Friday, December 30, 2005

Science: Still Not Getting Any Respect

Did you know that an exhibit on Charles Darwin at the American Museum of Natural History hasn't been able find a corporate sponsor? London's Daily Telegraph suggests its “because American companies are anxious not to take sides in the heated debate between scientists and fundamentalist Christians over the theory of evolution.” Come on Microsoft, step up to the plate here! Without sponsorship, the museum will have to depend on the sale of Darwin-related paraphernalia, including, I kid you not, Darwin finger puppets (too late for my Christmas wish list!).

You might want to check out the podcast (not a direct link unfortunately). They also interviewed one of my personal heroes this afternoon: Oliver Sacks.

Speaking of NPR and science, I'm looking forward to this coming Monday's installment of "This I Believe," which I always find engaging. This time round we'll here from Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams and Good Benito. If you'll indulge me a moment, I'll share a story about why the former book is so special to me.

In May of 1995, I graduated with a Master's degree from Bob Jones University (yes, that BJU), a school known for its fundamentalist Christian bent. Evolution was not taught in the science classes there, except briefly to dismiss it and to endorse the Biblical seven-day creation. However, by the time I graduated, I had effectively parted ways with the university intellectually (how that happened and why I stayed there is a story best told over a few beers), and I have little in common with the institution any more. Well, on the day of graduation, I slipped a copy of Lightman's Einstein's Dreams up the sleeve of my gown and took it through the entire ceremony with me. I believe I even had it in my hand when I went up the stage in front of several thousand people, took my diploma and shook Dr. Bob Jones III's hand. I took the book for a couple of reasons: one, to entertain myself should the proceedings grow a little dull, and two, as a metaphor (known only to myself) for the new intellectual path I'd be taking upon leaving the institution (something by Bertrand Russell would've been, um, harsh).

So I look forward to hearing what Lightman has to say on Monday morning. It'll be a welcome reminder of a conscious path I took just over a decade ago.

A couple of meaningful related quotes:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. - Charles Darwin

I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true. - Carl Sagan
(Crossposted over at Saheli's since she's gadding about India!)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Most Depressing Xmas Song Ever

I would say that Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg is hands down the most utterly depressing "Christmas song" ever written, wouldn't you?

I mean, people have been hospitalized after listening to this song. I mean happy, successful people have reached for a razor blade.

Joni Mitchell's "River" comes a close second, but it benefits from being painfully beautiful as well.

And I generally like the more melancholy Christmas songs--"In the Bleak Midwinter" may be my favorite carol (if I have to have one!)--but when you hear that Fogelberg song on the radio or (worse considering the lyrics) in the grocery store this time of year, it's like, turn it off! Please, for the love of god, turn it off. Maybe he should've set it during Halloween instead.

But here's the thing: whenever it comes on, despite its really borderline cheesiness on top of the whole depressing thing, I am compelled, compelled to listen to it. I can't switch it off.

And it will get stuck in your head. That part where he keens, "We drank a toast to innocence / we drank a toast to time." Well, there you go. Sorry.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Man of the Year

Too bad Time already awarded its "Person of the Year." I'd vote for Judge John E. Jones III for "Man of the Year." Well, how about U.S. Man of the Year anyway, since this issue is a complete non-issue in many other countries. Judge Jones was appointed by President Bush to his position in 2002. Bloomberg has a good high-level rundown of his landmark decision against Intelligent Design.

So, a spectacular victory for science today. Hooray!

No Doubt

Doubt is easy when it's not a matter of survival: We are as skeptical as we can afford to be, and it is easiest to be skeptical about things that do not fundamentally sustain us.

- from On Love by Alain de Botton
Skimming through this book again and I came across this quote, which I think rings so true. De Botton was talking about love, but from my experience, the principle applies well to the beliefs we're brought up with, those ideas we've steeped in since birth. It's sometimes easier to hang onto those, rather than shift the psychological weight it would take to alter those beliefs. Our doubts are often repressed, I think, but the immensity of the potential ramifications of exploring those doubts. Some part of us knows not to "go there" because changing our mind on a particular subject could ostracize us from people we're close to or force uncomfortable changes in our lives. I think this explains why progress in human understanding comes so slowly.

Tangetially, I reviewed this book ages ago on Amazon and was pleasantly surprised to review a kind and self-deprecating email from the author out of the blue, thanking me for my thoughts. One of the wonderful things about the Internet, they way we're truly "hitched to everything."

Another great thought on love I came across recently:
The absolute value of love makes life worth while and so makes Man's strange and difficult situation acceptable. Love cannot save life from death; but it can fulfill life's purpose.

- Arnold Toynbee, "Why and how I work," 1969
As adults, we encounter a lot of cynicism about love and we even learn to speak about it with a degree of embarrassment; but the older I get, the more I'm convinced of the importance of not growing cynical about love, but of better understanding it. So much of what is described as love seems so unhealthy, and perhaps that's why people have grown so cynical about it. So, instead of redefining love in healthy, productive, nurturing terms, many of us simply retreat to our corners, commit ourselves to lives of isolation (even within a relationship), and resort to describing the opposite gender (or humans in general) with the worst sort of stereotypes. I can't help but think that these tendencies play out into all sorts of societal problems, the roots of which people are often fond of politicizing.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Persons of the Year

Time's Person of the Year Cover, 2005

Why is Melinda Gates consigned to the right of the cover--almost crowded out of it? If she and her husband are both truly being awarded, why aren't they equally represented? And why is Bono wedged between them? Just because he's more famous? Picture says a thousand words, eh?

(Via CNN)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lagging Behind in the Gay Rights Race

Ever superlative on gay marriage, Andrew Sullivan notes the following:
In Britain, where "Virtually Normal" was published a decade ago, I faced derision from some in the gay community at the time for arguing that marriage was the central front in the battle for gay equality. It never occurred to me to believe that within ten years, we would have won. If I had stayed there, I'd be a fully equal citizen by now. Which prompts an interesting question: how many American immigrants in the past have actually had to give up liberty in order to come to this country? Welcome to the future.
Similarly, South Africa legalized gay marriage within the past week. South Africa. Where apartheid was the norm just over a decade ago.

We're seeing progress in the United States, of course, even as some states insist on besmirching their respective constitutions, but it is ironic that gay people may want to consider leaving the United States to enjoy what are essentially human rights in braver, freer nations.

Tangentially, if you're perturbed by Ford's decision to pull their advertising from GLBT media, consider forwarding this very level-headed email the Human Rights Campaign has created, simply asking the Ford Company to clarify their new position and to disavow the American Family Association's claim that they influenced the motor company.

Problems With Authority

Fast Company has this fun slideshow of 9 bosses you're lucky you don't work for, including David Brent, Tony Soprano, and Montgomery Burns.

On Dr. Evil:
Distinction: Sacked his No. 2 for not sticking to company goals and over-diversifying portfolio (evil real estate, evil corporations, etc.).

Redeeming quality: Bold vision. Ran large organization with frequent openings.

Quote: "Why must I be surrounded by frickin' idiots?"

Sunday, December 04, 2005

All Lobotomies All the Time

Here's a fascinating and rathering sobering nugget of information: Did you know that in 1936, the Nobel committee awarded Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz the prize in physiology/medicine for inventing the frontal lobotomy (or prefrontal leucotomy).

Over at the Nobel site, Bengt Jansson curtly entertains the question of whether or not Moniz deserved to win a Nobel, but quickly determines that there's "no doubt" he did, if not for his rather barbaric invasive surgery (my words), then for his practice of injecting iodine into the brain (cerebral angiography), "which made it possible to diagnose tumors and vascular deformities."

