Saturday, December 29, 2007

Just plain wrong



I saw this little piece of elven mirth over at Sean's blog.

Season's Greetings.

Moose


the gift of the moose, originally uploaded by Steve took it.

Home at Last

Sarah and I arrived home tonight. The eight hour drive back from Kansas was uneventful, but upon arrival we found our driveway counted in four-five inches of snow, so the car is still at the bottom of the driveway.

We're supposed to be getting even more snow over the next two days. Welcome to Minnesota.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday Blogging

I'm in Kansas having a great time, but blogging will re-commence in a few days when I'm back home. Happy holidays.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Feliz Navidad

Moyers and Olberman

Bill Moyers interviews Keith Olbermann here. Quite a few interesting observations in 20 minutes. I didn't realize Olbermann started as a sportscaster, and he argues that being a sports journalist was good prepartion for covering national politics.

The Future of Body Armor: d3o

Tough on Crime Rhetoric as Political Fantasy

Anyone trying to deal with the reality of crime, as opposed to the fantasies peddled to win elections, needs to understand the complex suffering of survivors of traumatic crimes and the suffering and turmoil of their families. I have impressive physical scars...a broad purple line from my breastbone to the top of my pubic bone, an X-shaped cut into my side where the chest tube entered...But the disruption of my psyche is more noticeable.

For weeks, I awoke each night agitated, drenched in perspiration.... Though to all appearances normal, I feel at a long arm's remove from all the familiar sources of pleasure, comfort and anger that shaped my daily life...

What psychologists call post-traumatic stress disorder is, among other things, a profoundly political state in which the world has gone wrong, in which you feel isolated from the broader community by the inarticulable extremity of experience...As a crime victim and a citizen, I want the reality of a safe community--not a politician's fantasy land of restitution and revenge.

- Bruce Shapiro

Torture Myths

While it isn't scholarly, Darius Rejali has a short article in the Union Leader where he responds to five common views about torture that he thinks are mistaken.

It’s surprising how unsuccessful the Gestapo’s brutal efforts were. They failed to break senior leaders of the French, Danish, Polish and German resistance. I’ve spent more than a decade collecting all the cases of Gestapo torture “successes” in multiple languages; the number is small and the results pathetic, especially compared with the devastating effects [on] public cooperation and informers. |The Five Myths about Torture - Union Leader|


N.B. Cross-posted at the Bellman.

Cannibal Christmas


Yeek!

This has got to be the scariest mannequin I've ever seen.

If she came to life, she'd roam through the streets feasting on human flesh.

-Peggy Archer

Satan Claus

In some rustic parts of Europe and probably in Kansas, Santa retains traces of his carnivorous past. Children are told that if they are "good" all year, Santa will reward them, but if they are "bad" he will EAT THEM ALL UP.

Santa’s Crimes Against Humanity by Robert Anton Wilson @ 10 Zen Monkeys


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Service

A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterward.

- Theodore Roosevelt

Just for the record, I would apply this sentiment to anyone who serves the country regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Trouble

Sacramento cops pull over good drivers

I wonder if this is going to turn out the way they intended...

Motorists may be in for a surprise if they spot flashing red lights in their rearview mirrors in this Sacramento suburb during the holiday season.

Police are stopping law-abiding motorists and rewarding their good driving with $5 Starbucks gift cards.

A traffic officer came up with the idea to "promote the holiday spirit and enhance goodwill between the traffic unit and the motoring public," police Sgt. Tim Curran said.

Local businesses donated money to buy the gift cards.

"They raised a substantial amount of money," Curran said. "They'll be pulling over a lot of people." |AP|

Poverty Crisis in Iraq Deepens

Who said things were getting better in Iraq?

Iraq is set to halve essential items covered by rations and subsidies because of insufficient funds and spiralling inflation, in a further threat to an already deteriorating ration system.

The plan has prompted criticism from those who have already warned of social unrest if measures are not taken to address rising poverty and unemployment...

"In 2007, we asked for $3.2 billion for rationing basic foodstuffs. But since the prices of imported food stuff doubled in the past year, we requested $7.2 billion for this year. That request was denied."....

The impending move will affect nearly 10 million people who depend on the already fragile rationing system.

Ibraheem Abdullah, a professor and social affairs analyst at Baghdad University, said the government has inadequately measured the alarming rise in poverty since the March 2003 US-led invasion.

"Urgent measures should be taken to prevent the possible chaos that will lead to worsening conditions in the lives of millions of Iraqis when the food ration is reduced," he said.

