because of their sympathies to England.

As well, in New England towns, resentment toward Canadian Loyalists ebbed ....

I can imagine worse futures.

26 January 2007

Geek dream car

Brent makes a good point.

Freedom archipeligo

From Corrente
Sid [Blumenthal] says that Wilkerson, Powell’s old chief of staff, believes that the correct number of victims in secret Bush prisons is 35,000, only 5% of which “may” have to do with terrorism.
I am embarassed to admit that I had imagined a number in the hundreds or low thousands.

25 January 2007

28%

President Bush's approval rating reads in the 20s for the first time.

There's probably some statistical noise in there; the next poll will probably have him at 30%.

Still. Notice the shape of that graph. Ezra Klien has a disconcerting observation.

Bush has had precisely two serious and sustained bumps. One came after a horrifying attack on the country, the second after he launched a horrifying attack on Iraq. His presidency, then, has been vampiric in nature, thriving when the republic waned and the body counts mounted. He has received precisely no big boosts for domestic policy priorities or achievements. And the trend, after 9/11, is down, down, down.
Assuming there's no bump coming to rescue him, the shape of that graph suggests that when the next President takes office, Bush's approval rating should be around 20%. Though I doubt it will really get that low. Nixon bottomed out at about 25%.

Dymaxion

The Buckminster Fuller Institute has a store! I want one of each.

Update: This post inspired a reader to pass along a helpful guide to reading Buckminster Fuller's opus Synergetics which has me itching to take a crack at it. Like I don't have enough other projects I'm neglecting.

24 January 2007

Health care policy

Say, did you really hear President Bush talking about a health care program in the State of the Union?
A future of hope and opportunity requires that all our citizens have affordable and available health care. When it comes to health care, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled, and poor children. .... But many Americans cannot afford a health insurance policy. And so tonight, I propose two new initiatives to help more Americans afford their own insurance.
Amazing!

So I checked the blog of Ezra Klein, who to my surprise had confessed before the speech that the rumoured health care proposal didn't sound so shabby. Turns out, he says, the actual announced plan is worse than just shabby.

The Bush administration's health plan is a trap. I'd counsel Democrats to oppose it, but that'll hardly be necessary. The surprising outcome would be if they even notice it.
....
It's almost laughably wrongheaded, and won't survive an instant in Congress
Jonathan Zasloff has more on the fundamental principles and efficiencies, the latter with a link to some simple statistics that will blow your mind.

Reference book

no, this picture doesn't make sense

Via John Coultart at Feuilleton I learn that the complete Codex Seraphinianus has been scanned in for viewing on Flickr.

This does not reduce my desire to own a copy.

23 January 2007

Exit strategy

Guess who said this.
Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is.
And this.
I think it’s also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn.
No really, guess.

Then go see.

Terror theatre

Hip marketing guru Seth Godin has some observations about airport security during the recent holiday season.
Just on the other side of the line are the bureaucrats at the TSA. They tell a story too, but it couldn't be intentional.

“No Cake!” the screener yells. “No pie either!” and they make the person traveling to her family throw out her home-baked cake.

We got up to the line. I had an ounce of gel left in a five ounce bottle. They made me throw it out because the label said 5 ounces (though it was clearly more than half empty).
....
No Cake!

Is this the sort of government we want? We deserve? We should pay for?

There are 583 ways to hurt yourself and your fellow passengers onboard an airplane. Gel (and cake) are exactly two of them. How many more are we going to protect ourselves against? If the best our bureaucracy can do is scare us with cries of “No Cake!” and “too much gel,” then I think we need a new bureaucracy.

As I have said before, airport secuirty is a total f#$%@ing waste of time, money, and attention.

22 January 2007

Mouse party

Via Rivet Pep Squad, I offer you Mouse Party, a Flash demo of the neurological mechanisms behind many common recreational drugs, featuring cute animated cartoon mice.

See if you can guess which drugs the mice in the vivarium are on before you click on them.

Remember, kids: illegal recreational mood-altering drugs (like stimulants and opiates) are bad, while prescription mood-altering drugs (like stimulants and opiates) are good. Or something like that.

