Why Now?
Monday, February 28, 2005
  No More No More Mister Nice Blog

Steve at No More Mister Nice Blog is backing away from the keyboard.

He has been one of my morning reads since I entered blogtopia [yes, skippy, etc.]. Hopefully, after a break he will re-emerge, possibly as part of a group to reduce the pressure.


  Syria or Bust
Let's start with a few facts. I realize that facts aren't as popular as they once were, but humor me.

Syria was asked by the government of Lebanon to provide peacekeeping troops during the civil war, and Syria agreed.

The 1967 Six Day War was a pre-emptive strike by Israel [the Israelis have admitted it, so don't argue with me], which resulted in Israel occupying Syrian territory, the Golan Heights.

While Iraq and Syria were both controlled by Ba'athist parties for an extended period, the leaders in the two countries, Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad definitely did not like or trust each other. When Assad died and his son Bashar al-Assad took power, there was no warming of relations.

In the 1991 Gulf War Syria sided with the coalition that pushed Iraq out of Kuwait.

Since September 11, 2001 Syria has provided the US with information and assistance on al-Qaeda, and cooperated with the US request to accept and hold the naturalized Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, since returned to Canada.

Syria has not totally closed its border with Iraq, but that might be due to the cross-border raids by American forces which have resulted in Syrian border guards being killed inside Syria, by US forces.

As Jack, the Grumpy Forester, notes Syria just turned over Saddam's half brother and other Ba'athists to the Iraqi government.

The latest human rights report by the US State Department is more concerned with abuses by Russia and Saudi Arabia than Syria.

When the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, was blown up in Beruit, the US recalled its ambassador to Syria, implying complicity in the attack, but providing no evidence.

Following the latest attack in Israel, Israel is adamant on Syria's 'guilt', but their claimed evidence will not be made public.

NTodd informs us that Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) has reportedly told Bush that he would personally fly an F-15 to Syria to drop a couple of nukes and eliminate the "Syrian problem", because Saddam shipped all his WMDs to Syria.

The Syrian government is populated with murderous thugs, just like most of the other governments in the area, so why are we picking on Syria; it doesn't even have oil?


Sunday, February 27, 2005
  Who Wins & Who Loses
I had an earlier post on the Choicepoint problem, which gets even nastier as noted by Cookie Jill at the miniscule marsupial, including information on some Choicepoint executives going for the gold by emulating Martha Stewart.

Jill also covers this Bank Of America Security Lapse covered by CBS.

But the important story for ordinary people is this CBS article An Identity Theft Nightmare.

This whole mess needs a rewrite and the responsibility laid at the feet of those who profit. The corporations are the one's gathering the information that makes such large scale thefts possible. The corporations are the one's who are failing to protect their systems.

After the individual discovers that their identity has been stolen there should be a central registry that would be notified when the police report is filed. Since companies like Choicepoint don't tell you that they are gathering your information, how can you be responsible for notifying them that you are the victim of a crime? Understand that most of what credit bureaus collect is considered "private" information, but your status as the victim of a crime is "public" information. Why are you, as an individual, required to inform these companies of public information?

There should be a central database paid for by the companies that profit from the collection of consumer information. When you file a report about identity fraud, and only when you file such a report, your name and account numbers should be entered into the database by a police agency. Companies and courts should recognize this database as proof that you have become a victim.

The companies should then be required to provide the originating police agency with records of suspect transactions, rather than requiring police agencies to obtain subpoenas for each of them. [Hey, I had to do it. It was a pain even with a release from the victim, and judges don't appreciate it either. It's a waste of taxpayers' time and money.]

Victims shouldn't have to go court repeatedly to prove to yet another company that the company failed to verify the identity of the person they'd given credit. My Dad died 15 years ago and companies are still sending credit card offers to him.


  In League with Satan
Just back from the Post Office to mail some letters and pick up some stamps for my Mother and was rewarded with proof that the Bush administration is in league with the forces of evil.

The Post Office once had a “slot machine” in the lobby that was one of the only sources for one-dollar coins outside of a bank. You put in a ten for a book of First Class and you received twenty stamps, two dollar coins, two quarters, and a dime.

Now they have a touch screen terminal that only takes credit or debit cards. You select a book of First Class and you get 18 stamps and your card is charged $6.66.

A coincidence, you say. Right, everyone thinks 18 is the right number for stamps. Eighteen is three sixes which cost three sixes. The rate increase to 37 cents was part of the plan to steal our souls.

My neighbors are out of church so I’ll certainly have to call and warn them about the threat to their souls from using the Postal Service. The meaning is clear, it didn’t happen under Clinton.

[EDIT: See what living with these people does to your mind.]


Saturday, February 26, 2005
  Continental Divide
If you have cable television and an interest in American history Book TV on C-Span2 is showing on Sunday, May 23rd at 6:30 pm EDT and Monday, May 24th at 6:30 am EDT, Sam Waterston delivering Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union Speech. This is the full text of this important piece of American oratory.

Digby of Hullaballoo uses the Cooper Union speech, arguably one of the major reasons Lincoln was nominated by the Republican Party for President in 1860, in his continuing effort to understand the rightwing.

Digby has been trying to make sense of the incomprehensible: why the rightwing continues to cry of discrimination when they are in control of the government. I agree with his analysis that they have to have the total acceptance of their ideology, not simply the political power they have managed to win.

The Cooper Union speech is important beyond this point. Lincoln constructed an argument and proof that should be studied for its effectiveness in dealing with many of the claims of the so-called conservatives. In the speech Lincoln uses the original sources to show the actual opinions of the "Founding Fathers", not the opinions later created to justify a break with the true history and traditions of the country.

By now we all have groaned at the revisionist history that is used to justify every bad idea anyone has ever come up with, and this is not limited to any particular group, although some are more egregious than others.

Having lived through the last half of the previous century I can assure you that there was no "Golden Age" in that time span, and based on the personal testimony of relatives that extend back to the last half of the 19th century, life was not a "bed of roses" in the 100 years before I was born, although there were a lot of thorns. People remember the fun they had as children, but if you got serious they would tell you that life at the time was harder and more brutal than modern times. People forget that until the 1950s and antibiotics the hospital was where people went just before they died, not where they were cured.

If people think that things were so wonderful at some previous period of history they should become re-enactors. I would warn you that serious re-enactors do real research and demand authenticity. Spend a summer in the clothing of 150 years ago and then we can talk about how great things were. Pick your period and try living with nothing available that was invented after that time.

To quote myself: How can people learn and understand history when so many spend so much time and effort distorting it?


Friday, February 25, 2005
  The Cult of Bioplasts
John Burt, Michael Griffin, Paul Hill, Randall Terry, and Phil Kline: what do these men have in common?

John Burt is currently in prison for sexual assault on a minor. Michael Griffin is serving a life sentence for murder. Paul Hill was executed for multiple murders. Randall Terry is the former head of Operation Rescue having left that organization as the result of lawsuits. Phil Kline is the attorney general of Kansas. They have all proudly proclaimed themselves to be Christians, based on their personal definitions of Christian. They have all proudly proclaimed themselves to be champions of life, based on their personal definitions of life. They have all proudly proclaimed themselves to be champions of public morals, based on their personal definitions of morals.

You have probably read posts recently about Terri Schaivo and Phil Kline's fishing expedition in Kansas. Steve Bates and Musing Michael have written on Terri Schaivo, while Atrios, Steve Bates, Steve Gilliard, and Tbogg, among others have written on Kline.

