21 December, 2006

Good vs. good

A deep and disturbing essay by William Arkin on his Washington Post page. He points out that the President of the USA is motivated by good and sees the bulk of Americans, never mind people elsewhere, as being naive sops who must be ignored in the formulation of policy.

I think this gets to the heart of why demonstrations and letter-writing do no good -- we can't establish our basic credibility to get in the mental door with the people who matter, so the details of what we say becomes irrelevant. This is a president who thinks the Iraq Study Group was a bunch of idealistic flakes, while he is The Protector.

Arkin also recommends against using fear as a motivating principle for anti-Bush politics. He says that when liberals say Bush is making the threat of terrorism greater, they inadvertently play into his message and strengthen his grip. If he's right, it's too bad, because he is increasing the risk of terrorism, and he does make me feel physically threatened.

20 December, 2006

Meanwhile, in th'economy

One New York wife is getting a $50,000-plus diamond ring thanks to hubby's Wall Street bonus. An executive is giving $1 million in private jet time, or 150 hours, so his family won't have to fly commercial. And plenty of $7,000 mink coats and $20,000 necklaces are being boxed up, too.
``I haven't seen such excess displays of wealth and extravagance during the holidays since the 1980s,'' said Samantha von Sperling, a New York-based image consultant and personal shopper. ``This is the most prosperous, most lavish, most extravagant season I've ever seen.''

18 December, 2006

Attention: your help is needed!

While I was wasting time reading our logs (looking at which google searches land people up here - my favorite is probably "mary ann and ginger wrestling"), it occurred to me that our site is not very jazzy, and oughta include something reflecting our history of more appeal than the bland archives. So, taking a long, long shot (given your poor history of actually commenting), I ask you: what's your favorite post on this site? For whatever reason - humor, information, cynicism, etc. I think I've previously made my favorite clear.

This thing all things devours

In recent months I've been in the habit of setting my AIM 'Available' message using interesting units of measure. E.g., 53.4 Röntgens, 126.6 Teslas, and so on. Currently it's 0.77 megaparsecs, the distance to the Andromeda Galaxy. It's been stuck on that for a while, so I thought it deserved a change. I don't think I've ever used Kelvins, so I was hunting around for interesting high-temperature objects that could be measured in petakelvins. Supernovae set a pretty high bar, up to 1 billion kelvins, but it seemed like there ought to be something hotter than that, around 1 trillion degrees.

This led me to a press release on some interesting work in the development of metallic glasses. "Neat," I thought, and proceeded to read along, some genial feeling spreading in some corner of my heart. But then it died:
Hufnagel, whose studies are funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Army Research Office, has set up a lab at Hopkins to test new alloys. He is trying to create a new metallic glass that will remain solid and not crystallize at higher temperatures, making it useful for engine parts. The new metallic glass may also have military applications as armor-piercing projectiles. Unlike most crystalline metal projectiles, which flatten into a mushroom shape upon impact, Hufnagel believes the sides of a metallic glass head will sheer away on impact, essentially sharpening the point and providing more effective penetration.

Some numbers, if you aren't familiar. The NIH budget these days runs at around $28 billion. NSF is around $4.5 billion. The Pentagon, meanwhile, manages $74 billion in research funds. A portion of this supports basic science research; e.g. my ex's extremely archane atomic physics research was supported by a DOD grant, and another friend's even loopier biophysics research was funded by the US Navy. But $63 billion goes directly to funding weapons development, including the extremely unfortunate anti-ballistic missile defense endeavor, currently spending ~ $8 billion a year and climbing.

A lot of research is plastic, and readily molded to a myriad of uses. And of course everyone in the business of getting grants quickly learns how to change their stripes for spots when necessary (e.g. in 2001, when suddenly it became obvious that everyone was, in fact, doing research with a great deal of relevance to homeland security). But knowledge can only be bent and twisted so far, and sometimes small gaps in understanding can turn out to be surprisingly hard to step across, unless specific interest is taken in a more careful exploration of their subtle landscape.

In other words, having turned a vast portion of our engineering prowess to the task of building more efficient killing machines, is it any surprise that the remaining spheres of life have seen little improvement? This is why we don't have flying belts.

