30 June 2005


Via MKB, I've discovered Pragmatic Programmers. He linked a little essay on programming by coincidence.

Suppose Fred is given a programming assignment. Fred types in some code, tries it, and it seems to work. Fred types in some more code, tries it, and it still seems to work. After several weeks of coding this way, the program suddenly stops working, and after hours of trying to fix it, he still doesn't know why. Fred may well spend a significant amount of time chasing this piece of code around without ever being able to fix it. No matter what he does, it just doesn't ever seem to work right.

Fred doesn't know why the code is failing because he didn't know why it worked in the first place. It seemed to work, given the limited “testing” that Fred did, but that was just a coincidence.

I haven't cut code in fifteen years, and I wasn't much of a programmer when I did. But I have been working with programmers ever since then and these guys obviously know what they're talking about — and have a knack for putting their finger right on the issue. Though I do wish that where they say “user,” they would instead say “interaction designer.” But then, that's easy for me to day, since I am an interaction designer.

29 June 2005


Digby explores, at length, the President's lies about our reasons for invading Iraq. And indicts the press for being asleep at the switch.
... nobody said a word.

I didn't either. I'll be honest. I didn't because I couldn't bear to listen to Bush's stump speech so I didn't realize that he said this every day. However, the campaign press corpse, if they could hear the speech over the cacophany of piped in applause and the sound of their own drooling over all that delicious campaign food, never bothered to report this glaring lie. Neither, for some reason, did the Democrats. It's almost as if everybody just accepted the fact that the Big Lie was unstoppable and assumed that there was nothing they could do about it.

But there is really no excuse for the press to let this lie go unaddressed.

Impeach Bush now.

28 June 2005


Like many SF readers, I have a soft spot for Robert Heinlein, sort of in spite of myself. But, as I've said before, I recognize the many shortcomings of his thinking and writing.

There's something particularly unwholesome about the disingenuousness of his aphorisms. Some of them are good food for thought, if you don't take them too seriously. For instance, I'm fond of this matched set:

Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something.

Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let's play that over again, too. Who decides?

I'll choke back my feminist reaction for a moment — a million men? — and grant that this is a witty and succinct way of framing the moral-and-practical problem how you construct good mechanisms of governance.

But see the aw-shucks, “just plain facts” tone there? It hides a lot of dubious thinking. One memorable such aphorism, repeated by mouthpiece characters in his novels a few times, is

An armed society is a polite society

It's a seductive idea. One thinks of knights and samurai, reflects on the high stakes that can emerge in a heavily-armed argument, and is tempted to just accept the idea.

Unless one has met many Israelis.

Understand that I am a person who, by temperament, generally finds Israelis very charming. Accepting the risks of generalizations, they are commonly articulate, enthusiastic, funny, and opinionated. In short, outspoken. And not in a polite way. I have never met anyone who has ever accused Israelis of being polite. Heck, I have never met an Israeli who has ever claimed that Israelis are polite; they have a marked tendency to complain about the rudeness of their own society. And for obvious reasons, Israel is full of guns — everyone does a stint of compulsory military service, so pretty much everyone in their early 20s is within arm's reach of a firearm at all times.

So by that example alone, Heinlein is simply full of it. I have made this what-about-Israelis? argument countless times. But now I must stand aside, in awe of James Wolcott's vastly superior smackdown of Heinlein's aphorism.

27 June 2005


Via Warren Ellis, a news story about zombie dogs.
US scientists have succeeded in reviving the dogs after three hours of clinical death, paving the way for trials on humans within years. Pittsburgh's Safar Centre for Resuscitation Research has developed a technique in which subject's veins are drained of blood and filled with an ice-cold salt solution. The animals are considered scientifically dead, as they stop breathing and have no heartbeat or brain activity.
Is it a hoax? The University of Pittsburgh Safar Center for Resucitation Research has a very authentic seeming website and is referenced in real scientific journal articles. Dr. Peter Safar is apparently a real guy, though he does seem to demonstrate some mad scientist qualities.
"Peter's Laws for the Navigation of Life," subtitled "The Creed of the Sociopathic Obsessive Compulsive"
No. 9. If you can't win, change the rules
No. 10. If you can't change the rules, then ignore them
No. 20. Death is not the enemy but occasionally needs help with timing
I guess it was just the picture in the news story that threw me.

