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I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat! Steve Bates,
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for September 2007

 


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Apple Screws iPhone Tinkerers

Apple has declared war... not on its competitors, but on its most enthusiastic customers. NYT:

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 28 — Since the iPhone hit the market in June, tech-savvy owners of the phone have been busy messing with its insides, figuring out how to add unauthorized software and even “unlock” it for use on networks other than AT&T’s.

But the Web was filled Friday with complaints from people who had installed the latest iPhone software update, only to see all the fun little programs they had been adding to their iPhones disappear — or, still worse, see their phones freeze up entirely.

Should they have known better?

     ...

That's the wrong question. (No surprise, coming from the NYT.) The right question... the question a sensible Apple management would have asked itself... is how it could remedy the deficiencies in its extremely popular product so that users would not feel the need to tinker their own upgrades. I'm sorry, but "hack" is too strong a term here. Some people tried to unlock their phones from AT&T service, which is undoubtedly a contract violation, but a lot of other people merely tried to install utilities or entertainment software... and ended up with their iPhones "bricked" all the same. For this latter group, I cannot begin to see any financial damage to Apple resulting from their actions.

A sensible Apple management, if it felt it really had to lay down the law about its control of the product many users paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege of "owning" (in a very limited sense), would have ordered downloads of the original installed software onto those iPhones that had been unlocked, or had had third-party software installed. A genuinely sensible management would have attempted to leave user-created content... contact lists, media, etc. ... untouched as the original software was reinstalled. That way, the wayward users would have been no worse off than when they first bought their iPhones: they'd have service through AT&T, original Apple software, and a working iPhone containing no violations of the license agreement and terms of use.

But that's what a sensible Apple management would have done. This is the real world. The world in which Apple treats its customers as adversaries. The world in which Apple leaves its customers' iPhones permanently "bricked" in an obvious attempt to punish "bad behavior."

Let me give Apple a clue, and I won't even charge them for it. Back in the early days of the Mac, Apple decided to go the proprietary, single-source route for everything associated with its product. That worked just fine, until IBM entered the market with a PC that had an open architecture. Anyone could build and sell boards that accomplished special purposes not designed into the PC, because the bus specifications were public. IBM encouraged other companies to ride its coattails in this way. Many did so. Some became big names in their own right. Some of those are still around today.

Apple? Well, it barely survived. To its credit, its computer business survives today in part by adapting to people's desires for compatibility with their favorite software, even if that software is aimed at Intel chips or Windows or *nix operating systems. Users... that would be customers... choose open, flexible technology when they can get it.

Now Apple seems to have determined to try the same trick again, claiming its IP rights, obstructing its users' cleverness, and punishing... yes, punishing... customers who install what they need, even if it doesn't come from Apple. Punishing them... by imposing the "death penalty" on their purchased products.

Yeah, that'll teach 'em. I'm sure the cleverest, most enthusiastic among Apple's customers have learned their lesson. They've seen the error of their ways. That error: buying a product from Apple. I'll bet a lot of them won't make that mistake, ever again.


(For the record, I do not own an iPhone or any other Apple product, not even an iPod. After this stunt, I think it's safe to say I will never purchase an Apple product.)

Steve
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Rumor: Blackwater To Secure GOP Convention?

Phoenix Woman has details of the rumor. Lots of good links as well.

If this is true, we may see a level of violence against convention protesters not seen since... well, since the last GOP national convention. Hey, violence is as American as apple pie, right? As long as it's GOP-directed violence...

Steve
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No Jazz For Us Today

We never made it to the Kemah Jazz Festival today. Two of us had aches of various sorts; the third is preparing for a major trip next week. And the weather looked pretty dicey toward that coast this afternoon... no, it wasn't tropical, but flooding was a distinct possibility. So we consoled ourselves with a bookstore run (I restrained myself to a mere two books, one a guide to weather, the other a complete set of Christie's Poirot short stories in one volume) and a good meal together at a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant, Mai's, new to some of us (decent, but two of us still prefer Van Loc or Kim Son... warning: Kim Son has a seriously annoying web site, but their food more than makes up for it). So the day was not a loss, even if all of us regretted missing the good live jazz (if it wasn't rained out).

There's a lot on my desktop that needs attending to, but I'll confine myself to a single "assignment" for you to read: a Scientific American article from last year examining what the climate models say about sea level increases. This is a short article on a large subject, one I hope to visit as soon as I find the resources (in the most general sense of that term) to write the post. The short version: if you're tired of hearing Al Gore use the term "tipping point," get over it, because we may be within a decade of a major one. To be continued another day...

Steve
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Saturday Signs

Uh-oh. My feet are kind of big, but I'm sure I don't need Houston's biggest shoe. I guess I'll have to wait until that one sells, and Houston's next biggest shoe in stock becomes Houston's biggest shoe available. That one will be too big as well, so I'll have to wait again. Eventually it should work, but it seems to me a tedious way to sell shoes.

Good thing our turkey of a preznit doesn't shop here. I'm quite sure he doesn't, because it is reported that the owner of Academy Sports & Outdoors is a prominent donor to the Democratic Party. Besides, then, when the turkey-in-chief couldn't find a fit, it would be a classic case of "the gobbler goes unshod" ...

 

Steve
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Giuliani Cites Bible? Gimme A Break!

AP via TPM:

Giuliani cites Bible on personal life
Giuliani Compares Scrutiny of His Family to New Testament Story About Adulterous Woman
LIBBY QUAID
AP News
Sep 28, 2007 12:09 EDT
Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani compared the scrutiny of his personal life marked by three marriages to the biblical story of how Jesus dealt with an adulterous woman.

In an interview posted online Friday, Giuliani was questioned about his family and told the Christian Broadcasting Network, "I think there are some people that are very judgmental."

Giuliani has a daughter who indicated support for Democrat Barack Obama and a son who said he didn't speak to his father for some time. Giuliani's messy divorce from their mother, Donna Hanover, was waged publicly while Giuliani was mayor of New York.

"I'm guided very, very often about, `Don't judge others, lest you be judged,'" Giuliani told CBN interviewer David Brody. "I'm guided a lot by the story of the woman that was going to be stoned, and Jesus put the stones down and said, 'He that hasn't sinned, cast the first stone,' and everybody disappeared.

     ...

Oh fuck, Julie Annie. That decision was made before you came on the national political scene. Your political party decided, in 1998, to impeach President Bill Clinton... to judge him, in the Christian sense... about an extramarital affair, in pursuit of raw political advantage. Goose. Gander. Sauce. You don't get to decide whether your extramarital affairs and/or your succession of marriages are, or are not, a political matter. That's a done deal. Get over it. And unlike you, the Clintons managed to preserve their marriage. That, too, appears to be a done deal. You and Bill Clinton both followed your worst instincts. But only you, Julie Annie, followed yours to divorce. Twice.

Giuliani has insisted his family relationships are private. In 1968, he married his cousin, Regina Peruggi. They divorced 14 years later, and Giuliani obtained an annulment from the Catholic Church on the grounds that as second cousins, they should [not] have received a dispensation to marry.

Giuliani married Hanover in 1984 and they divorced in 2002. He has been married to Judith Nathan since 2003.

Here's the real irony: I agree with Giuliani that his "family relationships are private." In an ideal America, they are none of our business. The same is true of Bill Clinton's marriage, Newt Gingrich's marriages, etc.

But this is no ideal America, and the GOP has done a great deal to spoil that ideal. As a consequence, Giuliani is answerable for all his past behavior. I don't care if the GOP base forgives him his infidelity: I don't forgive him his hypocrisy. Goose. Gander. Sauce.

Onward:

"... And my personal view of it is I need God's help for everything, and I probably feel that the most when I'm in crisis and under pressure, like Sept. 11, when I was dealing with prostate cancer, or (when) I'm trying to explain death to people, which unfortunately I've had to do so often.

"So it's a very, very important part of my life," he said. "But I think in a democracy and in a government like ours, my religion is my way of looking at God, and other people have other ways of doing it, and some people don't believe in God. I think that's unfortunate. I think their life would be a lot fuller if they did, but they have that right."

Oh, boo-hoo. I'm sorry you were afflicted with prostate cancer, Julie Annie. So was my late father. So will I be, with high likelihood, someday. I prayed for my Dad... not Christian (let alone Catholic) prayers, but prayers nonetheless. And I'll pray for myself, if I am afflicted. Do you think you're special, let alone unique, because of your suffering and your prayer? Do you think it's politically relevant? And... what the fuck does September 11 have to do with it?

