Monthly Archives: November 2007

Rudy Charged The Taxpayers For His Booty Calls

Can’t be good news for the Giuliani campaign

UPDATE:  Uh oh.  Major media is picking up on it.

I understand the need, when he was mayor, to have 24 hour security.  But if it was so on the up-and-up, why were his proctection expenses billed to obscure city offices, like the Office for People With Disabilities?  What did that bureau have to do with his weekend jaunts to see his mistress in the Hamptons?

Better Journalism Please, Part II

AmericaBlog sums it up:

This piece on Obama is just mind-bogglingly awful. Essentially, this is the summary: "There are a bunch of vicious rumors online about Obama. Obama denies them, but some random people interviewed assume they’re true. Because these random people think the smears might be true, we’ll tell you all about the smears, but without saying that they’re all false and malicious. Plus, if they are true, it might torpedo his candidacy!"

Seriously. It’s like, "Random emails say Obama is a Muslim. He says he’s not. But if he is, he’s screwed!" It’s absurd.

The article in question is on page one of the dead-tree version of the Washington Post.

The GOP CNN/Youtube Debate

The right blogosphere is going apoplectic because a couple of the questioners in last night’s debates were (in their words) "plants".  Meaning, that the questioners lean toward Hillary or Obama or something.

In other words, the questioners didn’t lob softball questions at the GOP candidates.

Apparently, the "winner" was Huckabee, who looks destined for an Iowa victory, if trends continue.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Opens Tomorrow

Preview here.

I’m really too close to it to step back and say whether it is good or not.  I’m pretty pleased with it though.  I was very lucky to have Kelly Wallace play Grace (the mother who gets saddled with running the pageant) and Sarah King as Beth (Grace’s daughter, and the narrator).  Both of them are real pros, and hold the thing together.  We’ve got some other outstanding kids, and well, other kids.  It’s a fun evening, I think.

Um….Why?

Strangeness:

Nine months ago …shopping bags, backpacks and purses were left around the subway system, then stealthily watched by undercover officers. They arrested anyone who took the items and walked past a police officer in uniform without reporting the discovery.

Now, a new version of the operation has started to catch people in public places outside the subways, and at much higher stakes, Criminal Court records show.

Unlike the initial program, in which the props were worth at most a few hundred dollars, the bags are now salted with real American Express cards, issued under pseudonyms to the Police Department.

Because the theft of a credit card is grand larceny, a Class E felony, those convicted could face sentences of up to four years. The charges in the first round of Operation Lucky Bag were nearly all petty larceny, a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

OVER the years, decoy operations have proved to be very effective in flushing out criminals lurking in public places. They also have a history of misfires involving innocent people who stumbled into a piece of theater in the routine drama of city life.

You mean there’s not enough crime in New York City as it is?  They have to gin some up?

The Good Book?

What happens when a man takes his family away from civilization in order to raise his children strictly by the words of the Bible?  Well, this:

A man who called himself "Papa Pilgrim" and took his family far from civilization to raise them according to his interpretation of the Bible was sentenced to 14 years in prison for sexually assaulting a daughter.

A judge imposed the sentence Tuesday after Robert Hale’s wife and many of their 15 children delivered statements that included intense stories of physical and mental abuse. Judge Donald Hopwood called it "one of the worst cases of domestic violence I’ve seen."

***

Hale, 66, spent much of Tuesday on the stand, denying charges of sexual and physical abuse leveled against him by family members. Hopwood said he simply didn’t believe Hale’s denials because so many witnesses testified consistently.

Hale had been indicted on 30 counts of rape, incest, coercion, kidnapping and assault for crimes against one of his daughters, committed between 1998 and 2005.

On the eve of his trial last December, Hale pleaded no contest to the three counts in exchange for a sentence of 14 years. But he later tried to withdraw the plea. He said he had made a mistake because he had been sick in jail, on medications and was not well-represented by his public defender.

Last month, in a hearing to decide on his change of plea, Hale changed his mind again and returned to a no-contest plea.

Hale insisted that he had a perfect spiritual understanding, his wife, Kurina Rose Hale, testified Monday.

"This is how he justified all his immoral activity," she said.

Hale was accused of persuading one child that she was a "special kind of daughter" and that she must have sex with him.

…Hale locked his daughter in a shed for three days, sexually assaulted her and beat her so badly her face looked like a black and blue basketball, according to another daughter’s testimony.

Another daughter and the abuse victim left the family grounds to notify authorities.

Hale ran from law enforcers for two weeks before he was taken into custody.

Other children testified of prolonged beatings at the hands of the family patriarch, including boys being stretched out over a "beating barrel" and lashed with a three-cord riding crop.

People Who Got The First Question Wrong On “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”

15 minutes of fame reduced to 10 seconds:

This lady made it to the second question:

And from the French version of the show.  The question is "What is it that orbits around the Earth?":

Don’t be surprised that the audience got the answer wrong as well.  Unlike the US "Millionaire" audiences, the audiences in foreign countries often intentionally give the wrong answer to mess up the contestent.

The Klein/Time Controversy

In a nutshell: Joe Klein printed something in Time about the FISA bill that was clearly objectively wrong.  Rather than read the bill and report what it actually said, he transcribed what a Republican told him it says.  Klein originally wrote:

Unfortunately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi quashed the House Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan effort and supported a Democratic bill that — Limbaugh is salivating — would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target’s calls to be approved by the FISA court, an institution founded to protect the rights of U.S. citizens only. In the lethal shorthand of political advertising, it would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans. That is well beyond stupid.

