Friday, March 31, 2006

Good for a Guffaw or Two

I still can't believe this.

Now Shooting: Hot Wonks in Love & Crisis

A week after film crews rolled through town to shoot a TV pilot about young hottie D.C. lawyers ("Capitol Law"), yet another crew has arrived to shoot a pilot about . . . young hottie D.C. bureaucrats.

"Twenty Questions," being filmed for ABC, is the story of a State Department staffer who discovers a conspiracy against the United States. He's played by Jesse Bradford , star of teentastic flicks "Swimfan" and "Bring It On." Our colleague Korin Miller stalked him to shoots in Kalorama and on the Mall, reporting that he cut a handsome figure in a tailored suit but -- brace yourself! -- is shorter in person. "Twenty Questions" also features pretty young things Ben Shenkman , China Shavers and William Lee Scott .


Have they taken a LOOK at the Federal Workforce? First of all, the idea that anyone under the age of 40 would have any say in anything in the federal government, especially the State Department, is ridiculous. If they were a political appointee, SURE! But that's not the point here. And second, federal workers are goddamn ugly. Sure there are maybe five hotties in the building I work in, but that's out of about 5000 people. Not a good ratio. And lastly, BUREAUCRATS? A lot of the show will probably spent watching them fill out Biweekly Reports and Travel Vouchers.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ending on a Q

'Tis the end of another crazy week with a million distressing things happening in this crazy world, so let me pose some questions to usher us into the weekend... Questions I can't get out of my mind, yet feel to exhausted to blog about:

1) If the miners in the Sago disaster were illegal immigrants, would the US public still have been as outraged with the mine owner's failure to follow safety standards? Or, would the growing xenophobia and political spin over the "evils of illegal immigration" have overshadowed the true human tragedy of the event?

2) If the US government passed new labor laws akin to those in France that make it easier for employers to fire younger workers (under 26?), would the American youth have taken to the streets in protest? Or, would our form of protest have been to not show up at the polling places in November 2008? Fight the man, man.

3) If the White House's "test our sewage for cocaine" program spills over from Fairfax County into the District, will White House waste be included in the testing? Or will Number One's number one be exempt due to "homeland security reasons'?

Thursday Revolver

Belgravia Dispatch worries about the growing numbers of displaced persons in the latest wave of Iraqi violence, and says that it's time for conservatives to wake up and stop trying to blame this on some evil MSM.

Althouse looks at the the latest Scalia altercation, and wonders if he was provoked.

Alas, A Blog waits for the verdict in a truly horrific case of the police and gang-rape.

QandO reacts to the Democrats "new" "foreign policy" and "security" "plan."

Firedoglake does the same, and wonders what Progressives should take away from it.

Armchair Generalist lays out the development of federal "consequence management"- responding to a WMD attack, and how it has gotten more and more convoluted lately.

It's About King, Not You

I recently discovered the New York Review of Books after receiving a gift subscription. The best thing about it is the long book reviews that summarize recent books. Through this, you can learn a lot about Vladamir Putin, Sandra Day O’Connor, or the crisis in Darfur. But I have begun to realize that there is a strong liberal slant, which can show itself at strange times. For example, there is a lengthy review of At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 by Taylor Branch. The review is excellent except that it uses the book to spout off about the war in Iraq. There are two big reasons I have a problem with this.

First, I don’t think the war should be mentioned in this review at all. Although one might be able to guess that Dr. King would oppose the Iraq War based on his stance on the Vietnam War before his death, this isn’t a sure thing. But beyond that, it feels wrong for a reviewer to use King’s life to sound off about their own policy positions. At Canaan’s Edge is the third volume in a series of books about Dr. Martin Luther King and the events around him. The review therefore should celebrate (and critique) the book and the life of Dr. King. Anything else is self-serving and doesn’t belong.

My other problem though with the article is the same problem I have with so many liberals and their view of the war. In the article, the author tries to show that Iraq is even more complex than Vietnam was because Iraq is essentially three separate countries – Vietnam only had two. I acknowledge that there are three ethnic groups in Iraq (Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd), but ending the discussion there ignores other aspects of an Iraqi’s identity. So many liberals, either because they don’t know about it or because they refuse to acknowledge it since it doesn’t fit their view of the futility of the situation, won’t recognize that nationalism is in fact a part of Iraqi identity. During the Iran-Iraq War in the early 1980s, one of the reasons we supported Iraq was because we were afraid the Shiites in Iraq would unite with the Shiite government in Iran and overthrow the secular government of Saddam Hussein. On the whole though, Iraqis followed nationalism more than we expected them to and didn’t side with Iran during the war.

I don’t want to believe that the author of this book review is just unaware of this, so instead, I have to assume that he ignores it. I could understand if someone looked at the situation and feared that Iraqis would ignore their nationalism and fall along sectarian lines. But I don’t understand why no liberals even acknowledge that this nationalism exists or the possibility that it could still be stronger than their ethnic identity. I feel like a broken record, but I honestly believe that if liberals were able to look at the situation objectively, they might finally see that there is reason for optimism in Iraq and that talk of troop pullout is premature and detrimental to success.

Education Revisited

Yesterday I posted about an education reform in Florida that would give bonuses to high performing teachers. Today, as if on demand, there is a post at Eduwonk that links to a paper on reforming collective bargaining agreements for public school teachers*. These recommendations are much more in line with what I think needs to be done to improve education. Among the recommendations are; supporting charter schools, removing teacher tenure, and allowing for more salary flexibility to enhance recruitment of top teachers.

To be fair to Governor Bush, he actually has little power to make the changes to collective bargaining agreements made at the local level, so he is unable to implement policies like the ones mentioned above. Therefore, he is probably taking whatever small steps he can to reward teacher performance. But if we are serious about education reform, we need to go beyond small bonuses to a few selected teachers. As it stands now, most school systems base pay on years of service and the teacher's level of education. It leaves out not only performance, but pay differentials for more challenging assignments or posessing valuable skills. Again, unions will almost definitely stand in the way. But without these changes, we can expect little improvement in the overall quality of education.

*In case you don't have time to read the whole paper, read the executive summary. It is brief and hits the major points.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

No More Moderates

It is nonsense like this that makes Democrats unelectable outside of New England and the Northeast. Ned Lamont, a business owner in Connecticut, is running in the Senate primary against Joe Lieberman. Although I wholeheartedly support challenging incumbents, in this case it is being done because of the ridiculous mentality of far left. According to them, you are only a Democrat if you support all of the far left policy proposals – moderates are not allowed. Without moderates though, we will continue to be a minority party and have little control over government policies.

What really drives me crazy though is that most of the opposition to Lieberman in the party is over his stance on the Iraq War. It would seem that the only way to make hard core Democrats happy is if you continue to champion the party line that we were duped into going to war (without offering any advice on how to improve the situation short of a complete and immediate withdrawal). Democrats are wrong on their stance on the war, and wrong in their opposition to one of our best Senators.

Crazyland

I might completely disagree with the current administration but it is news items like the protests in France that make it pretty obvious that my views are much better represented here than in Europe.

French youth are protesting a new law that would allow businesses to fire young employees without cause. The worst part isn’t the protests themselves, but what the crazy youth are saying to reporters. Comment after comment are either associating the new law to enslaving the youth of the country, or more benign comments that suggest they will be exploited. Since when is fair pay for your labor, with the ability to quit if you are unsatisfied, or the ability of a boss to fire you with ease for poor performance (or frankly whatever reason he or she wants) in any way similar to slavery or even worker exploitation? It really is too bad that they are too shortsighted to see that this will could decrease unemployment thereby giving more jobs to the youth in France.

Bushies Love Education

There was an article in the Washington Post describing a new policy in Florida linking teacher pay to student performance on tests. More specifically, rewards will go to teachers that increase student scores on standardized tests compared to scores from the previous year. In this way it resembles the movie Summer School, where most of the class failed but showed major improvements – thus demonstrating that the teacher had a big impact on the students and deserved to keep his job.

My problem with this isn’t that it shows an expectation for teachers to perform and reach their students – I think that is a good idea. Instead, I think it goes about this the wrong way. Proponents of this bold new policy try to link it to the private sector, but I don’t think this type of bonus plan is as widely used as they make it out to be. As far as I know, the private sector is more efficient because it can fire poor-performing employees. Therefore, the better option might be to remove tenure for teachers. Teachers unions would obviosly oppose this - although I don't think I will ever understand why unions work so hard to protect poor employees (teachers or otherwise).

