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March 31, 2006
Open thread 62
Posted by Teresa at 03:56 AM *

“I am in a position, thanks to our Mr O’Hagan here, to tell you that an American court has held that part of ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’ is a direct steal from Handel’s Messiah. It is. In fact, there are those who claim that the entire chorus is pinched from other tunes. Try this: ‘Hallelujah, Bananas/Oh bring back my Bonnie to me/I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls/The kind that you seldom see/ I was seeing Nellie home/ To an old-fashioned garden, but/Hallelujah, Bananas/ Oh bring back my Bonnie to me.’ My, that was fun, wasn’t it? Next!” —Captain Moonlight

March 28, 2006
David Stemple
Posted by Patrick at 07:16 AM *

David Stemple—scientist, outdoorsman, world traveller and paterfamilias—was sharp, funny, irascible, generous, kindly, impassioned, profane, and great company. He could talk your ear off about Scottish history, growl terrifyingly about the iniquity of bad database design, and in the presence of a bird he wanted to observe, he could bend reality itself. He believed in knowing things. He was a man who, when you met him, you thought “That’s right, that’s how a human life should be lived.”

He was the husband of novelist and poet Jane Yolen, and father of novelist and musician Adam Stemple, both of them friends, colleagues, and co-conspirators in multiple areas of our lives. He died last Wednesday after a long illness. This morning we’re in western Massachusetts for his memorial. Normal weblog service (such as it is) will resume later in the week.

March 27, 2006
Jane Smiley’s “Notes for Converts”
Posted by Teresa at 09:42 AM *

From Jane Smiley’s essay, Notes for Converts, in The Huffington Post:

Bruce Bartlett, The Cato Institute, Andrew Sullivan, George Packer, William F. Buckley, Sandra Day O’Connor, Republican voters in Indiana and all the rest of you newly-minted dissenters from Bush’s faith-based reality seem, right now, to be glorying in your outrage, which is always a pleasure and feels, at the time, as if it is having an effect, but those of us who have been anti-Bush from day 1 (defined as the day after the stolen 2000 election) have a few pointers for you that should make your transition more realistic.

1. Bush doesn’t know you disagree with him. Nothing about you makes you of interest to George W. Bush once you no longer agree with and support him. No degree of relationship (father, mother, etc.), no longstanding friendly intercourse (Jack Abramoff), no degree of expertise (Brent Scowcroft), no essential importance (Tony Blair, American voters) makes any difference. There is nothing you have to offer that makes Bush want to know you once you have come to disagree with him. Your opinions and feelings now exist in a world entirely external to the mind of George W. Bush. You are now just one of those “polls” that he pays no attention to. When you were on his side, you thought that showed “integrity” on his part. It doesn’t. It shows an absolute inability to learn from experience.

Bush is to public discourse as Three Card Monte is to card game.

I’ve drafted a number of unfinished ML posts since autumn 2000 about Bush and his use of language. The first one was written after I watched an otherwise sensible friend get into a tizzy over some stupid things Bush said about an exceptionally stupid proposed amendment to the Constitution. She was trying to figure out what he meant by his remarks.

Nothing, I told her. He meant nothing. Bush doesn’t really talk to us. When it’s advantageous or required, he’ll go through the motions of talking to us; but that’s all. What it “means” is that he either has to do it, like the State of the Union speech; or he wants something from us, like votes; or he’s tossing out a string of words calculated to endear him to some fraction of the citizenry, like “manned missions to Mars” or “Constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage.” He doesn’t care what he’s saying, and afterward he doesn’t consider himself bound by what he’s said.

The implications are unpleasant. Someone who doesn’t care that he’s lying to you, and doesn’t care that you know it, doesn’t respect you, and doesn’t consider you part of his social or political universe. Look at how many disparate reasons Bush has tendered for cutting taxes for the rich, or going to war with Iraq. The only connection between those statements and his actions is that he believed that saying those things would get him what he wants.

2. Bush doesn’t care whether you disagree with him. As a man who has dispensed with the reality-based world, and is entirely protected by his handlers from feeling the effects of that world, he is indifferent to what you now think is real. Is the Iraq war a failure and a quagmire? Bush doesn’t care. Is global warming beginning to affect us right now? So what. Have all of his policies with regard to Iran been misguided and counter-productive? He never thinks about it.

He doesn’t care about you even if you do agree with him.

Here’s the truth about the Katrina relief mess: It doesn’t matter how Mississippi and Louisiana voted. FEMA would have screwed up equally badly anywhere in the country. They could still do it. Next time it may be your city, your home, your life-or-death struggle.

Bush views FEMA as a branch of his personal publicity apparatus. He was running for president in 2004, when a string of hurricanes plowed into Florida, so his appointees at FEMA were carelessly openhanded with aid for the hurricane victims. He wasn’t running when New Orleans got nailed, so his guys scarcely lifted a finger until the public outcry could no longer be ignored.

FEMA’s screwups aren’t all that surprising. You actually have to know something about large-scale emergency assistance operations to run the agency effectively. Unfortunately, competence and experience were not the basis on which Bush’s appointees got their jobs. (Some of them were his former Florida campaign operatives.) They don’t know what they’re doing, and they don’t seem to care. So, you have to assume that they’d perform just as badly if the disaster were another New Madrid quake, major brush fires in Idaho and Montana, ice-jam flooding in the Northern Tier, an Easter morning F5 tornado cluster in the mid-South, tsunamis on the coasts, or a mid-July terrorist strike on the Salt River Project dams.

You know that Katrina tape in which Bush never asked a question? It doesn’t matter how much you know or how passionately you feel or, most importantly, what degree of disintegration you see around you, he’s not going to ask you a question. You and your ideas are dead to him. You cannot change his mind. Nine percent of polled Americans would agree with attacking Iran right now. To George Bush, that will be a mandate, if and when he feels like doing it, because…

3. Bush does what he feels like doing and he deeply resents being told, even politely, that he ought to do anything else. This is called a “sense of entitlement”.

One of the great underrated temptations is the desire to just be ourselves, in our raw state of nature, and somehow have it work anyway. It’s why babies cry. In adults, it’s called a sense of entitlement.

Bush is a man who has never been anywhere and never done anything, and yet he has been flattered and cajoled into being president of the United States through his connections, all of whom thought they could use him for their own purposes. He has a surface charm that appeals to a certain type of American man, and he has used that charm to claim all sorts of perks, and then to fail at everything he has ever done. He did not complete his flight training, he failed at oil investing, he was a front man and a glad-hander as a baseball owner. As the Governor of Texas, he originated one educational program that turned out to be a debacle; as the President of the US, his policies have constituted one screw-up after another. You have stuck with him through all of this, made excuses for him, bailed him out. From his point of view, he is perfectly entitled by his own experience to a sense of entitlement. Why would he ever feel the need to reciprocate? He’s never had to before this.

4. President Bush is your creation. When the US Supreme Court humiliated itself in 2000 by handing the presidency to Bush even though two of the justices (Scalia and Thomas) had open conflicts of interest, you did not object. When the Bush administration adopted an “Anything but Clinton” policy that resulted in ignoring and dismissing all warnings of possible terrorist attacks on US soil, you went along with and made excuses for Bush. When the Bush administration allowed the corrupt Enron corporation to swindle California ratepayers and taxpayers in a last ditch effort to balance their books in 2001, you laughed at the Californians and ignored the links between Enron and the administration. When it was evident that the evidence for the war in Iraq was cooked and that State Department experts on the Middle East were not behind the war and so it was going to be run as an exercise in incompetence, you continued to attack those who were against the war in vicious terms and to defend policies that simply could not work. On intelligent design, global warming, doctoring of scientific results to reflect ideology, corporate tax giveaways, the K Street project, the illegal redistricting of Texas, torture at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, the Terry Schiavo fiasco, and the cronyism that led to the destruction of New Orleans you have failed to speak out with integrity or honesty, preferring power to truth at every turn. Bush does what he wants because you have let him. …

There’s more. Go and read it.