Got that?  Klein is reporting that, under the proposed bill, surveillance of suspected foreign terrorist’s calls requires an order from the FISA court. 

But the proposed FISA bill actually says:

‘CLARIFICATION OF ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE OF NON-UNITED STATES PERSONS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES’
Sec. 105A. (a) Foreign to Foreign Communications-

(1) IN GENERAL – Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, a court order is not required for electronic surveillance directed at the acquisition of the contents of any communication between persons that are not known to be United States persons and are reasonably believed to be located outside the United States for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence information, without respect to whether the communication passes through the United States or the surveillance device is located within the United States.

In short, Klein said something that was clearly and demonstrably incorrect.  It was false.

When called upon his egregious error, he wrote five follow-up columns in which he admitted to possibly making a mistake, but never bothering to correct the mistake because he lacked "the time" and "legal training".  Of course, he had the "time" to talk to a Republican operative and get the original misinformation, he had "time" to write the original article, and he had the "time" to write several follow-up articles trying to defend himself.  But he apparently didn’t have time to actually read the FISA bill which is written in plain English and doesn’t require legal training to decipher. 

Stoller sums it up:

Everyone makes mistakes, even big ones. But Klein’s meltdown has been epic. He first denied the problem, then conceded it, then argued it wasn’t a big deal, and then concluded he couldn’t figure out if he got it wrong or right and it wasn’t a big deal anyway.

Time has finally issued a "correction" to the article which, like Klein himself days before, doesn’t actually make any correction.  It reads as follows:

In the original version of this story, Joe Klein wrote that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a court review of individual foreign surveillance targets. Republicans believe the bill can be interpreted that way, but Democrats don’t.

This is what is wrong with journalism today.  Nowhere in the article is the actual language from the FISA bill printed.  Instead, what is reported is the "he said, she said".  It’s stenography; not reportage. 

Atrios puts the Time approach to journalism to the test here:

Democrats believe that Rick Stengel (richard_stengel@timemagazine.com) and Mickey Kaus have regular threesomes with a goat, while Republicans believe Mickey has a strictly monogamous relationship with his goat.

What is the truth?  Well, the moden media outlet would just throw up its hands and say, "Hey.  We’re only reporting what we were told!"

Here’s Greenwald:

Leave aside the false description of what Klein wrote. He didn’t say "that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a court review of individual foreign surveillance targets." He said that their bill "would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target’s calls to be approved by the FISA court" and "would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans." But the Editor’s false characterization of Klein’s original lie about the House FISA bill is the least of the issues here.

All Time can say about this matter is that Republicans say one thing and Democrats claim another. Who is right? Is one side lying? What does the bill actually say, in reality?

That’s not for Time to say. After all, they’re journalists, not partisans. So they just write down what each side says. It’s not for them to say what is true, even if one side is lying.

In this twisted view, that is called "balance" — writing down what each side says. As in: "Hey – Bush officials say that there is WMD in Iraq and things are going great with the war (and a few people say otherwise). It’s not for us to decide. It’s not our fault if what we wrote down is a lie. We just wrote down exactly what they said." At best, they write down what each side says and then go home. That’s what they’re for.

Greenwald goes even further, noting that this is not only stenography, but BAD stenography:

I worked for years with highly professional stenographers in hundreds of depositions and court proceedings. Their defining trait is that they have a fierce devotion to transcribing accurately everything that is said and doing nothing else. It’s not uncommon for lawyers, in the heat of some dispute, to attempt to recruit the stenographer into the controversy in order to say who is right.

Stenographers will never do that. They will emphasize that they are only there to write down what is said, not to resolve disputes or say what actually happened — exactly like Time Magazine and most of our press corps. If someone in a court proceeding voices even the most blatantly false accusations, stenographers will faithfully write it down and publish it without comment — exactly like Time Magazine and most of our press corps, at least when it comes to claims from the government and its GOP operatives.

But there’s a fundamental difference: stenographers are far better at their job, since they give equal weight to what all parties say. But Time and friends exist principally to trumpet government claims and minimize and belittle anything to the contrary, and they pretend to "balance" it all only when they’re caught mindlessly transcribing these one-sided claims and are forced to do write down what the other side says, too. The bulk of our establishment journalists aren’t merely stenographers. They’re bad stenographers.

Better media please.

Another must read — Jon Swift’s satirical 20 Rules For Joournalism.

Mamihlapinatapai

Wikipedia:

Mamihlapinatapai (sometimes misspelled mamihlapinatapei) is a word from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the "most succinct word", and is considered one of the hardest words to translate. It describes a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start. This could perhaps be translated more succinctly as "eye-contact implying ‘after you…’". A more literal approximation is "ending up mutually at a loss as to what to do about each other".

It’s a good concept that really needs a word.  I think we can do better than "mamihlapinatapai" though.

Romney’s Bad Answer

Christian Science Monitor:

I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that "jihadism" is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, "…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."

So says the Mormon who wants to be President of the United States.  (Mormons account for 2% of the U.S. population, whereas Muslims range from 0.5 to 1% of the U.S. population).

Walked right in to that one, Mitt.

MORE:  Ezra Klein sez:

Romney, of course, is a Mormon, and has spent much of this campaign begging the electorate not to allow his membership in a cult harm his presidential campaign. For Romney to now turn on Muslims is like the fifth least popular kid on the playground trying to help his status by stealing the lunch money of the few losers beneath even him.

