February 28, 2006

Bush Low at CBS

CBS just posted a poll where Bush got an all-time low of 34%. The story implies the Dubai ports deal and the mess in Iraq as possible causes. Usually Bush gets this low only when he's done something to tick off his base, like with Harriet Miers.

Update: this comparison shows that at this point in his second term, Bush has approval ratings higher only than Nixon, who at this point was mired in Watergate. Clinton, under fierce attack by Republicans, was at 57%.

Posted by Luis at 09:27 AM | Comments (2)

News Bits, 2/28/2006

The Iraqi military is not necessarily getting better, The single battalion rated as ready to operate independently just got downgraded to one requiring the support of U.S. troops. Not exactly encouraging three years into the occupation and with the country teetering on the brink of civil war.

Talk about spin. Here's "fair and balanced" Fox News trying out the idea that an Iraqi civil war might be a good thing. Think I'm kidding? Check it out.

More torture evidence. Damn, that Lynndie England gets around, doesn't she?

Remember how the Republicans made a huge, gigantic deal about the Clinton White House "discovering" certain documents some time after the Republican Congress demanded them? Guess what? Now the Bush White House is doing the exact same thing--and not only are Republicans silent, the "liberal" media is barely noticing it. In this case, the Bush administration "discovered" 250 emails that could incriminate Cheney in the Plame scandal. Frankly, I'm inclined to believe that the documents were overlooked, as it seems unlikely that the Bush administration would now reveal them if they didn't have to--just like it was with the Clinton administration and their late-discovered records. Betcha Republicans won't see equity in the two situations, though...

"Established" media web sites, including the Washington Post, MSNBC, and CBS News, have taken to scrubbing their web sites for whatever reasons. Sometimes it's an error, but sometimes--as in MSNBC's scrubbing of the news that Cheney drank beer before shooting his hunting buddy--apparently are scrubbed because somebody doesn't like the idea of that news getting out there. I recall Fox News doing this back in 2004 when they reported complete lies about Kerry. Like printed media, such stories should always carry at least a retraction notice. The entry also notes that bloggers scrub blogs too, usually just to correct errors--but when something is removed from a published story, there should be some note of it somewhere. The most I'll do is make an edit in style--wording or clarification--without noting it. Usually a commenter will spot an error (like Tim did yesterday), and I'll correct the error and note it in another comment. But to remove something without notice is a horse of a different color...

Wal-Mart wants you to pay their workers' health care costs so they don't have to. As if they don't have the capital to create their own health care plan. Just another reminder: shop Costco. They actually pay their people well, with reasonable benefits, and have been criticized for it. Steer clear of Wal-Marts and Sam's Clubs.

Governors from both parties agree that Bush is decimating their National Guards. Bush has run off with their troops and equipment, leaving too little at home for guarding the nation and handling local emergencies. Even when NG troops return, the federal military keeps their state-bought equipment, thank you very much. More than $1.2 billion worth of equipment has been snagged from states' possession so far. What's more, Bush plans to funnel funds away from National Guards, further depriving states of what they need. But we're not really surprised by any of this, are we? Update: Bush is promising to rebuild the state National Guards. The governors' response: we'll believe it when we see it.

A Texas nonprofit group was critical of Tom DeLay--and were promptly audited by the IRS at the request of DeLay's friends. The nonprofit was cleared by the IRS, but the fact remains that the IRS was used as a political weapon. We haven't seen that since the Nixon days, have we? Oh no, wait--we have. Liberal churches are targeted by the IRS on political grounds while right-wing churches get away with murder. And we've seen the Department of Homeland Security wielded as a political weapon as well. And taxpayer dollars used to create fake news stories praising Bush in an election year, and paying off journalists to hype Bush's programs. And... well, you get the idea.

The U.A.E. received a letter from al Qaeda in 2002 that the terrorist organization has infiltrated key government positions. Of course, one would expect them to say that more if they hadn't actually done it. However, it still raises questions about putting the U.A.E.--from which two 9/11 hijackers and some of their funding came--in charge of U.S. ports. Even if all Americans are hired for security and other staffing, it still means that U.A.E. officials have access to intel on our ports. And what about England and Singapore? Frankly, I don't see why it is necessary to open port control to any foreign national organization or government. But that's just me. I'm crazy like that, wanting stuff like more than 5% of incoming cargo containers inspected. Paranoid, that's what I am.

Then again, the story was in the New York Post...

Posted by Luis at 09:09 AM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2006

Not Reporting Hurting People Is Apparently a Fad

It turns out that Cheney was not the only one who injured someone and then held back reporting on it. Last July, when in Scotland for a G8 Summit, Bush lost control of his bike (for what, the 4th time?) while attempting to wave at constables on the road, and crashed smack into one of the policemen. The unreported part concerns the injury to the constable--originally reported as a "very minor" injury, it turns out that Bush broke the man's ankle, putting him on crutches and out of work for three months. Having just suffered nothing worse than a broken toe and lived on crutches for three months myself, I can tell you that's it's not "very minor." In Scotland, a normal citizen would probably have been charged with "careless driving" and possibly even assault on a police officer.

Now that the news is out, I suppose we can expect the Scottish constable to hold a press conference where he will formally apologize to president Bush for all the anguish he's caused him.

Posted by Luis at 07:52 PM | Comments (1)

Pat Tillman

I've been meaning to blog on the Pat Tillman story for a while now--but Kevin Drum just did the job for me better than I could have done. If you'd rather not read the linked post, it boils down to this: Tillman turned down a lucrative football career to fight in the war--in Afghanistan. Instead he was sent to Iraq, a war he disapproved of and felt was illegal. Later, he was sent to Afghanistan, where he was killed by friendly fire. The Bush administration, stinging from the Abu Ghraib scandal, needed a poster boy, so they lied and used Tillman's death to punch up their own agenda. They hid the fact that he died under friendly fire and made him out to be a pro-Bush all-American hero. In fact, he was pro-Kerry and had arranged to meet with anti-war advocate Noam Chomsky after he got back. When his parents found out how the administration had lied and used their son for political gain, they were, in a word, pissed. And yet to this day, most people still believe the Bush lie that Tillman was pro-Bush and pro-Iraq and that he died for Bush's cause and "the war on terror." They were right about the hero part, and, ironically, how Tillman stands as a symbol of how we cannot let the troops down--just not they way the GOP usually plays it.

Posted by Luis at 11:02 AM | Comments (2)

Bad Reporting re: Mac "Virus" Scare

Reading Google News, I've been watching a steady stream of "news" reports go by that make me doubt how seriously I should take most of the computer reporting out there. There are just so many stories out there which are completely misinformed, I have to wonder how many of these people went to journalism school. Let me give a few examples:

Apple's OS X Suddenly Not So Secure After All (FOX)
Security scares mount for Apple Macintosh users (USA Today)
First ever virus for Mac OS X (Ferret.com)
Apple Mac Virus Is Real Threat - The Apple Mac malware threat is real, according to anti-virus experts (GameSHOUT)
Second Mac virus in the wild (SC Magazine)
McAfee Provides Protection Against Mac Os X Exploits and Viruses (Hardware Zone)
First Mac virus found in wild (Globe and Mail)
Has the “Mac virus” struck your computer? (Austin American-Statesman)

Read most of these and you'll find out about "viruses" hitting the Mac as told by "experts." Well, not exactly. First of all, there are no viruses. A trojan, a worm, and a vulnerability. The "experts" and "researchers"? People who work for anti-virus software and security companies, who have a vested business interest in making people think they have viruses so they can sell their product.

But the trojan, worm and vulnerability are real, right? Depends on what you mean. The trojan and worm are "proof of concept," and don't do any damage (though Symantec, another anti-virus vendor, is claiming the trojan does damage files and the OS, completely unsupported from what I have ascertained). Furthermore, the trojan requires the user to enter a system admin password in order for the trojan to work, unlikely since the user will have just tried to open an image file. And the fake image file has to be downloaded (not viewed on a browser) or sent as file transfer by iChat, which not too many people ever do. The worm, meanwhile, requires not only two Macs using Bluetooth to be in the same room, it also requires both Macs to have an OS almost a year out of date, when most Macs update automatically. And it requires you to actively accept a file transfer over Bluetooth, which can be immediately confirmed as fake by asking the other Mac user in the room if they're really trying to send you something. Oh yeah, and it self-destructs tomorrow, leaving no damage. And the vulnerability? Just that--it's an opening, not an actual exploit. It means that no one is actually trying to damage your computer, it's simply possible that such a thing could happen.

Which is really what all three of these represent: potential malware, not actual malware. Two harmless proof-of-concepts and one vulnerability. With the proof-of-concepts being almost ridiculously hard to acquire. Frankly, I doubt I could acquire either of them even if I went out on the Internet and aggressively tried to. And what's more, you don't need anti-virus software to guard against them--though the news stories, which could easily be just copies of press releases by anti-virus vendors, don't tell you that. The vulnerability? Go to Safari's preferences and turn off the "Open 'safe' files after downloading" option. The worm? Update your software through the Software Update control panel (it's free, and probably it's already been done--if there's nothing in Software Update to install, you're OK). The trojan? Don't enter your admin password unless you are knowingly installing software or changing system preferences. To be completely safe, know that the filename suffix ".tgz" (signifying compressed files) is one you should avoid opening unless you know what you are doing.

Strange that all these stories trying to scare you don't mention these simple protections against the malware, which doesn't do any harm anyway. So, should you buy anti-virus software? Not yet, certainly. In fact, the Solution published by Sophos, an anti-virus security firm, actually didn't work, mistakenly identifying the Bluetooth worm where none existed, sending users into a false panic and wasting their time. In the future, when Mac malware actually poses a threat, you'll need security. But not yet. The problem is, when all these news outlets are reporting misinformed stories generated by businesses out to make a buck, how will you know when it's really unsafe out there? I guess you'll just have to research hard and read as many stories as you can--there are some out there that tell the real story, though not many.

Or you come come to this site--when I think I need anti-virus protection, I'll certainly blog on it.

Posted by Luis at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2006

Move On, But Don't Forget

Just because we have no choice in a matter does not mean that the right choices led to this impasse, nor that we should forget the errors made.

There is a strange phenomenon that I've observed with the war in Iraq: that having no good options left and being forced to choose a horrific course of action in order to avoid a catastrophic one is somehow being played as "we did the right thing." Add to that a great deal of "the past is past, so ignore it and be optimistic about the future," and you've got what many people are saying about the war.

On this site, I have been scolded several times by people who say that prognosticating a bad outcome, even though it is rather obvious to see, is a big no-no, and that complaining about the past will serve no purpose.

I beg to differ.

First off, I am a strong believer in learning from your mistakes, and am a stronger believer in not letting politicians get away with them, else they feel comfortable doing so. The Iraq War was a huge and terrible mistake. What's more, it was not hard to see.

The Bush administration either lied about it or was so foolishly optimistic as to be a bunch of bright-eyed idiots. They said the war would cost no more than $2 billion. Opponents (like me) said it would "easily cost $80 billion, probably much more than that." We were right: it cost more than $80 billion in just the first year, and now is over $240 billion, with the administration asking for money to put the cost over $300 billion. Think of the schools we could have built with that money.

The Bush administration lied about how easy it would be: they said we'd be greeted as liberators, the people of Iraq throwing flowers at the feet of our soldiers. The critics, again like myself, pointed out that people in the region "do not and never have reacted kindly to U.S. intervention." Cheney said that "extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad," while people like me said that "an unsupported attack by America on an Arab nation would generate such fear and hostility in so many people that extremists would be swamped with volunteers willing to die for their cause." Guess who was right? The war has inflamed the region, the country is on the brink of massive civil war, and the ranks of al Qaeda have swelled to more than 18,000, new recruits made passionate because of Bush's war.

