Monday, January 31, 2005

Blog blog blog

On a recommendation from the ever topical and tropical Generik, we've discovered and added to our blog roll Yes, Another Goddamned Blog, authored by Jurassic Pork. It's a liberal blog, because there just weren't enough links to them on this site.

Big Brother Update

King Of Zembla has a rundown on the latest in government surveillance of average Joes, with an emphasis on the burgeoning use of Radio Frequency Identification Device RFID) tags (similar to the "FastPass" devices bay area commuters willingly attach to their vehicles.

Go ahead, click on it. You're already being watched.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Supporting the Troops

The King of Zembla has a nice rundown of how our government is showing its appreciation of our men in uniform.

Poetic Justice?

From Suckful, we bring you Derek Keiper's September 17, 2004 column in the Daily Nebraskan, telling us of his views on mandatory seat belt laws (he was agin 'em). Our suckful friend then links us to, yes, you know where this was going, Mr. Keiper's obituary.

Labor in America

In this Tapped article, Sam Rosenfeld links to and discusses a Washington Post article about moves afoot at the Department of Homeland Security to phase out vivil service protections. The White House hopes to follow up on this by requesting from Congress authority to rewrite civil service rules at all government agencies. Among the features of the plan is reduced collective bargaining rights for employees. This last aspect is not discussed much in either the original Post article or Rosenfeld's analysis of it, but deserves close scrutiny.

Collective bargaining rights and the status of labor unions in general have suffered greatly over the last several decades and the vast majority of American workers now work in non-union jobs. One of organized labor's last great strongholds is in government jobs and, as this article demonstrates, labor is on the run there, too. If, as I noted, most workers work in non-union environments, why should they care about the health of the labor movement?

Let's look first at what federal labor law guarantees workers. There are federal restrictions on child labor and there is a federal minimum wage, currently $5.15 an hour (last night I took my daughter to dinner; it would have taken four hours work at that rate, before with-holding, to pay for our dinner of a burger and water for me, chili-cheese dog and pepsi for her and a shared order of fries). Overtime pay of at least time and a half is required after forty hours of work in a week, with exceptions for certain types of businesses and certain types of work. The Bush Administration has worked hard to expand those exceptions. That's about it. The Fair Labor and Standards Act does not require severance pay, sick leave, vacation pay, or holidays. FLSA does not cap the number of hours you can work in a day or in a week. If your job has such a cap or if it requires severance pay, chances are they came about as a direct result of a collective bargaining agreement. There is certainly no federal requirement that your job provide you with health insurance benefits or a pension plan. If your job provides sick or vacation leave or paid holidays, or health insurance or a pension plan, these things came about at least indirectly as a result of collective bargaining. Companies in industries not largely unionized, but that compete for workers with unionized industries, have had to offer benefits comparable to those for unionized workers to attract quality employees.

These benefits, which many regard as minimums before they will take a job, exist broadly, though hardly universally, in the work place because through collective bargaining, across a wide range of industries, labor unions were able to establish them as standards. The middle class as we know it, with it's level of affluence and leisure time, exists largely because of the availability to millions of working men and women of these benefits. As they slip away, the grip the middle class holds on its standard of living slips too. And they are slipping away.

For the sake of full disclosure, I have to reveal that I am a Labor Relations Representative, and also that I work for management, in a non-bargaining unit position. Many of the job benefits I have I owe largely to the successful negotiations of the labor unions I find myself dealing with daily. I'm grateful for that. It seems to me that labor unions today though are fighting a rear-guard action to protect those benefits on an ever narrowing front.

Most of my interactions with unions involve employees who are dis-satisfied with the consequences of poor exercises of judgement on their part. At the statewide level, there are no great battles left for the unions I deal with to fight; they are mostly occupied with protecting the benefits they've already won, sometimes even sacrificing those benefits for new hires to preserve them for existing employees. In a previous job I held, one of the unions I dealt with, the National Association of Letter Carriers, established, with the USPS, a revolutionary grievance resolution process to replace the old grievance/arbitration system that was costing the union and the USPS millions of dollars annually. The process, which focuses on resolving grievances through an honest sharing of information and attempts to address underlying problems to prevent recurrences of those problems, was widely embraced by union reps at all levels and to a lesser but still significant degree by managers. Born of a desperate realization by NALC and USPS that they were strangling each other, the process, if properly supported, could provide the basis for broader cooperation and long-term continued success for the Postal Service. Despite its success, however, the process has not been embraced by the other Postal Service unions, to say nothing of expanding throughout or beyond the industry.