Greenpeace Whale-Naming

Humpback_wideweb__430x273_2When whales are rescued, they get tagged.  They also get a rather unimaginative name — something like "Willy" (from Free Willy).

Greenpeace has a poll where you can name the next rescued whale.

Most of the choices are very earthy and multicultural.  For example:

Aiko – means ‘little love’ in Japanese

Gana – means ‘song’ in Hindi

Kigai – means ‘strong spirit’ in Japanese

Nurani – means ‘conscience in Bahasa Indonesia

Talei – means ‘special, rare or extremely valuable’ in Fijian

They also through in one joke-y name.  Well, with the polls almost closed, guess which whale name is prevailing:

Splashypants1_2

Looks like a runaway for Mister Splashy Pants, although you can still vote.

Journamalism

Real journalists hate bloggers.  From today’s Washington Post:

Citizen journalism is bringing folks, young and old, into the public square, giving voice to those who, in the pre-Internet era, may have felt voiceless.

But some challenge the value of all this citizen involvement. Questions pop up. Is it really "journalism"? Are "they" really "journalists"? What’s the difference between citizen journalists and bloggers who write about politics?

"The term ‘citizen journalist’ has an Orwellian ring to it," says Andrew Keen, author of "The Cult of the Amateur," who’s criticized the Web 2.0-Wikipedia world, where everyone can become their own editors.

"People are becoming Big Brother, either with a camcorder or a keyboard, and following the candidates around. It’s ridiculous. You can’t just be a great journalist, the same way you can’t be a great chef or a great soccer player."

Journalists, he continues, "follow a set of standards, a code of ethics. Objectivity rules. That’s not the case with citizen journalists. Anything goes in that world."

And sometimes the facts go out the window.

Sadly, that criticism of "citizen journalists" would carry much more weight if journalists did their jobs.

Take, for example, Joe Klein, the political columnist of Time magazine.  He writes about the House FISA reform bill and the controversy about what it means, and what it will change.  I won’t get into the nitty-gritty.  My only point is that within Klein’s column, at the end, he writes:

I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who’s right.

Don’t have the time to provide the facts about what an important bill actually means?

Why, thank you, professional journalism!

And over at "Tapped", the bloggers there note something interesting.  They cited articles in both The New York Times and the Washington Post over a squabbling between Romney and Guiliani over Romney’s crime-fighting record as Governor of Massachusetts.  What’s the one thing that BOTH articles failed to mention?

If I were an editor at one of these fine papers, and my reporters turned in one of these stories, I’d tell them to figure out whether Romney or Giuliani is telling the truth. You won’t find it in either story. So which is it?

My curiosity piqued, I did something crazy: I typed "Massachusetts crime statistics" into Google. And you know what I found? This! A page on the state’s web site with their crime reports!

***

Was that so hard?

Here’s the thing: Politicians lie. The only thing that will keep them from lying is if they know they’ll pay a price. And the only ones who can make them pay that price are the reporters whose job it is to tell us what’s going on.

So I’ll accept that bloggers (aka citizen journalists) aren’t REAL journalists who don’t perform REAL journalism.  The problem is that — a lot of the time — REAL journalism is nowhere to be found, even among the elite media establishments.

UPDATE:  More on Joe Klein’s recent journalism embarrassments here and here.

Alternate Universe Discovered

This is the discovery from last summer:

The universe has a huge hole in it that dwarfs anything else of its kind. The discovery caught astronomers by surprise.

The hole is nearly a billion light-years across. It is not a black hole, which is a small sphere of densely packed matter. Rather, this one is mostly devoid of stars, gas and other normal matter, and it’s also strangely empty of the mysterious "dark matter" that permeates the cosmos. Other space voids have been found before, but nothing on this scale.

Astronomers don’t know why the hole is there.

Now we turn to Dr. Laura Mersini-Houghton, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill). [SIDENOTE: I think it’s just great that she can do physics and manicures at the same time!]. 

She and her team have looked into this giant hole in the universe dealeo, and they think they know what’s going on:

The Mersini-Houghton team, however, says it is another universe at the edge of our own. They looked at string theory for the explanation. In string theory, 10500 universes (or string vacuums) are described, each with unique properties. They contend that the largeness of our universe is due to its vacuum counterbalancing gravity. This counter-gravity of the vacuum keeps our universe very large (rather than shrinking due to gravity)—larger than the other multitude of universes. The team says that smaller universes are positioned at the edge of our universe, and because of this interaction they are seen by us.

The team predicts that another giant void will eventually be found. The already found void is in the northern hemisphere. They contend another one will be found in the southern hemisphere.

Okay, I’m not sure I follow that.  You see, I thought the "universe" definitionally meant, well, everything.  There can’t be another universes "at the edge of our own".  Fortunately, a Slate article from a few years back addresses this:

Before getting to why you should or should not believe in multiple universes, there’s a semantic point we ought to deal with. If the universe is, as the dictionary has it, "all existing things … regarded as a whole," then isn’t it true by definition that there is only one such thing? (After all, uni- is built right into the word itself.) Well, yes. But when physicists and philosophers talk about different space-time domains being "two universes," what they generally mean is that those regions are 1) very, very large; 2) "causally isolated" from each other (meaning that an event in one cannot have an effect in another); and hence 3) mutually unknowable by direct observation (since observing something means causally interacting with it). The case for saying the two domains are separate universes is further strengthened if 4) they have very different characters: if, say, one of them has three spatial dimensions (like ours), whereas the other has 17 dimensions. Finally—and here is the existentially titillating possibility—two domains might be called separate universes if 5) they are "parallel," meaning that they contain somewhat different versions of the same entities, like your own alter ego.