Word of the Day

Coulter:



A blade or wheel attached to the beam of a plow that makes vertical cuts in the soil in advance of the plowshare.


Sounds pretty accurate don'cha think?

Clinton could never get a majority of Americans to vote for him but, according to the polls, as soon as the public found out about his sex romps with Monica, his support shot up to above 80 percent. Bush did get a majority of the country to vote for him less than two years ago. Now we're told 70 percent of Americans hate the man.

Indeed, according to the polls, the public's feeling about the war in Iraq began three years ago with fear, skepticism and dread — and steadily went downhill.

If these poll results were accurate, support for the war should be about negative 3,000 percent by now. The public would have stormed the White House, seized the president and flogged him to death.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Faith's War on Atheism

So many political figures like to bitch, bitch, bitch about the War on Faith (tm), as if those with religion are second-class citizens. What they should try for a minute is standing in the shoes of an atheist. While not being one myself, a recent study showed they are the least trusted group in America when it comes to religion. Even after the Danish Cartoon War fiasco blew up the negative ratings of Islam, Muslims are still nowhere near as subject to the negative connotations and perceptions that atheists are. I, as a mildly-religious person, find this hailstorm of negativity troubling and in some instance bigoted. Some militant atheists do seek to eradicate religion and banish faith from the public square, that's true. But they are no more or less zealous than the Falwells, Robertsons, and Santorums who want to institute a theocracy. And they, just like the theocrats, only represent a tiny fraction of the atheist population. Some may see absolutely nothing bad about this. I see this as every bit as troubling as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. As the Fox News crew churns the idea that this country is run by atheists and that there is a War on Faith, I can't help but see echoes of Early Modern Europe (especially 20th century France and, of course, 20th century Germany) and political scapegoating of Jews. Or really political scapegoating of Puritans in England in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century or (insert any attack on a religious minority here). But this doesn't end at demagoguery, it extends to discrimination.

Andrew Sullivan has been following this issue thoroughly since the study came out with the help of a lot of emails he's been getting from his atheist readers, and his posts on it are here (first one), then here, and finally the startling issues of custody discrimination here, and a relevant Jeffersonian perspective here and Adams here. But aside from that, Sullivan pointed to some fresh empirical work by none other than the illustrious Eugene Volokh on the matter of this discrimination. That was the thing that prompted me to write on this topic. Volokh's article is a whopper, and the case it lays out is damning. He begins with the case of the famous poet Percy Shelley who was one of the first, and most famous, fathers in English common-law history to lose custody of his child. The reason was his atheism. Since then, history has only proven to be setting more unkind precedents, which Volokh clearly indicates as damaging to the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution (which should INCLUDE atheism, as the Founding Fathers themselves clearly believed.) Courts in Mississippi have forced atheists parents who gain custody to take their children to church anyway, and a manifest of other such mandated judicial "remedies" to a parents beliefs being unorthodox or atheist. Most of Volokh's examples aren't from decades past, too. They are from THE LAST 10 YEARS, or sometimes the last two years. Utilizing the "best interests of the child" excuse, the judges basically have leave to really tamper with the parents' beliefs and how they choose to raise their children.

With all the overheated rhetoric about the supposed persecution of people of faith because they can't place nativities on public property or display the ten commandments, many are failing to recognize real persecution. The court-mandated church visits and denial of custody for people because of their atheist beliefs, or any other religious beliefs is true discrimination and real oppression on people because of their beliefs, even if they choose to not believe in God they are still free to exercise that religion. And the fact that family courts threaten custody over their children with such things is clearly an unconstitutional travesty and is a War on Faith of a different sort. And one more relevant to American values than attacking public displays of religion.

And The House of Card Begins To Tumble

I wonder if Andrew Card is just the first to fall. Um, I mean, "resign."

Friday, March 24, 2006

Feminism vs. Affirmative Action

Finally, the two tense liberal stalwart ideologies collide! Dr. Helen describes the situation, as it relates to undergraduate admissions. Feminists will be quick to point out pay parity, but the idea that that will remain in place now that men make up a smaller and smaller minority of the degree-seeking population is dubious. And this problem is going to keep getting worse as the lion's share of college admission applications come from women. If the Universities are to maintain the balance and diversity required by affirmative action policies, then this means the hammer comes down on accomplished women. This puts the boosters of affirmative action in a very awkward position, as it does feminists.

Feminists would probably be inclined to argue that this is a clear case of discrimination against women, as qualified women are not being admitted as often as less-qualified men. This would be a tough argument to make, though, as a majority of the students in most colleges are becoming or have already become female. So, making such an argument would be an example of that great conservative-conjured boogeyman: reverse discrimination, whereas the majority is discriminated against in favor of the minority. Also, a feminist argument of this kind would inherently be making an argument AGAINST diversity, at least where gender is concerned. It would have to make the argument that merit should be the deciding factor, not gender characteristics. Again, this starts to sound like an actual conservative argument. For one, that doesn't grate on me at all because I think Feminism has a great deal of conservative tendencies (but again, that depends on how you define conservative, in this case I simply mean arguments usually made by those considered political conservative, whether they have conservative ideological bases or not). So, if one is to argue the women in this picture are being treated unfairly or discriminated against, one essentially has to make an argument against diversity and against reverse-discrimination. These are not arguments that are typically associated with feminism, but would apply in this case.

Then there's those who would be pro-affirmative action. If you defend the basis of gender diversity, you clearly have to argue for more stringent standards to be applied to women than to men, and go anti-feminist. If you believe that an undergraduate class should be composed of relatively near-equal amounts of men and women, then you are stuck dealing with a much smaller applicant pool for men than women. Ergo, women have to be more thoroughly scrutinized than men when applying. This, in fact, is advocating reverse discrimination against women, and in favor of diversity with special treatment over equal treatment.

Here's what I think will be the counterargument to what I'm writing here. There will be some sort of argument about how the only people getting screwed over here are white males if we just go ahead and uphold the feminist side of things and treat the women the same as men. Drastically more women would be enrolled, and that would be fine. But let's not forget that this problem crosses ethnic and racial divides. It would not just be white men here, but also african american men, asian men, and hispanic men as the according groups of women were accepted at much higher rates. And they would be, as the fact that more women go to college and apply to college is a tendency that holds across different ethnic and racial categories (though some more than others). So, in effect, if you try to conflate affirmative action and feminism to resolve that tension, you would end up saying something like we defend diversity, but not on the basis of gender. But then, why defend on the other bases and NOT gender?

Clearly this is no easy issue for those who want to be feminist and support some form of affirmative action. One is left saying affirmative action is okay, and diversity is good, but not when it comes to gender, or that gender should not be treated the same. But why only leave gender aside and consider other factors as meaningful to diversity? It makes no real logical sense. Of course, conservatives have an easy time with this. They would side with a more pure feminist argument and state that this is clear evidence of reverse discrimination and thus affirmative action should be eliminated. The result of which would have women dominating undergraduate cohorts based on the merits.

ADDENDUM: Maybe I should say what my intention is here. But I'm saving it for this bit at the end. I actually believe this case is firm evidence for why we need to rethink the concept of affirmative action. I don't think, nor have I for awhile, that it should be based on ethnic, racial, national, or gender status. I think it should be based on the thing that gets to the core of the matter: socio-economics. This, undoubtedly, is a heretical idea to the left and uncomfortable for the right (because it smacks of the dreaded "class warfare.") So long as we based affirmative action on things like race or nationality or ethnicity, we have to lump things like gender or any other cultural ingredient because it becomes a cultural thing, and making an argument to include some cultural things as important for diversity and others as not becomes too much of a contortionist line-drawing exercise. It's better to just get at the core of the matter, and examine the real issue: what resources did the person have available (in terms of income) during their previous education and life? That's what affirmative action would be best-served focusing on. I will add that I still don't think anyone who takes a feminist argument seriously can defend the current state of affirmative action, because it leads to reverse discrimination against women.

Budget Busting: Answering Drum and Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan has opened up a serious inquiry to all his readers as part of his running debate with Kevin Drum about cuts. Well, I have a couple. And not least of which because I'm a federal employee and believe that a lot of these cuts would make my life easier, and some other ones would make a hell of a lot of other people's lives easier too: I emailed him the following suggestions:
First I would recommend cutting OPM (Office of Personnel Management) out entirely. They enforce the currently deeply problematic personnel system based upon the antiquated general schedule personnel and rating system for federal employees. This would cut a lot of money and offer the agencies chances to set their own personnel hiring practices (right now they all already have their own HR departments anyway). That would be about $256 million in savings. Overall, you probably couldn't cut all of that because some of OPM's mission is paying out 99 billion in benefits to all federal employees (though, again, every agency has it's own payroll system so this could probably be reduced).

