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Sunday, December 07, 2003
The Last Post (sort of)

After barely a month of blogging, we are moving to snazzier digs. Please join us at www.rickblaine.com.

Friday, December 05, 2003
Powerful ad, but who's this Kucinich guy?


Why do the Iraqis consistently get better treatment than us?

The New York Times reports that Bush said that "the future of the Iraqi people should not be mortgaged to the enormous burden of debt incurred to enrich Saddam Hussein's regime."

Bush then directed his comments at the Iraqi people themselves: "Trust me. The people of the United States will soon learn what it is like to be mortaged to the enormous burden incurred to enrich my regime. You don't want that."

Howard Dean replaced by Republican Pod Person

Seriously, what the hell does he think he's doing? This is bad. Very bad.

Not so brave without his Army tracksuit and military escort, is he?

According to a New York Times news analysis this morning, "President Bush had little choice on Thursday when he reversed himself and lifted the tariffs on imported steel that he imposed last year." So did he travel to a steel mill to break the news in person, look the steel workers in the eye and explain why he was forced to reverse the tariffs he had promised would last at least three years? Nope. Probably wouldn't have gotten quite the same reception he got in Iraq, though. Did he at least make a public statement to those who feel betrayed by him? Well . . . sort of:
"These safeguard measures have now achieved their purpose, and as a result of changed economic circumstances, it is time to lift them," the president said in a statement on Thursday read by his spokesman.
Let me run that for you again in case you missed it. He had his spokesman read his statement for him. Here's a man who has made a point of telling us how, when he meets with foreign leaders like Putin, Sharon, and Abbas, he "look[s them] in the eye". Can't he summon the same respect or courage for his own constituents?

Henry Schwarzschild's Letter of Resignation from Sh'ma

Henry Schwarzschild was a German Jew who came to the United States in 1939 and devoted his life to the protection of liberty. Reprinted here, for your consideration, is his letter of resignation from the journal Sh'ma in 1982:

This is my resignation from the Editorial Advisory Board of Sh'ma.

The contributions from me that you have published over the years have been few in number and less than earth-shaking in import, and you are therefore not deprived of a great editorial asset. In any case, my resignation has almost nothing to do with my relationship to Sh'ma as such. It is the consequence of a very much superordinated reorientation by me of my relationship to the Jewish community in the largest sense. Let me explain as best I can.

For a generation now, I have been deeply troubled by the chauvinistic assumptions and repressive effects of Israeli nationalism. I have experienced the War on Lebanon of the past few weeks as a turning point in Jewish history and consciousness exceeded in importance only by the End of the Second Commonwealth and the Holocaust. I have resisted the interference for over thirty years, but the War on Lebanon has now made clear to me that the resumption of political power by the Jewish people after two thousand years of diaspora has been a tragedy of historical dimensions. The State of Israel has demanded recognition a the modern political incarnation of the Jewish people. To grant that is to betray the Jewish tradition.

The State of Israel and its supporters have probably been right all along in arguing that political power comes at the price of the normal detritus of the nation state, such as Jewish criminals, prostitutes, and generals. They may also be right in asserting that the War on Lebanon is the sort of thing a Jewish state has to do to survive. I am not disposed to await the outcome of debates by politicians and theologians on whether the threat from the Palestine Liberation Organization was sufficiently clear and present to justify the killing of so many Lebanese and Palestinian men, women, and children, or only so many. I will not avoid an unambiguous response to the Israeli army's turning of West Beirut into another Warsaw ghetto.

I now conclude and avow that the price of a Jewish state is, to me, Jewishly unacceptable and that the existence of this (or any similar) Jewish ethnic religious nation state is a Jewish, i.e. a human and moral, disaster and violates every remaining value for which Judaism and Jews might exist in history. The lethal military triumphalism and corrosive racism that inheres in the State and in its supporters (both there and here) are profoundly abhorrent to me. So is the message that now goes forth to the nations of the world that the Jewish people claim the right to impose a holocaust on others in order to preserve its State.

For several decades, I have supported those minority forces in and for the State that wanted to salvage the values of peace and social justice that the Jewish tradition commands. The "blitzkrieg" in Lebanon, terrifying and Teutonic in its ruthlessness, shows how vain those hopes have been.

I now renounce the State of Israel, disavow any political connection or emotional obligation to it, and declare myself its enemy. I retain, of course, the same deep concern for its inhabitants, Jewish, Arab, and other, that I hold for all humankind.

I remain a member of the Jewish people -- indeed, I have no other inner identity. But the State of Israel has now also triumphed over the Jewish people and its history, for the time being at least. I deem it possible that the State, morally bankrupted and mortally endangered by its victories, will prove essential to the survival of the Jewish people and that it may likely take the Jewish people with it to eventual extinction. Yet I believe that the death of the Jewish people would not be inherently more tragic than the death of the Palestinian people that Israel and its supporters evidently seek or at least accept as the cost of the "security" of the State of Israel. The price of the millennial survival of the Jewish people has been high; I did not think the point was to make others pay it. That moral scandal intolerably assaults the accumulated values of Jewish history and tradition.

If those be the places where the State of Israel chooses to stand, I cannot stand with it. I therefore resign all connections with Jewish political and public institutions that will not radically oppose the State and its claim to Jewish legitimacy. Sh'ma is one of those.
Reprinted in "What We've Always Known: A Century's Sample of Dissenting Voices" by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, which is part of a collection of writings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entitled Wrestling with Zion, Tony Kushner & Alisa Solomon, eds. (2003)

Thursday, December 04, 2003
John Wayne and George W. Bush

Dawn has a terrific post about John Wayne and her own father. Having read the Noonan article she refers to, I had my own reaction:

I've long been a fan of Westerns, but I never much liked old Marion (I've always preferred Eastwood's work in that genre). The reason for that is that Wayne always played cartoonish "macho" characters who lived in an absurdly (and often literally) black-and-white world. I was never able to identify with or admire Wayne's characters, and they were usually too caricatured to enjoy. One exception, however, is John Ford's film "The Searchers".