EvilspockNow, thanks to my Star Trek watching days, I can understand the concept of parallel universes.  It’s the universe where everything is exactly like it is here in this universe and there’s a duplicate of each one of us, except we wear slightly different clothes, and the men wear goatees. 

Of course, that’s just one possible "parallel" universe.  I prefer to think of a parallel universe which is just the same as ours, except everyone, including animals, drives an AMC Pacer.

Anyway, this whole thing hurts my head.

Domestic Dog Violence

112707_2Bo, the big one, apparently decided he had had enough of the little one’s antics.  Arrow is now missing 1/3rd of his right ear.  He is bandaged for a couple of days, and has to wear a lampshade until Wednesday.

Arrow doesn’t mind the missing ear part.  He minds that bandage a little.  But he really HATES the lampshade.  He keeps snagging it on wall corners, the floor, his paws.  Here he is planting himself, intending never to move again unless he carried from point A to point B.

I’m not sure if this is a one-time incident, or a major problem in the making.  It apparently happened when I was out of the house (although I can’t be sure it happened the way I described it; I never did find the ear part.  It could have been a neighbor’s dog or maybe Arrow snagged it on a fence).  Anyway, Bo is in the doghouse (metaphorically speaking) and I’m keeping an eye on the two of them.

UPDATE:  Maybe he needs one of these from now on.

An Open Letter To Matthew Johnson, Managing Editor Of Madison’s Who’s Who

Dear      ,

I start off my open letter with "Dear      ," for one reason: because that’s how you addressed me in your latest email, in which you notified me that I was "recently appointed as a biographical candidate" to represent my "industry" in Madison’s ("Not-To-Be-Confused-With-Marquis’s") Who’s Who Among Executives and Professionals, and to let me know that you want me for "inclusion into the 2007-2008 Honors Section of the registry".

I understand that you probably invite hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — of people to be honored in the Who’s Who registry.  Apparently, all that is required to get in your registry is a first name, a last name, an email address, and an ego from the recipient.  So it must be hard for you to notify all of potential honorees.  Still, I think an esteemed publication such as yours could invest in a decent mail merge program so that your salutations come out as something other than "Dear [blank]".

That said, I must respectfully decline your kind invitation.  I honestly do not think I deserve it.  How could I possibly stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of, say, Graham Norris, a director of Sharif Group — a company which (as far as I can tell) ships stuff.  Mr. Norris "utilizes expert judgment and creativity in the analysis of complex issues involving data from multiple sources and variables."  I don’t know what that means, which clearly means that he is made of more whos-who-worthy material than me. 

Same too with Nicholas McLean, who encourages "a culture which upholds the highest standards of integrity, quality and transparency, he provides an attractive and rewarding work environment for his staff" andr Tony Karitzis, who encourages "a culture which upholds the highest possible due diligence, quality and transparency in all transactions, he has gained the confidence and respect of his colleagues and peers."  Seems that "encourging cultures" is big with you people, and since I don’t even know what that means, I probably don’t fit in with the rest of the club.

While I get invited a few times every year to join somebody’s Who’s Who registry, I realize (as you apparently do) that there are a lot of Who’s Who scams out there.  I have developed a simple method for ferreting out real Who’s Who offers from bogus ones, and it’s quite easy to apply.  I call it the Groucho Marx Method Of Who’s-Who Scam Detection (GMMWWSD) and it goes something like this: I wouldn’t register with any Who’s Who publication who would have me as a member

In short, you asking me to be honored only lends to your illegitimacy, according to my litmus test.  And the fact that you sent me a form email addressed to "Dear [blank space]," only makes me more suspicious.

I hope to copyright the GMMWWSD test, and give it wide publication.  Perhaps that way I can gain noteriety for my significant contributions to mankind, if only by making the general populace aware of the silliness of Who’s Who publications in general.  And maybe someday, I will then be honored with a Who’s Who listing.

In the meantime, thanks for including my name in your somewhat shoddy and no doubt voluminous mail merge program, and hitting the "Enter" button.

All the best,

Ken [Blank space]

$78,100

That’s how much it would cost to buy the 12 gifts mentioned in The 12 Days of Christmas.  I’m willing to bet much of that is due to the five golden rings which, when you think about it, is unnecesssarily extravagent.

By the way, that’s up 4% from last year.

Goalposts Moved When You Weren’t Looking

In Iraq:

With American military successes outpacing political gains in Iraq, the Bush administration has lowered its expectation of quickly achieving major steps toward unifying the country, including passage of a long-stymied plan to share oil revenues and holding regional elections.

Instead, administration officials say they are focusing their immediate efforts on several more limited but achievable goals in the hope of convincing Iraqis, foreign governments and Americans that progress is being made toward the political breakthroughs that the military campaign of the past 10 months was supposed to promote.