Randall Terry is one common factor. He along with Burt, Griffin, and Hill were regulars among the "pro-birth" protesters in Northwest Florida. He was also a regular in Kansas. Having been sued to penury by various groups that faced violence at the hands of his supporters, he started anew with the Society for Truth and Justice [based on his definition of truth and justice], and has been called in by the parents of Terri Schaivo to organize protests and force the Florida legislature to pass another unconstitutional law.

As Terry's brand of intimidation failed in Kansas, Phil Kline is using his office to try a different form. Kline makes the standard claim of all those who believe the world should accept their values without question: it's to protect the children.

I was in law enforcement. I have applied for warrants and subpoenas to gather information in furtherance of an investigation. You have to have a crime, and provide probable cause to believe that the requested writ or warrant is relevant to the crime. I find it hard to believe that there is so little crime in the state of Kansas that its attorney general must acquire private medical information to see if he can discover some work for the police and courts in the state.

Based on what he claims he is looking for, he can find most of what he seeks in public vital statistics that record the births in Kansas. That should be sufficient to provide him with decades of statutory rape cases. It is rather obvious that he isn't interested in those that have been born and are citizens of the state of Kansas. His purpose is to harass medical professionals he, personally, doesn't like. No one should take the law into their own hands and become a vigilante, especially the attorney general of a state.


  Friday Cat Blogging [TM Kevin Drum]

Friday Cat Blogging
If you were my friend, you'd cut the rope.
[Edit: Crazy Cat was hand-raised by my Mother and now lives next door. Yes, she's on a leash.]
Friday Ark


Thursday, February 24, 2005
  A Fair Use?
The swashblogging Scaramouche has a look at USA Next and commits blatant journalism by back tracing the groups and people behind this effort.

He also has the ad up that USA Next intended to use to attack AARP.

You may be aware that the ad disappeared rather precipitously, which was explained as part of the plan by USA Next: the ad was designed to cause the liberals to overreact.

Except that Steve Gilliard reports that one of the individuals shown in the ad was annoyed by the use of his picture.

Apparently USA Next used a photograph of a gay wedding that was copyrighted by a newspaper, without permission.

The newspaper is unhappy; the people in the photo are unhappy; USA Next is in a bit of legal trouble.

This is an amateur mistake. You can do almost anything to politicians, but regular people have rights and crossing newspapers is a really bad idea.


  Reality Czech
I'm beginning to think the White House does this as part of a concerted effort to destroy the computers of the educated in the US by having the owners spew whatever liquid they have in their mouths all over said computers when hearing the latest speech by Bush.

Today in Bratislava Bush told a crowd that Slovakia was the model for Iraq based on its transformation following the fall of the Soviet bloc.

I would wonder if anyone realizes that he has just said that Iraq should break up into separate countries based on ethnicity, because that's what happened to the former country of Czechoslovakia following the Communist's collapse in Eastern Europe.

One would assume that in an administration clogged with Cold-warriors at least one person might have been aware of this detail and mentioned it. Americans may not remember these annoying little facts, but the Europeans do, and now they are going to be wasting time trying to figure out if this signaled an American acceptance of the partition of Iraq.


  More Bacteria Blogging
This CNN article may point to the reason a simple life form can live, for a given value of live, so long:New organism raises Mars questions.

It is about the discovery of bacteria in an Alaskan core sample that when brought to room temperature came back to life. The section of the sample being studied was 30,000 years old and consisted of permafrost.

If this bacteria can withstand being frozen for millennia, It is possible that the 16 million year old bacteria in the previous sample was only actually "alive" for a very short period of those years, going dormant when life wasn't sustainable.

Some reptiles go dormant for extended periods in underground cells during drought, there's a frog in Canada that is frozen during the winter, and we just went through the miracle/annoyance of the cicadas.

Given what we know about the extended dormant life of spores, this is a reasonable hypothesis, but study needs to be done.

[Edit: It would be nice to take a few years off and come back in September, 2008.]


Wednesday, February 23, 2005
  Life Is Older and Tougher Than We Thought
Ancient life thrives in the deep is a BBC science article about the discovery of life in the ocean sediments.
Scientists suggest between 60 to 70% of all bacteria live deep beneath the surface of the Earth, far from the Sun's life-giving rays.

Some of the new bacteria identified are about 16 million years old, surviving 400 metres below the sea bed.

This hostile habitat might be where life first evolved more than 3.8 billion years ago, researchers believe.

Note that it says that they have discovered bacteria that has been alive for the last 16 million years, not that existed that long ago. These things are still alive.


  Who Owns Your Copyright
Len at Dark Bilious Vapors riffs on the war against individuals by RIAA, and others, in their copyrights crusade and then Steve at The Modulator posts on Choicepoint.

With that in mind, why do businesses have the right to total control of their property and to take control of the property of individuals?

If the powers-that-be believe that people need to pay separate fees for the same song on tape, CD, DVD, MP3, etc., how do they justify business gathering the personal information of individuals and selling it.

What is the difference between going into a concert with a recorder and making a tape of the concert to sell to others without the knowledge or permission of the performers, and a business gathering financial and personal information without the explicit permission of the individuals and selling it.

Choicepoint is an information bootlegger. If you don't own the copyright to your life, there is no meaning to copyright. Agreeing to provide a business with information by filling out a form doesn't automatically give that business the copyright to your life. They aren't sending a copy to a friend; they are selling your information. This isn't "sharing"; this is "piracy".

I don't want to hear about "opt in" versus "opt out". The assumption is that if you aren't explicitly given permission to tape a concert, it is illegal to do it. The same assumption should be applied to your personal information. If your information is sold, at a minimum you are due a royalty.

On a related note, this BBC article: Courts question anti-piracy rule, would seem to indicate that the courts feel that the FCC is over-reaching in its attempts to push the "rights" of business, requiring hardware manufacturers to build equipment to the specifications of some copyright owners.


  Let Them Eat Burritos
A country deeply in debt due to a series of wars and financial mismanagement ; lavish expenditures on the head of state who fails to understand the problems; a tax system that exempts the wealthy and puts the burden on the middle class and poor; a business environment plagued by frauds and bankruptcies; a vast standard of living gap between those at the top and the vast majority at the bottom.

Sound familiar? Of course, it's 18th century France and it resulted in the series of events that are grouped as the French Revolution. Gee, what did you think?

Oh, by the way, no one said: "Let them eat cake." "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" would be closer to "Let them eat cheese blintzes." Marie Antoinette was about 10 years old when Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote it in Confessions, published after his death. The Swiss philosopher attributed it to an unnamed princess, but the appearance of the book in 1782 may be why people assumed the reference was to her.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005
  Free Mojtaba and Arash Day
This BBC report concerns an effort to highlight the plight of two Iranian bloggers, jailed for what they were doing.

The Committee to Protect Bloggers has asked people to observe February 22nd as Free Mojtaba and Arash Day.

It can't hurt to highlight the problems people are having around the world saying things their governments don't like. I don't think many doubt that there are a few people who think that some of us belong in prison.


  Not A Problem, An Opportunity
CBS has an article, Microsoft's Other Security Problem, on Microsoft's entry into the anti-virus market.

My favorite quote:
...John Schwarz, president and chief operating officer of Symantec Corp., would rather see Microsoft concentrate on fixing security flaws.

"We believe they'd be better off in focusing on making sure that their platform, the Windows operating system, is less subject to attack," Schwarz said.

Microsoft is going to start offering software to protect its flawed software from people exploiting the flaws. They are going to use this opportunity to generate even more money from the people who suffer from having bought the flawed software in the first place.