15 December, 2006

CIA humor

My perusal of this 9/11 conspiracy theory last night prompted a conversation with my roommate about our government's ability to do things that are consciously evil, which brought up the Iran-Contra scandal. My recitation of the events was somewhat muddled, so this morning I freshened my memory by reading the Wikipedia article on the subject, which included this excellent joke:
The allegations resurfaced in 1996 when journalist Gary Webb published reports in the San Jose Mercury News, and later in his book Dark Alliance, detailing how Contras had distributed crack cocaine into Los Angeles to fund weapons purchases. These reports were initially attacked by various other newspapers, which attempted to debunk the link, citing official reports that apparently cleared the CIA.

In 1998, CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz published a two-volume report that substantiated many of Webb's claims, and described how 50 Contras and drug traffickers had been protected from law enforcement activity by the Reagan-Bush administration, and documented a cover-up of evidence relating to these activities. The report also showed that Oliver North and the NSC were aware of these activities. A report later that same year by the Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich also came to similar conclusions.

In 2004, Gary Webb allegedly committed suicide by shooting himself twice in the head.

13 December, 2006

Big Plans

We're all Abu Ghraib guy. Hooded and muted, afraid to move.

We who oppose The War, the great global death worship of all against all from Sierra Leone to Kashmir to Utah, "The War itself as tyrant king," we are terrified of the big pronouncement, the demand for what we and our families need, the truly human statement that we have a better way to do things.

I don't mean a program, a manifesto, a six-point plan. I mean a diagnosis and the simplest prescription
Patient: Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I go like this.
Doctor: Try not ramming that pitchfork into your forehead.
We don't just need to "get out of Iraq" or "elect Ciro Rodriguez" or "stop the war machine." We need to give up the empire.

By comparison, here's what we're up against. Yesterday, hours after it came out that the Saudi ambassador had gone home to "spend more time with family," Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo wrote a column in which he laid out a scenario he said is supported by some Washington "hawks" (more accurately vultures). They want to create a pro-U.S., Shia-dominated country or group of countries in control of Iraq, Iran, and the oil-rich north of Saudi Arabia.
We hate the Saudis and the Egyptians and all the rest of the standing Arab governments. But the Iraqi Shi'a were oppressed by Saddam. So they'll like us. So we'll set them up in control of Iraq. You might think that would empower the Iranians. But not really. The mullahs aren't very powerful. And once the Iraqi Shi'a have a good thing going with us. The Iranians are going to want to get in on that too. So you'll see a new government in Tehran. Plus, big parts of northern Saudi Arabia are Shi'a too. And that's where a lot of the oil is. So they'll probably want to break off and set up their own pro-US Shi'a state with tons of oil. So before you know it, we'll have Iraq, Iran, and a big chunk of Saudi Arabia that is friendly to the US and has a ton of oil. And once that happens we can tell the Saudis to f$#% themselves once and for all.
This scenario gained credence today with this N.Y. Times story, "Saudis Say They Might Back Sunnis if U.S. Leaves Iraq." Those of us with critical faculties might find it hard to imagine the U.S. voluntarily signing up to fight a proxy war against Saudi Arabia, the Iranian mullahs and Iraq's Sunnis, while also trying to hold off the depredations of anti-American Shiite Moqtada al-Sadr. Then again, we probably wouldn't have set up the baroque lunacy of the Arms-for-Hostages deal, which involved our new Secretary of Defense.

While we fiddle and diddle, the people who started the war -- people who might share this insane, bones under the tread of tanks babies with bloated bellies child amputee rape rape power drill to the forehead vision of the future -- try to convince the world they're the sane ones, that no one questioned the War (the 15 million on Feb. 15 (as important a date as March 19) 2003 were ghosts and figments, easily canceled noise against a signal of necessity to kill, maim, wreck) and no one truly questions it now.

The latest CBS News poll gives me hope that their magical thinking is running out. 21% of U.S. poll respondents say Mr. Bush is doing a good job in Iraq. That represents 60 million people, which sounds like a lot until you recall that just as many believe that justice was served in the O.J. Simpson trial, approve of how the Catholic Church handles pedophilia and think the killing of civilians in Vietnam was "relatively rare."

Speaking of Vietnam, CBS News also found this remarkable fact:
Today, 62% of Americans call it “a mistake” that the U.S. sent its troops into Iraq, considering the developments that have occurred since the war began.

