Friday, August 31, 2007

The Web's Full Potential Revealed

A Cyndi Lauper News widget? I mean, Bjork, I'll give you, but Cyndi Lauper?

Making Sports More Interesting

From a nifty Guardian collection of weird signs from around the world, a small treasure trove for all connoisseurs of the semiotically transmundane:

What is it with the European love of abstraction?

From the "Don't Think of an Elephant" department:

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #3916

This is quite possibly the coolest mural I have ever seen:

Damn you, EF685! Now I'll never know how to tie a Cavendish knot.
(Image originally uploaded by Theo Lagendijk; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton. The internet rides to the rescue here.)


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #4874

This is for yesterday, sorry.

Let's hope the media doesn't find out about the time Tucker Carlson roughed up a tourist for suggesting that he looked like a guy who'd "ridden a lot of ferries" in his time.
(Image originally uploaded by startofall; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Leak Away

To whoever was involved in leaking the "strikingly negative" Government Accountability Office report noting that "Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress" before the White House, Pentagon, etc. can start spinning and editing and rephrasing it in order to make the big pile of crap they have created look slightly more edible:
The person who provided the draft report to The Post said it was being conveyed from a government official who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version -- as some officials have said happened with security judgments in this month's National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Congress requested the GAO report, along with an assessment of the Iraqi security forces by an independent commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, to provide a basis for comparison with the administration's scorecard. The Jones report is also scheduled for delivery next week.
Thank you.

"Class War By Other Means"

I haven't listened to yesterday's Democracy Now! yet, but I did read yesterday's Greg Palast this morning:

We needed an answer to a weird, puzzling and horrific discovery. Among the miles and miles of devastated houses, rubble still there today in New Orleans, we found dry, beautiful homes. But their residents were told by guys dressed like Ninjas wearing “Blackwater” badges: “Try to go into your home and we’ll arrest you.”

These aren’t just any homes. They are the public housing projects of the city; the Lafitte Houses and others. But unlike the cinder block monsters in the Bronx, these public units are beautiful townhouses, with wrought-iron porches and gardens right next to the tony French Quarter.

Raised up on high ground, with floors and walls of concrete, they were some of the only houses left salvageable after the Katrina flood.

Yet, two years later, there’s still bars on the windows, the doors are welded shut and the residents banned from returning.


I wasn’t naïve. I had a good idea what this scam was all about: 89,000 poor and working class families stuck in Homeland Security’s trailer park gulag while their good homes were guarded against their return by mercenaries. Two decades ago, I worked for the Housing Authority of New Orleans. Even then, the plan was to evict poor folk out of this very valuable real estate. But it took the cover of a hurricane to do it.

Malik’s organization, Common Ground, wouldn’t wait for permission from the federal and local commissars to help folks return. They organized takeovers of public housing by the residents. And, in the face of threats and official displeasure, restored 350 apartments in a destroyed private development on the high ground across the Mississippi in the ward called, “Algiers.” The tenants rebuilt their own homes with their own sweat and their own scraps of cash based on a promise of the landlords to sell Common Ground the property in return for restoring it.

Why, I asked Malik, was there this strange lock-out from public housing?

Malik shook his dreds. “They didn’t want to open it up. They wanted them closed. They wanted them poor niggers out of there.”


Malik explained, “It’s two cities. You know? There’s the city for the white and the rich. And there’s another city for the poor and Blacks. You know, the city that’s for the white and rich has recovered. They had a Jazz Fest. They had a Mardi Gras. They’re going to have the Saints playing for those who have recovered. But for those who haven’t recovered, there’s nothing.”

So where are they now? The sobbing woman and her kids are gone: back to Texas, or wherever. But they will not be allowed back into Lafitte. Ever.

And Patricia Thomas? Patricia found work sweeping up tourists’ vomit and beer each morning at a French Quarter karioke joint. Not much pay, no health insurance, of course. A few months ago, Patricia died - in a city bereft of health care. New Orleans has closed all its public hospitals but for one “charity” make-shift emergency ward in an abandoned department store.

And the one bright star, Malik’s housing project? The tenants’ work was done this past December. By Christmastime, they received their eviction notices - and all were carried out of their rebuilt homes by marshals right after the New Year, including a paraplegic resident who’d lived in the Algiers building for decades.

Hurricane recovery is class war by other means. And in this war of the powerful against the powerless, Mr. Bush can rightly land his fighter plane in Louisiana and declare that, unlike the war in Iraq, it is, indeed, “Mission Accomplished.”

From Palast's new investigative film, Big Easy to Big Empty: The Untold Story of the Drowning of New Orleans. You can see/hear some of Palast's original report from DN! a year ago here.

Cruelty Today

This morning's local news:

TITUSVILLE - An argument between two grade school-aged boys resulted in one putting the other's cat in the dryer, killing the family pet, Titusville Police said.

An 11-year-old Titusville boy was charged Wednesday with cruelty to animals and burglary after detectives say he admitted entering a home in the same neighborhood and placing the family cat in the dryer and turning it on.

"That was his way of getting back at them," detective Rob Candler said.

Fuzzy, an 8-year-old brown, longhair Himalayan, likely died from the combination of the dryer's heat and its tumbling motion, Candler said. The cat had burn marks on its face and ears and singed fur and whiskers.

