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July 21, 2007

ah me, news from the president's ass

Once upon a time, we had a four-term president who was crippled with polio.  Despite his inability to walk, he was never shown in his wheelchair by the press, nor were the leg-braces he needed in order to appear standing during speeches spoken of.
• Polyps removed from Bush's colon

Also, there was another president whose back was so bad that he was constantly in discomfort.  This may have been exacerbated by the fact that he was nearly constantly having sex with someone, usually not his wife.  Again, both his wrecked back and his infidelities were unknown to the general public.

• Polyps removed from Bush's colon

Obviously, information is good, and furthermore this genie is one that won't be put back in the bottle.  But, at any given time, a certain percentage of the people who are reading a headline or watching a news story are simultaneously trying to eat a meal.

Today will be a day of more leftovers than usual.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:15 PM

July 20, 2007

executive invulnerability

This is the other shoe dropping.  It's a very long story as to how we got there, starting with fired US Attorneys and then moving through various laughably dissembling congressional testimonies and ending up with Congressional subpoenas being ignored, but the what-you-need-to-know is this: the president has decided that executive privilege means never having to say you're sorry.  The White House yesterday unveiled its new "Executive Invulnerability" theory yesterday:
Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

This news comes not from a letter from the White House counsel, but from your usual unnamed sources, so this overreach is meant specifically for public consumption.

In some ways, the petulant foot-stamping of the White House is an unprecedented expansion of the concept of executive privilege - more weirdly, it is the expression of executive privilege not as a reasoned interpretation of the law but rather as the evolving rules of a five year-old playing tag.  The administration has blown straight past the certain privileges of the president to have confidential counsel into a twilight zone where the president has the right never, ever to be wrong and also not need no steenking badges.  Generally speaking, the administration has twisted the Fifth Amendment right of the individual not to incriminate himself a right to break the rules without fear of punishment, or even accountability, in a world where investigation and indictment are only pursued by those so weak as to believe that there is some moral compunction against breaking laws to advance one's fortune.

In other ways, it's a Jacksonian dare to try and enforce anything.  Generally contempt of Congress charges would be enforced by a US Attorney, who is supervised by the Attorney General, who so strongly serves at the leisure of the president that he could easily be mistaken for the president's cabana boy.  The implication being, that the administration would never allow anyone under their supervision to do anything that might harm the White House.  Unfortunately, those under the supervision of the administration include the FBI, the Treasury Department and all four armed forces, so they might have a point, no matter how wrong the attempt is.

And the attempt is wrong, the wrongest thing in wrongland, the ultimate goal in the Bush aggregation of power - to control the means by which the administration could be held to account.  Hopefully someone will explain this in stark enough terms for television watchers to feel the outrage they should.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:56 AM

July 19, 2007

stop picking on private insurance

I haven't quite immersed myself in the various health care issues raised by "Sicko" yet, so I'm no expert (like I am on sausage gravy and biscuits), but I did stumble across a pernicious little concept masquerading as "rationale" that needs to be dragged out by its hair into the purifying light of day.

There is a State Children's Health Insurance Program that is run by the Federal Government.  It inures uninsured kids.  (Well, actually it provides matching funds to states in connection with state-run insurance programs for children.  Exigencies of brevity.)  There's bipartisan support in the Senate for a bill that would increase funding to the program.  The president, flexing his political capital, has threatened to veto this bill.  Why would the president take such a harsh position against aiding uninsured children?

Well, according to the Washington Post:

President Bush yesterday rejected entreaties by his Republican allies that he compromise with Democrats on legislation to renew a popular program that provides health coverage to poor children, saying that expanding the program would enlarge the role of the federal government at the expense of private insurance.

The emphasis was added by me, though I would argue that it was inherent.

It takes a special kind of guy to stand up against the burgeoning threat of healthy and safe children in order to protect private insurance.  Perhaps the president remembers, as I do, the relevant section of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness -- except to the extent that such Rights interfere with Private Insurance, in which event the Deal is off.

The president's reasoning is impressive in its candor, of course, and for that reason, deserves to be tattooed on the insides of all of our eyelids, so that we may see it when we sleep -- "THE PRESIDENT PROTECTS PRIVATE INSURANCE FROM YOUR WELL-BEING".

I write this in the hope that there is anything like "morally indefensible" these days.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:49 AM

never a dull day in the big city

Thank you for all of your cards and letters, but I am fine.  It was kind of a rough commute home last night, but the score remains Terrorists 0, Titivil Infinity.