While I don't support "frivolous lawsuits", how, exactly, is it not a tort for someone to sell you a defective product, and then charge you for the fix to the flaw. Wouldn't it be suspected that you had intentionally left flaws, so that you could market the fix?

I know I'm automatically suspicious of Microsoft, but I'm having a hard time believing that a dedicated team of professional programmers is totally unable to write a software package that can't be attacked by a lone wolf programmer operating out of a dorm room.

Microsoft has the cash to create the best operating system on the planet, but they are having a hard time competing on the basis of technical competence with creation of a lone Finnish student's adaptation of a system used as a teaching aid which was conceptually based on a system written by a underemployed engineer who wanted a computer to play a game.

If Linus Torvalds, Andrew Tanenbaum, and Kenneth Thompson can do this, why can't billionaire Bill Gates get it done? It's not as if there aren't a lot of experienced programmers looking for work.


  Something Completely Different
Check out the newest wingnut product from August J. Pollack.


  Rant of a Taxpayer
Laura Bush told Newsweek that she wanted a new White House chef who could make "American food", like "barbeque" and "Tex-Mex".

The White House has a chef because it has often given state dinners in the past. The Bush's don't seem interested in state dinners. If you're not going to hold big dinners, you don't need a chef: you need a cook.

We pay the President $400K, provide a house, and an expense account. If his wife wants a cook, he can afford to hire one, although, since his wife doesn't seem to have a lot to do, I don't understand why she can't cook for the two of them.

If they like a particular meal from Crawford, they spend enough time there to buy the food and freeze it for use at the White House, or they could order out. Washington has a lot of restaurants and the eateries that sell barbeque and Tex-Mex usually have take out. At one time I might have been worried about security concerns, but after Gannon, that's obviously not a problem at the White House these days.

Paying an executive chef to make tamales for two people is not my idea of a reasonable use of tax dollars, nor is buying a yacht or new helicopters when the deficit is at a half trillion dollars a year.

Just a hint Laura: there are hungry children in this country with two working parents, so don't expect me for care that you can't get tacos from the White House kitchen when your husband is cutting food stamps.

[Edit: My Dad retired years before my Mother and he did the cooking because he was the one with the time.]


Monday, February 21, 2005
  A Footnote
HST began his journalistic career while stationed at Eglin Air Base writing the sports column for the base newspaper in the mid-1950s. I lived down here at the time, but as an elementary school student, I wasn't familiar with his work.

A former columnist on our local puppy trainer, Bill Campbell, worked in Base Public Affairs then, and mentioned the experience occasionally. Needless to say Dr. Gonzo and the Air Force parted ways via a discharge: Mr. Thompson was not suited for a military lifestyle.

At the time in this area kerosene was regularly used for lighting, dirt floors were not uncommon in grocery stores to soak up the blood dripping from freshly butchered meat, and there was no air conditioning. If you wanted a boat you had to build it or contract with a local to have it built. Appliances arrived from Sears & Roebuck on a truck, but you had to know how to install them. Most cooking was done outside during the summer to avoid heating the house.

[Update: The local media is saying the discharge was honorable, but most others are saying dishonorable, which may indicate a general discharge at the convenience of the service to get rid of him.]


Sunday, February 20, 2005
  RIP Hunter Stockton Thompson 1937-2005
On Sunday gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson reportedly committed suicide.

This is a short biography of a man who lived and died controversially.


  The Fickle Finger of Fate
Some members of a particular party who aspire to the imperial purple inked their fingers to show their "solidarity"¹ with the heroic voters in a "liberated nation"².

The voters were "heroic" because the ink was "permanent"³ and those with inked fingers were subjected to the possibility of being killed by insurgents.

This is why I was struck by Dr. David Mikosz's article in the Technology section of the BBC: Ink helps drive democracy in Asia about voting in Kyrgyzstan.

One wonders why the US funds the use of ink that is only visible under an ultraviolet light in a relatively stable country like this former republic of the Soviet Union, but uses a highly visible ink in a country where voting can make you a target for murder.

The US obviously knew of this safer alternative, but chose the more dangerous procedure. If I were a cynic, I would think that the choice was based on the ability to generate a photo opportunity at a speech.

1. Has anybody told them that Solidarity was a labor union, the union that lead the way to a free Poland, a country we should never forget, unlike those pesky countries in Central America who refuse to understand that death squads are so "last century"?

2. New term for conquered province.

3. Given their attention span, any period of time that is longer than a television ad. Heard on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me: "...this is because no one in the Middle East has heard of a petroleum solvent."


Saturday, February 19, 2005
  USS Jimmy Carter

USS Jimmy Carter Patch

The newest US submarine, SSN-23, the USS Jimmy Carter, a Seawolf class nuclear submarine, was commissioned today at Groton, Connecticut. The christening recognizes the submariner service of the 39th President, a graduate of the US Naval Academy. Also at the commissioning was President Carter's classmate and former CIA Director, Admiral Stansfield Turner.

The ship has additional capabilities beyond the normal Seawolf-class attack submarine, able to function as a laboratory for new technologies as well as acting as a reconnaissance platform.

[Edit: No definitive word yet on the reports that the Air National Guard will name a dental chair after GWB.]


Friday, February 18, 2005
  Book Meme:
Stolen from Mustang Bobby.

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

"I am impressed, Private," said Jackrum.

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. © 2003


  Collateral Damage
Leah at Corrente has an extended post, Have You Heard The One About Eason Jordan?, that provides you with all that is currently known about the incident that was the proximate cause of his resignation.

If you have an interest in reporting, especially war reporting, you should take the time to read it. It is long for a blog post but it covers all of the basic information on the Davos incident.

I read it as a former intelligence analyst and criminal investigator and it confirms something I have long held: eyewitness testimony is worthless. I see no reason to believe that anyone was lying or distorting what they heard, but the limiting context of what Mr. Jordan was saying was lost in the firestorm that followed his comments.

From the post I learned that Congressman Barney Frank said that many journalists were "collateral damage" in the Iraq war, and Mr. Jordan corrected him, saying that up to ten journalists were not "collateral damage", but were targeted by the military. Mr. Jordan was right, but it is a distinction that most do not understand.

"Collateral damage" means that those killed were not the "targets" of those who fired the weapons, i.e. they were hit by ricochets, were too close to explosions, etc. These are people who were at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

There is a whole different class of deaths: those who were the target of those who fired the weapons, but shouldn't have been. These are people who mistaken for "the enemy", but weren't.

Jordan talked about journalists, but most would be more familiar with the picture of a little girl, covered with the blood of her parents, crying. Her father didn't stop when US troops wanted him to, and the family car was riddled with "targeted" gunfire. The troops assumed that the car was a threat. The troops didn't intend to kill the parents of that little girl; they intended to kill the "enemy" driving the car.

I do have some advice for journalists: in a war zone, don't point cylinders, like large camera lenses, at nervous troops. Troops who are worried about being blown up by RPGs react very badly to people carrying large cylinders. The difference between a television camera on someone's shoulder and an RPG launcher on the same shoulder is not that great to a jumpy soldier.


  Drug Pushers Win Another Round
The CBC had this item on moves to stop the US Food & Drug Administration from banning a class of pain drugs: Keep arthritis drugs on market, U.S. regulator told.
Dr. Christopher Grubb told the FDA panel that COX-2 inhibitors need to be kept on the market despite potentially dangerous side effects because troops overseas would suffer without them.

"Consider our military in this particular drug decision," Grubb said, adding that troops use COX-2 drugs because traditional pain relievers such as aspirin have been linked to excess bleeding.