Or the fact that it was a story about zombie dogs.

Political HTML humour

You can get t-shirts from AMERICAblog:


Even better than my last post on this subject.

26 June 2005


A while ago I wrote a long post about Doonesbury, saying that the strip had been in the doldrums for quite a while but had come back to life with the sequence about the character B. D. being injured in Iraq. I concluded by saying

Keep it up, Mr. Trudeau.


The B. D. storyline remains very good, and much of the spark has returned to the strip. But in my original post I cited Jesse Walker's article that was sharply critical. There's a bit I didn't quote then which I want to return to now.

Trudeau was in his 20s during the strip's early run and thus had no trouble imagining that college students --- at the time, most of his major characters were in college --- would be smart and engaged with the world. (Or, in the case of Zonker, smart and engaged with his own world.) They have the same self-awareness as the strip, and they speak like educated people.
Those characters, like their creator, are now middle-aged, and they still speak the same way. Meanwhile, there's a new crop of college kids in the strip, and they don't know much about the world. They speak the way an older man expects teenagers to speak: They say "yo" a lot ...

Since I first read Walker's article, this has gotten under my skin. One of the virtues of Doonesbury has been how every character is a little bit smart and a little bit silly. Even neandrethal B. D. and stoned Zonker are permitted the dignity of their own perspective, and get to be witty and wise in their own way.

But not Jeff and Zipper, the current college kids, who just want to watch TV and play video games all day. The joke is almost always about how stupid they are. Even when they make a good point, it's because they're speaking the truth out of their naïvité. And today's strip is a case in point of how mean-spirited Trudeau really is toward anyone who isn't a Baby Boomer.

Don't keep it up, Mr. Trudeau.

25 June 2005

Lego Tarot

Cute. Add to my collection of online Lego art the Lego tarot deck. The designs are a little uneven --- I wouldn't use this deck --- but some of them are quite clever, like the Heirophant, the Eight of Cups, Four of Wands, and Nine of Coins. And the designer experiments with an interesting device of having each of the suits convey a little narrative arc.

24 June 2005


Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has a painful essay that sums up how I feel about my country right now: More Things We Throw Away.
Some conservatives may imagine that those of us who criticize our government on this score just hate America and are looking for any excuse to criticize it. I am sure (the law of large numbers again) that there are both liberals and conservatives of whom this is true. But it would be a complete mistake to think that liberals in general, and I in particular, are moved by such motives, or that we need to be reminded that America has more often stood on the side of the angels. If we did not know that, our hearts would not be breaking.
Read the whole thing.

23 June 2005

Happy birthday to me

When I was a teenager, I figured I'd be fully baked, and know all the basics that I wanted to know, at the age of 35.

So this is what it feels like. Life is great, but I thought I'd be smarter.


Via Content Love Knowles, I learn about an open letter to the Kansas school board about the current intelligent design debate.
Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster.
I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.
Yes, there is an illustration. Though the Flying Spaghetti Monster is generally invisible.

More importantly, there is also this informative research.

You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s.
Any evidence that points to a need for more pirates is welcome on this blog.

22 June 2005

Warning: Nerd post

Via 20x20, I offer you World of Kewlness.
... demons, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, black magicians and every other kind of supernatural nasty you can think of exist, and someone (ie, the PCs) need to stop them from realizing their diabolical schemes, usually in ways that require car chases, gunfights, kung fu and special-effects-laden magic.

Like those movies, the game takes place in a stylized, art-deco/gothic version of the modern day --- it's like New York, only it's always 2 o'clock in the morning and raining, and every building in the city is taller and looms more, and has gargoyles pasted to it.