So: is turning an innocent animal's last minutes of life into a terrifying, agonizing hell for the sake of getting revenge against another person marginally better or marginally worse than torturing the animal to death for your own sick amusement? I'm honestly not sure.

As Bill Hicks once said, "We're a virus with shoes."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

It's a fitting day for downers. For another, read Generik.

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #1996

Yes, all are welcome at Our Lady of the Big Bopper.
(Image originally uploaded by whatevertom; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Lunar Eclipse This Morning

The East Coast didn't get the best of it, but it was at least somewhat visible even through the soupy predawn Florida air.

Weekly Random Flickr Blogging, #2918

"OK, naked guy #1, you go long. Naked guy #2, I'll fake a handoff to you, then you stay in and block. On three. Break."
But what takes this painting out of the realm of kitsch is the look in the dachshunds' eyes. Notice how they stare apprehensively at something just to the painter's left. What dreadful visage holds their attention? the viewer must wonder. Could it be the same warped personage who has bestrewn both dachshunds and floor with cheap costume jewelry and painted the shorthaired's nails pink—perhaps some demented drag queen à la Divine in Pink Flamingos? What further indignities await these poor, tormented beasts—and at whose strange, tasteless hands? The mystery only deepens the pathos.
(Images originally uploaded by levygr, artemharchenko, and dogsbylori; Random Flickr Blogging explained here.)


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #7236

"How 'bout a hand for my lovely assistants here?" *applause* "Hey, while we're at it, how 'bout some clothes for my lovely assistants here?" *rimshot* *laughter* "But I kid my little nude friends."

I'm sorry if this is a bit clumsy, but Engrish is a second language for me:

Picasso Lightbulb Cyclops House
Come where the fun is why not
(Images originally uploaded by Jolene@tw and tonny8596; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Monday, August 27, 2007

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #9900

I like Weimaraners. They're so much nicer than those Thousand-Year-Reicharaners.

Bonus. I may have to start a collection of Places Where You Very Much Do Not Want to Have the DTs photos:

(Images originally uploaded by optimieron and Betty R; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #9579

I don't know. Wishing to be reincarnated as Alicia Silverstone's favorite teddy is Buddhist in one way but kinda misses the point in another, I think.
(Image originally uploaded by frans1sqo; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Another Open Letter to Glenn McCoy


Your cartoon of 8/23/07 crossed my path recently:

Do I interpret this correctly? Are you suggesting that Democrats are praying for "defeat" in Iraq? Given the political slant of many of your cartoons (see, e.g, my previous open letter to you), this is the first interpretation that occurs to me; however, there are some features here that make me wonder whether you intended some other meaning. Let's review them.

The first problem is with the central feature of the cartoon. At first glance I took this to be a donkey praying for "defeat," and since the donkey is the standard symbol for the Democratic Party, well, the interpretation above obviously follows. Looking at the figure more closely, though, I note that it looks at least as much like a horse—or even a camel. Since the camel is traditionally associated with, um, more Muslim parts of the world, could it be that this is actually meant to be a terrorist praying for "defeat"? The odd archaism of having the thing wearing pajamas with an open butt-flap does not lend support to either interpretation, as neither donkeys nor camels commonly wear such garb; alas, I am bereft of hermeneutical assistance from the sartorial quarter. But then few Americans alive today have probably ever seen such pajamas outside of old movies, TV shows, and, yes, very, very, very old comic strips, so it's not like a modern-day Democrat would be likely to wear them, either. I am forced to wonder: what's with the pajamas? Were you afraid that without some crackage, your cartoon would lack the requisite pith and import?

The second problem involves the fact that the central figure seems to be praying. If indeed the central figure is meant to be a donkey, and hence to represent Democrats, then two obvious implications follow: (a) Democrats pray, and (b) Democrats believe in God. But these are obviously in conflict with the standard Republican caricature of the Democrats as the party of atheism, irreverence, impiety, etc. Having seem some of your past work, I find it hard to believe that you would so blithely violate a standard Republican trope. For that matter, I'm fairly confident that if I poked around long enough in your archives, I'd probably run across a cartoon wherein a leering, menacing donkey (though it might also be a horse or a camel) bedecked in Roman armor gleefully pokes a crucified Republican Jesus in the side with a spear, or perhaps one where a bejeweled, hooknosed donkey Caiaphas sneeringly denounces Christ before a Pontius Pilate who looks kind of like John Kerry (thought it might also be a horse or a camel). So aside from the problem of being sure that what you've depicted here is a donkey, I face the added problem of interpreting its posture. It seems to be praying, but surely you would not want to imply that a Democrat might be something other than an implacable foe of the Almighty. So my perplexity grows.

