Tigh Me Up

I can't be the first one to notice how much Cindi and John McCain resemble...
Ellen and Saul Tigh?

Don't vote for him, people. He's a secret Cylon: a frakkin skin job!

Because I am a dirty-minded liberal, that's the first thing that popped into my head when I read this quote from this story:

"We tell them their clothes stay on, they stay in an upright position, their bodies are not laying down on top of anyone else's until they're married," she said.
Giggling completed now.

That's what Jim Peterman says. What is it that scares Jim Peterman, and why should you care? President Barack Obama scares him, or rather the specter of a President Barack Obama.

I generally hate stories like this because I think they over-represent a particular segment of society. In this case, I think the story serves a larger purpose--to make the race between Obama and John McCain closer than it really is. Five-Thirty-Eight currently has Obama as a 2-to-1 favorite over McCain, and that's not likely to close much in the next five months without something drastic happening--the Republican brand is just too far in the crapper right now.

But stories about bigots in Flag City, USA make it seem like Obama faces these terrific odds to winning, when it seems to me like these are natural McCain voters.

On his corner of College Street, Jim Peterman stares at the four American flags planted in his front lawn and rubs his forehead. Peterman, 74, is a retired worker at Cooper Tire, a father of two, an Air Force veteran and a self-described patriot. He took one trip to Washington in 1989 -- best vacation of his life -- and bought a statue of the Washington Monument that he still displays in a glass case in his living room.
The fact that this guy or the stereotype he represents is even considering a vote for Barack Obama ought to be the story, not the fact that his neighbors are spreading the same old misinformation about Obama's backrgound. Look at the city we're talking about here:
As the years passed, Peterman and his neighbors approached one another to share in their skepticism about the unknown. What was the story behind the handful of African Americans who had moved into a town that is 93 percent white? Why were Japanese businessmen coming in to run the local manufacturing plants? Who in the world was this Obama character, running for president with that funny-sounding last name?
Of course Obama isn't likely to do well with these people--they're practically Pat Buchanan's soulmates. They're hyper-patriotic and xenophobic. Of course they're going to believe every rumor available about Obama.

Let's turn it around for a moment. What would people say if the Washington Post did an article where their reporter went into inner-city Baltimore and wondered why John McCain wasn't doing better among those voters. It would be derided as one of the dumbest exercises in media, and rightly so. But few objections have been raised to this article, and its premise is pretty much just as dumb.

This is an election about change, and no one should be surprised that there's a segment of the population that fears change to such an extent that they'll believe even the most outlandish stories in order to convince themselves that they should act in a particular way. That's not news.

I titled this post with a quote from Jim Peterman, but I didn't give you the whole quote. He also said "I'm almost starting to feel like the best choice is not voting at all." Well, if your options are between voting your fears and not voting, then I'm with you--not voting is the best option. And maybe you can convince some of your neighbors to take the same option.

...From UK Television?

Why did it never air on US television?

And how come this rule:

It is understood that the commercial was not shown during children's television programming, because of new rules from Ofcom that restrict ads for products high in fat, salt and sugar.

Can't apply to US television, too?

Martian Asparagus?

Okay, it's a bit early for the foodies to have an orgasm over this, but according to NASA, Martian soil appeared to contain the necessary nutrients to sustain life. According to Sam Kounaves, the lead investigator for the wet chemistry laboratory on Phoenix:

"It is the type of soil you would probably have in your back yard, you know, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well. ... It is very exciting for us."
Which leaves the obvious question--which Iron Chef will be the first to use Martian asparagus in Kitchen Stadium?

Like it would be anyone else.

Saying Joe Lieberman is a tool is akin to saying John McCain lacks political integrity--not a shock and not particularly interesting on its own. For instance, this morning Joe Lieberman said that one reason he's supporting John McCain is because history shows the next president will likely face a terrorist attack in his first year. Presumably, Joe Lieberman feels John McCain is better prepared to deal with such an eventuality, despite the fact that there's absolutely nothing to base that on.

This is a slightly less slimy version of Charlie Black's statement to Fortune magazine wherein he said that a terrorist attack would help McCain's candidacy. The difference is that in this case, the terrorist attack will come after the election rather than before, so the possibility should help McCain's candidacy.

But that's low-hanging fruit. The outrage storm on Black has pretty much blown through the blogosphere already and we really don't expect anything different out of Lieberman.

But I thought this was cute:

Lieberman endorsed McCain for president because, he says, the Democratic Party he joined in the early 1960s is not reflected by the party's current leadership.
Joe Lieberman is saying that John McCain is closer to JFK and Lyndon Johnson than Barack Obama. He's saying that today's Republican party is closer to the party that pushed through the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, huge initiatives that reduced poverty and hunger and pushed this nation toward greater equality between both the races and the genders than the current Democratic party is. That today's Republican party is closer to LBJ's Great Society than today's Democrats are.

That's news to us progressives because we are, if anything, pissed off that today's Democratic party isn't progressive enough, and the Republicans certainly aren't better on anything that matters to us. I'm sure it would come as a shock to those millions of McCain supporters that he's a dirty hippie as well.

There is one notable similarity. First Kennedy and then Johnson kept doubling down on a bad strategy in an unnecessary war. Then again, so did Nixon, and it seems to me that if Joe Lieberman wants to make a comparison to someone from that period, Tricky Dick is a much closer fit.

As this NYTimes Magazine long (but great!) story points out, there is not one answer to this question, but the right-wing canard about uppity working women who refuse their "duty" to bear the seed is exposed as bullshit:

They found that a greater percentage of Dutch women than Italian women are in the work force but that, at the same time, the fertility rate in the Netherlands is significantly higher (1.73 compared to 1.33). In both countries, people tend to have traditional views about gender roles, but Italian society is considerably more conservative in this regard, and this seems to be a decisive difference. The hypothesis the sociologists set out to test was borne out by the data: women who do more than 75 percent of the housework and child care are less likely to want to have another child than women whose husbands or partners share the load.

Read more!


Every once in a while, the intertubes vomit up a piece of ridiculousness so grotesque that the thread title is the only available initial response. This is one of those pieces. Here's a sampling:

However, racism towards the South continues to exist and does not appear to be going away anytime soon. It is no wonder that the Left is so prejudiced towards the South: it's conservative, Christian, traditionalist, and resistant to cultural revolution. In other words, Southern attitudes stand in the way of Leftists' agendas. Thus, as usual, the Left finds it necessary to censor the South or berate it into submission by throwing guilt at its people.
Now, I could go on one of my semi-famous rants on the subject, but since I got the link from Barefoot and Progressive, I'll let TTP do the ranting.
Discrimination toward a region is one thing, but "Southerner" is not a race. What race is being discriminated against that would impel our writer to refer to "racism towards the South?" But hey, who wants to let pesky semantics get in the way of a good, full-throated (albeit non-sensical and untimely) rant? Really, though, we all know what she's about to get at....

The suggestion, made in both her article and in our later discussions about it, is that just because millions of black Americans (and here we get to the elephant in the room) see the confederate battle flag as a symbol of institutionalized racism (which, as a matter of fact, it is), that doesn't mean that people like Morgan and her ilk shouldn't be allowed to fly the flag as a matter of Southern pride (even thought Kentucky was neither a confederate nor a union state) or as a celebration of "states' rights", a buzzword that is well-known to refer to slavery and Jim Crow....

The flag is what it is: a symbol of slavery and, as a corollary, racism. In the end, simply saying, in effect "get over it" in that snide, dismissive tone, unfortunately for the arguer, does not an argument make.
To which I add an unqualified "hell yes."

Read this story about children in Yemen being married off at 8 and 9 to men in their 30s who rape and beat them, little kids who somehow, in the face of all this, find the strength to save themselves.

Nujood complained repeatedly to her husband’s relatives and later to her own parents after the couple moved back to their house in Sana. But they said they could do nothing. To break a marriage would expose the family to shame. Finally, her uncle told her to go to court. On April 2, she said, she walked out of the house by herself and hailed a taxi.

It was the first time she had traveled anywhere alone, Nujood recalled, and she was frightened. On arriving at the courthouse, she was told the judge was busy, so she sat on a bench and waited. Suddenly he was standing over her, imposing in his dark robes. “You’re married?” he said, with shock in his voice.