Furthermore, all of the PCs are incredibly cool. They could wander onto the set of a Matrix movie without changing clothes, are all incredibly beautiful, and have soap-opera-complex love lives (which also produce excuses for high-octane action sequences).

It's good to be able to laugh at yourself.

21 June 2005

Morals and values

Recall that the values voters in Red America are horrified by the loose morals of us Blue libertines. As demonstrated by the song from beloved country star and Red America poster boy Toby Keith.
His name was Steve,
Her name was Gina,
You've never been here before have you?
They met at a bar called Cowboy Outcove Cantena,
He was a salesman from South Dakota,
She was a first grade school teacher Pheonix Arizona,
No, My first time here
They started dancing and it got real hot,
Then it spilled over to the parking lot,
One more tequila then we're falling in love,
One night together in Love

Don't bite off more than you can chew,
There's things down here the devil himself wouldn't do,
Just remember when you let it all go,
What happens in Mexico,
Stays in Mexico

He woke up in the morning and he made a little tellephone call,
To check on his wife and his kids back at home in Souix Falls,
She hopped right in the shower with a heavy heavy mind,
What am I doing?
He knew it was the first time Geena had ever crossed that line,
They walked down to the beach and started drinking again,
Jumped into the ocean for a dirty swim,
One more margarita then we're falling in love,
One night together in love

Don't bite off more than you can chew,
There's things down here the devil himself wouldn't do ...
It's not like I'm breaking new ground in waxing snarky about this; I'm ripping a page from Digby again. But I want to set up the allusion in a t-shirt currently for sale on the Rush Limbaugh website, pointed out to me by Yezida.

It's hard to make out the text on the shirt, I know. It says What Happens in G'itmo stays in G'itmo. So witty!

Of course, celebrating violence, war, and cruelty is a classic trope in the conservative t-shirt world. (Those links are all to sites found in the first batch of results on a Google of conservative t-shirts, by the way.)

And who can forget Support Our Marine? I can't.

Sorry I'm ranting. But this is a moral values thing for me. What is wrong with these people that they can think this stuff is funny?

20 June 2005


Sing, cuccu, nu. Sing, cuccu.
Sing, cuccu, nu. Sing, cuccu.

Sumer is i-cumin in,
Lhude sing, cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wude nu.
Sing, cuccu!

Awe bleteth after lamb,
Lhouth after calve cu,
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth,
Murie sing, cuccu!

Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes thu, cuccu.
Ne swik thu naver nu!

Sing, cuccu, nu. Sing, cuccu

19 June 2005

Taking terrorism seriously

Via Wolcott, I learn that Lance Mannion reminds us that the Americans who have the most reason to fear terrorism are the least driven by fear.

The driver of our bus turned out to have a second job as a paramedic. He's either attached to FDNY or works regularly with the firefighters. I was eavesdropping on his conversation with another dad and didn't quite catch it. At any rate, his training and certification were done through FDNY and on 9/11 he was at the World Trade Center in Tower No. 2, escaping in the nick of time.

He spent the next four days on the site, digging through the rubble He went without sleep and lost track of time and says that on the Friday after he asked another medic what time it was and was shocked to learn it was so late in the day. The thing was, he thought it was late in the day Wednesday.

Here he is, four years later, driving a bus full of kids to to the museum he loves best in the City, having a grand time, pointing out the sights, and joking with this other dad who happens to be a firefighter himself.

Now for all I know this guy wakes up screaming in the night. Possibly he's a liar. Human nature being what it is, there are probably more people who say they were downtown that day than actually live in Manhattan. And I can't forget all the Vietnam Vets who aren't really.

But I believed our driver.

Also, it's a good bet that the guy voted for Bush, that he is a hawk on the war in Iraq, (or was. There are, thankfully, fewer and fewer of those every day), and when he's alone with his buddies he's as angry and vengeful as you might expect anybody who'd gone through what he went through to be.

But it's also a good bet that he's not.

Kerry won New York handily.

He has more to say that's worth reading.