I'm glad to learn from this article that you love your wife. I hope you'll love your next one, too. But all your politically motivated babbling about your faith and your marriage is at best hypocritical, and at worst deeply offensive to the sensibilities of the American people. Hillary and Bill managed to restore their marriage in the face of offenses that would have broken many marriages. Am I supposed to applaud you for showing less strength in the face of adversity than they have? What does that say about the kind of president you would be? Remember, the decision has long since been made, thanks to your political party, that personal matters are relevant in a political context. You owe us an answer.

Steve
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The Role Of Blackwater

I'll have more to say about the current and intended uses of Blackwater USA when I have time to do more research. For the moment, please read this Firedoglake post by Naomi Wolf, author of The End of America — Letters of Warning to a Young Patriot (among other things).

I've often paraphrased the late great Molly Ivins by saying that most of what seems conspiracy is explicable without invoking grand secret plans if you merely note the stupidity, coincidence and just plain bad luck involved. Molly has departed our midst, and the world has changed to a point at which I can no longer confidently assert that there are no grand conspiracies. Read the following excerpt from Wolf's FDL post (and preferably the rest of the post) and see what you think:

The New York Times reported today that Blackwater, the infamous organization that has been accused of killing civilians in Iraq, “has been involved in a far higher rate of shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq than other security firms.” A mercenary firm in Iraq with an itchy trigger finger is bad enough. But it now appears that Blackwater’s activities may be massively expanded — and not in Iraq.

In little noticed news, Blackwater, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Arinc were recently awarded a collective $15 billion — yes, billion — from the Pentagon to conduct global counter-narcotics operations. This means that Blackwater can be deployed to engage with citizens on a whole new level of intimacy anywhere around the world — including here at home. What is scarier than scary is that Blackwater’s overall plans are to do more and more of its armed and dangerous ‘security’ operations on U.S. soil.

     ...

(Emphasis mine.)

Our nation's founders had strong reservations about standing armies of any type. It wasn't long before Congress created the U.S. Army (1784), and we've had standing armies ever since. One can argue the necessity, but it seems an inevitable development in a dangerous world. But mercenaries private security forces or paramilitary forces, controlled not by constitutional paths but by unspecified individuals in a current government (or worse, operating independently), are quite another matter. Historically, in other countries, such forces arise on the way to the imposition of totalitarian or at least authoritarian governments. (I'll document that later, but I doubt anyone seriously denies it.)

Read the wiki linked above about Blackwater. They offer a wide variety of military services for hire, allegedly to the U.S. government. According to the wiki, they operate in Iraq outside the authority of Iraqi law:

Legal status

The legal status of Blackwater and other security firms in Iraq is a subject of contention. Two days before he left Iraq, L. Paul Bremer signed "Order 17"[68] giving all Americans associated with the CPA and the American government immunity from Iraqi law. [69] A July 2007 report from the American Congressional Research Service indicates that the Iraqi government still has no authority over private security firms contracted by the U.S. government. [70]

(See Wikipedia for the footnote links.)

Blackwater USA has shot a lot of people lately, including Iraqi civilians, for reasons that are less than clear. The much-vaunted Iraqi government tried to throw them out; we saw how well that went.

And they may be coming to a street corner near you. At whose direction, under whose control, and for what purposes? At this point, I can only guess. You can probably guess what I'm guessing.


Off topic, for a bit of good news, a judge has declared unconstitutional two provisions of the Patriot Act on some fairly straightforward grounds. From TalkLeft:

Various provisions of the Patriot Act offend the Constitution. Today, federal District Court Judge Ann Aiken focused on the Act's attempt to circumvent the requirement that warrants to search for evidence of suspected criminal activity must be based on probable cause. The Constitution prevailed (pdf).

I doubt this ruling will stand in the face of today's packed federal judiciary above the district level, but I am grateful for every bit of constitutional defense I see.

Steve
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Friday Cat Who Walks On Walls

Not quite Heinlein, but close enough. This anonymous, otherwise nice-looking, very large tom (I presume; I didn't check) wandered into the apartment complex a few days ago...



... and while he appeared to have an inclination and ability to walk on walls...




... I'm afraid he was really just trying to scratch a persistent itch. So do we all, from time to time.

Steve
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Full Moon At Sunset

Some days, this is almost an attractive place to live:



Actually, the Moon was full the following day.

Steve
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Verizon Blocks NARAL Texting - UPDATED

UPDATE: alert reader The Truffle points us to news that Verizon has backed down on this matter. Equally alert reader Bryan notes that Verizon has nonetheless established its legal right to control content on its network. The linked NYT article found by The Truffle mentions that we have been here before, back in the 19th century when telegraph companies refused messages from those whose political views they opposed. Everything old... at least everything old and bad... is new again. It seems we must once again fight for common carrier rules. Given the outcome regarding net neutrality, it looks to me as if we've already lost.

(Original post follows.)


And so it begins...

Verizon Rejects Abortion Rights Group’s Messages
By ADAM LIPTAK Published: September 27, 2007

Saying it had the right to block “controversial or unsavory” text messages, Verizon Wireless has rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group, to make Verizon’s mobile network available for a text-message program.

The other leading wireless carriers have accepted the program, which allows people to sign up for text messages from Naral by sending a message to a five-digit number known as a short code.

Text messaging is a growing political tool in the United States and a dominant one abroad, and such sign-up programs are used by many political candidates and advocacy groups to send updates to supporters.

But legal experts said private companies like Verizon probably have the legal right to decide which messages to carry. The laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmissions on ordinary phone lines do not apply to text messages.

     ...

In turning down the program, Verizon, one of the nation’s two largest wireless carriers, told Naral that it does not accept programs from any group “that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.” Naral provided copies of its communications with Verizon to The New York Times.

Nancy Keenan, Naral’s president, said Verizon’s decision interfered with political speech and activism.

“No company should be allowed to censor the message we want to send to people who have asked us to send it to them,” Ms. Keenan said. “Regardless of people’s political views, Verizon customers should decide what action to take on their phones. Why does Verizon get to make that choice for them?”

     ...

The few of you out there in the left blogosphere who were so thick in the head as to be indifferent to this possible consequence of abandoning "net neutrality" ... are you happy now?

When carriers of any sort are allowed to control content, they will damned well control content, sooner or later. Looks like it's sooner in this case.

The invisible hand of the market (heh) isn't going to take care of this one. There are really only a couple of major wireless carriers, so it's not as if this has only a small effect, and most people have contracts that prevent them from switching carriers right away. I guess would-be NARAL text list subscribers who have Verizon are just shit out of luck.

OK, this is one incident, with one carrier, with one activist group. What if the other major wireless carriers decide to do the same? What other kinds of activist groups will they banish from their networks?

What about internet providers? What if one of the majors decides to de-prioritize the email lists of groups it considers "controversial," so that, for example, NARAL action alerts arrive in subscribers' inboxes two days after the proposed legislation they oppose has already been voted on in Congress? You see how easy this is, now that the carriers are allowed to discriminate based on source or content?

For the record, I'm not wild about NARAL since they supported Revoltin' Joe. But I'm a great fan of Planned Parenthood, and they're not exactly in the technological Dark Ages, either.

Are you an issue activist? Do you think your issue will be unaffected? Do you still think so after this incident? Really?

Steve
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Kyl-Lieberman Passes - UPDATED

By an overwhelming margin (76-22)... but not intact. According to Josh Marshall, "It appears that much but not all of the offending language was removed, particularly the part that more or less authorized war against Iran and all its proxies." Details are unavailable, to me at least, at this point. I have to leave for a few hours; I'll update this post when I return.


UPDATE: There still seems to be considerable disagreement as to the significance of the changes made before the overwhelming passage of the amendment. As I understand it, the language that explicitly authorizes (among other things) military action against Iran has been removed, but the provision declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist organization" could still be used by Bush to initiate military action. Of course, the Bushist administration had already made such a declaration, so from a practical standpoint, it might not make any difference. But with Congress and the executive both on board with the notion that a part of a sovereign nation's military can be and is a terrorist organization, it seems likely that we are a lot closer to the Bushists' initiating some sort of attack against Iran. Philosophical niceties aside, that is exactly what I hoped Democrats would prevent.

A deeply distressing pattern is emerging: with Democrats in Congress, as with the proverbial viola section one senses at one's front door, no one seems to know when to come in. We sent them to Washington to come in like gangbusters... literally, considering the Bushists are altogether too much like an organized crime gang, and that's the charitable interpretation... and instead, the Democrats are knocking on the door and asking politely if maybe, someday, we could end the endless wars, and avoid starting more of them.

I am once again contemplating changing the name of my blog. It's that serious.

Steve
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Friedman: No More Friedman Units

Yes, he really said it. On Colbert's show. Not in those words, of course. Video here. (H/T Avedon.)

Um... isn't this the guy who was (in)famous for saying "Give war a chance" at every opportunity? How many Friedman units has it been since he started saying that? How many people, Americans and Iraqis, have died since then?