Right away, he invited her to spend the night at his family’s house, she said, since court sessions were already over for the day. There, she spent hours watching television, something she had never known in her family’s slum apartment, which lacks even running water.

When Nujood’s case was called the next Sunday, the courtroom was crowded with reporters and photographers, alerted by her lawyer. Her father and husband were also there; the judge had jailed them the night before to ensure that they would appear in court. (Both were released the next day.) “Do you want a separation, or a permanent divorce?” the judge, Muhammad al-Qadhi, asked the girl, after hearing her testimony and that of her father and her husband.

“I want a permanent divorce,” she replied, without hesitation. The judge granted it.

Afterward, Ms. Nasser, the lawyer, took Nujood to a celebratory party at the offices of a local newspaper, where she was showered with dolls and other toys. Nujood lived with her uncle for a time after the ruling but then insisted on returning to her father’s house. “I have forgiven him,” she said. She swears she will never marry again, and she wants to become a human rights lawyer, like Ms. Nasser, or perhaps a journalist.

Read the rest here.

In Texas, it seems, churches have a license to kidnap, and the state says they can't be forced to pay for it.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colleyville church Friday saying that church members involved in a traumatic exorcism that ultimately injured a young woman are protected by the First Amendment.
How serious were the injuries that the teenager--because the plaintiff here was 17 years old when this happened--sustained? Bruises and carpet burns, as well as hallucinations and a desire to self-mutilate and attempt suicide that eventually sent her to a psychiatrist. But the church? Their "religious beliefs" trump her rights as an individual.
But the church raised the question of whether the Fort Worth appeals court erred when it said Pleasant Glades’ First Amendment rights regarding freedom of religion do not prevent the church from being held liable for mental distress triggered by a "hyper-spiritualistic environment."

A majority of the court agreed, with Justice David Medina writing that while Schubert’s secular injury claims might "theoretically be tried without mentioning religion, the imposition of tort liability for engaging in religious activity to which the church members adhere would have an unconstitutional 'chilling effect’ by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs.
A little hint--if your core principles of your religious beliefs involve holding down a person and slapping the demons out of them, then you need to re-examine your beliefs. The First Amendment ought not be a curtain behind which a church can cause harm to an individual without consequence. I think it's a good thing that there be a separation between church and state, but that separation is not absolute--the state is there to provide protection for everyone, believer and non-believer, and is situations like this one, where believers violate the personal integrity of another person, they should be forced to pay damages.

...Are boring me to tears. I open the New Yorker or Wired or Rolling Stone and inevitably there is some proportion of writing meant to explicate Obama on Religion or McCain on the Environment or both of them on Israel and I just can't even keep my eyes open.

I know exactly who I'm voting for in November, and I earnestly believe that anyone who doesn't know who they're voting for is a frikkin idiot. The bu$h years have been nightmarish -- if you are rich, evil, and living in a religion-inspired hallucination, you think they're sweet like honey and you will vote for McCain (not as good as the usual sweet honey, but close enough for the mortal world); if you're not rich, evil, and living in a hallucination, you won't even consider continuing these nightmare days in any form, with any face. Who's left over to be "undecided"? Morons. So why are so many magazines publishing so many column inches for morons?

Why not use that space for other things? Some more stories on Health and Education and the Iraqi/global refugee crisis, Mars exploration, advances in green tech, and how to grow your own back patio baby lettuces? Or for pictures of cute babies and LOL cats?

More on Minnery

Yesterday I wrote about the parsing of Barack Obama's 2006 speech on faith by Focus on the Family. They've posted the last two parts of their reply here and here. It's interesting, if not really surprising, to see this sort of intellectual dishonesty on open display.

Tom Minnery begins by taking exception to Obama's point about what parts of the Biblical law we would ostensibly follow under Christian rule, and makes an interesting point--that the Sermon on the Mount is so radical that our Defense Department would not likely survive it. Minnery chooses to avoid that part and instead focuses on Obama's invocation of Levitical law, and acts as though it's the most dishonest thing anyone has ever said. Well, when Focus on the Family stops hating on gay people, then maybe we'll pay attention, because while Leviticus calls homosexuality an abomination, Jesus doesn't, and if things that were part of Levitical law have to be reinforced by Jesus, then gay-hating fails that test.

Next, Minnery pulls the abortion bait-and-switch. Obama says, basically, that we can't rely solely on religious beliefs when making laws, that we have to speak in universal terms, and that most importantly, there has to be a logical reason for a law. If it meets both a logical and a spiritual test, that's fine, but the logical test has to reign supreme. Minnery never actually answers this point. Instead of answering what Obama said, he answers what he wishes Obama had said by dealing specifically with abortion as murder, and then claiming that the only reason for laws against murder are religious ones. Obviously, his claim fails on two levels. The first is that abortion is not murder--it is only the termination of a potential life, while murder is the unlawful termination of a living human.

But more importantly, laws against murder formed in places outside the Judeo-Christian tradition in situations outside a religious legal system. There are logical reasons why murder is a crime--it is a violation of the most basic human right to live one's life. It would be a violation of that right no matter how many religions came up with a similar edict. But Minnery can't or won't acknowledge that, because to do so would render his overall argument meaningless. Minnery is coming from a tradition that discounts any other civilization other than the one that comes out of Biblical history, but to do so, he has to hint that other civilizations couldn't have come up with laws against things like murder on their own, because if they did, then that law didn't come solely from his god.

Finally, Minnery asks "because it's religious, should it be erased from law?" Well, for starters, Obama didn't suggest that it should. He said that when passing new laws, we should rely on more than religious arguments, not that religious arguments themselves disqualified an idea from becoming a law. Again, that's an important difference, because there's no question that there are overlaps between religious law codes and our current laws, but since we live in a secular society (much to Minnery's chagrin), and since we don't all share the same religious values, new laws have to be based on more than the myopic views of a single, largely irrelevant sect of Christianity like Focus on the Family.

There's one more section of this, but I don't have the patience to deal with it today. In short, Minnery is a dishonest ass, which makes him a perfect spokesperson for Focus on the Family, and further reinforces my belief that Dobson is setting the stage for a move to support McCain openly. The base argument in this series of videos is that Obama is too far gone from Christianity to allow him anywhere near the Oval Office.

It's a story about a crime--a teen-aged boy watching tv at a friend's house is shot and killed. Five bullet holes in the side of the house, and one of them hit the victim. But the reactions from people around the scene are what makes this story a little different for me:

'No one shoots into a house in Boca Raton'
"His family didn't deserve this"
"This is Boca Raton," Hopkins said. "As bad as it can get is a fight. No one shoots into a house in Boca Raton."
What is so special about Boca Raton that these people would be so surprised by the kind of violence that many cities not far from there deal with every day? It's not really a dificult question--Boca is rich and white, and this sort of thing just isn't supposed to happen in rich, white cities.

Notice the privilege that's rolling through this story. The victim had been enrolled at a Life Skills Center, which meant he was a high school dropout, and he had withdrawn from that before completion. But he wasn't identified as a dropout--he was, instead, "a very intelligent person" who "had trouble with school." He'd also been arrested three times in the last two months, once for cocaine possession, but he wasn't a menace to society--he was a person who had trouble "jumping through hoops."

Why? Because he was a white kid from an upscale neighborhood. If he'd been a black teen living in Overtown, this story doesn't get written. Maybe there's a blurb about another murder with possible ties to drugs. Maybe. Because houses get shot into all the time in Overtown, but never in Boca Raton.

The religion fight

I wrote yesterday about what I called Dobson's big swerve, wherein he is working on finding a way to paint Barack Obama as so religiously radical that he will have no choice but to support, reluctantly, John McCain. (Yeah, there's some sarcasm in that sentence.) It started a little more quickly than I expected, probably fueled by Obama's recent 12 and 15 point leads nationally in the Newsweek and LA Times polls. Yes, it's early, but if Dobson can come out and McCain happens to narrow the gap (which is almost inevitable), then he can declare victory and get some of his strut back.

This "controversy" started when some video appeared in which Obama says some pretty uncontroversial things about religion and the makeup of the United States:

Wacky stuff there. All that "we're not just a Christian nation anymore" and "laws can't be based just on someone's religious beliefs because not everyone believes the same thing" stuff is so radical, so inflammatory. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria.