Having said that, at the time, as this PBS report points out, Moniz was awarded the Nobel after the number of lobotomies in the United States took off--jumpstarted by the afore-mentioned Mr. Freeman--"from 100 in 1946 to 5,000 in 1949." Moniz got his Nobel in, ahem, 1949.

So, although I know the Nobels are often awarded for a body of work, even if they are attributed to particular discovery or novel, the Nobel folks do appear to be rewriting history a little.

It was the development of Thorazine in the early 50s that eventually drove the number of lobotomies down. Of course, Thorazine had its own problems. It produced effects that sometimes mimicked Parkinsons. But that effect leads to further discoveries about dopamine and brain function.

So . . . progress sure is ugly sometimes, ain't it? I think the important thing to consider is that the truly scientific evidence that lobotomies were successful appears always to have been scant. What one person perceives as "improvement," another might consider a stripping away of the patient's very identity or "soul," if you prefer.

Aside: I learned about Moniz from the Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, an engaging lecture series of Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Nueroscience at Stanford--one of The Teaching Company's excellent Great Courses series, which I cannot recommend enough. No, I'm not getting paid by them to say all this stuff. It's just that buying a set of these lectures--at just about 50 bucks for 24 lectures--is like sitting through an entire semester's lecture series at Stanford. Just wish I got the college credit for it, too!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Don't Bomb Us

Recently I mentioned Josh Rushing's decision to join Al Jazeera International, which must've pushed Donald Rumsfeld into full Strangelove mode. Well, today there's a perfect storm of Al Jazeera news.

First, word that none other than David Frost is joining the network, and former Nightline correspondent Dave Marash is apparently considering a job there, too. Even Ted Koppel is said to have met with Al Jazeera, though he apparently won't be working there.

Then Kevin Drum also directs us to this new blog by Al Jazeera employees, Don't Bomb Us, whose title is an allusion to the recent rumor that George Bush ordered an air strike on the network's Qatar offices.

Five things the Don't Bomb Us crew want us to know:
1. Al Jazeera was the first Arab station to ever broadcast interviews with Israeli officials.

2. Al Jazeera has never broadcast a beheading.

3. George W. Bush has recieved approximately 500 hours of airtime, while Bin Laden has received about 5 hours of airtime.

4. Over 50 million people across the world watch Al Jazeera.

5. The Al Jazeera websites are http://www.aljazeera.net (Arabic) and http://english.aljazeera.net (English). AlJazeera.com, AlJazeerah.info and all other variations have nothing to do with us.
As anyone who's seen Jehane Noujaim's superlative documentary Control Room would know, there's more to Al Jazeera than the current U.S. administration would have us believe. Hopefully, this new international branch of the network, it's American bureau located on K Street in our own capital, will help more Americans to see there's much more to the Arab world in general than they've been lead to believe.

Of course, the onus is on the individual to learn, too, and I've been stunned to hear some of the things people believe about Islam and the Arab world over the past few years. Traveling to Morocco last year helped me dismantle some stereotypes about Islam I'd unwittingly held, though I know there's plenty more I could learn.

Related then: here's an About.com page which focuses on some common myths people have about Islam. Not a particularly exhautive resource, so if you know of a better one, feel free to mention it in the comments.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ho Ho Ho

I saw him on the telly in the gym just yesterday: O'Reilly's busy every night lately dissing the disappearance of Christmas and what's the FOX News site selling? The O'Reilly Factory Holiday Ornament.
Put your holiday tree in "The No Spin Zone" with this silver glass "O'Reilly Factor" ornament.
Not one mention of Christmas on the entire page.

Bill O'Reilly: stop killing Christmas!

(Via Crooks and Liars)

Update: Of course, after the entire blogosphere noted this, Fox updated the website, so now it reads Christmas and Happy Channukah everywehere. The fact that they had it that way in the first place, of course, speaks to their desire to maximize commerce (most likely, at least from a cynical POV) without real concern for the conservative "principles" the network reputedly espouses. The fact that they had to change the content is a concession on their part. A concession for a different sort of Political Correctness, in other words, but a form of PC nonethless.

O'Reilly must've been livid!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

This iBelieve

This must be the penultimate cross between the commercial and the religious, the sacred and the secular.
Just toss your old cap habit, pop on the divine iBelieve and rejoice!
Apparently, for real.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Teenage Lobotomy

Speaking of bad science--really, really bad science--last week, NPR featured one of the most chilling stories I've ever heard on the radio. In it, with his slow, beautiful, gravelly voice 56-year-old Howard Dully detailed how at 12 years old he received a lobotomy at the hands of Walter Freeman, the inventor (or perpetrator) of the transorbital lobotomy. NPR details the story here, and links to an MP3 of the story as well as this somewhat graphic photo of Dully about to undergo the procedure, icepicks poised above each of his eyes.

Sound Portraits produced the story and provide much more information on the subject of Dully, Freeman and the history of the labotomoy on their site.

Some of the more disturbing details I found speak to the effects of what transpires when science is thrown out the window in favor of something more akin to witchcraft.

From Psychosurgery.org, a site dedicated to "remembering the tragedy of lobotomy":
Walter Freeman began to travel around the nation in his own personal van, which he called his “lobotomobile”, demonstrating transorbital lobotomy in any hospital that would have him. He even performed a few in hotel rooms, lobotomizing children as young as thirteen [try twelve] for “delinquent behavior” and housewives who had lost their zeal for domestic work.
Now, I heard someone discredit the idea that Freeman called his van "the lobotomobile" on NPR this afternoon, saying writers attributed it thusly later on. Nonetheless, "housewives who had lost their zeal for domestic work"? Sounds like he was in the business of creating Stepford Wives.

Freeman got to where his operations resembled more of a traveling show, or a horrifying assembly line, as these more detailed examples of his work reveal:
Patient number one was wheeled before him. He put the electrodes on her temples and shocked her into a faint, lifted her left eyelid, and plunged the ice pick into her head. He pulled it out. Another woman was brought before him. Again he shocked, and stabbed. And another, and then again another, and so on, and on, remorselessly, in a production line of controlled, casual violence until even the director of the hospital, near to passing out with nausea, left the room.
Freeman was also rumored to have performed a labotomy on the actress Frances Farmer, but it appears this has been effectively proven an urban legend.

These operations weren't taking place in the 1700s; they took place up until 1967, two years before I was born, when Freeman "used his ice pick for the last time," tearing a blood vessel in the patient's brain.

Apparently, some fifty thousand people were lobotomized by so-called "psychosurgeons," a term that seems freakishly appropriate in retrospect.

I often wonder what we're practising today that'll be considered barbaric a couple of decades from now?

Attn: John McCain

Maybe Ariel Sharon's leaving the Likud Party to lead a new centrist party should inspire John McCain. You know, the guy leading the anti-torture wing of the conservative movement.

McCain-Edwards in 2008 anybody?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

PR Photos




Lots more Puerto Rico photos posted to my flickr site. At right, one of my favorites. On a ferry from Old San Juan to Catano. Yes, that's a candy bar in her hair. What a woman!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

It's Science Week!



In memory of last week's depressing defeat of science in Kansas last week, I'm declaring this Science Week at Hitched to Everything.

Posts herein shall especially focus on our great nation's drift away from critical thinking, particularly where such thinking involves the benefits of science.

Here we go, kids!