The Bush administration claimed that they could get a strong coalition and that the U.S. would not suffer in international respect or reputation. Critics again disagreed, saying, like I did, that "not only is there no coalition, but it appears that at this point, a coalition would be impossible to form," and that we "would also pay in terms of lost reputation, international respect and influence in world affairs." Again, we were right, they were wrong. The "coalition of the willing" was just as lame as the name it bore, and lacked support of most of the world. Basically, it was the U.S. and Great Britain, with a few other militarily smaller countries throwing in token forces.

The Bush administration painted Iraq as a grave threat, warning of "mushroom clouds" in the State of the Union speech, and claiming that they had solid evidence that Hussein was 6 months away from completing a nuclear weapon. Critics denied this, like the point I made that there was no evidence of a nuclear program and the fact that before the first Gulf War, the Bush 41 administration made the exact same fake claims in their own justification.

The Bush administration said that their planning was good and they did all they needed to; critics warned that the Bush administration had no exit strategy. I wrote, "what is the exit strategy? How long will it take? How many of our troops will die? How many Iraqis ... will we end up killing? How long will our troops be there? How deeply will we become involved in rooting out everyone there who violently disagrees with our occupation? And how will the nation-building succeed?" Do I even need to point out that every one of those concerns has been proven to be a major concern, and that Bush's lack of an exit strategy has now made each one of these points a painful area of loss? No thought was given to any of these points by Bush; it was purely a case of wanting something and not giving a damn about the cost.

My overall point here? That this was not a mistake that anyone could have made. This was not a mistake that no one could have foreseen. It is critical that we remember the fact that all the mistakes the Bush administration made in this war were foreseen well before the war started, and warnings were loudly given. We did know that this was a mistake, it's just that the Bush administration was so blinded, so foolish, and so single-minded that they did not believe and/or care that they were making these errors.

Whatever the case, it is now the right of the critics who were correct to step forward and point out that the Bush administration was wrong, that they made terrible blunders though thoroughly warned, and they they are fully responsible for everything that happened. And it is the responsibility of the Bush administration to acknowledge these mistakes--though we all know that this is the last thing they will ever do.

Already, I can foresee the comments to this point: "but that's in the past! We gain nothing by obsessing with things we can't change, and that doesn't help us now." Hell yes, it helps us. It helps us avoid doing this again, and it helps us because it proves that the Bush administration is dangerously stupid and that we should not believe or trust them. That we should instead put into place a Congress that will serve as an opposition to them, and to pay attention to critics when they point out the wrongness of what the administration wants to do next.

But, as I have been scolded before and likely will be again, "you're just being pessimistic. If we have a negative outlook on what will happen, it will just bleed into our actions and assure our loss. We have to be optimistic and support the administration." Like hell. There is a difference between harmful pessimism and pragmatic realism. Being an optimist will not prevent Iraq from descending into civil war. Being an optimist will not make the insurgency crumble. Being an optimist instead of a realist will only repeat the same mistakes that Bush made when he pushed us into this war.

The realistic view of this war is that we're screwed. I'm sorry, I wish it were otherwise, but when there writing is on the wall you don't just ignore it. That's the dangerous course of action. To close your eyes to reality and wish real hard for a good outcome, that's what'll lead to more disaster. To pretend that if we just hope and see things as ending well, that such will turn about our fortunes is, forgive me, foolishly naive.

Think I'm wrong? Well, I was right before the war. What makes you think that I'm wrong now?

The tragedy here is that if it were ever possible to have made things work out in Iraq, the time to make that happen is long past. One turning point would have been before the war, to work with our allies instead of bullying them and build a real coalition; at the start of the war, to have used enough troops to do the job right, stopping the looting and fighting the insurgency before it started; right after the initial military success, not to have disassembled the Iraqi military, and to have immediately brought in U.N. and Arab-nation overseers and managers, instead of greedily grabbing all the goodies and business contracts for ourselves. But time after time, despite warnings, despite advice to the contrary, Bush made mistake after mistake. And now, as much as we all would rather have it be otherwise, it is just too damned late.

The only thing we can do now is to realize the mistakes that were made, make sure that those who committed them are held responsible and are not allowed to repeat them. Then we clean our wounds, get out as gracefully as we can, and never do something this stupid ever again.

Unfortunately, that last paragraph was the expression of wide-eyed optimism. The pragmatic realist in me realizes that we probably won't do any of that.

Posted by Luis at 12:00 PM | Comments (3)

February 25, 2006

Worst. President. Ever.

I figured that I'd spend a little time trying to come up with a list of the outrageously stupid, criminal, and incompetent things George W. Bush has done. I found that making the list was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and the offenses just kept piling up--and I am certain that I am still missing a whole bunch of stuff. Here's what I could come up with, without even doing so much as a Google search:

  • Has threatened long-cherished US freedoms, liberties and civil rights
  • Has consistently used fear and fake security "alerts" to bolster his popularity and sabotage political opponents
  • Pretended not to have links to corrupt figures like Ken Lay and Jack Abramoff, not to mention being in the pocket of the Saudis
  • Has overseen rampant cronyism, mismanagement in many government agencies like FEMA
  • Stayed on vacation and let New Orleans drown for several days while he did nothing
  • Raced back from vacation to sign Terri Schiavo legislation that was later proven wrongful
  • Staged fake relief operations in Louisiana as photo ops for himself while halting actual rescue operations during his visits
  • Took more time off on vacation than any president in history, about 20% of total time in office
  • Allowed energy industry to write US energy policy
  • Signed legislation designed to benefit pharmaceutical industry against interest of the American people
  • Signed legislation designed to benefit banking & credit industry against interest of the American people
  • Abrogated multiple international treaties the U.S. had signed and long honored
  • Turned international trust, respect and sympathy for the U.S. into contempt, anger, and suspicion
  • Allowed the 9/11 attacks on his watch though his administration had multiple warnings and more than enough evidence to stop them
  • Fought attempts to investigate 9/11 mismanagement at every turn
  • Despite massive spending on "security," has underfunded domestic security
  • Has left US ports unprotected and mostly unchecked, gave control of some to country where 9/11 hijackers came from
  • Failed to follow up on policies urged by 9/11 commission
  • Failed to capture Osama bin Laden
  • Has enabled al Qaeda to make massive recruitments
  • Lied about Iraq having "massive stockpiles" of WMD
  • Lied about Iraq being close to completing a nuclear weapon
  • Lied about Iraq trying to buy uranium
  • Lied about Iraq's ties with al Qaeda
  • Lied about Saddam Hussein's involvement in 9/11
  • Lied about his early intent to invade Iraq
  • Established dangerous and unethical policy of pre-emptive warfare
  • Mismanaged the War in Iraq from the start
  • Initially tried to avoid Congressional or U.N. approval for Iraq War before flip-flopping
  • Failed to build a coalition that could succeed in winning a long-term war in Iraq
  • Failed to prepare an exit strategy from Iraq
  • Failed to send enough troops as per the advice of the generals
  • Failed to supply troops with necessary gear, especially armor
  • Allowed massive looting of everything except oil fields
  • Lied about the cost of the war
  • Tried to hide flag-draped coffins, does not take time to even sign letters to families
  • Has allowed massive corruption and mismanagement causing billions of US tax dollars to be stolen
  • Stacked Iraqi press office with GOP operatives during election to fabricate "good" news
  • Administration blew cover of CIA operative in retribution for operative's husband exposing Bush lie about Iraq
  • Turned a historic budget surplus into a string of record deficits
  • Has overseen weakest overall job growth in nearly a century
  • Has never used a veto while Republicans in Congress go on biggest pork-barrel spending spree in history
  • Has stacked the Supreme Court with ultraconservatives who will destroy Roe v. Wade and dismantle civil rights
  • Has consistently short-changed troops, taken away benefits, treated them like crap while constantly using them as window dressing for his photo ops and speeches
  • Anemic "recovery" from recession is the weakest and latest-coming in more than half a century
  • Has overseen a surge of McJobs: low-paying and benefit-free employment exploding
  • Ignored Middle East until situation festered, oversaw terrorist group Hamas gaining power in Palestine
  • Ignored North Korea and allowed its nuclear program to go unchecked
  • Ignored Iran and allowed its nuclear program to go unchecked
  • Did not object in the slightest when "ally" Pakistan gave nuclear secrets to Iran and others then pardoned leaker
  • Instigated culture of torture, created secret prisons for that purpose, defended use of torture
  • Oversaw sending of "suspects" to be tortured in third-party countries
  • Has given multiple massive tax cuts and payoffs to wealthy individuals and to industries while short-changing lower- and middle-class Americans
  • Paid journalists to say good things about him and his programs without disclosing payments
  • Paid Iraqi journalists to report slanted news
  • Lied about whether he'd apply an abortion litmus test to Supreme Court nominees
  • Used taxpayer dollars to pay for ads for his campaign, disguised ads as fake "news reports"
  • Mismanaged US military until stretched so thin it is unable to do anything more
  • Mismanaged US military until recruitment crisis has developed
  • Deliberately withheld true cost of Medicare bill from Congress, threatened job of actuary who wanted to reveal truth
  • Sent thousands of US soldiers to die, tens of thousands to be maimed, then joked about not finding WMD
  • Has sabotaged clean air and water regulations in favor of industry and to the detriment of the environment
  • Underfunded education programs and pushed failed testing policies
  • Slashed funding for welfare, education and housing while allowing record spending on weapons systems, wars, and wealthy people
  • Has consistently suppressed scientific evidence that disagrees with his policies
  • Supported "intelligent design" and pushed for it to be taught equal to evolution in public schools
  • Smeared long list of former administration officials and agents who spoke out against him, including Paul O'Neill, Joseph Smith, Lawrence Lindsay, Anthony Zinni, Eric Shinseki, Richard Foster, John DiIulio, Scott Ritter, Joseph Wilson, and Richard Clarke
  • Has been uniformly hostile to homosexuals and their rights
  • Has consistently attacked the separation of church and state
  • Authorized illegal wiretapping on American citizens
  • Lied about obtaining court warrants for wiretaps before the program was made public
  • Lied excessively about his reasons for authorizing illegal wiretaps
  • Pretended to speak to the American public but closed events and only allowed in supporters even when taxpayer dollars funded events
  • Removed protesters to "free speech zones" far from appearance areas or even travel routes
  • Had protesters arrested on bogus charges even when they just wore T-shirts critical of him
  • Has acted in an unprecedentedly partisan manner in political affairs
  • Under Bush, oil prices have skyrocketed
  • Got more of his judicial nominees approved than almost any modern president, then whined and attacked Democrats for being obstructionist, then re-nominated the ones he couldn't get passed previously
  • Tried to kill off social security
  • Encouraged businesses to move jobs overseas, supporting tax breaks to do so
  • Prohibited Medicare from negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies
  • Has failed to raise the minimum wage, allowing it to fall to absolutely unlivable levels
And let's not forget this golden oldie:
  • Consistently unwilling to admit to having made any mistakes at all
Of course, do you think he cares about all this? My guess is that his response to this cataloging of his incompetence and corruption would be, very much in character, like this actual clip of Bush. It certainly expresses what he thinks of the American people, as evidenced by his treatment of them. And I am certain that Bush supporters don't give a damn either, they are just tickled pink that he's doing half this stuff, and are perfectly willing to look the other way about the other half--I've found it next to impossible to get a Bushie to even acknowledge the least of the malfeasance Bush is guilty of.

So, to those who give half a damn about responsible governance, what did I miss?

Posted by Luis at 01:01 AM | Comments (6)

February 24, 2006

The Abortion Debate

I could have sworn that I'd blogged on this before, but a search does not reveal it. So here goes.

I am pro-choice. Like almost every other person who is pro-choice, I do not favor abortion. As Bill Clinton put it so well, abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. There is a mischaracterization, usually intentional, by the pro-life side that people who are pro-choice are "pro-abortion," hence the epithet. But this is just as if not even more inaccurate than calling a pro-life advocate "anti-choice." Pro-lifers like to characterize pro-choice advocates as people who love to see abortions carried out, and unhappy when a woman chooses to carry her pregnancy to term.

