Honduras among us

I will rejoice when the first true taqueria opens in New Orleans. And when latino/a culture finally grows into its glorious rightful place in 21st century New Orleans arts and culture. Until then, read David Dykes's solution to the "problem."

New ideas watch

Unless you've got really sharp eyes or a really sharp monitor you won't be able to read the caption on that cap. What it says is, "I'd rather hunt with Dick Cheney than drive with Ted Kennedy!"

If you'd like to buy one for your very own self, go here.

I came across it through an ad at David Horowitz's FrontPage Magazine, where I was, once again, voting to have Michael Bérubé declared America's Worst Professor.

Meanwhile, Jane Galt has (fairly! fairly!) surveyed the evidence and now declares that the Left is out of ideas.

Is that wikipedia in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

Encyclopodia is a free software project that brings the Wikipedia, which is one of the largest encyclopedias on the world, on the Apple iPod MP3-Player. It has been successfully tested on a third-generation iPod and on an iPod mini, but it should also work on other iPod generations.

Encyclopodia – the encyclopedia on your iPod

Oh no they didn't!

Dubai would have to either abandon the boycott [of Israel] or give up this deal, and I bet I know what they'll choose.

| Thoughts from Kansas |

"Dean is a loser!"

That's what BlueStateVirgin told me before the primaries kicked off in 2004. Well, he did end up losing, so I guess BSV was right. However, I still think the Democratic Party should have stood Dean up, because a) we lost anyway, and b) Dean was the only politician in either party exhibiting any kind of sanity.
Can anyone dispute that Dean was right about virtually every prediction and claim he made, every warning that he issued about why invading Iraq was ill-advised and counter-productive? Compare this outright prescience from Dean to the war supporters’ declarations of cakewalks, predictions of glorious victory celebrations, promises that the war would pay for itself, Purple Finger celebrations where they insisted that democracy was upon us, errors regarding the number of troops needed, inexcusable failure to anticipate or plan the insurgency, and shrill fear-mongering about Saddam’s non-existent weapons.

Check out the whole post. The "centrist" Dems would have a lot more credibility right now if they hadn't lined up to vote for this rotten mess.

UPDATE: I didn't mean to make it sound like BSV was for the invasion of Iraq (he certainly wasn't) or that he was particularly in bed with the Democrats who voted for that war. His full response is in the comments.

Remain calm

Left blogistan is abuzz this morning, at least the parts of it that I read, because the Supreme Court ruled today that federal racketeering statutes can't be used to ground a national injunction against abortion clinic protests. To which I say, "don't panic!" This doesn't mean a return to the bad old days when women seeking abortion were sometimes physically assaulted by protesters.

Three facts to keep in mind:
  1. The injunction in question was voided in 2003, and yet access to clinics hasn't been hampered.
  2. Access to clinics was, anyway, guaranteed by an act of Congress in 1994.
  3. From a strategic perspective, the boisterous protests of the past were a disaster for the pro-life movement.

Also and most importantly, the left really ought to embrace the ruling. Historically, racketeering legislation has been extremely useful to corporations who have claimed that unions, merely by organizing employees, are engaged in a criminal conspiracy. Extending the scope of those laws to encompass protests that hamper commerce might do a little bit to ensure access to abortion, but it would also do a lot to prevent labor unions from deploying effective picket lines. That's a bad bargain.



Continual involuntary repetition of a mental act, usually exhibited by speech or by some other form of overt behavior.
2. The tendency for a memory or idea to persist or recur without any apparent stimulus for it.

Disruptive behavior

Over at the fireside chat, Safety Neal highlights an article about how the controversial Total Information Awareness program has been living a secret second life after it's very public death a few years ago. Jump over there for the gory details.

My favorite part is the name of a new department, the "Disruptive Technology Office." Yay!


I've been meaning to link to this article ever since Matthew Yglesias mentioned it in passing a few weeks ago, but I just haven't gotten around to it. Today, though, I learned via Kevin Drum that Malcolm Gladwell has a blog, so I'll link to that instead.

RIP, Octavia Butler

It always made me feel better about my near obsession with science fiction novels that there was a smart, black woman writing clever novels, in genre characterized by juvenile, misogynistic crap. She'll be missed.

They came, they saw, they commented

Readers and contributors may have noticed that we had an influx of visitors on Friday. That was because Shakespeare's Sister gave us a link. Here's to you Shakes! And be careful, I hear that there's a watery tart lurking around with a gun.

Probably we've scared the visitors away by now, but one left a comment that I thought warranted a top level reply.

In response to Defcon 1's post Mardi Gras-ing, Kim asked, "The essay serves as deuteragonist to the boobs?"

This is really a question for Defcon, but I'm pretty sure that he would say that the essay is not, in fact, a deuteragonist to the boobs. My thinking here is that, as a writer, he would give pride of place to his words rather than have them serve as a mere foil for a stranger's breasts. I could, of course, be wrong.

Contra Bart

This bit of trivia is probably old hat to everybody else around here, but it surprised me:
Recently, feminist critics have identified the disguised lesbian erotic imagery in her work; for example, Stein often used the word “cow” to mean “orgasm”. Works such as “As a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story” obviously become differently meaningful if read with this in mind. |source|

But that's so abstract. Here's an MP3 of former Senator Jesse Helms reading "As a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story".

Actually, that recording is pretty abstract too.[1]

Addendum: I don't know why I didn't mention it when composing the post, but the feminist interpretation of "having a cow" is not entirely uncontroversial. Publishers Weekly had this to say:
Apparently, Stein's many references to "having a cow" ("As a Wife Has a Cow a Love Story," etc.) have a meaning other than the orgasmic connotations that many Stein scholars have attached to them. Indeed, they are Stein's imprecations for Toklas to have a bowel movement. Those scholars and readers who have focused on the butch/femme identities of this famous lesbian couple may be shocked to discover that Stein's theories of "bottom nature" may boil down to those who are regular and those who are not. |link|

I don't know about you, but I have a preferred reading.

1 If you happen to be the sort of person who's into provenance (and really, who's not?) then maybe you should follow this link.


'A bullet in the chamber is worth two in the pocket' and other pearls of constabulary wisdom

My most recent interaction with a police officer went reasonably well. I suggested to my cousin Jimmy, who had just graduated from the police academy, that maybe, just maybe, fewer people would hate cops if so many cops didn't insist on being such assholes all the time. Jimmy didn't draw his gun or anything, but he sure didn't cotton to the idea of Andy Griffith as a positive role model.

That's neither here nor there, I suppose, but since you're thinking about our friends in blue anyway, maybe you should head on over to discourse.net and read about asking cops for a complaint form.

When you put it that way...

Smack dab in the middle of an otherwise dull political horserace story about the state of play of governorships in the midterm elections, the NY Times' Adam Nagourney throws in this gem:
As Mr. Bush showed in Ohio and Florida, having a friendly governor can be critical in close general elections.

What I love about that sentence is the way it gives every partisan a reason to hate Nagourney. Democrats can criticize him for deploying an oblique understatement when much more could be said. Republicans can take issue with the subtle introduction of bias.



What Would PETA Do?

I don't doubt that this is a total scam, but it's still amazing how much money these guys have already made.

Overheard on NPR

In developments unrelated to the growing violence in Iraq, seven American troops were killed today, five by roadside bombs.

I have no response to that

Ms Atwood, 66, is to launch the device - which has been seen by only a select few at secret testings - at the London Book Fair a fortnight from today, where publishers and authors from around the world will be given a demonstration. The writer will be in Canada but will create what is being billed as the world's first transatlantic autograph.

A video screen will link Ms Atwood with the public, allowing them to speak to her. Then, as she signs a personal message at one end, a robot arm instantly replicates the strokes in a copy of the book at the other. |The Independent|

That's from one of Ambivalent Imbroglio's ambits, but just so I'll have something substantial to link to, here's a recent post about moving to suppress evidence.

Friday dumb game blogging, you should be reading Exploding Aardvark instead edition

Three games:
All courtesy of Exploding Aardvark, who reminds you that everything's better with Tangpagne.



[from 'scope' + '(i)ous']

Wide, spacious.

It's a movement

GSOC's strike against NYU passed the hundred day mark late last week and this week Nerds on Strike! is reporting that 25 GSOC members have been docked pay and placed on Sexton's blacklist. All in all, this is a good day to donate to the strike fund.