Bad Science

A Google search on "bad science" reveals some interesting stuff:

This site explains simple points of bad science in the fields of meterology, astronomy and chemistry. For example, it explains here that raindrops never appear in the fashion they are so often depicted--as a teardrop.

Meanwhile, over at Bad Science Projects, we learn about the "non-lethal" laser rifle and studies at The University of Machester of the teaming life which can be found ... in our pillows.

And this bloke, The Guardian's Ben Goldacre, has an entire blog devoted to bashing bad science.

Of course, some folks consider global warming "bad science." In fact, click over to Google News and the first result on the subject is "Thin green line is bad science" by Debra Saunders over at Townhall.com (purveyor of such fine goods as Michelle Malkin and Anne Coulter). Saunders throws global warming in with "fad science" like Y2K, as does Michael Crichton, whom she sympathizes with. 2000 scientists from over 100 countries she criticizes for groupthink, but she readily embraces a junk novelist.

Of course, she also sides with Republican Senator James Inhofe. I'm not aware that he has any scientific credentials.

So, the thesis of her piece, as stated in its very title is that global warming is bad science. However, Saunders offers not one flake of evidence to support that thesis. Just the opinions of a couple of people who happen to agree with her.

Now that's what I call "bad science."

Lewis & Clark's Excellent Adventure

The Teaching Company is offering a free lecture on Lewis and Clark by Emory professor Patrick N. Allitt. Haven't heard it yet, but their lecture series seldom dissapoint.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

ET, Phone Now!

In lighter, but nonetheless fascinating science news, SETI guru Frank Drake warns that aliens may soon be unable to detect us because we're using fewer and fewer technologies which allow radio waves to make it into space. Therefore, we may only be detectable by aliens for the incredibly short timeframe of about 100 years, a fraction of a blink in the history of the universe.

This may also go a long ways to explaining why we haven't heard from E.T. Advanced alien societies may have abandoned such technologies eons ago for inventions which limit the transmissions.

So, don't hope to find ALF via ancient alien transmissions of Fifth Rock from Alpha Centauri. Instead, we need to look for and send intentional beacons in order to detect our neighbors in the universe.

Removing Consequences

According to the New York Times, a Congressional inquiry has concluded that federal drug officials did in fact decide "to reject an application to allow over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill months before a government scientific review of the application was completed."

Why did top officials at the FDA intercede you ask, before a complete review had been conducted? Why, especially when the FDA itself had determined that the pill, Plan B, should be considered birth control and not an abortifacient?

One might be forgiven for thinking that these high-level officials were less interested in following whatever recommendations those reviewing the product made, based up on the evidence offered by the science at hand, and were more interested in attending to political concerns. One might also be suspicious of the fact that former agency commissioner, Dr. Mark B. McClellan's notes and emails on the subject were all destroyed.

Apparently, it doesn't matter what benefits to women Plan B may contain, doesn't matter if it prevents unwanted and accidental pregnancies before they occur. The facts of the situation and the benefits of the science are irrelevent if, in the minds of some, it makes it easier for folks, especially adolescents, to have sex without consequences.

This take on this subject, this brutish sensibility is also reflected by those who criticize efforts to vaccinate young girls against cervical cancer, for fear of promoting sexual activity.

I think that if you look at the evolution of sexual mores from a sociological perspective, you'll find that many of them simply evolved as a way to protect people from the consequences of having sex. Now that science has removed many of those consequences, social conservatives are in mourning rather than celebrating. They'd rather keep condoms and Plan B and vaccines from young people--and I know some would probably like to keep them from unmarried adults--in order to ensure punishment for an increasingly harmless pastime.

Now, that doesn't mean I would want my (non-existent) 16-year-old daughter having sex. I just mean that if she does, I don't think she ought to be punished for it with an unwanted pregnancy, a venereal disease or cervical cancer.

To attempt to maintain that sort of status quo when science offers simple and inexpensive solutions is utterly inhumane.

No ID Required, Thanks

At left, a dinosaur saddle as exhibited at the creation museum described on the PBS NewsHour earlier this year.
Even in the developing world, where I spend lots of time doing my work, if you tell them that you're from MIT and you tell them that you do science, it's a big deal. If I go to India and tell them I'm from MIT, it's a big deal. In Thailand, it's a big deal. If I go to Iowa, they could give a rat's ass. And that's a weird thing, that we're moving in that direction as a nation.
That's MIT professor Kip Hodges in Charles P. Pierce's "Greetings from Idiot America" in the November issue of Esquire (reprinted here). Now, it's possible that the reactions Hodges gets overseas simply reflect the more educated milieu he moves in when traveling, but I still think his point is well taken. In his article, Pierce reminds us that this country was founded by intellectually curious individuals and he decries the fall we've seen from "Jefferson's observatory and Franklin's kite to George W. Bush ... suggesting that intelligent design be taught alongside the theory of evolution in the nation's classes."

Pierce also points out that the fact that ID
enjoys a certain public cache is irrelevant; a higher percentage of Americans believes that a government conspiracy killed John F. Kennedy than believes in intelligent design, but there is no great effort abroad in the land to include that conspiracy theory in sixth-grade textbooks.
Good point, and as Pierce also points out, there is no real "debate" between ID and evolution anyway. ID simply isn't a theory because, as we should be teaching out elementary school students, a scientific theory must be testable, repeatable, verifiable--important characteristics that Intelligent Design simply doesn't reflect. ID, therefore is opinion or belief even, but not a theory. It's not fit for our science classes. Bible study, fine. Science class, no.

Why six of ten Board of Education members in Kansas didn't understand these elementary and fundamental concepts of scientific theory, I couldn't say.

Oh, and on the subject of evolution, Pierce quotes that great American intellect Larry King as saying,
All right, hold on. Dr. Forrest, your concept of how can you out-and-out turn down creationism, since if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?
Is it any wonder there's a surfeit of ignorance in what should be one of the world's best educated countries when the most prominent of our media so profoundly don't get the more elementary principles of evolution and natural selection?

And King asked that question as if he'd wrapped his hands around a "gotcha!" moment.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Once Upon a Time

Carbon-based life begat silicon-based life.
If we’re gonna create a robot species, we oughta take a vote first.
That's Bill Joy, chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, as quoted in a Steve Reich video piece "Three Tales: Dolly" from the fascinating collection OHM+: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, which I'm reviewing for Skyscraper. Inspired--or maybe horrified--by Ray Kurzweil's speculative non/fiction, Joy wrote a widely-read article back at the turn of the century (doesn't it still sound weird to say that?) for Wired called "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us."
I don’t think robots are going to take over from us because there isn’t going to an an "us." Because we are starting to bring technology into our bodies.

- Rod Brooks, Panasonic Professor of Robotics and Director of MIT's CSAIL program
Me, I agree with Kent Brockman, who said, "I, for one, welcome our robot overlords."

Full transcript of Reich's piece here (PDF).

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at Work

brownie points
Digital evidence of the kinda stuff we all know goes on in politics every day.

To Hell With the Huddled Masses

Via The Carpetbagger Report:
"There is a general agreement about the fact that citizenship in this country should not be bestowed on people who are the children of folks who come into this country illegally."

- Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, who is participating in the "unity dinners," the group of Republicans trying to find consensus on immigration.
"General agreement"? Really? There's general agreement that the 14th amendment, Section 1 to the U.S. Constitution needs excising? Here's Section 1 of that amendment:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Seems to me there are better ways to prevent illegal immigration than rolling back the Constitution.