21 January 2007

Dawkins

Smashing Telly has the BBC documentary of biologist Richard Dawkins' new book The God Delusion, with the provocative subtitle “The Root of All Evil?”

Dawkins delivers a vigorous, well-articulated, and unflinching rendition of the hard atheist scientistic Enlightenment position. In Part One he articulates why being surrounded by people driven by faith rather than reason gives him the willies. A few interesting things stand out for me.

There's an amazing little interview with creepy Evangelical (former!) leader Ted Haggard. Dawkins and Haggard spar over the usual questions—how could the eye have evolved?—and when Dawkins tells Haggard that he has never met an evolutionary biologist who believes the things that Haggard attributes to them, Haggard reveals a well of resentment.

You do understand that this issue right here of intellectual arrogance is the reason why people like you have a difficult problem with people of faith. I don't communicate an air of superiority over the people, “Because I know so much more. And if you only read the books I know, and if you only knew the scientists I knew, then you would be great like me.” Well, sir, there could be many things that you know well. There are other things that you don't know well. As you age, you'll find yourself wrong on some things, right on some other things. But please, in the process of it, don't be arrogant.

Seeing Haggard and Dawkins' contempt for one another escalate is worth checking out; the interview starts at the 22 minute mark.

Dr Dawkins has a very narrow conception of what “religion” means, conflating it with the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam ... which in turn are conflated with religion as a system of religous belief. The other religions of the world, and religion defined by practice rather than belief, aren't on Dawkins' radar.

Which means that a syncretic worldview doesn't occur to him as a possibility, a blind spot which turns up in an interesting way during his tidy description of the logical basis of atheism at the very end of Part One.

Science ca’n’t disprove the existence of God, but that does not mean that God exists. There are a million things we ca’n’t disprove.

The philosopher Bertrand Russel had an analogy. Imagine there's a china teapot in orbit around the Sun. You cannot disprove the existence of the teapot because it's too small to be spotted by our telescopes. Nobody but a lunatic would say, “Well, I'm prepared to believe in the teapot because I ca’n’t disprove it. Maybe we have to be technically and strictly agnostics, but in practice we are all “teapot atheists.”
....
There's an infinite number of things like celestial teapots that we ca’n’t disprove. There are fairies. There are unicorns. Hobgoblins. We ca’n’t disprove any of those. But we don't believe in them, any more than nowadays we believe in Thor, Amon-Ra, or Aphrodite. We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.

I know I have readers who are chuckling because they in fact are not atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Fairies, Thor, Amon-Ra, and Aphrodite? Count ’em in! Unicorns and hobgoblins? Sure, if you have something interesting to say about them.

I suspect that this would surprise Dr Dawkins. Even more so, I think he'd be astonished to learn that many of these Pagans, like many Buddhists, are vigorously opposed to faith and in favour of skepticism, just like him.

20 January 2007

Mad king

Novelist Jane Smiley speculates on the psychology of the President and the people who put him in power.
... what I think happened is that when the Bush/Scowcroft/Baker faction decided to use Little George as their presidential poster boy to expand their Middle-East-based wealth and power, they didn't reckon with Cheney and Rumsfeld. They thought their boy would be personable and easy to control.

The key moment was when Cheney went looking for a vice-presidential candidate and found himself. Once they had given him the opening and he had publicly used it to aggrandize himself and his agenda, B/S/B realized that for the sake of party solidarity, they had to live with it. When Baker engineered the coup that was Florida (and I do think one of the “perks” Bush offered as a candidate was that Florida was guaranteed ahead of time by Jeb and K. Harris), I think that B/S/B and C/R found themselves in an uneasy alliance—goals were the same, but temperaments were different. Right there at the pivot was Little George.

It's pretty clear that Little George requires a constant stream of flattery and cajolery to keep him going, and this was to be supplied by Harriet Miers, Karen Hughes, and Condi Rice.

This is consistent with a speculation I've voiced myself.
I think that Bush was originally chosen by the kingmakers of the conservative movement as an empty suit with name recognition that they could use to get their team into place in government, but once Bush was President, those same kingmakers, being conservatives, felt compelled to respect Bush's authority.
Smiley's take on this almost makes it sound like one of Shakespeare's histories about the Plantagenets. And she goes on to say that in the struggle between the courtiers, they have further empowered the king ... and driven him mad in the process.