"The government should give priority to this issue. Where do they expect unemployed families to find the means to purchase food now?"...

Yet up to eight million Iraqis still require immediate emergency aid, with nearly half this number living in "absolute poverty", according to the latest report by Oxfam and a coalition of Iraqi groups, including the NGO Coordination Committee of Iraq.|Iraq set to slash food rations - Al Jazeera|


According to the CIA World Factbook, Iraq only has $27 million people, so almost one in three rely on food subsidies simply to survive.

Just Desserts

If [Stalin] was not in fact poisoned -- as has sometimes been alleged -- he probably should have been.

- Axis of Evel Kneviel

Patriotic Mohawk

Fighting the good fight

I have earned my disillusionment, I have been working all of my life and
I am a patriot, I have been fighting the good fight!

-ani difranco


Monday, December 17, 2007

Porthole

Logan's Run, here we come

I ran across this cheerful piece of information today.

For decades, spending on Medicare and Medicaid—the federal government’s major health care programs—has been growing faster than the economy, as has health spending in the private sector.

The rate at which health care costs grow relative to national income — rather than the aging of the population — will be the most important determinant of future federal spending. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that under current law, federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid measured as a share of GDP will rise from 4 percent today to 12 percent in 2050 and 19 percent in 2082 — which, as a share of the economy, is roughly equivalent to the total amount that the federal government spends today. |Long Term Budget Outlook in PDF - Congressional Budget Office|


To resolve this situation, there are only three possibilities: "To prevent deficits from growing to levels that could impose substantial costs on the economy, revenues must rise as a share of GDP, or projected spending must fall — or some combination of the two outcomes must be achieved." |Id.|There will be many unexpected problems along the road in the future, but it's disheartening when you don't have a good solution for the problems you can foresee.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Addict & the Enabler


The Addict & the Enabler, originally uploaded by M1khaela.

The Republican Hypocrisy on Drugs Revisited

Juan Cole brings together several elements of our political culture and demonstrates the total lack of credibility the Republicans have on drug policy and why they should not be taken seriously when it comes to steroid use either.

But in this [Hillary-Obama drug] controversy, what is forgotten is that our current incumbent also admitted to youthful drug use:
Bush has said that he did not use illegal drugs at any time since 1974, but he has declined to discuss whether he used drugs before 1974.

A conversation between Bush and an old friend and author, Doug Wead, touched on the subject of use of illegal drugs. In the taped recordings of the conversation, Bush explained his refusal to answer questions about whether he had used marijuana at some time in his past. “I wouldn’t answer the marijuana questions,” Bush says. “You know why? Because I don’t want some little kid doing what I tried.” When Wead reminded Bush that the latter had publicly denied using cocaine, Bush replied, "I haven't denied anything."
I'd say that we know from this recorded interview that Bush 1) used marijuana in his youth, 2) used "blow" or cocaine in his youth, and 3) is deliberately dishonest about both in public.

We also know that Bush was an alcoholic until he was 40 years old, would go up at parties to little old ladies and ask them how sex is after 50, and fancied himself a ladies man (I think the evangelicals have words like fornication & adultery for that sort of thing, but the evangelicals seem to be selective in choosing the target of such vocabulary).

Of course, if you say you later got religion, and if you are a Republican, all these sins are suddenly forgiven and the nation's newspapers and t.v. pundits and Baptist preachers immediately stop even remembering that they happened.

So everyone reported Bush's condemnation of drug use by athletes on Friday with a straight face, and without making reference to his own drug use. (There is evidence that the alcoholism continued while he was in the White House).

I don't doubt that what Bill Shaheen said is correct, and that the Republicans will play all sorts of dirty tricks on Barack Obama if he is the Democratic nominee. The Republican Party is about velociraptor politics.

But if they did come after Obama for his honesty, I'd reply that they have been led for the past 7 years by someone who did the same things and then stonewalled the public about them. Bush seems to think it is better to teach little children to lie than to be honest with them about the temptations they will face in this society during adolescence.

And the corporate media will never even notice, when they collaborate in the future swiftboating of Obama, that they gave W. a pass because he is a Republican and an elite white male from an old-established political family.

Obama did the right thing in coming clean. Bush did the wrong thing in obscuring the truth. Obama demonstrated leadership. Bush showed himself a political and moral coward, and a hypocrite| Obama vs. Bush, On How Honesty is the Highest form of Leadership - Juan Cole (emphasis added, hyperlinks omitted)
There is an incredible amount of hypocrisy by the Republicans in the war on drugs and no one seems to give a damn except for criminal defense attorneys.