Without them, the United States wouldn't be able to have as many troops on the battlefield, he said.

"Coxhibs are essential in the global war on terrorism."

Well, the FDA went along and will not ban the drugs at this time, but if the military would expand the regular forces and stop shipping old fogies like me to war zones, arthritis drugs wouldn't be necessary for battlefield effectiveness.

Where's the call for armor for walkers? Are they drafting combat geriatric medics? Do people understand how pathetic this makes the US military look?



Friday Cat Blogging [TM Kevin Drum]

Friday Cat Blogging

Don't make any sudden moves.

[Edit: Pictures are terrible, but this is the second most senior female and the number 1 rat killer. Her name is based on the white diamond on her forehead.]


Thursday, February 17, 2005
  He Who Steals My Purse Steals Trash
In the grand tradition of Punxsutawney Phil, Alan Greenspan crawled out of his mausoleum and pronounced that everything is a risk, but we should take a risk . . . or not.

And we should listen to him because Jimmy Carter appointed Paul Volcker to straighten out the inflation problem in the American economy and Volcker gave Greenspan the 3X5 card that said: you bring inflation down by raising interest rates, and you lower interest rates to the point at which inflation is minimal or if the economy slips into a recession. There was no fine print on the card that said: unless you need to help a Republican.

Greenspan did nothing about the tech stock bubble; he was telling people to get adjustable rate mortgages when mortgage rates were at historic lows; he has no clue as to why no jobs are being created; he has made no stand on the budget and trade deficits; he links Medicare and Social Security to justify talking about a problem.

Mr. Greenspan is a totem, not a wise man. Anyone who talks about increasing the rate of savings for Americans by switching to private accounts while knowing that it will increase the deficit should not head a local credit union, much less the Federal Reserve system. As one of my great aunt's used to say, he has outlived his brain.


  What Is In A Name?
Russian names tell you a lot, for instance a complete Russian name always includes the person's father's first name. The middle name is a patronymic, a version of the father's name.

The Surname came late to the Russians and they were changed frequently on a whim. Often they relate to the family business, as occurs with Cooper, Carpenter, and Smith in English. Putin indicates perhaps a guide or road builder, while Rasputin is a libertine.

Michael Medved can be translated as "Teddy Bear" in English.

This brings us to out new Secretary of Homeland Security - Mr. Chertoff. Chert could be called a Slavic god. . .of the underworld. Yes, our Homeland Security is now in the talons of a spawn of all evil.

As for our new National Intelligence Director, well, a Black Bridge is better than a Blackadder.

[Update: I surrender - Blackadder is better than the Black Bridge.]


  Can I Get An Amen!
Today's panblogic meme is tied to a column by a Catholic priest at Common Dreams. Fr. Dear's Pharisee Nation expresses the disconnect some Christians feel when listening to the "leaders" of the "Christian Right".

Michael, Melanie, Amy, and American Street all have posts up on this column. Amy's post also includes a short reference to my local area and it's religious wackery.


  Are We Safe Yet?
Andante took note of a woman who accidentally carried a butcher knife through airport security screening in her purse.

That's because all of the screeners were busy in Detroit removing fake passports for an art exhibit.

. . .The items belonged to an art group headed by Vienna artist Robert Jelinek, and included what the government described as "fantasy passports", along with ink pads, rubber stamps and ink. They were taken from Jelinek's luggage February 9 in Detroit as he headed for Cincinnati. . .

. . ."I think it says a lot about the condition of our world today, that everyone is understandably on the alert", said Contemporary Arts Center director Linda Shearer.

The items were supposed to be included in the museum's exhibit titled "State of Sabotage", which focuses on government or corporate power over the individual. . .

Some snarky arty-type put the receipt that TSA left in Mr. Jelinek's luggage in the space reserved for his objects.

How are fiction writers and satirists supposed to compete with this alternate reality?


  Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble
The BBC Middle East news has just been hopping: Iran blast cause remains mystery, because no one buys the several different stories that have been floated by different groups.

My guess is that it is related to the following story: US 'using spying drones on Iran'.

When a fighter goes into combat mode the pilot dumps external fuel tanks, which lightens the aircraft and improves aerodynamics. If they launched against the drone, the explosion could have been such a fuel tank, or an air-to-air missile that failed to lock on to a target and fell to earth when it ran out of fuel.

And, of course, it has nothing to do with the September explosion which North Korea says was part of a construction project. No, it's simply coincidence that members of the "Axis of Evil" that are suspected of developing nuclear weapons keep deciding to have large, unannounced "construction explosions".

Bush is certainly uniting people: Iran to aid Syria against threats.

Syrian Expatriate Affairs Minister Buthaina Shaaban said she was "baffled" by the US reaction to the killing.

"To point to Syria in a terrorist act that aims at destabilizing both Syria and Lebanon is truly like blaming the US for 9/11," she told the BBC.

The minister said Mr Hariri had been a "great ally" to Syria and his death was "a scandal against Syria and against Lebanon".

Isn't it nice that Dubya has managed to convince a secular Ba'athist Arabic country and a theocratic Shi'ia Persian country to subsume their differences and work together.

If you've finished your coffee and want something stronger, you might want to drop by the Whiskey Bar and read: Gimme That Old Time Religion, a look at Ibrahim Jaafari, the man who may become Iraq's Prime Minister.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005
  Privileged Communication
The basic underlying concept in privileged communication is the right against self-incrimination, the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights. The assumption is you will tell your spouse, your lawyer, and your minister everything under the expectation of confidentiality. The prohibition is not a protection for said spouse, lawyer or minister; it is a protection of the rights of the suspect. The state may not compel these groups to testify. These privileges are also found in English Common Law.

Lawyers are officers of the court, which means they may not be compelled to testify about information they have about past behavior, but they must report information to prevent future crimes.

In some jurisdictions not only may these classes not be compelled to testify, they may not volunteer to testify.

Note that the privilege is prevent information from being revealed by people who are known. The claim to press privilege is based on preventing people from being revealed after the information is published. The claim is also based on the First Amendment, not the Fifth.

In the case of Cooper and Miller, they are claiming that their status as reporters should be privileged. The argument is that without the ability to shield sources, they would be unable to gather the news. I could point out that the media has no idea whether or not they can gather the news without unnamed sources because they make little effort to do so with such sources.

While it is all well and good to point to the Pentagon papers and Watergate as examples of stories that began with sources, and there are any number of stories of corporate malfeasance that began with "whistle blowers" as justification for this claim, no right is absolute.

Bob Novak revealed that convicted spy Robert Hanssen was one of his sources for several stories, and Newsweek famously outed Oliver North as the source of several leaks, after North attacked the media for printing leaks. This would indicate the media doesn't hold to the concept of absolute protection of sources.

Some have noted that those in this case have not seen the evidence filed by the prosecutor. What lawyerly piffle. This matter is before a grand jury and all grand jury testimony is secret to protect people if there is no indictment. That some prosecutors choose to "leak" to the media and the media chooses to print those leaks doesn't alter the fact that the testimony is secret.

Freedom of the press means the press is free to print whatever it wishes without prior restraint; it does not mean the press is not responsible for what it prints. The press has extra protection from libel suits, but it can still be sued.

I might have more sympathy for these people if they had supported Susan McDougal when she was jailed for refusing to cooperate with "The Starr Chamber" or had actually done a little reporting of the facts in the last decade.

