Monthly Archives: December 2006

Our Melting World

Don’t tell me there’s no such thing as global warming:

Ancient ice shelf breaks free in Canadian Arctic

Breakaway may ‘signal the onset of accelerated change,’ researchers say

TORONTO – A giant ice shelf has snapped free from an island south of the North Pole, scientists said Thursday, citing climate change as a “major” reason for the event.

The Ayles Ice Shelf — all 41 square miles of it — broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island, about 500 miles south of the North Pole in the Canadian Arctic.

Scientists discovered the event by using satellite imagery. Within one hour of breaking free, the shelf had formed as a new ice island, leaving a trail of icy boulders floating in its wake.

Warwick Vincent of Laval University, who studies Arctic conditions, traveled to the newly formed ice island and couldn’t believe what he saw.

This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years,” Vincent said. “We are crossing climate thresholds, and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead.”

***

Using U.S. and Canadian satellite images, as well as seismic data — the event registered on earthquake monitors 155 miles away — Copland discovered that the ice shelf collapsed in the early afternoon of Aug. 13, 2005.

Copland said the speed with which climate change has effected the ice shelves has surprised scientists.

“Even 10 years ago scientists assumed that when global warming changes occur that it would happen gradually so that perhaps we expected these ice shelves just to melt away quite slowly,” he said.

Hanging Hussein

Stg_hz_nodelay_940a_1I’m sorry, but I just can’t get worked up over this.  So maybe he’ll be executed within 24 hours, or maybe in a month.  But who cares?  Either way, it’s really a footnote to current events and the War on Terror in my opinion. 

It’s ironic how this one person — the former boogeyman of the Bush Administration three years ago — has been reduced to an inconsequentiality.

UPDATE:  I think Josh hits the nail on the head:

This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur — phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It’s a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us.

***

The Iraq War has been many things, but for its prime promoters and cheerleaders and now-dwindling body of defenders, the war and all its ideological and literary trappings have always been an exercise in moral-historical dress-up for a crew of folks whose times aren’t grand enough to live up to their own self-regard and whose imaginations are great enough to make up the difference. This is just more play-acting.

These jokers are being dragged kicking and screaming to the realization that the whole thing’s a mess and that they’re going to be remembered for it — defined by it — for decades and centuries. But before we go, we can hang Saddam. Quite a bit of this was about the president’s issues with his dad and the hang-ups he had about finishing Saddam off — so before we go, we can hang the guy as some big cosmic ‘So There!’

…This is what we’re reduced to, what the president has reduced us to. This is the best we can do. Hang Saddam Hussein because there’s nothing else this president can get right.

I think decades from now, people will look back on Bush’s War and think: "The only thing we did right was get Saddam Hussein.  But it wasn’t worth the billions of dollars and thousands of American lives.  Not at all." 

In the present, however, the neo-cons — who have little to cheer about — are gloating in triumph, as if THIS will make the entire Iraq debacle worthwhile.  Malkin is having a freakin’ orgasm over it.  And while acknowledging that we’re civilized and not at all like the gleeful-in-killing dictator himself, Buckley can’t help express his "pleasure".  I think they’re going to start a letter campaign to ask that Saddam be executed on New Year’s Day, just as the big ball in Times Square drops.  And they’ll want it televised, too.  Call it "Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Middle-East-Dictator-Executin’ New Year’s Eve Party Fun Bash (with special performances by Penn and Teller, The Foo Fighters, and Celine Dion)"

Frankenfood

TboneI’m with Greg at The Talent Show.  I don’t see anything wrong with cloned meat. 

Yes, I realize that the FDA has a history of approving things, and then we find out ten years later that the product approved was not really all that safe.  But meat and milk from cloned cows?  No big deal.

The truth is that we have been playing God with animals for years.  Our meat products already derived from engineered animals — animals created with in vitro fertilization and pumped with steroids.  Cloning is just another step.

But (as Greg points out) it’s the word "cloning" itself that gives people the heebee jeebees.  It has the science fictiony feel to it, creating the sense that it is something bad and sinister to be avoided — even though we cannot articulate the danger.

Yet, nobody can identify the danger of eating a hamburger made from a cloned cow (other than, of course, the regular dangers that come from eating meat).  So what are we scared of?

However, Greg also points to something to think about — not in terms of health, but in terms of agro-economic policy:

The cloned meat is just fine to eat, but that doesn’t mean cloning isn’t a danger. What happens when 90% of the animals in North American are only 5 genotypes? They might all be susceptible to the same disease, and then all will die. Whereas now, some are susceptible, but others (maybe not such good milkers) are immune.

We’ve already seen this in corn – the obsession with having uniform farming meant that som 70% or more of American corn was destroyed by the same disease in the 1970s, and the American corn industry had to be bailed out by Mexican corn, because they believe in having more variety in maize there.

If we start cloning animals, we have so much to lose in terms of genetic diversity. We’ll also lose traits that might not seem important now, but might be important in the future. Right now, we want maximum milk or maximum meat production in cattle, but what if in 100 years we want hardiness to drought? We will have bred all the variety right out of the cattle, which will make it so much harder to change our breeding programs.

We need to protect diversity in our farm products – everyone loves to talk about biodiversity in the Amazon, but it’s all the more important to us and our immediate survival that we have biodiversity in our agricultural plants and animals, because that is what keeps us alive. We can’t afford to let the quick buck now destroy the wealth of genetic diversity which we have, and which we have bred into our plants and animals.

Something to think about.  Maybe it’s not necessary to worry about — or even label — cloned food, but we should think about setting limits on the number of cloned animals to make sure we have sufficient biodiversity.

Americans Really Don’t Like Bush

Wow.  We really don’t:

Appollvillain

You know it’s bad when you get more votes that the Devil himself.

To be fair, Bush also was polled highest as the "Top Hero of 2006", but only with 13%.  Still, he beat out the U.S. Troops (6%), as well as Jesus Christ, Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey (all of whom got 3%).

What We Learned This Year

A nice article here, listing 50 things that we (meaning, "mankind") know now that we didn’t know one year ago, probably because we were obsessed with celebrity babies and underpants. 

I’ll save you the trouble and provide the list here.  I’m putting a few in boldface, for reasons I’ll explain after:

1. U.S. life expectancy in 2005 inched up to a record high of 77.9 years.

2. The part of the brain that regulates reasoning, impulse control and judgment is still under construction during puberty and doesn’t shift into autopilot until about age 25.

3. Blue light fends off drowsiness in the middle of the night, which could be useful to people who work at night.

4. The 8-foot-long tooth emerging from the head of the narwhal whale is actually a type of sensor that detects changes in water temperature, pressure and particle gradients.

5. U.S. Protestant "megachurches" – defined as having a weekly attendance of at least 2,000 – doubled in five years to more than 1,200 and are among the nation’s fastest-growing faith groups.

6. Cheese consumption in the United States is expected to grow by 50 percent between now and 2013.

7. At 68.1 percent, the United States ranks eighth among countries that have access to and use the Internet. The largest percentage of online use was in Malta, where 78.1 percent access the Web.

8. The U.S. government has paid about $1.5 billion in benefits to thousands of sick nuclear-weapons workers since 2001.

9. Scientists have discovered that certain brain chemicals in our tears are natural pain relievers.

10. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover wrote a drooling fan letter to Lucille Ball in 1955 to tell her how much he enjoyed an episode of "I Love Lucy." "In all the years I have traveled on trains," he noted, "I have often wondered why someone did not pull the emergency brake, but I have never been aboard a train where it was done. The humor in your program last Monday, I think, exceeded any of your previous programs and they have been really good in themselves."

11. Wasps spray an insect version of pepper spray from their heads to temporarily incapacitate their rivals.

12. A sex gene responsible for making embryos male and forming the testes is also produced by the brain region targeted by Parkinson’s disease, a discovery that may explain why more men than women develop the degenerative disorder.

13. Ancient humans from Asia may have entered the Americas following an ocean highway made of dense kelp.

14. An impact crater 18 miles in diameter was found 12,500 feet under the Indian Ocean.

15. Americans spent almost $32 billion on toys during 2005. About a third of that was spent on video games.

16. A new planet described as a "super-Earth," which weighs 13 times as much as our planet, exists in a solar system 9,000 light-years away.

17. A gene for a light-sensitive protein in the eye is what resets the body’s "internal clock."

18. Australian scientists discovered a polyrhachis sokolova, which is believed to be the only ant species that can live under water. It nests in submerged mangroves and hides from predators in air pockets.

19. Red wine contains anti-inflammatory chemicals that stave off diseases affecting the gums and bone around the teeth.

20. A substance called resveratrol, also found in red wine, protects mice from obesity and the effects of aging, and perhaps could do the same for humans.