Then I would recommend cutting out GSA. You can save $22.4 billion dollars per year that is (arguably) not funded out of Congressional appropriation, but is collected as fees from all other federal agencies. These fees are because GSA holds a monopoly as landlord (and lease negotiator) for all federal agencies and charges them all rent. Usually this is perceived as above market rent. So while the 22.4 billion wouldn't go because the agencies would still have to pay something, they would probably be paying much lower in the commercial marketplace. Other functions of GSA, like contracting, can be devolved to the agencies who have their own contracting shops also anyway.

If you want to get really libertarian, I would also recommend cutting the two most useless Agencies in the world: the Federal Trade Commission ($223 million) and the Federal Communications Commission ($303 million), then use antitrust to deal with any monopolies that may arise in a non-regulated environment. Also, the SEC would still be around in that situation.


These numbers come from here and GSA's Congressional Justification for spending its treasury of agency fees. Obviously these, like so many critical budgets cuts, would be political unpalatable, but it's very questionable that any of these agencies do ANYONE any good. I also recommended some more deep and political controversial ones, like Missile Defense at $9.3 Billion, Community Development Block Grants aka Local Corruption Funds at $6.7 Billion, the new Virginia class submarine (why not stick with Seawolves, the older ones. . .they're actually cheaper) at $2.6 Billion EACH, and Ethanol Subsidies at $2 billion. That's a lot of money, and also mostly obtained from OMB's website and Missile Defense's website. These are all of what I would call "questionable utility." Would it be great to have missile shields and fancy new submarines? Yeah. But do we need them and can we afford them in a time of skyrocketing deficits? No. And anyone who wants to defend Ethanol and Block Grants has some splainin to do.

The problem with this debate is that liberals and conservatives talk past each other. Liberals look at cutting these budgets by trying to argue something about the need for a program or set of agencies that does something like that. What they fail to talk about are whether those agencies meet any cost-benefits test or those programs work at all. Sure "Community Development Block Grants" sounds great, and you want to defend the existence of such a thing, but the reality is they don't really help people very much, especially considering the levels of money involved. Conservatives, like Sullivan (and me here) also want to get out of the knives and gesture at huge chunks of the bureaucracy to chop down, when really they should be focusing on things on a program-by-program basis of what makes sense and what went wrong. That's how Clinton and Gingrich were able to compromise with one another and cut so much of the federal budget in the 90s. We can do it again, but not with the animosity we have now. And not with the harsh partisanship and ham-handedness that is keeping both sides from really looking at things with any detail and attention.

That Was Fast

RightWingNuthouse is already calling for Ben Domenech to resign from El Wapo for plagiarism. What a rough week this first guy is having, as almost every blog in the whole 'sphere has been riding him. That's what you get for trying to say Red Dawn is a good movie. Resignation should be the least of his punishments on that count.

THAT WAS REAL FAST UPDATE: Right Wing Nuthouse got its wish.

I Dig the New Kid Who Hates DC

Rusty is his name, and he is the new hater on the block. Not "new" per se, as James handed the blog over to him a couple of months ago. . .but I think it takes about that long for a blogger to prove themselves when they've inherited a property like Why.I.Hate.DC. James was a classic, a foul-mouthed unhinged naysayer the spouted bile about DC the way Tom Cruise does about that "dangerous street drug" Ritalin. James was sometimes off-base, but he was never unfunny, and the way he lampooned Anthony Williams, renaming him "the bowtie" was a snarky but powerful commentary on local politics and the dysfunctions thereof. But James is gone, left from the City he hated so much, and he actually accepted applications for his successor. Rusty took over, and since then the blog has a new tone.

Make no mistake, Rusty hates DC. Rusty doesn't use as much profanity as James, and he's not as angry. His hating comes in a different flavor. Whereas James was more of a Rocky Road, Rusty is more of a Mint Chocolate Chip. About Rusty, though? You can read the link and ascertain a lot. Rusty has a history here. He's lived in DC (which James hadn't), and also lived outside, so he has both the perspective of a suburbanite (however brief) and a resident District-dweller. He also did his mandatory time as a Hill Staffer, another thing James lacked, and a whole separate source of rage. So Rusty has a depth and breadth of experience of DC James lacked, and is more able to rant about a wider variety of subjects. Which brings me to the chief advantage of the new Hater: MORE FREQUENT POSTING. James would take a month off. Rusty hardly takes a day off, or a week. Rusty also put one of the boldest posts out there, arguing the near suburbs are a Natural Extension of DC proper. That I have to agree with.

And to all you moaning district kids, research the shit. Arlington and part of Alexandria DID USE TO BE PART OF DC. And Bethesda, for god's sake, is like RIGHT THERE. I understand lampooning people out in Fairfax, because they suck. Or in Rockville, because they suck even worse. But I digress. Point is, if you drifted away from WhyIHateDC because for the last sick months James hardly posted anything, go back and take a look. It's got a new lease on life.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Thursday Revolver

Gateway Pundit finds a buried story about Danish Imams threatening to BLOW UP a Moderate Muslim politician (and whatever ministry he may be involved with) just for participating in government! How constructive.

Cold Fury wants more pressure put on Afghanistan's government for putting a Christian to death for, well, being Christian. I thought we toppled the Taliban? Apparently not. The case is made that the alternate, letting the Afghanis backslide on this, is much worse than any flack we'd take.

Virginia Centrist pities Social Conservatives. Pities them . . . hard.

Planet Moron gives Abe Lincoln and MLK, Jr. the Chertoff treatment.

Peak Talk discovers cops sending undercover detectives into bars to arrest people for drinking. Where would that happen? Texas, of course.

Dan Drezner dredges up the latest Free Trade news, this time about Korea and Malaysia!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Semantics

I try not to pick at the press over what appears to be semantics, but in this case I can't hold back. The MSM has been choosing to frame current violence in Iraq as sectarian violence even though much of it is still insurgents attacking Americans, Iraqi security forces and civilians. While technically you might be able to call that sectarian violence, I feel that the media knows it is still part of the insurgency, but wants to give it extra meaning by hyping it as the beginnings of civil war. I recognize there is still the possibility of civil war, but this certainly isn't it. The country dodged a major bullet after the bombing of a Shiite mosque a couple weeks ago, and now the insurgents are back doing what they do best.

When the current violence continues to be insurgents against anyone aligned with the new government, it should be painted as such. Using the term sectarian violence is deceitful and should be reserved for violence between two groups outside of the government.

Tough Decision

Condoleezza Rice has ruled out applying for NFL Comissioner despite her known ambition to take that job someday. It must have been a tough decision for her. She could either run a sport that the rest of the world doesn't care about, or stay in her job and run a department that doesn't care about the rest of the world. I am glad my job choices are never that hard.

Terrorists Bid Farewell To Arms

Sadly, as much as I wish this had to do with Iraq, it doesn't. But it does confirm the theory that if the political process is open enough, terrorists might just eschew more violent means for peaceful, political ones. The Basque Separatists of ETA in Spain have done just that.

Three members of ETA, which wants to carve an independent state out of northern Spain and southwest France, appeared on state television in black berets, white hoods over their faces.

"ETA has decided to declare a permanent ceasefire from March 24, 2006," said a woman seated in the middle, under ETA's flag showing a snake twisted around an axe.

"The object of this decision is to drive the democratic process in the Basque country in order to construct a new framework in which our rights as a people will be recognized and to ensure the future development of all political options."

Spanish Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who last May offered talks to ETA if it gave up violence, cautiously welcomed the ceasefire and the possibility of peace after a campaign that has killed 850 people.


One shouldn't understate how violent the ETA has been, but it appears ready to put those days behind. And, as an international terrorist group, that's going to have an effect on more than just Spain. So, hooray for democracy as a conflict resolution method. Guess what, it actually works! If only it worked more often.

Wednesday Revolver



Pandagon scopes out and researches the shit out of how the faith-based initiative is looking a lot like that dreaded of all dreads: PORK!

Right Wing Nut House tries to get level-headed and realistic about Iraq. Not surprisingly, Right Wing Nut House basically thinks everyone of all political persuasions is wrong. You've got to love cynicism!

Hullabaloo digs into new Wapo blogger of Red America, Ben Domenech and finds some unpleasant connections. I think in the Republican Party it's all Six Degrees of Jack Abramoff. Except instead of six it's more like two.

