Friday, February 24, 2006

Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Civil War

how I learned to stop worry and love the civil war

New and extraordinary evidence that Donald Rumsfeld was pushing to tie Iraq to 9/11 immediately after the event - whether such ties existed or not. Department of Defense staffer Stephen Cambone took notes during meetings with Rumsfeld on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Here's some of what he wrote:
"[b]est info fast . . . judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time - not only UBL [Usama Bin Laden]"

"Go massive . . . Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

"Hard to get a good case."
No shit, Sherlock.

Anyone still doubting this administration manufactured consent for the war?

(Via the the inimitable Andrew Sullivan)

Elsewhere, National Review founder William F. Buckley bluntly declares "One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed."

Nothing but utter silence in response from the folks now running the Review.

Update: And let's not forget Francis Fukuyama, who now says:
As we approach the third anniversary of the onset of the Iraq war, it seems very unlikely that history will judge either the intervention itself or the ideas animating it kindly. By invading Iraq, the Bush administration created a self-fulfilling prophecy: Iraq has now replaced Afghanistan as a magnet, a training ground and an operational base for jihadist terrorists, with plenty of American targets to shoot at. The United States still has a chance of creating a Shiite-dominated democratic Iraq, but the new government will be very weak for years to come; the resulting power vacuum will invite outside influence from all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran. There are clear benefits to the Iraqi people from the removal of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and perhaps some positive spillover effects in Lebanon and Syria. But it is very hard to see how these developments in themselves justify the blood and treasure that the United States has spent on the project to this point.
He concludes with words I agree with almost completely:
Neoconservatism, whatever its complex roots, has become indelibly associated with concepts like coercive regime change, unilateralism and American hegemony. What is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, for how America is to relate to the rest of the world — ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about.
I would make this point though: a belief in "the universality of human rights" is hardly unique to any strain of the conservative movement. Human rights shouldn't be a left/right issue, even if in practical terms they often are. Having said that, when conservatives finally and unequivocally accept that gays rights are human rights, too, I'll probably find the idea of a neoconservative belief in "the universality of human rights" a little more feasible.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Rare as Hen's Teeth

Fascinating stuff: Findings like this should make any inquisitive creationist question his beliefs. Chickens with rudimentary alligator teeth.

(Via Pharyngula)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cinema that Instructs

Today, Andrew Sullivan asks,
Here's a question for Hollywood: why do we rarely see movies about the brutalization of women in Islamic countries? Isn't this virtual slavery a vital human rights issue? Shouldn't this appeal to liberal film-makers?
I can't disagree with Sullivan, though I know he's playing these thoughts against the sentiment among some liberals that, hey, maybe the Mohammed cartoons weren't such a great idea*, as well as the general conservative meme that liberals lack appropriate outrage for militant Islamic violence.

I can however recommend two recent movies which concentrate on this theme, though neither of them came out of Hollywood.

Osama - A deeply sad movie about a young Afghan girl who passes as a boy in order to help her mother, since she's not supposed to leave her home without a male companion. The Taliban discovers her deceit and she's about to be executed for it, when an old man "saves her" - by offering to take the 12-year-old as his wife. An utterly depressing ending and a clear critique of the customs, which do amount to human rights abuses. It was the first movie made in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.

Kandahar - This movie from Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf traces the story of a Canadian woman who immigrated from Afghanistan as a child who returns to Afghanistan to track down her sister. As she journeys through her homeland, she encounters the harsh conditions created by the Taliban.

You'll also find pointed criticism of Islamic society in the extraordinarily thoughtful films by Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. (See Ten for example, which consists solely of 10 conversations taking place in a car driven by an Iranian woman.)

So, interestingly enough, I'd make the point that the movies most critical of militant Islam and its human rights abuses are coming from places where it's been (or still is) most difficult to be critical. It's movies like these that made me realize there's a vibrant and humanistic arts culture in these countries, that both resists oppression and gets very little play in the West. Why otherwise would so many of us reduce the average Islamic person to a woman ululating wildly in the street or a young man burning the American flag? There's so much more to Muslim culture.

I'd also recommend Turtles Can Fly, the first movie made in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Another extraordinarily humanistic and compassionate Iranian movie.
*I have mixed feelings: I think the newspapers have the right to print whatever they jolly well like. I also think we all self-censor every day and for good reasons. And I think there are right and wrong motivations to shove potentially offensive material in people's faces.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Chock Full O' Nuts

the offending cupApparently, last year, Baylor University banned a Starbucks cup from its campus, saying the quotation it featured promoted gayness. Not to be outdone, and due to the same quote, Bob Jones University recently banned Starbucks from the campus all together.

The offending quote? Armistead Maupin:
"My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long. I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don't make that mistake yourself. Life's too damn short."
A BJU student blogging about the quote details how the University's President Dr. Stephen Jones contacted Starbucks to complain about it and didn't get much of a response. So Jones announced the ban in chapel on January 31st. The student concludes, "Does Starbucks have an agenda? I don't know, but this makes them suspect."

Suspect of what? Compassion? Tolerance? Acceptance?