21. Two previously unknown forms of ice – dubbed by researchers as ice XIII and XIV – were discovered frozen at temperatures of around minus 160 degrees Celsius, or minus 256 Fahrenheit.

22. The hole in the earth’s ozone layer is closing – and could be entirely closed by 2050. Meanwhile, the amount of greenhouse gases is increasing.

23. Scientists discovered what they believe to be football-field-sized minimoons scattered in Saturn’s rings that may be debris left over from a collision between a comet and one of Saturn’s icy moons.

24. At least once a week, 28 percent of high school students fall asleep in school, 22 percent fall sleep while doing homework and 14 percent get to school late or miss school because they overslept.

25. Women gain weight when they move in with a boyfriend because their diet deteriorates, but men begin to eat more healthy food when they set up a home with a female partner.

26. Some 45 percent of Internet users, or about 60 million Americans, said they sought online help to make big decisions or negotiate their way through major episodes in their lives during the previous two years.

27. Of the 10 percent of U.S. teens who uses credit cards, 15.7 percent are making the minimum payment each month.

28. Around the world, middle-aged and elderly men tend to be more satisfied with their sex lives than women in the same age group, a new survey shows.

29. The 90-million-year-old remains of seven pack-traveling carnivorous dinosaurs known as Mapusaurus were discovered in an area of southern Argentina nicknamed "Jurassic Park."

30. A group of genes makes some mosquitoes resistant to malaria and prevents them from transmitting the malaria parasite.

31. A 145-million-year-old beach ball-sized meteorite found a half-mile below a giant crater in South Africa has a chemical composition unlike any known meteorite.

32. Just 30 minutes of continuous kissing can diminish the body’s allergic reaction to pollen, relaxing the body and reducing production of histamine, a chemical cell given out in response to allergens.

33. Saturn’s moon Titan features vast swaths of "sand seas" covered with row after row of dunes from 300 to 500 feet high. Radar images of these seas, which stretch for hundreds of miles, bear a stunning likeness to ranks of dunes in Namibia and Saudi Arabia.

34. Scientists have discovered the fastest bite in the world, one so explosive it can be used to send the Latin American trap-jaw ant that performs it flying through the air to escape predators.

35. Janjucetus Hunderi, a ferocious whale species related to the modern blue whale, roamed the oceans 25 million years ago preying on sharks with its huge, razor-sharp teeth.

36. DNA analysis determined the British descended from a tribe of Spanish fishermen who crossed the Bay of Biscay almost 6,000 years ago.

37. Marine biologists discovered a new species of shark that walks along the ocean floor on its fins.

38. Most of us have microscopic, wormlike mites named Demodex that live in our eyelashes and have claws and a mouth.

39. The common pigeon can memorize 1,200 pictures.

40. The queens of bee, ant and wasp colonies that have the most sex with the largest number of males produce the strongest and healthiest colonies.

41. By firing atoms of metal at another metal, Russian and American scientists found a new element – No. 118 on the Periodic Table – that is the heaviest substance known and probably hasn’t existed since the universe was in its infancy.

42. A "treasure-trove" of 150-million-year-old fossils belonging to giant sea reptiles that roamed the seas at the time of the dinosaurs was uncovered on the Arctic island chain of Svalbard, about halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole.

43. Sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday can disturb your body clock, leaving you fatigued at the start of the week.

44. Migrating dragonflies and songbirds exhibit many of the same behaviors, suggesting the rules that govern such long-distance travel may be simpler and more ancient than was once thought.

45. During the past five years, the existence of a peanut allergy in children has doubled.

46. Photos taken of Mars in 1999 and 2005 show muddy sand, indicating there may have been a flood sometime between those years.

47. A python was the first god worshipped by mankind, according to 70,000-year-old evidence found in a cave in Botswana’s Tosodilo hills.

48. Red wines from southwest France and Sardinia boast the highest concentrations of chemical compounds that promote heart health.

49. One of the most effective ways for athletes to recover after exercise is to drink a glass of chocolate milk.

50. Researchers from the University of Manchester managed to induce teeth growth in normal chickens – activating genes that have lain dormant for 80 million years.

Okay.  Based on the bold things above, I think I know how to improve my life.  Have my girlfriend move in with me (I’ll eat healthier), kiss her a lot (reducing allergies) at night under a blue light, and drink red wine (to help the teeth, gums and heart, and prevent aging), with the occasional imbibement of chocolate milk and human tears.

Oh, and don’t sleep in on weekends.

Twenty-One 2007 Predictions

  1. The Red Sox will not win the World Series.  This may not be a startling prediction, but it does serve a function: to prevent me from getting my hopes up.
  2. The Patriots will not win the Super Bowl.  See No. 1.
  3. The situation in Iraq — particularly the U.S. troop levels will remain more or less the same, unless it doesn’t.  We’ll see a lot of news about involving "temporary" increases and decreases in deployment of troops, but it will more-or-less be the same.
  4. The Bush Administration will do an about face on global warming.  Many, however, will wonder if it is just talk or if they are actually prepared to do something about it.
  5. Dick Cheney will have a heart attack, and resign from office.  Elizabeth Dole will be replaced as Vice President.
  6. Second Life will surge in popularity, eclipsing even MySpace.  Blogging, by the way, will have peaked as a fad. [Sidenote: Billmon, a pioneer and staple of political blogs, apparently signed off for good last night]
  7. The "silly season" that will eventually become the 2008 Presidential Election will unofficially kickoff in December 2007.  (The Iowa Caucus actually is in January 2008).
  8. Joe Biden will announce his run for the presidency, but give up before the end of the year when he doesn’t raise enough money.  Nobody will notice, or even care.
  9. Rudy Guiliani will announce and drop out as well, due to his inability to get past questions regarding his personal life.
  10. Despite far more important news, the entire nation/media will become obsessed with some Terri Schiavo-like story during the summer.  It will not be a missing blonde white girl, nor will it involve a celebrity.  But it will involve a single person and will spark a national debate.  Like — I’ll go on a limb here — the kidnapping of an abortion doctor.
  11. We’ll also put up with a couple of weeks in May/June where there will seem to be a rash of school shootings a la Columbine.
  12. No terrorist attacks in the United States (thank God), although our embassies will be bombed in places not in the Middle East.  (I’m thinking Phillipines).
  13. A major plane crash in some Midwest city.  This will not be one of your run-of the-mill crashes at an airport, but something right in the heart of a major city.
  14. Corporate scandals on the upsurge again, starting with Apple Computer.  The Dow’s surge upward is anemic at best.
  15. Although cloned food has been deemed to be perfectly healthy and safe, many will still be nervous about it, and demand that cloned meats and veggies be labeled as such.
  16. Unexpected celebrity deaths:  Abe Vigoda (okay, it’s not that unexpected), Carol Burnett (car accident), Macauley Culkin (drug overdose), Paul Simon, Roslynn Carter (complications from stroke), James Garner (heart attack) and several drummers from various 1990’s bands.  One of the cast members of Friends will be shot in a restaurant by a deranged fan, starting a national discussion (again) on celebrity stalking.  Reese Witherspoon will get in a near-fatal car accident and have a leg or arm amputated.
  17. The next winner on American Idol will be a Spanish/Mexican woman from the West Coast, probably Washington.
  18. "You’re The One That I Want" will start off well in the ratings, and then tank.  I’ll still be watching.  By the way, the Broadway show revival of Grease (the grand prize) will suck at levels of suckitude heretofore unknown in theatrical history.
  19. The Academy Award for Best Picture of 2007 (which will be handed out in 2008) will have the name of an animal in the title.
  20. "24" and "Lost" will be cancelled when ratings fall off, as people get bored of the concept.  Science fiction/space shows will make a comeback.
  21. Bell bottoms make (yet another) comeback, although this time their renaissance isn’t confined to jeans.

LaRue’s Slippery Slope

Jan LaRue of the right-wing Concerned Women For America writes an article with the inquisitive headline: When Will Bisexuals Drag Homosexuals out of Polygamy Closet?

I had to read that headline several times in order to get my head around it.  I get the homosexual/closet reference — that’s obvious.  But where does the polygamy thing come in?  Is Ms. LaRue suggesting that homosexuals are for polygamy, or against it?  And regardless of their position, why are they in the closet over it? 

And why will bisexuals (who, apparently are not in the LaRue’s metaphorical closet) drag those homosexuals out?

I tried wading through the article and — as far as I can tell — Ms. LaRue is making a slippery slope argument.  It goes something like this: if gays are allowed to marry, then the bisexuals will be jealous and they’ll want to marry, too.  But, being bisexual, the bisexuals will want to marry one of each gender, creating legalized polygamy.  Or as Ms. LaRue puts it:

If polygamy isn’t legalized, how will a bisexual marry just one person without denying his or her "bisexual orientation"? Otherwise, in order to marry, won’t bisexuals have to make a gender choice in a spouse and then engage in adultery in order to fulfill who they are as bisexuals?

