Saturday, April 16, 2005

Happy Birthday!

It being the birthday of my beloved and beautiful wife, she, rather than this blog, shall be the recipient of my attention...


Friday, April 15, 2005


Sorry to have missed last week, but I'm back:



The Iraq War is stupid. But don't take it from me; take it from someone who's there:

In response to “‘Because we gave our word’” (letter, April 6), about people who are dodging military service and refuse to serve overseas: Yes, I did give the oath, I did swear to uphold the Constitution against foreign and domestic enemies. I swore to preserve freedom, but what they left out was to preserve freedom of other countries. Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11. I understand fighting for freedom when it’s necessary, and Afghanistan was necessary, but not Iraq.

How many troops are left in the United States? If there were an attack on U.S. soil right now, God forbid, they’d get all the way to Iowa before we could attempt to stop them. By the time we could get all our troops back home, the entire country would be lost.

The letter writer said people are refusing to fight. That’s easy to say from Arifjan, Kuwait. Come to Iraq for a year. In fact, come here for two years. This is my second tour here.

I also made a promise to my country, and I stand by that promise. Don’t bash others because they think this mission is complete crap, because it is. It’s stupid and we’re risking other soldiers’ lives. For what? Iraqi liberation? Weapons of mass destruction? Neither one of those has been even close to being found.

Bring soldiers home to protect what we’ve come to love so dearly — the United States, to protect those freedoms we take for granted, to protect our people, our children, wives, sons, daughters and husbands.

Pfc. Bradley Robb
Camp Striker, Iraq



Looks like the Day of Truth didn't work out so well:
The inaugural Day of Truth, seeking to mobilize students who believe homosexuality is wrong, attracted 1,150 participants Thursday at about 350 schools nationwide, according to the conservative group which launched it in response to the far larger, gay-supportive Day of Silence.

The New York-based Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, which coordinates the Day of Silence, said at least 450,000 students at more than 4,000 schools and colleges participated in the 10-year-old event - which took place Wednesday.

Participants in the Day of Silence generally do not speak during the course of the school day as a way of highlighting the isolation and harassment experienced by many gay students.

Participants in the Day of Truth - organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group - wore T-shirts with the slogan "The Truth Cannot be Silenced" and passed out cards declaring their unwillingness to condone "detrimental personal and social behavior."



Absolutely appalling. Atrios has posted an NPR interview which reveals that CNN, that bastion of the free press, that cornerstone of the "liberal media," has been distributing government propaganda for pay:

Here's another example. A spokesperson for CNN recently adopted a technique more fitting for some of the dodgy companies it covers -- dissembling in the hope that unwelcome questions would melt away.

This winter, there was a flood of stories about the widespread use of "video news releases" -- sent out by government agencies -- that were designed to mimic actual news stories. They were broadcast on many local TV news programs.

When asked about the practice, the nation's media critic in chief – that would be one George W. Bush – defended it, saying that the stations ran the pieces voluntarily. But local news directors said they thought they were real. Why? Because they came from a division of CNN.

More than 800 American stations pay that division -- which is called CNN Newsource -- to send them stories from CNN and its affiliates. But that's not all CNN Newsource does. Many public relations firms also pay it to distribute "video news releases" from their clients -- including the U.S. government. (Several competitors have similar deals.)

So CNN Newsource had more than one kind of client here. When preparing a story on the subject last month for NPR, I asked CNN, How big a side business is this? A CNN spokesman said there was no way to know how many video news releases were distributed by CNN in the typical week or month or year. It was impossible to tell, he said.

The "video news releases" weren't a major source of revenue for CNN, he explained, in genial tones meant to inspire confidence. They only generated modest fees. Naturally, the size of those fees couldn't be divulged. He also said CNN put tough safeguards in place when the issue first surfaced last year. Each public relations firm now had to sign a contract for every "video news release" saying each spot would make clear who paid for it.

Here's a pretty precise paraphrase of the conversation that ensued:

NPR: So, these guys at the PR firms actually have to sign a contract for every video news release you distribute through CNN Newsource?

CNN Guy: Yes.

NPR: And they pay you some nominal fee for each. It's not done through petty cash -- you guys send them bills, right?

CNN Guy: Sure.

