Friday, January 30, 2009

When I'm Weary, Feeling Small

When I get depressed about American politics over the next few years, I'm going to try to remember the striking difference between these two photographs (h/t Attaturk).


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #6600

For a change, I'll post early for tomorrow in case I'm offline, which I might be.

February, 2003. In an all-time PR coup, pita sales skyrocket after the Competitive Flatbreads Institute's campaign contributions pay off in a Congressional resolution renaming them "Freedom Buns."
(Image originally uploaded by mswine; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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I Have Long Considered Jessica Alba Attractive

But after reading of her magnificent takedown of Bill O'Reilly and his ambush droids, I now officially consider her hot.


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #9903

Frankly, I'm surprised that there's even a market for Beach-Lax.
(Image originally uploaded by Beer+Photo=Life; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Jesus. H. Crucible.

Behold Sarah Palin's America:

TULSA, OK--In a case reminiscent of the Salem Witch trials, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma today filed a federal lawsuit charging that school officials violated 15-year-old Brandi Blackbear's rights when they accused her of casting a hex that resulted in a teacher's illness.
School officials. In Oklahoma.

Think that a teacher got sick because of a hex.

Cast by a 15-year-old witch.

School officials in Oklahoma believe that illness can be caused by witchcraft.

I don't know what's scarier: the thought that school officials really believe that a 15-year-old girl cast a spell that made a teacher sick or the thought that this is just a lame excuse for a troglodtye majority to beat up on Someone Who's Different:

In its legal complaint filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, the ACLU said that school officials not only suspended Blackbear for 15 days in December 1999 for allegedly casting spells, but also violated her religious freedom when they told her that she could not wear or draw in school any symbols related to the Wicca religion.

The ACLU lawsuit also accuses school officials of violating the young woman's due process rights when, in the spring of 1999, they suspended her for 19 days over the content of private writings taken from her book bag. Officials had searched her possessions based on a rumor that Blackbear was carrying a gun, although no weapon of any sort was ever found. To date, school officials have not returned Blackbear's writings to her.

Before these incidents, the ACLU complaint said, Brandi Blackbear had no discipline problems and had a perfect attendance record. Since being accused, she has "suffered continuous ridicule and humiliation," and "become an outcast among her fellow students," according to the complaint. She has also fallen behind in her school work because of the suspensions.

(h/t Pharyngula)


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #3293

For yesterday, sorry.

In a welcome respite from the wave of economic bad news plaguing the country, the Foot Locker nearest to George W. Bush's new house is reporting record sales. It's like they say: location, location, location.
(Image originally uploaded by bootnief1; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton. Speaking of shoes, this is one of the funniest things I have ever seen.)

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From the Appropriate Symbolism Department

Dear Republicans,

I'm sure you're excited that Sarah Palin has created her own political action committee:

However, is "a big Alaska-shaped hole in America" really the message you want to send? I mean, I think it's pretty on the nose, but not for reasons you'd find congenial.

Sincerely,

--nash


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #3748

"I must respectfully reject any aesthetic which leaves no room for the lava lamp," a resolute Kwong Hao said to the manager, and then he walked off into the sunset.
(Image originally uploaded by Hotrodguru; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton. For more see IKEAAAAGH!)

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I Love My Senators—NOT

As if the missive from Republican Mel Martinez wasn't depressing enough, check out this from my Democratic senator (emphasis added):

Thank you for contacting me about recent events in the Gaza Strip. I share your concern about violence in the Middle East and know that the new administration will put the Israeli-Palestinian situation at the top of its agenda.

Maximum care must always be taken to minimize civilian casualties. I believe that the U.S. should work in support of an enforceable and sustainable long-term agreement that denies Hamas the ability to launch rockets out of Gaza and protects the lives of all civilians.

I will continue to monitor the situation closely and will keep your views in mind when making any future decisions on this issue. If you have any additional concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Hey, Major Tom: would it kill either of you fine public servants to show at least some small amount of concern for, oh, Israel's use of white phosphorus in crowded civilian areas? Among other things, they hit a UN compound and burned down a warehouse full of desperately needed relief supplies, you know. Will you get barred from the Capitol Subway or something if you show even a tiny amount of concern about such things? Who do you people work for, anyway? 'cause most Americans I know think there's at least as much wrong with firing white phosphorus into cities as there is firing rockets into them. Why are you people so outraged about the latter but so quiescent about the former?

And should the rest of us be worried that this odd form of moral blindness might be catching?


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #1941

For yesterday. A haiku:

Urgent: dump shares of
Zen Waffle House. Can hear sound
of one stock tanking.
(Image originally uploaded by bakagaijiin; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Sounds about Right

Michael Massing has a nice overview of the buckets of troglodyte spittle thrown at Barack Obama so far (h/t News Dissector). The whole thing is worth perusing if you can stand it, but for me, this line stood out:

The National Review Online came to resemble a barnyard, in which strutting roosters spent their days hooting and hollering while littering the ground with manure.
Indeed. They often strike me more as children than as animals—I've come to think of it National Kiddie Table—but I guess the lack of adult rationality is common to both.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #0568

No organization attracts the ire of talk radio quite like Planned Mermaidhood.
(Image originally uploaded by kellybevan; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Those Were the Days

I meant to mention: for those sufficiently nostalgic or masochistic, the ProRev says Bye-Bye Bush and maintains a copious Bush File just brimming with examples of all the incompetence and venality that made the last eight years so special.