***

How long will bisexuals accept less than "equal treatment" while homosexuals continue to diss civil unions and push for the right to "marry" in other states? Who thinks bisexuals don’t want the same "legitimacy," "acceptance" and "affirmation" for bisexual behavior that legalized polygamy will provide? How long will they wait for their homosexual "allies" to help them achieve the equal right to "marry" the persons of their choice?

I worry about the person who worries about such things.

But mostly, I have to laugh at the idea of Jan LaRue penning an article saying that gay marriage is bad because it discriminates against those poor, poor bisexuals.  Like she cares.

The Truth Shall [Redacted] Set You Free

This is astounding.

The White House censored an New York Times editorial, telling the Times to redact certain portions.  The censored portions do not contain classified information.  The White House, it seemed, just didn’t like it. (The redacted version of the op-ed is here.)

It should be noted that the CIA normally does these type of things, not the White House.  And the information redacted by the White House was cleared by the CIA when the author published it elsewhere:

The op-ed is based on the longer paper I just published with The Century Foundation — which was cleared by the CIA without modifying a single word of the draft. Officials with the CIA’s Publication Review Board have told me that, in their judgment, the draft op-ed does not contain classified material, but that they must bow to the preferences of the White House.

The White House is demanding, before it will consider clearing the op-ed for publication, that I excise entire paragraphs dealing with matters that I have written about (and received clearance from the CIA to do so) in several other pieces, that have been publicly acknowledged by Secretary Rice, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and that have been extensively covered in the media.

These matters include Iran’s dialogue and cooperation with the United States concerning Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and Iran’s offer to negotiate a comprehensive "grand bargain" with the United States in the spring of 2003.

Emptywheel looks into this deeper, but I find the notion of censuring things already in the public domain to be troubling.

Bird Flu Update

"Whatever happened to the bird flu?" my mother asked me when I was up for Christmas. "Wasn’t that supposed to be the next big thing to kill us all?"

I pondered the question and bluffed an answer, laced with cynicism: "Oh, it’s still around.  In fact, it’s worse.  You don’t hear about it on the news because it’s not as much of a ‘grabber’ when compared to some missing blond teenager, or the latest antics of Tom Cruise."

Turns out I was right:

Bird flu killed three members of a family in Egypt, pushing the number of fatalities worldwide this year to 79, more than reported in the previous three years combined.

***

The H5N1 virus is known to have infected 261 people in 10 countries in the past three years, killing 157 of them, WHO said yesterday. Last year, 42 fatalities were confirmed, after 32 in 2004 and four in 2003. Six of every 10 reported cases have been fatal and a majority of cases has occurred among children and young adults.

The article goes on to explain that while fatalities have gone up, actual infections have gone down recently:

Since July, 26 human cases have been reported in four countries, compared with 88 infections in eight countries in the first half of the year.

But this dropoff in the last half of 2006 is not necessarily something to celebrate.  There were also similar dropoffs in the last halves of 2005 and 2004:

A few slow months in cases doesn’t mean that the threat of pandemic is at an end, said Peter Sandman, a risk communication specialist in Princeton, New Jersey.

"When you install a smoke alarm in your house and then go a year without a fire, that doesn’t mean you were foolish to install a smoke alarm,” said Sandman, who consults to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on pandemic communication. "It means it’s time to change the batteries.”

Now, some may wonder: "Wait a second…. we’re only talking about 261 infections in the past three years?  This isn’t an epidemic that I sholud worry about!"

Well, perhaps.  But just because we didn’t have a category 5 hurricane this year doesn’t mean we’re never going to see another Katrina.  And, as DemFromCT explains, even the pandemic influenza of 1918 started off as a few fatalities per year.

An ounce of prevention and all that….

The War On Christmas: 1947

Wonderfullifefbimemo2Below is an actual excerpt from an FBI memo in 1947 (since declassified) which alerts the reader to the commie propaganda contained in — wait for it — It’s A Wonderful Life:

To: The Director

D.M. Ladd

COMMUNIST INFILTRATION OF THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY

(RUNNING MEMORANDUM)

There is submitted herewith the running memorandum concerning Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry which has been brought up to date as of May 26, 1947….

With regard to the picture "It’s a Wonderful Life", [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a "scrooge-type" so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.

In addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [redacted] related that if he made this picture portraying the banker, he would have shown this individual to have been following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiner in connection with making loans. Further, [redacted] stated that the scene wouldn’t have "suffered at all" in portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown. In summary, [redacted] stated that it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character and "I would never have done it that way."

[Source]

Best Movies Of 2006

You want lists?  I got lists.

Salon’s Best Films Of 2006 (in no particular order, with descriptions):

"Army of Shadows" — Made in 1969 but never released in the States until this year, Jean-Pierre Melville’s drama about a group of men and one woman fighting in the French Resistance isn’t just one of the great films of the ’60s; it’s one of the great films, period.

"Days of Glory (Indigènes)" — Rachid Bouchareb has made an astonishing film about Algerian soldiers fighting to defend France, the country they consider their motherland, from the Nazis. A beautiful, devastating picture about what it means to love your country when it doesn’t love you back. (The Weinstein Co. has released this picture in New York and Los Angeles for a brief Oscar-qualification run; look for wider release in other cities early next year.)

"Casino Royale" — James Bond movies, beloved, junky pop-culture pleasures, aren’t supposed to make best-10 lists. But this imaginative, superbly acted adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel works on multiple levels: As a Bond movie, as a thriller and as a marvel of craftsmanship. It’s even better on the second viewing.

"Pan’s Labyrinth" — Guillermo del Toro’s dazzling adult fairy tale about the end of childhood, and the dangers of blind ideology, is one of the finest fantasy pictures ever made. Watching it is a glorious, harrowing experience.

"The Queen" and "Marie Antoinette" — Fraternal-twin pictures that present maligned royals as human beings. Stephen Frears, knowing tragedy is only a flea bite away from comedy, uses our laughter, and even our derision, to lure us into a place where we can feel only sympathy for Elizabeth II (played, brilliantly, by Helen Mirren), a woman locked in a gilded cage of tradition and duty. Many critics sentenced Sofia Coppola to the cultural guillotine for a) having a famous father and b) not featuring enough peasants. Few seemed to have watched her movie, a fantasy portrait of a teenage queen that connects with universal adolescent feelings of belonging nowhere.

"Dave Chappelle’s Block Party" and "Shut Up & Sing" — Two beautifully made pop-music documentaries whose spirit of inclusiveness suggests, daringly, that the United States might be one country instead of a carved-up mess.

"Idlewild" — Messy and extraordinary, Bryan Barber’s Prohibition-era musical, starring OutKast’s Andre 3000 and Big Boi, is a dream history of black pop culture, and a testament — to paraphrase a line from Stanley Crouch — to the ways that inventing, borrowing and refining can bring us closer to the lives we want to lead. One of the most beautiful-looking pictures of the year (the cinematography is by Pascal Rabaud), "Idlewild" slipped out of theaters before most people could see it on the big screen. It deserves an immediate rep-house revival.

"The Painted Veil" — John Curran’s adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s novel about a spoiled Englishwoman (Naomi Watts) whose life is changed when she begins helping her doctor-husband (Edward Norton) fight cholera in the Far East avoids Merchant-Ivoryitis at every turn. A superb example of modern melodramatic filmmaking that respects, but doesn’t fetishize, the past.

"The Notorious Bettie Page" — Mary Harron’s affectionate and intelligent portrait of the famous ’50s pinup queen asks, and answers, the question of what the camera can tell us about a life. Gretchen Mol’s performance is as fearless as it is lovely.

"A Prairie Home Companion" — Robert Altman’s final picture is a shaggy-dog story that turned out to be a swan song, and its spirit and sense of community are pure Altman: The picture gives the feel of life unfolding before our eyes. And, in true Altman fashion, it’s filled with half-finished conversations that, even in their truncated state, manage to say it all. Altman’s movies — even the bad ones — have always been the sort that foster vivid discussion and fierce arguments. There will be no more Altman movies. But we can honor him by keeping the conversation going.

AFI’s Best Films Of 2006 (in alphabetical order)

Babel

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

The Devil Wears Prada

Dreamgirls

Half Nelson

Happy Feet

Inside Man

Letters from Iwo Jima

Little Miss Sunshine

United 93

Rolling Stone’s Ten Best Movies of 2006

The Departed

Dreamgirls

Letters from Iwo Jima/Flags of Our Fathers

Volver

Babel

United 93

The Queen

Borat

Little Miss Sunshine

A Prarie Home Companion

Time Magazine’s 10 Best Movies of 2006

Letters From Iwo Jima

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

The Departed

United 93

The Queen

Pan’s Labyrinth

The Good Shephard

Cars

District B13

Curse of the Golden Flower

MSNBC’S Best Films of 2006 (in alphabetical order)

Army of Shadows

Children of Men

Deliver Us From Evil

The Departed

Flags of Our Fathers

Letters From Iwo Jima

Little Children

Little Miss Sunshine

The Queen

United 93

For the record, I haven’t seen any of these movies.