Steve
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The SCHIP Vote

The House passed the Senate version of HR 976, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. The vote was pretty overwhelming by today's standards, 265-159.

Bush, of course, threatens to veto it. Perhaps a few of those 45 Republicans cast their Yes votes counting on that; I don't know. There are not enough votes to override the threatened veto. Only the American voting public can do that, and not until Election 2008. Some think that this vote may indeed influence 2008 in the Democrats' favor. It damned well ought to.

Here's the list of eight House Democrats who voted against the reauthorization/extension: Dan Boren, Kathy Castor, Bob Etheridge, Baron Hill, Dennis Kucinich, Jim Marshall, Mike McIntyre, Gene Taylor.

DENNIS KUCINICH? WTF?

I checked his official site for a statement, and there it is:

Kucinich: SCHIP Bill Fails To Provide Health Coverage For Legal Immigrant Children
Washington, Sep 25 -

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), issued the following statement after voting against the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) conference report today:

“I cannot support legislation which extends health coverage to some children while openly denying it to other children,” Kucinich said. “This legislation is woefully inadequate: and I will not support it.

“Legal immigrant children deserve the same quality health care as other children receive. It is Congress’ responsibility to address the main difficulties that prevent legal immigrant children from gaining access to health care. Today, we did exactly the opposite.

“HR 676 guarantees full health care coverage for all children. When considering a universal health care proposal, HR 676, the Medicare for All bill, is the only health care plan that addresses three important issues: quality, accessibility, and cost. HR 676 stands alone in an increasingly crowded field of efforts to provide health care coverage to all,” Kucinich said.

Kucinich voted for the original House-passed version of the bill because it contained language to grant health coverage for legal immigrant children. However, in today’s bill, this language was omitted.

Dennis, Dennis, Dennis... surely the ghost of the late Molly Ivins is shaking her head at you today. Don't you know her saying (not original with her, as she freely admitted) that politics is all about accepting half a loaf, then going back again and again until you get the other half? I agree with you: the program should cover all children, including those of legal immigrants. Indeed, I'd go further, and include children of undocumented immigrants. But I also agree with Molly. Maybe this was a "free vote" for you as well, one with a sufficient majority that you could afford to make a statement. Well, you made your statement, and now you're on record as opposing renewal and extension of one of the most effective and beneficial laws of our era.

I used to say that Kucinich was the presidential candidate philosophically closest to my own views. Maybe he still is. But this is a hell of a way for him to express it.

Steve
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Sen. Webb On Kyl-Lieberman

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) gets it just right on Kyl-Lieberman. Please watch the video at Think Progress.

In addition to emphasizing that formally declaring a part of a standing sovereign nation's military as a "terrorist organization" is something Congress has never done before, Webb points out the thing that should worry us all: the amendment, containing as it does an authorization to use all kinds of means including military force against Iran, could be construed as a backdoor declaration of war... without hearings and without substantive congressional debate.

Anybody besides me have a problem with that?

Steve
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McConnell: Put A Cork In It

Take the subject either way you like: it's either DNI Adm. Michael McConnell's message to Congress to STFU and stop publicly debating FISA changes (or else serve as evil murderers of American troops), or my message to Adm. McConnell regarding his repeated assertions that engaging in debate will cost American troops' lives. Here's what McConnell said:

     ...

"What this dialogue and debate has allowed those who wish us harm to do, is to understand significantly more about how we were targeting their communications," McConnell told the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

Asked U.S lives had been lost, he said, "They will (be)."

Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of California told McConnell, "I really think that's a stretch."

     ...

It's a stretch, all right. It's a Bush administration talking point, and Adm. McConnell is yet another military figure effectively in political service to the Bush administration... and I'm not talking about his role as DNI; I'm talking about his repeating political talking points like that one. There is no hard evidence that it is true, and even if it were, one could argue the debate should proceed anyway. It's how it is done in America. Congress debates changes to laws. But it appears that Adm. McConnell favors the obvious alternative.

Watch the video of Patrick Leahy's reaction. (H/T TPMMuckraker, above.) Patrick Leahy used to be a patient man. But no one should have to put up with someone's impugning the patriotism of his entire committee.

The assertion Adm. McConnell continually repeats is the kind of thing one expects to hear in a military dictatorship. A clue for you, Adm. McConnell: we're not quite there yet. This is still a democracy. Major policy decisions cast into law... and they don't get much more major than changes to FISA... are debated by our legislative body. Get over it, Admiral.


Spencer Ackerman, in the first of the above-linked articles, sums up my reaction as well:

Why not just declare the 20 committee members enemy combatants and be done with it?

Is that what it's coming to?

Steve
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It Didn't Evolve - It Was Created

The proof? It's in the critter itself. Look closely, right here, at this earmark...

Vitter Earmarks Federal Funds for Anti-Evolution Group

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has earmarked $100,000 for a Louisiana group that advocates stopping the teaching of evolution in public schools, the Times-Picayune reports.      ...

Yes, THAT David Vitter... Sen. David "Differential Reproductive Success" Vitter.

Steve
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The Race To Face Cornyn

Whatever you may think of the Democratic congressional leadership these days (don't get me started now; I'll forget my point), you must admit that ridding the Senate of the lying bit of scum that is John "Whack the Judges" Cornyn is a high priority. At this point, two Democrats are competing for the probably unpleasant privilege of facing and, one hopes, defeating Cornyn next year. Democracy for Texas, our state's affiliate of Howard Dean's famous Democracy for America (and a repository in its own right of good, basic information on political organizing for progressives in Texas), has received replies to their Senate candidate's questionnaire from both Mikal Watts and Rick Noriega

Based mostly on the two responses, if the contested primary is between these two candidates, I am supporting Rick Noriega (pictured upper left). That said, I could vote with a clear conscience for Watts in the general election, if he becomes the Democratic candidate. (By the way, kudos to DfT for the skillful construction of the questionnaire. I've been involved in evaluating the results of such questionnaires for a different organization in the past, and while it is a very effective way to learn about candidates for office, a lot depends on the questions one asks. One question we often asked was "Did you prepare your own response to the questionnaire?")

For more information, or more obfuscation, depending on your viewpoint, here are the campaign web sites:

Readers, feel free to let me know your thoughts.

(An aside: "Mikal" is pronounced just like "Michael.")

Steve
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Miscellany - Science And Technology

More desktop-clearing, the less overtly political sci/tech links this time (one or two political posts will follow, probably late in the day):

  • Moon buggies and caves on Mars:

    If you'd asked me when I was 10 years old, I'd have confidently stated that America would have colonies on the Moon, and be making regular trips to Mars, by the turn of the millennium. I guess that shows one should never listen to the fantasies of a 10-year-old. Hey, it's a matter of available funds: we can't be gallivanting off into space if we want to be sure we have enough money to blow up the whole godforsaken Earth, one illegal war at a time.

    Oh, and the proposed new Moon buggies: they are not your father's lunar rover. For one thing, they are fully enclosed and pressurized; one drives in shirt-sleeves, not space-suits. Sounds like a bad idea to me. But surprisingly, no one asked me.

    Oh, and they're going with solar power for the base, not nuclear, as once contemplated. There goes the slogan I was going to offer them for free: "Shoot the Moon to Pollute the Moon!" (For a contrary, pro-nuclear opinion, see this TechNewsWorld article, but be prepared for a lot of obnoxious advertising behavior on your first visit.)

  • Hobbits? Hobbits! No, not Hobbits!

    Study Says Bones Found in Far East Are of a Distinct Species
    By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
    Published: September 21, 2007

    In the continuing debate over the origin of the extinct “little people” of Indonesia, a team of scientists says it has found evidence in three wrist bones that these people were members of a distinct species rather than humans with a physical disorder.

    The researchers describe the new findings in a report being published today in the journal Science. Critics disputed the interpretation, saying this was not clear evidence for the existence of a separate species, known as Homo floresiensis.

    The discovery, in a cave on the island of Flores, of skeletal remains of the diminutive people with unusually small heads was a sensation when it was announced three years ago. Some scientists contended that these were more likely to be modern humans who suffered a developmental disorder that causes the head and brain to be much smaller than average.

         ...

    Anyone who believes these people [are|aren't] hobbits is brain-damaged. (Circle your preference.)

  • Really bad climate change news of the day/year/decade:

    Scientists Report Severe Retreat of Arctic Ice
    By ANDREW C. REVKIN
    Published: September 21, 2007

    FAIRBANKS, Alaska, Sept. 20 — The cap of floating sea ice on the Arctic Ocean, which retreats under summer’s warmth, this year shrank more than one million square miles — or six Californias — below the average minimum area reached in recent decades, scientists reported Thursday.

    The minimum ice area for this year, 1.59 million square miles, appeared to be reached Sunday. The ice is now spreading again under the influence of the deep Arctic chill that settles in as the sun drops below the horizon at the North Pole for six months, starting Friday.