Almost a week now without him. I still half-expect to wake up and find out it was all a dream.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #4025

September, 1969. A rowdy—and incontinent—crowd at the Isle of Wight forces the BBC to reconsider its policy of promoting Doctor Who at music festivals.
(Image originally uploaded by fruitforbrunch; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Europeanize It

So Mitch McConnell is worried that the Employee Free Choice Act "will fundamentally harm America and Europeanize America."

Yeah, you can see how Europe presents a terrifying spectacle, what with its centuries of culture, its high standards of living, its widespread access to education and health care, its extensive systems of public transportation, its greater levels of social and economic equality, etc. etc. etc.

Dear President Obama: please stop listening to these people. Many of them are ignorant; quite a few are insane; and a not inconsiderable number are simply shameless liars in the service of regression and oligarchy. If you leave America more like contemporary Europe than you found it, then I am confident that history will remember you kindly—far more so than it will remember men like your predecessor and pink, pasty Mitch McConnell.

No Serge Gainsbourg, though. I draw the line there.


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #7412

For yesterday, sorry.

Jacques Cousteau's The Brothers Karamazov had to be abandoned after "Ivan" and "Alyosha" proved as unwilling as "Dmitri" to buckle down for rehearsals and resist the allure of a good frolic.
(Image originally uploaded by litomerc; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Feelin' That Way, Too

Michael Tomasky, on Obama's apparent willingness to ditch the ridiculous "war on terror" rhetoric that's covered up so much stupidity and so much evil for so many years:

Bravo. And of course it logically follows that if we're not in a perpetual state of war, the executive can't arrogate to itself limitless power for unspecified periods of time.

I live at the same address I always did, but I've moved back into the United States of America.

Amen. And don't miss this overview of Obama's first 100 hours. Ending torture, encouraging FOIA requests, overturning the Gag Rule—I'd forgotten what it was like to contemplate the actions of my president and not feel a mix of shock, shame, and outrage. These new emotions...so confusing.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #9904

"Just because the wasteland I'm crossing is post-apocalyptic doesn't mean I have to be post-FABULOUS."
(Image originally uploaded by jktales; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sign of Hope?

The Nation has up a nice slideshow of images from Inauguration Day. The third photo and caption are particularly interesting:

In his first official action, Obama signs a proclamation declaring Tuesday a national day of renewal and reconciliation. When reporters remarked that he was left-handed, the President replied, "Get used to it." (Reuters Photos)
Oh my. Please let that be double entendre rather than a single one. Please, please, please.

This one is also kinda cool:

Pete Seeger's disappointing—and oddly timed—screen test for Evita.

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #7245

Amsterdam Gothic
(Image originally uploaded by Velogrrl; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Hey, the Grass is Crunchy this Morning

You don't see that a lot around here.

Yeah, Melbourne International Airport: where "International" means "Bahamas."


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Magnificent Moment of Zen

The Daily Show gives some propers to the people who have provided such fertile material for eight years' worth of comedy and indignation:

Goodbye and good riddance.


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #8485

plink...plink

plink...plink

plinkplink plinkplink plinkplink plinkplink
plinkplink plinkplink plinkplink plinkplink
plink-plink-plink

(The Jaws theme on ukulele, ladies and gentlemen.)

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

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Slumlord Millionaire

Somehow the resemblance did not occur to me—Attaturk's was the first place I saw it pointed out—but I think Michael Tomasky has the best line on yesterday's wheelchair-bound Cheney:

As many have observed, Cheney in his wheelchair resembled no one so much as Mr. Potter in the later scenes of It's a Wonderful Life. Makes you wonder whether he stole some TARP money on the way out the door.
I'd be harsher than Tomasky when it comes to Rick Warren, though. As I listened to him, I was thinking that you could draw a ten-mile radius around most any house in America and probably find within it half a dozen working preachers, ministers, priests, rabbis, etc. who could have a given a far more elegant (and more ecumenical, as the occasion demanded) invocation. Why on Earth that guy is famous at all remains a mystery to me.


RIP GYWO

This actually makes me kinda sad.

Of all the weird cultural upwellings that helped to make the last eight years endurable, Get Your War On is certainly way up there. Thanks and kudos, David Rees.


Headlines That Do Not Inspire Confidence

World's oldest weapons-grade plutonium found in a ditch

Apparently, at the Hanford Nuclear Site, in an old glass jar in a rusty old safe in a ditch, they found Plutonium-239 dating back to December 1944.

I'd make a joke about a "blast from the past" if the thought that even the experts didn't know that stuff like this was just lying around in ditches wasn't, you know, kinda scary.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #2093: Chïmperdämmerung

Free at last!

I'm busy as heck today and haven't had much of a chance to watch the festivities, but I did just see the swearing-in. I have now lived to see (a) George W. Bush finally out of office and (b) the first black President of the United States. It is a good day.

I don't know if it's the weather (freeze warnings tonight even in central Florida), the significance of the day, or what, but this photo started one of my favorite Bob Marley songs running through my head. And since I have nothing funny to say today, let's just imagine an alternate universe where Bob and the I-Threes were around to sing this at the Capitol this morning:

In this life, in this life, in this life,
In this, oh sweet life:
We're (we're coming in from the cold);
We're coming in (coming in), coming in (coming in),
coming in (coming in), coming in (coming in),
Coming in from the cold.
(Image originally uploaded by Sarah_Sally; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Monday, January 19, 2009