The short-term American targets include passage of a $48 billion Iraqi budget, something the Iraqis say they are on their way to doing anyway; renewing the United Nations mandate that authorizes an American presence in the country, which the Iraqis have done repeatedly before; and passing legislation to allow thousands of Baath Party members from Saddam Hussein’s era to rejoin the government. A senior Bush administration official described that goal as largely symbolic since rehirings have been quietly taking place already.

and in Afghanistan:

A White House assessment of the war in Afghanistan has concluded that wide-ranging strategic goals that the Bush administration set for 2007 have not been met, even as U.S. and NATO forces have scored significant combat successes against resurgent Taliban fighters, according to U.S. officials.

The evaluation this month by the National Security Council followed an in-depth review in late 2006 that laid out a series of projected improvements for this year, including progress in security, governance and the economy. But the latest assessment concluded that only "the kinetic piece" — individual battles against Taliban fighters — has shown substantial progress, while improvements in the other areas continue to lag, a senior administration official said.

This judgment reflects sharp differences between U.S. military and intelligence officials on where the Afghan war is headed. Intelligence analysts acknowledge the battlefield victories, but they highlight the Taliban’s unchallenged expansion into new territory, an increase in opium poppy cultivation and the weakness of the government of President Hamid Karzai as signs that the war effort is deteriorating.

There will come a day when we eventually leave Iraq and Afghanistan, and significant numbers of people will declare "victory".  Kind of easy to do when you define down what one means by "victory".  As Josh Marshall says: "Squint hard enough and it kind of sort of maybe looks like victory."

By the way, remember when war critics complained that Bush was going to try to set up permanent bases in Iraq, and they were called wacko conspiracy theorists?  Well…

Iraq’s government is prepared to offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq and preferential treatment for American investments in return for an American guarantee of long-term security including defense against internal coups, The Associated Press learned Monday.

The proposal, described to the AP by two senior officials familiar with the issue, is one of the first indications that the United States and Iraq are beginning to explore what their relationship might look like, once the U.S. significantly draws down its troop presence.

Light Blogging For A Few Days

Okay, well.  It’s the day before Thanksgiving and everyone is gearing up to go to Grandma’s house, or to get up at zero o’clock so you can drag giant Shrek balloons down Manhattan, or to do things that will stay in Vegas, or to spend a few days of much needed down time before tech week (that’s me), or to sing along with Legally Blonde, or whatever.

In any event, nothing much will happen, at least nothing blogworthy (as opposed to the things I write about?  Hmmmm)….

Happy T-giving, yo.

If I Had The Time And Inclination To Waste My Life….

…I just might spend it doing this.

2045197689_df8c00317f_o

Pictured above is (obviously) an island.

But what is unique about it is this: it is a do-it-yourself portable island.

It was built by one guy, and it rests on top of 250,000 empty plastic bottles, which cause it to float.  The bottles were combined in nets, then plywood and bamboo was lay down to act as the base.  On top of that, he lay sand, planted mangrove trees, and even a two-story tall bamboo structure.

A motor built on one side of the island allowed to be mobile.  Here’s some more on the island:

Sadly, the DIY island was destoyed in a hurricane in September 2005.  Bot not to worry — he’s building another one.

“As Far As I Know” Being The Operative Phrase Here

Bill O’Reilly, criticizing the USO:

"As far as I know, the only famous people in the past year were (country music singer) Toby Keith and me."

The facts from the USO (PDF format):

Just through September of this year, we produced 37 overseas tours with 241 performances for 98,000 troops in 14 countries, 9 stateside tours, 15 celebrity education events for military dependents, and 48 celebrity visits to military hospitals. … For 2007, we expect to take approximately 19 celebrities to Afghanistan and more than 35 to Iraq.

Plame Responds To McLennan’s Assertion That “Bush Knew”

Valerie Plame released the following statement in response to this new story:

Nov. 20, 2007 10pm EST

Santa Fe, New Mexico–I am outraged to learn that former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan confirms that he was sent out to lie to the press corps and the American public about two senior White House officials, Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby who deliberately and recklessly revealed my identity as a covert CIA operations officer. Even more shocking, McClellan confirms that not only Karl Rove and Scooter Libby told him to lie but Vice President Cheney, Presidential Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and President Bush also ordered McClellan to issue his misleading statement. Unfortunately, President Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s felony sentence has short-circuited justice.

Vice President Cheney in particular knew that Scooter Libby was involved because he had ordered and directed his actions. McClellan’s revelations provide important support for our civil suit against those who violated our national security and maliciously destroyed my career.

Baaaad Idea

AP:

SAN MARCOS, Texas – Mike Guzman and thousands of other students say the best way to prevent campus bloodshed is more guns.

Guzman, an economics major at Texas State University-San Marcos, is among 8,000 students nationwide who have joined the nonpartisan Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, arguing that students and faculty already licensed to carry concealed weapons should be allowed to pack heat along with their textbooks.

Yeah, that sounds like a good plan.  Students on large campuses, free from parental supervision for the first time in their lives, where alcohol is easily available, carrying concealed weapons.  What could possibly go wrong?

Hmmmmm

Conservapedia, for those who don’t know, was created (by Phyllis Schlafly’s son) as a response to the supposed "liberal bias" of Wikipedia.  I’ve written about it before — it’s unintentionally hilarious.

Wonkette looks at the most viewed pages on Conservapedia, and concludes that conservatives must "harbor secret gayness". 

UPDATE:  Balloon Juice analyzes this:

Let’s unpack this a bit more. If those statistics are right, the page on homosexuality has been viewed 82% as often as the conservapedia home page. Maybe repeated editing amplifies the view count of particularly popular pages, but that still strikes me as just short of insane.