The question is simple who is the victim? Is the "victim" the government or a faceless corporation that has been exposed as incompetent or criminal? No, the victims are a "whistle blower" and his wife. This is not a case of the media serving the general good; this is a case of the media cooperating with the government to punish an opponent of those in power.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005
  Cognitive Dissonance
The Missile Defense System has failed again, but it wasn't the same failure as the last time. Last time it failed because the fault-tolerance on the missile wasn't "tolerant" enough, so they lowered the bar. This time the ground support equipment failed. The only thing that seems to work is the target missile. I hope that the fact that the US is skilled at throwing "skeet" makes the $8.8 billion worth it for those who back this joke. Remember: it would only cost $1 billion to update the Hubble telescope, something that actually works.

A small reminder to one and all: "Gannon" is about White House security and the professionalism of the White House press corps. An unqualified individual was given access to one of the nation's most secure locations. Everything else is a distraction from the real problem.

According to an NPR report, a federal appeals court has ruled that Matthew Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of the New York Times have to talk to a federal grand jury or go to jail. The case will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

A small suggestion to journalists: you would have more gravitas if you occasionally used information from people who have names and are willing allow you to use them. Background is nice, but where is the foreground?

A prominent politician was killed by a roadside bomb, and the blame is being placed on a foreign government with a military presence in the country.

The country is Lebanon, and the country being blamed is Syria. The US has recalled its ambassador to Syria for "consultation". At this point no one really knows much about the incident, but a lack of facts hasn't stopped Bush before.

I see. When it happens in Lebanon, it is the fault of a foreign military presence, but not in Iraq.


Monday, February 14, 2005
Why are you being hustled by street vendors to buy sad and drooping former roses, vegetative matter that missed the cut for bouquets, or were too late to the hospital?

Blame Esther A. Howland (1828 - 1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts. Her guilt is writ large by the Greeting Card Association's Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary. She imported the concept to the US from Britain to bolster her father's stationery store in 1847.

Of course, it wasn't long before the stationers had infiltrated school boards and imposed the now mandatory exchange in the classroom to push the low end product of Asian children and prisoners.

Seeing the success of the card merchants, the confectioners jumped on board to fill the lull between Christmas and Easter with the benefit that the bulk of purchases would be made by desperate men with less sense of taste than a golden retriever. If the box was red, heart-shaped, and said chocolate, a man would buy it.

There were at least three Saint Valentines and all were martyrs, as they should have been for the trouble they've caused. None are the reason for the "holiday", only the excuse. They lived at a time when life and men were short and brutal, so the romantic aura of the holiday is pure piffle. At least one was reportedly part of a draft dodging scheme during the Roman Empire, marrying people so the men could avoid being deployed to foreign wars, bachelors being preferred for catapult fodder.

It is to be hoped that the individual who first wrote: "Roses are red, violets are blue" was eaten by rabid wolverines, or had hemorrhoids.


  Who Are The Terrorists?
Dave Neiwert at Orcinus specializes in domestic US terrorism, and the lack of a firm definition in this country as to who is a terrorist.

This CNN story talks about William Krar and reports that he had collected an arsenal:
"A raid in April found nearly two pounds of a cyanide compound and other chemicals that could create enough poisonous gas to kill everyone inside a space as large as a big-chain bookstore or a small-town civic center.

Authorities also discovered nearly half a million rounds of ammunition, more than 60 pipe bombs, machine guns, silencers and remote-controlled bombs disguised as briefcases, plus pamphlets on how to make chemical weapons, and anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-government books. "

He was arrested and afforded all of the protections of the American criminal justice system.

Jose Padilla, a Muslim, was arrested at an airport and only a protracted legal battle has enabled him to receive some constitutional protections. He is reportedly suspected of planning to build a "dirty bomb", in spite of the fact that he lacked the knowledge and materials to do so, and there is no physical evidence of any crime. An American citizen, he was declared an "enemy combatant" and held without charges by the military. Even the Cato Institute protested his treatment.

The US is not unique in its selective identification of terrorist.

The CBC tells us that Israeli ministers threatened by Jewish extremists. "Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer read a threatening letter to the cabinet. Had it been written by an Arab, the writer would have been jailed, he said."

And TV New Zealand tells us of right-wing extremists who attempted an attack on Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a wedding.

"Rightists regularly heckled and threatened politicians in the days leading up to the 1995 assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish ultra-nationalist opposed to his peacemaking efforts with the Palestinians."

For some reason it doesn't make any difference what you do, it is your ethnicity and/or religion that would seem to determine if you are a "terrorist".


Saturday, February 12, 2005
  Historical Amnesia
You may have heard about the middle-aged British couple that has finally decided to get married. One of the supposed problems is the status of the gentleman as he may become the titular head of the Church of England and he and his future wife are both divorced.

The raison d'être of the Church of England was to facilitate the divorce of the first head of the Church, Henry Tudor. Henry was certainly in favor of marriage: he had six of them, and divorce: he had two of them.

The Six Wives Of Henry VIII: Catherine of Aragon [m. 1509 - 1533, Divorced], Anne Boleyn [m. 1533 - 1536, Executed], Jane Seymour [m. 1536 - 1537, Died], Anne of Cleves [m. 1540 Jan. - July, Divorced], Kathryn Howard [m. 1540 - 1542, Executed], Katherine Parr [m. 1543 - 1547, Widowed].


  We Are Terrorists?
Digby has an interesting post on attempts to label liberals as supporters of terrorists.

I have a few questions:

Who were the liberals that gave chemical and biological weapons to Saddam Hussein?
Who were the liberals that sold weapons to the government of Ayatollah Khomeini?
Who were the liberals that opposed going after bin Laden following the bombing of the USS Cole?
Who were the liberals that ignored warnings and eliminated the FBI counter-terrorism budget on September 10, 2001?
Who were the liberals that ignored over 50 warnings to the FAA about the possibility of a hijacking and suicide mission in 2001?
Who were the liberals that advocated abandoning the hunt for Osama bin Laden to attack Iraq?
Who were the liberals that exposed a CIA operative?
Who were the liberals that turned down three plans to eliminate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi before the Iraq invasion?
Who were the liberals that made killing American troops easier by failing to provide body and vehicle armor?

The liberals haven't been making the decisions and spending the money. If the right doesn't like getting blamed for the messes they create, they need to tuck tail and crawl back into their holes.


  Dooh Nibor
Bush came into office talking about people's money and how he was going to return it to them. He then proceeded to take the Social Security surplus and gave it to people who did not pay Social Security taxes. There was no income tax surplus; the income tax revenues were still a bit short of balancing the budget, all of the "extra" money belonged to those who paid FICA withholding taxes. Having done this he now claims there is a Social Security crisis because the taxes he has left can't cover his profligate spending plans.

I went through this "Supply-side - borrow and spend" tripe under Reagan and Bush I, and the only way to described it, if you wish to avoid labeling it criminal, is fiscal mismanagement.

As people all over the world are beginning to worry about Bush's ability to pay his debts, he presents a budget based on what his father described as "voodoo economics". His current tax cuts produced no revenue or job gains, so he wants more. And to calm his critics while he awaits a monetary miracle he proposes to cut funding to women, children, college students - anyone with little income and little power.

When some call for changing the Medicare drug benefit to allow for negotiating prices, the normal practice in the free market, he threatens to veto any such bill. He has yet to veto a bill, so there is no way that the blame for any of this mess can fall on anyone except Bush.

Steve at Yellow Doggerel Democrat set me off with this post about a Krugman article.


  Short Takes
On this day in 1809 Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born. During their lives and after, it would be hard to find two men who generated such total polarization in the world. Heroes to some and the devil incarnate to others.