Finally, there's the other main feature which contributes to the "Democrats are praying for defeat in Iraq" interpretation: the newspaper with the "Surge Showing Results" headline lying like an afterthought on the floor. Really, the placement of the newspaper is interesting: it's almost out of the frame, way over to the side of the cartoon—almost like you're embarrassed about it. Could this be your subconscious way of acknowledging that there is no good reason to think that the much-vaunted "surge" of a few thousand more troops into Iraq was ever likely to make any serious difference in this war-that-should-never-have-been-launched-in-the-first-place and that "news reports" of the surge's success are little but shameless consent-manufacturing exercises like the recent O'Hanlon-Pollack op-ed and dog-and-pony show? I mean, if you were more confident that reports of the surge's success were not greatly exaggerated, why not put the newspaper front-and-center, on the bed right in front of the donkey/horse/camel thing, thus suggesting even more strongly that, in the face of impending vindication for the Bush Administration's already-longer-than-World-War-II war, the Bush-hating Democrat has turned to his last refuge and is petitioning the Lord with prayer—and for his own country to lose, no less? This would reduce at least some of the vagueness and ambiguity in the cartoon—though the species indeterminacy and the archaic pajamas problem remain. And certainly it would be better than leaving the crucial "Surge Showing Results" headline way off to the side, on the floor, where for all the reader knows it's there for a puppy to crap on—which, I confess, is the first use I generally think of for such headlines.

I've probably given this cartoon far more thought than it deserved—or for that matter than went into it—but hopefully, the next time you want to accuse Democrats of treacherous collusion with God in opposition to the war policies of George W. Bush (if indeed that's what you were up to here), you'll at least expend more effort on making the main figure look like a donkey and less on finding a way to put an exposed buttcrack into the finished product. I mean, really: when a half-exposed ass is one of the most lovingly rendered details in a cartoon, one can't help but wonder a little about where the cartoonist's mind really is. Though I have to admit that a pro-war slant and a juvenile ass fixation do kind of go together.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Happy Birthday, Elvis Costello

For the occasion, a live version of "Shipbuilding" that's just lovely—even without the Chet Baker solo:

This dark, sad little song was written during the Falklands War of 1982. I think I first heard it sometime in the early Nineties. If you'd told me then that one day I'd be listening to it in an America mired in an endless war on an abstract noun, guilty of invading a country that did not attack us and which posed no serious threat to us, and slowly hemorrhaging lives and money in an occupation that's already outlasted our involvement in World War II, I'd have asked what you were smoking. Listening to it just now, I thought about how, rather like Dylan's "Tombstone Blues," it shouldn't sound timely—but it does. And I got quite depressed. So forgive me if I try to thin out the darkness by spreading it around a little.

It's just a rumour that was spread around town
A telegram or a picture postcard
Within weeks they'll be re-opening the shipyards
And notifying the next of kin
Once again
It's all we're skilled in
We will be shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #2611

Today's Daily Random Flickr Blogging may also be used to induce vomiting.

""Meesa back from makeover, what yousa tink?"
(Image originally uploaded by CybrSlydr; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Friday, August 24, 2007


Who's doing a chat at the at 3 p.m. today? Why, Mike Nelson of the one, the only, the late, the sorely missed Mystery Science Theater 3000, that's who. Thanks, jules, for the tip—I rarely remember to check out the chats there.

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #4077

The Prom Committee folks thought that a band named Copernico just had to be educational. And boy, were they right.
Everyone was surprised by Carrot Top's new direction.
Worst. ABBA tribute band. Ever.
Wow—my PC suddenly started hissing and spitting.
Extra Special Bonus Special Guest Daily Random Flickr Blogging courtesy Megan McArdle:

Sure, "child labor" used to mean back-breaking, soul-crushing work in mines and factories, but thanks to the blessings of market-driven technological change, kids today have plenty of opportunities for lighter work, out in the fresh air—as human billboards, for example. Isn't it time we trashed the obsolete laws that deny kids the freedom to sell their labor in the marketplace like everyone else? After all, for the superior kids, it's never too early to start clawing their way to the top—and for the other kids, well, wouldn't we be doing them a favor by letting them get used to a life of servile drudgery early, while their brains are still forming? Aren't their brains still forming then? Professor Minsky? Doctor Sacks? Anyone?
(Images originally uploaded by kittykowalski, metalisrael2, Captain Smurf, metyserver, and Andy Wise; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #2426

"Yeah, I was at a party once and a rather drunk David Frost came over and kept asking it questions about Watergate. Very embarrassing."
(Image originally uploaded by nata2; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Things I Learned from FAIR This Week

Rightist press barons like Henry Luce and William Randolph Hearst helped to turn Billy Graham from an obscure preacher into an evangelical celebrity—Hearst, for example, commanding his editors in 1949 to "Puff Graham." Sounds vaguely dirty, doesn't it?

The Bush election team in 1999 got some major newspapers to agree to do puff pieces on Bush's tax plan, offering them early access to it on the condition that they not show it to any outside analysts—such as economists or accountants who might, you know, verify that the claims about it were correct. Oh, that liberal media.

ABC News is running a five-part series on "NASCAR in Primetime" which even the New York Times notes has pretty much nothing new to say about NASCAR—though it does drum up added attention for a sport carried by ABC Sports and ESPN, two of ABC News's siblings in the Disney corporate family. Gee, what a coincidence.

Yankee Guiliani

Via Progressive Review, we see that Rudy Guiuliani actually spent more time at Yankees games than he did Ground Zero:
Meanwhile, Salon shows how Giuliani used his time: "By our count, Giuliani spent about 58 hours at Yankees games or flying to them in the 40 days between Sept. 25 and Nov. 4, roughly twice as long as he spent at ground zero in the 60 days between Sept. 17 and Dec. 16. By his own standard, Giuliani was one of the Yankees more than he was one of the rescue workers."
To go with Lobbyist Fred Thompson, can we start calling him Yankee Giuliani now? That'll go over really big in some of the areas where he's hoping that his 9/11 mythology and tough talk on terra will help him beat Pretty Mitt.