In "The Searchers", Wayne plays the same honor-bound macho guy he usually played. This incarnation is named Ethan Edwards. At the start of the film, Ethan's family is attacked by marauding "savages", and Ethan sets off on a years-long journey to hunt down the perpetrators. Along the way, he is the epitomy of Noonan's "manly man": he never wavers in his convictions, never gives up, refuses to turn back, or to depart from his "code of honor". These are apparently the characteristics valued most highly by women like Noonan and men like George W. Bush. Like Dubya, Ethan tends to see things in terms of black and white, right and wrong, human and savage.

As the search continues, however, Ford and Wayne show us the other faces of "honor": fanaticism, obsession, paranoia, racism, senseless violence, and self-destruction. When Ethan discovers that his niece has been kidnapped but is not dead, he resolves to find her -- and then kill her, as his code demands, for she has been "contaminated" by the "savages" she has been living with. The final shot is a classic, and is a poignant depiction of how "men" like those Wayne often portrayed -- "manly" men who have no truck with ambiguity, compromise or change -- have no place in the modern world.

In "The Searchers", Ford gives the lie to the myth of the American Western and deconstructs the "man of honor" -- who never really existed as such, except on the silver screen. Until intelligent, educated people like Peggy Noonan and George W. Bush can divorce themselves from obsolete and dangerous manichaeist notions of "honor" and "evil", or until the electorate can cure its dependence on mythology and hero-worship, we will be led down the same path that Ethan Edwards walked in "The Searchers".

As an aside, I am hardly a John Wayne scholar, but I think I've seen enough of his movies to say, with some confidence, that most of the men he played, the kind of man Noonan gets all trembly over, would probably have decked her long before that rambling, sycophantic, desparate paean to phantoms of lost machismo had hit its stride.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Spread the love. Make the peace.

In the interests of peace in the blogosphere, I provide this link to Kashei, which links to a fantastic piece that appears to have run in The Guardian on a day that the whole editorial staff was on a sick-out.

Now I understand the nickname for Richard

Thanks again to Daniel Radosh, for pointing me to this spectacular photo.

I doubt he will ever win a national election, but now I get why Dick Gephardt is popular at home.

Poll Results

The results are in:

Kashei: Rich, not stupid. (unanimous)

Rick: Boring and uninteresting. (contested)

EPA's spirit of "collaboration" means at least three extra years of poisoned babies

Mike Leavitt, EPA's new administrator, made his first public statement since he took the job yesterday. It was a bland speech, somewhat rambling, peppered with dull anecdotes as strained vehicles for palliative sound bites intended to appeal to both sides of the environmental debate. But one thing Leavitt said interested me. He spoke of the importance of "collaboration" in addressing environmental issues. But, he assured his audience "[c]ollaboration is not code for compromise. It is the pursuit of what's possible checked only by the realities of what is workable."

Well, that's a nice sound bite, no question. But is it true? The proof, as they say, is in the policy, and this EPA's new proposal on mercury control is a clear example of compromise.

Perhaps it is unfair to blame the new administrator, barely a month into his job, for policies that may have been in the works since before he has been at the job. Then again, he hardly distanced himself from those policies. To the contrary, he took a classically Bush-ian approach: he touted what is essentially a fundamental step backward in environmental regulation as progress. Leavitt announced that his EPA would "move forward with the first-ever regulations addressing mercury emissions from power plants". What he didn't say was that the Bush administration has radically re-written regulations that would otherwise have gone into effect in two weeks, and in a way that smacks of "collaboration" with the power plants.

Leavitt mentioned technology several times in his speech. "More. Better. Faster. Newer. That's the tune you will hear from me," he crowed. That may be the tune, but the dance is "Not too much. Not too Fast. Better for the Industry." The existing plan called for mercury reduction using "maximum achievable technology". The new plan calls instead for a more flexible, cap-and-trade system, under which power plants would be assigned "points", which they could buy and sell, allowing them to pollute more or less depending on the number of points they had. The cap-and-trade system is a viable method of environmental regulation -- it has been successful in combatting acid rain, for example. However, even environmentalists who have supported cap-and-trade for other pollutants say that it is a dangerous approach for mercury, because of its extreme toxicity.

Coal-fired power plants are the nation's largest source of unregulated airborne mercury pollution, sending an estimated 48 tons into the atmosphere annually. The airborne mercury quickly falls into our lakes, streams and rivers, thus entering the food chain and threatening public health, especially for children and pregnant women who eat tainted fish. The EPA itself has acknowledged that "mercury has been identified as the toxic of greatest concern among all the air toxics emitted from power plants," causing neurological and developmental defects, particularly in pregnant women and children.

Leavitt and others in the Bush administration will no doubt tell us that the new proposal is a grand step forward. Proponents of the plan will point out that it will reduce annual output of mercury pollution from power plants by nearly 30% by 2010. They probably won't mention that this would still leave 34 tons a year in emissions, eight tons more than the limit promised by the Bush administration as part of its "Clear Skies" initiative. Or that the plan set to go into effect on December 15 of this year, the plan Leavitt's EPA is about to replace, would have required pollution controls by 2007, not 2010.