NPR: So why can't you march down to accounting or your legal department and have someone pull those bills and contracts? Just count how many invoices and contracts there are. Wouldn't that instantly tell you precisely how many video news releases CNN Newsource had distributed?

CNN Guy:

NPR: Hello? Hello? You there?

There was a looooooong pause. I invited him – then and several times subsequently – to reconcile his responses. No further explanation followed.


Piling On

Attacking DeLay is all the rage these days. Just remember: No Capital was attacking DeLay before it was cool. But it's nice to have so much company:
Rep. Tom Tancredo says it is "probably not the worst idea" for embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to step down while he deals with ethics allegations.

Stepping into a swirling Washington controversy, the Littleton Republican said he doesn't think the current accusations of impropriety against DeLay amount to much. But Tancredo said that from a political perspective, DeLay has handled the ethics issue "stupidly."


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Sharks Circling

Even The Economist is counseling the ditching of DeLay:
The Economist notes that "the longer you study the DeLay affair, the more clearly it has passed the point where conservatives have more to lose than gain by rallying around him. If they continue to support Mr DeLay, they risk tarring the entire movement with his ethical problems."

"The Republicans took over Congress in 1994 in part because they skilfully used attacks on individual politicians to suggest that the Democrats were soft on corruption. The Republicans are vulnerable to exactly this treatment."


Failure in Oregon

And 3,000 couples find out that they've been living in sin:
The Oregon Supreme Court on Thursday nullified nearly 3,000 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by Multnomah County a year ago, saying a single county couldn't take such action on its own.


Screwing the Poor

Just as Congress is moving toward ending the estate tax, to help out the very rich, they are moving to revise bankruptcy laws, to screw the very poor.

Lovely. This is life in a plutocracy:
Bankruptcy legislation that could make it impossible for thousands of people to wipe away their debts is nearing passage by Congress.

After eight years of failed efforts by banks and credit card companies, the biggest overhaul of bankruptcy laws in a quarter-century has been catapulted toward enactment by a Republican majority buttressed by the fall elections. The legislation, which garnered some Democratic votes, cleared the Senate last month 74-25.


Killing the "Death Tax"

One more blow struck against the shameful persecution of the very rich.

Ach. Given the deficits this administration has already created, this move is a travesty. They truly are seeking to bankrupt the government, let the very poor fend for themselves, and live happily ever after on their gated and guarded estates:
The House voted Wednesday to eliminate federal estate taxes in 2010 and beyond, a repeal that Republicans hailed but many Democrats said would reward the richest families at the steep cost of deeper federal deficits.

House lawmakers voted 272-162 to prevent the tax on inherited estates from reappearing after its one-year disappearance in 2010. The bill would end the tax at a cost of roughly $290 billion over the next decade.


The Future Is Now

Those of you who thought that robot-driven camel racing was a pipe dream have been proven to be idiots, as I have always believed you would be:
Qatar plans to start using robots as riders in popular camel races after international criticism of the use of child jockeys, the Gulf Arab state's official QNA news agency reported on Wednesday.

It said the robot, developed by an unnamed Swiss company, had been tested successfully and that the energy-rich country was considering setting up a factory to build them.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Saud al-Thani, the official in charge of the project, referred to United Nations concern over child jockeys and said Qatar was determined to save camel racing, which is popular among Arabs of Bedouin origin.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Please Let It Be

Let it be the beginning of the end of the idiocy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell":
Seven members of the House Armed Services Committee have called on Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) to hold hearings to review "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".

The seven, all Democrats, made the request a month after the introduction in the House of bill to repeal the military's ban and allow service members to serve openly. All seven also are co-sponsors of the repeal proposal.

"In light of the military's personnel strains resulting from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we believe it is necessary to evaluate the policy's effect on military readiness," said the letter, signed by Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), James Langevin (D-R.I.), Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.)


Three Cheers for Connecticut

They got it right:
The Connecticut House of Representatives late Wednesday night passed the civil unions bill, giving same-sex couples many of the rights of marriage.

The House voted 85-63. The Senate version of the bill sailed through that body on a 27-9 vote last week (story). In the House today, though, it faced stiffer opposition.

But the victory is rather tainted:
The House amended the bill, under prodding by conservatives and Gov. M. Jodi Rell, to add a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.


But, We Needed the Troops for Iraq!