March 23, 2006
Cognitive dissonance: Bush in Cleveland
Posted by Teresa at 02:50 PM *

Just so you know, in a speech the other day in Cleveland, Bush denied that he’d ever linked the events of 9/11/2001 with Saddam Hussein.

No, really—he actually said it:

“First, just if I may correct a misperception. I don’t think we ever said—at least I know I didn’t say—that there was a direct connection between Sept. 11 and Saddam Hussein.”

Which is simply breathtaking. (Though not so breathtaking that USA Today couldn’t uncritically report Bush’s denial. Let the organ harvesting begin.)

As written up in the San Francisco Chronicle, Bush made this statement in response to a question from:

…an elderly gentleman who cited what he said were the three main reasons for going to war in Iraq—WMD, Iraq’s ties to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists, and the alleged purchase of nuclear material from Niger—and then noted dryly that all three of these rationales turned out to be false.

“How do we restore confidence that Americans may have in their leaders and to be sure that the information they are getting now is correct?” he asked the president.

Please don’t tell me that Bush was ambushed, or that his words were taken out of context. It was a clear, straightforward statement that happened to be obviously and risibly false. The question itself was the very definition of “foreseeable,” and it came out of a heavily screened, hand-picked audience. It had to; Bush won’t talk to any other sort.

Bush also explained his complete failure to turn up Iraq’s supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction, thus:

“The truth of the matter is that the whole world thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

No, they didn’t. The whole world doubted there was any such thing, and only let us get away with starting the war because Bush & Co. swore the WMDs existed.

As of 2001, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice were dead certain that Iraq had no WMDs. And have a gander at the story that ran in the Globe and Mail in July 2003:

U.S. ignored WMD message, analyst says

Toronto—A conference of top-level military analysts was told that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks—a message that later fell on deaf ears in the U.S. capital, analysts say. …

The rest of the story’s behind the Globe & Mail’s firewall, but you can also read it here.

There are ever so many other reputable sources I could have linked to on that point. But we all know that.

I keep thinking about all the times, during the runup to and early stages of the war, in correspondence and online, when Macdonald said that Iraq obviously didn’t have WMDs. Why? Because none of their neighbors were acting like they were worried about it. That’s as simple and straightforward a test as Richard Feynman dunking a NASA O-ring in ice water during hearings on the Challenger explosion.

I also liked Claude Muncey’s remark in chat today, when I mentioned that I was contemplating Bush’s performance with no small degree of amazement:
Claude: “Is this the speech where he admitted being kidnapped by Greys and therefore missed his make-up time for the National Guard?”

Me: “That’d be the one.”

March 22, 2006
Hugo and Campbell finalists
Posted by Patrick at 08:30 AM *

[Note: Post contains mind-numbing amounts of SF-industry inside-baseball. Skip or read as you see fit.]

The Hugo and Campbell award finalists have been announced. (Complete list below the fold.) Regular readers of Making Light will be unsurprised to know that I’m pleased to see Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin, one of Teresa’s editorial projects for Tor, among the five finalists for Best Novel. I’m equally pleased to see that two books I handled also made the final ballot: Ken MacLeod’s outstanding first-contact novel, Learning the World, and John Scalzi’s highly assured debut, Old Man’s War. Scalzi is also among the finalists for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which marks the first time in 22 years (and only the second time ever) that a Campbell finalist has also appeared on the Best Novel shortlist.

The presence of Scalzi’s book sent me back through Hugo Award history, looking at the first novels that have been shortlisted in the past. It’s one of our subcultural myths that we’re “neophilic,” that we routinely acclaim strong new work, and in fact since the first Hugo Awards in 1953, fully 22 debut novels have been among the finalists. Five of them have won, most recently last year’s winner, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. What’s much more striking, though, is that of those 22 first novels, 19 were published prior to 1985. In the last two decades, only three first novels have made the shortlists: Maureen F. McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and now Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. In that time, there have certainly been other debut novels which excited large portions of the SF and fantasy field, but for whatever reason, they didn’t make the Hugo ballot.

In a post to his own weblog, Scalzi expresses regret that I personally didn’t make the “Best Professional Editor” ballot, despite the fact that I acquired three out of the five Best Novel nominees and personally shepherded two of them to publication. This is generous of John, and I wouldn’t have declined the nomination, but in fact as every book editor in our field knows, while the Best Professional Hugo is regularly awarded to high-profile magazine editors and anthologists, it only goes to book editors if we die. It’s for this reason that there’s a pending proposal to split the editorial award into “long form” and “short form” categories; whether this will be ratified by this year’s Worldcon Business Meeting is anyone’s guess. Personally, I note that David Hartwell has been a finalist for Best Professional Editor 15 times, leaving aside his 17 further nominations for the New York Review of Science Fiction, and that he’s never won a Hugo of any kind. Pretty shabby treatment for an individual who is by any measure one of the best and most influential editors in the eighty-year history of our field. Whether or not the World SF Convention decides to reform the editor award, it’s years past time one went to Hartwell.

March 21, 2006
Happy birthday
Posted by Patrick at 12:01 AM * 238 comments

tnh1.jpg Teresa Nielsen Hayden, born 21 March 1956, in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

Happy fiftieth birthday, my love, my collaborator, my co-conspirator in all things. May your flag fly for decades to come.

March 20, 2006
Where dystopia comes from
Posted by Patrick at 08:03 AM *

As Will Shetterly points out, the same giant comics companies that want a government patent to collect rent on the English word “superhero” have throughout their history shown no reluctance to make extensive use of material from the public domain. Like ruling dynasties descended from pirates and outlaws, the media companies that built their fortunes on freely-available culture now want to charge us for it.

Marvel and DC’s behavior differs from the rest of Big Media only in its haplessly transparent crudity, par for the course in the world of comics, a field I once described as “combining the ethics of Hollywood, the social graces of science fiction fandom, and the Big Money of book publishing.” The central desire of most media companies today is to enclose as much of the cultural commons as possible, to replace normal operations of culture (like, you know, loaning a book to a friend) with transactions for which they can charge a fee.

I’ve long resisted the idea that the modern limitated-liability corporation, considered as an “individual” (as it is, under American law) is in fact—no matter how good and kind the people inside it—a sociopath. But the older I get and the more I see, the more I suspect that’s essentially the case.

March 19, 2006
Pass This On To All Your E-Mail Friends….
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:24 AM *

Look what the e-mail fairy brought:

> ——- Original Message ——-
> From: rufff lady
> To: Undisclosed-Recipient:;
> Sent: Thursday, February 09, 2006 9:43 PM
> Subject: What’s All The Fuss?
>
>
> Well said!
>
>

Opinions on that may differ.

>
>
> The lady that wrote this letter is Pam Foster of
> Pamela Foster and Associates in Atlanta. She’s
> been in business since 1980 doing interior
> design and home planning. She recently wrote
> a letter to a family member serving in Iraq.
> Read it!
>
>
>

Actually, no. It was written by Doug Patton, a wingnut. “Doug has served as a speechwriter and policy advisor to federal, state and local candidates and elected officials. He founded the Nebraska chapter of the Christian Coalition in 1995 and served as its first executive director for nearly 3 years. He was a candidate himself for the Nebraska Legislature in 2000.”

Wingnuts, and those who pass on wingnut letters to everyone in their addressbooks, don’t seem to care much about identifying their sources. Or telling the truth in general.