Alpenglow

Cross Country Skiing

I went cross country skiing for the first time today. My friend Alex is a long time skier so we went to Como Park and I rented some skis. It was a lot of fun. I made quite a bit of improvement just in two hours, although the downhills are still pretty tricky.

I'm a bit sore already and may be even more sore tomorrow, but it was a good workout and it was nice to be out in the Alpenglow.

Update: I'm really sore today between my shoulder blades and the sartorius muscle that runs from the inside of the thigh to the outside of the knee. I think my back muscles are sore because at first I was relying on arm power since I hadn't figured out the leg motion for cross country skiing. I think the sartorius soreness comes from pushing out my heels to steer and stop, those are simply muscles I don't use much in everyday life and I'll need to do frequent skiing to tone them up.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Lush

Legalize Steroids Already

We live in the day and age of better living through chemistry. Half the population is on anti-depressants, sleep aids, or treatment for ADHD. Caffeine is a performance-enhancing drug.

Can we just legalize steroids and quit the charade?

And a note to television news producers, I could not care less what some random twelve year olds think about steroid use in baseball and how it affects their naive, white bread ideas of what is fair and right.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Through the looking glass

Whither the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

The Supreme Court recently gave federal judges a great deal more discretion in deviating from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in Kimbrough v. U.S. (Docket number 06-6330) and Gall v. U.S. (Docket number 06-7949).

While this seems like a great day for judicial sentencing reform, Jason Harrow, author of a treatise on sentencing, cautions that this change may actually set sentencing reform backwards by ameliorating the most obvious injustice (the crack cocaine sentencing disparity) while leaving the system fundamentally unjust and hostage to "tough on crime" election-year hysteria.

I strongly suspect that the Blakely-Booker-Rita-Gall-Kimbrough line of cases will let all the steam out of the movement for significant reform of the federal sentencing system....

Conversely, I suspect that the “advisory” character of the Guidelines will only exacerbate the tendency of Congress to meddle in the specifics of guidelines rules.

The pre-Booker system had become a one-way upward ratchet as Congress consistently urged or commanded the Commission to raise penalties in response to the national crime du jour or the electoral needs of particular members.

But in the pre-Booker world, responsible legislators, at least, were checked by the knowledge that guidelines adjustments necessarily produced real sentence increases across the board to virtually all covered defendants.

In the post-Booker-Gall-Kimbrough universe, not even that modest check remains. Micro-managing congressmen proposing yet another two-offense-level increase for spitting on a federal sidewalk can salve any incipient pangs of legislative conscience with the thought that judges will redress any case-specific injustices by exercising their expanded sentencing discretion.

My rueful prediction is that, with only occasional exceptions, Congress will, on a congenially bipartisan basis, continue to bloat guidelines sentencing levels whenever electorally convenient...

Those district court judges now on the bench have, with few exceptions, become accustomed to the guidelines. The guidelines sentencing process is familiar and the sentence lengths prescribed by the Guidelines... have largely been internalized as an acceptable, or at least democratically sanctioned, norm.

For the few cases where applying the guidelines kept judges up at nights, Booker, Rita, Gall, and Kimbrough have given them a safety valve. And thus one should not expect either open or covert agitation from the federal bench for fundamental reform.

It remains a mystery to me why so many people whose basic position is that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are a disaster and that the sentences imposed in federal court are a travesty are so enamored of the Apprendi-Blakely-Booker-Kimbrough line [of cases.]

I understand that the loosening of the reins these cases command makes judges and defense lawyers feel better because they allow judges and lawyers to act more judge-like and lawyer-like during sentencing. And (to be fair) the practical consequence of these cases is that some defendants, and maybe some thousands, will receive lower sentences than would have been the case before.

But from a systemic perspective, it is very hard to avoid the conclusion that the primary result of these cases will be to ensure the continued survival of the Guidelines much as they have always been.

|Commentary: Gall and Kimbrough From Three Perspectives - SCOTUS Blog|


So there you have it, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sarah's Christmas Present


Sarah wanted a piano for Christmas, and here it is. It's an antique overdamper action (or birdcage mechanism) made in 1884 by the company Con & Con.

It's made out of rosewood.

Ouch

You know you're getting old when you hurt yourself while sleeping.