    The findings were reported by the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., and posted online at www.nsidc.org.

    While satellite tracking of polar sea ice has been done only since 1979, several ice experts who have studied Russian and Alaskan records going back many decades said the ice retreat this year was probably unmatched in the 20th century, including during a warm period in the 1930s. “I do not think that there was anything like we observe today” in the 1930s or 1940s, said Igor Polyakov, an ice expert at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

         ...

    Oh, shit...

  • Free isn't good enough for some people:

    The Software Freedom Law Center said Thursday that it has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against a consumer electronics company, Monsoon Multimedia, for allegedly violating the license that governs the use of the Linux operating system.

    This is the first case filed in the United States against a company for allegedly not complying with the terms of the General Public License (GPL) version 2, according to the SFLC, which provides legal representation for free software projects. The GPL is used by Linux and countless other free and open-source software programs.

    The suit was filed on behalf of the creators of BusyBox, a set of Unix utilities used in embedded systems and licensed under the GPL version 2. (Click here to see a PDF of the complaint.)

         ...

    Short version: under the GPL, you can use the item for free, even in your own commercial software, but if you do so, you must make your source available for further similar use. If you don't, you're in violation of the license agreement.

  • Google won't be playing out that Neal Stephenson novel after all.

  • HaloScan sucks. No link necessary; experience it for yourself today!

OK, that's as much technobabble as I can stand at one sitting.

Steve
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Saturday Signs - Sunday Back Edition

I snapped this today at a local intersection...



Any clue what it is? a gang sign? a surveillance device? some pop culture icon, well-known except to older adults like me? All I can call to mind is the old Space Invaders figure.


UPDATE: make that the Pac-Man ghosts, not the Space Invaders. I think "I should of stood in bed" today!

Steve
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Big Brother Really Is Watching You

... especially if you enter or leave the country. Via tristero, we find a number of articles... including two at the Washington Post, one from late last year (read for background) and a more recent one (read for details of how the program's operation was documented through FoIA requests), as well as one short article from Wired... that make some things clear about how much surveillance DHS is collecting and storing (for 15 years!) on American citizens who leave or enter the country.

It is hard to overemphasize the degree to which the privacy rights of Americans who travel internationally are being violated, in spite of laws (the Privacy Act) and the Constitution itself (the Fourth Amendment) alleged to protect those privacy rights. Whatever you may have thought, the violations are broad and pervasive. Here are a couple of things that stood out for me (both from the second WaPo link above):

  • The names of books you carry may find their way into your records, if officers decide they are of interest. This was determined by a FoIA request by John Gilmore, a San Francisco civil liberties activist who found that his file contained a note that he carried a book called "Drugs and Your Rights" onto a flight. DHS officials claim they are not interested in passengers' reading material. But the DHS spokesman quickly qualified that statement as follows:

    But, Knocke said, "if there is some indication based upon the behavior or an item in the traveler's possession that leads the inspection officer to conclude there could be a possible violation of the law, it is the front-line officer's duty to further scrutinize the traveler." Once that happens, Knocke said, "it is not uncommon for the officer to document interactions with a traveler that merited additional scrutiny."

    Those of you who have read the Bill of Rights might contemplate the Fourth Amendment implications. If this doesn't constitute an unreasonable search under that amendment, I don't know what does. They are in essence searching everybody who flies internationally, looking for random evidence of criminal behavior. That's not how it is supposed to work in the United States.

  • Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff thinks the problem is "connecting the dots":

    Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in August 2006 said that "if we learned anything from Sept. 11, 2001, it is that we need to be better at connecting the dots of terrorist-related information. After Sept. 11, we used credit-card and telephone records to identify those linked with the hijackers. But wouldn't it be better to identify such connections before a hijacker boards a plane?" Chertoff said that comparing PNR data with intelligence on terrorists lets the government "identify unknown threats for additional screening" and helps avoid "inconvenient screening of low-risk travelers."

    Wrong. If we learned anything from Sept. 11, 2001, it is that the facts were available, the dots were connected by alert FBI agents on the job, and those connections were ignored by a president who had a preconceived notion of where terrorism would come from. "All right. You've covered your ass, now," Mr. Bush is reported to have said, when told of the threat. Dots are not the problem. Connections are not the problem. Arrogant idiocy at the top is the problem.

I do not fly, not because I'm afraid of terrorist hijackings but because I detest being searched in violation of my most fundamental privacy rights. Every time I get to the point at which I am about ready to fly again, evidence of something like this emerges.

But I frequently carry "subversive" books on my person. Just today, I returned Gore's The Assault on Reason to the library, where I also renewed Greg Palast's Armed Madhouse and Joe Conason's It Can Happen Here... books no doubt "of interest" to anyone out there who may be using our surveillance state to prepare something even worse than that. I've stopped worrying about what I check out of the library, or buy from a bookstore. The old song asks, "Have you been to jail for justice?" Well, no, I never have, but if I have to go to jail for something, reading anti-Bushist books is as good a "crime" as any. I will not be intimidated into neglecting my citizen's education: as long as Gore and Palast and Conason continue to write and publish these books, I shall continue to read them. If "they" want me to stop, let them pry these books from my cold, dead hands.

This is not new behavior by the Bushists; it is only an extension... although an egregious one... of surveillance of ordinary American citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing, surveillance to which Bush has already admitted, nay, bragged about. So far, our weak-willed Congress and the largely Reagan/Bush/Bush-appointed judiciary have done little or nothing to put a stop to these massive invasions of Americans' privacy.

"It was behind the picture" may prove the most benign of our surveillance nightmares. "It is behind everything you see, read or listen to, every day and every moment of your life," may become a more accurate description.

Impeach Bush and Cheney. Now. It's not enough to stop this totalitarian surveillance state insanity, but it's a start.


(Re-posted to correct link to Wired article.)

Steve
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Sin, Sure, And Move On

I had intended to ignore the ridiculous spectacle of the US Senate and MoveOn.org, but ellroon cited Michael Dobbs's "fact checking" of the MoveOn ad (ellroon has the link), and led me to a few thoughts. Indeed, parts of my comment on ellroon's post made their way into this blog post. I intend this to be my only post on the subject, unless our government engages in further attempts to disrupt MoveOn's free speech. Generalissimo Bush and our Senate, both of whom have nothing else on their plates, have already weighed in, so that leaves only the House, which, if I recall, declined. I suppose MoveOn could be charged with some sort of thought-crime, so that some portion of the judiciary becomes involved. (Insert remarks here about "hitting the trifecta.")

Most of you remember that MoveOn was founded to advocate a course of action regarding Bill Clinton back in the Republans' heady days prior to his impeachment: "censure and move on." They have certainly come a long way since then, being capable these days of evoking an angry nonsense-of-the-Senate resolution.

For the record, I am not a MoveOn member. I participated for a while a few years ago, but they began pursuing things that in my opinion were a waste of my time. And there are Democrats whom I respect... Wesley Clark is one... who say they are distracting from the "real" issues with their inflammatory ads.

But I'm not so sure. TV is the name of the game these days... read Gore's latest book if you believe otherwise... and an ad has to be offensive to someone to rise above the decibel level put forth by the right-wing noise machine. I'd say MoveOn most certainly succeeded in doing that; indeed, one might even say they co-opted the RWNM in gaining additional publicity for their message.

And it's not just publicity they gained. MoveOn has said that they received half a million dollars in donations in the day following the Senate resolution condemning them, their largest single fundraising day ever. MoveOn 1, Senate 0.

On the merits? I didn't particularly like the ad. But having used the "Betray-Us" pun myself in doggerel... applied to Mr. Bush, rhymed with "Petraeus" ... and having heard that some troops call him General Betray-Us behind his back... I can hardly be offended by the language itself. I believe one can defend the idea that Petraeus is engaged in the same kind of toadying behavior that Colin Powell did in his U.N. speech at the end of his career, lying on behalf of Mr. Bush as a matter of "go-along-to-get-along."

But the merits of MoveOn's accusations are of less significance to me than their right to express them in public without condemnation from our government. We have serious problems today in America. Mr. Bush is the proximate cause of many of those problems. The Senate hasn't done as much as it should to correct those, or to check Mr. Bush's drive for essentially unlimited power. This leads to an interesting phenomenon: MoveOn.org clearly can take the heat; there's no question about that... so why are the Bushists whining like children who were called names by their playmates? To paraphrase a popular meme, if the Bushists and in particular Gen. Petraeus can't stand up to MoveOn, how can they possibly stand up to the terrorists?

(I'll take comments on this post, but I really don't have a lot more to say on this ridiculous nonissue.)