>
>
>
> WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS?
>
>
>
>
>
>
> “Are we fighting a war on terror or aren’t we?
>
>
>

We aren’t. We’re doing a bunch of nonsense that Bush was using to get himself re-elected. He’s hoping you won’t notice that it’s nonsense, and that you’ll continue to help him and his rich, draft-dodging friends get richer.

>
>
>
> Was it or was it not started by Islamic people
> who brought it to our shores on September 11,
> 2001?
>
>

Specifically, a small group of mostly-Saudis. So, you think it’s great to go to war against anyone in the world who happens to be Islamic because of that? There are lots of Islamic folks in Indonesia. Why not invade Indonesia?

There are some in Argentina too. Want to invade Argentina?

>
>
>
>
> Were people from all over the world, mostly
> Americans, not brutally murdered that day, in
> downtown Manhattan, across the Potomac
> from our nation’s capitol and in a field in
> Pennsylvania?
>
>
>
>

Sure.

Did you notice that the people most directly affected by the 9/11 attacks — New Yorkers — voted against Bush in the following election?

>
>
> Did nearly three thousand men, women and
> children die a horrible, burning or crushing
> death that day, or didn’t they?
>
>
>

Sure. No one’s questioning it. What is being questioned is whether what Bush pulled afterward helped or hindered in making sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s pretty plain that it hindered, that we’re less safe today than we were five years ago, and less free too, but don’t let me get in the way of your rant.

>
>
>
> And I’m supposed to care that a copy of the
> Koran was “desecrated” when an overworked
> American soldier kicked it or got it wet?
>
>
>

By “got it wet” you mean “pissed on it,” right? Yeah, you’re supposed to care.

>
>
>
> Well, I don’t. I don’t care at all.
>
>
>

Know something, Doug? You’re wrong.

>
>
>
> I’ll start caring when Osama bin Laden turns
> himself in and repents for incinerating all those
> innocent people on 9/11.
>
>

And kicking a Koran is supposed to help … how? Tell you what: if Bush would stop shoveling money to his pals at Halliburton and instead started to, you know, look for Osama bin Laden, then I might care. But if Bush doesn’t care enough to even try to find bin Laden, what’s your beef?

>
>
>
>
> I’ll care about the Koran when the fanatics in
> the Middle East start caring about the Holy
> Bible, the mere possession of which is a crime
> in Saudi Arabia.
>
>
>

Saudi Arabia, you’ll notice, is our friend. They’re all good friends of the Bush family too.

>
>
>
> I’ll care when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi tells the
> world he is sorry for hacking off Nick Berg’s
> head while Berg screamed through his
> gurgling,
>
>
>
> slashed throat.
>
>
>

Sure. When are you planning to tell the world you’re sorry for all the “collateral damage” (that means dead women and children and old men and other non-combatants — folks who never heard of Abu al-Zarqawi — who’ve been blown up or burned to death or shot) in Mr. Bush’s war?

>
>
>
> I’ll care when the cowardly so-called
> “insurgents” in Iraq come out and fight like
> men instead of disrespecting their own religion
> by hiding in mosques.
>
>

You know who the insurgents are? They’re guys who are fighting for their homes. This is a war we started. Cowardly? They’re taking on the largest, richest army in the world, one that crossed two oceans to attack them. You know what Iraq didn’t do? They didn’t attack us. Are you wondering why some of them are shooting back? If a foreign country invaded us, you’d do the same. Unless you’re a coward, that is. Which I rather suspect you are, Doug. Isn’t it true that if we were invaded by a foreign power that you’d hide snivveling in your basement … when you weren’t busy informing your new masters of the resistance by your more patriotic neighbors?

Hey, Doug. Let me test your historical knowledge. Fill in the blanks:
During the American Revolution, American patriots hid arms and ammunition in ch__ches.
Sometimes the Sons of Liberty met in ch__ches.
The signal that told Paul Revere to ride was hung in Old North Ch__ch.

Let’s talk about cowardly insurgents, shall we? That’s what the British called the American colonists who fired from behind trees and rocks instead of standing up in nice straight lines on the other side of an open field to get shot at.

>
>
>
>
> I’ll care when the mindless zealots who blow
> themselves up in search of nirvana care about
> the innocent children within range of their
> suicide
>
>
>
> bombs.
>
>
>
>

“Nirvana” is Buddhist, not Muslim. Even your bigotry is ignorant.

>
>
> I’ll care when the American media stops
> pretending that their First Amendment liberties
> are somehow derived from international law
> instead of the United States Constitution’s Bill
> of Rights.
>
>
>

What in the world are you talking about? Of course the First Amendment rights come from the Constitution. This is just flat insane. If you’re trying to set up a strawman at least use straw.

But since you brought the question up, shall we start talking about how the Bush administration treats people as traitors for defending their constitutional rights? Shall we talk about how Bush treats the Bill of Rights like toilet paper?

>
>
>
> In the meantime, when I hear a story about a
> brave marine roughing up an Iraqi terrorist to
> obtain information, know this: I don’t care.
>
>
>

Yes, torture is what it’s all about. You like it when Marines (and others) fail to follow their own regulations and field manuals. You’re happy when the US violates international law — law that was created to protect those very same Marines. And you don’t care that “roughing up” a “terrorist” doesn’t produce useful information. A lot you don’t care about, tough guy.

>
>
>
> When I see a fuzzy photo of a pile of naked
> Iraqi prisoners who have been humiliated in
> what amounts to a college hazing incident, rest
> assured that I don’t care.
>
>
>

Rest assured that you will burn in Hell for that, Doug. Violating the Geneva Conventions, which have had the force of law for over a century, that’s not good. Rumsfeld should have been fired over that. Bush should have been impeached over that. There should have been courts-martial up and down the chain of command over that. That they didn’t happen is a national shame. A scandal. There have been war crimes trials for less, Doug, and the guilty bastards have gone to jail for a long, long time.

Are you trying to tell me that you wouldn’t care if I and a few friends snatched your wife and your kids off the street and “hazed” them a little? Or a lot? Or until they died?

How long do you personally think you’d last before I got you to confess to being a member of al Qaeda?

>
>
>
> When I see a wounded terrorist get shot in the
> head when he is told not to move because he
> might be booby-trapped, you can take it to the
> bank that I don’t care.
>
>
>

It would be useful to tell them not to move in Arabic, wouldn’t it? And it would only be fair to wait for them to move before you shot them in the head.

>
>
>
> When I hear that a prisoner, who was issued a
> Koran and a prayer mat, and fed “special” food
> that is paid for by my tax dollars, is
>
>

And who might be an Afghan dirt-farmer who was turned in for the reward money by his neighbor over an old grudge about a sheep, or a taxi driver who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the brother-in-law of someone whose name sounds similar to someone on some “terrorist watch list,” whose claims not to be al Qaeda or Taliban are perfectly true.

Speaking of tax dollars, Doug, how many? How much are you willing to pay? What domestic programs are you willing to cancel? How much national debt are you willing to shoulder? Let’s save a few bucks and shut down the torture cells. They haven’t produced anything yet, aside from blackening America’s reputation and destroying our moral position.

>
> complaining that his holy book is being
> “mishandled,” you can absolutely believe in
> your heart of hearts that I don’t care.
>
>
>

Oh, I believe it, Doug. I believe you’re bigoted, I believe you’re a fool, I believe you’re a traitor. But rest assured I really do believe you don’t care.

>
>
>
> And oh, by the way, I’ve noticed that
> sometimes it’s spelled “Koran” and other times
> “Quran.” Well, Jimmy Crack Corn and — you
> guessed it, I could not have said this any
> better myself!
>
>

That’s because the word is transliterated from Arabic. Arabic, you may notice, doesn’t use the Latin alphabet. Illiterate, in addition to being bigoted. What a charming person you are, Doug.