She makes it sound plausible. I pray that she is wrong.

Today's quote

Roger Ebert takes a detour from his review of Metropolitan.
It is strange how the romances of the teenage years retain a poignancy all through life—how a girl who turns you down when you're 16 retains an aura in your memory even long after you, and she, have ceased to be who you were then. I attended my high school reunion a couple of weeks ago and discovered, in the souvenir booklet assembled by the reunion committee, that one of the girls in my class had a crush on me all those years ago. I would have given a great deal to have had that information at the time.
I think we all know the feeling.

19 January 2007

If chins could kill

Via Cherie Priest, if you happen to know who Mr Bruce Campbell is, then I have a silly little present for you.

Gulag

Today I have a passage from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago.
I would rather die than stay here forever, and I have tried to commit suicide many times. The purpose of the gulag is to destroy people, and I have been destroyed. I am hopeless because our voices are not heard from the depths of the gulag.

If I die, please remember that there was a human being named Aleksandr in this gulag whose beliefs, dignity and humanity were abused. Please remember that there are hundreds of detainees here suffering the same misfortune. They have not been charged with any crimes. They have not been accused of taking any action against the Soviet Union.

Whoops. Actually, no, that's not Solzhenitsyn, it's a letter from Guantanamo detainee Jumah al-Dossari which I found via Al at In Pursuit of the Mysteries.

I changed a few words. Alexandr for Jumah. Gulag for Gitmo. Soviet Union for United States.

I am horrified that this is possible. I am ashamed that this is possible.

There's another passage I want to quote.

I am not a member of Al Qaeda. I did not encourage anyone to go fight for Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden have done nothing but kill and denigrate a religion. I never fought, and I never carried a weapon. I like the United States, and I am not an enemy. I have lived in the United States, and I wanted to become a citizen.

I know that the soldiers who did bad things to me represent themselves, not the United States. And I have to say that not all American soldiers stationed in Cuba tortured us or mistreated us. There were soldiers who treated us very humanely. Some even cried when they witnessed our dire conditions. Once, in Camp Delta, a soldier apologized to me and offered me hot chocolate and cookies. When I thanked him, he said, “I do not need you to thank me.” I include this because I do not want readers to think that I fault all Americans.

I honor Mr al-Dossari's magnanimity of spirit. But I hope that he will forgive me a disagreement with his sentiment.

I do fault all Americans. We have not done enough to stop this. I have not done enough to stop this. I know because it is still happening.

18 January 2007

Collapse gap

Dmitry Orlov's talk Closing the Collapse Gap is fascinating, sweeping, witty, and terrifying. It's long and troubling, but strangely entertaining ... and worth your time.
I am not an expert or a scholar or an activist. I am more of an eye-witness. I watched the Soviet Union collapse, and I have tried to put my observations into a concise message. I will leave it up to you to decide just how urgent a message it is.

My talk tonight is about the lack of collapse-preparedness here in the United States. I will compare it with the situation in the Soviet Union, prior to its collapse. The rhetorical device I am going to use is the “Collapse Gap” — to go along with the Nuclear Gap, and the Space Gap, and various other superpower gaps that were fashionable during the Cold War.
....
My conclusion is that the Soviet Union was much better-prepared for economic collapse than the United States is.

He makes a good case, unfortunately.

17 January 2007

Klingons redux

Remember that thing about the geeky metaphors for the Bush administration? Via Thomas Roche, I learn that The Daily Show has their Senior Star Trek Analogies Correspondent on the case.

“Wait, how did the Vulcans get into this?” I hear you ask. The New York Times has an explanation.

Mainstream discourse

Over at Daily Kos, ThereIsNoSpoon introduces us to the Overton Window, which is a powerful VRWC propaganda technique.
the GOP knows that the middle DOES matter. They know that by playing to their base in very well-crafted ways, they can shift the very definition of what the middle is. By introducing radicalism into the public discourse (and taking initial heat for it), whatever used to be radical within this context becomes moderate by comparison.
Spoon argues that the most Democrats badly misunderstand the implications of this for how they should play to their base.