Unions are finding it increasingly difficult to establish themselves in the "new economy." I think they are widely viewed by the working public as being irrelevant or, worse, a hindrance to America's economic expansion. The American worker is a strangely optimistic creature. As individuals, they want to believe that they are exceptional, that through perseverance and hard work they can rise to the top. They think that through this they will eventually rise to the top 20, or 10, or 1% of American wage earners. They think that what prevents them from doing this is a stagnant economy unnecessarily and unfairly hampered by labor unions, too much government regulation and frivolous lawsuits. Once all that clutter is cleared away, free enterprise will thrive, producing a rising tide that will float all boats. They have a President and a pundit class that persistently work at polishing and pushing this myth. They want to believe that just by being exceptional individual workers they could gain on their own in a market competing for their services those benefits unions have won through collective bargaining and years of struggle. This is true only in limited highly competetive industries and, even there, usually only for brief periods of time. They want to believe that government regulation of business has been born out of the fevered dreams of vile overreaching bureaucrats intent on killing the American dream, not out of the need to contain the rapacious greed of business men and women who have no concern for the health and well-being of America or its people or, often, even the long-term health of their own companies and will trample on any right and break any law for their own short term gain. The savings and loan scandals of the eighties, Michael Miliken, Ivan Boesky, Enron, et al, belies this belief. They want to believe that trial lawyers are always greedy self-interested leeches drawing their sustenance from the honest work of others, and not that they may be our last guardians, when those running our government have formed common cause with the worst of the robber barons to ignore, undermine, and undo the restraints experience has shown us must be placed on their rapaciousness, at the expense, and with the deliberate intent, of permanently subjugating the working class.

The American worker wants to believe that, all evidence to the contrary, America is the land that exists in our shiniest myths and fairy tales, where virtue is both its own reward and is richly rewarded, too, where evil fails and falls of its own weight. In such a land, people of virtue don't need help to get ahead. They don't need labor unions. We don't live in such a land, though. Organized labor has to go through some major changes to reestablish its relevance; it may have to crash and burn and start all over again. But now, at the dawn of the 21st century, at least as much as ever, there is a broad need for the protections labor unions can offer American workers.

Friday, January 28, 2005

O Canada

The Great White North looks better all the time. Thanks to Celia for this link.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Decline of Empire

Via Steven C. Clemons' "The Washington Note," this piece by Michael Lind, addressing the increasing isolation of the United States in the formation of new international alliances, is a must read. By it's unilateralist practices, based on the belief that, as Madeline Albright put it in 1998, the US is the "indespensable nation," the Bush Administration has encouraged the other nations of the earth to form alliances that deliberately exclude the US. The Bush approach has been to enter into only those alliances in which the US can be dominant, a situation which other countries are understandably reluctant to embrace. Embracing multilateralism, other countries are developing regional economic and military cooperatives that exclude and challenge the US.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Feinstein Votes With Republicans to Confirm Rice

To nobody’s surprise, the full Senate confirmed, by an 85-13 vote, the nomination of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State today. It is no surprise either, that California’s senior Senator voted to confirm. When Rice’s nomination was introduced last week, Feinstein was effusive in her praise of the National Security Advisor, lauding Rice’s “qualifications” and “achievements.”

This is hardly a departure from Feinstein's record in the Senate. Among her greatest hits, she voted for the “Patriot Act”, to confirm John Negroponte as the ambassador to Iraq, despite his record of involvement in gross human rights violations in Central America during the Reagan administration, to confirm the nomination of Porter Goss as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, despite Goss’s demonstrated partisanship and indifference to actually overseeing the nation’s security and intelligence agencies while on the house intelligence committee.

(To her credit, she has consistently voted against cloture on the nominations of Miguel Estrada and Janice Rogers Brown

Feinstein is by no means alone among Democrats in her votes on these issues. On some, Senator Boxer voted with her. I have been waiting, for too many years now, though, for Feinstein to demonstrate what principals of liberty, adherence to law, and respect for the five billion non-Americans we share this planet with she has. I’m still waiting. On these nomination votes in particular, it may be that Feinstein believes all these people were qualified for these positions or it may simply be that she subscribes to the philosophy that the President gets to choose who will serve him and the Senate ought to confirm those selections. I happen to reject both excuses. In the cases of Rice and Negroponte in particular she voted to confirm people who have repeatedly demonstrated that they will betray the truth and violate the law to serve their president and his goals, no matter how ignoble the man and those goals may be. Considering our nation’s current problems of image and security (which are by no means independent of each other), her votes for these people are unconscionable. Negroponte will forever be linked, and properly so, to one of our country’s more sordid periods of Latin American relations, which saw us propping up corrupt and murderous regimes in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and lending illegal support to the Contras in Nicaragua. Rice’s dishonesty and incompetence were lent to the Bush Administration’s selling to Congress and the American people the belief that Iraq posed a dire threat to US security. Neither should be representing American interests. Feinstein thought otherwise. One wonders what it would take for her to vote against somebody’s confirmation. There are whispers that she intends to vote against Gonzalez, or at least to take a long look at him. If so, I’m curious as to how she would distinguish between his and Rice’s (dis)qualifications for the offices to which they were nominated.