Back Again

Well, back to regular life, more or less, such as it is.  What did I miss?

Ford dying.  Well, that was predictable.  Wasn’t a fan of the Bush War — again, not surprising.  Ford may have been lackluster (I love how the media is trying to hype the most unhype-able of ex-presidents), but he was no dummy.

Edwards throws his hat into the 2008 presidential ring.  No surprise there.  I think it’ll be harder for him this time around, but he never stops surprising me.  Nice touch announcing it from NOLA.

The pundits over at the Corner are still trying to convince everyone that the War in iraq is going swimmingly, going so far as to post news from Iraq – consisting of an email from a soldier over there saying how morale is great.  The problem?  It’s an email that is over one year old and of questionable origin. 

"Washington D.C. is the new North Carolina".  That’s the global warming quote of the day from a government botanist.  Yup, they had to reclassify certain "zones" of the country (the zones describe what grows best where).

Guess I didn’t miss much.

Assassination Vacation

AssvacatCool.  Free computer access at the Hampton Inn.  Get rid of those double posts.

Contrary to my initial intention to listen to John Hodgman’s "The Area Of My Expertise", I ended up listening to the audiobook of Sarah Vowell’s "Assassination Vacation".  A very interesting book.  Vowell admits to a lifelong fascination with things related to presidential assassinations and, spurred on by attending a performance of Sondheim’s "Assassins", she decides to embark on a tour of all historical places and landmarks relating to presidential assassinations, dragging somewhat reluctant friends and family to graveyards and museums containing bloody clothes and pieces of presidents’ skulls.

Vowell’s enthusiasm for all things assassination-related is infectious, but she never loses her irreverant and witty style.  For example, she takes a trip to Oneida, New York.  Oneida, she explains, is now known for its dinnerware, but it was originally founded in the 1800’s as a sex cult, where members of a commune engaged in free love.  In fact, having a "special love" for just one person was discouraged in this community.  Charles Guiteau (enigmatic and certainly insane assassin of the very bland President Garfield) was an occasional member of this cult, and was, according to Vowell, probably "the one guy in a free love commune who could not get laid" — a fact which may have contributed in some small way to his lunacy and resultant rise to fame as a presidential assassin.

She also confesses a bit of a crush on John Wilkes Booth, and especially his more famous actor-brother, Edwin Booth who — in one of those strange coincidences of history — once saved a man who fell on the train tracks (that man was Robert Lincoln, son of the President slain by Edwin’s younger brother).

Vowell also draws frequent connections between past events and the present, noting similarities between McKinley’s preemptive war against Cuba and the Philippines and the current war in Iraq.  It’s too bad they don’t teach this stuff in history in public schools.  I think a lot of people would warm up to it more. 

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Charles Guiteau shoots President James Garfield in the back on July 2, 1881 at the Sixth Street Station in D.C..  Garfield would die from his wounds on Spetember 19, 1881.

Battle Fatigue And Xmas Photomoblogging

It seems like this is National Let’s-Tell-Ken-What’s-Wrong-With-Him Week.  Everywhere I turn –at work and outside — people seem quite content to spread holiday cheer by inserting probes into me and giving me their amateurish psychological assessments, and acting contrarian simply for (it seems) the sake of contrarianism. 

It’s beyond annoying, and I’m not sure why this is happening.  I see nothing mentioning this on any of my calendars; perhaps a memo was sent out.

But it’s a pretty bad situation when the greatest support and positive reinforcement I receive comes from the editors of Time magazine.  Hmmmm.  Maybe other people are just jealous.

In any event, whatever the reason for this phenomenon, it’s clearly time for me to get out of Dodge.  And as luck would have it, Christmas is here.  That means I get to throw some clothes in a bag and drive to New Hampshire.

I’m excited about my selection of audiobooks to listen to on the 13 hour trip — most particularly John Hodgman’s "The Area Of My Expertise".  John Hodgman, for those who don’t know, is a very funny essayist, but most recognize him as the nebbishy "PC" in those PC/Mac ads.  His entire audiobook — all six hours — was available for free on iTunes last night (and it may still be free as I write this), so that was fortuituous.  His deadpan whimsy cracks me up, although I may skip past the part where he reads 700 hobo names, since I’ve heard that before.

I’ve also got me some David Sedaris and various radio plays.  Then, of course, I have lots of music in case the spoken word gets on my increasingly-frazzled nerves.

The point being: Blogging will be light and/or uninteresting* for the next week or so.  I’ll be photo-moblogging my trip home Thursday and Friday** — a venture of little interest to anyone except my mother, who likes to know that I’m fine and going 20 miles per hour on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Merry Christmas everyone!!***

* should read "more uninteresting than usual"

** technical problems notwithstanding

*** and a Happy New Year!!

My December Horoscope

Stunning breakthroughs are rare enough events in your life. You tend to prefer putting one foot in front of the other to the flying karate kick. Looking back, you’ve done a lot of that this year, that is, the moving forward one step at a time, thankfully, without looking back. But the real journey has been an extremely careful assessment of how you feel about yourself. Reaching a peak over the past two months, you seem to have come further in developing your self-respect this year than perhaps any other in your life. If nothing else, you have recognized your own right to survival, ending a long debate that has too often become mingled in the emotional survival trip of your relationships. How you have managed to break free of this can be summed up in one word: awareness. That skill has, in turn, summoned your most practical ideas about money, resources and how you use them. Now, get ready for something perhaps less than absolutely practical, but undeniably brilliant.

Kewl.

What Matters

Yesterday’s White House press conference:

22: Number of questions on Laura Bush’s skin cancer.
18: Number of questions on Iraq.
3: Number of questions on Iran.
1: Number of questions on North Korea.

Oy.

Behind The Curve

As Carpetbagger says:

It strikes me as rather unfortunate that we’ve reached a point in which it’s literally front-page news when the president is willing to acknowledge that we are not winning the war in Iraq. Talk about your soft bigotry of low expectations.

It bears repeating that just before the elections one month ago, Bush took the position that we are "absolutely winning" in Iraq.

Now clearly, nothing has changed dramatically in Iraq from one month ago.  It’s just as shitty now as it was then.  So what’s changed?

Only one thing prompted this change, and that is Bush’s desire to remain relevant.  He is now saying what everybody knows only because if he wants to avoid appearing out of touch.  Does Bush really think we’re losing in Iraq?  Did he really think we were winning one month ago?  Who knows?  He’s playing politics, not speaking the truth.

The solution, Bush says, is to add 70,000 troops — something that Kerry proposed in 2004, and was scoffed at by Bush.  Now, he tacitly admits Kerry was right.  Unfortunately, it’s probably too late now for them to make any difference (as opposed to 2004).

Ygliesius has some cogent thoughts.

The Playbill Meme

I got it from Emily, who got it from Playbill:

Full given name:  Kenneth Richard Ashford

Hometown:  Born in Omaha, Nebraska, but I consider Concord NH (where I was raised) my "hometown"

Zodiac sign:  Libra

Audition song: It used to be "You Are Sixteen Going On Seventeen", but that just gets sillier as I become a forty-something.  Now it’s whatever I can pull together at the last minute.  Am seriously considering making "A Miracle Would Happen" my standard audition song.

First Broadway show ever saw:  "Sherlock Holmes" with Alan Sues, sometime in the 1970’s (1976?).  First musical was "Barnum" with Michael Crawford and Glenn Close.

If you could go back in time and catch any Broadway show, what would it be?:  Original cast of "West Side Story"

Current show you have been recommending to friends: [title of show]

Favorite showtune: It varies, but usually it’s "Nobody’s Side" from Chess

MAC or PC?: PC

Most played song on your iPod: Oh, I get bored listening to the same thing over and over again.  So I just set it to random and let ‘er rip.  Although lately, I’m digging the soundtrack to "Happy Feet".

Last book you read: "Oscar and Felix", Neil Simon’s updated version of "The Odd Couple" (Yes, scripts are "books" for purposes of this question)

Must-see TV show: "The Office", "The Daily Show"

Last good movie you saw: I haven’t seen that many movies lately — guess it would have to be "An Inconvenient Truth"

Favorite reality show: I hate them all, unless "American Idol" counts as a reality show.  If not, then "Meerkat Manor", which probably isn’t a reality show either.

Performer you would drop everything to see:  Live?  In theater?  Meryl.  Duh.