Well, Dobson's people have replied. I can't imbed the video, which is probably for the best--I'd feel dirty having that stuff on the site, I think. But it is worth watching.

Here are their counter-arguments, such as they are. On Obama's statement that the US is not a Christian nation, Tom Minnery replies

"76% of the people last year according to the Pew Center on Religion national survey have people identify themselves as Christian. Now all of them are not practicing, yet 40% of them still go to church once a week, and by and large it's Christian denominations they're going to."
Any error in the transcription is mine. But Obama didn't say that Christians weren't in the majority--he simply said that we are not "just" a Christian nation, and that's certainly true. It has always been true.

Obama followed that point up by noting that there are great divisions inside Christianity when he asked "if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would be teach in the schools? Would it be James Dobson's or Al Sharpton's?" Oooh, that raised Minnery's hackles. His reaction begins at about 2:45 into the video, and it can be basically summed up like this--how dare he compare our beloved leader James Dobson with that black racist Al Sharpton? And yes--he uses the term "black racist," and brings up Tawana Brawley and the Central Park jogger cases. The comparison, he says, is "a fierce misunderstanding of Christianity." I don't quite follow his logic, but one thing is pretty clear--for Minnery, there is no common cause between his version of Christianity and Sharpton's, which means that Obama's point is validated. Christianity in the US is not a monolithic group, so even if we had a Christian nation, whose Christianity reigns supreme? Minnery seems to have some ideas along those lines, but didn't put them out there.

Dobson's people say this is the first of a three-part series, which means I'll have a little something to blog about for the next couple of days, I guess.

Below is a screen grab of part of the front page of the Washington Post this morning. Looking at the lineup on the Op-Ed page for today, I can see why right-wingers complain about the liberal bias of the NY Times. I mean, look at what the WaPo has served up for them today:

We have a global warming concern troll (Lomborg), a pox-on-both-your-houses Milbank today (he represents the liberal media side for the wingers), the king of faux-centrism David Broder, and then the three-layered conservative icing on the Op-Ed cake, George Will, Robert Novak and Richard freaking Perle. This from the DC paper that brought down Nixon. No wonder I have so little patience for the right.

Bad timing

This just wasn't a good day, blog-wise. It wasn't a loss, as I got word from Progress Florida that we're one of the featured blogs on their page right now--there's a link to them in my blogroll, and I highly recommend your checking them out--but Obama went 0-for-2 today as far as I'm concerned, and while I am ever the pragmatist, it's never a good feeling to see the person you're voting for do the "business as usual" dance.

Yesterday, it sounded like Obama was going to play it a little close on the FISA bill, but was going to work (as much as any Senator on the campign trail works) to strip the telecom immunity from it. But as John Cole put it today, Obama caved completely today, and pulled out the "national security is more important than telecom immunity" card. Of course, if that's your choice, then sure--national security is more important. But that's not the choice, and everyone who's been paying attention knows it.

Then, after the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 verdict which simply said that people convicted of child rape couldn't be executed, Obama had to come out and crap all over that as well. In this case, it's not much of a surprise as Obama has never come out completely against the death penalty, but it was still disappointing.

On the upside, however, Palm Beach County tested their new optical scan machines today in a special election. The machines went off without a hitch, but some voters were underwhelmed:

After marking her ballot in a special, one-race West Palm Beach election, Sandy Rocco was unconvinced the cost of switching systems was justified. The electronic machines seemed more advanced, she said. Her husband agreed.

"It's pretty crazy, in the day and age where we trust electronics so much, not to do it here," Vic Rocco said.
Palm Beach is the home of the infamous butterfly ballot. More advanced is not what you folks need.

Sorry, that was mean, but I'm in that sort of mood tonight. When it comes elections, more complex is not generally better. Complexity or lack thereof is actually one of the less-important issues. What's important is to have a system that fails well, that has backups in case something goes wrong, because something always goes wrong somewhere. A system that fails well is one that has backups--in this case, if the machines can't or won't count the votes, humans can. Not so much with an electronic system--no way to count electrons.

So I've ended on a good note. I'll try to do better tomorrow.

Americans in border states are crossing over into Mexico -- for the fuel. It turns out that while gas on this side of the border is going for about $4.55, gas on their side is going for about $2.66.

Why? El Socialism.

The low gasoline and diesel prices that draw Americans here are a result of subsidies provided by the Mexican government to curb inflation and make fuel affordable to the poor.

And Texans love getting in on some socialism, as we all know. Of course, it's not all sunshine and tortillas:

The moment may not last. Severe gasoline and diesel shortages, caused by the increased demand from Americans and delivery problems as well, have been reported from [Texas] to Mexico’s border with California.

You mean, Americans are coming into THEIR country and stealing THEIR gas like they think it belongs to them, and this this is affecting the economy of good, honest, hard-working Mexican people? My God! This is like a war in slow-motion! This is Zach Taylor's revenge! The Americans must be stopped!

I think they should build a FENCE.

Dobson's big swerve

There's been a lot of posting on the intertubes over the last 36 hours or so about James Dobson's statement concerning Barack Obama's religious views. A little outrage, a little mockery, a number of people pointing out that what Obama said was actually accurate and not outrageous at all--about what any sentient being would expect. Obama replied (warning: AP link) today, saying in far nicer terms than Dobson deserves, that Dobson was basically full of it. Dobson needs to take a closer look at Matthew 7:3, seems to me.

But it's possible that what Dobson is really doing is setting the stage for his inevitable backtracking from his earlier failed power-move. Remember way back at the beginning of the primaries? Dobson said that he would never vote for McCain. He said "I am convinced Sen. McCain is not a conservative and, in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are." I thought then that Dobson and his followers would line up behind the nominee, and I still think that. It's easy to talk smack in the heat of battle and then justify selling out for the candidate left standing--I've been doing the latter for a long time with nary a blink. I stopped the smack talking when I figured out it was only making me look foolish.

And that's what is happening here. Dobson's merely laying the necessary groundwork to embrace McCain. He took his swing and missed--the social conservatives, for all their vaunted power, didn't get their guy to the top of the ticket, but they know McCain will take their calls and Obama won't. And since this is all about political power and not at all about theology, that's what makes the most sense.

Maybe it's because I haven't had my coffee yet, but I found myself scratching my head over something included in this piece about the class-action lawsuit against Rockstar Games for the hidden content in its Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game. What? You thought this was over too?

Most of the article is about the fact that the lawyers threw a class-action lawsuit and almost nobody came. I have a hard time getting exercised over the whole thing, personally--it's a violent, misogynistic video game, but anyone who claims to have been shocked by the content was willfully ignorant of the kind of game Rockstar had produced earlier in the GTA series.

This is what has me a little confused, though.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board reclassified the game in 2005 for “adults only,” a designation that means the game should be played only by people 18 and older. The game’s rating led some big retailers to stop carrying it. The game had initially been rated for “mature” audiences, meaning people 17 and older.
Is this all we're really talking about here? A year? Does something magical happen between the ages of 17 and 18 that takes a "mature" video gamer to an "adult" one? I understand we have to have arbitrary lines for things like adulthood, and that these ages are meant to be guidelines for parents and the like, but based on some of the depositions taken in this case, it's clear that some of the parents who are suing weren't paying attention to the content in the first place.
For example, Brenda Stanhouse, who bought the game for her son, 15 years old at the time, said in a deposition that she did not know that a player in the game could “stomp to death innocent pedestrians.”

She also did not know that the game included prostitutes, that players could kill policemen or that “a player in the game can kill innocent pedestrians and steal money from them.”

“I’m aware that there is killing in the game,” Ms. Stanhouse said in the deposition. “I wasn’t aware of the stealing.”
Forgive me if I'm a little skeptical about claims that being able to control your character during simulated sex in a video game is somehow worse than being able to stomp an innocent pedestrian to death. But I'm even more skeptical about the idea that the difference between the average 17 year old and the average 18 year old matters here. It's a minor one at best. It's not like an 18th birthday suddenly causes a person to make wiser decisions. It doesn't make them smarter or help them exercise better judgment. It just makes them a little more liable for their decisions.

If there were people who made bad decisions in this case--and this shouldn't be taken as a wholesale defense of Rockstar Games, for whom I have deep content--it's the parents who bought the games or let their kids play them without knowing what was in them.