Yet another installment in the Bush Incompetence story. Gonna get him "dead or alive," right?
Osama Bin Laden gave US forces the slip by bribing the Afghan militias tasked with tracking him down, according to Germany's spy chief, August Hanning.

Mr Hanning told German newspaper Handelsblatt that using Afghans was the key mistake in the hunt for Bin Laden.

He said Bin Laden paid "a lot of money" to buy a safe passage from the Tora Bora caves, which he had retreated to during the US assault in 2001.
The US has said it used Afghan fighters to reduce casualties among its troops.


Night Is Day, Black Is White

And DeLay is "sorry." A Republican apologizes? You know he's in trouble:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay apologized Wednesday for using overheated rhetoric on the day Terri Schiavo died, but refused to say whether he supports impeachment of the judges who ruled in her case.



Heaven Help Us

Stop him before he films again!
Flushed with the success of last year's The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson appears poised to embark on another high-minded religious epic. His subject on this occasion, according to a swirl of reports in the US, is the life and times of Pope John Paul II.

According to the New York Post, the movie's ending has already been filmed. The newspaper reports that Gibson sent a production crew to the Vatican City to film last Friday's funeral ceremony.


Join the Unitarian Jihad!

To do so, of course, you must get your name from the Committee.

Or if you are feeling schismatic, you can try the Reformed Committee.

I'm either Brother Logging Chain of Forgiveness or Brother Rail Gun of Desirable Equanimity, depending. I prefer the latter.

This game found via Avedon Carol.


12 Monkeys

Countries around the world were destroying vials of a nearly 50-year-old killer flu virus Wednesday that were sent to thousands of labs as part of a routine test kit, raising fears of a global pandemic.
Nearly 5,000 labs in 18 countries or territories — mostly in the United States — received vials from a U.S. company that supplies kits used for internal quality control tests. News that the vials had been sent to the labs was first reported by The Associated Press.

The germ, the 1957 H2N2 "Asian flu" strain, killed between 1 million and 4 million people. It has not been included in flu vaccines since 1968, and anyone born after that date has little or no immunity to it.



So much for the soi-disant "Party of Personal Responsibility," eh?
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, hoping to hold support among fellow Republicans, urged GOP senators Tuesday to blame Democrats if asked about his ethics controversy and accused the news media of twisting supportive comments so they sounded like criticism.

When the going gets tough, DeLay starts whining.

Is it just me, or is the Right's persecution complex getting extremely annoying?


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The "Truth" Is Stupid

Another episode in the onslaught of bigotry:
Irked by the success of the nationwide Day of Silence, which seeks to combat anti-gay bias in schools, conservative activists are launching a counter-event this week called the Day of Truth aimed at mobilizing students who believe homosexuality is sinful.

Mike Johnson, an Alliance Defense Fund attorney from Shreveport, La., said organizers were unsure how many students would participate in the Day of Truth, but expressed hope it would grow in coming years as more people learned about it.

Johnson said the event is meant to be "peaceful and respectful," but made clear it is motivated by belief that homosexuality is wrong. "You can call it sinful or destructive — ultimately it's both," he said.

The event is designed as a riposte to the Day of Silence, which began on a small scale in 1996 and is now observed by tens of thousands of students annually at hundreds of schools and colleges across the country.

Most Day of Silence participants go through the school day without speaking — a tactic for drawing attention to the isolation and harassment experienced by many gay students.


About Bloody Time

Massachusetts is considering the radical move of undoing an old anti-miscegenation law that's being used to prevent out-of-staters from getting hitched to this day:
The Massachusetts legislature is considering the repeal of a 1913 law that bars issuing wedding licenses to people whose marriages would be illegal in the states where they reside.


Shortly after Massachusetts's highest court ruled in 2003 that the state could not bar gays and lesbians from marrying (story) Gov. Mitt Romney declared that the 1913 law prevented town clerks from issuing licenses to couples who do not reside in Massachusetts. (story)

The law had been created when Massachusetts legalized interracial marriage and faced an outcry from other states which still banned the unions.

Unfortunately, they're doing this at the same time:
But, it also will look at three other bills to block all same-sex marriages in the state.


Paintings of Mass Destruction Found at Columbia College

Thank God we have the Secret Service to handle such instances of freedom of expressi--, I mean, to handle threats to national security:

Organizers of a politically charged art exhibit at Columbia College's Glass Curtain Gallery thought their show might draw controversy.