Well beyond these base political smears lies the truth. Being pro-choice has nothing to do with how one feels about abortion. That's the center for the pro-life argument, but not for the pro-choice argument. The two are based upon entirely different foci: the pro-life paradigm centers on whether or not abortion is moral; the pro-choice paradigm pivots on who should make the choice about that morality.

I've always been dissatisfied with Roe v. Wade, not with its effect, but rather with its rationale. The rationale is based upon privacy, with foundations in Griswold v. Connecticut. The idea is that a person has the right to privacy in their medical decisions. Griswold was about whether the state could prohibit contraceptive medicine. The argument against was made claiming that an invasion of a patient's privacy could endanger their health. The Supreme Court agreed, citing "prenumbras" implying privacy rights in the Bill of Rights, as well as the 9th Amendment which guarantees rights not enumerated specifically in the Constitution.

Naturally I agree with the principle wholeheartedly--we should have privacy, and in my mind, we do have the right of privacy, especially in our health care choices. The problem that I have lies in the court using privacy as the central principle of the ruling, when in my opinion the real issue underlies that.

The Roe decision enumerated the stages of pregnancy and the restrictions involved in each trimester. In the first trimester, abortions are allowed generally without restriction; in the second, restrictions may be applied but may not transgress upon the health of the mother; and in the third trimester (or viable stage), the health or life of the mother is the only allowable excuse for an abortion to be carried out.

The question is, how does privacy dictate these three levels of restriction?

It seems to me instead that the divisions in Roe reflected the increasing likelihood of a fetus being a full-fledged human, capable of being 'murdered,' as the pregnancy progresses. It begins with a single fertilized cell which most people would have trouble acknowledging as a murder victim, to a fully-developed fetus at 9 months, ready to be born, which few would say is not a human being. So, for most people, there is a line between those two points at which the fetus crosses that vital threshold--but also for most people, it is questionable exactly where that line exists.

Ergo the divisions in Roe: abortions fully legal in the first trimester, somewhat restricted in the second, and heavily restricted in the third. But, at least to me, this does not reflect a rationale of privacy, but rather a recognition of the decision of where to draw the line of life increasing in difficulty as the fetus develops.

And that, ultimately, comes down to a question of personal beliefs. There is no definite scientific test to demarcate when a person becomes a person. Should it be defined by the heart beginning to beat? If so, why? Does blood flow determine humanity in some way? Should it be defined by viability, the ability of the fetus to survive outside the womb? Not logically--viability is fluid, it changes with medical technology, whereas the establishment of humanity would be an absolute. It's not as if fetuses became human at eight months of development a hundred years ago, but then started developing humanity at six months only recently.

For me, the most plausible line that could be established would be related to higher brain function, the same test we apply to the end of life. That, however, is similarly vague, as such development happens over a long stretch of time. Self-awareness? How could that be tested? In the end, there is no clear scientific test, and even if there is, it is still a matter of personal opinion as to whether that determination truly matters.

This is ultimately a matter of belief. And that belief is rooted in one's views of life, the universe, and everything, to steal a phrase. In other words, it is a spiritual or religious decision. And that clarifies the entire matter for me considerably: the state cannot force a certain religious or spiritual viewpoint on its constituents by statute. You can't make a law that tells people what religious opinion must be followed upon pain of imprisonment. Each person has the right to determine their own stand on the matter. You cannot make a law forcing one to observe the religious determination of when life begins any more than you can make a law forcing people to observe religious doctrines concerning diet, dress, behavior, or worship.

In my mind, this is not nearly as much a matter of privacy as it is a matter of freedom of belief. And that most definitely is guaranteed, specifically, in the Bill of Rights. For me, privacy will act as a surrogate at best; I'll accept it as doing the right thing if not for the most germane reason.

Of course, for people who are pro-life, this is not an issue. They have made the decision that abortion is an absolute wrong; there is no question in their minds, and they generally have no problem with forcing this view on others using statute, or in some cases, any other means to accomplish that goal.

There are those who claim that their objections to choice are completely secular, and have no relation to their religious beliefs. Quite frankly, I don't believe them. It just happens that most of the people making this claim are, by chance, also religious, and also believe that abortion is a wrong by those standards. Like a smoker addicted to nicotine defending the idea that smoking does not cause cancer and using studies funded by tobacco companies as evidence, there is clearly too much bias involved to accept the claim that their religious belief is not at all influencing their "objective" conclusions. With those who are agnostic or atheistic and make the same claim, when pressed, the argument always comes down to the same line-of-life dictated by personal beliefs. There is no proof, and so by definition this is always a demarcation of belief. When it comes to medical matters, could there be any more pertinent issue involving personal religious beliefs than when life begins?

It is up to the individual to make this decision. That, to me, is the definition of choice in reproductive health decisions. And I do not have to favor or even remotely approve of abortion itself to approve wholeheartedly of the principle that each person deserves the right to make that decision free from interference by the state.

Posted by Luis at 02:51 AM | Comments (11)

February 23, 2006

Opponents of Choice Waste No Time

South Dakota is not even waiting for Roberts and Alito to shred Roe v. Wade to pieces; they're outlawing abortion in the state today.

Essentially, the law--which outlaws abortions, even in the case of rape, with only an exception for saving the life (not the health) of the mother--is intended to be a Roe-killer. The intent is for the law to be challenged and brought to the new Bush court as soon as possible so that abortion can be outlawed nationwide.

So, for all of those who pooh-poohed the idea that confirming Alito would be no big deal and that Roe v. Wade was really in no immediate danger, here's a big, giant "I told you so." Not only is Roe on the edge of being eradicated, but the process is proceeding at warp speed. Yesterday, on Alito's first day, the court decided to hear a case which would reverse the court's own 2000 precedent on "partial birth" abortions in a case that could lead to sweeping bans on many types of abortions, and now, the very next day, we've got South Dakota blasting away at Roe at full power. Thank you, Senator Feinstein.

I just realized that I have not written a post that I intended to, one concerning my beliefs on the matter of abortion, the definition of "choice," and what I believe lies at the heart of the abortion debate. For next time....

Posted by Luis at 09:24 AM | Comments (1)

February 22, 2006

On the Spot

A great faux-commercial for Dick Cheney by David Letterman, via Crooks & Liars. Though comedic, it could not be more on the spot than it is. Perfect.

Posted by Luis at 09:24 AM | Comments (0)

Not Even One Day

Well, the Fundie Faction now ruling the Supreme Court due to the spinelessness of Senate Democrats can't seem to wait even one day to start chipping away at Roe v. Wade. Now that they have a majority to start making abortion illegal, they are jumping at the first chance to do so. On Alito's very first day sitting on the court, they--coincidentally, I'm sure--decided to hear a case on the so-called "Partial Birth Abortion Act," to use the common fundamentalist misnomer/epithet for a wide range of procedures.

How is it apparent that this is the new Fundie right-wing alliance on the court swinging things? Because the Supreme Court already ruled on this matter as recently as five years ago, striking down a similar law out of Nebraska in 2000. It was upon that very recent 5-4 precedent that three federal courts ruled this new 2003 law unconstitutional. The 2003 law was designed by Republicans in Congress as an attempt to shoot down to 2000 ruling, almost as if prescient that they would get a new court to look at this, and the timing turned out to be perfect. The new court with Roberts and Alito jumped at the chance, the balance now shifted since Sandra Day O'Connor's tie-breaking vote is one day absent from the bench.

Even though this case, Gonzales v. Carhart, is not one that could, on its merits, fully overturn Roe v. Wade, it could potentially could include a wide range of abortions, not just the more commonly construed "late-term" abortions that are now used as the straw man representation of abortion in general by the pro-life crowd. The case will probably, at least, demonstrate what Roberts and Alito did their best to deny during confirmation--that they were appointed to the bench primarily on their antagonism toward abortion law. Time to start paying off Bush for the favor he did them. And if they act this swiftly to start disassembling the precedent they claimed to respect concerning reproductive rights, it's not hard to imagine that they will try to fully overturn Roe v. Wade and send the country back more than three decades as soon as is humanly possible.

The new law uses terminology vague enough to outlaw not just late-term abortions, but also abortions in the first and second trimester. As a result, if this court overturns the lower courts as well as its own precedent, and approves the Fundie legislation, it could lead to doctors refusing to perform most abortions on the basis of fearing prosecution by a right-wing administration intent on interpreting the law as much to their favor as possible.

But the primary difference between the two laws is that the law that was ruled on in 2000 was struck down on the basis that the "health of the mother" was not included as an exception to the ban on the procedure, technically called "intact dilation and extraction." The 2003 law asserts that it is never medically necessary to use the procedure, though the law also provides for an exception only when the mother's life is at risk--weasel wording to try to get the law around the 2000 ruling while at the same time defying it. The key difference here is that between the mother's "life" and her "health," opening the door for the procedure to be banned if the continued pregnancy would only cause the mother to become a crippled vegetable in childbirth even though the fetus is non-viable.

After all, this is the age of "compassionate conservatism."

Posted by Luis at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

February 21, 2006

Holocaust Denial Laws: The Good and the Bad

British historian David Irving has been sentenced to three years in jail in Austria for denying the Holocaust. This story caught my attention because I had not known that it was a jailable offense, in any country, to disagree with a historical account.

Apparently, in 1989 Irving made two speeches and gave an interview in Austria in which he denied that Jews died in gas chambers at concentration camps during the war, alleging instead that they died of diseases like Typhus. He also claimed that Hitler was not responsible for the Holocaust and even tried to help Jews.

The law against Holocaust denial was created in 1992. I can only suppose that in Austria, one can be tried for crimes committed before the establishment of the law making something a crime.

Irving claimed that in 1991, he started to change his mind about things and did believe that gas chambers were used to kill Jews.

On one hand, the law in question seems like an excellent idea: denying the Holocaust is intrinsically dangerous, as it usually represents an approval of the policies and actions of the Third Reich, an attempt to cover them up, and signals a potential return to those horrors; call it an "enabling" of the most horrific kind of crime imaginable, popularizing the atmosphere in which such crimes were committed. At the very least, it "unlearns" the lessons of that time, making it more likely that the same crimes will be allowed to happen. Ergo the benefit of penalizing the denial, which presents a clear public harm (not to mention the visceral satisfaction of kicking around the rather disagreeable kind that put Hitler up on a pedestal).

On the other hand, such laws would also represent a precedent which goes much too far in the other direction: making it so that a disagreement with official historical accounts a criminal offense. This could easily be expanded to have the reverse effect of the Holocaust Denial laws, and strides directly into the realm of making a point of view illegal. That's where we see that the principle of a free and open society demands that we endure the cost of dangerous ideas, necessitating the will of good people to stand up and protest those ideas--but not the criminalization of any idea. As Aaron Sorkin once wrote, a democracy in which freedom and liberty is guaranteed is advanced citizenship. "It's gonna say, 'You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.'"

Maybe Austria is too scarred to allow such freedom, it's hard for me to say. But the principles of freedom of ideas, and the liberty of a point of view, however repugnant, are principles that are hard to justify breaking. And in the end, if we're going to get where we want to go as a civilization, the people are going to have to want to frown on views like Irving's. It's going to have to come from within, which means that it's better to fight with social commentary, with reason and dogged pursuit of fact, and ultimately with the winning of hearts and minds, breaking our addiction to hatred, vengeance and arrogance--instead of with the extrinsic force of law. Actions can be dealt with by statute, but wills cannot be.

Posted by Luis at 11:23 PM | Comments (2)

February 20, 2006

Finally, My Foot

10WeekshealFinally, my foot is feeling better. Ha! Bet I fooled you with the entry title, didn't I?

After almost three months, my foot is almost good enough to walk on. Good enough to hobble around without crutches, using my heel on the broken foot. As you recall, I broke the fifth metatarsal on my right foot at the beginning of December. Just in time for my vacation and the peak birdwatching season. At least I had a great schedule this semester, Tuesdays and Thursdays only, allowing me to stay home more often--though it would have been great to have actually done something with those days instead of wasting it on recuperating.