Many web communities who styled themselves as progressive lost their collective minds during the prolonged Democratic primary, some worse than others, but none more completely, I venture to say, than No Quarter. Their combination of racist rhetoric and right-wing regurgitation has done more than given many bloggers terrific material for the last few months--it's turned them into something resembling performance art, but without the hip, ironic detachment.

Witness, for instance, this lovely piece by PaganPower, which seems to argue that Obama supporters are terrorists-in-training, intimidating anyone who dares speak a negative word against their candidate.

I don’t know how many times it has happened or to how many people. But more than a few Hillary supporters that refuse to support Obama have been accused, intimidated, threatened and attacked with an alarming increasing frequency.
"I don't have any actual proof that this is happening all over the place, but I just know it is." Right. So long as we're clear about the basis for this rant you're about to take off on--nothing at all.
So just what is it that drives seemingly otherwise reasonable people to have such little regard for the rights and opinions of others? Are they under some magic spell and just can’t help themselves? Because it sure seems that way. Is it any wonder that many of us refer to Obama followers as Cultists? Because that is the way they act, swarming like a mob at anyone and anything in their path.
Here's where the explaining needs to begin. See, PaganPower, there are 300 million people in the US, a fraction of whom can be considered Obama supporters. Let's even limit this discussion to an estimation of the number who will likely vote for Obama in November--65 million. If even 1% of those people are assholes--and I think that limiting the asshole percentage of the population to 1% is being gracious beyond belief--that means there are 650,000 assholes who will vote for Obama in November.

Is being verbally abusive to someone who disagrees with you an example of asshole behavior? Absolutely. Is it a good thing? Absolutely not. Is it limited to people who support Barack Obama? Only if you're an idiot.

But PaganPower can't just put this down to general assholishness. No, there's something in the candidate's background that's caused this kind of behavior in his supporters. What could that be?
While trying to come up with a reasonable answer as to why all of this is happening I am reminded of Obama’s upbringing. And especially of the central characters closest to him, the ones that helped him formulate his sense of self. And when I look at people like Jeremiah Wright and Michael Pfleger and Louis Farrakhan and Bill Ayers it is very easy to see why Obama has turned a deaf ear to these many despicable transgressions.
Oh right. The Jeremiah Wright whose church feeds the needy and offers after-school care for parents and sends underprivileged kids to college. The Louis Farrakhan who Obama both rejected and denounced at the behest of Hillary Clinton. The Michael Pfleger who, his ridiculous sermon about Hillary Clinton notwithstanding, has done a huge amount of social good in Chicago, just as Jeremiah Wright has. The Bill Ayers who was once a Weatherman, but who has been a respected academic for the last 20+ years. Because Obama knows these people, his supporters are terrorists-in-training. It's not that a certain percentage of the population just happens to be assholes--no, it's all about Obama's acquaintances.

I could simply scroll through the comments of nearly any thread on No Quarter and point out equally intolerant or hateful remarks that are met with approval and applause, but that would only play into PaganPower's stupidity. Besides, I get dirty enough from reading the posts.

Shorter David Brooks

It's a good thing Bush went against everyone's advice and doubled down on the surge last year, because Iraq is a whole block of awesome now, and don't the war opponents look dumb?
No, I'm not kidding you.

It shouldn't be a surprise--Brooks has been depending on this interpretation of events, since it's about the only thing that makes it possible for McCain to win more than ten states in November. He's still betting a losing hand though. Iraq is hugely unpopular right now, just as it has been for years, and while gas prices and the mortgage crisis have shoved it a little farther back in the public consciousness for the moment, the idea that we'll have US troops there for the foreseeable future is not a popular one.
"From what you know about the U.S. involvement in Iraq, how much longer would you be willing to have large numbers of U.S. troops remain in Iraq: less than a year, one to two years, two to five years, five to ten years, or as long as it takes?"

Less than a year 42

One to two years 21

Two to five years 9

Five to ten years 1

As long as it takes 20

Should leave now (vol.)3

Unsure 4
And those are the numbers even with major networks scaling back their Iraq War coverage to ridiculous levels.
According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been “massively scaled back this year.” Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The “CBS Evening News” has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC’s “World News” and 74 minutes on “NBC Nightly News.” (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)
The question isn't whether or not Iraq is getting better--the question is whether or not we know it at all. After all, it's not like this government has a history of giving us honest numbers when it comes to local casualties or violence levels. Iraq might as well be a planet in the Mutara Nebula for all the information newscasts give us on it.

But even if Brooks is right--he isn't, but what the hell--that doesn't mean that people who opposed the surge, hell, who opposed the war from the beginning somehow now have egg on their faces. And it sure as hell doesn't vindicate King George the Lesser. We never should have been in this position in the first place. We have destroyed a country, and just because some parts of it might be exploding a little less now than they were a year ago is no cause for rejoicing.

Red to Blue

Annette Taddeo has a new online fundraising appeal up. I'm thinking about starting an ActBlue page for her tied to this site, but I have no idea if there would be any response to it. If you'd be willing to kick in a fiver or something, either drop me a line at the email address to the side there or leave a note in the comments, and if there's some interest, I'll put one of those thermometer widgets on the page for it. It would be nice to make Ileana Ros-Lehtinen unemployed, though I'm sure she'll find work as a lobbyist for someone.

And if you don't want to wait for me to put up an ActBlue page, you can contribute here.

That's Mike Mayo's question on his Sun-Sentinel blog today. His answer is that it's when your doctor is younger than you are. I can certainly feel him on that, but my answer is a little different.

That does it for me, combined with the fact that when I teach Freshperson Composition this fall, I'll be teaching my daughter's cohort. Forget the creaky knees, the pony keg abs, the growing intolerance for loud music--nope, it's the daughter in college that makes me feel old. What about you?

Oh, one more thing--find ing out bloggers you were sure were at least your age, if not older, are actually younger than you are.

Goodbye George

George Carlin, dead at 71.

He was one of the first stand-ups I could remember by name and for a famous routine, but I think I loved him best as Cardinal Glick of the Catholicism Wow! campaign.

Seventy-one is a good run for a guy who lived as hard as he did. We'll miss you.

On Russert

Racialicious notes, without comment, this piece from the WSJ Opinion page, written by Bernard Goldberg. Russert is quoted by Goldberg as saying this:

I am for having women in the newsroom and minorities in the newsroom — I’m all for it. It opens up our eyes and gives us different perspectives. But just as well, let’s have people with military experience; let’s have people from all walks of life, people from the top-echelon schools but also people from junior colleges and the so-called middling schools — that’s the pageantry of America . . . You need cultural diversity, you need ideological diversity. You need it.
It goes without saying that I agree with the sentiment. I have to admit, though, that my gut impression of Meet the Press is that it didn't hold to this ideal at all, that I remember it as a pretty diversity-free zone. But I'm not what you would call a regular watcher of the show, so rather than simply barf all over the page, I figured I'd look at the transcripts to see if I was right.

I'll give Russert this much--the show was a bit more racially and gender-diverse than I thought it was. I looked at the guest list from his last show back through the beginning of April, looking really only at gender and white vs. non-white, and here's what I found. Russert had 47 guests on over that period--and I counted repeats for each time they appeared on the show, since I'm looking at diversity per show--and of those 47, 36 were men and 11 were women. In terms of race, 38 were white, and 9 were non-white.

Could Russert have done better on gender? Certainly, considering that better than half the world's population are women, but he did better than I expected. I had the same reaction on the racial breakdown--better than I thought it would be. But the numbers can be a little deceiving. Only two women of color appeared on the show--Gwen Ifill and Michele Norris who both appeared twice--making them by far the least represented group. And needless to say, there were no Latino/as, no Asians, no members of any other group so far as I could tell. (Obviously, I don't know the detailed bios of every person on the list, so I'm making some assumptions based on pictures and limited information.)

There didn't seem to be much economic diversity on the show--pretty much everyone who showed up is a member of the professional class. Certainly they may have come from humble beginnings, but once you reach that level, you're not generally living on the shabby side of town.

There wasn't a wide range of ideological views either, at first glance. Russert had Ralph Nader on at the end of February (which was outside the range I chose), but he was certainly the exception rather than the rule, More often the shows range ran from someone like Jim Webb, a moderate to progressive Democrat, to Mike Huckabee, a pretty hard-core conservative.