It’s time for California Democrats to start sniffing around for a replacement for the useless Senator. I’m suspect I’m hardly alone in this view. So who do we have on deck?

Blustering McCain

John McCain on the debate over Rice’s nomination: "So I wonder why we are starting this new Congress with a protracted debate about a foregone conclusion," McCain said. Since Rice is qualified for the job, he said, "I can only conclude that we are doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness over the outcome of the election.”

McCain’s first point reminds me of Leonard Pitts’ column last week complaining about the attention being given to voting irregularities in Ohio. Both Pitts’ and McCain’s points seem to be that if the outcome is assured, the process doesn’t matter. That attitude is, of course, the bane of participatory democracy. McCain is also being either incredibly naïve, or, far more likely, typically partisan and dishonest with his comment about there being no reason other than lingering bitterness over the outcome of the election to explain the debate. He wishes us to believe that nobody could have serious doubts about Rice’s qualifications for the job of Secretary of State, doubts that have arisen out of her incredible and fatal record of incompetence and dishonesty during her four years as National Security Advisor.

I continue to be mystified by the infatuation some (too many, including John Kerry) Democrats have with McCain. He has by no means demonstrated that he is a maverick or a liberal. When the time has come for him to stand up for anything of consequence he has consistently been as big a partisan hack as the next guy.

You Can't Take Us Anywhere

And yet, once again the Bay Area Resident Bloggers and Readers (BARBaRians) will venture out in public for a night of drinking and debauchery (we've never actually debauched yet, but hope springs eternal). Everybody is welcome. The establishment to be blessed by our presence this time is The Uptown, at Capp and 17th in San Francisco. Rumor has it that it is located one block south and another block east of the 16th Street Mission BART station. Look for us between 6 and 9, tomorrow (Thursday) night. I don't know that there is anything distinctive about us, but we're apparently easy to identify.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Bye-Bye Johnny

Johnny Carson has died at the age of 79. Carson took over The Tonight Show when I was three years old; while I was growing up and during my early adult years there was nobody else who did what he did. Since he left the show 13 years ago, none of his would be successors have matched the ease with which he did what he did. He was funny and classy for three decades and I can't imagine what anybody might have to say negative about him.

The Problem Isn't Ohio; It's the Democrats

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Leonard Pitts, Jr. He has a Pulitzer Prize, and to the extent you could say anyone could earn such a thing for commentary, he earned his. But this is just stupid.

Addressing the efforts by Kerry and others to further probe voting irregularities in Ohio, Pitts says, "What (Kerry) didn't say - what I have yet to hear any credible expert say - is that these irregularities made any material difference to the bottom line." Well, if that's the case, I say let's just take away voting rights from blacks and women and 18-21 year olds until some credible expert can show that giving it to them made some difference in the bottom line. Whatever that means. If it's the result and not the act of voting that matters, what difference does a little fraud make, so long as it doesn't affect the final result? While we're at it, let's throw out the concept of attempted murder. No harm, no foul.

Oh, wait, that's not what he means. He continues, "Election fraud, whenever committed, by whomever and for whatever purpose, is a threat to our political system. If we the people lose confidence in the integrity of our elections, we lose pretty mych everything." Sounds good. We're all on the same page here, right? Me, Pitts, Kerry? Mmmmm...not so much. Pitt's adds, "if I were convinced that was what moved Kerry to speak out, I'd happily support him. But it seems clear to me after two months of conspiracy theories that what motivates Kerry and many other Democrats isn't concern over election irregularities in general, but concern over election irregularities that may have benefited the other party." To say this, Pitts has to be ignorant of, ignore, or hope his readers are ignorant of the attempts by Democrats before the election to battle efforts by Republicans and Ohio election officials to limit participation in the election. Things such as individual voter challenges, refusal to accept voter registrations that were not submitted on the correct grade of paper, and insufficient voting machines in heavily Democratic precincts. Oh, sorry. Democrats again. The losers. Probably anticipating losing and, being the wild-eyed conspiracy theorists they are, they did all those preemptive challenges just to make it look like they had an interest in fairness and allowing and counting every vote. Very sneaky, they are.

Pitts apparently lives in an electoral paradise the rest of us can only dream about, where elections are held on the up-and-up and if somehow something goes amiss, the winning party immediately brings the proceedings to a halt and says, "this is wrong; let's go back and do this again, but fairly this time." Oh, that's right, Pitts does live in such a land. He lives in Florida.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Liquid Methane Rain on Titan

This just seems so cool.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Friday Afternoon Diversion

While cleaning out my email files, I came across this...