It's also a good day to remember that the NYU strike is part of a large and growing movement. So here's some context:

Item: Graduate Employees at Western Michigan University petitioned last week for a recognition election to take place in the spring. In just over a month their organization, the Teaching Assistants Union, collected approximately 400 membership cards out of a bargaining unit of a little over 600, so their chances look pretty good. The Kalamazoo Gazette has the rest of the story.

Item: Graduate Employees at the University of Illinois-Springfield filed cards last month and will have their recognition election on Wednesday, March 1.

Item: GTFF, the union representing graduate assistants at the Univerisity of Oregon has just begun negotiations for their next contract. They've set up a bargaining blog in case you'd like to follow the action.

Item: CUPE 3902, the union representing grad employees at the University of Toronto, ratified their latest contract this month.

Dance with the one that brung ya

What we are seeing regarding the port deal (and what had me so amused in my previous post) is a clash between their rhetoric and their reality. The Money Republicans that run the country want the port deal. They want to keep the UAE engaged at an economic level. Those guys our are allies in our attempt at economic conquest of the Middle East.

Unfortunately, these Money Republicans wouldn't run the country based on their desire for free trade and tax breaks for the rich. Nope, they got where they are with some rhetoric that is now coming back to bite them right on their expensive asses.

I'm thinking of Michele Malkin, who believes that under certain circumstances people should be jailed based solely on their (arab) ancestry. I'm thinking of Dick Cheney who scared us with the "mushroom cloud." I'm thinking of Instapundit and Red State folks who put on an air of serious contemplation and pretend to have an "open mind" about whether or not "Islam is a religion of peace." (We don't even need to get into the likes of Vik Rubenfeld and the commentors at LGF, who advocate killing the friends and families of suspected terrorists, perhaps with nuclear weapons.

Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, you got to power by scaring the bejesus out of the American people. Regardless of whether the port deal is a good idea (it might be, but it smells worse and worse by the hour), the trouble you are having selling it to your own party is the result of your own rhetoric. I hope you appreciate the irony--I find it delicious.


Oh, sweet tolerance!

This is hilarious:
"After careful review by our government, I believe the transaction ought to go forward," Bush told reporters who had traveled with him on Air Force One to Washington. "I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company. I am trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, `We'll treat you fairly.'"

I heard Rush trying to spin this deal on his radio entertainment program, and he was all about not immediately suspecting Arabs of terrorism. He likened those who do to McCarthy. Hilarious.

Let's not ask either of these fine conservative gentlemen what they think of racial profiling in the hunt for terrorists.

Also noted in that article, Bush has threatened to veto any Congressional attempt to block, or even delay, this deal. Let's keep in mind that this would be Bush's very first veto in two terms, and might end up being his only veto in two terms. What will history make of it? Oh yeah, it doesn't matter, because "we'll all be dead."


Sleeping With Poppy Z.

The following is a lyrical book review soon to be published in the upcoming "New Orleans" issue of The New Orleans Review. The finished product is heavily edited down; here is the longer, unedited version.

Sleeping With Poppy Z. Brite

Sitting here in Austin in the shadow of great change. It feels almost the same way it felt the very early spring of 2002. I wrote about this feeling on a day back in New Orleans, a day when the weather had taken a turn for the better as a cool front had broken the growing humidity. It was a day when people in New York were still exhuming a mass grave in Lower Manhattan, using bulldozers, buckets, and blowtorches, and the war was on (when was it ever off?). The image of that second goddamned plane hitting the building is still too fresh, even now; I saw it happen live that morning, an infernal apparition rising out from the national campfire of television. But only months later, I was writing about how things were pretty good, even though the Super Bowl was still scheduled for the Super Dome, and I had wondered, does that make us a super target? What kind of a world has it become?

It was still winter, technically, but winter ends early in New Orleans. Spring is too insistent. I wrote how New Orleans orbits anarchy and flirts with chaos, and how perhaps this is related to the weather somehow, I don’t know. On that cool day in 2002 I almost saw the city as New York’s idiot savant little brother. Then-Mayor Morial was pushing for re-election despite term limits, just as Mayor Guliani had considered doing. Close your eyes in some parts of town and you’d swear you were in Brooklyn; the same ethnic mix that stewed in New York City stewed here too. I used to drink with friends in the revolving bar that sat atop the World Trade Center building, right off the French Quarter. And then there’s that word that we share: “New.” Of course, back then, we needed a New war to avenge New York; even a hopeful case like me, sitting dazed and drunk in New Orleans, could see that, could see that the shadow falls down and west and all the way to the end.

And now this current business, this hurricane business. This bad, bad business. I’m in Austin, dazed, etc, and things don’t look as clear anymore. I almost feel that New Orleans way, but not quite. Mayor Nagin could have been a Guliani. Federal aid could have arrived sooner, as quick as fighter jets in the forenoon sky.

Maybe it’s because I’m not in New Orleans now that I feel the shade of the shadow a bit more. Which leads me to think about how, despite our grim recent days, the city can still party. I am looking forward to Mardi Gras this year, the first since the storm. It will be sad and glorious; we’ll all be skeleton dancers there, aware and alive.

I missed the Krewe de Vieux parade back in 2002. I wrote about that too. I had three sets of friends who were in the Krewe, and who had all invited me and my girlfriend to parade with them. We also had a friend in town who we were entertaining. I even had a costume.

But no. Sometimes, things just don't work out the way you want them to. Certain persons couldn't handle the chill wet winds that were blowing that late January night. Others imbibed too much smoke and drink to move much beyond the couch and Saturday Night Live (with Jack Black hosting, it was a good’un. Some measly consolation).

The Krewe de Vieux’s Marigny and Bywater street parade kicks off Mardi Gras season. It’s the head parade, the satire parade. The freak parade whose goal is the Quarter . And in 2002 (that year’s theme: “Depraved New World”) it's royalty included a famous New Orleans author, the famous New Orleans author in some people's opinion. Like New York, we have quite a few literary types historically associated with our heathen town, too. Quite a few still living here, right now, in fact.

I’m not writing about Anne Rice. However, I will admit at this juncture that I have a collection of photos of Poppy Z. Brite in the nude. I culled them from several magazines over the years, which isn't hard to do really, since Poppy likes to get naked. But I am always looking for more photos. Poppy, if you're reading this, please send more! You don't even have to sign them!
See, I remember that back in '95, Poppy gave me a salacious look at a booksigning in Austin. Oh yes. It may just be my engorged ego doing the talking, but Poppy! Surely you remember me! You signed my copy of Book of the Dead at Adventures in Crime and Space Bookstore on Sixth Street, signed your story, "Calcutta, Lord of Nerves" all saucy-like, remember? You entreated me to praise Kali. That look we shared…surely it meant something. But no. I left that signing, and later that town, without knowing the carnal delights of this smart and sexy woman. Now I’m back in Austin, and New Orleans has survived it’s own kind of zombie apocalypse. And still my collection serves as poor substitute.

No. Actually, the royal parader I'm talking about is Andrei Codrescu, one of New Orleans’ literati and editor of a terminally hip pub called Exquisite Corpse, which you can find online by appending .org to that name. His distinctive Romanian accent can be heard on NPR, where he is a regular commentator. He has a regular column in The Gambit Weekly (the weekly news/arts/entertainment rag in N.O.). I think he’s in the Ozarks now. He’s written several books of fiction and essays, including Road Scholar, the mandatory haywire roadtrip book which takes him across this oh-so kooky country. It was the first thing of his I ever read and it was quite a bore, actually (I’m enjoying The Disappearance of the Outside: A Manifesto for Escape more).

Back to September 11. On the day of the attacks, I thought to myself, as I watched the TV, that this day, September 11, 2001, is the day the 21st century began. I thought it up all on my own. No talking head thought it up for me, no spin crews wheeled it out as the slogan of the hour. I was struck by the brutal, self-centered honesty of the thought; I considered how, perhaps, years from now, scholars and other such disreputable people will speak of this event as having begun a new era, much as we speak of World War I as having kicked off the Modern Age. I thought about how, no matter what power the thought held, I would keep it to myself. Why? Maybe because I was afraid I would come off sounding like a soundbyte jock or half-assed academic myself, distilling the inexpressible into an idiotic little catchphrase. Or, maybe I’d gleaned the truth it held and deemed it too powerful for mere me to wield.