So Russert at least seemed to be trying, even if he didn't get it completely right. I'm glad I looked at this, because it changes my opinion of him as a journalist a bit.

There are two articles in major US magazines currently invoking the image of HAL, the computer in 2001: a Space Odyssey, one of my favorite novels/films. It ain't letting the interpretive cat out of the computer core to say that, Dave's final evolution aside, the most human character in "2001" is HAL: he's the one with passions and paranoia and pathos. The humans meanwhile are the cogs in machines: they barely seem conscious as they speak to their children, make mindless chit-chat, and communicate instructions to one another using shallow humor and toothless threats. It's a vision of a future in which mankind is drained of blood and computerkind begins to thrive. At the start of the story, chimps see the value of being something more than themselves (the comforts of civilized life, living without fear of being eaten by big cats, etc.) and they want it. At the end, humans see the value of being something more than themselves (of exploring the stars as spaceships, instead of in spaceships, etc.) -- of becoming, in effect, more like HAL. So the final kitty to crawl out is this: the AI becomes you, my dear.

The New Yorker has an article this week by John Seabrook titled "Hello, HAL," which is about the struggle to create computers that can use language. It's a project that has lasted as long as computers have been with us, the domain of engineers and linguists both, a project which has led the realization that language, something most humans are pretty decent at and don't think about too much, is so difficult that supercomputers capable of computing paths to Saturn or generating the imagery in Finding Nemo (clearly the two most impressive things a computer can do) stumble upon sentences that toddlers can master. There has been a lot of progress, but people and computers still don't get along: when we call a company and speak to a machine, it angers us (we'd rather push buttons than be forced to say "yes" and "no" and "operator"). They're working on making computers that can understand and return emotional cues within generated speech, and while we're not there yet, the article describes some vocal on-the-spot translation devices that are truly impressive.

Seabrook tells us about:
IBM's Multilingual Automatic Speech-to-Speech Translator, or MASTOR...an English speaker made a comment ("We are here to provide humanitarian assistance for your town") to an Iraqi. The machine repeated his sentence in English to make sure it was understood. The MASTOR then translated the sentence into Arabic and said it out loud. The Iraqi answered in Arabic; the machine repeated the sentence in Arabic and then delivered it in English. [Anyone else reminded of the aliens in Mars Attacks with their translators shouting "We come in peace!" as they blow everyone away -- or is that just me? -A] The entire exchange took about five seconds, and combined state-of-the-art speech recognition, voice synthesis, and machine translation. Granted, the conversation was limited to what you might discuss at a checkpoint in Iraq. Still, for what they are, these translators are triumphs of the statistics-based approach.
The Atlantic Monthly Article isn't quite about translators. Nicholas Carr's piece is titled "Is Google Making us Stupid," and, all that fuss about talking computers aside, gets to the real deal when it comes to evolving intelligence and machine-human pairings. As the title indicates, it is not an optimistic view. The author gives anecdotal evidence of formerly attentive readers reduced to inability after exposure to the internet, then tells us... 
...we still await the long-term neurological and psychological experiments that will provide a definitive picture of how Internet use affects cognition. But a recently published study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. As part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it. The authors of the study report: "It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense."
Carr's is sort of a sprawling essay, with a story about Neitszche taking up the typewriter (and how it changed his thinking and his writing) as a highlight I would recommend seeking out. But I want to draw your attention to this, a passage in which his paranoia seems to manifest, as does the promise of internet intelligence:
More than a hundred years after the invention of the steam engine, the Industrial Revolution had at last found its philosophy and its philosopher. Taylor’s tight industrial choreography—his “system,” as he liked to call it—was embraced by manufacturers throughout the country and, in time, around the world. Seeking maximum speed, maximum efficiency, and maximum output, factory owners used time-and-motion studies to organize their work and configure the jobs of their workers. The goal, as Taylor defined it in his celebrated 1911 treatise, The Principles of Scientific Management, was to identify and adopt, for every job, the “one best method” of work and thereby to effect “the gradual substitution of science for rule of thumb throughout the mechanic arts.” Once his system was applied to all acts of manual labor, Taylor assured his followers, it would bring about a restructuring not only of industry but of society, creating a utopia of perfect efficiency. “In the past the man has been first,” he declared; “in the future the system must be first.”
This is the future of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke in 2001. The system. Humans reduced at the individual level, but expanded by connection itself into a group intelligence, a giant global (and eventually supra-global) brain. As Howard Bloom has pointed out, an individual chimp is smarter than an individual baboon. But chimps are endangered and baboons are ubiquitous, considered "pests" in much of Africa -- that's how differently "successful" they've been (at surviving). And why does the advantage go to the stupid monkey, instead of the supposedly-great ape? Because baboons make a better group brain. Humans are smart individually, sure, but more importantly, we've also got the major, serious, stupendous social skills. We not only serve "the system," but doing so becomes an essential part of our identity, one we're willing to die for (eg: soldiers are willing to die for their group). This is a kind of AI that's not A. It's better to call it, "man-made intelligence": it's hooking us all up to a hive mind of our own making.

Of course, this is unsettling:
The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.
But Carr, against his own misgivings, tells us this:
Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, in the 15th century, set off another round of teeth gnashing. The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds. Others argued that cheaply printed books and broadsheets would undermine religious authority, demean the work of scholars and scribes, and spread sedition and debauchery. As New York University professor Clay Shirky notes, “Most of the arguments made against the printing press were correct, even prescient.” But, again, the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that the printed word would deliver.
Are we about to become the Dave-like cogs in a machine run by a HAL? Maybe. But what's on the other end of that transformation? What world-changing advantages might this transformation deliver? What step might this step lead to? If people who were still suspicious of the printing press were still alive, we wouldn't get very far, which is why, I suppose, it's good that we die after our time. Future people will snicker at Carr's hesitation -- and all of us. Assuming they think about us at all, for more than a split second.

Extended Guilt

Every time I read a story like this one, I get a little twinge of guilt. It's a horrible story--a teenager died because he didn't seek medical attention for a urinary tract blockage. A catheter would have cured him, and he's dead, because he followed a religion that teaches that the only allowable medical treatment is prayer. He was 16, and that's why I feel a little guilt by association.

Part of the reason that laws like the one that will shield Beagley's parents in this case exist is because of religions like the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Witnesses, at least when I was a member 13 years ago, weren't this extreme--their only medical prohibition was on the use of blood, but that prohibition was absolute, even if it meant that they or their children died as a result. We were taught, from a very early age, that we were supposed to resist if a blood transfusion were forced on us. We were given literature to pass along to doctors which gave some alternative treatments we would find acceptable, and there were long, protracted debates over whether pulling blood out of your own body for storage and use if necessary while having surgery was okay.

But this is why I feel a twinge of guilt. When I was young, I remember the stories, often in the Watchtower or Awake! magazines, about young people, usually between 12 and 18, who would profess their faith to judges who were considering whether to take custody of them and force the blood transfusions on them. I don't have any idea what percentage of kids were successful in convincing the judges to let them risk death in this way--we got a skewed version of these stories, as you might expect--but I can't help but think that some of my (former) fellow Witness kids had something to do with the laws like this one in Oregon that allow teenagers to refuse medical treatment on religious grounds.

I have a problem with that law, but it has nothing to do with religious adults being able to refuse medical treatment if they wish. I have a problem with allowing a teenager to make that kind of call for him or herself. They're not prepared to make that kind of life and death decision, and we as a society shouldn't act as though they are. We have an obligation to protect minors from themselves, just as we have an obligation to remove them from families that endanger their health and well-being. If Neil Beagley had been 18 years old--because that's the bright line we've set for adulthood in this country--and had made this decision, I'd have shaken my head and said "what a waste of a life." But I wouldn't have been angry, and I wouldn't feel complicit, in a very small way, in his death.

But what religions like the Followers of Christ Church and the Jehovah's Witnesses do is convince children and teenagers so completely that they have the one truth, and that to betray that truth is to toss away any possible future, that when they're asked to put their lives on the line, they often do without a second thought. They are impassioned in their pleas to judges. I had a friend who lost his leg trying to jump onto a moving train, and while he was being wheeled into surgery to close up the wound, was kicking at the blood bag trying to knock it loose so he wouldn't sin--and yes, that's how we thought of it. If we didn't do everything we could to stop it, even if it meant our deaths, then we had sinned. (That made for some screwed-up issues involving rape as well, but that's for another time.) That kind of commitment can sway a judge, and in a country with as much respect for religion as this one, can sway legislatures as well.