To the question, "How many anecdotes does it take to make data?," came the answer,

"Interesting that you should ask. Both words derive from the turkoman word "detu," meaning, roughly "lying in the path of swine." The Turkomen were noted for their prize-winning swine, and to lay in their path, even to be trampled to death by them, was an honor in the ancient world. Stories of people doing so were exchanged around camp fires on the Asian Steppes for millennia, until the early sixties, when the advent of cheap transistor radios and Radio-Free Europe brought "The Stroll" craze to that area of the world, supplanting the pig-death stories as the chief form of entertainment. The revered Greek poet and traveler, Bart, believed by some to have been the son of, yes, I'm sorry, Homer, observed this (the lying down before swine, not the stroll) in his travels and gathered and relayed to his students these tales upon his return home. The stories, because they seemed to go on almost forever, came to be called anodetus, literally, pig stories that take a year to tell. Somehow, over the years, the pig part of the definition came to be dropped.

Meanwhile, Bart's older Roman contemporary and sometime drinking companion, the noted mathematician, Numerous, was conducting his own porcine studies in the area. Well, perhaps studies overstates the case a bit. In fact, noted mathematician overstates things, too. He was a notorious drunk on three continents, is what he was, and what he tended to "study" was the feet that would pass by him as lay drunk in the mud. Being something of a savant, he could, in his brief moments of sober lucidity, relate exactly how many feet has passed by him while he was laying in a stupor. Though this talent was of no interest to most people, it turns out that the Turkomen valued it greatly, as he tended to fall down along the path of the annual pig parade and could later relate just how many pigs had paraded by him. He became quite a local celebrity, which proved his downfall. Upon returning to Rome (via Ceylon, but that is a whole 'nother story, which we've not time to bother with now) he expected the same kind of attention he'd received in Asia. Well, of course, things turned out differently. He was widely scorned for his recitations of how many pig's feet had nearly trampled him, and data, the Latin equivalent of detu, was derided for centuries as "pig numbers." It really didn't start to be rehabilitated until the latter half of the last century. Jimmy Dean had something to do with that, but you'll want to visit his web site for that story. It was Microsoft, of course, that really brought data into the mainstream (though they, quite naturally, stole the seminal work in this field from Apple, who had lifted it from Xerox).

Anyway, as you see, there is really no easy answer to your question."

Now I can delete that email. Thank god.

It's All in the Headline


They're Using the Ohio Voting Model

From Kevin Drum,

"VOTING IN IRAQ....On ABC News tonight they had a report about preparations for voting in the city of Mosul. The original plan was to have 100 polling places, but because of the violence there that's been cut down to 40.

The population of Mosul is 2 million, and you can probably figure that about two-thirds of that number are eligible to vote. That means each polling place will have to handle 33,000 voters. Even if turnout is only 50%, that's still about 16,000 people per polling station.

Even 100 polling stations sounds like far, far too few. But 40?"

Sore Winners


"Kerry's seat assignment was in the seventh row. And every time they flashed his picture on the Jumbotron, the crowd -- full of wealthy Republicans -- jeered."

Ownership for Whom?


Hayward State Name Change Pondered

Any thoughts from our east bay bloggers and readers?

"(CSU) Trustees will vote on a proposal to change the name of California State University, Hayward to California State University, East Bay. University officials believe that the new name and identity will help increase the university's regional awareness and visibility, expand fundraising capabilities, enhance the relationship with East Bay communities, and recruit students. The university serves the East Bay region with campuses in Hayward Hills and Concord and a professional development center in downtown Oakland."

From the "Good News" Files

There are reports that FCC commissioner Michael Powell will resign today. He has no doubt carried water for big media and the country's puritans long enough and is ready to cash in. Expect him to land a job paying 7 figures with one of the companies he has been regulating.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

New Lows in Trivial Pursuits

While I'm in a trivial mood (and killing time waiting for the shrimp to thaw), let's reflect on the career of Paul Carrack, the king of the one-hit wonders. In 1974 he played keyboards and sang lead on the Ace hit "How Long (has this been going on)." In 1981 he joined Squeeze for one album, "East Side Story," and played keyboards and sang lead on "Tempted." In 1987 he had a minor hit as a solo artist with "Don't Shed a Tear" from his album "One Good Reason." He finally hit his stride and shed the one-hit wonder status with "Mike and the Mechanics," with whom he sang lead on "Living Years" and whatever other hits they managed to crank out. There. I'm glad that's all off my chest. Now I can forget all this crap.

You Might Find This Interesting

...though probably not.