Remember all the warnings about pilots being blinded by lasers? Gee, I guess some might be skeptical of NORAD's plan to use lasers to notify pilots that they are entering restricted airspace around Washington.


  Family Feud
The people talking about Bush's attempts to cancel the "Even Start" education program with his budget priorities for some reason fail to mention that it was his mother's project when she was First Lady. Remember the Millie the First Dog book and reading to children.

Maybe it's time to exhume the deceased First Dog, Spot, a daughter of Millie, who was born in the White House, and perform an autopsy. Eliminating your mother's program is really cold. Perhaps the dog and the program reminded him of his own problems with books, the years of "See Spot run. Run, Spot. Run.", were too much. Spot was also a witness to the pretzel incident.


  Democracy Spreads?
No doubt in response to stern warnings from the Bush administration, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has held its first election. Yes, democracy is spreading in the Islamic world. . .sort of. . .if you look at it in the right light, standing on one foot, and squint.

Only one in twelve Saudi citizens was eligible to register for the election, none of them women, and not many bothered. They are voting in local elections for councils, but only for one less than half of the council seats, the majority being appointed by the King.

From reports it would appear that the hard-line religious candidates have won all the seats. Both CBS and the BBC have reports on the elections which seem to track with the Iraqi elections indicating that when allowed to vote, Muslims vote for Islamic republics.

The freedom thing doesn't seem to be working out for Bush any better than WMDs. It's beginning to look like Bush couldn't give away ice water in Death Valley during the Summer.


Friday, February 11, 2005
This has nothing to do with Reptar, it is a global avatar for use in comments and discussion groups. Haloscan recently added gravatars to its comments, which is why that little box has been showing up in the upper right.

If you want to have your own, you need to create an 80 by 80 graphic and go to gravatar.com to register it. The key to using a gravatar is your e-mail address, so if you don't use an e-mail address in comments, save your time and energy.

Update: The gravatar feature is apparently part of a beta test, like preview, so it will show up and then disappear.


  RIP Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller died yesterday but his works live on in performances.

Death of a Salesman is important for the warning it gave the world about corporate culture. When it was written the old paradigm of "loyalty to the company was rewarded by loyalty to the employee" was beginning to disappear. Miller presented this reality, but most people missed its importance. Rumsfeld is a prime example of the new business model where employees are "fungible" and disposable. These managers don't understand what the people below them do, and don't care.

The Crucible was about the McCarthy era, but it can be applied to the Rove era. These periodic spasms of insanity and mass hysteria are really annoying to those who study history. It is stunning how often demagogues are permitted to drag the nation down to their level.


  Next Time Use DHL
According to CNN, back in October a shipment of radioactive material for Halliburton arrived in New York from Russia, but then WENT MISSING!. It showed up this Wednesday in Boston.

For some reason Halliburton failed to notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission until Tuesday. The law requires that missing radioactive materials be reported at least within 30 days for the lowest level of regulated material, and some materials require immediate notification.

An NRC spokesman said it would take years to develop a program to track such material while in transit. Might I suggest that the NRC simply demand people use one of the existing services that already provide this service, rather than some new, "pork" project.


  The Mail Must Go Through
The BBC informs us that not even decades and death can stop Deutsche Post from delivering. The German postal service just delivered a postcard to the Bundestag in Berlin that was addressed to Adolf Hitler.

Originally there was a mistake in the address and it was returned to a post office for re-routing, but was never delivered. If it was sent during World War II, I might understand that no one was sure where Hitler was.

Okay, I can't resist, it was in the "dead letter" office.


  No More Grass For The Cows
The Australian Broadcasting reports that: ". . .farmers in Liechtenstein will no longer be allowed to feed cannabis to their livestock under new rules to be introduced in March in the tiny Alpine state."

Where is PETA on this issue? They should be joining with NORML to oppose this outrage. Sigh! Liechtenstein Lattes just won't be the same, but this explains the "Laughing Cow".


  New Attorney General Moves To Curtail Religious Freedom
Before he even has a chance to rip the curtains off the naked statues, Gonzales attacks a church. CNN reports that he has appealed a decision that allowed a small church in Arizona to continue its traditional practices.

"The appeal from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales argues that a lower court was wrong to allow the Brazil-based O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal to import and use the hoasca tea as part of its religious services."

Let him get away with this and green tea is next. He probably was behind the ban on "dairy doobies".


  Trixie Again

Friday Cat Blogging [TM Kevin Drum]

Friday Cat Blogging

What do you mean - the one hour processing is going to take 2 days?

[Edit: New cats next week, if the pictures come out.]


Thursday, February 10, 2005
  Town versus Gown
Today is the Catholic feast day of Saint Scholastica who was the twin sister of Saint Benedict, founder of the Benedictine Order. She also provides her name to the infamous "Saint Scholastica Day Massacre" of 1355 in Oxford, England.

As is to be expected it was an argument over beer, but it resulted in the death of 63 "scholars" and 30 locals.

The University got to the King first, received a Royal charter which required the mayor and town council to go to the University without their hats every year on February 10 and pay a penny for each of the "scholars" who died. The practiced stopped in 1825 when the mayor of Oxford apparently felt the practice was silly and refused to do it.

The mayor was obvious a Liberal. Who else would cast aside almost 500 years of tradition just because it was a stupid waste of time and money?


  Stupid Waste of Time and Money
The White House now says that there is no actual plan to change Social Security, only a realization that some change is needed and the President is highlighting this need.

If there is no actual plan, why is the President flying all around the country holding chats with his supporters on the public's dime? If there is no plan, what is there to discuss? How can he keep showing people charts showing how this non-existent non-plan would change the viability of Social Security plan for future retirees?

Considering the size of the deficit and the planned cuts in programs for the poorest of our citizens, how can this conduct be condoned, this waste of tax dollars?


Wednesday, February 09, 2005
  Hissy Fits
The Blight has been throwing them on a regular basis, but two have been zipping around lately, so I took a look at them.

I Googled "Ward Churchill" and found out he was Keetoowah Band Cherokee, so that's explained. For those who don't get it, do a search on "Trail of Tears". He is someone who remembers that his ancestors were subjected to an ethnic cleansing campaign. The Cherokee will forget about the "Trail of Tears" about the same time the Jews forget the Holocaust.

Churchill remembers the past and works to keep it alive, which makes him a conservative.

The other fit was about the phony journalist, "Jeff Gannon" of Talon News. Apparently James Guckert was forced to give up his role as "Jeff Gannon, boy reporter" because of the relentless persecution of the liberal bloggers and not the open letters and investigations by newspapers like the Philadelphia Daily News and the Niagara Falls Reporter who want to know why a guy with a website and no journalistic credentials can get issued temporary White House press passes to briefings and Presidential press conferences, but they can't.

Digby has a short transcript of a Howard Kurtz chat with Wolf Blitzer that seems to indicate that any blogger who makes the effort can drop by the White House and pick a day pass using a false name and be ushered into Presidential press conferences.

I see, it wasn't about being sponsored by a major Republican activist in Texas that got "Jeff Gannon" access, it was because he wrote a blog no one knew existed that enabled him to avoid all of those pesky security procedures put in place by the Secret Service.

For some reason I don't think we are going to see Wonkette at any press conferences in the near future.

And now for something completely different:
Len over at Dark Bilious Vapors has a great catch: The Nicosphere3000. It looks like a demo for some really creative video guys, but it is slick.


  If I Were a Rich Man
A new primate has been found by scientists working in Bolivia. The right to give a new animal its scientific name belongs to the researcher who first records its existence, Robert Wallace.