An MLK Day Memory

It is sometime in the late 1980s, and I am working at a small, struggling family-owned print shop in the Atlanta area. The shop is owned by a sweet, unassuming middle-class couple who remain among the nicest bosses for whom I have ever worked. Unfortunately, business is bad, and to make ends meet, the couple have taken jobs of their own and ceded management of the shop to an older Southern gent, a devout conservative Christian who, to give him credit, knows a thing or two about the printing business. (Later we would find out that he also knew a thing or two about piratical self-interest: all the while he was supposed to be out drumming up business for the shop, he was acting as a private salesman, taking business to other printers instead, presumably in exchange for a fee. I and others wound up getting laid off thanks in part to this fine Christian man. But who am I to complain? Perhaps Jesus told him to go rogue.) The pressman at the shop is another, younger Christian, but he came by his faith differently: a recovering drug addict, he told harrowing tales of blacked-out debaucheries, piles of cash, and Uzis pointed at his head, the upshot of which was that eventually he had his Road to Damascus moment, found God, and was now a happier, more stable man—though still quite an interesting fellow to talk to. I like him a lot; he is friendly, he has a great sense of humor, and he is a wiz with the printing press. (His talent with the press might well have saved the shop had the manager brought us the business that he skimmed for others.) Oh, and the pressman is married to a former prostitute who has her own thrilling tales of thug life. As workplaces go, it is an interesting one, at least.

Anyway, it is mid-January, and some TV station is showing The Boy King. I am working at the front desk, and I overhear an exchange between the young Christian pressman and the old Christian manager that is forever engraved in my memory:

Pressman (smirkingly): "So, [Manager]: didjoo watch The Boy King last night?"

Manager (scoffingly): "Ain't but one Bo-ah King, and he weren't BLACK."

Let's just say that I learned a few things about conservative Christian businessmen from that job. I don't know whether Manager Man is still alive, but I can guess how horrified he'd be to find that The Boy King entry on Wikipedia takes you to an article on King Tut. And if he is alive and hasn't had some change of heart and mind over the years, I can guess how he's feeling about tomorrow's inauguration.

Forgive me if his imagined pain gives me just a little joy.


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #7374

I never thought I'd hear a version "Total Eclipse of the Heart" that didn't make me want to wretch. And after hearing it on the hurdy gurdy, I still haven't.
(Image originally uploaded by Kai Guo; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Lead Us, Pete

I don't have cable, so I could not have seen this when it happened yesterday. I saw two seconds of it on one of the broadcast-news overviews last night, but I did not get to see it in all its glory until I logged on to the intertubes this morning. Of all the cool things surrounding this inauguration, I think that my favorite may well be watching an 89-year-old Pete Seeger get to do this at the Lincoln Memorial:

The judicious Attaturk zeroed in laserlike on the very three stanzas that I was also delighted to hear. The first made me weep at seven in the morning; the second thrilled me to hear it sung at all, so often is the song sanitized for our suppression (certainly it was missing from the version I remember being made to sing in elementary school); the third sounded like an ancient prayer intoned by an American shaman whose entire life has in some ways been devoted to teaching us how to sing it along with him:

In the squares of the city,
by the shadow of a steeple,
By the relief office,
I saw my people.
As they stood there hungry,
I stood there whispering,
This land made for you and me.

A great high wall there,
tried to stop me,
A great big sign there,
said private property.
But on the other side,
it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living
can ever stop me,
As I go walking
that freedom highway;
Nobody living
can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Amen. I know this fine moment is somewhat at odds with other, less pleasant facts about the inauguration festivities, but please forgive me if I take a moment to savor something good after eight years of so much bad.

I know that the inauguration will be all over the teevee tomorrow, but somehow I think that the best place to watch will be Democracy Now!, which is doing its own special coverage. If the tubes cooperate, I'll try to watch some of their streaming tomorrow; if the tubes don't, I'll check out some of the national MSM broadcast coverage. Either way, let's enjoy Chïmperdämmerung and celebrate the end of an error.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #5726

"I still say we should make the hole deeper. What if future generations should unearth these Vanilla Ice CDs?" "There's no time. Our own exposure has already reached dangerous levels. Hurry, man."
(Image originally uploaded by Patxi64; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Happy National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2009!

Huh? He proclaimed what? For real?

Does this war-mongering, city-drowning, torture-okaying national disgrace have any sense of shame?

Listening to George W. Bush talk about the sanctity of life is like listening to Wilt Chamberlain talk about celibacy.

Chïmperdämmerung can't come fast enough.


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #3806

For yesterday, sorry.

Vin Diesel's Citizen Kane. "Rosebud! Woooooo!"
(Image originally uploaded by magnussveinsson; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Ceasefire!

Now bilateral—awesome news to wake up to this morning.

Certainly the peace process was not going to be furthered by Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL), from whom I recently received a "response to your recent comments." See if you can find the phrase that his staff has got a macro for:

Thank you for letting me know of your concerns regarding the recent outbreak of violence in the Middle East. I appreciate hearing from you.

I strongly condemn Hamas’ unprovoked acts of terrorism that can potentially exacerbate the already high tensions in the region. Since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, more than 6000 rockets launched by Hamas have rained down on innocent Israeli civilians. These actions do not serve the interest of the Palestinian people as they seek to take control of their own destiny. Hamas’ unprovoked acts of terrorism are unacceptable and Israel has the right to defend itself against them.

At the same time, the US is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation of innocent civilians in Gaza, and our nation remains the largest donor of humanitarian relief to them. That assistance includes water, various medical supplies for Gaza’s hospitals, and food stuffs. Additionally, U.S. leaders have consistently urged Israelis to avoid civilian casualties, a difficult task in the face of Hamas’ practice of hiding behind civilians to carry out their terrorist attacks. I am pleased that Israel has facilitated the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza throughout the conflict. I am concerned about reports that Hamas is redirecting some of this aid to care for their own militants.