Tell me — if you don’t care about that whole litany of things, why do you expect anyone in the world to care what happens to America and Americans?

>
>
>
>
> If you agree with this view point, pass this on
> to all your e-mail friends. Sooner or later, it’ll
> get to the people responsible for this
>
>

Agree with this point of view? You should be aware that smoking that stuff is illegal.

>
> ridiculous behavior! If you don’t agree, then by
> all means hit the delete button.
>
>
>

No, Doug. I won’t hit the “delete” button. This poison should be revealed for what it is. I’ll let the person who forwarded this to me know what I think of your hateful slime, too.

>
>
>
> Should you choose the latter, then please don’t
> complain when more atrocities committed by
> radical Muslims happen here in our great
> country,like are happening in France now.
>
>
>

And don’t you complain to me when those atrocities are committed and no one in the rest of the world cares.

What does what Bush is doing — what does torturing prisoners — what does starting a war against people who never attacked us — have to do with preventing atrocities by radical Muslims, or by anyone else? Doug, you’re not only a bigot, you’re not only ignorant, you’re also bone-deep stupid.

Those riots in France — strike me as being not much different from, and based on the same causes as, the “Ghetto Riots” in our own “Long Hot Summer” of 1967. Do you think, Doug, that the way to address those would have been to invade a random African country and drop a couple of hundred tons of bombs on it? Like I said, you’re stupid….

>
>
>
> Can I get an AMEN!!!!
>
>

No.

You’re not a real American, and you definitely aren’t a Christian. Christ told us to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. I swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, and I wore my country’s uniform and put my body on the line to defend it for damn-near two decades. My brother was assigned to the Pentagon on 9/11. Where were you?

I know a domestic enemy when I see one, Doug. I’ll continue to defend the Constitution of the United States against you, and against your kind, as long as I live.

March 18, 2006
Open thread 61
Posted by Teresa at 11:26 AM *

Flood in the basement.
Washing machine’s overflowed.
Damp cardboard. Damp books.

Welcome to the War, Year Four
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:19 AM * 14 comments

Today is the third anniversary of our invasion of Iraq.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say on the subject of war (paragraph 2309):

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

How does the War On Terror stack up?

the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

In contrast, the damage inflicted by terrorists is temporary, minor, and random.

all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

In contrast, other means (international police effort such as is used against the Mafia or drug cartels, for example) have not even been considered.

there must be serious prospects of success;

The prospect for success is nil. If Osama bin Laden himself came down from the hills of Pakistan (or up off the beach at Aruba, or wherever he is) to sign the surrender document in the War On Terror, the Basque nationalists of ETA would be unimpressed and the Tamil Tigers would ignore it. This is a “war” on a tactic and the tactic will outlive us all, and outlast all the governments of earth currently extant. It can be, and has been, argued that the current prosecution of the War On Terror has resulted in the production of yet more terrorists.

the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

Shall we talk of the civilians in their thousands already dead by bullets and bombs, and the civilians in their thousands more made miserable or sickened and killed by liberating Baghdad from electricity and running water? The power of modern means of destruction has been unleashed on urban areas, with predictable results.

It may be that the War On Terror is a metaphor, like the War on Crime, the War on Poverty, and the War on Want. But the Specter gunships and Squad Automatic Weapons are, I assure you, entirely concrete.

The prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good has not been properly and morally exercised.

March 17, 2006
Google’s fighting comment spam
Posted by Teresa at 08:46 PM *

This isn’t brand-new news, but I’m finding that a lot of people haven’t heard about it, and it’s useful. From GoogleBlog:

Preventing comment spam

If you’re a blogger (or a blog reader), you’re painfully familiar with people who try to raise their own websites’ search engine rankings by submitting linked blog comments like “Visit my discount pharmaceuticals site.” This is called comment spam, we don’t like it either, and we’ve been testing a new tag that blocks it. From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel=”nofollow”) on hyperlinks, those links won’t get any credit when we rank websites in our search results. This isn’t a negative vote for the site where the comment was posted; it’s just a way to make sure that spammers get no benefit from abusing public areas like blog comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists.

We hope the web software community will quickly adopt this attribute and we’re pleased that a number of blog software makers have already signed on…

Follow the link if you want more technical info. Here and now, a simplified version: Google’s implemented a tag you can tuck into the code you use to make a link. It looks like this. Here’s a standard link:
<a href=”http://www.jesshutch.com/robotmain.html”>Link.</a>
And here’s one with Google’s new tag:
<a href=”http://www.jesshutch.com/robotmain.html” rel=”nofollow”>Link.</a>
Any link with the “nofollow” tag in it won’t count toward the linked-to site’s popularity in the Google ratings, a.k.a. its Googlejuice. This does away with the chief benefit (to the spammers) of posting comment spam.

As I understand it, it’s possible to set things up so that links posted into comment threads, guestbooks, trackbacks, and referrer lists will have the “nofollow” tag automatically added to their code. Commenters will still be able to post links there, but there’ll be no incentive to post commercial links en masse.

Meanwhile, the tag can also be used to avoid upping the traffic (and thus the Google ratings) of objectionable sites one may have occasion to link to. For instance, Warren Whitlock: he’s getting no Google hits from Making Light.

It’s a good thing.

The Girls of Dublin Town
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:25 PM * 43 comments

‘Twas on the 17th of March
We entered New York bay
And the captain being an Irishman
Would celebrate the day.

Hurrah, hurrah,
The girls of Dublin town
For the saucy Shenandoah flies
The harp without the crown

Saint Patrick (Patricius, in Old Irish spelled Pádraig) was a nickname, because he was a noble Roman — a patrician. He was captured by the Irish in his youth, and spent six years in Ireland as a slave, learning the Irish tongue and coming to an understanding of the ways of God.

St. Patrick was an Irishman
He came of decent people

Way, haul away
We’ll haul away, Joe

He built a church in Dublin town
And then he built a steeple

Way, haul away
We’ll haul away, Joe

Before Patrick, it was assumed that slavery was one of the natural conditions of mankind. Slavery is mentioned in the Bible without condemnation; it is codified in the laws of the ancient world. “Count no man happy until he is dead,” the Greek Solon, law-giver of Athens, said to Croesus, and Croesus (once a king famous for his wealth) recalled it later when he was a slave to Cyrus the Persian.

Patrick, perhaps due to his experiences as a slave, perhaps due to inspiration from God, declared that slavery was, always and everywhere, a moral wrong.

St. Patrick was an engineer
He was, he was,
St. Patrick was an engineer,
He was, he was
St. Patrick invented the monkey wrench
To screw the lawyers to the bench
And we’ll all drink stone blind
Johnny fill up the bowl

The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in America was held in Boston in 1737 by a Protestant group, the Charitable Irish Society of Boston. The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held in New York City in 1762 by Irish troops in the British army.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York (cornerstone laid 1858) is the seat of the Archbishop of New York. The marble scraps from the building of St. Patrick’s were bought by John Matthews, the soda fountain king, to produce carbon dioxide for his artificially-carbonated beverages.

Hail St. Patrick! Hail John Matthews!

The rotten potatoes would poison the cats
And the barn where me bed was was swarming with rats
The fleas would have frightened the fearless Saint Pat
Who banished the snakes o’er the border.

St. Patrick is credited with converting the Irish, with cleansing the snakes from Ireland, and with using the shamrock to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. The story about the snakes probably isn’t true.