Oh well, it’s too late now, either way, isn’t it? The twenty-first century denies our existence, but we will scream until we are heard.

The week after the attacks, Codrescu, in his Gambit column, wrote, “On September 11, 2001, the 21st century began in earnest” (this in-between requisite Romanian references, too). That scurvy little fucking bastard, I think as I read it. Here’s a guy who thinks a Temporary Autonomous Zone is actually possible and not metaphor only, that we’re not actually in the Matrix and they only made the first movie. How dare he say it! How dare he scoop me! One of these days, I prayed, intellectual property law will mutate and avenge me.

Codrescu sat in on a panel discussion at the Hotel Monteleone in the Quarter a few years back, a panel composed of writers who discussed literary bohemianism. He was the only one who took the time and effort to look the part, slouch and all. Poet, editor, and City Lights Bookstore founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who was also on the panel, should have and would have kicked his ass, if given the chance—but I digress. I guess I should just accept that I am plugged into the über-mind whether I like it or not, just like Codrescu and every other American who gives a damn. Poppy! Where are your soft thighs and hard words to comfort me!

At least he got one thing right on that panel. There was still a bohemian element alive in this town. There is one alive today. There will be tomorrow. It's hardwired into the city. The genuine article is there. Witness the following, two books published by local small DIY presses prior to Katrina, a post-Katrina website of wit, and an online archive of street-level articles exploring the city. Writers worthy of note even though they never got mentioned on NPR.

New Mouth From the Dirty South has an interesting little book in circulation called Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing. Written by Abram Shalom Himelstein and Jamie Schweser, both principles in New Mouth, this book was originally sold, according to the authors, on the street before being appended with a very un-punk bar code and ISBN number and sold in local bookstores. Good for them I say.

Tales is like a miniaturized Invisible Man for punk scenesters. The story revolves around Elliot, a dissatisfied kid fresh out of high school living in Bumfuck, Tennessee. Eager to avoid college and get out of town, Elliot heads to Washington D.C., where he falls in with a local straightedge punk collective. ‘Zine making, hellraising, low-job working, punk show arranging, political activism engaging, sex-pursuing, guitar playing, Foods-Not-Bombs helping, and angst-having ensue. This is happening in ‘91, mind you, so we’re talking about an organized scene...but life is, as usual, depressing and strange. Eventually, Elliot comes to realize the inherent hypocrisy of the scene; although punk is all about denying and destroying the status quo, he finds that the issues of the world at large can and do infiltrate and contaminate the new world he’s entered. Seems that what others think about you is important, after all.

This is, essentially, the classic high school journal raised to the next level of twenty-something self-awareness. The story covers three years in Elliot’s life, and the gimmick is the story’s heteroglossia. The book is composed of Elliot’s journal entries; issues of Elliot’s ‘zine, Mindcleaner; letters from Elliot to Maureen, the hometown girlfriend who went to school instead; and letters to Hannah, Elliot’s younger sister, who has written the actual preface to the book as Elliot’s literary executor and “half of the Hannah Rosenberg Doesn’t Run Away in 1995 Treaty.” It’s a clever book with some truly funny parts, especially the Mindcleaner portions which read as a kind of alternate text to the proceedings, and those parts where Elliot wrestles with his Jewish faith within the punk context.

The mix of fictional, “fictionally altered,” and real references to the scene lead me to think that the book is autobiographical. The earnestness of our youthful narrator in experiencing and writing about the world may turn off more jaded readers who’ve been there and done that, but it does have a charm all its own nevertheless. Hardly punk, I still broke out in the early nineties the same as Elliot, and so I kinda know the guy, y’know? I just wish that there was more of a story here, told in action, not in the angsty punk critique of society and “this is what I did today” journal-style recollection that dominates the book.

Spectres of bohemia gone by still linger in this city of ghosts. There's a press here in town called Surregional Press, run by poet Dennis Formento, who’s inspiration comes from the Beats, the San Francisco Renaissance, and the Black Mountain poets. The journal he edits, Mesechabe, reflects these inspirations, publishing folk like Gary Snyder and other nature poet holdovers (bohemians, if you will—yes, Mesechabe has published the much-maligned Andrei Codrescu, too).

Portraits from Memory: New Orleans in the Sixties by Darlene Fife, published by Surregional, reflects this countercultural bent (the book was originally published over the span of two editions of the journal). This book is essentially the story of NOLA Express, an anti-war newspaper published in New Orleans in the late Sixties and early Seventies, and the circle of people associated with it and the larger counterculture scene happening at the time. The story is told circuitously, however, which may turn off some readers. Fife, a physics major and English grad student who came to understand the unjustness of the American war in Vietnam while studying in Ireland, relates the story in a casual memoir style, using as touchstones several colorful individuals who ran in the French Quarter-based counterculture. Fife wanders from year to year, moving back and forth as the memories dictate and lead, recounting bits of long-ago conversation and snippets of scenes. Most interesting were her accounts of the in-fighting between the SDS-affiliated publishers and anti-war activists, and the ideology-mad Sparticists and Progressive Labor members. Fife also spends time discussing the informers and moles who infiltrated the groups, the harassment meted out by the N.O.P.D. against vendors of the newspaper, and the final court injunction against the cops. Included are several photographs of those being discussed, as well as many drawings, poems and pictures that graced issues of NOLA Express (including a letter from Charles Bukowski, a regular contributor, and the photograph that landed Fife and company into hot water with the feds—they eventually beat those charges).

Altogether these compose only a loose mosaic of memory which hints at a history. However, I’m prone to think that Fife is smart enough to know that one person’s recounting of events that occured so long ago will be hazy and one-sided, and so, in a way, the roundabout method serves her purpose well. Her own life runs throughout as a kind of constant point of reference, but she is certainly not egotistical, and focuses attention on other matters. This book certainly does evoke the spirit of the Sixties revolution, and is a worthy contribution to the primary source material on the era. It also places New Orleans, and the French Quarter ofEasy Rider, into a revolutionary context, although one need not be familiar with all the place names to appreciate the book.

Interestingly enough, I discovered this work at a fundraiser for the publishers who were, at that time, embroiled in a lawsuit brought against them by certain parties mentioned in the book, parties who apparently felt that they were sorely misrepresented. “I guess it depends on which of us writes the history,” Fife quotes Mike Higson, a civil rights worker and Express writer as saying, and that still holds true. I found this book to be interesting and entertaining, and particularly resonant, as we sit through another period of prolonged military action with questionable moral grounds.

Some of those living New Orleans writers still in New Orleans that I mentioned earlier? Some of them are writing for a post-Katrina website called NOLAFugees.com. Taking a laissez-faire, fuck-all fatalistic stance (rather, slouch) on life post-Apocalypse N.O., the brief pieces by such writers as Sarah Inman, Adam Peltz, David Dykes, and Joel Dailey offer tragicomic commentary, black humor insight, some Onion-esque wit—stupid fun for stupid times. A highlight is the regular society column “Starfucking With Cookie” in which the famous Muppet monster, somehow now out of New Orleans, disparages Times-Picayune columnist and sometime-performer Chris Rose (“Me see where Chris Rose took Lower 9 tour with Dr. John and now he think they are friends. Me know Mac from the days we ran train on ‘Walk On Gilded Splinters’ backup singer bitches. Me and Mac spend two days in clinic from bitch who sing fourth ‘till me murder’ response. Chris Rose never get that close.”), opines nonchalantly on the literary scene in New Orleans, or lays out his NFL playoff hopes (don’t miss Cookie’s Quicktime movies, either). Writer Jack Moss has a couple of essays arguing for secession. A write-in column entitled “The New Morality” even answers philosophical and ethical questions brought up in the storm’s aftermath. How, exactly, should “DMB Fan From the DMZ” ask his friend Clive, who lost his new house in the storm, and who is now staying with DMB Fan, about compensation for the rare Dave Matthews Band bootlegs that were also lost while under Clive’s care? The advice begins with “stop giving and start taking,” and ends with guidance on how to steal away Clive’s wife Stacy (“All’s fair in post-Apocalypse NOLA anyway”).