Alas, a Blog asks the question that pro-choicers/anti-life need to start asking: is the pro-life/anti-choice movement really about saving babies, or more about punishing promiscuity? There's even a chart!

Somehow I missed this, but even the Jawa Report has turned on Rumsfeld now.

Sadly, No has created the Cobb Awards, which is basically a full-on mocking of all blogger awards a la the Razzies. And yes, they are named after that class act Ty Cobb.

Intellectual Monopoly

I've posted many times on the problems with our current Intellectual Property regime. It's ridiculous. I agree with many that we need to have some sort of incentive for intellectual property, so there should be patents, and there should be copyright. However, I think patents last too long (especially with the life and death pharmaceutical industries) and are approved with crank-em-out rubber-stamp fashion. I also think the Digital Millenium Copyright Right Act, which is Satan's Embodiment in Law and made copyright last almost perpetually, has done more to hamper cultural creativity and create those damned "frivolous lawsuits" Republicans complain about that anything done by Congress in the last ten years. And that's saying a lot. I'm always then told when I espouse such views that I am a pinko Commie leftist for believing the government shouldn't hand out monopolies to people either for long periods of time (patents) or forever (copyright) and let them earn millions or billions without being subject to any market pressures or competition. How wanting the market to be more free is socialist and wanting people to have monopolies artificially created and enforced by the government is capitalist, I'll never know.

But, anyway, I found out today Cato agrees with me, at least a little, in my Communist and lefty feelings about the excess of intellectual property law. They've published a brief today on how the Digital Millenium Copyright Law has had more than preverse effects on just copyright, but also hamstrung the entire hardware and software industry too. The issue revolves around that great savior of the content industry: Digital Rights Management. Explaining this is complicated, but its basically a thing within the law that forces manufacturers and programmers to aid the content industry, at their own expense, in their efforts to enforce their monopolies, and punishes them should they try to undermine these monopolies. Cato's Timothy B. Lee writes the following:

The result has been a legal regime that reduces options and competition in how consumers enjoy media and entertainment. Today, the copyright industry is exerting increasing control over playback devices, cable media offerings, and even Internet streaming. Some firms have used the DMCA to thwart competition by preventing research and reverse engineering. Others have brought the weight of criminal sanctions to bear against critics, competitors, and researchers.

The DMCA is anti-competitive. It gives copyright holders—and the technology companies that distribute their content—the legal power to create closed technology platforms and exclude competitors from interoperating with them. Worst of all, DRM technologies are clumsy and ineffective; they inconvenience legitimate users but do little to stop pirates.

Fortunately, repeal of the DMCA would not lead to intellectual property anarchy. Prior to the DMCA's enactment, the courts had already been developing a body of law that strikes a sensible balance between innovation and the protection of intellectual property. That body of law protected competition, consumer choice, and the important principle of fair use without sacrificing the rights of copyright holders.


That's just the website preamble, but the brief itself is full of useful facts and examples. I know I'm the only one who gives a shit about this, but you all should too, because it's probably the biggest example of people getting rich and profitable for no reason they should be. And in a way that makes all of our daily products and entertainment more expensive and less useful than it would be otherwise.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

For Reals

After barely two weeks in the race, James Webb is already on a marauding spree in the VA Senate race. As noted on his campaign site, he pulled off something pretty interesting this Friday. I, of course, can't link to any other stories because major papers aren't following this much. At the Fairfax County Democratic Committee's St. Patrick's Day Straw Poll, he devastated his opponent Harris Miller 58%-42%. At this point, Webb had only been in the race 10 days, which was the beginning of his political career.

This is the same Jim Webb, as I mentioned, who was Reagan's Secretary of the Navy. So not only does he switch parties, but he basically crushed the inside party man in his own backyard after only being an official candidate for 10 days. That's pretty impressive. From my own party contacts, I have to admit there's palpable excitement about Webb too. When just Harris Miller was running, most had already written off the race to Allen. Now he's going to get a run for his money. Webb intends on making a big deal out of Allen's voting record on Veterans Benefits, which is a hit or miss plan, and also to run as a social moderate. Which is necessary if he wants to contrast himself to Allen, who is Mr. Over 90 Percent in his Christian Coalition rating. All I mean to say is, Webb, despite being a political neophyte, has already gained a lot of steam. He's been on the Colbert Report, and lived to tell the story. And as my email inbox can attest to, there's a viral grassroots organization springing up virtually overnight. I think Webb is easily going to crush Miller, and I also think he's going to give Allen a tough time in this year's race. Enough so that, fingers crossed, he'll be too bogged down and politically weakened to run for President.

Another Backyard Brawl

It's an oft-repeated challenge from liberals. To Conservatives that claim to be fiscally sound but want to keep Bush's Tax Cuts, they ask "what would you cut?" Kevin Drum issues this challenge to Andrew Sullivan yesterday:

Discretionary spending in 2005 was roughly $1 trillion. About half of that was for defense and national security, which Sullivan doesn't want to cut. That leaves $500 billion, which funds the entire rest of the federal government.

The federal deficit for 2005 was over $400 billion.

So: if you support the tax cuts, and you don't want to cut defense spending, and you want a balanced budget, you need to slice about $400 billion out of the $500 billion that's left.

These are round numbers, but you get the idea. Cutting a few agricultural subsidies and eliminating Amtrak isn't going to do the trick. Even taking an axe to social welfare programs wouldn't do it. You'd need to eliminate about 80% of the federal government outside the Defense Department. So if Sullivan wants to be taken seriously, he needs to tell us just which 80% he wants to get rid of. The FBI? Prisons? EPA? The federal courts? Housing assistance? Highways? The National Institutes of Health?


Well, Sullivan was more than prepared to answer, and not with a bunch of cookie-cutter bullshit. Instead, he went with some weapons out of the Libertarian and Economist cabinets.

my back-of-the-envelope wish-list is that I'd repeal the Medicare drug entitlement, abolish ear-marks, institute a line-item veto, pass a balanced budget amendment, means-test social security benefits, index them to prices rather than wages, extend the retirement age to 72 (and have it regularly extended as life-spans lengthen), abolish agricultural subsidies, end corporate welfare, legalize marijuana and tax it, and eliminate all tax loopholes and deductions, including the mortgage deduction, (I'd keep the charitable deduction). For good measure, I'd get rid of the NEA and the Education Department. I'm not an economist, so I do not know whether this would do the trick entirely, and I'm open to debate on any of the particulars. But you get my drift.


Sullivan also later linked to a Cato study that's pretty detailed, and as a Small Government Liberal, I can concur with many of the ideas in it. Drum responded, and in many ways entirely missed the point of Sullivan's original post. Drum, like many liberals who pretend to know the fiscal game, is na-naing the situation. He wants to sidestep everything by taking Medicare and Social Security out of the equation because right now they're not contributing to the deficit. Sullivan puts them in because he knows shortly (especially with Medicare), they certainly WILL BE. And much of the OMB and CBO estimates of deficits ten years out take into account the problems that will shortly develop from it. Drum also completely ignores the savings that would happen from downsizing the Department of Justice if Marijuana was legalized (I'm guessing that's a big ticket).

Drum wants to know why Sullivan isn't focusing fighting the current deficit and is obsessed with future ones. That's a little like wanting to know why you're not fighting the recon troops when you're focusing on the invading horde behind them. This is the first problem with liberals who want to engage in budget and fiscal talk: it's all static. They really don't want to acknowledge the problems down the road because it means only one thing: dramatically higher taxes or entitlement reform. Higher taxes confirms everyone's worst nightmares of them and entitlement reform concedes a small point of the argument to conservatives. Not that C-Plus Augustus' fans are any better, who want to completely ignore the static picture in favor of some ideal that in the future they'll be saved by a supereconomy just waiting to emerge and wipe out the deficit.

But there's another flaw in Drum's argument. The idea that we've somehow got rid of most waste. Or the idea that cutting every government program across the board (including Defense) would actually harm the performance or impact of any of these programs. The answer is it probably wouldn't. You only need to work in the federal government for a few months (or less if you're like me and in charge of actually spending the money) to see the incredulously large amount of poor resource allocation decisions. If we did an across the board cut to every discretionary spending program, including defense, we would more than eliminate the deficit. Maybe not this year, but in a few years. And if we want to talk about getting rid of the waste factories that are HUD and Education, well that'll be even better.