And I say that as a legal immigrant who spent years filling out forms, jumping through bureaucratic hoops and waiting, waiting, waiting in order to get my citizenship.

Maybe Tancredo and co could brainstorm some alterations to that pesky text which appears on the Statue of Liberty, too:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Or maybe we should just dismantle Liberty and ship her back to France if we're not buying her message anymore.

Friday, November 04, 2005

See a Chance, You Take It

You take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan.

- Frank Drebin in Naked Gun
Just made me laugh is all.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Network Hellevision

We watched Network in the film class I'm taking tonight. I'd seen the 1976 flick before, but seeing it so soon after watching the excellent but intermittently chilling documentary The Corporation last week made the scene where the UBS President Arthur Jensen inveighs against Howard Beale seem all the more prescient:
You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, Reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels.

It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! ...

You get up on your little 21-inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. ...

We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale.
Thirty years on and things are the same only more so.

You can read the full diatribe and hear Ned Beatty deliver it as Arthur Jensen (mp3). Here's the whole script.

Tangentially, word on the street is, George Clooney plans on doing a live TV remake of Network.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Closed for Business

Yesterday Democratic Senator Harry Reid surprised the Hill by demanding that the Senate be closed for private sessions in order to pressure Republicans into properly considering the intelligence which prompted the United States invasion of Iraq.

Senate Republicans were shocked, shocked. Their dismay is understandable as the Senate hadn't been closed for private sessions since the Senate agreed in 1999 bipartisan fashion to close sessions in order to consider Bill Clinton's impeachment. This only happened six times during Clinton's impeachment trial, so it's easy to understand how the Republicans might forget.

In one of those political matter meets antimatter moments, Senator Bill Frist, currently under investigation for insider trading, declared,
They have no conviction. They have no principles. They have no ideas. This is a pure stunt.
Another bastion of decency, Senator Trent Lott also declared the Democrat's actions, "a stunt."

Possibly, Mr. Lott. Possibly, Mr Frist. And this may have been a stunt, too:



Harry Reid responded:
There's nothing more important to a Congress or a president than war. I think the American people are entitled to know how we got there. That's what this is all about.
Maybe, Mr. Reid, maybe. Or you may just be trying to distract us from the Bush administration's timely announcement of a billion dollar pandemic bird flu plan. Which rightly returned the nation's attention to an imminent crisis after last week's distractions involving Scooter, Karl and Dick. And the intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction, which lead United States to invade Iraq.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Friday, October 28, 2005

Impeccable, Inpenetrable Logic

I have a lot of faith in the corporate world because it's always going to be there, so you may as well have faith in it.

- Luke McCabe of Chris and Luke, two college kids who offered themselves for sponsorship, as featured in the compelling and disturbing documentary, The Corporation.
Also discussed in the documentary: Did you know that in 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the ability to patent life forms--all forms of life except a full-birth human being? Companies are patenting genes as they discover them: the breast cancer gene, the cystic fibrosis gene, whatever.
If this goes unchallenged within the world community, within less than ten years, a handful of global companies will own directly or through license the actual genes that make up the evolution of our species.

- Jeremy Rifkin, President, Foundation on Economic Trends
Shades of Gattaca, eh?

And did you know that water was privatized in Bolivia, so that Bechtel actually owned the rainwater. Yes, it was illegal to collect rainwater. People rioted. A 17-year-old kid was killed. To protect the interests of the company and its property.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Insufferapundit Glenn Reynolds serves us this little nugget today:
Jayne Meynardie emails: "Mouse or rabbit or whatever, if he knowingly lied to a grand jury, he should be punished, and no one should feel the least bit bad for him." True enough -- but it's hardly what we were promised in the run-up to today, is it? Perhaps more will materialize, as I noted above -- but as I also noted above, if this is all there is, it doesn't live up to the hoopla.
For some reason, these sentiments strike a chord with me. It's like--it's almost as if I've heard them before. Can't quite put a finger on it.

(Only this time the lies involve national security, not nubile stimulancy.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers' Homework Late?

The NRO's Kathryn Jean Lopez is reporting that Harriet Miers still hasn't submitted her rewritten questionnaire.

Hmm, could this mean Mier's is withdrawing from consideration soon? After all, if you know you're dropping out of school soon, do you hand in your homework anyway? Or do you just drop it?

Update: Um, yeah, that's a roger.

Of Condi & Crescents

Michelle Malkin has worked herself into a froth over some apparent photoshopping of a Condi Rice picture, and Crooks and Liars asks if anyone sees a red crescent anywhere in the same photo.

I do. Anyone can see that Condi's lips have been cleverly photoshopped by the Commie press to resemble two red Islamic crescents, two luscious red crescents . . .
Oh Condi Condi beggin’ on my knees
Open up your heart and let me in wontcha please
Got no money but everybody knows
I love you Condi and I’ll never let you go
Sweet and dandy pretty as can be
You be the flower and I’ll be the bumble bee
Oh she loves me oops she loves me not
People say you’re cold but I think you’re hot

Oh, Condi, Condi
Oh, Condi, Condi

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Best Quarter Ever! . . . Again!

Ten months ago, I wrote about Exxon's having the best quarter ever of any company in U.S. history. Guess what ya'll: they've done it again!

While you're spending $50 to fill the tank on your Mini Minor, Exxon's apparently about to announce that they pulled in almost $9 billion over the past three months. (Compare with 6.2 billion during the same quarter of 2004). That's the largest corporate quarterly profit ever.

As the WP points out, all these profits are making things a little awkward for big oil, and the companies--BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, et al--have ratcheted up the volume of their advertising to remind us whose side they're on. Ours, of course!

BP, for example, rebrands itself as "Beyond Petroleum," eschewing images of oil refineries for solar panel--despite the fact that BP actually makes the overwhelming majority of its profits from the ol' black gold.

Personally, I think the solution comes down to changing our way of thinking. When you're standing at the pump and watching those digits flip into the 30s, 40s, 50s, just remind yourself that you personally are helping oil companies break records for company profits left, right and center!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Music to Make You Smile

If you haven't seen Where the Hell is Matt?, you simply must watch him dance his way around the world. Says visitor Chris Walken, " It's amazing. The internet...it astonishes me. There oughta be a medal that I can give to this guy. He's beautiful."
Hurra Torpedo
Then you hafta check out red-headed Norwegian band Hurra Torpedo's inspired take on "Total Eclipse of the Heart," accompanied by guitar, icebox and, er, stove top. Warning: rampant male ass cleavage on display.

And to round off this evening's entertainment we'll drop in on Two Chinese Boys as they sing along to "I Want It That Way."

You're welcome.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

My, My Miers

George Will writes a[nother] withering column about the Miers nomination:
Such is the perfect perversity of the nomination of Harriet Miers that it discredits, and even degrades, all who toil at justifying it. Many of their justifications cannot be dignified as arguments. ...