While you’re online, please also check out Scat Magazine, another excellent venue of New Orleans writers. The digest-sized print edition, which had been distributed for free around New Orleans regularly before the storm, featured “Talk of the Town” style short essays by local writers, each offering lively glimpses into some unique corner of New Orleans living. Unfortunately, Scat did not survive the storm, but you can find back issues online at scatmagazine.com.

Finally, let me say a few words about Garrett County Press. I love Garrett Co. Press. When it was out of New Orleans (the press has since relocated to Philadelphia, a move that happened before the storm), Garrett Co. and principle G. K. Darby were instrumental in realizing the New Orleans Bookfair, a remarkable convergence of DIY publishers, presses, and authors from around the country. Garrett Co. also used to publish The Garrett County Press Guide to New Orleans, what a city guide would look like as a ‘zine. Headings included “Sleep for Cheap,” “Hospitals,” “Late Night Food,” “Sex,” and “Misc. Shit,” all biased listings geared toward travel as a means of “serious, intellectual boozing,” according to the editors. This booklet was great because, after all, if you’re coming to New Orleans and not planning on drinking, you’ve got problems. Hell, if you live in New Orleans and you're not drinking, you've got problems. Hostel info, secret taxi phone numbers, substance abuse hotlines, inside tips on what the 3-for-1 drink specials really meant on Bourbon Street and why the “Live Nude Orgies” ads are a sham—this little guidebook was freaking great.

Just try to find one now. Instead, look for fine trade paperbacks of great interest. I really enjoyed two books by C. S Walton, Little Tenement on the Volga and Ivan Petrov: Russia Through a Shot Glass, this latter being the true tale of vodka –fueled travel across the former Soviet Union (from the prologue: “I chose to become a drunk, not an ordinary, drink-up-your-wage-packet drunk, or even a flog-your-house-and-furniture drunk, but a vagabond and a beggar who became intimate with forests, garbage dumps and railway stations all over our great country. I am Ivan Pyatii-Pyanets Proklatii: Ivan the Fifth—Damned Drunkard”). Another winner is The Best of Temp Slave!, edited by Jeff Kelly, who also founded the great Nineties gripe ‘zine on temp work culture, which he calls “a strong after effect of corporate downsizing, micro-management, and the trend toward specialization… [where] every single occupation is under the gun.” Kelly does a great job of gathering together articles, art, essays, rants, and comics from the publication’s legendary run. Kathy Ocker’s The George W. Bush Coloring Book offers the perfect genre for our child-like president’s stabs at profundity. And I’ve only read the excerpt on the website (www.gcpress.com), a short bit called “Luncheon” about a visit to the iconic Galatoire’s Restaurant, but so far, Letters From New Orleans by Rob Walker seems pretty good. Walker, an editor with New York Times Magazine, writes a straightforward literature of place that seems to fairly capture New Orleans ethos. I’ll be curious to see how good a job he does skirting cliché elsewhere in the book. Some of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to Katrina-related humanitarian organizations.

Change, turn and face the strange. No more zombies for Poppy. These days, she’s writing about the New Orleans service industry. But baby, I read that obit of William Burroughs, a few years back, the one about fucking his corpse. Poppy! What has Burroughs's corpse got that I haven't got! You felt it too, I know it. Adventures in Crime and Space is no more, but I am here, again. As for you, Codrescu….oh, whatever. You get published, get on the air, get to be king of the freak parade, and get to slouch for Ferlinghetti. More power to you.

Just remember, motherfucker, that I get to sleep with Poppy Z. Brite, whenever I want to.

Listen to your Emperor

We should petition congress to give Joshua Norton more than just ceremonial power. . . Perhaps over our foreign policy:
I mean, just consider this: in the past 15 years there have been 167 attacks on abortion clinics and 8 murders of personnel associated with abortion services within the United States. That's terrorism in the United States over a relatively obscure point of religious doctrine. How the fuck are the Palestinians supposed to keep terrorists from attacking a country that fires rockets into houses full of women and children to assassinate suspected radicals and terrorists?

Answer: there is simply no way it can be done. Any Israeli demand for peace on those terms is just a refusal buried under a heap of steaming bullshit.

Double standards

Mark Kermode had a piece in the Observer a week or so ago concerning the film Visions of Ecstasy which the British Board of Film Classification refused to grant a certificate to on the grounds that a successful prosecution under Britain’s blasphemy laws was likely to succeed. The film maker took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that that the refusal to grant classification was a breach of his rights under Article 10 of the Convention. He lost. In line with a previous judgement, the Court
accepted that respect for the religious feelings of believers can move a State legitimately to restrict the publication of provocative portrayals of objects of religious veneration.

It is therefore simply not true to say that in Europe freedom of expression trumps the sensibilities of believers. What is true is that some believers, of some denominations, get legal protection from being offended, and others don’t.
|Crooked Timber: Chris Bertram|

Speaking of the controversy, after a rocky start Joshua Norton, unlike certain other bloggers I could link to, has thought his way to a reasonable position on the issue. And speaking of the hypocrisy, Holocaust denying historian David Irving is about to go on trial in Austria.

That quail hunting story is so over


Over at Ezra's place, Neil the Ethical Werewolf mentioned that he went to a random page of the prosecutor's sentencing recommendation for Duke Cunningham and found that Cunningham had solicited, as a bribe, three Laser Shot Simulators, and I thought to myself, "there but for the grace of God goes Dick Cheney."

In other not-as-funny-as-you-would-have-hoped news, it has come to my attention that when candy wants to dance it goes to a gum ball.


Mardi Gras-ing

As my first posting to the new Bellman, here's an essay I wrote in honor of Mardi Gras, even though it's about Mother's Day. It's reprinted from Nexus, a now defunct newspaper in New Orleans.

The Mardi Gras-ing of Mother's Day:
Why We Can, Why We Must

Halloween used to be a perfectly respectable holiday, just like Mother's Day.

Yes yes. Nothing but some harmless dressing up in costumes for a bit of trick-or-treating (if you're a youngin'), or, for the big kids, some harmless dressing up in costumes for the big Halloween party, where you'd be certain to mess your makeup bobbing for apples. Adults get to dole out treats at home or else brave the evening witching hours playing chaperone.

Wholesome. Pure. Downright all-American. Until New Orleans got a hold of it.

Using its very own holiday, Mardi Gras, as the model upon which all that is Partyworthy should be celebrated, New Orleans re-created Halloween in its own image. The harmless dressing up in costumes has become passé, even in a town down with dressing up; now, it's what you can creatively not wear that raises the eyebrows anymore. The house to house trick-or-treating has been replaced by the bar to bar trip-and-stumbling, and the Halloween party is spilling out of the cramped shotgun and out onto the streets. There are beads, and parades, and lots and lots of tits.

It's a nice fit really, as for all intents and purposes Halloween in New Orleans has become a practice run for Mardi Gras (notice I did not say "dry run." Halloween is anything but dry.)

New Orleans is funny that way. It fosters a kind of autonomous zone where partying, chaos, and brute intoxicated force come together and dance, and for most of the time, that's enough. But occasionally, this constant condition gets crossed with some kind of competitive happening, like a holiday, resulting in odd statements like, "Hey, you know, tonight I was going to go out and party and drink and get totally pissed and happy all because there's a 23-hour bar a block away, but you know what, today's the day we celebrate the birth of Christ, or something."

No problem. New Orleans simply co-opts the competition. We celebrate whatever comes our way the same way. Drinking. Parades. Fruffy costumes, gaudy ornaments, and silly make-em-ups. And more drinking. In the sage words of Phil Anselmo, New Orleans native and former lead singer of the band Pantera, New Orleans is

the type of city that there's every reason in the world to drink. The Saints won, let's get drunk. The Saints lost, let's get drunk. Christmas time, hey, let's get loaded. Hey, it's Thanksgiving, let's get loaded. Let's get fucking wasted, it's Halloween. Hey, here comes Mardi Gras, let's take acid for six days in a row. It's every reason to get fucking loaded, which adds to the decrepit, fucking seediness of the entire fucking city.

So well put. Drink for Christ, people, it's ok!

Halloween is only one example. Others have only recently begun to succumb to the overwhelming power that is New Orleans. New Years, for instance. St. Patrick's Day, which already had a rep, is carving out new realms of debauchery here. The list goes on.