The MSM Retooling

For all the overheated tripe put out by conservative media critics and bloggers, I do have to say their arguments have forced some interesting reforms and media experiments. Two of the most prominent just surfaced in the last few days. There's the Guardian's new and smart Comment Is Free, where coincidentally we've seen supposed "right-wing" Insta-Reynolds arguing for the International Right to Bear Arms. Considering that's on the website of a newspaper of a leftish British magazine I would challenge any media critic to call Comment Is Free biased. Also, El Wapo has just launched a blog called Red America from Ben Domenech of Redstate. And in the opening column all he portrays the editors as completely out of touch with America. Though I draw the line at trying to say Red Dawn is a good movie. No matter how much you want to make it relevant, Ben, it's not. If you want a good movie about gun-rights, just look at any zombie flick. But, I digress. I think these are both signs that the MSM is really trying it's hardest, though in a slow and lurching way, to let other voices in. And that's better for us all than having the debate on the margins. It also, like El Wapo's integration of Technorati, helps establish blogging as a more serious blend of freeform journalism.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Monday Revolver

Vodkapundit has a great idea for making Congress better.

Kevin Drum on Russ Feingold, and Matt Yglesias. Is the censure motion increasing awareness of the NSA's activities? Or is it increasing awareness of just Russ Feingold?

Agent Bedhead discusses the Blogger/Blogspot meltdowns and what all bloggers should be doing to protect themselves.

New Donkey has a golden bit from Jeb Bush and other assorted judgments regarding Katherine Harris' big gamble.

The Heretik dredges up the info on Iraq and the rampant corruption that has come with the reconstruction.

IMAO ponders what to do about all those "oppressed" people who claim they have no "free speech." There ought to be a law.

Abuse and the Court

The Supreme Court will decide whether 911 tapes can be used to prosecute spousal abuse defendents when the caller refuses to testify. According to a column in the NY Times, prosecutions have risen dramatically in places that have used 911 tapes. The authors of the Op-Ed argue that the Supreme Court should not define a 911 tape as a testimonial, thereby allowing it as evidence even without the caller's availability at trial for cross-examination. While I would want to applaud anything that helps punnish spouse abusers, I don't know if the law supports the decision the authors are calling for.

Remember that Sliding Scale?

When the DC Council originally passed the Smoking Ban, many feared there would be a sliding scale of impingement on people's freedom to smoke. That it would hardly end at bars and restaurants, and that it would continue to expand into more places, eventually squeezing smokers out of being able to smoke anywhere. They were laughed at. Many people thought the viewpoint cartoonish and absurd. Well, consider the people who argued that the smoking ban was a sliding scale to a complete ban a little vindicated.

Rain was pouring outside City Hall as Councilman Barry Groveman offered assurances that enforcement of what he diplomatically called the "secondhand smoke control ordinance" would be phased in gently. He had just finished fielding inquiries about the new law from reporters in Australia and Spain.

"We're making it acceptable to ask what has been an uncomfortable question until now: 'Would you please put that cigarette out?' " Groveman said. "We're putting the force of law behind it."

He noted that the city is trying to accommodate those who just must light up. The new ordinance allows property owners to apply to set up designated smoking areas outside businesses and offices. These must be at least 20 feet from entrances, walking paths or other areas where nonsmokers might be. So far, only two such areas exist, outside a Calabasas Road electronics firm and behind City Hall.

During Friday's rainstorm, no one was using the City Hall smoking site next to a trash bin. Only one butt was visible in the ash tray.

The new rules exempt residences, backyards, balconies and patios unless they are adjacent to common areas, laundry rooms or apartment complex walkways.


Since when is outdoor smoking harmful to everyone? This, in effect, bans almost all outdoor smoking. As an apartment dweller, someone would be unable to smoke in front of their building (apartment complex walkway, common area, adjacent to street or parking lot) so they'd be forced to smoke inside. How is that better for them? Or better for their kids if they have them? Regardless, this is the next closest thing to making smoking illegal, and I'm sure Christopher Hitchens would say, and I would agree, that this is totally un-American. This doesn't even have the perceived "public health" issue of indoor public smoking. So all of you who thought the fight wouldn't be taken to another level or further after the indoor smoking bans, you were wrong.

Genius or Stupid? You Make the Call

Usually drug dealers aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. True, some are very good at their craft, but many are outright undone by their stupidity. Then, some demonstrate a cunning and business-savvy that they can use to best their competitors and avoid the law. With these particular entrepreneurs, I can't really decide which it must be. The idea of disguising marijuana this way is probably a smart idea, but then they had to go ruin it with horribly obvious puns anyone who was remotely paying attention could catch. It's like changing someone's identity with a face transplant and then putting a fake handlebar moustache on them afterward. That's what happens when you try to mix a brilliant criminal plot with stoner humor.

Hole-in-Your-Pocket Foods

Whole Foods has never been a place I approve of. With more expensive prices, and a whole supermarket dedicated to the "organic" hype, it's just about the antimony of everything I consider good in a grocery store. Also, I've always found something vaguely sinister about it. With all the talk of helping small farmers and conserving energy, I wondered how in the world their business model could actually work. Except, of course, by ripping off gullible people. Today, Slate tells me that maybe my suspicions are well grounded. I still think "organic" really means "bribe to the Department of Agriculture inspector" though.

Back to Work Baby Boomers

Republicans have complained that people ignored Bush when he pressed for Social Security reform, assuming that no one listened because people are short-sighted; the problem will not hit us for another 20 years. The way I see it though, Bush's proposals would do very little to actually help the problem. The President wants to create a system where employees can invest their money themselves. This still doesn't solve the problem that there will be fewer workers paying into the system per retiree at the same time that retirees are living longer.

William Saletan at Slate has a column about getting rid of age as a requirement for Social Security. He gives evidence that people are living longer, staying healthy longer as well, and fewer people are engaged in physical labor. Therefore, people who can work longer should work longer. Since people age differently, those who are too old to work at 65, can collect Social Security through the disability requirement.

If we abandon the old way of thinking that associates age with retirement, we can still protect those that can no longer work from poverty while encouraging those that can to stay in their jobs. In this way, Social Security will remain solvent while keeping its mission to protect against old age poverty.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Unequal Before the Law

When we argued on this blog about men's rights in regards to childbirth and abortion, I assumed that once a baby was born, the father had both equal rights to raise the child (custody or at least visitation) as well as equal responsibility. I didn't realize how wrong that assumption was. Granted, I think the Baron said that men don't have equal rights for custody, but I wonder if he knew the real extent of it.

According to a NY Times article, women are able to give a child up for adoption without the knowledge of the father. In several cases, fathers have found out about the adoption and filed for custody but were denied. The only legal protection men have against this is a paternity database that some states have. A father can register within 30 days of the child's birth and then has a right to custody. There are many problems with this registry though. First, since women apparently don't have to inform the father when they are pregnant or have given birth, men don't know to sign up. The only way to protect against this is for the man to sign up every time he has a new sexual partner. Even if a man knows his partner is pregnant, most don't even know about the registries because they aren't well publicized.

This is what I don't understand. For all of the rhetoric about equal rights, laws like these spit in the face of men that actually want to be responsible. If this was the point Baron Violent was trying to make, then I hope the can forgive me for being so slow to catch on. It is unconscionable to allow for a series of laws that hold men financially responsible, but don't also allow them to take custody when the mother chooses to give up the child.

The only way to fix this is to give men the option of taking custody. In that situation though, the female should have to pay child support. In one of the situations in the article, the mother gave the baby up - but when the father found out about it and sued for custody, the mother then decided she wanted it. This type of behavior is unacceptable. Since one of the problems with the registry is that men don't know when their partner is pregnant, I think there should be father notification laws (cases where the father is potentially dangerous excluded). We cannot stand by and allow unfair treatment like this to continue. With the mixed messages we are sending to men, it is no wonder they are trying to avoid child support payments.

A Headline Straight From the 1700s

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Invading Canada

This is why we are losing the war on drugs. The US Drug Enforcement Agency has extradited a Candian for selling marijuana to Americans (through the mail). Of course the story isn't as one-sided as it sounds at first. Although the Canaian government knew of his actions and willingly ignored him, Marc Emery decided not to limit his business to Canadians. He is a crusader for the legalization of marijuana and sees his life as an epic battle against the DEA. So in part, he is to blame for his own actions. But this story still highlights the way the DEA misplaces its resources by speading lies about the dangers of pot and wasting time arresting benign marijuana dealers like Emery.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Secretary of War

Every week it seems like there is more evidence that the War in Iraq was completely mismanaged. Despite this though, the Secretary of Defense (maybe we need to bring back the old title of Secretary of War) retains his job. Here is the latest news from the NY Times:

Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, who was leading the Army's V Corps toward Baghdad, had told two reporters that his soldiers needed to delay their advance on the Iraqi capital to suppress the Fedayeen threat in the rear.