The strange thing is, the x-rays don't really seem to show too much improvement. The image at left is not really the best quality and resolution, but it represents the change between early December and about a week ago. See the difference? Me neither. But my doc assures me that he can see healing going on (I do have to admit that the copy they gave me last week was a lot blurrier and both are taken by my digital camera with the x-rays taped to the kitchen window--a lot of detail was lost in the process).

Apparently so much healing, that I could finally chuck my splint and bandage and start wearing my right shoe ("hard shoe," the doc said), and it feels pretty good. I'm going to have to take his word when he tells me I can put weight on the foot again, supposedly a week from now. Five weeks ago, he said it'd heal in "four weeks." Three weeks ago, he said "four weeks." So last week I expected four weeks again, but he said "two weeks." What a nice thing to hear that was. Though maybe I'm getting my hopes up too much and he'll give me another two weeks next week.

All I know is that it's feeling better. Not like I have to baby it so much. And after three months, I can't wait to start using the dang thing again.

Posted by Luis at 10:10 PM | Comments (2)

February 19, 2006

Sugishimaaaaa!

You know that scene from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan where Kirk, in outrage at Khan for abandoning him on a lifeless asteroid, looks up into the camera and shouts, "Khaaaaan!!!"? It's practically become part of the cultural vernacular, with Jon Stewart and others picking up on it. Well, I kind of feel like I have my own Khan, on a much more trivial and whiny scale.

You know how it is when you get a new phone number assigned and the number you get is someone else's that has been out of service for maybe three months? You'd expect to get a few people calling it now and then, but most should have figured it out in those first three months.

Apparently, the guy who had my number before me--Sugishima, how well I have come to know that name--gave that number to several thousand people, or so it would seem, and notified not one of them that he changed his number. For the first six months I had the number, I was getting more than one call a day on average, and even now I get a call for him once every month or so. And it has been more than five years since I got this number.

Yeah, I know. I should have switched the number early on. But a combination of procrastination and wishful thinking made me never get around to it. So I still find myself occasionally setting aside what I'm doing and answering the phone, each time going to effort that this idiot Sugishima sloughed off on the next unlucky schmoe who got his number. It's time like this that I have to remind myself that retribution is unhealthy and immoral, because the thought of getting a thousand people to call his new number asking for my name day and night is so appealing. Kind of like the people who run around the neighborhood blasting noise from their loudspeaker trucks--as is happening this very moment outside my window--when you'd love to get your own loudspeaker truck, follow these people to their homes, and then sit outside all day blasting the latest Hip-hop hits into their windows when they're trying to enjoy a quiet evening at home.

Why is everything fun so wrong?

Posted by Luis at 05:41 PM | Comments (1)

February 18, 2006

Oompa, Inqtana--Any Real Threat?

Well, it certainly seems like someone has been quite the busy beaver recently. Not even a day after the big alarm about the "Oompa" (alternately called "Leap-A") trojan, and already a second piece of Mac malware has surfaced. This one is apparently a worm designed to use Bluetooth to spread itself, but like Oompa, is harmless, and even has a February self-destruct date. Both Oompa and the new malware, titled Inqtana-A, are "proof of concept" malware, meaning that they are just there to see if they can work, and are not intended to do any real damage.

In fact, the Inqtana worm exploits a vulnerability that was patched by Apple eight months ago, so it will only affect you if you don't have your Software Update turned on, and are still using OS X v. 10.3. Otherwise, Inqtana can't touch you even if it were loose "in the wild"--which it is not.

So here's the question: do these two pieces of malware mean that the Mac is no longer "malware-free"? That's kind of hard to say. The Mac has had a few "first" malwares, including the rootkit hack called "Opener" about a year ago. So technically, there is malware out there for the Mac. On the other hand, none of it is anything that you are remotely likely to get. Both the Opener and the recent Oompa trojan trigger the administrative password protection, making it unlikely that they would ever get spread; Inqtana also prompts the user for acceptance, making it much less likely to spread. The "Opener" hack was never seen in the wild, and the Oompa trojan probably didn't get past the first or maybe second generation of iteration, due to Apple's security measures. The new Inqtana would only affect non-updated Macs, and most Mac users update--and even then, it doesn't spread very well and will self-destruct soon.

All three of these are proof-of-concept and not intended to actually cause harm. All they do is make clear that malware can infect a Mac--which is something we've all known from the start. None will be infecting your computer. So from that perspective, the Mac can still be said to be malware-free (with zero viruses, even in proof-of-concept form).

But the release of Oompa and Inqtana within just a few days of each other does show that something is going on. Possibly it is one hacker churning this out. Or possibly the Inqtana hacker released their malware-in-progress when they saw reports of Oompa. Possibly Inqtana was out there and was only noticed after the Oompa publicity. Or maybe it's simply a coincidence, with one or perhaps both pieces of malware being out there for some time and just being discovered at about the same time.

Conclusion: you don't need anti-virus software for your Mac--yet. But you should keep an eye on Mac security news (maybe add "Mac virus" to your configurable Google News page), because eventually there will be Mac malware, it's just a question of when.

Does this mean that the Mac is no longer more secure than Windows? Well, consider that Windows malware numbers around 60,000, and that the Mac's security is still intrinsically better than Windows. Even if a hundred actual and harmful Mac viruses were to be released tomorrow, the Mac would still be safer than Windows.

Posted by Luis at 01:21 PM | Comments (2)

February 17, 2006

First Mac OS X "Virus"? Not Quite...

A lot of noise is being generated by web news sites clamoring about the "first virus" discovered that attacks OS X. A closer look at the stories, however, reveals that the alarm is coming from a company that wants to sell Mac-based anti-virus software or services--something we've seen before, unreliable because they have a vested interest in scaring people into buying what they are selling.

An even closer look shows that this "virus" or "worm" is nothing but a very ineffective trojan horse. It is not a virus. First of all, it is not self-propagating, despite claims in the media; it requires active, two-step user intervention--no, user authentication--to set it off. Second, the user authentication must be highly ignorant: the file is supposed to be an image, but when you double-click on it, it asks for your administrative password, which any Mac user of more than one week would instantly recognize as system-level event. Such a ruse is immediately obvious--a photo never requires a password, certainly not your password, a password that then opens up access to your operating system. If you've used a Mac and installed anything at all, you recognize the password as necessary to install software or gain access to the inner workings of your computer, something a photo should not be doing. The security company ringing the alarms calls "ridiculous" the point that user authentication is required: "Many PC viruses needed user interaction to set off infection, he pointed out, and this was no different." Baloney. This one requires an administrative password, not just a double-click on a file. Not even close to being the same thing.

So, yes, if a person is stupid enough to then enter their password, then--shock!--their system is compromised. But this is less a case of malware than it is of extreme user gullibility. I mean, I could direct any computer user to delete their system files or initialize their hard disk, and if they're naive enough, they would do it. Does that constitute a "virus" or any weakness of the OS? Hell no. It means the user is not too bright. And to propagate, it would require a string of dumb users to contribute their security passwords to pass it on each and every time. Not too bloody likely. Such a trojan horse could never propagate very far at all.

Compare this to Windows, where double-clicking on a virus file immediately infects the machine, without asking for verification. That's one big difference between the two systems; one gives you due warning and requires your willing assistance, whereas the other one allows you to be easily taken in unless you are very careful or knowledgeable. Anyone might try to open an image file, and on Windows, that'd be enough to infect the computer. How many would open an image file and then actively type in a password that allows access to their operating system?

An analogy to better understand might be an intruder at your door. You hear someone at the door, and have no peephole; you simply open the door and the intruder barges in and ransacks your house. That's Windows. On the Mac, you hear someone at the door, and there is a peephole; you see that it's someone dressed in a ski mask, poised to break in. If you then decide to open the door, it's your own damned fault.

Apple could "plug" this "hole" simply by adding text to the password dialog box: "You have opened an application which could access your system resources and cause damage. If you did not double-click an application, or do not fully trust the source of this software, then do not enter your password." Problem solved.

A final point: I can't find any story on the issue which even describes any damage done by the file--many even reported that the trojan even failed to execute properly. Meh. Some threat. As I've always held, the Mac is not invulnerable--but it does have good security, which, if anything, this whole episode proves.

Posted by Luis at 03:04 AM | Comments (2)

February 16, 2006

Funny Bit

Check out this "unfair edit" from Letterman on Cheney (Flash video). Hilarious.

Posted by Luis at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)

Slowly Coming Out... Cheney Did Drink

The story is coming out in dribbles, but it's coming out: Cheney had been drinking before he shot Whittington.

The first leak came when ranch owner Katherine Armstrong, who initially claimed there was no alcohol, let slip later that there was beer, but she didn't know anything about it. The comment appeared on the MSNBC web site, and was soon mysteriously erased from the site, in a move that MSNBC still has not explained (that darned liberal media!). But the damage was done, the beans were spilled.

Then, when Cheney finally made a public statement--cowardly enough, not by a general press conference, but by talking to pal Brit Hume on the "F-word network" (Jack Cafferty's phrasing), where he was sure to be treated with kid gloves. In that interview, he fessed up to drinking (sort of), but attempted to blunt the sting of the fact by claiming it was hours before the incident, and then he kind of denied that there had been drinking.

However, so far Cheney and the White House have lied about and attempted to play down just about everything about this incident, so there's little doubt that Cheney is still not giving us the whole truth here. It has also been pointed out that Cheney's meds may have also played a factor, amplifying the effect of alcohol.

One thing for certain: the reason for Cheney hiding from the police and the press and withholding the story until the next day becomes far less a mystery and far more a certainty.

So the question now is, where will it go from here? If Whittington dies, what will happen? One thing I can say with confidence, Cheney will never spend a day in jail. And the irony of all of this is that this is no doubt one of Cheney's lesser misdeeds. But hey, whatever rings the bell.

Update: Cheney "accepts blame" and Bush is "satisfied" with it. Well, I'm glad that that's all settled. Now we can ignore it and let Cheney get off scot free.

Posted by Luis at 08:49 AM | Comments (3)

The Futility of SETI

I am very much a fan of science, as well as science fiction. I am pretty certain that other life and civilizations exist out there, and am quite keen on the concept of contacting that life.

That said, I don't think SETI will ever accomplish anything. Here's why.

Imagine there is a tribe of primitive people on a remote and small archipelago in the south Pacific (where these imaginary tribesmen are usually located), who have never encountered anyone else in the world. They are way off of sea and air traffic lanes, so they have never even seen any evidence of others living on Earth. They do know the Earth is curved (they see boats going to their most distant island disappear over the horizon) and vast, and they wonder: are there any other people, any other tribes out there?

So they send their smartest people off to try to contact others using the most sophisticated communications technology they possess. These big brains climb the tallest mountain in the island chain, start a fire, and begin sending up smoke signals. The communications team figures that if anyone exists out beyond that horizon, surely they will see the signals, and if they do, they will reply in kind. The intrepid team spends weeks up on the mountain, sending signals and keeping a keen and vigilant watch on all horizons for any reply.

Eventually, after receiving no answers to their many signals, they decide to pack it in. Either there is no one else out there, or they aren't watching for smoke signals, or they aren't advanced enough to understand or send them, or they just don't care to reply. Regardless of which is true, they cannot find any evidence of life out there.

And as they walk down the mountain in resignation, they are completely unaware that at that instant, countless radio signals from dozens of highly advanced civilizations on Earth are coursing through the very space they occupy.

In this analogy, we are the tribesmen.

It has always surprised me that this probable truth is never discussed, that I have encountered at least, in public discourse about the search for intelligent life in the universe. No one seems to consider or at least speak aloud the most likely case that alien signals abound around us--but we simply don't have the technology to pick them up.

Think of the scientific arrogance: we are supposed to assume that the long-range communications technology we possess--electromagnetic radiation signaling--is somehow the ultimate in scientific achievement. Here we are, just beginning our scientific development, still without a unified field theory on how the universe works, and yet the technology we developed just a hundred years ago--the blink of an eye by cosmological standards, and just the very beginning of what is likely a long technological evolution--is the end-all-be-all of cosmic telephony. I find the idea highly unlikely. You might say that there is no better conceivable technology than radio to communicate--but I'm sure that what was thought of the last best way to talk before radio technology was developed.