Pop culture guilty pleasure: "American Idol" and blogging

Favorite pre-show meal:  Water and crackers

Pre-show rituals: Stretching and peeing, although not at the same time

Worst flubbed line: I’ve gone up a few times.  That’s the worst I can recall, although I tend to block those times out of my mind.

Favorite pizza topping:  Pepperoni

Cats or dogs?:  Dogs

Who would play you in the movie?:  Um… Matt Damon for the younger years?  Jeff Bridges for the older ones?  Seriously, I have no clue.

Worst job you ever had: Short order cook

Note:  I don’t usually like to blog about myself, but I just had to get that awful Bush picture down from the top.

Your Move, Mr. Pres

From the memory hole:

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, April 22, 2004:

The President has made it very clear that we will provide our troops with all the resources they need to do their job. And he looks to our commanders in the theater to make those determinations, in terms of what is needed.

President Bush, January 1, 2006:

THE PRESIDENT: The conditions on the ground will dictate our force level. As the Iraqis are able to take more of the fight to the enemy, our commanders on the ground will be able to make a different assessment about the troop strength. And I’m going to continue to rely upon those commanders, such as General Casey, who is doing a fabulous job and whose judgment I trust, and that will determine — his recommendations will determine the number of troops we have on the ground in Iraq.

President Bush, October 20, 2006:

I talk to our generals who are in charge of these operations, and my message to them is: Whatever you need we’ll give you; and whatever tactics you think work on the ground, you put in place. Our goal hasn’t changed, but the tactics are constantly adjusting to an enemy which is brutal and violent.

The Washington Post is reporting that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are opposed to Bush’s "surge" idea of putting 40,000 more troops into Iraq.

Will Bush do as he repeatedly said, and follow the recommendations of his military advisors?

RELATED:  Pentagon also contradicts Bush when it confirms that al Qaeda is not the biggest threat in Iraq.  In other news, dog bites man.

Give The Kid An “A” In History; Fail The Teacher

Matthew LaClair is a student in public high school in Kearny, New Jersey.

David Paszkiewicz is his 11th grade accelaerated history teacher.

Paszkiewicz would often lace his classes with — well — historical inaccuracies, including telling the students that only Christians went to heaven, that the Big Bang and evolution were false, and — wait for it — that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s Ark. 

For example, this is, verbatim, something that Paszkiewicz said in class to his students:

“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong …He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

Interesting history class, eh?

We know what Mr. Paszkiewicz said this because Matthew St. Clair recorded him for several weeks, and then complained to the school board.  Although the school board took "corrective action" against the teacher, Matthew is being given a hard time for what he did, which was — basically — supporting the Constitution.

Full story here.

Statutory Rape In Georgia

This is a sensitive subject, I know.

But it seems to me that the judgment in this case is unduly harsh. It simply makes no sense.

Honestly, should a seventeen year old kid be sent to prison for ten years because he had consensual (oral) sex with a fifteen your old girl?  That’s what has happened.

Now obviously, we don’t want 30 year old men having sex with 16 year old girls, even if the 16 year old girl "consents".  And a good statutory rape law can be easily drafted to criminalize this behavior.

But Georgia’s statutory rape statute lead to bizarre results.  Ironically, Georgia amended its statute so that the oral sex between a 17 year old and a fifteen year old would result in a misdemeanor.  But in this particular case, the "act" occurred before the law was rewritten, and the new statute was not retroactive.

So we have a kid with good grades and no criminal record, going to jail for 10 years.

Prof. Volokh examines the case, and concludes that the judge was right (the judge was following the law) — it was the Georgia legislature that screwed up.

UPDATE:  On the other hand, ten years is too mild a sentence for a woman who "rented her 9-year-old daughter to a pedophile more than 200 times", including assisting the pedophile by physically restraining her daughter.

Extended Warranties Are A Ripoff

Maybe you knew this already, but it’s nice to have it confirmed by no less an authority than Consumer Reports:

For the consumer, extended warranties are notoriously bad deals because:

  • Products seldom break within the extended-warranty window (typically around three years), our data show.
  • When electronics and appliances do break, the repair often costs about the same as the cost of the warranty.

They give two possible exceptions:

There are two caveats to our just-say-no advice: It’s worth considering an extended warranty if you’re buying a rear-projection microdisplay TV. Repair costs can be high, and these sets have been three times more likely to need repairs than other types of TVs. We also think it may be wise to get an extended warranty (which includes extended tech support) if you’re buying an Apple computer, because they come with only 90 days of phone tech support.

Attention al Qaeda!

Hey, I’m no military expert, but it seems to me that Pentagon shouldn’t be releasing — on the Internet no less — it’s new 282 page Counterinsurgency Manual (available here in PDF format).  I mean, if I can get it, can’t our enemies?

We Need A Little Christmas

(1)  Inflation took its largest jump in decades

(2)  Joint Chiefs of Staff oppose Bush’s plan to put more troops in Iraq.  Bush has always said that he will listen to the advice of his military advisors.  Will he?  RELATED:  Powell breaks with Bush 43, too.

(3)  America’s biggest cash crop?  Cannibas. ("It is the leading cash crop in 12 states, and one of the top five crops in 39 states.")

(4)  Bush approval rating hits rock bottom:

– support for Bush’s handling of the Iraq conflict has decreased to 28% from 34%
– 70% disapprove of Bush’s war management (It was actually managed?)
– job approval 36%
– 62% disapproved of his job performance

(5)  Remember Ted Haggard?  Looks like there’s more problems for his New Life Church.  An executive director has resigned for, among other things, "sexual misconduct". (Ironically, in last year’s passion play, this guy played the role of ….Satan).

The Gift Of the Mob-y

18whale600_1The New York Times has a rather strange story of a gift given to a woman from her sister.  It was found on the beach 50 years ago, and is now a family heirloom.

What is it?

Nobody’s sure, but it appears to be petrified whale vomit.

Before you say "ugh", the article points out that if it is whale vomit, it’s worth $18,000, since it contains rare ingredients used in fine perfumes.

A Bush Family Christmas – 1970’s

The Bush Christmas Card of 2006 might not contain the word "Christmas", but (via Wonkette), we came across the Bush family Christmas card of sometime in the 1970’s:

Bush70sxmas

Four Five things stand out:

(1)  "Merry Christmas …from all the George Bushes"???  What does that mean??  They’re all clones — even Barbara?  Or did Bush 41 have a huge ego?

(2)  "Support UNICEF".  Apparently, the United Nations does do some good.

(3)  What’s with all the neckties slung over the shoulder?  I vaguely remember the 1970’s, but I must have missed that fashion trend.

(4)  And what’s that in George Jr’s left hand?

(5)  It’s, um, not very Christmas-y, is it?

This Is What They Call “Supporting The Troops”?

Support20our20troops20yellow20ribbon20phWith talk about putting a "surge" of troops in Iraq, the inevitable question arises: <i>What</i> troops?  We’re extended as far as we can go.

The answer, it seems, is simple:  We don’t add more troops; we just extend the rotation of troops already there, don’t allow any breaks, and bring in their replacements early.

There are tens of thousands of families across the country who won’t have Mommy or Daddy home for Christmas.  Now, it seems, they won’t be home next Christmas either (and for some, no Christmas ever).

How can right-wingers claim to support the troops, and still advocate draconian military policies like this?  It boggles the mind.

Making Satire Obsolete

I read my fair share of conservative editorials simply because I’m curious about how the other half third eighth thinks.

Plus, those people make me laugh.

Take, for example, a recent Townhall column by regular Townhall contributor Doug Giles.

This is — I swear to God — his opening paragraph:

Have you ever asked yourself, “Self, why do churches today look more like the bra and panty department at Sears rather than a battalion of men poised to kick demonic butt?”

Now, I confess — it’s been a while since I’ve been to church, and even longer since I’ve been to Sears (much less, the bra and panty department of Sears).  But I’m pretty sure that churches today look nothing like the aforementioned Sears department.

Giles’ point — and he’s apparently serious about this — is that men aren’t attending churches like they should be, because there’s not enough testosterone going on there on Sunday mornings.  And the pussification of out churches has led to, among other things, a failure to increase our national security.

What we need, says Giles, are more gun-toting churches where the pastor gets up there all sweaty and dirty, with a chain of bullets accross is chest.  And crucifixes where Jesus looks like Rambo.  or something.

Anyway, if you want to take a nice foray into wingnuttia-land, read this.

Detainee No. 200343

In Iraq, an American contractor, who was also an informant for the FBI, was captured and imprisoned in April:

[G]uards arrived at the man’s cell periodically over the next several days, shackled his hands and feet, blindfolded him and took him to a padded room for interrogation, the detainee said. After an hour or two, he was returned to his cell, fatigued but unable to sleep.

The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold. And when he was released after 97 days he was exhausted, depressed and scared.

No charges brought.  No lawyer (in the article, this American notes, quite correcty, that Saddam Hussein himself had more rights than he did). 