John Matthews made soda water popular and cheap. And there was a slavery, and Irish, connection. While Matthews had competitors, they had trouble with gas explosions. Not John! He had, as his secret, an ex-slave:

The safety valve was an ex-slave named Ben Austen, one of the earliest employees, a man of intelligence and, above all, strength. When the force of a new batch of soda water needed measuring, the job fell to Ben, who simply placed his powerful thumb over the pressure cock. When it blew his thumb away, the Matthews people estimated they had reached 150 pounds and that the water was fully charged. “Ben’s Thumb” was long a term in the jargon of the trade. During the Civil War draft riots, when angry Irish mobs roamed the New York streets seeking to hang any Negro they could find, Matthews was obliged to ship Ben out to safety in a packing case, as though he were a tank of the product.

John Matthews is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, not far from Casa Nielsen Hayden.

March 16, 2006
Lessons Learned
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:59 PM * 46 comments

Today is the 38th anniversary of the My Lai massacre.

For those who don’t recall:

Two tragedies took place in 1968 in Viet Nam. One was the massacre by United States soldiers of as many as 500 unarmed civilians—old men, women, children—in My Lai on the morning of March 16. The other was the cover-up of that massacre.

U.S. military officials suspected Quang Ngai Province, more than any other province in South Viet Nam, as being a Viet Cong stronghold. The U.S. targeted the province for the first major U.S. combat operation of the war. Military officials declared the province a “free-fire zone” and subjected it to frequent bombing missions and artillery attacks. By the end of 1967, most of the dwellings in the province had been destroyed and nearly 140,000 civilians left homeless. Not surprisingly, the native population of Quang Ngai Province distrusted Americans. Children hissed at soldiers. Adults kept quiet.

Today’s news: U.S. launches largest Iraqi air assault since 2003 invasion.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — American and Iraqi forces on Thursday launched the largest air assault operation since the invasion of Iraq nearly three years ago, the U.S. military said.

More than 50 aircraft and 200 tactical ground vehicles are involved in Operation Swarmer, supporting more than 1,500 Iraqi and U.S. troops near Salaheddin province, a restive region north of the capital regarded as a hotbed for insurgents.

What else do we know? This came from a comment by cmk, a frequent contributor here:

Just heard from a friend in Texas whose nephew has been in Iraq for a week.

His unit has had eleven killed.

First week.

Just seemed a thing to mention in this context.

But … we hear from official sources that we’ve only lost seventeen troopers since the first of the month: nine Army, six Marines, two National Guard. No single unit has had eleven killed.

Someone’s fibbing.

I don’t think it’s the friend’s nephew.

What else do we know? We know that about 8,000 of our all-volunteer troops have deserted since this debacle began. They’re voting with their feet. Where did they go? Back home, or working at Burger King under an assumed name? I couldn’t tell you.

We just launched the biggest air assault since the start of the war. Too bad Bush was so stoned during Vietnam that he didn’t hear that that trick never works. Rumsfeld and Cheney were around, but they were on Nixon’s staff and took away the wrong lessons. “If only those peace activists hadn’t stabbed us in the back….”

One of officers at My Lai was Lt. William Calley. While he was the lowest ranking officer present, he was the only one to be tried and convicted. In March of 1971, after the longest court martial in American history, he was found guilty of the murder of at least twenty-two Vietnamese civilians. But that wasn’t the end of the story:

Opinion polls showed that the public overwhelmingly disapproved of the verdict in the Calley case [OPINION POLLS]. President Nixon ordered Calley removed from the stockade and placed under house arrest. He announced that he would review the whole decision. Nixon’s action prompted Aubrey Daniel to write a long and angry letter in which he told the President that “the greatest tragedy of all will be if political expediency dictates the compromise of such a fundamental moral principle as the inherent unlawfulness of the murder of innocent persons” [AUBREY LETTER]. On November 9, 1974, the Secretary of the Army announced that William Calley would be paroled. In 1976, Calley married. He now works in the jewelry store of his father-in-law in Columbus, Georgia.

My Lai mattered. Two weeks after the Calley verdict was announced, the Harris Poll reported for the first time that a majority of Americans opposed the war in Viet Nam. The My Lai episode caused the military to re-evaluate its training with respect to the handling of noncombatants. Commanders sent troops in the Desert Storm operation into battle with the words, “No My Lais—you hear?”

Aubrey Daniel was the prosecutor. Read Aubrey’s letter. Really.

You’ll recognize a couple of the names from My Lai today. An Army officer named Colin Powell helped in the cover-up. And a journalist named Seymour Hersh helped break the story. Later, Powell was Secretary of State and Hersh helped break the story at Abu Ghraib.

The rest of the Abu Ghraib photos have been released. Have you seen them? There’s full motion video.

Let’s talk about Hearts and Minds for a minute: U.S. military airstrikes significantly increased in Iraq

Stories of American missiles hitting the homes of innocents are passed between Iraqi men at teahouses and during Friday worship services.

“Residents worry that their homes will be bombed at any time,” said Hussein Ali Jaafar, who owns a stationery shop in the town of Balad, north of Baghdad, which was targeted by bombs or missiles at least 27 times between October 2005 and February 2006. “Most of the bombing is unjustified and random. It does not differentiate between militants and innocent people.”

A tribal sheik who lives on the outskirts of the troubled Anbar town of Ramadi, who asked that he be identified as Abu Tahseen instead of by his full name out of fear of possible retribution, said that the strikes create more insurgents than they kill because of the region’s tribal dictates of revenge.

“They (the Americans) think: `As long as there are resistance fighters operating in this spot, we will wipe it out entirely,’” Abu Tahseen said, using the term for insurgents favored by Iraqis sympathetic to their cause. “As you know, our nature is a tribal one, and so if one from us is killed, we kill three or four in return.”

Good going, guys. We’ve already dropped more tons of bombs on Iraq than we did on Nazi Germany. Over in Vietnam, over the course of ten years, we killed around 70,000 civilians. In Iraq we’ve managed to kill around 100,000 civilians in just three years.

We’ve been having fewer and fewer of our troops killed, though. Officially we lost 99 KIA in October ‘05, 86 in November, 68 in December, 64 in January ‘06, 58 in February, and only 17 so far in March, halfway through the month.

How are we managing that, given that there’s a full-blown civil war in progress over there? One way might be by retreating to cantonments and shooting anyone who gets within 500 yards. Taking a defensive posture.

Another way might be by lying about the casualties.

All depends on what the objective is.

I do wonder what Bush’s objective is. Is it really an attempt to hasten the arrival of Christ on earth by setting up the Apocalypse? Is he nuts?

I don’t know. But I do know that the current situation — civil war, thousands dead, quagmire — was predictable, and predicted. And the people who were predicting it were called traitors at the time for doing so.

Ramping Up To The Next One
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:47 AM * 149 comments

A bit over a year ago (09FEB05), in Open Thread 11 in Electrolite, I wrote:

So … the invasion of Iran is on, scheduled for March or April ‘06, to have it over and free elections held there by fall of ‘08, in time for Jeb’s triumphant electorial victory.

It only makes sense, to allow US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to link up.

You read it here first.

So, how’s the crystal ball doing?

Last week:

Rice: U.S. faces ‘no greater challenge’ than Iran

Friday, March 10, 2006; Posted: 3:07 a.m. EST (08:07 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told senators Thursday that the United States faces “no greater challenge from a single country” than from Iran.

Yesterday:

Rice: Iran ‘terror’s central bank’

Wednesday, March 15, 2006; Posted: 9:38 p.m. EST (02:38 GMT)

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday urged Iran to resume negotiations over its nuclear program, while also calling the country a central banker for terrorism.

This morning:

Bush restates pre-emptive doctrine

Thursday, March 16, 2006; Posted: 8:37 a.m. EST (13:37 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Undaunted by the difficult war in Iraq, President George W. Bush reaffirmed his strike-first policy against terrorists and enemy nations on Thursday and said Iran may pose the biggest challenge for America.

You have to hand it to these guys … once they have a plan they stick to it.