The CDC recently found that 8 percent of women of childbearing age have mercury in their blood exceeding levels deemed safe by the EPA. Do you know more than 12 women who might become pregnant between 2007 and 2010? If so, you might ask if any of them is pleased with the "cooperation" between the EPA and the energy industry that has resulted in a giant step back from the rules that would have gone into effect two weeks from now. That new spirit of "cooperation" makes it far more likely that at least one of them will have a baby damaged by mercury poisoning.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Blog King

And the Final Round begins...

The three Blogs left standing are:

Adrian Warnock



Evangelical Outpost

Here is the Challenge Question this week from King of Fools:

You are given the opportunity to secretly interview Saddam Hussein. Compose 5 questions that you would ask the recently deposed Iraqi dictator.

Also speaking of awards Wizbang, one of our permanant judges, has started the 2003 Weblog Awards at his site! Check it out!

New Poll

In light of Kashei's refusal to answer my questions because I have not earned her respect (see post below), I'm asking visitors to Rick's Cafe to answer at least one: Is Kashei rich, stupid, or both? You may wish to visit her weblog, Alarming News Spot On, to inform your response before voting.

Editor's Note: I (Rick) got the name of Kashei's site wrong. it has been corrected.

Bush supporters continue to elevate the discourse

I'd like to share with you, loyal readers, a little exchange that occured in the comments section over at Clareified.

The always delightful Dawn posted an impassioned plea for a return to objective journalism in the wake of the President's recent "secret" visit to the Baghdad airport (by "objective", she apparently means "doesn't intentionally lie to the at the request of the government" -- ridiculously high standards, if you ask me). In response to a comment suggesting that the American people had paid an awful lot of money for the President to have a photo-op, one of Dawn's frequent readers suggested that most people in this country don't think about "politics" (i.e., the cost of the president's actions), but rather focus on "real stuff" like "car payments and kids and school". She further opined, however, that the Baghdad photo-op "changed some opinions . . . from not caring to admiring."

I took issue with that, as it seemed that Kashei (an ardent Bush-lover) was implicitly conceding that the visit was a bit of costly fluff that had the intended effect of duping the ignorant masses into admiring Bush (a cowardly draft-dodger) for no good reason. So I responded (you can read the whole thing here):
Kashei: Do you count yourself among the ignorant unwashed who ignore Shrub's damaging policies and actions and just think he's "cool" because he likes to dress up in military costumes and pretend to be a part of an institution and a country he turned his back on years ago? Because every once in a while it sounds like you might be aware of how pernicious this administration is, and I can only conclude that you just don't give a shit. Which leads me to conclude that you are either rich or stupid (or some combination thereof). If you're going to give yourself over to hero-worship, there are certainly better candidates.
Apparently, I struck a nerve, because Kashei, always eloquent, outdid herself. Without actually making any arguments or addressing my concerns (I raised more issues and asked more questions in a subsequent comment (actually 3 due to character limitations)), she called me a "retard", "crazy", "uninteresting", and "a stereotype", called my arguments "intellectually lazy" and "boring", and suggested that I "have no idea what real people are like", and "should really get out more". When I pointed out that she hadn't actually responded to any of the issues I'd raised she played her trump card: "I'm just not so into arguing with people I can't respect," she wrote.

Can't argue with that.

Bush Responds to McCain Attack

CNN reported this weekend that "Leading Republican Sen. John McCain Sunday berated fellow lawmakers for 'spending money like a drunken sailor' and said President Bush was also to blame for pushing the nation toward higher interest rates and inflation."

Bush responded to that criticism at a photo op at Dynamic Metal Treating in Canton, Michigan yesterday. "Now, people like Johnny McCain are saying that my administration is spending money 'like a drunken sailor'. Well, to people who would attack the compassion of a government willing to drug this nation's old folks, I say this: I don't know what a drunken sailor spends like, but I do know what a drunk, coked-up draft-dodger spends like, and let me tell you, Mr. McCain, drugs are expensive. More expensive than most of our parents and grandparents can afford. And you often have to go into some sketchy neighborhoods, where you wouldn't want your Momma going. So to those who would criticize our spending, I say, 'hey, it's not my money'. And I've got plenty of my own. And so does my Momma. Love ya, Momma."

Monday, December 01, 2003
Remembrance Forgotten

In today's NY Times Maureen Dowd wrote a critique of the 8 designs for the World Trade Center Memorial that gave words to a sentiment I have been feeling since the first drafts of such designs were released, and far more eloquently than I could express. These "memorials" seem more interested in helping us forget than in aiding us to remember. The ephemeral lights, reflecting ponds, and expansive gardens that inhabit the dynamic artist renderings of the proposals reflect better the attitude of a day spa, Japanese garden or modern art exhibit, not the painful reality of the almost 3,000 dead in the most costly attack to ever touch American soil.

I would prefer a memorial in which I was forced to face the reality of 9/11 undiluted by smokes and mirrors. I would weep as I confronted the reality of 2,819 deaths and I would want to be forced to consider the geo-political situation that led to a group of people sinking to the lowest depths possible in order to conduct an attack against America’s innocent population. Then I would step outside the memorial, into a world where our government was learning from the attacks and taking a more vested interest in world politics, and the colossal importance of a growing population of poor, disenfranchised, and angry world citizens. A growing population of ill-contents, with nothing to lose, who are easily manipulated to enter the ranks of an army of evil. A country that was exerting its overwhelming power to build alliances and coalitions. A country committed to spreading wealth, prosperity and freedom throughout the world, not just making the rich richer at other's expense. I would exit the memorial into such a world and then I would wipe my tears away, and I would smile, because I would know that despite the tragic events of 9/11, I am living in a country where from the ashes of tragedy comes a vision of new hope and a better world.