But they didn't expect two U.S. Secret Service agents would be among the show's first visitors.

The agents turned up Thursday evening, just before the public opening of "Axis of Evil, the Secret History of Sin," and took pictures of some of the art pieces -- including "Patriot Act," showing President Bush on a mock 37-cent stamp with a revolver pointed at his head.

The agents asked what the artists meant by their work and wanted museum director CarolAnn Brown to turn over the names and phone numbers of all the artists.


Kidnaping Women Is the American Way

Nothing like holding women hostage to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people:
US soldiers seized a mother and daughter from their home in Baghdad two weeks ago and allegedly left a note on the gate: "Be a man Muhammad Mukhlif and give yourself up and then we will release your sisters. Otherwise they will spend a long time in detention."

It was signed Bandit 6, apparently a military code, and gave a mobile phone number. When phoned by reporters an American soldier answered but he declined to take questions and hung up.

Salima al-Batawi, 60, and her daughter Aliya, 35, were blindfolded, handcuffed and driven away in a Humvee convoy on April 2, leaving the Arab Sunnis of Taji, a suburb north of the capital, incandescent.

Instead of surrendering, her three sons, Ahmad, Saddam and Arkan, alerted the media. None of them are called Muhammad, but it is believed that the note referred to Ahmad and that the Americans wanted all three brothers.

The brothers have spent time in Abu Ghraib jail, but have never been charged and say they are citrus farmers with no connection to the insurgency.

The word "debacle" springs to mind.


Bast Will Not Be Pleased

Wisconsin is courting disaster:
Feline lovers holding pictures of cats, clutching stuffed animals and wearing whiskers faced-off against hundreds of hunters at meetings around Wisconsin to voice their opinion on whether to legalize cat hunting.

Residents in 72 counties were asked whether free-roaming cats — including any domestic cat that isn't under the owner's direct control or any cat without a collar — should be listed as an unprotected species. If listed as so, the cats could be hunted.


A "Victory Strategy"

Hell, why didn't we think of that back in the Vietnam-War era? If only we'd had visionaries like Rumsfeld:
The U.S. has no exit strategy or timetable for withdrawing its forces from Iraq and a pull-out depends on the readiness of the Iraqi Security Forces, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

``We don't have an exit strategy, we have a victory strategy,'' Rumsfeld told soldiers during a surprise visit to Baghdad, according to a pooled broadcast report from the capital.



Well, it would appear that I've been shang-haied into some sort of book-related thingy by the beloved Thersites, so here goes:

--You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

My first reaction is that of Thers--confusion, panic, disavowal. But, presuming the intended question to be, "What book do you want to see torched?" I have to reply, "None, of course." Although my viscera reply, The Bible, because I'm sick of it. Also, if The Protocols of the Elders of Zion had never been written, I have to say, the world would be all the better for it.

UPDATE: Simbaud of King of Zembla reminds me that it's been far too long since I've read F451, which involves a group, each of whom has committed one entire book to memory. That explains the question.

My answer, to be mirrored below: Das Kapital.

--Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Interestingly, Thers replies "Dolores Haze." Interesting, because I am presently rereading Lolita, and I have to say that cagey bastard Nabokov does do a fine job of seduction. So I have to cast my lot in with Thers.

But I'll add to it Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow, though I know that strays from the book-oriented nature of these queries.

Also, it occurs to me that I rather fell in love with the woman who is the protagonist in John Nichols's The Magic Journey (I believe it's called). But that was long ago, and anyway the wench is dead, to paraphrase...

There have been others, too many to name.

UPDATE: Foolish oversight. Of course, Neil Gaiman's Death... She's hot.

--The last book you bought is:

I have no idea. I just bought several vintage sci-fi books published in the 1950s (towards my dissertation, I swear!) including one by Fred Pohl I'd not seen before.

--The last book you read:

Just reread Naked Lunch and On the Road. The 1950s dominate my reading, and have for far too long. Also recently reread Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, in order to clean up a critical essay I'm having published soon (note to self: deadline on proofs is drawing nigh).

--What are you currently reading?

As noted above, Lolita. Ah, the beauty of young love...

Hey, Thers: For quality crap reading, my significant other swears by Terry Pratchett (especially his later stuff) as smart, easy, and fun.