I have little doubt that decades, centuries, or even millennia in the future, we will discover if not one, then many more advanced stages of communications technology, and when that time comes, we'll discover why things seem so silent in the universe when we listen just with radio telescopes.

Posted by Luis at 01:13 AM | Comments (4)

February 15, 2006

Was Cheney Drunk?

As I said from the outset, there's a lot about this incident that's suspicious. My initial blog entry title of "CheneyquidDick" may have been quite apt; this may have been a similar incident, in important ways.

First off, at 6:30 pm, the vice president shoots a man in the face, neck and chest in rather blatant violation of hunting safety rules. That's bad enough right there.

But then everyone who speaks for him covers up: they claim that it was Whittington's fault; it wasn't, it was very clearly Cheney's. Second, they claim that the "peppering" was so light as to be negligible; it was not. Whittington was admitted to intensive care, where he stayed for a day, then had to be readmitted a day after being taken out of ICU because a shotgun pellet migrated to his heart and caused a minor attack. Sorry, but it's hard to see a light peppering leading to a lead pellet half a centimeter wide being lodged in the man's heart. Third, they claim he was properly licensed when he was not. Fourth, they claim that the incident was not reported because apparently everyone involved was so busy getting the man medical care that no one could spare five minutes over the course of twenty hours to give a simple accounting of what happened. That's complete and utter bull, of course. They were within a stone's throw of a car; why not drive the man to a hospital, especially with such "light" wounds? Instead, it's almost an hour before an ambulance can take Whittington to the hospital.

Lies all around, covering up for Cheney. Here's one small rule of thumb: if everyone is covering up, then there is something to cover up.

But the big point that I see here is not just the delay in reporting the incident; the big deal is rather the reason why there was a delay. The fact is, there is no good explanation for a delay--it simply makes no sense. You know that the story is going to come out. There's no avoiding that. So why delay?

Another piece of the puzzle involves the fact that Cheney avoided talking to the police until the next day. It was 80 minutes before the Secret Service finally called the police; the sheriff asked to speak to Cheney, but an appointment was made for the next morning at 9:00 am. Why? Somehow the sheriff cannot come to the ranch at 8:00 pm? Deputies came to the ranch shortly thereafter, and the Secret Service initially reported that they wanted to interview Cheney. That story was later changed, and they denied that the police came to interview Cheney. And where was Cheney during all this? Having dinner, apparently so engaged in being "focused on Whittington's well being" that they still were unable to make a phone call to the White House to tell them what had happened. Then they all went to bed, leaving the White House in the dark about the incident until 6 am the following morning when they finally find out that Cheney was the shooter.

Sorry, but that is the biggest sack of bullshit I have ever heard.

There is one explanation that makes sense of all of this: Cheney was drunk. It explains why they refused to speak to law enforcement. It explains why they needed to wait until morning to release the story. It explain why Cheney, an experienced hunter who should know safety rules up and down, made such an amateurish blunder in shooting someone. It explains why the White House is in full lie-about-everything denial mode. Even the chief deputy of the local police was in denial for Cheney: "There was no alcohol or misconduct," he told the press. But how could he make that claim when his department was denied access to Cheney for 14 hours after the incident took place?

That Cheney was drunk is, in short, the only explanation that makes any sense.

Nevertheless, we will never see proof. That's the reason for the delay and for putting off talking to the police. Now Cheney can face the police without his drinking being apparent. The only witnesses were his Secret Service detail, which will never tell, and high-powered Republican backers, who will also keep their mouths shut. There was no avoiding looking suspicious as hell, but the result is that there are only suspicions, and no proof.

But the circumstances are in themselves evidence that things did not happen as they are being described, and the lack of any reasonable explanation leaves the rest of us no choice but to believe the only reasonable explanation which fits the facts. And Cheney, with two drunk driving convictions from when he was young and no history of cleaning up, certainly is not above suspicion for such behavior.

Update: DailyKos is now reporting that Katherine Armstrong, owner of the ranch where the incident occurred, did report to MSNBC that people in the shooting party had been drinking, but that comment was scrubbed from the MSNBC web site.
Who knows, maybe that would help explain his other discretions. This is not the first time Cheney has been caught hunting illegally, for example; according to the Times Online, Cheney "had also been caught fishing out of season. 'The $25 fine was not the worst part,' he commented later. 'They took my fucking fish.'"

Posted by Luis at 04:34 PM | Comments (3)

February 14, 2006

The Right-Wing Media

Yet another nail in the coffin of the long-time myth about the "liberal" media. That term first came into use when a conservative survey showed that about 60% of television journalists voted Democratic, even though it did not do anything to identify those journalists' reporting as being slanted in any way. It also did not mention that fully two-thirds of all editors and publishers are conservative, and that editors and publishers, not journalists, control the political leaning of news stories and of the news outlet in general. But the myth was established, and was pounded home by the pundits, who as time went on came to have more and more of a voice in the media--and who have always been, by a vast majority, right wing, not to mention far more vitriolic and outspoken in their conservative bias.

A recent study has given more credence to this, identifying the "ideologically identifiable guests on the Sunday shows," these shows being considered political bellwethers. The study (methodology here) shows that conservatives have outnumbered liberals on the shows since the Clinton years, and now make up nearly 60% of the speakers on the shows. A more detailed look at the data (pdf file) shows that even where left-wing guests were more prominent in the second Clinton term, that ration switched to a much greater prominence of right-wing guests in Bush's term, often three times as wide a gap in favor of conservatives. And just before the war in Iraq, almost all guests are among those who approved of the war--those who voiced opposition were not asked to be on the show. While the source is biased, the data is right out there and the methodology is sound--and at the very least, this study is no less biased than the study that launched the entire "liberal media" myth in the first place.

It isn't hard to see the right-wing bias in the media. Whereas the old right-wing claim of liberal bias was always based on an abstract and never on actual observable evidence, the right-wing bias that permeates the media now is clear both statistically and observationally. Quick test: see how many right-wing pundits you can name. Write them down on a piece of paper. Then in a new column, write down all the left-wing pundits you can think of. Unless you consciously avoid watching or thinking about right-wing commentators, the right-wing list will be much longer then the left-wing list.

Posted by Luis at 10:25 PM | Comments (0)

Additional Cheney Update

Turns out Cheney did not, after all, have a proper hunting license, contrary to White House claims. He had a license, but he did not get the necessary certification to hunt "upland game birds" such as quail. He'll be given a "warning citation" for the infraction.

No word in the press if he had bought the necessary stamp for hunting Republican donors.

Update to the update: Cheney has been cleared of "wrongdoing" by law enforcement. Big surprise. Can you imagine what would have happened if it was some regular Joe Schmoe who went hunting without the correct license and then ignored basic safety rules and shot his buddy in the face? You think he would have been cleared of "wrongdoing" without so much as a small fine? Hell, I bet they won't even make him pay the $7 upland game bird stamp retroactively. The arrogance of these Bush people is amazing, in how they apparently deeply believe that the rules just don't apply to them--an arrogance which is only upheld by the fact that they can indeed get away with it.

Posted by Luis at 01:36 PM | Comments (1)

February 13, 2006

CheneyquidDick?

There's something strange going on in the story about Vice President Dick Cheney shooting a 78-year-old lawyer in the neck and chest with a shotgun. The strangeness is in the many odd details about the story.

First, there are an awful lot of denials coming out. Although the lawyer, Harry Whittington, is a prominent Republican, an appointee of then-governor Bush, and contributed the maximum amount to Bush and Cheney in 2004, the point was made that Whittington was not Cheney's guest and it was not known if Cheney had ever met him before.

Next, this kind of accident is being called "frequent, but not often," as well as "going with the territory," as if it were a quite normal and expected thing in quail hunting, and yet it was stressed that it was not Cheney's fault. Whittington, instead, was blamed for coming up behind Cheney without announcing himself. Happens all the time and there's nothing to it, and it was the other guy's fault.

Update: after checking with hunters, Josh Marshall confirmed that what happened with Cheney is never the 'other guy's' fault. The shooter must always be aware of where he is shooting, must always be cautious not to shoot in the direction of others. Cheney left a hunting partner behind, and then turned around 180 degrees and shot in that direction. His fault. But his chief advisor, the nutty lady I blogged on the other day, claimed that Cheney "was not careless or incautious or violate any of the [rules]. He didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do."

Still not sure? How about this from Texas' own "Shooting Safety Rules": Know your safe zone-of-fire and stick to it. -- Your safe zone-of-fire is that area or direction in which you can safely fire a shot. It is "down range" at a shooting facility. In the field it is that mental image you draw in your mind with every step you take. Be sure you know where your companions are at all times. Never swing your gun or bow out of your safe zone-of-fire. Know the safe carries when there are persons to your sides, in front of, or behind you. If in doubt, never take a shot. When hunting, wear daylight fluorescent orange so you can be seen from a distance or in heavy cover.

Now Paul Begala, who knows quite a bit about hunting, chimes in.
Furthermore, although the wounds were described as being hardly anything worth noting, Whittington remains in the intensive care unit a full day after the shooting took place. This sounds just a little bit like it's being played down.

Editor & Publisher asks some questions about all that. First, they point out that despite the explanation that such accidents occur "frequently," only 30 or so shooting accidents happen in Texas each year, a state with one million hunters.

But chief among concerns is the fact that neither Cheney nor the White House reported the incident, nor did it seem like they intended to. Law enforcement was not notified. Almost a day went by before a local reporter with a strong relationship to the owner of the ranch where it happened picked up on the story. He then called Cheney's office, which confirmed the story. Cheney's office knew about it, but could not say that they had any plans to release the information on their own.

So how could it be that the vice president shoots a man and there is no intention to report it?

One thing is for certain: the late-night comedians will take this one to the bank. I've already heard one quip through family: "I won't object to Cheney taking Scalia duck hunting anymore." This mock story appeared already in The Huffington Post.

Update: More lame excuses. Scott McClellan is now handing out some new whoppers about why the White House held back the story. "McClellan insisted that the vice president's and his staff's overriding concern after the shooting was getting Whittington proper medical care." Baloney. That would involve calling an ambulance and making sure the best doctor was called in, which would take no more than an hour, with plenty of time to call the White House. Hell, the secret service could take care of informing the White House while Cheney took care of his friend. In any case, why should such trouble be needed to assign "proper medical care" if the wound was so light as they claimed? Can't have it both ways.

Another whopper: "The initial report that we received was that there had been a hunting accident. We didn't know who all was involved, but a member of his party was involved in that hunting accident, and then additional details continued to come in overnight." As if somehow one phone call of ten minutes from Cheney or one of his agents wouldn't be enough to explain it all. One hour after the incident, everything should have been known and communicated. One whole day was hardly necessary, and it was clear that the White House had no intention of releasing this on their own.

Also interesting, but more a side point, is the identity of the man who was shot: Whittington was the man Bush appointed to be commissioner of Texas' Funeral Service Commission in 1999. That was when Bush fired Eliza May for doing her job and going after fraud in the funeral home industry. Before May was in charge of the commission, cronyism and corruption were rampant in the industry. May was different, and had started investigating a firm called SCI, who were big Bush backers. They went to Bush's chief of staff Joe Allbaugh (a Bush crony whom Bush later appointed to head FEMA before Michael Brown), and before May could finish her investigations, she was fired by Bush, who appointed Whittington, who then backed off the investigation.

Eliza filed a whistleblower lawsuit in which Bush was then subpoenaed; to get out of having to testify and likely perjure himself massively, Bush signed an affidavit under oath which swore that he never spoke with anyone involved in the case. It later surfaced that Bush had had two such conversations. Bush had lied under oath, an offense Republicans felt was impeachable when Clinton did it. But in Bush's case, no one seemed to notice or care as Bush then ran for president.