March 14, 2006
The perfect uselessness of Warren Whitlock
Posted by Teresa at 12:09 PM *

As I keep saying, there’s a phenomenal amount of bad information out there about writing and publishing. You have to pay attention to your sources.

Warren Whitlock (see also) is the most aggressively ignorant self-proclaimed publishing expert I’ve run across since Todd James Pierce. He’s got a number of scams going. One is palming himself off as a Marketing Results Coach, whereby he charges for the kind of advice that one normally hears about in spam:

Do you need new profit centers? Would you like have several times the leads or clients you already have?
How’d you like customers that are evangelists for your company?
Would you like to use proven online and offline marketing to add markets, build sales and vastly improve your profits?
So far this year, I’ve used the same methods I used for a 279% increase in sales in one product line at my at my own company to help clients:
Do more than double annual sales in only five days Create a new seminar that did $57k in a weekend
Bring in $110,505 from sending out just one email
Add 37 new clients while the store was closed
Helped a client add $25,607.00 in one hour
Want to know how? I’ll be happy to share these true stories with you …

Another major activity of his is setting up those worthless automatically generated blogs that clog up Google searches. His blog about this activity, My Blog about Blog Marketing (subtitled “expert reviews of blogging technigues”) has next to zero original content. On balance that’s a good thing, because when Whitlock puts his fingers on a keyboard, bad things happen, like “alternative health welness health advice that wooks from expert heaylty people.” His most recent post is headed another of my marekting with blogs blog posts.

He gives a long list of his other blogs. They’re all original-content-free except for one called Sister Whitlock, which he put together for a female relative who’s a Mormon missionary. It’s kind of cute. She’s not responsible for him.

Other enterprises: Whitlock runs BookBonuses.com, a site that offers you the opportunity to read promotional material about writers and buy their books at reduced rates. It’s doubtless a helpful site for him to own, given that he’s simultaneously running a book promotion business. And there’s ZeroCostPromotions.com, which I think is what he was talking about when he said “I’m working on an experiement to cross promote some of my blogs”, and also “I’m putting a list of the sites I use in with some sites I promote.” My impression is that since this is something he’s doing anyway as an experiment, he’s promoting it as a hugely effective way to sell books. Which it isn’t.

My overall guess is that Whitlock started out in the business of selling wildly overhyped sales & promotion advice to people who want to go into the business of selling wildly overhyped what-have-you. Now he’s noticed that the world is suddenly full of gormless self-published authors looking to promote their books (fallout from other people’s scams), so he’s declared himself a Book Marketing Expert, grafted the word “book” onto separate versions of all his basic scams, and started playing to that audience.

He knows absolutely nothing about writing, publishing, or marketing books. He’s either personally dishonest, or he’s wallowed in hype so long that he’s no longer able to tell the difference between truth and falsehood, which amounts to the same thing. Don’t do business with him. Don’t give him money. And for heaven’s sake, don’t listen to his advice.

I could spend days cataloguing the notions he promotes that don’t work and ain’t so, but you and I both have better things to do. Instead, here are my comments on a short excerpt from one of his many websites:

The Secret To Becoming A Best Seller

He’s not a bestselling author, he knows nothing about selling books, and his advice won’t work.

Emerson promised us that the world would beat a path to your door. Trouble is, Emerson lived before the advent of the frenzy of mass media we seen in the past few decades.

I’m not going to be cataloguing his grammatical errors.

The world today demands better mousetraps.. and expects you to fight through the cacophony of marketing messages to get the word out. It’s getting harder and more expensive to create the stampede that will beat a path to your door!

Or his mixed metaphors.

Fortunately, we have a secret weapon that will blast through the noise and get you noticed by the people who can that stampeded, beating a path to the bookstores.

Nothing that Whitlock undertakes to do will generate even a tiny increase in book sales.

Through the technologies of online ordering, ezine and mailing lists,

That is, the spam-and-hype technologies Whitlock’s already been using,

we have successfully set up promotions that compel hundreds or even thousands of readers buy your book in a short period of time.

A fraudulent misrepresentation. A palpable lie. Whitlock can’t compel a single reader to buy or even browse your book; and he’s never set up any such promotions, successfully or otherwise.

Even if he could do everything he claims, almost none of the self-published authors who are his target audience get brick-and-mortar bookstore distribution. A stampede of readers looking for one of their books would hit the shelves at Barnes & Noble, then retreat, baffled, when the book wasn’t there, and wind up buying something else that caught their eye.

Furthermore, many of those self-published authors have gone into print through Print On Demand operations. PODs are physically incapable of generating large numbers of books in a short amount of time. If they did get serious word-of-mouth demand developing for a book, they couldn’t supply the copies to keep it going.

The resulting best selling give a real boost to your sales, acting as a catalyst to attract more attention for booksellers, reviewers and the book buying public.

Take it as an indicator of how little thought Whitlock puts into his “expert marketing advice” that he’s saying that a bestselling book is a good way to attract attention from booksellers and the book-buying public. Say what? If it’s a bestseller, those are precisely the classes of people who already know about it.

Finally, if the book is finished and available for sale, it’s too late for it to get attention from the big reviewers. They want copies months before the publication date—which is no biggie, since they aren’t going to review your self-published book anyway.

That’s getting close to the fabled 1:1 ratio of words to errors. If you’re trying to sell books, Warren Whitlock is, at the most charitable estimate, a worthless waste of your time. Let the writer beware.

Back
Posted by Patrick at 07:49 AM * 8 comments

—from Dublin. Flickr photo sets from my flying visit are here and here. (Apologies to anyone who looked at the second one last night; I managed to get the pictures up but fell into a deep, jet-lagged sleep before captioning most of them.)

March 13, 2006
Earth Creatures Put One Right Past Martian Defense Force
Posted by John M. Ford at 01:55 PM * 54 comments

Panic was felt across the dry red sands today as a Terrestrial telescope arrived safely in Martian orbit. “And we’d been doing so well, too,” said an MDF Commander who declined to be named. “I blame, well, lots of things, and expect a highly acrimonious round of thing-blaming at all levels of government. This makes me so mad. I mean, that thing can resolve down to half a prashnit [about thirty cm], and I need a clean uniform! Now, of course, our equipment is much more sophisticated, but due to, well, funding cuts and bunnies and things, we haven’t actually got any of it in Earth orbit at the moment.”

The MRO should start sending back high-resolution images in November, and is expected to operate for at least two years, and possibly longer. No word yet on when it’s going to start blogging.

As the saying goes, watch this space.

Bizarre Follies
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:33 PM * 57 comments

Let’s start with this: remember Zacarias Moussaoui? The “20th hijacker,” the only person brought to trial in the US for involvement in the 9/11 attacks?

The Sierra Hotel lawyers for the government are doing their best to blow that case. Most recently, most spectacularly, by witness tampering.

“This is the second significant error by the government affecting the constitutional rights of the defendant and the criminal justice system in this country in the context of a death case,” Brinkema told lawyers in the case outside the presence of the jury.

Defense attorney Edward MacMahon moved to have the judge dismiss the death penalty as a possible outcome, saying “this is not going to be a fair trial.” In the alternative, he said, at least she should excuse the government’s FAA witnesses from the case.

Prosecutor David Novak replied that removing the FAA witnesses would “exclude half the government’s case.” Novak suggested instead that the problem could be fixed by a vigorous cross-examination by the defense.

But Brinkema said she would need time to study what to do.

“In all the years I’ve been on the bench, I have never seen such an egregious violation of a rule on witnesses,” she said.

This action by the Bush justice department makes us safer how? What were they thinking?

I imagine that a conversation somewhere at a very high level went like this:

“We haven’t got anything to show for our War on Terror. We need some convictions and some serious sentences.”