In the university's defense, they have every right to ban Starbucks if they like, and I know that that "damn" the quote ends with is considered salty language for them. They could've just thrown the offending cups out though.* Besides, if you start disassociating yourself from every company that recognizes gay people, where does it end? For example, I know many modern corporations grant benefits normally provided to heterosexual couples to gay people with same-sex partners. Would the university seriously consider not doing business with those companies?

Elswhere we learn that Starbucks also included quotes from evangelical Christian Rick Warren and conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg:
Everywhere, unthinking mobs of “independent thinkers” wield tired clichés like cudgels, pummeling those who dare question “enlightened” dogma. If “violence never solved anything,” cops wouldn’t have guns and slaves may never have been freed. If it’s better that 10 guilty men go free to spare one innocent, why not free 100 or 1,000,000? Clichés begin arguments, they don’t settle them.
Here Ed Driscoll complains about the dearth of quotes from conservatives, and so does one young Republican, who says, "I'm not surprised. I'm used to being under-represented."

I guess, for some, holding the majority in the House and Senate and having a Republican President in office ain't enough representation.

Update: The Greenville News has also covered this story. In their article, the school's spokesman says of Starbucks, "They were supportive of homosexual events and causes. That would be a problem for our constituency."

Supportive of homosexual events and causes? Here's just one list of companies, which explicitly support gay rights. It includes American Airlines, Chase, Citigroup, Deloitte, IBM, Nike, Prudential, Merrill Lynch, Shell, and Volvo.

*In the comments, zacfoo tells us that the quote cups were never actually used at BJU, which only seems to make the rationale behind the ban even more unusual.

Best Use of the Internets Ever?

Robert Stribson

Presenting: The Simpsomaker

(Via Pharyngula)

Notes from Bizarro World

Sorry for being shot

(Via Josh Marshall)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Shine a Light

Joseph Arthur

Donate 5 bucks for Katrina relief and get 6 versions of Joseph Arthur's "In the Sun" covered by Michael Stipe with help from Arthur himself (one of my favorite singer/song-writers) and Chris Martin. A project organized by Stipe as the In The Sun Foundation. More info on REM's site, too.

Darwin Day

Charlie Darwin

Yesterday was Darwin Day and I failed to recognize it. Sorry Charlie!

What to do for Darwin Day? Many folks criticize evolution without knowing a whole lot about it (I didn't come from no monkey!), so whether you're a Darwin fan or a skeptic, how about reading at least one article about evolution this week? Here are some good ones:

Organs of Extreme Perfection and Complication by Charles Darwin - the man himself explains how something as complex as the eye could evolve over time well over a century before Michael Behe coined the term "irreducible complexity."

Evolution 101 - Berkeley offers this cool site to introduce folks to "evolutionary theory and mechanisms, from definitions to details, natural selection to genetic drift, mutations to punctuated equilibrium."

Darwin in the Dock by Margaret Talbot - this exceptional New Yorker article details why Intelligent Design proponents would eventually fail in their recent case brought before Judge John Jones - a Republican appointed judge - in Harrisburg, PA.

Scientific Laws, Hypotheses & Theories - not about evolution, ostensibly, but a cogent explanation of the difference between these terms, consequently demonstrating why evolution is not "just a theory."

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense [pdf] - this cheekily named article answers some common myths and criticisms of evolution quite effectively.

Happy reading!

And, tangentially, I can't wait to see Flock of Dodos.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Padded Résumé: Part Deux

In case you missed it another Bush appointee stepped down this past week, due to a profound lack of qualifications.

Interestingly enough, George C. Deutsch was involved with two recent and distressing NASA related stories. Turns out the kid's 24-years old and never completed his studies at Taxas A&M--though that's not what his résumé said. 24 years old! Shoot, I'd love to be a writer/editor in NASA's DC public affairs office, and I've got a decade and change on Deutsch. That and I have two earned degrees in Journalism and English from a well-known religious institution, as well as a keen interest in science. Mr. Bush, I'm highly qualified for the job.

And I'd vow to allow NASA's top experts access to the media and speaking engagements and to allow scientists to convey scientific theory using their own language. ...

Doh! I think I just disqualified myself!

Serious question: with 2005 being the year of Brownie and Myers and, oh, these folks among others, why hasn't this story gotten more coverage?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Do Less Evil

Meant to blog this a couple of weeks ago, but it's so rich, I figured I'd share it now anyway. The IHT's Delving into Davos share the following exchange:
The chiefs of Microsoft and Google traded barbs on a panel Friday afternoon. They were discussing Google's decision to enter China with a self-censored search function.

Speaking about the Google credo "Don't be evil" CEO Eric Schmidt explained how the company weighed the decision to self-censor in China for more than a year before making the decision.

"We even made an evil scale and decided it was more evil not to go in than to go in," Schmidt said.

On hearing that, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates muttered into his microphone: "That's do less evil."

In response, Schmidt said: "I don't want to get caught up in semantics."
Heh. Since it's Microsoft versus Google here, there's an element of Pot meet Kettle, but still. Schmidt says they created an "evil scale" to help make the decision? I mean, isn't this one you can kinda go with your gut on? Methinks one thing most likely necessitated the creation of this scale in the first place: $$$.