You might think that his captors were "the enemy", but you would be wrong.  His captors were the U.S. military.  This is how, under the Bush regime, Americans are treating Americans.

It’s kind of hard to be in the exporting-freedom-to-the-Middle-East business when we act like this.

Read the whole thing.

Time Magazine’s “Person Of The Year” Honor Officially Jumps The Shark

Timepersoncover Who is Time Magazine’s "Person Of The Year" for 2006?

Me.

Yes, me.

AND IT"S ABOUT TIME THEY RECOGNIZED ME!!!

And you.

Yes, you.  You’re even on the cover!  Go to the newstand and see for yourself!!

Clearly, a cheap PR ploy designed to get people to buy the issue.

NOTE:  This is the third time I’ve won Time’s "Person of the Year" Award.  I also won in 1966 ("Twenty-Five and Unders") and in 1969 ("Middle Americans").  Still, my sister has won four times now — the same three as me, plus another time in 1975 (when "American Woman" won).

UPDATE:  Blogosphere reactions include "pathetic", "condescending and patronizing", and "humble honored"

And this blogger predicted this selection way back in October.

But the Comment Of The Year Regarding Person Of The Year goes to this guy:

Seriously. Congratulations to Time for actually thinking of something even stupider than Rudy Giuliani in 2001.

…Adding in: I’d like to apologize in advance for this, because I’m sure it will offend some. But Person of the Year isn’t the Special fucking Olympics. The entire point of the exercise is that everyone doesn’t get a medal for participating. The purpose of the issue is to address the person or persons who, for bad or worse, most affected world events of that year. So they picked… everyone? Well of course everyone affected world events the most, fuckwits.

I mentioned Giuliani because I think most people who used to care about this would agree that 2001 was the year that without any argument Time blatantly copped out on the entire point of the issue. Osama bin Laden was clearly the person who, like Hitler in 1933, affected world events the most that year. But bin Laden wouldn’t sell magazines and American readers would be too stupid to realize it’s not an award. So now, five years later, Time’s given in and decided that Person of the Year is, officially, an award. Congratulations, Time Magazine is now Everybody Gets a Trophy Day.

Wake me when we have journalism in America again.

Name That Tune

Got a tune stuck in your head, but can’t identify it?

Go to this site, hum 15 seconds (you’ll need a microphone hooked up to your computer), and it’ll tell you the song.

Of course, your results may vary depending on how well you hum.  Still, it’s a cool idea.

Holiday Stress

StresspillsbottleopenlowresWomen and holiday stress:

The holidays are a time for fun, food, family, gifts — and stress, with more women tending to suffer than men and turning to food, booze and the couch to get over the holidays.

Nearly half of all U.S. women experience greater stress during the holidays, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association.

"Women report a bigger increase in stress of the holidays and seem more vulnerable to the effects of stress of the holidays," Russ Newman, a psychologist who is the association’s executive director for professional practice, told Reuters.

The survey found that 44 percent of the 417 woman contacted in an October telephone survey were more likely to report an increase in stress during the holiday season compared with 31 percent of 369 men.

Many respond to stress by eating more, drinking more alcohol or "being a couch potato," Newman said.

"All three together are very unhealthy ways to manage the increased stress of the holidays," the psychologist said.

How’s That “Hearts And Minds” Thing Going?

One of the reasons, we were told, for invading Iraq was because we wanted to win over the Middle East, and bring them to our way of thinking about freedom and democracy, so that they wouldn’t get all extremist on us and fly planes into our buildings.

Bush said it himself:

The experience of September the 11th made it clear that we could no longer tolerate the status quo in the Middle East. We saw that when an entire region simmers in violence, that violence will eventually reach our shores and spread across the entire world. The only way to secure our Nation is to change the course of the Middle East — by fighting the ideology of terror and spreading the hope of freedom.

It’s kind of nice in theory, but the simple truth is that invading countries tends to make you disliked in the world view — not admired.

And the facts bear this out:

In 2002, the favorability rating of the U.S. among Moroccans was 38%. Now it’s 7%.

In 2002, the favorability rating of the U.S. among Jordanians was 34%. Now it’s 5%.

In 2002, the favorability rating for the U.S. among Saudis and Egyptians was already so low — 12% and 15% — that it basically could not go any lower. And it has not, but it certainly has not improved either after four years of our grand wars of "liberation."

In particular, support for our "Iraq policy" commands 2% of the Saudi population (96% disapprove), 6% of Moroccans (93% disapprove), and 7% of Jordanians (86% disapprove). Those approval numbers are slightly higher — slightly — in Lebanon (16-73%) and Egypt (25-50%).

So rather than make the Middle East more America-friendly, we’ve turned it in to a cesspool of America-haters.

Feel safer?

Of course, the neo-cons have a solution: more of the same.  Bomb Iran.

Oy.

Penguin Propaganda

You can’t make this stuff up.  Here’s an interview between film critic Michael Medved and Focus On The Family’s James Dobson.  There discussing the animated children’s film Happy Feet:

MEDVED: And then there’s this whole subtext, as there so often is, about homosexuality. Not that the penguins are gay — they’re not gay — but the one penguin hero doesn’t fit in and the religious authorities — the so-called religious right in the penguin world — are very judgmental. They say, "You are not a penguin. You’re not a real penguin." And then he makes this heartfelt plea, he says, "Dad, you have to accept me as I am. I can’t change." And —

DOBSON: Are they getting at the idea that homosexuality is genetic? Is that what the subtle implication is?

MEDVED: Well, how many times do we hear that in the media? That it’s not a matter of choice, it’s not a matter of change, and my problem with that — as I understand, that there are some people, who — for whom that may be true, but they’re other people — and you and I know them — who have changed their lives and have turned around their lives.

Video here.

Eyes Wide Closed; Mouths Open Shut

Well, Condi Rice has rejected the idea of negotiating with Iran and Syria to help bring some stability to Iraq because "neither country should need incentives to foster stability in Iraq."

This makes absolutely no sense to me.  Why not just talk to them?  What’s the downside?

Matt Yglesius explains it better:

Seriously, people, it’s time to grow up. Sitting around in the Situation Room and deciding that other countries just should do what we want them to do so there’s no need for diplomacy is insane. The way the world works is that if you want some countries to do some things, you need to discuss this fact with them, ascertain what their actual views on the matter are, see what they would want you to do in exchange, and then make a decision. Rice rejected this option "saying the ‘compensation’ required by any deal might be too high." Get that again. She won’t talk to Syria and Iran to explore options because the price might — might — be too high. Why not find out?

Best Ways To Chill A Warm Can Of Soda

D1299icecoldcokeposters(1)  Put in freezer:  20-25 minutes

(2)  Put in bucket of ice: 10-12 minutes

(3)  Put in bucket of ice and water:  4-6 minutes

(4)  Put in bucket of ice and water and salt:  just over 2 minutes

(5)  Put in bucket of ice and water and salt, while rolling can around:  Less than two minutes

(6)  Fastest way possible: blast the soda with a CO2 fire extinguisher

So says one of the guys from Mythbusters

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

Up the road from me:

MOUNT AIRY, N.C. — The pastor of a Mount Airy church accused of brandishing a gun as part of his sermon is free on bond after being charged with possession of a firearm by a felon.

Jerry Wayne "Dusty" Whitaker, 58, of Mount Airy, was convicted in Virginia in 1990 of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm during drug trafficking.

Members of Whitaker’s Victory Baptist Church say they had no knowledge of his criminal background. Whitaker told them he was a retired Virginia state police officer and a retired U.S. marshal who was injured in the line of duty, said Garry Scearce, trustee chairman at Victory Baptist.

Whitaker denies ever telling anyone he was a marshal, but said he worked as a police officer for six years in Montgomery County, Va.

In September, Whitaker reportedly brought a handgun and a shoulder holster to a service.

"He was driving home his point," Scearce said. "He said he was no longer a pistol-toting U.S. marshal.’ He was a pastor."

Whitaker said the gun was a toy prop.

"I use parables," he said. "Once I pretended to be a blind man with a cane, glasses and can with coins. Why didnt they arrest me for impersonating a blind man?"

Whitaker was arrested during church services Sunday. He was released Monday after posting a $20,000 bond.

Weird And Weirder

WEIRD

DolphinallCNN — Worldest Tallest Man Saves Dolphins:

The long arms of the world’s tallest man reached in and saved two dolphins by pulling out plastic from their stomachs, state media and an aquarium official said Thursday.

The dolphins got sick after nibbling on plastic from the edge of their pool at an aquarium in Liaoning province.

Attempts to use surgical instruments to remove the plastic failed because the dolphins’ stomachs contracted in response to the instruments, the China Daily newspaper reported.

Veterinarians then decided to ask for help from Bao Xishun, a 7-feet-9 herdsman from Inner Mongolia with 41.7-inch arms, state media said.