Snarky expression of the day

The Transportation Safety Administration is fighting a War on Moisture.

16 January 2007

Syncreticism

Via Dragon Lady Flame, I learn that there's a controversy about Shinto shrines' use of the net. Apparently many shrines have been setting up websites, performing prayer services and offering blessed amulets via email, and so forth.

The shrine association, the Jinja Honcho, disapproves, and says there'll be no more of that.

No Shinto god exists on the Internet.
No?

Some syncreticism Shinto turns out to be!

Today's quote

Comics writer Warren Ellis on sometime science fiction novelist Chairman Bruce Sterling.
I love how Bruce, in a totally arse-backwards and unexpected sort of way, has gone from fulltime sf writer to the kind of steely, omnivorous, worldhopping and determinedly groundbreaking futurist people always misguidedly thought sf writers were. His career is an inspiration, a treasure, and a source of some envy to me.
Strewth.

15 January 2007

MLK Day

For more than a decade, I've been spamming people with this note every year. Now that I have a blog, I'm just sticking to re-posting every year. If you were here this time last year, read it again anyway.

Really. Take a few minutes. I think it's important ...

Most people have forgotten that at the civil rights march on Washington DC on 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King was not the featured speaker. He was not the icon of the movement that we think of today. He was a major player, yes, but there were others more famous, respected, and important at that time. The speech he gave—the one you know—changed that.

The importance of the speech is distinctively American. The United States, unique among nations, is a frankly artificial creation. France is the place in Europe where people speak French, but the US has no ethnic definition—this place is full of immigrants who decided to be Americans, and their children. Japan is an island, but there's nothing natural about the borders of the US—this place wound up a nation through a chaotic combination of war, purchase, legislative decisions, and (oh yeah) genocide. The US is an idea. Something we just made up.

This is why we have the peculiar veneration of documents that we do. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the holiest of holies in our civic religion because they are made of words, made of ideas. Through acclamation over the years we have chosen a handful of other documents that tell us what the United States is, like Lincoln's Gettysburg address and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s “I Have A Dream” speech. In that speech, the power of King's rhetoric and ideas was so great that hearing it transformed our understanding of what the nation was about. I know, I know, that's a white guy thing to say: it's not like plenty of folks didn't know about American racial injustice. But on the level of shared understanding of shared destiny, King gave dazzling voice to ideas implicit in the American national promise that had too long been denied. And still are denied today.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

Go read it right now. It will only take five minutes of your time. With no exaggeration, I think it's your duty as an American—we have a lot of work left to do.

And while you're at it, take a little more time and read Letter From a Birmingham Jail. I know you did it back in school. It's worth doing again.

And if you really want extra credit, go read what he said on the last full day of his life.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you ...

14 January 2007

A kiss goodbye

I am surprised and pleased that, after having thought that I was done with all that, I was tickled by the trailer for Star Trek: Of Gods and Men.

If you ever loved Trek, go check it out. Even if—especially if—you really think you're past it now.

13 January 2007

Mystery play

Thomas Disch offers a funny little poem about divine secrets. It starts off like this:
In the bins beside God's shredders—
vast bins! enormous shredders,
all seven ever at work with the roar
of as many Niagara—
There's a witty ending.

Metaphors

What's the best geeky metaphor for the Bush Administration?

Wil Wheaton agrees with Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey that they're like the legendary Leeroy Jenkins.

Representative David Wu (D-OR) on the other hand, goes with Klingons.

Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) says Frodo Baggins.

I'd go with Jar Jar Binks: stupid, clumsy betrayers of the traditions of the Republic ... and annoying as well.