- Lou Sgroi

Monday, December 10, 2007

Silhouette

Emergency Vehicle Accidents

Doing a research project on Homeland Security, I had read that LA was having a significant problem with emergency vehicles getting into accidents, partly due to LA's traffic congestion and partly due to people following emergency vehicles too closely, which is related to the appalling level of driver stupidity in LA...

But I just read this item about an increase in the number of emergency vehicles running into each other.

Many cities across the United States have experienced an increase in emergency vehicle accidents. These accidents can be attributed to departmental training issues, misunderstanding of the right-of-way laws for emergency vehicles, better soundproofing of vehicles, and increased traffic volumes, among other factors.

But departments also have also an increase in the number of apparatus-to-apparatus collisions at intersections. Today's technology can help prevent these accidents, make sure a firefighter's seatbelt is properly used, control traffic signals from inside the cab with preemption technologies....

It is often difficult for the occupants of one emergency vehicle to hear the siren of another because of their own. And it is impossible to see around an intersection. Use of this radio technology would warn an emergency vehicle driver of an impending collision up to three-quarters of a mile in advance. |Crossing Guard - Fire Chief|
Turns out the technology that turns signals green for emergency vehicles previously hasn't been able to deal with multiple emergency vehicles approaching the same intersection, but it looks like the manufacturers are working the bugs out of the system.

No Escape

Hamas has torched confiscated cannabis and cocaine in Gaza said to be worth $4 [million]....The Gaza Strip suffers widespread poverty, unemployment and overcrowding and has suffered under Israeli and European sanctions.

Residents are subject to border closures and Israel recently moved to cut fuel and electricity supplies in response to the firing of homemade rockets into southern Israel.|Hamas torches $4m drug find - Al Jazeera|
So now there won't even be a poor man's vacation in Gaza. Poor bastards.

Base Jumping

Carpe Diem

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.

-Anaïs Nin

Friday, December 07, 2007

God Is A Gamer

This cracked me up. It would be one answer to the problem of theodicy.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dubya Sings!



Thanks to Jim for the link!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Loose Ends


Killing In The Name Of by stublog

Now thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house
Or covet thy neighbor's wife
But for some
Murder is the only door through which they enter life


- Murder in the Red Barn|Rhapsody|Lyrics|Live|




In case of gunfire...

Sarah and I were talking about the Omaha mall shooting today and Sarah asked me what I'd do if we were at the Mall of America and there was a shooting.

Without taking a breath, I told her that I'd push her to the ground, pull out my pepper spray, locate the sound of the gunfire and then move to nearby cover (not just concealment, cover is something bullet-proof).

If the shooter came nearby I'd attempt to pepper spray him. I'd probably die, but the shooter would have difficulty killing anyone else after being blinded by my pepper spray.

Sarah was surprised by my response and a bit shocked that I'd thought this through already.

I had assumed everyone gamed these situations out in their head. Public shootings happen almost every week in this country, it's good to have a plan... it at least gives you a base to improvise upon during a crisis.

Do you have a plan?

War and Peace

Monday, December 03, 2007

Blood Oaths: are we obligated to stay in Iraq?

I was watching this week's edition of Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria and he interviewed the Kurdish ambassador to the United States.

Towards the end of the interview, the Kurdish ambassador stated that all three of the major factions in Iraq want the United States to stay in Iraq.

The Sunnis are afraid that if the US leaves, the Shiites will decimate them.

The Shiites are afraid that if the US leaves the rest of the Arab world will invade Iraq to keep them from decimating Iraq's Sunni minority.

And the Kurds are worried they'll get screwed by everyone (including Turkey).

Fareed Zakaria agreed that this was probably true, but asked why the Kurds were the only ones who would mention this publicly and the Kurdish ambassador suggested that the recent negotiations to maintain a permanent US presence indicated the true feelings of the Arabs.

If this is true... then it shows what a horrible mess Bush has gotten the US into in Iraq.

The Iraqis want us to stay not because they like our presence, but because the potential alternatives are even worse.

Too bad none of this was foreseeable...

Do you have a license for that?



The police refuse to let a pedal powered car on the road.

Not a totally irrational decision, but I think it shows an excessive concern over liability rather than a real interest in safety. If the police had escorted the vehicle it surely would have returned to the gallery safely.

Unfortunately, it would probably be impossible to make this vehicle street legal because it doesn't fit into the administrative categories of car or bicycle.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Lady Liberty



On a clear day, you can almost see freedom.

Can I get some comic relief over here?

Recently I was reading an interview in the Metro Times with Scott Ritter, the former weapons inspector, who was smeared by the Bush administration when he questioned how dangerous Saddam Hussein actually was. I like Ritter because he sticks to his guns for what he thinks is correct, regardless of how unpleasant that may be.