Steve
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Putsch-Chicanery

The post subject is a bumper sticker that was going around right after sElection 2000. In 2004, Bush-Cheney "won" by 50.82% - 48.70%, if you believe Ohio was not stolen. You may well imagine what I think.

Now there's a move afoot by the same lawyers that gave you Kerry's swiftboating in 2004 to change the rules in California to apportion that state's electoral votes according to its popular vote, more or less. This measure, if it passes, in Jane Hamsher's words, "would give up at least 20 of California’s current “winner take all” electoral college votes to Republicans in 2008."

Let's think about this for a moment. Kerry won California in 2004 by a popular vote of 6,745,485 to 5,509,826 (source of all popular votes: Wikipedia), giving Kerry all 55 of California's electoral votes.

What would happen if the Swift-Boaters applied the same principle to all states? Let's look at Texas:

In Texas in 2004, Bush/Kerry = 4,526,917/2,832,704, giving Bush all 34 of Texas's electoral votes. But if electoral votes were distributed proportionally, rather than winner-take-all, Kerry would have gotten (by my back-of-the-envelope calculation) 13 electoral votes from Texas.

In Florida in 2004, Bush/Kerry = 3,964,522/3,583,544, giving Bush all 27 of Florida's electoral votes. But if electoral votes were distributed proportionally, rather than winner-take-all, Kerry would have gotten 13 electoral votes from Florida.

And so on, and so forth. Some other younger, more energetic person can do the calculations for all 50 states. The popular vote was very close, with Bush "winning" (stealing?) a bare majority. The electoral vote? You work it out. If electoral votes were distributed according to the rules proposed by this California bill, in all states, not just California, even if Bush's Republican would-be successor could manage the same vote totals as Bush (and how likely is that?), could the Republican candidate in 2008 win, even with the "adjusted" California vote?

If Bob Perry's bastards would really like to "reform" presidential elections, let them propose and manage to pass a constitutional amendment applying the same changes to all states as they propose in California. Better still, let them propose and manage to pass a constitutional amendment electing the president according to the popular vote nationwide. Now that would be (small-d) democratic reform of presidential elections. I could live with that. Bring it on.

Otherwise, what they are proposing in California is just another goddamned dirty trick, of the kind today's Republicans are infamous for.

Old Trekkers will recall the Kobayashi Maru test given to all prospective Starfleet captains. The test is a no-win situation, designed to gauge the captain candidate's response. If you thought Captain Kirk's response... cheating by replacing the simulation with a winnable one... was a good response, you'll love today's Republican Party. I never admired Captain Kirk for that approach. But it is Bush's, and Republicans', response today, packed full and running over: if you can't win legitimately, change the fucking rules so that you can. Even Bush's friends... how does he still have any? ... admit that he does that.

These people do not believe in government by the consent of the governed. Fucking throw them out.

Steve
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Saturday Signs - Philosophical Pepsi Edition

So... which typo? "Verities"? All verities, in a bottle of Pepsi? Or "vanities"? Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas?

Sigh. I suppose I have to opt for the latter.

 

 

 

 

 

Steve
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Miscellany - Clearing The Desktop

To all appearances, something I ate disagreed with something else I ate. Or maybe I have that mild stomach bug that several other bloggers have mentioned. Either way, I'll make it easy on myself until it... um... goes away. Here are some things I noticed yesterday and today:

  • 60 is the new 51:

    WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 — A proposal to bring most American combat troops home from Iraq in nine months died in the Senate today, marking the latest frustration for Democrats trying to change President Bush’s policies.

    The vote on the measure, an amendment to the defense authorization bill offered by Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, was 47 to 47, meaning that the proposal was 13 votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate. Mr. Levin is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Mr. Reed is a member of the panel.

    The outcome had been expected, and it probably signaled the end of legislative skirmishing over Iraq, at least for now. But the broader political battle shows no sign of subsiding, especially as attention shifts to the 2008 presidential and Congressional campaigns.

    Just before this morning’s vote, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, made a last-ditch plea. “It is morning here in Washington, but dusk in Baghdad,” he said. “As we debate this war yet again here at home, another day draws to a close for our troops in Iraq. Tonight they will sleep on foreign sand. Tomorrow they will draw yet again from an endless well of courage to face another day of war. Some will likely die. Many will surely be wounded. They will face hatred they did not create and violence they cannot resolve.”

         ...

    Nice speech, Senator Reid. This vote was a tie. Other recent votes have been well beyond a tie. How about forcing the GOP to proceed with an actual physical filibuster on those?

  • Krugman on Democratic candidates' health care plans:

    The Shrill One thinks the plans by Edwards, Clinton and Obama could actually become law, unlike a single-payer plan that eliminates the private insurers and the overhead they introduce into the system. I'm less than confident that any plan that involves the private insurers can lead to any real improvement for people of ordinary means. Give me "Medicare for everyone" or its equivalent.

  • Oh, irony, or rather, oh, leady...

    California issues lead warning for state-distributed lunch totes

    California officials today told consumers to stop using 56,000 Chinese-made lunch totes — handed out to promote healthy eating — because they may contain high levels of lead, the Los Angeles Times is reporting.

    Additionally, the California Department of Public Health urged Californians to dispose of 250,000 similar canvas sacks distributed at health fairs and other events, even though they have not shown elevated lead levels.

    Many of the totes went to poorer or immigrant families.

    The totes with higher-than-allowed levels of lead are green and feature the logo, in English or Spanish, "Eat fruits & vegetables and be active." They were made by TA Creations, which has factories in China.

         ...

    Heh. It's the "green" bags. Distributed by the state. Printed with preachy little slogans about good health. Irony is not dead.

  • Google cable under the sea?

    Wasn't that part of the plot of a Neal Stephenson novel?

  • Electric cars. Again. Sure. Whatever.

    David Pogue interviews someone from GM about the continually hyped Chevy Volt. This is... what... the dozenth time Detroit has told us we're all gonna be drivin' 'lectric cars real soon now? Do read the comment thread; a lot of people put a lot of thought into the matter.

  • Congressional chess...

    ellroon, with assists from Mustang Bobby and Kevin Drum, explores how Congress can be ineffective and unpopular at the same time.

  • Today is the International Day of Peace...

    As if. If you are already doing peace work, thank you. If not, please begin; we need your help.

Steve
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Friday Friend-In-Need Blogging

Tabitha (right), just home from a trip to the vet for lab work, momentarily regarding me as part of the problem because I took her there, seeks comfort from Samantha, who gladly provides a few licks, knowing Tabitha would do the same for her if the situation were reversed:



(Tabitha is fine; thanks for asking. She goes in periodically for blood work to adjust her medication.)

Steve
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State Rep. Kirk England - R? No, D!

State Rep. Kirk England (R-Grand Prairie) is going to run in 2008 as a Democrat. Here is his statement:

In December of 2005, when I filed to run for office, I made a promise to the hardworking families in our community to fight for our public schools, fight for affordable health care and to fight for them on pocketbook issues. After one session in the House, I found that the Republican leadership in Austin had no tolerance for the values and priorities of the folks I represent.

That is why tomorrow at 10 AM, I will announce my intention to seek reelection to the Texas House as a Democrat.

I was born and raised in Grand Prairie, and I have lived here my whole life. My wife Marcy and I raised our two sons, Sam and Charlie, in this community and I own a small business here. I trust the voters in District 106 and I am confident that my friends and neighbors agree that doing what is right is more important than partisan politics.

I am prepared to roll up my sleeves and work hard to be reelected in 2008. I am confident that the voters in our district want a representative who will fight for public education and the Children's Health Insurance Program, and who believes that the folks struggling to pay skyrocketing utility bills every month are more important than TXU's profits. I am committed to returning to Austin to keep the promises I made to citizens of District 106.

I look forward to discussing this important issue in greater detail tomorrow.

One might legitimately ask whether this is for real, or is instead a dirty trick. The question always comes up, and rightly so, when someone switches parties. I believe it is for real. Why? Well, you can go take a look around the Lone Star Project for lists of England's accomplishments, his supporters and his likelihood of winning his district as a D or an R (very high). Another respected Democrat, Katy Hubener, was contemplating a run for the seat, and there may yet be a contested Democratic primary in the district. With no disrespect to Ms. Hubener, who has some support in the district, and considering the likelihood that England will win regardless of his party affiliation, I believe Texas Dems need the seat in the State House... actually, since England is switching, it's a two-seat change... it is probably best if England runs as a D and, as is likely, holds his seat. The always estimable Charles Kuffner pretty much agrees:

I said it before in the case of Wendy Davis in Tarrant County, and I'll say it again: We Democrats are never going to be a majority in this state unless we convert a few Republicans as we go. The best way to demonstrate that it's okay to change sides and that you'll feel welcome once you do is to have a few of those converts make the case for switching by running on the Democratic ticket. While I respect Ms. Hubener and certainly won't tell her not to run, I hope that the grassroots Democrats in HD106 will listen to what England has to say for himself about why he's switching and how he'd represent them as a Democrat, and make up their own minds.