12 January 2007

State of the world

Chairman Bruce Sterling's annual State of the World address is a hoary old tradition by web standards; so old school that he publishes it on the Well. The Chairman combines breadth of vision, his SF sensibilities, and snark.
Russia was the winner of the War for Oil, so they've learned how to turn off the gas taps and wax all petrocratic. Unfortunately they're run by a tiny Czarist-style clique of spooky Rasputin radioactive poison fanatics, so when their shadow crosses the global landscape everybody crosses their fingers and shies away. Luckily, a surprising number of guys they managed to poison, ambush and shoot were Chechen warlords, so their personal Islamic crisis is on the back burner.
....
I think there were two polities in 2006 who really managed to play their cards right: India and China. If you were Indian or Chinese, 2006 felt like solid progress and you'd love more of the same. Given that the two of them are a major chunk of the planet's population, 2006 wasn't that bad a year. The least-reported major story of the year was probably that China and India seriously and thoughtfully decided to make nice with each other. I think they looked at their global shipping figures and they figured out that they are no longer regional rivals. A "region" doesn't matter worth a damn any more. Their ambitions are global, and it makes a lot more great-power sense to tackle the world shoulder-to-shoulder than it does to try to divvy up Asia.
It's long and fun.

11 January 2007

Twenty-three minus one

Robert Anton Wilson
1932-2007
Philosopher

I knew he had been sick unto death, but the news of his actual death has me sad. I know it's not what he would have wanted, given his last public words from five days ago, but there you are.

Various medical authorities swarm in and out of here predicting I have between two days and two months to live. I think they are guessing. I remain cheerful and unimpressed. I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying.

Please pardon my levity, I don't see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd.

He was a truly radical thinker—striking at the root of things. His silly, strange little book Prometheus Rising, about the functioning of the mind, so changed the way I thought about the way I think that ... well ... It Changed My Life. And he named me a True Pope, once. Honest.

R U Sirius has a good little eulogy.

He also had a razor sharp wit that he skillfully aimed at those who abuse power and wealth. And he was a delightful story teller, whose love of language was evidenced not only by his own novels, but by his ability to quote virtually everything James Joyce and Ezra Pound ever wrote ... backwards, while explaining what evolutionary level of primate behavior the author was elucidating.

He is survived by his wife, a badly-designed website full of treasures, and about a couple of dozen books that just might change your life.

Coultart

John Coultart is an artist with an occult sensibility. Much of his work tends toward a contemporary ornateness that I don't quite take to, but he did do that keen London Underground style Tree of Life in Promethea, and his major arcana of the Tarot is a little work of genius.

Major Arcana by John Coulthart

The Magus and The Æon are my favourites from a design standpoint, but Fortune and Art are actually very witty statements about the meanings of the cards.

And you can get several of them on t-shirts!

10 January 2007

Is it fascism yet?

Not to worry. Sure, the President just asserted his right to open your mail without a warrant. But it's not like there are concentration camps in the US.

Not so fast, says David Neiwert of Orcinus, writing at FireDogLake. What about detention centers for people alleged to be illegal immigrants? There are thousands of people there.

Last week, Pachacutec raised a few eyebrows by referring to the privately operated “detention centers” where Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been incarcerating thousands of illegal immigrants, including their citizen children, as “concentration camps.” Some of his commenters particularly objected, like my elderly inquisitor, to using a term that they, at least, associated primarily with Nazis and the Holocaust.

But as Pach noted in follow-up (with an assist from Lambert at Correntewire), “concentration camp” is a perfectly applicable term here, for largely the same reasons I gave at the talk. Considering the information that is starting to come to light from at least the largest of these centers, there are reasons to believe that conditions at these privately run “detention centers” are even worse than those at the Japanese American camps.
....
In their determination to arrest illegal immigrants, the government—acting, in the end, at the behest of nativist agitators—is potentially putting itself in the business of splitting up families, since many of these illegal immigrants are the parents of citizen children. So to avoid that outcome, the only solution available is to incarcerate those children alongside their parents. The end result: concentration camps—euphemistically designated “family detention centers” as part of an effort to “secure our borders.”

Neiwert also describes at least one troubling example involving arrests by the Department of Homeland Security.

09 January 2007

Birthday

David Bowie turned sixty yesterday.

Sixty. It makes me feel like an old man—and Bowie recorded “Space Oddity” before I was born.

In honour of the Thin White Duke's special day, I have an interview he did with Dick Cavett. It must have been done in '72 or '73—it occurs to me that I know a fan who could guess within a few months, just looking at his hair—more than half his lifetime ago.

Cavett asks Bowie if he ever imagines himself at sixty, and throws in a little joke about the geriatric Beatles reunion that we now know wasn't meant to be. Bowie laughs, but doesn't answer.