18 June 2005

Transistive property

Apples and cinnamon taste terrific together. Apples and sharp cheddar cheese taste terrific together. But cinnamon and cheddar? Ugh.

What's up with that?

Speak no evil

The media are alive with talk about what Senator Richard Durbin of Illinios said on the Senate floor about our Freedom Archipelago.

I have the full roundup for you ...

Here's the key bit of the Senator's comments, though it's worth going to read the whole thing.

When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here -- I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:
On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold .... On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.
The right is incensed. Not that the US is torturing people, mind you, but that the Senator dared to talk about it.

Orcinus has a roundup of several responses from folks like Limbaugh and Malkin.

This man is simply a piece of excrement, a piece of waste that needs to be scraped off the sidewalk and eliminated.
Here you go, Dick Durbin. Thanks once again for telling our enemies just what a bunch of soft patty cakes we are and how we'll back away from our own treatment of people much less back away from dishing it out to people like our enemies.
slanders his own country. Normally that kind of slander is uttered only by revolutionaries seeking the violent overthrow of the government. Yet Durbin purports to be part of a loyal opposition
Fortunately, that kind of talk is restricted to right-wing whackos on talk radio, while Republican leaders have had a more measured response. They would never make a comment like this one from another radio "entertainer:"
It is anti-American and only fuels the animus of our enemies who are constantly searching for ways to portray our great country and our people as anti-mulsim and anti-Arab. It is this type of language that they use to recruit others to be car bombers; suicide attackers; hostage takers; and full-fledged jihadists.
Oh. Oops. That one is actually Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Never mind.

How about this one:

I think the Senator's remarks are reprehensible. It's a real disservice to our men and women in uniform who adhere to high standards and uphold our values and our laws. To compare the way our military treats detainees with the Soviet gulags, the Nazi concentration camps, and Pol Pot's regime is simply reprehensible. And to suggest that these individuals -- I notice comments were made that -- comparing it to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. To suggest that these enemy combatants who are detained at Guantanamo Bay should be released just is simply beyond belief to me. These are dangerous individuals who were picked up on the battlefield. They were picked up on the battlefield in the fight against American forces. They were picked up on the battlefield because they are individuals who are involved in plots to do harm to the American people and to innocent civilians.

And so I just think those remarks are reprehensible and they are a real disservice to our men and women in uniform. Our men and women in uniform go out of their way to treat detainees humanely, and they go out of their way to hold the values and the laws that we hold so dear in this country. And when you talk about the gulags and the concentration camps in Pol Pot's regime, millions of people, innocent people, were killed by those regimes.

That's actually from White House, Press Secretary McClellan answering the question how is the President reacting?

Billmon has some reflections worth reading on the subject.

Conservatives, of course, froth at the use of such terms, which is why the propaganda machine immediately zeroed in on Durbin's reference to an extreme nationalist party that flourished in a certain central European country in the 1930s and early 1940s. Just as they popped a vein over Amnesty International's use of a Russian word for forced labor camp.

Strictly on the facts of the case, they are correct: The American archipelago is just a series of flyspecks compared to its Soviet predecessor. At its peak, the Soviet gulags held an estimated 2.5 million prisoners. The number of deaths -- by torture, execution, disease or deliberate starvation -- has to be counted in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. The KGB, meanwhile, set a record for the assembly-line murder of political prisoners that I don't think has been matched since, not even by that wannabe Saddam.

As for the central European extremist leader, well, we all know what he did.

I guess that's enough to satisify most conservatives. (Maybe they should print up some bumper stickers: "America: Still better than Stalin.")

Billmon does not understand, as the Republicans do, that what you say is more important than what you do.

17 June 2005

More from the deceit industry

You may recall my post in which I vigorously plugged Teresa Neilsen Hayden's Common Fraud, which wrapped up with the memorable expression “Deceiving us has become an industrial process.” She talked about an advocacy website with a hidden agenda; I elaborated on why it was so scary.