But it shouldn't. What an adult does with his or her own body is cool with me, as long as it's not impacting the larger society to an unacceptable degree (for example, the debate over what drugs should be legalized deals with this issue--we've decided that alcohol is okay but heroin isn't, and the debate over marijuana still rages). But a teenager's brain isn't fully formed yet, and most teenagers lack the experience to understand exactly what they're putting at risk in these cases. I know, because I was one of them. Had I been faced with that situation, I have little doubt that I'd have told a judge precisely what I'd been trained to say. I'm glad it didn't come to that, but I feel a little responsible for those who do, and for the judges who respect those decisions.

Lest We Overgeneralize

I love Bob Herbert, and I agree with his latest editorial on the need for fathers to stick with their children, an editorial occasioned by Barack Obama's Father's Day speech, which I also agree with... 

However, these data...

...the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston was compiling data that revealed a dubious milestone. In 2006, for the first time in U.S. history, a majority of all births to women under 30 — 50.4 percent — were out of wedlock. Nearly 80 percent of births among black women were out of wedlock.

By comparison, when John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, just 6 percent of all births were to unmarried women under 30.

Since then, the percentages have risen across the ethnic spectrum. One-third of white, non-Hispanic women under 30 who gave birth in 2006 were unmarried. For Hispanics, it was 51 percent.
...should not be considered signs of fathers not caring for their children. The mother and father being married to one another is NOT the same as the father being committed to the children. And that's just for starters: there are lots of "fathers" who are really sperm donors -- whether through a clinic or through sex, there is an understanding that his job DID end at conception, and the mother agrees with that. The mother may be raising the child alone, or the mother may have a boyfriend or girlfriend -- she may have additional family members participating, she may, in short, be raising the child in perfectly wonderful surroundings without a never-needed dad. Or, maybe the mother and father are living together, raising the child together, and just aren't married, which is what Brian and I will be doing if we ever get this pregnancy thing going. Or maybe the mother and father don't live together but live across town from each other, and each takes an active role in the parenting. Or maybe -- radical I know -- the father is actually caring for the child full-time, and the mother is MIA. How do your statistics handle that?

Raising children is and always has been far more complicated than MAN + WOMAN + SPAWN. And while I agree that someone who went into the job of making babies with the understanding that he would help raise the child needs to stick with it, stats about "unMARRIED" mothers has nothing to do with fathering -- or mothering, for that matter. I love Bob Herbert, but on this one he's overgeneralizing, comparing the stats of 2008 to the stats of 1960, and interpreting them through the filter of Ozzie and Harriet. And that don't work, baby.

More on Florida drilling

As was the case with the gas-tax holiday, Barack Obama refuses to pander on offshore drilling. Okay, so as Amy's noted, drilling's not particularly popular in Florida, though it has gained a little traction thanks to outrageous gas prices, but it only takes a moment to point out to people that even if we could start drilling tomorrow (which we can't), gas prices won't be affected much, if at all. We can't drill our way out of this mess--conservation, alternative clean energy sources, and an increased public transportation system are better uses of our money than more drilling.

There's another reason why we won't be drilling offshore anytime soon even if Congress lifts the ban--there aren't enough ships to do it:

But even as oil trades at more than $135 a barrel — up from $68 a year ago — the world’s existing drill-ships are booked solid for the next five years. Some oil companies have been forced to postpone exploration while waiting for a drilling rig, executives and analysts said.

Demand is so high that shipbuilders, the biggest of whom are in Asia, have raised prices since last year by as much as $100 million a vessel to about half a billion dollars.
Now this applies to deepwater drilling, but that's where most of the new exploration is taking place.
“The oil reserves that were easy to reach are all drying up,” said Harris S. Lee, vice president in charge of Samsung’s offshore drilling rig business. “The future is in exploring the deep seas and harsh environments.”
Look, if oil companies want to continue searching for new places to drill, that's okay, as long as we stop subsidizing them with taxpayer dollars, and as long as the locals get to have a say in whether they want oil rigs off their shores. Here in Florida, we don't, largely because a huge part of our economy involves people coing to the beach for vacation. Tarballs on the sand and mercury in the mahi tends to hurt that industry, and thus hurts the tax base. What little we would gain, assuming we would gain anything at all, wouldn't offset those losses.

One other thing from the article I started with, because it's just so precious. The person that the Republicans chose to respond to Obama's statement on drilling is Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite. Why is that precious?
Two years ago, though, when Republicans controlled Congress, Brown-Waite was part of a united Florida delegation, firmly opposed to lifting a moratorium on drilling along the coast.

During debate on the issue in May 2006, she urged her fellow lawmakers to call their mothers and grandmothers who had retired to Florida.

"I would ask you to pick up the phone and listen to what they say," she said then. "How much they love Florida and how much they love the beaches."
Hypocrisy just comes naturally to them, doesn't it?

Friday Night Videos

If you can make it through this, you're a better human than I am.

Good luck with that.

And that includes the Midwesterners who have been polled as widely supporting more offshore drilling -- I suppose because they, having no shores of their own, and being awful human beings who do not care about others, don't give a rat's behind. Or maybe they're ignorant, in which case they should wise up.

Florida's economy is dependent on tourism and land values. If you start drilling offshore, you will destroy both. That's why Floridians simply won't let it happen. We will protest and landowners will sue: sue, sue, sue. It will be ugly and protracted, and in the end, we will find a way to defeat you. You will not suck gas out from under our ocean as the cost of our standard of living. Never. 

All the hand-wringing over Obama's decision to forgo public financing for the general election has already gotten tiring, and he only made the announcement yesterday. The New York Times Editors say "Between Mr. Obama’s decision to rely on private money and Mr. McCain’s cynical invitation to 527 mayhem, it would be a shame if it also goes down in history as the year public financing died." David Brooks is trying to transform "Barry" into Fast Eddie, who throws public financing under a truck (as opposed to the bus where everything else has been tossed lately--guess it needs new shocks or something). John Cole has links to Red State, The Corner, and Hot Air decrying Obama's rejection of public financing, even though you'd think those people would be glad to see private money being used instead of public money.

Let me be clear here. I would love to have full public financing of elections. We don't have that right now. Instead, we have a crappy partial system filled with loopholes that allows people to opt out of the system. Sen. Feingold, who was upset about Obama's decision yesterday, acknowledged that subsidies for the primary system are broken, though he seems to think that the general election ones are okay. He's not running. He's also wrong.

Any public system, if it's going to be truly fair--and that's the idea behind public financing, to get big money out of the game--has to be mandatory. There can't be an opt-out. Either everyone does it, plays by the same rules, under the same restrictions, or the system won't work. The other details are all open for debate, but that one has to be a part of it--no opting out.

It's no surprise to see all the objections from the right--Brooks, Hot Air, The Corner, etc. have always been of the mindset that nothing is a problem until it gives the Democrats an advantage, and for all the continual bleating about the liberal bias at the New York Times, they've certainly been no friend to Democrats in the 15 years or so I've been reading their pages.

Senator Feingold is another matter--he's a true believer in the system, and why not? He helped write the laws. One of them bears his name, along with the presumptive Republican nominee--who kindasorta opted out of the public financing system during the Republican primaries and who broke the spirit and perhaps the letter of the law doing so. He's still wrong on this. The system is broken, and maybe it will never be fixed. But for now, if Obama can go outside the system, and the law allows him to do so, he absolutely should.

So a few days ago, I wondered why anyone would want to own a condo, and speculated that I would probably never buy one. I may have to reconsider.

TAMPA - A Hillsborough County housing complex is planning to have a clothing-optional pool in an effort to sell units in a slumping market.

A spokeswoman for the project's developer said one pool is being set aside for nude swimmers, sunbathers and hot-tub users at the Arbors at Branch Creek.
The words "good in theory" jump immediately to mind. In practice, I can imagine all sorts of problems, none of which I feel like getting into at this point in the morning. Let's just say that I'd be nervous about having my personal space invaded by other swimmers and leave it at that.