The character played by Danica McKellar (of Winnie Cooper) fame on The West Wing is named Elsie Snuffin. Not at all coincidentally, I suspect, Kayla Blake, the actress who played the character named Kim on the late lamented Aaron Sorkin produced Sports Night (which also featured West Winger Joshua Malina) also works under the name Elsie Sniffin. I warned you that you probably wouldn't find this interesting.

Ain't the internets grand? I knew, years ago when I stumbled across IMDB, that it would lead to this kind of thing.

Channeling the Red Queen

In a Kafkaesque ruling, federal district court judge Richard J. Leon found that despite the US Supreme Court's ruling last June that foreign detainess held at Guantanamo could file habeas corpus petitions, these prisoners did not have the right to obtain one. As confusing as the Supreme Court can be, I doubt they intended anything this absurd.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Scandal Fatigue, Anybody?

Via Atrios comes this Salon article about 34 Bush administration scandals that are "worse than Whtewater." Yeah, you have to watch an ad, but it won't kill you. Check it out.

These folks in the Bush administration have been doing so many bad things, badly, for so long, that it's good to have somebody tote up the score now and then. And I've no doubt they've missed some.

The Royal Inauguration

From the WaPo, in a story about there being no known terrorist threat to the inauguration, despite Department of Homeland Security warnings last April that such an attack was likely, "An estimated 100 square blocks of downtown will be off-limits to the public during inaugural festivities, and about 7,000 troops will be deployed."

So, the public, you and me, are not allowed near the inauguration of the President of our nation. Are there any lingering doubts about just who is it this mook doesn't represent?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

There's Killing to Do

Ang is reminded to reorder her messed up priorities.

Senator Useless Strikes Again

Senator Diane Feinstein, one of the greatest wastes of space and oxygen the Democratic party has ever produced, supports the nomination of Condoleezza Rice for Secretary of State, saying, "Dr. Rice has the skill, judgement, and poise to lead in these difficult times."

Skill, Judgement, and poise, eh? The woman who was afraid to go before the 9/11 commission, then lied when she got there? The woman who claimed that nobody could imagine that terrorists would fly planes into buildings? The woman who was scheduled on 9/11 to give a National Security briefing that the greatest threat to this country was ICBMs? The woman who felt the infamous August daily briefing outlining the threat from Al-Qaeda was only of historical interest? The one who couldn't be bothered to read the October 2002 White Paper describing the Iraqi threat in less than absolute terms? Where has this needed skill and judgement been demonstrated?

I guess Feinstein's approval of Rice explains the response I got from the good Senator's office when I emailed her my thoughts on Rice's nomination:

December 13, 2004

123 Main Street
Santa Rosa, California 954XX

Dear Mr. Gumby:

Letter begins here.

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Yeah, that was the entire response. I would've been ashamed of my position, too, if I were Feinstein.


Corporate Big Brother is Listening, too

Also in this morning's paper is a NYT story telling us that when we're told on sales or customer service calls that our calls may be monitored, that can include the time we are on hold, waiting for a rep to help us. I'm no MBA, but it strikes me that if they have enough monitors to listen in on us while we're on hold, there may be an imbalance between the people the company has hired to actually provide service and those they've hired to monitor that service.

Unrepentant or Stupid?

Inside my paper this morning is a photo of Charles Graner giving a thumbs up sign after being found guilty of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. I'd've thought he'd've learned to avoid that particular pose.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Guilty Pleasures

To get the most for your entertainment dollar, mosy on over to Scamboogah and take the "guilty pleasures" quiz.


I received this in an email from a friend today:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

H.L. Mencken, the Baltimore Sun, 1920

So, where do we go from here?

Mistakes Were Made

Oh, My Fucking Gawd. George Bush, finally coming up with examples of mistakes he has made as President, gave us "Sometimes, words have consequences you don't intend them to mean." George Bush is what, three years old? For the love of Holy Christ, can any man his age have said something more obvious?

So, what examples did this shining intelectual light come up with? According to Shrub, "'Bring 'em on' is the classic example, when I was really trying to rally the troops and make it clear to them that I fully understood, you know, what a great job they were doing. And those words had an unintended consequence. It kind of, some interpreted it to be defiance in the face of danger. That certainly wasn't the case." Yes, it never occurred to this fucking idiot that "Bring 'em on," in the context in which he used it, which was challenging terrorists and insurgents to attack American troops in Iraq, would, you know, cause terrorists and insurgents to attack American troops in Iraq. How could anybody have foreseen that?

His other example was having said that the US would get Bin Laden "dead or alive." Again, he somehow failed to expect that when the President of the United States says something like that, the people of the world, most particularly of the US, take that as a commitment of sorts. Bush apparently was non-plussed that people didn't know that he meant that we would get him if it turned out to be really easy and convenient and if he kind of turned himself in. Silly us, to have taken Bush's words so literally.