Instead these eight proposals seem resigned to providing exactly the opposite. Instead of a weighty reminder of tragic time, these memorials offer an airy refuge, a fantasy of light and color. Gardens and reflecting pools where we can clear our minds and forget our worries, if only for a moment, before we must return to the reality of crumbling alliances, unilateral pre-emption and Republican "compassion".

Perhaps then, I am saddened to say, these designs are exactly right for the world in which we live. Still, I hope for the future.


I would like to congratulate Donald Rumsfeld on his "Foot in Mouth" award and also Arnold Schwarzenegger on receiving the runner up nominee. Maybe next year George.

And I didn't do so good in High School

I caught a great show last night. One that I suggest everyone out there go catch while it can still be caught. "We're All Dead" is a series of brilliant parodies of some of the classics. Oedipus Rex, Kafka's Metamorphoses and Hamlet are performed as hysterical musicals. The plays would be worth seeing even by people unfamiliar with the underlying works, but the more familiar you are with the originals, the better. (Ask Rick. He'll tell you the same.)

So here is the challenge: Do you have a sense of humor? A single literary bone in your body? An evening to kill? A residence in the New York City area? Get tickets to We're All Dead here.

The playwright's blog is worth a read also.

Sunday, November 30, 2003
New Weblog Showcase

From The Truth Laid Bear's New Webblog Showcase, a particularly fine crop this week. Here are my votes:

Damage: Global Warming Catastrophe - New Evidence -- great site, scary news.

BaySense: About BaySense (first post) -- It's always a pleasure to see a blogger willing to be objective about a highly political issue.

Venturpreneur: The Fiduciary Duty of Good Faith -- what can I say, I'm a lawyer, so I found this interesting.

Psyche's Knot: Black & Decker® - You're Scaring Me! -- very funny.

Counterfactually Speaking: An open letter to Michael Parenti -- thoughtful, well-written.

Joe's Thoughts: Politics Trumps Morals -- damn straight!

Because Miracle Whip was already "the next mayo"

As I recently emailed to Bill Simmons, ESPN.com's The Sports Guy, (don't want to be accused of ripping off my own stuff), this week's ESPNMag may have the best/worst quote in the history of sports journalism.

Cincinnati high school phenom-in-the-making OJ Mayo says: "Am I the next LeBron? I hope so, but I also want to be the next OJ. I'll do whatever it takes."

The article also says that "girls camp out at his locker". I suggest that they watch their back.

I apologize that there is no link to the article, but ESPNMag appears to have a two week lag for putting issues online. It would be disappointing anyway. Despite that quote, Mayo seems to be a very hard-working and personable kid. Alas, despite his "Juice Monster" tattoo, he doesn't have the juice to review his own press pre-publication like Arnold. (A must-read about Ahnuld, if you didn't read it during the recall campaign. This copy of the article isn't the easiest read, but the best that I could find. Thanks to radosh.net for the link. You get a bonus for clicking through to the permanent source of the borrowed link.)

Saturday, November 29, 2003
Don't say I didn't warn you

*WARNING* Tedious discussion of Ivy League sports. *WARNING*

Cornell hockey is one of those things that is either your whole life or a pair of words that you didn't even know form an important phrase. It is my life. And last year, when Cornell had its best season since the early 70's, life was good.

Big Red hockey is the single greatest sporting experience in the world, and I say that without reservation or fear of contradiction. Lynah Rink is to hockey what Cameron Indoor Stadium is to basketball: smart, passionate, obnoxious fans. But better, because we aren't mugging for the ESPN cameras. We are devoted in relative obscurity. Lynah is consistently praised as among the toughest places to play, and visiting teams always give props to the Lynah Faithful on their way out of town. Even better, the Faithful travel. All Cornell road games are an occassion to try and shout down the home crowd, and we often do. Harvard changed its ticket sales policy to prevent their home game against Cornell this season from becoming "Lynah East" again. And now Cornell is having all of their home games broadcast over the internet by i2sports, so I will be able to see them more this year than any since I finished grad school in '93.

The streaming broadcast is a huge improvement over just a few years ago when I had a dial-up connection and couldn't even listen to the audio broadcasts without constant rebuffering. . On the other hand, those old audio broadcasts were free. And there was briefly a free video webcast of the home games. Now there is no free anything through Cornell. The radio broadcasts are part of an omnibus college sports service that just isn't worth the price (most opponents stream their own audio feeds for free). But at only $60/season or (what I do) $5/game, the webcasts are really a bargain. In theory.

Last year was so transcendent, this year was bound to be a letdown. Still... we played Mercyhurst tonight, and didn't win. After last season, that is just inconceivable. The final score was 3-3. After Cornell gave up the game-tying goal with 5 seconds left. That kind of thing hurts. Especially because in the vaunted Lynah Rink, Cornell is now 0-2-3 for the year, and we haven't played a particularly difficult schedule. Cornell's freshman goalie is (to my eyes) struggling and the Cornell O gets plenty of chances, but isn't able to bury the puck. *Sigh*

I am confident this will change. And it better change soon, because next weekend Brown (having a surprisingly great start) and the hated Harvard (playing well below their ability) come to Ithaca. I really wish I could be there. At least this year I get to watch from home.

I didn't put up anything for Thanksgiving, so here it is: Thanks, i2sports.

Friday, November 28, 2003
Seamless communication

Jacob Weisberg and William Saletan discuss the latest campaign ad from the Bush campaign over at Slate. They hit on everything that is disgusting about the ad, but miss something that really seems obvious: There is no way that the tape of Bush speaking is the original unedited footage.