That's about the size of it. A contested Democratic primary in which the candidate likeliest to win the general election wins would be no bad thing. A decision by Ms. Hubener to run for a different office, or later, would also be OK. Given the state of politics in the State of Texas, I have to say that seeing a nominal Republican convert to being a conservative Democrat is, in any case, a very good thing.

If you read the Lone Star Project's lists, you'll know that Rep. England has done some very Democrat-like things even in his latest term as a Republican. And he has stood up to the nefarious Speaker Tom Craddick on a number of occasions. Craddick indeed does not share the values of anybody's district: Tom Craddick is all about Tom Craddick. And Tom Craddick is formidable. Bravo, Rep. England, for standing up to him, whatever happens next.

Rep. England is more conservative than I am. Grand Prairie (not too far from Dallas-Ft. Worth) is a district more conservative than I am, no doubt about it. But if I needed more reassurance that England will be a good Democrat and a good Representative, I need look no further than the press release issued by State Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), an unabashed old-style Democrat with views very close to my own, and a track record in the Lege that any liberal could love:

Rep. Coleman Welcomes Rep. England to Democratic Caucus

(Austin)--State Representative Garnet F. Coleman (D-Houston) issued the following statement regarding Representative Kirk England?s announcement that he intends to seek re-election to the Texas House as a Democrat:

"I'm glad to welcome Representative England to the Democratic caucus," said Representative Coleman. "This past session, Rep. England showed a commitment to put the interests of his district above the interests of his party. That's the best quality for any member of the Texas House to have. I know he'll continue to serve his constituents well in the Texas House."

Representative Coleman said his personal experience in working with Representative England in the 80th Legislative session showed him to be a thoughtful policy maker.

"I had a bill before the House Elections committee this past session dealing with term limits on Houston City Council," said Representative Coleman. "It was late at night towards the end of what had been a long committee hearing. Rather than just toe the party line or coast through the hearing, he engaged me in this thorough, serious discussion about the policy and its effect on government and ordinary Texans. His candor and his thoughtfulness were quite refreshing. I'm looking forward to working with him next session."

When it comes to recommendations, it doesn't get any better than that. Welcome, Rep. England. May many Republicans distressed by the current state leadership's behavior soon follow in your footsteps.


My thanks to the inimitable CEWDEM (Carl Whitmarsh), the man with the excellent Texas Democratic mailing list, for digging up and/or forwarding much of the material in this post. Carl doesn't blog, but he supplies a lot of information to a lot of people.

Steve
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Krugman Has A Blog

Here.

One of his earliest posts emphasizes something I've been thinking needs to be shouted from the rooftops, or, better, into the faces of Republicans who are in denial about it: the Democratic victory in 2006 was a landslide, the numbers exceeding the much-ballyhooed GOP victory in 1994. C'mon, Dem leaders, we won big-time... act like it!

I also understand that Krugman's regular column will be publicly available for free, not on a thousand blogs, but on the Times web site itself. TimesErect™ has detumesced. Apparently they finally discovered they were only screwing themselves.

Steve
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More Thoughts About Jena

I had intended to deconstruct Bush's presser line-by-line. That would probably have been a waste of effort. But one exchange set my teeth on edge:

     ...

Bush spoke out for the first time about the case in Jena, La., in which six black teenagers were initially charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate. He wouldn't comment on legal specifics. The case has attracted nationwide attention.

"The events in Louisiana have saddened me," the president said. "I understand the emotions."

He said the FBI is monitoring the situation, adding: "All of us in America want there to be, you know, fairness when it comes to justice."

     ...

You know, "fairness when it comes to justice." Remember that? Actual racial justice, actively pursued by our government? Last seen, or so it seems, during the Kennedy-Johnson era? I'm glad to hear the preznit "understand[s] the emotions," but I can't help wondering whose emotions he understands best. And the notion that the FBI is involved is scant comfort to me. Indeed, it's a rather chilling "reassurance."

But let me parse the statement in the AP article about the charges:

Bush spoke out for the first time about the case in Jena, La., in which six black teenagers were initially charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate.      ...

The charges were quickly reduced to aggravated battery. Does the AP article ever correct the misimpression it leaves about the charges? Downstream, say, in the same article? Does the AP article mention the provocation for the assault (white students hung three nooses from a tree traditionally regarded as "for whites only")? or that the white students were not charged, with, say, making credible threats? or that the actual assault was approximately the equivalent of a barroom fistfight in which somebody cold-cocked somebody? Do all of those mitigating circumstances count for so little to the AP writer that the statement "six black teenagers were initially charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate" is a sufficient description of the incident on which Mr. Bush was commenting?

I do not condone schoolyard brawling by anyone of any race. But the AP article, in its haste to move on to the next Bush platitude, leaves an incorrect impression that could contribute to a racial stereotype regarding black-on-white violence. That is deplorable.

In the Guardian, there's an example, in an article about the rally for the Jena 6, of how the reporting might properly be done:

     ...

The six teens were charged shortly after the local prosecutor declined to charge three white teens who hung nooses in a tree on their high school grounds. Five of the black teens were initially charged with attempted murder, but that charge was reduced to battery for all but one, who has yet to be arraigned; the sixth was charged as a juvenile.

     ...

Precisely so. Is getting the facts right, in two sentences, so hard that the AP reporter couldn't be bothered to do it?

The whole Guardian article is worth reading. It quotes Al Sharpton, who organized the rally. It quotes the D.A., who, incredibly, defends his decision not to charge the white students. But even in its two-sentence summary of the charges, it is vastly more accurate than the AP article.

As for Mr. Bush, I've never believed before that he is a personal racist. But his mealy-mouthed statement about Jena is certainly a sop to his racist base. Mr. Bush, given a great opportunity to do so, declined to make an affirmative statement condemning racist behavior; does it really matter what is in his heart when he neglects to do so? In saying he is not a personal racist, am I guilty of making a distinction without a difference?

Steve
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Lobotomizing America

Apparently, the Bushists are determined to render America as free of culture and intelligence as the preznit himself appears to be. Cutting off our contacts with foreign scholars resident in the U.S. is certainly a good start on that approach. Via War and Piece, we have this from the NYT:

Music Scholar Barred From U.S., but No One Will Tell Her Why
By NINA BERNSTEIN
Published: September 17, 2007

Nalini Ghuman, an up-and-coming musicologist and expert on the British composer Edward Elgar, was stopped at the San Francisco airport in August last year and, without explanation, told that she was no longer allowed to enter the United States.

Her case has become a cause célèbre among musicologists and the subject of a protest campaign by the American Musicological Society and by academic leaders like Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College at Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., where Ms. Ghuman was to have participated last month in the Bard Music Festival, showcasing Elgar’s music.

But the door has remained closed to Ms. Ghuman, an assistant professor at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., who is British and who had lived, studied and worked in this country for 10 years before her abrupt exclusion.

The mystery of her case shows how difficult, if not impossible, it is to defend against such a decision once the secretive government process has been set in motion.

After a year of letters and inquiries, Ms. Ghuman and her Mills College lawyer have been unable to find out why her residency visa was suddenly revoked, or whether she was on some security watch list. Nor does she know whether her application for a new visa, pending since last October, is being stymied by the shadow of the same unspecified problem or mistake.

     ...

Franz Kafka, call your office.

Look: as much as it may pain the Bushists to admit it, our nation's academic prowess has been invigorated, renewed and sustained for a couple of centuries by an ongoing influx of foreign scholars. Indeed, considering Dr. Ghuman is British, you can extend that couple of centuries back to the time of the Colonies. In light of that history, scholarship of all sorts has flourished in America; indeed, until Bush took office, America was a much-desired destination for young scholars in a wide variety of fields. Throwing out foreign scholars with no publicly announced rational basis for doing so is a good way to put an end, probably forever, to earlier American supremacy in many academic fields. As painful as this surely is for Dr. Ghuman, America needs her... and people like her... more than she needs America.

I can see only one possible explanation for the State Department's reticence about the reason for deporting Dr. Ghuman so unceremoniously: there is no underlying substantive reason, and her deportation was done either entirely to provoke fear in the American community of foreign scholars, or to annoy someone the Bushists dislike. Or both.

Move over, Bush's War on Science™. Make room for Bush's War on the Arts and Scholarship™.

Steve
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Avast, Right-Wing Conspiracy!

Eat hearty, me mateys! It's pasta without Fredo this year. Drink up! Buckle those swashes! An' a hearty thanks to Bryan... without him, mateys, I'd have forgotten the end of Holy Pasta Week, His Noodliness help me! Arrrrrgghhh... A good Talk Like a Pirate Day to ye! May all ye piratical Pastafarians be touched by His Noodly Appendage. Or Her Noodly Appendage, dependin' on which side o' the flagon ye drink from!