But now we know about Bowie at sixty, and the reason why today makes me feel like an old man is because Bowie is still cool.

Very tough in his line of work. Blues, folk, and country stars often get more authentic with age: think of BB King, Bob Dylan, or Willie Nelson. But rock ’n’ rollers have a harder time keeping it real. Pete Townsend has turned into exactly the fatuous geezer he feared becoming when he first sang “I hope I die before I get old.” Paul McCartney. Ted Nugent. David Lee Roth. You see the problem.

A handful of rock stars manage to age gracefully without seeming to either clutch at the voice of their youth or to abandon it. Lou Reed, still delivering that New York grit; the gray actually suits him, somehow. Mick and Kieth, still doing their improbable dance of eros and thanos. (Those who laugh derisively at Mick Jaggar today forget that he was always funny.) Warren Zevon, managing to cut the only cover of “Knocking on Heaven's Door” worth doing almost literally from his deathbed.

And David Bowie, God bless him. Still brilliant, still protean, still cool. Happy birthday, Mr. Bowie.

Right action

Via DeLong—who has some, uh, pointed things to say on the subject—I learn about a recent interview of the President by Brit Hume. DeLong and others have commented on how Bush dismisses the value of his father's policy advice in the interview.

True, and maddening, but something else jumped out at me, as someone who's been interested in the effect of Bush's religion on his Presidency.

I don't think people are—at least the ones I run into, I had a bunch of our buddies from Texas up here this weekend and they're kind of—they look at you and go, man, how come you're still standing? It's not so much the presidency on the shoals because of a difficult decision I made, it's more the weightiness of this thing must be impossible for anybody to bear.

And I tell them it's just not the case, that I am inspired by doing this job. I believe strongly in the decisions I have made. I firmly believe that we are responding to this initial challenge of the 21st century in proper fashion.
....
I also remind them, Brit, that Laura and I are sustained by the prayers of millions of people. Now that's hard for some to—I guess chew on.
....
I feel it .... because the load is not heavy, I guess is the best way to describe it. “Look,” somebody said to me, “prove it.” I said, “You can't prove it, all I can tell you is I feel it.” And it's a remarkable country when millions pray for me and Laura. So therefore I am able to say to people that this is a joyful experience. Not a painful experience. And yeah it's tough, but that's OK. It's tough times. And there's a lot of big issues.

And to what extent does your faith—what role does your faith play in your good spirits in the face of all these difficulties?

I think that—I know that my relationship with an Almighty provides comfort and strength during difficult times, just like it provides comfort and strength during difficult times for others, as well. And so prayer matters to me ...

Inspired by his job. The load is not heavy. Facing adversity is a joyful experience. My spiritually-minded readers should recognize this voice.

So this is hard for me to chew on, as Bush says, but not for the reason he imagines. It's not that I don't believe in the calm and certainty experienced by someone who is acting in alignment with their divine purpose. It's that I do. So what kind of divinity is the President aligned with?

Chief Justice

I think we may already have the best blog post title of the year. From Brad DeLong:
The Maddened William Rehnquist Fleeing a CIA Plot to Assassinate Him Makes It to the Hospital Lobby in His Pajamas Before Psychiatrists Wrestle Him to the Ground
Not fiction.

08 January 2007

Detroit is the future

Via Bruce Sterling I learn of a post on Detroitblog about the “wilderness” reclaiming unwanted parts of the city.

A lot of America is going to start to look like this in another couple of decades. James Howard Kunstler is a critic of how we build cities now, and forsees a coming end to America's endless fields of suburbs, office parks, and strip malls.

Much of the suburban real estate produced by this process is destined to lose its supposed value, both in practical and monetary terms as energy scarcities get traction. So, on top of the sheer distortions and perversities of the glut in bad mortgage paper, America will be faced with the accelerating worthlessness of the collateral—the houses, Jiffy Lubes, and office parks—as gasoline prices go up, and long commutes become untenable, and jobs along with incomes are lost, and the cost of heating houses larger than 1500 square feet becomes an insuperable burden.

All this is to say that the suburban rings of our cities have poor prospects in the future. They therefore represent a massive tragic misinvestment, perhaps the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. It is hard to say how this stuff might be reused or retrofitted, if at all, but some of it, perhaps a lot, may end up as a combined salvage yard and sheer ruin.