“But judges and juries —”

“I want that guy Moussaoui to get the death penalty. I don’t care what you do, just do it.”

“Yessir. We can —”

“I don’t want to know the details. Either come back with the right verdict or don’t come back.”

Next bizarre bit of business: do you recall Claude A. Allen? Job title was Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. He was in charge of abstinence education, school prayer policy, and, recently, coordinating the White House’s reaction to Katrina. (“What should we do about Katrina? We don’t have a prayer — wait! Maybe if we just abstained from doing anything…?”) Bush had proposed a federal judgeship for him.

A month ago he abruptly resigned “to spend more time with his family.”

Then last Friday he was arrested in Maryland for a weird retail fraud scheme. Seems he’s alleged to have gone into various big-box retail stores, bought a bunch of items (a Bose home theater, clothing, printers, etc.), then gone out to his car, left the items there, taken the empty bag and the receipt back into the store, picked up identical items off the shelves, put ‘em in the bag, and taken the bag and the receipt over to Customer Service for a refund.

He claims it was all a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that he apparently had somewhere around 25 different times in various stores in the last year alone.

A cry for help? Or a long-time fraudmeister finally busted? Leave it to the jury to figure out — provided the prosecution can refrain from tampering with the witnesses.

March 10, 2006
Query: hamster cage tubes
Posted by Teresa at 02:23 PM * 81 comments

Is there some trick to disassembling Habitrail and Crittertrail tubes? Once they’re linked together with those little plastic collars, I can never get them apart again. Are those joints supposed to be permanent? Am I just not using enough force?

If you’re wondering whether this means I have a new hamster, the answer is yes: Porco Bruno, who’s about six weeks old. Arthur’s monster wire-mesh cage isn’t quite right for him, not yet anyway, so I’m trying to reassemble the old Crittertrail cage.

No two hamsters have exactly the same personality. Arthur, for instance, was a drama queen. So far, what we know about PB is that he’s alert, friendly, and curious; and when he’s seriously distressed, he roars. He was doing it at Tor, when I brought him back from the petshop after lunch. There’d been an unfortunate incident on the way back: a passing firetruck sounded its airhorn just as it came abreast of me. PB was upset.

Torie, one of our interns, says he either sounded like bad plumbing, or like an extremely small velociraptor. I thought his roar sounded a bit like that rasping sound bluejays sometimes make. It’s weird, though—I didn’t know hamsters vocalized, aside from the occasional squeak or cheeble.

Anyway, in re Habitrail tubes: please advise soonest.

March 09, 2006
The post with the most
Posted by Patrick at 03:30 PM *

Off in about an hour, to fly to a city and country I’ve never visited: Dublin, Ireland, for a small SF convention called P-Con. I’ve been to Northern Ireland, but never the Republic.

Dublin is famously a city of monuments, and I meant to brush up on my 20th-century Irish history so I could make sense of them all, but I was distracted by the discovery of the many fine nicknames given by the locals to their landmarks. There’s the statue of James Joyce known as the “Prick with the Stick”; the (now removed) “spirit of the River Liffey” sculpture called the “Floozy in the Jacuzzi”; the pair of bronze shoppers dubbed the “Hags with the Bags”; the sculpture of a well-endowed Molly Malone nicknamed the “Tart with the Cart,” the “Dolly with the Trolley,” the “Trollop with the Scollops,” and the “Dish with the Fish”; and—evidently inspiring in modern Dubliners a veritable frenzy of naming—the soaring, modern Dublin Spire known variously as the “Stiletto in the Ghetto,” the “Scud in the Mud,” the “Nail in the Pale,” the “Erection at the Intersection,” the “Rod to God,” the “Stiffy by the Liffey,” and, with magnificent restraint, the “Metropole.”

Naturally, a Wikipedia article called “Dublin statues and their nicknames” covers these artifacts and more. But in clicking hither and yon from there, I was most struck by another such page, which relates the tale of—

Brendan Behan (the self-confessed “drinker with writing problems”) who, when asked to define the difference between prose and poetry, is reported as saying:

“There was a young fellah named Rollocks
Who worked for Ferrier Pollocks.
As he walked on the Strand
With his girl by the hand
The tide came up to his knees.

Now that’s prose. If the tide had been in, it would have been poetry.”

That’s it from me for the next few days; I’m not even certain I’ll have Internet access. Back Monday. Play nice.

Act now, act without thinking
Posted by Patrick at 02:40 PM * 0 comments

Following up on an earlier post, this is a reminder to those of you eligible to nominate in the Hugo Awards that the deadline is tomorrow, and you can nominate online here.

March 08, 2006
Targeting unpatriotic allergies
Posted by Teresa at 08:41 PM * 119 comments

When the Republicans were puffing and bullyragging about how we really NEEDED to pass the Patriot Act in order to combat terrorism, do you remember them mentioning the need to combat Sudafed?

Revised Patriot Act targets allergy, cold meds

Suffer from springtime allergies? You could be among the first affected by the USA Patriot Act poised for final congressional passage this week.

Besides terrorism, the bill takes aim at the production of methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug that cannot be manufactured without a key ingredient of everyday cold and allergy medicines. The bill would impose new limits next month for how much relief a person can buy over the counter.

And beginning Sept. 30, it’ll take a flash of ID to buy that medication.

If imposing controls on Sudafed is good policy, why can’t this be done through normal lawmaking processes?

I’ve given myself a limit on how many times a year I’m allowed to quote the passage from A Man for All Seasons about how if you tore down the structures and protections of the law to get at the Devil, and the Devil then turned on you, you’d find yourself facing him on bare ground, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide.

This is hardly the first time we’ve seen provisions supposedly intended to fight terrorism used for other purposes entirely. I’m certain it’s not the last.

Making noise: Congressional vote on food warning labels
Posted by Teresa at 10:10 AM * 27 comments

From AP via Forbes:

Lawmakers seeking to curtail food warning labels have personal ties to food industry lobbyists, critics said Monday.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and several other lawmakers support a bill that would keep states from adding warnings that go beyond federal rules.

The lawmakers have family, friends and former staff among the lobbyists for the bill.

“This helps explain why the food industry has blocked any efforts to have hearings,” said Ben Cohen, attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a watchdog group.

Feel like kicking the system to see if you can make it run better? The House of Representatives is voting today on the aforementioned bill to take warning labels off packaged food. You might want to phone your congresscritter.

Basically, this bill would overturn existing state food safety laws that are not “identical” to federal law. That’s a problem, because local and state officials are now responsible for 80% of the nation’s food safety enforcement. The change would affect hundreds of laws and regulations which enforce safe standards on things like milk and shellfish.

The effect would be to lower the bar on food safety. Federal laws enforcing shellfish safety in Iowa and Arizona are no match for the shellfish safety laws of Maryland.

Your chief resource: Consumers Union has put together an easy contact page, with a database of Representative contact info by zip code, plus some good talking points.

See also Julia at Sisyphus Shrugged, who tipped me off to this.

March 05, 2006
If the President Does It It Isn’t Illegal
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:37 PM * 115 comments

Latest step in the hit parade as Bush and his cronies move to destroy our military is the use of uniformed troops at partisan political events.

Bob “I didn’t say ‘Valerie Plame,’ I said ‘Ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife’ and that could have been anyone” Novak told us it was coming:

… the Bush administration is going directly to the public with its war message. Raul Damas, associate director of political affairs at the White House, has been on the phone directly to Republican county chairmen to arrange local speeches by active duty military personnel to talk about their experiences in Iraq. To some Republican members, this unusual venture connotes a desire to go directly to the people to sell the president’s position without having to deal with members of Congress.