Regadless of whether 81% of conservapedia visitors want to hear bad things about teh ghey or some more rational number like, say, 50%, stuff like this makes it pretty hard to take seriously the tear-stained accusations of intolerance whenever a prominent conservative figure turns out to be a gay whore, a gay porn star or a public restroom perv.

Why You Shouldn’t Go To Low School

Now they tell me.

For what it’s worth, I have a hard time placing myself in any of the three categories set out in the above essay.  I’m certainly not "the sucker" (the lawyer working long hours in a small firm for little pay), nor "the underpaid do-gooder" (the underpaid public interest lawyer).  I’m probably closest to the "corporate serf", although I don’t quite earn buttloads of money (say, as much as a partner).  On the other hand, I’m certainly doing far better than the average worker, and better than many two-income familes.  And the hours, for the most part, are fairly nine-to-five, so I can have a bit of a life outside of work.

I think the essay also plays into the negative sterotype of lawyers.  To be sure, the profession does have its fair share of asshole know-it-alls, as well as lawyers who fight about every detail just for the sake of fighting.  But my experience is that this tends to be the exception, rather than the rule.    One commenter agrees:

My experience of law, both in school and with those in practice, is that there is not really a higher percentage of arrogant, picky, petty jerks in the law than in other professions with highly educated individuals.

It is probably a bit different in big-city practice (i.e., New York), but so much depends on your locale that it is hard to generalize like the article does.

Anyway, for anyone thinking about law school, the article is well worth reading.  The comments are even more informing.

VERY Important Supreme Court Case

Perhaps the most important Second Amendment case evah, and the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take the case.  I blogged about it back in March, so (if you’re interested) you can get the background.

What’s at stake?  Theoretically, the whole ball of wax.  The central issue is whether we as individuals have the "right to keep and bear arms", or whether we merely have that right as members of "the militia".  The Second Amendment itself is kinda vague on this point.  If the Court decides the latter, then it is possible that guns — even handguns — could be banned for any reason.

Let me put it this way — if the Court decides in favor of D.C., you will be hearing about "the Heller case" just as much as you hear about Roe v. Wade.

Again, I refer you to my earlier post.

Given the way the Court works, expect arguments in early spring and a decision in June 2008.

UPDATE:  Here is the specific question before the Supremes:

"Whether the following provisions — D.C. Code secs. 7-2502.02(a)(4), 22-4504(a), and 7-2507.02 — violate the Second Amendment rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes?"

More background on this case at SCOTUSwiki

SCOTUSblog:

After a hiatus of 68 years, the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to rule on the meaning of the Second Amendment — the hotly contested part of the Constitution that guarantees “a right to keep and bear arms.” Not since 1939 has the Court heard a case directly testing the Amendment’s scope — and there is a debate about whether it actually decided anything in that earlier ruling. In a sense, the Court may well be writing on a clean slate if, in the end, it decides the ultimate question: does the Second Amendment guarantee an individual right to have a gun for private use, or does it only guarantee a collective right to have guns in an organized military force such as a state National Guard unit?

MY EARLY TEA-LEAF READING:  Like so much else that comes across the recent Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy is the swing vote.  And my reading of Kennedy is that he will deem this the right to bear arms an individual right, making the decision 5-4.  I’ll even go out on a limb and say that Souter will side with the majority, making it 6-3.  That will put the decades old controversy to rest. 

Frankly, my research suggests this is the right conclusion.  I’m not a fan of guns, but I think the Framers would have argued that it was intended to be an individual right, rather than a collective right.

What will not be resolved, at least conclusively, is the degree to which the federal government, states and municipalities can nevertheless restrict "arms" ownership despite the constitutional guarantee of a right to bear arms.  I mean, I think everyone — including Charlton Heston — agrees that tactical nuclear weapons should not be availble at the local K-mart.  The question is: where do you draw the line?

The Good News Out Of Iraq

A diarist at Kos makes an observation:

The news this morning is full of signs of peace settling over Baghdad as increased troop levels help to quiet the insurgency.

Officials said privately that they hoped to foster a sense of normalcy and encourage limited travel to Iraq, particularly by business people and aid workers. They mentioned that Baghdad International Airport is preparing to reopen in a few days.

Wait, wait, wait.  That was 2003.

No, here’s how nice things are in Iraq.

Ammar Hussein finally felt it was safe enough to keep his pizza shop open until midnight. Life was returning to normal in Iraq’s capital. Most nights, families crowded around plastic tables outside his shop to eat pizza and ice cream.

Darn it, that was 2004.  This must be the right article.

The amazing realisation is that somehow normal life continues. Shops open, people go to work. Even the Crazy Frog mobile phone ring tone has become the latest fad in Baghdad.

Sorry again, 2005.

Let’s just skip 2006 and go straight to today.

The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about 5 a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March, the American military says.

Ah, paradise.

Don’t misunderstand.  I very much hope that this period does represent a real, sustained move toward normalcy in Iraq.  Certainly the millions of Iraqi refugees are hoping for the same thing. After months in which tens of thousands of people were fleeing Baghdad each day, around 1,600 a day are now trickling back.  That really is a good sign.  But there have been a number of "lulls" in violence, and what we’re now looking at as the "lowest number of attacks since February 2006" only means that "normal" has been redefined as worse than anything in 2005, or 2004, or 2003.

As optomistic as I would like to be, I can’t help noticing that first article, the one from a few weeks after the war "ended," includes this paragraph.