Here's the Random Ten. Put your iTunes on party shuffle and post the next ten songs to pop up. No skipping the nerdy stuff. Who knows? Maybe it can help you in a music quiz someday.
1. Girlfriend--Matthew Sweet
2. Get Up--The Coup featuring Dead Prez
3. Girl Anachronism--The Dresden Dolls
4. Money for Nothing--Dire Straits
5. Here Comes the Sun--The Beatles
6. Relax--Frankie Goes to Hollywood
7. Ponce de Leon--Big Smith
8. Poetry--KRS-One
9. Sexual healing--Ben Harper & Innocent Criminals
10. Anytime--My Morning Jacket
Leave your random tens in the comments, and if you have any suggestions about dealing with nude condo pools, I'd love to hear them.

Or Ewoks. Or Jar-Jar Binks. Or a Burger King tie-in. Who am I kidding--this is George Lucas we're talking about here.

Okay, I was going to quote the story, but it's by the AP, and they don't like it when bloggers use their work, so I'll just summarize and ask you not to click the above link.

George Lucas is making a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen. Now normally I would be excited about such a film, especially given how little attention the stories of African-American soldiers in WWII receive. But this is Lucas we're talking about here. I never had a lot of faith in him, and after his latest Indiana Jones abomination, I have none at all. I think the world would be better off if he were never attached to another film. Ever.

Stupid post of the day

From Andrew Sullivan. I give it extra points for packing so much stupid into such a short post.

One thing is for sure: McCain would never run as racist a campaign as the Clintons just did.
Two things. One: the person who praised as racist and loathsome a book as The Bell Curve ought to be pretty freaking careful about making claims about the racism of others. Two: the racial stuff that will be hurled at Obama by Republicans (with a heaping helping of feigned surprise from the McCain campaign) will make the Clinton campaign's missteps seem minor. There are mainstream Republican racists who make Geraldine Ferraro look like Sister Souljah.

Stick a sock in it, y'all

As expected, the press is in a snit over the way Barack Obama's campaign pulled a fast one on them back at the beginning of the month. They sent his campaign a letter, which you can read in full here if you want to. I just want to focus on one small part of the letter.

The decision to mislead reporters is a troubling one. We hope this does not presage a relationship with the Obama campaign that is not based on a mutual respect for the truth. Our joint mission is to cover the candidate on behalf of our millions of worldwide viewers and readers. Those individuals expect truthful and fair coverage from us. Your campaign expects nothing short of that from us as well. Surely we should expect the same from you. We sincerely hope we can expect a relationship based on mutual trust in the coming months of coverage.
Riiight. Mutual respect for the truth? Does the madrassa story ring a bell? How about the "terrorist fist jab"? The Michelle Obama "whitey" tape? I could go on, of course, but I think I've made my point.

If the press were doing a fair and even-handed job, I'd back them on this, frankly--I'd rather have as open a process as it's possible to have. But we're talking about a group of people who've been openly hostile to Obama's campaign at times (just as they were to Clinton's campaign, only they treated her worse) while they've mostly fawned over John McCain. Why should Obama's campaign go out of their way to grant access to a group who has proven, time and again, that they have no problem with taking quotes out of context or spreading the most thinly sourced rumors far and wide?

I really hope the press steps up its game and does a solid job of actual reporting, and that the Obama campaign grants them the access necessary to do a good job of it, but given the way he's had to deal with baseless smears already, and the less than stellar job the press has done in vetting those smears, I'd say it's unlikely to happen.

In the Miami Herald yesterday, columnist Leonard Pitts had a radical idea--radical for him anyway, from the sound of it. In this world where more and more people are turning to the online universe for their news, Pitts suggests that the website ought to become the focus of media conglomerates, as opposed to the physical newspaper.

It's really not that radical a suggestion. Pitts uses the recent announcement of job cuts by the McClatchy newspapers as his frame, and while many news organizations have come under legitimate fire for putting short-term profitability ahead of their responsibility to report actual news, McClatchy has been one of the good ones. They were the only major news organization questioning the rush to war in Iraq, and for that, I'll forever owe them a debt of gratitude. So when they say they're feeling the pinch, and when I see articles about their economic difficulties, I tend to cut them some slack.

Pitts, to his credit, at least acknowledges the changing landscape.

Yes, every newspaper has a website now. Some, like The Herald, have TV and radio facilities as well. I'm talking about something more: a radical change of focus.

We still tend to regard our websites as ancillary to our primary mission of producing newspapers. But I submit that our primary mission is to report and comment upon the news and that it is the newspaper itself that has become ancillary.
I don't think the hard copy is going to disappear completely very soon--there's still a market that hasn't gone online at all, much less with handheld devices, and open Wi-Fi is much less prevalent than it ought to be. There will come a time in the near future where newspapers become fetish items of sorts, but we aren't there yet, and I say this as someone who hasn't bought an actual paper in over a year. But Pitts is looking forward, and that's an important step--the newspaper as it exists now is not going to be around much longer, and media companies need to recognize that.

The problems come in with his solutions:
So maybe we should regard the Internet not as an extra thing we do, but as the core thing we do. Maybe we should maximize the fact that we know our cities as no one else does. Maybe we should make our websites not simply online recreations of our papers, but entities in their own right, destination portals for those who want news and views from and about a given city, but also for those who want to find a good doctor in that city, or apply for a job in that city or reach the leaders of that city or research the history of that city. Maybe the goal should be to make ourselves the one indispensable guide to that city.
So far, so good. Yes, acting as a one-stop area for information about a single city would be awesome. Lots of papers are already moving toward that model, and mixing it with hard news about local issues would make the site even more effective. Please, give us that.
And then maybe we should hire away the bright people who figured out how to make Yahoo and Google profitable and ask them to make our sites profitable, too.
It's not that simple. I see the logic--Yahoo and Google make most of their money from ad revenue, and so do newspapers, so put those people in charge and bingo! Profits. Part of the difference is scale--Google and Yahoo are global, and Pitts is talking about something that's necessarily regional, so there's a smaller revenue stream to dip from. But it's certainly worth looking into. The next one? Not so much.
Maybe -- heretical idea ahead -- it's as simple as requiring online readers to pay for the product, just as our other readers do.
Sorry, dude. Did you miss TimesSelect? For better or worse, people are not willing to pay for access to online news. It doesn't work. Every news organization that has tried it has backed away later, beaten and bloodied. You can bemoan the culture of "if it's online, it should be free" all you want, but it's been encoded onto our surfing DNA--we don't pay for news online. If you try to "require" us to do so, we will simply go elsewhere--and other places will spring up, leaving you without page views, and by extension, the ad revenue that really pays the bills.

Here's a different suggestion, but I'm afraid Pitts won't like it. What local newspapers provide better than anyone else is information--news, local interest, restaurant reviews, local political coverage, that sort of thing. Pitts' idea for the salvation of newspapers is for them to become more local, more necessary to the community. What's less necessary for them? Opinion. Commentary. That's the area where the internet has really cut into the newspaper business. See, bloggers don't usually gather their own news, but they--we--generate plenty of opinion and commentary on that news. I'm not saying that blogging can fully supplant the role of columnists, but we're certainly competing with them, and making them less necessary, and if I were running a local paper and trying to make it essential to the community, I'd certainly be seeking out local voices to talk about local things. And bloggers, I hear, work cheap.

Hat tip to Rick

Calling Captain Renault

I'm shocked, shocked! to learn that 4 major oil companies have gotten no-bid service contracts from the Iraqi Oil Ministry. Maybe it's a sign of just how bad the situation has gotten that Total and BP are in on this deal instead of being frozen out by the Bush administration like at the beginning of the war.

There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract. The Bush administration has said that the war was necessary to combat terrorism. It is not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts; there are still American advisers to Iraq’s Oil Ministry.
Side question: from a purely rhetorical standpoint, is there any reason for that bolded sentence to be in there? I didn't think so either.

Anyway, if there really are people left who are shocked by any of this, I'm assuming they have some sort of amnesia, or that they watch Fox News.

Without further comment

From Reason Magazine via Balloon Juice.

It got worse when Sinclair's lawyer Montgomery Sibley—whose license is currently suspended in D.C. and Florida—showed up in a kilt and told reporters that his above-average endowment made slacks tight and uncomfortable.
I'm going to use that at my next job interview.