TNH is back, alerting us to a Rational Grounds post which borrows her memorable phrase as its title to provide a festival of links to information about “astroturf” — fake grassroots advocacy.

All stuff worth reading — even my little post — but if you don't have time for ’em all, at least check out Common Fraud, which is a classic.

16 June 2005


Indigo has something to say.
Fuck T.S. Eliot and the white flannel trousers he rode in on.

I will wear a black cowboy hat, and walk upon the beach.

I would dare to eat the fucking peach.

But I'd offer it to you first.

If you don't know what he's talking about, then read my favourite poem. (Not to be confused with my other favourite poem.)

15 June 2005

Today's spam subject line

It just wanted to refinance my nonexistent house, but it did travel under a provocative subject.
Please confirm everything
Would that I could. Would that anyone could.

Superman, super-meanie

I figure all the depressing political stuff has proved my seriousness credentials. So today, I have for y'all a site of weird old superhero comics covers.

As scholars of the medium might guess, there's an entire gallery of gorilla-oriented covers. And another, entitled "seduction of the innocent," with examples of double entendrés that make you wonder if maybe Dr. Wertham was right after all. But the centerpiece is the "superdickery" gallery, of covers where Superman is being, well, a dick. Often, there's a caption that makes the hidden implications of the story clear. For example:

List of more pratical uses Superboy can make of a machine that can see through time:

  1. Betting on the outcomes of sporting events.
  2. Forseeing natural diasters and catastrophe.
  3. Letting Bruce Wayne know that his parents are going to be gunned down in front of his very eyes in a filthy alley, you dick!
Some of the covers are so bizarre that I presumed they had been photoshopped, until I saw in the FAQ that they were unretouched. Amazing.
Update: The original version of this post claimed that "a blogger friend of mine is apparently too proud to blog something this silly, but I'm not embarassed." Since the irridescent Indri confesses below, my editorial staff regrets the overstatement.

14 June 2005

Ours is not to reason why

Atrios quotes a question from one of his readers:
As far as I can understand the logic, the MSM [mainstream media] decided in 2004 that war had been determined on in 2002, but that there was no way of proving it. So it was a non-issue, and the MSM gave the administration a pass. When the Brits leaked the DSM [Downing Street Memo] proof in May, the MSM then decides that this is old news (to themselves, anyway) and gives the administration a pass. I think Heller immortalized this type of logic as Catch 22.

Can’t someone come up with a pithy sound bite that captures this and makes it accessible to a non-political, non-foreign policy public? I love your indignation and your explanations, but I have a hard time seeing this go anywhere without a talking point that even a Democratic senator can remember.

Digby, in another brilliant, long, scathing post, answers:
I would submit that the pithy way to frame this is by asking the question: "Why did we invade Iraq?"
His whole post is worth reading. I'll just quote the bit where he makes clear why this is the question to ask.
I speculated back in September of 2002 that the neocon faction was pushing its American Empire wet dream and using 9/11 as an excuse. Others believe that in the grand sweep of things we invaded to place permanent military bases to protect the oil fields.(Ann Coulter says "why shouldn't we invade for oil? We need oil.") Still others think we needed to show some muscle and Afghanistan just wasn't sexy enough. Was it Israel? I wrote the other day that it now appears that Bush may have bribed Blair into invading Iraq by promising that he'd hold back just long enough to cripple al Qaeda and keep them from blowing up London --- something which the evidence suggests that Bush and his cronies really had no interest in. And then there's the racist and revenge motives.

We really don't know, do we? Perhaps it was all those things. Which would then raise another important question. How is it possible for the United States of America in 2003 to invade and occupy another country for a handful of different, unstated reasons? What kind of fucked up process could have the president with one reason for invading, the vice president another, the Secretary of Defense yet another --- and the congress and the press simply signing off on official lies?

To underline this in a slightly different way: how is it possible that in a democracy we entered a war but we don't know why?