Nonetheless, 33 American soldiers have been killed and scores wounded since major hostilities ended in May, making the postwar period the most hazardous peacetime era for Americans.

Normal, is relative.

Yup.  It ain’t over yet.  And has Kevin Drum correctly points out, a decrease in violence means nothing if there isn’r progress at the political level.

UPDATE:  The L.A. Times informs us that our military leaders are cautious as well:

But military and government officials warned at the start of the clampdown that it would not have lasting success unless it was matched with political progress. It is a message being repeated with a new sense of urgency, now that Iraqi leaders can no longer blame huge bombs, mass abductions, and street-by-street fighting as an excuse for political paralysis.

Supporting The Troops

I don’t care if you are for or against the war in Iraq — this is just plain wrong:

The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.

Memo to the Pentagon — it’s called an enlistment bonus for a reason.  They enlisted, so they get the bonus. 

Trying to get the money back AFTER they’ve enlisted and had their limbs blown off — well, that’s just Scrooge-like.

For what it’s worth, the congressman of the soldier spotlighted in the above-linked story, Democrat Jason Altmire, has introduced a bill to prohibit the Bush administration from asking the troops for refunds.

Mr. Altmire, D-McCandless, held a news conference yesterday at the Ross municipal building with Spc. Kaminski and other veterans to tout legislation he has authored to aid wounded soldiers.

At the forefront was a bill introduced last week and sent to committee that targets a Defense Department policy preventing eligible soldiers from receiving their full bonuses if discharged early because of combat-related injuries.

“Hard as it may be to believe, the Department of Defense has been denying injured servicemen and women the bonuses that they qualified for,” Mr. Altmire said.

He said he drafted the legislation after hearing “outrageous” examples of bonuses being denied…. Mr. Altmire’s legislation, the Veterans Guaranteed Bonus Act, would require the Defense Department to pay bonuses in full within 30 days to veterans discharged because of combat-related wounds.

I wonder if Republicans will block it.

UPDATE: Professor Volokh did some "quick research" on this and finds:

that the military does have this sort of policy, on the theory that the bonus is an advance payment for a full term of service and the soldier isn’t entitled to keep it unless he completes the full term — even when the failure to complete the term is a result of a combat wound.

It’s a stupid theory, and a crappy policy, no matter how "legal" it is.  As one of Volokh’s commenters snarkily writes:

"It’s time for these coddled soldiers to start bearing some of the burden that we here in the homeland have been carrying since 9/11.

Don’t they realize that we are at war?"

Bush Implicated In Plame Scandal

…by none other than Scotty McLellan, in his new book, which contains the following excerpt:

"The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

"There was one problem. It was not true.

"I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President’s chief of staff, and the president himself."

I suspect that as the days of the Bush Administration winds down — and certainly into the next Administration — we’re going to learn more and more about the criminal doings of the President himself.  After all, it was the President who got in front of the cameras and specifically said that he would get to the bottom of the Plame leak, and if it turned out to be someone on his staff, he would take apporpriate measures.  Now we learn (a couple of years after it matters) that the President knew all along that Rove and Libby were involved.

The Ten Cheesiest Star Trek (Original) Creatures

Tribbles

Tmtribble

Episode: "The Trouble With Tribbles"

Description: The most insidious invaders ever to threaten the Enterprise, these fuzzy little low-budget infiltrators first win Lt. Uhura’s affections, prompting her to take one aboard. From there they sneak into the air vents, storm the bridge and drink Kirk’s coffee. Only one thing keeps them from taking over the Enterprise and from there, the galaxy: No hands, man.

Powers: Eating, reproducing, making Klingons edgy.

Weaknesses: Poisoned grain, hammers (presumably).

Read them all here.

Another Megachurch Sex Scandal

It’s becoming an everyday thing now:

The 80-year-old leader of a suburban Atlanta megachurch is at the center of a sex scandal of biblical dimensions: He slept with his brother’s wife and fathered a child by her.

Members of Archbishop Earl Paulk’s family stood at the pulpit of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church a few Sundays ago and revealed the secret exposed by a recent court-ordered paternity test.

In truth, this is not the first — or even the second — sex scandal to engulf Paulk and the independent, charismatic church. But this time, he could be in trouble with the law for lying under oath about the affair.

Earl Paulk’s brother, Don, is a piece of work, too, and together it looks like they’ve been very naughty boys:

Today, though, membership is down to about 1,500, the church has 18 pastors, most of them volunteers, and the Bible college and TV ministry have shuttered — a downturn blamed largely on complaints about the alleged sexual transgressions of the elder Paulks.

In 1992, a church member claimed she was pressured into a sexual relationship with Don Paulk. Other women also claimed they had been coerced into sex with Earl Paulk and other members of the church’s administration.

The church countered with a $24 million libel suit against seven former church members. The lawsuit was later dropped.

Jan Royston, who left the church in 1992, started an online support group for former members to discuss their crushed faith and hurt feelings.

"This is a cult. And you escape from a cult," she said. "We all escaped."

A refreshing change though from other scandals — no homosexuality involved.

Arming Future Enemies

A new proposal for the Pakistani crisis:

A new and classified American military proposal outlines an intensified effort to enlist tribal leaders in the frontier areas of Pakistan in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as part of a broader effort to bolster Pakistani forces against an expanding militancy, American military officials said.

Again with the arming tribal leaders? 