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #5073

Dang ol' bloggity-blog Blogger was bloggered when I was trying to blog yesterday, dangit.

Some coaches are, um, more helpful than others. "Now what you're gonna want to do here, basically, is go faster than the other horses, see?"
(Image originally uploaded by blackdog pro fishing; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Weekly Random Flickr Blogging, #1325

Rough goings this week. I feel kinda like this guy.

Ying Yang is the Mickey Rourke of pandas. "Ow, my head..." *sip* "Who the hell was I induced to mate with last night?"
(Image originally uploaded by Erin Kelleher; Random Flickr Blogging explained here.)


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #3221

Psychedelic beach ball: $5.

Assortment of modernist knock-offs: $500.

Wardrobe from the Generik collection: Priceless.

(Image originally uploaded by brianfey; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #4634

This is for yesterday, sorry.

Pshaw. Corporate flunky. Real rockers rock among. Or despite. Or betwixt. Or notwithstanding. Or sometimes even pursuant to.
(Image originally uploaded by greeneyzblu2; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #5297

Most versions of the Santa mythos ignore or downplay his ability to ward off intruders with an intimidating ventral display.
(Image originally uploaded by Kotaro Ono; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


When In Doubt, Marginalize

I see that Michael O'Hanlon has responded to Glenn Greenwald's calm, rational, respectful criticisms of his writings, his views, his media appearances as a supposed critic of the war who's now seen the light, etc.—with the kind of words usually used to dismiss a liar or a lunatic:

“Well, I don’t have high regard for the kind of journalism that Mr. Greenwald has carried out here,” O’Hanlon said. “I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time rebutting Mr. Greenwald because he’s had frankly more time and more readership than he deserves.”
Well now: all Mr. Greenwald has done is to take the time to examine O'Hanlon's own voluminous pro-war, pro-surge writings and use them as evidence to show that the portrayal of O'Hanlon in the media as some kind of "war critic" is mistaken at best and deceitful at worst. Greenwald also brought forward some highly relevant but largely ignored facts about how the recent O'Hanlon/Pollack "tour" of Iraq was orchestrated and organized by the U.S. military—which raises obvious questions about how "independent" their assessments were. In doing all of this, Greenwald has been nothing but calm, reasonable, and respectful. He has backed up his assertions with evidence, and he has not resorted to name-calling, abuse, or insult—unless one thinks that the very act of rationally criticizing a member of the opinion-making elite constitutes abuse.

Is that what O'Hanlon thinks? What exactly does he mean by "the kind of journalism that Mr. Greenwald has carried out here"? That's awfully vague. What exactly is wrong with what Greenwald did? Did he get key facts wrong? Did he misquote someone? Did he make stuff up? Did he lie? If so, it should be easy for a well-heeled think-tanker like O'Hanlon to provide appropriately damning specifics that would put yon upstart Greenwald in his place. Where are they?

And pray tell: how much readership does Glenn Greenwald deserve, exactly? Is there a definite number x that represents how many readers he deserves? Should we install a meter or something on his blog that will cut off access once he's had x number of readers—or that will at least warn visitors if they come along after x has been reached so that they can choose to click away rather than (*shudder*) exceed his deserved-attention quota? Does Brookings have something like this in the works? I wouldn't be surprised.

Think-tankers must pine for the good old days, before the internet, when it was so much easier to get away with consent-manufacturing bullshit like passing off officially choreographed PR exercises as objective research trips, passing off longtime war cheerleaders as war critics, etc. Most of the media still goes obligingly along with this kind of Potemkin journalism, but thanks to the internet, critically inclined citizens have more and more places where they can go for a peek behind the curtain. And all the pundits, bobbleheads, and think-tankers can do about it, apparently, is chafe—and make vaguely disparaging remarks about their critics, no doubt hoping that this will divert further attention and keep them safely marginalized.

Well, if there's more than one kind of scoundrel, it stands to figure that there's more than one kind of last refuge, too.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #7900

Episode XVII


There is unrest in the Imperial Forces. Countless troopers are tired of the monotonous food and having their throats crushed at a distance by petulant Sith Lords and whatnot.

Hoping to improve morale, Imperial commanders have scheduled a series of well-supervised recreational events for their disgruntled soldiers.

Happy to don casual dress at last, the men of the 478th Stormtrooper Detachment file obediently onto their tour buses and immediately begin pestering officers with choruses of "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

(Image originally uploaded by Zendrag0n; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

Oh, a Made-For-TV Leftist

One of my favorite lines in one of my favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is in their savaging of the lame 1970 airport movie San Francisco International. There's a scene in which mellow-macho airport cop Clu Gulagher is investigating an altercation at a snack counter or something; the aggrieved party is a blubbering reactionary businessman who has filled Clu Gulagher's well-coiffed head with tales of how he was brutally assaulted for no reason by a dirty, smelly, evil, longhaired hippie guy. Determined in his mellowness to hear both sides of the story, Clu Gulagher invites the hippie guy into his office. In walks a stereotypically bedenimed, befringed, beatifically smiling, handsome young countercultural dreamboat, prompting Mike to quip, with typical MST perfect timing, "Oh, a made-for-TV hippie."