13 June 2005


A painful screed from Chris "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" Hedges.
I have felt the attraction of violence. I know its seductiveness, excitement and the powerful addictive narcotic it can become. The young soldiers, trained well enough to be disciplined but encouraged to maintain their naive adolescent belief in invulnerability, have in wartime more power at their fingertips than they will ever have again. They catapult from being minimum wage employees at places like Burger King, facing a life of dead-end jobs with little hope of health insurance and adequate benefits, to being part of, in the words of the Marines, "the greatest fighting force on the face of the earth." The disparity between what they were and what they have become is breathtaking and intoxicating. This intoxication is only heightened in wartime when all taboos are broken. Murder goes unpunished and often rewarded. The thrill of destruction fills their days with wild adrenaline highs, strange grotesque landscapes that are hallucinogenic, all accompanied by a sense of purpose and comradeship, overpowers the alienation many left behind. They become accustomed to killing, carrying out acts of slaughter with no more forethought than they take to relieve themselves. And the abuses committed against the helpless prisoners in Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo are not aberrations but the real face of war. In wartime all human beings become objects, objects either to gratify or destroy or both. And almost no one is immune. The contagion of the crowd sees to that.
Mr. Hedges is a former war correspondent who has been out being an eloquent anti-war propagandist the last few years; you can find quite a bit of his writing on the web.

Today's quote

From Roger Ebert's review of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in which Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play a couple whose marriage is having trouble ... in part because they are assassins who have been hired to kill one another.
Can you imagine Rock Hudson and Doris Day in this story? Gable and Lombard and Hepburn and Tracy have also been invoked, but given the violence in their lives, the casting I recommend is The Rock and Vin Diesel. In the opening scene, they could fight over who has to play Mrs. Smith.

Sorry. Lost my train of thought.

He's getting distractable in his old age.

12 June 2005

I remember the '90s

You know, I hate it when movie trailers talk about some historical film being set in "a more innocent time." But then I was just reading an old interview between R U Sirius and Kathy Acker and I can't help but think those cursed words. I mean, we're talking about Kathy Acker here, the holy terror of hip perverted '90s literature. "Innocent" should not be the word that comes to mind.

But at the time of the interview --- it looks to be the early or mid-'90s --- it's before her cancer, and she's all golly-gee about doing this crazy radical thing of getting a piercing, and they're bantering about pop culture, saying stuff like this ...

KA: Michael Jackson is out there.

RUS: Did you see his press conference? It was like the appearance of the Joker in Batman. I mean, the guy comes out to declare his innocence of so-called acts of perversion in this wild makeup and lipstick! The top entertainer in the world ...

KA: Talk about cyber-identity! It isn't like an older man having sex with a young boy -- it's like a Martian having sex with a human.

RUS: I admire Michael Jackson for his utter freakishness.

KA: Oh man, talk about body manipulation. He'll never come clean about it. I mean, does he get off on all of this? Does he get high from every bit of surgery?

RUS: He's really going after being a proto-post-human of some sort. It's the first real-life Cronenberg horror movie.

... which is somehow queasy and innocent at the same time.

11 June 2005

In case you care

Apple just announced at their developers' conference that they will switch to Intel chips next year. To my mind, this was no big deal; consumers won't be affected in a significant way.

Or will they?

Via Apostropher, I learn that Cringely speculates that this is conspiracy between Apple and Intel to slay the dragon Microsoft. Probably not true. But crazy enough that it just might be.

10 June 2005


Irene Khan of Amnesty International compares Guantánamo Bay to a gulag.
In the US, almost a year after the Supreme Court decided that detainees in Guantánamo should have access to judicial review, not one single case from among the 500 or so detained has reached the courts because of stonewalling by the Administration.

Under this agenda some people are above the law and others are clearly outside it.

Guantánamo has become the gulag our times, entrenching the notion that people can be detained without any recourse to the law.

If Guantánamo evokes images of Soviet repression, "ghost detainees" --- or the incommunicado detention of unregistered detainees --- bring back the practice of "disappearances" so popular with Latin American dictators in the past.