Bush can speak a few words in a row without trouble on occassion, but he doesn't do well with full thoughts. Even scripted full thoughts. The footage was almost certainly cut together to give the speech a continuity that it didn't have live. I am not referring to the snippets in the commercial that were from different parts of the speech, but to other parts which were made to seem like whole spoken sentences by putting up a graphics card to cover the audio splice. Please watch the ad and let me know if I am the crazy one. (Brother of Ugarte pointed me to the ad, so thanks to him.)

Let the Eagle Soar

Just a little holiday reminder of who's running the Justice Department.

Ashcroft Sings.

As horrifying as that is, I still want him to quit his day job.

Thursday, November 27, 2003
Blog King Update

Apparently, I had an outdated link to Random Fate, which led me to deduct points for site design. Having been provided with the correct link, which leads to a much snazzier weblog, I hereby adjust Random Fate's Site Design score to 6.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003
I am a Geek Liaison

You are 44% geek
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.
Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.

You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You'll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!

Geek [to You]: I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!

You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at Thudfactor.com

Thanks to Random Fate for the link.

Rick's Ruling

One of my newer and more enjoyable roles is as a Permanent Judge for Patriot Paradox's King of Blogs Tournament. Below are my ratings for each of the six entries in the three prescribed categories. After all judges' votes are tallied, three of the six will move on to next week's final round. The winner of that round will be the defending champion until he or she is de-throned. Here's how I scored them:

Site Design (15%): Most of the entries were pretty standard. I awarded 5 points for a basic template, and you could win or lose points for departures from the template, depending on whether I thought it added or detracted from your site.

Host's Challenge (25%): This week's Challenge was: "Why should you be the first King of the Blog?". The answers were pretty similar here, with most people opting to make humorous appeals to bribery (in terms of hits or dollars) or patriotism. None of the entries here really stood out, but all were well-written and at least somewhat clever. Anger Management did not submit an entry in this category.

Main Entry (60%): I thought all of the entries were above average for the blogosphere. Because each entry was completely different, it was much harder to compare in this category, and this is obviously the most subjective area. I try to explain what I liked (or didn't) about each piece below.

Adrian Warnock: Stuck in the Middle

Site Design: 4 (lots of blank space at the top, and generally too text heavy)
Host's Challenge: 6
Main Entry: 7 (Thoughtful, heavily linked -- in a good way -- and provides an interesting perspective)

Anger Management: Finally, I'm Funny

Site Design: 6 (great title graphic)
Host's Challenge: None
Main Entry: 6 (Not as funny as it was long and rambling, but some moments of levity)

Clarified: Express Delivery

Site Design: 5
Host's Challenge: 6
Main Entry: 8 (clever premise well executed)

eTALKINGHEAD: Conservatives Debate Medicare

Site Design: 7 (the most sophisticated-looking site; bit too much blank space on the right, at least in IE6)
Host's Challenge: 6
Main Entry: 7 (measured tone and solid writing on a complex and important issue had me looking for a concrete proposal/position, which I did not find)

Evangelical Outpost: How to Handle a Divorce

Site Design: 5
Host's Challenge: 7 (extra points for being the only entry to refer to content as a reason for deserving the Crown)
Main Entry: 10 (Deals with a serious topic in a hilarious yet helpful way. Brilliant.)

Random Fate: It's Our Government, Let's Take it Back

Site Design: 4 (some broken links and clutter on the right hand side, color-changing scheme is cute, but some schemes make the page hard to read)
Host's Challenge: 7 (points for honesty, and for amusing use of testimonials)
Main Entry: 7 (A good, thoughtful piece, well-written)

Special recognition (but no extra points) goes to Adrian Warnock, whose campaign of self-promotion bordered on spamming.


Is it just me, or is The Onion recycling old stories? I distinctly remember seeing this one a while back, although I couldn't find it in the archives today.

I'm sure there are plenty of bloggers (including some on the staff at Rick's) who would be happy to contribute if The Onion finds itself short on quality pieces.

She's Back -- Across the River

A Marine's Girl is back online, and she's not alone! Rejoin her, along with some friends, at Across the River -- now with comments!

Welcome back, Girl!

After years of practicing his craft, he has become a Master

They were giving out free packets of Chock full o'Nuts [capitalization scheme in original] coffee grounds outside of my brother's office today, so he took a packet and brought it home. I thank him for pointing out to me the self-promotion on the back of the packet. The message from "Your friends at Chock full o'Nuts" says:

"Our blendmaster has selected 100% Arabica coffee beans and roasted them to perfection to give you the full-flavored taste you want without the bitterness you don't."

If he really does deliver full-flavored taste without the awful bitterness that he rightfully guesses that I don't want, I salute him. And because he does it by roasting the beans, I raise my glass to the roastmaster. But he is using only one kind of bean. It may be the greatest bean ever grown. It is, as you now know, full-flavored without being bitter. (Incidentally, it is also the bean of choice at coffee mecca McDonald's.)

But if the man is only using one bean, isn't "blendmaster" a touch exaggerated?

Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Sometimes getting a reminder is worthwhile

I have always run in rather liberal circles, but as the circles I run in get more liberal I feel more conservative. While some of this is because on some issues I am more conservative (most environmental policy, notably) mostly it is because (I like to think) that I am uncomfortable with many of the shibboleths of the 2003 liberal.