That is exactly what came to mind when I noticed FAIR going after Mark Shields for a typical recent NewsHour performance wherein this "TV leftist" dutifully bashed Democrats for sucking up to "coddled interest groups." While some of the NewsHour's segments are quite good, there are few more annoying spectacles on Earth than those "perspective" segments where they trot out David "Iraq is the Battle of Midway in the War on Terror" Brooks, pair him with some wimpy, mushy made-for-TV "leftist" like Mark Shields or E.J. Dionne, and have cockroach-eyed Jim Lehrer feed them lame questions to which they reply with bucketloads of spin, conventional wisdom, and banalities. Veritable emetics in video form, they are.

Mind you, your average made-for-TV leftist is a step up from your average Fox Democrat, but that's not saying much.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #1989

The hills are alive with the sound of—Buster.
(Image originally uploaded by blukeg; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Thursday, August 16, 2007


My friend jules's new kitten, Maxxine, is growing like a weed. She's quite the aggressive little thing, too.

(If these suck, it's because I'm something of a Paint Shop Pro newbie and have scarcely begun learning my way around that daunting collection of menus, palettes, tools, bells, whistles, etc.)


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #7756

A Hipster Runs Through It.
(Image originally uploaded by buttebig; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Weekly Random Flickr Blogging, #1844: Thus Flickrblogged Zarathustra

When I hear the number 1844, the first thing that comes to mind is "the year Nietzsche was born." I didn't find this week's random results very inspiring, but I did find this alpine scene; Nietzsche probably gazed out upon something quite similar at various points in his life:

This is out the side of the house but you just missed the Übermensch going round to the back of the house.
(Image originally uploaded by Lonely driver; Random Flickr Blogging explained here.)


The Magic Helmet Party

C&L points us to fellow America's Wang-er Blast Off!, who notes that the folks behind The Political Compass have subjected the 2008 presidential candidates to their test, which seeks to place takers on a grid based not just on traditional left/right economic views but also on how socially libertarian or socially authoritarian they are. I wish I could say the results (which I'm sure are quibbleable to some degree), particularly for the Democrats, are surprising, but they're not—at least to anyone who no longer buys the standard "acceptable range of debate" framing in our current media-driven politics:

What's cool, though, is to compare the 2008 candidates' results with those the Compass people got for some famous composers:

Why, look who's up there in Wagner country. Now, whenever I hear any of 'em speak, I'm going to hear this in the background:

Good thing, too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


What will come of it remains to be seen, but there's a viral push afoot for a general strike on 9/11/07.

I learned of this from the good Sam Smith, who quotes a Scoop (New Zealand) article which notes that general strikes are not unknown in the U.S.—despite the best efforts of many to strip the word strike of any meaning outside of baseball or bowling:

The Seattle general strike of 1919 is the first known city-wide general strike in U.S. history. Failing to get promised wage increases, 35,000 ship yard workers were joined by 25,000 other Seattle union members for a 6 day work stoppage. The 60,000 workers and their families represented a huge portion of Seattle's 315,000 populations at the time.

The most recent U.S. general strike occurred on May 1, 2006 when millions of Latinos hit the streets across the country. The Latino population once, known as the sleeping giant of American politics, awoke that day in a national effort that shocked and awed the U.S. political elite. . .

What do you suppose will happen if it starts to look like 20% or so of the American population will actually stay home, call in sick, take to the streets, etc. on 9/11/07? Terrorist scare? Terrorist attack? White girl gone missing? Paris Hilton gone missing? Paris Hilton gone lesbian?

Hmm. Michael Jackson hasn't been heard from in a while...

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #2139

As I struggled to read this message of peace, calm, and relaxation, my brow knit with tension and my blood pressure shot up several points. Call the Nobel Committee—I've discovered antimantra!
(Image originally uploaded by darlene is evil; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I've Got a Bad Feeling About This One

Tropical Storm Dean:

Update: The models now have Dean smashing through the Caribbean and across the Yucatan before heading into the Gulf, so we in America's Wang are breathing a little easier.

Meanwhile, opinion seems divided as to the specifics of "the Dean Scream." My friend jules and Atrios say it goes "YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEARRRGH!" while Wikipedia renders it as "Byaaah!!!" While I am somewhat dubious about the initial B, I have to agree with Wikipedia on the absence of R or G from Dean's, um, ejaculation. But never mind. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to rush over to Wikipedia and change it to "Throatwobbler Mangrove."

Don't Say "Mattress"

I couldn't resist pointing out a couple of things I found while catching up with FAIR's Media Views recently. First, Glenn Beck brings the shill:

NEW YORK -- In the first ever on-air pitch for one of its advertisers, CNN Headline News talk show host Glenn Beck recently plugged one of his radio show sponsors -- Select Comfort mattresses.

Despite the long-standing journalistic practice of keeping news free of commercial messages to preserve editorial integrity, a Headline News spokesman noted that Beck's show is a "point-of-view" program and not a traditional newscast.

"Select Comfort is Glenn Beck's/Headline News' first and only advertiser to have an on-air entitlement, and it's specifically targeted for his show," the spokesman said. "The advertiser has a relationship with Glenn Beck that extends beyond his Headline News program."