Bao, 54, was confirmed last year by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s tallest living man.

WEIRDER

This isn’t the first time tall men have been recruited to save dolphins by reaching down its throat.  From the wikipedia page of Clifford Ray NBA center for the Washington Bullets):

In 1978, Ray was in the news for an entirely different reason: he helped to save a dolphin’s life. During maintenance in his tank, a bottlenose dolphin named "Mr. Spock", housed at Marine World in Redwood City, California had swallowed a sharp screw. The veterinarian was unwilling to perform a risky operation while the screw was still in the dolphin’s first stomach, just inches from his fingertips. His frustrated suggestion that he needed longer arms led someone to ask local star Ray (whose arms are 3 feet 9 inches, or 114 centimeters long) if he could help. With gloves, lubrication, and guidance, he was able to reach down Spock’s throat and retrieve the screw before it could cause more damage.

An Open Letter To Bill O’Reilly?

Dear Mr. O’Reilly:

On the December 13 edition of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, you engaged in a debate with a woman named Jennifer Chrisler, who heads the organization known as Family Pride, which supports famillies comprised of children with same sex parents.

In the course of the show, you raised the subject of Mother Nature, saying:

"Nature dictates that a dad and a mom is the optimum, does it not?"

While I understand that a man and a woman pairing is optimum for conceiving a baby, I don’t think that nature really distinguishes between males and "dads", or between females and "moms".  The latter (dads and moms) are societal constructs; the former (males and females) are biological constructs.

But I get your point, wrong as it is.

You then went on to ask:

"Why wouldn’t nature then make it that anybody could get pregnant by eating a cupcake?"

Again, I think you are confusing the issue of conceiving children with the issue of raising children.  Raising children is the controversial subject, not conceiving them.  I think everybody agrees that conceiving children requires a man and a woman — or more specifically, a male sperm and a female egg.

As for raising children, that is an entirely different subject.  Many children are raised by people who are not their biological parents (we call these people "orphans", Bill), or by one biological parent.

But your insistence on bring nature into the debate prompts me to ask question, and tap into your vast knowledge of all things Mother Nature related, to wit:

Why do men and women still feel attracted to members of the opposite sex after they are married to each other?

And by opposite sex, I refer to members who are not their spouses.

I mean, married men/woman still get aroused by beautiful women/men who are not their spouse.  They are biologically programmed that way. So Mother Nature obviously intended it to be that way.  Doesn’t that suggest that marriage itself is antithetical to "nature"?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against marriage.  But the notion that "nature" intended one man and one woman to marry and raise kids is simply silly.  It’s how we have traditionally done it, but it’s not biologically-based. 

Just wanted to point that out.  Now stop with the silly cupcake analogies.

Yours, Me

Identity Theft

Thank God it’s never happened to me, but I do worry about it.  The tales I’ve read and heard from identity theft victims will raise the hairs on the back of your neck.  Cleaning the mess and restarting over is, in this information age, a disaster.

A post at BlueNC has a list of precautions to take so that you don’t fall victim to identity theft:

1. The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.

2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put "PHOTO ID REQUIRED."

3. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check-processing channels will not have access to it.

4. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box, use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks, (DUH!). You can add it if it is necessary. However, if you have it printed, anyone can get it.

5. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel.

Keep the photocopy in a safe place. Also carry a photocopy of your passport when traveling either here or abroad.

6. When you check out of a hotel that uses cards for keys (and they all seem to do that now), do not turn the "keys" in. Take them with you and destroy them. Those little cards have on them all of the information you gave the hotel, including address and credit card numbers and expiration dates. Someone with a card reader, or employee of the hotel, can access all that information with no problem whatsoever.

I didn’t know that last one.

Now, if you do happen to be a victim of identity theft, here’s what to do, courtesy of the same site:

1. We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. The key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them.

2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).

3. This perhaps most important of all: Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. This will stop thieves dead in their tracks.

Some numbers you always need to contact about your wallet and contents that have been stolen:
1.) Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
2.) Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
3.) TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
4.) Social Security Administration on (fraud line):1-800-269-0271

The Punk Preacher

The son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye is a tattooed bohemian type.  But don’t think the fruit has fallen far from the tree.  He’s also a preacher in Revolution Ministries.  More than that, he’s making sense:

What the hell happened? Where did we go wrong? How was Christianity co-opted by a political party? Why are Christians supporting laws that force others to live by their standards? The answers to these questions are integral to the survival of Christianity.

So when did the focus of Christianity shift from the unconditional love and acceptance preached by Christ to the hate and condemnation spewed forth by certain groups today? Some say it was during the rise of Conservative Christianity in the early 1980s with political action groups like the Moral Majority. Others say it goes way back to the 300s, when Rome’s Christian Emperor Constantine initiated a set of laws limiting the rights of Roman non-Christians. Regardless of the origin, one thing is crystal clear: It’s not what Jesus stood for.

His parables and lessons were focused on love and forgiveness, a message of "come as you are, not as you should be." The bulk of his time was spent preaching about helping the poor and those who are unable to help themselves. At the very least, Christians should be counted on to lend a helping hand to the poor and others in need.

“Don’t Quote Me” [Updated]

LATE UPDATE:  Oh, this just gets better and better.  Apparently, Dobson plagerized.

In an editorial appearing in Time, Focus On The Family’s James Dobson cites scientific studies to support his thesis that children being raised by two mothers (i.e., Mary Cheney and Heather Poe) become screwed up:

According to educational psychologist Carol Gilligan, mothers tend to stress sympathy, grace and care to their children, while fathers accent justice, fairness and duty. Moms give a child a sense of hopefulness; dads provide a sense of right and wrong and its consequences. Other researchers have determined that boys are not born with an understanding of "maleness." They have to learn it, ideally from their fathers.

Well, psychologist Carol Gilligan (from NYU) — the scientist Dobson cited — has something to say about that:

Dear Dr. Dobson:

I am writing to ask that you cease and desist from quoting my research in the future. I was mortified to learn that you had distorted my work this week in a guest column you wrote in Time Magazine. Not only did you take my research out of context, you did so without my knowledge to support discriminatory goals that I do not agree with. What you wrote was not truthful and I ask that you refrain from ever quoting me again and that you apologize for twisting my work.

From what I understand, this is not the first time you have manipulated research in pursuit of your goals. This practice is not in the best interest of scientific inquiry, nor does bearing false witness serve your purpose of furthering morality and strengthening the family.

Finally, there is nothing in my research that would lead you to draw the stated conclusions you did in the Time article. My work in no way suggests same-gender families are harmful to children or can’t raise these children to be as healthy and well adjusted as those brought up in traditional households.

I trust that this will be the last time my work is cited by Focus on the Family.

Carol Gilligan, PhD

New York University, Professor

UPDATE:  Aside from Dr. Gilligan, Dobson quoted another scholar in his opinion piece:

The unique value of fathers has been explained by Dr. Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School in his book Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. Pruett says dads are critically important simply because "fathers do not mother."

Well, guess what?  Dr. Pruett — just like Dr. Gilligan — isn’t too happy about Dobson’s cherry-picking, and he too writes a letter:

Dr. Dobson,

I was startled and disappointed to see my work referenced in the current Time Magazine piece in which you opined that social science, such as mine, supports your convictions opposing lesbian and gay parenthood.

I write now to insist that you not quote from my research in your media campaigns, personal or corporate, without previously securing my permission. You cherry-picked a phrase to shore up highly (in my view) discriminatory purposes. This practice is condemned in real science, common though it may be in pseudo-science circles.

There is nothing in my longitudinal research or any of my writings to support such conclusions. On page 134 of the book you cite in your piece, I wrote, “What we do know is that there is no reason for concern about the development or psychological competence of children living with gay fathers. It is love that binds relationships, not sex."Kyle Pruett, M.D.

Emphasis mine.

What Are They Smoking In New Hampshire?

Lots of pot, apparently:

Using upscale, mostly suburban "McMansions" as a front, a drug ring converted the pricey properties into marijuana labs where more than 6,000 plants, worth about $24 million on the street, were seized by police in coordinated raids yesterday.

Ten houses, from Derry to Andover — most costing between $300,000 and $400,000 each — were confiscated and six people were taken into custody during "Operation Green Thumb," the name given the multi-agency probe launched after investigators stumbled upon two similar pot-growing operations in Hooksett and Epsom this fall.

State Attorney General Kelly A. Ayotte said the joint federal, state and local law enforcement effort disrupted "what has to be the largest seizure of marijuana in this state’s history."

I know, I know.  Who cares?  But I grew up there, and it’s a small state.  So I expect (somewhat foolishly) to see names that I remember from childhood show up in stories like these.  But sadly…

Six individuals were taken into custody and are expected to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Concord today, said Thomas P. Colantuono, U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire.