As I said, not directly relevant to Cheney shooting the guy. But it is interesting how often one stumbles over connections to lawbreaking and corruption in Bush's past--stuff people never heard about from the "liberal" media--whenever stuff like this comes up.

Posted by Luis at 07:04 PM | Comments (6)

February 12, 2006

Playing with What?

I've written here before about the Yomiuri Newspaper's long history of trying to popularize a rewriting of the Japanese Constitution to allow Japan to reclaim war powers. So this news story about the Yomiuri news baron Tsuneo Watanabe caught me a bit off guard:

Mr. Watanabe, now nearly 80 years old, has stepped into the light. He has recently granted long, soul-baring interviews in which he has questioned the rising nationalism he has cultivated so assiduously in the pages of his newspaper, the conservative Yomiuri — the world's largest, with a circulation of 14 million. Now, he talks about the need to acknowledge Japan's violent wartime history and reflects on his wife's illness and his own, as well as the joys of playing with his new hamsters.
Now, the idea that this guy would question Japan's rising nationalism was quite a shocker. But the revelation about hamsters is... well, stunning, I suppose. Almost jarring in juxtaposition to the serious issues at hand. You've got to admit, when you reach that last word, you kind of look at it again in a mental double-take, and wonder if you read it right. Could the turn against nationalism and the hamsters be somehow related? Did the hamsters speak to him and convince him to change his mind? Or is he just becoming kind of soft and fuzzy in his old age?

It's kind of difficult to reconcile this man's long effort to revise the Constitution to allow for wartime powers with his present turn to blunt Japanese nationalism. Watanabe is now openly criticizing Prime Minister Koizumi for not understanding the controversy over his official visits to the nationalist Yasukuni Shrine:

"This person Koizumi doesn't know history or philosophy, doesn't study, doesn't have any culture. That's why he says stupid things, like, 'What's wrong about worshiping at Yasukuni?' Or, 'China and Korea are the only countries that criticize Yasukuni.' This stems from his ignorance."
Watanabe also criticized the romanticization of kamikaze pilots and other young Japanese men sent out to war:
"It's all a lie that they left filled with braveness and joy, crying, 'Long live the emperor!' " he said, angrily. "They were sheep at a slaughterhouse. Everybody was looking down and tottering. Some were unable to stand up and were carried and pushed into the plane by maintenance soldiers."
So Mr. Watanabe is going to have his newspaper publish a yearlong series of articles on the events of World War II. Which should be quite something, considering the Yomiuri's history.

Let's hope that those hamsters keep on encouraging him in this new direction.

Posted by Luis at 02:54 AM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2006

What Does It Take?

Some former Bushites are turning, or so it seems. First, we've got the Michael "Heckuva-job Brownie" Brown, who is testifying that the Bush administration did, in fact, know the levees broke the day Katrina hit, and not the day after, as the Bush administration has been claiming. Of course, we all knew this already--there were more than a few dozen such reports. But in today's age of Anything-Goes-for-Bush right-wing media, apparently we need a notarized confession from a high-level Bush administration official before the media starts to stir around and get serious.

Brown, in fact, said under oath that administration claims to not being notified are "just baloney" and "a little disingenuous." And so now the media is gasping, as if we didn't know this already, and that somehow this is more serious than everything else Bush did during Katrina and its aftermath.

But there's more, this time from the Scooter Libby case. Apparently unwilling to take the fall alone, he is testifying to a grand jury that he had been "authorized" by Dick Cheney and other White House "superiors" in 2003 to dish out classified information to the media in defense of the Iraq War. It is still not clear whether this is a serious indictment of the Bush administration, or if it's a defense tactic where he can blame the White House and they can blame him, and so long as they shredded all the documents, reasonable doubt can be introduced. We'll have to see. This does follow the "notarized confession from a high-level Bush administration official" standard, but apparently the media needs more than just that to get interested in the Plame case any more, as they're fairly quiet on this story.

Not to mention that prosecutor Fitzgerald has revealed that there was a PDB, or Presidential Daily Briefing, which told Bush that Wilson had debunked the Niger story--this coming well before Bush claimed the story true in his State of the Union address. This after the Bush administration has vehemently and repeatedly denied that anyone in the White House ever heard of the Wilson report--after all, if they had, then the SOTU reference to Nigeria would have been a knowing lie. And that's what we're learning was exactly the case, though now it may actually be documented. Which, apparently, will be only one of the dozen or so different iron-clad proofs of the fact necessary to stoke the media's interest in the story. Unless they can find out that Scooter gave Dick Cheney a blow job, which would be far more important, and they would immediately jump all over it.

Posted by Luis at 11:27 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2006

Who's the Racist?

I'll bet you that some conservatives think that black people are not discriminated against, in fact are doing pretty well, but they are enslaved by racist civil rights leaders.

But no right-winger would ever say that. I mean, you'd sound like a real loon if you said something stupid like that.

Man. You know, I could not make stuff like this up.

Posted by Luis at 09:13 PM | Comments (2)

Lies About L.A.

Oh, please.

First off, Bush uses his tried-and-true lying technique here, alleging, hinting and implying that his illegal surveillance program was responsible for stopping the terrorist "plot" to fly into the U.S. Bank (a.k.a. "Library," not "Liberty") Tower--while if you read the fine print, you'll see that he refused to say it directly. That's the exact same technique he used to implicate Saddam Hussein in 9/11, not by saying it directly but by making everyone think that's what he's saying without actually saying it.

An even closer reading will reveal that there is not even any proof that the "plot" was real--apparently, the suspects are still "in custody," which is strange because it was four years ago and it seems that no one has been convicted yet.

But the strongest proof is that we are just now hearing about it. If this "plot" were in any way some kind of threat, Bush would have announced it back in 2002 in time for midterm elections, in 2004 for his re-election, or at some other time--if not immediately. Think about it: there is no reason whatsoever to keep it a secret. Al Qaeda certainly would have known the "plot" was foiled. We've been told of other apparent plots almost as soon as they happen.

No, the only reading that makes sense here is that the L.A. "plot" was so weak, so thin, and so indistinct that it was not even worth mentioning until Bush needed something to justify his surveillance program--which, from what we can tell, was not even connected this this at all. But Bush needs something that will catch attention, something that will make him and his lawbreaking look effective, so they searched for even the most nebulous possible "plots," dusted one off, and trumped it up so everyone would get scared all over again and believe that surrendering their civil rights is the only thing keeping them safe from attack.

As if to punctuate the ludicrous nature of these claims in a ham-handed attempt to scare the American people, Fox News cartoonishly replayed the scene from the movie Independence Day where aliens blew up the U.S. Bank Tower. All they needed was to have Bill O'Reilly come on right after that, hands reaching toward the camera, shouting, "Booga Booga Boooooga!!!"

As has always happened when Bush lies like this, the quiet truths get squelched in the loud static of spectacular lies that Bush heaves forward by the truckload.

Posted by Luis at 12:36 PM | Comments (1)

February 09, 2006

SOTU: Same Old, Tired, Untrue Speech (Part Two)

Okay, I've recovered enough from wading through the first part of the speech, enough to come back and stomach what's left.

Our economy is healthy and vigorous, and growing faster than other major industrialized nations. In the last two-and-a-half years, America has created 4.6 million new jobs -- more than Japan and the European Union combined.
This statement is misleading in many ways. First of all, it's selective editing. Bush only mentions job growth since jobs started growing, and 'forgot' to mention the first three years when jobs were consistently lost. Over Bush's whole presidency, job growth was only 2.1 million jobs, or an average 35,000 per month--anemic at best. Also, compared to recovery in jobs after the start of a recession, this is the slowest "recovery" in the past half century, by a very large margin. Bill Clinton added 22 million jobs in eight years--even taking Bush's claim of 4.6 million new jobs, he's got just two more years to create 17.4 million more jobs and he'll be even. Think he'll do it?

Second, the type of jobs Bush has been creating has been dramatically different. Under Bush, we've seen job growth in lower-paying, benefit-poor employment--hardly "vigorous." Under Clinton, there were a lot more well-paying jobs created; under Bush, most Americans have been sliding down to poorer and poorer levels.

And third, the comparison he made about other countries was bogus, relying on chance and statistics more than actual economic performance. It does not factor in population growth in America versus decline in Europe in Japan; it takes advantage of a temporary slump in Europe, as well as the effects of a long-term recession in Japan. Saying that you're doing better than two other poor performers at a bad time is not an impressive claim.

In short, Bush is using smoke and mirrors to paint a rosier picture than exists, but you can hardly expect him to admit to failure, can you?

In the last five years, the tax relief you passed has left $880 billion in the hands of American workers, investors, small businesses and families. And they have used it to help produce more than four years of uninterrupted economic growth.
Oh, please. As if the economy has been going strong for four years. And let's try not to pretend as if none of the tax cuts went to the wealthy. Most of them went to the rich, and what small portion went to the "little guys" Bush is acting like he champions, was taken back in a tax shell game, and in other forms such as slashed services and entitlements. And let's also not forget that what benefits may have come from the tax cuts has been more than offset by the damage done by the far more massive budget deficits.
If we do nothing, American families will face a massive tax increase they do not expect and will not welcome. Because America needs more than a temporary expansion, we need more than temporary tax relief. I urge the Congress to act responsibly and make the tax cuts permanent.
If Bush is suggesting that only tax relief for the average mom-and-pop Americans he pretends he fights for here, and not for, say, anyone making more than a million dollars a year, then great. But you know that the vast bulk of the tax cuts he wants to make permanent are on the millionaires' side.
Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of nonsecurity discretionary spending. And last year you passed bills that cut this spending.
Boy, you'd think Bush was a real budget-slasher from this statement, wouldn't you? Except when you look real close, you'll see that he's serving up yet another line of misleading BS. First, "nonsecurity discretionary spending" accounts only for 16% of the total budget; and you'll note that he said that he's reduced growth, not stopped growth or reduced the total. And by how much? Well, over the past five years, that spending has dropped by a whole one-tenth of one percent! Wow!

But it's the other 84% that's killing us, as Bush's total spending has increased 42% over the past five years. And hey, let's not forget that the deficit will increase by more than $50 billion this year. What a great job he's doing!

I am pleased that the members of Congress are working on earmark reform, because the federal budget has too many special interest projects. And we can tackle this problem together, if you pass the line-item veto.
This is one of those moments where you have to wonder if Bush's speech writers are completely insane. First of all, Bush has never vetoed a single bill. Not one. Hasn't used the veto stamp at all, while his Republican colleagues have been on an orgy of pork-barrel spending.

Second, there's the tiny little detail that the Supreme Court ruled the line-item veto unconstitutional in 1998. But then, Bush doesn't seem to care much about the Constitution, does he?

So tonight I ask you to join me in creating a commission to examine the full impact of baby boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

This commission should include members of Congress of both parties and offer bipartisan solutions. We need to put aside partisan politics and work together and get this problem solved.

Except that although Bush has talked about bipartisanship from day one, he never practices it. And he proved that just a few days after the State of the Union address, by quietly sneaking in his plan to privatize social security--after Congress decidedly killed it last year due to the diligence of the Democrats.

And of course, after Bush's consistent and heavily partisan efforts to weaken or outright kill all three of those programs, a call to try to "solve" the problems in a "bipartisan" way rings so hollow that one would have to laugh aloud--until one remembers what pain and suffering Bush's efforts would lead to if successful.

Holy cow. Is there still one third of his speech left? And I'm only going over the highlights. I can't take any more of this tonight. I'll have to see if I can finish this off in one more go at a later time. And I haven't even gotten to Bush's priceless "Manimal" bit yet!

Posted by Luis at 10:55 PM | Comments (4)

February 08, 2006

How Dare They

How dare they, conservatives are ranting. How dare those Democrats, of all things, of all places, of all times, how dare they mention political issues at Coretta Scott King's funeral! What scum! How irreverent! Whatever happened to civility and good taste? Those Democrats have no class! Rant! Rant! Rant!