As always, I appreciate hearing from you. As our nation prepares for the transition to a new administration, I remain hopeful that the current conflict will continue to be closely monitored and that a lasting cease-fire agreement will be reached. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any additional comments or questions. For more information about issues and activities important to Florida, please sign up for my weekly newsletter at http://martinez.senate.gov.

Sincerely,

Mel Martinez
United States Senator

Emphases added; shamelessly pro-Israeli bias in original. No condemnation of the longstanding Israeli blockade on Gaza, no condemnation of Israel's use of white phosphorus in populated areas, no mention of Israel's attacks on UN facilities—between this and Bush's lapdoggishly obedient response to Olmert's phone call, it's enough to make you wonder who Republicans actually work for, I swear. Thankfully, Senator Martinez will be stepping down after this term, and good riddance.

For a palate (and brain) cleanser, listen to or read Dennis Kucinich. More like this, please.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #2798

U R GETING SLEEPY
U R IN MY POWERR
GET CHEEZBURGER NOW
(Image originally uploaded by Ga Music Maker; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Cue Call to Rename Gyros "Freedom Wraps" in 5...4...

The most interesting tidbit I heard on yesterday's Democracy Now! headlines:

Greece Refuses to Host US Weapons Shipment to Israel

Meanwhile, the US has been forced to cancel a weapons shipment to Israel after the Greek government refused to allow it to pass through its ports. The US says it will seek an alternative site.

Reuters says it was 325 containers of ammunition headed to the Israeli port of Ashdod—and ultimately to a U.S. stockpile in Israel which Israel is allowed to access (AFP). ???

I wonder if any of the containers contain white phosphorus shells. Israel seems to be burning through those lately, no sick pun intended.


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #8901

For yesterday, sorry.

Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion House was to have been guarded by a Dymaxion Dog, but this was changed when the beast refused to stay off the Dymaxion Chairs and shredded several expensive pairs of Dymaxion Shoes.
(Image originally uploaded by masrade; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Does Thomas Friedman Have a Soul?

Or did he bargain it away in exchange for the Freddie Mercury mustache?

Update: Matt Taibbi is back! (h/t GYWO) Is it too much to hope that Friedman becomes another casualty of the approaching Chimperdämmerung?


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #5997

When stevedores play poker. "I'll see your seven tons of Ipods and raise you twenty tons of Hello Kitty dolls."
(Image originally uploaded by doobybrain; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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A Good Point for Obama Fretters

Michael Tomasky makes one:

The general point I was trying to make was that Obama, more than many other politicians, may have a goal of X in mind, but he will never state X as his goal. He'll state Y as his goal and let others move him toward X. Then everybody gets to X together. It's good strategy that creates good feelings all around.

One of the most annoying things that's been happening during this transition is that Obama and his team announce such-and-such a thing, and it's not exactly what liberals want, and people start accusing him of being a sell-out and a hypocrite. As Mick said at Altamont, brothers and sisters, cool out. He is a slow and deliberate chess player who conceals his endgame strategy as long as he possibly can. Take it up with your shrinks if you must, but do try to remember that it'll be at least four months before we should start reaching any conclusions.

I admit that things like his relative silence on Gaza, his ominous and all-too-neoconnish mutterings about Iranian nukes, his picks of Rick Warren and Sanjay Gupta, etc. make me very worried, but I'll try to keep this advice in mind and hope that it's all just part of how Obama plays a masterful progressive game in an increasingly troglodyte land. Hope hope hope.


As Seen in Modern Sophist Magazine

Or as would be seen if such a magazine existed, and it probably should, 'cause people like the ones featured in here, and thousands like them all across the country, would happily subscribe to it:

Perhaps the most valuable service performed by The Daily Show is rubbing our collective noses in the existence of people like these.


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #9315

Sorry, busy day, couldn't post yesterday.

William Wegman's Waiting for Godot.
(Image originally uploaded by kipperpig512; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton. Yes, I know those aren't Weimaraners. Shut up.)

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Jail is for COMMON Criminals

People charged with EXTRAORDINARY crimes—such as, oh, running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history—have to endure the horrors of...house arrest in luxurious Manhattan apartments:

A federal magistrate on Monday refused a government request that Bernard L. Madoff be jailed until he can be tried on charges of operating a $50 billion global Ponzi scheme, saying that the government had not proved that he was a flight risk or a security risk.

The ruling, by United States Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis, allows Mr. Madoff to remain in his Manhattan apartment, wearing an electronic monitor device and watched around the clock by a security team paid for by his wife.

Dante will have to add another circle to Hell to encompass the torments endured by poor Mr. Madoff, I tell you.


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #2735

Loved ones recoil from the horror that is Grandpa's Watusi.
(Image originally uploaded by frank foehlinger; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Speculative Bubbles as a Way of Life

Truthout has an eye-opening must-read report from 60 Minutes (good on 'em) on why gas prices shot up last spring and summer and then dropped like a rock. Long story short: it was the result of yet another speculative bubble and had little to with supply and demand. Emphases mine:

In a five year period, [hedge fund manager Michael] Masters said the amount of money institutional investors, hedge funds, and the big Wall Street banks had placed in the commodities markets went from $13 billion to $300 billion. Last year, 27 barrels of crude were being traded every day on the New York Mercantile Exchange for every one barrel of oil that was actually being consumed in the United States.

"We talked to the largest physical trader of crude oil. And they told us that compared to the size of the investment inflows - and remember, this is the largest physical crude oil trader in the United States - they said that we are basically a flea on an elephant, that that's how big these flows were," Masters remembered.

Yet when Congress began holding hearings last summer and asked Wall Street banker Lawrence Eagles of J.P. Morgan what role excessive speculation played in rising oil prices, the answer was little to none. "We believe that high energy prices are fundamentally a result of supply and demand," he said in his testimony.