It is my belief that New Orleans should now apply its satanic ministrations upon the hallowed tradition of Mother's Day.

Why not? The idea of setting aside a day to honor mothers and motherhood has pagan roots, much like Mardi Gras and other holidays. The Greeks celebrated Rhea, the wife of Chronos and mother to all the gods, in the springtime, a tradition which the Romans inherited. I can see it now: the all-mother Krewe of Rhea, rolling down St. Charles on Mother's Day, throwing out cookbooks and soccer balls and lots of good advice.

Mother's Day also shares an association with Lent, like Mardi Gras. The 17th Century English recognized Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, by visiting the Mother Church before visiting their mothers, bringing them specially prepared "mothering cakes" as presents. Similar to the king cake, except this time, the baby is on the outside holding the cake. Why wouldn't local bakeries move to cash in on this racket?

The American contribution to Mother's Day is just as compelling. In 1877 Juliet Calhoun Blakeley, along with a host of other mothers, spontaneously began Mother's Day one May Sunday morning when their pastor walked out of his Albion, Michigan church services. The group took to the pulpit together in order to conclude the service and offer support. The pastor had walked out in shame, for earlier that week, his son had been arrested along with two other young men for public drunkenness and other "anti-temperance shenanigans."

Temperance is dead, and if there's anywhere on earth mothers are needed, it's here. We need that mother to keep that drunken frat boy son of hers from getting behind the wheel. We need that mother to shoulder her daughter's drunken, broken heart. We need those mothers to call on midnight cell phones, to pull us out of soiled street clothes and gutters, and put us to bed.

And, besides all that, mothers could use a drink. It's their day, after all.

Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia is credited on the Internet (and, hopefully, other places) for establishing the first official observance of Mother's Day. Compelled by her own mother's wishes for a mother's day of healing after the Civil War, Jarvis lobbeyed for a regular observerance of mothers on the second Sunday of May in memory of her. The idea caught, and became official in 1914. But by 1923, Jarvis was fighting a losing battle against the commercialization of Mother's Day, and she died in 1948 in a sanitarium, childless and penniless from her efforts.

Mother's Day, soulless. Sounds like a certain other holiday I know. Guess which one I'm thinking of. Any guess and you'd be right. We've got to put the soul back in Mother's Day. No cover for mothers, I say. Mom drink free, all night. Floats of white and red carnations featuring portraits of famous mothers: Laura Bush, Queen Elizabeth II. Britney Spears. Frank Zappa. They'll drift around town and block traffic. And moms get the best beads no matter what.

Using Databases to Manage your Sex Life

Regina Lynn reports for Wired Magazine on a new type of software designed specifically for bachelors.

Girlfriend X is the vanguard of a new type of program: relationship management software.

From Girlfriend X's homepage, we learn that one of the program's features is Booty Yield.
Now, imagine that you have a dedicated accountant who constantly evaluates your Booty Yield so you can determine whether any particular woman is worth the time, effort and money that you’ve invested. Are you starting to get the picture of what GirlFriend X is all about? |GirlfriendX.com|

The program not only keeps track of how often a guy scores, but has fields for all sorts of activites.

In addition to storing each woman's contact information and picture, the Girlfriend profiles include a Score Card where you track her sexual preferences, her menstrual cycles and how she styles her pubic hair.

The Yield Generator calculates your cost-per-hookup and rates the overall maintenance cost of the girl, based on the cash outlay per sexual encounter. It uses cost and activity data from your ongoing Date Log, and weights anal sex and threesomes higher than oral sex and hand jobs. |Wired|

Setting aside for a moment how incredibly offensive the entire booty yield concept is, I think the privacy (destruction) implications of this software are breath-taking.

Last night I was reading Jeffrey Rosen's book The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America...and I can only imagine what would have happened if Girlfriend X would have been around when Bill Clinton or George W. Bush were in college.

You know Ken Starr would have subpoena'd GirlfriendX for Bill Clinton's records. And if you can subpoena former Senator Bob Packwood's diary to shed light on a sexual harrassment case...why should Girlfirend X be given any more protection?

Information shared with a third party over unencrypted internet channels seems like a low expectation of privacy...

GirlfriendX sounds like a cheap hack of a program, but I think Regina Lynn is correct that given the popularity of online dating sites, it is only a matter of time until they begin integrating relationship management software into their interfaces.

Good news for the tabloids, I am sure.



[Greek 'deuteragonistes', an actor of second-class parts, from 'deuteros', second + 'agonistes', actor]

1. The character second in importance to the protagonist in classical Greek drama.
2. A person who serves as a foil to another.

Friday dumb game blogging


Bonus Game: Dick Cheney Quail Hunt

(which, of course, I saw over at Exploding Aardvark)



Pretty cool stuff. I also like this one.


Getting it on, politely

In today's column, Miss Manners has the following to say about the art of flirting:
You can certainly visit and invite the gentleman at a friendly pace, but his availability will only tell you whether he wishes to continue that friendship. To progress, you need to send a few ambiguous signals. Whether he responds in kind will give you your answer, while still allowing you deniability should he not do so.

For example, you stare at him too long and soulfully, and then look away as if you had hardly known what you were doing. You sit too close to him, and then idly get up and sit somewhere else. You brush up against him as if you had not noticed that you did.

Good luck in the trenches!

Slime! I mean, ROBOTS!

Life-like adaptive behaviour is so far an illusive goal in robot control. A capability to act successfully in a complex, ambiguous, and harsh environment would vastly increase the application domain of robotic devices. Established methods for robot control run up against a complexity barrier, yet living organisms amply demonstrate that this barrier is not a fundamental limitation. To gain an understanding of how the nimble behaviour of organisms can b e duplicated in made-for-purpose devices we are exploring the use of biological cells in robot control. This paper describes an experimental setup that interfaces an amoeboid plasmodium of Physarum polycephalum with an omnidirectional hexapod robot to realise an interaction loop between environment and plasticity in control. Through this bio-electronic hybrid architecture the continuous negotiation process between local intracellular reconfiguration on the micro-physical scale and global behaviour of the cell in a macroscale environment can be studied in a device setting.
|Abstract of "Robot Control: From Silicon Circuitry to Cells"|

(I found this, of course, through the good offices of the Exploding Aardvark, who has a link to a news coverage of the research)


Cult of authority

This makes sense, especially if you include this caveat.

Videogames: Is there anything they can't do?

Guess it's time to learn-o the spanish-o.
A new study of 100 university undergraduates in Toronto has found that video gamers consistently outperform their non-playing peers in a series of tricky mental tests. If they also happened to be bilingual, they were unbeatable.

Since it was in Canada, it's possible that it's not bi-lingualism per se, but rather knowledge of French.


Poop is the new burp

Come seek Urban Relief at a city park near you! Imodium, the world's leading anti-diarrheal is kicking off summer travel season by answering nature's call for travelers in New York City by placing 10 functional port-o-potties in some of the city's most visited parks. These port-o-potties, were painted and designed by some of New York's top artists. With the Urban Relief Program, finding an available restroom in Manhattan has never been so easy or fashionable.
|Immodium Urban Relief|

Addendum: Ode to Immodium

Being a blog post concerning several recreations falling a few rings short of the Olympic pantheon

From The Six Demon Bag:
He is reluctant to call himself a human fox, but several times a year John Whetton is chased through the British countryside by scarlet-coated huntsmen and their packs of hounds. |The Globe and Mail|

Okey dokey.

Speaking of teh sport, last night while listening to the garbage cans flying around in the alley below my bedroom window I started wondering why it is that we have cock figts, dog fights, and people fights, but no cat fights. My guess is that the answer has something to do with caterwauling. You gotta admit, though, that felis catus is pretty darn fierce when he gets riled up.



So I was having a drink with a table full of anthropologists last week, talking about this film and some of the issues it raises, when one of the anthropologists said "A penis is a penis much more than an ankle is an ankle."


Don't worry ma, the innernet'll keep 'em respectable!

That's the logo from this site which, you may have gathered, is a web based pregnancy prevention program. I don't know about you, but I think that the logo (and, for that matter, the program name) is pretty darn funny.