Yes 62% No 34%

These sentiments are slightly higher than any recorded in Gallup Polls in the early 1970's about the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, the percentage that felt sending troops there was a mistake rose as the war went on. 24% called Vietnam a mistake in a 1965 Gallup Poll, 41% called it a mistake by 1967; 61% said so in 1971 and 60% thought so in 1973.
Of course this isn't another Vietnam, because the Vietnam War took place in Vietnam, and Iraq is very far from Vietnam. (Old joke.)

12 December, 2006

Neturei Karta jumps the shark

It's nice having ultra-orthodox anti-Zionist allies, sometimes. The best anecdote I have: some pro-Palestinian types showed up to protest at an Israel Day celebration in Boston one time. The cops were also in attendance, to prevent the hostile crowds from erupting into violence. Some healthy shouting and chanting ensued, and things were going full-tilt when a bus pulled up near the anti-Zionist crowd. A whole troop of ultra-orthodox Jews filed out. Alarm bells are already going off in the cops' heads. A friend of mine, a prominent Palestinian activist in the area, begins approaching the lead member of the group. The cops now know claret is imminent, but they're too far away to stop anything from happening. So they can only watch in horror as the two meet ...and embrace each other like brothers. "Wha-wha-wha??!?" say the cops. Priceless.

But never mind that. Attending a conference on the Holocaust in Iran, put together by Ahmadinejad, populated by Holocaust-deniers like Fourisson and David Duke, is simply inexcusable, no matter how strong your anti-Zionist politics.

07 December, 2006

(annoyed grunt)

Following a post on Sepia Mutiny about those six imams who got kicked off a U.S. Airways flight, I did some reading around. The subject was briefly covered in a few shoddy press releases, skimpy on the details, and then wildly overblown for a few weeks by right-wing blogs. So far I have learned:
  • The imams were doing a "security test" to look for weak points in the airline's protocol.
  • Some of them requested seat-belt extensions, which "research" by Greg Lang has revealed is "one heck of a weapon".*
  • They seated themselves according to the layout favored by the 9/11 hijackers.
  • They deliberately orchestrated this stunt in order to make money/raise a kerfuffle/make it easier for future terrorists to overwhelm our security.

Amy Goodman seems to be the only person who got the imams' story, which, not surprisingly, is completely innocuous.

A while ago I read a really nice Fake Moon Landing web-site, which simultaneously argued from two different (absurd) positions - the moon landing was fake, done in a studio, etc., but at the same time the astronauts were clearly being dogged by aliens. Similar site here. This sort of having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too is infuriating, to say the least. Kind of makes you jealous of Superman, who at least gets to tangle with a smart opponent.

* This really deserves no comment, but let me just point out that, given the incredible range of dangerous items one can take onto an airplane, including a near-limitless number of potential edged weapons, a seat belt extender is perhaps the stupidest fucking choice you could make.

Define "interior."

The Washington Post notes:
In June, government agencies were asked to provide data about contractors working for them in Iraq, including their nationality, a description of their work and locations where they were working. The information was provided by more than a dozen entities within the Pentagon and a dozen outside agencies, including the departments of State and Interior.
Iraq is now part of the interior of the U.S.? Or is this one of those, "it depends on what the definition of is is" types of things?

04 December, 2006

This week in god

Episcopalians out amid anti-homo-fest. Witches in for armed earth-worshippers.

Special bonus from that story: did you know that the U.S. Dept. of Defense will honor a dead atheist with a special atheist logo, "an atomic whirl"? Neither did I. If I had seen that logo, I would never have become an atheist.

This week in drugs

Pfizer out as new meds snuff old patients. Chocolate in. Again. My diet is vindicated.

03 December, 2006

Great Sage Equalling Heaven!

Only slightly late*, here are some pictures of me dressed as Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, from "Journey to the West". In these photos the makeup is somewhat messed up, since I wore it to capoeira before taking them, where someone kicked me in the face and fouled it all up. I have to say I was somewhat disappointed with the full production... but there's always next year. My current plan is to be Dr. Zoidberg. Woop woop woop woop!


* My roommate Kevin took them. The giant Chinese characters on the wall are coincidental - just the wall of our living room. They apparently mean "Berry Nation", after the name of our house, Brambleberry.

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