As it turns out, not even J.P. Morgan's chief global investment officer agreed with him. The same that day Eagles testified, an e-mail went out to clients saying "an enormous amount of speculation" ran up the price" [sic] and "140 dollars in July was ridiculous."

If anyone had any doubts, they were dispelled a few days after that hearing when the price of oil jumped $25 in a single day. That day was Sept. 22.

Michael Greenberger, a former director of trading for the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the federal agency that oversees oil futures, says there were no supply disruptions that could have justified such a big increase.

"Did China and India suddenly have gigantic needs for new oil products in a single day? No. Everybody agrees supply-demand could not drive the price up $25, which was a record increase in the price of oil. The price of oil went from somewhere in the 60s to $147 in less than a year. And we were being told, on that run-up, 'It's supply-demand, supply-demand, supply-demand,'" Greenberger said.

A recent report out of MIT, analyzing world oil production and consumption, also concluded that the basic fundamentals of supply and demand could not have been responsible for last year's run-up in oil prices. And Michael Masters says the U.S. Department of Energy's own statistics show that if the markets had been working properly, the price of oil should have been going down, not up.

"From quarter four of '07 until the second quarter of '08 the EIA, the Energy Information Administration, said that supply went up, worldwide supply went up. And worldwide demand went down. So you have supply going up and demand going down, which generally means the price is going down," Masters told Kroft.

"And this was the period of the spike," [60 Minutes correspondent Steve] Kroft noted.

"This was the period of the spike," Masters agreed. "So you had the largest price increase in history during a time when actual demand was going down and actual supply was going up during the same period. However, the only thing that makes sense that lifted the price was investor demand."

Masters believes the investor demand for commodities, and oil futures in particular, was created on Wall Street by hedge funds and the big Wall Street investment banks like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, and J.P. Morgan, who made billions investing hundreds of billions of dollars of their clients' money.

It gets worse. Wall Street banks like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are behind the price spike—and may have generated it to inflate their own profits. Alas, thanks to good old E. coli conservatism, we can't be sure:
Asked if there is price manipulation going on, [president of the Petroleum Marketers Association] Dan Gilligan told Kroft, "I can't say. And the reason I can't say it, is because nobody knows. Our federal regulators don't have access to the data. They don't know who holds what positions."

"Why don't they know?" Kroft asked.

"Because federal law doesn't give them the jurisdiction to find out," Gilligan said.

It's impossible to tell exactly who was buying and selling all those oil contracts because most of the trading is now conducted in secret, with no public scrutiny or government oversight. Over time, the big Wall Street banks were allowed to buy and sell as many oil contracts as they wanted for their clients, circumventing regulations intended to limit speculation. And in 2000, Congress effectively deregulated the futures market, granting exemptions for complicated derivative investments called oil swaps, as well as electronic trading on private exchanges.

And guess which blast from the past is at the root of it all?
"Who was responsible for deregulating the oil future market?" Kroft asked Michael Greenberger.

"You'd have to say Enron," he replied. "This was something they desperately wanted, and they got."

Greenberger, who wanted more regulation while he was at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, not less, says it all happened when Enron was the seventh largest corporation in the United States. "This was when Enron was riding high. And what Enron wanted, Enron got."

Asked why they wanted a deregulated market in oil futures, Greenberger said, "Because they wanted to establish their own little energy futures exchange through computerized trading. They knew that if they could get this trading engine established without the controls that had been placed on speculators, they would have the ability to drive the price of energy products in any way they wanted to take it."

"When Enron failed, we learned that Enron, and its conspirators who used their trading engine, were able to drive the price of electricity up, some say, by as much as 300 percent on the West Coast," he added.

"Is the same thing going on right now in the oil business?" Kroft asked.

"Every Enron trader, who knew how to do these manipulations, became the most valuable employee on Wall Street," Greenberger said.

Read it all or watch it here. Can we start regulating the hell out of the people who "produce" piles of money for themselves and piles of trouble for the rest of us by pushing abstractions around on Wall Street again? Or does even having the thought make me a communist or something?


The Beast is Back

Only 50? Jeez, don't hold back. (h/t Pharyngula)


White Phosphorus over a Refugee Camp?

Human Rights Watch has added its voice to earlier reports that the Israelis are using white phosphorus shells in populated areas—including a refugee camp:

Jerusalem - Human Rights Watch said Sunday that Israel's military has fired artillery shells with the incendiary agent white phosphorus into Gaza and a doctor there said the chemical was suspected in the case of 10 burn victims who had skin peeling off their faces and bodies.

Researchers in Israel from the rights group witnessed hours of artillery bombardments that sent trails of burning smoke indicating white phosphorus over the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. But they could not confirm injuries on the ground because they have been barred from entering the territory.

[...]

White phosphorus is not considered a chemical weapon, and militaries are permitted under laws of warfare to use it in artillery shells, bombs and rockets to create smoke screens to hide troop movements as well as bright bursts in the air to illuminate battlefields at night.

Israel is not party to a convention regulating its use. Under customary laws of war, however, Israel would be expected to take all feasible precautions to minimize the impact of white phosphorus on civilians, Human Rights Watch said.

"What we're saying is the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas like a refugee camp is showing that the Israelis are not taking all feasible precautions," said Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst for the rights group. "It's just an unnecessary risk to the civilian population, not only in the potential for wounds but also for burning homes and infrastructure."

Garlasco was among researchers on a ridge about a mile (1.5 kilometers) from the Gaza border who observed the shelling from a 155mm artillery unit on Friday and Saturday.