According to US official sources there could be over 100 ghost detainees held by the US.

Donald Rumsfeld disagrees with this characterization.
no force in the world has done more to liberate people that they have never met than the men and women of the United States military. Indeed, that's why the recent allegation that the U.S. military is running a gulag at Guantánamo Bay is so reprehensible. Most would define a gulag as where the Soviet Union kept millions in forced labor concentration camps, or I suppose some might say that -- where Saddam Hussein mutilated and murdered untold numbers because they held views unacceptable to his regime. To compare the United States and Guantánamo Bay to such atrocities cannot be excused.

Free societies depend on oversight, and they welcome informed criticism, particularly on human rights issues. But those who make such outlandish charges lose any claim to objectivity or seriousness. The Washington Post, to its credit, rejected the comparison between Guantánamo and a gulag in a recent editorial.

On this blog, I myself have referred to the US constructing a gulag archipelago. But in deference to our Defense Secretary's objections, I will turn to the wisdom of Fafblog's Medium Lobster.
Stringing together Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram Airbase creates the Freedom Archipelago.
"Freedom Archipelago." It has a nice ring to it.

09 June 2005


Via Warren Ellis, a true story very much like something out of his book Planetary.
Colonel John Blashford-Snell discovered the half-submerged, cast-iron wreck off the coast of Panama while searching for ancient ruins.

She was built in 1864 by a visionary craftsman, Julius Kroehl, for the Union forces during the American Civil War. But the boat, called Explorer, was never used in the conflict and was subsequently taken to Panama where she was used to harvest pearls.

She was ideal for this purpose because of a unique lock-out system, identical to the one in the Nautilus from [Jules] Verne’s book, [Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea] published in 1870.

The lock-out system is a reversible air-lock that enables submariners to leave the vessel, harvest pearls from the sea-bed, then return to the submarine. Like Explorer, Nautilus was also used to gather items from the seabed.

Gotta love the name "Colonel John Blashford-Snell." Quoth he,
It had a conning tower and I felt as if Captain Nemo should be in it at the controls.
Oh yeah.

08 June 2005


DeLong reports a problem I have had, too.
There are all these people I know... who don't have weblogs... and then when I run into or call them, the usual thing is to find out how each of us is doing by trading stories... but I don't have any stories to trade--they've already read them on my weblog.

It's awkward. I propose a new social custom: if you don't have a weblog, you have to pretend that you haven't been reading the weblog of the person you are talking to until you have listened patiently to at least their three best relatively-new stories.

It's worse for my friends, actually. I keep a lot of unfinished drafts of weblog posts, and think about them while they're in limbo. So many of my friends experience rehersals of things that I'm planning to blog.

Take your cup and fill

In case those readers who will enjoy it didn't see it, I offer you Thee Book ov Thee Latte.
  1. Hot! The manifestation of Latte!
  2. The swirling of espresso into milk.
  3. Any form of coffee at the bar --
  4. They all have caffeine; there is no difference.
  5. Help me, oh angst-ridden coffee clerk! I haven't slept for days.
  6. Be strong, espresso, in chocolate centers, in cups, on my tongue!
  7. There it is! Poured by the barista, but not nearly quick enough.
  8. Pour the coffee into the milk, not the milk into the coffee!
  9. Make it quick, and I may even give you a tip!
  10. Oh, you baristas are few and surly; yet you rule the many and the tired.
  11. You are rude, that customers adore; both your methods and your talk are rude.
  12. Come forth, o hipsters, to my house and take your fill of coffee!
This is another one of those if-you-don't-get-the-joke-never-mind things. Hard to explain.