Steve
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Hearts And Minds

Oh, yeah. This oughta work:

U.S. Working to Reshape Iraqi Detainees
Moderate Muslims Enlisted to Steer Adults and Children Away From Insurgency
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2007; A01

The U.S. military has introduced "religious enlightenment" and other education programs for Iraqi detainees, some of whom are as young as 11, Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, the commander of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, said yesterday.

Stone said such efforts, aimed mainly at Iraqis who have been held for more than a year, are intended to "bend them back to our will" and are part of waging war in what he called "the battlefield of the mind." Most of the younger detainees are held in a facility that the military calls the "House of Wisdom."

The religious courses are led by Muslim clerics who "teach out of a moderate doctrine," Stone said, according to the transcript of a conference call he held from Baghdad with a group of defense bloggers. Such schooling "tears apart" the arguments of al-Qaeda, such as "Let's kill innocents," and helps to "bring some of the edge off" the detainees, he said.

     ...

"[B]ring some of the edge off"? How are they going to accomplish that?

     ...

Stone said he wants to identify "irreconcilables" -- those detainees whose views cannot be moderated -- and "put them away" in permanent detention facilities. Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and interrogators help distinguish the extremists from others, he said.

After reassessments and interrogations, Stone said, some detainees are recommended for release. "If a detainee is an imperative security risk . . . then I'm going to reduce that risk and I'm going to replace that destructive ideology," he said. "And then when he's assessed to no longer be a threat, I'm going to release the detainee being less likely to be a recidivist."

Since May, Stone said, he has released about 2,000 detainees "and we've not had any coming back." He said his goal is to keep those who are released from harming U.S. troops or anyone else. "They're not going out of here unless I can feel comfortable about that," Stone added. "I'm not doing mass releases."

     ...

Where to start...

Start here. This is probably technically not a First Amendment violation, because the U.S. is doing it to Iraqi citizens, not American citizens. But it violates the spirit of the First Amendment's establishment clause about as badly as possible. The U.S. government simply shouldn't be messing with people's religious views. Their violent behavior is a different matter... but leave the religious views alone.

Next: we've had enough of permanent detention facilities. In a war-without-end, putting away an "imperative security risk" for the duration of the war, or until they recant their religious views, means putting them away for life... on the say-so of a U.S. Marine Major. Oh, and a bunch of "[p]sychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and interrogators." Yeah, that makes it all right, doesn't it.

About those "psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and interrogators": any member of any of those professions who participates in assessments that lead to possible lifetime imprisonment of people based on the extremity of their religious views is violating his or her professional ethics, and should be barred from practicing their profession. If you have a need or even a willingness to send folks to permanent detention (or worse) because of their religious beliefs, you're probably not cut out for the mental health care professions. Find another line of work... right-wing televangelist, perhaps, or Führer.

Steve
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Miscellany - Clearing The Desktop - UPDATED

I mean that literally, by the way. Finally having a widescreen monitor enables me to have a decently proportioned browser window while leaving plenty of desktop visible, onto which I can drag-drop articles of interest for later posts. So I am literally clearing the desktop... posting what is there, then deleting the shortcuts to make room for more. Here's this morning's reading.

  • Restricting prisoners' religious freedom by purging prison libraries:

    Via Hecate, who, like the YDD, pursues a religious view that is out of favor with the current crew of faith-based demagogues in power in Washington, we learn that the Bureau of Prisons has ordered all federal prisons to purge their libraries of all religious books. Why? why, of course... it's the War on a Noun, the justification for every damned thing these days:

    Behind the walls of federal prisons nationwide, chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.

    The chaplains were directed by the Bureau of Prisons to clear the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources. In some prisons, the chaplains have recently dismantled libraries that had thousands of texts collected over decades, bought by the prisons, or donated by churches and religious groups.

    Some inmates are outraged. Two of them, a Christian and an Orthodox Jew, in a federal prison camp in upstate New York, filed a class-action lawsuit last month claiming the bureau’s actions violate their rights to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

    Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency was acting in response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department. The report recommended steps that prisons should take, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, to avoid becoming recruiting grounds for militant Islamic and other religious groups. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”

         ...

    Oh, yes. That'll do it, all right. Put this in the same category as the recent christianist video games supplied to our troops in Iraq. Show 'em we really do, after all, despite all claims to the contrary, hate non-Christian religions. I am sorry, but this action is manifestly unconstitutional under the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause. You do not forfeit your right to religious expression when you go to prison. Not even if you are Wiccan or UU... or Muslim.

  • The French foreign minister calms down regarding Iran:

    Is reckless rhetoric contagious? Is France catching it from the Bush administration? Apparently not: after Kouchner's off-the-cuff remarks suggesting the need to prepare for the possibility of war with Iran, he... and the Foreign Ministry, through its instructions to its diplomats around the world... are softening the position considerably, emphasizing negotiation.

  • What you'll find in Dole:

    No, not Viagra in the former senator... E. coli in the bagged salad mix. Stella regularly uses bagged salad fixin's. Not the YDD; he doesn't trust 'em. This is not the first such recall.

  • The $100 ... $176 $188 laptop:

    Rumors that the XO laptop still has some refinement in terms of both pricing and configuration were confirmed late last week. A spokesperson for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Project told the AP on Friday that the price of the XO laptop has risen to $188 per unit and that the project faces product delays. The cost increase of approximately $12 may not seem like much, but given that initial orders from governments must amount to at least 100,000 units, it all adds up quickly.

    Read the article for more info on the OLPC project. This is not good news for it.

  • You think you were wearing a tinfoil hat after the Chernobyl meltdown?

    Hey, the reactor itself is about to get one, too:

    Ukraine is to cover the site of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor with a vast metal shelter in a long overdue operation designed to prevent the further leak of deadly radiation. Officials in Kiev yesterday said they had hired a French firm to replace the crumbling concrete sarcophagus that has stood at Chernobyl since 1986 - when it was the scene of the world's worst ever nuclear disaster.

    The new shelter is an arch-shaped metal structure 105m (345ft) tall and 150m (490ft) long. It will enclose the sarcophagus hastily put up after the accident. That precarious structure has been leaking radiation for more than a decade.

         ...

    Most nuclear power plants do not fail catastrophically. The bad news is that, given the half-life of the isotopes used to run them, and the waste coming out of them, they have to hold for, say, 10,000 years, long beyond their anticipated useful life, to be safe for later generations of humans. That's even if they don't fail catastrophically. The sarcophagus over Chernobyl lasted about 21 years. You talk about a high-maintenance technology...

    Oh... and I believe the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki qualify as "the world's worst ever nuclear disaster" in terms of human casualties. I'm just sayin'.

  • What do you think of Hillary's new health care plan?

    I need more time to examine it in depth, but the most obvious problem struck me right away: it is yet another plan to provide private insurance to the public. Yes, apparently the insurance is the sort that Congress has for itself. Yes, supposedly, pre-existing conditions are not excluded. Yes, again supposedly, it will be "affordable" ... it's a good thing, if everyone is required to buy into it (?). My first impression is that it perpetuates one of the central problems of our health care system: the private for-profit insurance companies themselves. As someone remarked (who? one of you?), Hillary is offering, not universal care, but universal insurance. That concerns me. I need to read and hear more.

    UPDATE: John Nichols of The Nation sees Hillary's plan as no improvement at all. I am increasingly coming to the same conclusion. More in a later post.

  • The ACLU has a new clock.

    And the ACLU is also in bed with Larry Craig. (In the stall with Larry Craig?) Don't you know that galls the tightie-righties?

And that's the news from Lake Misbegotten.

Steve
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Malarkey? Oh... Mukasey - UPDATED

UPDATE: alert reader Sandy-LA 90034 points us to a worthwhile piece on Mukasey by The Anonymous Liberal (who really belongs on my blogroll, along with many others I'll add when I get to it). Short version: we would do well to consider, not only the specific decisions Mukasey has made as a judge, but the evidence for his commitment to our constitutional system of checks and balances. I recommend you read this post.

Another thought occurred to me, pure speculation of the most paranoid kind. (That's what you come here for, right?) What if Bush wants neither Olson nor Mukasey, but counted on Democratic leadership to squelch Olson and is counting on the GOP conservative base to ax Mukasey... leaving the surprise acting AG appointment, Peter Keisler, "a diehard conservative and controversial figure" according to David Kurtz of TPM, in place indefinitely?

(Original post follows.)


Who is he, anyway? Forgive me if I mistrust the man on the sole basis that Bush wants him as AG. But I'll try to withhold judgment pending further investigation. Here are some early posts about him:

  • Paul Kiel of TPMMuckraker laments how little we really know about Mukasey.