The spokesman, however, said that Headline News will continue to "evaluate advertiser interest" in similar types of arrangements for Beck as well as other select Headline News shows such as "Nancy Grace" and "Showbiz Tonight." CNN has never had any on-air pitches during any of its shows, the spokesman said.

Hey: didn't the shameless, amoral, power-hungry crypto-fascist huckster Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd also shill mattresses on TV at one point? Why, I believe he did. Thank you, gods of irony.

Will Lower National IQ for Food
Second, Dean Baker replies to some typical "free trade" ho'in with some sweet analogyjitsu:
NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof apparently believes that he would benefit if the United States had access to a huge supply of foreign columnists who could write as good or better than him and who would be willing to work at a fraction of his salary. That is effectively what he is arguing in his column today when he says that low-income families benefit from being able to obtain cheap imports from China.

Of course low-income families benefit from being able to buy cheaper imported goods, just as Mr. Kristof would be able to pay less for his newspaper and for the products that are advertised there, if NYT columnists would work for $15,000 a year. But, he would lose far more from having to accept a lower salary as a result of foreign competition, just as less educated workers are likely to lose out as a result of being placed in direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world.

The column also includes gratuitous name-calling (the term "protectionist" is used repeatedly) and the use of the term "free trade" when "trade" would be more appropriate. Where are those Chinese columnists when you need them?

Nah, we don't need to outsource punditry. I'd bet that in few short years, we'll have an AI program capable of producing Maureen Dowd columns that are completely indistinguishable from the "real thing." Friedman, Medved, Cal Thomas, etc. won't be far behind.

"John Stossel led the way by outsourcing his soul years ago, Brit."

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #6651

Don't ask about the notorious interview with Terry Gross.
(Image originally uploaded by motelheidi; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Legal Matters

There's a couple of interesting bits of legal news in the papers this morning. First, Judge Reggie Walton—he of Scooter Libby decision fame—has ordered five reporters to testify about who in the government leaked information to them about Dr. Stephen J. Hatfill, once the big suspect in the 2001 anthrax mailings:

The reporters — Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman of Newsweek; Allan Lengel of The Washington Post; Toni Locy, formerly of USA Today; and James Stewart, formerly of CBS News — have acknowledged receiving information from the Justice Department and the F.B.I. about Dr. Hatfill, the judge, Reggie B. Walton, wrote in his decision yesterday. But they have refused to name their sources.

Judge Walton, of the Federal District Court in Washington, said Dr. Hatfill was entitled to the sources’ names because “the information sought is clearly central to his Privacy Act claims.”

“Denying civil litigants access to the identity of government officials who have allegedly leaked information to reporters would effectively leave Privacy Act violations immune from judicial condemnation,” Judge Walton wrote, “while leaving potential leakers virtually undeterred from engaging in such misbehavior.”

The reporters are not defendants in the suit but are likely to face contempt sanctions if they fail to comply with Judge Walton’s order.

Hmmm—the right of reporters to protect the anonymity of their sources vs. the duty to punish officials who abuse that anonymity by using the media to harass people extralegally: on which side lies justice? Normally, I'd have a default setting in favor of press freedom, but the recent years have provided a number of case studies in how the mainstream media functions increasingly as an arm of government power rather than a check on it. I tend to agree with the good folks at FAIR that "protecting the identities of confidential sources is a journalistic right that should be recognized by the courts, but only when it protects genuine whistle-blowers, not when it shields government wrongdoing." It'll be interesting to see what happens with this case.

Second, a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit is hearing arguments on the EFF case involving AT&T and that too-little-known "secret room" in San Francisco (and possibly many other secret rooms in other places) where a former AT&T technician says that the NSA installed tapping gear that could basically vacuum up a copy of everything passing through that very busy internet node.

But the lawsuit against AT&T, filed in early 2006, appears to provide the most detailed description of how the NSA gained access to a portion of this data stream, drawn from the Internet. The plaintiffs have argued in court documents that the practices used in San Francisco probably were used with telephone communications, also.

The allegations by Mark Klein, who worked for AT&T's WorldNet Service, underscore the government's dependence on major telecommunications providers to physically tap optic fibers that carry electronic signals around the globe. Some of the evidence also suggests that the NSA efforts were not limited to overseas e-mail communications and included the collection of purely domestic traffic.

The secret 24-by-48-foot room described by Klein was on the sixth floor of a building at 611 Folsom St. in San Francisco. Klein said the NSA "special project" was well known to the small community of company technicians, and he has provided internal documents to the court describing the "cuts" that were required to split Internet traffic and route a signal to the servers and other equipment in the room.

Klein said that he worked closely with the only two technicians who had been cleared to enter the room and that he entered briefly when he was invited to look at a cable problem. Access to the room was so restricted that, in 2003, employees had to wait days to fix an industrial air conditioner that was leaking water onto the floor below, Klein says.

Klein provided a detailed list of 16 communications networks and exchanges targeted in San Francisco, including MAE-West, a Verizon-owned Internet hub that is among the largest in the country. Klein also said "splitter cabinets" similar to the one on Folsom Street were installed in Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.


James X. Dempsey, policy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the evidence gleaned from the AT&T case appears to confirm that "there is a massive surveillance capability built into the network" by the federal government. But, Dempsey added, "the mere fact that the capability has been built and utilized still does not answer the fundamental question -- has it been exercised under constitutional parameters? That, in a way, is what these cases are trying to get to."