This is an interesting phenomenon, one which started at Paul Wellstone's funeral, and which you can bet the conservatives were just waiting to pounce on here again. Apparently, when a prestigious liberal leader, an important figure in the progressive movement passes away, Democrats are strictly forbidden to mention anything to do with that person's politics at their memorial, else the conservatives get all condescending and attack them for having no respect for the dead.

Sorry, but what a stupid stance to take. Coretta Scott King made it her life's work, like her husband, to fight for civil rights. So how dare those nasty Democrats have the gall to go and mention civil rights at her funeral! She spent decades fighting injustices, so how dare those opportunistic Democrats actually talk about those injustices at the memorial service!

The answer is obvious: that's what her life was about. That's what she dedicated herself to, right up to the end. It was fully and greatly appropriate to memorialize her death by saying the things that she would want to have said, to celebrate her causes, to point out the lessons she wanted us to learn.

The real snub, the absolute disservice and disrespect, would have been to silence the voice of this great woman just so George W. Bush wouldn't be embarrassed by how badly he has done by her dedication and her causes.

Not to mention that in taking on this Democrats-have-no-class attitude, conservatives are being royal hypocrites. Let us not forget the fact that when Reagan died, conservatives held a one-week orgy of politicization.

So if you're a conservative and you're offended by what Reverend Joseph Lowery said about weapons of misdirection, then chill out. If you respect Mrs. King, then you will respect the messages she stood for. If those messages make you uncomfortable, then maybe you should sit down and think for a minute about why that is. That would be a respectful memorial.

Update: What's more, the so-called "liberal" media buys into the conservative view full-blast--when the Reagan binge was going on, the media didn't question it, but with the King funeral, you see stories like this all over the place. Truly a double standard, and often a vicious one at that.

Posted by Luis at 11:52 PM | Comments (1)

February 07, 2006

An Interesting Measure of Progress

To the Wayback Machine, Sherman!

2004: Bush proposes a $2.3 trillion budget and vows to cut the deficit in half by 2009.

2006: Bush proposes a $2.8 trillion budget and vows to cut the deficit in half by 2009.

Care to predict what Bush will be saying in 2008?

Posted by Luis at 09:01 AM | Comments (4)

Internal Clock

For what must have been the third time this week, I sprang up awake, thinking I had outslept my clock alarms and it was late for me to go to work--and then one minute later, my first alarm of the morning goes off.

So I have an accurate internal clock in my brain, and it's precise enough to wake me up at an exact time. So why can't it let me know that it's waking me up on time instead of making me think I'm late?

Posted by Luis at 07:53 AM | Comments (3)

February 06, 2006

Preferred Spam

Kevin Drum seems think think that AOL and Yahoo's "Goodmail" system might be a good thing; as reported by the New York Times:

America Online and Yahoo, two of the world's largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered. The senders must promise to contact only people who have agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely.

The Internet companies say that this will help them identify legitimate mail and cut down on junk e-mail, identity-theft scams and other scourges that plague users of their services. They also stand to earn millions of dollars a year from the system if it is widely adopted.

In essence, this will simply create a new class of approved spam that will appear in your mailbox, creating only a nuisance to you, increased costs to businesses you need to hear from (e.g., receipt confirmations from Amazon.com and such firms you deal with), and profits for your web service providers. I see it as little different from the recent push by telecoms to charge Internet companies for bandwidth--just another profit-taking scheme by those who control the highways of the Internet.

It will also violate the Net Neutrality policy that has so far served as well as could be expected on the net. As for the safeguard of only approving email users have "agreed to receive," that's highly dubious at best. How will that be verified? What constitutes "agreement"? With AOL and Yahoo set only to profit from wider use, it is doubtful that spammers will often be blocked for abusing this; it is likely that the inclusion of an "opt-out" clause alone will qualify as "approved" spam.

This is not a solution, it's a business opportunity for AOL and Yahoo to cash in on the spam business at your expense.

Posted by Luis at 09:34 AM | Comments (0)

Shorts

This guy does really good Bush and Clinton impersonations.

A green Bush hack is giving orders to NASA scientists to devalue the Big Bang and give more credence to fundamentalist interpretations of cosmology.

Don't miss this great MoveOn commercial presented at Crooks & Liars.

Even more proof that Bush lied about when he decided to go to war in Iraq and how he was open to not going to war. Not that anything will come of yet more proof that the president lied, yet again, about a costly, failed war.

The case against Scooter Libby solidifies. When will Rove get his frog march?

No wonder they didn't want to try to get warrants for the wiretaps--apparently only 1 in 500 were justifiable.

Bush's new budget: throw money at the military, take it from social programs, make tax cuts for the rich permanent, and slash Medicare. Remember when Bush said he was going to save Medicare? Of course, he only ever said it, he never actually did it. And now he's going to gut it.

Posted by Luis at 01:04 AM | Comments (0)

February 05, 2006

Seasonal Blankets

This is the kind of thing I really dislike when I come up against it: seasonal sales that don't last the season. Recently, I've been having cold feet. No, it's not that I'm ditching something out of fear, I literally have cold feet at night. So I figured that I'd do the logical thing: go buy an electric blanket.

So I went to the local store to buy one--only to be told that I couldn't. The store was out, and was not getting any more in. Why not order more, I asked the shopkeeper, only to be told that the manufacturer had shut down for the season. I guess I just don't understand the logic of that, because it sounds real dumb to me. After all, it was the first day of February, and there were at least a few more cold months in store. How could they be out? The shop guy explained that it was a colder winter than usual, but that still didn't sound right to me. I mean, how long does it take to produce an electric blanket? From raw materials to shipped product, does it really take two months? I would guess more like a matter of days, if the factory was geared up right. So why would a factory shut down before they knew whether they had produced enough, or too much for that matter? However, I'd run into this kind of thing before. I ride a scooter in to work, and the wind chill can get fierce. So I go to the store to buy long johns. It's December. And they're sold out. Wha??

Besides which, I just don't like being told that I can't do something. A week before, I'd decided to start eating apples. I'd have liked a peeler/corer/slicer, the kind sold commonly in the U.S., but I'd settle for just a peeler. Now, in Japan, everyone peels their apples. I don't know if it's just a preference (almost all fruit here is eaten without skin in Japan, including grapes, by the way) or if it's because of stronger pesticides used here, but I didn't want to chance it, so I want to eat my apples sans peel. Problem is, most Japanese people peel their apples with a knife. For me, that's simply too laborious and slow. Not worth it. So I assumed that since Americans eat apples with skins more often and apple peelers are not too hard to find, then in Japan, where everyone eats apples peeled, apple peelers must be a dime a dozen. Not so, apparently. I had told a Japanese friend that I wanted to buy an apple peeler, and they said that they simply don't exist here, that someone they knew had looked and couldn't find one. But since I don't like being told I can't do something, I went and looked anyway. And I found one. Just one, mind you, at the one store most likely to carry that kind of thing (Tokyu Hands). But I was stubborn, and I got what I wanted.

So when the guy at my local store said I couldn't get an electric blanket, I was stubborn then, too. So I went to another larger store, a department store in a nearby town. They didn't have them. So I went to a more specific big store, an electronics store (the kind I'd been told was most likely to have electric blankets). They didn't have them. I asked if they could order one. Nope, they said. All out. No one has them. The factory shut down for the season.

Again, this just seems dumb to me. How can an industry simply shut down and have its product off the shelves for months in peak season when people out there want to buy them? So I went to the big, big stores, the electronic superstores in Shinjuku, and the second store I went to had a few.

So now I have toasty feet. Mmmmmm. It works great, too. But it still makes me wonder what these people are thinking. It's not like a shop running out of umbrellas when a big storm hits--we're talking about weeks and months of lead time to get more product out.

This is just one of those situations where you can't be sure if there's actually a good reason for something or if they really are just being dumb.

I vote for dumb, though.

Posted by Luis at 10:37 PM | Comments (2)

February 04, 2006

Mt. Fuji and Shinto Shrines

There are still so many misconceptions about Japan, many of them dating back to Shogun and before. An article on ABC News' web site provided a good example of this in its opening paragraph:

If there were an international competition for good manners, Japan would always score highly. In what other country is one expected to bow before strangers unless meeting royalty, and where else does making hot tea constitute a formal ceremony?
I mean, please. Has this person never been to Japan, or are they just trying to suck up to the common American perceptions about Asian culture? "Making hot tea a formal ceremony"? I've seen lots of people make hot tea, but I've never seen the cha-no-yu ceremony here. Of course it's performed somewhere, sometimes, but not in the everyday experience of most Japanese. That's more of something performed by artisans or hobbyists, like glass-blowing or calligraphy.

And the whole thing about bowing--note the use of the word "before" in "bowing before strangers." It should be "bowing to strangers," but "before" sounds more obsequious. Bowing is simply like a handshake or a wave, it's what people do in certain situations. But when it's mentioned in the U.S., it's as if it's some unusual, self-deprecating act, some sign of increased humility or formality. That's simply how Americans might see it relative to our own customs; it's not that significant in Japan. We make a deal about how bows can be different in Japan, variations of angles and head-up or head-down, as if that kind of variation in formality is something that we'd never do. But of course we do--look at handshakes. There are the same variations there, we just don't think about them. From manly hand-crushers to ladylike fingers-only handshakes, from single-shake deal-makers, to the three-shake standard, to the vigorous damned-glad-to-meet-you variety. Just like handshakes with Americans, Japanese do bows naturally, and would have to stop and think about it if you asked about the different forms.

Besides which, don't get the idea that Japan is all about politeness, as the ABC article would lead you to believe. In fact, if you walk the streets of any Japanese city, you might be surprised by the apparent rudeness you'd see. People bumping into you, sometimes even almost knocking you over, without so much as an "excuse me"; men loudly hawking and spitting on the sidewalk you're about to tread; people casually throwing trash on the street (especially smokers with the butts and cigarette wrappers, or kids with soft drink cans). In Japan, as I like to say, politeness is something that happens when your shoes come off. That is to say, it's when you have some kind of direct social interaction. And not always even then.

We say that Japan is a culture of contrasts, but the contrasts are only relative to our own. In some situations, Japanese are more "well-mannered" than Americans. In other ways, they are more reserved, and in some cases, much more impolite. Overall, things are not that different. But emphasis on situational differences or attention to old preconceptions make us believe that things are more different than they really are.

It's like the translation of the honorific "san" applied to names; when translated into English, "Mr. Hashimoto" is sometimes translated as "Honorable Hashimoto." It sounds almost servile, with an "Oriental" flavor, denoting thousands of years of samurai culture or something. But a better translation is simply "Mr. Hashimoto." Same thing. Certainly Japanese people do not feeling the fawning or solemn tone that we get from the word "honorable." That's so Charlie Chan.

The thing to understand--actually, we probably understand it, the right word is more like internalize--the thing to internalize is that Japan is not all Mt. Fuji and Shinto shrines. You have to abandon the image and the preconceptions you have about the people and their culture, and start new with the simple understanding that things just work in ways that vary from our own, though many of the basics underneath are exactly the same. Japan is probably not much more "steeped in its rituals and virtues" than America or any other culture is--it just looks that way when measured relative to ours. We each have our different ways of doing the same things, our own idiosyncrasies, but we're not quite so alien from each other in the end.

And I suppose that's why I like it here, why some people from abroad fit in and some don't--because our idiosyncrasies match to the culture, or they don't.

Posted by Luis at 02:24 PM | Comments (1)

February 03, 2006

A Tale of Two T-Shirts

You may have heard that two people were ejected from the State of the Union address earlier this week. One of them was Cindy Sheehan, for wearing a shirt that read "2,242 Dead. How many more?" and the other was Beverly Young, wife of Rep. C.W. Young (R-Florida), whose shirt read "Support the Troops -- Defending our Freedom."

These ejections were later called a "mistake," but one is a mistake--two is a policy. Clearly there was a policy in force that called for the ejection of anyone who wears a T-shirt with writing or a political statement of any kind. And it's not new, either--in fact, it's clearly recognizable as the exact same policy practiced at Bush and Cheney campaign appearances in the 2004 elections, also occurring when the speeches were made at public venues paid for by the taxpayers.