Someone needs to remind someone at the Pentagon that when we arm tribal leaders, the chickens eventually come home to roost.  In other words, these guns go out there unaccounted for, and 5 to ten years later, they’re shooting back at us.

They Have A Word For That

Via Neatorama, a list of foreign words for which there is no English counterpart:

Kummerspeck (Germany): "Grief bacon" – the weight that you gain by overeating when you’re worried about something.

Attaccabottoni (Italy): A "buttonholer" – someone who corners casual acquaintances or even complete strangers for the purpose of telling them their miserable life stories.

Modré Pondeli (Czech): "Blue Monday" – When you skip coming in to work to give yourself a three-day weekend.

Razbliuto (Russia): The feeling you have for a person you used to love, but don’t anymore.

Shitta (Iran): Leftover dinner that’s eaten for breakfast.

Tartle (Scotland): To momentarily forget the name of the person you’re talking to. The word helps reduce the social embarrassment of such situations: "I’m sorry, I tartled there for a moment."

Pana po’o (Hawaii): To scratch your head in an attempt to remember something you’ve forgotten.

Ngaobera (Easter Island): A sore throat caused by too much screaming.

Backpfeifengesicht (Germany): A face that’s just begging for somebody to put their fist in it.

Papierkrieg (Germany): "Paper war" – bureaucratic paperwork whose only purpose is to block you from getting the refund, insurance payment, or other benefit that you have coming.

Rujuk (Indonesia): To remarry your ex-wife.

Mokita (New Guinea): The truth that everyone knows, but no one will speak about.

Gorrero (Spain, Central America): Someone who never picks up the check.

Fucha (Poland): Using your employer’s time and resources for your own purposes.

I’m going to start incorporating these words into everyday usage, although that’ll probably just make me a backpfeifengesicht.

Want A Good Cry?

Check out this video about "Animal Crossing".

Just some background about "Animal Crossing" (so you can appreciate the video).  It’s an online "community" game where players live out a separate life in an online village, with the goal of building and improving their house and being part of a make-believe community.

Books Aren’t Dead

…they’re just digital.

And were it not for the ridiculous price tag of $400, I would probably be getting a Kindle, Amazon’s new wireless reading device, which some are dubbing "the iPod of reading". 

It weighs less than a paperback, but on it you can read any digital book (88,000 currently available).  You can also subscribe to top U.S. newspapers and weekly magazines which are auto-delievered.  Blogs too.  It holds up to 200 books.

Best of all, it uses "electronic ink", which is a fancy way of saying there is no backlight, and therefore, no eyestrain.

Amazon_kindle

Not too shabby.  Newsweek does a mammoth story on Kindle (shorter version: they love it).

Now all that need is a text-to-speech converter, and I’m in heaven.

The State Department Tries Blog Diplomacy

Something about this strikes me as rather silly.

Especially this quote from Duncan MacInnes of State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs:

"Because blogging tends to be a very informal, chatty way of working," MacInnes said, "it is actually very dangerous to blog."

The Stagehand Strike

ArtbroadwayafpgiFor those who are concerned, the Broadway stagehand strike does not affect national tours.  Um… yet.

Sadly, the talks broke down this weekend, and much of Broadway remains dark:

These Broadway shows will be dark at least through Sunday, Nov. 25.
August: Osage County at the Imperial Theatre
Avenue Q at the Golden Theatre
A Bronx Tale at the Walter Kerr Theatre
Chicago at the Ambassador Theatre
A Chorus Line at the Schoenfeld Theatre
The Color Purple at the Broadway Theatre
Curtains at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre
Cyrano de Bergerac at the Richard Rodgers Theatre
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the St. James Theatre
The Drowsy Chaperone at the Marquis Theatre
Duran Duran at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
The Farnsworth Invention at the Music Box Theatre
Grease at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre
Hairspray at the Neil Simon Theatre
Is He Dead? at the Lyceum Theatre
Jersey Boys at the August Wilson Theatre
Legally Blonde at the Palace Theatre
Les Misérables at the Broadhurst Theatre
The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre
The Little Mermaid at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
Mamma Mia! at the Winter Garden Theatre
Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Shubert Theatre
The Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theatre
Rent at the Nederlander Theatre
Rock ‘n’ Roll at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
The Seafarer at the Booth Theatre
Spring Awakening at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre
Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre

Off-Broadway (which is, in some ways, better) is still flourishing.

Innovation Of The Year

CellfoilhpPopular Science magazine has annouced it’s "Innovation Of The Year" and it really is something to get psyched about.

We all know what solar panels are and what they do.  But the problem with solar panels is two-fold: (1) they are big and bulky; and (2) they require buttloads of silicon to manufacture and silicon is expensive.

These factors make for expensive solar panels.  Solar panels cost about $3 for every watt of energy they produce.  Coal, on the other hand, costs $1 per watt of energy.  So if the idea is to save money, solar is not the way to go.

Until now.

The "Innovation of the Year" is something called Powersheet solar cells.  Rather than a bulky panel, it is a thin sheet about five times the width of aluminum foil.  It does the work of a solar panel.  Without silicon.

Essentially, it comes off a rolling press, and best of all, it costs around thirty cents per watt of energy produced.  That’s ten times cheaper than solar panels, and three times more efficient than coal and gas.  And being a sheet rather than a panel, it is flexible and can go on any type of roof.

And, of course, it is "green".

This is not something that we’ll see fifty years from now.  This is a product which is ready to roll out NOW. 

Read more here.