Update: Larry Johnson pulls a Fox-News for his readers on this story. Good lord.

Not the best PR move

Of course, when you're Blackwater, I guess public relations isn't your top priority. Anyway, via Talking Points Memo, a story of how US law isn't good enough for Blackwater. They'd like a nice helping of Shari'a law to help them out with a pesky lawsuit.

Blackwater’s aviation wing recently filed a unique request in federal court, where the widows of three American soldiers are suing the company over a botched flight supporting the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

The company, based in Moyock, doesn’t want the case heard in an American courtroom under American law: it wants the case decided by Shari’a, the Islamic law of Afghanistan.
Oooh. Hyper-patriotic, nationalistic company which depends on psychos in the Congress and the State Department to watch its back while they rip off the federal government for untold millions and help run the bill for the Iraq War to ever more obscene levels suddenly decides that it wants to have a lawsuit heard by a religious court--a religion, mind you, that's been demonized continuously by those same people who've had Blackwater's back all this time. How is that going to play in Peoria, as they* used to say?

Blackwater is doing this because they lost with their first defense, that they were acting as an agent of the federal government and as such can't be sued by soldiers. Shari'a law, according to the article, "does not hold a company responsible for the actions of employees performed within the course of their work." Yeah I can see why Blackwater would want the trial shifted to a court with those laws.

Anyway, I'm hoping for a two-fer here. I'd love to see Blackwater's appeal be denied while being excoriated in the public eye for hiding behind a set of religious laws that have been rightly criticized for the way women are treated under them. That would be justice.

*"They," of course, being people other than writers for The Family Guy, who depend on out of date non-sequiturs for half their jokes.


Okay, breathe deeply. Five months out, lots can change, et cetera, et cetera.

Obama leads McCain in Florida.

I'm surprised by this, because while Florida is constantly referred to as a swing state, the fact is that in 2004, it wasn't really ever in doubt that Bush would carry Florida, we have a Republican governor, a heavily-Republican legislature, and while we have a Democratic Senator, he's one of those who's known for deserting the caucus in an hour of need and he won a resounding victory in 2006 because he drew Katherine Harris as his opponent. Yes, we've had some congressional success in the last couple of years, and we have hopes for more, but I didn't expect that we'd really be competitive in Florida.

A new poll out today from Quinnipiac University shows Barack Obama leading John McCain in Florida 47 percent to 43 percent.

The four-point lead is within the poll's margin of error (plus or minus 2.6 percentage points), but it's still significant because it represents a turnaround from most recent polls showing McCain leading in Florida.

Obama is enjoying strong support from women, blacks and younger voters.

The poll isn't all good news for Obama. While he has the support of 95 percent of black voters in Florida, he trails among white voters.
The white voters thing, especially among males, isn't a big deal, as I've mentioned before. And Crist as VP doesn't change anything, apparently.
Charlie Crist wouldn't be much help to McCain as his vice presidential candidate.

The numbers: 58 percent say it would make no difference, 21 percent say they'd be less likely to vote for McCain, and 16 percent say they'd be more likely to vote for him.
And that was before Crist said yesterday that he was in favor of drilling off the coast. Those numbers could easily go down from there.

So yeah--Florida is competitive. That spreads the field even more for McCain, because while Obama can win without us, McCain can't, barring a major shift in the country between now and November. Now, it's early yet, so I'm not getting confident, but I am hopeful.

Back in May, Amy wrote about an Ocala woman who tried to sell her house by tying it to an essay contest. Well, the verdict is in, and the contest has been cancelled.

Giovannetti said on her Web site that she had halted the competition due to a low response, despite coverage by several television stations and newspapers, including the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Although she originally planned to keep the contest open until July 23, the rules gave her the right to cancel at any time.

Giovannetti and her attorney, Eric Gifford, did not respond to several e-mails and telephone calls from the Sun-Sentinel. But she told the Ocala Star-Banner that she decided to cancel after receiving only 38 entries by May 29.
Not a huge shock. Giovannetti was basically banking on 6,000 people with an extra two hundred bucks in their pockets and enough confidence in their writing skills to take a good chance on losing it. It's one thing to risk a fiver on the lotto--your skills aren't a part of the equation, and you're not depending on someone else's personal taste to validate your lotto number choices to call you the winner (unlike being in a first-book-of-poetry contest, for example).


But I thought the Republican base didn't believe in evolution:

Describing his position as evolving, Gov. Charlie Crist said he now supports exploratory drilling for oil and gas off Florida's coast because "Floridians are suffering."
As panders go, this one is pretty obvious. It's not quite as blatant as McCain's gas tax pander, but it does have the advantage of being even less effective in the short term, and more damaging in the long term. Of course, as Mustang Bobby notes, Crist isn't worried about the long term. He's got his eyes on the VP slot. I don't know why he's angling to be the next Jack Kemp--at least Bob Dole went on to do Viagra commercials--but he clearly wants to destroy the good will he'd built up here in Florida in hopes of losing badly in November nationally. So I say let him.

See, opening up the Florida coasts, as I understand it, isn't something Crist can do unilaterally. I'm basing that on the fact that McCain is calling for it, and that the article says Congressional Republicans are doing the same. So for anything like that to happen, the Democratic House and Senate would have to approve it, and given that Senator Bill Nelson, never one to stick out his neck on a controversial issue in an election year, was Barack Obama's point man on this story, I think it's safe to say, for the moment, that this lacks traction in D.C.

We still need to fight the PR war, don't get me wrong, but the article notes that there's not much in the way of oil out there--it's mostly natural gas. I don't see how that's going to help with gasoline costs, even if we could magick it out of the ground in time for it to make a difference in the current economy. But Floridians, most of them anyway, do understand the power of the tourism dollar, and they know that drilling and pristine beaches are rarely found near each other.

By the way, Sinfonian is pissed.

Fair warning--not safe for work, at least not aloud.

Via Pandagon

There's a (relatively) old joke that rooting for the Yankees is like pulling for the Empire in Star Wars, because they've traditionally been so dominant and arrogant about that dominance over the last century or so. It happens to any sports team that has an extended run of success--it's not cool to be a Patriots fan these days, and it's been fashionable to hate any NBA that had Shaquille O'Neal at center for the last decade and a half. We like the underdogs--perhaps it's an echo from our nation's forming, when a plucky band of upstarts took on the most powerful nation in the world and (with a lot of help from others) pulled off an upset for the ages.

But for some reason, Tiger Woods is this generation's exception to that phenomenon. He's easily the most dominant player of the last decade-plus, and yet he's not reviled. Yesterday, when he won a tight playoff in what should have been your average David-and-Goliath story, Tiger pulled close to the same amount, if not more fan backing than Rocco Mediate. How absurd is that?

Tiger Woods--now with 14 major championships, the only person other than Jack Nicklaus to win each of the 4 majors at least 3 times, 32 years old and now third on the all time PGA Tour wins list--versus Rocco Mediate, 45 years old, bad back, 150-something-th in the world rankings, who had to qualify to get to the Open in the first place, hasn't won on the Tour in six years and has never won a major. And Tiger's got people rooting for him? How?

Part of the difference has to be the individual nature of the game. Golf is one of those sports where you can picture yourself in the situation, and you can almost convince yourself that, given enough practice, you could pull off what most professionals do. Most anyone who has ever hacked it around a course has hit that one perfect shot that fools you into thinking you can do it again, and eventually, do it every time. It's not like baseball where you can be robbed by a stellar defensive play, or where no matter how fast your fastball, someone will catch up to it once in a while. No, it's just you and the course, a supreme individual test.

The difference is, with Woods, that there's no fooling ourselves. He does things with a golf club that just leave us shaking our heads saying "no matter how much I practice, I will never be able to do that." It's not that people root for Tiger so much as they're in awe of him, and they realize that, just as previous generations had athletic heroes who blew their minds--Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens, Babe Zaharias, Jack Nicklaus, Martina Navratilova--this is ours. We're seeing the golf version of a god among men, and rooting for him allows one to become vicariously a part of that. We are on the hero's side, as it were.

I couldn't quite bring myself to root for Tiger yesterday--I was pulling for Rocco, perhaps because he's closer to my age than Tiger is and I'm feeling the future slip away a bit--but I can understand why others did, and I can't say I blame them. You don't often get to see a person become a legend before your eyes.

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