Racism, for example, is something that I abhor, but something that I see a lot less of around me than many of me peers. For instance, if we gloss over everything Rush Limbaugh said before he got a job at ESPN, I don't think that there was anything particularly racist about what he said. I know that I, for one, root for black quarterbacks - both consciously and subconsciously - because I know, with every fiber of my being, that there is no reason that African-Americans are any less able to play quarterback than white folks. (I don't know that I can say the same for my fellow lansmen with much confidence, but it is nice to have some examples.) And while Gregg Easterbrook said something quite stupid, I think his apology was honest and sincere, and I am glad he is back to writing about football.

That said, it is more than a little annoying to begin telling a story about a crime, or anything bad really, to be interrupted with "Black?" Now this might appear to undermine my claim to run in liberal circles, but I make no claims about the politics of acquaintances or distant relations or the friends of relations, all of whom also end up crossing my path. Which brings me to what happened today at work. (That was certainly a lot of throat-clearing.)

I was riding the elevator when someone expressed shock and disappointment over what happened to Alonzo Mourning, without being specific. After a woman on the elevator asked who Mourning was, and I told her, her face got all scrunched up and she asked "What now?" It is certainly possible that she was reacting to the generic athlete-as-criminal, and perhaps I am just projecting racist thoughts. And perhaps it is because I subconsciously also believe that basketball player = black = likely criminal, but I don't think so. There is still work to be done.

Anyway, the next part doesn't revolve around racism, just callousness.

When she found out that he needs a kidney transplant, rather than revising her revulsion to sympathy or pity or any of a range of emotions, she chose dismissal. "Oh, that's not such a big deal." Amazing. I guess now that those kidney farmers are pumping out kidneys for all blood types and all body types (I suspect that 6' 9" is a complicating factor in finding a match) he shouldn't worry at all.

In any event, the whole elevator ride ended rather strangely. She then said "What about Kobe Bryant?" This led to an exchange in which a man on the elevator kept saying "stupid" and she kept replying "set up". And then the man explained why it was stupid. As the elevator doors closed behind me, he was telling her that with all of Kobe's money, he should have flown in a hooker.

Smoke Weed. Make Babies.

From NPR News:

"Researchers discover that marijuana-like compounds produced by the body can help regulate the growth of mouse embryos. Scientists believe the findings could have implications for fertility research in humans."

Dr. Sudhansu K. Dey discovered this phenomenon this week after a period of "off and on" research even after friends of the scientist dismissed it as "another one of Sudy's crazy ideas". Excited by his success Dr. Dey has announced he also plans on researching the effects of Pink Floyd, and ordering from Dominoes, on mouse fertility. Mr. Dey is particularly excited about a new avenue of mouse research he plans on pursuing, but so far has been fairly quiet about the details. Dr. Dey has told the press, however, that this new project will not be ready for research until at least December 17 to coincide with the "9 hour triple screening of Lord of the Rings".

Dr. Dey's previous research projects have included:

"Why we sound better in the shower" and "The effects of expensive meals on my stomach"

A Marine's Girl Update

After her blog mysteriously "disappeared" this weekend (blogspot denies having taken it down, but the Girl herself didn't do it either), the Girl is taking a short hiatus from blogging before coming back with whole new site. Details and links to follow.

Why Dubya wasn't lying

Before you get all upset by the latest news showing that Bush continues to lie to the American people and to the world, please consider why some of his recent statements were not, as they now appear to be, lies:

What he said: "I've noticed that the tradition of free speech -- exercised with enthusiasm -- (laughter) -- is alive and well here in London. We have that at home, too. They now have that right in Baghdad, as well." (Bush, at Whitehall Palace in London on November 19, 2003).

Why it isn't a lie: The television network the Iraqi Governing Council just shut down in Iraq is headquartered in the city of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.


What he said: "I think we have over 130,000 now, Iraqis, in one kind of uniform or another" (Bush, in an interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat on November 21, 2003)

Why it isn't a lie: Well, there's enough equivocation in that one that it almost has to be true in one form or another. And, although "the Iraqi police and guards who make up most of the nation's forces have little to no training, only light weapons, virtually no communications or heavy military equipment, and no demonstrated expertise or will to take on the insurgents", and many "sympathize with the insurgents fighting to rid Iraq of U.S. troops", they are, in fact, wearing uniforms. Of one kind or another.


What he said: "As part of our coalition's efforts to build a stable and secure Iraq, we are working to rebuild Iraq's schools, to get the teachers back to work and to make sure Iraqi children have the supplies they need." (Bush, during a radio address on October 13, 2003)

Why it isn't a lie: The 28,000 Iraqi teachers Paul Bremer just fired were . . . um . . . evil.

King of Blogs tournament: First Round Entries

The following noble and worthy warriors have entered the first-ever round of the King of Blogs Tournament. Only three will advance to the next round in one week's time. Only one will be named King of Blogs.

Adrian Warnock: Stuck in the Middle

Anger Management: Finally, I'm Funny

Clarified: Express Delivery

eTALKINGHEAD: Conservatives Debate Medicare

Evangelical Outpost: How to Handle a Divorce

Random Fate: It's Our Government, Let's Take it Back

"Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics"

David Brooks has a new column today entitled "Refuting the Cynics", in which he throws a lot of unsupported "facts" and "statistics" at his readers in an apparent attempt to support his call for "optimism" and "gratitude". I'm all for optimism and gratitude, but Brooks hardly makes the case for either. A large part of his argument seems to be our country's "vitality" (whatever that means), which he "proves" by comparing the U.S. and Europe, without citing his sources for the numbers he uses:
Economically, the comparisons [between the U.S. and Europe] are trickier, but here too there is divergence. The gap between American and European G.D.P. per capita has widened over the past two decades, and at the moment American productivity rates are surging roughly 5 percent a year.
The biggest difference is that over the past two decades the United States has absorbed roughly 20 million immigrants. This influx of people has led, in the short term, to widening inequality and higher welfare costs as the immigrants are absorbed, but it also means that the U.S. will be, through our lifetimes, young, ambitious and energetic.
Actually, the most significant indicator of why many like myself are neither terribly optimistic nor grateful to our leaders of the past two decades is the ever-increasing disparity of wealth within our own country:

  • In 1998, the bottom 40% of the U.S. population had only 0.2% of the wealth, while the top 1% had 38.1% of the wealth and over 70% of our nation's wealth was concentrated in the top 20% of the population.
  • The change in average household net worth between 1983 and 1998 shows that the bottom 40% saw a 76.3% decrease in net worth, while the top 1% saw a 42.2% increase.
  • Between 1979 and 2001, family income increased an average of 7% for the bottom 40%, and 81% for the top 5%. Do those numbers after taxes, and you see an 11% increase in the bottom 40%, and a 201% increase in the top 1%.
  • In 1999, the average CEO in the U.S. made 475 times what the average worker made. Compare that with 42 times as much in 1980.

  • As these data show, the rich have gotten progressively richer at the expense of the poor since the early 1980's. Brooks calls this period the "Great Rejuvenation", and claims that the "evidence" (whatever it may be -- Brooks certainly doesn't offer any) "rebukes those gloomy liberals who for two decades have been predicting that the center-right governance of Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush would lead to disaster." I suppose it depends on your definition of disaster -- and your income bracket.

    Then, Brooks cites a projection that " in the year 2050 the median age in the United States will be 35. The median age in Europe will be 52. The implications of that are enormous." They sure are. Given that over 70% of householders under 35 and over 30% of householders between 35 and 44 have a net worth of less than $10,000, this means a hell of a lot of poor young folk. Poor but, perhaps, "vital".

    I don't have time right now to do Brooks' work for him by trying to find the other "statistics" he uses (without references) and figure out whether they, too, are misleading, but I want to take issue with one more thing. Without any explanation or support whatsoever, Brooks claims that "The air is cleaner. The water is cleaner and we are using less of it." Really? I don't know if that is true or not (I highly doubt it, and Brooks's statement is too vague to analyze or refute), but if it is true, the current administration is doing it's damndest to change that (see, e.g., here and here).

    Brooks doesn't identify the "cynics" he is refuting, nor does he offer a single source for any of his conveniently vague assertions. If others are comforted by his unsupported claims and insistence that we should all feel grateful to the Great Right Fathers, well, good for you. I guess I'm just one of those "gloomy liberals" who "have a horribly distorted view of the state of this nation", but I prefer to base my cynicism, my horribly distorted views, and my refutations, on facts.

    Theft of Cobalt in Iraq Prompts Security Inquiry

    The New York Times reports that "American experts say cobalt could be used in the making of "dirty bombs" — cheap, improvised nuclear devices."

    Thank goodness we got rid of that regime under which deadly weapons could fall into the wrong hands!

    U.S. Acquiesces to Allies on New Iran Nuclear Resolution

    I'm glad to see that -- for now -- cooler heads seem to be prevailing at the White House with respect to Iran. In many ways, the Iran situation closely parallels the Iraq situation pre-invasion. This time, however, America seems more willing to explore options short of full-scale war. Whether this is because the administration has learned from its failures in Iraq, because we haven't got the military resources to do this in three countries at once, or because the administration is waiting to play the cowboy card until closer to the election, I cannot say. But I am hopeful that Iran may serve as an example of a better way to deal with "rogue nations", and a sign that the administration is learning from past mistakes.

    I think he's tapped into something here

    Found a new blog today while reminiscing in the "Insignificant Microbes" section of the Ecosystem: Big Boobs and Fire, a blog apparently dedicated to road-rage haiku. It's a niche market, for sure, but I rather liked this one:
    Freeway Haiku
    Learn to alternate
    You don't have to fucking stop
    It's just an on-ramp
    I'm still not sure what all this has to do with big boobs and fire, but I'm willing to be patient.


    Look over there. To the right. The other right. Yeah. Cool, huh? Go ahead, vote. Just once. Thanks.

    Monday, November 24, 2003
    Wankel me, baby.

    With the holidays just around the corner, here's what Rick wants:

    Whew. If their throats had been cut, it might have indicated that we weren't being welcomed with open arms.

    Casualties: Revising Report, Army Denies Throats of 2 G.I.’s Were Cut

    Am I allowed to laugh at this? I did, you know.

    How do you assess the brain damage in a case like this one?

    It is tempting to think that the rest of the participants are going to miss the court hearing to attend the funeral following this tragic death.

    Now more than ever

    If you question the administration, you are with Saddam.

    Credit to Kausfiles, who gave credit to Taranto.

    Gun Fun for Everyone

    In a desperate offensive from a failing organization, the NRA has switched tactics and are now test-piloting a new, more aggressive distortion of the second amendment. As of today, by a city ordinance passed 3-2 by the city council of Geuda Springs, Kansas, residents are required to keep at least one gun in the house-hold. Noncomplying residents would be fined 10 dollars.

    Currently being reviewed by the council is a requirement to paint the gun "friendly green", always store it at knee level, and cover the stock in delicious chocolate.

    Good Morning, Say Goodbye to your Freedom.

    Having failed to strip us of any remaining vestiges of freedom, when the proposed Patriot II act met with a public uproar earlier this year, Ashcroft is at it again, but this time he's learned his lesson, and plans to pass the bill without telling us. Ashcroft has insidiously placed the most controversial items in the proposed Patriot II act into an Intelligence Spending Bill. Incidentally "Intelligence spending bills are considered sensitive, so they are usually drafted in secret and approved without debate or public comment."