As for Republicans, any who vote for Miers will thereafter be ineligible to argue that it is important to elect Republicans because they are conscientious conservers of the judicial branch's invaluable dignity. Finally, any Republican senator who supinely acquiesces in President Bush's reckless abuse of presidential discretion -- or who does not recognize the Miers nomination as such -- can never be considered presidential material.
Will also has some thoughts for the Left:
And Democrats, with their zest for gender politics, need this reminder: To give a woman a seat on a crowded bus because she is a woman is gallantry. To give a woman a seat on the Supreme Court because she is a woman is a dereliction of senatorial duty. It also is an affront to mature feminism, which may bridle at gallantry but should recoil from condescension.
I somewhat agree, but I don't think the Dems are giving her a pass because she's a woman; I think they're largely just sitting back and letting the Republicans do their work for them for once. On the other hand, I definitely don't think anyone should support Miers simply because so many conservatives are upset by her nomination--even if they do percieve she possesses some liberal leanings. Not only because those leanings--and they've only ever been hinted at--are easily counter-balanced by some very explicit and simplistic conservative thought, but, more importantly, if she's under-qualified, she's under-qualified. Her political and religious leanings should be irrelevant. You shouldn't get to become a Supreme Court judge simply because you're a nice gal. Ms. Miers seems like a decent person, but she's failed every tests that's been presented to her so far. And, as John Stewart pointed out, getting on the Supreme Court shouldn't be like passing high school Spanish. You don't just get to take the test again.

Oh, yeah, and there's also the whole cronyism thing, but as others have pointed out, that wouldn't matter so much if we had a President upon whose taste and judgment we could rely.

Update: Indri directs us to Nine Scorpions who expresses another point about Miers, which I'd considered but hadn't seen articulated elsewhere:
Miers has never, in her long career, evinced any inclination whatsoever for serious legal scholarship. ...

What I mean is that she has never shown a capacity for taking difficult, analytical legal issues and teasing them out into a rational order.
This, of course, is why she doesn't have much of a paper trail - except for greeting cards and thank you notes. She hasn't seemed particularly interested in law or the Constitution intellectually. (This doesn't disqualify her from Bush's perspective, I guess, because he's on record for verbally expressing his disdain for intellectualism.)

Putting Miers on the Supreme Court would be akin to making a freshman English major Chairman of the English department, despite having no journal-published writings. Only about 100 times worse.

None of this should sound elitist. It wouldn't be elitist not to promote a neophyte to the highest position in her profession in any other realm. It certainly shouldn't be considered as such when you're talking about a 20, 30 year run on the nation's highest court.

Blogging in a Media Vacuum

Reporters Without Borders offers this freebie handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents in PDF form. As they explain, "Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest." In this article, Reports Without Borders describes North Korea and Turkmenistan as "the world's black holes for news," but also criticizes the United States for its imprisonment of the NYT's Judith Miller.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Little Penguin for Penguins

Did you know "penguin" is geek speak for being particularly ideological or religious about something? It's an allusion to the seeming fanaticism some display for the Linux platform.

Well, as you'll recall some folks have recently waxed a little penguin about penguins.

Thankfully, the director of March of the Penguins has thrown a little cold water on the idea that the cuddly creatures in his documentary extol the virtues of monogomy and reflect the "theory" of intelligent design.

If they're monogamous, Luc Jacquet says, they're only serially so:
If you want an example of monogamy, penguins are not a good choice. The divorce rate in emperor penguins is 80 to 90 per cent each year. After they see the chick is OK, most of them divorce. They change every year.
Not exactly roles models for life-time commitment.

Where ID's concerned, Jacquet is quite clear, too:
For me there is no doubt about evolution. I am a scientist. The intelligent design theory is a step back to the thinking of 300 years ago. My film is not supposed to be interpreted in this way. Some scientists I know find the film interesting because it can be a good argument against intelligent design. People should not jump on these bandwagons.
Amen brother.

(Via Huffington Post)

Patriotism

You'll never have a quiet world until you knock the patriotism out of the human race. - George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Arena Schmarena



The new Charlotte Bobcats Arena opens today. The sculptures are interesting. Looks a little like they were snatched from an infant. But they're colorful. The building looks kinda cool, if squat (as arenas typically are), nestled among the big banking towers. Its construction, however, interrupted the neatly crosshatched streets in the vicinity,



bulging as it does
across what was a straight avenue
(5th near Caldwell), like an aneurysm in a city vein.



The word is that tickets aren't selling too well, though. Pity. The majority of us round here expressly told local government we didn't want it. Didn't want to pay for it. We got it anyway for $265 million, paid for with local tourism taxes.

So, the Stones rock into town tomorrow night to get things rolling. Tickets run from $60 to $350. And U2 play there in November, too, though they "sold out" within an hour. I say "sold out" because you can apparently still buy tix online through alternate venues, if you're willing to pay through the nose for them. (I found some here starting, starting at $230 and going for up to $863 a pop.) I'm thinking scalpers have figured out a way to hack Ticketmaster or similar sites, so they can buy stax of tix as soon as they're released. Clearly, the Web has encouraged a new breed of ├╝ber scalper. The scalperati.

What's the common thread through all this, of course? Money, money, money.

'Cos that's how we play it here in the Queen City.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ms POTUS

ABC's new Commander in Chief is good, cheesey fun. You've got a female President portrayed by the lovely, the statuesque actor cum archer Geena Davis. (Not, we're told, not modeled on Hilary.) And you've got the ever watchable and gleefully sinister Donald Sutherland in the role of Karl Rove Republican Speaker of the House, Nathan Templeton. In tonight's episode, she chastens the Russian president and he drops his head like a shamed schoolboy. In the first episode, the President pressured the military into rescuing a young African girl from certain execution in Nigeria for having a child out of wedlock. (That's based on a true happening--minus the rescue by American forces. That woman was freed by a Nigerian court because of a technicality.) A strong, intelligent, President with integrity? Ah, well, we can dream, can't we.

Monday, October 17, 2005

McCain on NPR's This I Believe

If we had to have a Republican President, why couldn't it have been this guy:
To me, that was faith: a faith that unites and never divides, a faith that bridges unbridgeable gaps in humanity. It is the faith that we are all equal and endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is the faith I would die to defend. ...

My determination to act with honor and integrity impels me to work in service to my country. I have believed that the means to real happiness and the true worth of a person is measured by how faithfully we serve a cause greater than our self-interest. In America, we celebrate the virtues of the quiet hero -- the modest man who does his duty without complaint or expectation of praise; the man who listens closely for the call of his country, and when she calls, he answers without reservation, not for fame or reward, but for love.
If it weren't for that unconscionably nasty business down in South Carolina.

Exercise: Compare & Contrast


Compare and contrast the following statements. Your essay should comment on common rhetorical devices and discuss the difference between perception versus reality in political discourse:
"[T]here's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality." - President George Bush, on hurricane relief in address to the nation, September 15, 2005

"[T]his poverty has roots in generations of segregation and discrimination that closed many doors of opportunity. As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality." - President George Bush, speaking about the poverty revealed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, September 16, 2005

"[I]n a speech from New Orleans on Sept. 15, President Bush had promised the nation 'bold action' to tackle poverty, which, he said, 'has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America.' It's now four weeks later, and that bold action has yet to materialize.

"Instead, cruelly, Congress is talking of moving in the opposite direction, cutting programs for the poor to pay for hurricane relief." - News-Sentinel editorial, Fort Wayne, Texas, September 15, 2005

"Items on the agenda in Washington include the extension of tax cuts on investment income and repealing the estate tax, both aimed at the wealthy. Also proposed are tens of billions of dollars of cuts to services like food stamps, federal student loans and Medicaid, the health insurance for the low-income Americans.