I thought the most interesting thing about yesterday's terror attack is not so much that the terrorists have masked their effort as a random failure of infrastructure, but more that they have harnessed the devastating powers of two of the four elements against the good people of New York - water and earth.  Apparently, the terrorists now have some kind of magic amulet.  If we could only invoke the powers of fire and wind, it would be a fair fight!

I just hope that all of you, and even those not in the Greater Metropolitan New York Area, were sufficiently panicked to see images of a fourteen-story geyser of mud on your television screens.  If you're not panicking, then the terrorists have won.  (Or at least converted a first down, or whichever.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:41 AM

July 18, 2007

dinesh d'souza: intellectually repulsive

Here's a really swell piece of feature-writing - it's by the Independent UK's Johann Hari and, as usual, you've probably already seen it linked in various other digital places.

It's much better than its title - "Neocons on a Cruise: What Conservatives Say When They Think We Aren't Listening" - though I will say that title does very specifically describe the feature.  Mr Hari bought his way onto an annual cruise sponsored by "The National Review", which is a magazine that everyone agrees is the birthplace of the current version of American Conservatism (or at least last year's model - see the sections concerning conversations with William Buckley).

The piece has a nice strong, dry voice, and does a good job painting with a small brush what these cruises/conventions are like when you're in the bowels of it - "getting-to-know-you chit-chat, then some light conversational fascism".

And of course, Mr Hari does serve as a fly on the wall, but more as a guy with a notepad than as Alan Funt hiding in a mailbox.  In other words, the shocking rhetoric quoted is not always mitigated by the fact that the speaker was under the impression that his or her words would never be held against him or her.  As an example, here's an excellent bit of the execrable Dinesh D'Souza, who really gets a chance to let his hair down to reveal that his ideology is actually uglier than one could imagine:

"It's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'?" the writer Dinesh D'Souza asks angrily.  "The left won by demanding America's humiliation."  On this ship, there are no Viet Cong, no three million dead.  There is only liberal treachery.  Yes, D'Souza says, in a swift shift to domestic politics, "of course" Republican politics is "about class.  Republicans are the party of winners, Democrats are the party of losers."

I recommend giving it a read, though it's five whole pages, so bring a lunch.

(BTW, D'Souza forgot to mention that not only did we liberals demand America's humiliation, we also snaked his girlfriend, and we will continue to snake D'Souza's girlfriends, because we may be losers, but we are a whole lot niftier in the sack than all the "winners" out there.  Having said that, America, humiliate yourself faster, or we'll organize a march or something.)

Posted by mrbrent at 3:14 PM

when will we agree on a spelling for al qaida?

For once, I'm citing a headline from the Yahoo! Headline Box with nary a snark to drop:
• Al-Qaida plots new attacks on U.S. soil

Unless you're the excitable type (not me - I'm strictly panic-only), this seems to be the headline of your garden-variety "Lurking Menace of Al Qaida" story, which we're all used to, and how do we ever get out of bed in the morning?

But it's not, actually.  If you click through, you see that the story is not that of a new threatening video, or the interrogation of the latest Number Two captured.  Instead, the story is that of the release of the National Intelligence Estimate referring to the abilities of Al Qaida, which was hinted at (and met with shrugs and derision) last week.

So then the context of the headline means that the copy editor who composed this headline, and the editor that approved it, are fucking liars.  The news event being reported is not the planning/plotting/mustache-twirling of Al Qaida - the news event is the release of yet another government report.  I don't think I'm crossing the line to say that the admonition against "never assuming" most certainly applies to the factuality of the conclusion of a government report.  I'm not saying that the NIE is wrong; I'm saying that the assertions of the NIE do not clear the bar of "fact", or "news".

I believe the term for this that I learned from watching "Law & Order" (well, "Perry Mason", actually) is "hearsay".  The more familiar term would be "load of hooie".

The administration is doing a fine enough job terrifying the citizenry into irrational behavior without the help of some shockingly incompetent journalists.  We really should expect more from a box of six or seven headlines.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:26 AM

July 17, 2007

sara lamm interviewed

To continue my shilling of the documentary motion picture "Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox", I am linking an interview conducted with the director Sara Lamm.  If you are at all interested in the film, or the director, then this interview is very informative.  She watched "Crumb" six times?  Who'da thunk?