Meanwhile, over at Evil or Not? today, where they've created an evil scale of their own, voters have rated Google 75% evil.

(With some apologies to fans of Google; as a designer type, I'm a huge fan of their various online apps/interfaces - just increasingly suspicious of some of their business practices.)

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Meme of Fours

Via the illustrious Saheli, a meme of fours:

Four jobs I've had:

1. Stocking shelves in a grocery store in Australia
2. Teaching English as a second language in Korea
3. Communications Coordinator for a non-profit medical agency
4. Information architect for Web development agency

And a whole buncha jobs through college and beyond as well.

Four movies I can watch over and over:

1. 24 Hour Party People
2. Bladerunner
3. Casablanca
4. In the Mood for Love (or just about any other Wong Kar Wai movie)

Hard to limit it to just four! I could watch About a Boy over and over as well - OK, so I'm cheating now.

Four places I've lived:

1. Perth, Western Australia
2. Greenville, SC
3. Pusan, Korea
4. Charlotte, NC

Four TV shows I love:

1. The Daily Show
2. The Simpsons
3. The Office (original British version, tho the US version is great, too)
4. Fawlty Towers

Four places I've vacationed:

1. Czech Republic (mainly Prague with side trips to Karlovy Vary and Berlin, Germany)
2. Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, Bilbao)
3. Morocco (Casablanca, Marrakech, Fes)
4. Puerto Rico (San Juan, Vieques)

Four of my favorite dishes:

1. fried rice with spicy chicken and eggplant
2. fettucini alfredo with sauted mushrooms, garlic and onions and glass of red wine
3. curried anything!
4. sushi, especially with smoked salmon, avocado

Four sites I visit daily:

1. Andrew Sullivan
2. Political Animal
3. New York Times
4. Crooks & Liars

Four places I would rather be right now:

1. Strolling La Rambla in Barcelona, Spain
2. Chilling on a beach outside Sydney, Australia
3. Wandering around Rio De Janeiro, Brazil with my camera
4. Dining al fresco somewhere in Italy

Four others I am tagging:

1. Chris
2. Ken
3. Shonna
4. You, gentle reader. Yes, you.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Listening to Ollie Sacks

Here are two podcast featuring Oliver Sacks, one of my favorite people:

On Leonard Lopate's show discussing the science of music. Scroll down or here's the mp3.

On Science Friday discussing music and memory and "What Scientists Owe the Public." Here's the mp3.

Enjoy and thanks Ken!

Bush Urges End to Cartoon Violence

Bush Urges End to Cartoon Violence

I can't be the only one who saw the humor in this headline CNN lead their homepage with this afternoon. One imagines the story opening: "Speaking from a canyon in Arizona today, President Bush implored Wile E. Coyote to cease his violent incursions against the desert-bound and flightless bird Road Runner."

At least we can still laugh in these chaotic times.

More seriously, over on his blog, Dayrl Cagle covers several aspects of the controversy over the Mohammed caricatures from his perspective as a cartoonist.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Pen (or Brush) Is Mightier

Cartoon by Ann Telnaes

I don't know of many female political cartoonists, but Ann Telnaes is an exceptional one. I like the way she combines her ascerbic wit with a bold and elegant style. Her site showcases more of her work.

Banksy's Balloon Girl

And here's a great story about how Banksy, the utterly brilliant rogue British graffiti artist (sorry, admiration compels the profundity of adjectives) visited the wall Israel has constructed to segregate Palestine. Banksy was threatened by Israeli soldiers. He also received an unsual compliment from an elderly Palentinian gent, who told him he thought the artwork beautiful:
The artist thanked him, but the man replied. “We don’t want it to be beautiful. We hate this wall — go home.”

THX 1138. What's Wrong?

Just watched George Lucas's THX 1138 and found it a lot more engaging than I thought it might be. In a way, it's a dark, 88 minute joke, which ends with the punchline that Robert Duvall's titular character will no longer prevented from escaping because the budgeted cost for his retrieval has been exceeded.

I have to disagree with the NYT reviewer Roger Greenspun (link above) who in 1971 wrote
"A few years back" might almost be a motto for "THX 1138," because whatever horror lies ahead, I don't think that anybody now seriously imagines that it will take the form of a de-emotionalized asexual society enslaved by its own models of technical efficiency.
True our society has if anything only become more and more sexualized in the intermittent 35 years since Lucas's firsy feature film debuted, but our enslavement to technical efficiency has only deepened and broadened. Perhaps if Greenspun worked in a modern-day corporation and considered the potentially dehumanizing tenets of Six Sigma (for just one example), he might not find the premises of THX 1138 so far fetched.

Additionally, the film deals with sexuality in a way that's terribly, hauntingly prescient: THX relates quite physically through technology with erotic images on his holographic television and prefigures all the pornographic material to be found on the Internet, which might now substitute for a healthy physical relationship. So were Lucas's visions of a future asexual society really that far off? After all, dystopic visions of the future aren't necessarily mean to be taken literally; rather, they're metaphoric representations of where societal trends might be leading us.

For fun, a couple of mashups: THX meets Depeche Mode and THX meets Bjork.