"The president's vow to pay for reconstruction in New Orleans without raising taxes means further services are likely to be cut. Democrats have also attacked the Bush administration for suspending the minimum wage requirement for companies working in the hurricane-hit region. The minimum wage of $5.15 an hour has not in any case been increased since 1997: adjusted for inflation it is at its lowest level since 1956." - David Teather in The Guardian, October 17, 2005

Sunday, October 16, 2005

If Only

If it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
I know from experience that many on the conservative right revere Solzhenitsyn, imprisoned as he was for standing up to the commies. I hope that in embracing his actions, they'll also carefully consider his thoughts. Left or right, though, conservative or liberal, seems we'd all benefit from keeping the above in mind.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Moira Hahn



California artist Moira Hahn has redesigned her site and it is lovely. Be sure to check out the exhaustive gallery of her stunning paintings.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Stata Center



Detail of The Ray and Maria Stata Center at MIT in Boston. Architect: Frank Gehry, of course. I recognized his distinctive style from a good block away at night and went back in daylight for a better look a couple of times. What a wonderful working and activity space: coffee shop, cafe, offices, classrooms, random study areas, a tres chic bar up near the roof. Winding staircases and sporadically-placed elevators that only seem to go up half a floor or so.

Flow

Here at the User Interface 10 Conference in Boston, and I thought I'd blog a thing or two, but it hasn't happened. However, I am about to hear Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ("Me-hi Chick-sent-me-hi-lee," he pronounces it - I always refer to him as "the guy who wrote Flow") speak, so I thought I'd at least blog that, so anyone reading who's familiar with him will be jealous. Heh-heh.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Once I Was Blind

From The Business, a conservative British paper comes this astonishing quote:
This newspaper is second to none in its pro-American sentiments; in the early Bush years it devoted much ink to defending the President against the often malevolent and ignorant attacks of a congenitally anti-American European media. But we know a lost cause when we see one: the longer President Bush occupies the White House the more it becomes clear that his big-government domestic policies, his preference for Republican and business cronies over talented administrators, his lack of a clear intellectual compass and his superficial and often wrong-headed grasp of international affairs – all have done more to destroy the legacy of Ronald Reagan, a President who halted then reversed America’s post-Vietnam decline, than any left-liberal Democrat or European America-hater could ever have dreamt of. As one astute American conservative commentator has already observed, President Bush has morphed into the Manchurian Candidate, behaving as if placed among Americans by their enemies to do them damage.
(Filched from Andy Sullivan)

But, wait, there's more:
This [announcement of 200 billion for Katrina aid] merely completed Mr Bush’s demise among America’s wisest conservatives, who have always regarded his big-government conservatism as the greatest betrayal of all. Nor is it just the White House that is contaminated by it: when senior Republican leaders in Congress, who have presided over an orgy of public spending and pork-barrel, claimed that there was no fat left to cut in federal spending and that “after 11 years of Republican majority we’ve pared it down pretty good”, it was clear that the inmates had indeed taken over the asylum.
And, finally, I loved this line: "There is now a distinctive fin de regime stink about Republican Washington."

Aren't the British just the greatest writers?

Wander over to the NRO, too, and you'll find an inordinate amount of Bush-bashing--even among some of his most servile supporters. None other than Kathryn Jean Lopez had this to say about Bush's testimony on behalf of Harriet Miers this week:
The president just took some questions. To sum up his message: She's my girl. She's a good girl. Trust me.

I hate this groaning-when-the-president speaks reflex I've had all week on this issue.
Kevin Drum sent over his condolences and welcomed KJL to the fold.

Forget Miers, conservatives are now saying things about the President's qualifications, that some of us were saying before he was elected the first time. Still, at this point in the game, there's not much thrill left in being able to say, "I told you so."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Did you know Brad Pitt is working with Frank Gehry? Seriously. Yes, that Brad Pitt. He's actually designing a restaurant and penthouse for a new Gehry project, too. (Via kottke)

You might also remember that Daniel Day Lewis dropped out of acting for a while and became a cobbler in Florence before returning as Bill the Butcher in Scorsese's Gangs of New York.

It's kinda cool to see guys like this do something a little less predictable with their careers, innit?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Disorderly Conduct

Pope Benedict XVI and Catholic catechism teach that homosexuals are “objectively” and “intrinsically disordered.” With that in mind, the church is preparing to ban gays from the priesthood. Now, mental health professionals have not considered homosexuality a disorder since 1973 and the APA removed it from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders at that time. However, the DSM does list alcoholism as a disorder. The question is then, to be consistent, will the Pope soon ban all alcoholic men from the priesthood?

Of course, if the Pope were really disqualifying men from the priesthood for their disorders, he'd have to purge much of the priesthood. But the church isn't really disqualifying gays because homosexuality is a disorder; they're disqualifying gays because they still consider homosexuality a sin, "an abomination." It just doesn't sound very sophisticated for them to say so in the 21st century. So, instead, the church couches bigotry in anachronistic pseudo-psychiatric jargon.

Update 10/08: Andy Sullivan direct us to National Catholic Reporter which says Pope Benedict may be back-peddling on a complete ban of gay priests. Sort of. The statements still clearly include an implicit belief that homosexuality itself is sinful.

Of course, this could be considered somewhat progressive compared to fundamentalist Protestants, since it allows that someone be gay but not practicing and still serve as a priest. I don't think fundamentalist Baptists would consider a celibate gay much better than a practicing one. The fact that someone would accept the label "gay" for himself would be simply unacceptable.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Dept of Now You've Gone and Done It

Remember Josh Rushing the young military public affairs officer in the documentary Control Room? Well, apparently, he'll soon be reporting for Al-Jazeera. I would pay money to see Donald Rumsfeld's face when he first hears that. For those who read consider Al-Jazeera "the enemy," I'd encourage you to watch Control Room. You may come away with a different take on the TV network.

Says Rushing:
What the Marines trained me to do was to represent the best of what America stands for to a foreign audience. That's exactly what I'm going to do.
While we're on the subject of Rummy, can we agree that any time he gestures like this,

Rummy prevaricating

he's likely prevaricating?

Educating With Caveats

Indri directs us to these useful textbook disclaimer stickers. One for every occasion!

Sample:
This textbook contains material on gravity. Gravity is a theory, not a fact, regarding a force that cannot be directly seen. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.
Amen. Remember kids, gravity, like evolution, is just a theory.

One of the disclaimers includes a link to this excellent explanation of the difference between scientific laws, hypotheses, and theories. Every one who this evolution is just a theory should read that to understand exactly what a theory is.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Two Words

Advertising idiocy. Yes, that's really a mosque in the background. Does anyone believe they didn't know that when they were brainstorming the ad? Way to win the hearts and minds of the Middle East, ya'll.

(Via Crooks and Liars.)

Ouch! Doh! Ouch!

It's not as bad as Caligula putting his horse in the Senate. - Richard Brookhiser, NRO. (Via Andy Sullivan)
That has to be a strong contender for quote of the week already. And from a hard-right conservative no less. I feel for Miers!

And conservative warlord Bill Kristol entitled his column in response to her nomination "Disappointed, Depressed and Demoralized." Has Bush's cronyism (not to mention hubris) finally caught up with him? This blogger even coined the expression "Brownie Moment" to describe his epiphany after Bush's recent "heck of a job" comment, and he applies it, er, liberally to Miers's nomination:
[I]n the wake of the deteriorating situation in Iraq, [Bush's] political impotence at implementing his agenda, the profligate expansion of government under his watch, and his failure to veto a single bill during five years in office, the Brownie comment was just too much.

That was my Brownie moment. And there’s a whole country full of gobsmacked Republicans who just had theirs this morning.
With Bush's re-election safely behind them, are some of his staunchest allies finally allowing the scales to fall away from their eyes?

Miers herself has called Bush the smartest man she's ever known. Doesn't that disqualify her already?