So there you have it. Either Bush is more abysmally fucking stupid than I have ever previously given him credit for (and I have given him credit for monumental achievements in stupidity), or he thinks we are. Or both.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

We'll be Hitting the City from all Directions

We're thirsty and we've drunk Oakland dry, so the BARBARians are crossing the bay. On Thursday, January 27, the Bay Area Bloggers and Readers will set upon the Uptown bar at 17th and Capp in San Francisco. If you're a bay area blogger or reader, if you know one, or if you just feel like drinking with us, come join in the fun. Meanwhile, since you're here, check out some of the bay area bloggers on the BARBARians at the Golden Gate blog roll.

Thanks to Scaramouche for correcting me on the date.

Will on Government Shilling

Though a jackass and a hypcrite,George will can still be right sometimes, though his blaming of lawyers for the ebbing tide of common sense in this country seems misplaced. That bastard phenomenon, which seems to go hand-in-hand with shirking of responsibility, has many fathers.

The Jews and Genocide

From Vox Day, "The Jews are far from the only historical victims of genocide. They are not even the most recent victims."

While true, this conveniently, or perhaps ignorantly, obscures the fact that the Jews are unique in that they have been victims of genocide throughout time and throughout the world. The Holocaust was far from the first organized attempt to eliminate the Jews, and it was far from being a uniquely mid-twentieth century German phenomenon. Even setting aside that the Jews of the old testament come across as a particularly belligerent people, history is replete with organized slaughter of Jews designed to eradicate them. The medieval crusaders routinely slaughtered Jews and other infidels on their way to the Middle East. The Russians were infamous for their Jewish pogroms. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century there was a very public debate not only in Germany but also in other European countries on how to solve "the Jewish problem." It was then, not later, in Nazi Germany, that the notion of a "final solution" took root. Against that backdrop, the persecution and slaughter of Jews takes on a different perspective, distinguishing their history from that of those victimized by attempted genocide in Turkey, Rwanda, Darfur, and Cambodia. Other ethnic, cultural, and religious groups have been victims of genocide, and those individuals killed and uprooted are no less victims than Jewish victims of genocide. The difference is the Jews would be foolish to not believe it will happen again to them.

Compare and Contrast

"Rathergate" vs. the cold-starting WMD hunt scandal - the costs.

Which is really a greater threat to democracy, both here and abroad? And how far out of touch with reality are Peggy Noonan and her kinsman at the corner, who seem to have lost all perspective?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A Well-Spun Tale

On the drive in to work this morning, I heard a radio report that Bush has identified Appeals court judge Michael Chertoff as his nominee to replace Tom Ridge as Homeland Security Director. The report went on to note that the original nominee, Bernard Kerik withdrew from consideration because of problems arising out of payments to a nanny. And that was it. That was the story. No mention of conflicts-of-interest, mob connections, his poor performance both as a NYC poice commissioner or as a Bush flunkie assigned to set up a police force in Iraq (a job he bailed on in just a couple of months, without accomplishing anything).

I could almost forgive the radio station for this. It’s a music station and this was its ten-second bit during a two-minute news break. For Yahoo, though,working off an AP report, there is no excuse. They don't really have the time or space constraints of an oldies radio station. It's fine to report the "official" reason for a nominee to withdraw, but isn't there some responsiblity to the readers or listeners, of both Yahoo and AP, to then report the whole story, or at least what's known of it? The last I heard, it hadn’t even been verified that there was a nanny.

In the world of political spin, the words of Nathan Bedford Forrest apply; get there firstest with the mostest. Doesn’t even have to be true; anything that follows gets things too complicated, too nuanced, for the press to handle.

Monday, January 10, 2005

And Another Yahoo Headline

Storms Batter California; Ohio Faces Flooding.

That's one damn fierce storm.

In Today's News of the Rodent

From Yahoo News, Study Suggests Rats May be Multilingual.

I didn't even click through to the article; it could only have been a letdown.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Adding Insult to Injury

An errant US 500-pound bomb hit the wrong house in Iraq yesterday, killing 5, according to the US military. Of those 5, seven were children. Apparently the US military counts differently from other people. The house's owner said 14 people were killed by the bomb. An AP photographer provided the figure of 7 children. But what do they know? The owner obviously was an Iraqi and it seems likely that the photographer was too. And you know how those Iraqis are. As the military statement said, "Mulit-National Force Iraqi deeply regrets the loss of possibly innocent lives." You gotta love that. Not even "presumably innocent." We drop a bomb on the wrong house and the best we can say about the victims of our blunder (seven of them children, remember) is that they were "possibly innocent."