This wasn’t just blue-skying: they’ve gone and done it:

The clank of silverware echoed above the polite dinner conversation about topics such as fiscal discipline, permanent tax cuts and the war in Iraq when more than 250 Republicans gathered in Fort Collins on Friday night for the Larimer County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner.

U.S. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, the keynote speaker, provided the audience with a message of hope that the party will keep its promises to bring democracy to Iraq, end big government, reduce spending and return to Republican core values.

Check the photos to see Marine Sergeant Brandon Forsyth, in uniform, being introduced by Representative Marilyn Musgrave.

Was that a partisan political event? You betcha:

“If there was not cause for hope, you would not be here today,” Pence said. “Each of you has chosen to stay and fight for this country’s future. You have chosen to stand against the defeatists who say government will always be bigger and budgets will always be imbalanced.”

In an earlier interview with the Coloradoan, Pence said he had the highest regard for Colorado politicians, who filled the room and celebrated the party’s accomplishments with constituents.

“I’ve felt very drawn to members of the Colorado delegation over the years and seen them as men and women of principle and conviction,” Pence said. “Indiana and Colorado are very similar in the sense that they are very competitive states from the partisan point of view.”

So, what’s the problem? I invite your attention to Department of Defense Directive 1344.10.

Who does DOD 1344.10 apply to?

This Directive applies to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Military Departments, the Coast Guard when it is not operating as a Military Service in the Department of the Navy by agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Combatant Commands, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, the Defense Agencies, the DoD Field Activities, and all other organizational entities in the Department of Defense (hereafter referred to collectively as the “DoD Components”).

That is to say, everyone on active military duty plus a bunch of others.

What does DOD 1344.10 forbid? A pile of things, including but not limited to:

4.1.2. A member on active duty shall not:

4.1.2.1. Use his or her official authority or influence for interfering with an election; affecting the course or outcome of an election; soliciting votes for a particular candidate or issue; or requiring or soliciting political contributions from others.

4.1.2.2. Be a candidate for, hold, or exercise the functions of civil office except as authorized in paragraphs 4.2. and 4.3., below.

4.1.2.3. Participate in partisan political management, campaigns, or conventions (unless attending a convention as a spectator when not in uniform).

4.1.2.4. Make campaign contributions to another member of the Armed Forces or an employee of the Federal Government.

Enclosure 3 to DOD 1344.10 provides examples of prohibited activities, including:

E3.3. EXAMPLES OF PROHIBITED POLITICAL ACTIVITIES

In accordance with the statutory restrictions in 10 U.S.C. 973(b) (reference (b)) and references (g) and (h), and the policies established in section 4., above, of this Directive, a member on active duty shall not:

E3.3.8. Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.

E3.3.9. Participate in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate for or against of a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.

The secretaries of each military department are instructed to issue appropriate implementing documents for their respective Departments. For example, Air Force Instruction 51-902, which bears this notice at its top, in all caps: “COMPLIANCE WITH THIS PUBLICATION IS MANDATORY.”

That brings us to RECRUITER, “The Magazine of the Air Force Recruiting Professional,” March 2004 issue, specfically to pages 9 and 10. There you’ll find an article by Capt. Christa D’Andrea, Air Force Recruiting Service: “Don’t set yourself up to be Politically Incorrect. Participation in some partisan events may be illegal.”

Capt. D’Andrea helpfully informs the eager recruiters who might be tempted to show up at partisan events in uniform, even if they’re there as mere spectators, that they will become subject to punishment under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ): Failure to Obey Order or Regulation.

Article 92—Failure to obey order or regulation

Any person subject to this chapter who—

(1) violates or fails to obey any lawful general order or regulation;

(2) having knowledge of any other lawful order issued by a member of the armed forces, which it is his duty to obey, fails to obey the order; or

(3) is derelict in the performance of his duties; shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Got it, everyone? In order to give themselves a political boost, the Repubicans are getting members of the US military to commit courts-martial offenses.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been following this. Today he writes:

Let me mention another point about this issue of uniformed military appearing at and/or speaking at partisan political events.

I’ve gotten a few emails on this point so I want to clarify lest there be any confusion: violation of the ban on uniformed military participating in partisan political events isn’t some technical violation like not filling out a form or not following some obscure protocol. And pointing it out isn’t just some blog gotcha.

The existence of this ban and the enforcement of it are hugely important both to good order and discipline within the military and to preserving our democratic republic. The military can’t be made into an arm of one or the other political party. Nor can the executive be allowed to enlist members of the armed forces, either individually or en masse, willingly or not, as soldiers in his domestic political battles.

This is about preserving a professional military and preserving our system of government. It’s a big deal. We need to find out a few more specifics about what happened at the Musgrave event. Perhaps the newspaper account is deeply misleading about what actually happened. But if this thing that looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, is a duck, then it needs to be nipped in the bud.

One of the strengths of the United States is that the military is non-political. Intent as they are on throwing away America’s strengths, the Republicans have hit on a beaut. They don’t like the laws that made America strong; they prefer the laws that make banana republics and military dictatorships strong.

You know the drill by now: letters to the editor of your local newspaper, letters to your congressional representatives, and, if you’re a military member, recall that it is your duty to refuse to carry out illegal orders.

March 03, 2006
Veggie question
Posted by Teresa at 12:16 AM * 262 comments

Can vegans eat food that has chalk in it?

March 01, 2006
Ninety Days and Counting
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:10 PM *

The next Atlantic hurricane season starts on the 1st of June. That’s three months from today.

Are we ready? Well, Michael “Heckuva Job Brownie” Brown has gone on to his own emergency preparedness consulting business. Who’s in charge of FEMA?

First on the list is the Acting Director, R. David Paulison.

He began his career as a rescue firefighter and rose through the ranks of rescue lieutenant commander, district chief of operations, division chief, assistant chief and then deputy director for administration before becoming the Miami-Dade Fire Chief. He is a certified paramedic and, as fire chief, oversaw the Miami-Dade Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. His emergency management experience includes Hurricane Andrew and the crash of ValuJet Flight 592. He is also past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

This is good. All other causes aside, this is the sort of “old fire dog” who should have been there to start with. He’s starting in the bottom of the ninth with two men out, no one on, and two strikes against him, but hey, the folks in Emergency Services are used to that. He can shine.

It’s who’s on the bench that worries me. Number two man, the Chief of Staff (formerly Patrick Rhode, best known for being Bush’s advance man and nothing else) has been replaced with Reynold N. Hoover.

What’s Mr. Hoover bring to the plate?

Before joining FEMA, Mr. Hoover was a commercial litigation attorney in Florida, where he also provided legal instruction to federal, state and local law enforcement and served as a consultant to the Air Line Pilots Association’s National Security Committee. Mr. Hoover, a licensed pilot, has served in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard for more than 20 years, most recently as colonel in the Alabama Army National Guard. He was awarded the Bronze Star for distinguished service during Operation Desert Storm.

Better than judging horse shows, but still, as far as emergency management experience, zero.

Number three man at the agency is the same as before: Deputy Chief of Staff Scott R. Morris.

Before joining FEMA, Mr. Morris served as the deputy chief of staff and White House liaison for the U.S. Small Business Administration. Mr. Morris was also the marketing director for the world�s leading provider of e-business applications software in California, and worked for Maverick Media in Austin, Texas, as a media strategist for the George W. Bush for President primary campaign and the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign.

Scott is best known for producing Bush’s campaign TV commercials.

Of course, the Secretary of Homeland Security is still Michael Chertoff, a lawyer with no emergency preparedness credentials, but with high marks as a Bush loyalist. And Bush is still president.

The 2005 hurricane season was the most active one on record. Global warming would suggest that the 2006 season will be pretty active too.

Good thing there’s no such thing as global warming, isn’t it? Darn good thing….

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