In this case the right of naming is going to be auctioned to provide funding for conservation efforts in the area. This CNN page provides the details.

Hmmm. . . Callicebus [it's a titi monkey] Dumbya. . .nah, I couldn't do that to a poor defenseless monkey.


  Happy New Year, 4702

Year of the Wooden Rooster, Yi You

Happy New Year

Chinese New Year


Tuesday, February 08, 2005
  Why Medicare Costs So Much
I had to get a nebulizer for my Mother to use after she got out of the hospital. She has Medicare and Tricare for Life, so she has plenty of coverage and I went to a pharmacy.

The very efficient and helpful people at the local Walgreens pharmacy told me they could sell me the medication with a co-payment through Tricare, but I needed to go to a medical equipment store to buy the nebulizer because it was a device.

I went to the medical equipment store and found out that Medicare covered the equipment and would provide the medication through the mail at no charge to my Mother. So I went through with it and my Mother received the help she needed at a minimal cost.

Here's the problem: Medicare is leasing the nebulizer. I checked the 'Net and you can buy a nebulizer for under $70, but Medicare is paying $46 a month to lease this piece of equipment.

If they decide that my Mother only needs to use this device for a month, then the system is fine, but if she needs it from now on, Medicare is paying for a new machine every two months, while the patient continues to use the same piece of equipment.

A nebulizer is essentially a cheap paint sprayer. There is a small pump that is identical to an aquarium pump with a filter on the air intake, a plastic mask, and a mixing chamber. The air supplied by the pump causes the medication to be blown into the mask as a mist.

If this is going to be long term, I'm going to buy one on the 'Net. I can't see ripping off Medicare for $46 per month.

They were going to do the same thing with my Mother's walker, but she went and bought the one she wanted and didn't worry about being reimbursed.

I can't blame the equipment companies, but someone at Medicare needs to look long and hard at the way they do things. If I can buy a single unit for $70, surely they can get them at a much lower cost.


  Democratically Elected Leaders
Since spreading freedom and democracy would seem to be the newest hobby of the current American administration, a few notes of explanation are in order.

There are very few democratically elected world leaders. The leaders of most "democratic" countries are not, themselves, elected by their people. Prime ministers are the leaders of political parties. Most of the European leaders were selected in the same manner as Tom DeLay: they are the majority leader of the largest party in the lower house of a parliament.

The presidents of France, Russia, the Palestinians, Iran, Malaysia, Mexico, and a few other countries are actually democratically elected, which is to say they are elected by a direct vote of the people of their countries. The President of the US is not a true democratically elected official because of the electoral college.

In many countries voters actually choose parties, not candidates. The parties have a list of candidates usually equal to the total number of seats in their parliament. After the election the party learns how many seats it has won based on its percentage of the vote and people take office based on their position on the list. This is the system used in Iraq's recent election.

Even "democratic" countries can have less than democratic features: the military in Turkey heavily influences government actions, as does the Iranian council of clerics, and some in the US would claim the Supreme Court does the same thing.


  Shrove Tuesday
The last day before the beginning of Lent on the Gulf Coast that once belonged to France, it is Mardi Gras, "Fat Tuesday": Laissez les bon temps roulez!

It was first celebrated in Mobile, Alabama, but the big show these days is in New Orleans, and it is a holiday in the state of Louisiana, because people wouldn't show up for work anyway, so why fight it.

The tradition is to serve King cake, which is a circle of cinnamon bun dough with a white frosting on top sprinkled with sugar colored purple, green, and gold. If that weren't bad enough, they put the figurine of a baby in the dough, and whoever finds it in their piece is supposed to be lucky. Actually if you find it and don't choke on it, I guess you are lucky. You should use a small ceramic figurine, as some of the cheap plastic versions melt in the oven [yummy].


Monday, February 07, 2005
I've been extremely tied up since last Wednesday, so blogging has been light.

A few things as I scanned the Internet:

Around the World in 71 days 14 hours 18 minutes and 33 seconds

Ellen MacArthur of Britain has broken the record for sailing alone around the world. With only the wind for power and having to deal with storms and the errant whale she has arrived back in Britain. Surely she will be Dame Ellen in short order as the Queen and Prime Minister both sent her greetings.

Born in landlocked Derbyshire, she has pursued her dream of sailing and become one of the best deepwater sailors ever. I admire people who will sacrifice all comfort to push themselves to their limits in pursuit of a goal. This is what it takes to reach the Moon, climb Everest, discover cures for diseases.

Update: It's official: Dame Ellen.

Harry Potter vs. the US Army

J.K. Rowling and her solicitors are not amused by cartoons appearing in US Army training magazines that show a great similarity to her Harry Potter books. While Ms. Rowling has no problem with, and even encourages, fans expanding on her creation, she takes a dim view of anyone attempting to profit from her works, and is probably not in favor of any connection between Harry Potter and the US military.

The military is claiming there is really no similarity, not much anyway, I mean the names really are altered, sort of. . .

Former WMD hunter sees 'eerie similarities' in Iran

Australian Broadcasting's John Shovelan in Washington reports on David Kay's view of the current rhetoric about Iran being very similar to what was said about Iraq, and has warned the Bush administration not to repeat the mistakes it made with Iraq in Iran.

For the short attention span group on the right, David Kay was a "true believer" in the existence of WMDs before he wasted more than a year of his life on that snipe hunt.

Fundamentalists are All Alike

Novelist Mary Gordon during an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air from WHYY on January 31 st made an observation that is important and should be repeated.

She stated the obvious link: all ultra conservative religions denigrate women. They all treat women as if they were tainted and deny them the right to fully participate in the religion.

The really odd part is that none of the basic documents of these religions actually take this view, and many explicitly say the opposite, but the ultra conservative interpreters of these religions are all consistent in their view that women need to be excluded.

This attitude is at definite variance with nature and the continuation of the species. The male's role is rather limited in time and scope. It has only been recent that fathers could be determined with any certainty, while there is rarely a case when there was any confusion about a child's mother. This isn't a value judgment, merely a statement of reality.


Saturday, February 05, 2005
  Let the Obfuscation Begin
Everyone is probably aware of the Busheviks' path to the Weapons Of Mass Destruction Related Program Activities - [Insert your favorite term of derision here.]

It would appear that they are at it again: private accounts begat personal accounts which begat Personal Security Investment Accounts.

Kevin Drum noticed Faux's Brit Hume using this euphemism during an attempt to smear Senator Harry Reid. Hume was trying to convince people that the Clinton administration proposal to invest part of the Social Security Trust Fund in the stock market was the same as the Bush plan.

The Republicans blocked Clinton's plan, claiming it would involve the government in the stock market, which is exactly what Bush's mutual fund plan will do. The difference being that Clinton didn't intend to pay huge fees. I would also note that with the market returns that people were getting under Clinton, his plan might have eliminated any problems possibly resulting in a reduction of withholding taxes on wages.


Friday, February 04, 2005
  Medical Tort Reform
Doctors making money from WMDs. Yet another from CNN about a group of doctors making their own Botox which has the minor side effect of paralyzing people. Oh, yeah, we really need to shield doctors from those terrible lawyers.


  Frivolous Lawsuit
No good deed will go unpunished. This is a story on CNN, and frankly it's hard to imagine a better description of a frivolous lawsuit than this.


  Health Care Problems
It is a reality that an individual, no matter what the source of funding for medical care, has almost no choices. Doctors and other medical services providers, with the legally mandated exception of hospital emergency rooms, select whom they will accept as patients. Almost all specialists require a referral from another physician before they will even consider a new patient.