07 June 2005


So I was on the road last week, and caught a little television. Whaddaya know, thanks to Mark Felt's admission that he was Deep Throat, all the Nixon bagmen had come out to remind us what a great President Tricky Dick had been, too bad he got wrapped up in scandals like Bill Clinton was. Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings sets us straight. He summarizes the apologists.
I have encountered a few people who have tried to argue that Nixon didn't do anything that LBJ and Kennedy hadn't done before him. Some, I think, were not old enough at the time to recall, and have just heard, vaguely, that he did some bad stuff and concluded: well, most politicians do bad stuff; so what?
Then he gives us a few reminders of what Nixon was caught doing.
This is planning murder, arson, and of course burglary. In addition, there was a lot of financial corruption, and the use of the entire machinery of government -- the FBI, the IRS, you name it -- to go after those Nixon thought of as his political opponents.
This is not just "what all politicians do". This was different: a completely lawless White House whose corruption went way beyond normal.
I'd add how my personal theory about Nixon --- that he resigned because he feared that investigation would ultimately lead to his orders to illegally and secretly bomb Cambodia --- seems sort of quaint today. That story would never stick to the Bush administration.

06 June 2005

Critical thinking

I think that the most important thing that anyone can learn about is critical thinking skills. From there, you can get everything else you need. Schools don't really attempt this in any systematic way, unfortunately --- in large part, because it's difficult. Stanley Fish claims that you can get to clear writing --- with clear thinking tagging along --- via grammar.
Students can't write clean English sentences because they are not being taught what sentences are.

Most composition courses that American students take today emphasize content rather than form, on the theory that if you chew over big ideas long enough, the ability to write about them will (mysteriously) follow. The theory is wrong. Content is a lure and a delusion, and it should be banished from the classroom. Form is the way.

On the first day of my freshman writing class I give the students this assignment: You will be divided into groups and by the end of the semester each group will be expected to have created its own language, complete with a syntax, a lexicon, a text, rules for translating the text and strategies for teaching your language to fellow students.
They think I'm crazy. Yet 14 weeks later --- and this happens every time --- each group has produced a language of incredible sophistication and precision.

Hmmnn. I'm always looking for some excuse to learn Lojban.

04 June 2005

Arkham, Nigeria

Quite some time ago, I stumbled across the site of a bloke who writes back to Nigerian scam spammers for his own amusement. My favorite is one in which he spins a tale based in the style of H.P. Lovecraft and the scammer either buys it or plays along.
Another thing is that, you must take the shining trapezohedron and keep it in a safe deposit box, until you are ready to come to Nigeria. I want you to bring it with you to Nigeria. You know that a lot of people here are very experienced in this kind of matter over here, therefore when you bring it here we will consult the wise ones for them to tell us what it is and what you should do with it. Now that they know that you have it and they have not come near you but they have shown themselves t you, then there is an edge you have over them. In this case you must not take anything for granted. Keep the thing in a safe deposit box and also keep the key to box far away from where you are goimng to sleep this night, let us see if they are after you or they are after the stone. Which ever way we have to get to the bottom of this. I am very positive that this will put your name in the front pages for a very long time.

You can do the transfer to me either through western union money transfer to TONY IBRAHIM or through the bank account information I have provided for you ...

Via DeLong I learn of a new variation.
Dr. Abossi, before his bloody and violent death, asked me to act as Beneficiary of Consignment to this consignment. In order to see that the Consignment is placed in the rightful hands of Dr. Vintu's family, I ask that we immediately begin proceedings to transfer the Consignment to me.

Unfortunately, I will be unable to travel to your location in order to claim the Consignment. I am confined to a life-support facility on the grounds of Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts. The nature of my life support equipment makes any travel of any sort our of the question. Sadly, the nature of my infirmity (I was the recipient of a failed body transplant, and was left with no arms, legs, abdomen, torso, phalanges, vertebra, femurs, tibias, or knees) makes telephone use extremely difficult, and confidential telephone use impossible.

Would it possible for an attorney to act on my behalf? Someone with arms?

The whole thing is funny. If you like that sort of thing.

03 June 2005

Today's quotes

Ann Coulter:
It's true. It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact.
Ann Coulter:
I think [women] should be armed but should not vote.
Roger Ebert:
Wouldn't you sleep more soundly at night knowing Ann Coulter was in the Army and not in a voting booth?
Good point.