Soon after, General Franks phoned Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, the commander of allied land forces, to warn that he might relieve General Wallace.

[snip]

The paramilitary Fedayeen were numerous, well-armed, dispersed throughout the country, and seemingly determined to fight to the death. But while many officers in the field assessed the Fedayeen as a dogged foe, General Franks and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld saw them as little more than speed bumps on the way to Baghdad. Three years later, Iraq has yet to be subdued. Many of the issues that have haunted the Bush administration about the war — the failure to foresee a potential insurgency and to send sufficient troops to stabilize the country after Saddam Hussein's government was toppled — were foreshadowed early in the conflict.

So much for President Bush's tired comments that he is listening to his commanders on the ground.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Thursday Revolver

Six posts.

Balloon Juice has already detected how the Republicans will use Russ Feingold. . .to THEIR advantage.

Marginal Revolution talks about the whole abortion and child support case . . . and how it relates to TAX INCIDENCE! The conclusion will startle you.

The Rude Pundit ponders the FCC's new Culture Brownshirt and CBS $3.6 million fine for an episode of Without a Trace.

Respectful Insolence and the Ethics of Vaccines.

Mudville Gazette covers the implosion of a Cindy Sheehan-planned protest.

The Liquid List thinks David Brooks has finally seen the light.

Cornered

Russ Feingold wants to censure the President. That's called suicidal by many. What about the dunderheads that want to impeach him? It takes a liberal to know one, and it also takes a liberal to explain to other liberals why what they're doing is a bad idea. So, David Corn to the rescue!

So what's the impeachment game plan? Stir up public outrage to such an extent that Republicans—scared silly by a surge of people power—cannibalize Bush? That seems a quite bit tougher to achieve than the more down-to-earth goal of winning the 15 seats the Democrats require to gain control of the House. (And picking up those seats is already a tall order.) Impeachment certainly has a visceral appeal that some may not find in that mundane and tired ol' cause of let's-take-back-Congress. But unless you have a fanciful imagination, it's difficult to envision the former without the latter. And if your goal is impeachment, why focus on that controversial aim rather than on achieving the political power necessary for waging such a drastic step? The potential costs of an impeachment campaign are clear. It could cause Democrats to appear marginal or out-of-touch. (Sorry, that's how much of the world works.) And it could create a wedge issue—for Democrats. That is, it could lead to division among Democrats in the months before the 2006 elections. (Democrats.com, an Internet-based activist group that passionately champions impeachment, has been attacking Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean for supposedly trying to smother impeachment fever among Democrats.) As for the benefits—well, if Bush is not impeached before the next election, what are they?


It's a good piece. Mostly because Corn even admits that some of the impeachment talk may be relevant on the merit, but it's terrible politics from a contemporary and historical perspective and is probably the riskiest gamble in the book. Let's face it. Some of us may like to see C-Plus Augustus impeached. Some of us would also like to see bales of cocaine fall from the sky, and ride unicorns to work, or build a giant android army to take over the world, or have the Pope force Salma Hayek to marry you. Some things are just not in the cards.

Jim Moran Just Said Something Crazy

Though this time it wasn't racist. Moran, my Congressman and King of Gaffes and embarassing quotes (and who I've met more times than I can remember, each time he gets this weird look like he sort of recognizes me, not realizing it's because I've shaken his hand about 30 times, but that's neither here nor there) has committed a doozy. He's said he'd like to see Gore run in 2008. There's only one person I want to see run less than Al Gore. And that's Hillary. I would even rather have a Kerry retread than Gore. But of course that's like choosing between drinking a ice cold glass of Draino or an ice cold glass of Industrial Paint Thinner. This frustrates me for a number of reasons. One of which is that Moran, as a Virginia Democrat, needs to do his sacred duty. And that's line up behind Mark Warner.

Yeeeeee-haw!


Katherine Harris is staying in the Florida Senate race! I'm sure right now Ben Nelson (D-FL) is doing backflips of joy. What's better? She's putting up 10 million of her own money to pull this one out after suffering from a lot of fundraising problems (of the quantity kind and legal kind). So that means she's not just going to lose the election, she's going to lose her shirt too. All right, I'm blind thinking about that. Poor choice of words.

Genetically Perfect

I wanted to wait until I had read the whole article before I posted about it, but that just isn't going to happen anytime soon. So here it is anyway. The article talks about a couple that is suing a doctor for malpractice because he didn't recognize obvious signs of birth defects during pregnancy. The couple contends that they might have aborted the baby if they had known. While I understand anger over a doctor that doesn't even perform measurements of the woman's belly during pregnancy, their argument is one that doesn't sit well with me.

To be honest, I am not even sure why I have such a problem with this, except that I have a feeling it doesn't sit well with most of the voters in America either. Therefore, arguments like this can be used by conservatives to define debates in the culture wars. Beyond that though, I am having a hard time identifying why I think ending a pregnancy because of a birth defect is so much worse than doing so because you aren't ready to have a child. Part of it is probably that this attitude takes us down the road of demanding genetically perfect babies (has anyone seen Gattaca?).

Maybe after I finish reading the article, my thoughts will be a little clearer. I would love to hear other thoughts too, especially considering the great debates we have been having recently about abortion.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Just a Funny Picture, That's It




I imagine the President saying in a high-pitched Ned Flanders voice, "toodley-doodley-yoo!" (H/t: Pandagon!)

Wednesday Revolver

Six Nefarious Villains for your blog-reading pleasure.

Ezra Klein is after HSAs, specifically Huckabee's "skin in the game" rationale for them.

The Carpetbagger Report digs into an Insight magazine article on Bush's management style. Turns out he does a lot of delegating, almost dangerously so. Who'd a thunk it?

Legal Fiction contemplates the Andrew Sullivan-Paul Krugman War and takes a long look at Bill Kristol's "qualifications."

Gateway Pundit covers Rice's trip to Indonesia, with lots of pictures and the implications of Sesame Street.

Ambivablog remembers a slain Iraqi journalist.

My Pet Jawa's Rusty Shackleford writes in support of McCain, and the comments go to war!

Third Party Foolery

Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL, has rightly decided not to run in the Pennsylvania Senate race. Since her chances of winning were very slim, the only effect she would have had on the outcome would be to take votes away from Democratic challenger Bob Casey, Jr. Michelman is upset because Casey is a pro-life Democrat. Unfortunately, in the real world, she has only two choices – to support a pro-life Democrat by choosing not to run, or assist a rabid pro-life Republican (Rick Santorum) by entering the race.

Her public consideration of running as an independent might have been pretty cunning. Maybe I am giving her too much credit, but if it was an attempt to get concessions from Casey, then it was mildly successful. Casey has apparently promised not to support any Supreme Court nominees that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

This discussion reminds me of the 2000 Presidential campaign, and everyone’s favorite independent, Ralph Nader. Nader’s followers have always said that they did not contribute to Gore’s defeat because Gore lost the election on his own. There is some truth to that; Gore should not have let that election be that close. How hard could it possibly be to defeat a lazy elitist with poor public speaking skills? But the reality is that some of Nader’s followers would have voted for Gore if Nader hadn’t run, and that might have swung the election in Gore’s favor.

I am glad to see that in Pennsylvania, we have learned a lesson from the past and decided not to split our vote. If we are truly serious about booting the junior senator from Pennsylvania, we need to all be on the same team. Otherwise, the somewhat more moderate Santorum will go into hiding for another 4-5 years and ultra-conservative Rick will reassert his dominance until the next election.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Battle of the Bands

Leave it to the Serbs to turn an song competition into a nationalistic feud.

I mean.. C'MON!!!

Just Putting It Out There

I'm saying it now, and I invite others to give out their takes. What is your nightmare matchup in 2008? Ideally, this will be between each of the worst candidates from the two parties in your opinion. It's the kind of matchup where you think about leaving the country without even knowing who's going to win. Why? Because either one is bound to depress the hell out of you. For me it's the following

Democrat: Russ Feingold

Republican: Mitt Romney



The very idea of enduring those two having at each other for nine months and then one of their worthless asses becoming President makes me ill.