  • Paul Kiel again examines Patrick Leahy's and Harry Reid's reactions. Shorter Leahy: we want information on the U.S. Attorney firings before we go forward with confirming a new AG. Shorter Reid: I won a round! I won a round!

  • Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake praises Democratic leadership for stifling Bush's trial balloon of appointing Ted Olson. (I'm not ready to call this a win yet.)

  • Jeralyn of TalkLeft summarizes known facts (including Mukasey's Giuliani connection), and has lots of good links.

  • Glenn Greenwald examines Mukasey's role in the Padilla case, including the judge's facing down the Bushists over the latter's refusal to comply with his order. Mukasey may turn out to be a true conservative regarding the Constitution. At this point, who knows, but his deportment in the Padilla case shows promise.

Stay tuned; this could be interesting.

Steve
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Are They Nuts? No Need To Answer...

Via Bark Bark Woof Woof, we have a Telegraph article stating that the Bushists are indeed pursuing war with Iran:

Senior American intelligence and defence officials believe that President George W Bush and his inner circle are taking steps to place America on the path to war with Iran, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

Pentagon planners have developed a list of up to 2,000 bombing targets in Iran, amid growing fears among serving officers that diplomatic efforts to slow Iran's nuclear weapons programme are doomed to fail.

Pentagon and CIA officers say they believe that the White House has begun a carefully calibrated programme of escalation that could lead to a military showdown with Iran.

Now it has emerged that Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, who has been pushing for a diplomatic solution, is prepared to settle her differences with Vice-President Dick Cheney and sanction military action.

     ...

Senior officials believe Mr Bush's inner circle has decided he does not want to leave office without first ensuring that Iran is not capable of developing a nuclear weapon.

The intelligence source said: "No one outside that tight circle knows what is going to happen." But he said that within the CIA "many if not most officials believe that diplomacy is failing" and that "top Pentagon brass believes the same".

He said: "A strike will probably follow a gradual escalation. Over the next few weeks and months the US will build tensions and evidence around Iranian activities in Iraq."

     ...

Emphasis mine. Strange wording, isn't it? Does this mean that Bush is over the edge, ready for the funny farm, or that those in his "inner circle" have decided for him that this is what he ought to want?

Condi's change of heart notwithstanding, not to mention Cheney's lack of a heart in the first place, let there be no doubt: this is Mr. Bush's responsibility, no matter who in the administration is running the show. And I'll bet real money (maybe even a dollar) that this is done without involving Congress in any way, or even informing them in advance of military action.

Welcome to the American dictatorship, my friends.

Steve
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Saturday Signs - Sunday Recovering Edition

Are you a recovering drummer? Here's a deal for you!



Hmm... recovering and restoration. I wonder... do they do nations?

Steve
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The Cat 5 Assault On Reason

I've been reading Al Gore's The Assault on Reason (see the LibraryThing link in the right column for information). Last night I came to the chapter called The Carbon Crisis, with its examination of Hurricane Katrina. Gore's text of course examines primarily the utter failure of the response, but has some remarks setting the scientific context. From page 211 of the hardbound edition (ahem... the library's copy):

A hundred years ago, Upton Sinclair wrote, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." Here's what I think we understand about Hurricane Katrina and global warming: Yes, it is true that the science does not definitively tell us that global warming increases the frequency of hurricanes -- because, yes, it is true that there is a multidecadal cycle, a cycle of twenty to forty years, that profoundly affects the number of hurricanes that come in any single hurricane season. But it is also true that the science is extremely clear now, that warmer oceans make the average hurricane stronger: not only make the winds stronger, but dramatically increase the moisture evaporating from the oceans into the storm -- thus magnifying its destructive power -- and make the intensity of the hurricane stronger.

Compare that with the similarly cautious but nonetheless strongly suggestive statement by the always essential Dr. Jeff Masters, resident hurricane expert at Weather Underground, writing about Humberto, Felix and Dean:

Humberto, Felix, and Dean--a sign of climate change?

Many people have asked me if the fact that we've had two record-breaking rapidly intensifying storms this year-- Felix and now Humberto--imply that climate change might be affecting Atlantic hurricanes for the worse. It's also very odd that we've had eight Category 5 hurricanes in the past five years, and two landfalling Category 5 hurricanes this year. That's a lot of Cat 5 activity. So, let's look at the facts and see what we can learn.

     ... (extensive discussion of the historical record)

This year is the fourth year multiple Cat 5's have occurred--see Wikipedia's Category 5 list to see the details. We've now had six Cat 5's in the past three years, and eight in the past five years. Is this an indication climate change is at work? Well, we did have back-to-back years with two Cat 5's each (1960 and 1961), so one can still argue that the Cat 5 activity of recent years is a statistical abnormality. In addition, recent work done studying sediment deposits indicates that intense hurricanes have gone through cycles lasting hundreds or even thousands of years long. Periods of high Category 5 activity similar to that observed the past five years could well have occurred in the distant past. Still, some very good hurricane scientists have begun presenting evidence that climate change may be increasing both the frequency and intensity of hurricanes in the Atlantic. It is possible that climate change may be partially responsible for the recent spate of Cat 5's and rapidly intensifying storms. Climate change is significantly affecting weather patterns worldwide, and must be influencing hurricanes. Unfortunately, we don't have a long enough or high enough quality data record of Atlantic hurricanes to accurately judge how much of an impact this might be. Furthermore, it's not clear why the Atlantic Ocean would be the most strongly affected--we see little evidence that climate change is creating stronger hurricanes in the other ocean basins. But, the events of 2005 and again this year leave me concerned. Eight Cat 5's in five years is an awful lot of severe storms in such a short period. Climate change may be indeed be changing Atlantic hurricanes for the worse.

Again, it's a cautious, reasoned (!) statement on the matter; please read the whole thing. Nobody's ranting here, neither Gore nor Masters from their different perspectives, and for one rare time, I'm not ranting either. But there are so many independent bits of evidence of large-scale climate change (consider the polar regions for a recent example), evidence having nothing directly to do with the frequency and size of hurricanes, that I am personally persuaded that climate change is a major influence on Atlantic hurricanes.


And "personally" is the right word; I do take it personally: I am really tired of having to check the weather sites every couple of hours to see if there is an "instant hurricane" emerging in the Gulf of Mexico.

So here's my mini-rant: Gore is optimistic we can do something about this, but only if we start right away, and only if the powerful forces obstructing widespread rational public discussion of the facts (<cough> ExxonMobil </cough>) (<cough> CheneyBush </cough>) are overcome. I do not know what can be done about ExxonMobil's repeated publication of factually challenged don't-worry-be-happy talk about global warming; as long as we have corporate personhood, it's difficult to challenge corporate speech. But the other obstacle... Bush and Cheney... can damned well be impeached. Their use of our government as if it were a private piggy-bank for their own investments could well be grounds enough, even if there weren't dozens of other bases for impeachment.

Nancy, you put that thing back on the table!

Steve
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Saturday Signs - Good Advice Edition

Steve
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The Patriots Act

Steve
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Friday Miscellany - UPDATED

Steve
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Friday Cat-Feet Blogging

Steve
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Democratic Dynamic Duo

Steve
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Hurricane Humberto Report - UPDATED

Steve
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Midnight With Humberto, But Not Here

Steve
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Houston 10 PM Humberto Report

Steve
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Musicians Of Note: Paul O'Dette, Lute

Steve
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Back In The US... Back In The US...

Steve
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Plumb Blogged Out

Steve
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Bush Plays With Troops

Steve
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Laura's Pain In The Neck

Steve
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Saturday Signs - Sunday Edition

Steve
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Saturday Signs - Wine Shoppe Edition

Steve
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APEC, OPEC, Australia, Austria...

Steve
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The So-Called 'Petraeus Report' -- DOGGEREL!

Steve
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Racism In America: Jena

Steve
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Friday Water Theft Blogging

Steve
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Good News, Bad News

Steve
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Riverbend Reaches Syria

Steve
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Songs For The Times

Steve
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Bush Knew

Steve
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Gore Score

Steve
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Luciano Pavarotti 1935-2007

Steve
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This Is Wrong

Steve
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Oh Jeebus - Nukes Over America

Steve
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Don't Smoke: Your Pets Will Thank You

Steve
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Felix The Cat 0 (Y,JCTP)

Steve
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No! Not Barbie! Not Lead!

Steve
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Olbermann... Angry

Steve
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Bill Moyers Interviews Robert Bly

Steve
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Miscellany - UPDATED

Steve
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I'll Raise A Glass To Them

Steve
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Not To Belabor The Issue

Steve
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Holy F**k! Floridians Must Read

Steve
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Saturday Signs - Bling Edition

Steve
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