Their names and charges against them were not available yesterday, Colantuono said, noting investigators still were collecting evidence and preparing complaints during yesterday’s mid-afternoon press conference.

Oh, well.

Golden Globe Nominees

Golden_globe_7345cComplete list below the fold.

And by the way, I haven’t seen a single one of the movies mentioned.  Even the ones not nominated for best film, but containing a best actor or actress nominee — haven’t seen a single one of them either.  In fact, the most nominated film, "Babel", I’ve never even heard of until now (sounds interesting though).

And even the nominated TV shows — I’ve only seen a few of them.  "The Office" (of course) and occasionally "Lost" and "Weeds".  "Studio 60" wasn’t nominated, except for Sarah Paulson as Best Supporting Actress.

Soy Saps And Impurifies All Of Our Precious Bodily Fluids

According to the christianists at World Nut Net Daily, ingesting soy (you know, like tofu or soy milk) makes you gay.

Not a real-men-don’t-eat-quiche kind of gay, but actually homosexual kind of gay.  If you have soy as a pregnant mother, your kid will come out of your uterus singing Barbara Streisand tunes:

There’s a slow poison out there that’s severely damaging our children and threatening to tear apart our culture. The ironic part is, it’s a "health food," one of our most popular.

Now, I’m a health-food guy, a fanatic who seldom allows anything into his kitchen unless it’s organic. I state my bias here just so you’ll know I’m not anti-health food.

The dangerous food I’m speaking of is soy. Soybean products are feminizing, and they’re all over the place. You can hardly escape them anymore.

I have nothing against an occasional soy snack. Soy is nutritious and contains lots of good things. Unfortunately, when you eat or drink a lot of soy stuff, you’re also getting substantial quantities of estrogens.

Estrogens are female hormones. If you’re a woman, you’re flooding your system with a substance it can’t handle in surplus. If you’re a man, you’re suppressing your masculinity and stimulating your "female side," physically and mentally.

***

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That’s why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today’s rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products.

Kind of reminds me of this:

StrangeloveripperGeneral Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk… ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Lord, Jack.
General Jack D. Ripper: You know when fluoridation first began?
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: I… no, no. I don’t, Jack.
General Jack D. Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. Nineteen forty-six, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.

The author of "soy make kids gay" column is one Jim Rutz, a former Amway distributor (hmmmmm) and founder and chairman of Open Church Ministries, an organization which helps "believers worship as the early church did."  The bio on his website takes note that he never received much attention from girls in his youth, and it fails to mention a wife and family.  RevivalsoyproteinHmmmm.

And he went to undergrad at San Francisco University.  Hmmmmm.  *Ahem*

By the way, does Nathan "Does A Gay Gene Exist?" Tabor realize that he’s been contributing to the gaying of America?

Nathan Tabor has helped build a successful family business in Kernersville, N.C. Revival Soy has over 130 employees and is one of the fastest growing businesses in western North Carolina.

[Source]

South Dakota Law

Here you go:

12-11-1. Special election to fill congressional vacancy–Time of election of representative. If a vacancy occurs in the office of a senator or representative in the United States Congress it shall be the duty of the Governor within ten days of the occurrence, to issue a proclamation setting the date of and calling for a special election for the purpose of filling such vacancy. If either a primary or general election is to be held within six months, an election to fill a vacancy in the office of representative in the United States Congress shall be held in conjunction with that election, otherwise the election shall be held not less than eighty nor more than ninety days after the vacancy occurs.

Why this matters

Milestone

American-led casualties — meaning "dead or wounded" — has surpassed 25,000.  See a multi-media presentation about this here.

Obama Winning Over The Right

Rich Lowry over at NRO’s The Corner takes reads right-winger emails, reflecting on Obama’s performance on Monday Night Football:

—I watched the Bears game with my father & wife’s grandfather in Dupage County Illinois. Unlike the rest of America we know how to vote. (Have fun in Washington Congressman Peter Roskam!) Both my father & my wife’s grandfather starting voting Republican right out of the womb. But when the Obama Monday Night Football cameo ended they both turned to each other & said, "I like that guy." Mitt, John & Rudy, be afraid, very afraid.

— Obama’s turn on Monday Night Football was actually very well done. I don’t like his politics, but it’s hard not to like the person.  He’s got an easy smile and came across like "It’s cool to be asked to do this, so I am doing it."  Nothing awkward at all.  He’s very non-threatening. 

—I think it was a pretty good political move.  Any chance to snub Hillary, who at times has portrayed herself as some sort of Chicago sports fan, is a plus for him. 

Ezra Klein explains the Obama hype:

So the Obama hype has been a bit puzzling to many. Myself, at times, included. But watch this video of the speech he gave in New Hampshire. Just watch five minutes of it. It’s one of the most remarkable addresses I’ve ever seen, and, in its soft and irresistible way, it explains the whole of the buzz. In possibly the most telling section, he gives a great riff on health care, which manages to totally inspire while not actually saying anything sweeping or controversial. Watching it, you’d swear he just promised the stars, the sky, and universal insurance, when he really just committed to electronic records. And yet, you scarcely mind, if you even noticed. That’s some powerful political mojo.

He’s right (and click the video link).

Finding Terrorists Through Google?

Remember when one of the lessons of 9/11 was the revelation that the various departments of government don’t talk to each other and share important information?

That was supposed to change.

But it didn’t:

When the State Department recently asked the CIA for names of Iranians who could be sanctioned for their involvement in a clandestine nuclear weapons program, the agency refused, citing a large workload and a desire to protect its sources and tradecraft.

Frustrated, the State Department assigned a junior Foreign Service officer to find the names another way — by using Google.

You have got to be kidding me. Bush’s State Department began targeting suspects based on Google searches? This is how administration officials approach identifying suspects associated with a clandestine nuclear weapons program in a post-9/11, post-Iraq-intelligence-failures environment?

Feel safer?

The State Department’s googling resulted in 12 names of Iranian suspects.  but — surprise, surprise:

None of the 12 Iranians that the State Department eventually singled out for potential bans on international travel and business dealings is believed by the CIA to be directly connected to Iran’s most suspicious nuclear activities.

Is this any way to run a country’s anti-terrorist efforts?

Internet Explorer 7.0

My computer nagged me to get the updated version of IE 7.  So I did.

It’s a vast improvement over the old one.  Really good features, including tabs, pop-up blocking, phishing protection, etc.

I heartily recommend it.  Microsoft doesn’t always do things right or intuitive, but this time they did well.

Dispatches From The Front Lines Of The War on Christmas

Well, now it’s getting ugly: they’re making hot dogs out of reindeer:

The reindeer dog, which costs $8, is made by Indian Valley Meats of Indian, Alaska.

It’s actually a blend of reindeer meat, beef and pork. Because reindeer meat is so lean, it needs fat to add flavor. An all-reindeer hot dog would just taste like "rubber," said Cathy Drum, whose family owns Indian Valley Meats.

The company had to reduce the amount of reindeer meat in its sausages a few years ago "because people were calling, complaining they were too rubbery," she said.

Barry Soskin, 49, a fRedhots customer who sampled a reindeer dog Friday, found the texture "tougher" than a regular red-hot but liked the flavor.

Word Of The Year

Merriam-Webster announced its Word-of-the-Year results, and the winner is a new word coined by Stephen Colbert:

truthiness (noun)
1 : "truth that comes from the gut, not books" (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central’s "The Colbert Report," October 2005)
2 : "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true" (American Dialect Society, January 2006)

The other words nominated (but not winning): google, decider, war, insurgent, terrorism, vendetta, sectarian, quagmire, and corruption

Princess Diana: Still Dead But back In The News

2141743_diana_300CNN (12/10/06):  Report: Diana’s Driver Was Drunk

LONDON, England (AP) — New DNA evidence proves the driver of Princess Diana’s car was drunk on the night of her fatal crash in a Paris underpass in 1997, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Saturday.

The tests confirm that original post-mortem blood samples were from driver Henri Paul and that he had three times the French legal limit of alcohol in his blood, the BBC said, quoting from a documentary it will screen Sunday.

Excuse me, but didn’t we already know this?

The Guardian (12/10/06): U.S. Bugged Diana’s Phone On Night Of Death Crash

The American secret service was bugging Princess Diana’s telephone conversations without the approval of the British security services on the night she died, according to the most comprehensive report on her death, to be published this week.

Well, that’s something I hadn’t head before.  The article doesn’t explain why the U.S. tapped Diana’s phone, but it does add the information that the driver (the drunk one) was in the pay of the French equivalent of the CIA.  Hmmmm.

Conspiracy nuts, you have your marching orders.

UPDATE:  The Diana phone-tapping starts a debate between former Bush speechwriter David Frum and progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald.  Start with Frum here, then Greenwald’s response here.