And here's the most ironic commentary. From the site actually called, wait for it, Confirm Them:
Where’s my Scalia? Where’s my Thomas? Harriet Miers? Are you freakin’ kidding me?!

Can someone–anyone–make the case for Justice Miers on the merits? Seriously, this is the best the president could do? ...

Oh, and if any of you RNC staffers are reading, you can take my name off the mailing list. I am not giving the national Republican Party another dime.
Ahem. Confirm them?

National Corruption Awareness Week

Apparently, in addition to being Banned Books Week, last week must've been National Corruption Awareness Week, what with the revelations about Frist, Delay, and, rounding out the week, this story: Federal auditors have found the Bush administration guilty of disseminating "'covert propaganda' inside the United States, in violation of a longstanding, explicit statutory ban." The audit report doesn't just slap the administration on the hand for its actions, many of which we've heard over time (Armstrong Williams), it declares them illegal. Hopefully, that's not the last we'll hear of their findings.

Looks like it's National Corruption Awareness Month though: Tom Delay's just been indicted again. (Oh yeah, then there's this whole Maggie Thatcher/Tom Delay thing.)

Friday, September 30, 2005

Texas 2050?


I was just daydreaming about the whole worst-case End of Oil scenario and wondering, well, what about peanut and sunflower oil? I know there's been some success in developing hydrogen-powered vehicles run by sunflower oil. So I imagined a Texas blanketed with sunflower fields, which run as far as the eye can see. Much prettier than oil wells don't you think?

Too Moral

I blogged this quote just over a year ago, having found it in my notes from a lecture series I attended in Prague. Seems ever more relevant in a week with the news about Frist and Delay. Eda Kriseova, spoke on "Literature and Nationalism" and is a friend and biographer of the Czech president and writer Vaclav Havel. About his waning popularity, she said:
Havel is "too moral" for the ordinary person. They prefer the lying and stealing pragmatic bureaucrat since they make them feel comfortable with their immorality.
I often wish we had leadership in modern American politics, which inspired the public the way Havel I'm sure there are multiple reasons why we don't: the modern newscoverage, which benefits the more telegenic most greatly; the way politics attracts the power hungry and repels the intellectual, for example. But, boy, there's the sting of truth to Kriseova's remark, too, isn't there?

Best Ad Ever

Just watch it. Go ahead.

And then there's the small version.

Update: The Carlton Draught site also has this great Boardroom Bingo game (pdf). Amazing how corporate speak in Australia corresponds so closely with the American stuff. What a shame for colorful Aussie English to be overcome with business jargon! Guess they can't be all "Cor, didja see Gazza go aggro on Bazza for that shonky bizness of 'is, mate?" all the time, but still.

(Via The Marketing Playbook)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Booksellers, Where Are You?

I didn't see a Banned Books display at Books-A-Million, nor did I see any sign of this week's emphasis on Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble's site either. So I wrote 'em all to ask why, and let you know what I hear back. (So far, two boilerplate emails from B&N. Nuttin from the other two.)

Blue Gal notes Amazon's silence, too, and point us to Alibris and Tattered Cover (great Denver Bookstore) both feature banned books this week. Good on 'em. Why not the others? I'd hate to think it's because they don't wanna be controversial. That'd be ironic.

Thanks to Boing Boing for supporting Banned Books Week, too.

Update 9/28: I heard back from Books-A-Million:
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I see that we recognize Banned Books Week online at www.booksamillion.com and have passed your e-mail along to the director of operations over our retail stores to see if we do the same at all of our locations or if this was a mistake on the part of our staff at the Charlotte locations.
It's true that they do promote it on their homepage - with the 5th of 10 bullets in the Spotlight section of their homepage. The first bullet? In bold: "Booksamillion.com is a five-time winner of the BizRate Circle of Excellence Award." Something Marketing probably mandated, but their customers aren't going to care about. At least they mention Banned Books Week. Amazon and B&N don't mention it at all.

Why the concern? Remember: these are booksellers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Top 100 Banned Books

Here's the ALA's listing of the top 100 banned books. Shame, shame: I've only read 5 or 6 (memory fails!) of them, though I'm reading 2 more right now. Maybe because an extraordinary number of them are children's books? So, no doubt, I could knock out another half a dozen any evening in the children's section of my local library. Somehow Lolita didn't even make the top 100. It may be the best of the banned books I've read, though Of Mice and Men is extraordinary in its simplicity and in its message. Some I need to get to: Slaughter House Five, The Handmaid's Tale, and Brave New World. Two of those I have on my shelf and still haven't gotten to--among a whole host of other books. I started American Psychoonce, but actually did think it was crap, so I put it down. The graphic violence in some passages was certainly imaginative, but lapsed heavily into the lurid. I've read a lot of Bret Easton Ellis, and he's a brilliant writer, but he can also be tedious, sensationalistic, and a terrible name-dropper. Still, the movie version was suitably horrific and I can't imagine anyone outdoing Christian Bale in the role. Maybe I'll try it again some time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Banned Books Week

Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it. - Mark Twain
It's Banned Books Week from September 24th–October 1st, so be sure to buy, read or give away a banned book.

The American Library Association has more info, as you might expect. They also listed the most often challenged books from last year. The Chocolate War topped the list (again), but for the first time in five years, there wasn't a Harry Potter book in this top ten list. Interestingly enough, the most challenged book last year was Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, not for language or explicit content, but for inaccuracy and for its political viewpoint?

If we're banning books for those reasons (and Arming America is fraudulent), then I can suggest another worthy entry. But, no, though John O'Neill may have packed his Kerry book with untruths, I still support his right to publish it. (Of course, publishers also have a right to refuse to publish it. That's not censorship. Naturally, Regnery was only too happy to publish the book and that's certainly their right.)

Amnesty International lists authors who are currently being persecuted because of their writing. They also have this poster (PDF) you can print out to promote the week. Scholastic offers advice for teachers on how to promote Banned Books Week when teaching kids and interacting with parents.

Think I'll grab The Chocolate War or The Catcher in the Rye myself, as I've never fully read either. Any other recommendations?

Update: I went to Books-A-Million and bought the above two books, and they didn't even have a Banned Books display for this week. What's up with that?

Conservative Cats

Russell is a Republican is a book detailing "Republican party values from a cats point of view." Seriously. Mwah-hah-hah!

Who needs this book, though? I could've told you cats were Republicans. Cold. Aloof. Look how they switch their tales! Always so disappointed with us humans. And dogs then. They must be liberals. That's why they're called "man's best friend."

(Via Andy Sullivan.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hometown Hero

This guy from my home town survived a shark attack by punching the thing repeatedly until it left him alone. Yessir, that how we Perthites (Perthians?) get it done. (What do you call someone from Perth? I have no idea and I was born and raised there.) ""I lifted my body out of the water," he said, "and I just got my fists and I remember what I'd read in the paper. I just started punching and I connected with its head." See. We read, too.

BTW, watch out ya'll, we're gradually taking over. Yes, we're a shark-punching, phone-throwing, croc-wrestling, auto asphyxiating* lot, and we're taking over. You heard it here first.

You doubt my words? Well, who owns News Corp?

*Admittedly, this trait may be counterproductive to the cause.