The Ninth is the court that the right-wingers love to hate, so if they stand up for judicial oversight of government surveillance powers, then get ready to hear about how they're terrorist-loving, God-hating, America-betraying, etc. from the usual Good Germans.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #5178

The Bellagio! Suddenly I feel an overpowering hunger for shrimp cocktail.
(Image originally uploaded by Patrick1019; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #0181 (2)

For the past week or so I've been using a new method. Since there's sometimes five digits' worth of results pages for each IMG_ number, I've taken to looking at the total number of results (given on the first search page) and dividing by 24 (the number of photos on each full page) to get the total number of pages for that IMG_ number; then, I use my random number generator to pull two- or three-digit numbers (whichever is appropriate), one at a time, and whenever one of those is within the range of available pages, I go to it. I look only at pages supplied by the random number generator. One nice consequence of this new method is that I usually wind up looking at pages from all over the available range (and I've seen numbers with almost a thousand pages of photos) rather than just a few at the beginning. Sometimes this results in a flood of promising photos; sometimes it doesn't. Today was a bit rough—and it was also my first repeat number. Whether the results were worth it or not, I dunno, but if not, hey, you can have your free back.

By odd cross-cultural coincidence, the Vitarka Mudrā is also the international symbol for "When."
(Image originally uploaded by privin; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #8157

And here I'd thought "Passionfruit Vanilla Gelato" was one of the Zappa kids.
(Image originally uploaded by barrettjones; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


The Big Muddy

There are worse persons to be on the same wavelength with than Douglas Adams. Again via the Progressive Review, I see that the Flying Squid Blog has helpfully posted some excerpts from Last Chance to See, Adams's only non-fiction book, in which he wrote about his travels around the world looking for survivors of the most endangered species on the planet. One of the species he went looking for was the Yangtze River Dolphin, and I see that he too was deeply moved by the thought of what a hellish world the dolphin now found itself in:

Since man invented the engine, the baiji's river world must have become a complete nightmare.

China has a pretty poor road system. It has railways, but they don't go everywhere, so the Yangtze (which in China is called the Chang Jiang, or 'Long River') is the country's main highway. It's crammed.with boats the whole time, and always has been – but they used to be sailing boats. Now the river is constantly churned up by the engines of rusty old tramp steamers, container ships, giant ferries, passenger liners and barges.

I said to Mark, 'It must be continuous bedlam under the water.'


'I said, it's hard enough for us to talk in here with this band going on, but it must be continuous bedlam under the water.'

`Is that what you've been sitting here thinking all this time?


`I thought you'd been quiet.'

'I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be a blind man trying to live in a discotheque. Or several competing discotheques.'

`Well, it's worse than that, isn't it? Mark said. 'Dolphins rely on sound to see with.'

'All right, so it would be like a deaf man living in a discotheque.'


'All the stroboscopic lights and flares and mirrors and lasers and things. Constantly confusing information. After a day or two you'd become completely bewildered and disoriented and start to fall over the furniture.'

`Well, that's exactly what's happening, in fact. The dolphins are continually being hit by boats or mangled in their propellers or tangled in fishermen's nets. A dolphin's echolocation is usually good enough for it to find a small ring on the sea bed, so things must be pretty serious if it can't tell that it's about to be brained by a boat.

`Then, of course, there's all the sewage, the chemical and industrial waste and artificial fertiliser that's being washed into the Yangtze, poisoning the water and poisoning the fish.'

`So,' I said, 'what do you do if you are either half-blind, or half-deaf, living in a discotheque with a stroboscopic light show, where the sewers are overflowing, the ceiling and the fans keep crashing on your head and the food is bad?'

'I think I'd complain to the management.'

'They can't.'

'No. They have to wait for the management to notice.'


The sound we heard wasn't exactly what I had expected. Water is a very good medium for the propagation of sound and I had expected to hear clearly the heavy, pounding reverberations of each of the boats that had gone thundering by us as we stood on the deck. But water transmits sound even better than that, and what we were hearing was everything that was happening in the Yangtze for many, many miles around, jumbled cacophonously together.

Instead of hearing the roar of each individual ship's propeller, what we heard was a sustained shrieking blast of pure white noise, in which nothing could be distinguished at all.


He said that, yes, we were right. The noise in the Yangtze was a major problem for the dolphins, and severely interfered with their echolocation. The dolphins' habit had always been, when they heard a boat, to make a long dive, change direction underwater, swim under the boat and surface behind it. Now, when they are under the boat, they get confused and surface too soon, right under the propellers.

These things had all happened very suddenly, he said. The Yangtze had remained unspoilt for millions of years, but over the last few years had changed very dramatically, and the dolphin had no habit of adaptation.


As I watched the wind ruffling over the bilious surface of the Yangtze I realised with the vividness of shock, that somewhere beneath or around me there were intelligent animals whose perceptive universe we could scarcely begin to imagine, living in a seething, poisoned, deafening world, and that their lives were probably passed in continual bewilderment, hunger, pain and fear.

Yes. If the poor things had a concept of Hell, they must have wondered whether they were in it.