Also funny, in a you'd better laugh at the depths of human stupidity because otherwise you're sure to cry sort of way, is the site's backstory. You see, iPLEDGE is a cooperative venture between four manufacturers of an acne drug known variously as Accutane or isotretenoin. It turns out that Accutane is pretty much a miracle cure when it comes to clearing up the worst sorts of acne. The only drawback -- and this is why the FDA has only approved Accutane for the most extreme cases -- is that pregnancies which begin while a woman is using Accutane display a disturbing tendency toward miscarriages and birth defects.

But did I mention that Accutane is a miracle cure? Miracles being in high demand, American dermatologists write about 170,000 prescriptions a month for Accutane even though there are only about 6,000 cases for which the drug is approved.

Let's pause a moment to suss out the causal chain here. Step one: each month, some number of women have severe enough acne to warrant seeking medical advice. Step two: 85,000 of those women are given prescriptions for the miracle cure Accutane. Step three: 85,000 clear skinned women look out on a bright new day. Step four: sex! Step five: pregnancy. Step six: side effects.

Now, obviously, it would be unreasonable to expect dermatologists to refrain from prescribing Accutane for dangerous, unapproved uses. Not only would that make it tough for the dermatologists to attract repeat business, but it would also cut into drug industry profits.

We can't have that!

So we've got iPLEDGE. The only hitch is that it doesn't seem to work. What are you gonna do?

The milk of human progress

According to Fuks, a lifeguard of the YMCA approached her and told her she could not breast-feed by the pool.

"Ansley is a paid member of the YMCA too," Fuks said.

Senior Programs Director at the YMCA Diane Carr said there is no food or water allowed in the pool area and exceptions cannot be made. |link|

A group of mothers who want the Ann Arbor YMCA to change its policy of not allowing breast-feeding in the swimming pool area plans to stage a "nurse-in'' Saturday.
"We're going to sit and nurse our babies, hopefully to get our point across,'' said Dragun, who said she breast-feeds her 16-month old son. "The plan is to show that there's a large community outcry, and we're saying, 'this policy is not OK and it needs to change.' Our goal is to get them to have a more mother-baby friendly policy in their pool area.'' |link|

The head of the Ann Arbor YMCA says the Y will drop its prohibition against mothers breast-feeding in the swimming pool area if the City Council, as expected, adopts new ordinances aimed at protecting mothers' nursing rights. |link|


Take my rights but not my SUV!

Some pundits have suggested the Bush has succeeded in framing the eavesdropping debate in terms of whether the gov't should let terrorists make phone calls under their noses.

Mathematican John Allen Paulos illustrates how selective this Administration is when it asks us to sacrifice our privacy for security.

Defenders of these governmental intrusions generally point to the threat that terrorists' access to international telecommunications channels [to legitimize warrantless wiretaps] and children's access to pornography pose [to justify broad subpoenas of Google searches].

There is a trade-off, they intone, between liberty and security. This is, of course, true in a general sense, but what I find interesting is that so many of the defenders of these policies would never make similar arguments in other contexts, say about the need to limit unfettered access to handguns.

The second amendment ... has led, in part, to almost 400 of my fellow Philadelphians (and nearly 12,000 people nationally) being killed last year by guns — not by terrorists, not by porn addicts, but by hot-headed people with guns. Some have even argued we all have a right to own machine guns.

Why are these unrelenting deaths by handguns not considered a matter of national security requiring a minuscule loss of liberty in the form of stricter gun laws?

And why, to cite another example, is limiting environmental extravagance not considered a matter of national security requiring a minuscule loss of liberty in the form of more energy-efficient vehicles? |John Allen Paulos| (emphasis added)

Luckily a new poll indicates the 3 Americans out of 4 think the Bush administration has gone too far in dismantling the Constitional system of checks and balances.


Can I get a hell yeah?

Belle Waring.

Friday dumb game blogging, Friday edition

Dodge That Anvil!

(Via jayisgames.com)


Via John:
2/01/06 SPLIT LIP RAYFIELD to cancel current tour dates

We regretfully announce that our guitarist, partner, and friend Kirk Rundstrom has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

With the support of those closest to him, Kirk is seeking immediate and aggressive treatment for his illness. He is in good spirits and has a positive and willful attitude, suitable for the trials ahead.

We know and believe in our friend’s strength. With the added support of Kirk’s family, his many friends, and our amazing fans, he is destined to beat this illness. |splitliprayfield.com|

Follow the link for contact information or to make a donation to the treatment fund.

Dawn of the Thespoids

Robot by lkwds.
Yesterday we considered whether machines could ever be truly intelligent. Today we consider whether they can be dramatic.

An avant-garde New York City theatre group, Les Freres Corbusier, is adapting Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler in a script called Heddatron where half the cast will be robots.

No, not the Keanu Reeves type of acting robots...but real solid state robots.
It might be difficult for machine actors to convey the full dimensions of the human condition. But Elizabeth Meriwether's strange script cuts to the heart of Ibsen's story: A woman chained up in her own life struggles to break free of social programming. That struggle is mirrored by the robots, who attempt to escape their own programming and achieve true AI - self-awareness. Just as Hedda rails against a world that can't hear her, the robots represent potential that one day may be unleashed.|Wired|


What are these people talking about?

HeartMath researchers found that we can actually be aware of an event five to seven seconds before it happens. In the recent study, subjects were shown a series of images. Most of the images were peaceful and calming, such as landscapes, trees and cute animals. Other photos, randomly dispersed in the succession, included violent, disturbing and emotionally stimulating images such as car crash, a bloody knife or a snake about to strike.

The subjects were monitored during the viewing for changes in respiration, skin conductance, EEG (brain waves), ECG (electrocardiogram) and heart rate variability. Participants’ physiological indicators registered an emotional response five to seven seconds before an emotionally disturbing image would appear on the viewing screen.

The main findings show that the heart receives and responds to intuitive information. Significant changes in heart rate variability occurred prior to disturbing and emotionally stimulating images appearing on the screen, compared to calm and serene images appearing. The fact that the heart is involved in the perception of future external events is an astounding result. The classical perspective assigns the brain an exclusive role in information processing. This study opens the door to new understandings about intuition and suggests that intuition is a system-wide process involving at least both the heart and the brain working together to decode intuitive information.

Ya know, I would have thought that the "astounding result" was the precognition. I'd also say that a precog would be likely to get sweaty palms before something bad, but we wouldn't ascribe the "detection" of the bad event to the palms.

All in all, a strange piece of nutjobbery.

And while we're on the philosonerdiness tip...

I've got a few free minutes before I head to Kalamazoo, so here's a link to an interesting debate about the difference between machine and human intelligence. It's over at eripsa's blog, and, no, I still haven't fixed the link in the blogroll.

Patrick Smith has also posted an entry about the debate, though I haven't had time to read it yet.

Being a blog entry in which the use/mention distinction almost, but not quite, solves one of the world's problems

Even though he's wrong, wrong, wrong about the grad strike at NYU, David Velleman is a pretty good philosopher, so I eagerly clicked through when Jim Hamilton sent me a link to Velleman's analysis of the Muhammed cartoon rowdydow. You should too.

There's a lot there that's worth reading, but what really piqued my philosonerdical interist was this:
Indeed, there is some reason to doubt whether they would still qualify as images of Muhammad. After all, the cartoons are "of" Muhammad, not by virtue of looking like him, but only by virtue of the artists' assertion as to their subject, and that assertion would be merely quoted when the cartoons were reprinted. That is, they would be presented as images claimed by the artist to depict Muhammad, with no endorsement of that claim. |Left2Right: freedom and offense|

Let's be clear on the claim. Velleman is arguing that the Danish cartoons, when reprinted, needn't constitute blasphemy so long as the reprinter is careful not to endorse the artists' assertion that the cartoons really are images of Muhammed.

This seemed plausible to me at first blush, but upon further reflection I've changed my mind. From the point of view of the argument, the crucial point to notice is that whether the reprinted images are, in fact, images of Muhammed turns not on whether the reprinter endorses the claim that they are but, instead, on whether the claim is true. So the important question becomes, did the original cartoons succeed in securing reference? It seems obvious that they did, even though, as Velleman notes, this was done in the absence of resemblence between the images and their subject.