Some of the burning trails of smoke caused fires on the ground that appeared to go out after a few minutes, said Garlasco, who formerly worked at the Pentagon where he was in charge of recommending high-value targets for airstrikes during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Each 155mm shell contains 116 of what Garlasco described as wafers doused in phosphorus that can be spread over an area as large as a sports field, depending on the height at which it detonates. The phosphorus ignites when it comes in contact with oxygen.

Can we say "war crime" yet, or do we still have to pretend that rocks and rockets and occasional suicide bombings are so much worse than F-16s and Apaches and lobbing white phosphorus shells at refugee camps?


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #7538

"You can so not tell. Shut up."
(Image originally uploaded by MissMerryMack; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Faith as a Covert Operation?

Not at all hard to believe if you're talking about Bushes (h/t truthout).

“The spy argot here is suggestive,” [Russ] Baker writes. “In the Bush milieu, an intelligence mentality spills over not just into politics but even into dealings with the church-based right. Domestic political constituencies,” he warns, “have replaced the citizens of Communist countries as a key target of American elites. They seek to win hearts and minds of devout Christians through quasi-intelligence techniques.”
War's not the only thing that's a continuation of politics by other means. For some people, religion is as well.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #6284

Production still from Jean-Luc Godard's The Wild Un.
(Image originally uploaded by newyork808; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Super Single-Payer Slideshow

Sam Smith says right: this is a tight, enlightening little piece. The Prom Committee analogy—c'est magnifique.


Educational

The neat thing about catching up with the week's Daily Shows online is that it gives the cableless the opportunity to take in the most recent corporate-media inanities in a concentrated dose:

It's like a supervitamin of stupid.


Friday, January 09, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #2322

Entry-level Bond Villain Cam. "Mwa ha ha. Soon the pickup game will be mine."
(Image originally uploaded by juantomas.garcia; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Categorically Recommended

I'll be back with DRFBing in a bit, but first, here's some good stuff to read.

Joe Conason says "put up (evidence, that is) or shut up" to all the howler monkeys claiming that Al Franken stole the election in Minnesota (never mind the long, methodical recount, the bipartisan election supervision, etc. etc. etc.).

Brian Clark Howard at The Daily Green details "The 6 Most Idiotic Positions of Dr. Sanjay Gupta" (h/t ProRev). Jeebus, he couldn't even see through the Raelians? Obama wants this guy to be Surgeon General? Yikes.

William Rivers Pitt writes eloquently of "The Greatest Greatness of George W. Bush." Basically, it's the living, breathing, dancing, groping, clowning, choking example he provides of everything we must avoid in the future.

Sam Smith says to liberals and progressives that it's "Time to Stop Being Afraid of Israel." Right. Freaking. On.

Andrew Leonard finds another silver lining in the gathering economic clouds: with any luck, the gathering storm will ring the death knell for market worshipers, deregulation fetishists, Ayn Randians, and all the other ideobozos who make the current mess.

Mixed metaphors sold separately.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #2770

"Keep your eye on the lady!"
(Image originally uploaded by demccain; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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But Mostly He Plays One on TV

CNN health hack Sanjay Gupta for Surgeon General? Of all of Obama's base-___ing appointments so far, this one strikes me as the strangest. Out of thousands and thousands of qualified physicians in this country, Obama picks a guy who, however TV-sexy some people might find him, also has a record of factual mistakes and uninformative or even irresponsible reporting—and who is perhaps most notorious for having to be schooled in the realities of health care systems by Michael Moore? This is the guy who's going to be the public face of healthcare reform at a time when the country has millions of uninsured or underinsured people and is flirting with another Great Depression (h/t FAIR)?

I would so like to feel hopeful about this incoming administration, but if you'll pardon a sadly ironic pun, it's getting progressively more and more difficult.


Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #4943

Sorry, couldn't post yesterday evening 'cause Blogger was bloggered imagewise or something.

Axis: Bold as Sideshow Bob
(Image originally uploaded by Okayplayer87; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

To Be Fair

...he'll probably need as much security as he can get: "Bush will use federal funds to install security gate to protect his Dallas home."

Really? 10141 Daria Place? Daria? I thought that was a marvelous little series; certainly it deserves better than this association.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #4508

Product of an unspeakable ménage à trois between Albert Camus, Klaus Voorman, and Barbara Streisand.
(Image originally uploaded by justdominic; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Hamas: The American Contribution

Stephen Zunes offers some helpful background to the current crisis. A taste:

A Siege, Not a Withdrawal

The myth perpetuated by both the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties was that Israel's 2005 dismantling of its illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of military units that supported them constituted effective freedom for the Palestinians of the territory. American political leaders from President George W. Bush to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have repeatedly praised Israel for its belated compliance with a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal of these illegal settlements (despite Israel's ongoing violations of these same resolutions by maintaining and expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights).

In reality, however, the Gaza Strip has remained effectively under siege. Even prior to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the Israeli government not only severely restricted -- as is its right -- entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel, but also controlled passage through the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, as well. Israel also refused to allow the Palestinians to open their airport or seaport. This not only led to periodic shortages of basic necessities imported through Egypt, but resulted in the widespread wasting of perishable exports -- such as fruits, vegetables and cut flowers -- vital to the territory's economy. Furthermore, Gaza residents were cut off from family members and compatriots in the West Bank and elsewhere in what many have referred to as the world's largest open-air prison.