Since America's endless concrete wastelands start out with no charm or grandeur, I expect that they won't even be interesting as ruins.

07 January 2007

Frog in a pot

Matthew Yglasias in Washington DC notices that global warming appears to have become, well, noticable.
It's, like, really warm out today and has been consistently this week. Which, on the whole, is a good thing. One can't help but wonder, however, when crazy things happen like flowers blossoming on trees. In January. Presumably, this is bad for the trees. I mean, it has to be, right? Plus, it's actually a little unnerving—unnatural—and it makes me fear what will happen in August. 130 degrees? Will giant half-melted bits of the polar ice cap come sliding down from Canada and crush my house?

I have concerns.

He's not the only one.

Hmm

Thers at Whisky Fire makes a surprising claim.
It's funny, but for all the whining about “identity politics,” nobody is more tied to it than “movement conservatives.”
It's a tricky but interesting argument. Check it out if you like that sort of thing.

06 January 2007

Sheep

You may have heard about the London Times article about research into hormone treatments used to change sexual preference.
Scientists are conducting experiments to change the sexuality of “gay” sheep in a programme that critics fear could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans.
....
It raises the prospect that pregnant women could one day be offered a treatment to reduce or eliminate the chance that their offspring will be homosexual. Experts say that, in theory, the “straightening” procedure on humans could be as simple as a hormone supplement for mothers-to-be, worn on the skin like an anti-smoking nicotine patch.
It turns out that this story just not true.

PeTA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Except Maybe Not So Much Homo Sapiens, is the source of the original lie. It would be nice if there were an organization holding our feet to the fire about unnecessary cruelty to animals in farming and research—frankly not my issue, but a real issue—who weren't obnoxious lying zealots.

E

A little public service announcement for the amateur psychopharmacologists among my readers and my readers' friends.

Some some years now, there has been suggestive but far from conclusive evidence that 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), commonly known as “ecstasy,” might be really f&*#%ing bad for you.

Willow Arborvitæ brings us a roundup of some more recent research. It's not quite conclusive, but it the evidence is now very strong. MDMA really is really f&*#%ing bad for you.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings.

05 January 2007

Pool

Tynan at Better Than Your Boyfriend tells the tale of The Infamous Ghetto Indoor Pool.
My parents offered the opinion that buying a penguin was a reckless and irresponsible thing to do.
How did a penguin get into this story about a pool? Well, actually, it's a matter of a pool getting into a story about a penguin, more like, since the pool was originally intended for use as a penguin habitat ... but then the penguin thing doesn't quite work out ....

Anyway, it's a funny story. And there are pictures.

04 January 2007

San Francisco values

Nancy Pelosi, my Congresshuman, was made Speaker of the House today. Digby notices something about her.
By the way — Nancy Pelosi wore purple today for a specific reason. It's the color of the suffragettes movement
I just love getting to vote for her every two years.

Doctrow

Cory Doctrow kicks out the intellectual jams in recent interview. A few of my favourite bits:
The economists' best research of the effect of P2P downloading on music and movies is that it has a marginally negative effect on a negligible portion of works in the top 40 (in other words, it puts a small tax on blockbusters), no effect on works in the middle of the pile; and a positive effect on works in the “long tail” produced for niches. As Tim O'Reilly says, “Piracy is progressive taxation.”
Doctrow is of course a famous critic of current copyright law.
Reading novels has always been a minority pass-time, and the people who read novels fetishize the form factor the way that, say, a classic car hobbyist loves his tailfins. I recently wrote an op-ed for Forbes where I described these people as “pervy for paper” (I count myself among them). For us, the paper codex has value that has nothing to do with its technical merit.
I actually expect that in the next dozen years or so, displays will get good enough that reading a novel on an electronic book reader will make sense. But there's a part of me that hopes he's right and I'm wrong about this.
The American lifestyle frankly sucks. The media is generally shit. The food stinks. We spend too much time in traffic and too much time taking care of a badly built McHouse that has the ergonomics of a coach seat on a discount airline. Add to that the lack of health care (just listened to a Stanford lecture about the American Couple that cited a study that determined that the single biggest predictor of long-term marital happiness is whether both partners have health care), the enormous wealth-gap between the rich and poor, blisteringly expensive tertiary education, an infant mortality rate that's straight out of Victorian England, and a national security apparat that shoves its fist up my asshole every time I get on an airplane, and I don't think that this country is much of a paragon of quality living.