Some one tell me again, because I'm fuzzy on the concept; who are we over there to help?

Friday, January 07, 2005

Paying for The Times Online

Would you pay to have to read the New York Times online? That may be in the future. The New York Times Corporation is "reviewing the site to see whether or not there would be any areas where we should change the business model," said a Times spokeswoman, Catherine Mathis.

I find it useful to have access to the Times online, especially when following other blogs' links, but I'm positive I wouldn't pay for the "privilege." And make no mistake, that's how the Times views it. According to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., "It gets to the issue of how comfortable are we training a generation of readers to get quality information for free. That is troubling."

I know I'm not comfortable with the notion that the Times provides "quality information," whether for free or a fee. After Jayson Blair, which was an isolated problem, to Judith Miller, which was (and is, she's still there) more of a systemic problem, I don't think the Times still has the reputation that Sulzberger thinks it does. And it's certainly not worth $79/year to me, which is what online subscribers to the Wall Street Journal pay.

Plame Update

Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry. I'm late on my Plame update. You know, the CIA agent whose cover was released by a senior white house official to patriotic "values" journalist, Robert Novak, who promptly published the information. Let's see, since my last update on November 30, um...there's nothing new to report.

Sorry. Maybe after the inauguration excitement dies down.

Inauguration Prayer

Although I don't mind that somebody is suing to bar the saying of a prayer at Bush's inauguration (I'm not offended by the prayer either. Bush's view's on religion are no secret and a prayer on his behalf isn't going to offend me any more than anything else done by him or on his behalf), I wish it were somebody other than Micheal Newdow, of the "Pledge of Allegiance" suit fame. He seems to have become something of a professional atheist and I'm not sure it does him or atheists in general any good for him to be a de facto spokesman for this. Contrary to what the fundies seem to think, atheists aren't organized; we don't go to churches of non-believers or hold secret meetings where we plan to subvert Christianity. We mostly just go about our business in a world largely unaware of who we are among them. I kind of like it that way. Newdow is blowing my gig.

And the Band Played On

The drummer of Los Lonely Boys has been arrested in Texas for possession of marijuana, which will no doubt lead to the cancellation of concert dates for the band.

Do these guys ever actually perform?


Thursday, January 06, 2005

The New BARBARrian

After introducing herself in King of Zembla's comments, Angie has wormed her way onto the BARBARian blog roll with Ang's Weird Ideas. Welcome. I hope you know what you've gotten into.

Or Maybe Not, Ollie

Oliver Stone believes that his epic "Alexander" died at the box office because of homophobia. According to Ollie, "Americans don't read about ancient history like the Europeans. And in America there is a raging fundamentalism and morality. From day one the Bible Belt people did not show up because there was one phrase throughout the media and that was 'Alex the gay.'"

I suppose it's true that some people stayed away because of that. I didn't see the movie myself, and I was heavily influenced in my decision to spend my money elsewhere by opinions of the movie such as this one, from Generik "Alexander was just about the biggest pile of wet, steaming, bloody diarrhea that either of us had seen in years. I mean, I like a good sword and sandal epic as much as the next guy (providing the next guy also grew up laughing at badly-dubbed Hercules movies, of course) -- I saw Troy a while back and enjoyed it -- but this... this fetid crock of fermented fecal matter was something else entirely." And then he started getting mean.

So, Ollie, if may just be that the movie tanked because it, you know, sucked.

I Guess It's Official Now - It's Bush

Kudos to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Stephanie Tubbs (D-OH) for formally protesting that the Ohio electoral votes "were not, under all known circumstances, regularly given." Though this had no effect on the eventual certification by Congress of the election results, it did shine a spotlight on the Ohio voting irregularities, forcing the media to write about something they would clearly rather avoid acknowledging.

As for the suggestion of Representative Ric Keller (R-FL) that Democrats learn a "wise saying" used in Florida over the last four years and "get over it," I can only refer Mr. Keller to a saying we use here in California. Bite me. It's gotten more than a little tiresome repeatedly hearing since the election that those who didn't vote for Bush need to set aside our differences and rally behind the President. The differences, as most everybody seems to acknowledge these days, are deep. The notion that we can set aside our beliefs and support a man who goes against most things we believe make this country great perhaps reflects the discomfort Republicans feel at actually supporting this man and the intellectual and emotional shallowness of their beliefs.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Social Security Press Coverage

Nice job, Press Democrat. For reasons that are murky at best, but probably have a lot to do with placing transaction commissions into the hands of wealthy and influential Wall Street brokerage houses,the Bush Administration has been laboring mightily to advance the notion that there is a Social Security “crisis.” The Santa Rosa Press Democrat's Tuesday front page story, “Bush plan urges cuts in Social Security” might as well have been written by the White House press office, for all of the actual reporting that went into it. In a remarkable display of balance, the story managed to cite not only “several Republicans close to the White House,” but also an analyst at the Heritage Foundation and even a “former senior administration official. Nice job; they covered the spectrum from conservative to very conservative. Oh, a particularly nice touch was the headline after the jump, “Social Security: Change would save trillions of dollars.” Of course, given the subject of the article, that the Bush administration is preparing a plan that would cut future retirees’ Social Security payments by about half, the headline after the jump could at least as aptly have been “Social Security: Change would cut trillions in benefits.”