In retaliation, Hamas and allied militias began launching rocket attacks into civilian areas of Israel. Israel responded by bombing, shelling and periodic incursions in civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, which, by the time of the 2006 cease-fire, had killed over 200 civilians, including scores of children. Bush administration officials, echoed by congressional leaders of both parties, justifiably condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas-allied units into civilian areas of Israel (which at that time had resulted in scores of injuries but only one death), but defended Israel's far more devastating attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip. This created a reaction that strengthened Hamas' support in the territory even more.

The Gaza Strip's population consists primarily of refugees from Israel's ethnic cleansing of most of Palestine almost 60 years ago and their descendents, most of whom have had no gainful employment since Israel sealed the border from most day laborers in the late 1980s. Crowded into only 140 square miles and subjected to extreme violence and poverty, it is not surprising that many would become susceptible to extremist politics, such as those of the Islamist Hamas movement. Nor is it surprising that under such conditions, people with guns would turn on each other.

The rest—an informative read.


Economic Crisis Slideshow

Danny Schechter points us to a neat slideshow at the Indypendent: "How to Wreck the Economy: Everything you ever wanted to know about the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression but were afraid to ask." It's a nicely illustrated guide for the perplexed of sorts.


The Things You Learn While Poking Around at Wikipedia

On the intertubes, one thing leads to another; thus, you can start at Michael Palin and wind up finding out all sorts of interesting things, to wit:

Terry Gilliam is planning to resume production on the Don Quixote project that was so rudely interrupted by NATO fighter planes, a Texas-sized thunderstorm, and an incapacitated leading man a few years back. (If you haven't seen Lost in La Mancha, the documentary that was fortuitously shot in the midst of the Quixote chaos, do, do, do. The grit and humor with which Gilliam faces setback after setback is truly marvelous to behold.)

Michael Palin may come out of acting retirement to play Don Quixote.

George Harrison almost played Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount at the beginning of Life of Brian.


A Very Great Friend in the New Rome, Perhaps

Also apropos of the General's poem noted below, one-man wrecking crew Dean Baker finds the incoming administration being unusually generous to well-connected Robert Rubin and Citigroup:

More Money for Robert Rubin

It looks like President-elect Obama is picking up President Clinton's promise to end welfare as we know it. Back in those pre-welfare reform days, welfare checks went to poor families. Welfare as we know it now seems to involve giving taxpayer dollars to Citigroup and other banks.

The media seem to have largely overlooked the Citigroup tax credit in their discussion of the latest items in President Obama's stimulus proposal. According to the Washington Post, the proposal will allow companies to write off current losses against taxes paid over the last 4-5 years, not just 2 years, as in current law.

For some reason I can't help but imagine Michael Palin as Pontius Pilate in Life of Brian, really: "Centuwion, is Bawack Obama being inappwopriately genewous to Wobert Wubin and Citigwoup?"


Krugmeister Say No Like, Bad Medicine

It's looking more and more like both the Obama administration and its economic stimulus plan are going to be bipartisanitized for our dejection:

And that gets us to politics. This really does look like a plan that falls well short of what advocates of strong stimulus were hoping for — and it seems as if that was done in order to win Republican votes. Yet even if the plan gets the hoped-for 80 votes in the Senate, which seems doubtful, responsibility for the plan’s perceived failure, if it’s spun that way, will be placed on Democrats.

I see the following scenario: a weak stimulus plan, perhaps even weaker than what we’re talking about now, is crafted to win those extra GOP votes. The plan limits the rise in unemployment, but things are still pretty bad, with the rate peaking at something like 9 percent and coming down only slowly. And then Mitch McConnell says “See, government spending doesn’t work.”

Let’s hope I’ve got this wrong.

At this rate, the General's poem may grow to epic length before the end of January.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #1859

Illusions die quickly at ComicCon. "Well, if you think that $4.00 is too much to pay for a bottle of water, then you are welcome to drink your own folly. Next!"
(Image originally uploaded by tusk&claw; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Icky Yucky Girls

Strangely, the thing that stood out for me most when I read yesterday's Media Matters post on Ann Coulter's upcoming appearance on Today—"stood out" rather in the way that assorted chunks stand out in a puddle of cat puke, that is—was her idea of how to slur "Republican turncoats":

On the bright side, look at how low the mainstream media have had to stoop lately to find their Republican heretics. The most famous "former Republican" is Kevin Phillips, who attended Bronx High School of Science, Colgate University, the University of Edinburgh, and Harvard Law School. Even John Dean was at least a practicing lawyer. The 2008 version is Kathleen Parker, who went to Converse College and the University of San Francisco. The educational attainments of Republican turncoats may change, but curiously, their gender always remains the same. They are women, not limited to the biological sense. [Page 114]
Yep, there you have it: Kevin Phillips, one-time Nixon adviser and architect of the Southern strategy, now defender of traditional conservative/democratic principles in the face of Bush-Cheney irresponsibility and authoritarianism, is just a big 'ol girl, and so is fellow former Nixonite John Dean and contemporary not-Republican-enough right-wing columnist and presumably actual-lady-parts-having Kathleen Parker. Being educated is bad enough, but being educated and not a far-right troglodyte? You might as well be mainlining estrogen.

It tells you something about Coulter's audience that she expects it to accept idiotic "reasoning" like this without question, but you have to admit there's a kind of curiosity value in how she's been able to turn elementary-school taunts like "faggy faggy four-eyes!" into a political philosophy. No doubt this is one of the questions that doe-eyed, emasculated anthropologists picking through our civilizational remains in the future will strain their limp wrists trying to answer.


Bike Lanes?!?

The cads. Thank God we have police to save us from "activists" pushing such subversive ideas.

The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored - and labeled as terrorists - activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes.

Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling the group a "security threat" because of concerns that members would disrupt the circus. Angry consumers fighting a 72 percent electricity rate increase in 2006 were targeted. The DC Anti-War Network, which opposes the Iraq war, was designated a white supremacist group, without explanation.

One of the possible "crimes" in the file police opened on Amnesty International, a world-renowned human rights group: "civil rights."

From the WaPo, courtesy truthout. Kudos to the WaPo for keeping up with this story; would that its editorial page showed the same interest in homegrown threats to American liberties.
Meanwhile, the intelligence-gathering expanded in other directions, to activists in New York, Missouri, San Francisco and at the University of Maryland. Shane Dillingham's primary crime, according to the six-page file classifying him as a terrorist, was "anarchism." Police opened a file on the doctoral student in history a week after an undercover officer attended a College Park forum featuring a jailhouse phone conversation with [prisoner Vernon] Evans.

Investigators also tracked activists protesting weapons manufactured by defense contractor Lockheed Martin. They watched two pacifist Catholic nuns from Baltimore. Environmental activists made it into the database, as did three leaders of Code Pink, a national women's antiwar group, who do not live in Maryland.

PETA was labeled a "security threat group" in April 2005, and by July police were looking into a tip that the group had learned about a failing chicken farm in Kent County and planned on "protesting or stealing the chickens." A "very casually dressed" undercover trooper attended a speech by PETA's president that month and waited afterward to see whether anyone talked about chickens. Nobody did.

Aw, c'mon, that's the first rule of PETA: Don't talk about chickens. Everybody knows that. Sheesh.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #5259

Matches are for wimps and lighters are for wussies. You're not a real smoker unless you use a magnesium flare.
(Image originally uploaded by Vincent Hartman Photography; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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What Has Been Made Can Be Unmade

Digby made me laugh this morning:
Greenspan is, of course, an uber-villager, married to one of the most important beltway media mavens and who, for the past two decades, was considered a living example of the the non-partisan wise man. Except, of course, he was actually an Ayn Rand extremist who grubbed around in politics with as much glee as any Louisiana congressman. But you couldn't say that. In fact, during the 2000 election we came close to having him legally declared a living God --- a Pharoah of Finance, who could not be questioned lest the sun turn cold.
I've come to think that many of the "wise men" and "uber-villagers" into whom Digby routinely tears with great style and glee are really more like wiseguys in the Mafia sense: made folk who cannot be touched, even by their own stupidity and incompetence, at least according to the rules of the rigged game played by the Washington-corporate-media elite. But democracy means that the rest of us don't have to play that game, and the biggest reason why I've come to love the blogosphere (and the internet in general) is that it reminds of us that fact on a daily basis.

And that, I think, is why so many Beltway insiders hate it so. "Pay no attention to the dog pulling back the curtain."


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #0213

European tastes being what they are, there never was a Prague Spring for The Unbearable Lightness of Bluegrass.
(Image originally uploaded by 天曉得; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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The Antikythera Mechanism

I meant to post this back in December when it crossed my path, sorry; it's awesome. A working model of a 2000-year-old computer:

More here. Dang ancient Greeks are still making us look like pikers two millenia later.


Friday, January 02, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #7239

Normally, authenticity and attention to detail are praiseworthy in historical theme parks, but the creators of The Lady Bird Johnson Experience may have gone a bit too far.
(Image originally uploaded by dave_apple; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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Word of the Day: hasbara

One of Danny Schechter's readers pointed him to an interesting piece in today's Guardian:

Israel believes its has won broad international support in the media for its actions in Gaza thanks to its PR strategy, which through a new body has for months been concerned with formulating plans and role-playing to ensure that government officials deliver a clear, unified message to the world's press.

The body, known as the National Information Directorate, was set up eight months ago following recommendations from an Israeli inquiry into the 2006 Lebanon war. Its role is to deal with hasbara - meaning, in Hebrew, "explanation", and referring variously to information, spin, and propaganda.

The directorate's chief, Yarden Vatikai, said: "The hasbara apparatus needed a body that would co-ordinate its agencies, coordinate the messages and become a platform for co-operation between all the agencies that deal with communication relations and public diplomacy."

The directorate acts across ministries and decides key messages on a daily basis. Of its core messages for the media, there has been the advice that Hamas broke the ceasefire agreements with Israel; that Israel's objective is the defence of its population; and that Hamas is a terror organisation targeting Israeli civilians. "In general, we think we are succeeding in getting the message across," said Vatikai.

Of course, the beauty of spin is that, if effective, it spins people toward the facts you like and away from the facts you don't like, such as the Bush Administration's role in fomenting an anti-Hamas coup that backfired and helped to put Hamas in power or the human cost of the long Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip or the immense disproportion in casualties suffered by the two sides. But the hasbara seems to be working:
Israeli officials have also enjoyed a clear edge with coverage. An Israeli foreign ministry assessment of eight hours of coverage across international broadcast media reported that Israeli representatives got 58 minutes of airtime while the Palestinians got only 19 minutes. Speaking for the Israeli military, Major Avital Leibovich said: "Quite a few outlets are very favourable to Israel, namely by showing [it] suffering ... I am sure it is a result of the new co-ordination."
Remember that the next time you see someone uttering predictable whines about the supposed anti-Israel bias in the media.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Daily Random Flickr Blogging, #4579

Let's see if I can't get back into the swing of this for 2009.

Biologists still struggle to explain the bizarre pollination strategy of Apis prageriensis. "But a bee only knows you love it by your willingness to give it your pollen."
Bonus: I know jules'll get this one, at least.

</leaningleaning>
(Images originally uploaded by stuart.shone and tantek; Random Flickr Blogging invented by Tom Hilton.)

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