At the Another Chance To See blog (inspired in part by Adams's work), though, I see that the leader of the research team is still hopeful—indeed, "confident"—that that survey missed some baiji amidst the vastness of the Yangtze and its tributaries and that the species is thus not totally gone. Perhaps. Another Chance also has some nice BBC footage of the things, swimming every bit as gracefully as the bottlenose dolphins I'd occasionally see sporting about and chasing mullet (it was a fish before it was a hairstyle) in the saltwater lakes and rivers around here when I was growing up.

Alas that footage and fossils may be all that is left of them.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #9802

Vladimir Horowitz was running a little late that day.
(Image originally uploaded by boucjett; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


Thursday, August 09, 2007

His Masters' Voice

Those of you who have been following the work of the still-reporting member of Team Aluminum Tubes, Michael Gordon, via the redoubtable Glenn Greenwald and others: be sure not to miss his testy exchange with Amy Goodman back in March of 2006. To put it mildly, Gordon doesn't seem to have a lot of patience with the "alternative media"—or, hey, maybe he's just projecting:

AMY GOODMAN: Let me just ask something on that. Are you sorry you did the piece? Are you sorry that this piece --

MICHAEL GORDON: No, I'm not. I mean, what – I don't know if you understand how journalism works, but the way journalism works is you write what you know, and what you know at the time you try to convey as best you can, but then you don't stop reporting.

Nah, silly Amy Goodman knows nothing about how journalism works. Yeesh. Anyway, listen, watch, or read the whole thing if you're curious.

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #1346: Baiji Memorial Flickr Blogging

After watching the Shuttle launch last night, I was catching up at Sam Smith's ever-informative Progressive Review when I ran across something that made me feel tremendously sad, and I'm not sure that I understand why:

After more than 20 million years on the planet, the Yangtze river dolphin is today officially declared extinct, the first species of cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise) to be driven from this planet by human activity.

An intensive six-week search by an international team of marine biologists involving two boats that ploughed up and down the world's busiest river last December failed to find a single specimen.

Today, the scientific report of that expedition, published in the peer-reviewed journal of the Royal Society, Biology Letters, confirms the dolphin known as the baiji or white-fin in Chinese and celebrated for its pale skin and distinctive long snout, has disappeared.

To blame for its demise is the increasing number of container ships that use the Yangtze, as well as the fishermen whose nets became an inadvertent hazard.

This is no ordinary extinction of the kind that occurs frequently in a world of millions of still-evolving species. The Yangtze freshwater dolphin was a remarkable creature that separated from all other species so many millions of years ago, and had become so distinct, that it qualified as a mammal family in its own right. It is the first large vertebrate to have become extinct for 50 years and only the fourth entire mammal family to disappear since the time of Columbus, when Europeans began their colonisation of the world.

Several other species are "just hanging on" in the Yangtze and could disappear within a few years unless action is taken now, Dr Turvey warned. They include the Chinese alligator, the finless porpoise and the Chinese paddlefish, which grows up to 7m long but has not been seen since 2003.


The object of last December's expedition was to rescue any baiji found and remove them to a 21km-long oxbow lake in the nature reserve of Tian'ezhou for an intensive breeding programme. Each of the two boats operated independently with scientists scanning the water with binoculars - dolphins have to surface to breathe - and listening with hyprophones for the distinctive whistles. Despite the technology, they found nothing.

"We used a very intensive survey technique. Both of the boats counted the same number of porpoises - we saw everything that was there. We didn't see a single dolphin," Dr Turvey said.

The cause of the freshwater dolphin's demise was instead all too plain to the investigators. It had become a victim of the world's most populous country's race to get richer. One tenth of the world's population live in the Yangtze river basin. During the expedition, scientists counted 19,830 ships on the 1,669km of the river they surveyed - one large freight vessel every 800m.

The Yangtze dolphin navigated by sonar - its eyes are useless in the murky water - but in a motorway jammed with container ships, coal barges and speed boats, its sonar was deafened and it ran a high risk of being hit or torn by propellers.

An even greater threat came from the nets and 1,000m lines of hooks used by fishermen.

Although they did not intend to catch dolphins, the creatures became entangled in the nets or lacerated by the bare hooks - almost half of all dead baiji found in the past few decades have died in this way. In addition, pollution had fouled their natural habitat and completion of the Three Gorges Dam worsened the decline in smaller fish on which the baiji fed.

"We didn't see a single dolphin." I'm not sure why, but that sentence makes me feel a profound sadness. It's only a single species, after all, and countless thousands before it have gone extinct, whether at the hand of evolution, catastrophe, or man. Hell, when I was playing in the beachside palmetto scrub as a kid, it's possible that I saw one of the last surviving Dusky Seaside Sparrows—not that I'd have known what I was looking at, or why it mattered. Maybe it was because, as I read the account of how the dolphin's mighty river home had become clogged with ships and hooks and noise and nets, I found myself wondering whether the baiji had a concept of Hell—and whether the remnants of their kind thought they were in it.

Some ironies are just cruel:

Mindful of the dolphin's crucial symbolic importance, and keen to replicate the success at breeding endangered species it had with giant pandas, the Chinese government set up a reserve in a lake in central Hubei province to look after baiji. But they were too late - there were no dolphins left to start an artificial propagation programme.
"Mindful?!? Ha. Keep going the way you're going and one day you'll all be hanging on for dear life, too. Idiots."
(Image originally uploaded by Keith - 100mm; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)


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