[Metro Times Interviewer (MT)]: But it is now clearer than ever that our invasion of Iraq has been a disaster. How do you explain the lack of opposition?

Ritter: It's difficult to explain. First of all you have to note, from the public side, that very few Americans actually function as citizens anymore. What I mean by that are people who invest themselves in this country, people who care, who give a damn.

Americans are primarily consumers today, and so long as they continue to wrap themselves in the cocoon of comfort, and the system keeps them walking down a road to the perceived path of prosperity, they don't want to rock the boat. If it doesn't have a direct impact on their day-to-day existence, they simply don't care.

There's a minority of people who do, but the majority of Americans don't. And if the people don't care — and remember, the people are the constituents — if the constituents don't care, then those they elect to higher office won't feel the pressure to change.

The Democrats, one would hope, would live up to their rhetoric, that is, challenging the Bush administration's imperial aspirations. Once it became clear Iraq was an unmitigated disaster, one would have thought that when the Democrats took control of Congress they would have sought to reimpose a system of checks and balances, as the Constitution mandates. But instead the Democrats have put their focus solely on recapturing the White House, and, in doing so, will not do anything that creates a political window of opportunity for their Republican opponents.

The Democrats don't want to be explaining to an apathetic constituency, an ignorant constituency whose ignorance is prone to be exploited because it produces fear, fear of the unknown, and the global war on terror is the ultimate fear button.

The Democrats, rather than challenging the Bush administration's position on the global war on terror, challenging the notion of these imminent threats, continues to play them up because that is the safest route toward the White House. At least that is their perception.

The last thing they are gong to do is pass a piece of legislation that opens the door for the Republicans to say, "Look how weak these guys are on terror. They're actually defending the Iranians. They're defending this Ahmadinejad guy. They're defending the Holocaust denier. They're defending the guy who wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth." The Democrats don't want to go up against that. They don't have the courage of conviction to enter into that debate and stare at whoever makes that statement and say they're a bald-faced liar. They're not going to go that route.

[Metro Times Interviewer (MT)]: Do you think there is anything that can happen at this point that will stop this attack [on Iran]?

Ritter: You have to take a look at external influences, not internal ones. I don't think there is anything happening inside the United States that's going to stop that attack. I do believe that, for instance, if Pakistan continues to melt down, that could be something that creates such a significant diversion the Bush administration will not be able to make its move on Iran.

To attack Iran, they're going to need a nice lull period. That's what they're pushing with this whole surge right now. They're creating the perception that things are quieting. I don't know how many people picked up on it, but one day we're told that 2007's been the bloodiest year for U.S. forces in Iraq, the next day we're told that attacks against American troops are dropping at a dramatic pace. So, what's the media focus on? The concept of attacks dropping at a dramatic pace. No one's talking about the fact, wait a minute, we've just lost more guys than we've ever lost before.

They are pushing the perception that Iraq is now stable. If you have a situation in Pakistan that explodes out of control, where you suddenly have nuclear weapons at risk of falling into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, that could stop it. If Turkey attacks Kurdistan and that conflict spins out of control, that could put a halt to it. These are things that could overshadow even Dick Cheney's desire to bomb Iran.

And there could be some other unforeseen meltdown globally that's not on the radar at this time, that, unfortunately, we have to be hoping for to stop an attack on Iran. And that says a lot, that we have to hope for disaster to prevent unmitigated disaster.|Bombs Away? - Metro Times|(emphasis added)
I think Ritter's analysis is persuasive, if a bit depressing. Waiting for this administration to leave office we're all in damage limitation mode, especially the Dem's.

But Ritter makes a good point that I should heed. The Bush administration couldn't dismantle our democracy if the American public weren't so apathetic about the loss of fundamental liberties and the end of transparency in government.

This theme goes largely undiscussed in a recent piece in the Guardian discussing the negative reaction of the movie-going public to movies about the Iraq war and the recent policies of rendition and torture.
Audiences have voted convincingly that they do not want the war in Iraq depicted at all - or at least not yet. As Variety editor Peter Bart recently noted in one of his columns: 'I applaud filmmakers for dealing with real issues in the real world. At the same time the feel-bad genre (which is only in its early stages) is becoming downright oppressive. Filmgoers have a right to ask: When are we going to get some comic relief?' |America shuns Hollywood's take on Iraq - Guardian|
The American people will get exactly the government they deserve.