Meanwhile, in the New York Times today (yes, I know, it will show up in the PD, a Times paper, in a day or two), Paul Krugman goes into detail explaining that Social Security is not endangered, much less in crisis. I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Krugman, but I also recognize that he is a columnist, presenting his opinion, albeit a well-informed opinion, and many people when reading their paper give more credence to “straight” news stories than to opinion columns.

I understand that PD writers don’t produce this stuff, stories about national issues like Social Security. The paper gets it from the wire services and other papers, in this case the Washington Post. Nonetheless, don’t they owe it to their readers to put forth some effort to present this issue (as well as other issues of importance) in a more straight forward, a more complete and competent manner? I don’t think their coverage shows a bias. I think their coverage shows the press’s general inability to understand and cover complex stories. I wish they would try harder.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Killing Due Process

To their credit, Senators Richard Lugar (R-In) and Carl Levin (D-Mi) have come out in opposition to Pentagon and CIA requests for the White House to develop a permanent approach for indefinitely detaining suspected terrorists they are unwilling to set free or turn over to US or foreign courts for trial. Included among these "suspected terrorists" are hundreds of people currently in US custody for whom the government lacks evidence to charge in courts.
We've been here before with this Administration. In its zeal to pursue the "war on terror" it has been eager to not just trample on but to eliminate the concept of due process for those it has arrested or detained, here or on foreign soil, American or foreign, under suspicion of committing or aiding those who have committed or would commit acts of aggression or terrorism against the US. Last summer's Supreme Court decisions against the Administration in the Hamdi and Padilla cases seems to have done nothing to discourage Bush's people from their pursuit of unreviewed lifetime detentions or cause them to rethink just how such a concept fits in with our Bill of Rights.
According to the Washington Post story, "As part of a solution, the Defense Department, which holds 500 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, plans to ask Congress for $25 million to build a 200-bed prison to hold detainees who are unlikely to ever go through a military tribunal for lack of evidence," and have "no more intelligence to share."
On Fox News Sunday, Lugar had this to say of the Administration's scheme, "It's a bad idea. So we ought to get over it and we ought to have a very careful, constitutional look at this." Earlier, California Representative Jane Harmon, vice chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee, had said, "I think there should be a public debate about whether the entire system should be so secret." Levin, also appearing on Fox News Sunday, said, in opposition to the plan, "There must be some modicum, some semblance of due process . . . if you're going to detain people, whether it's for life or whether it's for years."
I wonder how the "moral values" crowd feels about things like this. I wonder if they think it's okay to set aside two hundred and thirty years of hard won safeguards against government excess in the name of expediency in waging this so-called war. When our President says "freedom is on the march" and the Fighting 101st Keyboarders praise our President's middle east crusade, I wonder how they factor in actions like this. Is freedom at home negotiable? For everybody, or just for those dusky foreigners?

Saturday, January 01, 2005


Absolute Friends is classic late career le Carre'. The master creates back stories like nobody else and the climax and denouement here play off the worst post-9/11 paranoid fantasies and fears of we lefties. Le Carre' has been quite outspoken in his opposition to our government's neo-con white-man's burden inspired activities and he nevers fails to keep his novels timely and relevant.

Was (not was) hit the stage at Slim's as a seven-piece outfit (bass, drums, keyboard, sax, guitar, flute/harmonica, and Sweet Pea Atkinson on vocals) Thursday night in their first San Francisco appearance in fifteen years and established that they are still the authority on classic soul. The Detroit-based band opened with the Temps' Papa Was a Rolling Stone and played for about an hour and a half, including Walk the Dinosaur, Dad I'm in Jail, and 11 MPH (Abe Zapp Ruder version). It was disappointing that the lyrics were lost in the mix, since this is one of the wittiest bands around, but Sweet Pea's voice, a combination of honey and sandpaper, added lustfully to the overall sound of the band.

Ocean's Twelve is funny, fast-paced, and clever; a good way to spend a rainy afternoon. And, yeah, Catherine Zeta-Jones. One hole (okay a giant one) in the plot, but I didn't think about it much until after I'd left the theater.

Happy New Year.
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