Food for Thought

We are beyond law, which is not unusual for an empire. Unfortunately, we are also beyond common sense. - Gore Vidal

All things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Men who allow their love of power to give them a distorted view of the world are to be found in every asylum: one man will think he is the governor of the Bank of England, another will think he is the king, and yet another will think he is God. Highly similar delusions, if expressed by educated men in obscure language, lead to professorships of philosophy, and if expressed by emotional men in eloquent language, lead to dictatorships. - Bertrand Russell

I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Separation? Schmeperation

Boing Boing links to this fascinating story about a TV show supposedly endorsed by George Bush called DHS. The producer has been busted for scamming investors out of 5.5 million.

There's just one brief paragraph I want to focus on though:
More than 70 investors, including churches, had invested money in the series on the basis that DHS - Department of Homeland Security - had been personally approved by Mr Bush.
Churches? Churches invested money in a TV series that intended to lionize the Department of Homeland Security? A series that was long rumored to have received George Bush's particular blessing? WTF? I don't even know where to start with this. Seems odd that a church would choose a TV show with that particular subject to endorse and invest in. But the investing is even weirder. Since when do churches invest in television shows? How does that work exactly? And if they were going to invest in something like that, one imagines The Passion of the Christ (regardless of what you think of the film itself) or Touched by an Angel, but DHS? What next? Walker Texas Ranger? The next Tom Clancy flick? Some sort of military propaganda flick? It boggles the mind from every angle.

I've Been Diagnosed

Bizarre: I just found a link to this site from Autism Kingdom under Asperger Characteristic. How it got there, I have no idea. I suspect it's some sort of fake site/link farm to collect info for spamming or something as many of the links on the site aren't related to the subject. I also get regular emails, supposedly from a woman, from a similar site which sells some sort of breast enhancement cream, telling me that they've added a link to my site, so I'm obliged to add a reciprocal link. Hah!

Friday, September 23, 2005

SUV RIP?

Probably not, but Toyota is saying that Katrina has driven up hybrid sales. I wondered as much. Last night I stopped by the bulletin board in the men's locker room at the Y and there were were about six photos posted of cars for sale. All but one were SUVs.

Six years plus and a good 140,000 miles later, my Honda Civic's still running like a top. And I bought it used with about 20,000 on it. Of course, the year I bought it ('99), you find gas for 69, 79 cents a gallon some places in South Carolina for a while. I could fill my tank for ten bucks. Not so now. More like 25 bucks. But then I pull up behind these SUVs at the pump, and they're paying, what, 50 bucks and more to fill up now? And they're not getting as much bang for their buck either.

Daniel Gross points out that Priuses was outselling Hummers two to one by late 2003. Hummers languish on th elot, while there's a waiting list for Priuses. My friend in Atlanta could tell you, Minis don't stay on the lot long either. You may have heard about Ford's huge new hybrid initiative, too: 250,000 hybrid cars and trucks per year by 2010.

So maybe the U.S. needn't be the Land of the SUV after all.

And, yes, there's even a hybrid replacement for the Humvee in the works.

Allow Me to Translate

From the Department of Defense transcript of an interview between "policital commentator and talk show host" Laura Ingraham and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:

INGRAHAM: Fantastic. If you need someone to be that military spokesperson over in Iraq, I'm happy to give up my microphone any time, Mr. Secretary. Any time you call I'll be happy to jump over there.

TRANSLATION: I’d happily ditch any pretense of journalistic integrity just to serve at your feet!

RUMSFELD: You're terrific, Laura. Thanks so much.

TRANSLATION: Goooood doggie. Here’s a treat.

Here also are a couple of Ingraham’s tough questions for the SOD (the Secretary of Defense, that is):

“Are you confident that a year from now or six months from now public opinion will move toward embracing progress in Iraq and the fact that Iraq was worth it?”

“You've got a press corps against you and you've got an international media who's oftentimes against you so it's very difficult.” [Sorry, that one’s simply a bald statement, not a question.]

“I hear a very different account of what is happening, very positive stories, again, and yet I don't see the stuff reported. It's frustrating to me. I can't imagine how frustrating to you it must be.” [Sorry, that’s more a bald statement of support, too, isn’t it.]

[Here’s a real question. Promise.] "Do we think, Mr. Secretary, that having a military spokesperson on the ground day in and day out, ticking off three positive pieces of news out of Iraq every day, someone that every American knows, comes to know whether it's General Casey or someone else [e.g. Laura Ingraham], do you think that's something that would affect the public opinion at this point? Because I'm concerned if these numbers keep going the way they are, it's going to do damage to the President's war on terror overall and obviously his standing on other issues at home." [See, there was a question in there.]

(Via Andy Sullivan.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What? Supermodels Are Doing Coke?

I'm shocked, I tell you. Shocked. And so apparently are H&M and Chanel.

No worries. I'm sure she can still find plenty of work with Calvin Klein and Versace.

No, it's really not news and my point is that "kate moss" and "heroin chic" have been synonyms for well over decade now and for these companies to pretend otherwise is pretty nonsensical. Obviously, she's getting dropped for getting busted, not for partaking.

Next thing you know, we'll find out athletes are doing steroids or something.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Gouge Away!

A week ago, John Stossel put down his well-thumbed copy of Atlas Shrugged (sorry, he actually referred to Adam Smith) to sing the praises of price gouging. That's right. You see the idea is that if a storeowner radically raises the price of goods during a time of crisis, only those who really need said goods will purchase them, effectively allowing for the fair distribution of the same goods. Well, let's let him do the splainin':
Consider this scenario: You are thirsty -- worried that your baby is going to become dehydrated. You find a store that's open, and the storeowner thinks it's immoral to take advantage of your distress, so he won't charge you a dime more than he charged last week. But you can't buy water from him. It's sold out.

You continue on your quest, and finally find that dreaded monster, the price gouger. He offers a bottle of water that cost $1 last week at an "outrageous" price -- say $20. You pay it to survive the disaster.

You resent the price gouger. But if he hadn't demanded $20, he'd have been out of water. It was the price gouger's "exploitation" that saved your child.
The price gouger's "exploitation" saves your child! Touches the heart don't it? Well, when you've put down your tear-soaked tissue, consider this alternate scenario:

You're thirsty and you need water for your self and for your new-born baby. You find a convenience store that's open and you discover it has a single six-pack of bottled water left. How much? $20. It's a lot, but you do have a single twenty left and maybe you can make the water last a couple of days.

Just as you pick up the pack and head to the counter, you hear a screech of rubber outside. A Humvee pulls to a stop and a big guy wearing a Polo shirt and a Rolex jumps out.

"How much for that water?" he yells before he even gets into the store.

The store manager looks at you. Looks at the Humvee guy.

"Twenty dollars," he says. "But this is the last pack and the lady is about to buy it."

"I'll give you $200," the guy says.

The store manager looks at you. He looks at Humvee guy. He looks at the well-thumbed copy of Atlas Shrugged on the counter before him (or his clipping of John Stossel's stirring article) and he remembers the merits of acting selfishly.

"OK, $200 it is. Sorry lady."

The Humvee guy pays up, jumps in his vehicle and speeds off to safety. The price gouger has saved the Hummer guy a stop on the way to his second home up in the mountains! You return to the street to see if you can find any puddle water clean enough to drink.

Stirring, isn't it! That's the triumph of unchecked capitalism, Mr. Stossel. Or, at least, that scenario's just as likely as yours.

(I'd also suggest Stossel read Jose Saramego's Blindness for a much more likely depiction of how folks might act during a time of national disaster.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Gospel According to Vonnegut

Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. The hell I can't! Look at the Reverand Pat Robertson. And he is as happy as a pig in shit. - Kurt Vonnegut on The Daily Show