    Time for you to choose your own adventure:

    For those of you who want to face the reality of diminished freedoms go to page 39.

    If instead you want to live in imagined safety behind the warm cloak of Bush propaganda go to page 54.

    General Douchebaggery is in the House.

    See where the Alliance get their marching orders.

    Dubya Rides Lies Again

    Shock and Awe comments on the return of Shock and Awe.

    Sunday, November 23, 2003
    A Marine's Girl

    In the meantime, here are links to her archives, which are still accessible:

  • 10/12/2003 - 10/18/2003
  • 10/19/2003 - 10/25/2003
  • 10/26/2003 - 11/01/2003
  • 11/02/2003 - 11/08/2003
  • 11/09/2003 - 11/15/2003
  • 11/16/2003 - 11/22/2003

    Where did she go?

    I was checking the links in my posts today when I discovered that A Marine's Girl seems to have disappeared from BlogSpot. Those of you familiar with her wonderful site know that A Marine's Girl (whose blog is/was subtitled "Insight on being the girl friend of a Marine in Iraq. Opinions of news items of the day, politics, and relationships") happened not to share the exact same view as our current administration. This recently got her into trouble with someone claiming to be a Marine Gunnery Sergeant, and it looked for a while like she might be forced to take down her site. Then, the mysterious and noble "Captain Frank" came to the rescue, saying that he would engage in an investigation of "Gunney"'s threats, and that the Corps was not out to get A Marine's Girl.

    Well, I don't know what the story is at this moment, but it does look like A Marine's Girl has taken down (or been forced to take down) her site -- a site which provided a valuable glimpse into the life of a Marine in Iraq and his girlfriend here at home. Her site frequently informed and inspired me, and I imagine it was downright therapeutic for others who find themselves in similar situations. I hope that this is just a temporary setback, and that A Marine's Girl has not been shut down by overzealous nuts bent on silencing dissenting voices. Hers was one of the more intelligent, sensitive, helpful voices in my blogosphere, and if that voice has been silenced . . . well, I'll keep you posted on that. Let's hope those links are working soon.

    Marketplace of Ideas, Indeed

    I discovered today that Rick's Cafe Americain is being traded on BlogShares, a fantasy stock market for weblogs. Good luck and thanks to venture blogger A Marine's Girl, Rick's largest (and, currently, only) shareholder.


    I realize the title of my last post may have been unclear. What I meant to ask was "When is the War on Terror Going to focus on fighting terror." There is no question in my mind that the single most evident focus of the War on Terror so far has been to induce terror.

    When is the War on Terror going to focus on Terror?

    OK, so a little recap on the War on Terror, on which Bush is apparently basing his re-election campaign:

    Immediately after 9/11, the Bush Administration decided that maybe all that anti-terrorism, anti-bin Laden stuff the Clinton administration tried to get them to focus on was something they should start focusing on. So, in a remarkably short period of time, the Bush Administration put together and executed an efficient and effective plan -- to get bin Laden's family and other influential Saudis out of the country. Good move. It's not like it might have been helpful to have them around to ask questions about Osama, right?

    Then, while ordinary citizens rallied in the face of what may have been the most devastating attack ever on U.S. soil, pulling together to help each other in any way they could, trying to follow the Administration's advice to try to get back to normal, some cynical opportunists took advantage of the cowardice and confusion that apparently had clouded the minds of most of our congresspersons, and pushed through a hastily put-together piece of legislature known as the USA PATRIOT Act, which carved away at the very freedoms that set us apart from regimes like those of Saddam or the Taliban.

    Lest you think all our rights were trampled, however, fear not. John Ashcroft (who bullied Congress into passing the USA PATRIOT Act), took a firm stance on the Second Amendment rights of suspected 9/11 terrorists. In early December, 2001, Ashcroft's Justice Department blocked efforts by the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies to check Justice's database to determine if any of the 1,200 individuals detained after the September 11 attacks had bought guns or had sought to do so.

    The administration worked equally hard to hinder investigations of 9/11: The White House tried to stop the formation of the 9/11 commission; once the commission did get under way, the Bush administration took additional steps to hinder its progress, including limiting the amount of funds available to it; Cheney refused to disclose the records of his secret Energy Task Force; Bush redacted references to the Saudis in the comission's report.

    But maybe the Bush administration was so unwilling to allow, fund, or cooperate with the 9/11 commission because they felt they should be devoting resources to fighting terrorists -- forward-looking stuff. Right? Real effective anti-terror stuff, like invading and occupying Iraq (please don't stick your neck out to ask if I'm pro-Saddam. The answer can be found here), prosecuting arson victims, high-school debaters and grade-school children, as well as employing the same tactics we used years ago against other evildoers.

    Yes, that's right folks. Read the New York Times article and learn how the FBI has, no doubt using the wondrous tools provided by the USA PATRIOT Act, learned "how protesters have sometimes used 'training camps' to rehearse for demonstrations, the Internet to raise money and gas masks to defend against tear gas." My God, this has been going on right under our noses? But wait, there's more:
    "Activists may also make use of training camps to rehearse tactics and counter-strategies for dealing with the police and to resolve any logistical issues," the memorandum continued. It also noted that protesters may raise money to help pay for lawyers for those arrested.
    Well, there you have it. It is now only a matter of time before we have al-Qaeda -- an anti-war group known for its effective use of civil disobedience (remember how they brought down the Twin Towers with that human chain?) -- right where we want them.

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