Such a practice is illegal, by the way; in 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in Cohen v. California that wearing a T-shirt in court with unapproved-of language constituted free speech--which is likely why charges against Sheehan were subsequently dropped.

But this is a gambit commonly executed at Republican events--to eject someone unlawfully from a public event for any one of a number of charges such as trespassing or disturbing the peace, then later dropping the charges and claiming an "error" was made. But in the end, it is a successful strategy because it allows them repeatedly to eject people they don't want at events. The "oops" strategy never tires.

It is also of note how the two different cases were handled by the Republican-run Congress: Sheehan, someone opposed to Bush, was treated very roughly, handcuffed, and was arrested. The officer shouted, "Protester!", roughly grabbed Sheehan and quickly pushed her out. The Republican woman, on the other hand, was asked to leave and was not arrested--despite the fact that she uttered a "stream of profanity" at the officer who took her out.

So why the difference in treatment?

Posted by Luis at 04:11 PM | Comments (0)

Election Fraud

Boy, it just doesn't get more telling than this. How much more could you ask for to show the GOP as the party of election fraud when their own in-house first vote for Majority leader garnered more ballots than there were voters? Roll Call Via DKos.

Posted by Luis at 11:09 AM | Comments (2)

75% Figuratively

The day before yesterday, in his State of the Union address, Bush said the following:

Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.
However, Bush was apparently confused, as his senior advisors corrected him almost immediately:
One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic advisor said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.
Um, how's that? He didn't mean specific percent and date targets literally? How did he mean them? Figuratively? What, is "more than 75%" a metaphor or something? Perhaps "2025" is an allegory regarding some future time.

Didn't these guys vet the State of the Union, for crying out loud? Their correction didn't really make it clear, either:

What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.
Um, and how is that different, except for replacing "more than 75%" with "most"? Are they scaling it down from 75%+ to anything above 50%? Why? We're talking twenty years in the future, it's not like Bush will take any political heat if the numbers are off then. But they tried again to clarify:
'This was purely an example,'' Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.
Well, that clears it up. Like hell. If it were meant to be an example, then an expression like "for example" would have been used. But Bush made it a clearly stated "great goal." Last I checked, "goals" are not "examples."

My guess is that the administration took heat from the oil industry, which saw the potential for people to stop investing in them, so Bush's subordinates released this info just loud enough for the markets to hear but not loud enough for the public to take notice.

Not that any of this matters. To Bush, "alternate energy source" just means a different place to drill for oil. Even if they weren't already reneging, it's easy to see that this is yet another of his sound-good-means-nothing proposals that will eventually fade away. The fact that he claimed it loudly one day then had his hacks quietly take it back the next is simply confirmation of this.

Posted by Luis at 10:57 AM | Comments (2)

February 02, 2006

How Far?

Many people, some commenting in this blog, feel that they are willing to give up their 4th Amendment rights when it comes to warrantless wiretapping. Bill Maher, in fact, was a surprise entry in this category. You know how I feel about this, especially when it comes to the bogus reasons Bush has given regarding how it will supposedly aid in the War on Terror™.

So let me ask this: How far would you go? How far would the president and the security agencies have to go before you did object?

How about, for example, a specific wiretap on your phone and the NSA recording all of your calls without a warrant to do so? Is it just that the NSA data-mining project is generalized and you feel it doesn't really apply to you personally?

No? Still OK with that? All right. Then how about the FBI coming to your home and performing a search through your possessions, again without a warrant, again under the logic of it being necessary for fighting terrorism? If you were okay with the wiretap, then you should be okay with this: it's the same level of rights violation, an unwarranted search. But if it crosses the line for you, then you should re-evaluate your acceptance of the wiretapping.

But if we still haven't crossed the line, then how about an arrest without a warrant? We are assuming, after all, that you are being arrested in good faith, that the FBI truly believes that you are a possible terror suspect, and that secrecy and speed are vital to performing their task. So the charges and evidence against you are a secret (just like the wiretapping program was), and they don't bother to get a warrant for your arrest (it would slow down the process, they claim, and besides, the president signed a finding or something, all just like in the wiretapping case). And since (again, like the NSA wiretapping) it's giving an advantage to the terrorists to know we're going after them, all the details of the arrest--and the fact that there has been one--are classified and no one is told. If someone does tell, that's endangering national security. So as far as anyone else knows, you've simply disappeared.

Still okay with it? Still trust the government to protect your rights and serve justice to you without judicial oversight or public scrutiny? Again, note that all of this is precisely in line with the logic of keeping the wiretaps warrantless and classified; the only variable I'm changing here is how much it affects you personally. Everything else is constant.

So once more, if anywhere along the line, you feel that the government does not have the right to do any of these things to you, then you should, in principle, object just as strongly to the NSA wiretapping without warrants.

But if you are okay with all of that in the name of national security, then welcome to the new police state. Personally, I don't want to live there, but then I like to live dangerously.

Posted by Luis at 09:06 AM | Comments (6)

February 01, 2006

Olbermann Strikes Back

Keith Olbermann, on MSNBC's "Countdown" segment to the day's "Worst Person in the World," designated Bill O'Reilly to receive the honor. Crooks & Liars has the video segment, which is hilarious. Take a look.

Posted by Luis at 09:05 PM | Comments (0)

SOTU: Same Old, Tired, Untrue Speech (Part One)

I just didn't have the stomach to watch it live this time. Good thing, too--seeing Bush acting all solemn while hypocritically invoking Coretta Scott King's passing earlier that day would have turned my stomach in the first few seconds of the address. So I'll have to wade through the toxic waste of his speech by transcript instead.

In a system of two parties, two chambers and two elected branches, there will always be differences and debate. But even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone. And our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger.
Good freaking holy God. How to even begin to address this ultimate hypocrisy, except that from Day One five years ago, Bush made claims to bipartisanship, and yet from Day Two, he has incessantly carried out every single act of his presidency in such partisan fury as to boggle the mind. Good grief, who's got Karl Rove as his chief advisor? Do even ardent Bush supporters buy this horse manure?
In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline. The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership.
As Kevin Drum points out, Bush kept referring to "isolationism" without being specific. What, is he referring to Pat Buchanan? Bush and the Republicans were the ones who said that they didn't need approval from the U.N. to invade Iraq and ignored that almost all the rest of the world was against him. He dismissed the world stage as "irrelevant," alienated us from most of the world, mocked our allies who refused to go along with him, and abrogated international treaties right and left.

And now he's trying to cash in on his world leadership and make others out to be isolationists?

Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal: We seek the end of tyranny in our world.
Like the tyranny in Saudi Arabia or and other of dozens of tyrannies we ally ourselves with? Um, yeah.
On September the 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country. Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction.
You think he's talking about Afghanistan and the Taliban, but a closer look shows that he's trying to reference Iraq, again spreading the lie of Iraq=9/11 through false implications. A bit later in the speech, he also refers to "retreat" as being dishonorable, taking another sideways swipe at Democrats--fully in the spirit of bipartisanship, of course.
We remain on the offensive against terror networks. We have killed or captured many of their leaders. And, for the others, their day will come.
Can you name one that we've killed or captured? I can't. We've captured the "number three" man of al Qaeda a half-dozen times, but no one who is key. I was surprised that he actually mentioned bin Laden's name twice, and made a reference that should remind Americans that Bush has failed over the last four years to even come close to capturing or killing him. But I suppose by now most people have become used to the idea, and Bush can comfortably invoke bin Laden as part of his manner of instigating fear among Americans so as to coerce acceptance of his agenda and his lawbreaking.
First, we are helping Iraqis build an inclusive government, so that old resentments will be eased and the insurgency will be marginalized.
That's funny, according to Cheney and Rice, the insurgents were already "losing steam" and in their "last throes," but now Bush is saying that they have not yet been "marginalized." The Iraqi insurgency's demise has been called by the Bush administration almost as often as Apple Computers' demise has been called by the Windows world. How much do you want to bet that a year from now, Bush will tell us that we will soon start to make a dent in the insurgency?

As Bush goes over all these points, two things stand out: first, in almost every area he mentions, Bush has screwed up and failed miserably; and second, he speaks in terms of "confidence" and "will" and intentions--with little of significance already accomplished. And yet he tries to make all this sound like a victory.

Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning.
I wish I could believe that, but the insurgency and terrorist groups thrive, and our soldiers continue to die with increasing regularity. Even Bush cannot state a clear exit strategy. It is painful to face, but we are not winning, and that is due chiefly to Bush's mismanagement.
Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy.
No, but plenty on the left were pointing out the lack of wisdom or strategy on Bush's part before the invasion of Iraq. Hell, even I could see it, when I wrote in August 2002 that there was not enough of the strategically necessary international support; that it would cost us in money, lives, and international respect and influence; that the intelligence about WMD and terrorist ties were flawed; that Bush had no exit strategy. This is not hindsight or second-guessing. Bush's plan was a failure from the start and it was easy to see and predict well before he plowed ahead with it.

But Bush insisted that he was right, and, disgustingly, once again used fallen soldiers as political fodder, trotting out one's (undoubtedly heavily vetted) family for show, quoting the Marine's letter home last month, as if challenging anyone to criticize his own plans so he could smear it as a criticism of brave soldiers who died for their country. He of course never quotes soldiers with viewpoints just as opposed, of whom there are many--which is significant when you consider that soldiers in the field are almost by necessity heavily invested in seeing and portraying the conflict they are in as being necessary.

And, tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.
After you stop being so evil, of course.
It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to Al Qaida operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late.

So to prevent another attack -- based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute -- I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected Al Qaida operatives and affiliates to and from America.

Previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have and federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed.

The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with Al Qaida, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.

This is more or less pure BS. Bush is directly implying that FISA prevented the Bush administration from catching those terrorists and therefore causing 9/11. That is a knowing lie. FISA did not slow it down, rather the phone calls--which were, after all, intercepted--were not translated in time. Saying "we did not know their plans until it was too late, so we started warrantless wiretapping" is like saying, "I forgot to feed the cat, so I'm going to get cable TV installed." It's a non-sequiter. Warrantless eavesdropping was not the solution, hiring more translators was. And yet, a few years ago, Bush's Pentagon actually fired 37 strategically priceless Arabic translators--because they were gay.

Furthermore, Bush's statements about his wiretaps being legal by statute and Constitution are patently false; they violate the 4th Amendment and the FISA law. Bush gives utterly no reference to which law or which part of the Constitution grant him the authority he claims, just as he provides not one whit of evidence that any of the data collected has foiled any terrorist attacks. It's all complete and utter bullshit he's talking here, folks.

Update: and that's backed up by the LA Times, which reported that Bush's statements contradict the facts. The "previous presidents" Bush cited were apparently Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt, but the power they practiced was ruled unconstitutional in 1972 by the Supreme Court. Bush also said he'd want the line item veto, but the Supreme Court also ruled that unconstitutional, in 1998. The article said it well: Bush "backed up assertions with selective uses of fact, or seemed to place a positive spin on his own interpretation."

Whew. that's not even half the speech, and I'm already exhausted. I'm sure there's a lot more I didn't catch in the parts I covered, partly because I'm trying to hit the high points and not trying to expose every single mistruth in the speech--a colossal task if anyone decides to take that on. I'll try to get to the second half soon, if I have the energy to do so.

But in short, I was right not to watch the speech live. Anyone who is aware of the facts of the administration would undoubtedly choke in disgust at what was presented tonight; it's hard enough just to read it, much less to actually watch this abomination of a president abuse his standing and the prestige of the position to further his goals and continue to wreak havoc on our country.

Posted by Luis at 08:54 PM | Comments (3)

That Was a Bit Big

Just a few minutes ago, we had a fairly strong quake. Not things-falling-off-of-shelves strong, but certainly should-I-rush-for-a-doorway strong. It was a 5.1 to 5.3 on the Richter scale, centered just northeast of Funabashi City.

Posted by Luis at 08:48 PM | Comments (2)