(Full disclosure: Sara is a friend of mine.  Yeah, no duh - I've just heard that having friends is sometimes looked down on in the world of putting words into a fixed state.  Additionally, I've seen the film three times now, and, pound for pound, it can take any other doc out there.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:26 AM

July 16, 2007

the bees are back, or, not really

I've stumbled more news concerning the bees, and it's a bit of a shocker.  (A few months ago, I tried to aggregate all the coverage of the Colony Collapse Disorder phenomena, known colloquially as "Where dem bees go?"  The news mentions trickled off, as did my attention-span-of-a-five-year-old.)  But today, more news, and a contrary viewpoint!

The piece, by Slate's Heather Smith, purports to be a calming return to reason, with the title, "Bee Not Afraid: The disappearance of the honeybees isn't the end of the world".  Ms Smith argues that the ongoing CCD isn't really all that, as alternate pollination methods are already available (though other domesticated insect species), and as the species of honeybee affected was really more the ghost of a species:

...in real life honeybees have been virtually extinct in North America for more than 10 years, their absence concealed by a rogue's gallery of look-alikes.  The stragglers have been kept alive only by the continued ministrations of the agricultural giga-industry that needs them.

Basically (according to Ms Smith), this specific honeybee was wiped out by a parasite in the late 80s, and has only been salvaged by professional beekeepers who managed colonies specifically to fight off the mite.  And since it is only these Frankenstein bees, domesticated into obsolescence, that are being affected by CCD, why fuss?

I find her conclusion a bit confusing, similar to the "close your eyes and enjoy it" argument favored by those not terrified by climate change.  Even if it is only a nearly extinct bee being affected, doesn't the occurrence of CCD presage newer, better environmental threats down the road?  In fact, her argument increases the implications of CCD, elevating it from an unexplainable vengeance befallen us to a Promethean now-what-did-we-do?

Perhaps most alarming is the fact that the virtual disappearance of the honeybee some years ago was not so much mentioned in the flurry of coverage of CCD.  Would this not be an integral bit of knowledge in considering CCD?  Do our science reporters not go to the same J-Schools, where they learn "research", "investigation" and other nuances of "reporting"?

On the other hand, Ms Smith's article, while filled with the customary number of hyperlinks of verification, in some cases, and definition, in others, does not cite, either in plaintext or hypertext, any information supporting the kill/die-off of the honeybee back at the end of the 80s.  I'm not saying that the fact is not factual - I'm just saying, is all.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:29 AM

god love the sci-fi nerd who also rags on hippies

Weird synchronicities this morning.  First, a truly odd post on Gawker, about creepy coincidences.  Then, roughly fifteen minutes after I forward to a colleague some links to the considered thoughts of Charles Stross on the future, I run across the considered thoughts of yet another talented author, Cory Doctorow, also on the future.  Which means that it's time for a trip to the A.C., or, on the flipside, to an undisclosed location.

It's a very innerestin' piece, as Doctorow discusses the relationship between the sci-fi writer/futurist and the actual, concrete future (or the present, looking backwards, if you want to quibble).  He also lays down pretty concise parameters for some neologisms, and everyone love neologisms.  "Futurismic" - descriptive of those visions of the future (or elements of sci-fi) that are very cool but deeply flawed based on even our current science.  "Lapsarianism" - the belief that humanity is in a perpetual state of sliding towards apocalypse (well, perpetual until... you get the picture).  And there is also a best definition of "The Singularity" that I've seen in a while, although it's 25% inadvertent - basically, the state that follows once the world has "bumped into uncertainty".

But these thoughts aren't exactly super-sexy, so, let me excerpt a more charismatic passage - Mr. Doctorow drives a truck through the futurismic qualities of "Star Trek":

The non-futurismic version of NCC-1701 [the USS Enterprise, to the layman] would be the size of a softball (or whatever the minimum size for a warp drive, transporter, and subspace radio would be).  It would zip around the galaxy at FTL speeds under remote control.  When it reached an interesting planet, it would beam a stored copy of a landing party onto the surface, and when their mission was over, it would beam them back into storage, annihilating their physical selves until they reached the next stopping point.  If a member of the landing party were eaten by a green-skinned interspatial hippie or giant toga-wearing galactic tyrant, that member would be recovered from backup by the transporter beam.

And that version is based on early 21st Century tech.  In fifty years, there will be some version utilizing non-mechanical transport that would read like gibberish to us now.  But that's the great thing about persisting in the future: laughing at the naivety of your predecessors.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:51 AM