America has lots going for it—innovation, the Bill of Rights, a willingness to let its language mutate in exciting and interesting ways, but the standard of living is not America's signal virtue.

Move over, James Howard Kunstler!

03 January 2007

Execution

Aha. Ken MacLeod manages to say the thing I couldn't find words for when I heard this well-known news item.
In Baghdad a few days ago a prominent Sunni politician was the victim of an 'execution-style' slaying by a group of masked Shi'ite militiamen working within the Iraqi security forces. A mobile-phone camera video circulating on the Internet shows him responding with some dignity to sectarian taunts, before death cuts short his final prayer. It is to be hoped that the execution of Saddam Hussein helps to bring such sadly common events to an end.
This reminds me of the words of the mighty Phil Agre.
Because the fighting is all on television, the fine details of the fighting become political matters. Soldiers complain bitterly about politicians' interference, not understanding that technology has eliminated their zone of professional autonomy. The politicians are right to be interfering.

Ford and Kissenger

I caught a bit of the Gerald Ford funeral yesterday, because airports are full of CNN. I gotta say, if at your funeral Henry Kissenger is calling you a saint, then you've done something wrong with your life.

Mastery

RAW says something interesting about the development of mastery.
You see there is no sophisticated training done in pro sports. No specific, definite or systematic means in place for developing the kind of high level skills and abilities needed to play the game. You either develop the skills they're looking for, or you don't make it. Ask your coach for help and you get answers like: Well kid, it feels just like pullin' down a window shade when ya doo it right; Ya got to use yer whole body, ya know what I mean? More often than not, niether one has a good conscious idea what they actually mean.

That is why I refer to those who make the cut in pro sports, especially the franchise-level players, as flukes. They have no idea what they do differently from other players, and actually they just serendipitously did things less wrong as they were developing. Fewer bad habits is really what it amounts to. And again no, it's not genetics, if you examine the empirical data you immediately see just how absurd this arguement is in the context of the all-around skills needed for most sports.

These you can say are developmental anomalies, rather than genetic anomalies. And we certainly do find these in nature, our human nature. Other than sports, the records of history give us countless examples of these anomalies in human nature. Men and women who stood out as exceptional for their behvior, both good and bad. But unlike our ball players, some of these were not really flukes at all. They had a very conscious understanding of what they were doing, a systematic and definite means of training.

This reminds me a bit of the aphorism that enlightenment is an accident, but meditation makes you accident-prone.

02 January 2007

Support our veterans

Via DeLong, the New York Times reports yet another story from the Freedom Archipeligo.
American guards arrived at the man’s cell periodically over the next several days, shackled his hands and feet, blindfolded him and took him to a padded room for interrogation, the detainee said. After an hour or two, he was returned to his cell, fatigued but unable to sleep.

The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold.

The man in question was held for 97 days.

What kind of dangerous terrorist was he?

Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the F.B.I. about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading. But when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents.
Your tax dollars at work.

Support our troops

3000 American troops in Iraq

In case you missed it, we passed the mark on New Year's Eve.

01 January 2007

Happy New Year

Wicked Warren Ellis has some suggestions.
This year:
  • Become your own fantasy of yourself.
  • Invent something.
  • Urinate on something consecrated.
  • Destroy someone's mind using only your eyes and words.
  • Create a Title or Doctorate for yourself.
  • Listen to one new thing every day.
  • Watch all the lights until morning.
  • Understand in your heart that the Dog is the natural enemy of the Human.
  • Spend at least 12 hours as an alien being.
  • Force complete strangers to look at your “spaceship.”
  • Without getting arrested.
  • Or married.
  • Be worthy of obsession.
  • Be worthy of air.
  • Be glorious.
  • Be seeing you.
I'm not sure that I'm up for all of those myself, but they do give me some good ideas.