US propaganda and death squads flourish

Art by stuartp.
The Law Librarian Blog is covering the release of the Pentagon's Information Operations Roadmap which makes clear that propaganda intended for audiences abroad is increasingly being consumed by domestic news agencies in our networked world.

This makes the distinction between domestic news and foreign propaganda difficult at best and perhaps totally meaningless. I think we are forced to consider that our government lies to citizens as routinely as it lies to foreign powers.

Sami Ramadani links this policy of deception up with refusal by the media to investigate the official claims of the US and UK governments and asserts that the government has even admitted to running death squads in Iraq, but the media fails to investigate this possibility.
George Bush and Tony Blair are still dipping into the trough of deception and disinformation that launched the war: hailing non-existent progress, declaring sanctimonious satisfaction with sectarian elections and holding out the mirage of early withdrawal. In reality, the occupation and divide-and-rule tactics have spawned death squads, torture, kidnappings, chemical attacks, polluted water, depleted uranium, bombardment of civilians, probably more than 100,000 people dead and a relentless deterioration in Iraqis' daily lives...

Many Iraqis have persistently accused US-led forces of "controlling" an assortment of death squads or private militias and "turning a blind eye" to many terrorist attacks. Almost every week, handcuffed and blindfolded men are found lying next to one another, each killed by a single bullet to the head. Who is methodically torturing and killing these people? Who has so far assassinated more than 200 academics and scientists? Iraqis not linked to the Green Zone regime are convinced that US forces and US-backed mercenaries are involved.

Support for some Iraqi claims, however, comes from unexpected sources: two US generals have admitted the presence of targeted killing squads, and last February the Wall Street Journal let slip the presence of six US-trained secret militias. In the same month, Lt General William Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defence for intelligence, told the New York Times: "I think we're doing what the Phoenix programme was designed to do, without all the secrecy." US death squads assassinated about 40,000 people in Vietnam before Congress halted "Operation Phoenix".|Guardian|

I'm not saying Ramadani is correct. But it's at least provocative and should be investigated. It's hard to know what to believe when your own government is caught repeatedly in lying to the public, the United Nations, and the media.

And there is significant evidence that the Fourth Estate has been muzzled by its corporate masters and co-opted through being embedded with the military.


More sound, lots more fury

"(My company) was acquired by a business intelligence company funded by the CIA venture capital outfit. Apparently the stuff I invented is now in the hands of a couple of intelligence agencies, including Homeland Security.

"I'll tell you what I think the most troubling thing about all this is. It's easy to see whatever pattern you're looking for. It's like curve fitting in the stock market -- looks beautiful historically and maybe even in the short run, but it's a disaster in the making. So we have these guys running the country who saw a non-existent pattern in Iraq that justified a war ... and now we're going to give them software that will make it easy to create the illusion of patterns of conspiracy.

"Your friend from the NSA was right, but it's worse than he suggests. It's not just that social network analysis casts a wide net. It's that without oversight by people who really grasp the mathematics and have some distance from the whole thing, they're going to see patterns where there aren't any.

"They have a history of that."


The thing about Puppy Bowl

So, I caught a few minutes of the second annual Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet on Sunday. (Dear lord, I hope those were roman numerals I saw, and that this wasn't the 11th annual Puppy Bowl!)

I can't fault Animal Planet for putting this on. They have to put something on against the Superbowl, but whatever they do put on is only going to attract about six viewers per million. So what's an animal-based channel to do? Basically, they punt, and show puppies playing around. Cute. Boring. Calculated to spend the bare minimum on production costs while still getting those six viewers per million who are desperate for some animal-themed programming.

From the Animal Planet site:
Animal Planet has plays, tackles and fumbles too, only ours are much cuter! Viewers can spend the day (or maybe some time between the big plays) with a "stadium" full of man's best and cutest friends—puppies! In the midst of the official pigskin, iron match, it's the family-friendly, feel-good Animal Planet Puppy Bowl

Did I mention boring? Boy was it boring. Five minutes was enough to make me leave the room. Is it a good idea to put a camera under the transparent bottom of the puppies' water bowl? No. Is it a good idea to run a full minute of a puppy drinking water from this view? Hell no. But it's mind-blowing boringnicity is not the thing about Puppy Bowl.

The thing about Puppy Bowl is the commercialism. O Puppy Bowl, why did you have to sell out? Did you really need sponsors? Did you really need to have product placement? And to the sponsors: Volvo, did you get some sort of tax break for paying for a banner at that, um, stadium? Bissel, does having your Spot Bot carried out by the zombie referee to clean up alleged puppy tinkle actually help your bottom line? Common decency dictates that your commercial be wrapped in something that vaguely resembles entertainment.

UPDATE: I was not aware that the half-time show featured a bunch of kittens playing around. Now that is entertainment!

UPDATE II: Holy crap, I wonder how many DVDs of Puppy Bowl they sell.


Extra-Constitutional Inherent Powers

In case you were at work today and didn't have a chance to listen to Attorney General Gonzales' testimony, you can find coverage and a transcript at the Washingon Post (Reg'n Req'd).

For a more philosophical and rhetorical analysis, Orin Kerr makes an interesting point at the Volokh Conspiracy when he writes:

Gonzales [is] mixing up two different kinds of claims concerning "inherent authority" to conduct surveillance. The first kind of inherent authority is inherent in the sense that Congress does not need to create it for it to exist; the power exists even before Congress grants it.

The second kind of inherent authority is inherent in the sense that Congress cannot extinguish it
; the power exists even after Congress tries to take it away.

It is true that there are a number of past precedents on the first type of inherent authority, but there is very little on the second type. My understanding is that Gonzales is using "inherent authority" in the second sense, but I don't think it's particularly helpful to cite precedents on the first type of inherent authority to support a claim of the second type of inherent authority. |VC|(emphasis added)

This post has created a great deal of discussion over at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Some feel that the distinction is specious while others feel there is little authority for either type of inherent power.

The comment that I found to be most insightful was by Lee Kovarsky, who points out yet a third way in which inherent authority seems to be used by the Bush Administration.

[A] third way in which the term inherent authority has been used over the last couple of weeks - to refer to something almost extra-constitutional, that exists in the presidents authority as commander in chief (which of course happens to flow from the constitution, but never mind consistency), which would allow him to do things that would otherwise be unconstitutional. |VC cmt|

The rest of the thread seems to turn into flame war between law professors and a DOJ employee...but I think the question of inherent power and its wellspring in the Constitution is something the U.S. Supreme Court will soon be asked to decide.

And that will be the first of many occasions when we will rue that Bush has installed two arch-conservative white men on the Court.

Monday ignorance blogging

One of Ann Arbor's quaint features, apparently, is that local atmospheric conditions cause radio station frequencies to cycle every half hour or so. Or maybe it's the unconventional geometry of my apartment. Either way, listening to NPR has become a bit of a chore since the radio will, without warning, spontaneously begin to transmit college pop, sports talk, or static.

Throw in the fact that I still don't have regular access to the internet and that certain money grubbing bastards decided to turn off my free cable, and the end result is that I have very little idea what's going on in the world.

I hear that there are riots in Denmark. A sign, I believe, was set on fire. And a couple of people died. All of this has something to do with those cartoons.

Here's what I can't figure out. Are the rioters mad about the institution of free speech as such, or is there some more specific governmental act that they object to? Or, is this one of those feather/broken back type situations?

I ask because while I think that the rioters have any number of legitimate complaints, when it comes down to brass tacks I'm going to choose expressive freedom over cultural sensitivity.

Anyway, to legitimize this as a blog post, here's something dumb:
Christ is fair game, isn’t he? Unbelievers, liberals, and other secularists make fun of him, mock him, scorn him, and curse him, yet they steer clear of doing the same with Muslims’ god. They know offended Muslims, unlike offended Christians, issue death threats.

Crash and burn, Islamofascists! It’s in your nature. Killing is all you know how to do. You are gutless and psychotic. A religion of peace, indeed. |La Shawn Barber|

Might I suggest that Christians don't pour out into the streets and riot because the streets are, you know, theirs? A religion of the meek, indeed.

O the hypocrisy

It now emerges that the same editor who started the firestorm of protest against the cartoons of Mohammed turned down cartoons three years ago that made fun of the resurrection of Jesus because they might offend some readers.


Four more memes! For more memes!