John Sawers Has ESP

This memo is so prescient it's nearly unbelievable. Written write after the fall of Baghdad and shortly before Bremer's arrival, it predicts just about EVERY PROBLEM that would happen in the Iraq Occupation and suggests possible remedies. As it came from a British Envoy, though, it was unsurprisingly ignored by Rumsfeld's Staff. They wouldn't know reality if it gave them an atomic wedgie, and especially if it wrote a memo identifying all their problems and telling them how to solve their problems.

Darfur Rally

I found an advertisement for a Save Darfur rally in Washington, DC. The date is planned for April 30, 2006. Since that falls on a Sunday, work will not prevent anyone from attending. I hope this can get a strong turnout to show world that we demand the end to the genocide.

Rise of the Machines. . .Yet Again

So we have unmanned flying planes to shoot missiles at people, cave robots with machine guns, controllable sharks, remote firing turrets with automatic grenade launchers . . . but what have you done for me lately? DARPA is seriously restless lately.

In an announcement posted on government Web sites last week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, says it is seeking "innovative proposals to develop technology to create insect cyborgs," by implanting tiny devices into insect bodies while the animals are in their pupal stage.

As an insect metamorphoses from a larva to an adult, the solicitation notice says, its "body goes through a renewal process that can heal wounds and reposition internal organs around foreign objects, including tiny (mechanical) structures that might be present."

The goal is to create technology that can achieve "the delivery of an insect within five meters of a specific target located at hundred meters away, using electronic remote control, and/or global positioning system." Once at the target, "the insect must remain stationary either indefinitely or until otherwise instructed ... (and) must also be able to transmit data from (Department of Defense) relevant sensors ... includ(ing) gas sensors, microphones, video, etc."

The move follows challenges the agency says it has encountered in its efforts to train insects to detect explosives or other chemical compounds, and to mimic their flight and movement patterns using small robots.


If you read on, you'll see they've been up to similar projects in the past (the referenced "challenges") that haven't worked out. Many of you may think this is ridiculous. I say it's probably a good idea. One can easily find me bitching about the funding of gigantic new classes of nuclear submarines and more advanced stealth fighter jets (when almost no one can shoot down the ones we have currently) and how that money needs to be redirected to our most used weapon system: the ordinary soldier. This is an example of that. If we could develop cyborg insects, it would definitely help the military with intelligence and help regular groups of soldiers utilize them to be generally more aware of their surroundings. So waste of money? Probably if you take a short-term view. These R&D project will undoubtedly fail, but if they get closer to something like this it will surely help.

But then the NSA will probably get hold of them and use houseflies to spy on all of us (that's not a wiretap, so there's no worrying about FISA!) and make me eat my words, as I usually do. (Hat tip: David Corn!)

It Means Sports in Spanish

I have always felt a little restrained when posting about sports on this blog. I often resisted posting about stories that only sports geeks would care about because I didn't feel like they fit here. So in order to satisfy my need to discuss everything sports, I have created a sports news and opinion blog with some friends called Blog of Rivals. Enjoy.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Monday Revolver

A long time ago I did the Gatling Blog. People seemed to like it. However, I'm lazy and it was too much work. So, I'm being ambitious and hoping to do these mini ones. "Revolvers" if you will, about 2 or 3 or more times a week. So here's the first one!

Gary Becker has a monster of a post on illegal immigration. It gets deep into the history of immigration and government policy on it and what current options are available in his eyes, some of which are pretty interesting proposals.

Demagogue catches the Mooninite Times in a particularly off-base and overreaching explanation of Brokeback's Oscar loss. It has a little something to do with gay fatigue. Oh Mooninites!

Dean's World has collected all the news about the Yale's most controversial student: Hashemi Rahmatullah: former Taliban official.

The Debate Link reacts to its first hate-mail! And an "enlightening" hate mail it is. (Have any of us gotten hate mail? I don't remember any).

Commonwealth Conservative talks. . .MARCH MADNESS! Bet you didn't see that coming. And he's as baffled as most of us UVA fans that UVA somehow made it to the NIT.

Firedoglake talks about the media coverage of Russ Feingold's censure quest, quixotic though it may be.

Truth, Plagiarism, and the American Way

The Da Vinci Code court case is a model example of what is wrong with Intellectual Property law. Or, at the least, what is wrong with contemporary jurisprudence in interpreting Intellectual Property law and in allowing such looney claims to be made. Everyone can own anything in Intellectual Property law now, and force anyone else to pay them in order to think it or write it. Okay, maybe it's not that bad yet. But if the plaintiffs win their case against Dan Brown, it may well be. For those of you that do not know, the case involves the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, who first argued many of the quasi-historical claims being uttered by the characters in The Da Vinci code. The book, as put forward by them, is a nonfiction. So why are they suing A WORK OF FICTION for copyright infringement? Since when can historians sue historical novelists for writing about history? Since when can scientists sue scifi writers for discussing their theories in novels? Or, even better, can a newspaper sue another newspaper that covered a local fire and mentions the same statistics about property damage and injuries? The case turns such basic assumptions upside-down. Slate states:

Let's start at the beginning. One of the basic principles of copyright law is that you can't copyright historical facts, though you can own how you express those facts. Say you write the first article ever saying that John F. Kennedy had Addison's disease (a fact). If the law says that you now own that fact, almost anyone who wants to write about Kennedy's life or illnesses needs your permission. That's a broad right, one that's not just a damper on future scholarship and authorship but possibly a damper on that fact itself—you might, for example, be a Kennedy loyalist who wants to keep his disease secret forever.

[snip]

Why should Dan Brown be able to walk away with tens of millions of dollars if Leigh and his pals put in all the hard labor? The answer is that Leigh et al., had a choice: They could have decided to portray their work as fiction, not history—and that, in the words of American judge Frank Easterbrook, "makes all the difference." When you, as an author, make a claim to present the truth, you both gain something and lose something. You have a shot at changing what we think to be true, and you may gain reader interest. But you cannot own the truth the way you might own elements of a fictional story, like the character "Rocky." To claim the truth is fine, but to own it is not.


I haven't read The Da Vinci Code, or this book. Mostly because a lot of people who's taste I trust more than the NYT bestseller list have told me it's trash, and the subject matter doesn't interest me a whole lot. But few other than Dan Brown's most devoted and deluded fans would call it a history book, or a true story. And, what's more, Dan Brown references Holy Blood in Da Code, which academics might call "citing a source," I believe? So while this lawsuit is pretty much just a sour grape-eating contest everyone should be bothered that it is actually being entertained in court. For the magnificent reasons Slate stated above, what happens if you can copyright the truth? Is no one then permitted speak it? Can you earn royalties based upon facts? I'd say it's about as ridiculous as being able to patent someone's genes, but the courts allowed that, didn't they?

If the British court does file for the plaintiffs, it will crush any sort of cultural production we have. As much as conservatives whine about Hollywood being out of touch, a move like this could legally force them to under the threat of more lawsuits than they already have to contend with. The notion that being able to write about similar ideas, or events that actually occurred is a foundation for inquiry, be it scientific, journalistic, or historic. And to be able to spin fictional stories out of such real life events and possibilities is the main principle of writing accessible literature. To allow a "truth-patent" would destroy all of that. So, despite my hatred for pop-lit trash like Da Code, I stand with Dan Brown. Because how credible does it make your work of "fact" look when you're saying Da Code copied it?

Krugman is Sneaky

I can't believe that Paul Krugman is stupid, so I have to assume that he is trying to be sneaky ($). In his latest column, Krugman tries to paint John McCain as a far-right conservative. Granted, McCain is never as independent as liberals would hope, but he is no Bill Frist either. Krugman points to www.voteview.com (after looking at the site, I get the feeling Krugman cherry-picked it) to prove how far to the right McCain is. We get a very different picture though when we look at other groups' scorings. The PIRG.org site gives McCain one of the highest rankings for all Republicans, with only five beating him out. His score for 2002 shows he voted with PIRG 35% of the time. McCain is also one of the top scoring Republicans with the ACLU, voting with them 22% of the time in the 108th Congress and championing the anti-torture legislation in this Congress. (As a pro-life Republican, McCain obviously scores lower with NARAL.)

Many liberals are hoping that the Republican base can be fooled long enough for McCain to win the primary. Krugman knows that any attacks from a far-left columnist will give him a surefire boost. Since as of right now I am planning to support McCain for President in 2008, maybe I shouldn't be revealing Krugman's hidden plot. But then again, McCain is doing a pretty good job on his own of courting the strong conservatives as he praises the President at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference and toes the party line with recent tax cut votes.