If you have a recurring problem that has always required the same medication, you can't go to a pharmacy, buy the medicine, and get well. You have to have a doctor write a prescription, which wastes medical resources and your money. The same goes for drugs that people take for chronic illnesses, they have to be renewed, even though the drugs only stabilize the condition.

When it comes to something that requires hospitalization a lot of people have no choice at all. The hospital may be chosen by a doctor, an insurance company, or the simple fact the there is only one hospital in the area, but the patient rarely even gets asked if they have an opinion.

You can refuse treatment, if the courts and governor don't decide to take an interest, but a second opinion is going to cost money.

The system is a mess and needs to be fixed, but a tax-exempt savings account isn't going to make anything better, and people talking about "catastrophic policies" need to see the bill for a visit to an emergency room. It doesn't take much to have a bill hit "catastrophic" levels.

The best current answer is to make the system more efficient by a single-payer system, like Medicare, that would simplify the business side of the health system. Only one set of codes, one set of prices, one billing form, one procedure for billing. The system would be administered by private contractors that were selected by competitive bids on a regional basis, just like Medicare.

This would eliminate the collection costs and problems of hospitals and doctors, reduce the size of billing operations, stabilize income for the medical industry, and generally reduce costs. This would also remove the cost of medical insurance from businesses, which would reduce their expenses.

If someone wants something more, they can buy additional coverage, as occurs in Europe and Canada. Medical providers would not be required to accept payments from the system, just as many don't accept Medicare and Medicaid patients.


  Focus Groups
From watching the way the Social Security Piratization is taking shape it would seem that Bush is putting forth background briefings to test plans, and then complaining when there is a negative reaction to what was said: Plausible Deniability taken to absurd lengths.

Until Bush writes something down and submits it, we don't know what he's going to do. Bush is selling vaporware, a simulation that can be altered until it reflects the desires of his target customer base. I have been in the computer business long enough to remember shows where the "hardware" displayed out front were empty cases with the displays powered by a much larger computer behind a curtain in the back of the booth.

At this point all that is certain is Bush's desire to destroy Social Security, and hide the real deficit he has created.

The world will not continue to fund his "borrow and spend" policies. While Secretary Snow may, indeed, have a bad cold, he may also be avoiding a G7 meeting that will feature complaints about US economic problems.


  Cal in Winter

Friday Cat Blogging [TM Kevin Drum]

Friday Cat Blogging

Did someone mention food?

[Edit: Actually that's all fur, not cat. In Summer, Cal was a much slimmer, black cat.]


Wednesday, February 02, 2005
  The Kurdish Motif
Kurdish FlagTV New Zealand carries this report titled: Kurds push for independence.

Kurdish self-rule is inevitable if not imminent, a Kurdish leader said after Kurds in northern Iraq voted almost unanimously for independence in an informal referendum held last weekend.

"When the right time comes it will become a reality," said Masoud Barzani, head of one of the two main Kurdish factions which control Iraq's northern Kurdish zone.

"Self-determination is the natural right of our people, and they have the right to express their desires."

Of course, the Turks may not see things that way and could send several divisions across the border to emphasize their point of view that Kurds don't really need their own country, but should be satified being a minority in other countries.


  Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator
According to a report on Australian Broadcasting: Pentagon wants bunker-buster funds back.
The Bush administration has stated that no existing weapon in the Pentagon's arsenal is capable of destroying deeply buried targets such as underground bunkers containing chemical, biological and perhaps nuclear weapons or military command and control facilities.

Well, except for the BLU-113 Bunker Buster that was used in Gulf War I. I realize it will only penetrate 20 feet of reinforced concrete or 100 feet of dirt, but every bunker needs an entrance to the surface. If you seal the entrance whatever is in the bunker is useless.

If you would really like an idea of what a bad idea this is: the funding was removed by a Republican controlled Congress.

Not convinced? Take six spikes out to your yard with a hammer. The rule is you can only hit each spike once. Drive in the first spike, then put the tip of the second spike on the head of the first spike and drive it. Continue until you run out of spikes. Carefully dig along the side of the spikes to see how straight the spikes are.

Multiple explosions to drive the warhead deeper with each explosion, a concept by someone who has never dug in a garden. There is almost no possibility that the weapon will continue on a designed path after it enters the dirt.


This is my only post about Michael Jackson. I don’t understand why people want to talk about him.


Tuesday, February 01, 2005
  After the Overture
There are a lot of overtures performed for operas, etc. that are rarely heard anymore. The composers threw their best ideas into the overture and had little left for the main performance.

Vaara talks about the Iraqi elections in a post titled Aftermath and wonders what comes next.

We know that Iraqi went to the polls, but what were they really voting for, or against? There were dozens of parties running, but most were identified only by a number, and the people on the list of candidates represented by that number were anonymous.

When the smoke clears, what happens if the parties receiving the most votes get together and decide that the foreign military has to go and sign an agreement with Iran to provide security and rebuild the Iraqi army? What if the winning party is actually a Ba'athist front calling itself party 117 which pardons Saddam and makes him President again?

We have been discussing the merits of the "overture" for so long that people haven't bothered to look at the main body of the work. The curtain goes up in about a week, so there's plenty of time to visit the concession stand before the performance begins.


  Public Versus Private Projects
Wedding of the Waters: Building the Erie Canal was a story on NPR's All Things Considered, February 1, 2005.

In his new book Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation, author Peter Bernstein writes that the building of the Erie Canal in the early 19th century helped shape the political, social and economic landscape of the young American republic. Robert Siegel talks to Bernstein about the building of the canal and its impact on America, east and west.

A chunk of my family history is tied to the Erie Canal, so I was interested in the segment on a personal level, but Mr. Bernstein makes a relevant political point for today.

At the beginning of the 19th century there were two big canal projects planned: George Washington's plan for a private canal down in Virginia and DeWitt Clinton's public project in New York.

The Washington project went bankrupt, but Clinton's Eire Canal was built and opened the American West to settlement, while providing the East with its products. The Eire Canal was been replaced by the New York State Barge Canal that, for most of the year, still carries barges traveling from New York City to the Great Lakes and back via the route opened by the government of New York.

The transcontinental railways were financed by grants of public lands, as were all of the big utility projects. Being awarded a monopoly for services that the public soon begins to depend on, is a license to print money. It also reduces risk for the consumers as well as the companies because of government regulation.

Ask California about electricity deregulation and the "benefits of competition".

Airline travel deregulation was certainly beneficial - to bankruptcy attorneys. [A joke told by an airline pilot on "Car Talk": What's the difference between an airline pilot and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four.]

Look at how well AT&T has responded to competition. Oh yeah, businesses really know how things should be done.

This brings us to Digby's post on Eliot Spitzer and business integrity.

Spitzer is the Attorney General of New York who has been making money for the state hand over fist prosecuting the ne'er-do-wells that the Federal government ignores. His string of prosecutions show exactly how well "voluntary" programs work.

Before anyone starts talking about allowing the market to sort things out, don't, unless you are willing to remove all caps from lawsuits and the limited liability of corporations, because until businesses are subject to criminal and civil liability to their last penny, there is no free market. The free market is regulated by risk, and without total risk there is no free market.




February 1, 2003

Rick Douglas Husband, Colonel, USAF

William C. McCool, Commander, USN

Payload Commander:
Michael P. Anderson, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF

Mission Specialist:
Kalpana Chawla, PhD
David M. Brown, MD, Captain, USN
Laurel Blair Salton Clark, MD, Captain, USN

Payload Specialist:
Ilan Ramon, Colonel, Israel Air Force


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