--Five books you would take to a deserted island:

Ulysses--James Joyce
Mason & Dixon--Thomas Pynchon
Das Kapital--Karl Marx
Encyclopedia Britannica or the like
The Lord of the Rings-- J.R.R Tolkien

I'm not saying these are the best books in the world, but when contemplating years on a deserted island, one must consider heft.

--Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons)? And Why?

My wife, Miriam, because she's brilliant, and I think it will irritate her at the same time as it provides her with useful procrastination material.

Avedon Carol, because she is smart and quirky.

King of Zembla, because of the literary reference in the blog's title.

And NTodd, because he's a hunk.

And hey, perhaps I'll even shoot it on over to Michael Berube, because he's just brilliant and clever in general...

UPDATE: Someone got to Berube first...

...Oh, and for the blog-deprived, the comments thread is here for you to play along, should you choose...


Monday, April 11, 2005

Bash Early, Bash Often

A new study shows that we must commit to teaching tolerance from day one. Of course, those on the right who don't necessarily feel that gay-bashing is a bad thing will disagree:
A study into bullying in British schools has found that boys as young as nine frequently use anti-gay bullying "to establish their masculinity".

The research was done by Dr Emma Renold, of Cardiff University, in Wales.

She found that young boys often use the "gay" and "girl" as insults to other boys.

Her report calls for new efforts to combat homophobia and bullying at an earlier age than previously thought necessary.


Unspeakably Vile

This guy has got to go, once and for all (so does DeLay, of course, but that goes without saying):
Jack Abramoff, one of Washington's most powerful and best-paid lobbyists, needed $100,000 in a hurry.

Mr. Abramoff, known to envious competitors as "Casino Jack" because of his multimillion-dollar lobbying fees from the gambling operations of American Indians, wrote to a Texas tribe in June 2002 to say that a member of Congress had "asked if we could help (as in cover) a Scotland golf trip for him and some staff" that summer. "The trip will be quite expensive," Mr. Abramoff said in the e-mail message, estimating that the bills "would be around $100K or more." He added that in 2000, "We did this for another member - you know who."

Mr. Abramoff did not explain why the tribe should pay for the lavish trip, nor did he identify the congressmen by name. But a tribe spokesman has since testified to Congress that the 2002 trip was organized for Representative Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Administration Committee, and that "you know who" was a much more powerful Republican, Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader and old friend of Mr. Abramoff's. Both lawmakers have said they believed that the trips complied with House travel rules.
E-mail messages subpoenaed from their files show that Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon mocked tribal leaders as "monkeys," "morons" and "troglodytes," and manipulated tribes into making large donations to Congressional Republicans and their political action committees, as well as to private charities that Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon controlled.

The messages document how they maneuvered secretly in 2001 to organize a campaign to pressure the Texas state government to shut down a casino owned by the Tigua tribe of western Texas, only to then turn around and present themselves as the casino's savior. Mr. Abramoff offered his services to the tribe for a suggested monthly lobbying fee of $125,000 to $175,000 a month.


Sunday, April 10, 2005

More GOP Hypocrisy

A Republican who has worked for numerous homophobes has married his boyfriend:
A Republican consultant who has run political campaigns for some of the most homophobic members of the GOP has married another man in a secret ceremony in Massachusetts it was reported Saturday.

Arthur J. Finkelstein has run attack campaigns for a number of conservative members of the party including former Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. He has also run campaigns for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In 1996 he was outed by Boston Magazine leading to allegations of hypocrisy by national LGBT civil rights groups, but he has never publicly come out or discussed his sexuality until now.

Finkelstein confirmed for the New York Times that he did indeed marry his partner. In what the paper describes as a short interview, the usually secretive Finkelstein said that the wedding had taken place at his home in Boston and that it was in December.

He also told the Times that the two have been a couple for 40 years that they live together with two children. He would not identify the partner, say who was the father of the children, or disclose who officiated at the wedding.



Even some Republicans are waking up to reality:
Though Republicans in some circles are rallying around beleaguered House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, one prominent Republican yesterday dissociated himself from the powerful and controversial lawmaker.

"He is an absolute embarrassment to me and to the Republican Party," U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Bridgeport, told more than 50 Greenwich residents yesterday morning at Town Hall. He was in Greenwich to host a public forum, open to all political parties, on whatever pressing issues attendees were interested in discussing.