Wow, not only has Eric shown signs of life, he broke his long silence to send me my very first blog tag! Technically, he tagged the whole group of us, but I'm going to pretend like it was just me.

Four jobs I've had:

1. Bookstore clerk. Yes, at the same place as John and Eric. I had almost forgotten.
2. Game reviewer (although, technically, I was never paid in monies)
3. English professer. That's where I learned how to spell.
4. Trading-card manufacturer

Four films I can watch repeatedly:

1. Miller's Crossing
2. Dr. Strangelove
3. Any good nature flick, like Microcosm
4. My own, yet to be filmed, masterwork

Four places I've lived

1. Manhattan, KS (truly it fills me with Manhappiness)
2. Setauket, NY (did I spell that right?)
3. Florence, Italy (well, for a few weeks, but it sure sounds cosmopolitan, non?)
4. Austin, TX -- Bat City, baby!

Four TV programs I like to watch:

I am so not answering this honestly, but here goes:

1. Rollergirls, cause occasionally we catch a glimpse of my wife's hair or elbow
2. The WIre, which may be the best show ever
3. The Daily Show
4. The Soup, so I can stay abreast of how awful television is while not actually watching much of it

Four places I've been on vacation

1. The Texas hill country for our mini-moon
2. Russia, which was terrifying
3. Austin, TX, before I ever thought I'd live here
4. Flathead lake, which was beautiful and relaxing

Four of my favorite dishes:

1. I'll copy Eric and go with "curry"
2. Sushi, especially good hamachi, anago, and unagi
3. Chicken piccata, when I'm eating meat
4. Ice cream is delicious

Four websites I visit daily

1. The daily soy, although I had despaired of any updates
2. Scarygoround
3 - 27. Ah, heck, I literally have 27 daily reads. Let's just say I've read it and move on.

Four places I would rather be right now:

1. Flathead lake in the summer
2. The Barbican Theater in London, watching a good Shakespeare production
3. Someplace without internet access for, like, a few weeks, so I can get some writing done and not do any work for my corporate overlord
4. In my swanky, yet to be purchased, blimp

Four bloggers I am annoying

Like I said, I don't even know how these tag things work. I'll let Zwichenzug tag folks on behalf of the Bellmen.

Four places I've never been but would like to visit

1. Thailand
2. San Francisco and other nice bits of California
3. My own, as yet undiscovered, island
4. The forbidden planet

Four differences in my alternate universe

1. Two words: jet boots
2. I have an oscar, a blimp, an island, and a spaceship or teleport widget for getting to the forbidden planet
3. People can't hurt each other without getting permission from their cats
4.Cats still can't speak and certainly wouldn't give their permission anyway

Stupid cats!


Truly a liberal media

WASHINGTON -- A day after his loss in the race for House majority leader, Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt said Friday that media calls for a new face in the party's leadership rather than a desire by Republicans for change drove the outcome.

Blunt made it even more clear when he added, "We will continue to use illegal means to advance our personal power agendas and to shut out legitimate criticism from the process. Sure, a few of us will go to jail, but you know what? I'm not hearing and real calls for change from the Republican caucus. And what's more, I think the voters understand and respect that. It's only a few in the media calling for 'change.'"

UPDATE: I screwed up and forgot the link ot the AP article from which that quoted text comes. Here's Jim Leher using the same phrase.


Friday dumb game blogging, busy busy busy edition

Safety Neal sent me a link to this game, but I haven't had time to play it.


Muslim law on depicting Allah & prophets

The BBC has a piece giving some background on the Muslim prohibition on representing Allah, Mohammed & the prophets.

Oh, and bizkit has posted a set of Jyllands-Posten Muslim Cartoons on Flickr.


Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out

Bore Me has a fantastic little clip where they interview Americans about who we should invade next.

Thanks to Jim Hamilton (my favorite philosopher) for the link.

I think this illustrates why an educated populace is an essential ingredient for a functioning democracy.

No water well in sight

Last week, Col. Janis Karpinski told a panel of judges at the Commission of Inquiry for Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York that several women had died of dehydration because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. They were afraid of being assaulted or even raped by male soldiers if they had to use the women’s latrine after dark. |AlterNet|

(Via Feministe)

Let's start with an obvious reason not to believe these accusations. Janis Karpinski was hung out to dry when the Abu Ghraib story broke. She's someone who has an axe to grind, and so isn't the most objective source imaginable.

That said, I find these allegations entirely believable. And, I mean, that's just my gut reaction. A story surfaces claiming that women are taking extreme precautions in order to avoid rape and I think, "Yep, that's pretty much the way the world is."

But I know perfectly well that lots of people, especially people who sport the same brand of dangly genitals that I do, don't have that reaction, and I wonder why. Is it just that, as luck would have it, none of the women those men know have been sexually assaulted? Or is it that the story wasn't told? Or wasn't believed?

Or is it -- and this is the theory that strikes me as most plausible -- that the assaults happened, that the stories were told and believed, but that the next intellectual step wasn't made? I'm talking about the step that moves from the concrete horror of the individual act to the realization that the problem here is systemic and has to do with the fact that our society's mating rituals begin with and require male sexual aggression.

Is that it?

Videogame movies are "teh suck"

What is it with Uwe Boll? For those unfamiliar with the name, Boll makes movies based on video games. The problem is, the movies really suck.

Actually, that's not the real problem with Boll. The problem with Boll is that gamers know who he is, and they know in advance that his movies will suck. Movie producers make videogame titles because they believe they have a small but built-in audience of gamers that will show up and provide enough revenue to squeeze a sliver of profit out of their low-budget crap-fests. Since gamers have gotten wind of Boll's fantastic crapulence, however, this scheme stops working. How, then, does this guy still have a job?

(For the record, one of the writers at Kotaku believes that Boll is really, really trying to make good movies because he really loves videogames. I haven't seen a single one of Boll's films, so, heck, maybe he's right.)

IMPORTANT blogging

Item: In Michigan, pad thai is sweet rather than spicy. It oughta be spicy.

Item: eripsa and Dru have new digs.

Item: One of the great things about wandering through the halls of academic buildings is that every now and then you'll come across a box of free books. Today I picked up a copy of The Bronte Sisters Quiz and Puzzle Book by Maggie Lane. It has got to be seen to be believed.

Item: In Gran Turismo 3 it takes 13 clicks to restart a race if you spin out in the first corner. You also have to sit through two delays while the system loads game data.

Muslims await apology

As we reported earlier, Muslims around the world have been horrified by political cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed which were published in a Danish newspaper. Personification (and satire) of the phrophet Mohammed is considered blasphemy by at least some (if not all) portions of the Muslim community.

Well, the blasphemy is spreading around Europe.

Two leading German newspapers and one of France 's biggest dailies today reprinted the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have sparked furore across the Middle East.

The 12 drawings were first printed in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September, sparking protests by Muslims against Denmark in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries in the region.|Guardian|

But it does not appear that any apology is forthcoming. Quite the contrary...

Die Welt printed on its front page today the drawing of the prophet wearing a turban with a bomb about to explode.

"Democracy is the institutionalised form of freedom of expression. There is no right to protection from satire in the west; there is a right to blasphemy" the paper said in an accompanying comment piece.|Guardian|

Someone owes someone an apology

There was another benefit to the “Gang of 14” deal that I didn’t anticipate. By making conservatism itself not a disqualifying condition and giving some degree of Democratic acquiescence, the deal gave pro-choice Republicans more political cover to support clearly pro-life nominees. In Alito’s case, that proved important in getting the votes for his confirmation. Only one pro-choice Republican ended up voting against him.

In reality, McCain’s compromise provided a smoother and surer route to the confirmation of conservative judges than the showdown his critics preferred. A more conservative judiciary may well prove to be the most important conservative accomplishment in the post-Reagan era. President Bush deserves the lion’s share of the credit, since he’s the one making the nominations. But McCain’s much disparaged deal paved the way.

Conservatives owe him an apology.

| Rob Robb of the AZ Republic |

Sure seems like he's right. That also means, I suppose, that liberal bloggers were right (again): The Democrats in the Gang of 14 owe liberals an apology. I won't hold my breath. I can only hope that Harry Reid can leave a horse's head in a few of the Gang's beds before the next filibuster battle.
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