Conservative Dissatisfaction

Professor Bainbridge links and comments on a series of LA Times op-eds by conservatives, all of which are dissatisfied with Bush. And, not surprisingly, each one has their own different set of reasons why. Bainbridge recommends you check it out, and I do too, and Bainbridge puts his own spin on whether these columnists are off-base are not and where he agrees with them. Bainbridge is a pretty much died-in-the-wool free-market, Reagan-style conservative, so his judgment on those issues is on-point.

I think there's enough of it when the Insta dropped this, discussing a Neal Boortz rant:

He then lists a lot of other problems, unrelated to the war, and concludes: "Suffice it to say that George Bush needs to talk about much more than the global war on terror to float my boat."

Yeah, if the Democrats stopped harping on the war, they'd do a lot better. Their continual war-baiting merely serves to remind a lot of people who are unhappy with Bush of why they don't like the Democrats either. Bush's best hope is that the Democrats won't be smart enough to figure that out.


My point exactly, and also the point of so many like Bainbridge. The field of dissatisfaction is ripe, but no one on the left seems intent on harvesting it unless it has something to do with Iraq.

Playing Offense in the Culture Wars

Matt Yglesias thinks that the HPV vaccine is the perfect moment for the democrats to play offense in the culture wars. I agree. Just get a load of this.

GlaxoSmithKline Plc's experimental cervical vaccine Cervarix provides 100 percent protection over four years against cervical lesions, according to data presented on Tuesday.

The findings, presented at a meeting in Atlanta of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, maintain the results of earlier studies showing no evidence of waning protection against two key virus types, HPV 16 and HPV 18.

Glaxo is competing against Merck & Co. Inc. in the race to market a vaccine against a sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes most cases of cervical cancer, the second-most fatal cancer in women.


This is the sort of thing that pro-business conservatives and free-market conservatives should be out in the street whooping about. The triumph of private corporations in producing a cancer vaccine! (Bonus: Bill Gates provided a lot of grant money to fund its development too) There's only one problem: the social conservatives want to stop it. At least, stop it from the way it is most effective: from becoming mandatory. Something that could kill this disease and the prevalence of it, and Focus on the Family and Family Research Council (the NARAL of the Right, heh) oppose any mandatory vaccination regime. Sayeth, TNR:

Religious conservatives are posing the debate as a choice between abstinence and safe sex. "We feel people should have the choice of abstinence as a means to avoid HPV," a spokeswoman for Christian Medical & Dental Associations told me. "Our concern is this vaccine will be marketed to a segment of the population that should be getting a message about abstinence," says the Family Research Council. And in theory, that's fine. But, like communism, certain ideas have a hard time succeeding in the real world. Studies show that not only do abstinence programs have little to no effect on rates of sexual activity, they also tend to mislead or withhold information about practicing safe sex. That's why people who pledge abstinence are less likely to have safe sex and avoid STDs when they do find partners. So while, in theory, the choice of abstinence over Merck's vaccine would be fine, in reality, it too often would mean a choice to expose oneself to HPV--and the risk of cervical cancer.

And because HPV is so widespread--absent a vaccine, 80 percent of Americans will contract it at some point in their lives--the stakes in this discussion are high. It's true that most of the hundred or so strains of HPV are innocuous, so the fact that over 20 million Americans have it at any given point is not necessarily cause for alarm. It's also true that the annual number of cervical cancer cases is relatively small--10,400, a third of which are fatal. But each year, 4.7 million American women require one or more follow-up appointments for an abnormal pap result, and at least 3 million of these cases result from having HPV. The cost of these appointments to the individual (and to our already overburdened health care system) quickly adds up. A 2003 Stanford study suggested that the cost of inoculating people against the disease would be far smaller than the current cost to the health care system associated with HPV.


It's moments like this, when a clear political strategy is sharply in focus, that depress you more. While we get Democrats seething with hatred and gesticulating violent at Iraq and talking about National Healthcare, (or Democrats in Maryland forcing healthcare on Wal-Mart) this stuff creeps in under the radar. If liberals want to engage in the Culture Wars (which they more or less will have to), they need to be painting every FOF and FRC ally as against cancer vaccines, against public health, and (if you want to be truthful) against contraception too. Let's just lean on the whole bunch. We're really seeing a War on Sex right now, and that war is extending beyond the perimeters into public health issues like preventing cancer. It's something that will stick in the public's mind, if only people would call attention to it. And it's something that truly constitutes right-wing overreach in the Culture Wars, and will be perceived as such by ordinary Americans. If they can call liberals and Democrats part of the "culture of death", calling them "anti-health", "anti-vaccine", or even "pro-cancer" is fair play.

Damn the Man

Maybe Baron Violent can help me with this one. Tonight, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will induct jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Although I am much less versed in jazz history than the Baron is, as I understand it, Miles' biggest contributions to music were in jazz. His ablum Birth of the Cool was revolutionary and Kind of Blue is widely regarded as the best jazz album of all time. His later albums that experimented with jazz / rock fusion, like Bitches Brew for example, were influential, but I wonder which genre they impacted the most. It isn't unusual for Rock and Roll to want to claim a genius like Miles Davis for their own, but somehow it doesn't feel like it fits.

Is Anyone Surprised?

It looks like the lobbying reform legislation is losing steam and might be forgotten about altogether. I have ceased being surprised when I find out that Congress isn't interested in doing anything substantial. I should have known from the beginning that they would talk big, and keep talking until the public forgets about Jack Abramoff.

I am starting to really get behind the Baron's calls to vote against all incumbents.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead!

Slobodan Milosevic, former Yugoslav president and war criminal, was found dead in his cell in the Hague this morning.

All I will say is this: good riddance to bad rubbish.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Remember Choose Your Own Adventure?

Well, here's the George W. Bush version! Excuse me, I mean, Georgina Bush. They have NOTHING to do with each other! Warning: This is a timewaster EXTRAORDINAIRE! It's very elaborate, but also very hilarious! (Hat tip: Screenhead!)

Rise of the Machines (Again)

So, currently the US military has armed, tank-tread robots to infiltrate caves, and armed, unmanned flying drones to go track people down and assassinate them. It seems the James Cameron/Terminator world already exists. Well, what else?

The U.S. Army has discovered a remote control gun turret that works, and cannot get enough of them. The army wants over 9,000 CROWS (common remotely operated weapon stations), but is only getting 15 a month. There should be about a thousand CROWS in service by the end of the year.

The idea for CROWS has been around for nearly half a century. Years of tinkering, and better technology, eventually made the remote control gun turret effective and dependable. CROWS us a real life saver, not to mention anxiety reducer, for troops who drive through bandit country a lot, and have a turret mounted gun (usually in a hummer). The guy manning the turret mounted machine-gun is a target up there, and too often, the bad guys get you. Not with CROWS. The gunner is inside the vehicle, checking out the surroundings on a computer monitor (with night vision and telephoto capabilities). CROWS also has a laser rangefinder built in, as well as a stabilizer mechanism to allow more accurate fire while the vehicle is moving. The CROWS systems cost about $260,000 each, and can mount a variety of weapons (M2 .50 caliber machine-gun, MK19 40-mm automatic grenade launcher, M240B 7.62mm machine-gun and M249 5.56mm squad automatic weapon).


Wow. First of all, this article references the scariest of all weapons, the AUTOMATIC GRENADE LAUNCHER (think about rapid fire grenade launcher for a minute, people. If you didn't soil yourself you don't have much of an imagination). Then it can be mounted and fired remotely? These things seem like they're straight out of the Red Alert videogames. (Hat Tip: Insta!)

The End

For all of you who may be wondering who this is, I've obviously switched names. For reasons I won't get into too much, Mr. Proliferation's time had come and gone. It's all over now. I will no longer go by, or answer to that name (except maybe when extremely drunk). From here on out, I will be known by the more appropriate name

Baron Violent



And, also, for those who may be wondering. . .it's a reference. Kudos if someone finds out to what!

The Real Soul of the Republican Party

Pandagon has found the perfect Republican candidate: a self-styled "black Jesse Helms" running in NC. He's just about the epitome of all ludicrous hard-right tendencies. And if you really want to see what all those look like in one big shit-cauldron stirred together, you can see his campaign ad! And his campaign website is just as scary.

Sometimes I look at Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, and Hillary Clinton, and Howard Dean, and I wonder . . . "Why do I help the Democratic party at all?" So thank you, Vernon Robinson. For reminding me why.